By 1985, the original Masters of the Universe line was three years old - a pretty long time for a boys' action figure brand, if not that impressive next to its big sister Barbie. The He-Man cartoon was at its peak and She-Ra was just about to hit. While He-Man and his arch-nemesis Skeletor had already become cultural icons, Mattel decided the skull-headed necromancer might be getting a little long in the tooth. It was time to up the ante against He-Man and his allies - it was time for 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. Although he defeated
King Hssss, Grayskull, leader of the free people of Eternia succeeded in banishing him to the dimension of Despondos. It was here that centuries later Hordak contacted a young alchemist named Keldor and began teaching him the ways of the dark arts in exchange for freedom from his extra dimensional prison.
While Skeletor and his minions were all based on the same two or three body types, Hordak and his Evil Horde benefited heavily from MOTU's success: all five of the original 1985 Evil Horde figures received brand-new tooling (and except for Hordak, they were all entirely new sculpts). What's more, the ancillary fiction (the mini-comics and, later, the She-Ra cartoon) established Hordak not only as being more powerful than Skeletor, but as having been Skeletor's master (or at least mentor) at one point.
MOTU Classics Hordak arrives as one of the most anticipated figures in the line yet. While he received an impressive mini-statue from the Four Horsemen and NECA, this represents the first new Hordak action figure in 24 years. The "Evil Horde" sticker on the packaging is a nice touch and a nostalgic throwback to the original sub-line.
In Mastering the Universe, toy designer Roger Sweet says he came up with Hordak's head design from a Hollywood witch doctor's mask. Let's face it - no matter how much you love him, Skeletor was a rather drab-looking villain, the sort of skeleton-faced evil sorcerer who had graced the covers of paperback fantasy novels for decades. Hordak's design was a bit more interesting, from the more diverse color scheme to the interesting, if goofy-looking, bat accessory.
The Horsemen went all-out on their mini-statue re-design of Hordak, as they did with many of the 2002 versions. MOTU Classics is much
more about staying true to the original design, and that's what the Four Horsemen have done here. The sculpting, while not as detailed and exaggerated as the ministatue, is still quite good and some of the best work we've seen on MOTU Classics so far. I particularly like the head, but there's some great work around the edges of the "cowl" and on the bat on his chest as well.
In terms of new tooling, Hordak has new forearms, calves, and feet, and also features the longer loincloth first (and last) seen on King Grayskull. I guess wearing the furry underwear long was the style back in the old days. My favorite part of the design is the fact that the head is actually a separate piece from the mantle, meaning he can look in all directions without the big oval bit moving with him. It creates an interesting, almost regal effect when his head turns to the left or right but his mantle remains still. The mantle is a separate piece from the armor; to take off the armor, you pop the head off, remove the mantle and cape, then remove the armor. His armband is also removable.
One of the more controversial aspects of this figure has been the flat abdomen piece used to represent the lower part of Hordak's armor. The 1985 Hordak wore a cuirass that covered his entire torso all the way
to his belt. Had that been implemented for MOTU Classics, it would have prevented the figure from having any useful abdominal articulation, so the Horsemen created a flat abdomen piece to represent the smooth surface of the armor while preserving the articulation.
Had the ab piece been sculpted with muscles and molded in gray, it would have looked like the Ruthless Leader of the Evil Horde was wearing a half-shirt - and that would be bad. But if it was molded in black (as the "armor" abs are), it would have looked like he was wearing a tight shirt underneath the armor, and probably wouldn't have been very noticeable. This is the very rare case where, in my opinion, the Horsemen made the wrong call. It just doesn't look right. And besides: a medieval knight wearing a large cuirass probably wouldn't have been able to bend his torso very much, so if they'd gone with the true cuirass and obscured the ab crunch articulation, it would have still been accurate.
Hordak's arms and legs are molded primarily in gray, while his torso is done in black - largely as a consequence of the decision to use the flat ab "armor" piece, although again, if it had been molded in gray with muscles, it would have looked like a muscle shirt and, thus, even sillier than your average MOTU character already is. It does, however, make Hordak look a bit "off" when his armor's been removed. Oh, and don't forget the armband! It tends to get a little loose when you're moving the figure's arms, but it's tight once you've got him in a pose. I would have rather it just be sculpted on, but I'm sure this helped save on new tooling. I suppose they could have glued it on, but where's the fun in that? Seriously - I'm sure fans would rather be able to remove it.
The most ambitious and also most disappointing aspect of the figure are the paint applications. The worst is the silver drybrush used on the belt and other armor parts. I think the goal was
to approximate the look of burnished steel, but it's uneven, blotchy, and a little sloppy here and there. The red jewel beneath his chin isn't fully painted on any of the four Hordaks I received. [four?! --ed.] All for friends (except mine, of course). But the paint applications on the head, the red bat symbols and the drybrush on the loincloth all look good. And if you look close, you'll see Hordak has pupils! I'd rather he didn't, personally, but it's subtle enough that you probably won't even notice unless you're looking for it.
Hordak features balljoints at the shoulders and hips, hinge joints at the elbows, knees, ankles and abdomen, and swivels at the biceps, wrists, waist and calves. He also has some of the best "rocker" ankle joints we've seen yet, probably thanks to the new tooling on the calves.
The "cowl" limits the head articulation a little, but probably not much more than it would to a person in real life.
Hordak comes with an updated version of the crossbow the original figure came with, a staff, and a bat. I never liked the crossbow that came with the original figure - what the heck does a powerful sorcerer need with a crossbow? But I applaud Mattel and the Horsemen's dedication to providing everything that came with the original figure.
The staff is much cooler - an addition created for the 2002 update (whether it originated on the 2002 cartoon or from the Horsemen themselves, I'm not sure). It's a slightly simpler version of the staff that came with the ministatue, and as such, it has some great detailing and fairly good paint work (although that messy, light burnished silver is still present). A little tip: if the spikes below the ball that the bat is sitting on aren't lined up properly, you can twist the top of the staff (just under the ball) gentle to put it in the right position. On my figure at least, the ball section appears to be designed to move and not glued on.
The little bat is another nod to the original 1980s figure (and no,
it doesn't appear to be Imp - note the tusks on the bat, as opposed to fangs). It has a great, detailed sculpt and some nice paint work, and can be fitted firmly on either wrist.
The paint issues and the flat abdomen, coupled with the cost, bring down what's otherwise a top-notch figure. Having picked up two superbly-painted NECA Terminator figures for half this price at TRU recently, I'm really starting to think Mattel needs to up their game on the paint applications at this price point. I suspect NECA is producing more of each Terminator figure than Mattel is of each MOTU Classics figure, so the mass-market excuse doesn't work.
I wonder if Mattel is still using the same factories for this line as they do for everything else they produce. If so, they may want to start looking outside their "comfort zone" at some of the factories that produce figures for NECA, Mezco and so forth, and consider having a few contracts with these factories for collector-specific products requiring a greater amount of complexity and detail.
But these issues aside, Hordak is still one of the best MOTU Classics figures to date, on par with Skeletor, Beast Man and Mer-Man.