Heroic Warriors, History

Heroic Mer-Man, Evil Stratos?

I’ve mentioned this briefly before in the blog, but I thought this topic deserved its own post. It’s well known that early on in the development of the Masters of the Universe line, allegiances of certain characters were in flux. One of the most dramatic examples of that is Zodac, who is at times presented as heroic, neutral and evil in official Masters packaging, comics and cartoons. I go over that in depth in my post about Zodac. The history of Stratos and Mer-Man is actually similar, but the details are a bit murkier.

The very earliest surviving characterizations of Mer-Man peg him as a Heroic Warrior. In an early draft by Don Glut for what would eventually become the first minicomics (using the title “Fighting Foe Men” as the name of the line), Mer-Man is listed among the Heroic Warriors and is given this backstory:

MER-MAN (alternative name: Sea-Man) — The last survivor of an extraterrestrial race of water-dwellers. When his water-world was drawn into its sun by the force of gravity and evaporated, Mer-Man — a scaly humanoid with fishlike gills and fins — escaped to Eternia and took residence in its seas. There this intelligent being took command of the sea’s creatures. He can exist on land, where his strength, accustomed to the pressures of the sea’s depths, is increased — but extreme heat can dehydrate him, weakening and eventually killing him.

Don Glut

The same story also groups Stratos (who was called Wing Man at the time) with the Heroic Warriors:

WING-MAN (alternative name: Air-Man) — One of the last of a race of mountain-dwelling beings who have mastered the air. Wing-Man is a denizen of mountain peaks hidden high above Eternia’s clouds. He utilizes a flying craft equipped with various weapons resembling characters of flying creatures — a deafening bird’s cry siren, a hornet’s sting, etc. But he can fly without use of the craft, thanks to a set of foldable wings — including a set of bird’s wings, bat’s wings, insect’s wing, etc. He has a good sense of humor and is a natural practical joker, which makes him bearly [sic] tolerable to such brooding characters as He-Man.

Don Glut

An early internal Mattel document, as seen in The Power of Grayskull documentary, explicitly affiliates Mer-Man with He-Man, but is non-committal about Stratos.

In a series of early promotional slides intended to generate buzz about the new line (called “Lords of Power” at the time), Mer-Man is grouped with the Heroic Warriors. Skeletor and Beast Man seem to be the only Evil Warriors here.

Even in Mattel’s 1982 dealer catalog, the only figures explicitly called out as evil are Skeletor and Beast Man. Stratos, Mer-Man and Zodac at this point seem to be in a category apart from either the Heroic or Evil Warriors. Perhaps the idea was to leave it ambiguous and let kids decide how to use them.

At around the same time, Mattel put out a kit for manufacturers of licensed products, intending to direct them how to use the Masters of the Universe brand in their products. In here we see Stratos as a villain. Mer-Man is given no specific allegiance.

The minicomics that came with the first figures always characterize Mer-Man as evil. From that point on Mer-Man is solidly in the Evil Warriors camp. However in Stratos’ first appearance in the comics, he is shown with the Evil Warriors. Thereafter he is always grouped with the heroes.

In a 1982 JCPenney catalog, Stratos and Beast Man are listed together as a set, described as “Winged sky baron, and his savage henchman.” JCPenney sold many unique figure two-packs, although I’ve never seen any other evidence of this particular set, or the Man-At-Arms/Zodac set either. You can browse these gift sets here.

Finally, we see in 1983 and beyond an attempt to further solidify the two factions in Masters of the Universe. To that end, Mer-Man is given the title “Evil ocean warlord” rather than his original “Ocean warlord,” and Stratos is called “Heroic winged warrior rather than his original “Winged warrior”:

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Evil Warriors, Heroic Warriors, Lords of Power

Power-Con 2020 “Lords of Power” Five-Pack

The Masters of the Universe Origins exclusive Power-Con “Lord of Power” five pack was announced in 2019 as an exclusive for the 2020 Power-Con. Little did we know that COVID-19 would cancel just about every large gathering for 2020. Power-Con was, for the first, time held virtually this year. The 5-pack (as well as an exclusive MOTU Origins She-Ra with rooted hair) could be ordered by anyone either through the Power-Con website or through Big Bad Toy Store.

So what’s this Lords of Power business? Back in 2017, a rather incredible set of pictures surfaced, showing early Masters of the Universe prototypes, which were called “Lords of Power” at the time. Shared by Andy Youssi (son of freelance display artist John Youssi) these images come from a collection of slides set in a View-Master-like apparatus. The prototypes were in several cases quite different from the final toys, and were designed by Mark Taylor and sculpted by Tony Guerrero. You can read all about it in the article I wrote about it at the time.

The packaging for the set was gorgeously illustrated by Axel Giménez with colors by Nate Baertsch. It ships in a brown external box, with a scene on the front inspired by promotional artwork by Errol McCarthy. The illustrations on the back are a nod to cross sell artwork by Alfredo Alcala that appeared on the backs of the first four minicomics. Jukka Issakainen notes that the poses of the five characters are also loosely based on Mark Taylor’s original B-sheet concept art.

The internal packaging is based on vintage action figure carrying cases. The front of the packaging is a color version of the front of the brown mailer box:

The back of the packaging shows the other three figures included in the set:

Inside the case, the figures are set in clear plastic inserts, in battle poses. I couldn’t quite capture them adequately on camera due to the reflection from the plastic, so here is a promotional image from Mattel:

Freed from their plastic prisons

The artwork inside is a homage to various panels from the original Alfredo Alcala/Don Glut minicomics. Beast Man’s pose in packaging is even based on that material:

The vehicle in Man-At-Arms’ section is based on on old Mark Taylor prototype vehicle, designed before he brought in Ted Mayer to design vehicles like Battle Ram and Wind Raider:

Image shared by Axel Giménez
Early Alfredo Alcala comic panel, featuring the prototype vehicle.
Mark Taylor concept vehicle. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The bottom of the case features credits for the various toy and packaging designers who worked on this project:

And now, on to the figures!

He-Man

With He-Man, we’re essentially getting a repaint of the 2019 SDCC exclusive release, but without the boot knife and with fewer extras. For all of these figures there are a few liberties taken compared to the source material. The concept He-Man referenced was a bit paler than the mass produced He-Man, but he wasn’t quite this pale. He had a rather different axe (which was ported over from an earlier He-Man prototype that featured a horned helmet) and a closed left hand and no bracer on the left wrist. Otherwise the colors of his costume here are spot on. The head on this He-Man is probably the most authentic-looking He-Man head in the MOTU origins series so far.

The source material
Mark Taylor B-Sheet. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Left to right: 2019 SDCC release, 2020 Power-Con release, 2020 retail release
Vintage (left) verses Power-Con release

Skeletor

Skeletor features a few new parts compared to the 2019 MOTU Origins release – he has an all-new head based on the “rotting face” original Skeletor prototype. He also has shin guards that appeared both in the prototype and in Alfredo Alcala-illustrated minicomics. The bat on his armor is painted yellow/green, which follows from both prototype and concept art. Unlike the prototype, this Skeletor features finned forearms (an oversight I assume – smooth forearms were already tooled for some of the Masters of the WWE figures and could have easily been used) and bare three-toed feet (the concept had bare five-toed feet). He has paler skin compared to the retail release MOTU Origins Skeletor, which in my opinion is an improvement.

Lords of Power prototypes
Mark Taylor B-sheet
The early Skeletor prototype, down to the rotting face, is preserved in the 1980 MOTU Pop-Up Game
Retail (left) vs. Power-Con release
Vintage (left) vs. Power-Con release

Man-At-Arms

Man-At-Arms is a fairly close representation of the prototype source material overall. He has newly sculpted chest armor with “fur” around the sides and a closed back, just like the prototype. The helmet is a pretty good representation of the prototype, minus a few stray paint details. His face is based on the vintage toy, where the prototype’s face was actually quite different. He reuses the left hand from Man-E-Faces to represent the extended orange armor on the prototype’s left hand. He also includes the large mace that was original sculpted for the Masters of the Universe Classics Man-At-Arms. He includes a boot knife, which wasn’t in the prototype but was included in Mark Taylor’s original concept art.

High res face comparison. Image shared by Dušan Mitrović
Mark Taylor B-Sheet
Retail release (left) vs. Power-Con release
Power-Con release vs. vintage figure (right)

Beast Man

Beast Man is quite different from any version of the toy that’s been released, past or present. The Lords of Power slide set was the first time we had seen a physical representation of the design. It’s based on very early Mark Taylor concept art for the character, which seems to have been made with reuse of the Big Jim Gorilla in mind (ultimately it wasn’t used for the prototype).

The overall colors and costume design for the Power-Con release are quite close to the prototype. The main liberty taken is with the feet, which are the quite flat, detail-free feet used in the retail version of MOTU Origins Beast Man. The prototype, by comparison, had sculpted toes. Additionally, the proportions of the prototype head were somewhat different, but the head on the Power-Con release gets the idea across.

Original prototypes
Mark Taylor concept art
Mark Taylor concept art – a different color take (image shared by Rebecca Salari Taylor)
The early Beast Man prototype is preserved in this 1982 MOTU Pop-Up Game
Retail release (left) vs Power-Con version
Vintage release (left) vs. Power-Con version

Mer-Man

Of all the figures in this set, I was the most excited for Mer-Man. We knew of this version from childhood because it appeared prominently in the original Alfredo Alcala minicomics. This concept design has long been one of my favorites, along with the cross-sell art version of Mer-Man, which was a modified version of that original concept. The Power-Con release, sculpt-wise, is quite close to the prototype. There are only a few minor differences.

The first difference is in the hands, which have five fingers rather than four, and reuse He-Man’s hands rather than Skeletor’s (I assume because He-Man’s left hand has flat, splayed fingers, so at least the pose of the original prototype can be replicated).

The armor is also a bit different – the detail over the shoulders seems like a nod to the vintage figure design rather than the concept design. The trunks are the smooth style reused from the Masters of the WWE line. The original had scales all around – this version for some reason has what looks like bubbles printed front and back. Printed scales would have been more appropriate. The original prototype also seems to have had darker coloring throughout the armor.

The difference that stands out the most is the coloring – it’s a dark blue-green, which may be a nod to Mark Taylor’s original B-sheet art. The original prototype had a much lighter blue-green color. Still, he’s a quite striking and beautiful figure (I nitpick my favorite figures the most):

Original prototypes
Mark Taylor B-sheet
Vintage Mer-Man (left) vs Power-Con release

This set certainly wasn’t cheap – as you may know, exclusives are produced in far lower numbers than retail figures, which drastically drives up the cost per figure. Still, if you’re a big fan of early prototypes and minicomics, these are a must have. This was the kind of figure I had in mind when the line was announced (like many others, I had the idea that “MOTU Origins” was a reference to early concept/minicomic designs, especially since the first two figures released in the SDCC two-pack were in that style). A suggestion for a future set: Oo-Larr, Sorceress (aka “Green Goddess”), blonde Teela, red Beast Man, and tan Stratos! A full “Alcala” style Skeletor would also be great!

I hope you enjoyed the review – here are some additional shots to close things out:

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

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Heroic Warriors

Extendar: Heroic master of extension (1986)

Extendar is another member of the ragtag group of 1986 heroic warriors – a bunch of misfits who don’t seem to fit in all that well with the rest of their compatriots, but who had pretty fun action features.

Design & Development

An early concept drawing by Ted Mayer (below, as shown in The Power and The Honor Foundation Catalog) demonstrates the general idea behind Extendar’s action feature, although the colors and styling lack knight theme of the actual toy:

According to Martin Arriola, the figure (or presumably the final styling on the figure) ended up being designed by John Hollis, who also worked on Rattlor and Turbodactyl. The final design gives Extendar a knight look, but with a robotic golden face. The image below shows the final, hand-painted prototype:

The cross sell art for the figure is closely based on the finalized design:

Figure & Packaging

Extendar was produced in a pearlescent white plastic with gold trim. For whatever reason, the gold paint on his gloves tends to take on a green hue over the years, while the rest of the gold paint retains its original color. His arms, torso, legs and head can be extended by manually pulling on each part. The extensions that become visible show sculpted electronic circuitry.

The back of Extendar’s neck feature’s a peace symbol – a fun Easter egg from the sculptor.

The inner part of the fold-out shield also features a peace symbol (thanks to Jukka Issakainen for pointing that out):

According to Mattel filings, Extendar was either shipped or sold starting December 9, 1985. He was trademarked January 9, 1986 and copyrighted on August 18, 1986.

Extendar came packaged on a standard blister card. He’s advertised as the “tallest Heroic Warrior ever!” That was true of course until Tytus was released in 1988. The artwork on the back/top of the card is by Errol McCarthy.

Original line art by Errol McCarthy. Image via He-Man.org

Comics & Bio

Extendar was featured in Mattel’s 1987 Style Guide (illustrated by Errol McCarthy), which gave some backstory for the character:

From the 1987 Style Guide:

Name: Extendar
Role: Heroic tower of power
Power: Ability to leap over barricades and opponents.
Character profile: Another Eternian athlete who was abducted by Hordak for evil experiments. Extendar escaped the Evil Horde before the foul effects had fully taken hold. Extendar stretched out each morning – extending his body length by over 50 percent! He is very strong and very fast. One of his closest friends was the human who later become Dragstor, so Extendar feels a special obligation to try to free his friend from Hordak’s clutches. Extendar is the stoic sort, but he’s always there when trouble starts brewing.

Extendaris also given a bio in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual, which expands on the above story. In this version, Extendar was an Eternian athlete named Doodon, who was captured by the Horde along with Theydon (Dragstor).

Image source: He-Man.org

Extendar was showcased in The Warrior Machine. On the cover we see that Extendar has a slightly different look compared to the figure, which may represent John Hollis’ concept design:

Image source: Dark Horse

In the story, Extendar, who has the same costume from start to finish, voluntarily goes with Hordak in order to become more powerful through Hordak’s experimentation. However, after undergoing a transformation, Hordak is unable to control him, and Extendar sides with He-Man:

For an in-depth look at this story, check out Jukka Issakainen’s excellent video on the topic:

In issue 31 of the UK MOTU Magazine (1987), we get more on the backstory of Theydon and Doodon (Dragstor and Extendar). The friends are captured by the Evil Horde and transformed. However of the two, only Extendar is able to retain his own will, and he manages to escape from the Horde (images via He-Man.org).

Extendar also appears in this 1989 German MOTU Magazine:

Extendar appears in a few issues of the MOTU Star Comics series. He uses his extending limbs to pound the Evil Horde (images courtesy of Øyvind Meisfjord):

Extendar appears in the Fall 1986 US Masters of the Universe Magazine, in the story, The Struggle For Eternia. He also appears in the accompanying poster by Earl Norem:

Extendar makes an appearance in this Italian language Magic Boy comic (images courtesy of Danielle Gelehrter):

We also see a brief cameo of Extendar in the newspaper story, Ninjor Stalks by Night (thanks to Dušan M. for the tip):

Artwork & Ads

Unlike the other 1986 figures like Horde Trooper, Rokkon, Stonedar and Multi-Bot, Extendar never appeared in the Filmation She-Ra cartoon, and generally speaking was a fairly sparsely used character in comics and books. He did make an appearance in William George’s 1986 Eternia poster, however:

Extendar appears in some coloring books as well (scans by Joe Amato, images via Jukka Issakainen):

Extendar also appears in this Italian ad:

Extendar in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following of image and video of Extendar in action:

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Heroic Warriors

Snout Spout: Heroic water-blasting firefighter (1986)

I don’t have any particular memory of Snout Spout, although I’m sure I must have seen him in the toy aisle at some point. Aside from the Snake Men, the 1986 line didn’t grab me too much as a child. The heroes in particular seemed a bit weak compared to previous years, despite having a lot of money spent on new tooling.

From the 1986 Mattel dealer catalog, featuring a resin prototype of Snout Spout. Image is from Orange Slime.

Design & Development

According to The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Snout Spout (first called Hose Nose) was conceived of by Roger Sweet, with Ted Mayer following up with the visual design:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

The design was further refined by Mattel designer Mike Barbato, whose design closely resembles the final figure, with the exception of the tusks, which were cut:

Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary

As was the usual process, a prototype silicon mold was made at Mattel, and a resin prototype of the figure was created. The prototype show below is very close to the final figure, although the tip of the trunk is a bit different from the actual toy:

Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary

The cross sell art for the figure is again based on the prototype, which you can see mainly again from the shape of the trunk:

The test shot (below) of the figure from the factor shows the same feature:

Image source: Cafewhaa

The test shot below is unpainted and not sonic welded together. It does however have the finalized version of the trunk:

Removed chest showing water squirting mechanism.

Toy & Packaging

The final figure is certainly bright and colorful Compared to other water-spraying figures like Kobra Khan and Dragon Blaster Skeletor, his water squirting feature gave more of a stream of water rather than a spray or a mist:

Special thanks to Larry Hubbard for the figure donation!

The artist who did the scene on the back of the packaging is, unfortunately unknown:

Image source: KMKA

Style Guide & Annual

The 1987 Style Guide characterized Snout Spout as a tragic figure – an Etherian peasant transformed by the Evil Horde:

Role: Heroic water-blasting firefighter
Power: Has the ability to douse the raging forces of evil firepower
Character Profile: Snout Spout was an Etherian peasant who was turned into a bizarre creature by Hordak. After crossing the plane into Eternia with the Evil Horde, Snout Spout escaped and joined He-Man. Snout Spout is very self-conscious about his appearance, he feels that everyone is always laughing at him. However, his power to drench evil attacks makes him a true hero in Eternia.

Original artwork by Errol McCarthy. Image via He-Man.org

The 1989 UK MOTU Annual expanded on the outline from the Style Guide, giving him super strength, going into more detail about his lack of self-confidence, and adding some information about his friendship with Orko:

Minicomic

Snout Spout’s story is fleshed out in the minicomic, Eye of the Storm, written by Eric Frydler. Frydler also came up with both his official name Snout Spout and his early working name Hose Nose, as detailed in this interview.

Snout Spout is feeling rather useless because he isn’t athletic like He-Man’s other allies. But when Skeletor causes a fiery storm to engulf Eternia, the elephant-headed warrior comes into his own. In the artwork, his appearance is based on the earlier Ted Mayer concept art (images are from the Dark Horse minicomic collection).

Images: Dark Horse

Animation

Snout Spout appeared in the She-Ra cartoon under both his working name Hose Nose and under his official name. As with many Filmation designs, his looks is somewhat simplified. Also the colors of his belt, gloves and boots are altered:

Image via the Dark Horse He-Man & She-Ra guide.

UK & US MOTU Magazines

Snout Spout makes an appearance in issue 41 one in the 1987 series of the UK MOTU Magazine. A fairy named Mystika transforms Snout Spout into his original form. Bizarrely, he looks just like He-Man. Eventually he is returned to his elephantine appearance, a result of sacrificing himself to save He-Man and Rio Blast:

He also appears as a minor character in stories in the Fall 1986 and 1988 US MOTU Magazine:

Other Artwork

Snout Spout appears in William George’s 1986 Eternia poster (images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen):

He also appears in several pieces by Earl Norem, including in his Christmas wrapping paper illustration:

Snout Spout In Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly contributed the following image and video of Snout Spout in action:

Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen and Øyvind Meisfjord for their assistance with this post.

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