Evil Horde

Leech: Evil master of power suction (1985)

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Leech is one of those figures that that is permanently etched in my memory. I got Leech and Mantenna for Christmas of 1985 (my brother got Grizzlor). At the time I was just starting to get distracted away from Masters of the Universe by G.I. Joe. I remember my cousin making the argument that G.I. Joe was cooler than He-Man because you could “put them in better poses.” I wasn’t terribly interested in army toys, but I looked up to my cousin and was easily swayed by his opinions. By 1986, Hasbro was putting out G.I. Joe figures that were much more colorful and weird, maybe in an effort to attract the attention of He-Man fans (it certainly worked on me). In any case, getting Leech and Mantenna sucked me right back in to the world of He-Man.

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Masters of the Universe had long been a toyline filled with colorful, freakish monsters, but the Evil Horde took the bizarro factor to a whole new level, and Leech was an instant favorite. An evil green monster with suction cups for hands and a suction cup mouth? Sold! Leech reminded me of the salt vampire from the original Star Trek series – the creature also had a sucker face and suckers on its hands. That episode gave me a serious case of the creeps as a kid, so to have something a little like it in figure form was thrilling.

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Leech was not the first suction cup monster to be sold by Mattel. In 1980, Mattel released a character called Suckerman (invented by Roger Sweet), covered head to foot in suction cups and made from a flexible vinyl material:

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There are a couple early concepts for Leech, one from Filmation and the other from Mattel. My understanding is that the Evil Horde concepts originated from Filmation, and Mattel took those concepts and often took them in a different direction.

Several years back, James Eatock shared an early Leech concept created by Charles Zembillas. This incarnation of Leech was not quite the freak show character he ended up being. In fact stylistically he fits right in with the type of character designs Mattel had put out in 1984 for the Evil Warrior faction:

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Image source: James Eatock/The Power and the Honor Foundation

Back at Mattel, designer Ted Mayer took the concept in a much different direction. Ted’s concept (below) presents a character that is much more alien looking, with more prominent suction cup hands and a face also dominated by a giant suction cup. Leech’s limbs here are much slimmer than the actual figure, but this design is otherwise much close to the toy design than the Zembillas drawing.

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Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1

As noted in The Power and the Honor Foundation catalog (image above), the Horde insignia on Leech and the rest of the Evil Horde was originally envisioned as an alien creature that controlled the actions of these monsters. It was an interesting idea, but was ultimately dropped.

This close to final prototype (sculpted by Eddy Mosqueda, who also worked on Grizzlor, Sssqueeze and Eldor) appeared in the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. The sculpt is final, and the figure appears to be hand-painted. As you can see, the prototype lacks the painted teeth on tongue inside his suction cup face. The suction cup itself is shallower than the final version, and lacks the wide rim on the toy (thanks to Manic Man for pointing that out). Unlike the final toy, the armor covering his left shoulder is painted orange, and the Horde bat insignia on his left arm is painted red. He also has black nostrils.

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Compared to most other MOTU figures, leech was much more solid and bulky. His action feature required a fairly large torso. The suction cups on his hands (which never seemed to work all that well) were typical suction cups other than the sculpted finger details, but the suction cup on his mouth actually had a hole in the middle of it, with a tube leading down to a rubber bladder in the center of Leech’s torso. A button on the figure’s back would force the air out of the bladder through the hole in Leech’s mouth. This would create a vacuum in the bladder, resulting in a stronger suction force to better keep the figure attached to smooth surfaces.

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In this scene Man-At-Arms is holding Mekaneck’s club. Leech is based on his prototype, with black belt buckle and painted orange shoulder armor.

There are a several different production variants for Leech, the most notable being the version with a black belt buckle and light green abs. This is likely the first release version of Leech, as it is closest to the cross sell artwork (and the prototype figure that the artwork was based on):

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Aside from his single carded release, Leech was also sold in a J.C. Penny two-pack with Mantenna. There was also a planned three-pack with Hordak and Mantenna, but as far as I know no one has seen one in the wild.

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Image via Grayskull Museum

The mini comic that came with Leech is no doubt the strangest piece of the entire series. In the story, Mer-Man (who is inexplicably bearded) is running from terror from Leech, who in this story is the size of the mountain, but has undersized two-fingered hands. Sy-Klone manages to temporarily defeat Leech (delivered with one of the best quips of all time – “Try a taste of knuckle sandwich, blubber gut!”), and the heroes take the frightened Mer-Man back to the palace to discuss the new threat with King Randor (who for some reason has a pink beard here).

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As I said before, Leech is a giant behemoth in this comic. When he returns to Hordak empty-handed, it’s clear that Hordak is human-sized. However, when He-Man takes on Hordak in the Talon Fighter, Hordak is also giant-sized. Reading this comic as a kid, I assumed that both Leech and Hordak had the power to grow or shrink at will. I’m not sure if that was actually a power they were intended to have, or if this comic book can best be explained by the effects of a bad acid trip. Either way, I was left scratching my head. Still, for some time afterward I believed that Leech had this ability, and when I had him facing off against the Heroic Warriors, I would often pretend that he was a giant.

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I wasn’t aware until some time later that Leech was actually a frequent character on the Filmation-produced She-Ra cartoon. Certainly there was nothing on Leech’s packaging that connected him to She-Ra in any way.

His appearances were enough to get me interested enough to watch a couple of episodes. It was fun to see Leech in action, but it was also tough as a little boy in the ’80s to admit to being into something that was branded for girls.

The Filmation version of Leech was a bit different from the toy version (and radically different from the  Charles Zembillas concept). Compared to the toy he had a more realistic mouth, a yellow belt, and symmetrical yellow shoulder armor.

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Errol McCarthy’s depiction of Leech was based on the cartoon incarnation:

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Leech didn’t make any appearances on box art, but he was a background character in several posters by William George, Earl Norem, and others (images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen):

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I won’t say that Leech is my all-time favorite Masters of the Universe figure, but he’s definitely in the top 10. He left a big enough impression on me that he was the first vintage MOTU figure that I repurchased as an adult.

Mini comic images and Errol McCarthy artwork are from He-Man.org.

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Heroic Warriors

He-Man: “Mattel’s Jungle Man”

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

He-Man has been depicted in many different ways over the years. Sometimes he’s something of a knight, complete with archaic English pronouns, keeping a close watch over a medieval fiefdom. Sometimes he’s a square-jawed, unbreakable man of steel, protecting a futuristic monarchy from comically-inept enemies. Sometimes he’s a barbarian warrior piloting technological wonders from another age through war-torn battle fields.

But in his first ever media incarnation, He-Man was a jungle man, something of a blond Tarzan with a dash of Conan the Barbarian, gifted with special weapons and equipment from the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull.

Indeed, it’s not surprising that early media depict He-Man as a Tarzan-like character. In the 1970s Mattel had produced a line of Tarzan toys, so it would have been a natural direction to take the new Masters of the Universe line. He-Man the jungle warrior was a short-lived concept and was soon replaced with other themes, but I’d like to explore it in this article.

Tarzan and the Giant Ape. Packaging artwork by Mark Taylor.

The first minicomic of the toyline, He-Man and the Power Sword, kicks off the MOTU mythos with the theme of He-Man as jungle tribesman turned defender of Eternia. And really, it’s not so surprising that He-Man would be characterized in this way, given that the comic was written by Don Glut (artwork by Alfredo Alcala). Glut was the creator and writer of the Dagar The Invincible comic series from the early 1970s, which features as its protagonist a blond-haired jungle warrior in a primitive costume.


In a 2001 interview conducted by Matt Jozwiak, Glut explained:

Originally, when I came onto the [MOTU] project, there were no stories at all. Not all the characters and places were yet named and not all of the characters had been invented. All that existed then were some prototype toys and some general ideas of who and what they were and what they could do.

I’d been writing comic-book and filler text stories for Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Whitman, Gold Key Comics and Golden Press). Western then had an account with the Mattel toy company. One day my editor at Western, Del Connell, told me that Mattel was coming out with a new line of toys called Masters of the Universe and needed someone to write four booklets that would be included with the toys…

It’s hard to remember much of this, as it was long ago and so quickly executed. Basically, I was given Polaroid photos of the prototype toys. I’d written lots of sword and sorcery and heroic adventure type stories by this time and so it was relatively easy to come up with the personalities. He-Man, for instance, was your typical “noble savage stereotype” a kind of combination Tarzan and Conan. I just used the same standards and principles I’d applied to earlier stories to “Master of the Universe”. And the plots were similar, too. Most such plots involve a villain who needs “something” (a magic jewel, a secret formula, etc.) to achieve a goal (conquer the world, achieve immortality, etc.) and a brave hero who fights to prevent the villain from accomplishing this. You simply “fill in the blanks,” changing the particulars from story to story.

And indeed, this exactly the kind of story-telling used in He-Man and the Power Sword. He-Man, the mightiest warrior of tribe, sets out to defend Eternia and Castle Grayskull from unknown threats. How he comes to the conclusion that they are threatened is not explained. In this scene we get a glimpse of He-Man’s tribe in the background as he sets off with spear in hand.

Although He-Man is simple and primitive, the Sorceress soon gifts him with force field armor that adds to his strength, a battle axe, a shield, and a futuristic time warp device (the Battle Ram).

With his augmented strength, the primitive He-Man carves his home out of the bare rock using nothing but his fists.

The MacGuffin that Glut refers to as the basis for his story telling is, in this case, the Power Sword, hidden deep within Castle Grayskull. Skeletor manages to force his way into the castle and succeeds in retrieving it.

Another early Glut-penned mini comic, Battle in the Clouds, has a more subtle portrayal of the “jungle He-Man”. We don’t necessarily see He-Man as a Tarzan-like figure here, but when he needs assistance from Battle Cat, He-Man returns to the forest and makes an animal call to summon his friend:

An advertisement for the Masters of the Universe Pop-Up Game appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword that again makes reference to He-Man as a jungle warrior. From the advertisement:

Based on the Mattel jungle man. Pop-up sections are two volcanoes and the graphics of He-Man and other characters. Object of play is to cross the treacherous terrain of jungle, climbing the volcanoes which open, causing a man to fall through.

This is probably the strongest jungle-themed depiction of He-Man. The board features a thick jungle with three active volcanoes and twisting paths. Skeletor and Beast Man are the “volcano keepers” who try to destroy He-Man on his journey to save Eternia.

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In the 1983 DC Comics-published The Key to Castle Grayskull, He-Man is not a jungle man per se, but he does have old friends who live in the forest – a tribe of jungle warriors led by Ceril, their chief (images via He-Man.org):

Ceril and He-Man’s story goes back further than He-Man’s partnership with Battle Cat. After He-Man defeated the sorcerer Damon, who had enslaved Ceril’s people, the tribe was ever after loyal to He-Man.

The instruction sheet that came with Castle Grayskull depicted He-Man holding a spear, hearkening back to how he was depicted in He-Man and the Power Sword. The same illustration, but with the boot knife from the aforementioned comic (as well as the original Mark Taylor b-sheet) was also used in retail ad sheets:

Finally, at one point, (probably in late 1982 or early 1983, judging from the photo below) Mattel was planning to make a jungle-themed playset for He-Man and his friends. The playset featured thick foliage, a waterfall, caves, boulders, a rickety rope bridge, and a giant python. You can also see the laser canon from Castle Grayskull peeking out from the cave on the far right. The playset was later repurposed for Snake Mountain.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol. 1

In his later days He-Man seemed to lose all vestiges of his early barbarian/jungle warrior heritage, becoming instead a kind of Superman-like figure in furry shorts. However, as someone whose first exposure to the character was the earliest mini comics and the first wave of toys, my heart will always lie with the He-Man of spear, sword and sorcery.

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Heroic Warriors

Battle Armor He-Man: Most powerful man in the universe (1984)

After a sibling destroyed my original He-Man figure (don’t ask), my mother replaced him (the figure, not my sibling) with a new version: Battle Armor He-Man. With this new variant, He-Man’s power harness was replaced by plate mail that you could “damage” with a touch and then “repair” with a flick of your finger. It was an ingenious action feature that provided me with hours and hours of entertainment, although I never quite got over the loss of my original He-Man until I was able to purchase one 30 years later.

Battle Armor He-Man’s look, as near as I can tell, was created by Ted Mayer (as a variation on the original Mark Taylor design), while his action feature was designed by Ronald H. MacBain and Tony Rhodes. Martin Arriola worked on the figure as well. In this December 8, 1983 concept drawing by Ted Mayer (below), we see a design that has elements of both Battle Armor He-Man and Flying Fists He-Man. The action feature here is actually what ended up being used in the Flying Fists variant, but the armor design looks more like Battle Armor He-Man:

Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest (scan via Jukka Issakainen)

In this undated drawing, which I believe was also done by Ted Mayer, He-Man’s armor has the overlapping plated look of the final armor, albeit without the H.

Note that Battle Armor He-Man was originally supposed to come with a shield. Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

Speaking of the H, this and every other He-Man variant that followed it uses an H in place of He-Man’s original cross design. The one exception is not technically a He-Man variant, but the blue armor piece that came with the 1986 Jet Sled vehicle (also designed by Ted Mayer) had a red cross design on the front:

The stylized H used on Battle-Armor He-Man’s chest also appears on Thunder Punch He-Man, Flying Fists He-Man, and on the side of the Dragon Walker. Laser Power He-Man uses a plainer H design.

An early prototype for Battle Armor He-Man shows up in Mattel’s 1984 Dealer Catalog, as well as in the commercial featured near the beginning of this article. This version of Battle Armor He-Man has a bright red H on his chest with a dark red outline. He also has quite dark red boots and loin cloth. His weapons look like they’ve been painted with a very shiny coat of metallic silver.

The production version (at least the initial Taiwan release] is a bit different from the prototype. The H is salmon-orange rather than red, and his boots and loin cloth are a bit brighter. His weapons are more metallic-looking than the original release He-Man’s weapons, but not nearly as shiny as the prototype. Unlike the original He-Man, he lacks a shield.

The cross sell artwork is based on the finished toy rather than any early prototype:

The front of He-Man’s card has a burst describing the function of the action feature. Unlike most figures released in the toy line, there is no tag line underneath He-Man’s name, although he is tagged with “Most powerful man in the universe” when he appears in cross sell artwork.

Image courtesy of Deimos

The cardback features a scene illustrated by Errol McCarthy, with Mer-Man giving He-Man’s armor a good slice with his sword. There is also an illustration demonstrating how He-Man’s action feature works.

Artwork by Errol McCarthy; Image via He-Man.org

Errol McCarthy illustrated quite a few versions of Battle Armor He-Man for use in Mattel and licensee products and promotional materials:

Battle Armor He-Man was sold with the following vehicles or beasts:

  • Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Cat
  • Battle Armor He-Man and Road Ripper
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William George painted the fantastic scenes for both sets:

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The figure was also sold in several gift sets (images via Grayskull Museum):

  • Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Armor Skeletor
  • Man-At-Arms, Battle Armor He-Man, and Man-E-Faces
  • Battle Armor Skeletor, Orko, and Battle Armor He-Man

As I mentioned earlier, Battle Armor He-Man’s action feature was invented by Ronald H. MacBain and Tony Rhodes. The patent was filed December 29, 1983, and the trademark followed on January 27, 1984. It’s a rather ingenious concept, as described in the abstract:

An animated figure toy of the type which includes an upper torso having a chest drum rotatably mounted in a chest opening for sequential rotation to expose an undamaged section, a single damaged section and a double damaged section is provided with an improved multiple-force spring.

So essentially, a small amount of pressure will cause the chest drum to rotate forward one click, exposing an H that appears to have a slash on it, and then another H with two slashes. You can then manually turn the drum back to the start and begin all over again.

The action feature was of course reused in Battle Armor Skeletor, but a similar feature was also used in Mattel’s Hot Wheels Crack-Ups cars, which debuted in 1985:

Strangely, none of the mini comics released at any point in the vintage toy line depict He-Man with his battle armor. This variant also never appeared in the Filmation He-Man cartoon. However, Battle Armor He-Man does show up frequently in box art and posters by William George. In fact, of the 35 or so depictions of He-Man in box art, 15 of them depict He-Man in his Battle Armor. He also shows up frequently in posters illustrated by William George:

Battle Armor He-Man also appears in various Stickers, story books, collectibles, and other media.

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