Laser-Light Skeletor, released in Italy and Spain a year after the end of the Masters of the Universe toyline in the US, was a figure most North American fans were not aware of until they discovered it online years later. That was certainly true for me. Because the figure was produced in limited numbers overseas, it’s one of the most expensive vintage He-Man toys to acquire today. (Update: I’m also informed that there was some distribution of Laser-Light Skeletor in Switzerland. Thanks to Olmo for the information.)
I’m not someone who owns a lot of high-dollar items, but if I was going to own one, this would be it. I can’t fully explain why that is – my tastes tend to gravitate toward the aesthetics of the earlier MOTU figures. But there is something about Laser-Light Skeletor in all his creepy, funky techno-glory that really draws me in.
The earliest known concept art for the figure comes from Dave Wolfram, who also did a lot of work on the New Adventures of He-Man toyline. (That line is actually just called “He-Man”, but it’s common to refer to it as “New Adventures”, after the accompanying 1990 animated series)
In this artwork, dated June 22, 1987, Wolfram incorporates all kinds of wires and mechanisms into “Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor.” The design is quite similar to the final Laser-Light Skeletor, except he lacks his cape, glowing right hand, and glowing staff. He carries a strange claw weapon that might have been intended to work like a pair of pliers.
Wolfram created another piece of concept art that reflects a closer-to-final design, including the staff, right hand, cape and battery pack:
Wolfram’s style is pretty distinctive, reflecting a kind of brutal futurist design that would come to dominate the New Adventures of He-Man toyline’s look, especially in the villain faction. Laser-Light Skeletor technically belongs in the original Masters of the Universe toyline, but he is clearly a giant step in the direction of the New Adventures.
An early, rough prototype of the figure appears in a 1988 French Catalog. It looks like a quickly thrown together proof of concept type figure, built from a standard Skeletor toy, but with gloves, trunks and boots painted brown/copper. He also has some crude armor laid over his chest, as well as a cloth cape and hood ever his sculpted hood. The light feature has been incorporated into his eyes (quite effectively) and hand. His staff is built from the original release staff, but with a snake-like head and in translucent red.
A close to final version of the figure appears in the Italian advertisement below. This prototype has a yellow belt buckle, a “Y” shape in red on his forehead, and a translucent red casting of the original Skeletor havoc staff, with the disk designs removed. This prototype uses all newly sculpted pieces, other than the staff.
The cross sell artwork for the figure seems to be based on a further refined design for the figure, which is almost like the final toy, but still features a not-quite final staff and finer paint work on the right boot:
The final figure lost the “Y” on the forehead and the colored belt buckle, and has further modifications to the staff design. The figure has quite an extreme “squat” pose, reminiscent of some of the knock-off He-Man figures produced earlier in the 1980s. He has a creepy, stylized, almost alien-looking skull face (loose figure images below via eBay):
Designer Dave Wolfram provided me with some background information about the look and origin of the figure:
While MOTU was tanking domestically, it was still going strong Internationally, which was a year behind in the product cycle. This was done to have something new for that market. LISA (the light transmitting plastic) was a fairly new ‘shiny toy’ for the designers at the time, so that was the hook for that segment. I think Martin did the final He-Man design… I did the design for Skeletor. My working name was Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor, and it was inspired by influences like Giger, and the Gibson novel, Neuromancer. Sadly, like many of our products of the time, engineering dictated what we had to design around, and in this case it was a huge battery box. Try as we might to design around it, it made the torso oversized, so to compensate, we had to give the legs a little more bend, leading to our new working name: “Take a Dump Skeletor”.
Unlike every previous version of Skeletor before him, Laser-Light Skeletor had a removable hood. This variant had some extensive wiring around the back of his head – a feature he shares with the New Adventures Skeletor:
Skeletor’s LED eyes and right hand could be activated by raising the figure’s right arm. The light from his hand was meant to also illuminate his translucent staff, although the effect diminished quickly the further it got away from the the light source
The figure was produced in Spain and Italy. Spanish versions typically came with a minicomic-sized catalog, and the Italian versions came without the catalog. I’ve heard of the figure coming packaged with a copy of the Powers of Grayskull minicomic, but I haven’t seen an example.
Some figures came with belts painted gold on the front, and red on the back:
The catalog that came packed with the figure featured both of the light-up variants.
A nice poster featuring a photo the figure was included in the Yugoslav edition of the Masters of the Universe Star Comics:
Because Laser-Light Skeletor came at the very tail end of the line, he was never featured in any vintage minicomics or other stories, sadly. I suppose we can imagine that his tale might have been very similar to Skeletor as depicted in the New Adventures series of minicomics:
Update: the French Club Maitres de l’Univers magazine published a comic featuring early concept versions of Laser Power He-Man and Laser-Light Skeletor, alongside characters whose figures were released in 1987 (images are from Nathalie NHT):
Aidan in the comments below provides some fascinating background information (by way of Emiliano Santalucia) about the intent behind the creation of Laser Light Skeletor and Laser Power He-Man. I’m quoting his comments verbatim here:
A little-known fact about Laser Light Skeletor and Laser Power He-Man is that they were designed to be the lead figures for a brand new interactive toy line that would be accompanied by a live action TV series. The intention was that the figures and weapons would be able to interact with the episodes of the TV show. It’s unclear as yet how far into production the live action series got, but props and sets were designed for it and from the limited information available it appears it was going to be space-based and very sci-fi, with He-Man and Skeletor battling for possession of some sort of glowing crystals that were the source of the laser power of their weapons. Vehicles and playsets were designed for the toy line, but for reasons unknown, the plans for this line were scrapped around 1988. As the Laser figures had been made, they were given a limited release in Europe as part of the regular MOTU line, similar to what had been done with the giants and dinosaurs from the unreleased Powers of Grayskull line. Later, Mattel used the space-based idea for the ‘He-Man’ line better known as the New Adventures, while the idea for an interactive toy line accompanied by a live action show was used for Mattel’s line Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.
I hope more information about the interactive toy line and the live action series comes to light as it’s one of the most intriguing chapters in MOTU’s history particularly as so little is known about it. There’s even been rumors that the pilot episode was actually made but never screened, though these rumors are unsubstantiated.