Catalogs

1982 Mattel Wish List, plus a look at early MOTU product photography

Mattel’s 1982 Wish List is a pamphlet-sized little advertisement for the latest and greatest Mattel had to offer at the time. It was distributed as an insert in the November 16, 1982 issue of Family Circle magazine.

Barbie gets the most print space in the Wish List, but there is a page and a half devoted to the brand new (at the time) Masters of the Universe toyline.

Image scanned by John Oswald

The photographer attempted to spice things up with some clear plastic rods, although I’m not really sure what they’re supposed to be in this context.

Quite often catalog photography can be a good source for images of prototype or at least hand-painted pre-production versions of these toys. In fact, you generally tell how early or late these images were taken by the number of prototypes in them. The more prototypes, the earlier the photo was taken.

In this case, almost everything in the Wish List is a standard (first release) version of the mass produced toys. Skeletor is the first run “orange cheeks” and half boots version. Unlike earlier catalog photos, both Battle Ram and Wind Raider are the final, mass-produced versions. Stratos in this picture is not a prototype, but he is the ultra-rare, early “blue beard” version.

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Notice that He-Man is captioned “Strongest man in the universe!” Some early sources refer to him that way, but it was quickly changed to “Most powerful man in the universe!”
Blue Beard Stratos

The Battle Cat in this catalog isn’t technically a prototype, but it’s rare enough that it might as well be. A small number of factory Battle Cats were made with striped tails and orange lines around the mouth, based on pattern of the original hand-painted prototype. Unlike “blue beard” Stratos, this version does not appear to have ever been sold in stores. They may have been early samples that were intended to be use for product photography.

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Teela on stripe-tailed Battle Cat

Castle Grayskull is a little unusual here as well. I’ve only seen one example in the wild with so little black paint around the eye and nose region. This could be another early factory sample intended  for product photography, or it could just be an early release example.

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Zodac, Wind Raider, and Mer-Man

The Man-At-Arms in the photo is the second prototype version – you can tell by the wrist extension on his armor that was removed on the mass-produced toy:

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Prototype Man-At-Arms riding Battle Ram

The earliest known example of Mattel photography of MOTU toys comes from a series of promotional slides shared by Andy Youssi (below). All of the toys in this series are early prototypes. In fact this series is so early that we see the “Lords of Power” label, a working title for the toyline before “Masters of the Universe” was settled on. This is an amazing assortment of early concept images, some of which had not been seen until recently. Most of them (Skeletor, Beast Man and Mer-Man) are not even articulated.

He-Man is the closest to being finished, but he lacks his left forearm bracer and his hands are both closed and not quite finished. Man-At-Arms is quite a bit more detailed than the late-stage prototype that came out later. Battle Cat is hand painted and features the orange mouth and tail stripes that persist in early product photography. The Battle Ram prototype is more finely detailed than the final toy. Castle Grayskull is also larger and more detailed, with the ledge and pointed helmet that appeared in many early illustrations. A more in-depth look at these images is available here.

The second earliest known example of MOTU photography comes from the 1981 licensing kit, called Fast Male Action For Licensees. The kit contains some amazing Errol McCarthy artwork, but it also has some great toy photography featuring quite a few of prototypes, although most of them more late stage than the ones featured in the “Lords of Power” series. Prototypes include: Teela, Battle Cat, Zodac, Stratos, Man-At-Arms, Wind Raider, and Battle Ram. The Battle Ram prototype is the same one seen in the “Lords of Power” set. Teela appears to be an unarticulated statue.

Castle Grayskull here is a finely painted pre-production model, finalized in shape and modified in many ways from the previous prototype. In fact, just about everything here, with the apparent exception of He-Man, appears to be hand-painted, at the very least. I would guess that many of these that appear to be final sculpts were cast at Mattel, and hadn’t gone to the factory yet.

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Prototype Teela, recreating a scene depicted in He-Man and the Power Sword (or vice versa)
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Prototype Battle Cat with orange mouth
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Prototype Battle Ram and Man-At-Arms
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Hand-painted Skeletor model
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Notice that the prototype Wind Raider is missing its figure head.

You can follow the development of these photos as you see prototypes start to disappear. The photos from 1982 Mattel Dealer Catalog show the same prototypes and models as the license kit photos, with two exceptions; Battle Ram, which appears in its final (albeit hand-painted) form, and Stratos, who now sports a hairy chest:

A similar photo used in the 1982 dealer catalog shows up in a 1983 Dutch catalog. This one features smoke in the background, and it’s cropped and arranged slightly differently.

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It also shows up in this 1985 Mattel France catalog:

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Image source: Super Shogun

The same photo also shows up in this 1982 store display:

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Very similar-looking photos with identical models appear on the sides of the original Castle Grayskull box. They appear to have been taken during the same session as the photos used in the 1982 Dealer Catalog:

Some higher quality versions of a few of these photos (and an alternate version of the Beast Man picture) come to us via Grayskull Museum (who in turn got them from Mark Taylor):

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I suspect several of the images from the 1984 UK Masters of the Universe Annual were also taken at about the same time. These images also give us an interior view of the hand-painted Castle Grayskull model (although the image is reversed):

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The photo in this MOTU advertisement seems to have been taken a bit later than the dealer catalog photos. Every figure here seems to be hand-painted. We still have the late-stage prototype Man-At-Arms (evidenced by the wrist extension on his armor). We also see a new prototype version of Teela, different from previous versions, with Barbie-like leg articulation.

The photo that appeared in an early French mini comic appears to come from a slightly later session still. Stratos’ colors have now been reversed (this is the “blue beard” version that we saw in the Mattel Wish Book). He appears to be a production sample rather than a hand-painted model. We have final, production versions of Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and He-Man. We see the striped tail Battle Cat (like the 1982 Wish List, this one does not appear to be hand-painted). We still have the finely painted Castle Grayskull model. We see the same Teela prototype that appeared in the previous advertisement.

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Image source: Grayskull Museum
The full image without cropping or text. Source: Catone82, via Gec Blec

The 1982 Sears and JCPenny Catalog pictures (below) were probably taken sometime after the photo from the French mini comic. We can again see the striped tail factory sample Battle Cat, and a later, almost final Teela prototype. Her sculpt is finalized, but her paint applications are more in keeping with earlier prototypes and design drawings. The castles are first release factory versions. Everything else looks pretty “off the shelf”.

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Image source: R.M. Hart
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The 1982 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog is very similar to the above 1982 Sears catalog, featuring the display model Castle Grayskull and striped-tail Battle Cat:

Image source: John Oswald

The photo used for the Masters of the Universe Poster (below) was probably taken later than many of of the product photos in this series (I would place the 1982 Wish List photo second or third to last). Just about every toy here is a mass-produced example. This is the only photo in the series to feature a standard Battle Cat. The Castle Grayskull in this photo is likely another very early factory example, similar to the 1982 Wish Book photo.

Again we see the “blue beard” Stratos. I believe that while the hand-painted prototypes for Stratos had red wings, blue armor and a gray beard, the very first-factory produced versions had the blue beard, blue wings and red armor (which is consistent with Mark Taylor’s original B-sheet drawing). Then at some point the factories started producing figures using the prototype color scheme. It sounds a bit convoluted, but that seems to be what the photographic evidence is saying.

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Finally, this photo from the reverse side of the 1982 store display (discussed earlier) shows finalized and typical examples of the 1982 Masters of the Universe action figure lineup:

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Addendum:

This technically isn’t “early” product photography, but strangely it does feature a hand-painted Castle Grayskull, along with the new product lineup from 1984:

Image source: Wishbook

Return to Table of Contents.

Interviews

Mark & Rebecca Taylor on the origins of He-Man

Mark Taylor is the designer behind so many beloved icons in the He-Man universe: He-Man, Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, Teela, Stratos, Beast Man, Mer-Man, Zodac, Castle Grayskull, Battle Cat, Man-E-Faces, Ram Man, and even an early version of Prince Adam. Mark and his wife Rebecca were gracious enough to answer some of my questions about the origins of these characters, and the process of bringing them to life.

Battle Ram: Thank you both so much for agreeing to answer my questions. I recently interviewed Ted Mayer and Rudy Obrero. It’s a thrill and an honor to also be able to interview you now!

Mark: Adam, thank you for your interest, both Ted and Rudy are my friends as well as excellent designers.  It was a pleasure to work with them on He-Man.  I do not call the brand MOTU because that was just a Mattel marketing and management concept. “Masters of the Universe” also helped them separate it from a potential lawsuit with the Conan property owners.  It also was part of their effort to remove the concept from the original creator and inventor, me.

BR: You were originally hired by Mattel to work on packaging. How did you come to be the designer for He-Man?

Mark: At the age of eleven I was a compulsive reader and drawer, I love story telling and adventure, influenced by Hal Foster’s beautiful strip and Burroughs and Howard’s books. I started telling my own heroic story.

I went to Art Center, Cal State and worked for the US Navy (Combat Illustrator). Then through a friend I found out there was an opening at Mattel in Visual Development group.  They were a very talented “bullpen” who were responsible for the appearance of the product which included packaging but also the products’ labels, color, details and early engineering drawings.  This was a perfect fit for me, and I was promptly assigned to work on Barbie product, which was a honor because Barbie has always been Mattel’s cash cow.

Mark Taylor in his early Mattel days. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer
“Death of Mark Taylor From Night Visitation.” Artwork by Colin Bailey, January 23, 1981. Given to Mark when he was working on his “dark project” (He-Man). Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor.

BR: He-Man and Skeletor seem very primordial and archetypal to me.  He-Man is the embodiment of life and vitality; Skeletor is the embodiment of death and decay. When you were designing these characters, was any of that running through your head?

Mark: He-Man’s original name was Torak, Hero of Prehistory. He was the defender of the weak and righteous and foe of bullies and villains.  This powerful hero needed a worthy adversary who embodied evil and sorcery on every level.

Torak, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation, via the Toy Masters documentary sneak preview.

Skeletor was influenced by many literary sources but visually by a carnival scare ride with a skeleton like figure that dropped down and rattled (turned out to be a real mummified outlaw); also a lot of Mexican Day of the Dead art and sculpting. Skeletor had to be powerful in his own right and believe completely in his cause as much as Torak (He-Man).

The battle was set, a righteous hero mounted on a giant Battle Cat verses a nefarious villain imbued with mystical evil powers.  The clash of arms could be heard to the ends of the earth.

The Sunbird Legacy cover art by Earl Norem

BR:  So He-Man originated with your Torak character, which I believe you had been working on since the 1950s. Did Skeletor originate from that same time?

Mark: Absolutely. Skeletor evolved simultaneously with Torak, it had to be this way.  They were the yin and yang,  the reason for being, opposites to battle forever.

BR: As far as I can tell, Stratos was originally supposed to be an evil warrior (correct me if I’m wrong!), but then he was released as a heroic warrior. Were there any other characters who ended up switching sides?

Mark: Yes many, the early figures that switched sides were, Beast Man, Teela, Stratos, Man-E-Faces and Ram Man. It was a money thing, we had to release the figures, vehicles, playsets and accessories in waves to pay for the tooling and advertising.  Mattel did not really believe in the line until after Castle Grayskull was a big hit. Then it was just a matter of corporate greed as to how much we could jam down the public’s throat. I left to work on TMNT.

BR: Can you talk about your working relationship with Ted Mayer on the Masters of the Universe toy line?

Mark: Ted is an industrial designer, I am a designer/illustrator. I sketched out the line but needed help with the vehicles.  I requested Ted and he did a great job. It was important that the figure controlling the vehicle be very visual, we didn’t have a movie to explain and promote our product like Star Wars did.

Battle Ram concept by Ted Mayer

BR: How did you come to hire Rudy Obrero to do paintings for the packaging artwork? Can you speak a little bit about your experience working with him?

Mark: He was the only guy who could paint like Frank Frazetta, he was great to work with.  Always came back with more and better than I expected.  He would do great stuff from very little reference material. We were turning out stuff like crazy fast.  It was like we were joined at the imagination.

Battle Cat box art, by Rudy Obrero

BR: Mattel took quite a risk in producing your designs that were not based on any previous intellectual property. It was a risk that obviously paid off. Do you think toy companies today are more hesitant to take those kinds of risks?

Mark: Mattel took no chances at first. Ray Wagner, President of Mattel at that time, laid his reputation on the line and went against everyone else to give Masters a lift off.  We were forced to do illegal child testing early on (another lame boys toy was supposed to be tested, but the Preliminary guys weren’t ready). We snuck in thanks to Angie DiMicco.  I was there with He-Man, Teela,  Beast Man, Battle Cat and Skeletor. The kids tried to steal the prototypes after the testing. We had a hit.

BR:  A lot of characters went through color changes as they went through development (either to themselves or their costumes or both). Examples include Beast Man, Mer-Man, Teela and Ram Man. What was driving those changes?

Mark: Sorry to admit it, but cost.  Later when the brand was making billions no one cared but in the beginning engineering pinched every penny, especially in paint masks.  Also there was a conscious effort to avoid anything that resembled Star Wars or Conan in any way.

BR: Mer-Man went through quite a few changes from B-sheet to final toy. What was behind the changes to his design, particularly the changes to his face?

Mark: Mer-Man tested the lowest. Tony Guerrero the great sculptor and I chased the negative child test comments until we finally realized the marketeers were just messing with us and then we went with what we had.  Mer-Man was the weakest but people who like him really like him (I based him on Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing).

Swamp Thing, by Bernie Wrightson

BR: There is a character you designed who fans refer to now as Demo-Man. Do you see him as an early incarnation of Skeletor or Beast Man?

Mark: No, he was a separate concept that I was too busy to exploit, I was working until the sun came up and the Mattel building was empty. I was pretty much running on fumes.  I would have loved to take him further but like so many concepts corporate profit came first.

Demo-Man, by Mark Taylor

BR:  You designed the armor and helmet for Battle Cat as a way to reuse the Big Jim tiger. Can you talk a little bit about that design? The helmet design is quite striking, like some mythical beast.

Mark: I had used the Cat on the Tarzan line, I liked the sculpt but the 5.30″ He Man figures wouldn’t ride on him and I wanted him to ride on a huge cat.  Nobody messes with a guy riding a huge armored cat!  I had seen a guy ride a regular tiger in the circus and wow!

The head armor came from my childhood sketches and had to be engineered for costs and molding ease or the marketeers would lose it (thanks Ted).

Battle Cat, by Mark Taylor

BR:  The colors green and orange seem to be pretty prominent on those early toys (Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, Wind Raider). Is there a story behind that color scheme?

Mark: Not just a story but a lot of work and fighting, those colors were not very common in action toys. They pop but looked somewhat alien. I definitely did not want Battle Cat to look like a real tiger, he was much more that but they sold out on him in the animation and later toys after I left.  He or He-Man were NEVER supposed to be silly in my imagination.

He-Man and Battle Cat box art by Rudy Obrero


BR:  Did you have an origin story in mind when you designed Man-E-Faces? How about Ram Man?

Mark: Yes, but no one was interested, they wanted to ship it out immediately to animators and movie producers, you know “professionals”.  I designed him to have a different and interesting feature besides a twist waist. All the answers to my original story are in clues in Castle Grayskull, where they should be like a puzzle.

BR: Teela and the Sorceress/Goddess (the one with the snake armor) were originally separate characters. Whose decision was it to combine them into a single action figure? How did you feel about that? Did you intend the sorceress character to be a hero or a villain?

Mark: She was actually supposed to be a changeling but the comic book guys had a hard time with that. Also, the head of girls toys wanted to rip her off for Princess of Power (because now the line was very hot!). She was intended to be like a spy and play both sides with some magic but the “professionals” felt that was too complex (I guess they don’t get Game of Thrones either).

BR: In the first couple of years of the toyline, all of the vehicles seem to be geared toward the good guys. Why was that?

Mark: Don’t forget Skeletor used MAGIC but He-Man never did. Skeletor could animate anything and go anywhere.  In my mind that was one of the main differences between the main characters and their followers.

BR: The late Tony Guerrero sculpted a lot of the early He-Man figures. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to work with him?

Mark: Tony was a great artist and a really nice man and it was my honor to work with him. I also worked on another project, TMNT with a nice and super talented guy named Scott Hensey. Working with both of these sculptors allowed me to break custom by adding a step to the development process. On the He-Man line we did a looks like beauty sculpt, non articulated from my “B” sheet (design sketch) for testing and sales and until we got the first shots from China.  This was Tony’s idea and without this extra step,  the confidence in this “weird” concept wouldn’t have happened.  I repeated this process with the Turtles.

Early He-Man sculpture by Tony Guerrero. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

BR: These toys were a surprise, runaway success. What is it about He-Man that made it so successful, do you think?

Mark: Everybody pushes us little guys around, we secretly want to strike back at all the bullies.  We need to feel like we can make things better and are willing to fight to do it.  With He-Man we have the power!  We have a chance.  I feel that the  basic concept of courage cannot be taught, it can only be shown.

BR: What did you envision for Zodac when you designed him? What were his abilities and where did he fit in to the MOTU universe?

Mark: Zodac was all about flying. He was the air wing. I was influenced by Flash Gordon and the flying Vikings.

BR: Castle Grayskull is probably the greatest playset ever made, and I understand that you sculpted most of it yourself? What was that process like? What does Castle Grayskull mean to you?

Mark: Yes I did because Tony was busy with the figures and the other sculptors kept making it too architectural.  I wanted it to the castle to be organic, coming to life to tell its story.  I made a wood armature and sculpted it in green clay. Ted helped with the plaster mold and vacuum forming, Rebecca did the labels. Marketing (now everyone wants in on the game) wanted it to retail for twenty nine dollars.  The imaginative user applied labels themselves to offset the lack of interior walls.  Toys R Us sold all they could get fifty dollars which was quite a mark up.


BR: Rebecca, I understand you worked on the stickers and cardboard inserts used in Castle Grayskull. The style ranges from regal to almost psychedelic. What did you have in mind when you were working on that project?

Rebecca: The only chance Mark had to tell the story was with the castle. He always said, “all the answers are in Castle Grayskull”, which is quite a different direction that it eventually went. Once the president of Mattel Ray Wagner chose to go with it, everything moved at such a high velocity because he wanted it and no one else understood it.

Mark asked me to combine classic icons along with futuristic ones because he was going against Star Wars and after all it was a ” warrior-type” premise that had to somehow be more than Conan, Tarzan etc.

Mark had sketches in ancient sketchbooks which I took and redesigned stickers from. I did the designing, drawing, inking and coloring, that includes labels for vehicles as well as directed by and revised by Mark. Just like every label job, I was given areas that I had to fit. Because everything was going so fast, sometimes those areas would change shape and would have to be redrawn on the fly in those cases Mark was redrawing my stuff because he was hands on with the castle. Because we’ve worked together for decades, we speak in brain waves.

I think the reason they are perceived as “psychedelic” is because Mark said, “We’re already going somewhere no one else has so don’t render the labels in the normal hard edged graphic way. I used Dr. Martin’s Dyes and let the colors run and wash into the line art. I think it went through because it was so fast and still no one really “got it”.

It wasn’t until after it looked like it might be “big” did people start making decisions to get connected to the project or shall I say get their “scent” on it if you know what I mean. The innovation on those labels happened because Mark was approving and controlling this project and I knew what he wanted. I’ve done many labels for other toy companies and no one has ever asked me for “something really different” and yet these were a big hit.

I was always disappointed that the Mylar printed moat that surrounded the castle was costed out.

Printed Mark Taylor moat reproduction from the Power & Honor Foundation

BR: Was Errol McCarthy responsible for creating the cross sell artwork on the back of the packaging (below)?

Mark: In the beginning it was someone else and then Errol came in.

BR: MOTU differs a bit from traditional sword and sorcery in that it includes laser guns and flying vehicles. What was behind the inclusion of science fiction with barbarian elements?

Mark: I never wanted it to be a traditional. If I was still working on it I probably would have added zombies, aliens and time travel.  Why not?

BR:  Often in the process from b-sheet to prototype to finished toy, there are a lot design changes. Which finished toy were you most pleased with? Which one do you feel didn’t live up to its potential?

Mark: Castle Grayskull was the best and most innovative, Mer-Man left me a little unsatisfied.

BR: In a nutshell, what is your vision for Eternia? What kind of place is it?

Mark: Eternia is a stupid name to me (not my name). I imagined that world be like a nightmare that you can modify as you go.  ALWAYS about hope.

BR:  In public appearances you often talk about Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. What has been your personal hero’s journey?

Mark: My wife Rebecca epitomizes attaining a fulfilling goal, she is my Nirvana.  My life is filled with beauty and love, I wish everyone could be as lucky as I.

BR: Are you both still actively involved in creating artwork? What kinds of projects are you passionate about now?

Mark: I am writing a the original prequel to He-Man based on the original Torak.  Also an autobiography about my life in the toy biz. I am fascinated by computer 3D design but it is very non-intuitive for me.  I still love to read and watch movies, I wish I had the resources to make one.

Rebecca: I work on digital art because it is so easy to create my style of graphic art which is strongly based on shapes and color. It is so exciting to me to be able to have such a magnificent palette and to be able to experiment with unlimited color combinations with a couple of keystrokes.

Many thanks to Mark and Rebecca for patiently answering all of my questions. Hopefully we can look forward to a book or two from Mark in the future!

Additional interviews and appearances by Mark and Rebecca:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYYnq_NfQGM

10 Things We Learned From Mark Taylor, the Designer of He-Man – The Robot’s Voice

Q&A with Mark Taylor – Zetaboards

Return to Table of Contents.

Evil Warriors, Heroic Warriors

Zodac – Cosmic Enforcer (1982)

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The most enigmatic of all Masters of the Universe characters, Zodac was released in the second half of 1982. A late addition to the first wave of figures, Zodac was created to round out the original group of eight figures.

Design & Development

It’s probably fairly well known among fans now that two separate Mark Taylor characters, Teela and Sorceress (aka Goddess), were eventually combined into a single character (Teela). Apparently Mattel’s marketing group didn’t think there was enough demand for two female action figures in one year. That left seven figures for the first year, instead of the eight that were planned. Enter Zodac.

Another Mark Taylor design, Zodac borrowed Skeletor’s arms and legs and Beast Man’s furry chest. New parts included his head, armor, and blaster.

Zodac was originally called Sensor. The idea was that his space-age looking helmet gave him heightened sensory perception.

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From the Mark Taylor Portfolio, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation
Image source: The Toys That Made Us/The Power and the Honor Foundation. Artwork by Mark Taylor.

As indicated by the artwork above, the design stuck closely to the textured arm and leg sculpts used on the finalized versions of Skeletor and Mer-Man.

When the cross sell art was created, Zodac was given very similar forearms and boots to the ones used in the Skeletor and Mer-Man cross sell art, rather than the more textured look of the actual toys. Perhaps this was done to maintain consistency across the artwork:

Zodac cross sell art. Image courtesy of Tokyonever.
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Skeletor cross sell art

The prototype is somewhat different from the final figure. Like the b-sheet, the lower sides of Zodac’s helmet are red (they are painted gray in the production version). The white design on his chest armor is quite thick compared to the final toy, and the gun seems to have a wider barrel but narrower “fins” and a shorter handle compared to the toy version.

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Prototype Zodac
Prototype Zodac

Production Figure

The final has some slight alterations to the armor and gun, but it otherwise very similar to the prototype:

The very first Taiwan release has this unique-looking connector piece on the lower back. Subsequent versions have a more standardized look compared to other first wave figures.

Zodac’s armor has “bullets” stored bandolier-style at the sides of his armor. I think that’s a really interesting touch, as you don’t normally associate laser pistols with bullets. I like to think his weapon is a fairly primitive kind of laser pistol that can only get off one shot at a time using some kind of single-use cartridge – possibly scavenged from the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Bullets!

Cosmic Enforcer & Beyond

Zodac was originally sold on the “8-back” with the tag line, “Cosmic Enforcer”. But what is a cosmic enforcer?

According to the 1981 Mattel licensing kit (the earliest material we have on Zodac), it meant that Zodac was a bounty hunter. The Empire Strikes Back had come out the year before, and Boba Fett was a very popular character. It may be that Zodac was portrayed this way to capitalize on that popularity. The original intent by creator Mark Taylor, however, was for Zodac to be a heroic warrior,

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Source: He-Man.org

The above describes Zodac as “The Cosmic Enforcer. The bounty hunter of our exciting universe.” Contrast that to Mark Taylor’s original description of his character:

Sensor: Man of the the future scientifically heightened senses, knowledge & weapons. Acts in support roll to He-man and as a foil to Tee La’s mystic nature.

The bounty hunter thing didn’t stick, and Zodac very quickly became a kind of cosmic observer (much like Jack Kirby’s Metron character), intervening in Eternian affairs only when absolutely necessary.

In the 1982 DC Comics MOTU series, Zodac is “rider of the spaceways”. Like Metron, he travels through space in a flying chair (in this case it’s the throne from Castle Grayskull). He is not aligned with the heroic warriors, but he does intervene when it looks like Skeletor is about to gain too much of an advantage:

In Fate is the Killer, Zodac describes himself as “neither good nor evil”. In the panels below, he tells He-Man that he must take him from Eternia, or else kill him, for the good of the planet:

In the 1983 Sword of Skeletor by publisher Golden Books, Zodac is described as a wizard, but he serves the same function as the DC comics Zodac. He intervenes to get He-Man into Castle Grayskull, so he can stop Skeletor, who has taken control. All of this is to keep the “balance between good and evil”.

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From The Sword of Skeletor

In the 1983 comic, Power of Point Dread (the large version that came with the Point Dread & Talon Fighter playset and vehicle), Zodac again steps in at the last minute to aid He-Man. Zodac speaks of keeping a universal balance, which Skeletor has threatened by keeping He-Man from guarding Castle Grayskull. Zodac rights the balance by showing He-Man the Talon Fighter, which he uses to defeat Skeletor:

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In the 1983 Filmation cartoon, Zodac is again presented as a Metron-like figure, stepping in at the last minute to indirectly intervene. In some ways Zodac is also a kind of Eternian god.

In the cartoon he is clearly an all-powerful character who sees and understands all. The most important of his three episodes is “The Search”, in which he sends He-Man out on a quest to prevent Skeletor reaching the Star Seed, a powerful object that will give him control over the whole universe. A twist ending reveals that Zodac set up the whole affair, telling Skeletor of the Star Seed and sending He-Man to defend it, in a test of He-Man’s ability to resist the temptation of using the Star Seed’s power for himself. – Wiki Grayskull

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zodac filmation
Source: Filmationcels.com  Colors by Jukka Issakainen

In the episode “Golden Disks of Knowledge”, it’s revealed that Zodac is the last member of the “Council of the Wise”. At the episode’s conclusion, Zodac transforms Zanthor (who had redeemed himself after some misdeeds) into a fellow cosmic enforcer. He’s even given the same costume as Zodac:

zanthor screen grab

The 1982 MOTU Bible, written by Michael Halperin, describes the character like this:

 ZODAC, the wise leader of the Council of Elders, called to the stars for advice… The Council listened to the vision which promised them that if ever the forces of evil should try overcoming Eternia a champion would arise to defend the planet…

Zodac gathered the Council of Elders in the Hall of Wisdom and collectively they concentrated their mind force until the sheer power of their consciousness created a mighty force field. At that moment, an implosion cracked through the corridors of the Hall and the Council disappeared in a blinding flash of energy. Only Zodac retained his human form as one of the Eternia’s guardians.

The 1984 UK Annual describes Zodac like this:

Although neither good nor evil, Zodac, the Cosmic Enforcer, has a vital role to play in this battle between good and evil. There have been many times when Skeletor has attempted to alter the balance of the universe – and several times when he has almost succeeded. In a situation like this, Zodac’s role is to prevent this – by tipping the scales to achieve another balance. This often means informing He-Man of what his enemy is planning to do – or by showing him the future if Zodac is successful, so that He-Man himself can do something about it. Zodac never interferes directly in the affairs of Eternia, but we may be sure that he is always watching.

Evil Cosmic Enforcer

Obviously not everyone at Mattel was on the same page with the story line that had developed between 1982 and 1983. On the 1983 reissued 12-back card, Zodac is portrayed unambiguously as an evil warrior. The artwork by Errol McCarthy shows Zodac attacking He-Man with his blaster.

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Illustration by Errol McCarthy

By 1983, cross sell art appearing in minicomics and on packaging rebranded Zodac as the “Evil Cosmic Enforcer”.

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attak trak back - Copy
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Image source: Vaults of Grayskull. Notice that his name is spelled with a “K” here. That spelling would later be used in the 2002 MOTU series.

I should also note that Zodac also appears in another 1983 figure sheet as simply “Cosmic enforcer” (his name is also spelled correctly):

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In this 1983 commercial featuring all Masters of the Universe characters produced up until that time, Zodac is grouped with the Evil Warriors:

In the Ladybird-published 1986 He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom, Zodac is portrayed as Skeletor’s evil flunky:

The 1984 mini comic “Slave City” originally featured a villain named Zodak. When the team producing the comic book discovered that “Zodak” had an actual settled on appearance, they changed the villain’s name to Lodar by altering some of the letters in the text:

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Reconstructed by Jukka Issakainen

Zodac appeared on the side of the Evil Warriors in this poster illustrated by William George:

1984 william george poster
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Artwork by R.L. Allen; Zodac is being attacked by Man-E-Faces

In several coloring books Zodac was portrayed as a heroic warrior:

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1st wave poster
Icons of the first wave

Zodac in Action

A photo and a short video of Skeletor in action, contributed by Øyvind Meisfjord:

Zodac wasn’t heavily promoted, and I don’t remember him being all that popular with my friends when I was a kid. Maybe it was because we didn’t know what to do with Zodac. But like Faker, he has become something of a cult favorite among MOTU fans today.

Rudy Obrero Zodac
Zodac’s one and only appearance in box art – from Rudy Obrero’s Castle Grayskull illustration

 Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen for providing valuable feedback and several images.

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Evil Warriors

Beast Man – Savage henchman! (1982)

Beast Man Graphic

One of the great evil underlings of 1980s children’s entertainment, Beast Man was among the first four Masters of the Universe figures released in 1982.

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As we know from the earliest mini comics, 1982 figures were actually split up into two separate sub-waves:

Wave 1a:

  • He-Man
  • Man-At-Arms
  • Skeletor
  • Beast Man
  • Castle Grayskull
  • Battle Ram

Wave 1b:

  1. Teela
  2. Stratos
  3. Mer-Man
  4. Zodac
  5. Wind Raider
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When the Masters of the Universe line was under development in 1980 and 1981, some effort was made to reuse sculpts from previous Mattel toy lines, such as Big Jim and Tarzan. Mattel artist Mark Taylor first conceived of Beast Man as a savage bear creature, possibly intending it to reuse the Grizzly Adams “Ben” bear mold.

grizzly
Source: PlaidStallions.com
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Red Beast, by Mark Taylor
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Red Beast, by Mark Taylor

This creature, known to fans now as Red Beast, was brightly colored and fierce looking. Although he bears little to resemblance to Beast Man as we know him, the spiked armor around his neck, the wrist gauntlets and the metal claws would all find their way onto the final design.

The idea of producing a bear creature was dropped because Mattel executives didn’t want to make something too close to Chewbacca (although it’s hard to see much resemblance between the two, beyond the shaggy fur).

Another existing sculpt that Mattel tried to reuse was a gorilla figure that had appeared in both the Big Jim and Tarzan toy lines in the 1970s. The gorilla’s arms could be controlled with a dial on the figure’s back:

Both Mark Taylor and Roger Sweet tried to turn the gorilla into a new figure for the MOTU toy line. Roger Sweet’s creation, Gygor, was unrelated to the development of Beast Man. Roger Sweet, in his Mastering the Universe book, wrote:

I changed the ape’s body color from black to bright yellow and gave him a dark olive-green face and chest.His face in contorted with white teeth snarling in an open mouth of blood red. I gave him a black body harness. From his shoulders I hung a dark maroon cape. When I showed “Gygor” to marketing Mark Ellis said that is [expletive] great!!! Ted Mayer in my design group created a striking full-color illustration of the beast, with He-Man mounted on his back. Gygor was decked out with a panoply of harnesses and weapons.

gygor-proto_full
Source: He-Man.org
Red Gygor (With He-Man) (Power & Honor Catalog) - Copy
Source: Power & Honor Foundation

Mark Taylor, on the other hand, used the Big Jim Gorilla buck to further refine his own Beast Man concept (keeping in mind that the name Beast Man is not attached to any of these images). In this version the spiked armor around the neck from Red Beast is retained in modified form, but the spiked weapons on the hands were removed. The wrist gauntlets actually recall earlier Mark Taylor concept drawings for He-Man. Finally, a belt was added to the character, which featured a compass-like design that would find its way onto the final Beast Man figure.

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Image Source: Grayskull Museum

Here’s another version of the character with gold armor, boney spikes, and a slightly different face:

Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor. Artwork by Mark Taylor.

This general design was used to create what I believe is the first Beast Man prototype. If it’s not the first, then it’s very early, indeed. This Beast Man (below) follows the general shape of the red gorilla design above, but is colored with the familiar orange fur and red armor. This is not, however, a repainted big Jim Gorilla, as it’s in scale with the other early prototype figures (the Big Jim gorilla is much larger).

Image source: Andy Youssi
Image Source: Andy Youssi

Another design that seems to have some features in common with Beast Man is the character who has come to be known as Demo-Man:

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Demo Man, by Mark Taylor

Another Mark Taylor design, Demo Man is often thought of as an early version of Skeletor, although Taylor himself says he was a separate character. But if you take a close look at his features, he has elements in common with both Beast Man and Skeletor. In the drawing above, we can see that Demo Man has a hunched, beastly posture, spiked gauntlets, a spiked arm pad, a whip-like flail weapon, a beard, and even a pendant around his neck that vaguely recalls the one on Beast Man’s armor. This isn’t Beast Man, but he might be his long lost undead cousin.

In any case, at some point it was decided that the Big Jim gorilla style body would not be used, and so Beast Man was given a unique, updated sculpt. This 1981 Mark Taylor B-sheet shows a synthesis of his earlier designs into an all-new beastly character with simian features. In this B-sheet he is called Beast Man, but he had previously been given the working name of Tree Man:

In this version we see a call out for the familiar color scheme of orange fur with red armor. But it appears from the first mini comic (“He-Man and the Power Sword”) that Beast Man’s color scheme was originally dominated by red, like the predecessor bear and gorilla designs. Perhaps they were still playing with color options at this point.

Here is how he would have looked if he had been colored like the toy:

The first mini comics featured cross sell artwork closely patterned after the prototype figures and B-sheet designs. The cross sell artwork that made it onto the back of the packaging was usually (but not always) closer to final.

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Mini comic cross sell art (Alfredo Alcala)

There are a couple of different “final” prototypes for Beast Man. The first is the version that made it into Mattel’s 1982 dealer catalog and onto the side of the packaging for Castle Grayskull. That version (below) has very nicely applied paint on the compass-like design on his chest armor, with each part individually painted blue:

Image source: Grayskull museum

There’s another final prototype that seems to have a paint pattern designed for mass production, with a messy spray of blue on the center of the chest armor:

Image source: Grayskull Museum

That version seems to have been the model for Beast Man’s finalized cross sell artwork, shown below:

Beast Man cross sell best
Cross sell artwork used on cardbacks. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

Note the compass element on Beast Man’s armor, the spikes around his neck, and the spiked weapon on his hand – all elements from previous Mark Taylor designs.

The name “Beast Man” may have been consciously or unconsciously borrowed from the Beastman figure from Mattel’s Flash Gordon line.

1980 Mattel Toy Fair Dealer catalogue Flash Gordon 1.jpg
From the 1980 Mattel Dealer Catalog

Beast Man came with three separate armor pieces and a whip weapon recycled from Big Jim’s The Whip action figure:

big jim the whip

As a side note, the accessories count seems pretty methodically planned for the first wave of figures. Figures in the first half of the first wave (He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and Beast Man) were packaged with four accessories each, in various combinations of removable armor, weapons, and/or shields. The second half of the first wave was somewhat cost reduced, with two to three accessories included per figure.

In any case, Beast Man’s armor is the characteristic soft plastic used throughout 1982 and 1983. His whip (designed for a 12-inch figure, it’s technically too big for him, and he has to hold it by the hand guard) has a plastic handle and a cloth string. He is one of only three 1982 figures to be given a paint application on his armor (the others are He-Man and Zodac). The compass-like shape on Beast Man’s chest armor is painted blue. There is an unpainted, smaller version of the compass on the back of his chest armor.

I always found Beast Man’s face intriguing. He has a white face with blue markings under his eyes and over his upper lip. I’m unsure if this is supposed to be his actual face coloring or war paint (there has been some debate among fans about this over the years). As a kid I assumed it was makeup of some kind, maybe because I had been exposed to enough 80’s music videos to make that connection. Perhaps the intent was to give him an appearance similar the golden snub-nosed monkey:

Beast Man featured shorter legs and longer arms than He-Man or Skeletor, befitting his ape-like appearance. His legs, arms and chest were later reused to make Stratos and Moss Man (the latter also reused Beast Man’s head).

Beast Man was originally released on the “8-back” card, featuring cross sell art on the back of the card of all of the first wave characters:

Reissues were produced on the “12-back” card, featuring a striking battle scene between He-Man and Beast Man. This is one of my all time favorite pieces of MOTU art:

The artist responsible for that piece, Errol McCarthy, did most if not all of the card back art for the carded figures. He also did licensing kit artwork for Mattel that was used in various products produced by third parties over the years:

Aside from the single carded figure, you could also pick up Beast Man in the 1983 “Evil Warriors” gift set, featuring Skeletor, Beast Man and Faker:

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Beast Man is probably the most essential evil warrior next to his master, Skeletor. So, it’s no surprise that he was heavily featured on the box art, appearing on five of the six boxes released in 1982.

He also showed up periodically on other box art over the years:

Beast Man was also a permanent fixture on the Filmation cartoon. Early in his development for the show, Beast Man featured very heavy fur on his lower legs that resembled bell bottoms. This design is actually kind of a halfway point between Beast Man’s first and second prototypes, at least in terms of his costume.

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Image source: He-Man Official Youtube page, courtesy of Josh Van Pelt

In the Filmation-produced MOTU toy commercial, Beast Man looked very close to his action figure counterpart.

commercial beast man

That same toyetic quality is equally evident in the model sheets for the Filmation commercial (thanks: Dušan Mitrović):

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Source: Power & Honor Foundation
beastman-early_filmation-model_pic_courtesy-of-josh-van-pelt
Image source: He-Man Official Youtube page, courtesy of Josh Van Pelt

The final Filmation design was simplified. The number of spikes on his armor was reduced. He was given red boots and he lost most of his furry detail:

Filmation portrayed Beast Man as having the power to control some types of animals. This comes from the Masters of the Universe Bible, written by Michael Halperin in December of 1982. The back story where Beast Man was originally an earthling and part of Marlena’s crew of space explorers was never used.

Biff Beastman’s cruel nature spilled on the outside and he became a true BEAST MAN with a lion’s mane, fangs and the power to communicate and command bloodthirsty creatures such as dragons, gorgons, ogres and snakes.

In the DC Comics-produced “To Tempt The Gods”, readers were treated to a whole race of beast men. In most mini comic and Golden Books depictions, however, Beast Man was kind of a standard issue henchman character, something of an Igor to Skeletor’s Doctor Frankenstein, portrayed with varying degrees of intelligence.

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