Production Variants

1982 MOTU Figures: The First Production Run (Part 1)

Because Masters of the Universe figures were produced over many years in a number of different countries, there is no shortage of production variants, some subtly different and some radically different from the norm. In my own collecting, I’ve always gravitated toward the earliest figures released in the US, particularly for the first wave of figures. They tend to have the nicest paint and plastic applications, in my opinion. All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the US. A common term for the very earliest figures in the line is “test market figures”, although the term isn’t usually used for the vehicles or Castle Grayskull.

Much assistance for this article was given by John Oswald. The research of Mantisaur82 and Tokyonever has also been invaluable.

Broad Characteristics

The early Taiwan figures tend to have the sharpest detail and the finest paint applications compared to later reissues. Subsequent releases tend to cut down on the paint applications and sometimes on the sculpted detail. The earliest figures tend to have boots that are painted on using spray paint and a paint mask, which sometimes shows up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures seem to use a dipping method. Since this seems to apply to all the early figures (or at least those with painted boots), I won’t mention this when I talk about each individual figure.

On the lower backs of the figures (or in Teela’s case, the lower part of the back of the head) they are stamped © Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan. This stamp can also be found on the undersides of the male heads. These figure were released in 1982, but most MOTU figures are stamped the year before they were sold in stores, when the tooling was being created. However, as these Taiwan figures were released in subsequent years, they often retain the 1981 date, albeit sometimes with a slightly larger font.

He-Man

The very first versions of He-Man tend to have a certain coloring – dark orange belt (later versions could range from light orange to mustard yellow to coral), brick-red boots and loin cloth, and dark gray accessories. He has a belly button, which was eventually removed from the mold starting in 1983 (although some 1983 figures seem to still have it). Some of the early accessories seem to be slightly blue-tinged. The straps on the back of his harness have short tabs on them – they were lengthened in subsequent releases to make it easier for children to hold when putting the armor on.

Early versions seem to have a tighter fitting latch in back as well, and intense yellow hair. It’s very common to see the boots not painted all the way up to the top in these early figures. If they are painted all the way to the top, there is usually some uneven overspray in some areas regardless. Later figures have the boot color applied by dipping the legs in paint.

His accessories are stamped with code numbers that indicate He-Man’s SKU number (5040), a number to indicate which accessory it was, and “© Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan.” All of them, except for the shield, include another number that is separated from the others. I believe it’s a batch number. So an axe marked 2 is from an earlier batch than one marked 7. That’s my theory – I don’t know this for sure. His shield lacks any code numbers, and is simply marked “Taiwan.”

Update: I’ve added some more detailed observations about the earliest Taiwan He-Man figures. The differences I’m noting immediately below are not from year to year, but within the first year of production of He-Man figures (1981, sold beginning early in 1982):

Hair: the early figures’ hair seems to be intense yellow, almost orange tinged. Slightly later in year the hair starts to be a lighter yellow color. I’ve found two main types of paint used – a glossy textured kind of paint, and a non-textured paint that seems almost like a dye.

Two very early He-Man figures. The example on the right has the textured, glossy paint. I think both were used concurrently.

Belt: the earliest ones are dark orange. The color is a bit lighter as you get later in the year, for instance on carded 8-back He-Man figures that have the warranty information added.

Belly Button: the earliest ones (sold on 8 backs without warranty) are a bit uneven looking. By the time you get to the 8-backs with warranty, the belly button looks anatomically correct.

From left to right, you can see as the figures get later, the belt gets lighter and the belly button becomes more anatomical.

Waist Punch Feature: the earliest versions have a stopper, so when you twist the waist, it swings back to punch, but stops in the middle. A bit later in the year that stopper was removed, so the punch action doesn’t stop quite in the middle, but keeps moving a bit beyond that. This is also evident in early Skeletor figures, as well as all other first release first wave figures.

Sword: the early ones seem to be marked 4 or 9. The earlier numbered swords tend to be a darker blue/gray color, although you can look at many examples and few will be the exact same shade.

Axe: the early ones are marked 2 or 7. The earlier numbered axes tend to be a darker blue/gray color, although you can look at many examples and none will be the exact same shade.

Harness: the early ones are marked 5 or 10. The 5s I’ve seen seem to be a dark gray/blue, with small oval tab on the latch in back. The 10s seem to have more of a almost multi-hue gray plastic, slightly brighter red paint, and a slightly elongated tab on the back. Both have short straps, and both seem to appear very early, although the 10s seem to persist later in the year. 15s look very similar to 10s and come later still.

The dark blue/gray harness on the left is marked “5”. The one on the right is marked “10”. I’ve found examples of both in very early packaging (no warranty carded He-Man figures and the first release He-Man and Battle Cat gift sets)
The dark harness on the left has the small oval tab (where the harness latches) and is marked “5”. The one on the right has an elongated tab and is marked “10”

I should say that I believe sometimes accessories with the markings outlined above did persist later than early 1982. In general, however, the trend seems to be for the numbers to go higher with time. I’ve seen numbers as high as 33 on later figures.

Shield: Early ones are marked Taiwan. The tabs on the back should be more or less intact. Slightly melted at the top, but not completely melted to the back of the shield, as happened later in production. The exact shade of gray varies quite a bit.

Early shields look like the example on the left.

Here are some examples of four early He-Man figures. The two figures on the left are the earliest, although I couldn’t say which came first. The figure second from the right came later in the year (it lacks the stopper in the waist punch feature), and the one on the far right came later still.

And here are my two earliest Taiwan He-Man examples (below, and above on the left). Both have harnesses marked 5. The one on the left has some overspray on the chest emblem, which isn’t too uncommon. The one on the left also has weapons with the earlier number markings, and they are slightly darker gray/blue.

Here is an example (below) of a very early carded Taiwan He-Man, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back. This is often referred to as the “test market” card. This example of He-Man has boots painted closer up to the top and the darker blue/gray harness and shiny hair paint, similar to the loose example (above, on the right)

Image source: Hake’s Americana

After 1982, the first substantive change to Taiwan He-Man figures was the lengthening of the straps, as shown in this comparison image:

The second substantive change to Taiwan He-Man figures was the removal of the “belly button”, as shown here:

Skeletor

The first Taiwan Skeletor is unique in the following ways:

  • Orange marks on his “cheeks”
  • Half-painted boots
  • Purple trunks
  • Light blue paint in his eye sockets
  • Short straps on the back of his armor

The subsequent Taiwan release omits the orange cheeks. The next version after that has black shorts, and the version after that gives him fully-painted boots. Later still, he loses the light blue paint in his eye sockets. There are “mix and match” versions out there too, with odd combinations of these features. Perhaps this was from the factory mixing older leftover parts with newer parts. Later versions also omit the “belly button.”

The early Skeletor’s staff is marked Taiwan, and his sword is also marked simply as Taiwan (later versions of the sword add some code numbers on the underside as well). This early example has rather brittle accessories, so I won’t remove them to discover what codes are under his chest armor and belt.

Here is an example of a very early carded Taiwan Skeletor, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back.

The images below show the evolution of the face paint on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:

The images below show the evolution of the boots on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:

The images below show the evolution of the straps on the Taiwan figures, again in chronological order from top to bottom:

And finally, the images below show the evolution of the trunks and belt on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:

Battle Cat

There are at least three distinct very early Taiwan Battle Cats.


V1: Striped Tail Battle Cat

Only a handful of examples of this ultra-rare variant are known to exist. This version matches the color scheme of the original hand-painted prototype. Distinguishing characteristics include:

  • Striped tail
  • Orange around the mouth
  • Teeth painted white front and back
  • Stripes crisscross over part line on back
  • Longer, rough-looking stripes on the left shoulder
  • Extra stripe on right front leg
  • Marked “© Mattel, Inc. 1976 Taiwan” on inner right rear leg
  • White dots in eyes
  • Marked “1” underneath saddle and helmet
  • Textured “fur”

You can spot this variant in early catalog pictures of MOTU figures. The orange lines on this cat match the black lines on the original Big Jim Tiger the figure is based on. It also has finely textured fur (difficult to see unless it’s in hand), again like the Big Jim Tiger.

Enlarged to show texture!
Striped tail paint pattern (left) crosses over the back, while the more common Battle Cat paint pattern (right) does not. Left image is from Tokyonever. Thanks to John Oswald for pointing this out.

V2: Textured Battle Cat

The first mass-produced version of the Taiwan Battle Cat retains the textured “fur” of the first sample version (and the Big Jim Tiger), but omits the extra orange paint applications on the mouth and tail. The teeth are also only painted white from the front. Like the rare striped tail model, it is marked © Mattel, Inc. 1976 Taiwan. It also is marked “1” underneath the saddle and helmet.

V1 (left) vs V2
V1 (left) vs V2
Enlarged to show texture!

V3: Non-Textured Battle Cat

The next incarnation of the early Taiwan Battle Cat is missing the texture from V1 and V2. It’s marked © Mattel, Inc. 1978 Taiwan. It also is marked “1” underneath the saddle and helmet, and retains the white dots in the eyes. The orange paint is somewhat lighter than previous versions. My particular example came from a damaged early 1982 Battle Cat box featuring only the 1982 cross sell art on the back. It also seems to have a brighter red saddle and helmet, although this doesn’t necessarily come across in the photos below. I’m not sure if the textured version was more likely to come in either the single Battle Cat box or the early He-Man/Battle Cat gift sets – it’s difficult to tell with mint in box examples whether or not the texture is present.

V1 (left), V2 (middle), V3 (right)
V1 (left), V2 (middle), V3 (right)

Man-At-Arms

The first Taiwan release of Man-At-Arms has the following characteristics:

  • Red dots on his helmet
  • Blue belt, in the same color as his helmet
  • Light to medium green body and light orange armor
  • Short straps at the back of the armor
  • Light red trunks/boots, similar to He-Man’s

On the example below, the chest armor is marked 5041-2289A © Mattel Inc. 1981. All the other accessories are unmarked.

The next Taiwan releases omitted the red dots, and have longer straps at the back of the armor. Later Taiwan releases feature a gray belt and much darker colors all around, and a helmet that is somewhat teal-colored.

First issue Taiwain red dot (top), vs. second Taiwan release
First issue short straps (top), vs. long straps reissue
Early blue belt (top) vs. later gray belt. The gray belt version also omits the “belly button,” as did later He-Man figures
First release Man-At-Arms figure on card. Image source: Hake’s Americana
“Test market” first release cardback

Beast Man

Early Taiwan Beast Man figures aren’t dramatically different from later versions. The most obvious differences are that the first versions have white dots in the eyes (some of them, at least – I’ll get into that), light blue face paint, even and circular blue paint on the front of the armor, and a short strap around the back of the armor. I believe I have identified some differences between the “test market” G0 figures and the subsequent G1 release.

There are two variants available on the initial “test market” cards – a version without dots in the eyes, and a version with bright white dots in the eyes. I have now seen examples of both on the first release packaging. I really can’t say which came first, although the version with dots more closely follows the intended design, based on the look of a hand-painted Beast Man prototype.

I would also note that the whips on these first release figures don’t fit as well in the figures’ hands. That seems to have been corrected with later releases.

The second “G1” card release often has the dots on the eyes as well, but the dots are more of an off-white color, like the rest of the face. The armor also tends to be slightly more pinkish. On both G0 and G1 versions, the strap around the back of the figure is short. The G1 version often has no waist stopper on the spring waist feature.

Early short strap version vs long strap reissue
Image via John Oswald. Bright white dots vs off-white dots.

Below is an example of a very early carded Taiwan Beast Man, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back. This version lacks the dots in the eyes. The off-white dots seem to be prevalent on G1 and G2 cards 8-back cards.

Olmo (catone82) shared with me some images he found of a G0 “test market” card for Beast Man (owned by MOTU Gefter), which does feature white dots. These do seem to be the bright white dots, although I’m going to try to get that verified with the owner of this figure.

Covered in part two: Stratos, Mer-Man, Teela, Zodac, Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider.

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Super7

My Super7 MOTU Wish List, Part 2

Two weeks ago I put out an article about what I’d like to see from Super7 after they release the vintage-style 5.75″ concept Eldor and He-Ro figures. I’m concluding today with part 2. This time I’ll be including a mix of unproduced concepts, minicomic inspired characters and variants, a proposal for re-releases of selected rare vintage figures, and a few other odds and ends.

Evil Robot

Evil Robot seems to be based on an existing Japanese toy design (like the Meteorbs, or for that matter, the Transformers), just repainted and modified for MOTU. This was supposed to come out in 1985, but it was never released. It’s covered with what appear to be Evil Horde symbols, but according to the text he’s aligned with Skeletor:

Just when you thought Skeletor and his henchmen couldn’t get anymore horrible, this evil robot stalks on the scene. Wielding his laser-burst gun, he acts as mecha-muscle to back up Skeletor on his wicked crusades! Crank his right arm – he shoots water from the gun in his left hand! His body holds enough water for extended attacks! Bendable legs for action poses! Watch out! The latest revolting recruit to the Evil Warriors is on the loose!

Fearless Photog

A character created by fan Nathan Bitner for a 1986 character creation contest.

Miscellaneous Concept Characters

The Horde Mummy figure (now called “Wrap Trap”) has already been produced for the 7″ Masters of the Universe Classics line, but any of these would make great, vintage-style 5.75″ figures too.

Image source: The Fwoosh
Image Source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest, via Jukka Issakainen. Artwork by Ted Mayer.

This collection of unproduced “kit bash” characters showed up in some card art by Errol McCarthy. Many of these have already been produced for the 7″ Classics line, but would also work very well in their intended vintage 5.75″ configuration.

Image source: He-Man.org

Characters from vintage comics and books

There are so many beloved characters and variants from vintage comics and books, this could be its own line that stretches out for years. I’ll include some of my personal favorites here, but this is not meant to be exhaustive:

First appearance of He-Man

From He-Man and the Power Sword. Already produced in the 7″ Classics line as “Oo-Larr.”

Panther Men

From The Sunbird Legacy.

Masks of Power Demons

From Masks of Power.

Goat Man

From Secret of the Dragon’s Egg. Already produced in the 7″ Classics line.

Charger

Teela’s unicorn steed, appearing in multiple stories and coloring books.

Whiplash

Based on his appearance in The Clash of Arms.

Red Beast Man

From He-Man and the Power Sword. Already produced in the 7″ Classics line.

Shaggy Purple Monster

From He-Man and the Power Sword.

Mer-Man’s Minions

From The Key to Castle Grayskull.

Obelisk Demons

From The Obelisk.

Rare Vintage Figures

And finally, I think it would be a great idea to remake some rare figures that have already been released, but are anywhere from hard to nearly impossible to acquire on the secondary market due to price or rarity.

Laser Power He-Man

Laser Light Skeletor

Tytus

Megator

Savage He-Man

Image source: Hake’s Americana

Rotar

Twistoid

Scare Glow

King Randor

Clamp Champ

Snake Face

Unique Masters of the Universe Classics Characters

Finally, there were some unique characters created for the Masters of the Universe Classics line that I think would make great vintage-style figures:

Castle Grayskullman

Created by Daniel Benedict.

Draego-Man

Created by The Four Horsemen.

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