Category Archives: Reviews

T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 2

Many thanks to my buddy Doug Feague for kindly sharing pictures of his copy for this article.

At the 2019 Power-Con, Mark and Rebecca Taylor made available to fans a collection of art prints called T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 2. It’s a sequel to the first set of sketches released at Power-Con last year. A few pieces from this set appear in the 2016 Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection, which I reviewed in depth. I’ll take a look at each piece of artwork and provide a little commentary, although several of these pieces are new to me and I don’t know the backstory behind them.

Dungeon Sticker

To start out with, the cover (shown above) is the famous Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker, which was illustrated by Rebecca Salari Taylor.

The dungeon has all sorts of meaning for Mark Taylor, who envisioned it as having held Skeletor at one point, turning him into the monster who he eventually became. More on that in a future article.

Sorceress

The Sorceress was included in the 2016 Mark Taylor Portfolio, and is one of my all time favorite pieces of art. This character’s design was eventually merged with Teela’s. The Sorceress would later show up in the 1983 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon with a completely redesigned costume. But she does make an appearance in this form (albeit with a green face) in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword. You can read more about this character here.

Face Shifter

Face Shifter is one of many face-changing character concepts that Mark Taylor came up with, eventually leading to Man-E-Faces. This particular version may have inspired the armor used on Terror Claws Skeletor, and possibly even the costume for the New Adventures character Flipshot.

Viking Raid

Viking Raid depicts and early Castle Grayskull concept. This one also appeared in Mark’s 2016 portfolio collection and in Dark Horse’s The Art of He-Man.

Kang Gi

As I understand it, this character was apparently pulled from Mark Taylor’s sketch book from years before his work at Mattel, and the intent was to use him as one of Skeletor’s henchmen, but may have also been considered for the Conan line that never came to be.

Kang Gi’s face bears a strong resemblance to Webstor, and may have been used as a springboard in the creation of that character.

Ram Man

This is a rather exciting bit of concept art for Ram Man that I personally had never seen before. His look is fairly well developed, although he features the red/brown/orange color scheme that seemed to stick with the character right up until the toy was released in stores, where the colors were changed to red and green. The overall look is quite similar to Ram Man as he appears in the minicomic, He-Man Meets Ram Man.

The Merciless

Known to many fans as “Demo Man”, The Merciless is a differently colored version of a piece of Mark Taylor concept art that has been floating around for the fan community for some time. This version features a darker color palette and a blue beard. This may have been a concept for the unproduced Conan line.

The Enforcer

The Enforcer is a character that I’ve not seen previously. To me he fits in very well in the world of MOTU, and I would leave to see a figure made from this wonderfully weird and quirky design.

Mokus

Another character that is completely new to me, Mokus looks like some kind of giant, frightening but also whimsical plant monster. I’d love to learn the backstory behind this character.

Stalker

Stalker is a great plant monster concept predating Moss Man. The face reminds me just a little of Swamp Thing, and the plant-based costume and weapon are right on target.

Blaster

Blaster is a classic-looking science fiction concept character. His helmet almost looks like the prow of a space ship. He seems to be shooting beams of some kind out of his writstband as well. This is another concept I hadn’t seen previously.

Back Page

Finally, the back page features a lovely message from Mark, adorned with another piece of art from the Castle Grayskull playset, again illustrated by Rebecca.

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T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 1

At the 2018 Power-Con, Mark and Rebecca Taylor made available to fans a collection of art prints called T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 1. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but thankfully fans who couldn’t attend were able to purchase copies directly from the Taylors afterwards.

The set is kind of a sequel to the 2016 Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection, which I reviewed in depth. A few pieces from that collection appear in Sketches 1, but mostly this is a new set of artwork. Unlike the first set, much of the artwork in this new collection actually predates work on the He-Man line. I’ll take a look at each piece of artwork and provide a little commentary.

Cover

The cover, which Mark was kind enough to sign, features one of the early Beast Man concepts. Rebecca shared the full artwork several months back. For more information on the evolution of Beast Man, check out this article.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor.

The Eternal Hero

This piece, titled “The Eternal Hero”, doesn’t seem to be a direct ancestor of any particular figure. However, his armor has touches of what would become Skeletor’s armor. His axe and boot designs were reused for He-Man. The shield ended up with the Castle Grayskull weapons. This most likely originated from the 1970s, long before the He-Man line.

Evil Incarnate

Rebecca actually shared with me some of the history behind this image:

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.

Evil Incarnate or The King of Styx isn’t Skeletor, but you can see that Mark reused several design attributes (most notably the face and cross bones) when he was coming up with what would become Skeletor:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

Paladin

Paladin was actually first intended by Mark Taylor for the never-produced Rob-N & the Space Hoods toyline. When that line failed to be green-lit, the character (eventually named Man-At-Arms) was reused for Masters of the Universe. This is one of my personal favorites from this collection. You can see how the design continued to evolve in the B-sheet below:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection

The Merman

This piece was included in the 2016 B-Sheet collection, although this one has more of a green color, as opposed to the blue of the other version. Personally I think green suits Mer-Man better. This is perhaps my all-time favorite piece of artwork by Mark Taylor. You can see the blue version released in the previous collection below:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

Stygian Moat

The moat was actually intended to be a mat that would come shipped with Castle Grayskull. Unfortunately it proved to be too expensive and it was dropped from the playset. Those who are fans of the creepy creatures in the Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker will appreciate this artwork the most.

The War Cat

The above artwork was also included in the 2016 B-sheet collection, but fans who missed out on that can enjoy this exquisite representation of Battle Cat.

The Segway

Although it’s not immediately obvious, Segway represents an early take on the Man-E-Faces concept. Rebecca has actually shared a number of early designs. This particular version represents an evil character.

Castle Stickers

The Castle Grayskull stickers and cardboard pieces, exactly as they appeared in the vintage playset, are reproduced here. These were done by Rebecca, based on some notes by Mark.

Warrior Teela

Teela was also included in the 2016 B-sheets collection. She remains one of Mark’s most elegant and striking figure designs.

Ursis Prime

Ursis prime is the earliest known Beast Man design. In the beginning the character was based on a bear, although Mattel rejected it because they were afraid it was too similar looking to Chewbacca. The next stage of the design is the savage-looking red Beast Man featured on the cover of this collection. You can read more about the evolution of Beast Man here.

The Castle Grayskull

We got our first peek at this design in the Netflix Toys that Made Us episode on Masters of the Universe. This is a more evolved design compared to what was included in Mark’s previous B-Sheet collection. This is another personal favorite of mine from this collection. Mark sculpted his Castle Grayskull prototype based on this version, although he cut out most of the the near-east influences. Mark’s earlier design is below, for comparison:

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection.

The Rhinomen

This design was first shown in the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog. The design is somewhat related to Ram Man, especially in the helmet design. Although this toy was never made, it would have had a ramming feature, as shown below:

Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1

Back Page

Finally, on the back page we get a picture of Mark and a nice note to fans, punctuating a superb and heart-felt collection.

Many thanks to Rebecca and Mark for making this available to the fans!

You can also watch Mark and Rebecca talking to fans about the origins of He-Man at the 2018 Power-Con in the video below, moderated by MOTU super-scholar Danielle Gelehrter:

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Barbarossa Custom Creations Laser Power He-Man

Earlier this year I acquired the Barbarossa Custom Creations Laser Light Skeletor. I had become somewhat obsessed with the figure, and it was my best shot at getting a complete, working and nice-looking example of the rare, European release figure at a price that wouldn’t require the sale of an internal organ. At the time I was only planning on getting the one figure, but I was so impressed with it, I had get Laser Light Skeletor’s heroic counterpart, Laser Power He-Man.

If you’ve ever purchased a custom or replica action figure from any customizer/builder, you know they’re not cheap. That’s just a factor of economies of scale. It’s considerably more difficult for one person to create one figure at a time than it is for a fully equipped factory (with steel molds, paint masks, etc.) to pump out one figure among tens of thousands. It’s even more difficult with a complex toy like Laser Power He-Man, with his internal electronics. But as the original laser figures were produced in low numbers and only released oversees, they go for quite a lot of money on the secondary market. In this case, the replica is something like a third of the cost of the original.

Barbarossa offers the figure in both of its vintage configurations – with either the unique head sculpt that came with the Italian version of the figure, or the 1982 style head which came with the Spanish version of the figure. The Italian version is often called the “Dolph” head for its resemblance to Dolph Lundgren. In my opinion, no He-Man head sculpt will ever surpass the original 1982 version. However, I opted for the Italian “Dolph” version, as this was my one chance to get a figure with that particular head, and I’ve already got the original head on my other vintage He-Man figures.

Vintage 1988 Italian LP He-Man vs 1988 Spanish LP He-Man

Barbarossa has actually done something really interesting with this figure that adds to its durability. Rather than casting the figure in one or two colors and painting in the details (as was done in the vintage figure), Barbarossa casts the trunks and boots in the same teal as the armor. The belt and gloves are cast separately in silver. These pieces are glued together for a seamless look, and the there is no possibility of paint wear on the gloves or boots (an issue that plagues many vintage figures). The only painted parts, in fact, are the head (hair, eyebrows, and eyes) and the silver accents on the armor. The figure retains all of his vintage points of articulation. Another modification is that the belt lacks the “M” design of the original.

The plastic has a very realistic feel to it. I don’t know what the secret formula Barbarossa uses for his materials, but it feels very much like a factory figure. The cast is nice and crisp, with better paint details than many factory examples.  The figure also stands solidly without a tendency to fall over.

The light up action feature has been altered from the 1988 original. Instead of raising his arm to activate the sword, the light turns on with a switch hidden in the battery compartment. The light runs on a watch cell battery, rather than an AA battery as the original did.

If you happen to have a vintage LP He-Man without his accessories, Barbarossa also sells them separately for a reduced cost.

The sword glows quite brightly, especially in the dark. I took some shots with him next to the modern Masters of the Universe Classics Laser Power He-Man for comparison.

He looks great next to his arch nemesis, Laser Light Skeletor (also by Barbarossa):

Laser Power He-Man was quite a departure from the original He-Man design. In 1988 Mattel was heavily exploring different ideas for a more sci-fi take on He-Man. Laser Power He-Man represents an intermediate step in that direction, just before the “New Adventures” reboot:

Original 1982 He-Man and Barbarossa replica Laser Power He-Man
Left to right: 1992 Thunder Punch He-Man, 1990 Battle Punch He-Man, 1989 “New Adventures” He-Man, Barbarossa Laser Power He-Man.

You can see in the photos above that a big theme in Mattel’s sci-fi themed He-Man figures is translucent yellow swords. My understanding is that all of the above figures were designed by Martin Arriola, with the exception of Battle Punch He-Man, who originates from a design by Mark Taylor. Laser Power He-Man, to me, is much more recognizable as a He-Man figure than any of the New Adventures versions. I suspect if the rebooted line had been more in the style of the Laser figures, they might have had greater success.

I’ll explore the history of Laser Power He-Man in more depth in a future toy feature. In any case, I’ve been thoroughly pleased with Barbarossa’s customs so far, and would recommend his Laser figure replicas to anyone looking to add these hard to find figures to their collection.

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Barbarossa Custom Creations Laser Light Skeletor

It’s often the case that when I write about a toy on my blog, I become much more interested in it the process of my research. That certainly happened when I covered Laser Light Skeletor (designed by David Wolfram). For several years I’d had some interest in the figure simmering in the back of my brain, but finally writing about it brought matters to a full boil.

The problem is, of course, that Laser Light Skeletor was only released in Europe, and in limited quantities. A vintage example, even a beat up one without accessories, is far outside of my price range. Enter Barbarossa Custom Creations.

If you’ve ever purchased a custom action figure from any customizer/builder, you know they’re not cheap. That’s just a factor of economies of scale. It’s considerably more difficult for one person to create one figure at a time than it is for a fully equipped factory (with steel molds, paint masks, etc.) to pump out one figure among tens of thousands. It’s even more difficult with a complex toy like Laser Light Skeletor, with its extensive paint applications, stitched cloth cape/hood, and internal electronics. Even accounting for all those factors, Barbarossa’s version still costs only a small fraction of the price of a vintage example, making it my best option for acquiring my own Laser Light figure without having to take out some kind of loan.

The Barbarossa version of the figure seems to be patterned after the Spanish release of Laser Light Skeletor, with its shorter cape and bolder colors. The figure comes standard with the original translucent havoc staff (in a slightly orangey shade, like the Spanish release), along with a somewhat simplified, translucent cast of Saurod’s gun:

A set of additional accessories are also available upon request, for $25 more:

Original Skeletor Havoc Staff, minus the ball the the bottom, in translucent red/orange:

A mashup of Laser Power He-Man’s sword with Spikor’s wrist cuff, with added handle, in translucent red/orange:

Skeletor power sword (with modified handle to allow him to hold it), in translucent red/orange:

He-Man battle axe, in translucent red/orange:

The plastic material has a good, realistic feel to it, and the figure stands without any issues. He retains his original ball and pivot joints in the legs. It probably would have been easier to have fashioned the legs with the older-style rubber connectors, and I appreciate the extra step here to keep the original joints.

The light-up mechanism has been modified. Instead of raising his right arm to activate it, there is a green push-button on/off switch on the figure’s backpack. The pack fits a bit loosely in its chamber – I’m not sure if that’s a result of the modification, or if the original was like that. As a result, it’s helpful to hold the pack steady while you push the button. The circuit runs on a button cell battery rather than the AA used in the vintage figure. I would imagine the reduced weight in the back also makes the figure easier to stand up.

The details on the body and head are nice and crisp – this is a good cast of the original figure, and the paint work is sharp too. The copper metallic paint has black base coat, which I think adds a bit of realism to the look.

Laser Light Skeletor is certainly a departure from the more traditional Skeletors produced by Mattel. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who love the design, Barbarossa’s offering is a great way to get your hands on a credible-looking replica at a price that makes it more realistically attainable for many (but certainly not all) collectors.

With the original release half boot Skeletor (Design by Mark Taylor), released in 1982.
With the Masters of the Universe Classics Laser Light Skeletor (2015)
With Battle Blade Skeletor (1992), also designed by David Wolfram
With “New Adventures” Skeletor, Disks of Doom Skeletor and Battle Blade Skeletor. All designed by David Wolfram or based off of designs by David Wolfram.

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