REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS ZODAK
Without a doubt, one of the most popular collector-oriented action figure lines going right now is Mattel's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS, available through their Web Site at MattyCollector.com.
Mattel has taken the classic characters from the popular Masters of the Universe concept, and with the talents of the team of toy designers and sculptors known as the Four Horsemen, created what can easily be called the ultimate Masters of the Universe line. Faithful to their 80's counterparts, but given a distinctly modern look, with greater detail, better proportions, and certainly, more articulation.
And one of the recent entries in the line goes by the name of ZODAK. Wait a second – didn't I review him a while back? Well, no. That was ZODAC. So – there's a difference?
There is, but it will take some explaining, and a little help from WikiPedia.
In basic summary, the original Zodac, from the 1980's concept, was a "Cosmic Enforcer" who was briefly regarded as a bad guy, but later became a rare "neutral" character, siding with neither He-Man and his allies, or Skeletor and his minions. The original 1980's figure used body parts from both good guys and bad guys, with a distinctive head and chest armor. And over the years, there was some question as to the spelling of his name, whether it ended in a "C" or a "K".
The Masters of the Universe Classics figure of Zodac-with-a-"C" presented both the character and the figure in his best known classic incarnation – the character was a "neutral" Cosmic Enforcer, and the figure, like his original version, used body parts common to both good guys and bad guys, with a distinctive head and chest armor. This Zodac was an excellent figure, a superb successor to the original, and a personal favorite of mine, since the original Zodac was the first, and one of a fairly small handful, of original Masters of the Universe Classics figures that I ever owned.
Now, fast-forward to 2002. The WikiPedia entry on Zodac/Zodak has in its opening paragraph, "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."
Most of the popular Masters of the Universe characters made the transition from their 80's incarnations to the 2002 toy line and, more significantly, animated series, relatively intact. Some characters, such as Stratos, Buzz-Off, and others, received more extensive backstories than they had had before, but this didn't contradict previously established details, because there hadn't been significant previously established details.
The 2002 Masters of the Universe series is generally regarded as edgier than its predecessor. This is proven almost from the outset, as in the opening credits, we briefly see the modern Prince Adam reciting the same phrases that the original Prince Adam did in the 1980's series by means of introduction. He's cut off in mid-sentence by an attack from Skeletor and his allies. In other words, "This is not your father's Masters…"
Nevertheless, for all of its more radical appearance and edgier storylines and character attitudes – Skeletor was nastier, Man-At-Arms more militaristic, etc. – most of the popular characters were still recognizable comparable to their original counterparts.
Zodak was another matter entirely.
And here we turn to WikiPedia for further details: 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.
Zodac was one of the first characters to be conceived by Mattel in the development of the Masters of the Universe toy line, in 1981. His action figure is 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.
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.
It is generally believed that this "neutral" role was Mattel's original concept behind Zodac, and the labelling 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.
In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe by Filmation, 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.
So, it was essentially this mess that Mattel, and for that matter, Mike Young Productions, were left with to sort out when it was decided to incorporate Zodak, now spelled with a "K", into the 2002 Masters concept. And it was at this point that, for several reasons, the character received a considerable overhaul. Once again, WikiPedia reports:
When Zodak was to be 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, 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 requested more 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, Zodak was chosen. As such, the Zodak figure appears as a brown or bronze-skinned character, rather distinctly intended to be black, and for the new toyline, tribal markings were added to his arms and forehead.
As Mattel worked on developments for the cartoon's storyline with Mike Young Productions, it was decided to link Zodak to the planned story line for season 2, dealing with the resurrection of the Snake Me. Although Zodak had no connection with the Snake Men in the old continuity, in the new series his whole role in the show revolves around them.
Zodak 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, Zodak 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 Zodak 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 Zodak to give up his mortality.
Zodak 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 Zodak 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. Zodak 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 Zodak 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 Zodak 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 Zodak is that his personality is significantly more bitter and unstable than in the old continuity, in which he is a somber and peaceful deity-like figure who would undoubtedly never have been overcome by anger or a thirst for revenge.
Zodak, as portrayed in the 2002 series, was a loose cannon with a bad temper, and more than once got in He-Man's way because he wanted to exercise revenge against the Snake Men himself. Granted, having your brother eaten by these snakes would probably push anyone over the edge.
So, which is it? Is he a relatively peaceful "Cosmic Enforcer", a watchful cosmic being who takes no sides and only periodically takes action to maintain some sort of cosmic balance, or a warrior with a vendetta and a short fuse?
For the Masters of the Universe Classics line, Mattel has decided that there was enough of a difference between the two interpretations – and they had that little spelling excuse – so that Zodac and Zodak are now two entirely different characters – and figures!
I reviewed Zodac a while back. Now it's Zodak's turn.
Taking a figure from the 2002 line, who was so radically changed from his original 1980's incarnation, that a direct transition with enough changes from the modern interpretation OF the original character still results in a sufficiently interesting and distinctive figure, was probably not an easy task. Essentially, I suspect Mattel had to work as strictly off the 2002 incarnation as much as possible, aware that they would nevertheless have to use some of the Zodac parts for Zodak.
The 2002 Masters of the Universe line was notable for rather extreme interpretations of the characters. They were sometimes posed in action stances, the designs were more individualistic, and the physiques and overall designs had a certain "anime" take to them. Honestly, it was a very interesting line for the most part, whose only real drawback was that Mattel opted to keep the articulation at about the same level as the original Masters, which meant head, arms, waist, and legs. They did allow the arms to move outwards as well as back and forth, and added a wrist rotation, but if a figure had more than this, it was a distinct exception.
Obviously, the Masters of the Universe Classics figures have a far greater range of articulation, but there's still dealing with the design elements. For Zodak, Mattel has indeed brought together an extremely impressive figure, that truly is distinctive enough from Zodac, to be a clearly individual character.
Obviously, there's the skin tone. Zodac is white, Zodak is black. There's beings on Eternia that have every imaginable skin color – blue, green, purple, orange, you name it. And that doesn't even get into fur, feathers, and who knows what else.
Zodak has entirely different hands, and boots than Zodac. Zodak is molded to look as though he's wearing white gloves, whereas Zodac's hands do not have gloves. The boots, and for that matter, lower torso, of Zodak, are the same as the San Diego ComiCon exclusive He-Ro figure, and are radically different than the boots Zodac is wearing, or the usual "fur-barbarian" boots or loincloth that many of the Masters, including Zodac in the case of the loincloth, tend to have.
The pieces used for Zodak (and He-Ro) have a much more high-tech and futuristic look to them. They're clearly designed to look like armor, not fur, and are really a superb design.
As one would expect, the same head and chestplate that was used for Zodac has been used for Zodak. The skin color on the lower face of the head was changed appropriately, of course. The chestplate is especially remarkable, as it has much more painted detail on it than when it was used for Zodac. Far more than just the white "sideways E", as I tend to call it, at the top of the chestplate, has been painted for Zodak. Much of the sculpted detail on the lower section has been painted this time around, as have the hinges and latches on the chestplate.
The lower torso piece, and the boots, have been molded in grey. The lower torso has red and white trim on it, which balances the red of the helmet and chestplate, and the white gloves, rather nicely. The boots have a bit of dark silver trim on them. Both the boots and lower torso piece have lots of little rivets painted in dark silver.
One of Zodak's most distinctive features, and one of the things that really sets him apart from Zodac, are the aforementioned "tribal tattoos". These are painted in light blue, and are evident on the front and back of his arms, legs, and torso. One of them, on his right bicep, actually looks like a "Z".
In the 2002 animated series, these tattoos tended to come forth and glow just as Zodak was preparing for his next battle. To that end, and apparently in response to a plea and petition by fans, the tattoos on Zodak were made to glow in the dark! I am of the opinion that this was a last minute decision to go ahead with this. The tattoos DO glow – but it takes a little more than usual to get them to do so. I have found that they're barely distinguishable if you leave the figure in his package. Even once he's out, the tattoos seem to work best when exposed to plenty of natural light, such as sunlight. Holding the figure up to a traditional light bulb doesn't seem to be as effective.
As for accessories, here again is a significant difference. The original Zodac came with a small gun, that looked like a futuristic ray gun of some sort. The Classics Zodac came with an update of this weapon. Zodak, on the other hand, came with a long, futuristic-looking battle staff with some nasty points at either end. The Classics Zodak has been similarly equipped.
Of particular interest is Zodak's file card, or character profile. One thing I noticed right away was that Zodak's name carried neither a "TM" or "(R)" after it. However, his "given" name does. I'm not sure what to make of that, from a legal standpoint.
Zodak's character profile lists him as a Mystic Enforcer, not a Cosmic Enforcer, and gives him the real name of "Kar-Tor". This is the trademarked name. His background reads as follows: An ancient and powerful enforcer for the Council of Elders, Kar-tor studied the teachings and mystic fighting techniques of the Cosmic Enforcers and knows how to instantly identify an opponent's weakness. After his mentor, the original Zodac, left Eternia to fulfill the Elder's bargain with Trolla, Kar-tor took his place on the Council and helped lead them in battle against the Snake Men, eventually trapping King Hssss in the Void with the power of his staff. Although he prefers a solitary life of meditation in the Mystic Mountains, when he is called to battle, Zodak attacks his enemies using all the power at his command!
Okay, that's not bad, really. It manages to incorporate some of the more significant elements of the Snake Men connection, enough of the Zodak characters attributes from the animated series, especially that part about preferring a "solitary life of meditation in the Mystic Mountains", and even manages to tie him in with Zodac, as well. That's what I call some creative writing.
There was one little thing I noticed about the card. The phrase "from Trolla" had been pasted on. And, well, I tried to peek under it, but Mattel seems to be using a notoriously good grade of sticker adhesive, and I didn't want to ruin the card.
Articulation of Zodak is, of course, excellent. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. This is one of the reasons, along with just the overall excellence of design, that I regard this line as the ultimate Masters of the Universe collection.
So, what's my final word here? Even if for some reason you weren't that big of a fan of the 2002-era Masters, seeing both Zodac and Zodak enter the Classics line is interesting, and a case study of how a character can be taken in drastically different directions, and still manage to be cool and impressive in both of them.
And Zodak is a cool figure. The level of detail is remarkable, the degree of both difference and similarity between him and Zodac is interesting, and I, for one, am very pleased that Mattel decided to produce this figure.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ZODAK definitely has my highest recommendation!