Evil Mutants

Optikk – Evil Mutant Spy (1990)

Of all the New Adventures of He-Man figures, Optikk is perhaps the most well-known and well-liked among He-Man fans. What’s not to like about an armored walking eyeball?

Design & Development

Optikk was designed by David Wolfram, who worked on most of the evil characters in the New Adventures line. In my interview with David, he had this to say about Optikk:

It was always one of my favorites. He was originally something that I did for a MOTU theme testing board, and he made it into the first wave of evil New Adventures figures.

As designers, we had been asking for quite a while for some nice molded metallics, and we finally got them. I know I used a lot of that dark bronze and copper over the next few years. We actually had a fairly limited palette to work from based on the Munsell color system, and unfortunately many of the colors were too ‘pretty’ for my design ethic, so I ended up using the same colors over and over again. To get any new colors into the system took forever, and took an act of congress. Later, as we started working on more licensed properties where we had to used specific colors from a style guide, that system was abandoned.

David Wolfram
Image courtesy of David Wolfram. Dated May 18, 1987
“Eyeyik” concept. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog. Dated August 21, 1987.
Image source: Dark Horse/Power and Honor Foundation. Note that this is a modified version of the earliest concept art, with added color and technological detail.

The earliest incarnation of Optikk, shown first in the concept art above, shows a totally organic monster creature, which makes sense as he was originally slated for the Masters of the Universe line. As the design evolved (and was slated for the New Adventures line), more and more mechanical and technological elements were added.

In the early sketch of Optikk, the thought was that his eye would be removable and go into the forks of the staff. We were looking at making the eye like the compasses that went on car dashboards at that time, but I imagine that approach ended up being too expensive, so we went with the simpler execution. The eye tampo design was the same one that I had designed and used on “Boglins”, another Mattel creature line from that time.

David Wolfram
Boglins Dwork puppet

Regarding Optikk’s costume design, David ended up repurposing the legs and right arm from his space pirate character design into Optikk (other elements ended up in Disks of Doom Skeletor):

Image courtesy of David Wolfram

The final painted prototype is shown below, with a somewhat different eye design than used on the final figure, and with a red and yellow design. This would be the model for the artwork used on the figure’s packaging.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Production Figure & Packaging

Optikk had a couple of action features: a quick-draw right arm that would spring into action after being held down, and a dial on his back that would allow his eye to be turned left and right:

He was produced using a dark metallic bronze plastic with swirl patterns throughout. He also came with a silver metallic “photon neutralizer” weapon. The figure was trademarked on April 24, 1989, and copyrighted on July 31, 1989.

The card for the figure includes artwork on the front by William George, and the back of the package provided some background on the character and his abilities:

Evil Mutant Spy from the foggy polar region of evil planet Denebria. The Debenrian fog is so dense here that he has a spyball eyeball that sees through almost anything. His rotating spyball and his Photon Neutralizer weapon make him one of the meanest mutants in the Tri-Solar System.

Mission: To assist Skeletor and the rest of the Evil Mutants by keeping his eye on He-Man and the Galactic Guardians from planet Primus.

Battle Equipment: Photon Neutralizer weapon

The figure appears in various Mattel catalogs, advertisements and magazines:

Comics & Artwork

Optikk appears in the 1990 UK He-Man Annual, in a story called “Into The Deepest Dungeon”. Strangely, he calls his weapon the “Fazer Flash Gun” rather than the Photon Neutralizer.

Images via He-Man.org

In the same Annual, Optikk is described as “half creature, half machine”:

In the minicomic Skeletor’s Journey, Optikk and Slush Head get into some childish squabbles with each other:

In Revenge of Skeletor and Battle For The Crystal, Optikk is more of a background character:

Optikk also makes an appearance in a comic included with an Italian notebook, with a novel color scheme:

Image source: He-Man.org

Incidentally, the art from the notebook cover reuses a pose from Masks of Power, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala:

Optikk also appears in the UK and German He-Man adventure magazines:

Animation

In the animated New Adventures of He-Man series, Optikk, is usually more of a background character, playing the role of spy, navigator and pilot:

Return to Table of Contents.

Evil Mutants

Disks of Doom Skeletor (1990)

Disks of Doom Skeletor is the first Skeletor variant in the “New Adventures” of He-Man toyline, after the original 1989 release. It’s got quite a striking design, with a costume that looks like something like a cross between H.R. Giger and the heavy industrial art deco aesthetic of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Design & Development

Disks of Doom Skeletor was designed by David Wolfram, who worked on figures like Laser Light Skeletor and Snake Face in the original MOTU line. The concept originated with an abandoned space pirate idea. In my interview with David, he explained:

The skull armor was something that came out of brainstorms of new MOTU segments. One one my proposals was mutant space pirates, with many of them wearing variants of skull armor. Once we started working on the new line, I adopted that for the Skeletors that I designed.

David Wolfram

The above design has the general Disks of Doom theme down, with the skull face on the chest armor and the bulky helmet. The legs of this costume design would eventually go to Optikk. David developed the following more finalized design for Skeletor in the drawing below, which appears to be a black and white photocopy of a color original:

The figure was to have a cocking spring waist feature, allowing it to fling disks from a hand-held launcher. It would also have LISA (light transmitting plastic) eyes, so that light from behind the figure would pipe through the back of the head and make the eyes appear to glow red. A similar feature was used on the Inhumanoids line.

[Disks of Doom Skeletor] was one of my favorite figures in that line. Mattel was very gun-shy (no pun intended) about using projectiles. By using the discs, we got around all the safety concerns. I also liked that a child could cock the figure, and then launch the disc using the trigger. It also gave me the opportunity to use the styling that I had been playing around with, and as a twofer I also got the LISA glowing eyes.

David Wolfram

In the image below, included in the 2009 Mattel art book, we see an illustration of Disks of Doom Skeletor battling against his 1990 counterpart, Battle Punch He-Man (whose shield in this illustration is quite different from the actual toy design). Unfortunately no information is provided about the provenance of this illustration. The design for Skeletor’s costume matches pretty well with the final figure, but all the metallic elements are gold, or perhaps somewhere between gold and copper:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

The cross sell artwork (below) as well as the illustrations on the packaging show Disks of Doom Skeletor again with a differently colored costume compared to what was used on the final toy – he has copper helmet and chest armor, rather than silver.

We can see the hand-painted final prototype in Mattel’s 1990 dealer catalog, with revised metallic colors:

This late prototype lacks the extra latch on the helmet that the final toy had. Image source: Battle Armor Dad.

Production Figure

The production figure came with a copper colored “Psychotronic Disk Launcher”, two “Disks of Doom”, and a wrist clip. He has the familiar pale blue skin, which is bristling with technological implants. His boots and gloves are a dark bronze, with copper skulls at the knees. The boots are tall and architectural, almost like he’s walking around wearing 1930s-era skyscrapers. The iron skull design on his chest looks very heavy industrial. Unlike the 1989 Skeletor, Disks of Doom variant returns to the classic Skeletor face coloring of yellow and green.

The mask closes and highlights Skeletor’s glowing eyes. Unfortunately the hinges on the mask are just a thin plastic crease, meaning the plastic will often become stressed with repeated closing and opening over the years, causing it to tear.

Helmet closed.

Packaging

The front of the packaging for the figure features artwork by William George (or at least I think it’s his work):

The back of the card features some information on the background and abilities of Disks of Doom Skeletor:

The ultimate evil lord of destruction! While hiding on the dark moon of Denebria, Skeletor discovers the secret entrance to the long forgotton space base, Skuldor. There in the heart of the ancient underground caverns he finds The Disks of Doom, psychotronic weapons so powerful that they could turn He-Man into a mindless slave!

Mission: To destroy He-Man’s will with the mind-bending power of the Disks of Doom. With He-Man in his power, there will be no stopping his Mutant star-legions from conquering the peaceful people of Primus and spreading his evil empire throughout the galaxy.

Battle Equipment: Psychotronic Disk Launcher, 2 Disks of Doom

In the packaging description, somehow Skeletor can use the Disks of Doom to make He-Man a mindless slave. That doesn’t really make much sense – I would have thought Skeletor’s glowing eyes (which strangely aren’t mentioned on the package) would have more to do with that ability. “Skuldor” may be an early working name for the Nordor moon base.

Phantasy Star III

Curiously, an almost identical design is present in the principle villain (illustrated version) in Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (thanks to Stradlemonkey for pointing this out). The game was released in 1990, the same year as Disks of Doom Skeletor. Disks of Doom Skeletor’s trademark was filed on November 16, 1989, and I’m certain the artwork is based on Mattel’s design rather than vice versa. Perhaps it was originally commissioned for He-Man, but never used. The artist might have reworked the face and repurposed it for the Sega Genesis game instead.

Animation

Skeletor acquires his Disks of Doom costume quite early on in the animated series. In episode 6, “Sword & Staff”, Skeletor discovers a crystal that temporarily magnifies Quakke’s power. Skeletor later uses the crystal, which originated on Primus and was responsible for the creation of Nordor, to become more powerful himself. His costume is altered in the process.

Advertising

Disks of Doom Skeletor shows up of course in Mattel’s catalogs. I haven’t found an example of the figure in a retailer’s catalog so far. If I come across anything, I’ll be sure to update the article.

From Mattel’s 1990 Dealer Catalog. Image source: Battle Armor Dad

From Mattel’s 1990 Dealer Catalog. Image source: Battle Armor Dad
From Mattel France’s 1990 Dealer Catalog. Image source: Grayskull Museum

Other Appearances

Petteri Höglund helpfully pointed out that Disks of Doom Skeletor appears in the box art for several New Adventures oversized items, as well as on the cover of this promotional VHS tape:

I’ve mentioned before, I think that all of the Skeletor designs from the New Adventures line stand out as unique little pieces of pop culture modern art. Even if you don’t collect the 1989 He-Man line, the Skeletor figures are certainly worth owning.

Return to Table of Contents.

Evil Mutants

Skeletor – Ultimate Evil Lord of Destruction (1989)

The 1989 He-Man reboot included no characters from the original Masters of the Universe line, other than He-Man and Skeletor. The so-called “New Adventures” line is filled with colorful, oddball villains (and, frankly, some less-than-exciting heroes). My favorite figures from the line are the various Skeletor variants, and the 1989 version is no exception.

The New Adventures series isn’t well loved by most He-Man fans, but in a way it seems like an effort by Mattel to step things up a notch. These figures that had better articulation, more sculpted detail, and quite a bit of painted detail compared to the original line, and with little or no reuse of parts.

All of the New Adventures Skeletor variants were designed by Dave Wolfram, who had previously designed figures like Scare Glow and Snake Face. The initial 1989 version was developed from his original Laser Light Skeletor design, inspired by the work of HR Giger:

Laser Light Skeletor concept art (working title: Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor), by Dave Wolfram
Laser Light Skeletor, released in Europe in 1988.

The broad conceptual ideas were carried over for the New Adventures design, but the color scheme was modified, initially with a lot of dark blue and red details, with a purple cape. In the concept art below he was also given some kind of pouches at his legs, and a new red staff design featuring a human skull with a bat on top. He was given different boots and, for the first time, gloves. He also features a helmet rather than his usual cloth hood:

Concept art by Dave Wolfram, from May 25, 1988. Image via The Art of He-Man.

The concept version of the character actually makes an appearance on a 1989 bag, although this version has a red cape:

A CGI version of the concept Skeletor (albeit with a finalized staff) also appears in a promotional video (thanks to Dušan M. for the tip):

In the produced toy, the color scheme was altered again, with much more red throughout the costume, and contrasting purple boots and gloves. The staff was redesigned, with some prongs at the end that look like they could shoot bolts of electricity. The helmet and staff were molded in gun metal gray. The pouches he was wearing on his thighs were changed to cybernetic implants.The final figure has a white face with a forest green border around it – the only Skeletor to feature that particular color scheme.

A hand-painted version of the final figure appears in the 1989 French He-Man catalog:

Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: Grayskull Museum

In the 1989 German He-Man magazine, Skeletor is depicted a couple of times wearing a bizarre-looking helmet. I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be:

Hand-painted final prototype on a Spanish playing card. Source: http://cuevadelterror.blogspot.com

The final production figure appears in the US 1989 dealer catalog:

One of the coolest things about the figure, in my opinion, is some of the sculpted detail on his back and the back of his head. This is obscured by his cape and helmet normally. It’s quite creepy looking:

The staff has a rather creepy looking, chitinous creature around the back of the skull, which wraps its tail around the upper handle:

Skeletor has a fun but rather subtle action figure. When you turn his waist his hands raise up, making him lift his staff as if to fire.

Cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

The commercial for the electronic He-Man Power Sword actually has really great footage of an actor dressed as “New Adventures” Skeletor. This costume also shows up in the He-Man vs Skeletor commercial shown earlier in this article.

Skeletor was sold on his own card and in a gift set with He-Man. The artwork on the front was painted by long-time MOTU packaging illustrator, William George.

Packaging art by William George. Image from The Art of He-Man.

According to the 1989 Sears Christmas Wishbook, Skeletor was supposed to be available in a gift set with Hydron, but I’ve never seen an example of that:

Image source: http://www.wishbookweb.com/
Image source: http://www.wishbookweb.com/

There were four minicomics produced for the 1989 He-Man reboot, and all of them featured Skeletor. In the first, The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy), Skeletor interrupts Prince Adam as he transformed into He-Man, and is badly injured. In Skeletor’s Journey (illustrated by Carrol Lay), he uses bionic replacements to heal himself and we see him finally in his new costume.

The character looks particularly dynamic in the Bruce Timm-illustrated The Revenge of Skeletor:

In the bottom right panel, we get a look at the cybernetics on Skeletor’s back.

The New Adventures of He-Man animated series (produced by Jetlag Productions) features the character for a surprisingly few episodes before he’s upgraded to his Disks of Doom variant costume. The series starts off on Eternia, before He-Man and Skeletor are whisked off into the future, but both of them already sport their New Adventures costumes. Unfortunately Skeletor has some off-putting and comical-looking eyes for the first five episodes. Otherwise his costume is fairly true to the toy, minus the electrical implants in his body:

By episode six the eyes are blackened, but he also changes to his Disks of Doom costume by the end of the story:

Character-wise the New Adventures version of Skeletor was a more comical figure, manipulating and flattering rather than pounding his fists and demanding. He wasn’t leading his own army at this point – he was dependent upon the cooperation of the Evil Mutants, lead by Flogg.

Initially Mattel had planned to ask Filmation (the studio that had produced the first He-Man cartoon), to animate the new reboot, to be titled He-Man and the Masters of Space (information via Dušan M./James Eatock). Filmation went out of business in 1989, but they did create some artwork and a basic storyline for the pitch. Skeletor’s visual depiction is somewhere midway between the original concept design and the final toy:


Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

The 1989 He-Man series was featured in the UK He-Man Adventure Magazine. In this story Skeletor is beamed aboard the ship of Flipshot and Hydron, but Prince Adam tags along for the ride. Strangely we don’t get an explanation for Skeletor’s costume change (images are from He-Man.org):

UK He-Man Magazine pinup

Pinup from German He-Man magazine. Artwork by Giuliano Piccininno – information is from the MOTU Art Facebook page.

There was a series of Italian notebooks that featured New Adventures artwork. The cover of one of them features a concept-art inspired Skeletor (thanks to Petteri H. for the tip):

The Italian magazine Magic Boy featured several New Adventures stories. In one of them, Skeletor acquires a magical chest harness from a six-armed statue and soon after grows six arms of his own (images are from He-Man.org):

Overall I think the rebooted 1989 Skeletor has quite a compelling design, and is worth picking up even if you’re not, generally speaking, a New Adventures fan. In fact, all of the revamped Skeletors are worth a look.

Return to Table of Contents.

Evil Mutants

Battle Blade Skeletor (1992)

Battle Blade Skeletor is the last Skeletor variant produced in the New Adventures of He-Man toyline. This is probably an odd place to start my foray into this series of toys, but I’ve been slightly obsessed with this figure since I first encountered it in a vintage toy shop a couple of years back. Part of it is I think there is something in the face that reminds me of Laser-Light Skeletor – another figure I’m obsessed with.

Because the figure came out at the tail end of the New Adventures line (actually simply called He-Man, but most fans call it New Adventures of He-Man after the associated cartoon), there isn’t any real media or stories to go along with him, at least that I’ve been able to find.

Like Laser-Light Skeletor and the other New Adventures versions of Skeletor, Battle Blade Skeletor was designed by David Wolfram. He bears all the hallmarks of Wolfram’s style, including the narrow lower face, tech-infused body and suit, and generally creepy, asperous design language.

All of the Wolfram-designed Skeletor variants depict him has having a skull face, but not a full skull head. In other words, his head (face excluded) has the same blue skin as the rest of his body. I had always assumed that his entire head was a skull, and that’s how he is is depicted in Danger At Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala:

This early sketch of the figure by David Wolfram (digitally colored long after it was drawn) shows a nearly finalized design. The bottom jaw on the skull costume is located a bit higher, but otherwise this is very close to how the action figure looked in production. Notice the scraggly hair on the drawing. That shows up on hand-painted prototypes, but on the production figure it was straight.

Image courtesy of David Wolfram

Regarding the figure’s hair, David (in the comments) had this to say:

The hair on BB was supposed to be a lot gnarlier, but we had to work with someone from the Barbie group, who couldn’t give me what I was looking for- they only did pretty.

Battle Blade Skeletor has some general elements in common with his predecessor, Disks of Doom Skeletor – also designed by Wolfram. Both have star shaped boots, recalling the feet of characters like Buzz-Off and Whiplash. Both have tall boots and a skull themed costume, but Disks of Doom Skeletor’s costume looks more “heavy industrial” (particularly around the torso):

Curiously, a similar design is present in the principle villain (illustrated version) in Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (thanks to Stradlemonkey for pointing this out). The game was released in 1990, the same year as Disks of Doom Skeletor. Disks of Doom Skeletor’s trademark was filed on November 16, 1989, so I would guess Mattel’s design came first.

Artwork by Boris Vallejo

We might also see some early iteration of the concept in the artwork below by Errol McCarthy. Errol says he just did illustrations for New Adventures of He-Man, and was never a designer of the characters. In the art below, we see the skull motif again in Skeletor’s costume. In this instance Skeletor has a fully-robotic body. Interestingly he also has hair – a trait he shares with Battle Blade Skeletor.

We get a look at a hand-painted final prototype version of the figure in the 1991 German He-Man magazine below. This version has crisper paint as well head articulation – the final figure has a static head. We also see an early version of Thunder Punch He-Man (the 1992 version). Both figures are quite a bit bulkier-looking than the 1989 versions of He-Man and Skeletor. I think Mattel was trying to capture a little of the chunkiness and heavily-muscled appearance of the original 1982 He-Man and Skeletor figures here.

1991 French catalog, with image flipped the right way around. Image source: Grayskull Museum.
Battle Blade Skeletor playing card. Image source: http://cuevadelterror.blogspot.com

Skeletor is described in the German magazine, roughly translated, like this:

The new ruler is now even more dangerous and ambitious. With his strong articulated right arm he smashes his new throwing machine in the direction of his opponents. His new haircut of real hair, his new shield and his new skull and crossbones make him undoubtedly the most beautiful among the Nordor.

An exploded view of Battle Blade Skeletor’s test shot is shown below, over a copy of the “He-Ro Son of He-Man” bible:

This is the only version of Skeletor to feature rooted hair. It’s a strange look. My particular copy doesn’t have the rooted hair (no doubt someone pulled it out), and I think it looks better without:

Figure missing rooted hair
Unaltered version with rooted hair. Image source: He-Man.org

Battle Blade Skeletor has a spring-loaded, ball-jointed right arm that allows him to toss his “quadro-blade” weapon. He also comes with a shield that continues with the creepy skull motif. The white paint on his torso glows in the dark. Unlike the 1989 Skeletor, this version is almost in scale with the original 1982 MOTU line. He stands at about the same height, although of course that’s while standing up straight – something most of the original figures couldn’t do.

William George painted the artwork on the front of the figure’s packaging, but I don’t know who was responsible for the illustrations on the back.

Instructions
Cross sell art
Bio

The back of the package (above) gives us a little bit of a bio:

The Evil MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE! Skeletor has been transformed by lumina radiation absorbed in an atom-smashing explosion. His eyes blaze with evil and his Battle Armor glows with power.

Mission: 1) To slice He-Man down to size and lead him to a shameful end at the Galactic Guardian Games on the planet Primus. 2) To seize all of the power in the universe.

Battle Equipment: Quadro-blade, deflector shield & luminactive Battle Armor.

I guess it’s good to have life goals! The Galactic Guardian Games refers to a storyline in the animated series, produced by Jetlag. Skeletor appears (more or less) in his Battle Blade outfit toward the end of the series (thanks to DarkAlex1978 for pointing that out). Essentially this is his look after he lost his “Disks of Doom” helmet during a battle with He-Man in “The Tornadoes of Zil” (thanks to Dave for the tip):

Battle Blade Skeletor production sketch from the animated series.

It’s strange to me that Mattel was still making Skeletor figures in the era of grunge music. Come to think of it, this is certainly a grungy-looking figure, so he somewhat captures the spirit of the era.

Return to Table of Contents.