Heroic Warriors

Savage He-Man: Most mysterious man in the universe! (1983?)

Anyone who has been collecting Masters of the Universe long enough has heard about the mysterious brown-haired He-Man figure that goes for so much money on eBay. He is often (and erroneously) called Wonder Bread He-Man, based on a long-running fan theory that he was sold as part of a promotion that Wonder Bread was running with Mattel. The promotion was actually for a series of He-Man trading cards featuring artwork by Errol McCarthy.

The figure itself is a He-Man figure with brown hair, a brown loin cloth, a black belt and black boots. He seems to have come only with the maroon sword and axe that came with the special edition of Man-E-Faces (which in turn were originally created as accessories for Castle Grayskull). Sometimes he is sold with additional maroon weapons and a black version of Zodac’s armor that was released in the 1984 Weapons Pak, however the feeling among many collectors is that those were not original to the figure.

Image source: Heritage Auctions

The most intriguing find so far comes from David and Darren Fowler, who first bought the figure about 17 years ago. Theirs is the only example known to date to come bagged with weapons and a buy three, get one free offer from Mattel. According to the offer, the purchases had to have been made between January 2, 1982 and June 30, 1983, and submitted proofs of purchase postmarked by July 15 1983. In the terms set out in the coupon, Mattel would send one random toy from the selected category (Barbie, Dazzle, Monchhichi, or Masters of the Universe). Those dates, plus the inclusion of the maroon Man-E-Weapons, makes me think this figure might have been released in 1983, even if it was actually manufactured earlier (it has a date stamp of 1981, like other first wave figures released in 1982).

The figure also has two manufacturing details that seem characteristic of figures that came out either late in 1982 or early in 1983. The first is his belly button, which is perfectly formed. Early 1982 He-Man figures had irregular-looking belly buttons, and starting sometime in 1983 they started doing away with the belly button altogether, so this version looks like those He-Man figures released in the middle, where the belly button was normalized. He-Man figures from that era also started having boots that were dipped in paint rather than sprayed, so the paint comes up all the way to the top of his boots, with no overspray. Savage He-Man has the “dipped” boots. For further reading on that topic, see this article.


To me this seems like the most plausible source for the mysterious Savage He-Man. However, the offer doesn’t specify what figure will be given, and there is no known packaging associated with it, so we really can’t be certain.

Other possible theories as to how it was sold include a Nestle Quick/Masters of the Universe promotion, a Jell-O/Masters of the Universe Promotion, and a promotion at the Children’s Palace. So far none of these has been confirmed – all we have so far is speculation.

Perhaps a more interesting question is why the figure was produced in the first place. Why would Mattel have produced a brown-haired He-Man with darker-colored boots and loin cloth? As you can imagine there are many theories. The most popular and persistent theory to date has probably been the notion that He-Man was originally Conan the Barbarian, and he was given a different paint job at the last minute so Mattel could reuse him for He-Man. And indeed, Conan Properties International (CPI) thought the same thing, and sued Mattel over it in 1984. CPI lost that case, partly because they were laying claim to some generic attributes that could also apply to a dozen different heroes in the sword and sorcery genre.

But more than that, the timeline just doesn’t support the notion that He-Man was a repainted Conan figure.  On April 24, 1981, there was an internal memo within Mattel urging negotiation for the Conan license. By May 5 a draft licensing agreement was secured, and by July 21 the agreement was finalized. From July 23 to September 21, 1981, Tony Guerrero worked on sculpting toys for the CPI license.  However, in January of 1982, Mattel, realizing that the movie was going to the opposite of kid-friendly, requested the termination of the CPI license agreement, and by April 14, 1982 the termination was finalized.

Long before Conan was even a twinkle in Mattel’s eye, work was underway on the He-Man project. Ultimately He-Man originated decades earlier in Mark Taylor‘s childhood drawings, but the character started to see serious development at Mattel by late November of 1980. Furthermore, almost every single character for the first wave of Masters of the Universe had been designed before Mattel entered into its agreement with CPI. (Of course, He-Man was certainly influenced by Conan – there is no question about that.)

Mark Taylor’s He-Man B-sheet design, dated April 6, 1982. Published by Super7 and The Power and the Honor Foundation.

However, that does not rule out the possibility that Savage He-Man was an attempt to reuse the original He-Man mold to make Conan toys. Mattel would do that whenever possible to save tooling dollars (as they did when they reused previous Big Jim and Tarzan molds to make Battle Cat, Panthor, Zoar and Screeech). And, as Savage He-Man’s colors do seem to roughly match Conan’s, this seems like a fairly plausible theory.

Big Jim Tiger figure, reused to make Battle Cat.

Some people are of the opinion that the figure itself is a hoax. I don’t think that’s plausible. While fakes do exist, authentic versions of this figure have the look of a mass-produced toy. The loin cloth is molded (not painted) in a shade of brown plastic that doesn’t exist in any other Masters of the Universe figure. Most of them seem to have some fairly unique mold artifacts in that area as well (shared by some versions of Prince Adam). And finally, the figure has shown up in large figure lots where the seller doesn’t seem to be aware that the figure has any special value.

Skepticism is understandable. After all, Mattel has not found any records of this figure or its promotion, and no former employees to date seem to remember it (including Martin Arriola). Still, the physical evidence alone strongly suggests this is an authentic Mattel figure.

Authentic Savage He-Man figures seem to generally have the following characteristics in common (images courtesy of Arkangel):

Another theory is that Savage He-Man was just a way of getting rid of some extra test run He-Man figures that were produced in alternate colors.. And to be sure, there is a test shot example out there that is reminiscent of the Savage He-Man, although his loin cloth is molded in black rather than brown. However, test shot examples from the factory are generally produced in very small numbers, certainly not enough to account for the number of Savage He-Man figures we find in the vintage toy market.

Image courtesy of Mern-Ra

A similar theory holds that this was perhaps an alternate color scheme for He-Man that Mattel was toying with but ultimately rejected. That’s certainly possible, although that color scheme doesn’t match either of the B-sheet designs that were done for He-Man, and it doesn’t match the colors on any of the known prototypes, or at least not the prototypes that would have been anywhere close to toy production.

Early He-Man sculpture by Tony Guerrero. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Yet another theory is that Savage He-Man may have something to do with Buzz-Off. As I’ve discussed in an earlier article, Buzz-Off’s prototype actually had a brown-haired He-Man head, with a bee mask that would go over it. Of course the mock-up also had Zodac arms and legs, so this is by no means a slam dunk. For more on that, see this video by Alternative Mindz.

Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

One of my favorite theories, advanced by mozartpc27, is that Savage He-Man was actually an early version of Prince Adam, made before Filmation finalized the purple, white and pink look. Despite being released in 1984, the trademark claim for Prince Adam was filed May 23, 1983, earlier than any other third wave figure. In fact, the claim was filed the same month as Faker.

Perhaps Adam was meant to be a late 1983 figure with brown hair, but development on the look of Prince Adam for the Filmation cartoon caused Mattel to scrap their plans, leaving them with a number of brown-haired Prince Adams to deal with. There are even early versions of Prince Adam with the same mold artifacts as Savage He-Man (hat tip to Tokyonever):

Image source: Calendor

However, it should be noted that the earliest pre-Filmation comic book depiction of Prince Adam gives him brownish-tan boots (subsequent versions had blue and yellow boots or red boots), and blond hair. So if this was Prince Adam, it was a somewhat novel color scheme.

At the end of the day, we really don’t know which of these theories is right, or even if any of them are right. And, frustratingly, we may never know the truth.

If you’re interested in reading more about the topic, there is an epic, 2600-post thread spanning 14 years on the He-Man.org forums. Give it a read if you’ve got ten hours to spare.

Update: An intriguing video recently surfaced, shared by Hong Kong Kilnt. It’s a claymation sequence from a movie featuring Masters of the Universe characters, including what appears to be Savage He-Man.

You can watch the full movie here (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for the link).

Update 2: Manic Man (from the comments below) mentions that in the Japanese versions of Mattel’s Dino-Riders toyline, blue-eyed and blond-haired figures were often repainted with darker hair and eyes. So it’s also possible that Savage He-Man was recolored for the Asian market. Perhaps Mattel did a test run of He-Man in these alternate colors before abandoning the idea. It seems as reasonable a theory as any.

Further reading: http://blog.timlybarger.com/2012/11/wonder-bread-he-man-savage.html

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Heroic Warriors

Stonedar: Heroic leader of the rock people (1986)

The last Masters of the Universe figures I would ever get as a kid were Rokkon, Stonedar and Modulok, for my birthday in 1986. All three were a surprise, and they were all a bit out in left field compared to the figures I had until that point, which mostly reused the same few basic muscular body types that originated with He-Man, Skeletor and Beast Man.

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Image source: Orange Slime

Of the two rock/comet warriors (more on that distinction later), Stonedar was my favorite, mostly because I liked the cratered surface of his outer shell, as opposed to the quartz-like surface of Rokkon’s shell.

It seems that 1986 was the year of the transforming rock toys. That same year, Hasbro released their Inhumanoids toyline, with the heroic character Granok, who could transform from a pile of rocks into a tall rock creature. Tonka also released their Rock Lords toyline, a spinoff from the GoBots series:

These transforming rock toys seem to get regularly panned in articles about 80s toys today (particularly the Rock Lords and Mattel’s rock warriors), but I’ve always liked them. Granok was the only character I owned from the Inhumanoids line, and he was one of my favorite toys growing up. He didn’t make a very convincing pile of rocks, but he was a pretty great-looking rock warrior. Stonedar was kind of the opposite – he made for a very convincing comet or rock, but as a warrior he looked a bit awkward.

Stonedar emerged from a series of designs for transforming rock characters by Ted Mayer. None of the extant concepts below is identical to either Stonedar or Rokkon, but the basic idea is evident:

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Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog
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Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

Both Ted Mayer and Roger Sweet are listed as inventors on the patent application, which was filed January 14, 1986.

Stonedar was sculpted by Steve Varner, a former business partner of Eddy Mosqueda and an outside vendor at the time. The prototype (or at least one version of it) seems to be nearly identical to the final toy, with the exception of the pupils, which are unpainted. It is possible to find production examples like this as well, although they are uncommon:

Image source: Grayskull Museum

The cross sell artwork for Stonedar is quite faithful to the toy design, as you can see below:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Stonedar was initially packaged on a card that proclaimed him the “Heroic leader of the rock people.” Moreover, the front of the card said, “Invincible boulder transforms into mighty warrior!” However, on subsequent versions, Stonedar was called the “Heroic leader of the comet warriors” and “Invincible meteor transforms into mighty warrior.” The change may have been made to capitalize on Halley’s Comet, which passed close to the earth in 1986 (thanks to Matthew Martin for pointing out that connection to me). The first version features artwork by Errol McCarthy on the front, while the second version features (I believe) artwork by William George on the front.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
William George Rock Warriors

Stonedar’s transformation into a rock was achieved simply by posing him in the fetal position. For me the play pattern with Stonedar was to leave him as a boulder until an unsuspecting evil warrior walked by. Then Stonedar would leap into action, getting the best of the bad guy using the element of surprise.

Some releases of the figure had lighter blue skin. I have found both versions from the Malaysia factory. Interestingly, the plugs on their weapons are a different size and cannot be interchanged:

In the minicomic that accompanied the figure, Rock People to the Rescue, Stonedar and Rokkon would hurl themselves downhill in rock form at their enemies. In this issue they put the hurt on Kobra Khan and Webstor, which is in contrast to later stories that would paint the rock warriors as pacifists.

In Escape From The Slime Pit, the rock people are pacifists who hesitate even to defend themselves from the Evil Horde. In the end they defeat the Horde by dazzling them with their shiny armor – a feature that is also mentioned on the back of the packaging. It’s not the most compelling idea for an attack strategy. It perhaps doesn’t help that the armor on the toy isn’t particularly shiny, making the “feature” feel like something of a stretch.

The 1987 style guide, illustrated by Errol McCarthy, describes Stonedar and his people in much the the same way as the Slime Pit minicomic:

One day, a spectacular meteor shower was seen in the night sky over Eternia. This shower was actually the arrival of the Comet Warriors. Stonedar is the leader of this peaceful clan. Though his race tends to shy away from conflict of any kind, Stonedar has offered to help He-Man in the great struggle against the forces of evil. Stonedar is an exceptionally wise old man.

Stonedar can use his “blazing” armor to temporarily blind attackers in battle. He can also use his rocky arms and legs to deflect blows.

Aside from the style guide illustration, Errol illustrated Stonedar in a few other contexts for use in T-shirts and possibly other licensed products:

There is also a fact file for both Stonedar and Rokkon in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Stonedar did not appear in the original Filmation He-Man series, but he did make a couple of appearances in She-Ra. As in the Slime Pit comic and style guide, the rock people are characterized as pacifists. They come to Etheria because the star of their home solar system is on the verge of exploding. The comet warriors immediately get into trouble with the Evil Horde.

Earl Norem illustrated both Stonedar and Rokkon for a poster for the winter 1986 Masters of the Universe Magazine, and, as Matthew Martin points out in the comments, the scene is reminiscent of the illustration that Errol McCarthy did for the style guide (or perhaps, considering the dates, it’s actually vice versa).

Stonedar also appears in William George’s Eternia and Preternia posters:

Stonedar, incorrectly labeled Rokkon

Stonedar, like many other figures released late in the He-Man line, was rather gimmicky, but he was still a a lot of fun to play with. Even if you don’t like the figure itself, he also works great when in rock mode as background scenery for a diorama.

Special thanks to Larry Hubbard for providing the Stonedar figure photographed for this article.

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Playsets

Castle Grayskull’s Lock

In previous articles, I gave a general overview of Castle Grayskull as well as a closer look at how an early prototype made its way into minicomics and other stories. In this article, I’d like to briefly focus Castle Grayskull’s locking mechanism.

The earliest Castle Grayskull prototype for which we have extant images is the one sculpted by Mark Taylor, with some assistance from Ted Mayer. Earlier models had been made by Mattel’s in-house team, but they kept making it too “architectural” and squared off, so Mark set out to do it himself.

If you look closely at the mouth area, you can see there is apparently no locking mechanism built in. That doesn’t mean that one wasn’t intended to be there. Mark might have wanted to leave details like that to Mattel’s engineers.

And indeed, this early minicomic (King of Castle Grayskull) shows Skeletor unlocking the castle jaw bridge using the combined halves of the Power Sword. As I understand it, the Power Sword (designed by Mark Taylor) got its distinctive shape specifically because it was supposed to be a kind of key. In this comic and in the Golden Books stories The Trap and The Sword of Skeletor, the lock is located to the right of the jaw bridge:

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

However, Mark Taylor’s prototype was modified for mass production, and the side-mounted keyhole was never implemented as far as we know. In this image of an updated (nearly final) prototype, you can see that the door itself was fitted with a latch-type locking mechanism. However, there is no place to insert the sword. Instead, the door was locked and unlocked using a simple sliding handle:

Image Source: Grayskull Museum

This may have been a simple oversight. In the final mass-produced toy, the mechanism was changed so that the Power Sword (or, indeed, a pencil, a crayon, or a pinky finger) could be used to unlock the door. Note there is a sculpted, simulated locking mechanism where the real one used to be:

Strangely, this play feature is never mentioned on the Castle Grayskull box, and I don’t believe it’s ever mentioned in any of the television commercials. It is, at least, explained in the instruction sheet that came with the castle:

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Heroic Warriors

Strongest Man in the Universe

marvel

Everyone knows that He-Man is the most powerful man in the universe. If you bought the action figure in the 1980s, it was there right under his name:

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If you watched the Filmation He-Man cartoon, you heard him call himself that at the beginning of every episode:

I am Adam, prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!” Cringer became the mighty Battle Cat, and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Only three other share this secret. Our friends the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Orko. Together we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.”

But before He-Man was the most powerful man in the universe, he was merely the strongest man in the universe. Is there a difference between the two, or is it just semantics? Before I get into that, let’s take a look at the places where He-Man was called the strongest man in the universe.

The first published instance comes from the 1982 Mattel dealer catalog, which was made available at Toy Fair, February 17, 1982. This is where the new Masters of the Universe line was first unveiled to the public. The catalog itself is a treasure, because almost every He-Man toy shown is a prototype (granted, most of them are late-stage prototypes). As you can see below, the catalog calls He-Man the “strongest man in the universe”:

The Mattel 1982 Wish List, released in November, gives He-Man the same appellation:

He-Man is also called the strongest man in the universe in a couple of Masters of the Universe Gift Sets – “He-Man and Wind Raider” and “He-Man and Battle Cat”. In both cases it is only in the earliest, first editions of the gift set that He-Man is called the “strongest”. In all reissued editions his tag line was changed to “most powerful”.

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In a 2013 interview, Mark Ellis, former Director of Marketing for Mattel, seems to use the two taglines interchangeably:

What became clear was that for a five year old, power was a central issue because seemingly they were always being bossed around.  Psychologically, they wanted to be the boss.  They wanted the power.  This then was manifested in the figure by making him “the strongest man in the universe.”  The idea is, if you are in charge of the most powerful man in the universe, then this feeds directly into the “why” of their play.  As the line developed, the phrase “I have the power” was born to emphasis that point.

This is an interesting bit of trivia, but what does it mean? Maybe nothing, but as you might have guessed, I have a theory or two. He-Man, in his first incarnation, was not the nearly omnipotent superhero powered by Castle Grayskull’s magic that he would later become. In the first minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, He-Man was a jungle warrior chosen by the Sorceress to be the guardian of Castle Grayskull. She gifted him with a costume, “made before the Great Wars by Eternia’s scientists”. It gave him superhuman strength – enough to punch through solid rock. (This recalls Thor’s belt Megingjord, which, when worn, doubled Thor’s strength.) However, He-man could still be overpowered by a quick-witted enemy like Mer-Man.

In months following the publication of these early minicomics, however, He-Man’s astounding strength was reinvented as a magical force gifted from Castle Grayskull. By the time the Filmation cartoon aired, his power became amped up to such an extent that he became something of a flightless Superman. He could create whirlwinds just by spinning his arms. He could move the moon out of its orbit. He could lift and throw Castle Grayskull itself. He-Man truly went from “strongest” to “most powerful” man in the universe.

Another thing to consider – He-Man was, by far, the most muscular-looking figure who had ever been produced at the time. I remember very clearly my older brother telling me how unrealistic he thought those muscles were when He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and Beast Man first arrived in our house late in 1982. I remember pouring over the mini comics, but at that age I was mostly just looking at the pictures, and I never got the idea that He-Man’s strength came from anything more than the size of his muscles. As an observant kid, I took note that He-Man’s arms were much bigger than Skeletor’s or Beast Man’s arms. I was a little annoyed when I realized that Man-At-Arms had the same build as He-Man – I thought only He-Man should look that strong.

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The “strongest man” tagline might very well simply have been driven by He-Man’s remarkably muscular appearance, before any thought of either technological or magical enhancements entered the scene.

Now, is any of this really why his tag line was changed? Maybe not. Maybe in the end marketing decided that “most powerful” just had a nicer ring to it. Whatever sparked the revision, it certainly reflected the change in characterization that we got from the early 1982 stories to the ones that started to come a year or so later.

Let’s not forget, of course, that even the very first editions of He-Man, which predate the gift sets I mentioned earlier (but postdate the Toy Fair catalog), give He-Man the “most powerful man” tagline. So whatever was driving the change, it was going on very early, even if “strongest man” persisted here and there for almost a year.

One more note: in Mark Taylor’s original conception, He-Man’s strength was supernatural, making him the strongest man in the universe, but not so strong that he could lift castles. He didn’t need a sword or any other external items to augment his strength – it was innate.

I’d like to acknowledge Tokyonever, curator of the Grayskull Museum. He first brought to my attention the fact that early He-Man/Wind Raider gift sets had the “strongest” tagline.

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