Battle Cat: Fighting Tiger (1982)

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.

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.

Original Mark Taylor color study, via Grayskull Museum
Finalized Mark Taylor B-Sheet

The first prototype Battle Cat appears in the 1982 Mattel dealer catalog, and features a vivid red saddle. The cat itself is hand-painted, and features stripes around the mouth and down the tail:

The saddle and helmet were revised to a darker red color, which you can see in the promotional image below, featuring a number of early prototypes:

The very first Battle Cats produced were followed the above color scheme, including the orange paint on the tail and around the mouth. Very few were produced, however, and this version is very difficult to find:

The first Battle Cats, including the striped tail variant, were made in Taiwan. Other early release Taiwan Figures have the same color scheme as the example above, minus the extra stripes on the tail and around the mouth:

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.

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:

Source: Mantisaur82

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.

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:

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.

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.

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Man-E-Faces: Heroic human…robot…monster! (1983)

I distinctly remember when I got Man-E-Faces (along with Ram Man) as a present, probably for my birthday in 1983. There was something endlessly fascinating about his ability to change faces at will. In my mind it was his way of disguising himself. Sure, no one would be fooled given his very distinctive silhouette, but that’s how I thought of it.

Man-E-Faces was something of a sea change for the line as it had existed in 1982. He was given all new parts (legs shared with Trap Jaw, who came out the same year) and a new gimmick – a rotating head drum that allowed you to display three distinct faces: human, robot, and monster. His design had more technology integrated into it than any MOTU figure that had come out before, although it was more steam punk than Star Trek.

Incidentally, his blaster was later reused as a tail gun for a couple of the Voltron lions:

You might notice that his legs are a little too short for his body. That’s probably because his rotating faces action feature gives him a rather tall torso, which may have necessitated smaller legs in order to fit into the standard MOTU packaging.

The single-carded Man-E-Faces was released in a couple of different flavors – standard, featuring his red blaster, and a deluxe version with pink chest tubes (often referred to now as Man-E-Weapons) that came with five bonus weapons from the Castle Grayskull set, but cast in maroon.

Man-E-Faces was also released in a three-pack with Battle Armor He-Man and Man-At-Arms, a J.C. Penny two-pack with Faker, a J.C. Penny two-pack with Battle Armor He-Man, and in a giftset with Skeletor and Panthor:

Image courtesy of Tokyonever

Errol McCarthy did the cardback illustration and style guide art for Man-E-Faces, as he did for most of the figures in the line:

Image source: KMKA
Image via He-Man.org
Image via He-Man.org

The figure was designed by Mark Taylor, shortly before he left Mattel:

Notice that while the design details are close to the final toy, the color choices around the helmet are different. On the final toy, parts of the helmet are colored in flesh tone or orange. This image and the image below come from The Art of He-Man. Artwork by Mark Taylor.

All the classic Man-E-Faces elements are present in the B-sheet and design documents above, but the look is slightly different from the final toy, with purple detail on the shoulders and a helmet without any tan/orange accents. The figure was sculpted into a prototype, and some some ridges and sloping were added to the top of the helmet. He seems to have green accents on his shoulders and thighs:

Alfredo Alcala’s take on the character in Danger at Castle Grayskull seems to be based on the above prototype:

Man-E-Problems

The cross sell artwork is mainly based on the prototype sculpt:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

An earlier incarnation of Man-E-Faces (called Multi-face) was also designed by Mark Taylor. While the original artwork hasn’t been published, Emiliano Santalucia has created a mock-up for a potential Masters of the Universe Classics figure based on that artwork, which appears to have been quite different from the finished MEF design:

Source: Emiliano Santalucia

Update: the original version of this artwork by Mark Taylor was recently shared in the documentary, The Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man:

There was another related Mark Taylor concept called Maska-Ra that was explored but never developed. Rather than a spinning face mechanism, Maska-Ra would have come with a variety of masks to imitate other characters, luring the unwary to their doom:

From the “Bring Your Man-E-Faces To Work” Facebook page, via The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Update: another Man-E-Faces concept was recently shared by Mark Taylor’s wife, Rebecca (below). This has the removable mask idea from Maska-Ra, although it has a more conventional body. The the arms and legs contain design elements that would be used in the final figure. The chest armor recalls the design later used in Terror Claws Skeletor (1986), and the overall look may have influenced the design of the 1989 figure Flipshot:

Update: yet another quasi-Man-E-Faces concept was shared by Rebecca, with Joe Amato for the podcast Fans of Power. This version has a chitinous, insectoid look and a reversible head. The legs on this character are very similar to the final toy’s design, but otherwise this is a totally different take on the concept:

Image courtesy of Doug Feague

Man-E-Faces was packaged with his own mini comic (drawn by Mark Texeira), called The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces. He was depicted as an Eternian actor who was given a potion by Skeletor that would change him into a monster and bring him under Skeletor’s control. The Sorceress tries to free him from the enchantment, and in a struggle between the two powers, a third face arises – that of a neutral robot.

He is also depicted as a helpless pawn of Skeletor in the Danger at Castle Grayskull comic, drawn by Alfredo Alcala:

Man-E-Faces was given other origin stories in British publications. In issue 3 of the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine, Man-E-Faces is transformed by Skeletor as punishment for mocking him in a play:

Image source: Bustatoons. Brought to my attention by Joe Amato.

In the 1985 UK Masters of the Universe Annual, Man-E-Faces is again transformed by Skeletor, in a somewhat unsettling story about abductions and lab experiments. In his monster form he is evil, and in his robot form he may be controlled by anyone.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Man-E-Faces made an appearance in the box art for Battle Bones (by William George) and the previously mentioned Battle For Eternia (by William Garland) three-pack. Man-E-Faces was slated to appear as the prisoner in the Snake Mountain box art (by William George), but at the last minute Man-At-Arms was substituted (for more on that, read this interview with package designer Bob Nall):

Image source: Jukka Issakainen
Image source: Tokyonever

In the Filmation cartoon, MEF was an outcast who had to be gently coaxed away from evil by He-Man:

Early Filmation designs for the character, as shown in the Series Guide below, show a design that seems primarily based on the early prototype version of he character, albeit with a rather unique-looking robot face:

He also appeared in a number of adverts, promotions, catalogs and miscellaneous entertainment:

Later in life, Man-E-Faces struggled with his weight:

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

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