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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEECH
By Thomas Wheeler

Just when He-Man and the other heroic Masters of the Universe figure that all they really have to deal with are Skeletor and his assorted cronies -- most of whom couldn't work up enough mental energy to burn toast -- the toy line got turned on its ear with the arrival of Hordak and his minions, known as the Evil Horde. Granted, still not a lot of brain power beyond their leader, but Hordak was willing to battle He-Man, Skeletor, or anyone else that stood in his way. And one of his first creepy cronies was a bizarre character known as LEECH, who was released into the current Masters of the Universe Classics line.

Let's consider a bit of history of the Evil Horde. Despite being produced within the Masters of the Universe action figure line, they were in fact the primary villains in the She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series, which needed a boost in the villain department, to be perfectly honest. Unlike the Masters of the Universe series, in which Eternia was largely ruled by the benevolent King Randor, while Skeletor tried various schemes to gain the power of Castle Grayskull and conquer the planet for himself, the She-Ra series took place on Etheria, a world conquered by the Horde, which was opposed by the Great Rebellion, led by She-Ra, Bow, and other notable heroes from the Princess of Power toy line.

This led to some interesting continuity glitches between the animated productions, and the mini-comics included with the toy products.

The Horde was introduced to the Masters of the Universe toy line 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.

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 in the mini-comics 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 mini-comics 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 much more sense in this original mini-comic'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 technological city. Technological elements only began to appear in later waves of Horde toys, and their accompanying mini-comics depicted further discontinuities with the animated series, such as showing the legions of Horde Trooper robots as a new invention (manufactured on Eternia, no less, unlike the cartoon versions which invaded Eternia two decades ago), 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 center of the empire is called Horde World. 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, the vile 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 comics largely follow this overall story as well, though where the cartoon Hordak has abandoned plans to invade Eternia, save for a few occasions, in the comics he still tries. Sometimes he works with, and sometimes against, Skeletor.

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

The Horde portrayed in the 2002-era He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon has much more mysterious characters. The Horde had been a menace on Eternia long before the modern day. Hordak had been the nemesis of King Grayskull. He was also an enemy of King Hiss and defeated his army of Snake Men before putting his sight back on destroying King Grayskull. Upon its final defeat the Horde was sentenced to exile in the timeless dimension of Despondos.

While imprisoned, Hordak's power and advice could be channeled through sorcery. By invoking Hordak, Skeletor is able to cast a spell to replace his head with the familiar floating skull. When Skeletor betrays Hordak years later by refusing to release him, Evil-Lyn and Count Marzo step up to the task. However, just as Hordak is about to emerge from Despondos, He-Man stops the spell. Had the 2002-era series continued for a third season, the Horde would have been the primary villains.

And what of Leech? Well, I've always been of the opinion that when Mattel started to develop the Horde, the weirdness factor went up several notches. Any number of Skeletor's cronies could fit into a fairly reasonable description, or notch. Webstor was based on spiders; Clawful was based on lobsters; Spikor was based on the characteristics of a porcupine. The members of the Horde seemed to be based on somebody's really bad dreams. About the only one that resembled anything recognizable was a latecomer to the line, Mosquitor, and even he was pretty strange.

According to a bit of online research I discovered on Leech, it describes him thusly: A member of the Evil Horde, Leech is an amphibian-like creature of a large and bulky build with green skin and suction pads on his hands, feet and mouth. It is these suction pads that provide him with his main power: to suck and drain the life-force from his opponent, rendering them helpless against him. In the cartoon, he even used them once to cling onto an aircraft.

It's a fair description, especially since, unlike a number of other highly popular action figure lines in the 1980's, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers, Masters of the Universe wasn't overly concerned with supplying extensive backstories for its characters. Only since the onset of the Masters of the Universe Classics line have we finally gotten "bio cards" for these popular character, presented in the form of printed "scrolls" on the backs of their packages. I will present Leech's over the course of this review, of course.

The original figure was a strange critter, with actual working suction cups on its hands, feet, and most strangely, mouth, which obviously had a considerable effect on the look of the figure. And just in general, if you think of Leech as a really ugly counterpoint to all of those suction-cup Garfield dolls that were stuck to the insides of car windows at the time, you've at least got the basic functional idea behind Leech -- although off the top of my head, I don't recall ever seeing one of him stuck to the inside of a car window...

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. I have to say, when I heard that Leech was in the works as a figure, I was very curious. Many members of the Evil Horde have aspects to their appearance and function that carries them well outside the normal parameters of a Masters of the Universe figure, and as much as possible, and certainly understandably, Mattel tries to produce as many figures within the existing parameters -- and using existing body molds, much as the original line did -- as possible.

Leech didn't really fit that description on two distinct counts. The first was -- he has a stockier body. I've never been entirely sure why the original figure was given a stockier body, but it was. There wasn't much way that a modern take on Leech was going to use existing body molds and look right.

The second was -- the suction cups. I figured that maybe -- maybe -- Mattel and the Four Horsemen could find a way to make the hands and feet work, although even here, the necessary function design of the suction cups would make the hands and feet of the figure look less organic and natural. But then you have the problem of the mouth. I couldn't see any way that Mattel or the Four Horsemen were going to be able to get a working suction cup in there without really adversely affecting the more advanced look that has been established by the Classics figures. And yet, if there wasn't some functionality to Leech, what would the fan reaction be?

Ultimately, Mattel decided that the Leech figure wouldn't have any functional suction cups, although the hands and feet almost look the part -- but that he would come with a functional accessory. More on that later.

More to the point, Mattel and the Four Horsemen DID craft an all-new upper body specifically for Leech, to allow for his different body style. I, for one, am extremely impressed that they went to his level of new parts, for a figure that is admittedly not exactly a major player, although he is one of the better known members of the Horde.

Leech does use standard upper arms, upper legs, and he has the same lower legs and Horde boot tops as Hordak. However, his torso, lower arms, hands, and feet are entirely unique as is his head, of course.

Leech's head is -- wow. Not the easiest thing in the world to describe. Leech is described as an amphibian, and his green skin tends to indicate certain reptilian characteristics -- and indeed there's no shortage of real-life lizards that can climb and adhere to walls. Just ask the geckos that hang around outside my front door. And since they keep the bugs down, they're more than welcome there, as long as they don't try to sell me car insurance. But I digress.

I think the best way I can describe Leech's head is to call it a cross between a lizard of some sort -- and maybe a werewolf. Leech has these rather bulbous red eyes, with a brow ridge over each one that tapers back and up to a point towards the back of his head that looks like it's either horns or strange ears -- neither of which is an especially common feature for the average lizard. He has a series of scaly ridges running down the back of his head, that have been given a glossy finish. Is this some sort of carapace, perhaps?

Adding to the somewhat lupine look of Leech is the massive maw, a huge mouth, wide open, with an immense set of fanged teeth within. Here is the modern design of the original suction cup mouth. It gives Leech a very bizarre expression, although it is a tribute to the original figure, even if it does not include a functional suction cup. Instead, the mouth is quite deep, and has at its center, near the throat, a small circular area that one might take to be a sort of natural suction device of some sort, if a creature like Leech existed in the real world.

I've often said that life on Eternia is either an anthropologist's dream or an evolutionist's nightmare. I think about all you'd need to do to give either one of them a fit would be to introduce them to Leech. On a world of weird native life, Leech sets a new standard.

Leech has a broad neck, which extends into a very wide torso and abdomen. Here is where the distinctive body design comes into play. Leech's upper torso is designed to appear somewhat armored. He's wearing a sort of armored half-shirt, that includes a ridged collar, assorted armor plating that more or less corresponds to his anatomy, and has a big dark red Horde bat emblem on the front. Leech's mid-torso is the same olive green as his skin color, but is still a distinctive piece and is still broader than normal, as is his lower torso, which in place of the usual furry loincloth, we find a wide brown belt with an ornate dark metal buckle, and a sort of high-tech "loincloth" similar in basic design to what some other Masters of the Universe characters such as Trap Jaw and Man-E-Faces wear.

The upper arms and upper legs are normal in appearance, and are the same olive green in color as his head and mid-torso. The left upper arm has a gold-colored armor piece over it, and a black armband with the red Horde emblem on it, something all members of the Horde wear.

Leech's lower arms are distinctive, in that they have unique wristbands wrapped around them, and the skin starts to wrinkle closer to the wrist. The wrists are narrower than usual. Then we come to Leech's very strange hands. Leech's hands consist of three fingers, which are fully spread out to reveal circular webbing, for lack of a better term. The undersides of these, on the original figure, were obviously functional suction cups. The new versions are not functional, but they are very well detailed, look like they'd be plausible on a natural creature of Leech's type, if such a thing existed, and have a little circular indentation in the center.

Granted, we are left with the problem of how in the world Leech's people are able to grasp anything with hands like these, but I'll leave that one to the anthropologist.

Leech's lower legs are the same as Hordak's, which feature the distinctive Horde boot tops. They are black in color, with what looks like a slight armored cuff, and they have the Horde emblem on them. Leech's feet, however, are nothing like Hordak's. Very similar to the hands, the feet feature four splayed toes, essentially at ninety degrees to each other, with webbing that spreads out in a circle, and as before, on the original figure functioned like an actual suction cup. These, like the new hands, do not do so, but they have a good amount of detail. I'd say that the detail on the underside of the feet, and even the hands, looks something like the creases of a fingerprint..

As with the hands, I'm trying to imagine how Leech's people walk, but I'll bet they don't fall over very often...

The figure is superbly well detailed and painted. He stands best when he's bent a little forward at the mid-torso. The hands and feet are on rotational as well as back and forth movement. Leech's wrists in particular have a far wider range of motion than the average Masters of the Universe Classics figure. I'm not complaining about the standard figures' design in the least, and I certainly don't want to see it change. Leech is an unusual enough character, with a distinctive characteristic that is specific to his hands and feet, so that he deserves the extra treatment. And the new parts had to be made, anyway.

Leech's overall articulation is, of course, superb. He is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

One of Leech's accessories is an evil-looking crossbow. This is not a unique accessory to Leech. It seems to be a favored weapon of Horde minions, as Grizzlor came with the same weapon when he was released, just in a different color.

Leech's other accessory largely makes up for the fact that his hands, feet, and mouth do not possess the actual suction cup capability of the original figure. It's a good-sized red plastic mesh net, shaped like the Horde emblem, with actual suction cups on it. The side of the package says, "Net really sticks to smooth surfaces!" Does it work? Oh, yeah. Had a heck of a time getting the thing off my bathroom mirror...

Leech's bio card on the back of his package reads as follows:

LEECH - Evil Master of Power Suction
Real Name: K'Ull'Leusshhhh

A Slebetor Slug-man from deep in the Lake of Gnarl, Leech was called from the depths by a magic spell of Hordak to bolster his forces against King Grayskull and the Snake Men during the Great Wars. Mindwiped by Hordak's lead witch, Leech became a loyal member of his Horde Army, using his magically enhanced energy-draining powers to suck enemies of their strength. He later played a key role in the Horde's fight against the Great Rebellion after Hordak claimed Etheria as a new homeworld during their banishment in Despondos. When called upon in battle, Leech sucks the power from his enemies!

Interesting that both Etheria and Despondos are mentioned here. It makes me wonder if the writers at Mattel are having just a little trouble reconciling Hordak's rule of Etheria with his banishment in Despondos. The specific relative locations -- spatial or dimensional -- between Eternia and Etheria have never to my knowledge been made quite clear, but I would think that Etheria isn't located in a dismal realm such as Despondos is reported to be. It might be that Hordak had access to Etheria's dimension, but not to Eternia's -- a few occasional crossovers in the original animated series notwithstanding. Ultimately, I don't think there's any way every story bit can be fully reconciled.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I expected Leech would be one of the trickier members of the Horde to pull off, given his quite different body type and his unusual capabilities. Mattel and the Four Horsemen have done a truly superb job with him. There may be some that lament the figure's loss of suction ability, but I would call that a small price to pay for as impressive a figure as this that works perfectly within the modern Masters of the Universe Classics collection. I believe any Masters fan would be delighted to add Leech to their collection.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of LEECH from the EVIL HORDE definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!