My first exposure to Roboto came on the playground in third grade. I had gone to the same elementary school during kindergarten and first grade. But in second grade, we moved away for a year to a smaller town, which turned out to be something of a He-Man vacuum. All of the kids there seemed to be into either Voltron or Thundercats. But when I returned to my old school in the third grade, I found He-Man was still going strong there.
One fall day on the playground, one of my friends brought out his Roboto and Two Bad figures. I never had either of these figures myself, but I was pretty impressed with both of them. Roboto had all kinds of bells and whistles – a transparent chest that showed moving gears as you twisted his waist, with an automatically-moving jaw. And you could change out three attachments on his right arm, like Trap Jaw.
The next year I had lost most of my interest in MOTU, but I begged my mom for a G.I. Joe B.A.T.S. Figure. It seemed to have been Hasbro’s answer to Roboto, albeit with a hologram sticker that only simulated a transparent chest.
Design & Development
Roboto’s genesis seems to lie in a concept illustrated by Ted Mayer, called Transparent Man. In the sketch you can see that this concept was meant to be an almost completely transparent figure, covered with mechanical bits.
We can get a bead on what a more fully developed Roboto looked like from his minicomic depiction. First minicomic appearances are often based on unfinished concept artwork or prototypes for toys:
At this point in his development, Roboto has a red and orange color scheme, rather than the red, purple and blue colors of the final toy. In the comic we see that there is a very literal “heart” in Roboto’s chest, but no indication of the rotating gears of the toy:
The final Roboto toy is very similar to the minicomics design, albeit with a change in color scheme and simplified design on the chest. I would suspect the external sculpted chest detail in the illustration would have made it harder to see through the chest into the figure’s working gears, which may be why it was not used on the final figure. By turning the figure’s waist, the mouth would open and close as the gears spun around. The figure’s heart was partially obscured behind the central red gear:
Roboto included three removable arm attachments. Aside from the laser canon (shown above), he also had a robotic claw and an axe:
From behind you can also make out his central “heart” inside his chest:
As seen in most of the above figure shots, over time the legs of vintage Roboto figures have started to leech a purple residue. This can be cleaned off with a magic sponge, but it will eventually return.
Speaking of his legs, they are reused from Man-E-Faces. His arms are based off of Trap Jaw’s, but with some additional sculpted mechanical detail added.
Roboto was released on the standard blister card, with artwork on the reverse by Errol McCarthy. The artwork feature’s Roboto’s prototype orange and red color scheme:
Roboto was also released in a few giftsets as well – one with Hordak and Sy-Klone, one with Thunder Punch He-Man, and another with Mekaneck. Photos are available at Grayskull Museum.
The Battle of Roboto establishes Roboto’s origin as the creation of Man-At-Arms. The story works to explain Roboto’s features, as well as the idea behind the heart in his chest:
In the story, Skeletor is able to take control of Roboto by removing his heart. Roboto becomes a very dangerous weapon due to his great strength:
In the end the heroes are able to restore Roboto to normal by returning his heart to his chest. However, Roboto worries that he is too dangerous a weapon should he ever be compromised again. In response, the Sorceress casts a spell of protection on him to prevent Skeletor from taking control of him again.
Roboto’s origin story in the Filmation He-Man cartoon is quite different. Roboto crash landed onto Eternia. As revealed in the episode, “Happy Birthday Roboto”, originally he had come from the planet Robotica, which was filled with mechanical beings like himself. As with the minicomic characterization, Roboto was immensely powerful in the Filmation cartoon.
Design-wise, the animated Roboto generally followed the design of the action figure, albeit simplified for animation. The most obvious difference is the mouth plate area, which has less of a steep slope to it compared to the figure.
Roboto appeared in quite a number of different stories and activities in comics and magazines over the years. He was the subject of a word search in the Spring 1985 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine:
That same issue also includes a brilliant poster by Earl Norem, depicting Roboto battling against flying Roton vehicles:
In issue 34 of the 1987 run of the UK MOTU Magazine, Roboto and Man-At-Arms are attacked on their Jet Sleds by Dragstor, who is piloting the Fright Fighter. The two heroes’ remaining Jet Sled is damaged, but they are able to repair it using some parts from Roboto:
In issue 12 of the 1989 run of the UK MOTU Magazine, we see He-Man and Roboto in Viper Tower (which for some reason is identified as the headquarters of the Heroic Warriors). From there they enter a dimensional portal to travel to a distant planet, where they battle alien robots:
In the He-Man newspaper comic story, “Day of the Comet”, we see a Filmation-like Roboto assembled with the heroic warriors:
In the Golden Book story He-Man Smells Trouble, Roboto accidentally causes some damage to a stage when he mistake’s Orko’s magic for a real threat. Orko in turn hurts Roboto’s feelings, and he wanders away. Roboto ends up briefly teaming up with Stinkor, who also had his feelings hurt by the evil warriors. Together they encounter some other robots who actually resemble some of Ted Mayer’s concept art for the figure:
Roboto appears in a couple of MOTU posters by William George:
Roboto appears as an extra in the box art for both Monstroid (artist unknown) and Fright Fighter (art by William George):
Roboto (in his concept colors) was featured in a series of Fuzzy Iron-Ons included in boxes of Rice Krispies
Roboto in Action
Øyvind Meisfjord has graciously shared the following image and video of Roboto in action!
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9 thoughts on “Roboto: Heroic mechanical warrior (1985)”
Great post, that Earl Norem poster is fantastic!
As a kid I loved Roboto. In my plays he was a force to be reckoned because due his mechanical nature only few evil warriors had the weaponry or the knowledge to fight him and Multi-Bot was built for that purpose.
Honestly I can’t decide between the regular and the prototype colors.
The only thing I never liked very much is the “mouth”: I always considered it a pointless feature.
I have to say that William George gave him a truly elegant sword XD
Roboto has always been one of my favorites of 1985, which is probably my favorite overall year of the overall MotU line (toys, merchandising, etc.). Got him and Two-Bad, along with the He-Man Smells Trouble book, for Easter that year.
Does anyone else notice the irony in the commercial of Peter Cullen describing Roboto as “the most powerful robot in the universe”? 🙂
I notice the hologram has fallen off the Cobra Android Trooper shown mint on card above. This is the first time I’ve seen a sealed vintage action figure with that quality control problem. In my opinion, Hasbro dropped the ball giving an acronym to B.A.T.S. without explaining what it stood for. The file card doesn’t even mention he’s built to battle.
By the way, it’s a bit odd Roboto Word Search claims pride is one of the things that He-Man needs to successfully fight off the forces of evil in Eternia. Is one of the seven deadly sins really a trait associated with the most powerful man in the universe?
The hologram issue was very common with BATS: basically the glue used was not very durable to begin with and the smooth plastic surface on the figure’s torso didn’t help.
Yet another great article, Battleram! Although as I’ve mentioned in MANY comments now, the first-two-waves “barbarian” pre-Filmation mythos is my default MOTU love, beyond those first two waves and that more primitive setting, I think on hindsight that Roboto may be one of my favourite later figures. He was great looking and fun to play with, one that I’d play with heavily when playing with my figures. He might be robotic, already a considerable step away from that early barbarian setting, but he looked awesome, even as a ‘stand alone’ toy beyond the MOTU setting.
He was another figure that I was inspired by my mother to buy – as I’ve mentioned previously, she was never keen on me having toys that were much associated with fighting, but I recall she liked his shiny colours and see-through chest when we first saw him in a toy shop one day, and she he kinda became the next figure on my “want” list when I had enough pocket money for him.
It’s always struck me that in many ways he is a Heroic counterpart of Trap Jaw (I even wonder of this was part of his conception/development) – as well as sharing the same legs and (sort of) arms, they both have the three-interchangable-arm accessories feature, and both have a moving ‘mouth’ feature (Roboto’s is technically a visor, but it’s enough like a mouth to consider it as such). I do recall that Roboto’s arm attachments were much harder to insert/remove than Trap Jaw’s though (the ‘plug’ on them was much tighter).
His jaw/visor maybe looked a bit too duck like when in the up position, but I could forgive that. I loved his am accessories, the ax was my favourite, though I was never sure about it being a “laser ax” – what is one of those and why the laser when he already has a laser rifle! In my world, it was just a very sharp (and possibly moving) ax!
Regarding Roboto’s mini-comic appearance … Again I love the classic mini-comics beyond all else, but in terms of the later mini-comics, ‘The Battle of Roboto’ was amongst my favourites as it was a decent story and a good showcase for the character. Regarding the mini-comic Roboto not having any inner-gears showing, this might actually just be down to him being simplified for drawing (sometimes the mini-comics had to be completed and turned around on quite a tight deadline); other times, the illustrator might simply get creative and give their own interpretation (see: both yellow and pink costume Teela; various costume colours Sorceress, etc.) Or indeed maybe an earlier prototype Roboto did have this style chest and wasn’t so ‘see-through’.
Going from his portrayal in this story, I always regarded Roboto as always being a bit ‘sad’, that he would never been fully human (maybe a bit like, a couple of years later, Data in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and various other pop culture robots). There did seem to be shades of sadness in many of his portrayals, right through to the 200x animated series.
Roboto stands out as only having appeared in one episode ever of the Filmation series, and whilst I fairly like the episode I remember being upset/annoyed that again the gave not even a similar, but a totally different origin story (gotta say, the mini-comic one is far better).
The 200x version… I’m undecided, as whilst I didn’t like many of the 200x styles of characters, I LOVED what they did with Roboto. Seriously beefed him up and made him really heavy duty. One of my favourite figures from the 200x line. Only thing is, it lost the simple elegance of the original (as many 200x figures did, IMO). Thing I probably like the vintage one better by default, but do love the 200x one. And of course, the 200x animated series gave us yet ANOTHER original for Roboto.
Finally, I’m glad you mentioned the problem on the vintage figure of the plastic deteriorating and making his legs look purple. Some years ago now, I was in a (very friendly) debate on one of the He-Man forums wherever about the legs; I was insisting it was due to plastic deterioration, but some others were insisting it was actually a variant and some Robotos had actually been released with purple legs! 🙂
About the purple legs, I’m fairly lucky and my Roboto is still fine but since I have few figures suffering from plastic deterioration, I can reasonably say that you were right. One of them is Multibot and the silver paint is gone on both of his torsos because the chemical reaction acted like a solvent.
Robot always struck me as being an homage to “Mr. Machine”, a vintage robot toy made by Ideal.
I wasn’t familiar with that toy, but there is a definite resemblance!