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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS HORDE PRIME
By Thomas Wheeler

When Mattel decided that He-Man needed a new challenge besides Skeletor, they came up with one. Actually, they came up with several, but I'm not discussing the Snake-Men here. They came up with Hordak, leader of the Evil Horde!

However, when it came time to bring the character into animation, Hordak and his Evil Horde were transferred to Etheria, to give She-Ra and her friends a wide range of problems in the She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series. The general consensus, I assume, was that there were enough episodes of He-Man's series out there, and that Skeletor was still a viable villain for them, and that the line-up for the She-Ra toys lacked a really strong enough adversary for the new heroine.

This had an interesting effect. On the one hand, Hordak was played just a little lighter than Skeletor. His face, supposedly based on a witch doctor's mask that someone on the creative side of things came across, was, at least in the animated series, somewhat less fearsome than Skeletor's more straightforward, recognizable skull-head.

Then there was the voice. Hordak had a tendency to snort every other sentence. I mean, really, did he have allergy problems? Are you telling me that Shadow Weaver couldn't have come up with some local version of Claritin or Nasonex or something? Frankly, it was not only annoying, but it made it a little harder to take seriously a bad guy who seemed to have a perpetual case of post-nasal drip.

On the other hand, Hordak was clearly more successful than Skeletor. Hordak had successfully conquered Etheria. Granted, the Great Rebellion gave him no end of grief, especially once Adora was not only freed from the grasp of the Horde by her brother, He-Man, but also gained the powers of She-Ra. But even so, Hordak was clearly the man in charge, something Skeletor had never managed on Eternia.

Hordak was also generally considered more evil than Skeletor. I think the classic example of this came during the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas special, which found many of the characters transported to Earth for the first time ever. Skeletor was affected by the "Christmas spirit", to the point that he was willing to save the lives of a pair of children who had befriended He-Man, when they came under attack by Hordak, who very clearly had not been similarly affected. Admittedly, Skeletor was looking forward to getting back to his old evil self once they returned to Eternia.

I don't know, maybe if someone had gotten Hordak a Christmas present. Something appropriate, something he could really use -- like a nice set of handkerchiefs...

But, was Hordak the ruler of the Evil Horde? Well -- not quite. Clearly, he was in control of Etheria. And just as clearly, he had his minions. Many of these, especially in the animated series, were derived from Evil Horde characters that were developed for the Masters of the Universe action figure line, such as Leech, Grizzlor, and Mantenna. Others were villains from the She-Ra action figure line, especially Catra, who were brought under the auspices of the Horde for the sake of consistency within the series. Then there's characters like Shadow Weaver who were specifically developed just for the animation at the time.

But Etheria is one world. And the Horde, as it turned out, was a galactic empire, under the rule of a being known as HORDE PRIME. He was never fully seen within the animation, but he was increasingly alluded to as the series progressed, and finally, we have a figure of him, as part of the Masters of the Universe Classics line!

Let's consider some of the history of the Evil Horde, and how it applies to Horde Prime. As with most things Masters, there are two distinct continuities -- the mini-comics, and the animation.

The Horde was introduced to the Masters of the Universe toyline in 1985, but since Filmation was moving on to She-Ra's series, it was decided to make the Horde the lead villains in the new series.

In the mini-comics, and distinctly unlike the cartoon's portrayal of a galactic empire in which Hordak is subordinate to the mysterious Horde Prime, the Evil Horde was initially presented as a seemingly small group of formidable creatures of whom Hordak was clearly implied to be the supreme leader. Far less explicitly technological, the initial toys and minicomics depicting the Horde indicated a more mystical background, similar to Skeletor and his Evil Warriors.

Indeed, the later cartoon's version of Hordak as Skeletor's former mentor in spite of an apparently inferior command of magic (generally delegating mystical tasks to Shadow Weaver, although it should be said that Hordak's own "technological" abilities were quite likely magical in origin) makes more sense in this original minicomic's equivalent of the same mentorship. Here, Hordak is shown to be a sorcerer of equal or greater power than Skeletor, who is just as interested in plundering the mystical treasures of Castle Grayskull as his former pupil.

As originally depicted (and manufactured as a playset), the Horde's base of operations, the Fright Zone, was an ancient cave-like fort rather than a sprawling, grim technopolis as shown in the animated series. Technological elements only began to appear in later waves of Horde toys, and their accompanying minicomics depicted further discontinuities with the animated series, such as showing the legions of Horde Trooper robots as a new invention, as well as the introduction of later cybernetic characters such as Dragstor, Mosquitor and Mantisaur.

Nevertheless, Hordak's primary interest remained in magic and his place as supreme leader of the Horde remained unaltered even in the last mini-comics which involved the return of the ancient structure known as The Three Towers of Eternia, something he indicated having helped to build, suggesting either time travel or near immortality on Hordak's part.

In the cartoons, the Evil Horde is a vast, interstellar empire bent on the domination of various worlds across the universe. The centre of the empire is called Hordeworld. The Horde was summoned to Eternia by Morgoth, a giant wizard once imprisoned by the Ancients.

The Horde sent a scout ship to Eternia and its crew aided Morgoth in taking control of a few towns and villages. One of these was the home of Teela'Na. To defeat the Horde, Teela'Na was told by an old man about Castle Grayskull. Teela'Na sought Castle Grayskull and became the new Sorceress in order to defeat Morgoth and the Horde. She managed to do so, but was trapped in her position for the rest of her life.

The Horde scout ship apparently managed to send a message to the Evil Horde's ultimate leader, Horde Prime, because soon, Hordak and his Horde Troopers arrived in full force. While Hordak waged his war against Eternia and the city of Eternos, he took Skeletor under his wing, teaching him what he knew of dark magic. In time, the Royal Soldiers of Eternos and the magic of Castle Grayskull defeated Hordak.

However, learning that King Randor and Queen Marlena's twin children both have a special destiny, Hordak and Skeletor kidnapped them. A young Man-At-Arms and Queen Marlena were able to halt the kidnapping of Prince Adam, but Princess Adora was captured. Skeletor, however, was captured by the guards. He then revealed the secret location of the Horde's lair: Snake Mountain.

Man-At-Arms and the Sorceress went to Snake Mountain, but were too late. Hordak had escaped with Princess Adora. Both were then seen on the planet of Etheria. Hordak and his minions captured many kingdoms, the last of which to fall was the kingdom of Bright Moon.

The She-Ra series is largely dedicated to the struggle of the Etherian rebels against the occupying force of the Horde. In each episode, Hordak has a new dastardly scheme to either destroy the Great Rebellion or make life worse for Etherians.Each scheme meets its demise at She-Ra's hand.

The Horde has bases planet-wide though its main headquarters is Doom Tower located at the centre of the Fright Zone. The Horde possesses vast resources and has a great deal of highly sophisticated technology.

As to Horde Prime, he is the ruler of the intergalactic Evil Horde. He is only seen surrounded by green smoke. His true form has never been seen. A metallic arm comes out of the cloud of smoke when he is outraged or angered. Horde Prime has a son named Prince Zed who calls Hordak his uncle. This suggests that Horde Prime may have once looked like Hordak at some point.

In the mythology of the She-Ra series, Horde Prime is the only being with authority over Hordak as well as his Horde inspectors, for he is the intergalactic ruler of the Horde Empire, with control over all Horde regimes. He apparently hails from a world known as Horde World although his exact background has never been revealed. All that has ever been seen of Horde Prime is a gigantic skeletal robotic arm, which suggests he may be some sort of cyborg. He is also said to have two heads. He travels the universe in his ship, the Velvet Glove, keeping watch over the Horde's universal activities. It has been speculated, but never confirmed, that Horde Prime may be Hordak's brother.

The main reason for this comes from the episode "The Peril of Whispering Woods", the first She-Ra episode to allude to Horde Prime. In this episode we see Horde Prime's son, Prince Zed, who addresses Hordak as 'uncle'. This could suggest that Prime is Hordak's brother, but it is also possible that Zed only called him 'uncle' as a friendly term, or he is on Zed's mother's side. However a letter from this episode said "your nephew" stating that Hordak is his uncle but we don't know on which side. How Prince Zed is Horde Prime's son still remains to be seen.

Two UK She-Ra annuals in the mid-1980s state that Hordak is Prime's brother, but these operate within a canon independent of the cartoon and also got Horde Prime's name wrong, referring to him as 'Prime Horde'. The UK He-Man comics state explicitly in one issue that Horde Prime is not Hordak's brother, but again these operate within an independent canon and drew Prime with a completely different appearance from the cartoon.

It has not yet been confirmed whether or not Filmation's writers conceived Prime as Hordak's brother. However, he is referred to as such in the Character Profiles in Disc 6 of the She-Ra Season One DVD set.

Masters of the Universe Classics Hordak's bio describes Hordak as the "second heir of the Horde Empire." this may be referring to Horde Prime.

In the She-Ra episode "For the Want Of A Horse", Grizzlor states that Horde Prime should get matching bowties for each head. Shadow Weaver somewhat later confirms, in that same episode, that Horde Prime indeed is dual-headed; when asked by Hordak as to what would be a suitable gift for someone who already possesses two of everything. Hordak grants further confirmation by expressing his dismay at being reminded of that fact. How both heads work as one mind still remains to be seen.

And if one thing can be tossed out from the backstory as it exists, it's that part of it. Technically, the figure does come with two heads, and I'll discuss that in the course of the review, but he can only use one of them at a time. Probably just as well. I want to one day see a figure of Two-Bad as much as anyone, but he doesn't really need competition.

So let's disregard the dual-headed reference and assume that the rest of the information has at least some validity, especially since the animated series is generally regarded as having a greater level of canon than other sources.

So -- how's the figure? Extremely impressive, especially when you consider the fact that it's based on an individual who, except for the occasional armored fist, was only glimpsed through green smoke. That's not a heck of a lot to work with.

The character of Horde Prime and his relationship to Hordak is interesting. Apparent siblings aside, it could readily be argued that Hordak is Darth Vader to Horde Prime's Emperor Palpatine. Except one thing always disappointed me just a bit in the Emperor in Star Wars -- he didn't look like much.

I mean, in the original Empire Strikes Back, we see this weird, semi-human face in shadow through a holographic transmission, but when we finally encountered the Emperor in person, in Return of the Jedi, he was little more in appearance than a wrinkled old man in a dark robe. This compared to the huge size and dark technological look of Darth Vader.

I'm not questioning the Emperor's power, but if you're going to be the ruler of a Galactic Empire, and order around somebody like Darth Vader -- try looking the part.

Maybe this is why Horde Prime was never seen. How do you top Hordak? Okay, the animated version wasn't quite as nasty as the toy version, even the original toy version. It still would've been tricky to top, and since, at the time, Horde Prime was arguably a creation of the animated series, it wasn't all that likely that a figure of him was in the works. So, he was kept in the smoke and shadows for the most part, with the rest left to the imagination.

If one thing can be said about the Masters of the Universe Classics line, pretty much across the board, it's that they're more impressive and imposing than their predecessors. The original line was cool, but there was something about those squat little bow-legs especially that made it very difficult to take them entirely seriously. The Classics line has vastly better bodily proportions, and certainly articulation, so it comes across as a more serious toy line. Here is somewhere that Horde Prime can fit in.

Indeed, here is where Hordak can look more menacing than ever, and in fact he does. That creepy bat-eared face with the red fangs, the grey uniform with the black body armor, the red bat-winged Horde emblem, the red and black cape. Yeah, he looks more dangerous than Skeletor. He looks like all sorts of trouble for the heroes.

And obviously, the Four Horsemen decided not to follow the same path as Star Wars did with its Emperor over Darth Vader, because Horde Prime looks like somebody that could send Hordak cowering into a corner, along with anybody else who happened to be in the room when Horde Prime walks in.

Horde Prime has a certain medieval look to him -- not that this is unusual for the Masters of the Universe line. His body is mostly black, and looks distinctly armored. The arms have a certain high-tech cybernetic look to them, and I believe are the same arms used for a handful of more technological characters, such as Trapjaw and Optikk. He is wearing a heavy black chestplate, rather angular in shape, with a bat-like sculpt on the front. He has a thick, highly ornate, black belt, from which descends a sort of armored skirt, comprised of angled black flaps. He is wearing very ornate armored boots, again, mostly black, with three clawed toes, and bat wings emerging out to the sides.

There is a limited amount of red trim on this armor. It encircles the shoulders, has a few small details on the sides, outlines the flaps below the belt, and has some detail on the boots, including the bat wings. There's almost a Tron-like look to it, the red lines against the otherwise black background.

One detail is neither black nor red, and that is Horde Prime's armored gloves. These, at least, had to carry over from an established appearance, as it was seen in the She-Ra animated series. The gloves are silver in color, and extremely intricately detailed. One has to surmise that if the gloves are this much of a standout on Horde Prime's uniform, then basically the last thing in the world you want is to be hit by them. It's going to hurt.

Then there's the matter of Horde Prime's helmet. Wow. Mostly black, with the same sort of red-line detailing as other parts of this armor, this thing is almost impossible to describe verbally. It is high, with a great many -- appendages sticking out of the top and sides. Seriously, the best way I can put it, is that it looks like something I'd expect Jack Kirby to come up with, especially if someone told him that they needed a weirder and more ornate helmet than the one he gave to Galactus. There's a narrow, open visor near the front.

Of course, someone like Horde Prime is going to have a fancy cape. This is attached to massive shoulder pads and a high collar that are black, as armored looking as everything else Horde Prime is wearing, and outlined in red. Connected to both sides of this collar in the front is a large, red, bat-shaped Horde emblem. The cape itself is a deep red in color on both sides, and has curves at the end like Horde Prime raided Batman's wardrobe locker. There is some very neat black airbrushed detailing in the cape's folds that highlight it very effectively.

But -- what's under the helmet? Well, here's where the two heads come into play. The head that the figure is "wearing" in the package, and by far the more preferable of the two, looks quite a bit like Hordak himself. However, the features are more pronounced, the forehead has more ridges than a Klingon, the chin and jaw have these -- spikes, for lack of a better term, descending from them, the bat-like ears are even more bat-like, and the skin is red, with black detailing. So are the eyes and teeth. One can definitely see a family resemblance to Hordak, but Horde Prime is seriously that much uglier and scarier.

A friend of mine has pointed out that this face looks a lot like the designs for Hordak from the 2002 series -- red skin notwithstanding. Here, Hordak was seen in a couple of flashbacks, and had the series continued into a third season, he would have been one of the main villains, and likely there would have been a figure of him, as well. This ultimately did not come to pass.

Then there's the second head. Now, this is hardly the first figure to have a switchable head. Man-At-Arms came with a clean-shaven head, and one with a mustache as he appeared in the animation. Fisto came with heads representing his original and 2002 incarnations. And so forth.

This second head for Horde Prime, again, according to a friend of mine who is more of an expert with some obscure Masters matters than I am, is based on Horde Prime as he appeared in a UK comics story. Here, apparently, the story's creators chose to reveal what Horde Prime looked like. Or what they thought he might look like.

The head is wearing an oblong tan helmet, vaguely reminiscent of the sort of helmet Man-At-Arms wears, with two curved antennae protruding from the front, and the face is mostly pink with pale gray detailing, and looks -- well, it looks a whole lot to me like a really ticked-off Papa Smurf with the ridged chin of a Skrull.

I don't even know what else to say about this thing. I won't fault the Four Horsemen or Mattel for it. They had to work with what they were given. But I'd sort of like to know what the comic publisher in England was thinking at the time. Need it be said I highly recommend the more Hordak-style head.

Horde Prime comes with one accessory, a large and mean-looking silver crossbow. Moreover, it's designed to be attached to one of the armored hands, certainly giving an indication that Horde Prime is part cyborg.

Any complaints? Just one. The detailing on the crossbow, some rather fine red and black spots on an otherwise silver crossbow, isn't done especially well. Now, the details needed to be painted are quite small, and I am aware of the fact that paint stencils are expensive, especially for an accessory that is not an intrinsic part of the figure and are not likely to be used again. Nevertheless, this is a collectors' line, and one tends to expect a higher degree of precision than this. I'm tempted to paint over them with some matching silver and redo them myself.

For that matter, some of the details on the second head, especially the black outline around the eyes, is not as neat as it should be. Both this and the crossbow are obviously hand-painted, and in this lies an inherent problem of consistency and neatness that is almost impossible to maintain in a mass-production, deadline-driven setting. Admittedly, in the case of the second head, it's hard to care overmuch, since I won't be using it, but still... I bring this up because it's not the sort of thing I want to see become a trend.

Some of the red detailing on the figure may also be hand-painted. I'm really not sure, since I suspect a fairly thick coat was required for the red paint to overcome the black plastic. But at least here, the painters stayed in the lines a lot better.

Other than that, no complaints whatsoever. I honestly didn't know what to expect with this Horde Prime figure. I was hoping for something imposing, impressive, and certainly malevolent in appearance. Something even nastier than either Skeletor or Hordak. And brother, I got it!

Of course, the figure's articulation is excellent. Horde Prime is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

Here is Horde Prime's bio card:

HORDE PRIME - Supreme Ruler of the Horde Empire
Real Name: Anillis Kur

Evil dictator of a galaxy-spanning empire, the tyrannical Horde Prime rules from his throne on Horde World. Systematically wiping out many of the Cosmic Enforcers, Anillis gained his greatest triumph when he infected his arch-enemy, He-Ro, with a mind-wiping techno-organic virus and banished him to the far off magical planet of Eternia. Knowing his scheming younger brother's ambition, Anillis sent him on a foolish quest to ensure He-Ro was defeated, never realizing that in doing so he would set about a destined series of events that five millennia later would lead to his defeat at the hands of the twin warriors He-Man and She-Ra!

Yeah, that's what you get when you don't plan ahead. Interestingly, the bio card does not include a picture of Horde Prime. The shield panel that usually bears an image of the character is just a solid dark blue with a white question mark. I suppose this was a lack of reference material, although I'm surprised they didn't at least draw the helmet.

And the relationship between Horde Prime and Hordak is clearly spelled out. For that matter, they share the same last name, "Kur", although Hordak's real first name is "Hek-Tor".

One thing I'd like to mention, largely unrelated to Horde Prime. On his outer white box, as all Masters figures are packaged, along with the outer white box for Snake Man-At-Arms, the other figure available in the same month as Horde Prime, are three names of other Masters characters: Clamp Champ, as well as two characters from the Princess of Power line, Sweet Bee and Castaspella. They're printed rather unobtrusively on the backs of the packages, but I find it rather curious that they're there. Doubtless this was done for legal reasons, to constitute some official use of the names within a given time frame, and to maintain them until such time as figures are produced. Interesting way to go about it.

So, what's my final word? As I said, I didn't entirely know what to expect when it came to this figure. And, a rather silly second head notwithstanding, the use of which is entirely optional, This is an enormously impressive figure that certainly has the look of someone that would rule a galaxy-spanning empire, and readily be able to order someone like Hordak around. This previously established, but otherwise unrevealed character, has now made a powerful debut in the Masters of the Universe line, and I would expect any Masters fan to gladly add him to their collection.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of HORDE PRIME definitely has my highest recommendation!