Evil Beasts, Heroic Beasts

Battle Bones – Collector’s Carry Case (1985)

Battle Bones is pretty unique among every other official Mattel release for the vintage line. It rides the line between an in-world beast and a fourth wall-breaking collector case.

I believe I got Battle Bones as a birthday present along with Night Stalker in the fall of 1985. Both of them were a complete surprise – I hadn’t heard of either toy before unwrapping them. I was pretty happy with both toys, although of the two Battle Bones was a bit more fun, simply because I could fit nearly all my figures in it. And of course I made Battle Bones “eat” plenty of bad guys along the way.

Design & Development

Battle Bones was designed by Ed Watts, who also designed Dragon Walker. Watts’ concept at (below) is very close to what was actually produced, although the body was elongated, a handle was added on the back, and the teeth, eyes and horns were somewhat modified:

Image Source: Dark Horse/The Power and the Honor Foundation

According to The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, one proposed early name for Battle Bones was “Dem Bones”.

A patent was filed for the toy on December 14, 1984. The inventors are listed as Michael W. Barbato, Tony Rhodes, and Edward W. Watts. Watts of course did the visual design, but apparently the concept was created by all three. From the abstract:

A holder for animated figures in the form of the simulated skeletal structure of a prehistoric beast, including a simulated rib cage having clip members at the extremities thereof. Each of the clip members is configured for frictionally retaining an animated figure toy at a portion of its anatomy, particularly the waist. The animated figure holder is provided with a handle for carrying, and includes a skull configured to provide storage space.

Production Toy

The production toy was shipped partially disassembled, requiring a few screws and a screwdriver in order to connect the handle and the front and back halves of the body.

The toy can fit a total of twelve figures on clips on the ribs, six to a side. Like Stridor and Night Stalker, it’s mostly unarticulated, save for a hinge joint on the mouth, where accessories can be stored. The figure was cast in an off-white color, with no additional paint applications.

Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys apparently released a painted version of the toy, with a stripe of dark gray paint down the middle of the back and head. It’s known as “Camo Battle Bones” as a reference to “Kamo Khan“, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about it.

Packaging

The box art for Battle Bones was illustrated by William George. Two separate scenes are depicted on the front of the the box – one with Battle Bones acting as a carrying case, with Evil and Heroic Warriors clipped in, and one with the figure transporting characters into battle:

As depicted in the box art, Battle Bones could be used by either heroic or evil warriors. That idea is fleshed out more in the minicomics, and repeated in a 1985 poster by William George (featured later in the article).

Advertisement & Catalogs

Battle Bones was of course featured in Mattel’s own catalogs, but also advertised by a number of different retailers:

1985 JC Penny Catalog. Source: R.M. Hart
1986 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Source: Battle Armor Dad
Source: www.battlegrip.com
Image source: Steve Macrocranios
Image Source: Super Shogun
Image source: He-Man.org

Minicomics

Battle Bones’ backstory is laid out in Skeletor’s Dragon, a minicomic that came packed with Dragon Blaster Skeletor. In the story, Skeletor raises a buried pile of dinosaur bones to life, and forces the undead creature to do his evil bidding.

Eventually the Sorceress frees Battle Bones from Skeletor’s spell, and we learn that the creature is good, not evil. Battle Bones speaks to the Heroic Warriors, delivering a surprisingly poignant backstory:

In the minicomic, The Stench of Evil, Battle Bones is chosen by He-Man to go up against Stinkor, because Battle Cat wouldn’t be able to stand the smell:

Magazine

Battle Bones appears in a 1985 German MOTU Magazine, which used photos and dioramas to tell stories:

German Audio Stories

Battle Bones makes an appearance in the 1986 Europa audio story, “Skeletors Sieg”:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Stamp Case & Knock-Offs

HG Toys produced an adorable miniature Battle Bones Stamp Case for holding the various MOTU stamps that were released over the years:

The case was later bootlegged (with some slight modifications) as the Creepy Crawlers “Goop-A-Saurus”.

Artwork

Battle Bones appeared in a couple of posters that, like the box art, were illustrated by William George:

Image Courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Battle Bones also makes appearances in posters made available to members of the UK MOTU Fan Club:

Image source: He-Man.org
Image Source: He-Man.org

Battle Bones in Action

Øyvind Meisford contributed the following image and video of Battle Bones in action:

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Evil Beasts, Powers of Grayskull

Tyrantisaurus Rex – Most Terrifying Dinosaur in the land of Preternia (1987)

Although I missed most of the 1987 wave of Masters of the Universe figures, I did happen to catch Tyrantisaurus Rex. A remember being at a friend’s house, and he showed me his new purple cyborg dinosaur that could shoot a green drone from its belly. At the time I had moved on to G.I. Joe, but I thought it was a pretty cool looking toy. I actually happened upon the figure again, years later at a university reptile show intended for kids. There was a table full of dinosaur toys, and there in the heap was Tyrantisaurus.

Design & Development

The earliest design artwork for a MOTU T-Rex comes from Alan Tyler. His take on the concept is quite different from what followed. The design below doesn’t have any external cybernetic parts. Aside from the pop out opening in the back, it looks like a fairly realistic tyrannosaurus. The “drone” is actually an organic creature instead of a mechanical one.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

At some point the concept was turned over to David Wolfram. This was actually David’s first project for Masters of the Universe. As he explained in my interview with him:

I was in my last term at Art Center College of Design, and had a fairly light schedule, so I checked into freelance opportunities offered through the job placement department at AC (I can’t remember exactly what they were called), and saw an opportunity to work on a project for Mattel.

I went to Mattel, and met with Martin Arriola to discuss the project, which happened to be a dinosaur project for MOTU. Coincidentally, at my drawing board I had a small black and white TV, and as I was working on my school projects, I would always watch the afternoon MOTU cartoons, so I knew the property, plus I had a lifelong interest in dinosaurs, so I jumped at the opportunity. I worked on this project on a freelance basis until graduation, then I started working in-house at Mattel as a temp, which is the back door way that many people end up working there.

Here is my concept drawing for Tyrantisaurus Rex. It originally started out as a heroic vehicle, but marketing begrudgingly made the decision that it would be better suited for Skeletor.

David Wolfram
Image courtesy of David Wolfram

The above illustration by David Wolfram, dated November 21, 1985, is very close to the look of the actual production toy. The only obvious difference is the color of the gun, which is gray in the concept art.

Production Toy

We can see the translation of the concept design into mass-produced toy below, first in the cross sell artwork (a nearly photo-realistic drawing of the figure) and in the mass produced toy below.

Tyrantisaurus Rex cross sell artwork. Image source: The Art of He-Man
1987 Mattel retail catalog. Image source: Orange Slime
Source: He-Man.it Forum

A hatch on the back of the figure opens up to allow an action figure to sit. A hatch on the stomach stores the “Dyna-Drone” (a wind-up spinning toy), which can be launched from the figure’s belly. There is a removable blue gun that attaches to the dinosaur’s right shoulder, and the mouth is articulated.

Packaging

The box art on the front of the packaging was illustrated by Warren Hile, who also worked on the Bionatops and Turbodactyl packaging:

I don’t know who did the artwork on the back of the packaging, but I’ve transcribed the backstory:

Travel back in time through a secret time portal-and discover the ORIGIN of THE POWERS OF GRAYSKULL! Learn how He-Man became so strong! And explore the magical world of Preternia – home of HE-RO, the Most Powerful WIZARD in the Universe!

Monstrous dinosaurs and fierce giants – both good and evil – struggle violently for control of this strange & hostile land! The dinosaurs in the time of HE-RO – Tyrantisaurus Rex, Bionatops and Turbodactyl – each posess a fantastic mechanical power. Can HE-RO master all the good magic of the Ancient Wizards and protect future Eternia from forever falling into the claws of evil?

Look for He-Ro and the Powers of Grayskull coming your way in 1987!

He-Ro was never released of course, although a replica of the unproduced figure will be available in 2019 from Super7. The giants mentioned in the text were Tytus and Megator, which ended up being offered for sale in Europe in 1988, but not in the US. Tyrantisaurus is depicted on the back and front of the box as being ridden by King Hiss, which was also the case in the minicomics, as we will see later.

There is also this profile of Tyrantisaurus Rex on the back:

Tyrantisaurus Rex:
Profile: Most Terrifying Dinosaur in the land of Preternia
Special weapon: Hidden Dyna-Drone bursts out of Belly! Bowls Over Enemies!
Origin: Related to the Ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex from Pre-Historic Earth!

The 1987 Style Guide had a similar description of the character

Comics & Stories

The Powers of Grayskull: The Legend Begins was to be the first of a “3 part saga.” Unfortunately with the cancellation of the line, the next two parts were never published. In the story, Skeletor followed He-Man and Sorceress back in time to ancient Preternia, where he allies with King Hiss and causes trouble. A battle ensues, with a disguised He-Man riding Bionatops and King Hiss on Tyrantisaurus.

Source: Dark Horse

In Journey To Preternia, in the 1987 Spring issue of MOTU Magazine, Skeletor and He-Man accidentally travel through a time portal, and end up allying with their respective dinosaurs and hashing things out in a predictable way. In this story, there are multiple Tyrantisauruses.

The Summer 1987 MOTU Magazine also had a story featuring multiple Tyrantisauruses:

Tyrantisaurus is colored green and presented as belonging to the Evil Horde in the He-Man newspaper comic series (thanks to Dušan M. and Øyvind Meisfjord for the heads up!). Once again we see multiples of the fearsome cyborg T-Rex:

The creature is also green in issue 3 of the 1987 UK MOTU comic series, again with a green color scheme. In the story, Tung Lashor refers to it as a “Warsaur”, which might be an early working name for the creature (thanks to Petteri H. for the tip).

Artwork

Tyrantisaurus was featured on two covers of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine, which were illustrated by Earl Norem:

Source: He-Man.org
Source: He-Man.org

William George also illustrated the dinosaur in his Preternia poster:

Source: Jukka Issakainen

Errol McCarthy illustrated the figure for a T-shirt design (again in green, like the newspaper comic):

Source: He-Man.org

Tyrantisaurus is one of the cooler looking beasts of tail end of the line. Because he was produced in limited quantities, he’s quite pricey these days, but a must-have for any aspiring Preternia collector.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Tyrantisaurus in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following image and videos of the Tyrantisaurus Rex in action:

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Evil Beasts

Night Stalker – Evil Armored Battle Steed! (1985)

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I remember getting Night Stalker as a birthday surprise in the fall of 1985. I believe I got him along with Battle Bones. I hadn’t heard anything about either toy, but I was pretty impressed with both of them. Of course as long as I got He-Man toys, I was happy. I was an easy kid to shop for.

Night Stalker, along with Faker, Screeech, Stinkor, Moss Man and Panthor, come from the “cheap repaint” school of Masters of the Universe toy design. Night Stalker was a recast version of Stridor (who had been released the year before), in gold, purple and black. The US release did not include a recolored version of Stridor’s head armor piece, but Brazilian, Venezuelan, and French versions did. His sticker designs were quite different from Stridor’s.

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From the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Images via Orange Slime.
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Like Stridor, Night Stalker had a surprising lack of articulation. The design of his legs would lead you to believe that they were movable, but in fact they were not. The only moving parts on both horses were the tail, the rear gun, and the front guns. I was a little surprised by this fact when I first opened him up, but given the lack of articulation on Battle Cat, I made my peace with it pretty quickly.

Unlike an organic horse, Night Stalker was outfitted with a cockpit. The rider would sit in a seat with his legs inside the mechanical steed’s body. He could control the horse via a control panel rather than reins:

control-panel
Night Stalker’s control panel.

Night Stalker was sold individually and in a gift set with Jitsu. I’ve always liked the fact that Night Stalker had a rider associated with him besides Skeletor. I feel like it adds a bit of depth to both Jitsu and Night Stalker. You can imagine the two of them having independent adventures far away from Skeletor’s watchful eye.

The artwork on the individually packaged Night Stalker was done by an unknown artist, who I believe also did the artwork for Panthor, Stridor, Point Dread and others. The artwork for the two-pack was done by the great William George:

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Image courtesy of Tokoynever

To date I haven’t identified any colored cross sell art for Night Stalker. Some red line art appears on the back of the Fright Zone box, and I also located some black and white line art created for advertising copy, featuring Jitsu as the rider:

night-stalker-cross-sell
night-stalker-line-art

Night Stalker didn’t show up in the mini comics, but he did make a few appearances in the UK Masters of the Universe comic book series (images via He-Man.org):

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Note that He-Man is actually riding Stridor, who has been inadvertently colored in Night Stalker’s colors.
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In Issue 3 of the series, Tri-Klops rides a living horse that seems to resemble Night Stalker, although it may be a coincidence (hat tip to James Eatock, who made that observation 10 years ago on his blog).

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Night Stalker also makes a couple of appearances in the German audio plays (hat tip to Tetsuo S.):

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Image source: He-Man.org
das-zauberschwert
Image source: He-Man.org

Night Stalker also appears quite frequently in the German Ehapa Verlag comic series:

Germany - Ehapa Verlag 1988 01
Image source: He-Man.org

According to James Eatock’s excellent He-Man and She-Ra guide, Night Stalker was intended to appear the Filmation He-Man series under the name “Knight Mare”,  but for some reason never found his way into an episode. I would guess that that that name Knight Mare was Night Stalker’s initial working name at Mattel. The robotic horse was also called Knight Mare in the old German toy magazines and audio plays (hat tip to Klemens F. and Kevin D.).

he-man-and-she-ra-a-complete-guide-to-the-classic-animated-adventures-night-mare
Image source: He-Man and She-Ra, A complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures, by James Eatock and Alex Hawkey

Night Stalker seems to be less popular than his heroic brother Stridor, but personally I prefer the evil horse. I’m sure part of that is driven by nostalgia (I never owned Stridor as a kid), but I also think his color scheme is just more striking.

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From the 1985 German MOTU magazine. Image via He-Man.org.

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Evil Beasts

Panthor – Savage cat (1983)

Panthor graphic

Today we’re taking a look at Skeletor’s savage cat, Panthor. At first glance you could dismiss him as a cheap Battle Cat repaint without the helmet. When I first saw him as a kid, it was immediately apparent that that’s what he was. Battle Cat’s pose and saddle are instantly recognizable, making reuse of his sculpt more obvious than other parts (say, for instance, the standard male chest).

I think if Mattel had left him as a straight-up repaint, we as kids might have felt a bit cheated. Wisely they opted to produce Panthor with some short flocking, giving him a realistic furry texture and making us feel better about spending our allowances on him. Instead of just a an inferior copy of Battle Cat, Panthor became a deluxe toy with realistic fur. What kid could resist that?

1983 Dealer Catalog

Apparently, earlier in Panthor’s development, he was slated to reuse the Battle Cat helmet as well, and was black with purple armor:

he-man-guide-12_full
From the Filmation series guide

In retrospect it was wiser (not just cheaper) to omit the helmet, which is probably Battle Cat’s most distinctive feature. Panthor’s final color scheme was chosen by Mattel designer Martin Arriola.

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On the shelves, there were a few options in 1983 if you wanted to pick up a Panthor. All of them featured some pretty epic artwork by William Garland:

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Garland did box arts for Mattel after Rudy Obrero but before (and concurrent with) William George. The style is very much along the lines of Rudy Obrero’s (that is to say, moody and Frazetta-like). That’s probably why I like it so much.

Mattel also offered a Skeletor/Panthor gift set, again illustrated by William Garland, this time with a battle scene featuring Skeletor/Panthor vs. He-Man, Man-At-Arms vs. Beast Man, and Castle Grayskull standing in the background:

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Skeletor Panthor hi res

The pose you see for Beast Man and Man-At-Arms comes straight out of the 1981 Licensing Kit. Thanks to Jukka for pointing that out to me!

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Image via He-Man.org. Artwork by Errol McCarthy.

There was a third way to get your hands on Panthor, in the form of the Battle For Eternia giftset (again illustrated by William Garland). Apparently this was produced in low quantities, as buying the boxed version in 2015 will require taking out a second mortgage:

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Image courtesy of Tokyonever

This set featured Skeletor, Panthor and Man-E-Faces, and might be my favorite of the Panthor box arts. It’s something about how Man-E-Faces is portrayed and the craters and moons in the background, I think. There were two versions released: one with the standard Skeletor, and another with Battle Armor Skeletor, presumably released in 1984.

A fourth way to get your hands on the purple panther was to buy the Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor gift set, featuring artwork by William George:

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BA Skel Panthor Bill George

A year after Panthor’s release, Mattel was apparently considering releasing a deluxe version of Panthor, with articulation and some sort of pouncing action feature. This July 13, 1984 illustration by Ed Watts demonstrates the concept. This version of Panthor was, unfortunately, never released in the vintage line, although the 200x version wasn’t far off from this idea.

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Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1

In the finalized Filmation version of Panthor, he looks very much like the vintage figure (with green eyes), except for the fact that they’ve cut back on the extra fur around his face, giving him an appearance more like a real panther (ignoring the fact that he’s oversized, purple, and domesticated enough to wear a saddle).

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diamond ray panthor
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In The Sunbird Legacy, published by Golden Books, some humanoid panther men appear. From their coloration they seem to be inspired by Panthor:

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Panthor was on of the first in a series of evil opposites in the Masters of the Universe toyline. Battle Cat had his opposite in Panthor, He-Man had his opposite in Faker, Zoar had his opposite in Screeech, and Stridor had his opposite in Night Stalker. It was a fun and creative way to refresh existing molds. The goal was undoubtedly to maximize profits, but in the end it’s amazing what can be accomplished with a simple change of colors.

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From the 1985 German MOTU Magazine. Image via He-Man.org

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