Comics

Unpublished Whitman origin story

I’m not sure why I’ve never written about the unpublished Whitman Publishing He-Man origin story. I suppose its discovery (2009) was already old news by the time I started this blog (2015). But still, it’s a fascinating piece of history, and it’s high time I wrote about it.

You can get some background on these comics on the MOTUC Figures blog and on He-Man.org. What we know:

The pencils on the comic are by Adrian Gonzales, a Filipino comic book artist who would later do pencils for the Golden Book comic, Masters Of the Universe: The Sunbird Legacy. This story was done for Western Publishing, which owned the Golden Book line as well as Whitman Publishing. Western Publishing had some advertisements in the first minicomics, which included the first MOTU board game and a MOTU coloring book.

Don Glut wrote the first minicomics for the MOTU toyline. In an interview with Matt Jozwiak in 2001, he said (emphasis added):

I’d been writing comic-book and filler text stories for Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Whitman, Gold Key Comics and Golden Press). Western then had an account with the Mattel toy company. One day my editor at Western, Del Connell, told me that Mattel was coming out with a new line of toys called Masters of the Universe and needed someone to write four booklets that would be included with the toys.

It sounds then that Mattel had already used Western/Whitman for its first minicomics, and it was then going to use them again for a more complex reboot to the He-Man story, before dropping that idea and ultimately going with DC comics. Aside from the five full-size MOTU comic book stories released in 1982 and 1983, DC comics also produced all minicomics for the 1983 wave of MOTU figures.

The original auction for this set of unpublished comic pages claimed that the pages were done in 1984. However, since this purports to be an origin story for Masters of the Universe, and since it has no hint of Prince Adam (who first appeared in a series of DC comics in July 1982), I believe it probably dates to early 1982. Unfortunately the comic isn’t complete, and not colored and only partially inked. I’ll post the pages with my commentary and analysis below:

Page 2: We start with our protagonist, a humble shepherd’s son, walking with a young woman, Shalda. Shalda is bound to Tez, but she’s in love with the shepherd’s son. Tez and his friends arrive, and sarcastically call our protagonist “He-Man.” This exchange is reminiscent of the old Charles Atlas body building ads. Tez tries to goad him to fight for Shalda, but he has trouble even lifting a sword.

Vintage Charles Atlas ad. Image courtesy of Dušan M.

Pages 4-5: Below is a splash page showing Skeletor and some demon henchmen on dragons, who attack the group of humans. Skeletor’s design is based on the cardback artwork (identifiable by his shin guards and the shapes of his forearms), rather than on any earlier concept or prototype design, meaning this comic would have come after the first set of Don Glut/Alfredo Alcala minicomics, which mainly used earlier concept art and prototypes for reference.

Skeletor cross sell art

Page 6: Skeletor’s dragon kills Shalda with its fiery breath. Heartbroken and enraged, “He-Man” picks up one of the bullies’ swords.

Page 7: Skeletor murders the bullies with his half of the power sword. “He-Man” attempts to fight him, but is stabbed by Skeletor, and the demons shoot “He-Man” in the back with arrows for good measure.

Page 8: We learn that Skeletor’s attack had been an attempt to find the missing half of the Power Sword. Skeletor and crew learn that “He-Man” is still alive. Skeletor questions him about the missing half of the sword. The shepherd’s son is defiant and spits in Skeletor’s face. The demons (with dialogue like the orcs from the Lord of the Rings series) urge Skeletor to “rip” and “rend” “He-Man.” Skeletor declines.

Page 9: Instead of directly killing him, Skeletor leaves him to the wolves.

Page 10: Just as a wolf is about to attack the injured “He-Man,” Man-At-Arms appears on the Battle Ram and blasts it away. The Man-At-Arms depicted here seems to have been drawn using Alfredo Alcala’s artwork (from the back of the early minicomics) as a reference. I say that Alcala is the reference and not Alcala’s source material because of the specific pose and look of Man-At-Arms’ helmet and face shield.

The Battle Ram on this page is very reminiscent of one featured in Giant Picture Book – Heroic Warriors, illustrated by Fred Carrillo. It’s possible Carrillo may have worked on this with Gonzales – they also worked together on The Sunbird Legacy (Gonzales did pencils and Carrillo did inks).

Page 11: Chapter two begins with Man-At-Arms having taken “He-Man” to Eternia’s capital city, Monarch, to see an old healer named Moonspinner.

Page 12: Moonspinner has removed the arrows, but “He-Man” is still near death. They muse on old legends. They mention that Skeletor is chasing one of those legends.

Page 13: Moonspinner talks about a legend of a champion born of fire and ice, dragon’s flame and blood red snow, who would join the swords, access Grayskull’s secrets, and become the king.

Page 14: On intuition, Moonspinner has Man-At-Arms bring “He-Man” down the stairs of the palace into an ancient laboratory, covered with cobwebs.

Page 15: Man-At-Arms places “He-Man” into a machine called the “Lifemold.” Moonspinner struggles to remember the knowledge of the “elders,” but finally starts up the machine.

Page 16: The machine starts to spark and make alarming noises. Man-At-Arms pulls “He-Man” from the machine.

Page 17: From this point on we have only pencils, not inks. I’ve darkened the pages to make them easier to read. On this page we see that the shepherd’s son has been transformed into the most powerful man in the universe. He-Man is no longer an ironic nickname – he really is He-Man now.

Page 18: He-Man wakes up, screaming about his dead girlfriend, Shalda.

Page 19: Some days have passed. We see He-Man in combat with what appears to be Skeletor. Man-At-Arms comments that the Lifemold has made He-Man the strongest man in the universe, but he still needs training. It’s revealed that “Skeletor” was actually a woman in costume.

Page 20: It’s revealed that the woman is Teela, a formidable warrior. In the panel she flips Man-At-Arms on his back, but a note on the margins says that she should be flipping He-Man instead.

Page 21: That evening, He-Man mourns Shalda, who was killed by Skeletor. Teela comes to keep He-Man company.

Page 22: Teela offers a listening ear, but He-Man isn’t ready to talk. They go their separate ways.

Page 23: The next morning, He-Man trains with hurdles. Teela comes by again and this time he opens up to her about Shalda. Teela and He-Man become friends.

Page 24: A rough-looking figure named Anom makes a bet that he can “ride this beast into the ground.” The beast is a giant cat, Battle Cat, in fact.

Page 25: Battle Cat bucks off Anom. Angry at losing his wager, Anom prepares to whip the beast.

Page 26: He-Man steps in and stops Anom from whipping the beast. Battle Cat suddenly leaps at He-Man.

Page 27: He-Man and Battle Cat fight. Eventually He-Man is able to to subdue and ride Battle Cat.

Page 28: Moonspinner is woken up by Battle Cat licking his face. He-Man explains that Battle Cat is injured and needs seeing to.

Page 29: A week later, He-Man and Teela set Battle Cat free in the forest. Things start to get a little romantic between He-Man and Teela, when they are interrupted.

Page 30: A group of Skeletor’s demons launch an attack against our heroes.

Page 31: The demons seem to overwhelm our heroes. He-Man starts to overpower them, and tells Teela to run. She refuses. Teela is wearing her cobra armor in this scene.

Page 32: He-Man convinces Teela that it’s her duty to warn the people in the city. He almost calls her Shalda, the name of his dead girlfriend. Teela escapes. The demons seem ready to overwhelm He-Man. A growling sound is heard in the last panel.

And that’s it! From context, I assume at this point Battle Cat was going to come back and help He-Man turn the tide against the demon army. This is quite a lengthy story, and we haven’t even seen a final confrontation yet between He-Man and Skeletor. It’s certainly an interesting alternative take at a He-Man origin. The traditional He-Man/Prince Adam continuity is often compared to Superman/Clark Kent or Shazam/Billy Batson. This version is a bit more like Captain America, in terms of the origins of his powers. It’s a pity more of it wasn’t preserved.

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!

Return to Table of Contents.

If you enjoy this content, feel free to throw in a dollar or two to support the blog! To do so, click the link below:

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!

If you enjoy this content, feel free to throw in a dollar or two to support the blog. To do so, click the link below:

Return to Table of Contents.

Comics

Sticker Fun: The Evil-Lympics (1985)

Some time ago Joe Amato (customizer and host of the Fans Of Power Podcast) scanned the MOTU Sticker Fun book, The Evil-Lympics. My good friends Jukka Issakainen and Øyvind Meisfjord shared the scans with me, and with Joe’s kind permission, I’m sharing them with readers of this blog.

This particular book stands out because it was illustrated by the venerable Alfredo Alcala, whose artwork in various MOTU minicomics from 1982-1984 (as well as inks on some of the full-sized MOTU comics published by DC) is beloved by many fans. You can peruse these comics at at Vaults of Grayskull and He-Man.org, as well as in the Dark Horse Minicomic collection (the Dark Horse collection only includes the MOTU minicomics).

The level of detail in these illustrations is somewhat reduced compared to Alcala’s other work. That’s not surprising given that it’s just an inexpensive sticker/coloring book rather than a real comic. But still, his unmistakable style is there, and it’s a real treat to see more Alcala goodness. Some of the monster characters he creates here are reminiscent of his work on The Obelisk and Masks of Power minicomics.

Zodac is portrayed as an Evil Warrior here, which is unsurprising considering the date (for more on the shifting alignment of the character, see my article on the topic). What is surprising is that Man-E-Faces is also portrayed as an Evil Warrior. In previous stories, Man-E-Faces would sometimes fall under Skeletor’s sway in his monster form, but generally-speaking he was almost always aligned with the Heroic Warriors. Also, as Waylon Piercy in the comments notes, Stratos and Ram Man are in there too! I’m wondering if the original idea was to include both Evil and Heroic Warriors in the games, but then the story was revised after the art was finished.

In any case, enjoy!

As several eagle-eyed readers have pointed out, He-Man is holding a unique single-bladed axe in the cover illustration.

For some additional context, I’ve included some eBay auction photos of the original sticker pages as well as the back cover:

Return to Table of Contents.

Comics

“Within these Walls… Armageddon!” French edition

I recently picked up the French Superman Géant #23 issue (Jan/Feb/March 1984), mostly for the back cover, which features one of my favorite pieces of early MOTU photography. The photo includes first release/test market blue beard Stratos, orange cheeks Skeletor, striped tail Battle Cat, red dots helmet Man-At-Arms, and a third generation Teela prototype with She-Ra-like leg articulation:

But, aside from that, the issue also features the French edition of the 1983 DC Comics story, Within these Walls… Armageddon! (Apocalypse à la Forteresse). The story was the third in a three-part story that also included To Tempt The Gods and The Key To Castle Grayskull.

So what’s different compared to the US version? Aside from being translated into French, this edition is only half colored. But the pages that are colored look much cleaner than the US edition, so I thought there might be some interest in a scan of the entire story. Enjoy!

Return to Table of Contents.