Heroic Warriors

Stratos – Winged warrior! (1982)

Stratos graphic

Released late in the first year of Masters of the Universe figures, Stratos was one of the few from that 1982 that I didn’t own as a kid. I remember encountering him for the first time at a friend’s house: “Who’s this guy? Oh yeah, I remember seeing him in the comics. Where’s his weapon? No weapon? I guess it’s cool that he can fly. Is he a flying monkey?”

Design & Development

Stratos, designed by Mark Taylor, appears to have been originally conceived as a villain.

wings of wickedness

Given the working name “Bird Man” (also, perhaps “Wing Man”) Stratos was intended to have the hairy arms and legs of Beast Man, but the furless homo sapiens chest of He-Man.

Artwork by Mark Taylor, showing the front, side and rear of the figure. Shared by Rebecca Salari Taylor.

The body in the B-sheet isn’t fully colored, but a bit of color on the chest indicates a tentative flesh tone or orange color scheme. However, he could also be interpreted as having a light gray body. His wings are blue, and his red backpack attaches around his waist and his neck. That design comes through in the first mini comics drawn by Alfredo Alcala, depicted as first a villain and then a hero, although he didn’t always include the jetpack:

Eventually his backpack was redesigned and his body color was changed to gray, which was reflected in the last mini comic of 1982. The colors of his backpack and arm feathers were also reversed:

page-22

This design also appears in the cross sell art:

Stratos Cross Sell Best
Stratos cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

Notice in this hand-painted prototype (with another redesign to the chest harness), Stratos has a hairless chest, which matches up with the original Mark Taylor B-Sheet and the cross sell art:


Source: 1981 License Kit/He-Man.org

This image from the 1984 Annual (which used images taken from early prototypes) makes it clearer that Stratos had a smooth chest. This design makes him seem far less animalistic:


Image from: He-Man.org. Note that the harness also lacks the feather design at the shoulders.

I thought I had found yet another prototype of Stratos in a German promotional booklet. The harness seems to have a criss-cross pattern on the front, which reminded me a little of the cross sell art. But I think this is simply a case of the photographer putting the harness on incorrectly:

Eventually it was decided that Stratos would have the same furry chest as Beast Man:

stratoschest
Image source: The Art of He-Man

There were some variations of early production versions of Stratos. Some came with blue wings and a red backpack, and others with red wings and a blue backpack. The rarest version had a blue beard and gray goggles.

The blue beard version of Stratos is the very first version released. It’s probably a factory error. Even though Mark Taylor’s original color scheme included a blue beard (and blue goggles), pre-production prototypes all had gray beards.

Blue wing blue beard Stratos
Red wing blue beard Stratos

The red wing/gray beard version is probably the most popular, as he was most frequently depicted in this color scheme:

Of course the blue wing/gray beard version has its fan base too:

The first editions of Stratos was packaged on the “eight back” style card.

Later versions were packaged in the “12 back” card and featured this scene on the card back by artist Errol McCarthy:

stratosback
Strangely, Stratos is depicted with three-toed feet

Minicomics

Stratos appears fairly frequently in early minicomics, although his appearances gradually taper off in later years.

Aside from the afore-mentioned first year minicomics, Stratos takes a starring role in Siege of Avion, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala and written by Michael Halperin. The story is based on Filmation’s He-Man espisode, “Reign of the Monster”. In the story, as in the cartoon, Stratos is the leader of Avion, home to a race of bird people. Both stories revolve around the Staff of Avion and Skeletor’s plot to steal it.

DC Comics

Stratos is a supporting character throughout the 1982-1983 run of Masters of the Universe comics by DC Comics.

Stratos appears only on the cover of Fate Is The Killer, released November 1982. This is a recolored version. Image courtesy of Dejan Dimitrovski.
From To Tempt The Gods, December 1982. Image source: Vaults of Grayskull

Golden Books

Stratos appears in the early Golden Book stories as well, and plays a particularly strong role in The Trap:

He also plays a strong role in The Sunbird Legacy, where we see a different take on the people of Avion. Stratos’ compatriots were shown in the familiar gray/blue/red colors but given unique headgear and wings on their backs :

Animation

Stratos made occasional appearances in the Filmation cartoon. He wasn’t depicted as a flying ape-like creature. He looks instead like a human in a kind of flight suit.

Image source: Heritage Auctions
Image source: Heritage Auctions
Image source: Heritage Auctions

Of course, in the Filmation Series Guide he looks a lot closer to the toy:

he-man-guide-9_full

Other Artwork

Stratos also makes some appearances in Rudy Obrero’s Castle Grayskull, Wind Raider and Battle Ram box art:

From Castle Grayskull box art
From Wind Raider box art
From Battle Ram box art

Stratos also appears in several posters by William George:

Stratos probably isn’t near the top of most people’s favorite MOTU character lists (although some people absolutely love him). As a kid he didn’t particularly spark my interest, but as an adult I find him enormously charming.

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35 thoughts on “Stratos – Winged warrior! (1982)

  1. I never owned a complete Stratos, and hadn’t paid much attention to him, so I never realized that he actually had a jet pack on that harness. I was under the impression that the 200X version added the jet pack to make him seem “cooler.”

  2. Ahh, Stratos. A strange ol’ character. As one of the resident “early barbarian mythos” fans, I should like Stratos. And part of me does. But, when you break him down, particularly as a figure… he’s actually kinda boring!

    Don’t get me wrong, the concept is great – and perfectly logical for the early origins of the line; a flying, winged warrior. But for whatever reason, during execution, he just seems to have become slightly uninteresting, especially on hindsight.
    Maybe it’s due to his colour scheme. I understand that each figure was given their own differing colour palette to distinguish them, but – from some of the early sketches that seemed to hint at him having caucasian or even orange-y skin, the grey they finally settled for (quite drab) didn’t really do him any favours. For many years I’ve wished that he’d been more silver-y blue, as depicted in the (excellent) UK Ladybird books. And lthough the design of Stratos’ bird people varied somewhat in different media, I always thought that their typical design looked far more interesting, and which some of this design had gone ‘backwards’ into the final version of Stratos! 🙂

    Although fleshed out over the concept stages, Stratos’ costume never fully worked. The earliest concepts (and as seen in some of the earliest mini-comics) saw him with a ‘plume’ of features on his neck/shoulders which was fairly cool, but this was later developed into a jetpack. In the earlier sketches and prototypes, this jetpack had a reasonably good looking harness. But by the time of the actual figure, this had been amended to a rather unpleasing version that just looked like the standard first-two-waves-figures armor on backwards. Even the feathers around the neck on the earlier concepts of the harness were lost; and this rather basic armor is one of the things that lets the final figure down the most. (Also, I never did understand – if Stratos could fly anyway, why did he need a jetpack? To go faster, I suppose!)

    The heroic/evil designating of Stratos was interesting too, and not uncommon (at one point, Mer Man might have been a heroic warrior, and Tri-Klops too), however it’s interesting to see just how late his siding seems to have been decided on – even the first couple of mini-comics depict him as an evil warrior. These early evil references even followed through to some later merchandise, with some items stating him as an evil warrior appearing as late as 1984. In my own MOTU world, Stratos was a once noble birdman who had been turned bitter and evil as a result of the Great Wars which wiped out most of Eternia (reflected in his skin colour change) who was eventually convinced by the barbarian He-Man that there was hope in saving Eternia, and returned to his rightful place as leader of the bird people.

    As for the ‘which came first’ colour combination of wings/jetpack… I never have fully deduced. For many years I believed the red wings / blue jetpack to be the original; but then it seemed it to be the opposite. Maybe there actually never was a distinct version and there always was two versions?

    The day I brought my childhood Stratos figure, the pin that held the wing on his left arm snapped off as my dad assembled it with me, meaning that the wing hand to awkwardly be held on my an elastic band forever more. Also over time, as with many other examples of the figure, over time the paint on the nose of my Stratos wore away, leaving him with a red alcoholic looking nose!

    1. Stratosphere was one of the first figures that I got as a child and I always had a soft spot in my heart for him. He didn’t have a cool weapon or much of a backstop (at least not with the original mini comics, which were my first introduction to the world of Masters of the Universe and served as the primary blueprint for the head canon of my youth). He just had his oddly charming design, looking like a monkey man with a jet pack, helmet, and feathered sleeves that were his “wings”. I ran with that and made him a slightly unhinged ape man that found a trove of Ancient devices that included his helmet, jet pack, and “wrist blasters” that were portrayed in one of the mini comics and thought that the made him a “bird man”. He was so plain that I thought I had to give him a cool back story as a kid.

  3. I wonder if any prototypes will ever show up of Stratos wearing armor more resembling his b-sheet designs, with the plumes of feathers around his neck, or indeed the higher ‘feathered’ armor around his neck of the boxart. I’d guess that there was at least a prototype vaguely resembling one of these at one point; especially that of the boxart look (which nearly always took their cue from early prototypes).
    I know I’ve commented before but Stratos’ armor is one of the things that really let the figure down IMO. It just looks like he’s got it on backwards (with the strap harness on the front), and rather bland at that, with none of the feathery embellishments around the neck. Add to that the drab grey colour (not the silvery-grey of the boxart) and lack of any weapon, and the vintage Stratos figure went from a could-be-classic to a like-him-but-only-in-concept entry. Which was a serious shame.

    1. Yes, I do feel like the front of his harness is very underwhelming. You’re right, it looks like it’s on backards. I wonder if he might have looked better with a body similar to Zodac’s – hairy chest, but “creature” arms and legs. That might have accentuated the bird look

  4. When I was a kid back in the 80s, in those pre-internet days my Mum would buy from home-shopping catalogues. Of course, my brothers and I (infants, all!) would always flip to the toy pages first. There was one catalogue in particular that I reeeeeally wish I’d kept; it included a photograph of the Masters figures available from the catalogue, a photo which featured Stratos…, but in this particular picture, he was a brown / tan colour! I rushed to show my brothers and we were amazed, but we were only ever able to find the grey one for sale anywhere. I wish I’d kept the catalogue as proof.
    Looking back on it, I can only think of two explanations; a prototype figure, perhaps based on his earliest B-sheet and mini-comic appearences, found its way into the toys being photographed for home-shopping catalogues, (indeed, in recent years Super7 have produced Stratos figures in precisely this tan colour-scheme), or some chemical discoloration in the photo or the page turned a grey Stratos brown… yet somehow the other Masters were not affected. The second explanation seems less likely as only Stratos was altered! My guess is that the first explanation is the correct one, but without that book I have no proof.
    Thanks to Super7, I at last have a brown / tan Stratos… but I sure wish I’d kept that catalogue.

    1. Hello, Adam! (Or should I call you Prince Adam?)

      It’s difficult to say which catalogue it was because my Mum and my Nan had so many of them! However, the catalogues they used the most were Grattan, Freeman’s, Littlewoods, and J.D. Williams, (these are all English companies, by the way).

      Each of those companies published two catalogues a year, and you’d have to check from around 1982 all the way to 1989, I guess. Even so, in the end it might not have been a catalogue from those companies at all; Mum and Nan might have picked up a book by someone else along the way. It would indeed be quite a task…, although I’d have to concede not an impossible one.

      I wish I’d kept that book! It would have prevented such a headache!

  5. Hello, Adam! (Or should I call you Prince Adam?)

    It’s difficult to say which catalogue it was because my Mum and my Nan had so many of them! However, the catalogues they used the most were Grattan, Freeman’s, Littlewoods, and J.D. Williams, (these are all English companies, by the way).

    These companies would publish two catalogues a year, and you’d have to check every one of them from 1982 to ’89, I’d guess. Even so, in the end it might not have been a catalogue from those companies at all; Mum and Nan might have picked up a book by someone else along the way. It would indeed be quite a task…, although I’d have to concede not an impossible one.

    I wish I’d kept that book! It would have prevented such a headache!

    1. due to how most things English are rarely highlighted on the internet, your best bet to find copies of them catalogues to check is popping into the University of Worcester.. or they did house it.. though i’m afraid I’m not interested in the 4+ hours drive up north for it…

  6. Okay, I still haven’t got any proof about the brown / tan Stratos figure… but I HAVE got proof that prototype figures WERE sometimes used for catalogue photography sessions!
    Just look at Teela in the first photo’ in the first post of this JC Penny thread, and then read the fifth and sixth comments later on in the thread. I think you’ll find these posts interesting!

    http://www.he-man.org/forums/boards/showthread.php?273564-He-Man-Toys-The-JCPenney-Christmas-Catalogs-1982-86

    Enjoy!

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