Former Mattel designer Ted Mayer shared some Battle Ram concept art with me that he recently rediscovered in his portfolio. I previously had lower resolution copies of this art (one from my 2015 interview with Ted, and another from an issue of Tomart’s Action Figure Digest), showcased in my article about the Battle Ram. I’ve updated that article with these better images, but I thought I’d announce the new images here and share a few insights from Ted.
The first piece of concept art below, was, according to Ted, the original concept. On the second revised version below, Ted says, he was “asked to clean it up and change it for molding, cost, and safety considerations.” Both of them date to late April, 1981.
Ted was nice enough to answer a few follow-up questions I had about the art:
Q: On the earlier version, there is an extra piece on the top/back
section of the vehicle. Would that have been the firing mechanism?
A: Yes, I figured it would be a pull back and release, to shoot the missile.
Q: Very interesting that originally the front half of the vehicle had
wheels as well. Would there have been an extra small wheel underneath
toward the front, for balance?
A: Yes, we wanted it to be a totally independent vehicle. That’s why
the original battle Ram had six wheels. cost cutting won out!!
Q: The horned helmet version of He-Man has always been shown barefooted, at least in the prototype models that I’ve seen. In your drawings he does have boots. Just curious, was he originally supposed to have removable cloth boots or something along those lines?
A: As I remember, I drew the figure from an original sculpt, so it must have had boots on!
Many thanks to Ted for sharing his amazing artwork, and for answering my questions!
The longer I write this blog, the more I realize there is almost no
limit to the amount of material that can be written about the vintage
Masters of the Universe toyline. I will run out of steam before I ever
run out of subjects to write about.
In this post, I’ll examine the Battle Ram‘s appearances in minicomics and Golden Book stories (I’ll skip the Golden coloring books, simply because I don’t have good images for all of them).
Interestingly, in the earliest minicomic stories, it was the Battle Ram, not Battle Cat, that was He-Man’s primary mode of transportation. By 1983 that changed, and He-Man and Battle Cat became inseparable, while the Battle Ram became more frequently associated with Teela or Man-At-Arms.
When I went through the Dark Horse He-Man Minicomic Collection, I was actually a little surprised at how infrequently the Battle Ram shows up. It actually appears much more often in the Golden collection of stories.
For reference, the vehicle in question is called the Battle Ram, but
the detachable front half is referred to as the Jet Sled – although that
term isn’t often used within the stories below.
Update #1: I should note that the Battle Ram was designed by Ted Mayer. Alfredo Alcala’s depictions of it (including the image at the beginning of this article) are based on the early prototype sculpted by Jim Openshaw, which in turn was based on Ted Mayer’s concept drawings. More on that at Ted Mayer’s website and in my original Battle Ram toy feature.
Update #2: I wasn’t originally going to include the Giant Picture Books because they’re not really stories per se. But the artwork is so nice, I broke down and decided to include them. Thanks to Jukka for sharing the lovely images, which come from James Eatock (internal) and Polygonus (covers).
1982 Minicomic: He-Man and the Power Sword
The Battle Ram is pretty ubiquitous in the first ever minicomic (written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala). Notice that in early media like this, the front half of the Battle Ram does not soar through the air – rather it hovers low over the ground. That was Mark Taylor‘s idea for how the vehicle was supposed to work.
1982 Minicomic: The Vengeance of Skeletor
The Battle Ram is a near-constant presence in what would turn out to
be one of the most violent of the MOTU minicomics. Written by Don Glut,
illustrated by Alfredo Alcala.
1982 Minicomic: Battle in the Clouds
Battle in the Clouds is the first story where the front half of the Battle Ram (Sky Sled) is not limited to hovering close to the ground. In this story it can soar high into the sky, which serves as an excuse to write it into a story about a furious air battle featuring the Wind Raider. Written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala.
1983 Minicomic: The Tale of Teela
This is the first minicomic that features both halves of the Battle
Ram together. which seems to be Teela’s vehicle of choice. Sadly, it’s
also the last appearance of the Battle Ram in the vintage minicomics.
Written by Gary Cohn, penciled by Mark Texeira, inked by Tod Smith,
colored by Anthony Tollin.
1983 Golden Book: Thief of Castle Grayskull
In this story, Teela is again the driver for Battle Ram, which seems
to be mostly used as transportation, as far as this story is concerned.
Written by Roger McKenzie, illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Gino
1983 Golden Book: The Sword of Skeletor
Teela is again the driver for the Battle Ram in The Sword of
Skeletor. In this story, the Battle Ram can apparently travel across
water as well as land. Written by Roger McKenzie, illustrated by Fred
Carillo, cover by Gino D’Achille.
1983 Golden Book: The Sunbird Legacy
The Sunbird Legacy is probably the greatest of the Golden stories,
with an epic, comic book feel. In this story Man-At-Arms is the driver
for the Battle Ram, and he uses it to great effect against Beast Man.
Written by Roger McKenzie, illustrated by Adrian Gonzales and Fred
Carillo, cover by Earl Norem.
1984 Golden Book: Mask of Evil
This story features a brief shot of an out-of-scale Battle Ram from
the rear. It’s not clear who’s driving it, though. Written by John
Hughes, illustrated by Al McWilliams, cover by Earl Norem.
1984 Golden Book: Giant Picture Book – Heroic Warriors
This isn’t a story so much as a collection of lovely artwork by Fred Carillo. The Giant Picture Book series does include some biographical information on selected characters, however.
1984 Golden Book: Giant Picture Book – Evil Warriors
This evil version of the heroic Giant Picture Book gives us a tantalizing look at the Battle Ram – just before Jitsu goes and destroys it. You’re not winning any points with me, Jitsu! Artwork by Fred Carillo.
1985 Golden Book: The Rock Warriors
This story features a single shot of the Jet Slet, again piloted by
Teela, but colored in red and orange. Written by Michael Kirschenbaum,
illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Earl Norem.
1986 Golden Book: A Hero In Need
Two gray Jet Sleds are on almost every page of this story, piloted by Teela and Prince Adam. Written by Elizabeth Ryan, illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Earl Norem.
I remember getting the Road Ripper as a present when it came out in 1984. I want to say I got it at the same time as the Dragon Walker. It didn’t blow me away like the Dragon Walker did, but it was a memorable vehicle and I sent it speeding across the kitchen floor on many Saturday mornings.
The Road Ripper seems to have been the brainchild of Mattel designer Roger Sweet. I believe that an early working name for the vehicle was the Tri-Trak. As described in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, the Tri-Trak was “a three-wheeled motorcycle which He Man uses whenever he needs a fast ground transport. Tri-Trak travels most of the places the Attack Trak goes only much faster. The motorcycle bears two very deadly photon machine guns.”
An early version of the vehicle had a much smaller figurehead on the front of the vehicle, a couple of small fins on the back, and control handles for He-Man to hold on to. This early concept was colored red rather than green, and had a comparatively narrow front end.
A subsequent revision to the design was much closer to the final toy, with its enlarged figurehead and green color scheme. It was more highly detailed than the final toy, with additional orange and yellow triangular patterns and green mechanical details, but otherwise it’s very familiar to anyone who owned the production vehicle.
A somewhat similar concept was illustrated by Ted Mayer on September 29, 1983. It has the twin guns mentioned in the description of the Tri-Trak, although it seems to have four wheels, not three. It would have used a launcher base as a means of propulsion, with a similar ripcord feature. However, given that the Road Ripper was trademarked on August 22, 1983, this may have been a related idea and not a version of the Road Ripper itself.
According to the Power and the Honor Foundation catalog, Roger Sweet got the idea for the Road Ripper from the Evel Knievel Super Stunt Cycle.
The final toy has a rubber seat belt (similar to the ones used in the Attak Trak and Dragon Walker), rather than the clip featured in the concept artwork. The sculpt work is well-executed, and it’s augmented by a number of brightly colored stickers. It came with a long red ripcord, that, when pulled through the back of the vehicle, set a heavy rubber wheel hidden underneath the vehicle in motion, propelling the whole thing forward.
The cross sell art closely mirrors the toy, but it lacks some detail in on the back area of the vehicle:
The Road Ripper was sold individually and in a gift set with Battle Armor He-Man. The artwork on the front of both boxes was done by William George. They both have a sense of speed to them, and feature the artist’s usual desolate landscapes and fearsome little creatures:
William George also illustrated the Road Ripper in this 1984 MOTU poster:
Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys produced a version of the Road Ripper in blue, although they retained the artwork on the packaging that depicted it in green:
Errol McCarthy illustrated the Road Ripper for a T-Shirt design:
The vehicle makes a two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in “The Time Wheel” (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out) and “The Energy Beast.” It doesn’t last long in the the latter story, as Orko starts up the vehicle and quickly crashes it, destroying it. Man-At-Arms remarks that he had spent six months working on it.
It also makes a single appearance in the mini comics. It shows up in a single panel in Temple of Darkness, illustrated by Larry Houston.
An off-model red version of Road Ripper shows up in Issue 71 of the UK MOTU magazine, which in turn originates from Ehapa MOTU issue 7 (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out):
It also appears in the first issue of the US MOTU magazine, in the short comic story, Maddening of the Monstones. He-Man uses it as his primary means of transportation:
The Road Ripper never had the kind of permanence and ubiquitousness that other vehicles like the Wind Raider and Battle Ram had, but it was a fun little racer and I think it fit in well with the other Masters of the Universe vehicles. Surprisingly, Tonka even made a Road Ripper-themed crossover tricycle. I suppose that makes sense given the fact that the Road Ripper also has three wheels, but it’s an interesting choice given the general lack of exposure of the vehicle otherwise.
The general formula for MOTU vehicles really seems to be angular, Star Wars vehicle-like bodies, combined big engines and animalistic figureheads at the front, which is as good a description as any for the Road Ripper. In fact, it reminds me in many ways of the Battle Ram, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Battle Ram were a major source of inspiration.
The Dragon Walker is one of my all time favorite Masters of the Universe vehicles. I don’t recall if I had seen the Dragon Walker at the store and begged my parents for one, or if they surprised me with it for my birthday. I just remember getting it and frantically searching the house for a pair of C batteries. As I recall we didn’t have any and I had to wait for my parents to buy some. What an agonizing wait that was.
I realize some fans find the sidewinding locomotion concept to be so impractical that it has soured them on the toy. Not me. I thought of the Dragon Walker as the Eternian equivalent of the G.I. Joe Bridge Layer – a vehicle built for getting the good guys across rivers and crevasses.
Design & Development
The main elements of what would eventually be the Dragon Walker are present in this concept illustration by Ed Watts. The coat of arms design is different from the final toy, featuring a cross and dragons rather than the stylized H from Battle Armor He-Man’s costume. In this concept the driver stands rather than sits, and holds on to a red laser canon mounted on the dragon’s head. The concept was also quite a bit larger than the actual toy.
The final Dragon Walker toy was a bit smaller than Ed Watts’ concept, no doubt to keep costs low:
William George painted the packaging illustration, which features Battle Armor He-Man riding the Dragon Walker through a prehistoric-looking landscape. One hallmark of many of George’s MOTU illustrations is the presence of little dinosaur-like creatures off to the side of the main action.
The cross sell art for the Dragon Walker was very true to the design and look of the toy:
The Spanish version was released without the cellophane window, and included an additional William George illustration and some product photos. Judging by the inclusion of the Land Shark vehicle in the background, I would guess that this box was released in 1985 at the earliest:
A US version of this packaging was planned, but never released. Here is a picture of the proof sheet from Grayskull Museum (thanks to Tokyonever for the pointer):
William George’s Hidden Signature
William George also painted a poster featuring the Dragon Walker for Kellogg’s as part of a promotion they were running with Mattel. Mattel designer Ted Mayer tells this story:
There was stuff I did not know about, because Mattel kept us designers isolated, regarding other departments, or outside stuff. I remember that one day the He-Man posters appeared out of nowhere that were done for Kellogg. Apparently Marketing just went out and did them without consulting us. We were pissed off, because we considered ourselves the main reference point.
As it happened, they hired Bill George to do them, and we were good buddies. Funny story. Bill came to me and said “I have to do these paintings for Kellogg’s, but they said I can’t sign them.” Because they were for such a big company he wanted the exposure. I had the same problem with the aircraft illustrations I used to do. I told him to hide his signature inside the illustrations, but do them upside down so they where not obvious. That’s what he did, and they never found it.
The mechanism of the Dragon Walker is rather ingenious. Rather than a vehicle moving along a track, the track and the vehicle move one after the other. A patent was filed for it on January 10, 1984, crediting Michael Gurner and Herbert May as the inventors. From the abstract:
A moveable toy consisting of a base and a motorized vehicle. The base includes a track having a central groove ending in openings at either end. The track includes teeth which cooperate with a drive gear held in the vehicle to drive the vehicle along the track. Rotors having notches on the top surface are rotatably held in openings at each end of the central groove in the track. Upon actuation, the vehicle travels along the track until it arrives at either end of the track, where the vehicle rotates the base to allow the vehicle to continue along the track end for further movement of the toy in the same direction.
As an aside, Roger Sweet takes credit for the Dragon Walker in this interview, although it’s unclear what his contribution was, other than perhaps managing the project. He’s not listed as one of the inventors in the patent application, and the concept art was done by Ed Watts, as mentioned earlier.
The concept is demonstrated in this video on the Grand Illusions YouTube channel:
From the video description:
The other one is made by Mattel, and Tim remembers the crowds of people watching this with fascination, the first time it was shown at a toy fair.
The character drives his dragon vehicle along the track; once he reaches the end of the track, the track swivels around, so that the section of track that was behind him is not in front of him, and he can set off again, along the track. This keeps repeating, and so he can cover quite large distances quite quickly, on his amazing ‘never ending’ track!
The inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine included a blueprint-style poster of the Dragon Walker. I hung this on my wall as soon as I got it and studied every detail:
Curiously, the poster doesn’t identify the Dragon Walker by name, but instead calls it the Heroic Warrior Carrior. Man-At-Arms is said to be the inventor. Notice that the color version at the top is off-model. It resembles the Filmation version, but it’s not clear if there is actually any place for the driver to sit!
Errol McCarthy created a few illustrations of the Dragon Walker for licensing purposes (images via He-Man.org):
Comics and Storybooks
The Dragon Walker made an appearance in the background of the mini comic, Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!
It also plays a role in several Golden Books stories, such as The Rock Warriors and Maze of Doom:
The Dragon Walker shows up a few times in the Filmation Cartoon, in episodes like “Attack From Below”, “The Time Wheel”, and “Fraidy Cat”:
As shown in the above GIF and model sheet, Filmation increased the size of the seat so that it could fit multiple characters.
Dragon Walker in Action
Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly contributed the following image and videos of the Dragon Walker in action: