Evil Warriors

Dragon Blaster Skeletor: Evil leader & dreadful dragon (1985)

Dragon Blaster Skeletor was the “deluxe” version of Skeletor that everyone in my grade school peer group coveted. You could tell he was a deluxe figure because he came on an oversized card and wore an oversized dragon backpack and came with a real metal chain. These were the unmistakable tokens of quality in the secret language of childhood.

Dragon Blaster Skeletor actually has a fascinating backstory. In my interview with Martin Arriola, he explained to me that the action feature was once quite dangerous:

MA: Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.

BR: Oh, like what?

MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.

I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.

I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.

BR: That’s insane!

MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.

So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.

Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

This concept art by Colin Bailey (below) seems to have been for some kind of dungeon master Skeletor. The lock, chains and cuff from this design ended up being used for Dragon Blaster Skeletor.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Early catalog images of the figure seem to depict a standard hollow head Taiwan figure with the new dragon backpack piece. They also include the original Skeletor’s balteus accessory, although that was cut from the final figure. This look was carried forward into the cross sell art as well.

Image: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest
Image: Nathalie NHT

The actual production toy had a solid, rubbery head. Mexico versions had face paint reminiscent of earlier incarnations of Skeletor, but Hong Kong examples have quite a jarring “M” pattern on the green sections of the face. Some Mexico examples had the original Skeletor feet, but most had enlarged feet (with reduced sculpting detail) for the purposes of greater stability, given the weight of the backpack. Boot colors ranged from reddish purple to blueish purple to a very dark purple. The balteus was also cut from the production version.

Mexico version
Made in Hong Kong version

As mentioned earlier, this version of Skeletor was packaged on an oversized card. It features some artwork by William George on the front and an action scene by Errol McCarthy on the back:

Image source: He-Man.org. Art by Errol McCarthy
Image source: He-Man.org. Art by William George

Note that the dragon is supposed to paralyze victims with venom – which seems to be muscling in on Kobra Khan’s raison d’etre. Maybe that ‘s why he ultimately defected to the Snake Men faction.

Image Source: The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

The 1987 Style Guide talks a bit about Skeletor’s dragon pet:

Weapons: Skeletor stalks the land with his evil pet, freezing foes with the dragon’s vicious paralyzing venom.

Dragon Blaster Skeletor came packaged with the minicomic Skeletor’s Dragon, which shows off his new action feature as well as the Battle Bones carry case toy.

In the story, Skeletor’s chains have mystical energy draining powers, and his dragon frequently walks around off his leash:

Skeletor’s design has a strong Filmation influence (especially around the face and boots), and a differently colored costume than the toy. The colors may be based off of early concept art for the figure. The minicomic artwork is by Peter Ledger, with colors by Charles Simpson.

Errol McCarthy depicted the variant for use in a T-shirt design in the artwork below:

McCarthy also illustrated the character in the poster below that appeared in the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine:

He also appears in a 1985 MOTU poster by William George. He is again shown with the balteus from the original Skeletor figure:

Dragon Blaster Skeletor also appears in this Bashasaurus poster by William George:

Dragon Blaster Skeletor isn’t my favorite Skeletor variant – in fact he’s probably my second least favorite, next to Terror Claws Skeletor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. Skeletor is Skeletor, and it’s hard to make a bad Skeletor figure.

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Evil Warriors

Laser-Light Skeletor: Evil Master of Light Energy (1988)

Laser-Light Skeletor, released in Italy and Spain a year after the end of the Masters of the Universe toyline in the US, was a figure most North American fans were not aware of until they discovered it online years later. That was certainly true for me. Because the figure was produced in limited numbers overseas, it’s one of the most expensive vintage He-Man toys to acquire today. (Update: I’m also informed that there was some distribution of Laser-Light Skeletor in Switzerland. Thanks to Olmo for the information.)

I’m not someone who owns a lot of high-dollar items, but if I was going to own one, this would be it. I can’t fully explain why that is – my tastes tend to gravitate toward the aesthetics of the earlier MOTU figures. But there is something about Laser-Light Skeletor in all his creepy, funky techno-glory that really draws me in.

The earliest known concept art for the figure comes from Dave Wolfram, who also did a lot of work on the New Adventures of He-Man toyline. (That line is actually just called “He-Man”, but it’s common to refer to it as “New Adventures”, after the accompanying 1990 animated series)

In this artwork, dated June 22, 1987, Wolfram incorporates all kinds of wires and mechanisms into “Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor.” The design is quite similar to the final Laser-Light Skeletor, except he lacks his cape, glowing right hand, and glowing staff. He carries a strange claw weapon that might have been intended to work like a pair of pliers.

Image Source: Power and Honor Foundation

Wolfram created another piece of concept art that reflects a closer-to-final design, including the staff, right hand, cape and battery pack:

Image courtesy of David Wolfram

Wolfram’s style is pretty distinctive, reflecting a kind of brutal futurist design that would come to dominate the New Adventures of He-Man toyline’s look, especially in the villain faction. Laser-Light Skeletor technically belongs in the original Masters of the Universe toyline, but he is clearly a giant step in the direction of the New Adventures.

An early, rough prototype of the figure appears in a 1988 French Catalog. It looks like a quickly thrown together proof of concept type figure, built from a standard Skeletor toy, but with gloves, trunks and boots painted brown/copper. He also has some crude armor laid over his chest, as well as a cloth cape and hood ever his sculpted hood. The light feature has been incorporated into his eyes (quite effectively) and hand. His staff is built from the original release staff, but with a snake-like head and in translucent red.

Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: La Cueva del Terror

A closer to final version of the figure appears in the Italian advertisement below. This prototype has a yellow belt buckle, a “Y” shape in red on his forehead, and a translucent red casting of the original Skeletor havoc staff, with the disk designs removed. This prototype uses all newly sculpted pieces, other than the staff.

A closer look at the image of Skeletor (this time from the cover of Magic Boy magazine) reveals that the face on this prototype appears to be wider than the final design, although it could just be an illusion caused by the paintjob:

The cross sell artwork for the figure seems to be based on a further refined design for the figure, which is almost like the final toy, but still features a not-quite final staff and finer paint work on the right boot:

Image via Jukka Issakainen

The final figure lost the “Y” on the forehead and the colored belt buckle, and has further modifications to the staff design. The figure has quite an extreme “squat” pose, reminiscent of some of the knock-off He-Man figures produced earlier in the 1980s. He has a creepy, stylized, almost alien-looking skull face (loose figure images below via eBay):

Laser Power Skeletor rides Tyrantisaurus. Image source: La Cueva del Terror
The laser figures on Beam Blaster and Artilleray. Image source: La Cueva del Terror

Designer Dave Wolfram provided me with some background information about the look and origin of the figure:

While MOTU was tanking domestically, it was still going strong Internationally, which was a year behind in the product cycle. This was done to have something new for that market. LISA (the light transmitting plastic) was a fairly new ‘shiny toy’ for the designers at the time, so that was the hook for that segment. I think Martin did the final He-Man design… I did the design for Skeletor. My working name was Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor, and it was inspired by influences like Giger, and the Gibson novel, Neuromancer. Sadly, like many of our products of the time, engineering dictated what we had to design around, and in this case it was a huge battery box. Try as we might to design around it, it made the torso oversized, so to compensate, we had to give the legs a little more bend, leading to our new working name: “Take a Dump Skeletor”.

Unlike every previous version of Skeletor before him, Laser-Light Skeletor had a removable hood. This variant had some extensive wiring around the back of his head – a feature he shares with the New Adventures Skeletor:

Image source: Jimmy_Ikon/He-Man.org

Skeletor’s LED eyes and right hand could be activated by raising the figure’s right arm. The light from his hand was meant to also illuminate his translucent staff, although the effect diminished quickly the further it got away from the the light source

The figure was produced in Spain and Italy. Spanish versions typically came with a minicomic-sized catalog, and the Italian versions came without the catalog. I’ve heard of the figure coming packaged with a copy of the Powers of Grayskull minicomic, but I haven’t seen an example.

Spanish release with catalog.
Italian release without catalog. Image source: Hake’s Americana
Italian cardback. Image source: He-Man.org
Laser-Light Skeletor artwork from the front of the card (by Bruce Timm). Like the cross sell artwork, this features a havoc staff that is close to the original 1982 design, minus the ball end and the disks near the top. Image source: Jukka Issakainen (scanned and cleaned up)

Some figures came with belts painted gold on the front, and red on the back:

Image source: Wespenmann/He-Man.org

The catalog that came packed with the figure featured both of the light-up variants.

Image source: He-Man.org
Image source: He-Man.org

A nice poster featuring a photo the figure was included in the Yugoslav edition of the Masters of the Universe Star Comics:

Because Laser-Light Skeletor came at the very tail end of the line, he was never featured in any vintage minicomics or other stories, sadly. I suppose we can imagine that his tale might have been very similar to Skeletor as depicted in the New Adventures series of minicomics:

Update: the French Club Maitres de l’Univers magazine published a comic featuring early concept versions of Laser Power He-Man and Laser-Light Skeletor, alongside characters whose figures were released in 1987 (images are from Nathalie NHT):

Aidan in the comments below provides some fascinating background information (by way of Emiliano Santalucia) about the intent behind the creation of Laser Light Skeletor and Laser Power He-Man. I’m quoting his comments verbatim here:

A little-known fact about Laser Light Skeletor and Laser Power He-Man is that they were designed to be the lead figures for a brand new interactive toy line that would be accompanied by a live action TV series. The intention was that the figures and weapons would be able to interact with the episodes of the TV show. It’s unclear as yet how far into production the live action series got, but props and sets were designed for it and from the limited information available it appears it was going to be space-based and very sci-fi, with He-Man and Skeletor battling for possession of some sort of glowing crystals that were the source of the laser power of their weapons. Vehicles and playsets were designed for the toy line, but for reasons unknown, the plans for this line were scrapped around 1988. As the Laser figures had been made, they were given a limited release in Europe as part of the regular MOTU line, similar to what had been done with the giants and dinosaurs from the unreleased Powers of Grayskull line. Later, Mattel used the space-based idea for the ‘He-Man’ line better known as the New Adventures, while the idea for an interactive toy line accompanied by a live action show was used for Mattel’s line Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

I hope more information about the interactive toy line and the live action series comes to light as it’s one of the most intriguing chapters in MOTU’s history particularly as so little is known about it. There’s even been rumors that the pilot episode was actually made but never screened, though these rumors are unsubstantiated.

Update: for more information on the live-action TV show, see this interview with Mark DiCamillo.

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Evil Warriors

MOTU Classics Mer-Man

Masters of the Universe Classics Mer-Man, released in April of 2009 and again as a blue variant in November of 2010, is still, for me, the best figure ever released in the Classics toyline. Part of that is certainly the painstakingly accurate reproduction of Mer-Man as he appeared in the vintage cross sell artwork, but part of it also is the shading and detail on the figure itself.

First release Classics Mer-Man in green

Source Material

The main source material for the Classics Mer-Man (green version) is explicitly the vintage cross sell artwork. It’s nearly a perfect reproduction of that depiction, and a passion project for Eric Treadaway of the Four Horsemen. The details reproduced from the artwork include:

  • Color and shape of the gloves
  • Four-fingered hands, with open left hand
  • Bare feet with smooth, yellow shin guards
  • Yellow loin cloth
  • Yellow detail on face
  • Large eyes
  • Upward pointed fins on the head
  • Sculpted gills around the neck
  • Wide chest armor with enlarged spikes
  • More detailed sword (the Classics version is more detailed still than the source material)
Scanned by the author.

The figure was augmented beyond the source material with some colored gems on the armor and some additional shading throughout the figure. There are some nods to the vintage figure as well. The most obvious one of course, is the second head, sculpted after the vintage figure, but also the green belt, which was featured on early releases of the 1982 toy.

Vintage toy style head
First release 1982 made in Taiwan figure

It should be noted that in some respects the Classics vintage style head is somewhat less detailed compared to the original vintage head. The vintage head has fins that terminate in individual protuberances, while the fins on the Classics head are rounded at the ends, and more closely resemble ears.

There is one nod to the 2002 Mer-Man figure as well – the trident accessory. Of course the 2002 figure is also influenced by the vintage cross sell art, particular in the head sculpt:

The blue version of Mer-Man that came packed with Aquaman is supposed to resemble Mer-Man as he appeared in the earliest minicomics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. That version was based on early concept art by Mark Taylor and an early prototype sculpted by Tony Guerrero.

Alcala’s depiction of Mer-Man
Mark Taylor’s original Mer-Man B-sheet, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.
Tony Guerrero prototype Mer-Man. Image courtesy of Andy Youssi

The color scheme is similar to the minicomic version (blue skin, blue and yellow sword, full yellow boots), but it borrows wholesale the sculpt of the original green release of Mer-Man. It doesn’t have the unique boots, gloves, belt and other details of the minicomic/concept version, so it actually winds up looking like earlier versions of the cross sell artwork, which featured a blue-skinned Mer-Man:

Image courtesy of Tokyonever
Blue Mer-Man

This Mer-Man also has the green belt of the vintage toy. Note also that early concept art gave Mer-Man copper/gold/ accents on  parts of his costume, which didn’t end up in the minicomic artwork.

Evil Warriors

MOTU Classics Skeletor

My cardinal rule since starting this blog back in 2015 has been simple: vintage only. Very occasionally I’ve veered away from that, when reviewing books that cover both vintage and modern He-Man toys, for instance. But even then it was really just in passing.

So why start now? It’s not because I’ve exhausted available material about the vintage line. I’ve covered just about everything that came out from 1982-1984, but there’s still a lot left from 1985-1988.

Frankly, I’m starting to feel a little burnt out, and I’d like a change of pace. The Masters of the Universe Classics line (2008-present) is actually what drew me back into the world of He-Man and helped me to develop a more discerning eye for the kinds of things I talk about in this blog. The Classics line is an interesting mix of influences, and fans have always hotly debated which influences they thought ought to go where.

Still, I’m not going to do a traditional action figure review – there are a ton of people who have been there, done that much better than I could (Pixel Dan, The Fwoosh, Poe Ghostal, etc.) Instead, I’ll briefly discuss specific design elements and their source material.

The first Classics Skeletor was released in January of 2009, and has been reissued a couple of times since. However, I’ll focus for now only on the 2009 Skeletor.

The Classics line is generally based on vintage source material (principally toys and cross sell artwork), but in a larger scale with modern articulation and more realistic proportions. These figures are sculpted by the artists at Four Horsemen Studios, who put a great deal of care, planning and artistry into their sculptures.

First issue Masters of the Universe Classics Skeletor

Source Material

The main piece of source material for the Classics Skeletor is very clearly the vintage cross sell artwork. Nearly all of the design elements are taken directly from that artwork, including:

  • Shape of the forearm fins
  • Bare, three-toed feet
  • Smooth shin guards
  • Simplified face paint (compared to the vintage toy). Note that this varies from figure to figure.
  • Sword shape
  • Wide baltea and large belt decoration

There is comparatively little influence on the Classics figure from the vintage toy, although of course neither design is radically different from the other. The main influences from the vintage toy include:

  • Larger bat on chest armor, compared to cross sell art
  • Black furry trunks instead of purple (from reissue versions of the vintage toy)
First issue vintage toy with purple trunks.
Reissue vintage toy with black trunks.

There are a few liberties taken in the Classics Skeletor figure, in regards to source material. They include:

  • Larger staff with different proportions on the handle
  • Enlarged arm “fins”
  • Smoother forearms
  • Additional boney detail on the face
  • Two-toned sword
  • Darker purple costume
  • Full sword as well as half sword
  • Additional color detail on the center of the chest armor, and throughout the costume
  • Dark blue toe claws

I do think the center of Skeletor’s belt is misinterpreted. It’s a stylized bird head in the cross sell artwork (and even more clearly a bird head in the original B-Sheet), but it seems to have lost any of that look in the Classics figure.

The Four Horsemen also sculpted the 2002 He-Man line, so there are often some subtle similarities to that line in the Classics. In Skeletor, that manifests as:

  • Darker colored baltea and shoulder covering
  • Shape of the armor around the back
2002 Skeletor

And that’s about it for now about MOTU Classics Skeletor. Let me know what you think. I’d like to know if there is interest in more articles like this one, or if you all think I’m crazy and should get back to purely vintage material.

Thanks to Dušan M. for informing me that Skeletor’s hanging “skirt” is called a baltea.