Evil Warriors

Saurod: Evil ‘Spark-Shooting’ Reptile (1987)

I didn’t see the 1987 Masters of the Universe Movie (or really know anything about it, other than one was made) until probably the early 90s, when I saw it on TV. Even though I considered myself too old for toys at the time, I still felt a little affronted that the designs of the main characters had been changed so much. Despite myself, I stayed for it and watched the whole movie. It was actually a pretty fun little film. As an adult I can really appreciate the beauty of the new designs, even if I might question the wisdom of straying so far from the source material.

Of the newly introduced characters, Saurod was undoubtedly the coolest. What’s not to like about an armored lizard man that can shoot sparks from his mouth?

Design & Development

Saurod was designed for the movie by William Stout. Stout actually went through a number of lizard/dinosaur designs, and several were closer to beasts than to anything humanoid. All of his designs below are, in my opinion, gorgeous:

Image source: MOTU Art Facebook Page
Image source: MOTU Art Facebook Page

Stout’s lizard concept evolved into a more upright, human-like creature, initially with minimal armor and a muscular build:

Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary, via Dušan M.
Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary, via Dušan M.

The character continued to evolve to include a helmet and mask design, body armor, and slimmer build:

Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary, via Dušan M.
Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary, via Dušan M.

Claudio Mazzoli took Stout’s design (above) and turned it into a full-color painting:

Image Source: The Art of He-Man

The costume continued to evolve until the nearly final movie look, pictured below:

Image source: MOTU Art Facebook Page

The costume for the character (played by Pons Maar) was exquisitely detailed and quite convincing, even given the low budget for the film:

Image source: He-Man.org
Image source: He-Man.org
Saurod had retractable claws in the movie.

Sadly, in the Movie, Saurod didn’t get a lot screen time. Skeletor destroyed him as an example after his henchmen failed to recover the Cosmic Key:

Image source: He-Man.org

Mattel translated the movie design into an action feature, which was released in 1987. The prototype, shown below, is very similar to the final figure, except for the gun which is smaller and silver rather than black. They eyes are also round with white pupils:

Image via Grayskull Museum

The cross sell artwork was apparently based off of the prototype, as it features the same silver gun:

Toy & Packaging

The final toy was produced in a metallic bronze plastic, similar-looking to that used on various figures in the New Adventures of He-Man toyline (especially Hoove). The figure is sculpted with all new parts, just like the other two movie figures. Because he’s so radically different-looking from most other MOTU figures, he can look out of place on the shelf, but he does seem to fit well with late designs like Blast Attak and Laser Light Skeletor.

Saurod can have varying degrees of a dark overspray on the armor. Sometimes it’s barely present, and other times it’s applied very liberally:

The details on the sculpture seem quite soft, especially compared to the movie costume. It does have quite a fun action feature – pushing the lever on the figures back causes sparks to shoot out of the mouth. The movie character, however, didn’t have this ability (he did have retractable claws). On the back of the packaging, the sparks are called out as a “laser”, although in the commercial he is said to shoot lightning from his mouth.

I presume the artwork on the front of the card was done by Bruce Timm, who did several similar pieces. The art on the back was done by Errol McCarthy.

Errol McCarthy original line art. Image source: He-Man.org

Saurod, along with Megator, was the last figure of the original MOTU line that Mattel filed a trademark on – April 27, 1987.

Comics and Stories

Saurod, Gwildor and Blade were all packaged with the same minicomic: The Cosmic Key. The story doesn’t have anything to do with the movie, however. A cosmic force called the Evil Cloud gives Skeletor evil powers, including the ability to summon Saurod and Blade, and He-Man must call on Gwildor to stop the power of the entity.

Saurod has a much heavier build in the comic than his actual toy had. That makes me think that perhaps at an earlier stage of design, Mattel had planned to with reuse one of the existing heavily muscled body types for the figure.

Update: Javier Peña in the comments noted that some of the panels in the above comic were retraced from “The Terror Claws Strike” (also “The Ultimate Battleground”), illustrated by Bruce Timm. Now Jukka Issakainen has shared this collage he created of the copied panels:

Some versions of the minicomic actually had the Powers of Grayskull artwork on the back, which would have been the artwork on the front of the cards for He-Ro and Eldor, had they been produced:

Saurod makes a couple of appearances in the US Masters of the Universe Magazine. In the 1987 Summer issue, Saurod shoots actual lasers from his mouth, but is thwarted by Snout Spout:

In the 1988 Winter issue, Saurod and Blade team up with Hordak against He-Man and She-Ra:

In issue 10 of the 1977 Star Comics MOTU series, Saurod shoots out sparks, just like his action feature. They seem to have some kind of venomous quality, as they knock out Man-At-Arms and there appears to be no “antidote”

Saurod also appears in the November 1987 Star Comics story, The Motion Picture, based on the plot from the film. The artwork replicates the movie designs (or prototype designs) only for the newly introduced characters. Established characters like He-Man, Skeletor and Evil-Lyn are drawn with their classic toy looks:

Saurod also appears in the He-Man newspaper comic strips. Thanks to Dušan M. for pointing that out. Dušan notes: “He’s bit more human-like and carries a flame thrower. Like with some other new characters, the colourist doesn’t seem to have had a proper colouring reference so his colours constantly change.”

Image source: Dark Horse’ He-Man Newspaper Comics collection.

Advertising

Saurod showed up in a few ads and catalogs, although of course coming at the end of the line he doesn’t appear in all that many:

Image source: Orange Slime

Artwork

Saurod makes an appearance in William George’s Preternia poster, as well as in a movie poster by Earl Norem:

Artwork by William George
Artwork by Earl Norem

Saurod Resurrected

One curiosity: The Saurod costume was actually reused for another film: Star Hunter (1996), a low budget take on the Predator franchise. I learned about this via the Spanish language Blog de Salguero.

Star Hunter, 1996. The external armor is the same, but the pieces underneath have been changed.

Saurod In Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has contributed the following image and videos of Saurod in action:

This is the Italian release of Saurod, which has copper colored armor on its limbs.

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Heroic Warriors

Rio Blast: Heroic transforming gunslinger (1986)

Rio Blast is surely one of the most incongruent-looking figures in the Masters of the Universe toyline. From 1982 to 1985, the MOTU line had a certain consistency – barbarian fantasy meets science fiction. Generally the characters looked either like Frazetta-esque warriors and wizards/witches, retro-futuristic techno-men, or animal-human hybrid monsters.

So why all of a sudden a cowboy character? The same year that Rio Blast came out, Mattel put out the Bravestarr toyline, which was essentially a western set in space (Filmation came up with the concept and put out an accompanying cartoon in 1987). Perhaps that had some influence.

Bravestarr. Image Source: Transformers-Universe.com

Design & Development

Rio Blast didn’t actually start out as a cowboy character. The concept, originally called Fire Power Man and designed by Ed Watts, was a villainous figure with a dark black and gold costume. The flip out gun feature was carried over to Rio Blast, but the look ended up being completely redesigned.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1. Aside from the guns and the mustache, the design looks nothing like Rio Blast.

As noted in the above section from the Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, this design would be used by Filmation to create the Colonel Blast Character. He was redesigned by the animation studio to better fit in with the Evil Horde:

Image source: Bustatoons

We can see the retooled cowboy design for Rio Blast in the cross sell artwork below:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Production Toy

Despite looking somewhat out of place in the MOTU line, Rio Blast is an impressive-looking figure. He’s well-sculpted and bristling with painted and sculpted detail, with no reused parts from other figures. Clearly Mattel went all out of this one:

As shown above, Rio Blast’s guns can be manually popped out of his thighs, wrists and chest. His four piece “blasterpak” can swing over his eyes, giving him even more guns and a targeting sight.

Packaging Artwork

The artwork on the front of Rio Blast’s card was done, I believe, by Bruce Timm, and the scene on the back was illustrated by Errol McCarthy:

Image Source: La Cueva Del Terror

Characterization & Backstory

Rio Blast was given a relatively elaborate backstory in the 1987 Style Guide:

Power: Has the ability to transform from normal warrior into an awesome arsenal of fire power. He’s the fastest draw in the universe.

Character profile: As the sole survivor of a group of heroic explorers in a starband near Eternia, Rio ended up as the “law” in that lost frontier. Flung by a metero to the surface of Eternia, Rio has naturally allied himself with He-Man in the battle against evil. Though Rio claims he “don’t like to shoot off my own guns,” he is a superb shot and like to remind the other Heroic Warriors of that as often as possible. His style occasionally gets in the way, but He-Man realizes he is an important ally. Unfortunately Rio Blast is nagged by the fact that he has left behind an untamed starband, and he often champs at the bit to get back. He-Man has promised Rio Blast to help get him home as soon as the warriors of Skeletor have been defeated once and for all.

Illustrated by Errol McCarthy

There was also a fact file published in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Comics & Artwork

Rio Blast came packed with a minicomic prominently featuring Rio Blast. The story doesn’t really reference the style guide backstory, other than saying that Rio used to be a lawman. In the story, Rio talks with an “old west” Texas accent and uses his guns to foil an attempt by Skeletor’s henchmen to drive some Eternian cattle away.

Rio Blast’s minicomic. Image source: Dark Horse
Original Inks. Image source: Dark Horse

Rio Blast is prominent in the 1987 Winter issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine, where he faces off against Ninjor:

Image source: He-Man.org

He also appears in several pieces of art done for the magazine by Earl Norem:

Rio Blast also shows up in issue 4 and 5 of the 1987 UK MOTU Magazine

Update: Matthew M. has pointed out in the comments that Rio Blast appears in the November 1986 Star Comics story, Snakes Alive! In the story, we learn that Rio is terrified of Snakes, which King Hiss uses to his advantage:

Rio Blast makes an appearance in both William George’s Eternia box art and Eternia poster:

I was never all that interested in Rio Blast until I got one in hand. He’s now become my favorite Heroic Warrior of the 1986 lineup, despite feeling somewhat out of sync with the rest of the line.

Rio Blast advertising art

Rio Blast in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly contributed the following image and video of Rio Blast in action:

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Evil Warriors

Ninjor: Evil Ninja Warrior (1987)

Ninjor is perhaps the most G.I. Joe-like figure in the Masters of the Universe series. He certainly feels like He-Man’s answer to Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. He doesn’t exactly fit with the general science/sword and sorcery motif of MOTU, but then of course by the last couple of years of the line it had become a something of a kitchen sink of ideas.

Design & Development

Ninjor was designed by David Wolfram. In my interview with him, David had this to say regarding Ninjor:

Early on in my Mattel career , I was given the task to do four figures using minimal new tooling. They were Scareglow Skeletor, King Randor, Ninjor, and Clamp Champ. The four characters had already been conceived of and the concepts sold in, so all I had to do was to make it happen.

Part of that was going through the tooling banks to find parts to add to the appearance of the figures. I did get new tooling for Clamp Champ’s weapon, and for four heads. Hal Faulkner, one of our good outside sculpting vendors, sculpted the heads.

Ninjor was a dead ringer for Lee Van Cleef, who had done some karate or kung fu based show around that time, so we had to change that.

Production Toy

Ninjor cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Ninjor came with three weapons – a sword (borrowed from Jitsu), a bow and arrow (borrowed from the Eternia playset) and nunchucks. He also came with a cloth costume that obscured most of his face. He borrows the spring arm action feature from Fisto and Jitsu, which allows him to attack with his sword or nunchucks with his right hand. Jitsu was of course also a martial arts themed figure, although he looked more heavily armored rather than stealthy.

1984 Jitsu figure

The one piece of his design that separates Ninjor from a typical terrestrial ninja is his three-toed feet, borrowed from Dragon Blaster Skeletor.

Packaging Art

The illustration on the front of Ninjor’s card was done by Bruce Timm, while the scene on the back of the card was done by Errol McCarthy:

Original Errol McCarthy line art. Image source: www.he-man.org

At one point Mattel was planning to reuse the Ninjor concept to create a white-costumed ninja warrior, making the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow comparison all the more apt. However, these plans never came to fruition.

Minicomics

As in the card art and in the commercial at the beginning of this article, Ninjor was often portrayed as the nemesis of Clamp Champ. That is also evident in the comic that came packed with Ninjor, The Search For Keldor. In the story, Skeletor summons the “most evil beings from time and space” from another dimension to do his bidding:

In the comic, you can see Ninjor with the arms and legs of He-Man (all in black) rather than Skeletor. That may represent an earlier concept design for him.

Characterization and Other Stories

The 1987 Style Guide (above, illustrated by Errol McCarthy) characterized Ninjor this way:

Power: Mastery of many martial arts weapons.

Character profile: This awful assassin has come from another world to serve Skeletor. His mission is to eliminate Heroic Warriors one by one, until He-Man no longer has any help in defending Eternia. Ninjor always moves with great speed, skill and silence.

In Masters of the Universe Adventure Magazine issue 9, Skeletor summons Scare Glow and Ninjor. As described in the style guide, Ninjor excels at stealthy attacks. In this issue he is depicted with a purple, green and white costume:

In Star Comics Masters of the Universe issue 7, Skeletor again summons Ninjor, along with Blast Attak. The two don’t immediately hit it off:

In the 1987 winter issue of the US MOTU Magazine, Ninjor makes another prominent appearance, where he manages to elude both Clamp Champ and Rio Blast:

Artwork & Advertisements

Coming so late in the Masters of the Universe line, Ninjor didn’t show up in a lot of artwork, but he was a background character in posters illustrated by William George, Earl Norem and Esteban Maroto:

Artwork by William George
Artwork by William George
Artwork by Earl Norem
Artwork by Earl Norem
Artwork by Esteban Maroto

Errol McCarthy went on to illustrate the character again, this time battling He-Man with his live-action movie costume:

Image source: He-Man.org

Ninjor also showed up in a few catalogs and advertisements:

Ninjor isn’t the most distinctive-looking figure in the world, but he does look rather smart and has some fun features and accessories.

Ninjor in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has generously shared the following image and video of Ninjor in action:

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Reviews

T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 1

At the 2018 Power-Con, Mark and Rebecca Taylor made available to fans a collection of art prints called T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 1. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but thankfully fans who couldn’t attend were able to purchase copies directly from the Taylors afterwards.

The set is kind of a sequel to the 2016 Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection, which I reviewed in depth. A few pieces from that collection appear in Sketches 1, but mostly this is a new set of artwork. Unlike the first set, much of the artwork in this new collection actually predates work on the He-Man line. I’ll take a look at each piece of artwork and provide a little commentary.

Cover

The cover, which Mark was kind enough to sign, features one of the early Beast Man concepts. Rebecca shared the full artwork several months back. For more information on the evolution of Beast Man, check out this article.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor.

The Eternal Hero

This piece, titled “The Eternal Hero”, doesn’t seem to be a direct ancestor of any particular figure. However, his armor has touches of what would become Skeletor’s armor. His axe and boot designs were reused for He-Man. The shield ended up with the Castle Grayskull weapons. This most likely originated from the 1970s, long before the He-Man line.

Evil Incarnate

Rebecca actually shared with me some of the history behind this image:

It was done before Mark went to Mattel. I found it in a sketchbook. He has a few versions of skeletons as warriors and royalty. It is based off of a story he wrote once when he was a kid in college… about a skeleton king called “The King of Styx” … circa 1971. I found a new stash of sketchbooks when they repaired our garage.

Evil Incarnate or The King of Styx isn’t Skeletor, but you can see that Mark reused several design attributes (most notably the face and cross bones) when he was coming up with what would become Skeletor:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

Paladin

Paladin was actually first intended by Mark Taylor for the never-produced Rob-N & the Space Hoods toyline. When that line failed to be green-lit, the character (eventually named Man-At-Arms) was reused for Masters of the Universe. This is one of my personal favorites from this collection. You can see how the design continued to evolve in the B-sheet below:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection

The Merman

This piece was included in the 2016 B-Sheet collection, although this one has more of a green color, as opposed to the blue of the other version. Personally I think green suits Mer-Man better. This is perhaps my all-time favorite piece of artwork by Mark Taylor. You can see the blue version released in the previous collection below:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

Stygian Moat

The moat was actually intended to be a mat that would come shipped with Castle Grayskull. Unfortunately it proved to be too expensive and it was dropped from the playset. Those who are fans of the creepy creatures in the Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker will appreciate this artwork the most.

The War Cat

The above artwork was also included in the 2016 B-sheet collection, but fans who missed out on that can enjoy this exquisite representation of Battle Cat.

The Segway

Although it’s not immediately obvious, Segway represents an early take on the Man-E-Faces concept. Rebecca has actually shared a number of early designs. This particular version represents an evil character.

Castle Stickers

The Castle Grayskull stickers and cardboard pieces, exactly as they appeared in the vintage playset, are reproduced here. These were done by Rebecca, based on some notes by Mark.

Warrior Teela

Teela was also included in the 2016 B-sheets collection. She remains one of Mark’s most elegant and striking figure designs.

Ursis Prime

Ursis prime is the earliest known Beast Man design. In the beginning the character was based on a bear, although Mattel rejected it because they were afraid it was too similar looking to Chewbacca. The next stage of the design is the savage-looking red Beast Man featured on the cover of this collection. You can read more about the evolution of Beast Man here.

The Castle Grayskull

We got our first peek at this design in the Netflix Toys that Made Us episode on Masters of the Universe. This is a more evolved design compared to what was included in Mark’s previous B-Sheet collection. This is another personal favorite of mine from this collection. Mark sculpted his Castle Grayskull prototype based on this version, although he cut out most of the the near-east influences. Mark’s earlier design is below, for comparison:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection.

The Rhinomen

This design was first shown in the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog. The design is somewhat related to Ram Man, especially in the helmet design. Although this toy was never made, it would have had a ramming feature, as shown below:

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

Back Page

Finally, on the back page we get a picture of Mark and a nice note to fans, punctuating a superb and heart-felt collection.

Many thanks to Rebecca and Mark for making this available to the fans!

You can also watch Mark and Rebecca talking to fans about the origins of He-Man at the 2018 Power-Con in the video below, moderated by MOTU super-scholar Danielle Gelehrter:

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