Evil Warriors

Skeletor’s Energy Blade

Skeletor’s most iconic weapon has always been his havoc staff, with its distinctive and menacing ram’s skull. The two are so interconnected as to be practically inseparable. Skeletor also carried his purple half of the power sword, and it made plenty of appearances in mini comics and story books.

There is however, another weapon that Skeletor carried in the 1982 mini comics (artwork by Alfredo Alcala, story by Don Glut). This was Skeletor’s energy blade (sometimes called lightning blade or lightning weapon). It was a fairly ordinary-looking short sword with a curved hilt that was capable of releasing searing blasts of energy, or even calling up magical images.

I always assumed that this particular sword’s design was an invention of artist Alfredo Alcala. But I recently noticed what appears to be the same sword showing up in early box art by Rudy Obrero. That lead me to believe that the energy blade may have originally come from Mattel*. I’d like to think there is a B-sheet lying around in a box somewhere with a drawing of this sword in it. Without definitive proof, of course, we can’t know for sure.

Here are some representative appearances of the energy blade in the 1982 mini comics. There is some variation with how it was drawn, even within the same comic:

Here are the appearances of the sword in Rudy Obrero’s packaging illustrations for the Battle Ram, He-Man/Wind Raider, Wind Raider, He-Man/Battle Cat, and Castle Grayskull boxes. Note that at times Beast Man carries the same sword:

Incidentally, a sword of the same design appears in Man-At-Arms’ hand in the 1983 comic book, The Power of Point Dread:

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

He-Man holds a similar sword on the cover of the same booklet (hat tip to Jukka Issakainen):

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

Somewhat similar swords appear in this 1982 advertisement for Faker:

Image source: Robert Schultz. Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

In one depiction of Mark Taylor’s Vikor character (who pre-dated He-Man), Vikor carries a sword similar to the energy blade:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man

*Update:

Øyvind Johannes Meisfjord pointed a fatal flaw in my reasoning. It seems that Alfredo Alcala drew a very similar looking sword that predated the He-Man property by several years:

1976 illustration of Conan by Alfredo Alcala

Furthermore, swords similar to those in the Rudy Obrero illustrations show up in artwork by Frank Frazetta and John Buscema throughout the 1960s and 1970s:

Given this evidence, it seems unlikely now that the common source for this design was Mattel (it’s possible, but I don’t think a strong case can be made for it). I have to conclude that Alfredo Alcala was drawing upon the fantasy concepts he’d been illustrating for years, and Rudy Obrero was drawing upon general sword and sorcery themes of the ’60s and ’70s. Given Mark Taylor’s Frazetta influences, he probably drew from the same general creative well for his Vikor sword.

Thanks to Øyvind for challenging my theory. I think it’s been successfully refuted!

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Evil Warriors

Clawful: Warrior with the grip of evil! (1984)

Clawful, released in 1984, was part of a series of new animal-themed figures released in the third wave of the Masters of the Universe toyline.

Clawful was an instant hit with me as a kid. I distinctly remember the existential agony of having to choose between him and Whiplash at the store. Ultimately I went with Clawful. That giant bright red snapping claw was just impossible for me to resist.

Clawful and his compatriots represented something of a return to form for Masters of the Universe. Several first wave figures were half human, half animal hybrids (Beast Man, Mer-Man, Stratos). The second wave was made up of entirely human-like figures, but the third wave gave us beastly characters like Clawful, Whiplash, Buzz-Off, Webstor and Kobra Khan.

Designed by Colin Bailey, Clawful was originally intended to reuse Skeletor’s legs. In this early prototype, he sports brown Skeletor boots, a brown version of the Castle Grayskull mace, and a head that blended into the armor with a very thick neck:

Clawful prototype

By the time he was shown in the 1984 Mattel Dealer catalog, he was sporting the standard male chest (flesh tone) with clip on armor. His neck was much slimmer as a result, and his head was smaller. He still had the Grayskull mace, but now it was in green with an extra piece to allow him to hold the mace upright (it was never very effective in that regard). He still had the Skeletor legs with brown boot. This version also appeared in the commercial:

Eventually Clawful was given the new legs that were shared by both Buzz-Off and Whiplash. They featured jagged spikes down the sides, and unique feet with one large toe/claw on each side of the foot. These were larger feet than any used in previous figures, and provided the figure with greater stability.

In the cross sell art, Clawful sported these feet, but the boots were still painted brown:

Clawful cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

It’s evident that the change in the design of his legs happened sometime after production had already begun. Early versions of Clawful featured the Skeletor legs, but with blue boots:

The version with Buzz-Off/Whiplash legs seems to be more common, and must have been produced after the initial run:

Illustration by Errol McCarthy
Errol McCarthy’s original line art

Clawful was included in a giftset with Jitsu, but otherwise was only sold as an individual figure.

Image via Grayskull Museum

Clawful appears prominently in one of my favorite pieces of MOTU artwork – a poster by Earl Norem that appeared in the inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine:

Norem’s artwork was so animated and vibrant. It really blew me away as a kid, and continues to do so now.

Clawful appeared was a main character in the Clash of Arms mini comic, which was also one of my favorites as a kid. Fisto is captured and has to face Clawful, Whiplash and Jitsu in arena combat. It was a great way to introduce new characters to kids, and was one of the more action-heavy mini comics. Clawful’s appearance is based on the early prototype here:

Clawful also appeared in several Golden Books, including Maze of Doom, Dangerous Games and Power From the Sky:

Clawful shows up in the background of the packaging illustration for Bashasaurus, along with Trap Jaw:

Artwork by William George

The Filmation version of Clawful was radically different from the vintage toy. Often when Filmation designs differed from toy designs, it was because Filmation artists were basing their work on early Mattel concept drawings. I would guess that is the case here, but I don’t know for sure:

Unlike many of Skeletor’s other henchmen in the cartoon, Clawful seemed to posses a measure of intelligence and cunning.

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Heroic Vehicles

Attak Trak: Battle Machine (1983)

The Attak Trak, released in 1983, is a vehicle with a unique action feature and an interesting design history.

I saw the Attak Trak in the wild only once as a kid. I remember being at another kid’s house. I believe my mother was friends with his mother, and while they were visiting I spent some time getting to know her son. The first thing he did was show me his He-Man collection, and I remember distinctly being introduced to three toys I had never seen before: Evil-Lyn, Faker and Attak Trak. Unfortunately he had worn out the vehicle’s batteries, and I didn’t get to see it in action.

The Attak Trak was designed by Mattel visual designer Ted Mayer, who also designed the Battle Ram, Wind Raider, Eternia Playset, and many other MOTU toys.

In my interview with Ted, he had this to say about the Attak Trak:

[The Attak Trak] started out as a mechanical toy submission that Mattel bought from an outside inventor. It was given to me to make in to a He-Man vehicle. I did about four different design directions, of which they picked one.

Ted didn’t specify who the outside inventor was, but I believe it was Marvin Glass and Associates. They filed a patent for a four wheel drive toy on August 10, 1981, and it was published on April 19, 1983:

Notice the mechanical feature is identical to the Attak Trak’s. The visual design, however, is a fairly generic-looking toy tank.

Ted Mayer stepped in to give the vehicle a Masters of the Universe feel. He submitted the following drawings, which featured an elongated fantasy beast head on the front,  and an option for a canopy on top:

Attak Trak without treads. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
Attak Trak with treads. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
Attak Trak with canopy. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

In my interview with Ted Mayer, he explained:

The canopy was dropped because it costed out quite high, so they looked at dropping as many extras as possible. By this time I was also doing all the control drawings, so when they went to the engineers, things were final.

Ted submitted the following control drawings for consideration. “For some reason marketing didn’t want the gargoyle type head,” he explained. So the second design was chosen for final production.

In a Tomart’s Action Figure Digest article on the origins of Masters of the Universe, another Ted Mayer concept drawing of the Attak Trak appears, along with a black or dark brown production sample that features sticker designs not used in the final version:

Final painted prototype in red and blue

The final toy was produced in a bright red and blue color scheme:

Monogram produced a model kit version of the Attak Trak. It featured the canopy that Ted Mayer had originally designed (or something very close to it), as well as other unique details. The model was not motorized, but it was in scale with the vintage figures:

Rudy Obrero provided the artwork for the Mattel Attak Trak packaging. He has stated in interviews that it’s the least favorite piece he did for the vintage line. In the interview I conducted with him in March of this year, Rudy had this to say about the process:

It’s the last piece I did for Mattel. I started to think the art direction came from a committee, seemed as though everyone in Mattel wanted in on package art because of its success as a toy line. These pieces were done in oil paint so changes were a pain to do.

Box art scanned by me, repaired by Retroist

In my interview with Rudy Obrero, he mentioned that various people at Mattel were constantly asking him to make small revisions on the Attak Trak artwork. It appears that two versions of his art made it to the packaging. The version below has the splash of mud removed from the front of the treads. I imagined they had it removed because the vehicle would probably stop working if run through real mud. The version without mud seems a bit easier to find, so it’s probably a version that came out shortly after the initial release.

The artwork for the Estrela Toys Attak Trak was modified for unknown reasons. The Brazilian manufacturer and licensee did the same with their versions of Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram:

There was also an orange version of the Attak Trak. This one was released in Europe – I don’t know if there were any orange versions released in the US market. This particular version has the muddy artwork:

Interestingly, the cross sell artwork for the Attak Trak was also orange, and the vehicle was colored orange or sometimes brown in early mini comics:

Artist Errol McCarthy produced several pieces of artwork featuring the Attak Trak:

Attak Trak line art used in advertising

Early on in the mini comics, the Attak Trak was represented as having a “mind of its own.” That was expanded upon in the Filmation cartoon series. The vehicle could undertake complex tasks on its own and had a voice and personality. The Attak Trak also underwent a radical redesign:

There was, however, a more toy accurate version called the Small Trak that made an appearance in the Evilseed episode:

Filmation model sheet by Fred Carillo. Image source: James Eatock/The Power and the Honor Foundation
Image source: He-Man and She-Ra, A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures, by James Eatock and Alex Hawkey
Source: Oasi delle Anime
Source: Oasi delle Anime

Also released in 1983 was the Big Jim Spy Series All-Terrain Vehicle. The body shape was completely different from the Attak Trak, but it used the same track-flipping concept, and even shared the exact same tread design:

Image Source: Big Jim Forum

Some of my favorite Attak Trak-related artwork comes from MOTU artist R.L Allen:

Illustration by R.L. Allen
Illustration by R.L.Allen

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