Evil Mutants

Optikk – Evil Mutant Spy (1990)

Of all the New Adventures of He-Man figures, Optikk is perhaps the most well-known and well-liked among He-Man fans. What’s not to like about an armored walking eyeball?

Design & Development

Optikk was designed by David Wolfram, who worked on most of the evil characters in the New Adventures line. In my interview with David, he had this to say about Optikk:

It was always one of my favorites. He was originally something that I did for a MOTU theme testing board, and he made it into the first wave of evil New Adventures figures.

As designers, we had been asking for quite a while for some nice molded metallics, and we finally got them. I know I used a lot of that dark bronze and copper over the next few years. We actually had a fairly limited palette to work from based on the Munsell color system, and unfortunately many of the colors were too ‘pretty’ for my design ethic, so I ended up using the same colors over and over again. To get any new colors into the system took forever, and took an act of congress. Later, as we started working on more licensed properties where we had to used specific colors from a style guide, that system was abandoned.

David Wolfram
Image courtesy of David Wolfram. Dated May 18, 1987
“Eyeyik” concept. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog. Dated August 21, 1987.
Image source: Dark Horse/Power and Honor Foundation. Note that this is a modified version of the earliest concept art, with added color and technological detail.

The earliest incarnation of Optikk, shown first in the concept art above, shows a totally organic monster creature, which makes sense as he was originally slated for the Masters of the Universe line. As the design evolved (and was slated for the New Adventures line), more and more mechanical and technological elements were added.

In the early sketch of Optikk, the thought was that his eye would be removable and go into the forks of the staff. We were looking at making the eye like the compasses that went on car dashboards at that time, but I imagine that approach ended up being too expensive, so we went with the simpler execution. The eye tampo design was the same one that I had designed and used on “Boglins”, another Mattel creature line from that time.

David Wolfram
Boglins Dwork puppet

Regarding Optikk’s costume design, David ended up repurposing the legs and right arm from his space pirate character design into Optikk (other elements ended up in Disks of Doom Skeletor):

Image courtesy of David Wolfram

The final painted prototype is shown below, with a somewhat different eye design than used on the final figure, and with a red and yellow design. This would be the model for the artwork used on the figure’s packaging.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Production Figure & Packaging

Optikk had a couple of action features: a quick-draw right arm that would spring into action after being held down, and a dial on his back that would allow his eye to be turned left and right:

He was produced using a dark metallic bronze plastic with swirl patterns throughout. He also came with a silver metallic “photon neutralizer” weapon. The figure was trademarked on April 24, 1989, and copyrighted on July 31, 1989.

The card for the figure includes artwork on the front by William George, and the back of the package provided some background on the character and his abilities:

Evil Mutant Spy from the foggy polar region of evil planet Denebria. The Debenrian fog is so dense here that he has a spyball eyeball that sees through almost anything. His rotating spyball and his Photon Neutralizer weapon make him one of the meanest mutants in the Tri-Solar System.

Mission: To assist Skeletor and the rest of the Evil Mutants by keeping his eye on He-Man and the Galactic Guardians from planet Primus.

Battle Equipment: Photon Neutralizer weapon

The figure appears in various Mattel catalogs, advertisements and magazines:

Comics & Artwork

Optikk appears in the 1990 UK He-Man Annual, in a story called “Into The Deepest Dungeon”. Strangely, he calls his weapon the “Fazer Flash Gun” rather than the Photon Neutralizer.

Images via He-Man.org

In the same Annual, Optikk is described as “half creature, half machine”:

In the minicomic Skeletor’s Journey, Optikk and Slush Head get into some childish squabbles with each other:

In Revenge of Skeletor and Battle For The Crystal, Optikk is more of a background character:

Optikk also makes an appearance in a comic included with an Italian notebook, with a novel color scheme:

Image source: He-Man.org

Incidentally, the art from the notebook cover reuses a pose from Masks of Power, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala:

Optikk also appears in the UK and German He-Man adventure magazines:

Animation

In the animated New Adventures of He-Man series, Optikk, is usually more of a background character, playing the role of spy, navigator and pilot:

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Heroic Warriors, Super7 5.5" Figures

He-Man: Most powerful man in the universe! (2018)

Announced in 2017, Super7’s vintage style, 5.5″ Filmation inspired He-Man figure was released in 2018 along with similar versions of Skeletor, She-Ra and Hordak. The design ethos seems to be based on the following premise: what if, in the 1980s, Mattel released a series of He-Man variant figures that were “as seen on TV”? That’s pretty much exactly what we get with this series, including the occasional design shortcuts that Mattel might plausibly have implemented in the 80s.

Design & Development

Within the packaging for He-Man we get a brief write-up of the history of how He-Man’s design was translated from toy to cartoon:

In the above sheet (put together by The Power and The Honor Foundation), we see the vintage He-Man figure, along with the animated commercial version, and a finalized version of He-Man’s animated design.

In He-Man’s first animated appearance (a commercial animated by Filmation Studios to help advertise the toyline), He-Man more or less follows the design of the action figure, including the rectangular details on his harness and the round designs on his belt and bracers. He also carries his axe and sword, which were originally intended to be his primary accessories. The commercial can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BpmvudrnPlj/

As shown in the card that came with the Super7 He-Man figure, He-Man’s more detailed action figure design was simplified for ease of animation once the animated series was greenlit for development. His primary weapon became his power sword in the series.

The prototype He-Man figure was revealed in February of 2017 at New York Toy Fair. It’s pretty close to the mass produced figure, although his colors are a bit different, and the hair separation is better on the prototype. He also has a nice matte finish throughout.

Image source: He-Man.org

An early factory sample with some quality control issues was also shown a bit later along in the process. The red paint is flaking off of the harness, which seems to have been made from some sparkling metallic plastic material. This issue would be corrected on the final figure.

Image source: He-Man.org

Production Figure

Design-wise, the sculpt of the chest and pelvis seem to be taken directly from the vintage 1982 figure. The arms are based on the vintage figure as well, but the bracers have been made symmetrical and their design simplified. The feet have been changed, removing all the wrap detail from the original boot design.

He-Man has the same spring-loaded power punch feature of the 1982 original. The figure comes with a cartoon style power sword, as well as a shield (used rarely by Prince Adam in the cartoon) and a half sword that fits with the corresponding Skeletor half sword. Incidentally, He-Man was depicted with the shield in Filmation’s promotional materials, and the half sword almost made it into the show:

Image source: La Cueva del Terror
Image source: James Eatock

The figure’s harness unfortunately doesn’t fit very well around the back, and sits a bit low. It can be made to sit more or less correctly, but requires some finessing. Also, the figure is extremely glossy. I was able to coat the figure with Vallejo Matt Varnish to somewhat reduce the glossiness:

Packaging

The design of the packaging was directed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. The main carded version (which was actually released second) is based on the original 1980s design, with an “AS SEEN ON TV” burst which, although not featured on vintage MOTU packaging, was pretty commercially ubiquitous at one point. The shape of the bubble on the front has been altered compared to the vintage packaging.

Image source: Brooklyn Comic Shop

The main artwork on the back was done by Errol McCarthy, who worked on cardback art for most of the vintage MOTU figures. The Filmation-style cross sell artwork and the insert were illustrated by Emiliano Santalucia:

The first version to be released was actually a two pack, in the style of some of the vintage figure gift sets. This set was released in limited numbers.

Another limited release of the figure came in the form of a “Los Amos” package, based on the design of vintage “Los Amos” (Mexico) figures:

Yet another version will also be released in the style of the Japanese Takara packaging:

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Heroic Warriors, Powers of Grayskull

Eldor – Heroic Guardian of the Book of Living Spells (1987/2019)

Elder was a heroic mentor character from the partially-realized Powers of Grayskull spinoff line. I say partially realized because three dinosaurs (Tyrantisaurus, Bionatops, Turbodactyl) were released under the Powers of Grayskull label, although no standard-sized figures were.

The giants Tytus and Megator would have had that label as well had they been released in the US as planned, however their limited European release in 1988 omitted the POG logo. Eldor appeared in Mattel’s 1987 dealer catalog, but was not released until 2019, under the Super7 label.

Design & Development

Eldor originates with a series of concept drawing in October of 1985, at around the same time He-Ro was being developed. The 2019 release actually includes a booklet outlining the character’s history, and includes a number of concept art pieces. It’s quite a nicely put together history of the figure, co-written by Emiliano Santalucia and James Eatock, and compiled by The Power and the Honor Foundation:

I would encourage everyone to pick up the 2019 Super7 Eldor figure if you’re able to – the figure itself is very well done, and it’s worth it even just for the booklet. In the meantime, I’ll report on some points of the history they outline in their research.

Eldor began as a series of drawings by Alan Tyler, under the working names Mentor and Doran. Tyler experimented with two different ideas – either a bearded human-like figure or an alien figure with a crystal-like face. Some of his bearded human face designs were shared between both He-Ro and Eldor, but ultimately Eldor ended up with the beard. Tyler’s earliest Eldor design actually shares the same body as his first He-Ro design, so there was a lot of mixing and matching of different ideas in his design process. The images below come from the booklet:

Tyler’s designs also featured a number of stylized Castle Grayskull graphics that were to be included either on the figure’s chest or belt:

In the illustration below (from the booklet), we see a breakdown of all the different parts for the figure. In this iteration, we see that the figure would have been able to move his head up and down – a feature not preserved in the final prototype. He also would have had a rotating scroll accessory:

Compared the design above, the prototype below (from Mattel’s 1987 dealer catalog) omits the extra head articulation, closes up his hoodie a bit, and tones down the boot top size. His Book of Living Spells accessory has been changed to a simpler tri-fold design.

We also know based on surviving test shots that Eldor was to have a cap on his head, worn under the hood:

Original Eldor test shot. Photo: John English

Backstory

If we’re sticking to published vintage material, we don’t have much to go on as far as Eldor’s backstory goes. Most of what we know is based on surviving packaging material:

Most of Eldor’s characterization focuses on the Book of Living Spells, which was to be his accessory. According to the packaging:

Profile: Heroic Guardian of the Book of Living Spells – responsible for transforming Gray into He-Ro, the Most Powerful Wizard in the Universe!

Weapon: The knowledge of the Ancients

Origin: Unknown

The Book of Living Spells: The Book of Living Spells contains the ultimate secrets of Preternia – the Secrets of Transformation. Thus, whenever Eldor opens it, he can uncover all the secrets of past, present and future Eternia – AND CHANGE IT! For nothing on Preternia stays the same… as you will soon see!

There are a couple of Mattel documents that seem to point toward some preliminary ideas that lead to the creation of the Powers of Grayskull concept. The concept included a range/paladin character with a bond with nature as well as a sage character – these seem to be early incarnations of He-Ro and Eldor. A giant is even included, which seems to point to Tytus.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Artwork

Eldor appears in very little surviving artwork, outside of his packaging. We have this piece below, by artist Errol McCarthy, and the line art for the cardback scene on the packaging by the same artist.

Images via He-Man.org

Artwork was also produced internally at Mattel illustrating the world of Preternia. Within the scene there is a bearded old wizard with a cloak working some magic against a giant snake. This might be a representation of Eldor, although I’m not certain on that point:

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

A poster by Emiliano Santalucia called “Age Of Preternia” will shortly be released by Mad Duck Posters, which depicts He-Ro, Eldor, Sharella (the tribal chieftess mentioned in He-Ro’s backstory) and Keldor (Skeletor before he was transformed into his current form):

Super7 Figure

Super7 announced in 2017 that they would be releasing 5.5″ scale figures based on the original 1987 He-Ro and Eldor prototypes. The figures were recreations of the originals, sculpted by the Four Horsemen. At least one complete and one partial original test shot of Eldor still exist, but unfortunately Super7 was unable to gain access to it, so the figure had to be sculpted from scratch.

Super7 prototypes
Vintage Eldor test shot

The figure was released in a reproduction package and card that closely followed the look of what would have been released in 1987:

The packaging is closely based on the original surviving packaging proofs, albeit with some changes to the text to denote manufacturer and the fact that the modern version comes with stickers, not holograms (holograms proved too expensive for this release).

Speaking of stickers, here are the ones that come with Eldor. I’m not sure if these are vintage or newly created based on the original cardback instructions (update: Alberto in the comments and Jukka Issakainen note that the stickers have Emiliano Santalucia’s signature on them, meaning they were newly illustrated for this project).

The Super7 Eldor figure features wrist articulation and a soft plastic (non-removable) hoodie. The head doesn’t seem to be able to turn. He has the familiar spring waist action feature. The gray areas of his costume have an opalescent quality, similar to the original prototype:

The Book of Living spells opens from opposite ends, allowing you to store and display each of the four stickers included with the figure:

On the Lords of Power Facebook page, a photo comparison was posted of a painted casting of the original Eldor test shot verses the Super7 release. The original version was apparently quite short. The modern release has a much taller torso and larger head. The modern figure isn’t actually any shorter than a typical vintage He-Man figure (taking the hood into account), so the vintage one was going to be fairly diminutive.

Of the two newly-released Super7 Powers of Grayskull figures, Eldor is probably my favorite. He’s a bit understated and mysterious, which is of course fitting given his role in the story.

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Heroic Warriors, Powers of Grayskull

He-Ro – The Most Powerful Wizard in the Universe (1987/2019)

He-Ro was the protagonist from the partially-realized Powers of Grayskull spinoff line. I say partially realized because three dinosaurs (Tyrantisaurus, Bionatops, Turbodactyl) were released under the Powers of Grayskull label, although no standard-sized figures were. The giants Tytus and Megator would have had that label as well had they been released in the US as planned, however their limited European release in 1988 omitted the POG logo. He-Ro appeared in Mattel’s 1987 dealer catalog, but was not released until 2019, under the Super7 label.

Design & Development

He-Ro originates with some concept art by Alan Tyler, created in October of 1985. The 2019 release actually includes a booklet outlining the character’s history, and includes a number of concept art pieces. It’s quite a nicely put together history of the figure, co-written by Emiliano Santalucia and James Eatock, and compiled by The Power and the Honor Foundation:

I would encourage everyone to pick up the 2019 Super7 He-Ro figure if you’re able to – the figure itself is very well done, and it’s worth it even just for the booklet. In the meantime, I’ll report on some points of the history they outline in their research.

He-Ro began as a series of drawings by Alan Tyler, under the name Lord Grayskull. The earliest version has kind of a rugged, heavily-armored look, but Tyler experimented will many different ideas, including giving the character a gnarly, dwarfish appearance. The images below come from the booklet:

Eventually the look evolved into something a bit more toned down, while remaining quite ornate. He-Ro was given golden armor and boots, and a red cape. The “G” symbol stayed on his costume for some time, eventually being replaced with a stylized H for He-Ro. However, the G symbol, especially the design in the third image below, does show up on the costume of the giant Tytus:

The Preternian giant Tytus, with Lord Grayskull’s symbol on his chest.

The final design is a cross between the red caped concept and the version with the silver gauntlets, below.

Grayskull was actually trademarked on June 23, 1986. This is most likely relating to the figure and not to Castle Grayskull, as the later was trademarked years earlier. “Powers of Grayskull” was trademarked on September 22 of the same year.

A prototype for the figure was shown in Mattel’s 1987 dealer catalog, indicating that Mattel was indeed planning to release the figure. However, tanking sales caused the plug to be pulled on He-Ro.

Backstory

Mattel put together a Powers of Grayskull licensing kit, which included an illustration of the character by Errol McCarthy and a lengthy backstory for He-Ro:

From the style guide:

He-Ro

Name: Gray

Identity: Secret Ancestor of He-Man and She-Ra

Real Name: He-Ro, Alter Ego of Gray

Role: First recipient of The Powers of Grayskull and original leader of heroic forces in prehistoric Eternia against the evil Dino Reptilian Kingdom.

Power: As well as possessing the fabulous strength of He-Man, He-Ro has another power uniquely his own. It is the power of natural magic; an ability to magically influence elements of nature. He-Ro draws his power from the Book of Transformation.

Character Profile: Reared under the tutelage of his mentor, ELDOR, and the tribal chieftess, Sharella, Gray was one day mysteriously drawn to a nearby cave. There, in darkness and in light, he was invested with the newly evolved powers that would change his his life and alter the course of history in Eternia. The exact details of what transpired in that cave have remained secret, but Eldor has made cryptic allusions…references to the boy’s mysterious past, to an amazing legacy… and an awesome task which Gray accomplished that day in the cave. By placing one hand on his heart, flexing the other arm into a muscle and incanting, “Magic and strength…tempered by heart!” Gray causes an amazing transformation to occur, becoming the He-Ro of Grayskull and announcing, “I stand for Peace!”

Weapons: He-Ro channels his energy through a marvelous staff which can direct a magic ray to specific parts of the environment, causing the likes of inanimate rocks, rivers, and trees to respond to his commands.

Note: With powers of this scope, it might seem ludicrous to suggest anyway in which He-Ro could be less powerful than He-Man. But He-Man does have one power He-Ro lacks: the power of wisdom and maturity. He-Ro is younger and still learning to use his powers.

So essentially He-Ro is similar to He-Man in strength, with added earth magic powers, but he doesn’t have the wisdom and maturity of He-Man. His alter ego, Gray, is depicted in the card art for Eldor:

There are a couple of surviving Mattel documents that seem to point toward some preliminary ideas that lead to the creation of the Powers of Grayskull concept. The concept included a range/paladin character with a bond with nature as well as a sage character – these seem to be early incarnations of He-Ro and Eldor. A giant is even included, which seems to point to Tytus.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Minicomics

He-Ro only appears once in any of the original MOTU minicomics, and it’s in a single scene, in shadow. The Powers of Grayskull: The Legend Begins! was meant to introduce the Powers of Grayskull storyline. In the story, He-Man and the Sorceress go back to Preternian times, and are unknowingly followed by Skeletor. Skeletor teams up with King Hiss, at which point He-Man (in disguise) is obliged to interfere. However, in the middle of the battle, He-Ro steps in and returns everyone to their proper time.

He-Ro’s magical staff is based on earlier concept art.

Other Artwork

He-Ro appears in a number of pieces of artwork by Errol McCarthy, including the cardback art he did for He-Ro and Eldor, as well as artwork for licensed products:

He-Ro also appears on the packaging artwork for Turbodactyl, Megator and Tytus:

Artwork was also produced internally at Mattel illustrating the world of Preternia. This scene mirrors some of the plot of The Powers of Grayskull minicomic:

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

A poster by Emiliano Santalucia called “Age Of Preternia” will shortly be released by Mad Duck Posters, which depicts He-Ro, Eldor, Sharella (the tribal chieftess mentioned in He-Ro’s backstory) and Keldor (Skeletor before he was transformed into his current form):

Mad Duck also put out a poster by Rob Ayotte called “Ancients”, which features He-Ro, Tytus, Megator, King and Queen Grayskull (from the 200x continuity), Rattlor, Snake Face, and other Preternia characters.

Super7 Figure

Super7 announced in 2017 that they would be releasing 5.5″ scale figures based on the original 1987 He-Ro and Eldor prototypes. The figures were recreations of the originals, sculpted by the Four Horsemen, Prototypes were revealed prior to their release. Initially He-Ro was to have painted metallic gold armor and boots, although the final version was released with gold vac metal boots and chest armor, following the look of the original Mattel design.

The figure was released in a reproduction package and card that closely followed the look of what would have been released in 1987:

As noted in the illustrations above, He-Ro was to have a magical staff that would pop open upon pressing down on the green gem. That feature was replicated in the Super7 release. This was worked out by the Power and Honor Foundation team by reverse-engineering the design based on the surviving card art.

However, the 1987 figure was also going to have a button on its back that would have caused its right arm to swing forward. That was omitted from the 2019 release, I assume due to cost or lack of sufficient design information. It does, however, have the typical spring waist feature.

The original figure also would have come with (presumably) part 2 of the Powers of Grayskull minicomic series. Since that has not been located, the previously mentioned booklet explaining the figure’s origins was included instead.

The Super7 figure, overall, looks very close to the vintage prototype. The facial expression is a bit more intense, and the detail on the hair is a bit more sharp. There are a few other differences, like a narrower face and neck, slightly longer legs, slightly differently shaped shoulders, and a smaller pelvis piece. But most of these these are almost imperceptible, and probably unavoidable without access to the original sculpture.

Super7 He-Ro and Eldor
Vintage prototype
Comparison photo put together by Tokyonever. Vintage on left, 2019 release on right.

Regarding the design of the figure, He-Ro is a certainly an eye-catching figure with his shiny gold costume and red cape. If I had been polled by Mattel at the time of the character’s development, I probably would have pushed them to make the ancestor of He-Man look a bit more rough and barbaric-looking (and indeed that was done with the 200x King Grayskull character). But then again by the late 80s the classic sword and sorcery craze had largely faded away, and I’m sure vac metal was a big selling point on toy shelves.

Regardless of all that, I’m delighted that Super7 put this long-awaited figure in the hands of fans. I very much hope that either Super7 or Mattel gives us more concept and prototype figures in the 5.5″ scale in the future. This is a fantastic way for collectors of the original vintage line to expand their collection.

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