Kobra Khan Makes His Move:
But He-Man's Got A Plan!
It's time to meet and greet Eternia's latest villain supreme, this time coming to us in the form of a mutated human snake with a detachable head and the ability to squirt evil water. Kobra Khan probably hasn't topped a birthday wishlist ever, but he's still another important example in why Masters of the Universe has become a staple focus of our thoughts for the past two decades or so: they might not be able to beat He-Man, but as a bad comedy act, these villains remain undefeated.
As we've established in earlier articles, there were four factions in Eternia. Three evil, one good. We had He-Man and his cronies, the ever-vigilant saviors of the planet whose heroic lineage went all the way down the barrel to sad sacks of shit like Buzz-Off, the human bee, to Mekanek, the human giraffe. Then there's Skeletor and his guys, taking residence at Snake Mountain and existed solely to create mythical monsters out of nearby rock piles. Next up, the Evil Horde, led by Hordak. They were predominantly on the She-Ra cartoon, but since little girls aren't apt to purchase red two-headed devil toys with detachable pelvis sections, they get lumped into Eternia's billing. Fourth and finally, there were the Snake Men, fronted with marginal success by King Hiss. I refuse to include the Meteorbs as a subgroup, because plastic toys eggs with names like 'Comet Cat' and 'Dinosorb' don't really qualify for the signification in my book.
Obviously, Kobra Khan's loyalties stayed with his reptile pals over with the Snake Men. Still, something seemed amiss. Progressively, every villain from every separate subgroup began to realize that nobody was beating He-Man. It got to the point where they'd consider an attack on Eternia a success if they were able to retreat to home base on their own two legs instead of He-Man sending them there with one of his patented cosmic punches. To everyone's credit, a solid streak of 150,000 consecutive victories for He-Man didn't deter their efforts. Every week, they'd hatch some new magnificent plot, often involving lazers that turn people to stone, or kidnapping strange elves and convincing He-Man that he likes them enough to try to rescue 'em. But you know, no matter what they tried...same results. Same annoying Orko joke to close out a battle. Same repeated animation of Teela laughing so hard at Orko's joke that you'd swear the little bastard injected her with liquid acid before telling it.
Today is a little different. Today the villains try something new: teaming together for the greater good. Not sure what the greater good is -- everyone in Eternia land already has a monumental castle, it's not like conquering Eternia would bring anything new to the table. And let's not even touch on the 'secrets of Greyskull' stuff...by now, we should all accept that as propaganda from the Sorceress. We've seen the inside of that castle. Aside from the sparse dimensional portal, it's just lots and lots of brick.
Skeletor has too much pride to team up with the other guys, so it looks like the Horde and the Snake Men are gonna have to put the theory to the test. Then again, even if Skeletor wanted in, who would trust him? Every time he's teamed up with another villain, he basically announces from the outset in every roundabout way possible that he plans on backstabbing 'em. I'm not sure if that's because he's really confident, or just has loose lips. This is a guy who will hold a gun to your head and then spend 25 minutes explaining what he plans to do with the gun, almost purposely leaving ample time for Ram Man or some other Eternian freak to run in and knock him on his ass. In some markets, Skeletor's a proven commodity. In secret villain team-ups, he's not.
Since Kobra Khan has water where his brain would normally be, Hordak assumes the role as 'brains' of this operation, and lays out the groundwork: Kobra has to find one of He-Man's friends, attack him, and distract Eternia's champion while the Horde makes headway into an all-out assault on the kingdom. A simple plan, but let's face it, despite the costumes and the grating voices, these were simple people. Or stupid people. Actually they weren't even really people, so let's just say the plotlines in MOTU adventures ran about as deep as a can of tuna. They were dumb monsters with easily navigated plans, so the only thing left for Khan to do was find one of He-Man's trusted allies.
Enter Stratos. For all we know, all of He-Man's allies were the same guy just wearing different suits. Buzz-Off, Zodak, Stratos...they all had the same bodies and heads. They all rarely spoke, and when they did, it was in these indecipherable fake raspy voices that could've easily just been one guy talking funny. Essentially, Stratos was a useless, regular Joe. But he could fly, and he had grey feathers, so that's enough to warrant the 'superhero' salutation. And good enough for Kobra Kahn to move in for the kill.
Also of note -- take a look at the kid playing with Stratos behind the figure. If that look doesn't scream 'I didn't want this one!', I don't know what does. Stratos is a perfect example of the typical Grandma Gift. Grandma Gifts are the things kids get for their birthdays or around the holidays that they just don't want. Grandmothers who don't take the usual, safer route of sticking a ten dollar bill into a plastic Easter egg or some comical birthday card end up wreaking havoc on the gift opening ceremonies. They could get you socks, ugly sweaters, books about Egypt, or in the worst case scenario, Stratos. Stratos is the worst case scenario because the shape of the wrapped present might make you believe you're about to get a cool action figure. Joke's on you, it's just the stupid bird guy.
Kobra catches up with Stratos pretty quickly, which isn't surprising considering that despite it's 'planet' moniker, the people living on Eternia get around it so fast that there's no way it's more than three miles long. 1.5 of those miles alternates between a desert, a forest, and a body of water, depending on the particular episode.
Stratos doesn't quite know what to make of Kobra Khan - he's never heard of the Snake Men, because really, of all the people in Eternia, Stratos is one of the least likely for He-Man to call upon for help in battle. And it's not like he can just assume Kobra Khan is the enemy because he's wearing a sinister costume. By that logic, everyone in Eternia is the enemy. Instead, Stratos just stands there idly with his arms in zombie-stance. Sure, he's leaving himself open to attack, but at least he's not risking offending a potentially friendly stranger. Kobra sees an opening, and goes in for the kill...
Great heavens, it's the HELL WATER SPRAY ATTACK! Kobra Khan's offensive posture: he sprays water mist in his enemy's face. If this is one of the episodes where that 1.5 mile stretch is a desert, this could be looked upon as a friendly gesture. But it ain't - evil intentions abound as Stratos tries to figure out how he should react to a big snake guy spitting on him.
Judging by that kid's face though, I'd wager that this is some pretty toxic water. I'm really dying to know where they find these kids. They all share a universal trait of looking like a demonic, hell-bent Bobby Brady. I'm guessing in ad campaign departments they have these child actor catalogs, segregated into sections by 'good looking', 'innocent', and finally 'demonology.' You want to talk about thespians? Tell me that kid up there isn't feeling the role - he is Kobra Khan. And people give Brando all the method acting credits. These kids were damn near sociopathic in their ability to become Eternia's villains.
The malevolent mist is all Stratos can take - with whatever little strength left he can muster, he utters on his dying breath the only two syllables in Eternia that are followed by a victorious musical score: 'He...Man.'
He-Man arrives on the scene, and jesus christ holy shit what the fuck is wrong with the kid holding that action figure? I'm telling you, these kids aren't just my filler material. I'm not scouring my pic archives looking for the rare instances where they come off looking like demons. They're scary - legit scary. They've all got black eyes and sneers that'd make Tim Curry himself proud. The one thing you guys really miss out on seeing them in this format is the voices. These kids don't *talk*, what they do are make sounds like a wild boar attempting to speak English. That's funny enough in itself, but when they're trying to deliver lines like 'I He-Man is here to get you the enemy Kobra Kahn of the Snake Man FOR THE HONOR OF GREYSKULL I HAVE THE POWER', it's freakin hilarious.
So yeah, He-Man's here. He's ready to save Stratos, falling prey to Hordak's plan. Kobra Kahn isn't going down without a fight though, and you should thank the Sorceress for that, because it allows these kids to break some serious kayfabe in their ongoing toy adventures...
Kobra Khan amps himself up and recharges his power in fairly unique fashion: by removing his head and letting the kids supply the comedy by trying to refill his water supply with a garden hose. Now, I'm no gardener, but I'd wager trying to get a hose to spill just enough water to fill a .5" hole on a 10-ounce action figure would prove absolutely stupid. Then again, doing absolutely stupid things fits the overall theme of MOTU, so at least none of this is off-base.
For those curious, Kobra Khan's action figure had a hollowed-out spinal cavity that, when filled with water, allowed his pushdown head to squirt water a good six or seven inches. It was the kind of excessive toy feature kids employed once or twice before completely losing interest, and completely losing Kobra Khan's detachable head. But remember, Mattel doesn't really give a shit what happens to your toys once you get 'em home, so long as you don't try swallowing them. If there's anything more annoying than getting sued, it's getting sued because, like the rest of the world, you didn't feel justified spending more than a few minutes designing a He-Man action figure. I don't subscribe to the 'small parts' theory. Too many a great toy I've seen banned because some kid tried eating it. I've personally known people who won't let their kids play with action figures that come with small accessories, but instead give them buckets of tiny LEGOs instead. You know, I'd say a red LEGO looks a lot more like candy than the Hoth Stormtrooper's left arm. But that's just me.
The whole thing is an exercise in futility anyway, since He-Man devastates Kobra Khan's skull with one punch. Kids who liked the bad guys had it really tough back then. At least nowadays, the villains at least sometimes pull a victory out their ass. Back in these days, the bad guys weren't allowed the upper hand for even a second during their own commercial spots. He-Man was like the Hulk Hogan of the toy realm. Think about it, they were both always on top, neither ever let anyone get one over on 'em, and they were both cancerously tan. They even had similar outfits. Now, years and years later, He-Man's an all-but forgotten cartoon memory, and Hogan's a rich bald guy who looks like a human tamale. In both cases, I guess the morale is to die young and to take it easy on the coconut oil.
Elsewhere, Hordak's plot meets it's fruition. The Evil Horde, named so not to confuse everyone with all the Heroic Hordes out there, nails a rendezvous right outside the castle of Eternia. Notice the desert - I told you, it's always one of the three. Hordak's plan is simple enough, so simple that Skeletor must be clonking himself on the head for nothing thinking of it sooner: gather all the guys and just walk right in. Has anyone out there noticed vast metal gates, sonic detectors, or some other such defense mechanism that'd keep the bad guys out? Of course not. The palace is just a few towers surrounded by sporadic rock formations. It's not Fort Knox. All it takes is one well-planned, or even planned-at-all assault. Hordak gets brownie points for doing it the right way, and not caving in by turning said rock formations into easily defeated sand monsters that stand in place and growl until someone shoots 'em. I always knew Hordak was special.
There's a kink in the plans though - who's that mysterious stranger, lurking in the distance?
Rio Blast. His friends call him Tex. Hordak calls him 'that blasted cowboy cretin'. The rest of us call him an absolute folly of the modern day era. Looks like He-Man The Omnipotent predicted a dastardly team-up, and sent one of his buddies to take care of business while he handled the spitting cobra. Rio Blast was one of the later entries into the toyline, I don't remember him ever making it onto the show though. Obviously, as the fabled three-year longevity of the toyline started wavering, they made some pretty critical choices on what figures to produce next. They needed something with a little shock value. This is a cowboy with guns that pop out of his kneecaps. I think they got their shock value.
The packaging on the figure insinuated Rio Blast's greatness in succinct fashion: 'transforms from a normal cowboy into a one-man army.' How 'normal cowboys' ended up in Eternia, I have no idea. But I really can't complain about that unless I'm prepared to debate the presence of giant bee people, Mer-Man, guys full of spikes, and the other assorted characters funking up the horizon. In all actuality, Rio Blast is the closest thing to a regular guy Eternia has ever produced. No, I refuse to count Prince Adam or Man-At-Arms as regular guys. One walks around in a purple thong, the other walks around with a salad bowl on his head. At least Rio Blast could hide his ridiculous garb.
I was about to go on a tangent over how much Rio looks like He-Man, but the pictures spoke for me, as the cowboy detonates an entire army of villains with one shot. Just like He-Man! You know villain posterity in Eternia is at an all-time low when the Horde Trooper figure's special feature consists of him blowing up on impact. The good guys have the upper hand to such a perpetual degree that they couldn't even make the villain action figures seem convincing in battle.
In closing - Kobra Khan and Rio Blast: covering both sides of the spectrum, these two minor characters had about as much overall impact on the childhoods at large as those old Clowny crayon sticks. But still, today we pay tribute. There's just two more links in the always-growing chain that makes us, the lame-obsessed many, who we are. That's right - Kobra and Rio are part of your heritage. They're also pretty cheap to buy on the collector's market, head on over to eBay if you're interested in some new computer desk decorations.
Elsewhere, Hordak swears revenge....in the form of my personal favorite He-Man contribution to kid lore: The Slime Pit. You know what happens when the slime hits you, right? Goblin slave. Beware He-Man, beware Rio-Man...the battle ain't over till advertisers stop buying spots.
Unloading some of my crap on eBay...bid fast and furiously.