History

Copyrights in MOTU (Part One: 1981)


Image source: MOTUC Figures

In previous posts I’ve covered trademarks and patents in Masters of the universe, and organized the material into a cohesive Masters of the Universe Timeline. In this post I’m going to be covering Mattel’s He-Man-related copyrights, sourced from the US Copyright Office, for 1981. Eventually I’ll fold these dates into the MOTU Timeline article as well.

Some of the copyright entries have some interesting details and comments, so I’ll include most of the original text (errors and all), eliminating some redundancies and the registration numbers.  Each entry has multiple dates, but I’ll sort according to “Date of Publication”. I’ll do a separate post for each publication year.

A few notes – the “Date of Publication” for the early toys listed universally as February 15, 1981. The figures were not actually sold that early, or even really close to their final designs. The He-Man project was well underway, however. They may have sometimes just chosen a safe, early date for some of these. I believe that entries that have more unique publication dates are more likely to reflect an actual production or release date. The minicomics in this post all have a publication date of November 28, 1981, which at least sounds plausible as a “printed on” date.

Note also that while the male figures are generally called “figurines”, Teela is referred to as a “doll”, apparently based only the fact that she’s a female figure. In reality, Teela is every bit as much an action figure as He-Man.

1981

February

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Battle ram : no. 81-3990.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Beast Man : [no.] 81-5043.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: He-Man : [no.] 81-5040.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Man-at-arms : no. 81-5041.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Merman : [no.] 81-5046.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Skeletor : [no.] 81-5042.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Stratos : [no.] 81-5047.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-26
Title: Teela : [no.] 5045-81.
Description: Doll.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Wind raider : [no.] 81-5117.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Zodac : no. 81-5044.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-25
Title: Castle Grayskull : [no.] 81-3991.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

November

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-28
Title: Masters of the universe
Name: The Vengeance of Skeletor
Description: 22 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-08
Title: Masters of the Universe : He-Man and the power sword.
Description: 26 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: He-Man and the power sword

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-12-07
Title: King of Castle Grayskull.
Description: 22 p.
Series: Masters of the Universe
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1983-01-17
Title: Comics maitres de l’univers : no. 81.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. Only. Appl. states titles on copy: Les Maitres de l’univers; Masters of the universe.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: Les Maitres de l’univers Masters of the universe

Thanks to Miguel A. for inspiring this series!

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Heroic Warriors

Clamp Champ – Heroic Master of Capture (1987)

Clamp Champ nimbly escaped my detection as a kid. By 1987 I really wasn’t into He-Man anymore, and the only figures released that year that I was kind of dimly aware of were Mosquitor, Scare Glow and King Randor. But I think had I seen Clamp Champ on the shelves I would have dug him.

Ironically some of my least favorite figures (heroic warriors especially) come from 1986, a year when a lot of new tooling was brought into the Masters of the Universe toyline. It’s great that they invested the money, but stylistically a lot of it just wasn’t my thing. By bringing back some shared parts in the 1987 line, the feel of the toys became much more familiar and in line with its established style.  Clamp Champ in particular feels like an early MOTU figure, because his body isn’t overly encumbered by gimmicky action features. His gimmick is entirely in his weapon.

Clamp Champ reuses the legs, crotch, chest and arms from He-Man and the armor from Fisto (albeit warped slightly to make it fit on the slightly larger chest from He-Man). He’s given a newly sculpted head as well as a clamp weapon (“power pincer”). The figure was designed by David Wolfram, who also designed Tyrantisaurus Rex, Laser Light Skeletor, King Randor (action figure), Scare Glow, and others.

Clamp Champ’s cross sell artwork closely matched the final toy. He’s given some nice paint deco, including two tone boots and painted bracers, like King Randor. This level of paint detail, ironically, was never given to the original He-Man figure, although it was certainly planned in the prototype stage.

In Clamp Champ’s packaging art (above), he faces off against Ninjor, just as he did in his commercial and in other media. Nothing seems to make the two characters obvious nemeses, other than the fact that they were released in the same year.

In the 1987 Style Guide, Clamp Champ is given the following description (as far as I’m able to make out):

This brave and gallant knight is responsible for guarding King Randor and the Royal Palace of Eternia.

We see these elements in the minicomic he came packed with, The Search For Keldor (illustrated by Bruce Timm, story by Steven Grant). In the story, “Klamp Champ” (probably an early spelling of the name, later dropped) is a tireless, loyal defender of King Randor who uses his might (but not his clamp weapon) to defeat Ninjor. He’s depicted as strong, agile, and in possession of super senses that prevent him from being taken by surprise.

Clamp Champ battles against a bizarrely off-model Beast Man (update: per Dušan M., it’s meant to represent the movie version of Beast Man, although it looks more like a blend between movie and toy) in the MOTU newspaper strip story, “Attack on Snake Mountain”.

In Lifetime Part 2, published by Star Comics, we got a glimps of an older Clamp Champ from an alternate timeline where Prince Adam lost his power sword in a time warp:

Clamp Champ also appears on this Spanish promotional sticker:

Clamp Champ is a part of the large cast of characters in William George’s Eternia and Preternia posters:

Clamp Champ also shows up in two posters by Earl Norem for Masters of the Universe Magazine:

The 1987 Power Tour – a live action stage show featuring He-Man and She-Ra – also included a few relatively obscure characters, like Blast Attak, Snout Spout and Clamp Champ:

Note that his description above paraphrases the 1987 Style Guide.

Because Clamp Champ came out at the tail end of the toyline (and wasn’t around in stories for years before, like Sorceress or King Randor), there isn’t a great deal of back story to the character. His narrative arc is at least expanded somewhat in the Masters of the Universe Classics continuity, but I’ll write more about that in a separate article.

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Playsets

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull box art, by Rudy Obrero

Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull, released in December of 2013, was quite an achievement in an era when big playsets are becoming rarer and rarer. Larger, more complex and more detailed than the original, Classics Castle Grayskull was offered for a preorder price of $250 – more than three times the inflation-adjusted cost of the original, but still not bad given the size, complexity, and lower number of units produced.

Source Material

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull’s biggest single influence is the original prototype playset sculpted by Mark Taylor in 1981, although the Classics version is somewhat tamer and less decrepit looking.  Some of this influence is no doubt filtered through the cross sell artwork and minicomic depictions by Alfredo Alcala (both based on the prototype).  Other influences include some invented details from Alfredo Alcala’s artwork, the original, vintage Castle Grayskull playset, the original Rudy Obero box art, and a concept Dungeon playset designed by Ted Mayer.

MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull
The large weapons rack on the right was sold separately from the castle. The manhole cover on the floor is a custom by BadVermin.
Throne room. The purple banner on the left was invented for this castle – the one on the right based on the vintage castle’s banner.
Elevator at the third floor
Concept-inspired computer and jet pack
Custom triangular weapons rack, by Barbarossa Custom Creations, based on a cardback insert included with the vintage castle. Most of these weapons came with the Classics Castle.
Dungeon  section of the castle, with manacles and vintage toy inspired sticker
Classics Grayskull came with this orb stand (but not the marble sitting in it). It hides away in the secret orb room, inset behind the helmet of the castle
The Spirit of Grayskull haunts the throne room.
Castle Grayskullman guards the dungeon.
Secret door above the ledge
Into the throne room
Scare Glow, produced several years before MOTU Classics Castle Grayskull. came with a secret key to Castle Grayskull.
Scare Glow’s key fits into a keyhole on the secret side door, providing enough leverage to open the door.
He-Man stands on the open jaw bridge. The jaw bridge opens by inserting the power sword into the small opening to the right – a nod to the vintage minicomics.
The evil warriors sneak around the back.
Clawful climbs the scaling ladder

Here’s a more detailed breakout of the influences that went into creating the Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull:

Material taken from the vintage prototype or vintage concept art includes:

  • Ledge on the left tower
  • “Pawn” piece on top of the helmet
  • Taller helmet and battlements
  • Eye shape
  • Removable handle in the side allows for concept Castle’s side battlements
  • Throne design
  • Computer design
  • Skull motif at top of elevator
  • Hidden side door
  • Battle Tester
  • Jetpack
  • Manacles
Original 1981 prototype Castle Grayskull, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Original 1981 prototype Castle Grayskull, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Another copy of the vintage prototype. Photo courtesy of Andy Youssi.
Photo courtesy of Andy Youssi.
Mark Taylor’s concept for the “Battle Tester”. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Material taken from the vintage playset:

  • Elevator design
  • Flag design
  • Ladder and laser blaster design
  • Banner, trap door and dungeon grate decals
  • Drawbridge design, front and back
  • Handle on the side piece (removable)
Image source: Transformerland

Vintage box art material:

  • Nose shape
  • Elongated fangs
  • Enlarged lower teeth
Vintage Castle Grayskull box art by Rudy Obrero

Minicomics material:

  • Third floor
  • Dungeon walls (window and skull designs from Ted Mayer’s dungeon playset)
  • Secret slot to gain entrance to Castle located to the side of the jaw bridge
From King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
From King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
From King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
Ted Mayer’s dungeon playset. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

There are several unique touches to the playset as well, including an additional secret door off the side of the throne room, a secret orb room in the back side of the helmet, and extended floor with plug for Wind Raider stand, and an “evil” throne room banner to match the original “good” one.

The original design for the Classics Castle Grayskull (artwork by Nate Baertsch, who is a frequent collaborator with the Four Horsemen) was to include a number of other goodies as well, including a clear “Spirit of Grayskull” display (from Alfredo Alcala’s artwork), a removable dungeon, a triangular weapons rack, a mechanism to open the secret door on the castle’s left tower, a sculpted dungeon grate, and a few other goodies. These seem to have been removed from the final product due to cost.

Image source: The Art of He-Man

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Heroic Warriors

MOTU Classics He-Man

The Masters of the Universe He-Man figure, released in December of 2008 (almost nine years ago!) is actually one of the least impressive of the early Classics figures, in my opinion. Compared to figures like Skeletor, Mer-Man and Man-At-Arms, this incarnation of He-Man looks pretty bland, although later figures would come with bonus accessories that could be used to spruce him up a bit.

Source Material

Most Classics figures based on the original eight 1982 figures draw their inspiration from vintage cross sell artwork. In the case of He-Man, his cross sell artwork was almost identical to the toy itself. But the Classics figure is actually less detailed than that source material in a few ways.

For reference, here are the vintage toy and cross sell artwork:

Let’s compare that source material to the Classics figure:

Second release MOTU Classics He-Man, with corrected shoulders and toned down paint around the eyes.
First release MOTU Classics He-Man, with reversed shoulders and red paint around the eyes.

The Classics figure takes many elements from the original toy design, including:

  • Gray armor with red cross
  • Orange belt with reddish trunks
  • Longer half-gauntlet on the left arm

The one unique element from the cross sell artwork – the distinctive power sword – is also replicated in the Classics toy. The figure is “plussed up” in several areas with new details, like rivets on the front of He-Man’s harness,  leather straps on his left gauntlet, additional paint details on his belt, and so forth. He’s given orange gauntlets, which the original vintage figure would have had if it hadn’t been for cost reductions.

MOTU Classics He-Man’s axe and shield actually lose some detail compared with their vintage source material. The axe is given a smooth handle, without the ridges of the original, and the center section on the shield is flattened and simplified. The orange of the original shield is also changed to dark red.

MOTU Classics’ He-Man’s head is perhaps the biggest departure from vintage source material. It’s a much more civilized and handsome-looking face compared to the rougher, gruffer vintage figure. The level of detail on the face and hair are toned down compared the vintage source material, which is a reversal of the general Classics ethos. Of course He-Man was originally sculpted before the line was even green-lit, so the “spirit” of the Classics line had not been solidly established.

Original Classics He-Man prototype. Notice the gray gauntlets, which echo the color on the 2002 He-Man figure. Image source: He-Man.org

The Classics head seems to split the difference between the vintage source material and the 2002 He-Man face, which had a younger, anime-inspired look. The Classics harness also has roughly square “buttons” on the straps, like the 2002 figure (the vintage figure’s “buttons” were rhombuses). The Classics figure also has quite dark red/brown boots and loin cloth compared to the vintage figure, which seem to tilt the figure in the direction of the 2002 figure’s dark brown color scheme.

I was somewhat dissatisfied with this figure until alternate heads from the Oo-Larr release became available – but more on that in another post.

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