Evil Beasts, Heroic Beasts

Battle Bones – Collector’s Carry Case (1985)

Battle Bones is pretty unique among every other official Mattel release for the vintage line. It rides the line between an in-world beast and a fourth wall-breaking collector case.

I believe I got Battle Bones as a birthday present along with Night Stalker in the fall of 1985. Both of them were a complete surprise – I hadn’t heard of either toy before unwrapping them. I was pretty happy with both toys, although of the two Battle Bones was a bit more fun, simply because I could fit nearly all my figures in it. And of course I made Battle Bones “eat” plenty of bad guys along the way.

Design & Development

Battle Bones was designed by Ed Watts, who also designed Dragon Walker. Watts’ concept at (below) is very close to what was actually produced, although the body was elongated, a handle was added on the back, and the teeth, eyes and horns were somewhat modified:

Image Source: Dark Horse/The Power and the Honor Foundation

According to The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, one proposed early name for Battle Bones was “Dem Bones”.

A patent was filed for the toy on December 14, 1984. The inventors are listed as Michael W. Barbato, Tony Rhodes, and Edward W. Watts. Watts of course did the visual design, but apparently the concept was created by all three. From the abstract:

A holder for animated figures in the form of the simulated skeletal structure of a prehistoric beast, including a simulated rib cage having clip members at the extremities thereof. Each of the clip members is configured for frictionally retaining an animated figure toy at a portion of its anatomy, particularly the waist. The animated figure holder is provided with a handle for carrying, and includes a skull configured to provide storage space.

Production Toy

The production toy was shipped partially disassembled, requiring a few screws and a screwdriver in order to connect the handle and the front and back halves of the body.

The toy can fit a total of twelve figures on clips on the ribs, six to a side. Like Stridor and Night Stalker, it’s mostly unarticulated, save for a hinge joint on the mouth, where accessories can be stored. The figure was cast in an off-white color, with no additional paint applications.

Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys apparently released a painted version of the toy, with a stripe of dark gray paint down the middle of the back and head. It’s known as “Camo Battle Bones” as a reference to “Kamo Khan“, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about it.

Packaging

The box art for Battle Bones was illustrated by William George. Two separate scenes are depicted on the front of the the box – one with Battle Bones acting as a carrying case, with Evil and Heroic Warriors clipped in, and one with the figure transporting characters into battle:

As depicted in the box art, Battle Bones could be used by either heroic or evil warriors. That idea is fleshed out more in the minicomics, and repeated in a 1985 poster by William George (featured later in the article).

Advertisement & Catalogs

Battle Bones was of course featured in Mattel’s own catalogs, but also advertised by a number of different retailers:

1985 JC Penny Catalog. Source: R.M. Hart
1986 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Source: Battle Armor Dad
Source: www.battlegrip.com
Image source: Steve Macrocranios
Image Source: Super Shogun
Image source: He-Man.org

Minicomics

Battle Bones’ backstory is laid out in Skeletor’s Dragon, a minicomic that came packed with Dragon Blaster Skeletor. In the story, Skeletor raises a buried pile of dinosaur bones to life, and forces the undead creature to do his evil bidding.

Eventually the Sorceress frees Battle Bones from Skeletor’s spell, and we learn that the creature is good, not evil. Battle Bones speaks to the Heroic Warriors, delivering a surprisingly poignant backstory:

In the minicomic, The Stench of Evil, Battle Bones is chosen by He-Man to go up against Stinkor, because Battle Cat wouldn’t be able to stand the smell:

Magazine

Battle Bones appears in a 1985 German MOTU Magazine, which used photos and dioramas to tell stories:

German Audio Stories

Battle Bones makes an appearance in the 1986 Europa audio story, “Skeletors Sieg”:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Stamp Case & Knock-Offs

HG Toys produced an adorable miniature Battle Bones Stamp Case for holding the various MOTU stamps that were released over the years:

The case was later bootlegged (with some slight modifications) as the Creepy Crawlers “Goop-A-Saurus”.

Artwork

Battle Bones appeared in a couple of posters that, like the box art, were illustrated by William George:

Image Courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Battle Bones also makes appearances in posters made available to members of the UK MOTU Fan Club:

Image source: He-Man.org
Image Source: He-Man.org

Battle Bones in Action

Øyvind Meisford contributed the following image and video of Battle Bones in action:

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Evil Beasts, Powers of Grayskull

Tyrantisaurus Rex – Most Terrifying Dinosaur in the land of Preternia (1987)

Although I missed most of the 1987 wave of Masters of the Universe figures, I did happen to catch Tyrantisaurus Rex. A remember being at a friend’s house, and he showed me his new purple cyborg dinosaur that could shoot a green drone from its belly. At the time I had moved on to G.I. Joe, but I thought it was a pretty cool looking toy. I actually happened upon the figure again, years later at a university reptile show intended for kids. There was a table full of dinosaur toys, and there in the heap was Tyrantisaurus.

Design & Development

The earliest design artwork for a MOTU T-Rex comes from Alan Tyler. His take on the concept is quite different from what followed. The design below doesn’t have any external cybernetic parts. Aside from the pop out opening in the back, it looks like a fairly realistic tyrannosaurus. The “drone” is actually an organic creature instead of a mechanical one.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

At some point the concept was turned over to David Wolfram. This was actually David’s first project for Masters of the Universe. As he explained in my interview with him:

I was in my last term at Art Center College of Design, and had a fairly light schedule, so I checked into freelance opportunities offered through the job placement department at AC (I can’t remember exactly what they were called), and saw an opportunity to work on a project for Mattel.

I went to Mattel, and met with Martin Arriola to discuss the project, which happened to be a dinosaur project for MOTU. Coincidentally, at my drawing board I had a small black and white TV, and as I was working on my school projects, I would always watch the afternoon MOTU cartoons, so I knew the property, plus I had a lifelong interest in dinosaurs, so I jumped at the opportunity. I worked on this project on a freelance basis until graduation, then I started working in-house at Mattel as a temp, which is the back door way that many people end up working there.

Here is my concept drawing for Tyrantisaurus Rex. It originally started out as a heroic vehicle, but marketing begrudgingly made the decision that it would be better suited for Skeletor.

David Wolfram
Image courtesy of David Wolfram

The above illustration by David Wolfram, dated November 21, 1985, is very close to the look of the actual production toy. The only obvious difference is the color of the gun, which is gray in the concept art.

Production Toy

We can see the translation of the concept design into mass-produced toy below, first in the cross sell artwork (a nearly photo-realistic drawing of the figure) and in the mass produced toy below.

Tyrantisaurus Rex cross sell artwork. Image source: The Art of He-Man
1987 Mattel retail catalog. Image source: Orange Slime
Source: He-Man.it Forum

A hatch on the back of the figure opens up to allow an action figure to sit. A hatch on the stomach stores the “Dyna-Drone” (a wind-up spinning toy), which can be launched from the figure’s belly. There is a removable blue gun that attaches to the dinosaur’s right shoulder, and the mouth is articulated.

Packaging

The box art on the front of the packaging was illustrated by Warren Hile, who also worked on the Bionatops and Turbodactyl packaging:

I don’t know who did the artwork on the back of the packaging, but I’ve transcribed the backstory:

Travel back in time through a secret time portal-and discover the ORIGIN of THE POWERS OF GRAYSKULL! Learn how He-Man became so strong! And explore the magical world of Preternia – home of HE-RO, the Most Powerful WIZARD in the Universe!

Monstrous dinosaurs and fierce giants – both good and evil – struggle violently for control of this strange & hostile land! The dinosaurs in the time of HE-RO – Tyrantisaurus Rex, Bionatops and Turbodactyl – each posess a fantastic mechanical power. Can HE-RO master all the good magic of the Ancient Wizards and protect future Eternia from forever falling into the claws of evil?

Look for He-Ro and the Powers of Grayskull coming your way in 1987!

He-Ro was never released of course, although a replica of the unproduced figure will be available in 2019 from Super7. The giants mentioned in the text were Tytus and Megator, which ended up being offered for sale in Europe in 1988, but not in the US. Tyrantisaurus is depicted on the back and front of the box as being ridden by King Hiss, which was also the case in the minicomics, as we will see later.

There is also this profile of Tyrantisaurus Rex on the back:

Tyrantisaurus Rex:
Profile: Most Terrifying Dinosaur in the land of Preternia
Special weapon: Hidden Dyna-Drone bursts out of Belly! Bowls Over Enemies!
Origin: Related to the Ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex from Pre-Historic Earth!

The 1987 Style Guide had a similar description of the character

Comics & Stories

The Powers of Grayskull: The Legend Begins was to be the first of a “3 part saga.” Unfortunately with the cancellation of the line, the next two parts were never published. In the story, Skeletor followed He-Man and Sorceress back in time to ancient Preternia, where he allies with King Hiss and causes trouble. A battle ensues, with a disguised He-Man riding Bionatops and King Hiss on Tyrantisaurus.

Source: Dark Horse

In Journey To Preternia, in the 1987 Spring issue of MOTU Magazine, Skeletor and He-Man accidentally travel through a time portal, and end up allying with their respective dinosaurs and hashing things out in a predictable way. In this story, there are multiple Tyrantisauruses.

The Summer 1987 MOTU Magazine also had a story featuring multiple Tyrantisauruses:

Tyrantisaurus is colored green and presented as belonging to the Evil Horde in the He-Man newspaper comic series (thanks to Dušan M. and Øyvind Meisfjord for the heads up!). Once again we see multiples of the fearsome cyborg T-Rex:

The creature is also green in issue 3 of the 1987 UK MOTU comic series, again with a green color scheme. In the story, Tung Lashor refers to it as a “Warsaur”, which might be an early working name for the creature (thanks to Petteri H. for the tip).

Artwork

Tyrantisaurus was featured on two covers of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine, which were illustrated by Earl Norem:

Source: He-Man.org
Source: He-Man.org

William George also illustrated the dinosaur in his Preternia poster:

Source: Jukka Issakainen

Errol McCarthy illustrated the figure for a T-shirt design (again in green, like the newspaper comic):

Source: He-Man.org

Tyrantisaurus is one of the cooler looking beasts of tail end of the line. Because he was produced in limited quantities, he’s quite pricey these days, but a must-have for any aspiring Preternia collector.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Tyrantisaurus in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following image and videos of the Tyrantisaurus Rex in action:

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Snake Men

King Hiss – Dreadful disguised leader of the SNAKE MEN (1986)

Co-written with Jukka Issakainen

On a family trip in 1986 I was faced with something of a dilemma. On the way to California in the car, we had stopped off at store that had a nice selection of He-Man toys, and I was told that I could pick two. I was determined that both figures be Snake Men, but which ones to get?

I  was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or perhaps the newly released King Hiss or Rattlor. I don’t remember seeing Tung Lashor at the time. After studying all three toys and their packaging intently, I concluded that King Hiss was a cool idea, but his hidden snake body wasn’t all that great looking, so I went with the other two figures instead.

The Snake Men, with Kobra Khan retconned into the faction

Design & Development

When Mattel and Filmation were working on the She-Ra Princess of Power animated series, they designed lot of characters in concert. The Evil Horde cartoon designs were meant for She-Ra’s show because the He-Man series had ended on its second season. Characters like Rattlor and Tung Lashor were created very early on. Mattel would later come up with a third evil faction, thanks to Tim Kilpin; the Snake Men, into which King Hiss was created. Rattlor and Tung Lashor served him, with Kobra Khan was retconned into the group as well.

Some additional background from James Eatock:

As for the snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor were designed ahead of King Hiss (and included as Horde Villains based on their earliest designs). By the time King Hiss was completed and the Snake Men as a faction had been created, She-Ra was already in full swing.

James Eatock

Various minicomics acknowledged Rattlor and Tung Lashor working for Evil Horde and used them from there on out as King Hiss’ servants. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that King Hiss was being planned for Filmation’s He-Man or She-Ra cartoons. During the She-Ra series, Rattlor and Tung Lashor sometimes were aligned with Skeletor, and sometimes with Hordak.

In terms of play concept, King Hiss came out of a series of designs by Ted Mayer for a figure concept that would have a removable outer disguise. One of the most well-known of the unproduced concepts is a character with a removable plant-like outer shell, as shown in the image below:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

One of Ted’s concept designs included a green-costumed monster with tangle of coiled snakes hidden beneath his costume:

Image source: http://ted-mayer.com
Another take on the hidden snake creature concept. This one has a more alien-looking disguise. Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

Ted’s concept art was quite creepy, both on the inside and on the outside. The toy design, on the other hand, was greatly toned down in comparison. The outside of the figure was given a heroic appearance. The idea was that King Hiss could trick the heroes into believing he was on their side, only to betray them and reveal the mass of snakes underneath. The mass of snakes was unfortunately limited by the constraints of having to fit inside a plastic shell depicting the human costume, so the snake part of the figure was a bit underwhelming.

King Hiss cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Action Figure

The shell of the costume consisted of four parts. The front and back of the chest and head, and the two arms. The torso piece completely concealed what was underneath, but the arms were open at the back. Consequently, the backs of King Hiss’ snake arms were painted green to match the external disguise.

King Hiss was given a serpent shield and snake staff. The staff would be reused for Rattlor, Tung Lashor and Snake Face, and consequently is one of the most reused weapon designs in the MOTU line. Everything else on King Hiss was a unique piece.

On September 27, 1985, Mattel filed a patent claim on King Hiss. The inventors listed are Roger Sweet and Ted Mayer.

Packaging

King Hiss’ artwork on the back was done by an unknown artist. Uniquely, it functions like a three-panel comic, telling the story of King Hiss’ gimmick.

Image source: KMKA

In Belgium, there was a special release of King Hiss that included a fold-out reversible mask in the packaging:

Characterization

The 1987 Style Guide describes King Hiss in terms of his gimmick:

Power: Disguises himself as a Heroic warrior, then peels back skin to reveal a snake creature – designed to take victims by surprise.

Style Guide
From the style guide. Artwork by Errol McCarthy

There is also a fact file on all the Snake Men in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Comics and Stories

In King of the Snake Men, Skeletor unleashes King Hiss from an energy pool he finds in the depths of Snake Mountain. King Hiss had apparently been trapped for thousands of years. In the story (illustrated by Bruce Timm), he teams up with Skeletor to lure He-Man into a trap:


Later in the story, King Hiss tells He-Man how thousands of years ago, he was rule of an empire of Snake Men that held dominance over several other planets. He came to Eternia and took up residence in Snake Mountain. Ultimately he was banished to another dimension by the Council of Elders, until Skeletor freed him.

In the Kid Stuff story, Battle Under Snake Mountain, King Hiss rules Snake Mountain, as if Skeletor never existed:

The Summer 1986 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine features the story, The Armies of King Hiss. Skeletor teams up with Hiss and his Snake Men against He-Man:

King Hiss shows up in several issues of the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine as well:

King Hiss appears in the November 1986 Star Comics story, Snakes Alive! In the story, we learn that Rio Blast is terrified of Snakes, which King Hiss uses to his advantage:

“He-Ro, Land of Legend” and He-Man Newspaper Strips

The Filmation “He-Ro Land of Legend” development from 1986 has a snake man character which possibly is the one Gérald Forton designed, and later used in the newspaper comic strip story arc, “Vengeance of the Viper King”:

From the Dark Horse He-Man Newspaper Comic Strips Collection

In “Vengeance of the Viper King,” King Hiss has the unique look only when in his true form. In his disguised form, he looks on model with the action figure:

Powers of Grayskull

King Hiss was to be (apparently) a principal villain in the abandoned Powers of Grayskull line. Tyrantisaurus Rex was envisioned as his primary mount:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man
From The Powers of Grayskull minicomic

Artwork

King Hiss appears in poster art by both William George and Earl Norem:

Artwork by William George. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.
Artwork by Earl Norem

Errol McCarthy also created several illustrations of the character:

King Hiss also makes an appearance in the box art for Tyrantisaurs Rex and Turbodactyl, both illustrated on the front by Warren Hile:

King Hiss had his limitations as an action figure, but he was actually an interesting concept and pretty fun to play with.

King Hiss in Action

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

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