Heroic Warriors

Flying Fists He-Man: Heroic Leader with the Arm-Swinging Action! (1986)

I think I only encountered Flying Fists He-Man once as a kid. I don’t remember being all that impressed – I thought the transition between his neck and his head looked very strange, and the head itself looked off to me. Certainly the action feature was far less interesting to me than his immediate predecessor’s, Thunder Punch He-Man.

Image source: Nathalie NHT. From the 1986 Mattel dealer catalog.

Design & Development

In terms of visual design, we get our basic look for Flying Fists He-Man from Ted Mayer. The illustration dates to December 8, 1983, and may be the genesis for both the Battle Armor and Flying Fists He-Man variants, in terms of their appearance.

The action feature itself seems to originate with Roger Sweet, who illustrates it in a concept using the standard He-Man look, and a swinging ball weapon (the page below comes from the Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog):

In the cross sell art below, we can see the finalized look for the figure, including gold and silver metallic armor, mace and shield. The mace and shield elements would spin as the figure was made to swing its arms back and forth, something that happened automatically was the waist was twisted.

One interesting note on his design – the lower edge of his chest armor features a mirror image of the standard male belt design. This was also something that showed up in an early incarnation of Tri-Klops, as captured in the cross sell artwork:

Figure & Packaging

The first First Flying Fists He-Man newspaper ad appears on February 12, 1986, and he was probably available in stores shortly before then. The packaging of the figure announces him as the “5th Anniversary” He-Man figure, which isn’t quite true. He-Man was originally released in 1982. Maybe their reasoning was that it was the “fifth year” of the line.

Flying Fists He-Man was released on an extra-large, deluxe card. As with the previous year’s Thunder Punch He-Man, the instructional panels are right below the artwork, and then the 12 characters in cross sell art are squeezed in at the bottom. The artwork at the front of the card is by William George, and the scene on the back is by Errol McCarthy:

Subsequent releases of the figure featured a color change to the font on “Flying Fists” on the front:

The figure featured modified arms that were similar to the original He-Man, but subtly different. He also featured greatly enlarged feet for greater stability. He had a lot of vac metal on his costume and accessories, which in toy language is the universal signifier of a “deluxe” figure. He also featured a removable clip on his back that functioned both as a way to store his weapon, and as a handle to help kids get a better grip when using his twisting waist/arm swinging feature. He also had a hard, solid head, which in my opinion reduces the quality of his face compared to the original hollow polyvinyl head. The images below come from eBay, as I don’t have one of these on hand to photograph.

One notable international variant is the Leo India version, as shown by spiritofsnakemountain on Instagram:

Flying Fists He-Man was also released in a gift set with Terror Claws Skeletor (images via LCG Auctions):

Advertising

Below are a selection of Flying Fist He-Man ad appearances:

French catalog featuring Flying Fists He-Man

Flying Fists He-Man was featured the trade ad below, which was originally unearthed at the excellent MOTUC Figures site.

He also appears in the Mattel rebate ad below, which was originally posted on the Battle Grip site:

Artwork

Flying Fists He-Man is featured in a few posters by the following artists:

Earl Norem, Motu Magazine
Earl Norem, Motu Magazine
William George Eternia Poster

There was also an unreleased piece by William George that features Flying Fists He-Man and Terror Claws Skeletor fighting over the cosmic key, which was shared some years ago by Roger Mahafy:

Minicomics

The primary minicomic for this variant is The Flying Fists of Power. Interestingly it features Roger Sweet’s rather minimalist concept for the figure, which just looked like a standard He-Man with a spinning mace weapon (updated to three ball ends) and an updated shield. In the story the Sorceress awards He-Man with an additional gift of “energy and spirit.” When He-Man summons the Flying Fists, he will get have additional punching abilities and his spinning mace and shield will appear in his hands. (All minicomic images come from the Dark Horse minicomic book.) (Update: Matthew Martin and Øyvind Meisford note that Flying Fists He-Man also appears in King of the Snake Men and Enter: Buzz-Saw Hordak.)

In The Terror Claws Strike he get a rather amusing visual depiction of He-Man’s flying fists power. In this comic the ability isn’t necessarily tied to the weapons. It’s really unclear how this is a new ability for He-Man, because he did similar things in the Filmation cartoon all the time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense narratively, although it does get the action feature across.

Flying Fists He-Man, still in his concept look, also appears in the unpublished Return From Terror Island Comic:

Flying Fists He-Man in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has shared the following image, and video of Flying Fists He-Man in action. Enjoy!

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Heroic Warriors

Rotar: Heroic Master of Hyper-Spin (1987)

Like many figures from the 1987 wave of figures, I never once encountered Rotar either in a toy store or at a friend’s house. He was a gimmick-heavy figure that was produced in low numbers at the tail end of the line, and so is one of the more expensive figures to find used today.

Design & Development

Unfortunately I don’t have much information about the design history of Rotar. I can share some dates from public filings involving Rotar, as well as the date of the earliest ad I’ve been able to find for the figure:

• 06/23/1986: Rotar/Twistoid patent filed
• 09/30/1986: Rotar first use in commerce filing
• 10/06/1986: Rotar trademarked
• 11/11/1987: First Rotar newspaper ad

The only seeming evolution in design I can detect in the extant artwork is a variant in the chest details in the Bruce Timm illustration that appeared on the front of the packaging. The “V” shaped area around the chin guard is silver rather than flesh-colored, and the rectangular silver area on his belly has a simpler design that what was featured in the actual toy. Also he is missing the crest on his helmet that appeared on the toy. I believe this is probably indicative of an earlier concept design. Some of these features also appear in his minicomic, which I will cover later.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Figure & Packaging

Rotar came with a few different accessories. He had a combined axe/ball-and-chain weapon to help him knock down enemies. He had a pedestal that he could stand on while spinning, and he had sword/gear gadget called a “Roto-Pod.” After revving up Rotar’s spinning action (done manually by dragging the top point across the floor), Rotar could be placed on any of the gears on the Roto-Pod, which would cause all of them to spin. Any of the gears could be separated from the sword-shaped base and revved up and launched manually via Rotar’s spinning mechanism.

Image Source: Transformerland
Image Source: Transformerland. Note this example has lost the tip of his spinner.
Image Source: Transformerland
Image Source: Transformerland

The patent filing for Rotar went into some detail about how the mechanism worked, and included a few images. The mechanism was invented by Michael Crosby.

Rotar was packed on an oversized, deluxe card. The front features an illustration by Bruce Timm, while the back is illustrated by Errol McCarthy.

Image source: KMKA

Rotar and Twistoid were both packed with this instruction booklet (images via He-Man.org):

There seems to have been a different set of instructions, with different illustrations and layout, in the Spanish release. (Image source: Mundo Masters).

Image source: Mundo Masters. Cleaned up by Jukka Issakainen

Backstory & Comics

Rotar appeared in the 1987 style guide, where he was given a backstory. My version was almost unreadable, but thankfully Jukka Issakainen was able to provide me with a legible version:

ROLE: Heroic Energy Droid.

POWER: Ability to store up immense amounts of energy, then burst out in a super spinning action, plowing over warriors and taking on evil Energy Droids.

CHARACTER PROFILE: Rotar was created by Man-At-Arms as a high-energy advance scout to be used when the Heroic Warriors needed to clear a path in dangerous terrain. Rotar, who is half-human, also proved to a be a very talented warrior. (When Skeletor saw the droid’s prowess, he stole the plans from Man-At-Arms and built his own Energy Droid – See Evil Warriors section.)

Original Errol McCarthy illustration. Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Rotar came packaged with a minicomic entitled “Energy Zoids!” As in the style guide entry, he was”created” by Man-At-Arms. But the comic adds the detail that he was a wounded solder who was healed inside Man-At-Arms’ gyro machine. Rotar has the simpler chest design seen in the Bruce Timm art, but his other details follow the design of the final toy.

He also appears in issue 8 (1988) of the Italian Magic Boy magazine, in a story called “RadioSabbotagio.” It’s a bit of a bizarre opening. Rotar, Roboto and Extendar are in an earth-like park in an earth-like city. They are trying to impress three earth-like women. Just as they are starting to win the women over, they suddenly start attacking them. It turns out that Skeletor used some kind of radio transmitter to gain control of them, causing them to attack their would-be dates, and then He-Man.

Artwork & Advertisements

Rotar appears in William George’s 1987 Preternia poster:

He appeared in a handful of ads, the majority of which seem to have been published in Europe:

From a 1989 Marvel Star Comics story released in Spain
Image source: Grayskull Museum
Calgary Herald, Nov 12, 1987
Image source: Grayskull Museum

Rotar in Actions

Thanks to Øyvind Meisfjord for providing the image and video below showcasing Rotar and Twistoid in action!

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.

In the first Mattel Masters of the Universe France catalog, we see a description of Beast Man that indicates he is a “companion” of Stratos.

Stratos himself is described as half-man, half ape, and very strong:

Mer-Man, meanwhile, is described as the companion of He-Man:

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”:

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:

Update 10/29/2022: Axel recently posted an early version of the art that included a concept version of Stratos:

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 1982 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 originally 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:

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