Ken Masters (Street Fighter II)
Generally speaking, I don’t have strong memories of most of the trips to toy departments when I came home with Joes. However, I do remember the origins of ones that I got as presents for Christmas. In my household, we sort of had two Christmases. My father was a pastor (he’s now since retired) which meant traveling to see family mother’s side of the family, who lived in Chicago, wasn’t usually possible. However, my grandparents always visited us for Thanksgiving, so we’d do Christmas with my grandparents the Sunday after Thanksgiving. One year, my grandparents must have remembered that I liked playing Street Fighter II with my cousins on their Sega Genesis because they got me a Street Fighter II Joe and I was so excited and blown away. While Ken Masters wasn’t my favorite character, I definitely used him a lot in that game, so Ken Masters was waiting under the tree for me that early Christmas. I think I only used him as Ken Masters for a little while before I turned him into a Cobra ninja, but that’s the great thing about the Joe line. If someone like Ken Masters or the rest of the Street Fighter II crew didn’t fit in with the rest of your toys, you could just use them as someone else.
Ken Masters is a fairly simple head swap, but he’s still a pretty solid figure. From the neck down, he uses the mold of the Ninja Force Storm Shadow figure. The Ninja Force Storm Shadow is a well-designed mold. The legs are simple, but they have wraps sculpted on them from a little below the knee down to his feet. The thighs have a couple of weapons molded into them as well. The right leg is carrying a pair of nunchuks, while the left leg has a butterfly knife strapped to it. Ken Masters’s torso is a bit broader than the standard Joe figure’s to accommodate the action feature built into the figure, but it’s still proportional. Ken Masters has the same double punch action feature that Ninja Force Storm Shadow does (given the Street Fighter II name of “Double Fireball Fists”). You wind up both arms and then release them and he does kind of a double windmill strike. It’s one of the better action features and if you tweak his arms a little (and make the mechanism pop a bit), you can get it so both of Ken’s arms rest fairly naturally at his side, which is also a plus. Unfortunately, this action feature does come with a bit of a price. There are two tabs molded into the torso that fit into the waist piece in a way that makes it so that even though he’s built like a standard Joe, you can’t actually turn the waist. For a martial artist, that is a bit of a letdown. The torso looks like a fairly basic ninja gi with some additional areas to carry some gear. He’s carrying a sai and a couple of smoke grenades on the chest of his shirt, some grenades up over his left shoulder, and some throwing stars over his right shoulder. He’s also got a pair of cloth ribbons that attach to the left side of the figure at waist level. That wasn’t a common feature on Ninja Force figures back in the day, and they do look pretty good hanging off the figure’s side. The arms are pretty basic, with loose-fitting long sleeves and exposed hands. Topping off the figure, Ken Masters got a new head. It looks generally like him, but he’s got a pretty angry face sculpt. I’m pretty sure that’s why Ken joined Cobra, he just looks like a villain. Truthfully, it’s a really nicely sculpted head. The detailing is solid, but it does only turn side to side, another concession to the Ninja Force action feature torso. I always kind of thought Ken Masters was a bit of a pretty-boy who never got too angry, though, and this is definitely one angry looking dude. It’s such a great head, though, that I’m surprised the GIJCC didn’t try to repurpose it for an original character, though the restricted head articulation probably did influence the choice to never reuse this particular head. The design broadly gets the idea of Ken Masters across, but he is pretty off-model from the game sprites between the long sleeves and all the weapons. Then again, being off model is part of what allowed me to so seamlessly incorporate him into my Joeverse as a kid.
Ken Masters’s paint scheme is fairly basic, but considering he’s based on an older video game character, that actually works in his favor since the processing power back in the day really couldn’t handle complicated sprite color schemes all that well. From the neck down, the figure is molded out of red plastic with black and silver detailing painted on. The red plastic does give him a fairly clean look, but it does also leave him looking kind of plastic-y. The weapons on his legs and the straps around them, his belt, his cuffs and his throwing stars and grenades are all painted black while the smoke grenades and sai are painted silver. His hands are painted with a Caucasian flesh tone while the head is molded out of plastic that color. There is a bit of a color mismatch, but it’s nothing too bad. His hair is painted the same golden yellow that Hasbro used for Topside’s blonde hair and it does look a little better this time around, though I’m still not wild about all the eye detailing being done in that color. The eyebrows look fine in yellow, but the eyes themselves look just a little weird. Since Ken Masters’s face is grimacing, his teeth get painted white and that’s some pretty good attention to detail there. I know that the all red look is in line with the sprite, but it is kind of a shame that all the great sculpted details on his torso didn’t really get much attention from the paint team. It’s a serviceable look, but it does look just a tad incomplete.
Ken Masters hails from the time in the line where everybody got a weapon tree full of reused stuff, so he’s got a lot of gear, but I know I didn’t ever use much of it. On the plus side, his gear is black, which didn’t happen a lot towards the later years of the Joe line. His gear consisted of the ‘88 Storm Shadow bow, the machete that first came with Spearhead, the black sword with the ball pommel on the end and the sickle that we saw with a lot of Ninja Force figures, and the two small black knives that were also used with Ninja Force Zartan and fit in the functional sheaths on his legs. I tended to use either a combination of the sickle and one of the small knives or the pair of small knives. I thought these accessories worked best with his action feature and that angry snarl made him seem like someone who liked causing pain and those accessories definitely looked like they could cause the most pain to someone. I definitely remember turning Cobra Ken Masters (I honestly can’t remember what I called him once he stopped being Ken Masters) into a guy that was cocky in his abilities and would go for the painful strike over the killing strike every time. I seem to remember that character trait being what usually cost him the fight in the end. He’d really hurt Snake Eyes and then start monologuing about how great he was, giving Snake Eyes enough time to regather his strength and attack Ken Masters hard enough that he was worried that he’d lose and he’d run away like a coward. Aside from the bow, all of the weapons that Hasbro gave Ken Masters work well not just with the character but also the action feature. I remember even as a kid thinking the bow was an odd addition because of his spinning arm attack feature.
I always appreciated the Street Fighter II figures that I had as a kid because I enjoyed incorporating some of those characters into my Joe play habits. However, after hearing Kirk Bozigian talk about those subteams at Joe Con a couple of years ago, they become a little more interesting to me. After all, the reason I got some Street Fighter II figures is because I liked playing the game and Kirk seeing his own son dropping quarter after quarter into a Street Fighter II arcade machine while on vacation was part of the reason he pushed Hasbro to try and do some Joe-style Street Fighter figures. It was a great way to freshen up the Joe brand and since so many of the figures used Joe molds, it was natural that they’d wind up being played with right alongside the Joes as well. I’ll admit, it wasn’t quite as fun using this figure as Ken Masters, but making him an evil Cobra ninja with some characteristics based on the Ken Masters filecard made him a neat addition to my Cobra team. The Street Fighter II figures are an interesting artifact from the 90s-era Joe line and I’m glad to have a few in my collection and truthfully, the Christmas-in-November memories of Ken Masters definitely leave me with a pretty big soft spot for this red-garbed ninja.