Heroic Vehicles

Dragon Walker: Sidewinding Beast/Vehicle (1984)

The Dragon Walker is one of my all time favorite Masters of the Universe vehicles. I don’t recall if I had seen the Dragon Walker at the store and begged my parents for one, or if they surprised me with it for my birthday. I just remember getting it and frantically searching the house for a pair of C batteries. As I recall we didn’t have any and I had to wait for my parents to buy some. What an agonizing wait that was.

I realize some fans find the sidewinding locomotion concept to be so impractical that it has soured them on the toy. Not me. I thought of the Dragon Walker as the Eternian equivalent of the G.I. Joe Bridge Layer – a vehicle built for getting the good guys across rivers and crevasses.

Image via Yo Joe

Design & Development

The main elements of what would eventually be the Dragon Walker are present in this concept illustration by Ed Watts. The coat of arms design is different from the final toy, featuring a cross and dragons rather than the stylized H from Battle Armor He-Man’s costume. In this concept the driver stands rather than sits, and holds on to a red laser canon mounted on the dragon’s head. The concept was also quite a bit larger than the actual toy.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The final Dragon Walker toy was a bit smaller than Ed Watts’ concept, no doubt to keep costs low:

From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image source: Orange Slime

Packaging Art

William George painted the packaging illustration, which features Battle Armor He-Man riding the Dragon Walker through a prehistoric-looking landscape. One hallmark of many of George’s MOTU illustrations is the presence of little dinosaur-like creatures off to the side of the main action.

Original William George line art. Image via He-Man.org.

The cross sell art for the Dragon Walker was very true to the design and look of the toy:

The Spanish version was released without the cellophane window, and included an additional William George illustration and some product photos. Judging by the inclusion of the Land Shark vehicle in the background, I would guess that this box was released in 1985 at the earliest:

(Images via Masters Unbound and 20th Century Toy Collector)

And here is line art:

A US version of this packaging was planned, but never released. Here is a picture of the proof sheet from Grayskull Museum (thanks to Tokyonever for the pointer):

William George’s Hidden Signature

William George also painted a poster featuring the Dragon Walker for Kellogg’s as part of a promotion they were running with Mattel. Mattel designer Ted Mayer tells this story:

There was stuff I did not know about, because Mattel kept us designers isolated, regarding other departments, or outside stuff. I remember that one day the He-Man posters appeared out of nowhere that were done for Kellogg. Apparently Marketing just went out and did them without consulting us. We were pissed off, because we considered ourselves the main reference point.

As it happened, they hired Bill George to do them, and we were good buddies. Funny story. Bill came to me and said “I have to do these paintings for Kellogg’s, but they said I can’t sign them.” Because they were for such a big company he wanted the exposure. I had the same problem with the aircraft illustrations I used to do. I told him to hide his signature inside the illustrations, but do them upside down so they where not obvious. That’s what he did, and they never found it.

William George’s hidden signature

Mechanics

The mechanism of the Dragon Walker is rather ingenious. Rather than a vehicle moving along a track, the track and the vehicle move one after the other. A patent was filed for it on January 10, 1984, crediting Michael Gurner and Herbert May as the inventors. From the abstract:

A moveable toy consisting of a base and a motorized vehicle. The base includes a track having a central groove ending in openings at either end. The track includes teeth which cooperate with a drive gear held in the vehicle to drive the vehicle along the track. Rotors having notches on the top surface are rotatably held in openings at each end of the central groove in the track. Upon actuation, the vehicle travels along the track until it arrives at either end of the track, where the vehicle rotates the base to allow the vehicle to continue along the track end for further movement of the toy in the same direction.

As an aside, Roger Sweet takes credit for the Dragon Walker in this interview, although it’s unclear what his contribution was, other than perhaps managing the project. He’s not listed as one of the inventors in the patent application, and the concept art was done by Ed Watts, as mentioned earlier.

The concept is demonstrated in this video on the Grand Illusions YouTube channel:

From the video description:

The other one is made by Mattel, and Tim remembers the crowds of people watching this with fascination, the first time it was shown at a toy fair.

The character drives his dragon vehicle along the track; once he reaches the end of the track, the track swivels around, so that the section of track that was behind him is not in front of him, and he can set off again, along the track. This keeps repeating, and so he can cover quite large distances quite quickly, on his amazing ‘never ending’ track!

Other Artwork

The inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine included a blueprint-style poster of the Dragon Walker. I hung this on my wall as soon as I got it and studied every detail:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Curiously, the poster doesn’t identify the Dragon Walker by name, but instead calls it the Heroic Warrior Carrior. Man-At-Arms is said to be the inventor. Notice that the color version at the top is off-model. It resembles the Filmation version, but it’s not clear if there is actually any place for the driver to sit!

Errol McCarthy created a few illustrations of the Dragon Walker for licensing purposes (images via He-Man.org):

Comics and Storybooks

The Dragon Walker made an appearance in the background of the mini comic, Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!

It also plays a role in several Golden Books stories, such as The Rock Warriors and Maze of Doom:

Animation

The Dragon Walker shows up a few times in the Filmation Cartoon, in episodes like “Attack From Below”, “The Time Wheel”, and “Fraidy Cat”:

Animated GIF from He-Man Reviewed
Image source: He-Man and She-Ra – A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures

As shown in the above GIF and model sheet, Filmation increased the size of the seat so that it could fit multiple characters.

Dragon Walker in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly contributed the following image and videos of the Dragon Walker in action:

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Heroic Vehicles

Attak Trak: Battle Machine (1983)

The Attak Trak, released in 1983, is a vehicle with a unique action feature and an interesting design history.

I saw the Attak Trak in the wild only once as a kid. I remember being at another kid’s house. I believe my mother was friends with his mother, and while they were visiting I spent some time getting to know her son. The first thing he did was show me his He-Man collection, and I remember distinctly being introduced to three toys I had never seen before: Evil-Lyn, Faker and Attak Trak. Unfortunately he had worn out the vehicle’s batteries, and I didn’t get to see it in action.

The Attak Trak was designed by Mattel visual designer Ted Mayer, who also designed the Battle Ram, Wind Raider, Eternia Playset, and many other MOTU toys.

In my interview with Ted, he had this to say about the Attak Trak:

[The Attak Trak] started out as a mechanical toy submission that Mattel bought from an outside inventor. It was given to me to make in to a He-Man vehicle. I did about four different design directions, of which they picked one.

Ted didn’t specify who the outside inventor was, but I believe it was Marvin Glass and Associates. They filed a patent for a four wheel drive toy on August 10, 1981, and it was published on April 19, 1983:

Notice the mechanical feature is identical to the Attak Trak’s. The visual design, however, is a fairly generic-looking toy tank.

Ted Mayer stepped in to give the vehicle a Masters of the Universe feel. He submitted the following drawings, which featured an elongated fantasy beast head on the front,  and an option for a canopy on top:

Attak Trak without treads. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
Attak Trak with treads. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
Attak Trak with canopy. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

In my interview with Ted Mayer, he explained:

The canopy was dropped because it costed out quite high, so they looked at dropping as many extras as possible. By this time I was also doing all the control drawings, so when they went to the engineers, things were final.

Ted submitted the following control drawings for consideration. “For some reason marketing didn’t want the gargoyle type head,” he explained. So the second design was chosen for final production.

In a Tomart’s Action Figure Digest article on the origins of Masters of the Universe, another Ted Mayer concept drawing of the Attak Trak appears, along with a black or dark brown production sample that features sticker designs not used in the final version:

Final painted prototype in red and blue

The final toy was produced in a bright red and blue color scheme:

Monogram produced a model kit version of the Attak Trak. It featured the canopy that Ted Mayer had originally designed (or something very close to it), as well as other unique details. The model was not motorized, but it was in scale with the vintage figures:

Rudy Obrero provided the artwork for the Mattel Attak Trak packaging. He has stated in interviews that it’s the least favorite piece he did for the vintage line. In the interview I conducted with him in March of this year, Rudy had this to say about the process:

It’s the last piece I did for Mattel. I started to think the art direction came from a committee, seemed as though everyone in Mattel wanted in on package art because of its success as a toy line. These pieces were done in oil paint so changes were a pain to do.

Box art scanned by me, repaired by Retroist

In my interview with Rudy Obrero, he mentioned that various people at Mattel were constantly asking him to make small revisions on the Attak Trak artwork. It appears that two versions of his art made it to the packaging. The version below has the splash of mud removed from the front of the treads. I imagined they had it removed because the vehicle would probably stop working if run through real mud. The version without mud seems a bit easier to find, so it’s probably a version that came out shortly after the initial release.

The artwork for the Estrela Toys Attak Trak was modified for unknown reasons. The Brazilian manufacturer and licensee did the same with their versions of Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram:

There was also an orange version of the Attak Trak. This one was released in Europe – I don’t know if there were any orange versions released in the US market. This particular version has the muddy artwork:

Interestingly, the cross sell artwork for the Attak Trak was also orange, and the vehicle was colored orange or sometimes brown in early mini comics:

Artist Errol McCarthy produced several pieces of artwork featuring the Attak Trak:

Attak Trak line art used in advertising

Early on in the mini comics, the Attak Trak was represented as having a “mind of its own.” That was expanded upon in the Filmation cartoon series. The vehicle could undertake complex tasks on its own and had a voice and personality. The Attak Trak also underwent a radical redesign:

There was, however, a more toy accurate version called the Small Trak that made an appearance in the Evilseed episode:

Filmation model sheet by Fred Carillo. Image source: James Eatock/The Power and the Honor Foundation
Image source: He-Man and She-Ra, A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures, by James Eatock and Alex Hawkey
Source: Oasi delle Anime
Source: Oasi delle Anime

Also released in 1983 was the Big Jim Spy Series All-Terrain Vehicle. The body shape was completely different from the Attak Trak, but it used the same track-flipping concept, and even shared the exact same tread design:

Image Source: Big Jim Forum

Some of my favorite Attak Trak-related artwork comes from MOTU artist R.L Allen:

Illustration by R.L. Allen
Illustration by R.L.Allen

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Heroic Vehicles

Battle Ram prototype

In this post I’d like to take a closer look at the Battle Ram prototype. For a more exhaustive treatment of this vehicle, see the toy feature.

Designed by Ted Mayer and sculpted by Jim Openshaw, the Battle Ram prototype was in some ways more impressive than the final toy.

Here is the prototype Battle Ram, from various angles (also shown is the prototype helmeted He-Man figure):

Images 1, 4 and 5 are courtesy of Ted Mayer; images 2 and 3 were retrieved from He-Man.org.

The overall profile is very similar to the final toy, but when you look closely, there are many subtle differences. I’ll go over each photo of the prototype and compare it with a similar photo of the final toy, noting some of the differences in each:

Prototype angle 1
Toy angle 1
Prototype angle 2
Toy angle 2
Prototype angle 3
Toy angle 3
Prototype angle 4
Toy angle 4
Prototype angle 5
Toy angle 5

Notice in the fifth prototype image, the front half of the Battle Ram seems to have a greenish tint (in most images it looks grayish-blue). Perhaps the paint took on that tonality depending upon the lighting. That might explain the greenish coloration of Rudy Obrero’s illustration for the Battle Ram packaging. On the other hand, his color choice may have been determined by the lighting in his landscape.

Speaking of which, Rudy’s illustration is also based on the prototype Battle Ram, although it features the reptilian sticker on the front section from the final toy, as well as a modified missile:

As you can see, his illustration is quite faithful to the source material, although he did elongate the front half of the vehicle. He also gave it a jet engine nozzle at the rear, visible when in flight mode:

Alfredo Alcala’s Battle Ram cross sell art is also based on the prototype vehicle:

The prototype also shows up in the 1981 “Fast Male Action for Licensees” kit:

It was also featured in issue 90 of Tomart’s Action Figure Digest:

The prototype was very likely based on this control drawing dated May 28, 1981, drawn by Ted Mayer. It matches up almost perfectly with the prototype Battle Ram.

“Catapult Vehicle” – image courtesy of Ted Mayer

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Heroic Vehicles

Point Dread & Talon Fighter (1983)

Point Dread and the Talon Fighter somehow completely slipped off my radar as a kid. I probably saw it represented in cross sell art form at some point in my childhood, but I don’t think it ever made an impression. And that’s a shame because it’s one of the coolest items ever produced for the Masters of the Universe toyline. It’s certainly one of my favorites now.

Design & Development

Point Dread and the Talon fighter was a rather unique item, in that it combined a small playset with a vehicle as well as a story book with record.

The commercial (above) shows a prototype that seems to have less overspray on both the vehicle and the playset than the mass produced toys did. The cross sell art seems based on that prototype:

Point Dread & Talon Fighter cross sell art

From my interview with Mattel designer Ted Mayer, I learned that the idea for the Talon Fighter originated with a sketch for the Eternia playset. There are a couple of those in existence, and both seem to feature a flying vehicle that bears some resemblance to the final Talon Fighter design, although the aircraft in the second image also resembles the Blasterhawk. The second image is dated February 5, 1985, so it would not have been a source used for the Talon Fighter. I would guess that the first image (called Mount Eternia) dates from some time in 1982.

Mount Eternia, image courtesy of Ted Mayer
Eternia sketch, by Ted Mayer
Mount Eternia’s flying vehicle – closer view

There is also some rough similarity to the 1983 Big Jim Space Spy Vehicle (hat tip to Jukka for pointing this out), which also featured the radar dish on the top, a handle in the back, stubby wings, and a similar (but not identical) overall profile:

Point Dread seems to have been conceived at one point as the home of Skeletor and his Evil Warriors. From the Filmation Series Guide:

Source: He-Man.org

“Point Dread is a craggy peak emerging from the Eternian Ocean. It is an extinct volcano with a tunnel leading down to a fantastic ruined, Atlantis-like city hidden beneath the ocean floor. Inside Point Dread, Skeletor keeps all the treasure he has plundered from a thousand worlds. There are also mines and construction sites waiting for the slaves Skeletor plans to take once he has seized control of Eternia.

“But the heart of Point Dread is the great council chamber where Skeletor summons the sinister Masters of the Universe. Here Skeletor sits on a raised platform above the round table where are gathered the likes of…”

Notice that at the evil warriors are referred to as the “sinister Masters of the Universe”.

The same guide describes Talon Fighter as an agile air vehicle that only He-Man can control, and says that it is frequently perched atop Castle Grayskull. The top of what we would refer to as the Point Dread playset is also shown – perhaps at the time the rocky base for the Talon fighter was not yet named. It may have taken on the name of Point Dread after Skeletor’s home base was identified as Snake Mountain.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

The 1985 UK Annual again describes Point Dread as the lair of Skeletor (images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen):

Production Toy

Let’s take a look at the actual toy and its packaging and accessories:

Roomy cockpit holds two figures
Gizmo not normally included!
Perched majestically atop Castle Grayskull

The Talon Fighter seems to be based on something like a hawk or an eagle. It has a rather wide body, stubby, downturned wings, and curved talon feet. There is room for two figures inside the roomy cockpit, and it features a handle on the back for easy zooming around the house.

Point Dread (tag line: frontier outpost) is a simple two-piece shell with a window and rather small stairs leading upward on the top piece. The top piece can clip to the tallest turret on Castle Grayskull. Inside the lower half is a cardboard control panel.

The box art is rather magnificent, in my opinion. The artist is unknown, but they seem to have been trying to imitate the style of Rudy Obrero. The artwork features Skeletor, Tri-Klops and Mer-Man launching an assault on Point Dread. He-Man and Teela are inside the Talon Fighter, and Man-At-Arms seems ready to take on the villains from the ground while his friends attack them from the air.

Comic Books

The comic book included with the playset is one of my very favorites. It’s two stories in one book – The Power of Point Dread and Danger at Castle Grayskull. The artwork is by the incomparable Alfredo Alcala, and features some fun and colorful stories that introduce us to not only PDTF, but new characters like Man-E-Faces, Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops. Zodac has a rather prominent role to play in the first story, which is a nice touch.

A record was included with the book, to help young readers read along with the story:

You can ready both stories in their entirety here and here.

Confusingly, there was a mini comic produced with essentially the same title – The Power of… Point Dread. The plot of the story is entirely different, however. It was penciled by Mark Texeira and includes some pretty exciting combat scenes:

While it’s true Point Dread was at one point intended to be the home of Skeletor and his minions, the Masters of the Universe Bible,  written at the end of 1982, portrayed Point Dread as it was in the mini comics released the next year:

TALON FIGHTER – this winged flying vehicle carries two passengers and is able to execute death-defying aerial acrobatics. Equipped with a special bombpack under its belly, He Man can call the fighter when it’s needed. Its resting place is atop a far peak called PT. DREAD which materializes whenever the Talon Fighter comes to rest. Only He Man has the physical fortitude and strength of will to control it. The flying machine goes out of control unless He-Man’s in command.

Animation

Point Dread never made an appearance in the Filmation cartoon, and the Talon Fighter was used quite rarely.

Image source: Wiki Grayskull

Model Kit

There was also a kit version of the Talon Fighter produced by Monogram (which was owned by Mattel at the time). It had a much more bird-like design than the toy, and a simpler yellow and red color scheme. It also has a canon mounted on top of the cockpit, rather than the radar design of the toy version. Monogram also produced versions of the Attak Trak and Roton. The Monogram Attak Trak is based off of a concept version of the Attak Trak, so I wonder if the same isn’t true of the Monogram Talon Fighter.

Artwork by Larry Elmore

The above design, but with toy-accurate colors, shows up in Dangerous Games, published by Golden Books:

There was also an illustration of the Monogram Talon Fighter kit that was apparently created for advertising purposes (images via Plaid Stallions). In this version the vehicle has a gold-colored body and green cockpit windows:

Artwork

R. L. Allen featured the Talon Fighter in a couple of his illustrations, which are some of my favorites:

Illustration by R.L.Allen
Illustration by R.L. Allen

Talon Fighter in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared some images and a video of the Talon Fighter in action:

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