REVIEW: SDCC EXCLUSIVE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS ORKO with PRINCE ADAM
For the record, the annual San Diego Comic-Con is significantly "the" event of the pop culture world, with just about every genre of popular entertainment on hand in some form or other. Comic books, toys, movies, video games, TV shows, you name it, it's there, generally officially represented by the major companies within any given area of entertainment themselves, on hand to provide whatever up-to-date information about their upcoming products that they can. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Mattel, Hasbro, Disney, the list goes on and on.
Of course, for action figure collectors, one of the main draws is the fact that many of the toy companies that are present are also offering exclusive products of one sort or another. This has been true for a good number of years, and it was certainly true this in 2010. And as it has for the past two years, that included Mattel's excellent line of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS. In fact, it was the San Diego Comic-Con exclusive of 2008 - KING GRAYSKULL - that ushered in the return of the Masters.
One of the 2010 Comic-Con Exclusives in the world of Masters of the Universe finally brings to the modern figure form one of the most interesting, if comical, figures in the entire concept -- ORKO! He is accompanied by the official Masters of the Universe figure of He-Man in his "secret identity" mode, PRINCE ADAM!
Orko has an interesting background, conceptually. He was not initially created by Mattel. Rather, he was developed by Filmation for the original animated series, as a means of providing comic relief to the show, an aspect that was largely regarded as crucial to such otherwise adventure-oriented animation. Such tends to not be the case quite so much today, and with all due respect to Orko, I think that's just as well.
Nevertheless, Orko proved to be a popular enough character, and even though not created by Mattel, Mattel was able to add an Orko figure to the original Masters of the Universe lineup. When the 2002 animated series -- and related toy line -- appeared, Orko also bridged this particular gap, somehow managing to find a place in a Masters series that was a lot more intense than the original. It's only fitting that he should now take his place among the Classics.
Let's consider the full history of the character. Orko's original name was "Gorpo", a name that was used, oddly enough, in the Brazilian Portuguese dub of the original series. He was renamed Orko largely for animation convenience. The original animated series made extensive use of stock footage, and given that Orko had a large letter "O" on the front of his tunic, this made it easier for animators to simply "flip" the animation cels, if they wanted Orko to be facing in the opposite direction, since with the letter "O", the character's design was entirely symmetrical. It would not have been so with a letter "G". Doubtless this still caused some confusion in Brazil. "Why is Gorpo wearing an 'O'?"
Orko is a Trollan, a race of beings from the planet Trolla, a world in another dimension. Trollans wear red robes, red hats, and hide their faces behind scarves. In Trollan society, revealing your face to each other is considered an intimate act, similar to sharing a kiss. There exists somewhere a production drawing of Orko without his hat, but he never appeared without it in the series. He did reveal his face in one episode, but his back was turned to the camera and is not visible to the viewers. The online research from which I derived much of this information indicates that Orko looked like a "little blue elf". Just as well he kept his hat on. There's enough Smurfs in the world...
Trollans are apparently small, blue-skinned humanoids with pointy ears, which protrude from the sides of their hats. However, their feet remain hidden under their robes. Trollans have natural magical abilities, the most common of which is levitation, which they exclusively use rather than walking. Apparently they do have legs, but are unaccustomed to using them. In one episode, Orko temporarily loses the power of levitation, and is shown crawling on his hands and knees.
Orko is one of three people, along with Man-At-Arms and the Sorceress, who knows He-Man's identity as Prince Adam. Orko's comic relief in the series comes from the fact that he has always had trouble with his magical powers. A recurring joke is that almost every time he tries to use magic, it backfires, generally in some amusing way. The reason for this is not entirely clear. In one episode, it is suggested that Trolla operates along different natural laws than Eternia, and that in Trolla, Orko was an excellent magician. However, in later episodes this is contradicted, as Orko is shown to not be especially competent even on his homeworld. Another episode indicates that Orko possessed a magical pendant that allowed him to use magic properly, but that he later lost it. The amulet later turned up stuck on the back of a dinosaur brought to life by Skeletor. When Orko retrieved the amulet and used it to erase the events that had taken place, the amulet went back with the dinosaur.
In addition to his magic, Orko also stores a plethora of items of varying degrees of usefulness in his hat. Some people carry a backpack, Orko has a hat. The sheer number of items that he is able to keep in his hat is impossibly great, suggesting that the hat itself has its own magical properties. Either that, or Orko knows some great headache remedies.
Orko first came to Eternia when a cosmic storm accidentally transported him there. He appeared in the Tar Swamps, where he found a young Prince Adam and his pet, Cringer, then little more than a cub, and saved them both from perishing, stuck in the tar. However, he lost his pendant in the process after colliding with a tree.
Stranded on Eternia, Orko was made "Royal Buffoon" by King Randor (SOME honor!) in gratitude for having saved his son. Orko became one of Adam's closest friends. However, Orko frequently annoys Man-At-Arms, due to his magic constantly backfiring or Orko coming into his lab unexpected and uninvited, and messing with Man-At-Arms' equipment and inventions.
Orko has proven to be a good friend and a valuable ally, despite his unpredictable powers and the fact that he tends to be both a little clueless and occasionally slightly egotistical, although sometimes the opposite is also true. There are times when Orko wonders how useful he is to He-Man, but despite his unpredictable powers and occasional cowardliness, he never fails to help those in need. Adam regards himself as ever in Orko's debt for saving his life when he was a child, and on two noted occasions, He-Man has helped Orko regain his magical powers, such as they are.
Over the course of the series, Orko returns to Trolla, with the help of others, on several occasions. On the first such trip, he helps He-man save the life of several Trollans captured by a dragon called the Dragoon, and begins a romance with a Trollan girl named Dree Elle. He ultimately decides that his place is now on Eternia, and returns there, but he still occasionally visits his friends and relatives on Trolla.
A number of other Trollans appeared over the course of the show, including the aforementioned Dree Elle, who appeared several times, and once even in a She-Ra episode; Uncle Montork, Orko's uncle and a far more skilled magician than his nephew; Snoob; a misguided Trollan wizard; Squunge, a friend of Orko who wears a pilot helmet, and others.
In the 2002 series, Orko was more or less the same, although he was pictured as somewhat taller, and his robe was more ornate. Much as with the original series, Orko was once a very powerful wizard but when he came to Eternia, he lost his wand, which was needed to control his magic. The only other Trollan to appear in the 2002 series was called the Oracle, who appeared in a flashback episode "The Power of Grayskull", and who resided on ancient Eternia in its distant past.
Every incarnation of the Masters of the Universe line has had an Orko figure. The one associated with the original series was rather considerably out of scale, much larger than he appeared in the series. The figure had a removable hat, poseable arms, and a "zip-cord" feature that allowed him to spin across a flat surface like a top. The 2002-era Orko was more in scale with that toy line. Orko, like many of the Masters, was designed in a far more ornate style than the original series, with a much fancier robe, and this was reflected in the toy.
So now we have the modern Masters of the Universe Classics Orko, and it's understandable why this toy was offered first and foremost as a Comic-Con exclusive, since the figure is pretty much to scale with the other Masters figures, and as such doesn't take up a whole lot of room in the package. There's also something to be said for this being the reason it included a Prince Adam figure. More on that later.
Technically speaking, there are two versions of Orko. There's the Comic-Con version and there's the MattyCollector version. I am fortunate enough to have them both. The Comic-Con version has a color-change feature. This is not an "action feature" that has ever impressed me all that much, especially when it's designed to make the character seemingly change from opaque to invisible. I have never seen it work that well. The first time I ever encountered it in this fashion was in the G.I. Joe action figure line, when it was implemented on a special team known as the Shadow Ninjas. These figures tended to turn more of a semi-translucent white, rather than clear. A later line, from Kenner, called Shadow Strikers. This line worked somewhat better in the transparency area, given the smaller size and less complex design of the figures, which were more in keeping with Kenner's recently departed MASK series. But they still never looked entirely opaque.
So, how's the Comic-Con version of Orko? Well, not too bad -- but I'm still glad I got the other one. Yes, Orko possessed the ability to disappear and then reappear somewhere else, which was teleportation as much as anything, but he didn't tend to do a slow fade.
This figure actually manages to pull the "disappearing act" better than I've seen from either the Shadow Ninjas or the Shadow Strikers. And it didn't even take warm water to do it. All I had to do was set him outside in semi-direct sunlight for a few minutes. Except for his head, he turned pretty transparent, as you can see by one of the pictures. As for the opposite end of the scale, he never quite looked as solid as his non-color-changing counterpart, which I still prefer, but I'd still call it above-average for this sort of effect.
The design of the figure is excellent. To the top of his hat, he stands about 2-5/8", which is very nicely in scale with the Classics. He certainly looks like the character, with the huge, floppy orange hat, little blue pointed ears, hidden shadow of face with just his eyes showing, a scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face, and the reddish tunic with the "O" on it. Thankfully, in my opinion, he lacks the "top-spinning" action of the original Orko, which I always thought was a little ridiculous (but the original Masters were known for action features, and something had to justify the cost).
He has no legs, of course, but is otherwise very well articulated. He is poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), and wrists. The design of the arms is very much in keeping with the cartoonish style of the original series. Among his accessories is a book of magic (which doesn't open, which may be just as well), a magic wand with an "O" shape at the top of it, and a very nice transparent display stand with a black base. Orko can be attached to this base and made to look, a bit, like he's hovering. At the very least, it brings him effectively up to eye level of the other Masters figures.
As cool as the transparent-capable version of Orko may be, I have to say that I do prefer the MattyCollector version, for several reasons, all of them having to do with color. The overall color scheme is distinctly more accurate. Here, Orko is wearing a dark red tunic, has a lavender scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face, an appropriately orange hat, and blue ears and hands can be seen.
But Mattel added one interesting bit of paint detail to this version of Orko that I really think makes the figure. The way the figure was colored in the original animated series, it was made to look as though the underside of Orko's hat was black. This merged into his hidden face and accentuated his large yellow eyes. Of course, this was all a sort of stylized shading done for animation. There was no reason to believe that Orko's hat was anything other than entirely orange. But it looked good in the animation.
The transition to the original toy was another matter. Here, Orko's hat was entirely orange, and there was no stylized shading. I remember that I had the original Orko figure, and I actually went so far as to paint the underside of his hat black just so he'd look a bit more like his animated counterpart.
Somebody at Mattel must have realized the benefits of creative shading. Although the underside of Orko's hat is not black, it is a distinctly darker shade of orange, almost a brown, in color, and it really does help Orko's overall appearance. I'm not putting down the ComiCon Orko in any way, and I'm very pleased to have him, but if I have to state a preference, then it goes to the MattyCollector one.
The scroll-like file card on the back of Orko's package is interesting reading. It's been evident from fairly early on in the Masters of the Universe Classics series that the creative folk behind it are determined to involve the planet Trolla to a greater, and more serious, extent than was ever shown in the original series. Orko's card reads as follows:
ORKO - Heroic Court Magician
After the rise of the Horde Empire, evil again outweighed the forces of good in the five dimensions. So in every generation a Cosmic Warrior was recruited by the Overlords of Trolla to fight against evil. Each was given the Sword of He, a weapon infused with the Power of the Universe. They were also assigned a Trollan guide to watch over and advise them in their quests. On the planet of Eternia, after five centuries of being split in two, the Trollan Power Sword was at long last joined and bequeathed to an heir worthy of its power - Prince Adam of the royal household. Orko, a member of the Trollan magical elite, was assigned to watch over Adam. Although he was a powerful mage on Trolla, the hidden mystic properties of Eternia turned his magic into little more than entertaining tricks, which he uses to entertain his friends and remain undercover.
I have to say, "Heroic Court Magician" beats the heck out of "Royal Buffoon" as far as an honorific title is concerned. This backstory is interesting, and makes Orko far more than comic relief, even though it seems to negate Orko's accidental arrival on Eternia and his subsequent saving of Adam and Cringer in the Tar Swamps, which wasn't a bad story in and of itself.
Orko is accompanied by a figure of Prince Adam. Technically, this is almost regarded as an accessory. There's a little blurb on the package that reads, "Includes Fully-Articulated Prince Adam" -- interestingly enough in the same type font as the original line. As a graphic artist, I notice these things.
The figure is not readily displayed in the package, but rather is tucked behind the frontispiece which looks like part of the castle and displays Orko's name (or whomever's on the common package design). Since Prince Adam is laid flat, this results in the rather disquieting result of the assembled package looking as though Orko is hovering over Prince Adam.
Prince Adam is, basically, He-Man's "Clark Kent", the seemingly meek and occasionally bumbling son of King Randor, regarded as pretty much hopeless by Teela. In the original animated series, it's amazing that no one ever figured it out, since apart from how he was dressed, and having slightly paler skin, Prince Adam was a dead ringer for He-Man. Just as muscular, everything. Didn't even wear glasses...
Since Adam didn't use a phone booth to change into He-Man, the 2002 series got a little more creative with Prince Adam. He was intentionally drawn smaller and far more slender in size than He-Man. When he raised his sword and shouted "By the Power of Grayskull", it was a lot more than a wardrobe change. He seemed to put on about ten years of age and eighty to a hundred pounds of solid muscle.
Both the original series of action figures and the 2002 line offered Prince Adam figures. The original series one was easy enough -- recolor a He-Man figure and give it a fabric vest. Interestingly enough, they made Adam's vest dark red. It had been very nearly pink in the animated series. A wise change on Mattel's part. The 2002 series Prince Adam obviously needed to be a unique figure, but that line was known for doing unique figures. There were very few repaints, apart from the He-Man and Skeletor variations that more or less helped kill the line anyway.
Since the Masters of the Universe Classics line takes its cues more from the original, the Prince Adam figure is obviously far closer in design to the original Prince Adam than to the 2002 concept of the character. In other words, it uses the same muscular body as He-Man.
Prince Adam is outfitted in a white shirt, burgundy vest with a black belt, purple loincloth, lavender tights, and purple boots. This design was the idea of Filmation, even if the concept of Prince Adam wasn't, and one can only guess what they were thinking with this color scheme, but it is what it is. The Classics figure manages to tone some of this down a bit by making the shirt a sort of off-white -- almost a pale gray, and giving Adam silver wrist bands. The vest looks good, and this time around is made from flexible plastic rather than fabric. It is not removable, having been placed on the figure during assembly, which still struck me as a good trick until I realized that it's sealed closed at the belt buckle. The loincloth and boots are a very dark purple. The leggings are still a rather odd color of lavender, but they're accurate to the figure.
Interestingly enough, Mattel created a new headsculpt for Prince Adam! This impressed me, and it shows the level of attention and dedication that Mattel has to this line. Actually, Prince Adam comes with two heads -- one of which matches He-Man's determined expression, the other of which, mounted on the figure, has a more relaxed expression, almost a smile on one side.
Of course, the figure has the same level of articulation as any standard Masters of the Universe Classics figure, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso (slightly hindered by the vest, but not too badly), waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
I do have one criticism -- the feet on the Prince Adam figure that I opened were distressingly loose, both in the ankle joint and seemingly in how they were attached to that joint. The end result was a sort of "wobble-foot" problem that I encountered several times early in the run of the Classics, but which seemed to have let up. Now it seems to be recurring, and I hope it's something that Mattel looks into. To what degree the fact that Prince Adam was stuffed into a bubble configuration that his lower legs had to actually be jammed through was a factor I don't know, but given that Prince Adam is not the only figure I have encountered this on lately, I am inclined to largely dismiss that theory. The fact remains that loose feet means difficulty in standing up on one's own. While I wouldn't care for my Masters figures to have any distinctly loose parts, the feet are especially problematic in this regard since they do affect the figure's ability to simply stand up and remain standing. Hopefully the problem is not widespread, and/or can be remedied -- again. I mention it in the hopes that it will be taken care of.
Other than this, Prince Adam is an excellent figure, and since we also have Adora, She-Ra's secret identity, in the Classics line, he is certainly a welcome addition. He comes with the two halves of the Power Sword, which frankly have been turning up so much lately that if Mattel keeps this up, I'm going to start putting them in the same category as Star Wars Clone Trooper blasters. The painted details are excellent, although the yellow belt buckle was a little sloppy on one of the two Adams I have. Adam comes with either version of Orko, of course, but unlike Orko, the figures are identical.
Adam has no file card of his own. Honestly, while I can see the humor intended here, of making a full-sized figure an "accessory" to a diminutive little guy like Orko, I do think that the lack of a file card is just a bit disrespectful to Adam. If Mattel can develop separate file cards for Keldor and Skeletor, who are essentially two versions of the same individuals, and Adora and She-Ra, then they could have come up with something for Adam.
So, what's my final word here? This is a very cool set. Both Orko and Prince Adam are entirely welcome additions to the Masters of the Universe Classics line, with roots going as far back as the beginning of the concept. The figures are well-made, neatly painted, and nicely detailed. Orko is very reasonably to scale with his peers for arguably the first time ever, and Prince Adam is a lot more than an "accessory" in this set. I do recommend the non-color-changing version of Orko for the sake of accuracy, but either is certainly cool, and the Prince Adam figure is identical for both.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures of ORKO and PRINCE ADAM definitely have my highest recommendation!