Snake Men

King Hiss – Dreadful disguised leader of the SNAKE MEN (1986)

Co-written with Jukka Issakainen

On a family trip in 1986 I was faced with something of a dilemma. On the way to California in the car, we had stopped off at store that had a nice selection of He-Man toys, and I was told that I could pick two. I was determined that both figures be Snake Men, but which ones to get?

I  was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or perhaps the newly released King Hiss or Rattlor. I don’t remember seeing Tung Lashor at the time. After studying all three toys and their packaging intently, I concluded that King Hiss was a cool idea, but his hidden snake body wasn’t all that great looking, so I went with the other two figures instead.

The Snake Men, with Kobra Khan retconned into the faction

Design & Development

When Mattel and Filmation were working on the She-Ra Princess of Power animated series, they designed lot of characters in concert. The Evil Horde cartoon designs were meant for She-Ra’s show because the He-Man series had ended on its second season. Characters like Rattlor and Tung Lashor were created very early on. Mattel would later come up with a third evil faction, thanks to Tim Kilpin; the Snake Men, into which King Hiss was created. Rattlor and Tung Lashor served him, with Kobra Khan was retconned into the group as well.

Some additional background from James Eatock:

As for the snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor were designed ahead of King Hiss (and included as Horde Villains based on their earliest designs). By the time King Hiss was completed and the Snake Men as a faction had been created, She-Ra was already in full swing.

James Eatock

Various minicomics acknowledged Rattlor and Tung Lashor working for Evil Horde and used them from there on out as King Hiss’ servants. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that King Hiss was being planned for Filmation’s He-Man or She-Ra cartoons. During the She-Ra series, Rattlor and Tung Lashor sometimes were aligned with Skeletor, and sometimes with Hordak.

In terms of play concept, King Hiss came out of a series of designs by Ted Mayer for a figure concept that would have a removable outer disguise. One of the most well-known of the unproduced concepts is a character with a removable plant-like outer shell, as shown in the image below:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

One of Ted’s concept designs included a green-costumed monster with tangle of coiled snakes hidden beneath his costume:

Image source: http://ted-mayer.com
Another take on the hidden snake creature concept. This one has a more alien-looking disguise. Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

Ted’s concept art was quite creepy, both on the inside and on the outside. The toy design, on the other hand, was greatly toned down in comparison. The outside of the figure was given a heroic appearance. The idea was that King Hiss could trick the heroes into believing he was on their side, only to betray them and reveal the mass of snakes underneath. The mass of snakes was unfortunately limited by the constraints of having to fit inside a plastic shell depicting the human costume, so the snake part of the figure was a bit underwhelming.

King Hiss cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Action Figure

The shell of the costume consisted of four parts. The front and back of the chest and head, and the two arms. The torso piece completely concealed what was underneath, but the arms were open at the back. Consequently, the backs of King Hiss’ snake arms were painted green to match the external disguise.

King Hiss was given a serpent shield and snake staff. The staff would be reused for Rattlor, Tung Lashor and Snake Face, and consequently is one of the most reused weapon designs in the MOTU line. Everything else on King Hiss was a unique piece.

On September 27, 1985, Mattel filed a patent claim on King Hiss. The inventors listed are Roger Sweet and Ted Mayer.

Packaging

King Hiss’ artwork on the back was done by an unknown artist. Uniquely, it functions like a three-panel comic, telling the story of King Hiss’ gimmick.

In Belgium, there was a special release of King Hiss that included a fold-out reversible mask in the packaging:

Characterization

The 1987 Style Guide describes King Hiss in terms of his gimmick:

Power: Disguises himself as a Heroic warrior, then peels back skin to reveal a snake creature – designed to take victims by surprise.

Style Guide
From the style guide. Artwork by Errol McCarthy

There is also a fact file on all the Snake Men in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Comics and Stories

In King of the Snake Men, Skeletor unleashes King Hiss from an energy pool he finds in the depths of Snake Mountain. King Hiss had apparently been trapped for thousands of years. In the story (illustrated by Bruce Timm), he teams up with Skeletor to lure He-Man into a trap:


Later in the story, King Hiss tells He-Man how thousands of years ago, he was rule of an empire of Snake Men that held dominance over several other planets. He came to Eternia and took up residence in Snake Mountain. Ultimately he was banished to another dimension by the Council of Elders, until Skeletor freed him.

In the Kid Stuff story, Battle Under Snake Mountain, King Hiss rules Snake Mountain, as if Skeletor never existed:

The Summer 1986 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine features the story, The Armies of King Hiss. Skeletor teams up with Hiss and his Snake Men against He-Man:

King Hiss shows up in several issues of the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine as well:

King Hiss appears in the November 1986 Star Comics story, Snakes Alive! In the story, we learn that Rio Blast is terrified of Snakes, which King Hiss uses to his advantage:

“He-Ro, Land of Legend” and He-Man Newspaper Strips

The Filmation “He-Ro Land of Legend” development from 1986 has a snake man character which possibly is the one Gérald Forton designed, and later used in the newspaper comic strip story arc, “Vengeance of the Viper King”:

From the Dark Horse He-Man Newspaper Comic Strips Collection

In “Vengeance of the Viper King,” King Hiss has the unique look only when in his true form. In his disguised form, he looks on model with the action figure:

Powers of Grayskull

King Hiss was to be (apparently) a principal villain in the abandoned Powers of Grayskull line. Tyrantisaurus Rex was envisioned as his primary mount:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man
From The Powers of Grayskull minicomic

Artwork

King Hiss appears in poster art by both William George and Earl Norem:

Artwork by William George. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.
Artwork by Earl Norem

Errol McCarthy also created several illustrations of the character:

King Hiss also makes an appearance in the box art for Tyrantisaurs Rex and Turbodactyl, both illustrated on the front by Warren Hile:

King Hiss had his limitations as an action figure, but he was actually an interesting concept and pretty fun to play with.

King Hiss in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has generously shared the following image and video of King Hiss in action:

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Evil Warriors

Spikor – Untouchable master of evil combat (1985)

Spikor is the one figure from 1985 that I have no memory of ever being aware of as a kid. I don’t know why that is, but I just draw a total blank.

Spikor was designed by Roger Sweet. In the image below, from The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, we see that Spikor originally had much more of a porcupine look, down to the tail and animalistic face. Per the Catalog, the character’s name early on was “Spike”. The mace is somewhat reminiscent of Mekaneck’s weapon, also designed by Roger Sweet.

Further evolution on the design is evident in Spikor’s first minicomic appearance, Spikor Strikes. You can see that other than losing his tail and shortening the character’s snout, Spikor (in this comic) is a recolored version of Roger Sweet’s original concept art. You can see that especially in the specific shape of his central chest piece and collar and in his mace weapon.

Interestingly Spikor holds his trident weapon, which he also did in some versions of the Filmation cartoon. On the toy, the trident is a part of his hand, like a pirate’s hook. It’s not totally clear what the original intention was from Roger Sweet’s artwork. It looks like a part of his arm, but it could have been something he was holding, with some kind of hand guard design blocking the view of Spikor’s left hand. If that wasn’t the case, then perhaps the source material was misinterpreted.

Spikor was trademarked on September 10, 1984. The final toy design has a less prominent design on the front of the chest piece. Because of the way it’s designed, his torso spikes look like armor and not a part of his actual body. But his head is the same color and has the same kinds of spikes. so it’s difficult to suss out what’s going on there. Spikor was given a much spikier mace, and his trident was fused to his straightened left arm, to allow for its telescoping action feature.

Spikor cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Gimenez

Interestingly, the figure used in the commercial had red “glove” painted on its right hand:

It’s a mystery to me why Spikor’s trident’s tines end in balls. Surely they could have been shaped like spikes, but rounded off at the ends to satisfy safety requirements, like all the other spikes on his body and mace. Having balls at the end makes it look like Spikor is very concerned about accidentally poking someone’s eye out.

Spikor very easily could have reused the right arm from He-Man (he does have He-Man’s legs, and in some version the legs from Thunder Punch He-Man), but Mattel opted to give him a unique bracer with pyramid-shaped designs in the center.

The artwork on Spikor’s card was illustrated by Dave Stevens, who worked on other 1985 cardbacks such as Stinkor and Moss Man.

Image source: StarCrusader
Original packaging layout artwork

In addition to the single-carded figure, Spikor was also sold in a JCPenny giftset with Stinkor: http://www.grayskullmuseum.com/GiftSets/SS.htm

Errol McCarthy gave Spikor a puffer fish physique in this illustration intended for a T-shirt:

In the previously-mentioned minicomic, Spikor Strikes, Spikor is given a nemesis in Sy-Klone (for those keeping track, in the 1985 wave, Stinkor’s minicomic nemesis is Moss Man and Two Bad’s nemesis is Roboto). In The Terror Claws Strike, released the following year, Spikor plays the part of sinister blacksmith, creating Skeletor’s new Terror Claws weapons in the heart of Snake Mountain:

In the fall, 1985 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine, Spikor takes part in a humorous story about a ball game for control of the Fright Zone:

Spikor shows up in several episodes of the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series. He is characterized as a typical bumbling henchman throughout. In some appearances he had his trident attached to his arm, like the toy, and in others he has a normal left hand.

In the December 1987 UK MOTU magazine issue, Spikor (colored in two tone blue) rudely interrupts a game of kickball and bullies some kids, before Mekaneck steps in a puts a stop to it.

Spikor doesn’t make any appearances on box art, but he does show up in several posters by William George and Esteban Maroto

For more information about Spikor, check out this great video series from ToonJukka!

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Evil Warriors

Two Bad – Double-headed evil strategist (1985)

Two Bad is one of two two-headed figures released in 1985 (along with Multi-Bot and Modulok).

My first exposure to Two Bad came on the playground in third grade. I had gone to the same elementary school during kindergarten and first grade. But in second grade, we moved away for a year to a smaller town, which turned out to be something of a He-Man vacuum. All of the kids there seemed to be into either Voltron or Thundercats. But when I returned to my old school in the third grade, I found He-Man was still going strong there. One fall day on the playground, an enterprising kid brought out his Roboto and Two Bad figures.

I never had either of these figures myself, but I was pretty impressed with both of them. Two Bad was bizarre looking, and not just because he had two heads. He had an enormous barrel chest and his arms were mounted toward the top of his shoulders rather than to the sides. His main feature of interest seemed to be his ability to punch himself in the opposing heads.

I don’t know who designed the final look for Two Bad, but Roger Sweet seems to have come up with the general concept for a two-headed warrior. You can see several incarnations of the concept in the images below. An early idea was for a character that had an evil half and a good half. While the final figure was completely evil, he did have a different color scheme and sculpt for each half of his body.

While the concept was Roger’s, I suspect at least some of the artwork was done by Ted Mayer, based on the style. According to the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog, the half good/half evil concept was rejected by Mattel marketing, who said that both halves should be evil.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen, by way of the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen, by way of the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen, by way of Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

Some unrelated concepts by Ted Mayer have a helmet design reminiscent of Two Bad’s blue head:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

A late hard copy/prototype of the figure shows a few subtle differences from the final toy. The prototype had more prominent and finely detailed ears and horns on the head. It also had a much slimmer torso design. I’m sure that the torso on the final figure had to be enlarged to accommodate the spring punch action feature on both arms, in addition to the spring-loaded waist.


Image source: Toy Archive
Another view of the prototype. Source: Mattel 1985 Spring Program catalog
Two Bad cross sell artwork, based on the final toy, but with a slightly different shade of purple. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

The final toy has a greatly widened torso and softer sculpted details, but is otherwise close in appearance to the prototype. All of his parts are brand new, with the exception of the standard crotch piece. He is one of several figures in the 1985 wave whose only accessory was a shield:

Shortly after it was released, the figure was reissued with a greatly flattened torso. This didn’t affect the width, but it did affect the depth. This flattened version seems to be somewhat more common than the original release. The second version also has its arms at a slightly lower angle, so they don’t obscure the faces as much.

Unfortunately Two Bad tends to suffer from discoloration with age. This seems to be “sweating” out of the plastic. It can be cleaned up with a magic eraser sponge, but it eventually returns.

There are two main versions of the US card for the figure as well. The first release features “NEW!” on the front:

Note that this set of instructions says to “fit arm to body.” The plan early on may have been to package him with his arms disconnected.

The next release omits “NEW” and has a different set of instructions on the back:

Image source: He-Man.org. The instructions on this cardback include the idea that the figure can “crush” enemies. This is easier to do on the second release of the figure, because he chest doesn’t protrude out as much.

Two Bad is said to be a strategist with “twice the plotting power” due to his two heads, although that characterization was rarely followed in printed or animated stories.

Two Bad’s cardback artwork was done by Errol McCarthy, who also illustrated the character in a number of other contexts:

The 1987 Style Guide, which also features art by Errol McCarthy, characterized Two Bad this way:

Role: Powerful, two-headed master of evil illusion.

Power: Ability to create the illusion that he is “two” evil warriors, twice as devious as any of his comrades.

Character Profile: Though two heads are often better than once, Two Bad is a mixed blessing for the Evil Warriors. When his two heads are working together, Two Bad is nearly as clever and devious as Skeletor, and his advantage in battle is doubled. However, his two heads rarely get along. Quite often, the two heads will bicker with one another just at the wrong moment. Skeletor has little patience with Two Bad, not only because of the distracting arguments, but because Skeletor feels that the two-headed beast could one day gain too much evil brain power.

The Style Guide seems to have taken a cue from the commercial shown earlier in this article, in which Two Bad tricks his enemies into thinking he is actually two evil warriors.

In addition to the single carded figure, Two Bad was sold in a JCPenny giftset with Tri-Klops:

http://www.grayskullmuseum.com/GiftSets/BTJCP.htm

Mattel filed for a patent on Two Bad on December 24, 1984. The inventors lists were Larry Renger and Roger Sweet. The trademark for Two Bad was filed September 10, 1984.

Two Bad came packed with The Battle of Roboto minicomic, and he and Roboto were featured heavily in the story. Each of Two Bad’s heads is constantly arguing and fighting with the other:

Two Bad was characterized in much the same way in his infrequent appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

From the episode, Capture The Comet Keeper

Two Bad doesn’t appear in any of the MOTU box art, but he does make a few appearances in posters by William George and others:

Update: In the comments below, Aidan notes that Two Bad was characterized as an inventor in the UK MOTU comics, so he wasn’t always characterized as a simpleton. Aidan also notes that the individual heads were named Blue Head and Yellow Band, which apparently originated from notes at Filmation studios.

For detailed information about the UK Masters of the Universe comics, check out Aidan’s site at this link: https://www.motuukcomics.co.uk/

Also check out James Eatock’s old blog for a quick example of Two Bad in the UK comics: http://bustatoons.blogspot.com/2006/08/scientific-genius.html

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Evil Warriors

Dragon Blaster Skeletor – Evil leader & dreadful dragon (1985)

Dragon Blaster Skeletor was the “deluxe” version of Skeletor that everyone in my grade school peer group coveted. You could tell he was a deluxe figure because he came on an oversized card and wore an oversized dragon backpack and came with a real metal chain. These were the unmistakable tokens of quality in the secret language of childhood.

Dragon Blaster Skeletor actually has a fascinating backstory. In my interview with Martin Arriola, he explained to me that the action feature was once quite dangerous:

MA: Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.

BR: Oh, like what?

MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.

I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.

I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.

BR: That’s insane!

MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.

So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.

This concept art by Colin Bailey (below) seems to have been for some kind of dungeon master Skeletor. The lock, chains and cuff from this design ended up being used for Dragon Blaster Skeletor.

Early catalog images of the figure seem to depict a standard hollow head Taiwan figure with the new dragon backpack piece. They also include the original Skeletor’s balteus accessory, although that was cut from the final figure. This look was carried forward into the cross sell art as well.

The actual production toy had a solid, rubbery head. Mexico versions had face paint reminiscent of earlier incarnations of Skeletor, but Hong Kong examples have quite a jarring “M” pattern on the green sections of the face. Some Mexico examples had the original Skeletor feet, but most had enlarged feet (with reduced sculpting detail) for the purposes of greater stability, given the weight of the backpack. Boot colors ranged from reddish purple to blueish purple to a very dark purple. The balteus was also cut from the production version.

As mentioned earlier, this version of Skeletor was packaged on an oversized card. It features some artwork by William George on the front and an action scene by Errol McCarthy on the back:

Note that the dragon is supposed to paralyze victims with venom – which seems to be muscling in on Kobra Khan’s raison d’etre. Maybe that ‘s why he ultimately defected to the Snake Men faction.

The 1987 Style Guide talks a bit about Skeletor’s dragon pet:

Weapons: Skeletor stalks the land with his evil pet, freezing foes with the dragon’s vicious paralyzing venom.

Dragon Blaster Skeletor came packaged with the minicomic Skeletor’s Dragon, which shows off his new action feature as well as the Battle Bones carry case toy.

In the story, Skeletor’s chains have mystical energy draining powers, and his dragon frequently walks around off his leash:

Skeletor’s design has a strong Filmation influence (especially around the face and boots), and a differently colored costume than the toy. The colors may be based off of early concept art for the figure. The minicomic artwork is by Peter Ledger, with colors by Charles Simpson.

Errol McCarthy depicted the variant for use in a T-shirt design in the artwork below:

McCarthy also illustrated the character in the poster below that appeared in the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine:

He also appears in a 1985 MOTU poster by William George. He is again shown with the balteus from the original Skeletor figure:

Dragon Blaster Skeletor isn’t my favorite Skeletor variant – in fact he’s probably my second least favorite, next to Terror Claws Skeletor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. Skeletor is Skeletor, and it’s hard to make a bad Skeletor figure.

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