Comics

Early Alcala reference material

Frequent readers of this blog know that if there is one aspect of Masters of the Universe that endlessly fascinates me, it’s the early minicomics and the concept toy designs for the brand. As I was reviewing the recent Power-Con “Lords of Power” set, I noticed that Alfredo Alcala, illustrator of the first four minicomics (or really, story books) for the series seemed to be using two different references for He-Man, in his early material. I thought it might be interesting to identify all of the reference material Alcala used, based on similarity to known prototypes and concept art.

Before I get into that, I should note some actual extant reference material that Alcala used still exists, and was shared by his son, Alfred Junior. Mattel sent Alfredo Sr. some actual toys to use as references, which were well-loved by his son. It seems that Alcala used this in later comics (he illustrated various comics for the 1983 and 1984 waves). The Teela head below is actually an early incarnation with sculpted eyelids, not present on the production toy, so that might have been used for his 1982 material (images courtesy of Alfred Alcala Jr.).

I thought I would trace the references he used in the first four minicomics by character. I’m also operating under the assumption that the order of illustration of the comics is He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, and Battle in the Clouds. That assumption is based on the evolving look of the characters and how that matches with the evolution of the character designs at Mattel. I’m also going to include some early line art that the artist did for He-Man and the Power Sword.

He-Man

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

The earliest Alcala comic, He-Man and the Power Sword, is the only one of the series to feature He-Man with his boot dagger, which shows up in several panels. The dagger shows up only in Mark Taylor’s B-sheet art, and not in any known prototypes, so the reference material at the start must have been Mark’s B-sheet. I imagine someone at Mattel told Alcala to skip the helmet, as they had decided to nix that early on. You can also see the early belt design in several panels (square center buckle, furry shorts spilling over the top). In some panels you do see the revised belt (cleaner top, round center buckle), so that might have been a running change at the 11th hour. The axe and shield are also taken directly from the B-sheet.

Mark Taylor B-Sheet. Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

In the other three comics, every depiction of He-Man seems pretty clearly based on the prototype figure shown in the “Lords of Power” slide series. The defining characteristics are: no boot dagger, no bracer on the left wrist, cleaned up belt design, x-shaped harness around the back (thanks Dušan M. for the reminder) and somewhat paler skin:

Image source: Andy Youssi
Side view, in prototype Wind Raider

Skeletor

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

In all four comics, Skeletor seems to be based on both the original Mark Taylor B-sheet and on the “Lords of Power” prototype. He always has the smooth forearms of the prototype, but he also usually (but not always) has the chest straps of the B-sheet. Sometimes he has the yellow detail of either the chest (which shows up on both references) or just the shin guards (only in the B-sheet). Perhaps there was an additional transitional reference he was working from, or perhaps he simply got notes from Mattel about which arms to use, or (after the first minicomic) dropping the yellow detail on the costume. The skull is of course quite different from the “rotting face” concept. I suspect Mattel told him to replace the concept face with a skull face, and so without a reference Alcala came up with his own unique design there:

Mark Taylor concept art. Image: Super7/Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Andy Youssi
Image source: The Power of He-Man/Jukka Issakainen

Teela/Sorceress

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

Teela and Sorceress change the most from comic to comic, which makes sense, given how many changes these character designs went through behind the scenes. I’m putting them together because at times their costumes and roles converge in the early Alcala comics. Technically Sorceress only appears in the first minicomic.

In He-Man and the Power Sword, Sorceress is the guardian of the two halves of the Power Sword and Teela is a wandering warrior. In King of Castle Grayskull, Teela is the guardian of Castle Grayskull, having been selected by the Castle itself for that role. By Battle in the Clouds, Teela is back to warrior duties but she’s wearing the Sorceress’ snake armor.

Images from He-Man and the Power Sword:

The reference material for both characters above is clearly Mark Taylor’s B-sheets. The one deviation is Sorceress’ face, which Alcala colored green. That may have been an oversight. Also the staff the Sorceress uses has some kind of horn design. It’s unclear why that is.

Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation

In King of Castle Grayskull, Teela steps into the Sorceress’ role (who is never mentioned in this series again). Her costume is mainly her B-sheet design but with the Sorceress’ staff. Her boots are redder, and the hair ranges from reddish to blondish – perhaps because the hair in the B-sheet is both reddish and blondish, and the boots are somewhat ambiguous. There may have been some other lost reference material used here. Mark Taylor was also known to do several color variations of his B-sheets, so there may have been more variants that didn’t survive.

Interestingly, early line art for the final panel of that comic shows Teela with the spear from Mark Taylor’s B-sheet. In the final version, she holds the snake staff:

In The Vengeance of Skeletor, Teela looks very much like her first comic appearance (blonde hair, brown boots, with Charger), but she carries the Sorceress staff.

Finally, in Battle in the Clouds, Teela for the first time pulls from identifiably different source material – here she is based on the cross sell art that was used on the back of the action figure cards:

Beast Man

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor

In the first comic, Beast Man is depicted with red fur and a red costume with yellow medallion. In his other appearance (The Vengeance of Skeletor), he has orange fur and a red and blue costume. It’s clear that in both cases, Alcala was using Mark Taylor’s B-sheet (below for reference). But I think there must have been an all red version (with red trunks and a yellow medallion) that has unfortunately not survived.

Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation

Man-At-Arms

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

We can see a few different references used in Alcala’s early depictions of Man-At-Arms. In the unused panel below, we see a transitional version of Man-At-Arms – something in between Mark Taylor’s first, pre-MOTU concept (labeled “Paladin” below) for the character, and his B-Sheet. Unfortunately we don’t have Mark’s transitional concept, but thankfully Alcala’s interpretation still exists. What sets this version apart is the piece of armor on his right shoulder, and the bladed rifle that he carries.

Unused Alcala panel, from The Power of Grayskull documentary
Early Mark Taylor “Paladin” design
Mark Taylor B-sheet

In He-Man and the Power Sword, the reference seems to almost entirely from the “Lords of Power” prototype. It has the updated belt and the colors of the prototype, as opposed to the orange boots and squared off belt of the B-sheet. In one panel he has the fur cape, which is a holdover from the earlier design and an earlier draft panel (more on that panel later).

Man-At-Arms prototype

In Man-At-Arms’ other appearances, a major reference is the cross sell art, (note the his symmetrical helmet design and monochromic boots). However, his left arm armor still extends to his fist, which was a feature of the prototype.

Mer-Man

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

In the first three appearances, Mer-Man’s art references could have just as easily been Mark Taylor’s B-sheet or Tony Guerrero’s prototype sculpt – they are essentially the same design. Regardless of source, Alcala usually illustrated Mer-Man with a lighter blue color than what appeared in the source material:

Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Andy Youssi
Image source: The Power of Grayskull/Jukka Issakainen

In Battle in the Clouds, Alcala bases his Mer-Man on the character’s cross-sell artwork, as evidenced by the more greenish skin, simplified belt, bare feet and modified shin guards:

Stratos

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

Alcala’s Stratos illustration in the first three comics all seem to be based on Mark Taylor’s B-sheet design for the character. In the B-Sheet, Stratos seems to have gray skin, except for on his chest. Alcala may have interpreted that to mean the design wasn’t fully colored and the character was to have tan skin. Stratos also has a necklace of feathers and a large buckle at a strap near his belt.

In Battle In the Clouds, the reference changed to the updated (but still not finalized) cross sell art design:

Battle Cat

Appearances: King of Castle Grayskull, Battle in the Clouds.

Battle Cat is a surprisingly infrequent guest in the early Alcala illustrations. When he does show up he tends to have stripes on his tail, indicative of Mark Taylor’s concept art. However, it appears that the reference for Battle Cat was actually the prototype figure, which has a slightly different helmet shape than Mark’s art, as well as orange around the edges of its mouth:

Image source: Andy Youssi
Image source: Super 7/The Power and Honor Foundation

Castle Grayskull

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, King of Castle Grayskull, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

The striking Castle Grayskull depicted in the early Alcala comics is always based on the prototype castle, rather than on any known concept art. The prototype (sculpted by Mark Taylor) is quite different from Mark’s previous artwork.

Image source: James Eatock/Andy Youssi
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Vehicles

Appearances: He-Man and the Power Sword, The Vengeance of Skeletor, Battle in the Clouds.

Alcala included various vehicles in the early comics. The earliest vehicles, included in the early line art draft of He-Man and the Power Sword, were actually Mark Taylor concept vehicles. Eventually Mark brought Ted Mayer in to the project to design the vehicles, so Alcala must have started the draft before that time. The earliest known Ted Mayer concept is an early Battle Ram design from April 7, 1981, so Alcala probably started his draft images before then.

One early vehicle in the draft minicomic was a Mark Taylor chariot design, which is being driven by Man-At-Arms below:

Early Alfredo Alcala comic panel, featuring the prototype vehicle. Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary
Mark Taylor concept vehicle. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

In the final comic, that vehicle was swapped out for Ted Mayer’s concept Battle Chariot, which was also never produced. That vehicle was designed by Ted Mayer on June 5, 1981, so Alcala must have completed his work on He-Man and the Power Sword after that date.

Ted Mayer’s Battle Chariot concept

Another Mark Taylor vehicle, the Battle Catapult, shows up in Alcala’s draft below.

Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor

In the final version of the comic, it’s replaced with the Battle Ram and the Battle Chariot:

The Battle Ram itself is (which shows up in Power Sword and Vengeance) was created referencing the prototype Battle Ram toy:

Image source: Ted Mayer

The Wind Raider shows up only in Battle In The Clouds, and is based on one of the prototypes for that vehicle (which, along with Battle Ram, was sculpted by Jim Openshaw). The prototype in question had smaller engine inlet cones and its wings were straight along the trailing edge, rather than ridged.

Further reading:

Mark Taylor Interview
Ted Mayer Interview
He-Man
Skeletor
Teela
Sorceress
Man-At-Arms
Beast Man
Mer-Man
Stratos
Battle Cat
Castle Grayskull
Battle Ram
Wind Raider

Post script: I contributed to the upcoming Dark Horse book, The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s available to pre-order now!

Buying the exclusive combo pack (which includes a supplemental character guide) supports me and all the other contributors to these books: http://toyguide.thepower-con.com

You can also purchase the individual toy guide at Amazon or through Big Bad Toy Store. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

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MOTU History, MOTU Origins

The Magic of Masters of the Universe

Christmas, 1982. Up until that point all of my toys consisted of trucks, stuffed animals and tricycles – fun but fairly pedestrian and bland stuff, mainly inherited from older siblings. Then, all at once, everything changed when He-Man, Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, and Beast Man emerged from under the Christmas tree like colorful, muscle-bound invaders from an alternate dimension.

Artwork by Earl Norem. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

I hadn’t even heard of these figures before opening them up, but the experience of opening and playing with these toys for the first time is permanently etched in my brain. In this article I’d like to explore what made Masters of the Universe so magical, why it was such a hit in 1980s, and whether its latest “Origins” incarnation can capture the magic again.

He-Man

The most powerful man in the universe! Equal parts Conan, Tarzan, Luke Skywalker, Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant, He-Man was derivative of dozens of disparate but iconic characters. I wasn’t really aware of most of those influences of course. All I knew was the impact of the figure in front of me, and he looked like the ultimate hero. You didn’t need to know anything about his mythology to understand that he could take on any enemy and win. He was ridiculously muscular, to begin with. Beyond that, he had such a fierce, determined expression, you knew from looking at him that he would never back down, no matter how stacked the odds were against him. And of course his spartan costume and his edged weapons let you know he meant business.

Skeletor

Skeletor was visually the most striking of the four figures my brother and I opened on Christmas morning. If He-Man is the embodiment of life and vitality, Skeletor is the embodiment of death and decay. Of course I never would have described it in those terms at the age of 5, but the primordial and archetypal look of these characters gets the message across without using language. Because he was intended for younger children, he’s still quite colorful, but a blue-skinned evil warlord with a skull for a head is a pretty strong visual statement. I spent a lot of time studying the details of his hood, paint, and accessories.

Man-At-Arms

Man-At-Arms stood out in many ways from the other four figures. While he still had a somewhat “barbarian” look and used a blunt mace as a weapon, his costume was festooned with all kinds of high-tech gadgets, and something that looked almost like a breathing apparatus. Man-At-Arms was something of a wild card, and I had to flip through the minicomics (most notably, He-Man and the Power Sword) to understand what he was really about. As an observant kid, I took note that He-Man’s arms were much bigger than Skeletor’s or Beast Man’s arms, but I was a little annoyed when I realized that Man-At-Arms had the same build as He-Man. I thought only He-Man should look that strong.

Beast Man

Beast Man actually belonged to my brother, but right away I was drawn to his vivid color scheme and beastly appearance, particularly his face with the big fangs and blue and white coloring (whether it was meant to be face paint or his natural coloring, I wasn’t sure). But what he represented was clear. His mouth was brimming with fangs I recall having a lot of fun taking his armor on and off, and he was a great villain for He-Man to clobber.

Teela

I clearly remember playing with Teela as a child. I don’t know if that means I owned her, or if she belonged to a sibling, but her gold and white costume and mysterious deep red snake armor were etched into my brain from an early age. To me her iconic look will always be her with the red snake armor, which had that mysterious and magical quality that permeated the first wave of Masters figures.

Mer-Man

After we got the first four figures in our house in 1982, I was eagerly looking for what other figures were available in the line. The one that caught my eye the most was Mer-Man. And while the figure itself was significantly different compared to its cross sell artwork, I loved the figure from the moment I got it, and it remains probably my all-time favorite to this day. Why is that? It’s hard to quantify, but it has a lot to do with his coloring and his head sculpt. I want to say I got him around the same time as Zoar, but of course childhood memories are always a bit fuzzy.

Stratos

I remember encountering Stratos for the first time at a friend’s house. A quirky looking figure with a jetpack and wings, he straddled the line between fantasy and science fiction, just like Man-At-Arms. I thought his goggles made him look futuristic.

Zodac

Zodac was the most enigmatic of the original Masters crew. He had the most unabashed science-fiction feel, with his helmet and blaster. He has alien-looking arms and feet, but he didn’t look exactly villainous. He was always the dark horse of the original first wave of figures.

Battle Cat

Battle Cat is one of the most iconic steeds from any 1980s fantasy property, toy-based or otherwise. Simultaneously familiar and alien, he was a fierce giant tiger with green fur and a highly ornate saddle and helmet. Who would dare ride such beast? Only the most powerful man in the universe.

Castle Grayskull

Castle Grayskull really told its own story, in a way that unfolded gradually as you played with it. On the exterior, it’s a creepy and mysterious castle with a skull face at the front. It’s unclear if the skull was hewn out of the rock or if somehow it was once a living thing. Inside it’s not what you’d expect from the look of the exterior. There are computer monitors with complex buttons and wires, an elevator, and a futuristic space suit. There are weapons running the gamut from medieval to sci-fi. A two-sided flag, one clearly good, and one clearly evil. A dungeon with creepy monsters. And of course, a trap door. Where did it come from? Who does it belong to? It’s a story you can explore again and again using your figures as heroes and villains.

Why was I immediately hooked by Masters of the Universe? Well, I wasn’t alone. Even before the advent of the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, Masters figures were flying off the shelves faster than Mattel could replenish them. According to Mark Taylor, the designer behind all those early figures, Mattel was very cautious about the line to begin with, and its runaway success took everyone by surprise. In the first 10 months of its retail existence, the Masters of the Universe line sold five million figures and accounted for 19% of the male action figure market—all this during the height of Star Wars.

In an interview with former Mattel Marketing Director Mark Ellis (conducted by Danielle Gelehrter in 2013), Ellis mentioned that part of the psychology behind Masters had to do with power fantasy:

What became clear was that for a five year old, power was a central issue because seemingly they were always being bossed around. Psychologically, they wanted to be the boss. They wanted the power. This then was manifested in the figure by making him “the strongest man in the universe.” The idea is, if you are in charge of the most powerful man in the universe, then this feeds directly into the “why” of their play. As the line developed, the phrase “I have the power” was born to emphasis that point.

From He-Man and the Power Sword

That concept is mentioned in a February 1983 article about fantasy and power themes in boy’s action figures. Power Lords, MOTU, Star Wars, and GI Joe toys are all covered.

Trade ad with a focus on the power theme. Image source: James Sawyer

Certainly that power fantasy was a draw for most kids. We all wanted to have more power, but as children, we have very little control over our own lives. Beyond that I think there is another factors that explains why He-Man and his world captured the imagination of our generation: visual design.

Image courtesy of John Oswald

Masters of the Universe, at its best, taps into a visual design language that bypasses speech and goes right to the heart of storytelling. The best designs aren’t too simplistic, but not overbaked. Colorful but grounded in realism. The look of each character tells you what they can do and what side they’re on. One look at He-Man and Skeletor tells you what these characters are about. The minicomics that came each figure gave kids a rough outline of what kinds of adventures the toys could take them on, but they were often contradictory and light on plot. It didn’t matter though – the characters really spoke for themselves. The artwork that came with the toys give you stories without any words.

Man-E-Faces is the classic shapeshifter who wears many disguises and can switch from ally to enemy and back again. Zodac fills the role of the herald, a mysterious outsider who delivers the message that changes things for the heroes and villains. Man-At-Arms is the faithful ally, or sometimes mentor character – you can see it in the lines of his face. The potential for endless stories is all there, and you don’t even need to know anything about the various official mythologies to get started.

The characters were for the most part produced in bright primary and secondary colors. These are the colors the appeal most to children, as opposed to pastels or neutral colors. Conan characters certainly had an influence on MOTU, but the Hyperborean world was rather drab in comparison to Eternia. The combination of striking character designs, bright colors and classic archetypes all came together to create a line that was truly greater than the sum of its parts.

The Magic Continues?

Adult fans of Masters of the Universe have often speculated whether the property could enjoy the same success it had in the 1980. The 1989 sci-fi reboot, while appreciated by me, was not wildly successful. The 2002 reboot met a premature end after only a couple of years. Collector only lines have been successful since then, but Mattel hasn’t put out a line of He-Man figures at retail in nearly twenty years. That changes of course with the new MOTU Origins line.

The Origins line will be supported by not one but two Netflix He-Man cartoons, coming out in 2021. Mattel has already put out figures in Walmart stores, and reportedly they’ve sold very well even without support from a cartoon. Unlike previous retail reboots, this line not only adds more articulation, but it maintains the bold colors of the original line, and, for the most part, the original looks of the characters.

It seems to be aimed at a younger audience too, which I think may play a role in it catching on better with kids this time, while their interests are still being developed. My own son loved Masters of the Universe when he was four and five years old, but he only played it with me. His friends didn’t know anything about it, so he grew out of it fairly quickly. If there had been a contemporary show associated with it, and if some of his friends had been fans, I think it would have been a different story.

Will MOTU Origins capture the magic of the original? Only time will tell. But as a lifelong fan, I have to say I’m thrilled to see the familiar red and blue Masters logo in toy stores again. Here’s hoping that lightning will strike twice for Masters of the Universe.

Look for this article in Spanish in the next issue of Mundo Masters.

Post script: I contributed to the upcoming Dark Horse book, The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s available to pre-order now!

Buying the exclusive combo pack (which includes a supplemental character guide) supports me and all the other contributors to these books: http://toyguide.thepower-con.com

You can also purchase the individual toy guide at Amazon or through Big Bad Toy Store. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Return to Table of Contents.

Evil Warriors, Heroic Warriors, Lords of Power

Power-Con 2020 “Lords of Power” Five-Pack

The Masters of the Universe Origins exclusive Power-Con “Lord of Power” five pack was announced in 2019 as an exclusive for the 2020 Power-Con. Little did we know that COVID-19 would cancel just about every large gathering for 2020. Power-Con was, for the first, time held virtually this year. The 5-pack (as well as an exclusive MOTU Origins She-Ra with rooted hair) could be ordered by anyone either through the Power-Con website or through Big Bad Toy Store.

So what’s this Lords of Power business? Back in 2017, a rather incredible set of pictures surfaced, showing early Masters of the Universe prototypes, which were called “Lords of Power” at the time. Shared by Andy Youssi (son of freelance display artist John Youssi) these images come from a collection of slides set in a View-Master-like apparatus. The prototypes were in several cases quite different from the final toys, and were designed by Mark Taylor and sculpted by Tony Guerrero. You can read all about it in the article I wrote about it at the time.

The packaging for the set was gorgeously illustrated by Axel Giménez with colors by Nate Baertsch. It ships in a brown external box, with a scene on the front inspired by promotional artwork by Errol McCarthy. The illustrations on the back are a nod to cross sell artwork by Alfredo Alcala that appeared on the backs of the first four minicomics. Jukka Issakainen notes that the poses of the five characters are also loosely based on Mark Taylor’s original B-sheet concept art.

The internal packaging is based on vintage action figure carrying cases. The front of the packaging is a color version of the front of the brown mailer box:

The back of the packaging shows the other three figures included in the set:

Inside the case, the figures are set in clear plastic inserts, in battle poses. I couldn’t quite capture them adequately on camera due to the reflection from the plastic, so here is a promotional image from Mattel:

Freed from their plastic prisons

The artwork inside is a homage to various panels from the original Alfredo Alcala/Don Glut minicomics. Beast Man’s pose in packaging is even based on that material:

The vehicle in Man-At-Arms’ section is based on on old Mark Taylor prototype vehicle, designed before he brought in Ted Mayer to design vehicles like Battle Ram and Wind Raider:

Image shared by Axel Giménez
Early Alfredo Alcala comic panel, featuring the prototype vehicle.
Mark Taylor concept vehicle. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The bottom of the case features credits for the various toy and packaging designers who worked on this project:

And now, on to the figures!

He-Man

With He-Man, we’re essentially getting a repaint of the 2019 SDCC exclusive release, but without the boot knife and with fewer extras. For all of these figures there are a few liberties taken compared to the source material. The concept He-Man referenced was a bit paler than the mass produced He-Man, but he wasn’t quite this pale. He had a rather different axe (which was ported over from an earlier He-Man prototype that featured a horned helmet) and a closed left hand and no bracer on the left wrist. Otherwise the colors of his costume here are spot on. The head on this He-Man is probably the most authentic-looking He-Man head in the MOTU origins series so far.

The source material
Mark Taylor B-Sheet. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Left to right: 2019 SDCC release, 2020 Power-Con release, 2020 retail release
Vintage (left) verses Power-Con release

Skeletor

Skeletor features a few new parts compared to the 2019 MOTU Origins release – he has an all-new head based on the “rotting face” original Skeletor prototype. He also has shin guards that appeared both in the prototype and in Alfredo Alcala-illustrated minicomics. The bat on his armor is painted yellow/green, which follows from both prototype and concept art. Unlike the prototype, this Skeletor features finned forearms (an oversight I assume – smooth forearms were already tooled for some of the Masters of the WWE figures and could have easily been used) and bare three-toed feet (the concept had bare five-toed feet). He has paler skin compared to the retail release MOTU Origins Skeletor, which in my opinion is an improvement.

Lords of Power prototypes
Mark Taylor B-sheet
The early Skeletor prototype, down to the rotting face, is preserved in the 1980 MOTU Pop-Up Game
Retail (left) vs. Power-Con release
Vintage (left) vs. Power-Con release

Man-At-Arms

Man-At-Arms is a fairly close representation of the prototype source material overall. He has newly sculpted chest armor with “fur” around the sides and a closed back, just like the prototype. The helmet is a pretty good representation of the prototype, minus a few stray paint details. His face is based on the vintage toy, where the prototype’s face was actually quite different. He reuses the left hand from Man-E-Faces to represent the extended orange armor on the prototype’s left hand. He also includes the large mace that was original sculpted for the Masters of the Universe Classics Man-At-Arms. He includes a boot knife, which wasn’t in the prototype but was included in Mark Taylor’s original concept art.

High res face comparison. Image shared by Dušan Mitrović
Mark Taylor B-Sheet
Retail release (left) vs. Power-Con release
Power-Con release vs. vintage figure (right)

Beast Man

Beast Man is quite different from any version of the toy that’s been released, past or present. The Lords of Power slide set was the first time we had seen a physical representation of the design. It’s based on very early Mark Taylor concept art for the character, which seems to have been made with reuse of the Big Jim Gorilla in mind (ultimately it wasn’t used for the prototype).

The overall colors and costume design for the Power-Con release are quite close to the prototype. The main liberty taken is with the feet, which are the quite flat, detail-free feet used in the retail version of MOTU Origins Beast Man. The prototype, by comparison, had sculpted toes. Additionally, the proportions of the prototype head were somewhat different, but the head on the Power-Con release gets the idea across.

Original prototypes
Mark Taylor concept art
Mark Taylor concept art – a different color take (image shared by Rebecca Salari Taylor)
The early Beast Man prototype is preserved in this 1982 MOTU Pop-Up Game
Retail release (left) vs Power-Con version
Vintage release (left) vs. Power-Con version

Mer-Man

Of all the figures in this set, I was the most excited for Mer-Man. We knew of this version from childhood because it appeared prominently in the original Alfredo Alcala minicomics. This concept design has long been one of my favorites, along with the cross-sell art version of Mer-Man, which was a modified version of that original concept. The Power-Con release, sculpt-wise, is quite close to the prototype. There are only a few minor differences.

The first difference is in the hands, which have five fingers rather than four, and reuse He-Man’s hands rather than Skeletor’s (I assume because He-Man’s left hand has flat, splayed fingers, so at least the pose of the original prototype can be replicated).

The armor is also a bit different – the detail over the shoulders seems like a nod to the vintage figure design rather than the concept design. The trunks are the smooth style reused from the Masters of the WWE line. The original had scales all around – this version for some reason has what looks like bubbles printed front and back. Printed scales would have been more appropriate. The original prototype also seems to have had darker coloring throughout the armor.

The difference that stands out the most is the coloring – it’s a dark blue-green, which may be a nod to Mark Taylor’s original B-sheet art. The original prototype had a much lighter blue-green color. Still, he’s a quite striking and beautiful figure (I nitpick my favorite figures the most):

Original prototypes
Mark Taylor B-sheet
Vintage Mer-Man (left) vs Power-Con release

This set certainly wasn’t cheap – as you may know, exclusives are produced in far lower numbers than retail figures, which drastically drives up the cost per figure. Still, if you’re a big fan of early prototypes and minicomics, these are a must have. This was the kind of figure I had in mind when the line was announced (like many others, I had the idea that “MOTU Origins” was a reference to early concept/minicomic designs, especially since the first two figures released in the SDCC two-pack were in that style). A suggestion for a future set: Oo-Larr, Sorceress (aka “Green Goddess”), blonde Teela, red Beast Man, and tan Stratos! A full “Alcala” style Skeletor would also be great!

I hope you enjoyed the review – here are some additional shots to close things out:

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Newspapers

Early MOTU Newspaper Ads (Part 3)

If you look through newspaper archives for Masters of the Universe advertising, you see a steady evolution of the size and sophistication of posted ads. In the first year of the line, most of the ads took up little space on the page and relied mainly on cross sell, license kit, and line art. Later ads would include more photos and take up much more print area.

In Part 1, I posted every unique ad I could find from May (the earliest month for which I could find ads) until the end of September 1982. In Part 2 I showed ads from October and part of November. In this final installment I’ll be showing ads finishing out the rest of 1982. There’s also a bonus MOTU-related Christmas article at the end of the series. Enjoy!

Iowa City Press Citizen, November 17, 1982:

Kenosha New, November 17, 1982:

Daily News, November 18, 1982:

Herald and Review, November 18, 1982:

The Sacramento Bee, November 18, 1982:

Daily News, November 19, 1982:

Daily News, November 21, 1982:

Hattiesburg American, November 21, 1982:

Herald and Review, November 21, 1982:

Stevens Point Journal, November 24, 1982:

The Daily Oklahoman, November 24, 1982:

Santa Maria Times, November 25, 1982:

St. Joseph News Press Gazette. November 25, 1982:

The Boston Globe, November 25, 1982:

The Daily Herald, November 25, 1982:

Sunday News, November 28, 1982:

Daily News, December 2, 1982:

The Evening Sun, December 3, 1982:

The Morning Call, December 3, 1982:

Tucson Citizen, December 3, 1982:

The Miami Herald, December 4, 1982:

Dayton Daily News, December 5, 1982:

Albuquerque Journal, December 8, 1982:

Star Tribune, December 8, 1982:

The Capital Times, December 8, 1982:

The Dispatch, December 8, 1982:

Daily News, December 9, 1982:

Intelligencer Journal, December 9, 1982:

The Morning Call, December 9, 1982:

Wisconsin State Journal, December 9, 1982:

Tallahassee Democrat, December 12, 1982:

The Daily Advertiser, December 16, 1982:

The Arizona Republic, December 22, 1982:

Bonus:

This feature in the December 4th issue of The New Mexican talks about the hottest selling toys of 1982 Christmas season. The back of the first edition Castle Grayskull box is shown prominently:

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