My mother got me Battle Armor He-Man as a replacement for my original He-Man after it was destroyed. However, I still had my original Skeletor, and in that case mom logic dictated that I didn’t need Battle Armor Skeletor, since I still had the original. Kids and collectors understand that owning a standard action figure and owning a variant are two different experience, but I couldn’t make that case as a seven-year-old.
So, I had to make do with my Kellogg’s puffy sticker, and of course I played with my friends’ figures whenever I could. I was endlessly fascinated by both the designs and the action feature of the Battle Armor variants.
Battle Armor Skeletor reuses the arms, legs, head, crotch and weapons of the original Skeletor, but includes a spring-loaded, rotating drum in the chest that could be activated with slight pressure, exposing three versions of a bat insignia showing varying levels of damage. The action feature was invented by Ronald H. MacBain and Tony Rhodes, and the patent was filed December 29, 1983. Martin Arriola also worked on the figure, which was trademarked on January 27, 1984. The original version of Skeletor was designed by Mark Taylor.
The cross sell artwork was based on the actual toy, so it had more accurate and updated arm “fins” and boots than the original Skeletor’s cross sell artwork:
Battle Armor Skeletor cross sell artwork.
Close-up cross sell art, featured in The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
A similar action feature was also used in Mattel’s Hot Wheels Crack-Ups cars, which debuted in 1985:
The front of Battle Armor Skeletor’s card has a burst describing the function of the action feature. Unlike most figures released in the toy line, there is no tag line underneath his name, although he is tagged with “Evil lord of destruction” when he appears in cross sell artwork.
Image courtesy of Deimos
Incidentally, when Skeletor was first released in 1982, his tag line was “Lord of destruction.” “Evil” was added to the front of it starting in 1983.
Errol McCarthy illustrated the fight scene on the back of the card along with the instructions, and also illustrated the figure in artwork for use in the 1987 Style Guide as well as on T-shirts and other licensed products:
In the 1987 Style Guide, Skeletor (depicted with his battle armor) is given the following bio, which draws upon the various updates and retcons done to MOTU canon over the years:
Image via He-Man.org
Once the student of Hordak on his home planet of Etheria, Skeletor trapped his mentor on Etheria and escaped through a dimension gate to Eternia. Now Skeletor embodies all that is evil in Eternia. His goal is to one day rule all of Eternia, bringing upon its citizens an unending reign of terror. For dozens of years, Skeletor waited, polishing his magical skills in anticipation of the day when he would break through the Mystical Wall that separated the good and evil areas of Eternia. On the 18th birthday of Prince Adam, Skeletor finally prevailed. It was on this fateful day that Prince Adam first transformed himself into He-man, thus saving Eternia from the evil advance of Skeletor. Skeletor is now committed to destroying He-Man and his allies.
The style guide also mentions Skeletor’s Dragon Blaster and Battle Armor variants:
Weapons: Skeletor stalks the land with his evil pet, freezing foes with the dragon’s vicious paralyzing venom. His Battle Armor gives him the power to withstand the mightiest blows of battle.
Battle Armor Skeletor was sold in a number of gift sets, which include the following:
Battle Armor Skeletor/Webstor
Battle Armor Skeletor/Webstor/Mer-Man
Battle Armor Skeletor/Panthor
Battle Armor Skeletor/Screeech
Battle Armor Skeletor/Panthor/Man-E-Faces
Battle Armor Skeletor/Land Shark
Battle Armor Skeletor/Battle Armor He-Man
Image source: Hakes Americana
The figure was also released in a number of unique Canadian gift sets (images from Grayskull Museum):
India-based Leo Toys released an unusual version of the figure, which featured the torso from Battle Armor He-Man in purple:
Battle Armor Skeletor, strangely, never appeared in the minicomics or in the Filmation cartoon. It does appear in the Golden Book story, The Magic Mirror (albeit with the skirt from the original Skeletor design), and on the cover of Dangerous Games:
Battle Armor Skeletor appears quite frequently on Masters of the Universe Box art, showing up in numerous paintings, most by William George:
Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor
Battle Armor Skeletor and Screeech
Dragon Walker (Euro Edition)
Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor
He also appears in a 1984 poster by William George:
The same artist also illustrated both Battle Armor Skeletor and Battle Armor He-Man for the 1985 board game, Battle For Eternia (thanks to Øyvind for the reminder). The illustration on the front depicts Skeletor and He-Man taking part in the board game with a couple of children, which is strikes me as a stroke of genius. I think a lot of us imagined what it might be like to interact with these characters in real life.
I remember getting the Road Ripper as a present when it came out in 1984. I want to say I got it at the same time as the Dragon Walker. It didn’t blow me away like the Dragon Walker did, but it was a memorable vehicle and I sent it speeding across the kitchen floor on many Saturday mornings.
The Road Ripper seems to have been the brainchild of Mattel designer Roger Sweet. I believe that an early working name for the vehicle was the Tri-Trak. As described in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, the Tri-Trak was “a three-wheeled motorcycle which He Man uses whenever he needs a fast ground transport. Tri-Trak travels most of the places the Attack Trak goes only much faster. The motorcycle bears two very deadly photon machine guns.”
An early version of the vehicle had a much smaller figurehead on the front of the vehicle, a couple of small fins on the back, and control handles for He-Man to hold on to. This early concept was colored red rather than green, and had a comparatively narrow front end.
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
A subsequent revision to the design was much closer to the final toy, with its enlarged figurehead and green color scheme. It was more highly detailed than the final toy, with additional orange and yellow triangular patterns and green mechanical details, but otherwise it’s very familiar to anyone who owned the production vehicle.
Image source: The Art Of He-Man/The Power and the Honor FoundationImage Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog
A somewhat similar concept was illustrated by Ted Mayer on September 29, 1983. It has the twin guns mentioned in the description of the Tri-Trak, although it seems to have four wheels, not three. It would have used a launcher base as a means of propulsion, with a similar ripcord feature. However, given that the Road Ripper was trademarked on August 22, 1983, this may have been a related idea and not a version of the Road Ripper itself.
According to the Power and the Honor Foundation catalog, Roger Sweet got the idea for the Road Ripper from the Evel Knievel Super Stunt Cycle.
The final toy has a rubber seat belt (similar to the ones used in the Attak Trak and Dragon Walker), rather than the clip featured in the concept artwork. The sculpt work is well-executed, and it’s augmented by a number of brightly colored stickers. It came with a long red ripcord, that, when pulled through the back of the vehicle, set a heavy rubber wheel hidden underneath the vehicle in motion, propelling the whole thing forward.
The cross sell art closely mirrors the toy, but it lacks some detail in on the back area of the vehicle:
The Road Ripper was sold individually and in a gift set with Battle Armor He-Man. The artwork on the front of both boxes was done by William George. They both have a sense of speed to them, and feature the artist’s usual desolate landscapes and fearsome little creatures:
Artwork for individual Road Ripper packaging, by William George
Road Ripper line art, by William George. Image via He-Man.org
Artwork for Battle Armor He-Man/Road Ripper gift set, by William George.
Gift set line art by William George. image via He-man.org
William George also illustrated the Road Ripper in this 1984 MOTU poster:
Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys produced a version of the Road Ripper in blue, although they retained the artwork on the packaging that depicted it in green:
Errol McCarthy illustrated the Road Ripper for a T-Shirt design:
The vehicle makes a two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in “The Time Wheel” (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out) and “The Energy Beast.” It doesn’t last long in the the latter story, as Orko starts up the vehicle and quickly crashes it, destroying it. Man-At-Arms remarks that he had spent six months working on it.
It also makes a single appearance in the mini comics. It shows up in a single panel in Temple of Darkness, illustrated by Larry Houston.
An off-model red version of Road Ripper shows up in Issue 71 of the UK MOTU magazine, which in turn originates from Ehapa MOTU issue 7 (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out):
Image via He-Man.org
It also appears in the first issue of the US MOTU magazine, in the short comic story, Maddening of the Monstones. He-Man uses it as his primary means of transportation:
The Road Ripper never had the kind of permanence and ubiquitousness that other vehicles like the Wind Raider and Battle Ram had, but it was a fun little racer and I think it fit in well with the other Masters of the Universe vehicles. Surprisingly, Tonka even made a Road Ripper-themed crossover tricycle. I suppose that makes sense given the fact that the Road Ripper also has three wheels, but it’s an interesting choice given the general lack of exposure of the vehicle otherwise.
Image source: Matt Butcher
The general formula for MOTU vehicles really seems to be angular, Star Wars vehicle-like bodies, combined big engines and animalistic figureheads at the front, which is as good a description as any for the Road Ripper. In fact, it reminds me in many ways of the Battle Ram, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Battle Ram were a major source of inspiration.
One of the best things about getting new He-Man toys as a kid was the box art. The toys were of course amazing and fun, but personally I spent almost as much time staring at the boxes as playing with the toys. I remember being pretty heartbroken when my mother made me throw away my Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram boxes. She saw them as clutter, but for me they were almost stories in and of themselves. You could see whole adventures unfolding in a single painted scene.
Unfortunately, good photographs or scans of the original art are not available for every piece. If you happen to have a nicer images than I do (higher resolution, better composition, etc), please do feel free to share, and I’ll make an update! For pictures of the packaging itself, a neutral (white or black) background is preferred. High resolution scans of the artwork, where it appears without logos, would be ideal. Bottom line – if you have better images than I do, please share them!
One final note: I’m defining box art as the front-facing painted artwork that appeared on boxed Masters of the Universe toys. The illustrations on blister card packaging, then, are outside the scope of this series.
Part Three: 1984
Name: Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Cat Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Cat and Battle Armor He-Man leap through the air into battle.
Name: Battle Armor He-Man and Road Ripper Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man races over the rocky desert floor in the Road Ripper, as small dragon-like creatures look on. A volcano erupts in the background.
Name: Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor race up the rocky path toward Castle Grayskull, which is guarded by Battle Armor He-Man and Man-At-Arms.
Name: Battle Armor Skeletor and Screeech Year: 1984 Artist: Unknown Description: Screeech takes flight from the perch of Battle Armor Skeletor’s arm. Molten lava erupts from a nearby volcano and the skies are choked with black smoke. Image repair courtesy of Retroist.
Name: Battle For Eternia (2) Year: 1984 Artist: William Garland Description: Panthor swipes his claws at Man-E-Faces, as Man-E-Faces takes aim with his blaster at Skeletor, who is riding atop the savage cat. Twin moons hang in the smokey sky. (Note: this set has the same artwork as the version released in 1983, but includes Battle Armor Skeletor in place of Skeletor.)
Image courtesy of Tokyonever
Name: Dragon Walker Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man pilots the Dragon Walker over rocky, volcanic terrain. Beast Man and Tri-Klops are ready to attack but seem unsure how to proceed. In the foreground, a small pterodactyl-like creature seems ready to take flight.
Name: Fisto & Stridor Year: 1984 Artist: William Garland* Description: Fisto spots Skeletor and Whiplash as he rides Stridor through a perilous landscape, lit by twin alien moons. A menacing wolf-like creature lurks in the foreground. (*Artist name not confirmed for this particular piece, but the art seems to match the style of the Panthor illustrations.)
Name: Road Ripper Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: He-Man races over the rocky desert floor in the Road Ripper.
Name: Roton Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Skeletor tears through a grassy field in the Roton. A horned lizard and demon-like creature look on near a muddy pool of water. A huge, Jupiter-like planet and its orbiting moon dominate the night sky. A group of shadowy figures stand around a campfire in the distance.
Name: Snake Mountain Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man takes aim with his axe at Battle Armor Skeletor, who stands at the high gate of Snake Mountain. Man-At-Arms is chained to the side of the evil fortress.
Name: Stridor Year: 1984 Artist: William Garland* Description: He-Man rides Stridor across the desert at night, his sword ready for battle. (*Artist name not confirmed for this particular piece, but the art seems to match the style of the Panthor illustrations.)