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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11 thoughts on “Battle Bones – Collector’s Carry Case (1985)

  1. Thank you! Try doing an advanced search on Google Patents. You can search by assignee (the toy company) and year and whatever key words you are looking for.

  2. I’ve been a long-time fan of your blog for many years since I stumbled across it, and this is my first time chiming in. Fantastic stuff, outstanding information, beautifully presented! I thoroughly enjoy every update, and always look forward to your next one.

    I was thinking about Battle Bones a while back when looking through my Dark Horse MOTU tomes and clicking around online . . . and is it just me, or does Battle Bones when he was alive look a heck of a lot like the “Turbosaurus” concept? On some of the Turbosaurus art, it’s even got the “carrying handle” of two hollowed-out spinous processes along its vertebrae.

  3. okay.. fair enough article but.. I’m not sure bootlegged is the right word… ToyMax, who did the second version of Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers, did get some rights from Mattel, and some names were used due to lapsed trademarks.. So I’m not totally sure if the Battle Bones was used without permission and license (bootleg like “Barbarossa Custom Creations”, etc) or licensed like.. eugh.. Super7..

    So.. being not sure, I decided to try and investigate it. ToyMax became quite a bit thing with the remake of Creepy Crawlers which was probably one of the more successful runs of the range (last attempt, I believe was by Jaxx), and even spawned a Cartoon with it’s own figure range. this is around 1993, so lets see, would have have gotten away with taking mattels property (even if trademarks for some bits had lapsed) without permission, THEN steal some mattel molds, before getting the licenses for DC heroes, Looney Tunes, Power Rangers etc… seemed a bit unlikely but possible.. So I had two options I knew about for finding out the truth of the matter.. the first was the item itself.. now, the copyright stamp is updated to ToyMax, so that doesn’t say much, the box only seams to have ToyMax copyrights.. the only thing else worth checking is the manual.. but while this toy is said to be rare, despite appearing quite a bit, I couldn’t locate the manual in a good enough format to be able to read it.. so no luck there.. Toymax was created by a few people, mostly Steven Lebensfeld, who before had created ‘HG Toys Hong Kong’ but was mostly known for his company ‘Toy Biz’ who had exclusive licenses for Marvel and DC toys for years and did some of the better work. After selling on Toybiz, he created ToyMax. There were 3 other founders with him, two of which had worked with him at ToyBiz.. Toymax had and used a lot of licenses and were keen on Creepy crawlers when they brought them back.. But that doesn’t help..

    So, the question came to the only other option I had, which was to get in contact with any one involved with either Mattel Licensing in the early 90s, or ToyMax at the same time.

    while it’s not been long.. but no luck there.. I don’t have much contact in that department..

    So while most people refer to it as a knock-off and bootleg… I personally think… it’s a 50-50 call.. without the information, I can’t say..

  4. Last things first – the UK Fan Club advent calendar near the bottom of the article made me smile for a long running funny story in my family. I was in the UK Fan Club and received one of these, I’m guessing around 1984/5ish. It arrived a little ahead of December, so my Dad, for whatever reason, insisted it was kept safely in the loft (attic) until it was time (maybe with the Christmas decorations? I dunno). …We never found the thing again. That Christmas came and went and we couldn’t find it. The following Christmas we searched the loft harder and couldn’t find it… nothing. And the next. And it went on, into my teens, and into adulthood. Ever Christmas when my Dad would finally go up in the roof and get the Christmas decorations down, it almost became a joke to say “See if you can find the He-Man advent calendar”. They still live in the same house now and it never was found (presumably accidentally thrown out). …Okay, maybe not that funny a story, but it did bring back that brief day before my dad stored it away “safely” until it was time to use it.

    Anyway… I did have Battle Bones. As some of my past posts reflect, my parents could be a little fussy what toys I had (they didn’t like too noisy/messy/you get the idea), but I had seen Battle Bones advertised on the television a few times, and my Mum kind of gave me the clue that I might be able to get it soon, and indeed a while later I did, as she liked the idea that it stored figures and kept them tidy! (Shame it only held 12 when I probably had about 25 at the time!)

    I did like it, and often would have fun just organising figures riding it in different configurations. Of course, there was the odd figure that was an unusual shape that it couldn’t hold as a passenger, but even the likes of Orko or Ram Man could be held if inserted carefully (Rammy by his legs, though I always sat him at the back, as he towered over the other passengers).

    It was a reasonable looking toy, though even as a boy I felt that it looked very flat and unpainted, and would have at least benefited from a little shading or something as it looked a bit basic. It wasn’t much good as a toy, being very clunky and articulated, so usually when he wasn’t carrying warriors into action Battle Bones would kinda reside to the side of my play area, but I liked him none-the-less.

    I always found it amusing that, within the context of the franchise, the Heroic and Evil Warriors might ride this thing together, as if they’d managed to form a truce whilst they all went out together for a day trip or something. The advert (the UK had a British-accent dub of the US one), suggested buying two Battle Bones- one of the Heroic Warriors and one for the Evil Warriors. A nice idea maybe, but yeah right, my Mum wasn’t going to buy me a second one – and I was the sort of child that, once I had a character, next I wanted a different one, not the same one again (which is the same reason I never went for any of the He-Man or Skeletor variants in the line either).
    Actually, it’s maybe a little surprising that Mattel didn’t give BB two slightly different paint schemes and try and pass one off as good and one as evil (the Evil one could look a little more rotten, maybe), that coulda worked, and wasn’t far from what they did with Battle Cat/Panthor and Zoar/Screeech.

    As a footnote to loosing-things story, after I had to sell my complete set the vintage line and doubles about 8 years ago (times were hard!), I kept all of my original childhood figures as I could never part with those. An old friends young boys loved my MOTU figures, so I put them together a little set of some of my left-overs (they actually scored quite a good set, with about 20+ key characters, plus a Castle Grayskull!!)… however after that I’ve never been able to find my old Battle Bones again. Not long after she get married and moved out of the area, and I’ve never had the nerve to ask her “Hey, could you raid you kids’ toybox and see if they’ve got my old Battle Bones toy please?” 😀

    1. …Two very minor things I’ve noticed afterwards –
      On Battle Bones’ box photo showing the figures being carried, Buzz Off’s helmet isn’t painted
      And (not particularly related to Battle Bones) on the advent calendar, Jitsu is used twice (once solo and once right Night Stalker!)

  5. Battle Bones was one of those surprise store visit acquisitions for me. My Mom told me I could pick out something, and while I was looking at figures, she suggested Battle Bones. It had just come out, and I hadn’t seen it yet. I was floored at the possibility of getting a vehicle/mount on a routine store trip, so I quickly agreed. I, too, used to use BB’s mouth to chomp down on his enemies. I wonder how many kids actually used it for weapon storage, as the packaging suggested? I decided pretty quickly that BB was a pretty lousy mode of transportation, as the people “riding” had their feet on the ground, so they would still have to walk anyway! What good was that? So, he became purely a beast ally of He-Man, and he could hold enemies captive within his rib bones. I decided he was more vulnerable to Skeletor’s magic than most due to his skeletal nature, and he would sometimes fall under his control. After one particular adventure involving BB going on a rampage against the heroes while under Skeletor’s control, I had the Sorceress present him with a magic orb to protect him from falling under his spell in the future. The magic orb was, of course, a superball I had recently acquired, which BB kept in his mouth!

    I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the package art’s depiction of Whiplash looking directly at the viewer with his hand on BB’s handle looks like he’s having a moment of self-realization!

  6. O, might as well so.. German Tape Story (with Localisations of course)
    “Skeletor’s Victory-
    Skeletor invites the evil rules of the underworld to a gathering at his castle Dragonstone. Also, Zodac, the Cosmic Enforcer, knows the future of all Ethernians, and he says the Victory for Skeletor is at hand.”

    (Notes – I can’t remember the german name for Snake Mountain.. did they call it Dragonstone Castle? or was this a different place completely.. Also, Zodac goes by the rank of Cosmic Magician, and techinaly says that Skeletor’s victory advances”

  7. Hello, it has been a long time since I have done anything on this page. Since there were two commercials on Battle Bones, what figures were used in each commercial? Also you can see some very clearly and others you can not see clearly at all. Who was the guy who voiced the second commercial? I know who voiced the first commercial, BJ Ward of transformers fame. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!!!

    Lewis

    1. erm.. okay.. lets deal with that in some form of older..

      1) Figures used in the first Advert…. boy that’s a bit list..
      ) Battle Bones,
      Whiplash, Jjitsu, Spikor, Kobra Khan, Stinkor, Merman, Clawful, Trap Jaw, Triclopes, Beast Man, Skeletor,
      Snake Mountian, Castle Grayskull
      He-man, Man-e-faces, Man-at-arms, Fisto, Mossman, mekaneck, Buzz-off, Stratos, what looks like Roberto without a mouth., and a couple of can’t make out and doesn’t really seam to be many possible cause Teela appears missing, and Orko and Ram-man I believe aren’t really compatable.. And don’t see Zodiac

      2) Skeletor (Battle Armour this time), Two-bad, Stinkor, Whiplash, Kobra Khan, Clawful, Merman, Triclopes, Webster, Trap Jaw,
      Castle Grayskull
      He-man (Battle Armour), Mekaneck, Roberto, cy-clone, Moss man, Man-e-faces, Bussoff, Man-at-arms.. and a few heroes I can’t make out but could guess

      3) B.J. Ward? Nope.. clearly NOT B.J. Ward.. To give them there full name, Betty Jean Ward never worked on Transformers. And she doesn’t sound that.. butch (Okay.. bad pun.. She voiced Butch in the old Little Rascals Cartoon series). You might know her as the voice of Scarlett in G.I. Joe, among a bunch of cartoon work she still does, but not any transformers I’m aware of.. The voice does seam to be former great Peter Cullen, known for his Transformers work as Ironhide, and Optimus Prime, among others. Second advert voice.. Not quite sure on.

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