Review > Hordak (Masters of the Universe Classics)

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.

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.

Masters of the Universe Classics Hordak arrives as one of the most anticipated figures in the line yet. While he received an impressive “staction” from the Four Horsemen and NECA, this represents the first new Hordak action figure in twenty-four years.

Packaging: I love the retro packaging look of MOTUC, and Hordak is no exception. However, after some recent fan comments regarding the figure’s positioning, I’m paying more attention to how it looks MOC. Hordak’s head is fully visible, and the figure is showcased well. However, the detailed top of his staff is covered up by the MOTUC banner, which is going to disappoint MOC collectors.

Mattel may want to consider moving the banner to the back of the card, rather than the front of the bubble; while this might obscure the banner a bit, it will make sure the figure itself is being showcased, which is what’s really important, after all. These are the actual products, not advertisements for the brand.

The “Evil Horde” sticker is a nice touch and a nostalgic throwback to the original sub-line.

Design & Sculpting: 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 staction re-design of Hordak, as they did with many of the 2002 versions. MOTUC 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 staction, is still quite good and some of the best work we’ve seen on MOTUC 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 MOTUC, 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. (On a side note: 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.)

Plastic & Paint: 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 (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.

Articulation: Hordak features ball joints 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.

Accessories: 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 staction, 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. (Thanks to Poester Jim for that tip.)

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.

Quality Control: Aside from the aforementioned issues with the paint and the spikes on the staff, nothing. No significantly loose joints, no broken parts.

Overall:

11110

The paint issues and the flat abdomen, coupled with the cost, bring down what’s otherwise a five-raven 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 MOTUC 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, McFarlane, and 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 MOTUC figures to date, on par with Skeletor, Beast Man and Mer-Man.

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20 Comments

  1. misterbigbo

    Wish I could spell vacuum correctly the first time around. Woulda been funnier.

  2. misterbigbo

    Great review Poe. I'm not a Hordak fan and won't be getting this fella (I'm tracking his feeBay prices right now and don't see them as high as I thought I would… have scalpers saturated the market?), but I can't really understand the folks upset over his armor/abs. Looks fine to me. I am glad to see his head MOC and feel comfortable in believing the MAA pic on Mattycashvaccum.com.

  3. I think you’re wrong on the ab piece as it doesn’t bother me in the least, but maybe it would more in person. My Hordak is still locked in plastic prison. Thanks for the pics specifically pointing it out though.

    Hordak is an interesting character to me. See, the whole Horde represented the downfall of He-Man in many ways. As a kid in my universe, by the time Hordak was coming around most of my He-Man figures were broke or being thrown away by my mother (CURSE YOU WOMAN!) and so I ended up getting a lot of the Horde via birthdays and Christmases… Which is fine on the surface, but my evil army eventually became like three Grizzlors and a couple Leechmen and Hordak. Which is all fine and dandy except I wanted a new Skeletor! Hordak became the leader of my villains because Skeletor was dead (although I kept his head) and that sort of made me hate Hordak.

    The cartoons started to focus on Hordak and I felt like my favorite villains were getting the shaft for these new guys. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they were doing it on TV, but it was mirroring my own playworld!

    As time has went on of course, I realize I was a stupid kid and that Hordak was very cool and I’ve grown to love the Horde more as a result. He’s the ying and yang of my MOTU youth.

  4. PrfktTear

    @Rob: The ab solution sounds like a piece of exercise equipment you'd find on sale in some infomercial at 3am in the morning.

  5. PrfktTear

    I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I get mine! =)

    I'm hesitant to make any judgements about the figure before actually seeing him up-close, but based on the pictures, but I think it might have looked better if they used black abs.

    To be honest, I was never a huge Hordak fan. I never got into him like I did with Skeletor, to me he was still always second fiddle to Skeletor, despite his origins. I believe I actually got Hordak brand new, as opposed to many of the other MOTU figures which I got from a second hand toy shop in town. I managed to get all of the Horde, even one of the coveted Horde Troopers! The only one I never got my hands on was Modulock. One of the playsets I always wanted was the Frightzone. I guess thats one of my "Holy Grails". I've seen it up-close & in-person, perhaps one of these days I'll pony up the cash for one so I can have Grayskull, Snake Mountain, and the Fright Zone!!!

    I enjoyed the POP series both as a kid and having reviewed the entire BCI Eclipse dvd release for DVDSnapshot.com (shameless plug)! I think the writing was a lot better than with MOTU, but it always still felt like the Diet Coke of He-man.

  6. Rob

    The ab solution doesn't really bother me that much. Full armor limiting the articulation wouldn't either. I'm just glad we got Hordak and got him so soon in the line. On my shelf it looks like one continuous piece of armor it only up close that you can see the difference to me.

  7. I liked the Horde but I prefered Skeletor and his minions but deffinently want some Horde members, Hordak, Leech and Grizzlor.

  8. Frogster

    I am good with the ab piece, but I can see where Poe shows that taking off the armor and having it be flat and just black might throw people off. I think the figure is the best one yet, but I can see "Poe's point." Of course I never take off the armor, so it doesn't bother me.

    I can't wait until we get some Horde Troopers for ol' Hector to command.

  9. americanhyena

    gotta respectfully disagree. I love the new ab piece.

  10. Frogster

    @Poe

    The ab issue with Hordak never really bothered me, but I see now what you are saying. The sculpted abs on black ala' He-Ro's armor might have been a better solution.

  11. Jim

    @Poe:

    "taking into consideration things like accuracy, articulation, tooling expenses"

    I meant that maybe they had to "consider" the tooling limitations Mattel puts on the horsemen?

    Even though Mattel says the Horsemen make the call with design, I'm sure it's like this…

    "Horsemen, feel free to do as you wish under our guidelines of making parts that can be reused over and over again"

  12. Poe

    @Jim: No, it was definitely the Horsemen's idea.

    It's not that big a deal, and part of me feels like an amateur artist calling out a master. But I just don't think this was the best option.

  13. finkrod

    Great review. For some reason I just can't bring myself to remove any of the MOTUC guys from their packaging. And that's really saying something, cuz I remove ALL my figures from the packaging.

    So this is the next best thing.

  14. Jim

    **********EDIT**************

    meant to say…

    "shouldn't SKELETOR be more powerful"

  15. Jim

    @Poe: Best review yet. 100% agree and anytime Poe!

    As for Hordak being more powerful than Skeletor: I had read that in the She-Ra cartoon they fought seven times? Skeletor won 3 times, they tied twice and Hordak won 1 time. Judging for these numbers shouldn't Hordak be more powerful?

    I never got into the She-Ra toon so just wanted to know what you thought of that Poe.

    Paint was pretty bad. I hear these guys are "hand painted" so they may need some new "hands" to make these guys because I had to look through 20 different ones at a convention to get the best painted one.

    Bat does look a bit goofy. I actually took him down my shelf last night. There's something about him that brings Hordak's scare factor down a point or two.

    You know how I feel about crossbows and I totally agree. His regal look and the fact that he uses magic just doesn't fit with the crossbow. But I do think its a a cool remake of the original!

    Lastly, I found it extremely hard to find a good pose for hordak because of his "belly armor". I found a pose I liked so it's not an issue to me anymore but I agree…this is a rare case the Horsemen have made an error. However, maybe their error is due to Mattel? Their ideas are limited to what Mattel will approve I guess.

  16. I think they could get away using Hordak's boots for Grizzlor.

  17. Frogster

    Good review and a great figure. I hope the rest of the Horde gets finished though it will require some unique tooling.

  18. I am so sad to hear about the death of Michael Jackson.

  19. Without a doubt my favorite looking MotUC release to date. But still a hair outside my price range.

    Thanks for the review Poe.

  20. Excellent review. Very cool figure.

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