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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

Since first reading about the idea (I can't remember where) that the Masters of the Universe premise was similar to Jack Kirby's New Gods, it's become fun to try and equate various characters. Darkseid is Skeletor, of course; Kalibak is Beast Man; He-Man is Orion; Teela is Big Barda; the Sorceress and King Randor share the duties of the Highfather; Stratos is Lightray; Man-At-Arms is Himon; Granny Goodness is Evil-Lyn, and so on. Obviously some of the comparisons work better than others, but none are quite so similar as Zodac and Metron. Both were depicted as cosmic observers who followed the battles between good and evil and occasionally interceded (usually on the side of good). And they both were fond of flying space chairs.

Once a member of Eternia's Council of Elders, Zodac chose to retain his human form and left Eternia after Grayskull's demise. Finding peace among the stars, Zodac was recruited by the Overlords of Trolla to become a Cosmic Enforcer, beings tasked with maintaining neutrality throughout the universe. Although he no longer calls Eternia home, the constant struggle over the Power Sword has often called him back to his native planet to maintain the eternal balance between good and evil.

While his original packaging described him as an "Evil Cosmic Enforcer," most of the 1980s MOTU fiction established Zodac as a "neutral" character, someone who observed the battle between good and evil from a cosmic perspective. What exactly Zodac's role in these events was a lot less clear. There seem to be a few different types of "neutral cosmic observers." There's Metron himself, who seems content to observe from afar but occasionally interferes - usually by helping the good guys. Then there's Marvel's Watcher, who's actually sworn not to interfere but does so anyway, all the time, always by helping the good guys.

Zodac's a bit more complicated, since he is usually described as a Cosmic Enforcer, suggesting it's his job to make sure good and evil - or perhaps more logically, order and chaos - are in balance, helping whichever side seems to be losing. By this logic, Zodac should spend a lot of time helping Skeletor, but I can't think of a specific instance in which he interceded on Skeletor's behalf. At most, he might not help He-Man as much as he could have. And since Zodac often delivered the moral at the end of cartoon episodes, he was more or less understood by kids to be a "good" character. Personally, however, I would have liked to see a MOTU story in which it turns out the mastermind behind a plot against He-Man was actually Zodac, not Skeletor... a kind of He-Man R.I.P.

The biographies on the packaging of Masters of the Universe Classics seem to be trying to meld the more popular and interesting elements of the various MOTU mythologies, and Zodac is no exception. I do like the way the bio gives Zodac a bit more of a background and explains why a "neutral" cosmic enforcer gets drawn back to Eternia so much. I'm not as fond of the idea that the Cosmic Enforcers are selected and supervised by the Overlords of Trolla (Orko's race) - seems an awful lot like a certain group of emerald lamp enthusiasts and their short, blue-skinned bosses. However, this does seem to indicate it's likely we'll get an Orko down the line.

Since I'm not a mint-on-card collector, I often have a hard time stopping and thinking about how well a figure is presented to someone who is. However, it was recently pointed out to me that the current MOTU Classics packaging partly blocks the character's face. While I love the aesthetic design of the packaging - the old-school artwork, the bios, the cross-sell, and the lightning bolts on the blister - I have to admit that if I were a MOC collector, the fact that the face is obscured would be maddening. Mattel should definitely consider shrinking the MOTU Classics logo so as to make the face visible.

For a line with as many bizarre character designs as MOTU, Zodac has always looked a bit out-of-place. Even when I was a kid, something about the character struck me as haphazard - as if he'd been mostly tossed together from existing MOTU parts and given a new head, rather than being designed as a character from the ground up. [So, exactly the thing that happened, then? --ed.] He has the hairy Beast Man torso and the clawed hands, feet, greaves, and spiked forearms of Skeletor/Mer-Man. His only unique parts are his head, armor, and laser pistol.

I like what the Four Horsemen did with the armor, jazzing it up a bit and adding some "bullets" along the lower strap and a kind of futuristic backpack, but I find the head sculpt a little disappointing. It's rather soft, especially around the exposed mouth, and it lacks a certain stylistic punch. I know it's not really any more or less faithful to the original design than, say, He-Man or Stratos, but I can't help but wish there had just been a little something more here - perhaps some more Kirby-esque detail on the helmet.

Zodac is molded primarily in flesh color. There's some very subtle wash work to bring out the musculature, and while it's so light you almost can't see it, there seems to be a very light reddish-orange was on his torso (perhaps Zodac is a redhead under that helmet?). The grey on the boots, with the darker grey trim, is nicely applied, and the paint apps on the head are clean, though there's a spot at the top of his head where the red paint has rubbed off a bit, revealing gray underneath (probably due to the packaging, as usual). The grey of the loincloth looks good and the lighter drybrush is sharp. However, the white belt is messy, with some significant slop and spotting, and this seems to be a common complaint. While I'm not the type to rant and say this sort of thing is worth quitting the line for, for $20 plus $10 shipping, it's definitely fair to call Mattel on this. I appreciate the effort to make the belt more interesting (rather than just making it plain white), but maybe something like casting it in a metallic light gray would have worked better.

Zodac has a balljointed head with a decent range of movement, slightly limited by the nature of the helmet. He also has peg-and-post balljointed shoulders and hips, swivels at the biceps, wrists, waist, and top of the calves, and hinges at the elbows, knees, ankles and abdomen. Like the other claw-toed characters, he also has excellent "rocker" (side-to-side) range on his ankles, allowing for good wide stances. While there's nothing new here, the range and tightness of all the joints are as good as we've seen in this line.

The previous figure, Mer-Man, came with two heads, a sword, and a trident. The subsequent figure, Hordak, comes with a staff, a crossbow, and a bat. Man-At-Arms comes with a dagger, a blaster, a mace, and the 2002 Power Sword. Zodac? He's got his laser pistol. It's almost identical to the blaster of the original figure. It does have a nice metallic luster and some minor paint apps, but it's still just a pistol. Call me crazy, but I think it would have made more sense for Zodac to come with the 2002 Power Sword...

I'll be honest - my own fondness for Zodac's character and design is giving him an extra boost he probably doesn't quite deserve. He's a thoroughly average figure in terms of design, heavy on the re-use, and he only comes with one small accessory. I'm not surprised he took quite a bit longer to sell out than his predecessors, and frankly, I can't really imagine another character who could be this unpopular (at least until we get to the lesser She-Ra characters).

Well, maybe one.

The 2002 revamp of Masters of the Universe was ambitious in scope, encompassing the toys, a new cartoon, a McDonalds tie-in and even a videogame. Mattel was fervently hoping to recapture the bottled lightning they'd found in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the toys weren't as successful as Mattel's immense hopes, and after two years it was shut down (though it lived on for quite a while via NECA's mini-statues).

The theories for the 2002 line's demise have been hashed out ad infinitum, so I won't go over them again here. Suffice to say Zodak represents the second 2002 character to appear in MOTU Classics. As a variant of the already slow-selling (comparatively speaking) Zodac, it's not surprising that he took two weeks to sell out; I'm very curious to see how the Goddess does in December.

An ancient and powerful enforcer for the Council of Elders, Kar-tor studied the teachings and mystic fighting techniques of the Cosmic Enforcers and knows how to instantly identify an opponent's weakness. After his mentor, the original Zodac, left Eternia to fulfill the Elders' bargain with Trolla, Kar-tor took his place on the Council and helped lead them in battle against the Snake Men, eventually trapping King Hssss in the Void with the power of his staff. Although he prefers a solitary life of meditation in the Mystic Mountains, when he is called to battle, Zodak attacks his enemies using all the power at his command!

With the exception of his accessory, Zodak is entirely made of repurposed parts, so there's not a lot to discuss in terms of the sculpting. The design is another story, because choosing which parts to re-use is part of the design process. The 2002 figure represented a pretty radical design departure from the original character, and Mattel and the Four Horsemen did a pretty good job using existing parts to re-create that design. The gloves were first seen on Hordak, while the pelvis and boots are taken from He-Ro. The result is a far more cosmic-looking character than the original version who looks like a new character, not just a repaint. It's a shame, however, that we couldn't get an unmasked alternate head, particularly given his single accessory and the amount of re-use. An extra head would have won this figure over.

The plastic color choices and paint applications are even more important than the parts swapping for making Zodak look like a new, separate character. Fortunately, Mattel did a pretty good job. The brown plastic used for the skin tone looks good. The boots are molded in gray, rather than the silver of the original figure. I have mixed feelings on the boots; a silver paint job, a la the gold of He-Ro, would have matched the 2002 version better, but I actually like the gray.

The paint applications are more interesting. In keeping with the 2002 figure, the chest armor has more white and silver highlights than the 1980s version - and looks a lot better, too. There are some silver highlights on the mask that aren't on the 1980s version, which make it look more detailed; however, there's some errant silver marks on the back of my figure's head, and some glossy slop around the top of the helmet. None of it is too noticeable, fortunately.

I think the use of white paint for the gloves, rather than the silver of the original figure, was the right way to go. It matches the detailing of the chest armor, whereas silver gloves might have looked a bit too 1950s retro. There are still plenty of silver touches throughout the figure, from the helmet to the boots to the little nub at the bottom of the back part of the armor, which gives Zodak his sense of the cosmic.

Of course, there are also the blue "tribal" tattoos, which are made from glow-in-the-dark paint. They're just another treat on this bonus figure, and they've been applied quite neatly.

The oversized staff of the 2002 figure has been slightly downsized and Classicized for this release. The ends now resemble the barrel of the 1980s Zodak's gun. It's a cool weapon, but you know what would have easily made this figure just a little bit better? If the staff could be collapsed and snap onto his armor for storage. It just looks like it should be able to do that.

I like Zodak more than I expected to. In fact, I think I like him more than the 1980s-styled Zodac up above; he has a more distinctive design, and his skin tone is a welcome change from all the white and blue we've seen up to now.

All that said, I'm happy to have Zodak (and Zodac) in my MOTU Classics line-up.

-- 02/22/10

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