Category Archives: Evil Warriors

Skeletor: Lord of Destruction! (1982)

Released with the first wave of characters in the original Masters of the Universe toy line, Skeletor would eventually become one of the most iconic and memorable villains of the 1980s.

Castle Grayskull box art by Rudy Obrero

I remember getting Skeletor along with He-Man, Beast Man and Man-At-Arms in 1982.  I hadn’t even heard of these figures before getting them as Christmas presents. I don’t remember what toys I owned before that day, but the experience of opening and playing with these toys for the first time is permanently etched in my brain. Skeletor especially made a big impression on 5-year-old me. I’d never seen anything like him.

Design & Development

Like all the other first-wave MOTU figures, Skeletor was designed by Mattel artist Mark Taylor. Taylor’s 1979 drawing (before the MOTU line was first conceived) featured his He-Man-like character “Torak” and included a villain in the background who bears a striking resemblance to Skeletor:

Torak, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Close-up of Skeletor-like villain, from The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Mark Taylor did another sketch, predating his work at Mattel, that informed his later Skeletor design. In the drawing below, we see a mummy-like character, complete with torn bandages. He has a decaying body and face, but he also has elements of the final Skeletor costume that are recognizable – most notably in the cross bones on his chest. From the crown and collar, he looks like some kind of undead king.

The sketch was recently found by Rebecca Salari Taylor (Mark Taylor’s wife). Of the sketch, she said:

It was done before Mark went to Mattel. I found it in a sketchbook. He has a few versions of skeletons as warriors and royalty. It is based off of a story he wrote once when he was a kid in college… about a skeleton king called “The King of Styx” … circa 1971. I found a new stash of sketchbooks when they repaired our garage.

Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor. Sketch by Mark Taylor.
A print of “Evil Incarnate”, offered at Power-Con in 2018 as a part of Mark’s “Sketches 1” portfolio. Image courtesy of Doug Feague.

The above drawing was first teased in this poster image sold at Grayskull Con in 2013, produced by the Power and Honor Foundation:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

The concept character who has come to be known as Demo-Man (1980) is often considered to be an early version of Skeletor, although according to designer Mark Taylor he is a separate character (possibly designed as a villain for the abandoned Conan line, per Emiliano Santalucia). While this Taylor design does feature a skeletal face, it otherwise bears little resemblance to Skeletor. In fact, Demo-Man seems more similar to Beast Man in many ways. It’s unclear what might have become of this character had he been further developed. His sword design seems influenced by the sword in the “undead king” sketch Mark did before coming to Mattel.

The sinister Demo-Man

The B-sheet for “D Man” gives us the first look at a close to final and “official” Skeletor design. He retains the decaying face and general body shape and pose from the mummy sketch. His costume is much more recognizable as Skeletor, however, and he has his characteristic blue skin. He has the five-toed bare feet and yellow bat detail around his shin guards and chest armor that would later appear in the first minicomics. The head of the staff was meant to be attached via string and would have doubled as a flail.

Colored version of Mark Taylor’s Skeletor concept art, published by Super7 and the Power and the Honor Foundation. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

The D Man B-sheet was translated into a clay model by legendary Mattel sculptor Tony Guerrero. The paint details on the face were altered to the familiar yellow/green scheme, and the handle of the staff was left unfinished.

Skeletor prototype, sculpted by Tony Guerrero. Notice his stance is very similar to both the concept art and the cross sell art. Image via He-Man.org
Skeletor’s prototype seems to built on top of the original He-Man sculpt. The leg musculature looks identical.

This design was highly detailed and would have required a lot of unique parts. Presumably to save money, Skeletor’s design was simplified and made more generic and reusable.

Skeletor cross sell art

The cross sell art (above) seems to be the next step in Skeletor’s evolution, before the final toy. Skeletor was given legs that could be reused for Mer-Man, with three-toed feet and a more generic shin guard. Instead of the decrepit forearms, he was given unpainted gloved forearms that could be reused for Mer-Man (ironically Mer-Man would eventually lose the painted gloves, making this design change unnecessary). Other differences from the B-sheet include a wider “skirt” and a simplified bird motif on the belt.

Skeletor hand painted prototype. The skirt piece seems to be broken and on backwards.

This final prototype (above two images) shows some further changes to the design. The boots were given a scaly, organic appearance, and the “gloved” forearms were made to look more ambiguous, as if they could either be gloves or bony protrusions. Again, this seems designed to make these molded parts fit with either Skeletor or Mer-Man. Interestingly, the armor seems to sit higher on the body than the final toy.

Packaging

The first release of Skeletor featured the iconic “8-back” packaging. Reissues featured a scene on the card back of Skeletor looking rather sneaky, with Castle Grayskull in the background (art by Errol McCarthy].

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

Production Figure

The very first run of Skeletor figures had an error in the face paint. As Mattel marketing director Mark Ellis explained:

As with all large scale endeavors, screw-ups happen. After production was authorized, the factories started to turn out the characters in amazing quantities. I walked by Tall Paul’s office one day and he had a set of MOTU figures on his desk. I picked up Skeletor and noticed on his right cheek there was an orange mark. I asked Paul and he deduced that before the paint master was shipped to the factory, apparently it was moved or some stray color was accidentally added to make that orange mark. So Paul went down and got it fixed, but not before thousands and thousands were produced with that “error.”

This was actually the version I had as a kid. I certainly didn’t see it as an error. When I re-bought Skeletor as an adult, none of the Skeletors looked quite right to me until I found the one with orange cheeks. I remember staring for hours at that face as a kid, memorizing every detail.

Early versions of Skeletor had half-painted boots, which were probably meant to represent shin guards. He also had purple shorts and a black belt. Later versions had fully-painted boots and black shorts (and of course the corrected face paint). The full boot version has traditionally been associated with the black shorts/corrected face, but there are in between versions as well:

Half boots, black shorts, orange cheeks
Half boots, black shorts, corrected cheeks

All of the above have a hit of light blue in the eye sockets as well, which would eventually be cut. Below we see corrected face paint with full boots and black shorts, and no light blue in the eyes:

There are of course all kinds of international production variants as well, with subtle and not-so subtle differences from the initial Taiwan versions.

Gift Sets

Skeletor was sold in a number of configurations, apart from the single-carded figure. I’ll t get into Skeletor variants in future posts (ie, Battle Armor Skeletor, Dragon Blaster Skeletor, etc), but the standard release Skeletor was available in the following gift sets:

  • Skeletor/Panthor
  • Skeletor/Screech
  • Battle For Eternia (Skeletor/Panthor/Man-E-Faces)
  • Evil Warriors (Beast Man/Skeletor/Faker)
  • He-Man/Skeletor (German set)
  • JCPenney Skeletor/Beast Man
  • JCPenney Skeletor/Mer-Man

You can explore what these gift sets looks looked like at the excellent Grayskull Museum site.

Skeletor in Action

A photo and a short video of Skeletor in action, contributed by Øyvind Meisfjord:

Artwork

The box art for the sets featuring Skeletor with Panthor or Screech are particularly good. They capture the same Frazetta feel as Rudy Obrero’s artwork, but with a slightly different flavor. I include the single packaged Panthor art piece as well, because I like the artist’s depiction of Skeletor so much:

The Skeletor/Screech artwork was painted by Rudy Obrero, while the others were likely done by William Garland.

Advertising

Skeletor was featured along with He-Man in this very early live-action commercial:

Minicomic Looks

One of the most memorable depictions of Skeletor in any media was created by Alfredo Alcala, who did the artwork for nine MOTU mini comics, the Power of Point Dread comic book/record set, and the 1982 DC series (he is credited with the inks rather than the artwork for the DC series, but his stylistic influence is evident).

Notice the body and clothing in the above illustration almost exactly match Mark Taylor’s b-sheet (this example is from the first mini comic, He-Man and the Power Sword). The face looks like a creepier, more ghoulish version of the vintage toy, however.

This artwork from The Power of Point Dread (above) is based on the cross sell art, but again the design of the skull face is unique to Alcala.

Sinister Origins

Taylor wasn’t responsible for writing the back story for any of the characters, but he did have one in mind when he created Skeletor:

[Skeletor] is a corrupted super human. His father threw him into the “Pit of Souls” as a youth to eliminate him as a claimant to the throne (Grayskull). Years after, the tribe was completely eliminated by a malevolent witch poisoner (Skeletor’s mother) who then helped him escape from the “Well” but when she saw what it had done to him she went insane and drank her own poison.

His stay in the demonic “Well of Souls” morphed his body and soul forever, before he looked very much like He Man. …. [His] hood is to help hide his glowing eyes and camouflage his distinct silhouette. It is made of the eyelid of a dragon that tried to kill him just after he emerged from the “Well”. [His armor] is made from the hide of an armadillo type monster that dared to defy him, it is tougher than steel.

[Skeletor] is the ultimate bipolar, from quiet malevolent to towering rage. … Not counting the time warp in the “Well of Souls” he is about 317 years old but he doesn’t celebrate birthdays… he never sleeps.

Taylor had no involvement in the production of mini comics, other than seeing them and approving them. The first official origin story (written by Don Glut) gave a simple but effective origin for Skeletor. He was an evil demon from another dimension, bent on stealing the power from within Castle Grayskull, and bringing more of his kind into Eternia. He was apparently brought into Eternia when the “Great Wars” ripped a hole between dimensions.


A dimension full of Skeletors!

Much later in the line, it was hinted that Skeletor was once Keldor, brother to King Randor, but the story was never fleshed out until the 2002 cartoon series.

Animation

Perhaps the most widely-recognizable look for Skeletor came from the Filmation cartoon series. Voiced to perfection by Alan Oppenheimer, Skeletor featured a stripped down, more humanoid design, and more angry-looking eyes than the original toy:

There is a brief reference to Skeletor’s origins in the cartoon. In “The Greatest Adventures of All” VHS release, the Sorceress mentions that Skeletor is a demon from another dimension, which accords with the Don Glut story. (Thanks to both Jukka Issakainen and Dušan Mitrović for the information.) This idea is even more fleshed out in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, written by Michael Halperin:

A new vitality soared through their veins as they woke their new bodies to the horrid laughter of Infinita’s remaining ruler — the evil, megalomaniacal, power-mad monster, SKELETOR.

Beneath his hood eyes peered at them from the dark sockets of his skull face and his voice rang hollowly from the recesses of his bony jaws. In his hand he grasped the black, ram-headed HAVOC STAFF. He knew they were the minions he needed to break the Space Portal seal so he could invade and conquer Eternia. On the other hand Evil-Lyn, Beast-Man and Tri-Klops recognized Skeletor as their device for wreaking vengeance throughout the universe.

Skeletor led them to his lair beneath the twin peaks of SNAKE MOUNTAIN. Around one of the crags twisted a terrible carved snake. A portal along the snake’s back until it reached the fanged mouth. Entrance here entrapped the incautious stranger for once a person stepped into the snake’s jaws they snapped shut thrusting the trespasser into almost inescapable dungeon.

A footbridge connected one mountain with the other where a blood red waterfall cascaded over crags, past blasted trees and murky swamps. Skeletor’s chamber hid behind BLOOD FALLS and only he knew its entrance, its traps and snares. The lair itself was a dark cavern dripping with venom. In one corner, its eyes blazing red, its tail twitching, sat Skeletor’s pet and charger, the giant cat PANTHOR. Its purple fur glistened as its muscles rippled when it stretched out iron claws from the mighty paws.

Skeletor waved his staff and a charge of energy sprang forth rolling back a huge boulder from one wall uncovering a screen. A wave of his hand and a picture swam into view — a picture of Eternia then that of King Randor and Marlena. At the sight of the former captain, the trio snarled and clenched their fists – and it wasn’t lost on Skeletor.

“I see you feel as I do. You’d like to invade Eternia and conquer it. My reasons are simple enough. Infinita can no longer sustain life.  We need Eternia’s air and food and I intend to take it by force. If you are with me we can accomplish our aim. But before we do we must break through the Space Portal sealed centuries ago against my ancestors. Once that’s done we’ll wipe out that simpering Eternian goodness and our dark powers will reign over all Eternia — over all the universe.”

In the animated commercial for the MOTU toy line produced by Filmation in 1982, Skeletor looked even more menacing than his later appearances in the show, with a more detailed design:

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on Skeletor. I could cover all his appearances in the box art, or the different comic book depictions and characterizations, or all the advertising and merchandising related to the character, but this really would turn this blog post into a novella. And maybe that’s what you’d need to really do justice to the evil lord of destruction!

I’ll return to the topic another time when I discuss Skeletor variant figures. Perhaps I’ll also do a separate post just on Skeletor-related box art, with some more detailed pictures of packaging.

Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen and Dušan Mitrović for some corrections and guidance on this topic.

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Faker: Evil robot of Skeletor (1983)

When I was a kid, I was first introduced to Faker when visiting with a friend. I don’t remember him being a highly demanded figure among my peers. I liked him but I don’t remember begging my mom for a Faker figure. But among the adult collector community, Faker (along with Zodac) seems to have garnered something of a cult following. I can’t quite put my finger on why that might be, but at the gut level I’m right there with the rest of the fans.

By the time Faker was released in 1983, Mattel would have known they had a hit on their hands with Masters of the Universe. The brand had already made many millions of dollars in 1982, the year of its introduction. So was Faker released because he was cheap to make and the profit margins would be higher than other figures? Or was it because he required no new tooling and would allow Mattel to have another figure out in the market without much lead time? I tend to think it was the latter. New tooling would take time to put together, and Mattel showed they were willing to invest in new sculpts in the 1983 lineup. Meanwhile I would think they would wish to capitalize on the unexpected success of the MOTU line as quickly as possible.

In terms of design, Faker is, very simply, a He-Man figure with Skeletor’s sword and armor, recast in eye-catching candy colors.

In terms of parts reuse, no other figure was as direct a reuse of previous parts as Faker. Even Stinkor and Moss Man (reused from Mer-Man and Beast Man, respectively) got some scent added to their plastic or a coating of green fuzz, in the case of Moss Man. Faker is just Faker. There is something appealing about that design though. Maybe it’s the color scheme. Orange and blue are complimentary colors, after all.

The Faker prototype below is just a repainted He-Man figure. You can see a bit of the original color coming through on one of the legs. The prototype has the same orange color on the hair as on the armor and sword. You can see this is made from an earlier He-Man figure, because it has the irregular looking belly button common on early He-Man figures. Some production Faker figures lack the belly button, just as He-Man did starting in 1983, but others retain it. The prototype below has red eyes, while the production figure had black eyes.

Prototype Faker. Image via Lulu-Berlu.com by way of Grayskull Museum

It’s possible that the idea of Faker being a robot was not the original concept for the character. In this 1982 color-changing advertisement, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala, Faker is described as having powerful muscles, and there no mention of robotic parts.

Image source: http://www.battlegrip.com/

Faker came with the sticker on the chest, mostly hidden under the armor. It looks like it’s meant to represent his robotic control panel. To me it actually looks more like a reel-to-reel tape system. I like to think that Faker would be rocking out to The Fixx as he launched his assault on Castle Grayskull.

When Faker was released in 1983, he came on the same 8-back card as the original 8 figures. He must have been released in relatively low quantities, as a carded example is tough to come by now.

A rare variant of Faker (made in Taiwan) came with Skeletor’s arms. This particular version is from 1983, but includes the updated cardback with artwork by Errol McCarthy. Unless the figure is carded, it’s really impossible to tell if the figure’s arms were swapped with Skeletors, making it a variant that really only has value if it is carded.

Faker was depicted with Skeletor’s arms in a couple of posters illustrated by William George, and in the reissue card artwork illustrated by Bruce Timm (hat tip to Antoine D.):

There is a lot that can be said about production variants of Faker. The version produced in France had bright purple trunks:

Interestingly, a few early versions of Faker (made in Taiwan) seem to have come with an orange copy of Skeletor’s belt and possibly his havoc staff too:

Image source: “Slayer” via Facelessone

For more discussion on that topic, see this thread.

Probably the most sought after production variant of Faker is the Leo Toys India version. It came with all of Skeletor’s armor and accessories in either orange or red, and a rather striking bit of paint around the eyes that resembled the Lone Ranger’s mask:

The version with pink armor seems to have been patterned after the cross sell art colors:

Faker was also unusual in that he got a re-release in 1987 after having been discontinued for years. The line was struggling at the time, and most new figures were heavily reusing old parts. It must have seemed a good time to bring Faker out of retirement.

Notably, this late version of Faker came with a hard rubber head rather than the soft polyvinyl of the original release. In my opinion the hard heads don’t look as nice. The sculpt seems a bit off and doesn’t have the nice matte finish quality of the hollow polyvinyl heads. As Rahul notes in the comments, these ones had heads cast in orange with painted on faces, instead of the blue cast heads of the original release. Some versions have the larger Thunder Punch He-Man feet as well:

Faker reissue with large feet
Faker reissue with regular feet

Faker didn’t appear in a lot of media. He didn’t show up in a mini comic until his 1987 release with the Search for Keldor mini comic, where he was swiftly dispatched with a spear to the heart from King Randor:

Faker starred in his own commercial. Apparently this was produced in 1982. Could the figure have been released in 1982? Possibly, but if so, very late in the year.

Faker doesn’t appear anywhere in the 1982 dealer Catalog. He shows up for the first time in the 1983 edition:

Image source

Faker made a brief appearance in the 1984 Masters of the Universe Annual:

He also appeared a few times in illustrations by R.L. Allen and Fred Carillo:

From the Golden Giant Picture Book coloring book (Evil Warriors version), illustrated by Fred Carillo. Image via Bustatoons Blog.
Illustrated by R.L.Allen
Illustrated by R.L. Allen

Faker made a single appearance in the Filmation cartoon. While his design was a bit boring (it’s just He-Man with glowing eyes), it made a lot more sense, plot-wise. If Faker is supposed to be an evil He-Man impersonator, he would only be effective in that role with the same coloring and clothing as the real McCoy. But then, if you wanted something like that as a kid, you would just buy two He-Man figures. I don’t know of many moms who would have gone for that.

At the end of the episode, He-Man defeats Faker and sends him falling down the bottomless pit near Castle Grayskull. Skeletor makes it known that he plans to restore Faker somehow. I like to think that either the trip down the hole or the restoration would somehow have left him permanently blue.

He’s given possibly his best origin story in the 1984 UK Masters of the Universe Annual:

Image source: Vaults of Grayskull

Finally, making up the whole of Skeletor’s evil gang is Faker, a being created by Skeletor himself with the aim of looking exactly like He-Man, to create maximum trouble and confusion. Unfortunately for Skeletor something went wrong in the spell, and Faker is a miscoloured and negative version of He-Man, easily detectable as the evil being he is. Through magic, Skeletor can make him into an exact likeness, but the spell lasts only a very short time, and the evil creature is soon revealed.

Return to Table of Contents.

Mer-Man: Ocean warlord! (1982)

Masters of the Universe probably could not have happened in any decade other than the 80s. In 1982, it came at the heels of two  disparate but very popular movie franchises – Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. Those influences weighed  heavily on the first wave of He-Man figures, playsets and vehicles. Almost every figure, although generally barbaric in appearance, featured some kind of subtle sci-fi element. Even the grim, Frazetta influenced Castle Grayskull had a laser turret and a computer system.

Frazetta invades kindergartens

Does not compute.
Luke, who’s your daddy? (Image via MOTUC Figures)

As the line grew long in the tooth it tended rely more on gimmicks, but the early figures were mostly about cool designs. Mattel artist Mark Taylor was responsible for the lion’s share of the early figures and for Castle Grayskull. Ted Mayer assisted with the sculpting of Castle Grayskull and created the line’s first two vehicles, Battle Ram and Wind Raider. He also went on to design many of the 1985-1987 figures.

It’s normal for toys to have some inconsistency between first promotional material and finished product. That happened all the time in the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Series. Filmation would receive early concept art for a figure and create a story based on that art. By the time the toy came out it would sometimes be radically different.

For young kids in the 80s, often the first glimpse of upcoming figures came from the cross sell art on the back of MOTU packaging. When Mattel released the first four figures in 1982, we could see on the back of the package that more were coming.

A lot of us already had our He-Man, Skeletor, Beast Man and Man-At-Arms figures. But who were these other guys? Mer-Man especially caught my eye. These were the first action figures I ever had, and the idea of an aquatic half-man half-fish warrior really fascinated me.

Below: the cross sell art for Mer-Man comes in varying shades of green, generally. Early examples (such as on test market cards) tend to be more bluish. The original art may have had straight blue skin, as show in the first image below, but varying degrees of yellow tint may have been used to shift him into the green spectrum.

Image courtesy of Tokyonever. I believe this image comes from Mattel’s cross sell art used in the recent MOTU Giants line.

Blueish version, from a test market Man-At-Arms card
Greener version, from the back of a Battle Ram box.

Those of us who got in on the very first release of He-Man and Skeletor lived with that cardback image of Mer-Man for months. Imagine our surprise when we got this instead:

The gloves and shin guards were unpainted. The sword bore a closer resemblance to corn than coral (note: I am informed by Mantisaur82 that Mer-Man’s sword is supposed to be a weapon made from a sawfish rostrum, and that actual weapons have been made after this fashion). The furry shorts were orange instead of yellow. The armor’s detail was softened considerably. And most of all, the design of the face seemed markedly different from the cross sell art we had memorized.

A lot of MOTU collectors talk about Mer-Man a little bitterly. Like they were so disillusioned with the way the toy was changed from the artwork that it soured them on the figure. And yes, as a kid I was a little dismayed at the difference at first. But when I really looked at him closely, I realized I was still kind of in love with Mer-Man. And let’s face it, he looks a lot more villainous in his toy form than he did on the card back illustration.

Mer-Man’s initial concept design (by Mark Taylor) was actually quite different from both the action figure and the cross sell art. The original concept (known as “Sea Man”) would have had unique legs, arms and a scaly loin cloth. The cross sell art cut down on the fishy details, and the toy version even more so.

Mark Taylor B-Sheet – black and white copy. Image via The Art of He-Man
Colored version of Mark Taylor’s Mer-Man concept art, published by Super7 and the Power and the Honor Foundation. Note the original colors – blue skin with yellow gloves and boots, and yellow and copper outfit. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Below is the early Mer-Man  prototype, sculpted by Tony Guerrero.  Notice the model is very faithful to the concept art, down to the pose.

Image source: The Power & The Honor Foundation, retrieved via Facebook
Prototype Skeletor and Mer-Man. Image source: The Power & The Honor Foundation, retrieved via Facebook
Image courtesy of Andy Youssi
Image courtesy of Andy Youssi

Mer-Man’s revised sword design is laid out in the Mark Taylor B-sheet design below. Note that the teeth of the sword don’t go out as far as the edge of the sword. I’m sure this had to do with limitations of manufacturing technology at the time.


Mark Taylor B-Sheet – Mer-Man’s sword. Image via The Art of He-Man

Mer-Man’s final, hand-painted prototype appears below. The sculpt is identical to the mass produced toy, except the sword is missing the hand guard.

If you take a close look at the head on the original concept art, it’s actually somewhere between the somewhat goofy cardback and the simplified but more intense vintage toy face. In fact, if you were to color that original concept design just like the vintage toy (as I did below), it would be much clearer that they were really the same basic character, just simplified, recolored and made a bit meaner looking.

But why were the painted gloves and shin guards removed? Almost certainly to cut costs. The second half of the first wave of figures that came out in 1982 (Mer-Man, Stratos, Teela, Zodac) all had reduced paint apps and/or accessories compared to the first four (He-Man, Skeletor, Beast Man, Man-At-Arms). This despite the fact that the line outsold all expectations, even in the first year. Mark Taylor and Ted Mayer have both said that Mattel was very reluctant to invest money in new tooling for the MOTU line, even after its unexpected success.

The first (1982) release of Mer-Man had his belt painted green, as shown previously. Subsequent releases left the belt unpainted. I would assume the idea was to cut costs, and much of the belt was obscured by his armor anyway.

Orange belt re-release

The first edition Mer-Man came packed on the “8-back” cardback (pictured earlier in this post), while reissues starting in 1983 featured a painted scene by artist Errol McCarthy:

Mer-Man was also sold in a giftset with Battle Armor Skeletor and Webstor, and in a JCPenny giftset with the original Skeletor.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

I’ve heard scuttlebutt around the internet that Mer-Man was originally conceived of as a heroic warrior from an oceanic world that was destroyed. However, I’ve never seen any real evidence that Mer-Man was once heroic. Even in the first mini comic, where Stratos’ affiliations seem to be with Skeletor, Mer-Man was portrayed as an evil warrior.

Update: I finally saw some evidence for Mer-Man as a heroic warrior. An early internal Mattel document describes him this way: “Mer-Man – uses his aquatic powers to help He-Man.”

Interestingly, in Mattel’s 1982 dealer catalog, Mer-Man is not explicitly affiliated with either Skeletor or He-Man:

According to designer Mark Taylor, Mer-Man wasn’t the most popular toy when the figures were undergoing child testing:

Tony Guerrero the great sculptor and I chased the negative child test comments until we finally realized the marketeers were just messing with us and then we went with what we had.  Mer-Man was the weakest but people who like him really like him (I based him on Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing).

Perhaps because he didn’t test as well as other early characters, Mer-Man nearly went into the bin of rejected concepts. As Mark Taylor explained:

Well, they almost rejected Mer-Man. They didn’t understand him, and wanted to take him out of the line. I had a hard time convincing them to keep him. I said “Don’t you understand? There has to be someone who lives in the water!” I was envisioning a magnificent line of toys that could be played with in the water. Decades later, George Lucas did a similar thing in The Phantom Menace. I worked for the US Navy for almost ten years in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, so I really wanted to do undersea stuff. I was a diver, and I felt the mysticism of being under water. That’s such an amazing area to get into.

Mer-Man’s most notable minicomic appearances are probably in the first four, written by Don Glut and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. In the series, the design of the character is based on Mark Taylor’s early concept art (and in Battle In The Clouds, based on Mer-Man’s cross sell art. In this series, Mer-Man is arguably Skeletor’s most competent and dangerous ally:

Likewise, Mer-Man is a formidable foe in the early Golden Book MOTU stories:

Perhaps Mer-Man’s strangest appearance is in Leech – The Master of Power Suction Unleashed. For whatever reason, Mer-Man is depicted with a beard:

In the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, Mer-Man was again one of Skeletor’s most devious and competent allies. As king of his own undersea kingdom, he often undertook plots against the heroic warriors apart from Skeletor.

Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t still tossed around by He-Man at the end of the day:

Image source: Heritage Auctions

Mer-Man’s filmation design seems to be a simplified version of Mark Taylor’s original concept design, complete with the yellow gloves and boots. However when Filmation was producing an early He-Man Television commercial, they came up with a model for Mer-Man that was closely based on the actual toy:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Image courtesy of Dušan M.

In Filmation’s Series Guide, Mer-Man looks like a cross between his vintage toy and and Mark Taylor’s concept art. In the description below, it’s mentioned that Mer-Man has command over sea creatures (similar to Beast Man’s command over beasts of the land). In this description, Mer-Man’s powers can be effected by the tides, although that wasn’t really explored in the cartoon:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Mer-Man makes various appearances in box art and posters as well, and his design is usually based either on his cross sell artwork or his 1982 toy:

Mer-Man underwent subtle and radical redesigns in different media over the years. He may be the most inconsistently portrayed character in all of MOTU. He’s also my favorite. There’s something about him I’ve always found fascinating and a little bit mysterious.

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