I only saw the Fright Zone once as a kid, in the late 80’s. I was immediately filled with regret for never having owned such a creepy-looking playset, a situation that was not rectified until a quarter of a century later.
Of the three major playsets depicted in the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, the Fright Zone toy was the least like its animated counterpart. What I believe happened is that Filmation came up with its design on its own (an HR Giger-esque monstrosity), and then Mattel decided to use an older concept to represent the hideout of the Evil Horde in toy form. The animated Fright Zone would have been immense and complicated to produce, to say the least, although I suppose they could have replicated a portion of it.
The playset version of the Fright Zone begins with a December 5, 1983 piece of concept art called “Masters Villain Playset.” The concept, illustrated by Ed Watts, was no doubt intended for the Evil Warriors. It has the tree (this version has hands) down next to the jail cell, and it has some kind of man-eating plant on the right side, but otherwise it’s very close to the look of the final toy.
It’s not clear if the rock monster trap was included in this early concept, but there was a somewhat similar concept floating around Mattel:
A couple of separate patents were filed connected with the development of the Fright Zone playset. One (filed October 4, 1985) is connected with the tree and rock monster traps, and the other (filed April 5, 1985) is connected with the mold process for the rubber dragon puppet. Mattel applied for a trademark claim on the Fright Zone on January 27, 1984.
The playset has four main play features. There is the rubber dragon puppet that can be manipulated through the hole to its den on the right side of the playset. There is the haunted tree that can be made to grab hold of figures. There is the prison, which can be unlached with the flick of a switch, and there is the rock monster trap near the entrance to the dragon’s den, that can grab on to a figure’s foot:
The packaging artwork was painted by William George. In the fearsome Fright Zone, Battle Armor He-Man fights the dreadful dragon, while Hordak snares Battle Armor Skeletor with his tree trap. Buzz-Off is held captive in Hordak’s prison. Dead trees and craggy mountains surround the lair of the Evil Horde, and twin moons hang in the sky.
The Fright Zone also appears on the box art for Hordak/Grizzlor:
The 1987 Style Guide (illustrated by Errol McCarthy) described the Fright Zone this way:
Power: Ability to capture and consume enemies of The Horde.
Character profile: Located in Etheria, the Fright Zone is the dreaded domain of The Evil Horde. Exploreres are loath to enter the region, for few who travel into the Fright Zone ever return – and those who do are haunted forever after. It is the Fright Zone through which Hordak and his horde pass to enter the realm of Eternia.
As you might expect, the Fright Zone appears most frequently in the minicomics in 1985, the year it was released. It’s showcased most effectively in The Power of the Evil Horde, illustrated by Bruce Timm:
A Filmation version of the Fright Zone appeared in issue four of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine:
However, the same issue has this activity page depicting a playset-influenced version of Hordak‘s lair:
This version of the Fright Zone, in poster form appears in the same issue. It’s a much more realistic depiction, but still based on the playset:
Several other posters featured the Fright Zone as a backdrop. It was rendered at times just like the toy, and sometimes like the Filmation She-Ra cartoon version:
In the Masters Mail for the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine, issue 13, we get some clarification on why the different looks for the Filmation and toy/comic Fright Zones (you can read a bit more about this at James Eatock’s He-Man and She-Ra Blog). As retcons go, it’s pretty elegant and it works well enough for me:
Apart from miniature playsets like the Slime Pit and Point Dread, the Fright Zone was by far the smallest, but it was also the creepiest, and in my opinion, one of the most fun to actually play with.
King Randor, like the Sorceress, is a character that originates very early in the MOTU mythos, but who didn’t get an action figure until the tail-end of the toyline.
King Randor has his origins in the the November 1982 DC Comics story, “Fate is the Killer”. The king and queen aren’t given names, but as Prince Adam’s parents, these are clearly the precursors to the Randor and Marlena characters that would be fleshed out later. Randor is a generic looking stock medieval King character, old enough to have white hair, and perpetually disappointed in his irresponsible son, Prince Adam.
In the following issue, “To Tempt the Gods” (December 1982), the king appears again, still without a name. In this issue he’s quite disappointed, even disgusted with Adam – to the point of feeling like he’d prefer He-Man to be his heir rather than Adam.
The unnamed king appears in a single panel in the next issue, “The Key to Castle Grayskull” (January 1983).
Meanwhile, in the Masters of the Universe Bible, completed by Michael Halperin on December 1, 1982, Adam’s father became known as King Randor and is given a backstory, along with the queen, Marlena:
Marlena staggered to her feet and lurched to the captains chair. She called out to the others. No one answered and when she looked only the spacesuits remained mute, empty and wrinkled. Little time remained to brood as the shuttle shot into the Eternian Ionsphere glowing red, yellow and white. She nosed the craft up and bounced off the layer of air slowing the vehicle for a smoother re-entry. Marlena couldn’t spot any runways for the shuttle so she aimed the ship at the only clear spot she saw — a long meadow in a lush, green valley. The space craft hit the ground, its landing gear crumpled on impact and it sank to its belly skidding, pitching and crashing to a wrenching stop.
Unconscious, Marlena couldn’t know the helping hands pulling her out of the wreckage and carrying her to the royal palace of the reigning king of Eternia, the young and handsome RANDOR.
For several days she slept in the palace and each day Randor sat by her bedside and waited for her to wake. All the royal physicians and wizards provided potions and spells in order to insure her well-being and soon color stirred in Marlena’s cheeks. On the seventh day her eyes fluttered open and the first sight she saw was Randor’s rugged, handsome face. A spark flew between them as he reached out his fingers to touch her hand and they both smiled.
Skeletor waved his staff and a charge of energy sprang forth rolling back a huge boulder from one wall uncovering a screen. A wave of his hand and a picture swam into view — a picture of Eternia then that of King Randor and Marlena. At the sight of the former captain, the trio snarled and clenched their fists – and it wasn’t lost on Skeletor.
King Randor made Marlena his queen and three years later she bore an heir to the throne of Eternia — a son, PRINCE ADAM. He was handsome and imbued with his mother’s spirit of adventure and his father’s courage. As a child he had the run of the palace playing tricks and practical joke on his teachers and the nobles of the court.
This backstory was created as a guide for both the Filmation cartoon and printed media. In print media, Randor was almost always very much in the background, but he would be further fleshed out in the Filmation cartoon (more on that later).
We get a bit of this backstory in “To Tempt the Gods”, where we learn that Marlena crash landed on Eternia from Earth. We also get a look at a younger King Randor:
King Randor pops up in a few different places prior to the advent of the animated series.
In order to protect his true identity and thus make it harder for Skeletor to destroy him, He-Man lives a double life as Prince Adam, playful son of King Randor and Queen Marlena. Even now, as we speak, Prince Adam is playing with his pet tiger, Cringer. In the beautiful gardens that surround his father’s castle, he and his feline friend romp in the tall grass, happy and care-free, unaware that as He-Man, he is about to face the most difficult and dangerous challenge of his life – a life and death struggle with Skeletor. The outcome of which will determine the fate of the planet, and perhaps the entire universe.
Castle Grayskull (Kid Stuff, 1983)
He-Man & Battle Cat (Kid Stuff, 1983)
The Power of Point Dread (1983)
In this story illustrated by Alfredo Alcala, the king (not mentioned by name here) has his DC comics look. There is no hint that Prince Adam exists in this story.
The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces (1983)
This version of Randor in the DC-produced second wave of minicomics follows the general look of the 1982 DC series, albeit this time with a purple robe:
The Menace of Trap Jaw (1983)
The Magic Stealer (1983)
King Randor was, at one point in his development, called King Miro – this is briefly mentioned in the Filmation Series Guide, and I believe he is also depicted visually. The series guide reflects earlier designs for almost all of its characters, and here Randor/Miro again looks much like he did in the DC comics. Thanks to Dušan M. for reminding me of the “Miro” name in the comments.
The name Miro is also used in the 1984 UK Annual, which tended to draw from much earlier source material. Thanks to Jukka Issakainen for pointing this out.
Filmation redesigned the character away quite dramatically. He’s depicted as being much younger, and wears a blue jacket over a red tunic, with orange tights and blue slippers.
Randor was a frequent character on the show, occasionally playing a lead role in stories like “The Rainbow Warrior” and “Prince Adam No More”.
Randor’s look in the post-Filmation minicomics is all over the place. Sometimes he follows the DC look, sometimes he has something like the Filmation look, and in the case of the Leech and Mantenna minicomics, bizarrely, he has pink hair:
The Golden Book stories tend to give Randor several unique looks, only occasionally referencing existing, established designs for the character:
The action figure, released in 1987 (initially through a buy-three, get-one-free mail-away offer, possibly as early as 1986), looks like a kitbashed version of the cartoon character, sticking to the Filmation colors but otherwise grabbing whatever parts were handy to make a passable King Randor. He uses the basic He-Man body, but with Jitsu’s armor, the Castle Grayskull spear in gold. The only new parts are his head, crown and cape. Jitsu’s armor was made to fit over a slightly flatter chest, so King Randor’s armor had to be warped outward to work with the He-Man buck. The figure was designed by David Wolfram.
There are a couple of early models or prototypes of Randor. This one (from a French MOTU catalog) looks hand-painted, but otherwise looks just like the final toy, albeit with much brighter, shinier gold paint:
Another version appeared in the US Mattel dealer catalog. It looks like a factory piece, except his armor is painted just like the original Jitsu armor. Perhaps this was an early factory sample, where they had mistakenly used the original paint mask on the armor instead of the revised version for Randor. Or, his armor could have gotten lost somehow, and Jitsu’s armor was used as a quick replacement for the photo:
The cross sell artwork for King Randor is closely based on the final toy, although the work itself is a bit rough in places:
Despite Randor’s release being somewhat low effort, this is actually my favorite look for the character. He looks much more battle ready than either the DC or Filmation designs, and in a place like Eternia, it makes sense to have a king who can kick butt when needed.
Once the look of the toy had been established, the minicomics that followed started adhering to the Mattel design, except he was given a gray beard/hair.
The Search for Keldor
In this story, it is hinted that Skeletor (aka Keldor) is actually King Randor’s long-lost brother, although Randor himself does not know that Keldor is now Skeletor.
Revenge of the Snake Men!
Enter: Buzz-saw Hordak!
King Randor appears in a few posters by Earl Norem and William George:
King Randor also appeared in the Star Comics, which followed Mattel’s design for the character (thanks to Øyvind M. for pointing this out):
However, in the Commodore 64 Masters of the Universe game, the DC design was used:
King Randor’s long, slow evolution makes him a little more interesting to research than many other, more prominent characters in Masters of the Universe. As a kid, I think I was dimly aware that a King Randor figure had been made, but I never saw one in person. Nevertheless, his reuse of parts actually makes him seem instantly familiar now.