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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS OPTIKK
By Thomas Wheeler

Sometimes it does seem that most kid-or-toy-related pop culture concepts that have a sufficiently long lifespan manage to have, at some point, some aspect that is, charitably stated, less than impressive.

Granted, this can be a matter of opinion among some fans. There's some debate about which of the Indiana Jones movies are the best -- or the X-Men movies -- or the Superman movies. Transformers has had no shortage of concepts over the years. Likewise G.I. Joe. Some have been better received and/or remembered than others.

Then there's Masters of the Universe. After a very healthy run in the toy world and on television, the original Masters took a short break, and returned in 1990 in a whole new figure format, an entirely new animated series, and a significantly reworked concept.

The toy line was known simply as "He-Man", although the concept is most often referred to as "The New Adventures of He-Man", derived from the animated series which followed the stories of the reworked concept.

The basic concept in and of itself was perhaps not too bad. Granted, the original Masters of the Universe line had met a premature demise just as 1987 was gearing up with some amazing new merchandise, that would've given us a look into "Pre-Ternia" as well as characters such as He-Ro, Eldor, and others. It's perhaps a little too easy to blame the demise of the original line on the live-action movie, but personally I've always suspected it to be a factor.

(By the way, here's a little trivia for you. The teenage boy in the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie was played by Robert Duncan McNeill, who would some years later play Lt. Tom Paris in the Star Trek Voyager series. Toss that one out at your next gathering of sci-fi friends and see how many people get it...)

After giving He-Man and company a break for a couple of years, Mattel brought the line back in 1990, with an entirely new figure design and backstory. He-Man and Skeletor were the only significant carryovers, and were largely unchanged in concept. Their appearances changed somewhat to fit the new figure design, as well as, to some degree, the new concept, which was much more sci-fi based than the more fantasy, borderline sword-and-sorcery world of the original Masters.

In the new animated series, He-Man, legendary defender of the planet Eternia, has been summoned to the future planet of Primus to defend the planet from the evil Mutants of the neighboring planet of Denebria. But his old adversary, Skeletor, has followed him, and allied himself with the Mutants in his fight to conquer the whole universe. Together with a team of Galactic Guardians, He-Man fights to defend Primus and all its power resources from the continuous attacks by Skeletor and the Mutants. The series ran for 65 episodes.

In the New Adventures mini-comics packaged with the toys, the story is slightly different: when Prince Adam and Skeletor travel to Primus, Adam becomes He-Man in front of Skeletor, revealing his secret identity and giving up the identity of Prince Adam to remain permanently as He-Man. The "explosion" from the transformation damages Skeletor, and he has to become a cyborg in order to survive. Also, in the comics Skeletor does not fake allegiance to Flogg, but takes command of the Mutants.

The element of the transformation from Adam to He-Man was retained from the first cartoon series, as Mattel felt it would be unwise to abandon it given that the transformation sequence had been one of the most popular elements of the original series. However, in this series, one word in the transformation line is different - instead of "By the power of Grayskull... I have the power!", he says "By the power of Eternia... I have the power!"

Reaction to the new animated series was mixed because the look of the show was so different from the original, and only two major characters were carried over. The toy line managed to last about two years.

The figures were significantly different from the original Masters. They had more realistic physiques, and were somewhat better articulated. He-Man, definitely showcasing the more sci-fi approach of the new concept, traded in his long hair and loincloth for a shorter hairstyle, blue leggings, and fancy sci-fi boots. Skeletor picked up some cyborg parts along the way.

I'm sure that Mattel tried its best with the line. There was a decent supply of figures and actually some very cool-looking sci-fi type vehicles, such as Starship Eternia and the Astrosub, but honestly, I always felt that the character designs and figures were -- well, in too many cases, a little uninspired. Instead of the vast and varied characters from Eternia, where it seemed virtually any sort of life form was possible, most of the heroes in the new line, the Galactic Guardians, were all reasonably human in appearance. Characters such as Flipshot, Hydron, Nocturna, and Vizar relied on built-in action gimmicks to make them distinctive.

On the flip side of the coin, the evil Mutants were certainly ugly enough in most cases, but too many of them looked relatively humanoid except for heads that looked like Silly Putty gone wrong. Characters such as Flogg, Brakk, Quakke, and the very unfortunately named Butthead (for the record, he had head-butting action, something I'm sure he made it a point to explain every time he introduced himself) all seemed to have facial features that were cut from pretty much the same, admittedly rather peculiar, piece of cloth.

There were exceptions. The reptilian Lizorr, the robotic Artilla -- still, when you come up with a character named Staghorn and give him a special feature called "Antler-Flipping Action", one sort of has to wonder if the writing is on the wall, so to speak. Ultimately, in my opinion, the two lead characters, He-Man and Skeletor, just weren't enough to support the rest of the line.

Now, there were a few interesting exceptions here and there, from an appearance standpoint. One of them in particular -- dare I say it -- caught my eye, and I very nearly got him when he first came out. And I have to say that I'm very pleased that if Mattel has decided to bring in one character from the New Adventures of He-Man, into the Masters of the Universe Classics line, although I suppose there may be others at future points, that it was this one. Apart from being one of the most dynamic-looking characters in the entire "New Adventures" line-up, he is even more unique in my opinion in that he truly has no one at all similar to him in the original Masters of the Universe.

His name -- is OPTIKK.

A walking commercial for Visine, Optikk had a humanoid enough body, that seemed to be either somewhat robotic or at the very least heavily armored, but his head consisted of a single, huge eyeball. Granted, this does raise some interesting physiological questions regarding how Optikk utilizes his other senses or even manages to eat, but this is a toy review.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. I find it very interesting how closely Mattel was able to get to a reasonable resemblance of the original character, to be used in a line that is almost entirely based, at least visually, on the original Masters of the Universe, considering that the original Optikk figure was never part of that line, and in fact was based on a different-looking action figure line completely. That can't have been terribly easy.

I want to make a particular observation about something on the package. There's a sticker on the bubble that reads "Space Mutants". The last time a sticker was placed on a package bubble for this line, it was when Princess Adora showed up, and the "Princess of Power" logo was used. I looked up the packaging for the original "New Adventures of He-Man" toys, and saw no particular evidence of this Space Mutants logo. There might've been something on the back of the card, but it looks like the front of everybody's card, hero or villain, bore the massive "He-Man" logo that denoted the entire line, and that was it.

This is not at all a complaint. It's merely an observation. The "Space Mutants" logo is a cool design and very effectively done. And it does set Optikk apart from the standard Masters crowd, which is not inappropriate. Nevertheless, I do wonder just a little bit why Mattel didn't use the "He-Man" logo from the 1990 toy line, possibly super-imposing the words "New Adventures of" (believe me, given the logo design, there's room) somewhere in it. Just a small thought on the matter.

Optikk's basic body design is identical in overall body structure to any of the Masters of the Universe Classics figures. However, he does use the more detailed arms and legs that first turned up on Trap Jaw, and can arguably be used for a few other Masters characters from the original line, as such time as Mattel chooses to get around to them. These parts have a somewhat cybernetic and/or armored look to them, without losing the basic detailed musculature common to the line as a whole. It's just that there appear to me more gizmos or armor plating in place. For Optikk, this is entirely appropriate, as his original figure appeared to be wearing an armored and possibly cybernetic uniform.

Of course, the greatest similarity to the original Optikk is accomplished by the extensive body armor he wears on his torso. The body underneath, I am quite certain, is of the standard design. But the armor has been designed to duplicate as closely as possible -- which is considerable -- the look of the original figure.

The body armor features a thick, high, circular collar, with a great many details and gizmos and wires and such sculpted into it. It is within this high collar that Optikk's eyeball head sits. Below is assorted armor plating, and near the abdomen, a series of wires. There is a lower torso piece in place of the traditional loincloth, which is also designed to duplicate the look of the original figure.

Optikk's overall armor color is a dark gold, almost a bronze. It has a definite metallic sheen to it, but not a bright one. His assorted armor pieces are made to look welded in place, with a series of little rivets, each of which has been painted in silver. They are all very neatly painted, and I'm honestly not certain if they were painted through a stencil, or by hand with an excruciating and unusually high level of precision that I don't usually find in that particular practice. Most of the visible wires are painted in a dark brick red, although there is a dark blue one on his back, the only instance of that color on the entire figure. There's some sort of circular device on his chest piece, purpose unknown, although it wouldn't surprise me to learn that it's some sort of voice synthesizer, especially in light of one particular detail on his backstory card (more on that in a few paragraphs).

Beneath the armor, Optikk's body is black. One might assume that this is some sort of undersuit, similar to what a Star Wars Clone Trooper or a Halo Spartan might wear. However, it doesn't really show in many areas, really just the upper legs and a bit around the abdomen. The detail of the torso armor in this region is especially impressive, quite thin areas of plastic allowing for the mid-torso articulation to work while still matching Optikk's appearance. I would not have cared to have been on the assembly detail for this figure.

Of course, there's the most obvious thing about Optikk -- his head. Or eye. Or -- well, whichever it's supposed to be. Resting atop the high collar is a white sphere, with the huge details of an eye front and center, a colored iris, and a black pupil.

Mattel has done a really amazing and impressive job with this part. Rather than just painting the eye details onto a white sphere, the central portion is actually a separate piece, that protrudes just a bit (precisely like a real eye). The iris is deepset, gradually becoming the black pupil. The overall level of detail is absolutely amazing. The eye alone is a remarkable piece of toymaking, never mind the rest of the figure. Reddish highlights have been painted on the surface.

Optikk actually has two eyes, which can be changed out as one chooses. One of them has a deep green iris, the other one has a bright orange. Personally, I prefer the green one, but the orange one is just as impressive, and I'll admit, makes him look a bit meaner.

Among his accessories, besides the spare eye, Optikk also comes with a nicely detailed circular shield, and a very fancy firearm, which is described on his backstory card as a "Photon Neutralizer". I have no idea what it might actually do, but I don't think I'd want to be on the wrong end of it.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Optikk is fully poseable at the -- um -- well -- do I call it a head? Should I say that he's articulated at the eye? That'd pretty much make him the first action figure to be able to make that particular claim since "Eagle-Eye" G.I. Joe and a couple of Action Man figures in later years that used the same trick. Granted, their eyes were not their entire heads.

Optikk us fully poseable at the -- eye-head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mus-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

Optikk's character bio, ornately printed on a scroll on the back of his package card (I'm really enjoying these, and sincerely appreciate Mattel's effort with them) reads as follows:

OPTIKK - Space Mutant Spy for Skeletor.

REAL NAME: (Pronounced through a series of blinks)

A Space Mutant from the foggy polar region of the planet Denebria, Optikk's spyeye eyeball is specially adapted to see through the dense Denebrian 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.

Still, that comment about his real name is interesting. "Pronounced through a series of blinks". This actually makes sense for a species that has no apparent mouth or, for that matter, ears. Of course, there's no apparent indication of an eyelid here, either, so one can only guess how he blinks. Perhaps it's recessed underneath the collar.

One other quick note - I noticed when I photographed this figure for this review, that the flash reflects off the eye very much like an actual human eye. Impressive. Mildly creepy, but impressive.

So, what's my final word? While I wouldn't necessarily want to see the entire cast of the New Adventures concept brought into the Masters of the Universe Classics line, I suppose it does deserve some measure of acknowledgment, and the choice of Optikk as its first ambassador is a good one. I maintain my opinion that he is perhaps the most dynamic and unique character to have been created specifically within that concept. And Mattel and the sculptors and designers of the Four Horsemen Studios have done a remarkable job with this figure, including, certainly, integrating him well with the rest of the line.

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