Production Variants

1982 MOTU Figures: The First Production Run (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1!

Because Masters of the Universe figures were produced over many years in a number of different countries, there is no shortage of production variants, some subtly different and some radically different from the norm. In my own collecting, I’ve always gravitated toward the earliest figures released in the US, particularly for the first wave of figures. They tend to have the nicest paint and plastic applications, in my opinion. All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the US. A common term for the very earliest figures in the line is “test market figures”, although the term isn’t usually used for the vehicles or Castle Grayskull.

Much assistance for this article was given by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. The research of Mantisaur82 and Tokyonever has also been invaluable.

Broad Characteristics

The early Taiwan figures tend to have the sharpest detail and the finest paint applications compared to later reissues. Subsequent releases tend to cut down on the paint applications and sometimes on the sculpted detail. The earliest figures tend to have boots that are painted on using spray paint and a paint mask, which sometimes shows up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures seem to use a dipping method. Since this seems to apply to all the early figures (or at least those with painted boots), I won’t mention this when I talk about each individual figure.

On the lower backs of the figures (or in Teela’s case, the lower part of the back of the head) they are stamped © Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan. This stamp can also be found on the undersides of the male heads. These figure were released in 1982, but most MOTU figures are stamped the year before they were sold in stores, when the tooling was being created. However, as these Taiwan figures were released in subsequent years, they often retain the 1981 date, albeit sometimes with a slightly larger font.

Stratos

V1: Blue Beard

The earliest Taiwan Stratos figures have the following characteristics:

  • Blue beard and eyelids
  • Gray goggles
  • Three tabs each strap
  • Short straps

Commonly referred to as “Blue Beard” Stratos, this figure is quite rare and difficult to find. The reason that it’s rare is that it seems to be a factory paint error – early Stratos prototypes all have blue goggles and a gray beard. It seem that the error was caught very quickly, which is why so few of these figures are around. From the beginning, Stratos was available with either blue wings and a red backpack, or red wings and a blue backpack. This continued throughout the production run.

Image source: Carlo. Per Tokyonever, the back of this card is the first release 8-back “test market” card, with no warranty or SKUs listed under the figure names.

V2: Short Strap

The next early run of Taiwan Stratos figures have the following characteristics:

  • Gray beard and eyelids
  • Blue goggles
  • Four tabs each strap
  • Short straps

Even this version of Stratos is a little difficult to find – the subsequent versions with elongated straps seem to be much more numerous. V2 can also be found on the first “no warranty” cards, so the run of Blue Beards must have been VERY limited. Like all US-release versions of Stratos, this one was available in both red and blue wing variants.

“Test market” cards. Image source: Asher99
Short strap (top) vs long strap

Mer-Man

The first Taiwan Mer-Man figures have a couple of distinguishing characteristics that are easy to spot:

  • Green belt
  • Short straps on the back of the armor

Subsequent Taiwan releases added the longer straps and eventually omitted the painted belt.

Green (top) vs unpainted orange belt
Short straps (top) vs long straps

Teela

Taiwan Teela figures don’t have a ton of obvious variations during the first two years they were produced. The general characteristics are deep red hair and boots and dark red accessories in the figures released from 1982-1983.

However, an extremely rare first issue Teela has recently been discovered by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. Like the Striped Tail Battle Cat, this variant was probably an early sample used for catalog photographs (and indeed this version shows up in several of them.

V1: Green Snake Eyes Teela

Characteristics include:

  • Painted green eyes on snake armor with “v” pattern
  • Accessories seem almost translucent, like hard candy
  • Dots in eyes are hand painted (uneven)
  • Dark red accessories and deep red hair/boots
  • Marked “© M.I. 1981 Taiwan” on back of neck.
  • Shield slightly deformed on one side
Images via John Oswald
Image from the 1983 Mattel dealer catalog, via John Oswald
Image from 1983 Mattel Department Store Division catalog, courtesy of John Oswald

More common early Taiwan Teela figures generally have the same characteristics as the above example, minus the green snake eyes and the deformed shield.

Zodac

The earliest Taiwan release of of Zodac has a rather unique looking latch in the back of the armor, in addition to short straps. Subsequent reissues lengthened the straps and gave him a more conventional-looking latch.

First release (top) vs second release

Castle Grayskull

The very first release of Castle Grayskull has a much neater paint pattern on the face, with black applied only within the eyes, nose, and down the center of the helmet. You can see this version in Mattel’s 1982 Wish List catalog. The teeth, helmet, and towers have some green spray applied to them. It’s not clear if this very first version (below) ever made it to consumers, or if it was only made for in product photography.

Image courtesy of John Oswald

It’s also possible this early version came with black string for the elevator, rather than the usual white (first brought to my attention by John Oswald). That’s what’s shown in early catalogs, anyway. The early release castle was manufactured in the USA, and has the following codes stamped on it.

  • Under the entrance: 1162C2
  • Near the handle: © Mattel Inc 1981 USA 3991-2139
  • On the back side of the helmet: 3991-2129 © Mattel Inc 1981 USA
Notice the black string on the elevator.

The next (but still very early) release of the castle, as near as I can tell, is similar to the first release, except the black paint around the eyes and nose is not so carefully applied, and it has a less structured paint pattern on the helmet. Overall there is more overspray across the face and towers.

Both early versions were manufactured in the USA, and have similar codes. The second release castle has the same codes as the first, with the exception of the marking under the entrance. The one in the image above is coded 1812C2.

Both early versions also have a flat turret floor in the shorter of the two towers. On later versions, the floor piece had slots added to hold the laser cannon in place:

As we learned in the MOTU documentary, The Power of Grayskull, factories initially were looking to use some kind of paint mask for Castle Grayskull, but they were instructed by Mattel to do the painting free-hand (presumably to save time and therefore money). As a result, the paint applications seem to be rather haphazard, especially in later editions of the castle.

Early versions of the castle came in a box that featured only the 1982 figures on the back. The artwork here was traced directly from a photo used in Mattel’s 1982 Dealer Catalog:

Starting in 1983, the back of the box was altered to feature cross sell art from both the 1982 and 1983 figures:

Image source: Hake’s Americana

Update: I have some additional information about the first release castle in a separate article.

Battle Ram

The first release Battle Ram was manufactured in the US. I haven’t noticed much if any variation in the US-release Battle Rams other than country code. The first release vehicles are stamped “© Mattel Inc, 1981 U.S.A.”, as shown below:

The first release Battle Ram box shows only the 1982 figures on the back of the packaging:

Starting in 1983, Battle Rams were manufactured in Mexico as well as the US. The Mexico versions omit the country of origin on the copyright stamp, as shown below:

The back of the 1983 packaging features contemporary figures like Trap Jaw and Man-E-Faces. Starting in 1983, the box also features the Rudy Obrero artwork on the bottom as well as the front of the box:

Wind Raider

Like the Battle Ram, the first release Wind Raiders were produced in the US. The back of the packaging shows cross sell art from only 1982 figures. This holds true for both the single release Wind Raider and the He-Man/Wind Raider gift set.

Mexico reissue
Wind Raider box
He-Man/Wind Raider giftset box

The wings on first release Wind Raiders have the following markings (the tail and underside of the vehicle are also stamped USA, and orange plastic is darker than made in Mexico versions of the vehicle):

Starting in 1983, Wind Raiders were manufactured in Mexico as well as the US. The Mexico versions are stamped “Mexico” on the wing tips and the underside of the vehicle. 1983 boxes also feature the Rudy Obrero art on the bottom of the box, and include 1983 figures in the cross sell artwork on the back.

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Heroic Vehicles

Battle Ram Concept Art By Ted Mayer

Former Mattel designer Ted Mayer shared some Battle Ram concept art with me that he recently rediscovered in his portfolio. I previously had lower resolution copies of this art (one from my 2015 interview with Ted, and another from an issue of Tomart’s Action Figure Digest), showcased in my article about the Battle Ram. I’ve updated that article with these better images, but I thought I’d announce the new images here and share a few insights from Ted.

The first piece of concept art below, was, according to Ted, the original concept. On the second revised version below, Ted says, he was “asked to clean it up and change it for molding, cost, and safety considerations.” Both of them date to late April, 1981.

Original concept
Modified concept

Ted was nice enough to answer a few follow-up questions I had about the art:

Q: On the earlier version, there is an extra piece on the top/back section of the vehicle. Would that have been the firing mechanism?

A: Yes, I figured it would be a pull back and release, to shoot the missile.

Q: Very interesting that originally the front half of the vehicle had wheels as well. Would there have been an extra small wheel underneath toward the front, for balance?

A: Yes, we wanted it to be a totally independent vehicle. That’s why the original battle Ram had six wheels. cost cutting won out!!

Q: The horned helmet version of He-Man has always been shown barefooted, at least in the prototype models that I’ve seen. In your drawings he does have boots. Just curious, was he originally supposed to have removable cloth boots or something along those lines?

A: As I remember, I drew the figure from an original sculpt, so it must have had boots on!

Early helmeted He-Man prototype. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Many thanks to Ted for sharing his amazing artwork, and for answering my questions!

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Artwork

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art: 1982

I thought it might be useful to put all the cross sell artwork together for easy reference. I’m busy working on some long-term projects at the moment, so my free time is at a premium. But, this is something I can put out that is relatively quick and painless.

Images come from Axel Giménez, Tokyonever, Jukka Issakainen, He-Man.org, and my own scans and pictures. I’ve got nice images for all of the 1982 cross sell art, but unfortunately the quality of what I have will vary for other pieces. I should note that as far as is known, all of the standard cross sell artwork that appears on MOTU packaging was illustrated by William George.

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art:

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History

Copyrights in MOTU (Part One: 1981)


Image source: MOTUC Figures

In previous posts I’ve covered trademarks and patents in Masters of the universe, and organized the material into a cohesive Masters of the Universe Timeline. In this post I’m going to be covering Mattel’s He-Man-related copyrights, sourced from the US Copyright Office, for 1981. Eventually I’ll fold these dates into the MOTU Timeline article as well.

Some of the copyright entries have some interesting details and comments, so I’ll include most of the original text (errors and all), eliminating some redundancies and the registration numbers.  Each entry has multiple dates, but I’ll sort according to “Date of Publication”. I’ll do a separate post for each publication year.

A few notes – the “Date of Publication” for the early toys listed universally as February 15, 1981. The figures were not actually sold that early, or even really close to their final designs. The He-Man project was well underway, however. They may have sometimes just chosen a safe, early date for some of these. I believe that entries that have more unique publication dates are more likely to reflect an actual production or release date. The minicomics in this post all have a publication date of November 28, 1981, which at least sounds plausible as a “printed on” date.

Note also that while the male figures are generally called “figurines”, Teela is referred to as a “doll”, apparently based only the fact that she’s a female figure. In reality, Teela is every bit as much an action figure as He-Man.

1981

February

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Battle ram : no. 81-3990.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Beast Man : [no.] 81-5043.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: He-Man : [no.] 81-5040.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Man-at-arms : no. 81-5041.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Merman : [no.] 81-5046.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Skeletor : [no.] 81-5042.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Stratos : [no.] 81-5047.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-26
Title: Teela : [no.] 5045-81.
Description: Doll.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Wind raider : [no.] 81-5117.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Zodac : no. 81-5044.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-25
Title: Castle Grayskull : [no.] 81-3991.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

November

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-28
Title: Masters of the universe
Name: The Vengeance of Skeletor
Description: 22 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-08
Title: Masters of the Universe : He-Man and the power sword.
Description: 26 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: He-Man and the power sword

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-12-07
Title: King of Castle Grayskull.
Description: 22 p.
Series: Masters of the Universe
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1983-01-17
Title: Comics maitres de l’univers : no. 81.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. Only. Appl. states titles on copy: Les Maitres de l’univers; Masters of the universe.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: Les Maitres de l’univers Masters of the universe

Thanks to Miguel A. for inspiring this series!

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