Sunday, February 14, 2016

Man, Monkey...or Bird?

If there’s one major identifying trait in the He-Man universe, it’s that it is populated by some of the most unique and oftentimes strangest characters. Nothing is off limits in this universe. Animorphic warriors, cybernetic cowboys, demonic ninjas and even evil plant people are just some of the interesting creatures that inhabit this fantasy world. But if you were looking for one of the oddest of the bunch, I would say you wouldn’t have to look farther than the beginning of the Masters of The Universe toyline.

Stratos, the Winged Warrior, was one of the original eight Masters of the Universe figures released all the way back in 1982. In fact, he, along with the Cosmic Enforcer Zodac were the very first He-Man toys that I would get as a Christmas gift when I was 7. Looking back, I find it interesting that these two were the first masters I got since they share an interesting background.

Having the two in hand I initially assumed that beastly monkey faced Stratos was a bad guy and the futuristic and more human looking Zodac was good. Yes I know, that was a rather simplistic way of defining my toys but well I was 7. It turns out that I wasn’t too far off. Initially, Stratos was intended to be one of the bad guys and Zodac was supposed to be good. But for some reason, the powers that be in Mattel decided to make Stratos heroic and sent Zodac to the evil side to even out the ranks.

Now I admit that while a flying monkey man is odd, it isn’t really an original concept as the Wicked Witch of the West had a whole army of them years prior in OZ. What I do find odd is that through the different types of media portrayals, it seems no one could really make up their minds on what exactly Stratos was. Was he a monkey? A man? A bird? And if that wasn’t confusing enough, they even seemed unable to decide on his color palette as the colors of his feathers varied from red to blue from figure to figure.

Anyway, despite looking more like a furry grey monkey with feathered arms, Stratos was actually the leader of the Bird People who inhabit the kingdom of Avion in the Mystic Mountains. In the original mini comics he was actually depicted with a flesh toned body…yup no grey fur. But then again, in the early mini comics, aside from He-Man & Skeletor, a lot of the characters looked different from their now established looks. And true enough, in later mini comics, Stratos eventually turned grey. He must have gotten his hands on some of Pirelli’s Miracle elixir and applied it all over his body.

Another interesting fact was that in the He-Man Lady Bird books, despite having his ape-like appearance, Stratos had a straight up ordinary human wife named Delora. Which was….fine I guess. But then years later, the Filmation cartoon, completely glossed over his simian appearance and made him look more human. Sure he was still grey, but it looked more like a grey body suit than fur and instead of having him go barefoot, he sported nice snazzy red boots and had a more human upright stance.

To add to the case that Stratos was human in the cartoon, Delora also got a significant retool both in look and designation. She now looked more like Stratos sporting a similar helmet as well as a predominantly grey body suit, which was most definitely clothing since her face, shoulders and arms were left exposed showing that she had flesh skin. Another significant change was that she was no longer Stratos’ wife. Fearing that the show’s target audience, boys, would react negatively to love interests, they decided to make Delora the sister of Stratos. So there you go, with Delora being obviously human, it would be safe to assume that her brother would be human too. Unless of course their parents were a human and a…..hmmm let’s not go there shall we?

I was quite happy with the idea of Stratos being a human (sue me…back then I preferred my heroes to be less..exotic) as opposed to an ape. Then in 2002, the new reboot of He-Man totally flipped things around again. Being known for their amazing redesigns of classic He-Man characters, the new cartoon brought back the whole monkey thing to Stratos. Gone were his snazzy red boots and his large ape feet were back front and center. What I did like was that they actually gave him real wings as opposed to those feather linings to his arms in the classic design. They also gave him a Scottish accent making him sound a lot like Sean Connery which instantly made him a lot cooler. So despite his reversion back to his simian roots, I was quit happy with this redesign.

So there you go, in a world inhabited by overgrown leeches, elephant firemen and evil bunny plunderers, Stratos still gets my vote as one of the strangest of them all. But even if no one can seem to decide on what exactly he is, there is one constant trait that really defines Stratos, and that is that he is a heroic warrior and more importantly one He-Man’s oldest and most loyal allies, and that’s really all that matters.