Skeletor’s most iconic weapon has always been his havoc staff, with its distinctive and menacing ram’s skull. The two are so interconnected as to be practically inseparable. Skeletor also carried his purple half of the power sword, and it made plenty of appearances in mini comics and story books.
There is however, another weapon that Skeletor carried in the 1982 mini comics (artwork by Alfredo Alcala, story by Don Glut). This was Skeletor’s energy blade (sometimes called lightning blade or lightning weapon). It was a fairly ordinary-looking short sword with a curved hilt that was capable of releasing searing blasts of energy, or even calling up magical images.
I always assumed that this particular sword’s design was an invention of artist Alfredo Alcala. But I recently noticed what appears to be the same sword showing up in early box art by Rudy Obrero. That lead me to believe that the energy blade may have originally come from Mattel*. I’d like to think there is a B-sheet lying around in a box somewhere with a drawing of this sword in it. Without definitive proof, of course, we can’t know for sure.
Here are some representative appearances of the energy blade in the 1982 mini comics. There is some variation with how it was drawn, even within the same comic:
Here are the appearances of the sword in Rudy Obrero’s packaging illustrations for the Battle Ram, He-Man/Wind Raider, Wind Raider, He-Man/Battle Cat, and Castle Grayskull boxes. Note that at times Beast Man carries the same sword:
Incidentally, a sword of the same design appears in Man-At-Arms’ hand in the 1983 comic book, The Power of Point Dread:
He-Man holds a similar sword on the cover of the same booklet (hat tip to Jukka Issakainen):
Somewhat similar swords appear in this 1982 advertisement for Faker:
In one depiction of Mark Taylor’s Vikor character (who pre-dated He-Man), Vikor carries a sword similar to the energy blade:
Øyvind Johannes Meisfjord pointed a fatal flaw in my reasoning. It seems that Alfredo Alcala drew a very similar looking sword that predated the He-Man property by several years:
Furthermore, swords similar to those in the Rudy Obrero illustrations show up in artwork by Frank Frazetta and John Buscema throughout the 1960s and 1970s:
Given this evidence, it seems unlikely now that the common source for this design was Mattel (it’s possible, but I don’t think a strong case can be made for it). I have to conclude that Alfredo Alcala was drawing upon the fantasy concepts he’d been illustrating for years, and Rudy Obrero was drawing upon general sword and sorcery themes of the ’60s and ’70s. Given Mark Taylor’s Frazetta influences, he probably drew from the same general creative well for his Vikor sword.
Thanks to Øyvind for challenging my theory. I think it’s been successfully refuted!
Clawful, released in 1984, was part of a series of new animal-themed figures released in the third wave of the Masters of the Universe toyline.
Clawful was an instant hit with me as a kid. I distinctly remember the existential agony of having to choose between him and Whiplash at the store. Ultimately I went with Clawful. That giant bright red snapping claw was just impossible for me to resist.
Clawful and his compatriots represented something of a return to form for Masters of the Universe. Several first wave figures were half human, half animal hybrids (Beast Man, Mer-Man, Stratos). The second wave was made up of entirely human-like figures, but the third wave gave us beastly characters like Clawful, Whiplash, Buzz-Off, Webstor and Kobra Khan.
Designed by Colin Bailey, Clawful was originally intended to reuse Skeletor’s legs. In this early prototype, he sports brown Skeletor boots, a brown version of the Castle Grayskull mace, and a head that blended into the armor with a very thick neck:
By the time he was shown in the 1984 Mattel Dealer catalog, he was sporting the standard male chest (flesh tone) with clip on armor. His neck was much slimmer as a result, and his head was smaller. He still had the Grayskull mace, but now it was in green with an extra piece to allow him to hold the mace upright (it was never very effective in that regard). He still had the Skeletor legs with brown boots. This version also appeared in the commercial:
Eventually Clawful was given the new legs that were shared by both Buzz-Off and Whiplash. They featured jagged spikes down the sides, and unique feet with one large toe/claw on each side of the foot. These were larger feet than any used in previous figures, and provided the figure with greater stability.
In the cross sell art, Clawful sported these feet, but the boots were still painted brown:
It’s evident that the change in the design of his legs happened sometime after production had already begun. Early versions of Clawful featured the Skeletor legs, but with blue boots:
The version with Buzz-Off/Whiplash legs seems to be more common, and must have been produced after the initial run:
Clawful was included in a giftset with Jitsu, but otherwise was only sold as an individual figure.
Clawful appears prominently in one of my favorite pieces of MOTU artwork – a poster by Earl Norem that appeared in the inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine:
Norem’s artwork was so animated and vibrant. It really blew me away as a kid, and continues to do so now.
Clawful appeared was a main character in the Clash of Arms mini comic, which was also one of my favorites as a kid. Fisto is captured and has to face Clawful, Whiplash and Jitsu in arena combat. It was a great way to introduce new characters to kids, and was one of the more action-heavy mini comics. Clawful’s appearance is based on the early prototype here:
Clawful also appeared in several Golden Books, including Maze of Doom, Dangerous Games and Power From the Sky:
Clawful shows up in the background of the packaging illustration for Bashasaurus, along with Trap Jaw:
The Filmation version of Clawful was radically different from the vintage toy. Often when Filmation designs differed from toy designs, it was because Filmation artists were basing their work on early Mattel concept drawings. I would guess that is the case here, but I don’t know for sure:
Unlike many of Skeletor’s other henchmen in the cartoon, Clawful seemed to posses a measure of intelligence and cunning.
Trap Jaw was kind of the holy grail of MOTU figures among my friends growing up, and it’s easy to see why. With his three weapons attachments (storable on his WWF-style belt), articulated jaw, loop for repelling and vivid and liberally applied colors, Trap Jaw was truly a deluxe figure.
Sadly, I never owned old Metal Mouth as a kid, but I have a very clear memory of playing with my friend’s figure. The first thing I did was make Trap Jaw get to work on chewing up every weapon in sight.
In a May 21, 1982 concept drawing by Mattel designer Colin Bailey, we see the first iteration of Trap Jaw’s design. Called “X-Man” at the time (it’s easy to figure out why that name was dropped), the design featured the articulated jaw, a pulley on the top of the helmet, a fully articulated robot arm with four attachments (claw, iron fist, grapnel and hand) and accessory belt, and a rifle that could be held in the robotic hand. X-Man had a hairy chest and a human-looking left arm. He also would have used the same legs as He-Man.
The articulated jaw concept was apparently recycled from an unproduced 1982 Big Jim concept, Iron Jaw. It also recalled the villain “Jaws” from the James Bond film Moonraker, crossed with a pirate.
This early concept appeared in full color in the mini comic, The Menace of Trap Jaw, which came packaged with the figure. From the comic, it’s evident that Trap Jaw was originally intended to have pale green skin and maroon trunks, boots and helmet. His arm is a bit squared off compared to Colin Bailey’s concept drawing, and his belt features a ram’s skull rather than a human skull and cross bones, but otherwise the design is identical.
As we see in the prototype shown below, Trap Jaw’s colors were significantly altered later in his design process. While he retained his green face, the rest of his skin was changed to a rich blue color, and his attachments and accessories were changed to either black, maroon or green. In this prototype he has been given He-Man’s left arm, painted blue. He also sports Man-E-Faces’ legs. The boots are painted black, with green accents (the feet are somewhat smaller than the final design, however). His belt features rivets around the edges, but it’s unclear from the image if there is a design in the center.
The cross sell artwork seems to be based on this prototype design. In the cross sell art there is no design the center of Trap Jaw’s belt, so I would guess this was absent from the prototype:
Strangely, on the backs of some mini comics, Trap Jaw was shown without his jaw and without the black chest overlay. He also has the skull and crossbones design missing from the earlier cross sell art:
Interestingly, Trap Jaw showed up in precisely this condition in the 1983 Consumers Catalog (below). I wonder if that error lead to the error in the above version of the cross sell artwork.
The final figure is slightly different from the prototype. Trap Jaw’s belt features a skull and cross bones in the center area, but lacks the rivets of the prototype. Also, rather than reusing He-Man’s left arm, the final figure utilizes a modified version of Man-E-Faces’ left arm, with some changes made to the design of the shoulder, forearm, and back of the hand.
In the afore-mentioned mini comic, Trap Jaw is portrayed as a ruthless criminal. Accidentally brought to Eternia by Skeletor, Trap Jaw manages to harness the power of Grayskull, and can only be taken down by the combined forces of Skeletor and He-Man.
In the Filmation cartoon, Trap Jaw is a bumbling and almost lovable henchman of Skeletor. Dubbed “the wizard of weapons”, he is also the mechanic and engineer of Snake Mountain.
In the series guide, Trap Jaw is colored more or less like his toy counterpart. He has the organic left arm of the prototype version, and he seems to have some embellishments to his armor and claw attachment:
However, in the actual cartoon the chosen design was a simplified version of the prototype version of Trap Jaw. One obvious difference from the prototype version is that his boots and mechanical arm are colored the same maroon color as his helmet and jaw. I would guess the change was made to make the lines of his weapons and boots more visible, without the need for shading.
In the MOTU Bible (penned by Michael Halperin), Trap Jaw’s back story is similar to his mini comic origins:
TRAP JAW – part human, part robot, he’s a fearsome criminal stranded on Infinita and fallen under the command of Skeletor. Trap Jaw has a removable artificial arm which can be replaced by a laser blaster, hook sword or other devices of evil. Sometimes he isn’t fast enough to make the change and then He Man or his friends get the better of the vicious criminal. His jaw is a hideous steel trap which can chew through almost anything and he’s totally evil and villainous.
In the Golden Books-published Caverns of Fear, Trap Jaw has gray skin and a unique boots. He isn’t given much characterization here, and only pops into the story to briefly hold Teela hostage:
Trap Jaw doesn’t make many appearances in box art, but he does appear in the background of this Bashasaurus illustration, along with Clawful:
Trap Jaw remains one of the most beloved characters of the MOTU mythos. Part pirate, part Bond villain and part barbarian cyborg, Trap Jaw is truly greater than the sum of his bionic parts.
The most enigmatic of all Masters of the Universe characters, Zodac was released in the second half of 1982. A late addition to the first wave of figures, Zodac was created to round out the original group of eight figures.
Design & Development
It’s probably fairly well known among fans now that two separate Mark Taylor characters, Teela and Sorceress (aka Goddess), were eventually combined into a single character (Teela). Apparently Mattel’s marketing group didn’t think there was enough demand for two female action figures in one year. That left seven figures for the first year, instead of the eight that were planned. Enter Zodac.
Another Mark Taylor design, Zodac borrowed Skeletor’s arms and legs and Beast Man’s furry chest. New parts included his head, armor, and blaster.
Zodac was originally called Sensor. The idea was that his space-age looking helmet gave him heightened sensory perception.
As indicated by the artwork above, the design stuck closely to the textured arm and leg sculpts used on the finalized versions of Skeletor and Mer-Man.
When the cross sell art was created, Zodac was given very similar forearms and boots to the ones used in the Skeletor and Mer-Man cross sell art, rather than the more textured look of the actual toys. Perhaps this was done to maintain consistency across the artwork:
The prototype is somewhat different from the final figure. Like the b-sheet, the lower sides of Zodac’s helmet are red (they are painted gray in the production version). The white design on his chest armor is quite thick compared to the final toy, and the gun seems to have a wider barrel but narrower “fins” and a shorter handle compared to the toy version.
The final has some slight alterations to the armor and gun, but it otherwise very similar to the prototype:
Zodac’s armor has “bullets” stored bandolier-style at the sides of his armor. I think that’s a really interesting touch, as you don’t normally associate laser pistols with bullets. I like to think his weapon is a fairly primitive kind of laser pistol that can only get off one shot at a time using some kind of single-use cartridge – possibly scavenged from the post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Cosmic Enforcer & Beyond
Zodac was originally sold on the “8-back” with the tag line, “Cosmic Enforcer”. But what is a cosmic enforcer?
According to the 1981 Mattel licensing kit (the earliest material we have on Zodac), it meant that Zodac was a bounty hunter. The Empire Strikes Back had come out the year before, and Boba Fett was a very popular character. It may be that Zodac was portrayed this way to capitalize on that popularity. The original intent by creator Mark Taylor, however, was for Zodac to be a heroic warrior,
The above describes Zodac as “The Cosmic Enforcer. The bounty hunter of our exciting universe.” Contrast that to Mark Taylor’s original description of his character:
Sensor: Man of the the future scientifically heightened senses, knowledge & weapons. Acts in support roll to He-man and as a foil to Tee La’s mystic nature.
The bounty hunter thing didn’t stick, and Zodac very quickly became a kind of cosmic observer (much like Jack Kirby’s Metron character), intervening in Eternian affairs only when absolutely necessary.
In the 1982 DC Comics MOTU series, beginning with Fate is the Killer, Zodac is “rider of the spaceways”. Like Metron, he travels through space in a flying chair (in this case it’s the throne from Castle Grayskull). He is not aligned with the heroic warriors, but he does intervene when it looks like Skeletor is about to gain too much of an advantage:
Update: Everyone who talks about Zodac seems to compare him to Metron, and MOTU to New Gods. That’s mostly due to the neutrality and the flying chair thing, which came from Paul Kupperberg at DC Comics, not from Mattel. If it had not been for that initial story, I don’t think anyone would connect Zodac to Metron or Jack Kirby, certainly not visually. Mark Taylor, the designer of the character, never mentioned Kirby as an influence. Later toys in the line like Mekaneck and Sy-Klone do have a certain Kirbyesque look to them. Kirby’s characters are very brightly colored and flashy, while Zodac is more muted and streamlined in his design. To me Zodac seems more influenced by Flash Gordon and mid-20th century science fiction, at least in his visual design.
In Fate is the Killer, Zodac describes himself as “neither good nor evil”. In the panels below, he tells He-Man that he must take him from Eternia, or else kill him, for the good of the planet:
In the 1983 Sword of Skeletor by publisher Golden Books, Zodac is described as a wizard, but he serves the same function as the DC comics Zodac. He intervenes to get He-Man into Castle Grayskull, so he can stop Skeletor, who has taken control. All of this is to keep the “balance between good and evil”.
In the 1983 comic, Power of Point Dread (the large version that came with the Point Dread & Talon Fighter playset and vehicle), Zodac again steps in at the last minute to aid He-Man. Zodac speaks of keeping a universal balance, which Skeletor has threatened by keeping He-Man from guarding Castle Grayskull. Zodac rights the balance by showing He-Man the Talon Fighter, which he uses to defeat Skeletor:
In the 1983 Filmation cartoon, Zodac is again presented as a Metron-like figure, stepping in at the last minute to indirectly intervene. In some ways Zodac is also a kind of Eternian god.
In the cartoon he is clearly an all-powerful character who sees and understands all. The most important of his three episodes is “The Search”, in which he sends He-Man out on a quest to prevent Skeletor reaching the Star Seed, a powerful object that will give him control over the whole universe. A twist ending reveals that Zodac set up the whole affair, telling Skeletor of the Star Seed and sending He-Man to defend it, in a test of He-Man’s ability to resist the temptation of using the Star Seed’s power for himself. – Wiki Grayskull
In the episode “Golden Disks of Knowledge”, it’s revealed that Zodac is the last member of the “Council of the Wise”. At the episode’s conclusion, Zodac transforms Zanthor (who had redeemed himself after some misdeeds) into a fellow cosmic enforcer. He’s even given the same costume as Zodac:
The 1982 MOTU Bible, written by Michael Halperin, describes the character like this:
ZODAC, the wise leader of the Council of Elders, called to the stars for advice… The Council listened to the vision which promised them that if ever the forces of evil should try overcoming Eternia a champion would arise to defend the planet…
Zodac gathered the Council of Elders in the Hall of Wisdom and collectively they concentrated their mind force until the sheer power of their consciousness created a mighty force field. At that moment, an implosion cracked through the corridors of the Hall and the Council disappeared in a blinding flash of energy. Only Zodac retained his human form as one of the Eternia’s guardians.
The 1984 UK Annual describes Zodac like this:
Although neither good nor evil, Zodac, the Cosmic Enforcer, has a vital role to play in this battle between good and evil. There have been many times when Skeletor has attempted to alter the balance of the universe – and several times when he has almost succeeded. In a situation like this, Zodac’s role is to prevent this – by tipping the scales to achieve another balance. This often means informing He-Man of what his enemy is planning to do – or by showing him the future if Zodac is successful, so that He-Man himself can do something about it. Zodac never interferes directly in the affairs of Eternia, but we may be sure that he is always watching.
Evil Cosmic Enforcer
Obviously not everyone at Mattel was on the same page with the story line that had developed between 1982 and 1983. On the 1983 reissued 12-back card, Zodac is portrayed unambiguously as an evil warrior. The artwork by Errol McCarthy shows Zodac attacking He-Man with his blaster.
By 1983, cross sell art appearing in minicomics and on packaging rebranded Zodac as the “Evil Cosmic Enforcer”.
I should also note that Zodac also appears in another 1983 figure sheet as simply “Cosmic enforcer” (his name is also spelled correctly):
In this 1983 commercial featuring all Masters of the Universe characters produced up until that time, Zodac is grouped with the Evil Warriors:
In this 1984 poster by William George, Zodac is also grouped with the Evil Warriors:
In the Ladybird-published 1986 He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom, Zodac is portrayed as Skeletor’s evil flunky:
The 1984 mini comic “Slave City” originally featured a villain named Zodak. When the team producing the comic book discovered that “Zodak” had an actual settled on appearance, they changed the villain’s name to Lodar by altering some of the letters in the text:
Zodac is being attacked by Man-E-Faces in this R.L. Allen piece below:
In several coloring books Zodac was portrayed as a heroic warrior:
Zodac in Action
A photo and a short video of Skeletor in action, contributed by Øyvind Meisfjord:
Zodac wasn’t heavily promoted, and I don’t remember him being all that popular with my friends when I was a kid. Maybe it was because we didn’t know what to do with Zodac. But like Faker, he has become something of a cult favorite among MOTU fans today.
Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen for providing valuable feedback and several images.