There are a lot of different ways to collect Masters of the Universe figures. You can collect by wave (first, second, third, etc), by line (original, New Adventures, 200x, Classics, etc.) or by character. You can also collect by country of manufacture, which starts to get into some pretty esoteric territory. Some collectors have very impressive shelves filled with dozens of the same figure, each from a different country of origin, and each with slight differences in appearance.
One of the most interesting of such variants is the made in France Man-At-Arms, shown below:
The most interesting thing about the France variant is the little cuff at the end of the figure’s armor at the wrist. That detail was included in the Man-At-Arms prototype (below), but it was cut from the production figure. Somehow it made it into the France version.
There are other differences compared to the made in Taiwan versions (which were the types most commonly sold in the US). The plastic on the France version is cast in much more vivid colors. The feel of the plastic itself is quite different compared to the Taiwan release, and is somewhat waxy to the touch. The paint on the France belt also tends to be uneven,and the boots and loincloth are a much darker color as well.
There is another French variant from later on in the run. It’s a version with enlarged boots (like Thunder Punch He-Man‘s). However, the boots are separately molded pieces, and are cast in a very rubbery material:
The “rubber boots” France figures also include Battle Armor He-Man, Tri-Klops, Jitsu, Fisto, and possibly others. Also notably (thanks to Dani Ramón Abril for the information), some Spanish releases of Man-At-Arms use the early French mold, down to the “France” stamp on the back.
The 2019 San Diego Comic Con Mattel exclusive He-Man and Prince Adam two-pack took most Masters fans by complete surprise. After years of larger scale MOTU Classics figures with modernized proportions and articulation, Mattel was finally doing another line of vintage-inspired 5.5″ He-Man figures. Unlike the 2000 Commemorative Line, however, it was clear that Origins was to be updated with modern articulation, while keeping the overall vintage look.
Because the initial offering, in the form of a He-Man/Prince Adam two-pack, was done in the style of vintage minicomics, many fans (including myself) assumed that the new MOTU Origins line would plumb the “origins” of the MOTU franchise, which generally lie in the early concept figure designs that often showed up in minicomics (minicomics had to be illustrated ahead of production schedule, with artwork often based on prototype designs).
As it turns out, Origins will mainly be based on the vintage MOTU figures as they appeared in the toy aisles. The minicomic styling of this set will be the exception rather than the rule. I certainly hope that Mattel will find creative ways to get more minicomic style figures out to hardcore fans (perhaps in the form of a mini subscription, like the MOTU Classics model), even while the more well-known vintage toy designs appear on toy shelves in the fall of 2020. I would love to see minicomic/concept versions of Skeletor, Sorceress/Goddess, Mer-Man, Beast Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms and Stratos.
The SDCC exclusive set comes with the most richly-detailed and indulgent packing I’ve seen from Mattel. The set is collector friendly – the figures inside can be removed and replaced without damaging the packing in the least. I have to applaud this move from Mattel. Interestingly, the packaging includes credits for all the people who worked on the finished product:
Toy designer: Brandon Sopinsky • Packaging Designer: Roy Juarez • Packaging Engineer: Adam O’Connor • Copywriter: Robert Rudman • Comic Book Writer: Tim Seeley • Line Art: Axel Gimenez • Colorist: Val Staples • Background Painter: Nate Baertsch • Comic Book Letterer: Ed Dukeshire • Illustration Support: Joseph Zacate • Sculpt: Adam deFelice & Sean Olmos
The outer box for the set features He-Man’s harness (in the Alcala/minicomic/concept style, featuring red squares along both the front and back of the harness) over a Grayskull-green stone texture:
The inner box features a transparent cover that adds character and other art over the backgrounds featured on the box itself. All of the artwork is stunning. Below I will show the design of each side of the box, with and without the transparent cover:
The artwork is largely inspired by the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by the legendary Alfredo Alcala. There is also inspiration drawn from Alcala’s He-Man and the Insect People, and Battle Cat box art by Rudy Obrero. Those influences are more apparent in the included minicomic, written by Tim Seeley and featuring a retcon of the traditional “savage” origin story written by Don Glut that makes room for multiple He-Men as well as Adam as he appeared in early DC Comics (penciled by Curt Swan and George Tuska) and third wave Alcala comics.
Axel Giménez, who did much of the line art, often directly credits the Alcala influence in the artwork, although for the box cover that was removed from the final colored version:
The comic in the set is situated between two windows, featuring Prince Adam and He-Man:
Early photos released by Mattel show some slight differences compared to the final set. Originally the Adam of the set was to include his own boot knife, as well as a gold-painted handle on the Power sword. He-Man’s boot knife originally went all the way through the cuff of his boot, making the tip of the blade visible:
The final figures of course have those peculiarities removed. Let’s take a closer look at He-Man. He comes with a vintage toy style head as well as a new minicomic style head. He also comes with three pairs of removable hands, an axe and a shield. In the photo below I show him with the vintage toy style head, compared with an original, first-release Taiwan He-Man from 1982:
Aside from the added articulation, He-Man of course features the two-tone boots, boot knife, symmetrical bracers, rounded shield, modified axe and modified harness that are all hallmarks of the character as he appeared in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword:
The minicomic design is based on a prototype of the figure, designed by Mark Taylor and sculpted by Tony Guerrero:
The alternative head is meant to represent the look that Alfredo Alcala gave him in the minicomics, with a shaggier hairstyle:
He-Man’s sculpt is closely based on the vintage 1982 figure, albeit with a lot more articulation. The arms and chest in particular are very faithful to the original, although the legs are a bit softer in sculpt. Where the vintage version was rather miserly regarding paint applications, the Origins figure features painted bracers (symmetrical this time, based on the “punching rocks” scene shown earlier) and three colors on his boots. His boots are also slightly larger, which makes him a bit more steady on his feet.
He-Man’s added articulation allows for a great degree of posability. The additional removable hands are a nice touch as well.
He-Man’s head, arms, hands, torso and boots are all removable – a feature that will allow for some fun mix and match swapping down the line.
Prince Adam is a much bigger departure from the vintage 1984 figure. Like He-Man, he comes with two different heads and three sets of hands. He also comes with a power sword in the style of the version that appeared in the early Alfredo Alcala minicomics as well as the early DC Comics:
Prince Adam first appeared in the 1982 DC story, From Eternia With Death! This version of Adam, however, is most closely based on the character as he appeared in To Tempt The Gods (pencils by George Tuska, inks by Alfredo Alcala) as well as He-Man and the Insect People (illustrated by Alfredo Alcala).
Prince Adam’s cloth vest and elastic belt recall the 1984 figure, although of course the colors of his costume are quite different.
The plastic used on this set is the usual high quality material we’ve come to expect from Mattel. It’s actually fairly similar in feel to the material used in the vintage figure (aside from the heads, which in this release are hard plastic rather than soft, hollow polyvinyl. All of the joints work well, with no looseness or issues. The joints around the elbows and hips are, however, a bit inelegant. I have heard that issue will be addressed in future MOTU origins figures.
As the early minicomic source material is the MOTU canon I find most exciting, I was thrilled by this release. I just hope we’ll be able to complete a full cast of characters of early minicomic style variants in the MOTU Origins line.
Recently the news broke that Mattel were making an exclusive He-Man & Prince Adam 2-pack for San Diego Comic-Con 2019.
“Pixel Dan” later managed to confirm that it will be a new toyline from Mattel for adult collectors, called Masters of the Universe Origins — with the Four Horsemen on duty to handle sculpting. They did not sculpt He-Man and Prince Adam, but will be taking care of the following figures. A retail release is expected during Fall 2020. At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Mattel showcased other figures for the line, including Skeletor, Beast Man, Teela, Evil-Lyn and Man-At-Arms which are based on their original vintage action figures but with more articulation and some enhancements like a new face-sculpt for Evil-Lyn or the addition of a mustache for Man-At-Arms.
The idea with these new action figure designs and theme seems to hearken back to… well to the origins of the characters. With the exclusive packaged figures; this version of blue-vest savage Prince Adam design debuted in DC Comics special preview “Fate is the Killer” for Masters of the Universe (published August 5th, 1982) and the same design appeared in mini-series issue #1 “To Tempt the Gods” (released September 9th, 1982). His first appearance had a different look (from DC Comics presents #47 “From Eternia — With Death”.)
The DC Mini-series design of blue-vest Prince Adam later appeared in Mattel’s minicomic wave 3 (1984). Accordingly the packaging art by Axel Giménez, Val Staples and Nate Baertsch for the 2019 exclusive was requested by Mattel to pay homage to style of the early minicomic art, and they did a great job emulating the spirit of Alfredo Alcala.
Another noteworthy thing with these figures is the addition of a boot-knife for He-Man.
The boot-knife has always been a fascinating accessory. As a weapon it’s easy to carry and can be very effective. Many illustrations with Tarzan have him using a knife, and as Conan the barbarian once said “Cimmerians generally prefer… the dagger.”
It’s no surprise Masters of the Universe has many influences from fantasy and barbarian settings, mixed with sci-fi elements.
In the early concept art by Mark Taylor, He-Man can be seen with the boot-knife.
Accordingly, Taylor recalled the boot knife’s inspiration:
“[Mark said] It’s a dagger. It came from our scuba diving days.”
Rebecca Salari Taylor
And that is an interesting tidbit about the boot-knife dagger. Big thanks to Rebecca and Mark for sharing this with me!
He-Man of course isn’t the only character in Mark Taylor’s B-sheet artworks to have a dagger in their boot. Man-At-Arms sports one too. Though the showcased MOTU Origins figure doesn’t seem to have one in his boot.
The dagger perhaps makes its most famous appearance in the very first minicomic “He-Man and the Powersword” (1982), written by Don Glut and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. For fans this was the first place they remember seeing it and in a way feels ubiquitous to the early stories much like Teela’s Horse, where you could imagine it showing up in activity/coloring books and other early material. Curiously though the dagger does not appear in any other minicomic (that is to say, the small comics that came packed with the figures) after the first one.
In the minicomic pages He-Man, a warrior from a jungle tribe comes across the Sorceress who bestows him “the treasures I have guarded all these years” and we see an axe, a shield, the power harness and other items and vehicles which He-Man receives. The Sorceress described the items being invented before the Great Wars. Possibly the dagger came from that era. He is seen with the dagger in his boot in subsequent pages but sadly it is never mentioned in the text and we don’t see him use it.
The next time we would see the dagger, came in DC Comics Presents issue #47“From Eternia — With Death!” where He-Man meets Superman for the first time (released April 8th, 1982). The story is also the first time we see Prince Adam and after he goes into the Cave of Power and is transformed, the dagger appears in his boot. Sadly in this action adventure He-Man doesn’t use the dagger either, and out of 6 panels where it shows up, one time it switches to He-Man’s left boot, instead of the right one.
After that, DC Comics published a special preview “Fate is the Killer” for Masters of the Universe (published August 5th, 1982) inside over a dozen DC-titles. Here the dagger is present on the cover-art, but it’s nowhere to be found in the pages.
Following the schedule of DC Comics, the dagger had been phased out completely by the time DC Mini-series #1 was released (September 9th, 1982).
There is also an early copy ad where He-Man is illustrated with the dagger. The same image was re-used for Castle Grayskull instruction-sheet, but for that the dagger was removed.
Now it has been mentioned that the new Masters of the Universe Origins action figures will also come with minicomics. Hopefully in the case of He-Man, we get to see him feature his dagger in action.
Another instance where a knife from a boot was seen in action came with the 1987 Masters of the Universe motion picture.
Early on He-Man spots a captured Gwildor by Skeletor’s Troops and intervenes the group. During the fight He-Man reaches to his right boot for a knife and throws it at one Trooper.
This was shown in the concept art for He-Man by Jean “Moebius” Giraud and William Stout.
The boot knife is a cool addition in the movie and hearkens back to the early minicomic roots of He-Man.
Hope you enjoyed this look on He-Man’s boot dagger and its origins. My thanks to Adam for having me come up and write this guest post! Thanks also to James Eatock and Øyvind Johannes Meisfjord for help with some images. If you discover the boot dagger in other media, drop us a note!
Announced in 2017, Super7’s vintage style, 5.5″ Filmation inspired He-Man figure was released in 2018 along with similar versions of Skeletor, She-Ra and Hordak. The design ethos seems to be based on the following premise: what if, in the 1980s, Mattel released a series of He-Man variant figures that were “as seen on TV”? That’s pretty much exactly what we get with this series, including the occasional design shortcuts that Mattel might plausibly have implemented in the 80s.
Design & Development
Within the packaging for He-Man we get a brief write-up of the history of how He-Man’s design was translated from toy to cartoon:
In the above sheet (put together by The Power and The Honor Foundation), we see the vintage He-Man figure, along with the animated commercial version, and a finalized version of He-Man’s animated design.
In He-Man’s first animated appearance (a commercial animated by Filmation Studios to help advertise the toyline), He-Man more or less follows the design of the action figure, including the rectangular details on his harness and the round designs on his belt and bracers. He also carries his axe and sword, which were originally intended to be his primary accessories. The commercial can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BpmvudrnPlj/
As shown in the card that came with the Super7 He-Man figure, He-Man’s more detailed action figure design was simplified for ease of animation once the animated series was greenlit for development. His primary weapon became his power sword in the series.
The prototype He-Man figure was revealed in February of 2017 at New York Toy Fair. It’s pretty close to the mass produced figure, although his colors are a bit different, and the hair separation is better on the prototype. He also has a nice matte finish throughout.
An early factory sample with some quality control issues was also shown a bit later along in the process. The red paint is flaking off of the harness, which seems to have been made from some sparkling metallic plastic material. This issue would be corrected on the final figure.
Design-wise, the sculpt of the chest and pelvis seem to be taken directly from the vintage 1982 figure. The arms are based on the vintage figure as well, but the bracers have been made symmetrical and their design simplified. The feet have been changed, removing all the wrap detail from the original boot design.
He-Man has the same spring-loaded power punch feature of the 1982 original. The figure comes with a cartoon style power sword, as well as a shield (used rarely by Prince Adam in the cartoon) and a half sword that fits with the corresponding Skeletor half sword. Incidentally, He-Man was depicted with the shield in Filmation’s promotional materials, and the half sword almost made it into the show:
The figure’s harness unfortunately doesn’t fit very well around the back, and sits a bit low. It can be made to sit more or less correctly, but requires some finessing. Also, the figure is extremely glossy. I was able to coat the figure with Vallejo Matt Varnish to somewhat reduce the glossiness:
The design of the packaging was directed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. The main carded version (which was actually released second) is based on the original 1980s design, with an “AS SEEN ON TV” burst which, although not featured on vintage MOTU packaging, was pretty commercially ubiquitous at one point. The shape of the bubble on the front has been altered compared to the vintage packaging.
The main artwork on the back was done by Errol McCarthy, who worked on cardback art for most of the vintage MOTU figures. The Filmation-style cross sell artwork and the insert were illustrated by Emiliano Santalucia:
The first version to be released was actually a two pack, in the style of some of the vintage figure gift sets. This set was released in limited numbers.
Another limited release of the figure came in the form of a “Los Amos”
package, based on the design of vintage “Los Amos” (Mexico) figures:
Yet another version will also be released in the style of the Japanese Takara packaging: