REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS ZODAC FIGURE
When I heard that ZODAC was to be added to Mattel's increasingly impressive line of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures, I was extremely pleased. The character has a certain sentimental value to me. Zodac was the first, and admittedly one of relatively few, figures from the original Masters of the Universe line that I owned.
Although I enjoyed the concept in the 1980's, I never bought all that many of the original Masters of the Universe figures. Given both the limited finances and physical space at the time, my attention toywise was largely focused on G.I. Joe, although I paid a fair bit of attention to other concepts of the time, including Transformers and Masters of the Universe. It cost nothing to turn on the television and watch them, at least.
I'm not really sure why I selected Zodac to be my first Masters of the Universe figure. I suppose I just sort of liked the somewhat futuristic look of the character. He was also billed as a "Cosmic Enforcer", which appealed to me.
I can't speak for all toy collectors, but I tend to remember the "first" of most lines that I purchase. My first Masters of the Universe figure was Zodac. My first G.I. Joe figures were Flash and Snake-Eyes, purchased at the same time. My first Transformer was Ravage, and I still have him. I, at least, tend to remember these things.
Interestingly, Zodac proved to be the first Masters of the Universe Classics figure since Stratos to not sell out on the MattyCollector.Com Web Site within a day. Granted, the character is not as major a player as most of the Masters figures thus far released, and (as of this writing) I have little doubt that the next figure on deck, Hordak, is going to be massively popular.
But it's also possible that there may be an effect here due to some confusion over the character's nature. Not everyone is going to have the sentimental feeling towards the character that I have. Zodac's portrayal in the original concept was -- confusing. He was initially billed as an "Evil Cosmic Enforcer", but this was soon dropped, and the character tended to be neutral as much as anything, which is how he is portrayed this time around.
During DC Comics' run of Masters of the Universe comics, Zodac was portrayed as largely neutral, and was even given a fancy flying chair. As much as anything, he came across like the Masters' version of Metron, from DC Comics' own "New Gods" concept.
As if the original portrayal of the character didn't tend to get a little confusing, depending on which source you were inclined to believe, when Zodac was brought into the 2002 Masters concept, it got even weirder. Here, Zodac wasn't so much a "Cosmic Enforcer" as a man with a severe vendetta against the villainous Snake-Men, who had just come on the scene. He was more or less a good guy, but he was obsessed with destroying the Snake-Men, and wanted no part of the heroic Masters. As far as he was concerned, they were in the way of his objective.
In a unique curiosity of the Masters of the Universe franchise, portrayals of Zodac vary considerably from medium to medium since the franchise began in the 1980s, leaving many confused over the character.
The general representation of Zodac is that he is a neutral character, a cosmic enforcer who participates little in conflict but can aid either the heroic or evil sides in their hour of need. But to properly understand Zodac's position in the mythology, it is necessary to consider the many different portrayals of him within the different incarnations of Masters of the Universe.
Prior to the Filmation cartoon, which many tend to see as setting the standards of characters for the Masters, Zodac was tagged as 'Evil Cosmic Enforcer' and his action figure, despite being human, is given claw-like feet, a standard trait of the line's evil characters. However, he does not appear in any of the toys' accompanying minicomics, leaving many buyers unsure of the exact nature of his character or what role he plays in the story. The description on the back of his toy card read "Zodac attacks the Heroic Warriors with all the evil power at his command", a mildly ambiguous description, which one can interpret as signifying either a generic Evil Warrior, or a universal enforcer of evil who somehow epitomized all evil power.
But if Mattel's approach to the character seemed vague, the mystery surrounding Zodac is heavily exacerbated by his use in the DC Comics, which features him acting as a neutral character who seemingly oversees the whole conflict and serves to maintain balance between the two sides of good and evil, ensuring when he can, that both sides get their way, and helping either side when they need it. As a watcher of the universe, he naturally knows that Prince Adam is He-Man.
Although he does not appear in any of the regular minicomics, he appears in the book and record that comes with the Point Dread & Talon Fighter playset, which also presents him in such a neutral role. However, as this playset was less commonly owned than the standard figures, many fans never saw this appearance and thus were still confused.
It is generally believed that this "neutral" role was Mattel's original concept behind Zodac, and the labeling of him as 'Evil' was done purely to even out the evil figures against the heroic, but Mattel has never confirmed this. Later on in the toy line's run, Zodac figures were packaged purely as 'Cosmic Enforcer', the 'Evil' tag dropped to avoid the confusion.
In the Filmation animated series, Zodac appears in three episodes of the show's first season: "Quest for He-Man", "The Search" and "Golden Disks of Knowledge". The show's portrayal of the character is generally in keeping with that of the DC Comics, although it is clear in the cartoon that he leans more towards the side of good and serves essentially to help maintain peace within the universe. As the cartoon never shows him acting on the side of evil, and he never shares any scenes with Skeletor, many viewers of the show perceive him as one of the good guys, even though this is not entirely true. It is his portrayal on the cartoon that heightened the confusion over the character, as viewers of the show who saw him as a good guy were perplexed when they went out to buy his figure.
In the cartoon he is clearly an all-powerful character who sees and understands all. The most important of his three episodes is "The Search", in which he sends He-Man out on a quest to prevent Skeletor from reaching the Star Seed, a powerful object that will give him control over the whole universe. A twist ending reveals that Zodac set up the whole affair, telling Skeletor of the Star Seed and sending He-Man to defend it, in a test of He-Man's ability to resist the temptation of using the Star Seed's power for himself.
The episode "Golden Disks of Knowledge", meanwhile, reveals that Zodac is the last remaining member of the Council of the Wise, often referred to as "The Council of Elders", a universal council of knowledge and wisdom keepers. It is revealed that Skeletor achieved most of his power after he stole the Golden Disks from the Council of the Wise after corrupting another of its members, Zanthor, into selling them to him. The end of the episode features the reformed Zanthor donning a uniform like Zodac's and leaving for the stars together with him to watch over the universe.
The series "bible" delves more into the history of Zodac, telling us that not only was Zodac a member of the Council of Elders, he was also the leader, and the only member to retain his human form after the Council became the spirit of Grayskull. He then vowed to sail the universe, keeping watch over Eternia but not interfering in the natural course of events.
Other media to produce Masters of the Universe stories throughout the 1980s took radically differing approaches to the character of Zodac. Some storybooks, most notably the UK Ladybird Books, portray him as a wholly evil character in servitude to Skeletor. In this storybook series he is portrayed as just another of Skeletor's bumbling henchmen, the complete opposite of the noble figure of the cartoon series.
Several other books and comic series portray him as a fully heroic character, while others are more in-keeping with the DC Comics and Filmation's portrayals. Given that many fans in the 1980s purchased a wide range of these books and comics alongside the toys and cartoon, it is not surprising how so many people became confused over the true nature of Zodac's character.
When Zodac featured in the 2002 relaunch of the Masters of the Universe franchise, it was inevitable that complexities would arise in updating him for a modern audience. Indeed, toy sculptors the Four Horsemen originally planned a radical change for the character by making him a strange alien creature rather than a human, in an apparent effort to enhance the view of him as a universal watcher. However, when Mattel demanded racial diversity in the toy line, the Four Horsemen looked to change skin colors and, after firstly considering Stratos but deciding that Stratos' overall design did not go well with the racial change, Zodac was chosen.
The 2002-era Zodac figure appears as a brown or bronze-skinned character, and tribal markings were added to his arms and forehead.
As Ian Richter of Mattel worked on developments for the cartoon's storyline with Mike Young Productions, it was decided to link Zodac to the planned story line for Season 2, dealing with the resurrection of the Snake Men. Although Zodac had no connection with the Snake Men in the old continuity, in the new series his whole role in the show revolves around them.
Zodac appears in the contemporary series as an all-powerful and immortal warrior from Ancient times, presumably the most powerful warrior on Eternia in the present time. Having aided the Elders in the defeat of the Snake Men centuries ago, Zodac is called upon in the episode "Snake Pit" to help prevent the Snake Men from being released from their ancient prison. It is revealed in this episode that Zodac harbors a centuries-old grudge against the Snake Men after King Hiss ate his brother, Zeelahr. Presumably it was his brother's killing that convinced Zodac to give up his mortality.
Zodac resides in a small wooden temple in the Mystic Mountains, where he spends most of his time in deep meditation. He refuses to let his grudge against the Snake Men die and will do everything he can until King Hiss has perished. Although this inevitably involves him aiding He-Man and the Masters from time to time, he has pledged no alliance and refuses to officially side with anyone in the battle, abiding purely by his own sense of right and wrong with little consideration for others. In Season 2 it is Zodac who allows the Snake Men to be freed, placing Eternia in danger, for the sake of achieving his own revenge, which leads to a conflict between him and He-Man in the "Rise of the Snake Men" 2-parter. Zodac returns in the final episode of the series, "Awaken the Serpent", in which he finally defeats King Hiss. The whole series ends with a shot of Zodac flying off into the sky in his chair, as He-Man thanks him for winning the conflict against the Snake Men.
The intriguing use of Zodac in the contemporary series has evoked a mixed reaction among fans. Some fans are enthusiastic about the depth of his character and the intriguing psychology behind his participation in the war, while others have argued that the show treats him as too much of a hero when it was he who inflicted the Snake Men on Eternia, and should have been seen as more of a villain.
Particularly notable about the new show's portrayal of Zodac is that his personality is significantly more bitter and unstable than in the old continuity, in which he is a sombre and peaceful deity-like figure who would undoubtedly never have been overcome by anger or a thirst for revenge.
Whichever continuity fans prefer to follow, it is undoubtable that Zodac is one of the franchise's most mysterious and inspiring characters, and after the multitude of confusion and differing portrayals of the character, the character is left open for practically limitless interpretations in any subsequent incarnations of Masters of the Universe.
A fair assessment, really. Just to throw in a little more confusion, the spelling of the character's name between "Zodac" and "Zodak", and for that matter, the entry is titled "Zodak", and I seem to recall it appearing both ways even in official and licensed media. However, for the new Classics figure, Mattel has chosen to spell it "Zodac", so that's what I'm going with, since that's the figure I'm reviewing.
For whatever clarification it can provide, the official scroll-like file card on the back of Zodac's package (I love the way Mattel is presenting these), reads as follows:
ZODAC - COSMIC ENFORCER
A few interesting points in that file. Making mention of "Grayskull's demise" would seem to indicate that Zodac has been around long enough to have known King Grayskull, a character introduced as He-Man's ancestor in the 2002 concept, and released at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con as an exclusive action figure as well as the kickoff to this new line.
The line about the "Overlords of Trolla" borders on the hysterical, since Trolla is actually the homeworld of the moderately annoying wizard Orko, who was created by Filmation for some comedy relief in the animated series, but eventually made his way into the original toy line, as well as the 2002 toy line and animated series.
The rest of the file card seems well in keeping with the best-established elements of Zodac's history.
There is no doubt that Zodac is one of the more confusing characters in the Masters universe. To what degree this resulted in somewhat slower sales of the figure (although that's certainly a relative term when compared to many other toy lines) I really can't say. I, for one, was delighted with his addition to the ranks of this superbly-designed line.
So, how's the figure? Really nicely done. Something I had forgotten about the original Zodac, since I no longer have mine and since the 2002 Zodac was such a different individual, was the fact that, despite being generally a neutral character, perhaps leaning towards the heroic a bit, just how many "body parts" more commonly associated with bad guys are used to make him. This as much as anything establishes his "neutral" place in the Masters' universe.
Zodac, although his body is molded in a standard flesh tone, has the furry/hairy upper body most commonly associated with Beast Man, although in fairness it was also used for Stratos. It looks a little peculiar in a flesh tone, as if Zodac has something of a body hair problem, something you'd think a Cosmic Enforcer would be able to avoid, somehow.
The lower arms have the "spikes" jutting out of them, most commonly seen on Skeletor, and the feet are the strange, three-toed feet, which can be seen on both Skeletor and Mer-Man. Mer-Man also has the arm spikes, but on his figure, they're painted to look like gloves.
There's something very odd about seeing these rather inhuman features on a figure that is mostly molded in a very human color, unlike Skeletor's blue or Mer-Man's green.
Zodac's most notable feature is his helmet, which is a fancy and rather futuristic piece of work. Mostly red with grey trim, it has two circular black eyes, and thick grey ridges around it. The helmet, and for that matter the chestplate, look entirely technological, lacking the fantasy- based nature of many of the Masters. The chestplate is very angular and rather trapezoidal in appearance, mostly red with raised panels on its lower section, and a white insignia that looks pretty much like a sideways letter "E" as much as anything, on the upper section.
On the whole, the red elements of Zodac look somewhat darker than I remember them being on the original. This is not at all a complaint, merely an observation.
Zodac's boots and feet are grey. One must assume that the feet of his boots are either form-fitting, designed to have a three-toed-look despite whatever Zodac's feet might "really" look like, or for whatever strange reason, Zodac paints his feet the same color as his shin guards. Really, who can figure out these cosmic types?
And of course, Zodac has a fur-looking loincloth, which is pretty much at odds with the rest of the wardrobe, but hey, it's traditional. In Zodac's case it's grey. He is also wearing a very pale grey belt with white trim.
For the most part, the figure is very neatly painted. There are some highlights airbrushed onto the arms and legs that work better than this sort of thing usually does. The white trim on the belt looks to have been hand-painted, and really could have been a good bit neater than it is, but I've also seen vastly worse.
Of course, Zodac is superbly well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Most of his articulation points are decently tight without having to be forced. The legs and arm swivels could stand to be a little tighter. At the same time, the ankles could've been just a fraction looser. I think the factor here is that these pieces were completely painted, which I don't think has ever happened before.
Zodac comes with a small accessory, a small gun, looking very much like some sort of futuristic ray gun. It's not very large, but it is a good remake of the original, and it's notable for the fact that very few of the early Masters figures came with guns of any sort. They tended to prefer swords and the like. Guess this is the "Enforcer" part of his cosmic title.
So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed. I'm glad that Mattel did Zodac as early as they did. Granted as I said, the character has a certain sentimental value to me. But I also remember that he barely came out and was extremely difficult to find in the 2002 line. While I have little doubt that Zodac will be sold out by the time this review sees print, if you're any sort of Masters of the Universe fan, you'll definitely want to find some way to add him to your collection. Zodac may not be the most major player in the Masters of the Universe concept, but he is a significant character nevertheless, and this is a truly superb rendition of him.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ZODAC definitely has my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation!