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 conceived as a villain at an early stage of his development.
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.
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:
This design also appears in the cross sell art:
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: Michael Jay/Ben Massa
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:
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.
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:
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.
Stratos is a supporting character throughout the 1982-1983 run of Masters of the Universe comics by DC Comics.
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 :
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.
Of course, in the Filmation Series Guide he looks a lot closer to the toy:
Stratos also makes some appearances in Rudy Obrero’s Castle Grayskull, Wind Raider and 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.