REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS HORDAK
Several years into the run of the original Masters of the Universe concept, a new enemy appeared on the horizon. His name was HORDAK, leader of the Evil Horde, a gathering of bad guys that were ostensibly even more villainous than Skeletor and his crew.
Hordak is also a recent addition to Mattel's MattyCollector exclusive MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line, and the figure has been greatly anticipated. Why?
I think due in large part to the fact that not only was Hordak a rather major player back in the 80's, but he didn't quite make it out as a figure during the 2002 line. He almost did. He'd had a couple of cameos in both the 2002 animated series, and the comic book. The implication was that his return was imminent. Indeed, more than a few articles have indicated that had the toy line and the animated series managed to endure for one more year, Hordak WOULD have returned, nastier than ever. In fact, it would've taken the combined efforts of the Masters and their enemies to deal with him this time around.
Alas, it didn't happen. Hordak was one of the first characters released in the action-figure-scaled statue line that came on the heels of the cancellation of the 2002 figures, a line of statues which was sculpted by the same people who designed the figures, at least giving us a look into what might have been, to some degree.
So one can understand why, when Hordak was announced for the Masters of the Universe Classics line, as early into the line as he was, fans who likely felt a little cheated several years ago, now awaited the arrival of Hordak with great anticipation -- and it took me half an hour to order him off of the Web Site...
The question should be asked, I suppose -- Is Hordak really more evil than Skeletor? Personally, I think it's tough to top the visual look of a guy who has a visible skull for a head. And as light-hearted as the original animated series could be at times, there was something distinctly sinister in Skeletor's voice, as presented by the considerable vocal talents of Allen Oppenheimer.
However, the animation took a very interesting direction when it came to Hordak and the Evil Horde. Rather than make him a villain within the Masters of the Universe concept, they shifted him over to the new animated series based on the just-released girls' action figure like, She-Ra, Princess of Power.
The Masters had been so successful, and some sort of marketing study indicated to Mattel that girls liked the characters as well as boys, that She-Ra and her friends (and enemies) were developed. A link to the Masters was created in the animation, and presented in the introductory theatrically-released animated movie, in that He-Man and She-Ra were brother and sister. In their secret identities, He-Man was Prince Adam, son of King Randor of Eternia. She-Ra was in fact Adora, Adam's long-lost sister, who had been kidnapped as an infant by Hordak, and spirited away to another world.
Kidnapping babies pretty well puts Hordak pretty high on the villain scale. Hordak made his way to the planet Etheria, and pretty much took over the place. Here, again, is an implication that Hordak was arguably more evil than Skeletor. He was, at the very least, certainly more successful. Skeletor had been trying one scheme after another for years to conquer Eternia, and had yet to succeed. Hordak ruled Etheria, with only a ragtag rebellion in his way. He'd also raised Adora and made her Captain of the Guard.
The arrival of Adam/He-Man caused something of a mess for Hordak, though, since Adam was not only able to turn Adora back to the side of the heroes, but through a new Power Sword, she was able to become She-Ra. The rebellion gained a fair measure of strength with that particular stunt.
It was also revealed in the movie that Hordak and Skeletor knew each other. Skeletor had apparently once been a member of the Horde himself, and was Hordak's pupil -- right up to the point where Hordak stole Adora, escaped to Etheria, and left Skeletor hanging. There was no love lost between the two of them, although they managed to team up long enough when faced with the combined might of He-Man and She-Ra, with Skeletor aghast at the notion of a "female He-Man", another hero of similar power levels.
Skeletor didn't have too much to worry about, though, since most of the action between She-Ra and Hordak took place on Etheria, with only occasional crossovers to Eternia. One final indication that Hordak was nastier than Skeletor, though, came during an animated Christmas special, where a number of the characters found themselves on Earth, a first-time visit for all of them, even though it was the homeworld of He-Man's mother, Queen Marlena.
A couple of children try to explain the concept of Christmas to the visiting Eternians, who have never heard of the holiday. Both Skeletor and Hordak cause a fair amount of grief, but at one point towards the end of the show, when Hordak openly threatens the children, Skeletor find himself reluctantly caught up in the Christmas spirit, and saves them from Hordak's attack.
Between that and his kidnapping of the infant Adora in the first place, it seems Hordak isn't terribly fond of kids. No wonder he's perceived as being more evil. I suppose, on a personal note, I just always had a little trouble accepting him as being more evil than Skeletor. To me, he didn't entirely look it -- like I said, it's a little hard to top a guy with a visible skull for a head -- and he didn't tend to sound it, either. For whatever reason, in the animated series, voiced by George DiCenzo, he tended to snort when he talked. It was a rather repulsive noise, borderline comedic in a rather gross sense, and made Hordak sound like he had some sort of horrible chronic sinus condition. Granted that might make anyone testy, but it was a little hard to take him as seriously as Skeletor.
As for Hordak's presence in the She-Ra animated series, when technically speaking, Hordak was not a She-Ra-based character, I can see the logic of it. The She-Ra toy line was distinctly lacking in male characters. There was really only one, a heroic archer by the name of Bow. The other characters, heroes and villains alike, were all female, and most of the female villains didn't seem to have the necessary level of evil to pose a high enough level threat to maintain the show. Plus, I'm sure that both Filmation and Mattel wanted to attract as broad an audience as possible for the program, and it was also perhaps considered that He-Man already had Skeletor to deal with, and toys notwithstanding, throwing another major villain into his show on a regular basis was overkill.
This is at least partial speculation on my part, but the end result was the same. Hordak was the main villain of the She-Ra animated series, and the members of his Evil Horde were teamed with the villainesses that were part of the She-Ra toy line, to form a threat that could plausibly have taken over the entire planet Etheria, thus also allowing the She-Ra animated series to have a different tone to it than He-Man's show. Whereas Skeletor sought power enough to conquer Eternia, Hordak and his minions HAD conquered Etheria, putting She-Ra and the heroes of that show in the underdog role, and on the defensive more often than not. Overall, it was an impressive way to handle not only the new characters from both toy lines, but also the concepts of both shows.
But now, let us consider the character and figure, specifically, of Hordak. And from a toy standpoint, he's from the Masters of the Universe line, not the She-Ra line, although given She-Ra's appearance in the 2002 Masters of the Universe line, as a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, and I would suspect the potential of her appearing in this Masters of the Universe Classics line at some point, I'd say that line is getting a little blurry. But as originally created for the toy line, Hordak is part of the Masters.
The background information presented on Hordak's package, on the very nice scroll-like "file cards" that have been developed for this line, is very interesting, in that it makes no reference whatsoever to the She-Ra history, and seems to take most of its backstory from what was proposed for what would have been the third season of the 2002 animated series. It reads as follows:
HORDAK - EVIL LEADER OF THE EVIL HORDE
Second born heir to the Horde Empire, Hec-Tor Kur arrived on the planet Eternia while battling the cosmic warrior He-Ro. Taking the name Hordak, he raised an army and challenged the Snake Men for rule over the planet. And although he defeated King Hssss, Grayskull, leader of the free people of Eternia, succeeded in banishing him to the dimension of Despondos. It was there that centuries later Hordak contacted a young alchemist named Keldor and began teaching him the ways of the dark acts in exchange for freedom from his extra-dimensional prison.
That's pretty well in keeping with the 2002 storyline. The Snake-Men had just been introduced, and barely made it out as toys, although they were major players in the second season of the animated series. Reliable reports indicate that Hordak would've been freed in the third season, gone up against the Snake-Men, and anybody on any side of this conflict, including the Masters as well as Skeletor's crew, that wasn't inclined to be involved in one of the biggest pitched battles in the history of Eternia, had better head for the hills. Shame it never came to pass.
Keldor, is of course, the original name of Skeletor. "Hec-Tor Kur" is a new name developed for Hordak, and this is its first usage.
His background on WikiPedia, beyond what I have written here myself, includes the following details:
Hordak is generally recognized as being the lead villain of the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon, in which he is the archnemesis of She-Ra, He-Man's twin sister. In this series, he rules the planet of Etheria with an army of robotic Horde Troopers. In a few episodes, he does make attempts and mentions of trying to conquer Eternia, giving his goals some similarity to his action figure/comic counterpart.
In the Filmation series and later comics derived from its continuity, Horde Prime is the only being with authority over Hordak as well as his Horde inspectors, for he is the intergalactic ruler of the Horde Empire, with control over all Horde regimes. He apparently hails from a world known as Horde World although his exact background has never been revealed. All that has ever been seen of Horde Prime is a gigantic skeletal robotic arm, which suggests he may be some sort of cyborg. He travels the universe in his ship, keeping watch over the Horde's universal activities. It has been speculated, but never confirmed, that Horde Prime may be Hordak's brother.
Hordak and his Evil Horde were introduced into Mattel's Masters of the Universe toy line in 1985 to inject new blood into the line by introducing a new army of villains, as adversaries to both He-Man and Skeletor. Hordak is introduced in the mini-comic "Hordak: The Ruthless Leader's Revenge!", packaged with his action figure, in which he returns from the dimension in which he was imprisoned to wreak vengeance on Skeletor while making his own attempts to destroy He-Man and conquer Castle Grayskull. His character is presented as a sorcerer who has now turned his attention mainly to science, and uses a combination of magic and science, but mainly the latter, in his attempts on Eternia. He apparently was involved in lots of events in Eternia's past such as the building of The Three Towers, which is alluded to in some of the mini-comics that came packaged with the action figures.
In the new continuity of the 2002 Mike Young Productions He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated series, Hordak is returned to his mini-comic roots as a non-technological sorcerous warlord from ancient Eternia, who opposed Castle Grayskull's original ruler, King Grayskull, with a massive army. The conflict ended when Hordak commanded his sorcerers to draw Castle Grayskull into the dimension of Despondos. The spell failed with King Grayskull's intervention, only destroying the area around the castle and drawing Hordak and his army into the dark dimension instead. While trapped in Despondos, Hordak saved Keldor's life after he failed to assassinate the Eternian Elders, and had acid splashed in his face when it was deflected by Captain Randor. Hordak saved Keldor by magically removing the damaged flesh and allowing his bare skull to exist in a magical floating state above his shoulders. Having saved his life on the promise of a later price to be paid, Hordak renamed Keldor as Skeletor. In can be noted that Hordak was even more vicious towards his men than Skeletor is. In the episode "The Power of Grayskull" Hordak completely destroys one of his generals simply for giving him good advice that he didn't want to hear.
At a much later date, Hordak calls upon Skeletor to free him from Despondos, Skeletor initially seems powerless to resist his mentor. However, Skeletor surprises the onlooking Evil-Lyn and He-Man by defiantly destroying Hordak's temple, thus hoping to seal his former master away forever. Soon after Evil-Lyn attempts to free Hordak through different means with the help of Count Marzo, but after He-Man destroys the Well of Darkness, Marzo absorbs the power of his amulet and flees. It is also revealed that Hordak is responsible for creating this series' Dark Hemisphere on Eternia by performing the Spell of Separation.
Hordak was intended to be released in the new toy line, as well as being the main villain in the third season of the cartoon series. According to Ian Richter of Mattel, who initiated most of the storylines on the cartoon, Hordak was going to conquer Eternia in season three and serve as the main villain of the season before finally being overcome by Skeletor.
Confused yet? Then we have Hordak's powers and abilities, as portrayed by various sources: In the Filmation series, Hordak possesses an array of powers. Unlike his treacherous former pupil Skeletor, who relies mostly on magic, the majority of Hordak's powers are seemingly the product of science. He is capable of transforming himself in a variety of ways. For example, he can turn his arm into an energy cannon, become a massive tank, and even transport himself over great distances by becoming a rocket. In the episode "The Sword In The Stone", Hordak even transforms his arm into a vacuum cleaner. Although mechanical in result, these transformations may have been magically instigated, as they occur instantaneously with an eerie glow and sound effect. (And he looked pretty silly whenever he transformed into a rocket...)
In the 2002 Mike Young Productions cartoon, Hordak briefly appears in flashbacks and in astral form via dimensional portals. He is depicted as a supremely powerful magic-user, seemingly of vastly greater power than Skeletor, and with no apparent reliance on technology whatsoever, other than his Horde Troopers, although it is unknown if these redesigned minions are still intended to be robots like the original versions.
Ultimately, given the current lack of media tie-ins to the Masters of the Universe Classics series, I doubt that any of these seeming contradictions in Hordak's character are going to be resolved anytime soon. As such, I am inclined as much as anything to use the file card that came with the figure for the basis of the character as much as anything, without wanting to sound at all dismissive about the Filmation animated series. Both the original He-Man and She-Ra series did great benefit to their respective concepts, the connection between the two was quite innovative for the time, and really, set the stage for a great deal of toy-based animation that followed.
Let us now consider the new action figure. Some fans, who may have based their perception of Hordak on his original animated series appearance, may be a little surprised to note that Hordak's molded costume is primarily gray. It was blue in the animated She-Ra series, but I am inclined to think that this was a concession to the more colorful motif of the show as a whole, and a means of keeping the main villain from visually fading into the background too much.
Hordak's overall color scheme does make him seem more malevolent than Skeletor, skull notwithstanding. Hordak's arms and legs and dark grey, and his boots, loincloth, and gloves are black. He has a dark red (dare I say blood-red) bat insignia on his chest armor. This is a much darker and grimmer color scheme than Skeletor's light blue skin, greenish-yellow skull, and dark purple hood, harness, and so forth.
Hordak's head is the really weird part, and it is here where I think Skeletor has a bit of a visual advantage. His skull-like head is clearly human-derived. Hordak's head has been compared to appearing rather bat-like in some respects, which might also explain the red bat-like Horde insignia. Indeed, there are some bat-like characteristics to the structure of Hordak's head. Certainly it makes him look evil. But there's a degree to which it also makes it harder to identify with him on the same sort of visceral level as Skeletor's skull-head.
Hordak is recognizable by his grotesque white (sometimes cream/bone colored) face, with sharp red eyes, his flat snout-like nose, red vampire-like fangs and pointed bat-like ears. Well, for this figure, Mattel definitely went with the "bone-colored". Hordak's face is predominantly a very pale tan, sort of a weathered-bone color, with dark grey coloration below the protruding cheek bones. He has deep-set red eyes, underneath a slanted brow, the aforementioned flat, snout-like nose, although it's not really big enough to qualify as a "snout" in my opinion, and a grim scowling mouth with red fangs within. Hordak has a bony ridge running along the top of his head, and rather wide, pointed ears, with dark gray interiors, on either side of his head.
According to the toy line's creator Roger Sweet, his face was modeled on an African witch doctor's mask. You know, it's not too hard to imagine that being the case, looking at this.
Hordak has a high, oval-like collar encircling his face, which becomes more or less an armored hood protecting the back of his head. Think this guy is maybe a little worried about backstabbers? The hood is black with silver trim, and is connected to a slightly narrow red cape that ends in a jagged pattern. It's an interesting touch to the costume. I wouldn't've minded if the cape had been a little broader, but given how it looks, I don't think even Hordak wants to step on Batman's territory.
Hordak is wearing rather plain black gloves. His boots, on the other hand, are a fair bit fancier. They are black, with considerable silver trim, and red bat emblem's on them. His feet end in the three-toed configuration that a lot of Masters bad guys have, but they're clearly armored this time around.
Here's a distinct note - a lot of new body parts had to be made for this Hordak figure. Mattel, understandably, reuses a lot of body molds between one Masters figure and another. This was a common practice with the 1980's line, as well, and it makes good economic sense. At the same time, one wants to make as impressive a figure as possible, and part-wise, they went all out on Hordak. While his arms and most of his legs are from existing molds, his lower torso is new, designed to look armored, his loincloth is longer, although this part is a reuse from the King Grayskull figure, and his boots and feet are entirely new. This, of course, doesn't count the head, chest armor, and cape, which tend to differ from one figure to another anyway.
He also has a separate little armband on his left arm, black with the red bat Horde insignia on it. One might assume that as such time as Mattel gets around to more Horde members, they will have the same armband.
Of course, articulation is excellent. This is certainly one thing that the Masters of the Universe Classics line has over and above the original 1980's line, or the 2002 line. Hordak is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. On my Hordak, his left foot is rather loose, but I have encountered this before. As long as it doesn't outright fall off, and as long as he can stand on his own two feet, I'm not going to gripe too much. I just hope that Mattel maintains these molds well.
Paintwork is generally very well done, although I could've done without the weathering on the silver trim. Unfortunately, they did it in black on an otherwise black background, which has the regrettable effect of making it look like they just missed a few spots with the silver. But on the whole, the paintwork is well done.
Hordak comes with s number of interesting accessories. He has a staff, which is done in a weathered metallic gray, and has the red bat Horde symbol on it, as well as a series of spikes and claws. He also comes with a small, bat-gargoyle creature that can perch on his wrist. This little critter is a tribute to a character named "Imp" that appeared in the Filmation She-Ra series. Finally, Hordak comes with the world's ugliest crossbow, this hideous pewter-colored thing that looks like a crossbow mixed with a gargoyle. It's non-functional, but the way it's designed, the arrow would shoot out of the thing's mouth.
So, what's my final word here? Hey, it's Hordak. We didn't quite get him the last time around, and he's certainly a popular and prominent character. Any Masters of the Universe fan is going to want this guy, and Mattel really went all out on him. As one might expect, he sold out in record time on the MattyCollector.Com Web Site, but, as I tend to say in such matters, there's always the secondary market.
And most assuredly, the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of HORDAK definitely has my highest recommendation!