REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS VIKOR
My next addition to Mattel's extremely impressive lineup of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures goes by the name of VIKOR. And for some of you, you may immediately be asking -- Who? That's not a name that's turned up before. It's not in the original series. It's not in the 2002 line. It's not even in the New Adventures of He-Man. So -- who in the world is Vikor, and how does he manage to earn a descriptive term after his name that dubs him "He-Man of the North"?
To answer that question, we need to delve into the history of the Masters of the Universe, far back to even before the line debuted. For in Vikor, we have the odd dichotomy of a technically new character -- but whose history really goes even further back than the earliest days of the toy line itself.
The Masters of the Universe action figure line was initiated by one Roger Sweet, who came up with the concept in late 1980, and managed the line throughout its original run. The lead character of He-Man was given three different initial designs: a fairly stereotypical barbarian type; a modern-day military man -- which would've been an interesting result given the impending return of Hasbro's G.I. Joe right around the same time that the Masters debuted; and a futuristic spaceman, which He-Man sort of became when the "New Adventures of He-Man" came out years later, but which admittedly never caught on entirely well. If Mattel wants to do spacemen figures, I'd just as soon they bring back Major Matt Mason. Ultimately, the barbarian-type character won out as the basis for He-Man.
Where does Vikor fit into this? Virtually every fictional character that requires a pictorial or physical presence of some sort is going to undergo a number of designs, and the final result that becomes most familiar to the public is not necessarily how the character started out. Consider, for example, Ralph McQuarrie's early designs for "Star Wars". Although some characters were relatively recognizable, they nevertheless underwent some changes from early design to final usage, and there were some other characters that were so vastly different from the end result that when Hasbro made figures of some of McQuarrie's designs, they could have easily been worked into a Star Wars collection as different individuals entirely, had their history not been known.
Such is the case with He-Man, and Mattel has clearly decided to take that precise path, of making an entirely different character as a result. The early designs for He-Man, which were seldom seen before the dawn of the Internet, showed a far more barbarian-like character than the He-Man we came to know. Somewhere between initial designs and final product, He-Man got a haircut, colored his hair blonde, picked up his fancy chest harness, and made a few other changes along the way.
There is another matter that should be mentioned. There's a lingering urban legend out there that the Masters of the Universe line was originally intended to be an action figure line based on the established character of Conan the Barbarian, but that when the first Conan movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was released, Mattel balked at the idea of basing a toy line on a movie that was as violent in nature as this one was.
Now, interestingly enough, there HAD been a Conan the Barbarian action figure some years earlier. One such had worked its way into the Marvel side of Mego's World's Greatest Super-Heroes action figure series, which was notable for featuring figures from both Marvel and DC. It's interesting that Conan turned up here, seeing as how, although Marvel was producing a highly popular series of comic books based on the character, they didn't actually own Conan, which had been created decades earlier by Robert E. Howard.
Roger Sweet has asserted that the Masters of the Universe concept was categorically not based on Conan, nor was it ever intended to be such, and I am inclined to believe this. However, given some of the early artwork, including an illustration by one Mark Taylor which I believe was the basis for what has now become the Vikor character, one can certainly see how a Conan connection could be inferred.
So, what do we have with Vikor? Well, clearly, with a name like that, we have someone who is now intended to be reminiscent of vikings -- even if he's from Eternia while vikings were solidly based on Earth. Clearly this comparison is derived from the horned helmet as much as anything, as well as the more primitive than usual garb.
So, how's the figure? Well, to a fair degree, he looks something like a Viking -- with more than a few overtones of a Conan the Barbarian type thrown in for good measure. It occurred to me that the number of Masters of the Universe characters over the years that have been fairly closely based on some period or group of people from Earth's history has actually been extremely minimal. Arguably Rio Blast could fit into this category, bearing some resemblance to a Western type; and so could Ninjor, taking his cues from ancient ninja warriors -- and there's certainly been no shortage of characters in a wide range of toy and pop culture concepts that have done that! But that's about all I could think of offhand, and I think it's to the line's great credit that it has managed to be that creative with its characters.
That's not to put down Vikor, certainly. He's an abundantly impressive figure. The headsculpt is interesting. The face looks a little like He-Man, but definitely rougher around the edges. The facial expression is more grim. Interestingly, Vikor's eyes are black. That is to say, there's no apparent iris. Just the whites of his eyes, outlined in black, and the black pupils in the center. One might assume that Vikor has especially dark irises, but it's an interesting effect.
Vikor has fairly heavy, black eyebrows, and he has long, black hair. This is certainly in contrast to He-Man's blonde hair, which is also shorter, and also certainly goes a long way to promote the rumored, if inaccurate, Conan connection.
Topping off the headsculpt is a helmet, looking very medieval in design, even moreso than some of the other Masters of the Universe hardware, with the sort of dings, dents, and irregularities in it that one would expect to find from a helmet handmade in a time where metallurgy was still a relatively new skill, and which was then subsequently used in battle. The foundation of the helmet is a dark steel color, not quite steel blue but almost, with a raised brim and ridge over the top of the head in a lighter pewter/silver color. There is an emblem on the front of the helmet, in copper with a gold center, that consists of a circle with two stylized wings.
Completing the helmet are the horns on the side. Very nicely crafted and superbly painted, they are relatively short, but impressive, pointed upwards, and painted in a dark bone-ivory color, with darkened tips, not unlike actual cattle horns.
Vikor is wearing a massive cape, irregular in shape, and clearly denoting him as being from a more primitive time and place than most of the Masters (more on that "time" inference later), as the cape is extremely furry in design. Now, it's not real fur. Mattel didn't use Grizzlor leftovers to make Vikor capes. It's sculpted in plastic. And I have to say that I believe the Four Horsemen team of designers and sculptors who work on this line, as well as DC Universe Classics, sculpt fur better than anyone out there. Granted, they sculpt just about everything better than anyone out there, but they really seem to go all out when it comes to fur textures. This can readily be seen on such Masters figures as Beast Man, Stratos, Battle Cat, and a number of others, and it can certainly be seen on this cape.
The cape is not removable, and is connected to Vikor by means of a very interesting and very detailed -- chain -- for lack of a better term, that drapes the cape around his neck. This chain is metallic gold and blue, but it also has a number of bone-like fragments hanging off of it, appropriately painted and detailed, including a tiny skull of -- something. Looks like Vikor decided to wear the skull of whatever the Eternian version of a chipmunk is. I would hope that the source of the skull was not the same animal that was the source of the cape, or there is some species of animal in Eternia's prehistory that had a preposterously small head relative to its overall body mass. And probably wasn't too bright.
The biggest mystery surrounding the cape, however, is with regard to the packaging. Vikor is packaged on an internal plastic bubble, with the cape on the opposite side of the bubble from the figure. The cape is quite thick, with limited flexibility. This isn't like the smooth capes from DC Universe Classics. And the hole through which the cape has been stuffed is thoroughly inadequate for its removal. I had to cut the plastic bubble (very carefully) in order to free the figure.
Vikor does not have the standard loincloth of most Masters of the Universe figures. There is evidence of a loincloth on either side of his legs, but in the center, on the front and back, hangs a length of sculpted, flexible plastic designed to look rather like leather. It is brown in color, and somewhat ragged and worn. Fortunately, it is flexible enough to not be a hindrance to the leg articulation. Additionally, Vikor does not have the traditional wide belt of most Masters figures. Instead, there is a small chain of gold-colored discs, which apparently serve to hold up the lengths of leather, and perhaps the loincloth as well.
Vikor certainly has distinctive wristbands. Again, these are atypical for the Masters line. They are silver-gray in color, and relatively undecorative. What's interesting, however, is that each one has seven links of actual metal chain hanging from them! I wondered what was rattling around in the package until I got the figure open and saw the chains! This is an impressive aspect of detail.
Vikor also has an armband on his upper right arm. I looks like brown leather with several metal studs in it, all neatly painted. This is remarkable in that it required a new body piece to be molded, one that included this armband.
Really, the only previously-established wardrobe pieces that Vikor is wearing are the boots, which are pretty much standard fare for a large percentage of Masters of the Universe figures. Vikor's are brown, with darker brown straps.
At first glance, Vikor may look a little dull relative to some of the more colorful members of the Masters universe. However, I believe two things need to be taken into consideration here, which will raise the opinion of Vikor in the eyes of many collectors. First of all -- he's a dead on match for the early artwork upon which he is based. A detail of this artwork is printed on the back, as part of his scroll-like file card, and it's all there -- the helmet, the hair, the furry cape, the armband, the detail on the helmet -- everything. Even the tiny skull on the cape chain. Somebody at Mattel said, "If we're going to do this figure, we're going to do him RIGHT, all the way." And unlike other established characters, no Vikor figure had ever been done before, and all they really had to work with was this one illustration -- but it was enough.
Secondly, the number of unique pieces that had to be crafted in order to do this figure correctly. Now, one would expect that the head and the cape would have to be unique. But then you start seeing other things -- the new upper arm with the armband on it. The new lower arms with the distinctive wristbands on them, complete with actual metal chains. The new lower torso with the unique belt, as well as the leather-like pieces. Mattel could, in theory, have taken several shortcuts. They could have given him standard wristbands. They could've dropped the armband. Who would've really missed it? But they didn't. Mattel really went all out on this figure, and it shows.
Now, any good viking warrior -- or even someone who just looks like one -- is going to want to be well-armed. And certainly Vikor is. He comes with a sword, a shield, and an axe. The sword fits into a loop on the back of his belt -- which again is right in keeping with the drawing upon which this figure is based. It's a fairly straightforward sword, nicely made but not overly ornate, and it's been given a very slight patina of rust at the base, to make it look a little like an antique. The axe, which looks more than a little like He-Man's own, is double bladed, with large curved blades, and has the same color scheme as the sword. So does the shield, which is about 2" in diameter, slightly ornate, and with a big spike right in the center of it.
We are left with the question that -- now that this character has been given an identity and a figure of his own -- where does he come from? How does he fit into the Masters universe? And what's up with that "He-Man of the North" reference? Okay, so that's more than one question.
We get one clue from the front of the package, which along with the usual logos also has a sticker on the window that reads, "The Powers of Grayskull". This was a concept that would have been introduced into the original Masters of the Universe line, and was, very briefly, before the toy line's abrupt demise in 1987, and would have shown us the ancient world of "Preternia", and introduced us to new characters such as He-Ro, Eldor, and others. So Vikor has been placed somewhere in this past time period. Ironically appropriate, if you think about it, never mind the fact that he looks the part.
Our answers finally come from his file card, which reads as follows:
VIKOR - HE-MAN OF THE NORTH
Shortly after King Grayskull's death, Vikor, a great warrior from the north, was chosen by the Goddess to help protect the Sword of He while all of Eternia waited for a true heir to be born. Already a master of the battleaxe, Vikor's legend soon spread across Eternia, as he quested to vanquish evil - battling the remaining renegade Snake Men, and defending the Valley of Gnarl from the Fighting Foe Men. Although his time as a He-Man was relatively short, his contributions to the legend will never be forgotten in the great archives of Eternia.
Now, I'm not sure we're supposed to assume that the sword he comes with is supposed to be the "Sword of He". Certainly it looks nothing like He-Man's Power Sword. Of course it's just as possible that the sword has somehow been disguised in this particular time period, to protect it even further. Still, the origin makes sense in the timeline of Eternia as it is being established in the Masters of the Universe Classics line.
There remains some question about the "Valley of Gnarl" and the "Fighting Foe Men", especially since both have the trademark insignia "TM" after them. I did some asking around, and as far as I can determine, "Valley of Gnarl" is a new term. To what degree we'll see more of it is anybody's guess. As for "Fighting Foe Men", this was apparently an early name under consideration for the entire Masters of the Universe line. Now -- try saying "He-Man and the Fighting Foe Men" with the same impressiveness as "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" -- and be glad for rewrites.
So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed -- honestly more than I thought I'd be. There's still a lot of well-established members of the Masters universe that I want to see brought into this line -- Man-E-Faces, Mekaneck, Fisto, Two Bad, Ram-Man. I realize that some of these will require even more unique parts than Vikor, but they'd be worth it, and they're known names. I initially saw Vikor as an oddball -- a character with no real history, based on -- no pun intended here -- rather sketchy information.
But the figure itself has abundantly won me over. The attention paid to match that sketch is impressive, as is how they have worked the character into the Masters universe. We live in a time where there is little appreciation for history, unfortunately, and what we have here is a character that, in appearance, dates all the way back to the earliest, pre-toy days of the Masters of the Universe, and is now presented as a new character, something that hasn't happened in this toy line to date! That's a pretty cool combination, to go with an extremely cool figure.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of VIKOR definitely has my highest recommendation!