Heroic Beasts

Battle Cat: Fighting Tiger (1982)

Battle Cat is one of the most iconic characters to come out of the Masters of the Universe line. In fact, when discussing the most famous fantasy steeds to come out of the 1980s, it’s probably a neck and neck race between Battle Cat and Falkor from The Never Ending Story.

One of the first three items released in the original Masters of the Universe toy line (along with He-Man and Skeletor), Battle Cat was a fearsome beast with a bizarre color scheme. Green fur with orange stripes and dark red armor shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. That orange and green theme would show up over and over again in the MOTU line (Man-At-Arms, Wind Raider, Tri-Klops, Filmation’s Palace Guards, etc). My grade school’s colors were also orange and green, so it all made sense to five-year-old me.

There has been much discussion online of Battle Cat’s origins at Mattel. The cat body (an unarticulated statue) originally came from 1976 for the Big Jim on the Tiger Trail set, and was in scale with 10-12” figures. It was first reused for Mattel’s 1978 gift set, Tarzan and the Jungle Cat, before being reused again in 1982 for Battle Cat. Battle Cat’s initial mold and stripe design come from that original 1976 Big Jim Tiger. Update: thanks to NLogan for reaching out to me with some corrected dates.

When Mattel wanted to reuse the mold again for the new MOTU line, something had to be done to explain why it was so huge compared to the relatively small (5.5”) He-Man figure. It was decided that the cat would be used as a steed. Mark Taylor (who designed almost every MOTU product released in 1982) designed a fantasy-themed saddle to allow He-Man to sit on the cat without falling off, and a helmet/mask to further disguise the cat’s origins in the Tarzan and Big Jim lines.

Original Mark Taylor color study, via Grayskull Museum
Finalized Mark Taylor B-Sheet

The first prototype Battle Cat appears in the 1982 Mattel dealer catalog, and features a vivid red saddle. The cat itself is hand-painted, and features stripes around the mouth and down the tail:

The saddle and helmet were revised to a darker red color, which you can see in the promotional image below, featuring a number of early prototypes:

The very first Battle Cats produced were followed the above color scheme, including the orange paint on the tail and around the mouth. Very few were produced, however, and this version is very difficult to find:

The first Battle Cats, including the striped tail variant, were made in Taiwan. Other early release Taiwan Figures have the same color scheme as the example above, minus the extra stripes on the tail and around the mouth:

The helmet is striking. As a kid I thought it looked like a stylized bird. Maybe Mark Taylor was going for a griffin look. But it definitely caught my attention. The fact that Battle Cat had no articulation was a bit of a let down at first, but he looked so cool with that saddle and helmet that he soon became one of my favorite toys of all time.

Beginning in 1984, Battle Cat was released with pale yellow stripes instead of the vibrant orange:

In fact, there were a number of different configurations and color schemes released in the many manufacturing plants around the world that Mattel used over the course of the MOTU line:

Source: Mantisaur82

Battle Cat was sold in stores in three different packaging configurations – on his own, in a gift set that included He-Man, and in an another gift set featuring Battle Armor He-Man. The first two were originally sold in 1982 and featured box art by Rudy Obrero. I distinctly remember seeing both at toy stores as a kid, and being bowled over by the figures and the artwork.

The artwork for the single release Battle Cat featured He-Man riding Battle Cat, with no other characters in the picture (aside from some shadowy barbarian figures in the background). Battle Cat’s helmet is off, and Castle Grayskull stands in the background, partially shrouded by mist.

Rudy’s original painting was somewhat darker than what ended up on the final product:

Color shifted box art print

The 1982 gift set artwork was just as amazing, if a little confusing. He-Man is seen riding into battle on a helmeted Battle Cat, and Skeletor and Beast Man are riding their own fighting tigers. Man-At-Arms and Mer-Man are the odd men out. Apparently no one bought them Battle Cats for Christmas. According to designer Mark Taylor in his 2011 panel appearance at Power-Con, Mattel had initially planned to put out a gift set with Skeletor and Battle Cat, so that makes his appearance as a rider of a Battle Cat more understandable.

When Rudy Obrero was given the models to use as references for the artwork, he was provided with no details as to the story line, which is why he also painted things like Skeletor defending Castle Grayskull and He-Man ripping out the side of Castle Grayskull with the Wind Raider. Really, though, that doesn’t contract early canonical ideas about the castle, which could be held and defended by either the heroes or the villains.

The Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Cat gift set came out in 1984, a year after Rudy had stopped working with Mattel. By this time William George was producing box art for MOTU pretty regularly, and the piece he produced for this set is absolutely fantastic:

He-Man and Battle Cat were practically inseparable in most published media. He-Man was often depicted driving the many vehicles produced for the line, but more often than not, if the most powerful man in the universe wasn’t walking, he was riding his green and orange steed.

The concept of Cringer as Battle Cat’s mild mannered alter ego was introduced in the 1982 DC Comics series, starting with “From Eternia With Death.” This is also the first time that Battle Cat is portrayed as having the power of speech:

Filmation in particular put Battle Cat to frequent use. Every episode began with a transformation sequence that featured the cowardly Cringer transforming into the ferocious fighting tiger. By comparison, Skeletor was rarely depicted with his equivalent steed, Panthor.

Battle Cat also featured prominently in Filmation’s 1982 MOTU commercial, as well as in its style guide and series guide:

If you ask the average person on the street to name any character from the MOTU series, probably one of the top three or four names mentioned would be Battle Cat’s. It’s no wonder then that Battle Cat also turned up in a lot of MOTU-themed merchandise over the years.

Battle Cat was, of course, heavily featured in a number of ads and catalogs as well. He was no doubt a consistent seller throughout the duration of the toy line. Not bad for a character that was created as a means to recycle an old mold and flesh out the fledgling MOTU toy line without much capital risk in the first year. If Masters of the Universe excelled at anything, it was making soup from stones.

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21 thoughts on “Battle Cat: Fighting Tiger (1982)

  1. Something has been bothering me.. great articles by the way, but never the less.. copyright dating..
    As the toy range first came out in 82, model copyright dates would be expected to be 81-82.. very rare but possible 1980.

    now.. as you show, the Battle Cat figure has dates from 76 and 78 BEFORE the 82 one.. and there is the earlier one before that which I don’t know the date for. with the original model being 71, it would account for any 1970-1971 copyright date but they aren’t there.. it was reused in 1976, so often the copyright date can be updated even if there is no noticeable mold change, which could put in for the 1976 copyrighted version. but the 78 one? is there any way to account for a 1978 copyright date on a Battle-cat figure?

      1. Ah.. more interesting.. It was originally Tarzan.. then reused for Big Jim, then reused for a NEW Tarzan set based on the TV show before being used for He-man.. Yep, Mattel really made big on that.. Even with the re-tooling costs for the molds (i’m not sure if they used Steel molds in the 70s) the prices would have been offset by the original release, so by the end, most of the cost is profit.. not bad.

  2. I can remember getting my Battle Cat a small ways into collecting the line. I probably had about 6 or 7 figures, and vaguely recall waiting for a birthday or something to use gift money towards buying him. He was the first (of only a few on hindsight) of the creatures and vehicles that I originally had in my childhood collection.

    As a child I didn’t particularly realise ‘Cat was a recyced mold from older toy line(s), but when I found out by reading up on the toyline on the net in the late ’90s, I wasn’t particularly surprised.

    He does have very limited articulation (for that read: no articulation), and whilst it might have been nice, it wasn’t uncommon on such toys during the era. And as he was such a key part of the MOTU lore, it was enough just to have him in the collection for He-Man to ride upon.

    Although Battle Cat can be found with *many* varying shades to his colour scheme depending on his country and year, my childhood Battle Cat had particularly dark red armor, almost maroon; and the orange stripes were darker than the norm too. I identified later that it was a French-produced version (the French versions sometimes did have variants to the colours), and I believe may even be stamped as such underneath. Whilst I love my childhood ‘Cat, when I began collecting on the second-hand market in the late 1990s, I enjoyed having Battle Cat(s) with more vibrant colour schemes!

    Either way, recycling of molds aside, Battle Cat does look great for the vintage set – though am I the only one that maybe preferred to have him with his helmet off, as it did sometimes look a little ‘clunky’ (and he looks cooler without)?

    It’s interesting that in the very early days of the toyline, whist without doubt there was some kind of bond between He-Man and Battle Cat, it wasn’t that strong (heck, Battle Cat doesn’t even appear in the first mini-comic, and seems to roam freely in the jungles until He-Man calls him in ‘Vengeance of Skeletor’. Battle Cat was somewhat portrayed as “another of the creatures or vehicles at He-Man’s resource”, just as the Battle Ram (which played a key part in the first mini-comic, before the teleportation elements were dropped), the Wind Raider, and just as Zoar might initially be seen as He-Man’s “Battle Bird”(!) The link between the duo was strengthened with the concept of the Prince Adam and Cringer alter-egos was brought in which dictated they would typically be seen together more. (BTW, I’ve never been much of a fan of the whole Prince Adam element, and in MY personal MOTU world there’ll always just be He-Man and Battle Cat).

    On a similar note, it’s interest to consider that quite a few of the Filmation cartoon episodes, particularly later ones, don’t feature Cringer/Battle Cat, as the writers tried to display a wider range of characters. While the wider cast span can be applauded in one respect, things always did feel a little incomplete when Battle Cat wasn’t around at He-Man’s side.
    Also regarding Filmation – Battle Cat’s origin episode, “Battecat” (sic). Whilst I loved seeing the characters as their younger selves, I always felt the reason’s for Cringer’s first transformation in Battle Cat just weren’t “epic” enough and seriously needed to involve Skeletor.

    As for should Battle Cat talk or not? I’m undecided, but if so, feral, basic words at most.

    1. I always left the helmet off of my Battle Cat, too. It just seemed too big and cumbersome, and it bothered me that his eyes couldn’t be seen when he was wearing it. It also seemed odd for him to have a helmet when his counterpart, Panthor, did not.

  3. In fact, when discussing the most famous fantasy steeds to come out of the 1980s, it’s probably a neck and neck race between Battle Cat and Falkor from The Never Ending Story.

    Who were both voiced by Alan Oppenheimer.

  4. Ahh… good ol’ Battle Cat, one of the key characters (I think we could call him a character) of the entire franchise.

    In my own personal canon, Battle Cat is and will always be He-Man’s closest and most trusted ally, even over Man-at-Arms who had mentored and trained him when He-Man left his jungle tribe (yes, I shall forever follow those mythos). But it’s interesting that originally Battle Cat’s importance to He-Man seemed to be far less in the mini-comics, being just one of numerous vehicles and creatures at his aid.

    Either way, as mentioned in the article and I can echo after I collected the full line a few years ago, there are COUNTLESS versions of Battle Cat’s paint and colours. My original childhood one, which I still own, was the French version. The green was darker and less vibrant, the stripes are a deep orange, and the armor is very dark red, pretty much maroon. The more common BCs have much brighter colours, though the armor in particular can vary to a bold mid-red, right down to a much lighter red. There are countless stripe configurations as well, some much more detailed and some very sloppy – with a few frankly terrifying look (especially around the eyes!)

    I’ve long thought that Battle Cat actually looks better without the helmet on (as with Panthor), as the helmet can look a bit ‘clunky’. However going with the concept of Prince Adam and Cringer, his helmet is his mask “to protect his secret identity”.

    I first discovered that Battle Cat was actually an old recycled mold in my very early internet days in the 1990s; have to say it never really bothered me as he still fitted in fine. The actual molding of the toy, actually a bit rubbish. Always posed in that one ‘stepping forward’ position, some simple leg (or eve tail) articulation would have been wonderful. But as with many of the early releases, it wasn’t just the TOY, it was the character with it! (As opposed, IMO, to some of the later wave releases, which were all gimmick and little character)

  5. I find the French Battle Cat to be pretty freaky looking, especially around the eyes! Good point about character. Battle Cat’s lack of features was made up for in character (the art helped too). But some of the more feature-heavy figures later in line are distinctly lacking in character.

  6. I see people selling 1976 Battle Cats sometimes that have the 1980s paint schemes: no white highlight in eyes, paler orange stripes, no stripes on tail, no stripes across its back, teeth white paint only in front of teeth. But te seller claims is a 1976 and it shows it in a closeup photo. What do you make of that? https://www.ebay.com/itm/223285604231

    1. I believe it actually says 1978. It’s very easy to misread – I have a 1978 and unless you look closely it looks like 1976. Interestingly that one shows the date on a different leg than my 1978 version. My version also has the early color scheme, rather than the dark green with yellow stripes shown in the auction.

      The 1976 version also has larger font on the date stamp.

  7. Hi, I’ve just bought a vintage battlecat marked 1982 Taiwan. The green seems a lot darker than I remember or have seen. Could it just be aging, pics look brighter online coz of flash or do we know if the brightness of the green changed over time? Thanks.

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