Comics

Are Skeletor and Zodac wearing gloves?

Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen for adding a few observations to this article.

This is probably another one of those esoteric micro topics that only I am actually interested in exploring. But it is something that’s been rolling around in the back of my head for years, so I’m finally going to write about it. To those few obsessives who have the same ailment as me, join me, won’t you?

The origin of this topic starts with the cardback images on the packaging of the vintage Masters of the Universe figures. The backs of the 1982 figure cards showed the eight figures available that year, rendered in beautiful detail that in many cases exceeded the detail of the figures themselves. Most of these images were based on evolving concept art and prototypes for the figures.

Skeletor, Mer-Man and Zodac all feature what look like “double glove” forearms – as if the figures were wearing two sets of superhero gloves, with the edges of the gloves flaring out near the elbow. Only on Mer-Man were these features painted as gloves. On Skeletor the design looks somewhat altered to give it a more anatomical look, as if it’s part of his flesh. On Zodac, the design looks a bit more clearly like gloves, just unpainted. Also note that He-Man is shown with unpainted, flesh-colored wrist bracers, just like the actual figure.

As an aside: one of the things I love about the 2008 MOTU Classics line is that they released Skeletor and Zodac with the “double glove” forearms, with no attempt to add scales or anatomical irregularities, and left them unpainted. I love the boldness and audacity of saying, yes, look at these arms. They look like gloves, but they aren’t. This is just how Skeletor and Zodac look, and you have to accept that. Their anatomy is so alien that they have these clean lines that go out to points. Embrace the weirdness. We’re following the source material wherever it leads us.

MOTU Classics Skeletor and Zodac

On the vintage figures, this “double glove” look wasn’t actually used – instead the arms were sculpted with a single gloved look that also featured some subtle scales. This made them a bit more ambiguous – they could be anatomical or they could be gloves, depending on if they were painted over or not.

However, it was the cross sell art that was often used as the reference for many comic and storybook illustrators (especially in the first years of the line), and it’s interesting to see how they interpret Skeletor and Zodac’s forearms, as gloves, as anatomy, or just plain ambiguously. Discerning which was the intent is sometimes clear, sometimes not. So without any further ado, let’s begin!

Fate is the Killer (August 26, 1982)

In DC Comics’ Fate is the Killer, both Skeletor and Zodac are seen to be wearing gloves. The colorist even goes so far as to add shading not present in the source material. But even without the shading, the presence of lines all the way across the forearms reads as gloves.

The Key to Castle Grayskull (October 14, 1982)

In the follow-up story, The Key To Castle Grayskull, the lines across the forearms still suggest gloves, although the additional coloring is dropped, perhaps based on feedback from Mattel:

Within These Walls Armageddon (November 11, 1982)

In the final story in this DC series, we get the clearest depiction yet of these characters wearing flesh-colored gloves (single rather than double gloves here):

DC Minicomics, 1983

Moving onto the 1983 series of DC-produced minicomics (all illustrated by Mark Texeira), we see Skeletor again wearing gloves in most instances (Zodac makes no appearances until the larger Point Dread comic book that came with a record):

He-Man Meets Ram Man

The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces

The Terror of Tri-Klops

The Menace of Trap Jaw

The Tale of Teela

The cover of this comic gives Skeletor ambiguous or anatomical fins, but in the story they are drawn like gloves:

Cover

The Magic Stealer

The cover of this comic gives Skeletor ambiguous or anatomical fins, but in the story they are drawn like gloves:

Cover

The Power of… Point Dread

This comic seems somewhat more ambiguous for some reason, even though we do usually get a full line across the forearm where the gloves would terminate. But they do seem a bit more fin-like here than in previous minicomics.

The Power of Point Dread

In the Alfredo Alcala-illustrated Power of Point Dread, Skeletor lacks the cross sell art style arms (as is the case in every minicomic illustration done by Alcala), but Zodac has them. In one panel they are clearly gloves, but in another they are gone altogether:

Look! A sale on Isotoners!
Come back, gloves!

The other minicomics tend not to reference the cross sell art look. In fact, as the series went on, the animated look for Skeletor tends to dominate, while Zodac doesn’t appear at all. Temple of Darkness does depict Skeletor with dark purple gloves, but it’s not drawing from the cross sell art look, but instead mixes the concept art look with the animated cartoon look.

However, the Golden series of books draws upon the cross sell art very frequently, so I’ll cover those as well:

Caverns of Fear

In this story I’d say the Skeletor on the cover (by Gino D’Achille), has ambiguous arm fins while the version inside the pages (illustrated by Al McWilliams) is clearly wearing gloves. In both cases the artists are drawing from the cross sell artwork, but they both color the character’s feet like the vintage toy.

Another fun thing to note: some of the artistic choices here seem based on misinterpretations of the source material. Everyone’s wearing striped underwear, Trap Jaw is wearing wading boots, and Skeletor’s armor lacks the cross bone design. On the inside pages, Skeletor’s face looks closer to B-sheet art by Mark Taylor.

Thief of Castle Grayskull

In this tale, illustrated by Fred Carrillo, Skeletor seems to actually be wearing flesh tone bracers – his hands read as bare to me.

The Sword of Skeletor

On the cover (D’Achille) Skeletor’s arm fins seem to clearly be a part of his anatomy, although they look strangely like gills here:

Skeletor’s appearances inside the story (again illustrated by Fred Carrillo) usually look like bracers again, although in one panel they are colored like gloves:

Zodac also appears in this story, and it looks to me like he has flesh tone gloves or bracers:

The Trap

The cover of The Trap gives Skeletor smooth forearms, with no gloves or strange anatomy. However, in the internal story (illustrated by Dan Spiegle) features a Skeletor with clearly anatomical forearm fins:

Golden Oddities

The later Golden stories don’t always draw from the cross sell art, but the conceit of flesh-colored gloves or other costume elements pops up randomly across the various books:

In a couple of cases, Webstor is given the flesh colored gloves, despite him not having that design in his own cross sell art. Mer-Man in one case is drawn using the lines from his cross sell art, but the coloring from his toy, giving him flesh-colored double gloves as well:

Webstor cross sell art

The Magic Mirror

In The Magic Mirror, Skeletor has the forearm fins in both his regular costume (cover by Earl Norem) and in his Battle Armor costume (illustrated by Fred Carrillo). The Battle Armor Skeletor cross sell art didn’t feature that design either. In both cases, the illustrator makes these look like metallic bracers.

Skeletor Cross Sell Art

Years later of course Skeletor would stop messing around with ambiguous-looking gloves and get serious about handwear:

I hope you enjoyed this rather weird journey. Until next time!

Post script: it occurs to me that some might wonder what the designer of Skeletor actually intended? From a 2006 Q&A with Matt Joswiak and Mark Taylor:

Matt J: Are the ridges on the toy’s forearms meant to represent gloves?

Mark T: No, they are part of his unnatural sub structure showing through his hide.

We don’t actually know who illustrated the cross sell artwork for the first wave of figures, but the “double glove” look may have been influenced by the original Skeletor B-sheet, which had drooping, rotting flesh on the forearms, in a similar shape to gloves:

However, Zodac’s B-sheet doesn’t have the double glove look – his design was based on Mark’s knowledge of the existing sculpted parts for the line, so the double glove look must have come from the anonymous cross sell art artist:

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History

He-Man in the News (1982)

I thought it might be interesting to share a few newspaper stories I found covering the brand new Masters of the Universe line in the year of its launch, 1982.

Recently there has been some celebration of He-Man’s birthday, particularly on this year, the 40th anniversary of the launch of Masters of the Universe. The date picked for his birthday is October 12, 1982. This is apparently based on a document found by a former Mattel brand manager indicating that the line had possibly launched on that date. Those who follow my blog know that’s not true – He-Man debuted February 17, 1982 at Toy Fair, and was available in stores no later than May – the earliest newspaper ad I’ve found that shows MOTU figures for sale (on sale, no less) dates from May 13, 1982. A rebate offer found in the first minicomics indicates figures might have been in stores as early as March 1, 1982. May 1982 is a safe earliest date for when the line was definitely available in stores.

So that got me thinking about what else was going on in 1982 with the line, and I decided to do a search for newspaper articles that mention Masters of the Universe published in 1982.

This article will only cover newspaper stories – I understand that there was some trade publication coverage of the line as well, but I don’t have access to much of that material at this time.

March 30, 1982

The earliest article I found comes from The Atlanta Constitution from March 30, 1982. In an article called “His & Her Christmas” (which overall leans heavily on traditional gender divisions between boys’ and girls’ toys), we get a brief snippet toward the end about the new MOTU line:

“A hazard of going too far into the future is getting caught in a time warp and finding yourself back in Medieval times. From that period, Mattel brings us “Masters of the Universe.” Good guys in this series are He-Man, Man-at-Arms and Teela, the warrior goddess. Villains are Skeletor and Beast Man. Figures, vehicles and a setting — Castle Grayskull — complete the series.”

– Gayle White

The above time warp plot line is interesting. It wasn’t the actual canonical story for the series, but something similar to this did appear in the earliest minicomic treatment for the series, written by Don Glut, back when the line was call The Fighting Foe Men. More on that here. In a separate interview, Derek Gable mentioned that time travel was originally going to be a part of the line to allow characters to move to different situations and scenarios.

“Mattel also hopes to introduce a 30-minute cartoon show this fall featuring the eternal battle between Good and Evil as fought by these Mattel characters.”

– Gayle White

The cartoon of course wouldn’t appear until the fall of 1983. Mark Ellis was the marketing director at Mattel, and from my interview with him (which appears in Pixel Dan’s The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe published by Dark Horse) he was charged with getting the toyline into animation. He really didn’t know anything about animation, and had to learn on the fly during his conversations with Hanna Barbara and Filmation. I’m sure Mattel underestimated the time it would take to bring a new cartoon to market.

April 14, 1982

The next article I found comes from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Published April 14, 1982, in an article called “Toy makers fight for kids’ dollars.”

The new small scale G.I. Joe line gets most of the focus, but again, Masters is mentioned toward the end:

“The space theme continues with Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line. The Man at Arms, Beast Man and Battle cat (the fighting tiger with saddle and armor) characters are a juxtaposition of space and mythology.”

– Pat Zajac

Almost no detail is given in this one, and the main characters of He-Man and Skeletor are omitted, not to mention missing capitalization and hyphens in the character names.

August 28, 1982

The next article is really just a human interest piece about a child who gets a $1 loan from a bank with the purpose of buying a He-Man figure for a friend (although he then discovered that it wasn’t enough to buy a figure). It appears August 28, 1982 in the Record Searchlight:

October 1, 1982

The next story appears in the October 1, 1982 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald, about hot new toys on the market. The focus is E.T., but it has this to say about Masters of the Universe:

Another of the new additions to the toy market is Masters of the Universe, a space fantasy toy based on a futuristic garrison, Castle Greyskull. All major department stores predict it will be a winner. Accessories will also be available but stocks are limited.

Interesting that it’s characterized as a “futuristic garrison” and a space fantasy toy. That’s of course part of it but it misses the barbarian fantasy aspects of the property.

October 20, 1982

The next article is again focusing on E.T. toys (or their unavailability in time for Christmas), but also mentions He-Man. From The Atlanta Constitution, October 20, 1982:

Mattel’s best sellers for this Christmas have been Pink and Pretty Barbie, a fluffly, ultra-feminine version of the company’s long-established fashion doll, and Masters of the Universe, an action set featuring the brawny He-Man, “strongest man in the universe.”

He-Man is getting tough competition from that defender of the American way, G.I. Joe…

Of interest here is “strongest man in the universe” and not “most powerful man in the universe.” The former title appears in some very early giftset packaging. More on that here.

October 23, 1982

Next up we have The Wichita Eagle Beacon, October 23, 1982:

MOTU gets a brief, one-line mention:

Another item high on shopping lists — “Masters of the Universe” figures, released by Mattel this summer.

We know of course the MOTU was available at least by early May, which I suppose is almost summer.

October 25, 1982

Next up from Newsday, October 25, 1982, we get a very brief line that just states that Masters of the Universe figures are very popular:

November 7, 1982

From Asheville Citizen Times, November 7, 1982 we get another story about Christmas toys that focuses on E.T.:

However, we do get a couple of paragraphs about MOTU, or more specifically Castle Grayskull. The author I think based this bit on just a quick look at the front and back of the box Castle Grayskull came in, as she describes the figures as “tiny plastic people.”

Castle Grayskull is an adventure scene variation on the old-fashioned dollhouse. A Masters of the Universe item, it has tiny plastic people that are bought individually to go wit the castle. Castle Grayskull is a “fortress of mystery and power for He-Man and his foes,” says the box in which it comes.

It includes a “jawbridge” that opens and closes, weapons and a trapdoor over the dungeon. He-Man is billed as the “most powerful man in the universe,” and his proteges include Man-At-Arms, “master of weapons,” and Beast Man, “savage henchman.”

December 1, 1982

Finally, we have The Austin American Statesman, December 1, 1982.

The author describes MOTU as a “ripoff of Star Wars” crossed with Dungeons and Dragons. Not accurate as far as the “ripoff” comment goes, but otherwise a fair description:

Star Wars anything ranks among the top five national sellers, along with Strawberry Shortcake (Kenner), Barbie dolls (Mattel), plus E.T. in any form (a variety of producers) and something called Masters of the Universe (Mattel) which is a ripoff of the Star Wars idea coupled with the mystery of Dungeons and Dragons.

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Playsets

Eternia: The Ultimate Battleground Comes To Life! (1986)

Eternia is by some margin the largest playset produced in the vintage Masters of the Universe line. I don’t remember ever seeing it in stores back in the 1980s, and I didn’t know anyone who owned one. My only brief introduction to it was where it was in references in one of the 1986 minicomics. Eternia is often compared to the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg, a playset that was even larger and more expensive:

The Tampa Tribune, Nov 26, 1986

Design & Development

The initial designs for Eternia (called Mount Eternia at first) were done by Ted Mayer. In my interview with Ted, he said:

I was given the project to design a playset that would dwarf Grayskull. I just stood at my drawing board and started sketching. I remember for some reason that I wanted to do a big drawing. It came out at 40″ x 40″.

Early Eternia Playset design. Note the flying vehicle on top of this drawing. This was an early version of the Talon Fighter
This later update to the design features the Blasterhawk and Fright Fighter vehicles

Ted continued:

Everyone liked the design, and it was decided, by someone, to do a size mock-up. We started hacking foam and the result was the photo you can see on my website.

According to the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog, Mount Eternia was supposed to be located in the mountains between Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain. Ted Mayer’s first version featured towers with three creature heads. Each head would open up to reveal a feature underneath – a gun turret, some falling boulders, or dripping slime.

The second concept featured a Grayskull Tower, a central tower with a wolf motif, and a volcano tower, The foam mockup changed the wolf motif to a demon motif; the final playset would feature a lion on the central tower.

Mike McKittrick was an engineer at Mattel who worked on the playset. A recent article at Pop Insider gets some background information from Mike:

“The Eternia Playset was a huge project and I was assigned to it as the lead engineer,” McKittrick recalls. “The project was so big in scope that my manager assigned two other engineers to assist me. At that time, MOTU had already peaked and overall sales were starting to decline. Marketing wanted something big to keep the momentum and increase sales.”

…“Not only was this set meant to be enormous, but it was also meant to expand by having the existing Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain playsets attach to its sides for an even larger footprint,” McKittrick says.

According to McKittrick, the initial cost estimate was “through the roof,” and the company made its way through a list of more than 20 intended features in favor of replacing them with only a handful of features that were better. Still, the playset was extraordinarily elaborate and ended up with the highest tooling bill that Mattel had ever seen.

“I recall the original estimated production quota in round numbers was 60,000 units and break-even, I believe, was around 40,000,” McKittrick says. “As we progressed with final engineering and started making tools, the quota dipped down to around 40,000. As we approached the start date for production, the quota dropped to 20,000 plus or minus. Ultimately we produced a little more than 4,000 units.”

Image source: Pop Insider

According to an old interview with Ted Mayer on the Roast Gooble Dinner podcast (sadly, no longer available online), the sculptor working on the Central Tower was taking quite a while to finish the prototype. As a practical joke, a few of the others working on the project hid the unfinished prototype, made a quick rough sculpt copy of it, and then knocked the duplicate into the floor. When the sculptor came back into the room he thought his work had been destroyed!

Playset & Packaging

The production Eternia playset was enormous. The Central Tower is over 30 inches tall. Three towers are included, along with Laser Blaster, weapons rack, the track, three vehicles and more. You can see the hand painted hard copy in the catalog images below. Also note that the Laser Blaster is gray rather than the red of the retail toy (Update: per Bryce W. the US version was red, but the version available in the UK was flat gray). The paint on the towers looks carefully airbrushed:

Image Source: Nathalie NHT

You can get a pretty clear idea of everything that’s included by looking at the parts list included in the instructions:

I don’t own an Eternia playset myself, however my friend and frequent contributor to the blog Øyvind Meisfjord has shared a number of videos and images to help give a clear picture of all of the features. To begin with, here is a picture of the playset, flanked by Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain:

In the above image you get a feel for the playset’s size and also its ability to integrate with the existing major playsets via two connecting ramps.

Below is a nice view of the front of the playset, compete with background and Masters logo:

In the video below, we get a good look at the Grayskull Tower section of Eternia, and we can see how the prison gate can be made to close when the Jet Pak Fighter vehicle passes by on the monorail.

In the video below, we get a better look at the Viper Tower (which bears a closer resemblance to the Filmation Snake Mountain than the actual Snake Mountain Playset), and how the snake head can be rotated by reaching into the back of the tower:

One of the main features of the Central Tower is, of course, the lion mouth and claws. Working together, you can capture a figure, push away a figure, or capture and toss a figure away. Øyvind demonstrates using Tung Lashor as his victim:

The Central Tower features a Laser Blaster turret on top. However, the base can also accommodate the disc-shooting Blasterhawk vehicle, also released in 1986:

The base of the turret allows you to adjust the angle of the Laser Blaster so you can point in any direction:

Of course if you choose you can also display the included weapons rack at the top of the tower, too:

Moving down the back of the Central Tower, there are a few more features, including a working elevator and a movable Command Seat. There are four floors total:

The monorail coils around all three towers. Three separate vehicles can connect to the battery-powered Power Module, and each of the three vehicles has a different look and play pattern.

Battle Tram Vehicle:

Jet Pak Vehicle:

Sky Cage Vehicle:

Another look at the Eternia playset can be found on Pixel Dan’s channel:

The artwork for the packaging of Eternia was done by the late, great William George. There’s quite a lot going on in the battle scene on the front:

European version. Image source: Deimos

The three towers of Eternia stand between Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain. Beast Man scales the central tower and Rattlor and Tung Lashor head toward the lion’s head entrance. Man-At-Arms fires the cannon at the top of the tower. Flying Fists He-Man and Terror Claws Skeletor do battle off to the side. A volcano erupts in the distance.

Battle Cat corners Stinkor at the Grayskull Tower, while several horde troopers rush up the outer stairs toward Snout Spout, who is dodging laser blasts from the Battle Tram. Rio Blast and Extendar stand at the top of Grayskull Tower, as the Fright Fighter flies by. Meanwhile, Moss Man drives Bashasaurus down the road from Castle Grayskull to Grayskull Tower.

Sy-Klone flies Blasterhawk near the summit of Viper Tower, and Megabeast rounds the corner at the base.

Here are shots of each side of the box from an old Hakes auction:

The playset also came with instructions and a very simple black and white comic called “The Eternia Story” intended to demonstrate the play features of the toy (note: Jukka Issakainen comments that it may have been illustrated by Bruce Timm):

Comics & Artwork

Eternia also came with its own minicomic: The Ultimate Battleground! In the story, King Hiss and Skeletor work together to raise the three towers of Eternia from beneath the ground. We learn that the towers, which predated both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, had long ago been sunken beneath the ground by the Ancients. They feared that it would fall into the hands of their enemy, King Hiss. The story is more or less a means of introducing all of the playset’s features to the reader.

In The Search For Keldor, the presence of the three towers of Eternia allows the Sorceress to leave Grayskull in human form, and weakens the veil between dimensions:

In Enter… Buzz Saw Hordak, Hordak manages to enter the Central Tower. Initially it turns him good, but after he leaves the tower he finds that he has the power to shoot a buzz saw from his chest:

In Revenge of the Snake Men, King Hiss is able to use the power of Viper Tower to bring two Snake Men, Squeeeze (called Tanglor here, an early concept name for the character) and Snake Face, back from a nameless dimension:

In The Powers of Grayskull, The Legend Begins, He-Man and Sorceress travel back in time within the Central Tower to ancient Preternia, where they find the Snake Men, cybernetic dinosaurs and the three towers of Eternia:

The Eternia playset also shows up in a hidden picture puzzle featured in the Winter 1987 issue of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine:

The Eternia Playset features prominently in the 1986 Eternia poster by William George:

Ultimately Eternia didn’t get into many fans’ hands. It was a huge playset and it would have taken up a lot of space at retail, which may have played into Mattel’s decision to make so few of them – well under the number they would need to even break even. The track became fragile with age, so it’s quite difficult to find an original that is still intact. It’s something of a white whale for MOTU collectors.

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Coloring Books

Masters of the Universe Poster Coloring Book (1982)

In the first set of 1982 minicomics (really mini story books) that came packed with the first wave of MOTU figures, there were a few promotional pages at the end of the stories. One page featured a couple of products from Western Publishing (the publisher of Golden Books) – a MOTU Pop-Up Game and a MOTU Poster Coloring Book. I previously featured the pop-up game on the blog, so I thought it made sense to post about the coloring book as well. Many thanks to Øyvind Meisfjord for reaching out and sharing images of his copy, as I don’t own one myself.

Minicomic advertisement

As some background, Mattel filed a copyright related to this book, with the following information:

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1983-01-04
Title: Masters of the Universe : 10 posters to paint or color : [no.] 2110.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1982
Date of Publication: 1982-12-06
Variant title: Masters of the Universe : 10 posters to paint or color

Unfortunately we don’t get any information on the artist for the book, and it’s not listed on the page. But the cover has been attributed to R.L. Allen, who did a number of coloring book and puzzle images for Golden. He may have done the internal artwork as well – the faces seem to fit the style of the cover.

Many of the internal drawings are definitely very closely based on some some of Errol McCarthy’s licensing artwork as well as some panels from Alfredo Alcala’s work. I’ll call some of that out in the captions below:

It appears that Errol McCarthy’s Castle Grayskull art is used in this image.
In this images we see Skeletor is mainly based on his cross sell artwork, but he has five toes instead of three
This image is closely based on Errol McCarthy’s artwork, but Skeletor features shin guards and four-toed feet, which is closer to the original Mark Taylor concept. .
This image is an almost exact copy of Alfredo Alcala’s page 6 illustration in He-Man and the Power Sword
These images again are closely based on Errol McCarthy’s work as well as the cross sell artwork
This image is based on page 22 of He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
This image is based on the fight between He-Man and sea creature in The Vengeance of Skeletor, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
An almost exact recreation of the cover of Battle in the Clouds, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
This is somewhat reminiscent of a scene from King of Castle Grayskull illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

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