In some of the earliest media produced for Masters of the Universe, Teela is often depicted riding a golden horse or unicorn. The animal is never given a name, but is referred to as a “unicorn charger”. Fans have taken to calling the steed Charger for that reason.
Charger’s origins may lie in a January 1, 1981 “He-Man Vehicles & Accessories” idea disclosure form filed by Roger Sweet. In the form, Roger writes:
The Barbie horse, fixed or poseable legs, can be adapted to He-Man by changed color and added parts of armor, etc to make a horse vehicle.
In fact, there was a Barbie horse named Dallas, released in 1980 or 1981, that bears close resemblance to Charger as depicted in the first series of mini comics.
Several Masters of the Universe toys were reused from previous Mattel toylines, including Battle Cat, Panthor, Zoar and Screeech. Charger was never released in the vintage MOTU toyline, but I think he/she would have fit right in.
A concept drawing of a unicorn with a female rider was published in Tomart’s Action Figure Digest issue 90. The artwork is cropped, and we’re not given any information on the artist or the date. It’s possible that this is related to Teela and Charger, but it very well could be an unrelated concept (possibly for She-Ra):
Charger appears as a unicorn in the first comic, He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. The mini comic was shipped with the first wave of 1982 figures, and was probably in production in late 1981:
There is a similar scene on the cover of the Masters of the Universe Friends and Foes coloring book (cover by Fred Carillo), published in 1984:
Charger appears as an ordinary horse in subsequent mini comics released in 1982, including Battle in the Clouds and The Vengeance of Skeletor. My speculation is that it would have been expensive to add a horn to the Dallas buck, so the concept was simplified to require no additional tooling. Of course it’s possible that this is just a fluke and not a planned change to the design of Charger.
Charger appears a few more times in various forms. One of the most interesting is the Grenadier “Raid of He-Man” paint and play minifigures set. The set includes Teela seated on Charger (as a unicorn), along with Skeletor, He-Man, Ram Man, Stratos, Man-At-Arms, Zodac and the Castle Grayskull weapons rack (images via He-Man.org)
Something that looks like it might be Charger appears in a 1983 MOTU puzzle, illustrated by R.L. Allen:
Charger appears in the 1983 Ladybird story, A Trap For He-Man, as well as in the 1984 story, Castle Grayskull Under Attack (images via He-Man.org):
Charger makes an appearance in issue 43 of the Italian Piú comic book series:
Charger also shows up in various sticker and coloring books released throughout the first few years of the toyline (hat tip to He-Man.org user Whiplash7):
Finally, Charger (this time with a white coat) makes an appearance in the 1984 German audio story, Höhle des Schreckens (thanks to the anonymous commenter below for the tip):
The prototype Castle Grayskull was not something that most fans had ever seen until relatively recently. Certainly as kids we were oblivious to its existence. It did, however, make its way into story books, mini comics, games, and cross sell artwork. Many of us wondered why the castle in the early mini comics looked so different from the one in our collections.
“I [sculpted the castle] because Tony [Guerrero] 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 [Mayer] helped with the plaster mold and vacuum forming, Rebecca did the labels… The imaginative user applied labels themselves to offset the lack of interior walls.”
The exterior of the prototype Castle Grayskull was similar in many respects to the final toy, but there were many notable differences as well.
There are several details on the prototype exterior that are missing or altered in the final toy that I’d like to draw your attention to:
Many of these design elements found their way into the Castle as depicted in Golden Books, mini comics, DC Comics, and other sources, as well both versions of the cross sell artwork.
Below: He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. In all of Alcala’s early artwork, Castle exteriors are almost 100% faithful to the prototype design. In a couple of panels, however, the ledge is omitted:
Below: King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Notice that Skeletor opens the jaw bridge through a lock located to the right of the entrance. I’m not sure if this was a feature Mattel intended to add – I don’t see any indication of it in the prototype. In the final toy, the lock was located on the jaw bridge itself.
Below: The Sword of Skeletor, illustrated by Fred Carillo:
To Tempt The Gods, pencils by George Tuska, inks by Alfredo Alcala:
The Trap, illustrated by Dan Spiegle:
Masters of the Universe Pop-Up game:
From the 1984 UK Annual:
The interior of the prototype Castle was also different in many ways from the final toy:
There are various details on the prototype interior missing or altered in the final toy:
Update: Interestingly the same prototype combat trainer was still a part of the updated Castle Grayskull set that was used in commercials:
Fun fact, the blonde kid in the foreground above is MC Bat Commander from the Aquabats!
Elements from the interior of the prototype also found their way into mini comics and story books:
Below: He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
Below: King of Castle Grayskull, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. There are many interior shots featuring the prototype throne, trap door, ladder, computer systems and laser turret:
Below: The Sword of Skeletor, illustrated by Fred Carillo, features several scenes depicting the prototype throne:
Below: The Trap, illustrated by Dan Spiegle, also features the prototype throne:
This is of course not exhaustive. I’m sure aspects of the prototype castle made it into other vintage Masters of the Universe media or collectibles.
While Mattel made several changes to the castle before its release in 1982, at least one bootleg manufacturer seemed to take inspiration directly from depictions of the prototype Castle Grayskull:
Skeletor’s most iconic weapon has always been his havoc staff, with its distinctive and menacing ram’s skull. The two are so interconnected as to be practically inseparable. Skeletor also carried his purple half of the power sword, and it made plenty of appearances in mini comics and story books.
There is however, another weapon that Skeletor carried in the 1982 mini comics (artwork by Alfredo Alcala, story by Don Glut). This was Skeletor’s energy blade (sometimes called lightning blade or lightning weapon). It was a fairly ordinary-looking short sword with a curved hilt that was capable of releasing searing blasts of energy, or even calling up magical images.
I always assumed that this particular sword’s design was an invention of artist Alfredo Alcala. But I recently noticed what appears to be the same sword showing up in early box art by Rudy Obrero. That lead me to believe that the energy blade may have originally come from Mattel*. I’d like to think there is a B-sheet lying around in a box somewhere with a drawing of this sword in it. Without definitive proof, of course, we can’t know for sure.
Here are some representative appearances of the energy blade in the 1982 mini comics. There is some variation with how it was drawn, even within the same comic:
Here are the appearances of the sword in Rudy Obrero’s packaging illustrations for the Battle Ram, He-Man/Wind Raider, Wind Raider, He-Man/Battle Cat, and Castle Grayskull boxes. Note that at times Beast Man carries the same sword:
Incidentally, a sword of the same design appears in Man-At-Arms’ hand in the 1983 comic book, The Power of Point Dread:
He-Man holds a similar sword on the cover of the same booklet (hat tip to Jukka Issakainen):
Somewhat similar swords appear in this 1982 advertisement for Faker:
In one depiction of Mark Taylor’s Vikor character (who pre-dated He-Man), Vikor carries a sword similar to the energy blade:
Øyvind Johannes Meisfjord pointed a fatal flaw in my reasoning. It seems that Alfredo Alcala drew a very similar looking sword that predated the He-Man property by several years:
Furthermore, swords similar to those in the Rudy Obrero illustrations show up in artwork by Frank Frazetta and John Buscema throughout the 1960s and 1970s:
Given this evidence, it seems unlikely now that the common source for this design was Mattel (it’s possible, but I don’t think a strong case can be made for it). I have to conclude that Alfredo Alcala was drawing upon the fantasy concepts he’d been illustrating for years, and Rudy Obrero was drawing upon general sword and sorcery themes of the ’60s and ’70s. Given Mark Taylor’s Frazetta influences, he probably drew from the same general creative well for his Vikor sword.
Thanks to Øyvind for challenging my theory. I think it’s been successfully refuted!
Point Dread and the Talon Fighter somehow completely slipped off my radar as a kid. I probably saw it represented in cross sell art form at some point in my childhood, but I don’t think it ever made an impression. And that’s a shame because it’s one of the coolest items ever produced for the Masters of the Universe toyline. It’s certainly one of my favorites now.
Design & Development
Point Dread and the Talon fighter was a rather unique item, in that it combined a small playset with a vehicle as well as a story book with record.
The commercial (above) shows a prototype that seems to have less overspray on both the vehicle and the playset than the mass produced toys did. The cross sell art seems based on that prototype:
From my interview with Mattel designer Ted Mayer, I learned that the idea for the Talon Fighter originated with a sketch for the Eternia playset. There are a couple of those in existence, and both seem to feature a flying vehicle that bears some resemblance to the final Talon Fighter design, although the aircraft in the second image also resembles the Blasterhawk. The second image is dated February 5, 1985, so it would not have been a source used for the Talon Fighter. I would guess that the first image (called Mount Eternia) dates from some time in 1982.
There is also some rough similarity to the 1983 Big Jim Space Spy Vehicle (hat tip to Jukka for pointing this out), which also featured the radar dish on the top, a handle in the back, stubby wings, and a similar (but not identical) overall profile:
Point Dread seems to have been conceived at one point as the home of Skeletor and his Evil Warriors. From the Filmation Series Guide:
“Point Dread is a craggy peak emerging from the Eternian Ocean. It is an extinct volcano with a tunnel leading down to a fantastic ruined, Atlantis-like city hidden beneath the ocean floor. Inside Point Dread, Skeletor keeps all the treasure he has plundered from a thousand worlds. There are also mines and construction sites waiting for the slaves Skeletor plans to take once he has seized control of Eternia.
“But the heart of Point Dread is the great council chamber where Skeletor summons the sinister Masters of the Universe. Here Skeletor sits on a raised platform above the round table where are gathered the likes of…”
Notice that at the evil warriors are referred to as the “sinister Masters of the Universe”.
The same guide describes Talon Fighter as an agile air vehicle that only He-Man can control, and says that it is frequently perched atop Castle Grayskull. The top of what we would refer to as the Point Dread playset is also shown – perhaps at the time the rocky base for the Talon fighter was not yet named. It may have taken on the name of Point Dread after Skeletor’s home base was identified as Snake Mountain.
The 1985 UK Annual again describes Point Dread as the lair of Skeletor (images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen):
Let’s take a look at the actual toy and its packaging and accessories:
The Talon Fighter seems to be based on something like a hawk or an eagle. It has a rather wide body, stubby, downturned wings, and curved talon feet. There is room for two figures inside the roomy cockpit, and it features a handle on the back for easy zooming around the house.
Point Dread (tag line: frontier outpost) is a simple two-piece shell with a window and rather small stairs leading upward on the top piece. The top piece can clip to the tallest turret on Castle Grayskull. Inside the lower half is a cardboard control panel.
The box art is rather magnificent, in my opinion. The artist is unknown, but they seem to have been trying to imitate the style of Rudy Obrero. The artwork features Skeletor, Tri-Klops and Mer-Man launching an assault on Point Dread. He-Man and Teela are inside the Talon Fighter, and Man-At-Arms seems ready to take on the villains from the ground while his friends attack them from the air.
The comic book included with the playset is one of my very favorites. It’s two stories in one book – The Power of Point Dread and Danger at Castle Grayskull. The artwork is by the incomparable Alfredo Alcala, and features some fun and colorful stories that introduce us to not only PDTF, but new characters like Man-E-Faces, Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops. Zodac has a rather prominent role to play in the first story, which is a nice touch.
A record was included with the book, to help young readers read along with the story:
You can ready both stories in their entirety here and here.
Confusingly, there was a mini comic produced with essentially the same title – The Power of… Point Dread. The plot of the story is entirely different, however. It was penciled by Mark Texeira and includes some pretty exciting combat scenes:
While it’s true Point Dread was at one point intended to be the home of Skeletor and his minions, the Masters of the Universe Bible, written at the end of 1982, portrayed Point Dread as it was in the mini comics released the next year:
TALON FIGHTER – this winged flying vehicle carries two passengers and is able to execute death-defying aerial acrobatics. Equipped with a special bombpack under its belly, He Man can call the fighter when it’s needed. Its resting place is atop a far peak called PT. DREAD which materializes whenever the Talon Fighter comes to rest. Only He Man has the physical fortitude and strength of will to control it. The flying machine goes out of control unless He-Man’s in command.
Point Dread never made an appearance in the Filmation cartoon, and the Talon Fighter was used quite rarely.
There was also a kit version of the Talon Fighter produced by Monogram (which was owned by Mattel at the time). It had a much more bird-like design than the toy, and a simpler yellow and red color scheme. It also has a canon mounted on top of the cockpit, rather than the radar design of the toy version. Monogram also produced versions of the Attak Trak and Roton. The Monogram Attak Trak is based off of a concept version of the Attak Trak, so I wonder if the same isn’t true of the Monogram Talon Fighter.
The above design, but with toy-accurate colors, shows up in Dangerous Games, published by Golden Books:
There was also an illustration of the Monogram Talon Fighter kit that was apparently created for advertising purposes (images via Plaid Stallions). In this version the vehicle has a gold-colored body and green cockpit windows:
R. L. Allen featured the Talon Fighter in a couple of his illustrations, which are some of my favorites:
Talon Fighter in Action
Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared some images and a video of the Talon Fighter in action: