REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS TEMPLE OF DARKNESS SORCERESS
It has become an increasingly common practice in recent years for toy companies to offer various exclusives at any number of the pop-culture conventions that turn up across the country throughout the year, generally in the summer and early fall. Certainly this is the case with the grand-daddy of them all, the San Diego Comic-Con, which is well-attended by thousands upon thousands of dedicated fans, but also by virtually every comic book company, toy company, and movie studio that is putting out any sort of product that could conceivably be of interest to this crowd.
But the San Diego Comic-Con is not alone insofar as toy companies offering exclusive product anymore. While not quite on the same scale -- yet, anyway -- as San Diego, cities such as Chicago and New York also boast their own impressive conventions, and these have also become venues for toy companies to present distinctive items.
Case in point -- a special Masters of the Universe Classics figure that turned up from Mattel. It wasn't available at the San Diego Comic-Con. That was Vykron's debut, and this figure isn't Vykron. This figure did turn up at some of the other conventions on the year.
Fortunately, Mattel made the remaining supply available through their online Web Site, MattyCollector.Com, once the convention circuit had been completed. I was certainly interested in this figure.
This special figure is known as TEMPLE OF DARKNESS SORCERESS. Now, I'm not entirely sure what this "Temple of Darkness" is, but I certainly know who the Sorceress is, and the figure was certainly an interesting take on the character. So, I consider myself highly fortunate to have been able to acquire one, before the online supply vanished.
The Sorceress, in my opinion, is one of those interesting characters, like the Baroness in G.I. Joe, or Arcee in Transformers, that actually starts out in some other media form connected to the toy line, before actually being made as a toy. In G.I. Joe, the Baroness was introduced in the comic book in order to give Cobra Commander someone to discuss his plans with, which he certainly wasn't likely to do with the rank and file. Only later did she become a figure. Arcee was developed more than likely to provide the Transformers with a prominent female character, something they had not had. There has yet to be an Arcee toy that is really a good match for her original, Generation One likeness, a small statue-like toy notwithstanding, but there have been several Transformers named Arcee in recent years.
And then there's the Sorceress. I have always been of the opinion that this character was developed to split off some of the reported abilities of Teela, to make that character more human and a bit more accessible to the lead cast in the animated series, such as Prince Adam and Man-At-Arms. Initially, Teela was described as a warrior "goddess", and the figure came with this snake-like and rather regal-looking armor. In the animated series, Teela never possessed this armor, and she was part of the security forces for King Randor's palace. She was the daughter of Man-At-Arms, and a frequent thorn in the side to Prince Adam, whom she considered lazy and irresponsible, not knowing of his alternate identity as He-Man. She was a capable fighter, but certainly no "goddess".
Then there was the Sorceress. This was probably considered a more agreeable term than "goddess" for the purposes of an animated series. But there was that little matter of the snake armor. Snakes aren't generally viewed in a very positive light, and Skeletor's base of operations was quite appropriately known as Snake Mountain. Later on, of course, we also saw the enemy force known as the Snake-Men show up in the toy line. Outfit the Sorceress in some sort of reptilian gear, and the little kids might wonder whose side she was really on. So the format was changed to a bird-like motif.
A connection was eventually made between Teela and the Sorceress, but the two remained distinct individuals. But it was several years into the original line before there was a Sorceress action figure produced, that was actually called "Sorceress", and resembled the character as she appeared in the animated series. This was much like the Baroness, who appeared in other forms of media at the outset, but had to wait until the third year of the G.I. Joe action figure line to be rendered in plastic, and we're still waiting for an animation-accurate Generation One Arcee -- and I'm not holding my breath.
Let's consider some of the history and background of the Sorceress, and then have a look at this particular action figure.
The Sorceress first appeared in the "He-Man and the Power Sword" mini-comic and had green skin and the aforementioned snake-themed armor. In this story, the Sorceress gives He-Man his powers, consistent with later depictions. This mini-comic is the only time Sorceress appears with green skin.
Just to completely confuse things, Mattel has made a figure called "The Goddess", matching this green-skinned description, as part of their Masters of the Universe Classics line. Unfortunately, a defect in the plastic used has given the figure a somewhat notorious reputation for self-destruction.
In the second series of mini-comics, the character, now called Goddess, has normal flesh-tone skin and still wears the snake-themed armor. The mini-comic "The Tale of Teela" exposes the warrior woman Teela as a Skeletor-created clone of the Sorceress/Goddess (also named Teela), thus clarifying why both characters were originally represented by one action figure -- if you can call that clarification. This mini-comic also establishes a biological link between both "Teela" characters, setting them up to be developed as mother and daughter in the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe TV series, without the clone inference
Eventually, the "Goddess" name is dropped, and the falcon-themed Sorceress (with the updated name "Teela Na", in order to distinguish her from warrior woman Teela) of the TV show would appear in the later mini-comics.
This is why I tend to stick to the continuity of the animated series. No insult intended against the mini-comics, but their continuity was a bit scattershot there for a while before they tried to align with the animation as best as they could.
In the Filmation series, the Sorceress is the mistress and guardian of the Secrets of Castle Grayskull, the source of He-Man's great power.
With a vast knowledge of magic and history, she is among the wisest beings on Eternia. He-Man often seeks her counsel, especially when situations are at their worst. In the Filmation series, the Sorceress demonstrates saintly qualities such as humility and appears to other characters who are in need of guidance.
However, since her powers are tied to Castle Grayskull, they weaken when she leaves its walls. When she does need to travel, though, she generally assumes the form of a falcon known as Zoar.
The Sorceress is also the mother of Teela, childhood friend of Prince Adam and Captain of the Royal Guard, whose aggressive temperament is a far cry from that of her soft-spoken mother. When Teela was an infant, the Sorceress gave her to Duncan (Man-At-Arms), to raise as his own, because the Sorceress felt that Castle Grayskull was too dangerous a place for her daughter to be raised. In the episode "Teela's Quest", Teela sets out to discover the truth of her mother from The Oracle of the Crystal Sea. She succeeds, but the Sorceress erases the revelation from Teela's memory for her own good, even though she desperately wishes she could tell her the truth. Other than Man-At-Arms, the only others who share the secret are He-Man, Battle Cat, and the Oracle of the Crystal Sea. It is also established in this episode that the Sorceress' daughter is destined to someday take her place as the magical guardian of Castle Grayskull.
The real name of the current Sorceress is Teela Na. Her history is revealed in the episode "The Origin of the Sorceress", in which Morgoth, an old nemesis of the Sorceress, returns and attacks Eternia. While waiting for Morgoth to reappear, the Sorceress explains to He-Man how she became the guardian of Castle Grayskull. Her home, the village of Nowella, was attacked, and subsequently conquered, by Morgoth and his allies Ferros, Repta, and Rachney, servants of the Evil Horde.
With the aid of an old storyteller's rhyme, "In barren places find ye hope/And where no water grows, no plant grows, no wind blows/Find all you need...", Teela Na sought out Castle Grayskull, which she hoped would help her find a way to defeat her captors. Just as she was about to succumb to the Eternian wastelands, the mystical fortress appeared before Teela Na's eyes, and she was invited inside by a mysterious voice. Once inside she came across an old woman named Kuduk Ungol, her predecessor as the Sorceress. Kuduk invited her to take up the mantle of Castle Grayskull's protector, and explained her duties as such:
"It will not be an easy task, Teela Na. You will fight many battles, see great sadness, and great joy. As Keeper of Castle Grayskull you must fight a constant war against evil, and comfort those in need. And, you will never be mortal again. Finally, you must preserve and protect the Swords of Power, until the day comes when they may be claimed."
Teela Na accepted the offer and immersed herself in the Pool of Power, which imbued her with the powers of Castle Grayskull. Once she had taken her place as the guardian of Castle Grayskull, the Sorceress returned to Nowella and overthrew the invaders before returning to her new home inside Castle Grayskull. Kuduk Ungol was gone by this time, her fate unrevealed.
As to her powers and abilities, the Sorceress possesses a vast array of magical and spellcasting abilities, and is considered the most powerful magic-wielder on modern Eternia. Some spells she performs on a regular basis, including transforming into the falcon Zoar.
She is perhaps most noted for projecting her telepathic image to others, especially He-Man. Her telepathy is very powerful, as she can contact He-Man across great distances as well as sense the thoughts, emotions, and motives of others.
According to the episode "Teela's Triumph", the Sorceress can look into both the past and the future. She frequently uses a mystic mirror within Castle Grayskull to keep watch over current events on Eternia.
The Sorceress can also teleport herself and others across vast distances, and in the episode "The Cosmic Comet", she temporarily grants He-Man the ability to fly.
Other times she exhibits telekinesis, as well as the ability to project images, create fire, and to produce magical shields.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. I'm really not sure where the description "Temple of Darkness" comes from. There's no reference to it on the bio card that comes with the figure, which maintains a fair amount of the Filmation backstory.
Now, admittedly, Castle Grayskull itself is a pretty grim and gloomy place. Okay, the place is ancient, it's a reservoir of a great deal of magic, there are indications that it's a good bit larger on the inside than it appears on the outside, so it's probably a serious pain to vacuum and dust the joint, but really -- she couldn't have some track lighting put in or something? I mean, come on, she's on good terms with Man-At-Arms. He could have something installed with a decent generator inside of a week. Temple of Darkness indeed...
Perhaps to compensate for this, this Sorceress figure is outfitted entirely in white. This is a distinct change from her usual outfit, which while it has a fair amount of white on it, is also dominated by blue and orange.
Now, I honestly couldn't recall having seen an all-white Sorceress before, although interestingly enough, the character did appear dressed in all white in the live-action Masters of the Universe movie. However, the less said about that cinematic fiasco, the better. Nevertheless, I couldn't recall a point where this Sorceress appeared in all white.
It seems, however, that she did, in a few of the mini-comics, which admittedly I did not follow. These mini-comics include "The Obelisk", which this Sorceress reportedly matches most, according to a friend of mine who followed the mini-comics more closely than myself, "He-Man and the Insect People", and, notably, "He-Man vs. Skeletor in the Temple of Darkness". So there we have the explanation for the name.
This does still leave the question as to "Why?" Why would she be colored all white in the mini-comics when she never appeared that way in the animated series?
I have a theory -- and that's all it is. And it would depend on when those comics were published. The time between when a toy character is developed, and actually produced, can be considerable. And one of the things that is determined along the way is what that figure's color scheme is going to be. I think about the first comic book appearance of the G.I. Joe special team known as Ninja Force. When Dojo, T'Jbang, and Nunchuk first appeared, they were colored in a solid grayish-purple, and only appeared on dark streets and in shadow. Why? Likely because while Hasbro knew that they were going to produce these Ninja Force characters as figures, and had settled on their appearances, their final colors hadn't been determined, and Marvel Comics didn't have that information yet.
This doesn't really apply to the Sorceress, however. She started out, in her most familiar form, in the animated series, and her colors had certainly been determined. Her color scheme is based on Zoar, which in the toy line was a giant bird that could actually be ridden by the figures. The Sorceress is obviously not that big in bird form in the animated series, but the color scheme of blue, orange, and white, did carry over.
So, honestly, I really don't know why she would have appeared in an all-white format in the mini-comics, unless someone was trying to make it look as though she was glowing or something, or maybe the colorist hadn't seen the animated series and didn't know what to do, and no one caught it.
Whatever the case, it has finally resulted in a most impressive action figure. As one would expect, the figure is a recoloration of the first Sorceress figure, which was released some time back in the Masters of the Universe Classics line as one of their usual monthly offerings. Fortunately, it's a spectacular figure.
Credit of course must be given to the sculpting and design team known as the Four Horsemen. They specialize in precision, excellent likenesses, and intricate detail. And they're really good with minute detail on things like hair, fur -- and feathers. And certainly the Sorceress has plenty of those.
The headsculpt is excellent. She looks very much like she stepped right out of the animated series. The headpiece has the eyes and beak of a falcon in the front, and tapered feathers on the sides and back. What's interesting about the design is that the top of her headpiece is smooth, with the feathers more or less just sort of developing towards the base. I find myself wondering how much of a sculpting challenge this might well have been.
The Sorceress is wearing a relatively plain top, but it also becomes feathered once we get to skirt level. Much like the headpiece, the feathers just sort of seem to gradually start on the skirt, becoming more pronounced and distinct once they reach the base. The fine feathered detail is superb.
Sorceress is wearing fairly standard boots, appearing to be leather, with straps, and furry tops. They're as white as the rest of her garb, but they do have the same superb level of detail as the rest of her outfit.
One thing about this figure having as limited a color spectrum as she has, and her clothes in particular being mostly white, although there's a certain amount of pale gray detailing airbrushed onto her. It's really a great opportunity to study the intricacy of the sculpt without being distracted by the usual painted colors.
Of course, the Sorceress also has her winged cape. Anybody who's ever even seen the opening credits of the original Filmation series knows that the Sorceress has this feathered, winged cape, that unfurls when she raises her arms.
Wings are a tricky business on action figures, especially if you make those wings out of plastic, and especially if those wings are attached to arms. Even if they're not, they can be tricky. Consider Hawkman. His wings aren't attached to his arms, but how do you design them for a toy? Folded in, or unfurled? Fortunately, the Four Horsemen designed an articulation for the wings that allows them to be both.
Or consider the Falcon, one of Marvel's winged super-heroes. When Toy Biz turned out the 9", generally cloth-costumed Famous Covers line, and added him to the mix, they came up with these solid plastic wings that were strapped to the figure's wrists, and supposedly moved back and forth on these sliding tabs on the figure's back. It didn't really work very well.
So we come to the Sorceress, with her winged cape. And the Four Horsemen and Mattel came up with a rather ingenious means of dealing with it. The wings are created in sections, that fold in on each other. These sections are mounted to the backs of the figure's shoulders, and unfurl when the figure's arms are raised to the sides. An additional wing section attached to the figure's back unites the entire "cape".
Overall, it works superbly well. About the only problem is, if the Sorceress brings one of her arms forward, she's likely to swat someone across the chest with the wing section attached to the arm. But as far as the "iconic pose" is concerned, it works very well.
And, if you're looking for an interesting addition to her appearance, the wings are actually transparent! They're not entirely clear. They're a sort of transparent white. But if you consider that, along with the very considerable detail sculpted into the feathers by the Four Horsemen, the effect is extremely impressive, and definitely adds something to the character's rather ethereal nature.
Painted detail on the figure is mostly limited to some airbrushed highlights on the costume, but these have been carried out with great skill. The most detail is, as one might expect, on the face, which has been nicely painted and detailed with great precision. The eyes on the headpiece have been given a slight purple-gray color.
Sorceress comes with two accessories. The first is the "Staff of Zoar", a narrow, lengthy staff with an image of a falcon at the top. This has been molded in a translucent white. I'm not entirely sure what the second accessory is supposed to be. It's a short, rather ornate column, with symbols sculpted into the sides, and a small bowl at the top. The base is transparent blue, but it gradually takes on a dark gray and rather rocky appearance further up. Some sort of mystic brazier, perhaps? Or maybe it's just a wok. Can we get this woman a microwave along with that track lighting? And the cable guy is due in a week.
Of course, Sorceress is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. I haven't said this for a while, and I should. As cool as the original Masters of the Universe line was, and even its 2002-era descendant, neither line exactly specialized in articulation. I'm abundantly pleased to see it incorporated in the Classics line as it well should be.
Here is the character profile as it appears on the back of the package:
TEMPLE OF DARKNESS SORCERESS
To safeguard the Power of the Universe after their secret bargain with the Trolla, Grayskull's Elders transfused the power from the Sword of He into a giant orb, which they hid deep within the abyss below Castle Grayskull. There, Grayskull's widow took up the lonely duty of Sorceress, guarding the castle to prevent the power from falling into the wrong hands. For five millennia her students continued this role while the castle faded from memory into legend. At the end of the Great Unrest, a new Sorceress named Teela'na helped the remaining Elders combine their wisdom to tap into Eternia's magical secrets with the orb, creating a new unified force which would be called upon as the "Power of Grayskull", named for the castle which hid it.
So, what's my final word? I'm pleased to have this figure. This may be a slightly obscure version of the Sorceress, but this all-white look rather works for her, and makes her look even more mysterious and mystical than before. At this point, the figure is not likely to be found on MattyCollector.com, and certainly not at any traditional retailer, but she does exist, she is out there, and I believe that any Masters of the Universe fan and collector would be very pleased to add her to their collection.
The TEMPLE OF DARKNESS SORCERESS from MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS definitely has my highest recommendation!