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Horde Troopers

Masters of the Universe Classics
by Shocka

When it comes to the MOTU Filmation serieses I'm a much bigger fan of She-Ra, which I would argue is largely a superior cartoon. It's better written, with more interesting plots, including the ongoing Horde-Rebellion War, and stronger characters (including a sizeable portion who are strong women). One of many themes presented across the series is the technology/nature duality between the heroes and the villains. Hordak's warmongering use of technology contrasts to the peaceful, nature-respecting existence of the residents of Etheria and the Rebellion; consider the episodes focusing on the Evil Horde's destruction of Etherian forests for their own technological advances and how this addresses larger ideas that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe never tackled.

In his factories on Etheria and later Eternia, Hordak mass produces countless robotic enforcers. Each is dressed in armor similar to the foot soldiers of his home planet Horde World. Linked to a central computer brain, Horde Troopers can be programmed to follow any evil command they are given. With the robotic strength to overpower all enemies of his empire, Hordak's troopers are more than a match for most enemies. On command from their master, the vicious troopers attack heroic warriors until He-Man lands a powerful punch - causing them to fall apart!

The fact that Hordak uses cyborgs as mooks was always fascinating; the fact that there was a type of villain who could actually be destroyed seemed to hold more weight than any of functionally-invincible He-Man characters. Neither side was ever going to seriously harm the other, which makes She-Ra a little more mature, even if the Horde Troopers are prone to a quick demise like the Stone Monkeys from the long-since-forgotten Tomb Raider film. With all this in mind, we have been holding out for Horde Troopers for a long, long time, basically since MOTU Classics began. Many feared they'd never be made, and for as cool as both the Palace Guards and the Snake Men are, they would always pale in comparison to the Horde Troopers. Thankfully, these became a reality for the 2013 subscription, and of course sold out within minutes.

Since the first images of the duo were released, something has really seemed off about the Horde Trooper sculpts; something doesn't quite fit. In reproducing the look of the vintage toy, what would usually be an action figure with a realistic enough style to go alongside anything else in your collection is instead something that that really resembles a "toy." Take your MOTUC Hordak and put him alongside some of your McFarlane Toys Spawn action figures, and he looks like he fits in as just another demonic character. Take the MOTUC He-Man and put him next to the ToyBiz Conan the Barbarian. These toys fit. Putting the Horde Trooper next to any other action figure will not - it looks more like a goofy cartoon plastic toy than it does a solid, artistic, adult collector Masters of the Universe Classic.

There's a bunch of features on the Horde Trooper sculpt that deviate from the original Princess of Power design, most notably the stupid round button in the centre of the Evil Horde symbol. Now, on the original action figure, pressing this made the action figure "explode," an action feature that not even I would have wanted in Classics. (Probably.) So why bring the design to the current line? It's like the idiotic non-functional dials on the back of Hurricane Hordak and others. The 4H have done such a terrific job on nearly every figure, striking the exact right balance between the nostalgia we have for the original toy, the look we remember from the cartoons and comics, and the more mature look of modern collectible action figures. Even Fang Man, who had a very animated look based on the brief Filmation appearance, somehow straddled the line to fit with everything else in your collection. But the Horde Troopers do not.

A major part of the problem is the tremendously goofy helmet, wherein the V shaped eye(s?) look like something you'd see in Looney Tunes. Again, this is from the vintage toy rather than the series, where there was distinct (and creepy) yellow eyes peering out from the helmet, but it's exaggerated by the human-like bulk that the action figure's body has. This is the larger problem with overall look of the Horde Troopers. It's somewhat alliviated tilting the head all the way forward so the lower section of the V is obscured, much like nearly all of the Horde Trooper promotional photos, but it's not a great workaround, leaving a big chunk of their rear-neck uncovered and vulnerable. (A better alternative might be to paint over the V to give them distinct eyes, but I haven't seen photos of this done right yet.)

I've been thinking about this a lot, and the other side of the coin is if Mattel had gone in the opposite direction, making the Horde Troopers look like some kind of bulky metallic Cylon menace (like some of the neat Horde Trooper customs online, many made from the movie Iron Monger) would have been too ridiculous, been against what MOTUC is attempting. But there must have been a right balance to have been struck here, and that could have been achieved by basing the design of these guys closer to the Filmation series.

Fortunately, when putting these two toys together and alongside Hordak, or fighting She-Ra, much of the disappointment fades, because they look very cool alongside the leader of the Evil Horde or fighting the Rebellion. Getting past the initial gripes, the Horde Troopers are appropriately detailed with what is mostly an entirely new sculpt, with lots of different armor pieces all over the robotic body. The paint job is very nice, with silver highlighting to bring out different areas of the armor including the little cyborgy sections. Because Horde Troopers are identical in design, to make both of the Troopers in the two-pack distinct one of them features a small amount of battle damage, being a small gun/blast shot on the front of the armor above the Horde logo and on the back, as well as on the side of the helmet. This is subtle enough to make them distinct while not getting in the way of the sculpt. It's the kind of smart design we expect from the Four Horsemen, and in the event that you have multiples, the helmets can be mixed to make at least four subtly unique Horde Troopers.

The Horde Troopers feature the typical excellent articulation; despite the bulky design of the armor, none of it gets in the way of the movement, which is terrific. An added bonus is that the Horde Trooper features a double swivel joint in the elbow and the knee joints are hidden by the armor. In general this guy's design conceals a lot of the articulation, which is terrific, and he's very durable and not at all top-heavy, despite the massive, bulky look. He stays standing and can even be posed walking. His armor is removable, revealing more detail underneath: the Horde Troopers have a brand new torso, with appropriate technological detailing with wires that are even painted. It's very cool! The head is also removable, as with other MOTUC figures, albeit with more force, and other heads can be put in place. Putting different heads on these allows you to recreate scenes from the Secret of the Sword film, but is a neat addition. With normal non-Horde Trooper heads on the Horde Trooper, the robot section just resembles a big bit of MOTU tech-assisted armor, which is also very cool.

Very pleasingly the Horde Troopers feature a large volume of accessories, which like the previous armybuilder two-packs allows for more customisation and more fun with posing and play. First up is my personal favorite, the brutal shock rods from Princess of Power, which look really awesome. They're simple, with just silver paint, but something about them is much more threatening than other MOTUC weapons. Secondly, updated from the vintage action figures are tall red staffs with sculpted Hordak-like dragon sections at the top, which look excellent held by the Troopers. And even better with their third accessory, the Horde-demon-wing sculpted shield, which is nice and large and features a little snap-on piece so they can be held in the left hand. I wish the piece was centered under the shield instead of oriented to be held only by the left hand; you can have Horde Troopers holding it in the right but it doesn't look very good. Both of these accessories are nicely detailed with metallic red highlighting to bring out the detail, which is awesome. Finally, fitting in with the other Horde members, the Troopers have their own black crossbows, with red and yellow paint aps. These look surprisingly good wielded by the Troopers, much better than I'd expected. The yellow V on the front of the crossbow matches the V on the visor, which is a neat touch.

There are no weak links in the Horde Troopers armory - every one of these accessories is great and they look awesome with any combination of them. I'm really impressed by these, and it's also very notable that there are two of each accessory, a first for a two-pack like this, which means you can have your Horde Troopers posed with different weapons or looking identical, as if they came off the assembly line with their weaponry. This is Mattel bringing their A-game, seriously.

So, ultimately, how are the Horde Troopers? I really like the fact that I have them, for one. They look good in my She-Ra display, alongside the other members of the Evil Horde, but even with the helmet tilted all the way forward I still wish they looked better. But everything beyond that sculpt is terrific. They're great fun to play with and pose, they're very nicely painted and articulated, and they feature a glut of terrific accessories. But... you can't take them out of the display and have them fighting the Ghostbusters, or Superman, or anyone else - it's like putting Mezco South Park figures in your DCUC display. It doesn't work. And that's disappointing. None of the other Classics look as cartoonish as these guys do. They just barely look fine fighting He-Man. So, ultimately, The only way to summarise is like this: these are terrific Horde Trooper action figures, even if they weren't exactly the ones I want. I'm happy to own them, and that's all that really matters.

-- 10/13/14

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