Masters of the Universe, for all its diversity and creativity, was quite an economical toyline, creatively (and sometimes uncreatively) using and reusing the same molds over and over again throughout its run. Sometimes this was done fairly invisibly, and other times it was as plain as the nose on Faker’s face.
In this series I’ll be cataloging the reuse of existing molds, in context of what is known and what is likely about which figures were created in what order. For example, He-Man’s prototype was almost certainly finished before Man-At-Arms, so Man-At-Arms reused He-Man’s legs, rather than vice versa. I’ll also include parts that were reused from other toylines.
Sometimes existing parts were modified for use in new toys. For example, Beast Man’s chest seems to have been based on He-Man’s chest sculpt, albeit with a great deal of hair added to it. This didn’t save money on tooling, but it did save some time and effort for the sculptor. I’ll point this out whenever I see it. Whenever a modified part is used again, however, I’ll refer to it as belonging to the toy that used it first (for example, Stratos and Zodac reuse Beast Man’s chest).
I won’t comment on “invisible” parts, such as neck pegs or waist springs that are normally not seen.
First, the toys from 1984 that had (at the time) all new parts:
I remember getting Kobra Khan quite vividly. It was our last summer in our Eastern Washington house, before our big move across the mountains to a rainier, more temperate part of the Pacific Northwest. Although Kobra Khan was released in 1984, I didn’t get him until 1986. I remember gravely weighing my options at the store. I could get two toys, and I was determined that they be Snake Men. I was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or the newly released King Hiss or Rattlor. I don’t remember seeing Tung Lashor at the time. After studying all three toys and their packaging intently, I concluded that King Hiss was a cool idea, but his hidden snake body wasn’t all that great looking, so I went with the other two figures instead.
I spent the last hot summer in the old house running around with Kobra Khan. After he had sprayed his paralyzing mist on all of my heroic warriors, he turned his venom on most of our house plants, and of course on me as well. The figure put out a highly dispersed sort of mist, and it was a great way to stay cool. I played with him so much that I remember getting a sore finger from pushing down on his head.
Kobra Khan seems to have originated with a Roger Sweet concept for a warrior wearing a snake costume, like a male version of Teela. Actually, the concept recalls the G.I. Joe villain Serpentor on some ways, too, although that wasn’t released until 1986. In any case, as is noted in The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Roger Sweet’s drawing seems to have a hole in the snake’s mouth, suggesting the water squirting feature was already planned out at this stage:
The final toy was, of course, quite different from Sweet’s original concept. While both toy and concept were to reuse Skeletor’s arms and legs, the final toy had a unique sculpted and scaley chest and crotch piece. Due to the action feature, he didn’t have the usual twist waist action feature. Kobra Khan was given a snake head rather than the concept human head and snake cowl. Probably due to the fact that the character’s head had to press downward in order to activate the spray feature, he lacked the characteristic cobra hood. For his accessory, he was given an orange-red version of Zodac’s gun. The name Kobra Khan was trademarked on January 27, 1984.
Kobra Khan was sold on the standard single card, as well as in a JCPenny two-pack with Whiplash. Errol McCarthy painted the scene on the back of his card, which features the villain trying to attack He-Man and Man-At-Arms with his hypnotizing mist:
Errol McCarthy also illustrated the figure in a variety of contexts for use in licensed merchandise:
One of the above illustrations was also used in the 1987 Style Guide. Note that the character is given the cobra hood that the figure lacked – no doubt an influence from the Filmation cartoon (more on that later). Interestingly, he puts a Snake Men symbol on Kobra Khan’s chest, which is part and parcel to the retconning of Kobra Khan as part of the Snake Men. That faction wasn’t introduced until 1986:
Interestingly, there was a version of Kobra Khan that did have the snake symbol on his chest– a variant made by Argentinian manufacturer Top Tops, called Kobra Khan Camuflado. Known as Camo Khan to many fans today, the figure had a green and black camouflage style paint job, gold boots and belt, and strangely, Buzz-Off’s clawed arms. He was given Clawful’s green mace as a weapon:
A note about Kobra Khan appears in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual, in a fact file of the snake men. It reads:
Note: The Snake Men are often aided in their endeavors by Kobra Khan. He is not one of the original members of hte Snake Army, but it is thought that he is the desendant of a Snake Man who miraculously escaped banishment by the Elders. Khan is one of Skeletor’s evil allies, and although he is quite willing to help King Hiss, his true loyalties lie with the living skeleton.
Kobra Khan first appears briefly in the background of the 1984 minicomic, Double-Edged Sword, and again in the background of Hordak, The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge (1985). He plays a much more central role in the 1986 minicomic, Rock People to the Rescue, where he teams up with Webstor against Rokkon and Stonedar.
In the 1986 comic, King of the Snake Men, Skeletor instructs Kobra Khan to join with King Hiss as a spy. But in Fastest Draw in the Universe (also 1986) Kobra Khan is again a henchman of Skeletor.
Kobra Khan appears prominently in the Golden Books story, Meteor Monsters, and plays a background role in Maze of Doom.
He also makes several appearances in poster artwork by both William George and Earl Norem:
He only appears once on box art – in the 1985 Battle Bones illustration by William George:
Kobra Khan didn’t appear frequently in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, but his appearances were memorable. The character was portrayed as clever and credibly threatening, able to knock out most opponents with his sleeping mist. His most memorable appearance is probably in “Disappearing Dragons”, where he teams up with Webstor and they square off against Buzz-Off and Mekaneck.
In the series, Kobra Khan is typically illustrated with his mouth closed. When he wishes to use his knockout gas on someone, his cobra hood extends and the gas seems to come from the hood rather than his mouth.
In “The Good Shall Survive” Khan displays the odd ability to elongate his arms (a trait later shared by Sssqueeze).
The final He-Man episode, “The Cold Zone”, features Khan as the primary villain, and we learn more about the Reptons (the race of snake men on Eternia). Because of that episode, I generally like to display Kobra Khan in the Land Shark.
Kobra Khan was, oddly, colored brown in his appearance in issue four of the Star series of MOTU comics (thanks to an anonymous commenter below for pointing that out):
Kobra Khan is typical of third wave characters in that he was never ubiquitous in Masters of the Universe storytelling, but he was used occasionally as a henchman or villain of the week. The principle characters of the mythos seem to be grouped around the figures released in 1982 and 1983 as a general rule, with few exceptions.
My introduction to Fisto came in first grade, when a classmate pulled out several of his newest He-Man figures to show the rest of us. The three figures I remember him showing us were Tri-Klops, Jitsu and Fisto.
I already owned Tri-Klops from way back in Kindergarten, but I hadn’t seen these two new figures with their spring-loaded right arms that terminated in either a giant metallic fist or chopping hand. The entire group was suitably impressed, and we each took turns testing out their action features.
In the commercial above, Fisto is pitted against Clawful, another character from 1984 with an enlarged right “hand”. I don’t know if that’s because the Jitsu action figure wasn’t quite ready yet, or if they thought that Clawful would sell more. Jitsu seems like a more obvious nemesis for Fisto.
Fisto was created by Mattel designer Colin Bailey (see: my interview with Martin Arriola). Although no concept art for Fisto has been either found or at least made public, there is an image of his prototype.
The image below, which can be found on both He-Man.org and Masters Unbound, shows a prototype built around the basic He-Man buck. The sculpt for his metal fist and armor is a bit rough, with noticeable divots and irregularities. He seems to have larger eyebrows compared to the final toy. This version also has the standard He-Man arms. The final version of Fisto would have enlarged deltoids to accommodate the width needed for the spring-loaded arm mechanism. He would also be given a closed left hand to allow him to better hold his sword. In this case, the sword is an unmodified copy of Tri-Klops’ sword, but the final toy’s sword would be cast in purple.
The cross sell artwork created for Fisto, at first glance, appears to be identical to the finished toy. But upon further examination, this one still has the standard He-Man arms, complete with open left hand. This time his sword is the correct purple color:
Compare that to the final toy, which has the changes discussed previously:
The sword, I think, is an odd choice, given the figure’s action feature. I would think a blunt weapon, like a mace or a hammer, would be better suited to Fisto’s fighting style.
Like many MOTU figures, Fisto was had some variations depending on country of origin or date of manufacture. Malaysian figures have a larger, more hollow head, with much darker purple boots, belt and armor. Various Hong Kong figures have medium or light purple armor, belt and boots. Some have brown hair, and others have auburn or bright red hair:
There were also a couple of versions that came with a purple Jitsu sword.
For the single carded figure, the artwork on the back was done by the venerable Errol McCarthy, which shows Fisto giving Skeletor a knock-out punch:
Some more great Fisto-related artwork from McCarthy:
Fisto was sold in a JCPenny two-pack with Buzz-Off. The box had minimal artwork – the black and white line art that Mattel shipped out to retailers for use in ad copy.
Fisto was also sold in a gift set with Stridor, with great piece of artwork that seems to have been illustrated by William Garland, based on its style.
Fisto is often associated with Stridor, just as Jitsu is associated with Night Stalker. It’s a rather unique relationship. In general He-Man seems to be given the heroic vehicles and steeds and Skeletor is given their evil counterparts. But Fisto seems to have been deemed a strong enough character to merit his own steed. That’s certainly the case in one of my favorite mini comics – The Clash of Arms.
In the story, Fisto, riding on Stridor, is ambushed by Clawful, Tri-Klops, Webstor, and Jitsu. He is captured and forced to fight for his life in Skeletor’s arena. He’s successful in beating off Clawful and Jitsu in turn, but Whiplash nearly spells the end for Fisto before He-Man comes in and breaks up the fight.
Another notable Fisto story in the mini comics is Masks of Power. In this tale, Fisto and He-Man are obliged to team up with Mer-Man and Skeletor to stop two little demons who have stolen powerful masks and threaten to take the power sword.
In Skeletor’s Dragon, Fisto doesn’t play a major role, but there is a fun sequence where the heroes are testing their strength. Fisto bests Man-At-Arms at the “tower of power”, but of course when He-Man takes his turn, he sends the mechanism into orbit:
Fisto plays some substantial roles in several of the Golden Books stories. In Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, Fisto, again paired with Stridor, leads the search for the coveted Dragon’s egg, and battles against Beast Man and invented villain Goat Man:
In The Magic Mirror, Fisto is replaced by a mirror image duplicate (Skeletor in a magical disguise). Skeletor is discovered when He-Man notices that “Fisto’s” steel fist is on his left hand rather than his right.
In Demons of the Deep, Fisto, He-Man and Ram Man discover an underwater duplicate of Castle Grayskull inhabited by Skeletor, who controls some nasty robot sea monsters.
In the Filmation He-Man cartoon, Fisto’s design is, as usual, simplified for animation. The most noticeable change in design here is that he is given an enlarged fist even compared to the one on the Mattel toy.
Fisto is also given an origin story. In “Fisto’s Forest”, we learn that Fisto, like Man-E-Faces, started out as a villain. He’s a loner who lives in the woods and makes trouble for anyone he comes across. Eventually (and somewhat abruptly) he sees the error in his ways and joins forces with He-Man.
Personally, I remember Fisto best from the episode, “To Save Skeletor.” In the story, Fisto and his compatriots must save the evil warriors (Trap Jaw, in the frame below) from the Lovecraftian demon Sh’Gora.
In my mind, Fisto is one of the few heroic warriors who I could see as a leading character in his own spin-off series (I’d say the same Teela and perhaps Zodac). Like most characters released after 1982, he’s a bit gimmicky, but not to the point where he becomes overly cartoonish. I could see a series of comics where Fisto and Stridor explore the savage wastes of Eternia, challenging evil warlords, winning the hearts of bar maids, and causing lesser men to quake at the sight of his mighty red beard.