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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6 thoughts on “Heroic Mer-Man, Evil Stratos?

  1. It’s always interesting to see how everything was in flux early on. I’ve long found the concept of a heroic Mer-Man interesting. Once he was made ruler of an entire race, it seems rather odd that we never saw any of them who were aligned with He-Man. Surely not everyone of his race was okay with his allying them with the greatest source of evil on the planet? There could even be an entire rebel faction whose leader served as a member of the heroic warriors. Definitely a lot of interesting ground that could be explored there!

    As for an evil Stratos, it certainly would have offset the aerial disadvantage they always had!

    (I got an error message when trying to submit this a few minutes ago; apologies if it winds up being posted twice!)

  2. Nifty article! If I recall, Tri-Klops was also slated to be a Heroic Warrior at one point. It’s fascinating how characters and lines develop in their early stages, and how they can vary wildly from country to country, or from one year to the next.

  3. I love this. Great peek into the early development days of MOTU. Those early mini-comics provided a brief glimpse into core characters’ allegiances…as if telling kids, “Okay, you guys use your imaginations and take it from here.”

  4. Good to see some new content – I was wondering if something had happened to you Adam!

    I think a heroic Mer-Man could have been an interesting twist, especially when you consider that fact that the majority of Skeletor’s forces are freakish looking and confronting vs He-Man and co who are all human(noid/esque) – Stratos is the closest to looking less ‘human’ on the side of good in the early line. Having Mer-Man and him swap alignments might have mixed things up a bit, but it seems more traditional to have the good guys be ‘normal’ looking.

    I’ve always felt like Mer-Man vibed like he was siding with Skeletor under some form of duress, more so than Beast Man (who was the type to follow the ‘strongest leader’ IMO) or Evil-Lyn (who was there because it suited her). Like maybe there was some goal to aide his kingdom/people somehow, and Skeletor had something over him. Or it could be my childhood head-canon.

    It’s funny because I’ve always thought the earlier concept art of Mer-Man made him look a lot more kid friendly, whereas the final toy has a very classical ‘scary monster’ vibe about him.

  5. @ Ben Lane

    As for how “Mer-Man vibed like he was siding with Skeletor under some form of duress”: In the early pages of The Vengeance of Skeletor, the visuals imply that Skeletor is hypnotizing Mer-Man via the energy blade, thought the text claims that Skeletor is merely appearing to him as a vision.

    The scene shows water lapping against the shore, where Mer-Man sheathed in an aura that connects with the tip of the energy blade, and his own sword stuck in the ground near him (but unaffected by the aura). There seems to be no way to interpret the effect in the way the text reads.

  6. Interesting article.

    I don’t believe in keeping characters vague so that kids could decide by themselves. My five-year-old daughter plays a little bit with my old Masters-stuff and she sometimes twists the characters so that they are more friendly to each other, haha. But before that, she wants to know who are the bad and who are the nice ones. Kids somehow need a basic mythology on which they can build on their play.

    Mer-Man should be more independent as he’s clearly in advantage in his element where Skeletor never seemed to be a master, scuba-equipment aside.

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