Here are the original assembly instructions for Castle Grayskull. I’m presenting these without much in the way of commentary. I’ll just note a couple of items of interest. First, the illustration of He-Man on the front page is an edited version of the original, which featured a boot knife (the original version appears in advertising copy). This spear-holding He-Man hearkens back to the character’s more savage origins. I’ll also note that the picture on the last page is traced from a photo that first appeared in Mattel’s 1982 Toy Fair dealer catalog, based on some early and late stage prototype figures.
I believe I was five or six when I got my original Castle Grayskull. Getting it as a Christmas present was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to little me. I remember shaking with excitement just a little as I popped the little gray weapons out of their frames. My dad helped me put it together, but he left me to put the labels on myself, and of course they ended up a bit crooked. Isn’t that always the way with stickers?
The earliest Castle Grayskull prototype for which we have extant images is the one sculpted by Mark Taylor, with some assistance from Ted Mayer. Earlier models had been made by Mattel’s in-house team, but they kept making it too “architectural” and squared off, so Mark set out to do it himself.
If you look closely at the mouth area, you can see there is apparently no locking mechanism built in. That doesn’t mean that one wasn’t intended to be there. Mark might have wanted to leave details like that to Mattel’s engineers.
And indeed, this early minicomic (King of Castle Grayskull) shows Skeletor unlocking the castle jaw bridge using the combined halves of the Power Sword. As I understand it, the Power Sword (designed by Mark Taylor) got its distinctive shape specifically because it was supposed to be a kind of key. In this comic and in the Golden Books stories The Trap and The Sword of Skeletor, the lock is located to the right of the jaw bridge:
However, Mark Taylor’s prototype was modified for mass production, and the side-mounted keyhole was never implemented as far as we know. In this image of an updated (nearly final) prototype, you can see that the door itself was fitted with a latch-type locking mechanism. However, there is no place to insert the sword. Instead, the door was locked and unlocked using a simple sliding handle:
This may have been a simple oversight. In the final mass-produced toy, the mechanism was changed so that the Power Sword (or, indeed, a pencil, a crayon, or a pinky finger) could be used to unlock the door. Note there is a sculpted, simulated locking mechanism where the real one used to be:
Strangely, this play feature is never mentioned on the Castle Grayskull box, and I don’t believe it’s ever mentioned in any of the television commercials. It is, at least, explained in the instruction sheet that came with the castle:
Everyone knows that He-Man is the most powerful man in the universe. If you bought the action figure in the 1980s, it was there right under his name:
If you watched the Filmation He-Man cartoon, you heard him call himself that at the beginning of every episode:
I am Adam, prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!” Cringer became the mighty Battle Cat, and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Only three other share this secret. Our friends the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Orko. Together we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.”
But before He-Man was the most powerful man in the universe, he was merely the strongest man in the universe. Is there a difference between the two, or is it just semantics? Before I get into that, let’s take a look at the places where He-Man was called the strongest man in the universe.
The first published instance comes from the 1982 Mattel dealer catalog, which was made available at Toy Fair, February 17, 1982. This is where the new Masters of the Universe line was first unveiled to the public. The catalog itself is a treasure, because almost every He-Man toy shown is a prototype (granted, most of them are late-stage prototypes). As you can see below, the catalog calls He-Man the “strongest man in the universe”:
The Mattel 1982 Wish List, released in November, gives He-Man the same appellation:
He-Man is also called the strongest man in the universe in a couple of Masters of the Universe Gift Sets – “He-Man and Wind Raider” and “He-Man and Battle Cat”. In both cases it is only in the earliest, first editions of the gift set that He-Man is called the “strongest”. In all reissued editions his tag line was changed to “most powerful”.
In a 2013 interview, Mark Ellis, former Director of Marketing for Mattel, seems to use the two taglines interchangeably:
What became clear was that for a five year old, power was a central issue because seemingly they were always being bossed around. Psychologically, they wanted to be the boss. They wanted the power. This then was manifested in the figure by making him “the strongest man in the universe.” The idea is, if you are in charge of the most powerful man in the universe, then this feeds directly into the “why” of their play. As the line developed, the phrase “I have the power” was born to emphasis that point.
This is an interesting bit of trivia, but what does it mean? Maybe nothing, but as you might have guessed, I have a theory or two. He-Man, in his first incarnation, was not the nearly omnipotent superhero powered by Castle Grayskull’s magic that he would later become. In the first minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, He-Man was a jungle warrior chosen by the Sorceress to be the guardian of Castle Grayskull. She gifted him with a costume, “made before the Great Wars by Eternia’s scientists”. It gave him superhuman strength – enough to punch through solid rock. (This recalls Thor’s belt Megingjord, which, when worn, doubled Thor’s strength.) However, He-man could still be overpowered by a quick-witted enemy like Mer-Man.
In months following the publication of these early minicomics, however, He-Man’s astounding strength was reinvented as a magical force gifted from Castle Grayskull. By the time the Filmation cartoon aired, his power became amped up to such an extent that he became something of a flightless Superman. He could create whirlwinds just by spinning his arms. He could move the moon out of its orbit. He could lift and throw Castle Grayskull itself. He-Man truly went from “strongest” to “most powerful” man in the universe.
Another thing to consider – He-Man was, by far, the most muscular-looking figure who had ever been produced at the time. I remember very clearly my older brother telling me how unrealistic he thought those muscles were when He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and Beast Man first arrived in our house late in 1982. I remember pouring over the mini comics, but at that age I was mostly just looking at the pictures, and I never got the idea that He-Man’s strength came from anything more than the size of his muscles. As an observant kid, I took note that He-Man’s arms were much bigger than Skeletor’s or Beast Man’s arms. I was a little annoyed when I realized that Man-At-Arms had the same build as He-Man – I thought only He-Man should look that strong.
The “strongest man” tagline might very well simply have been driven by He-Man’s remarkably muscular appearance, before any thought of either technological or magical enhancements entered the scene.
Now, is any of this really why his tag line was changed? Maybe not. Maybe in the end marketing decided that “most powerful” just had a nicer ring to it. Whatever sparked the revision, it certainly reflected the change in characterization that we got from the early 1982 stories to the ones that started to come a year or so later.
Let’s not forget, of course, that even the very first editions of He-Man, which predate the gift sets I mentioned earlier (but postdate the Toy Fair catalog), give He-Man the “most powerful man” tagline. So whatever was driving the change, it was going on very early, even if “strongest man” persisted here and there for almost a year.
One more note: in Mark Taylor’s original conception, He-Man’s strength was supernatural, making him the strongest man in the universe, but not so strong that he could lift castles. He didn’t need a sword or any other external items to augment his strength – it was innate.
I’d like to acknowledge Tokyonever, curator of the Grayskull Museum. He first brought to my attention the fact that early He-Man/Wind Raider gift sets had the “strongest” tagline.
Tomart’s Action Figure Digest #202 features one of several articles from the magazine dedicated to the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline. Almost all of the concept art in the article below comes from former Mattel designer Ted Mayer.
The author of the article (who is not named) gets the general thrust of the history of the toyline right for the most part, although there are several factual errors. For instance, the author identifies several variant He-Man and Skeletor designs made midway through the line as early concept versions of the original figures. They also conflate Ted Mayer’s green witch concept with Evil-Lyn (they’re unrelated) and seem to place Vulture Man before Screeech or Zoar (Vulture Man came after).
Still, it’s a fun article with lots of interesting concept art and prototypes. Selections from issues 89, 90 and 91 are available from both He-Man.org and Grayskull Museum (there is definitely some overlap between those articles and this one), but I’m not aware than anyone has shared scans from this particular issue before.