Evil Mutants

Skeletor: Ultimate Evil Lord of Destruction (1989)

The 1989 He-Man reboot included no characters from the original Masters of the Universe line, other than He-Man and Skeletor. The so-called “New Adventures” line is filled with colorful, oddball villains (and, frankly, some less-than-exciting heroes). My favorite figures from the line are the various Skeletor variants, and the 1989 version is no exception.

The New Adventures series isn’t well loved by most He-Man fans, but in a way it seems like an effort by Mattel to step things up a notch. These figures that had better articulation, more sculpted detail, and quite a bit of painted detail compared to the original line, and with little or no reuse of parts.

All of the New Adventures Skeletor variants were based on designs by David Wolfram. The initial 1989 release was technically designed by Mark Dicamillo, but it had been modeled on Wolfram’s original Laser Light Skeletor design.

Laser Light Skeletor concept art (working title: Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor), by Dave Wolfram
Laser Light Skeletor, released in Europe in 1988.

The broad conceptual ideas were carried over for the New Adventures design, but the color scheme was modified, initially with a lot of dark blue and red details, with a purple cape. In the concept art below (drawn up by David Wolfram for presentation) Skeletor was also given some kind of pouches at his legs, and a new red staff design featuring a human skull with a bat on top. He was given different boots and, for the first time, gloves. He also features a helmet rather than his usual cloth hood:

Concept art by Dave Wolfram, from May 25, 1988. Image via The Art of He-Man.

The concept version of the character actually makes an appearance on a 1989 bag, although this version has a red cape:

A CGI version of the concept Skeletor (albeit with a finalized staff) also appears in a promotional video (thanks to Dušan M. for the tip):

In the produced toy, the color scheme was altered again, with much more red throughout the costume, and contrasting purple boots and gloves. The staff was redesigned, with some prongs at the end that look like they could shoot bolts of electricity. The helmet and staff were molded in gun metal gray. The pouches he was wearing on his thighs were changed to cybernetic implants.The final figure has a white face with a forest green border around it – the only Skeletor to feature that particular color scheme.

A hand-painted version of the final figure appears in the 1989 French He-Man catalog:

Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: Grayskull Museum

In the 1989 German He-Man magazine, Skeletor is depicted a couple of times wearing a bizarre-looking helmet. I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be:

Hand-painted final prototype on a Spanish playing card. Source: http://cuevadelterror.blogspot.com

The final production figure appears in the US 1989 dealer catalog:

One of the coolest things about the figure, in my opinion, is some of the sculpted detail on his back and the back of his head. This is obscured by his cape and helmet normally. It’s quite creepy looking:

The staff has a rather creepy looking, chitinous creature around the back of the skull, which wraps its tail around the upper handle:

Skeletor has a fun but rather subtle action figure. When you turn his waist his hands raise up, making him lift his staff as if to fire.

Cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

The commercial for the electronic He-Man Power Sword actually has really great footage of an actor dressed as “New Adventures” Skeletor. This costume also shows up in the He-Man vs Skeletor commercial shown earlier in this article.

Skeletor was sold on his own card and in a gift set with He-Man. The artwork on the front was painted by long-time MOTU packaging illustrator, William George.

Packaging art by William George. Image from The Art of He-Man.

According to the 1989 Sears Christmas Wishbook, Skeletor was supposed to be available in a gift set with Hydron, but I’ve never seen an example of that:

Image source: http://www.wishbookweb.com/
Image source: http://www.wishbookweb.com/

There were four minicomics produced for the 1989 He-Man reboot, and all of them featured Skeletor. In the first, The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy), Skeletor interrupts Prince Adam as he transformed into He-Man, and is badly injured. In Skeletor’s Journey (illustrated by Carrol Lay), he uses bionic replacements to heal himself and we see him finally in his new costume.

The character looks particularly dynamic in the Bruce Timm-illustrated The Revenge of Skeletor:

In the bottom right panel, we get a look at the cybernetics on Skeletor’s back.

The New Adventures of He-Man animated series (produced by Jetlag Productions) features the character for a surprisingly few episodes before he’s upgraded to his Disks of Doom variant costume. The series starts off on Eternia, before He-Man and Skeletor are whisked off into the future, but both of them already sport their New Adventures costumes. Unfortunately Skeletor has some off-putting and comical-looking eyes for the first five episodes. Otherwise his costume is fairly true to the toy, minus the electrical implants in his body:

By episode six the eyes are blackened, but he also changes to his Disks of Doom costume by the end of the story:

Character-wise the New Adventures version of Skeletor was a more comical figure, manipulating and flattering rather than pounding his fists and demanding. He wasn’t leading his own army at this point – he was dependent upon the cooperation of the Evil Mutants, lead by Flogg.

Initially Mattel had planned to ask Filmation (the studio that had produced the first He-Man cartoon), to animate the new reboot, to be titled He-Man and the Masters of Space (information via Dušan M./James Eatock). Filmation went out of business in 1989, but they did create some artwork and a basic storyline for the pitch. Skeletor’s visual depiction is somewhere midway between the original concept design and the final toy:

Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

The 1989 He-Man series was featured in the UK He-Man Adventure Magazine. In this story Skeletor is beamed aboard the ship of Flipshot and Hydron, but Prince Adam tags along for the ride. Strangely we don’t get an explanation for Skeletor’s costume change (images are from He-Man.org):

UK He-Man Magazine pinup

Pinup from German He-Man magazine. Artwork by Giuliano Piccininno – information is from the MOTU Art Facebook page.

There was a series of Italian notebooks that featured New Adventures artwork. The cover of one of them features a concept-art inspired Skeletor (thanks to Petteri H. for the tip):

The Italian magazine Magic Boy featured several New Adventures stories. In one of them, Skeletor acquires a magical chest harness from a six-armed statue and soon after grows six arms of his own (images are from He-Man.org):

Overall I think the rebooted 1989 Skeletor has quite a compelling design, and is worth picking up even if you’re not, generally speaking, a New Adventures fan. In fact, all of the revamped Skeletors are worth a look.

15 thoughts on “Skeletor: Ultimate Evil Lord of Destruction (1989)

  1. This and He-Man were the New Adventure figures that I bought when they came out and aftem them I stayed away as far as possible from that toyline. About the sculpt I totally agree and I’m glad that you pointed out those on his back, that I consider impressive too.
    The main problem about this Skeletor figure is not the look (is not bad at all, regardless what one could think about the idea of a cyborg Skeletor…. which I hate :D) but how the action feature is designed and specifically the hands. There is one thing hated by kids and are the action figures locked into specific action poses (one of the major problem of the 200X line, for example) because this impose a limit to the figure’s versatility: in this Skeletor the hands are useless for anything but swinging the staff and that was a big mistake.

    1. Yeah, I considered talking about the hands thing. ALL of the New Adventures Skeletors have hands that are posed rotated 90 degrees, which is a shame

      1. Hey! I was working at Toys R Us at this time, and got to wear a Skeletor costume of this figure for a Mattel promotion. I’d gladly offer the pics if you want to add them to this entry… lmk how to contact you

  2. Like I’ve said before, my exposure to New Adventure when I was a kid was the He-Man & Slush Head two-pack, and the pack-in comic. The distribution for the line seems to have been terrible, at least in my area; I only ever saw the figures at K-Mart, and all they had were a couple of pegs crammed full of the aforementioned two-pack. I never saw the cartoon, and never saw any commercials for the the toys. Whenever I see the commercials now, I’m always impressed at the quality of the costumes! I’ve tried watching the show a few times as an adult, and I just can’t get past the first few episodes. Skeletor looks like an evil beaver, and everyone seems to have suffered a severe brain injury, even more so than in the Filmation cartoon! It looks as if Skeletor’s design improves, at least, if I can struggle through a few more episodes. For anyone who has watched a lot of the show, does it improve significantly later on?

    All that said, I think many of the NA characters have some cool designs, and the entire segment of characters has been woefully under-represented in the MOTUC line. The various versions of Skeletor and the Space Mutants, in particular, are all very cool. I don’t know if having a NA Skeletor as a child would have kept me interested in the line, but if I’d been able to find one, I definitely would have gotten it! It’s just sad that the NA characters are treated as the pariahs of MOTU, when there are some very worthy characters and designs therein. They’re certainly no goofier than many of the Filmation figures people keep clamoring for! 😉

    1. To be fair I think that if removed by the MOTU legacy and marketed as a totally unreleated brand, the NA toyline might have had more fortune, but Mattel was determined in beating a dead horse.
      That or maybe by designing the figures to be compatible with the MOTU toyline (He-Man versus the space invaders xDXD), instead of something totally different like they did. For example made the Nordor Base as one of the Eternia’s Moons.

      Weird enough the sculpt of the figures suffer from the same discrepancy as the Thundercats toyline: soft sculpt on human bodies but crisp and very good sculpt on mechanich and monstruous details (like scaled skin etc.). It is more or less the same thing happened with Light He-Man and Light Skeletor.

  3. I just tried to watch the new series about 2 weeks ago and I was really disappointed with the way they drew Skeletor and his less-than-intimidating personality. I don’t think I made it past episode 6 so I’ll have to give it another try.

    1. Yeah, I had to give it two tries before I could get into it. It does get better. I’m about 10 episodes in. Not every one is a winner, but it’s a generally solid sci fi cartoon. My biggest problem was Skeletor too. Thankfully the comical eyes go away, but the personality is what it is. He’s more of a manipulator than an intimidator.

  4. I remember being extremely excited when a new He-Man Cartoon was going to debut. I also remember being so extremely disappointed by what I saw. I don’t think kids at that time were ready to accept changes and relaunches.

    1. Nah, it was just a bad idea regardless of the time. The 200X cartoon could be called “relaunch” (and a decent one even with some flaws and questionable ideas)…. NA was just a mistake doomed to bomb.

  5. Personally, i liked the new adventures.. there are problems but i found the same if not more problems in the original MOTU cartoon.. I was never really taken with how the cartoon changed alot of the toys and characters, and New adventures seam to knock it up to a bit better, without the stupid stuff of the 200X+ shows and the new ‘Classics’ ranges (with the “I grew up, so this must grow up with me and all the names are stupid so they are now nicknames” attudues). I loved the more advanced storyarc methods, hey, the first 7 or so episodes of New adventures is just ONE story. and unlike the origiinal, there are times when Skeletor really does win and gets in charge.. of course, he is beaten in the end but it’s done well. The main problem i had to the fall back on the original cartoon with the ‘magic’ side (when the original toys seam to be more about personal strength of the barabarian with technologiy wisdom of the future.). Of course, it did more degrade into filler episodes where it’s like the old series with villian of the week attack, but unlike the original cartoon, i felt there was more of a threat in the villians. The planet HAD to keep on it’s guard because of major attacks and problems, where as the original was more then sitting around waiting for skeletor to attack that day. OF course, this view isn’t 100% right either way, but it’s more how i felt things went. I loved the original toys, still do, don’t really care that much for the Filmation cartoon versions, pretty enjoyed the new adventures cartoon but less impressed with the toys (I wonder if you will comment on the model reuses for other lines.. pretty much ALL of the demolition man toy range (as commonley known) was just New adventures figures with new heads and colours.

    Anyway, To me, looking at the french helmet.. It’s a wig. And isn’t skeletors face more of a bone white (which is a creamly off-white) then white? given it a bit more of a ‘realistic’ skull colour for it then the original yellow. The 90s were a time when they were able to cut back on the primaries and brighter colours for figures and allow more shades, and also a touch more releastic before it was toned back down again for the later 90s and 2000s,

    1. Agree about the Classics’ nickname thing, is very dumb or at least out of place: they are fantasy characters, not superheroes.

    2. Good point re: New Adventures cartoon. I need to get the DVD, because so far I’ve been watching it on dodgy Youtube uploads. Makes it harder to appreciate. But it is nice to have stories that continue on past the episode.

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