Written by Jonathan Wojcik
REVIEWING THE EVIL HORDE!
Stop EVERYTHING you're doing and watch this clip immediately:
When I finally saw either of these series as an adult, I was immediately struck by the fact that The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh had scarier, more intense, more violent and frightening moments than anything in Filmation's Masters of the Universe continuity, and subsequently struck by just how much I was sincerely loving each and every wholesome, innocent, ridiculous second of it.
Of the two shows, it was She-Ra: Princess of Power that captured my heart the hardest, and if you haven't heard, it's receiving a Netflix reboot in the coming year, as controversial with unpleasable fans as every other reboot, sequel and spinoff to ever happen to anything in the world. Personally, I think it looks pretty competent and like something I'll probably enjoy...but admittedly in a very different way from the original cartoon. They're already looking like apples and oranges, and I don't even know how, or if, some of my favorite characters will factor into the new series at all, but it feels like a great excuse to review some of my favorite cartoon villains during my favorite time of year, and by the time we're done, I hope you can appreciate why I would consider these guys worthy of a Halloween feature...
By now, memes have taught almost everyone that He-man fights a hilarious skull headed man named Skeletor, but in classic children's cartoon fashion, the stakes never felt all that high. No matter what schemes Skeletor might have cooked up, he was still an exiled loser trying desperately to break into somebody else's castle and failing catastrophically again, and again, and again. Somebody else's skull themed castle, mind you. Skeletor didn't even get the place with his face on it. Skeletor's lair wound up being "Snake Mountain," and we eventually find out that Snake Mountain really belongs to another villain entirely, who didn't even know Skeletor was squatting in his pad. Skeletor is a lovable villain, but in the same cute, sympathetic way as Robbie Rotten or Team Rocket.
WHO ARE THE HORDE?
He-man's sister, meanwhile, contends with a villain who won before the series ever began. The empire of THE EVIL HORDE already occupies the Planet Etheria when we first encounter She-Ra, who was even stolen as a child and raised as one of the Horde's highest-ranking officers, somehow oblivious to the fact that a bunch of cyborgs and demons screaming at each other in a smoldering black fortress are actually the bad guys.
We even learn soon enough that poor, poor Skeletor himself was a member of the horde before he set out to make it on his own, at one time the top ranking apprentice of...
The leader of the Horde, or at least its Etheria division, actually raised She-Ra as a father figure for most of her life, and spoke with a friendly Santa Claus voice until she finally betrayed him, and their father/daughter relationship was oddly enough just never acknowledged ever again.
Hordak wasn't a character I initially found as cool or interesting as his ex-apprentice with the skull head and I'm still not entirely sure what his theme is supposed to be, but he grew on me pretty fast. His action figure design (see above) looked more like some sort of ominous, black and grey vampire count, while his bright blue Filmation design and sharply angular face evoked some sort of biomechanical orc, and the cartoon actually gives him the power to shape-shift into machines.
Stupid looking machines.
Add to this his pig-like, snorting voice, and there's really no pinning down a central "theme" to Hordak at all, and I really like that. He's entirely his own thing, and despite how powerful he already is, they still find room to make him comedically pathetic. Case in point: an episode in which a mysterious pie is left on Hordak's throne. Hordak eats this pie, because no way would he have reason to suspect anything fishy, and discovers that the pie was cursed by none other than Skeletor. The only known cure for the deadly curse is for someone, anyone, to shed actual tears at the victim's plight...and he ends up relying on She-Ra to help him find the only person he believes still likes him, a reclusive wizard who taught him sorcery.
Here is how that pans out for old Hordak:
In case you're wondering, it ends up being She-Ra who finally cries, though not necessarily on purpose. She's simply brought to tears by, in her own words, the thought of "a life wasted" so severely. OUCH.
It's surprising that even Imp didn't so much as sniffle at the prospect of Hordak's impending doom, because Imp and Hordak are basically the only two villains who consistently get along with each other. In fact, Hordak downright LOVES this nasty little goblin, scolding anyone else who's mean to his "precious imp" and allowing him to get away with much, much worse than any of his other minions.
This is really quite the departure from other animated villains I grew up with, who were often totally devoid of affection for anything just so we never forgot who the Bad Side was. Imp's not especially cool or creative as a concept, but he's pretty fun as a character...and he can shape-shift!
...And it only gets a LITTLE too weird sometimes.
With our big boss and his sidekick covered, we're going to go over the rest of the Horde's most prominent or interesting members in an order that probably only makes sense to myself.
I have to say that, sadly, Grizzlor is my least favorite Horde member. There isn't much to him besides a very hairy, very strong monster man with fangs. He's still cool, sure, his action figure had REALLY long shaggy fur that made him look even cooler, but I remember nothing about his personality other than that he was supposed to be the "dumb" one of the core villain team, and that doesn't mean much when almost every single member of that team is either dumb as a brick or dumb as a post. Take your pick.
She-Ra was originally created as a "girl's" counterpart to He-Man, and her original wave of toys had exclusively female villains, with Catra here as the original main villain! Able to transform herself into a panther-like creature, Catra is otherwise just what you might expect from a mean, evil cat-themed lady. She's got claws, she's allegedly very cunning (like I said...bricks and posts) and she speaks in a hilariously goofy "cat like" pattern.
Another of the original villainesses, there's unfortunately not much to Entrapta besides the fact that she can manipulate her hair like a bunch of tentacles. I guess that's why they never use her too much; she's just Sedusa from the Power Puff Girls but with worse fashion sense and what we can assume is probably a worse love life, given what she has to work with.
Remember when we said that Skeletor's snake-themed lair originally belonged to a different villain? That villain was "King Hiss" of the "Snake Men," and not only did Skeletor take over his crib while he was gone (presumed dead, or something) but a few of his reptilian minions wound up under Hordak's command. That's about as interesting as Rattlor gets, sadly; he's really just a big brute with a snake head.
This one's a little more fun than his snakier pal, a minion of King Hiss who seems curiously more lizard or even amphibian-based than serpentine. His action figure, which debuted first, was even a straight-up frog man, a lot more striking than his dopier, more lizardlike animated counterpart. As you might have guessed, his tongue is his main weapon, seemingly capable of stretching as far he needs for use as a rope, a whip or a tentacle.
One thing that makes Lashor and Rattlor more endearing is the fact that they almost always hung out together, presumably due to their past working for King Hiss, but maybe they were just dating.
This evil robot is a fan favorite, partially because he was clearly designed to be a pretty interesting, face-changing action figure but was never originally produced, and appeared only twice in the cartoon show. In his first appearance, he was a cold and menacing robot. In his second, he was another bumbling oaf with a goofball personality. Obviously, I prefer the giant robot face man as a grade-A dingus.
Considered one of the "original" Horde members, Modulok appears in the show as the Horde's resident mad scientist and inventor, seen here creating what he once intended to be a second head for himself with the brain of one of He-Man's closest friends, by far one of the most messed up evil villain plans I've probably ever heard. Sadly, there was nothing more to his biology in the show than having four legs, despite the fact that his character was conceived and marketed as...this:
Modulok's action figure was fun as hell. I didn't have it as a child, but as a grown-up I now have at least some of his original pieces and most of his newer collectible update. The semi-soft body parts snap together with satisfyingly firm, rubber pegs, and you can craft some truly ridiculous shapes out of the poor guy. A living constructor set, capable of rearranging himself or even splitting apart into multiple, smaller monsters! I really don't know why in the world they never featured any of this in the cartoon, unless they just didn't feel like drawing any of it.
For twice the fun, Modulok also had a robot he created in his own image, which was also sold as a robotic version of basically the same toy, and I believe you could mix them together. I love the idea of such a weird monster creating a robot that's exactly like himself. Why wouldn't he?! Multi-bot's ability to shape shift wasn't really addressed in the cartoon either, which is equally tragic.
Monsters and villains themed around our favorite blood-sucking annelids have always been tough to come by, so I have pretty mixed feelings about Leech here, because he really doesn't look leech-like, or even like the usual cartoon impression of a leech. His original figure and artwork put more emphasis on his mouth as a circular, toothy sucker, but the cartoon gave him huge, uncanny human lips and basically made him into some kind of fanged toad guy with sucker hands. I like the "abstraction" of this design for a leech guy, kind of symbolically leech-esque, but I'd have still preferred at least a rounder mouth for this "energy sucking" parasite.
...Or, better yet, if they had stuck with WHATEVER the hell is going on with Leech in only this one, single illustration from a single kid's book.
Speaking of bloodsucking creatures...here's a video I just took that tells you all you need to know about MOSQUITOR. Isn't that action feature amazing?! Sadly, the Horde's second known parasitic member never got an animated appearance, perhaps because they thought he would be too grotesque, or perhaps because the action figure came out a little later.
What's really interesting about him is how his entire "energy draining" apparatus appears to be cybernetic, as though he was made into a mosquito creature, and in fact, his 2002 "staction figure" (a line of non-poseable figures in response to an odd copyright ruling) had a stunted, organic fly-man head secretly molded underneath the helmet!
The third of She-Ra's earliest lady nemeses, Scorpia has tiny little pincer hands, an actual scorpion tail, positively supreme eye makeup and one of the absolute best characterizations in this entire show, like, OH my god. If you've never actually watched She-Ra, I want you to tell me in the comments what kind of voice and personality you would expected from this character before you saw the following with your own two eyes:
BUT WAIT! Did you think that was at once one of the most lovable and hilarious things you could have possibly seen and heard from what should have been a relatively terrifying, cybernetic scorpion-woman?
Well, here's Octavia, Horde naval officer and muscular Amazonian squid-woman to show you some real voice acting. Voice acting I don't think even Scorpia could have prepared you for.
I'm not gonna lie. This would easily be among my picks for the most attractive animated characters of all time.
...And Shadow Weaver's not bad either!!!
But no, really, it's not even because of the supermodel figure or anything. Everybody has a chiseled bod in this show. Even Mosquitor is an Adonis. It means nothing. What makes Shadow Weaver the show's #1 babe is as follows:
• Rare example of the black void face on a sorceress.
• Slitted, glowing demon eyes in said void face.
• Green witch skin with long fingernails.
• Slurred, hissing voice like they'd give to a cartoon snake.
• True face canonically too gruesome to show the viewer.
• Has her own evil lair called Horror Hall.
• Horror Hall looks like this.
• Tended to by servants she transformed into rat creatures.
• SERIOUSLY LISTEN TO THAT VOICE:
While not a "character" in its own right - and never properly featured in the series, either - the Evil Horde Slime Pit was once one of the best-selling and most famous action figure playsets of all time, and set off a wave of slime-based toys that reached their peak with dozens of entries by The Real Ghostbusters and a few from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I gotta say, though...this thing is fetishistic as hell. A giant skeleton hand holds you in place by the crotch while you get drenched in ooze, and the whole point of it is that it transforms you into a mindless "slime creature" slave.
BONUS MENTION: THE SLIME PIT
Whoever wrote some of this text enjoyed themselves far too much.
So every major character in this franchise had a designated mount. He-Man had Battle Cat, Skeletor had Panthor, She-Ra had Swift Wind, and Hordak, apparently, had a giant, cybernetic preying mantis! It appeared only momentarily in the cartoon show with a very different, all-green design and crab claws for whatever reason, so the toy and a few comic appearances were all we ever got of the "real" Mantisaur. It looks more like it should be ridden on by Mosquitor of course, and I'm really surprised that little kid me managed to miss the existence of a great big toy mantis at the time, which I know I would have INSISTED on having even if I didn't watch the show. Mantises actually felt kind of obscure back then. I never saw them in cartoons!
And now, not just my favorite character between He-Man and She-Ra, but one of my favorite character designs of anything, ever, regardless of which interpretation we're even talking about. I know I showed you the Filmation cartoon versions of all these dorkos first, but for Mantenna, it's important to get an impression of the original action figure design (front) that the world encountered first, well before the television premiere of She-Ra. Referred to as "The Evil Spy With Pop-Out Eyes," Mantenna was supposedly armed with such heightened audio-visual perception that he literally functioned like a living "antenna," and those pop-out eyes could emit a wide variety of dangerous energy beams.
Between these indispensable powers and his maniacal, truly alien appearance, most kids assumed he'd be a pretty threatening figure in the world of She-Ra, and grew up to literally make pretty threatening figures of him in 2001 (right) and 2013 (left).
Filmation, however, would have none of it.
Blessed with exactly the same voice used for Orko, animated Mantenna was a sensitive, cowardly doofus whose biggest role in the series was to be repeatedly dumped down a hole, and we've even got another instance of a toothy, sucker-like mouth translated by this studio into disturbingly luscious lips.
There were many who were, and still are, disappointed that the Evil Spy With Pop-Out Eyes basically turned out to be a comic-relief sidekick even by the standards of a cartoon where almost everybody matches that description, but I said I loved Mantenna in every incarnation, and I meant it. Do I love him with terrifying, bloodshot eyeballs and a lamprey maw? Of course! Do I love him as a little weiner with a face more like a shaved bushbaby? Absolutely!
Oftentimes, I appreciate Filmation Mantenna specifically for the way his most bizarre characteristics stand out all the better against the backdrop of his more mammalian appearance. You look at Action Figure Mantenna's funky bug mug, and you just aren't surprised at all when his eyes telescope from their sockets. "Of course that's something that thing does," you think. How messed up is that coming from a big red possum, though? Of course, every version is still six-limbed, like a big insect, and his body is supposed to have a chitinous exoskeleton, with Hordak himself calling him an "armor-plated imbecile." Just like his boss, there's no pinning down any one creature that could have inspired this total weirdo, though if I must, I somehow feel like he most brings to mind a mix between a harvester ant and a fruit bat. Maybe with a little tiny dash of elephant, gecko and preying mantis. If none of that really makes sense and you see something entirely different, that's just how you know you've got a wildly creative design!
I hope you liked this overview of the nitwit freaks She-Ra had to put up with back in the 80's, even or perhaps especially if this was actually your first time really meeting them. How will the new upcoming series compare? Catra is a teenage furry, Shadow Weaver speaks like a real person and I haven't even seen evidence that Mantenna exists, but to be honest, it doesn't entirely matter. They're different shows for different children born into entirely different worlds. I don't think I'm really capable of loving a more serious, more competently written villain team to the degree I love the classic Horde, but I'm still intrigued to see a more modern, more emotionally compelling take on this setting and the dual life of its heroine. There really is a lot of untapped potential for dramatic storytelling on display here, and someone may as well delve into it at least once in animated form.
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