In 1985, Mattel held the “Create-a-Character” contest, inviting kids to design their very own Masters of the Universe character. The winner was Fearless Photog, created by Nathan Bitner. For whatever reason, Fearless Photog was never produced back then; it would be another twenty-seven years before a Fearless Photog figure would become a reality. By comparison, it took less then twelve months for the winner of the second Create-a-Character contest, Castle Grayskullman by Daniel Benedict, to become a reality.
It’s interesting to think about the very different circumstances around both contests. It seems likely that most of the entries for the 1985 contest were submitted by children. While I’m sure there were a few children who submitted entries this time around, it’s probably fair to say that most of the entries Mattel received this time around were from the same generation that submitted them so many years ago (and one has to imagine that someone out there actually entered both of them) – that is to say, adults.
Nonetheless, the genius of Castle Grayskullman is that he easily fits both eras. The design is both high concept and elegant in its simplicity – an anthropomorphic embodiment of the toy line’s iconic playset, Castle Grayskull. You can easily envision this figure as part of the vintage line, yet the design is also the perfect homage to the line’s pearl anniversary.
Packaging: Castle Grayskullman comes in the standard MOTUC packaging that we’ve all come to know quite well over the last four years. It’s based more on the packaging designs for the vehicles and playsets from the vintage era, rather than the red “lava burst” of the individual figures’ cards. It has a “Created by Daniel Benedict” star burst on the front, as all the 30th Anniversary figures have featured the name of its creator.
Design & Sculpt: Benedict’s design did a great job of incorporating aspects of the actual Castle Grayskull design, such as the “crown” on top of the skull from the playset serving as a kind of “headband” to the figure. The hair is kind of creepy, making it look like a corpse or a D&D lich (or, as Michael Crawford pointed out, the Star Trek Salt Vampire). I asked Benedict about it and he said, “I added the hair because it looked to boring without it. I think it adds character, and a little ’80s to it.” It certainly does that, since between the “headband” and the hair, the character reminds me of Hulk Hogan. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!)
The design is not perfect, though that isn’t Benedict’s fault. Due to the cost-saving measures on this line, CGM has the smooth arms and legs of a standard MOTUC figure, which jars with the fantastic stone texture everywhere else on the figure. You can imagine the arms and legs were just sculpted smooth, like marble, but since the rest of the figure seems to have been made from granite it just doesn’t quite look right.
Once Daniel created the design and Mattel made their decision, it was up to the Four Horsemen (4H) to sculpt it. Castle Grayskullman (CGM to save me from carpal tunnel syndrome) has a brand-new head, new forearms and hands, new boots, and a new plastic armor piece over the chest. It all looks great, especially the skull symbol on the chest, which was inspired by the symbol on the vintage Castle Grayskull door.
Plastic & Paint: I believe the figure is once again molded mostly from black plastic, so there’s not much to say regarding the plastic selection.
The paint work mimics the mossy gray-green color of Castle Grayskull and looks great. I’ve always found it an appealing color. However, it should be noted that the “smooth” body parts don’t quite seem to match the color on the shoulders and forearms – I’m not exactly sure why that is. The white paint on the “tusks” is sloppy, and kind of bizarre – why paint those at all? He’s a living statue. He doesn’t have real teeth.
The best paint work is reserved for the skull symbol, which looks like it’s been carved from marble, right down to the rough texture.
Articulation: Castle Grayskullman has the standard MOTUC articulation, except that the “rocker” ankles are nonexistent. This seems to be the first point of articulation Mattel takes away as a cost-saving measure. While earlier figures do have rocker ankles and this line has a lot of re-use, that was also true of DC Universe Classics and Mattel still somehow removed that point of articulation. Just something to watch out for. [Update: Poester Dayraven says his CGM figure does have rocker ankles. Mine are rock-solid, but given Mattel's inconsistent quality control, perhaps the figure does have them.]
Also, the leg articulation feels very restricted because the plastic used for the loincloth is very firm, and not pliable at all. Oddly enough, I think I found this the most disappointing aspect of this figure. It severely limits the posing options.
Accessories: Here’s another place where CGM shines: he comes with two swords and a shield. The swords are based on the design from the small flag that was included in the vintage playset. I, like many of us who grew up on He-Man, always wondered about those swords and what they were supposed to represent, though the most obvious interpretation is they were meant to be the good/evil Power Swords that came with the vintage He-Man and Skeletor. In any event, they have excellent sculpts and great paint work (although I don’t know why the blue blade gets a metallic sheen and the purple blade doesn’t).
The shield has a fantastic sculpt as well, and again, some great paint work.
Quality Control: I had no problems with my figures. The ankles were thankfully very tight.
Overall: Despite a few negatives – the smooth limbs and somewhat limited articulation – Castle Grayskullman is still a fantastic MOTUC figure. He’s very well-designed, excellently sculpted, and comes with a load of fantastic accessories. In some ways, after He-Man and Skeletor he could arguably be the one figure you have to have in your collection – he’s representative of so much of this franchise as a whole: Castle Grayskull, He-Man himself (the hair), and the franchise’s amazing ability to take a ridiculous concept and make it work somehow.
Where to Buy: