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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Heroic Beasts

Striped Tail Battle Cat in the wild

I’ve written about the striped tailed Battle Cat fairly extensively in my posts about Battle Cat and the early MOTU production run. I thought I’d post a quick update. An eagle-eyed friend (the person who runs the Lords of Power Facebook page) spotted this picture on Instagram, posted by Patrick Strange:

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Image courtesy of Patrick Strange. Although you can’t see Battle Cat’s tail, you can see that he is painted orange around the mouth, a feature of the striped tail Battle Cat variant.

This appears to be from Christmas 1982. In this photo we see the first known example of a striped tail Battle Cat in the hands of a consumer (outside of adult collectors, of course). Because the variant had never been spotted in packaging, the prevailing assumption was that it was only produced for use in catalog photography, where we see several examples. Indeed, some examples were sold directly to collectors by former Mattel employees.

Now it’s apparent that at least some of these were sold in stores. It seems to be rarer than even the rare blue beard Stratos variant given how infrequently it seems to pop up, but not as rare as the green-eyed Teela variant.

This version matches the color scheme of the original hand-painted prototype. Distinguishing characteristics include:

  • Striped tail
  • Orange around the mouth
  • Teeth painted white front and back
  • Stripes crisscross over part line on back
  • Longer, rough-looking stripes on the left shoulder
  • Extra stripe on right front leg
  • Marked “© Mattel, Inc. 1976 Taiwan” on inner right rear leg
  • White dots in eyes
  • Marked “1” underneath saddle and helmet
  • Textured “fur”

The orange lines on this cat match the black lines on the original Big Jim Tiger the figure is based on. It also has finely textured fur (difficult to see unless it’s in hand), again like the Big Jim Tiger.

Enlarged to show texture!
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Big Jim Tiger

And here are some examples of the striped tail variant in vintage catalogs:

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Heroic Beasts

Stridor – Heroic Armored War Horse (1984)

I never owned Stridor as a kid – I only had his evil counterpart, Night Stalker. Both of them were more interesting to look at than they were to play with, having no action features and articulation only in their guns and tails.

Design & Development

According to Martin Arriola, Stridor was created by Mattel designer Colin Bailey, who also worked on characters like Buzz-Off, Whiplash and Fisto. I’m not aware of any concept art that has surfaced for Stridor, but a hand-painted prototype without decals appears in a 1984 French catalog (below). The tail is shaped differently from the final toy, and the prototype helmet looks rather crude:

Image source: Grayskull Museum

The final toy was given a number of decorative stickers, and changes were made to the tail and helmet:

Stridor cross sell artwork

Production Figure

Stridor in Action

Photos and a short video of Stridor in action, contributed by Øyvind Meisfjord:

Packaging

Stridor was sold individually and in a gift set with Fisto. Both sets feature artwork by, I believe, William Garland, who also did the artwork on the three Panthor boxes.

Note that Stridor is described as “Half war horse/half war machine. Stridor carries He-Man to victory!” To me that implies that he was supposed to be some kind of cyborg horse rather than a pure robot.

Comics and Storybooks

Fisto is often associated with Stridor, just as Jitsu is associated with Night Stalker. It’s a rather unique relationship. In general He-Man seems to be given the heroic vehicles and steeds and Skeletor is given their evil counterparts. But Fisto seems to have been popular enough to merit his own steed. That’s certainly the case in one of my favorite mini comics – The Clash of Arms.

In the story, Fisto, riding on Stridor, is ambushed by Clawful, Tri-Klops, Webstor, and Jitsu. He is captured and forced to fight for his life in Skeletor’s arena. He’s successful in beating off Clawful and Jitsu in turn, but Whiplash nearly spells the end for Fisto before He-Man, riding on Stridor, comes in and breaks up the fight. Stridor had apparently escaped, found He-Man, and warned him of Fisto’s plight. (Note: in this story, Stridor has a saddle rather than a bucket seat, and he is ridden like a normal horse.)

Sadly, this is the first and only appearance of Stridor in the minicomics. However, he does make a couple of appearances in Golden stories, including in Secret of the Dragon’s Egg and Teela’s Secret.

Stridor also appears on the cover of this 1985 Golden coloring book:

Stridor appears a few times in the 1985 Ladybird annual, having apparently been mass-produced:

Animation

A robotic horse called “Strider” appears in several Filmation He-Man episodes, including “Pawns of the Game Master” and “A Friend in Need”, but it looks nothing like the Mattel toy, and it’s not immediately obvious that there is a connection beyond the name. It’s possible Mattel got the name for their toy from Filmation, but I don’t know for sure.

The familiar toy-like Stridor appears in “Origin of the Sorceress,” where we learn that Man-At-Arms created the robot horse in his laboratory. Stridor sacrifices himself in order to defeat the evil Morgoth. After he is repaired, He-Man and Man-At-Arms learn that Stridor wants to roam free, and that after his confrontation with Morgoth he had become a living thing. Consequently, they release him into the wild.

Design-wise, Filmation’s Stridor is close to his toy counterpart, except he lacks his red helmet and some of his decorative details.

Other Artwork

Stridor and Fisto were illustrated by Errol McCarthy for use in licensed T-shirts:

Image source: He-Man.org

Stridor also appeared in this 1984 poster by William George:

Stridor also appears in my favorite poster by Earl Norem, which appeared in the inaugural issue of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine:

As limited as Stridor was as a toy, he’s got a terrific design, and his partnership with Fisto lends him a rather unique position within the Masters of the Universe mythos.


Image source: Grayskull Museum

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Heroic Beasts

Battle Cat – Fighting Tiger (1982)

Battle Cat Graphic

Battle Cat is one of the most iconic characters to come out of the Masters of the Universe line. In fact, when discussing the most famous fantasy steeds to come out of the 1980s, it’s probably a neck and neck race between Battle Cat and Falkor from The Never Ending Story.

falkor1

One of the first three items released in the original Masters of the Universe toy line (along with He-Man and Skeletor), Battle Cat was a fearsome beast with a bizarre color scheme. Green fur with orange stripes and dark red armor shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. That orange and green theme would show up over and over again in the MOTU line (Man-At-Arms, Wind Raider, Tri-Klops, Filmation’s Palace Guards, etc). My grade school’s colors were also orange and green, so it all made sense to five-year-old me.

There has been much discussion online of Battle Cat’s origins at Mattel. The cat body (an unarticulated statue) originally came from Mattel’s 1971 gift set, Tarzan and the Jungle Cat. The cat mold was reused in 1976 in the Big Jim line for the Big Jim on the Tiger Trail set, and was in scale with 10-12” figures.

When Mattel wanted to reuse the mold again for the new MOTU line, something had to be done to explain why it was so huge compared to the relatively small (5.5”) He-Man figure. It was decided that the cat would be used as a steed. Mark Taylor (who designed almost every MOTU product released in 1982) designed a fantasy-themed saddle to allow He-Man to sit on the cat without falling off, and a helmet/mask to further disguise the cat’s origins in the Tarzan and Big Jim lines.

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Original Mark Taylor color study, via Grayskull Museum
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Finalized Mark Taylor B-Sheet
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The helmet is striking. As a kid I thought it looked like a stylized bird. Maybe Mark Taylor was going for a griffin look. But it definitely caught my attention. The fact that Battle Cat had no articulation was a bit of a let down at first, but he looked so cool with that saddle and helmet that he soon became one of my favorite toys of all time.

For some reason, beginning in 1984, Battle Cat was released with pale yellow stripes instead of the vibrant orange:

In fact, there were a number of different configurations and color schemes released in the many manufacturing plants around the world that Mattel used over the course of the MOTU line:

production variants
Source: Mantisaur82

The very first Battle Cats produced were somewhat different from other releases, featuring stripes on the tail and orange paint around the mouth. This version is very difficult to find (this one belongs to Tokyonever):

This color scheme appears on the prototype Battle Cat that appeared in the 1982 Mattel Dealer Catalog and other early catalogs:

sears-1982-wish-book

Battle Cat was sold in stores in three different packaging configurations – on his own, in a gift set that included He-Man, and in an another gift set featuring Battle Armor He-Man. The first two were originally sold in 1982 and featured box art by Rudy Obrero. I distinctly remember seeing both at toy stores as a kid, and being bowled over by the figures and the artwork.

The artwork for the single release Battle Cat featured He-Man riding Battle Cat, with no other characters in the picture (aside from some shadowy barbarian figures in the background). Battle Cat’s helmet is off, and Castle Grayskull stands in the background, partially shrouded by mist.

Rudy’s original painting was somewhat darker than what ended up on the final product:

Color shifted box art print

The 1982 gift set artwork was just as amazing, if a little confusing. He-Man is seen riding into battle on a helmeted Battle Cat, and Skeletor and Beast Man are riding their own fighting tigers. Man-At-Arms and Mer-Man are the odd men out. Apparently no one bought them Battle Cats for Christmas.

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hemanbattlecat2highres

When Rudy Obrero was given the models to use as references for the artwork, he was provided with no details as to the story line, which is why he also painted things like Skeletor defending Castle Grayskull and He-Man ripping out the side of Castle Grayskull with the Wind Raider. Really, though, that doesn’t contract early canonical ideas about the castle, which could be held and defended by either the heroes or the villains.

The Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Cat gift set came out in 1984, a year after Rudy had stopped working with Mattel. By this time William George was producing box art for MOTU pretty regularly, and the piece he produced for this set is absolutely fantastic:

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williamgeorge battle cat

He-Man and Battle Cat were practically inseparable in most published media. He-Man was often depicted driving the many vehicles produced for the line, but more often than not, if the most powerful man in the universe wasn’t walking, he was riding his green and orange steed.

The concept of Cringer as Battle Cat’s mild mannered alter ego was introduced in the 1982 DC Comics series. I believe this is also the first time that Battle Cat is portrayed as having the power of speech:

Filmation in particular put Battle Cat to frequent use. Every episode began with a transformation sequence that featured the cowardly Cringer transforming into the ferocious fighting tiger. By comparison, Skeletor was rarely depicted with his equivalent steed, Panthor.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Cringer the Cowardly Tiger Transforms to Battle Cat

Battle Cat also featured prominently in Filmation’s 1982 MOTU commercial, as well as in its style guide and series guide:

If you ask the average person on the street to name any character from the MOTU series, probably one of the top three or four names mentioned would be Battle Cat’s. It’s no wonder then that Battle Cat also turned up in a lot of MOTU-themed merchandise over the years.

Battle Cat was, of course, heavily featured in a number of ads and catalogs as well. He was no doubt a consistent seller throughout the duration of the toy line. Not bad for a character that was created as a means to recycle an old mold and flesh out the fledgling MOTU toy line without much capital risk in the first year. If Masters of the Universe excelled at anything, it was making soup from stones.

he-man-battle-cat-line-art

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