Heroic Warriors

Rio Blast: Heroic transforming gunslinger (1986)

Rio Blast is surely one of the most incongruent-looking figures in the Masters of the Universe toyline. From 1982 to 1985, the MOTU line had a certain consistency – barbarian fantasy meets science fiction. Generally the characters looked either like Frazetta-esque warriors and wizards/witches, retro-futuristic techno-men, or animal-human hybrid monsters.

So why all of a sudden a cowboy character? The same year that Rio Blast came out, Mattel put out the Bravestarr toyline, which was essentially a western set in space (Filmation came up with the concept and put out an accompanying cartoon in 1987). Perhaps that had some influence.

Bravestarr. Image Source: Transformers-Universe.com

Design & Development

Rio Blast didn’t actually start out as a cowboy character. The concept, originally called Fire Power Man and designed by Ed Watts, was a villainous figure with a dark black and gold costume. The flip out gun feature was carried over to Rio Blast, but the look ended up being completely redesigned.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1. Aside from the guns and the mustache, the design looks nothing like Rio Blast.

As noted in the above section from the Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, this design would be used by Filmation to create the Colonel Blast Character. He was redesigned by the animation studio to better fit in with the Evil Horde:

Image source: Bustatoons

Update: quite a few pieces of concept art recently went up for sale at Heritage Auctions. The artwork is by John Hollis, who did the final design work on Rio Blast. In this concept artwork he’s called “Bionic Space Cowboy.” Hollis tried a number of different looks out, including giving him a mustache, no mustache, a space helmet, no helmet, and so forth.

A rough prototype was created using a Man-At-Arms figure. His head was swapped out for He-Man’s head, and I believe they cast some legs with gun cutouts and painted them brown to simulate pants.

We can see the finalized cowboy design for Rio Blast in the cross sell artwork below:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Production Toy

Despite looking somewhat out of place in the MOTU line, Rio Blast is an impressive-looking figure. He’s well-sculpted and bristling with painted and sculpted detail, with no reused parts from other figures. Clearly Mattel went all out of this one:

As shown above, Rio Blast’s guns can be manually popped out of his thighs, wrists and chest. His four piece “blasterpak” can swing over his eyes, giving him even more guns and a targeting sight.

Packaging Artwork

The artwork on the front of Rio Blast’s card was done, I believe, by Bruce Timm, and the scene on the back was illustrated by Errol McCarthy:

Image Source: La Cueva Del Terror

Characterization & Backstory

Rio Blast was given a relatively elaborate backstory in the 1987 Style Guide:

Power: Has the ability to transform from normal warrior into an awesome arsenal of fire power. He’s the fastest draw in the universe.

Character profile: As the sole survivor of a group of heroic explorers in a starband near Eternia, Rio ended up as the “law” in that lost frontier. Flung by a metero to the surface of Eternia, Rio has naturally allied himself with He-Man in the battle against evil. Though Rio claims he “don’t like to shoot off my own guns,” he is a superb shot and like to remind the other Heroic Warriors of that as often as possible. His style occasionally gets in the way, but He-Man realizes he is an important ally. Unfortunately Rio Blast is nagged by the fact that he has left behind an untamed starband, and he often champs at the bit to get back. He-Man has promised Rio Blast to help get him home as soon as the warriors of Skeletor have been defeated once and for all.

Illustrated by Errol McCarthy

There was also a fact file published in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Comics & Artwork

Rio Blast came packed with a minicomic prominently featuring Rio Blast. The story doesn’t really reference the style guide backstory, other than saying that Rio used to be a lawman. In the story, Rio talks with an “old west” Texas accent and uses his guns to foil an attempt by Skeletor’s henchmen to drive some Eternian cattle away.

Rio Blast’s minicomic. Image source: Dark Horse
Original Inks. Image source: Dark Horse

Rio Blast is prominent in the 1987 Winter issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine, where he faces off against Ninjor:

Image source: He-Man.org

He also appears in several pieces of art done for the magazine by Earl Norem:

Rio Blast also shows up in issue 4 and 5 of the 1987 UK MOTU Magazine:

Update: Matthew M. has pointed out in the comments that Rio Blast appears in the November 1986 Star Comics story, Snakes Alive! In the story, we learn that Rio is terrified of Snakes, which King Hiss uses to his advantage:

Rio Blast makes an appearance in both William George’s Eternia box art and Eternia poster:

I was never all that interested in Rio Blast until I got one in hand. He’s now become my favorite Heroic Warrior of the 1986 lineup, despite feeling somewhat out of sync with the rest of the line.

Rio Blast advertising art

Rio Blast in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly contributed the following image and video of Rio Blast in action:

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18 thoughts on “Rio Blast: Heroic transforming gunslinger (1986)

  1. I loved the “anything goes” approach to MOTU when I was a kid, so I had no problem with Rio Blast. I vividly remember seeing the commercial on TV for the first time, and resolving on the spot that I HAD to have the figure! We ran across him at the store not long afterward, and I talked my Mom into getting it for me as a Valentine’s Day present on some flimsy premise. (It was the next holiday coming up, I was really grasping at straws to justify why I should get a new toy so soon after Xmas!) He was an instant favorite, and would often ride on Stridor on loan from Fisto. Cyber cowboy’s gotta have a cyber horse, right?

    The included minicomic was a favorite of mine for a few reasons. The pairing of Webstor and Kobra Khan was very cool, for one. I also liked the western-style setting. The colors were also extremely vivid, much more so than in the other minicomics I had. Even in the Dark Horse minicomic collection, the colors lack that vividness. It’s a different paper stock, so that undoubtedly has something to do with it. The far too easy defeat of Skeletor at the end pissed me off, but I was used to seeing that. I would often re-enact minicomic stories in my play and “fix” all the things I didn’t like, and this one got that treatment, with a climactic battle that was far more satisfying to my 7 year-old mind.

    I actually really like that black & gold concept design! It would have let him pair well with Night Stalker. Now I’m kinda bummed out that version wasn’t released as a villainous counterpart.

    1. Of course, I realized after posting that I had a brain fart and mixed up Rio’s minicomic with “Rock Warriors to the Rescue!” The latter had the extremely vivid colors , Kobra Khan/Webstor team-up, and easy Skeletor defeat I referenced. Whoops! I did also enjoy the Kobra Kahn and Beast Man pairing. Beast Man was seen pretty rarely in the minicomics by that time, so it was nice to see him pop up.

    2. You know, I never thought of putting him in Stridor, but that seems like the best possible pairing when you think about it. He’d be like an extra from Firefly. 🙂

  2. Ah Rio Blast.. What the hell was he?
    Looking at that story.. he was from a bunch of stars near by to Eternia.. OR from Eternia at some point in the past and became not only the solo heroic survivor but the law in that future western area.. why be might be from eternia? he was in a starband near Eternia.. he wants to get back there.. it is a ‘lost frontier’.. which seems to hit that he was from someplace else and got trapped in that starband.. unlikely to be from Eternia but there you go.. where he is from is completely lacking.. looks like one of the features of the backstory is he doesn’t like to shoot guns.. so of course, that creates a somewhat interesting position for a man that is mostly guns.. but that seams to be completely downplayed in other material.. I’ll avoid the standard rubbish about He-man refusing to help him unless he bends to his will and rids eternia of Skeletor forever..

    Anyway.. we get back to the original problem.. what the hell is he? normally he looks pretty damn… Human. then we find out his chest is mostly hollow with a gun and robotic bits, same with his legs.. his arms are a bit less so.. So… he seams to be kinda like a Cyborg… no problem with that. which characters with robotic ‘add-ons’ (like Trap jaw) have been done before, I don’t remember them doing a totally cyborg character.. but then there is nothing to say this.. or anything.. there is a brief bit about being flung to Eternia by a meteor which would surely do some damage.. and would be a great bit to have ‘he was rebuilt by’ or something.. but it’s missing.. so.. it’s a bit odd..

    1. I would be nice to get an explanation for that. Hollow legs, okay, robot legs are within the realm of imagination. But a hollow chest? Are the only human bits of him his head and his arms? How does that even work? :p

  3. Also, forgot to comment, but interesting the original ‘idea’ had the leg guns attached as part of a lower leg system which gave extra support for ‘firing mode’ which makes logically sense as such guns are sure to have a kick when all firing, but since that kinda thing doesn’t often happen in kids shows, changing it to just flip down upper leg panels makes sense, also cheaper with less plastic like that ^_^

    1. I didn’t think of that! Makes good sense in light of physics and everything, but I don’t suppose toy companies tend to care about that 😛

  4. I love Rio, never had him as a Kid an got him last Year in a good Condition and fair Price! He was always some Kind of Mystic Figure for me back in the Days, simply love him…the Style, the Moustache, 6 Barrels.. <3

  5. Rio Blast also has a major role in Issue #4, “Snakes Alive!”, of the Star Comic, which gives him a peppers habit and a phobia of snakes.

    I strongly suspect that the starband Rio Blast was part of was meant to tie into Bravestarr–taking differences of line style into account, the two characters wear practically the same uniform.

  6. The saddest thing is that Rio Blast is actually a cool and fun figure to play with.
    The Fire Power Man version was very cool (I like a lot that color scheme), shame that it remained just a concept art. Maybe they turned Rio Blast into a cowboy to test the market for the incoming Bravestarr toyline?

  7. As others have said, Rio Blast feels very out of place with the general feel of the line, although this was very in keeping with the “Anything goes” feel of the line by the later waves (and is one of the reasons the first two waves, slightly more focused on which barbarian/monster/sci-fi elements were utlised, as always been my favourite). Saying that, as a “stand alone” character, Rio Blast is, on hindsight, pretty cool. I think he was lost a little in the overly-gimmicky latter stages of the line, and although featured in a few comics, was never one of the big players of the line. However he’s not bad at all, and I think I like him in that he has humanoid features, whereas by the stage he was released this was becoming less and less common with new figures.
    I think if the line had become less “anything goes” all over-the-place (which I feel to this day was sadly one of the key factors in the line’s original fall from popularity), Rio Blast would have stood out more as a fluke “very different, but very cool” character.

    He really does feel like a “guest” character in the line, kinda like, if the cartoon had led the toyline and not the other way around, he had made a guest appearance in one episode on a planet He-Man had visited or whatever, and had been popular enough to merit a toy. But of course, it was Mattel who came up with the concepts and not the other way around (generally speaking, with a couple of exceptions), so I guess it just really was the “anything goes” rule applying. The similarities with Bravestarr are quite astounding, though. …Considering the whole Mattel/Filmation connection(s), there’s gotta be some connection there… In fact, part of me wonders if Rio Blast was somehow an early prototype that inspired the whole Bravestarr line (though I’m not up on my Bravestarr history so may be way off there).

    By the way, Adam, you may want to look this up, as I’m trying to wrack my brains on this, but I recall in one of the UK annuals (and/or possibly in the UK Marvel comic), Rio Blast was given a slightly different bio, that stated his as being a frustrated farmer on his planet, fed up of locust creatures (or whatever) keep eating all of his crop, so he armed himself up to get rid of them. It’s rare for me not to be able to pin-point the exact place from memory (1987 or 1988 annual possibly), but I’m sure someone will correct me.

  8. I just got a complete one today, and I agree – I never gave it much thought until I had it in hand. It’s a very cool figure.

    I also discovered a variant – I have one from Mexico and one with no COO. The Mexico figure has lighter arms than the no COO.

  9. I never liked the figure and I only own it because I’m a completionist. The only way Rio Blast might fit in the MOTU universe is the same way Ninjor fit, called through time and space and altered like the dinos to serve an Eternian purpose. Even though MOTU has an “anything goes” mantra, the theme just doesn’t mesh well and I can’t stand the 1970s-looking hair and ‘stache. The weapons concept is fine, but the figure itself is confusing to me. I have to ask the question, if a western concept figure is allowed, how much further can these liberties be taken? I think there should’ve been a line drawn in the sand before the figure was released. I realize I may have an unpopular opinion about Rio Blast, but it’s just illogical to me.

  10. As with most of my Motu toys, Rio Blast was purchased at shop in my old home town called John Menzies.
    It came down a choice of one of the snake men or Rio Blast.
    Blast might of just been released as I had not seen any adverts or promo materials adversiting him in the comics of magazines of the time.

    I do recall showing him off at school and getting a lot of blow back from the other kids as the figure was so radically different that they believed Blast was not a Motu figure.

    One thing that bothered me most was the chest gun, I could not get my child brain around where his internal organs were!

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