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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

We live in an age where our favorite pop culture franchises get "rebooted" every other month. Sometimes the franchise and its characters get a brand-new origin, other times it's just taken in a radically different direction. In this age of GI Joe Resolute, the countless Transformers incarnations and the Clone Wars, it's easy to forget that one of the first major "reboots" in popular toy history was The New Adventures of He-Man.

A Space Mutant spy from the foggy polar region of the planet Denebria, the spyeye eyeball of Optikk is specially adapted to see through the dense Denebrain fog of his homeworld, making him an ideal spy. He carries a Photon Neutralizer, which has made him one of the most feared of the Space Mutants in the Tri-Solar System. Optikk allied himself with Skeletor shortly after the Lord of Destruction defeated Hordak and turned his ambition to the Horde Empire, forming a coalition of mutants and outcasts to conquer the universe. Optikk serves Skeletor by keeping an eye on He-Man and all of the Galactic Protectors of the planet Primus.

After MOTU died its ignominious death on the shelves (and in theaters) in 1987 (forcing great toys like Tytus to be released only overseas), Mattel set to work trying to figure out how to revitalize the brand. Since MOTU had always borrowed a lot from Star Wars, it must have seemed a natural to ditch the sword-and-sorcery angle of the franchise and revamp it as a space opera. They slimmed down He-Man, gave him a helmet and armor, redesigned the Power Sword to look more high-tech, and sent He-Man, Skeletor and a new crop of heroes and villains into the future.

The new toyline - called simply "He-Man" - debuted in 1989. But by that time, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - whose toys owed much to the original MOTU line, stylistically and in terms of its execution - had become the true masters of the universe. He-Man limped along for three years, with a short-lived cartoon in 1990; but fans of the original toys and cartoon were hostile to the new take on the premise, while others (including an adolescent Poe) were too busy with Leonardo and Donatello.

When Mattel announced Masters of the Universe Classics, they emphasized the fact that the line would encompass all eras of MOTU, from the pre-cartoon minicomics to the 2002 line. That meant the New Adventures of He-Man was also fair game, and this May we got our first NA figure: Optikk. (For a great review of the vintage Optikk, check out this review by the Weirdo Toys blog.)

I never watched nor cared about the New Adventures as a kid, but I did own Optikk, probably because he had a great design and was just your basic awesome action figure. He strikes me as one of those impulse "can I get this?" purchases when my mom took me shopping at Rich's in Plymouth, MA. He was the one and only NA figure I wanted in MOTUC, and lo and behold, he was the first one announced! While some fans complained - loudly - about an NA character appearing in the line (particularly as a subscription figure) before, well, any character from the 1980s era, he still sold out within 15 minutes.

His bio is intriguing, because it gives us a surprising look into the latter part of the MOTUC story: at some point, Skeletor will defeat Hordak and move on to attempting to conquer the entire Horde Empire, while He-Man will end up on Primus with the Galactic Guardians. This essentially incorporates the overall premise (if not the exact storyline) of New Adventures into the MOTUC canon. It's worth noting that this idea - moving He-Man into space in a manner similar to NA - is rumored to have been the overarching plot of the fourth season of the MYP cartoon, had it gotten that far. My favorite part of the packaging, however, has to be the new "1950s sci-fi" Space Mutants logo.

One of the fun parts of collecting MOTUC is guessing how figures that weren't part of the 1980s line will be created using parts from existing figures. The idea with MOTUC, as Mattel and sculptors the Four Horsemen have repeatedly pointed out, is to create the figure the way it would have been made in the original line in the 1980s. Back in October, I made a guess as to which parts Optikk would incorporate from other figures. I got everything right except for the pelvis and boots. I still think He-Ro's boots would have been a better choice, but the new pelvic piece - which we'll see again on Man-E-Faces and Roboto, among others - is much better than He-Ro's would have been.

Optikk features the arms and legs from Trap Jaw/Kronis, two brand-new armor pieces over the standard chest, a new head and a new crotch piece. The crotch piece is actually a "loincloth," i.e., a rubber piece that goes over the same pelvic joint on every other male MOTUC figure, but it curves in enough that you don't even notice unless you flip him upside down.

The eyeball is made from a durable, smooth plastic, but it's molded in a dark color and painted white, a mystifying decision that must have been made purely for cost reasons. But the cornea (on both eyes) is a separate piece made from translucent plastic, with the iris painted on carefully around the edges. It looks fantastic, and it's easily the nicest detail on the figure. (Some people have found bubbles in their figures' corneas, and I do have a small one in mine, but it's barely noticeable).

The armor features some of the most extensive new sculpting we've seen on a MOTUC figure. It's a perfect Classics-ized interpretation of Optikk's vintage armor, right down to the dial on his back which turned the head of the original figure (it's motionless here, of course, but the trade-off is that the head is now balljointed). The only way to get the armor off is to pop off both the head and arms (the arms, like Trap Jaw's, are easily removable). Optikk also shows how Mattel is willing to go the extra mile to preserve ab articulation: the "grill" over the abdomen is actually a separate piece. However, it doesn't appear to be removable; there's no hole/peg, and you couldn't possibly slide it over the torso or legs.

The paint has been a point of contention with a few fans. The original Optikk was indeed gold, but it was a very dark, dirty gold. It was distinctive, and I think this figure would have been just as good, if not a bit better, if they had gone with that darker shade. However, the brighter gold does make the figure "pop" on the shelf and stick out among the other colorful characters. The upper body armor features a number of tiny rivets, each painted silver and with no slop. The only major problem areas on my figure were the legs, particularly the back of the legs, where there's some slop and uneven edges.

Oddly enough, I think Mattel has done a better job with parts re-use in MOTUC figures than they have in DCU, largely thanks to the paint applications. While Optikk shares both arms and legs with Trap Jaw, they're painted in such a way that it's not glaringly obvious when they stand side-by-side. That's partly just the nature of the toy lines; Mattel has free reign to repaint parts however they want on MOTUC, while DC has to approve everything for that line.

Optikk comes with his "Photon Neutralizer," a shield, and an alternate orange eye-head based on the vintage art. While I did previously make light [no pun intended --ed.] of the gun, I can see how it could be cool if it were actually a "darkness gun," neutralizing photons to generate a fog of darkness, giving Optikk an obvious tactical advantage (which would hopefully counteract the fact that his head is a giant, defenseless eyeball). Regardless of its function, however, the rifle looks great (and is slightly reminiscent of the Nautilus from Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Then there's the shield. It's a brand-new sculpt, so it's obviously a welcome addition to the line, but it is a bit puzzling, since the original figure didn't include it. But I'm hardly going to complain.

I'm already fond of Optikk from my childhood, so I was well-disposed toward him even before I saw the MOTUC version. But the Horsemen have outdone themselves here. Optikk's vintage figure would have looked bizarre next to the 1982 He-Man, but MOTUC Optikk fits in seamlessly alongside the rest of the line. Regardless of how you feel about the character, when you consider the new armor (including the abdomen piece - likely a one-time use), the translucent cornea, the alternate head and the brand-new gun and shield, Optikk is an excellent example of what a Masters of the Universe Classics figure should be.

-- 10/18/10

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