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:
Whiplash, released in 1984, was part of a series of five animal-themed figures released in the third wave of the Masters of the Universe toyline, which also included Clawful, Buzz-Off, Webstor and Kobra Khan.
I had something of a love affair with the figure as a kid. I distinctly remember the existential agony of having to choose between him and Clawful at the store. Ultimately I went with Clawful, but it could have gone either way. I remember spending a lot of time playing with Whiplash despite that, so I think I was either able to borrow one from a friend or get my own later.
Just about everything I have to say about the development of Whiplash’s design was already said several years ago by James Eatock, in his excellent “Behind the Scenes – The Evolution of Whiplash” video. I’m including James’ video below, but I’ll also go over the details myself.
Whiplash was designed by Colin Bailey in July of 1982. His original concept, shown below, is in many ways quite different from the final toy, but there are points of convergence as well. The character has the same widely-splayed four toed feet and troll-like facial features that the final toy had. However, this concept character, called Lizard Man, had strangely furry calves, yellow legs, prominent spinal ridges, spikey violet bracers, and two prominent horns.
Lizard Man made it into the December 1, 1982 MOTU Bible, and was listed among He-Man’s allies:
LIZARD MAN – moves quietly, quickly and has the agility of his namesake. He climbs perpendicular walls and his tough lizard skin provides protection against most of his enemies. Liz has one drawback — every year he molts and becomes vulnerable to attack and completely useless to anyone.
The Colin Bailey concept was translated into into a simplified design suitable for animation by Filmation’s artists (see above video), but it was never used, and Lizard Man went back to the drawing board at Mattel. In the mean time, Filmation created a new character with the same name for their episode, “She-Demon of Phantos”:
Mattel made some changes to the shape of Lizard Man’s (or at this point, I should say Whiplash – Mattel filed the trademark claim for that name on August 22, 1983) head, legs and tail. You can see this step in the evolution of the character in the minicomic, The Clash of Arms. Whiplash looks much closer to his final design here, except for his color scheme (green, yellow/orange and purple, like the original concept drawing) and the shape and length of his tail:
The final toy would have a much simplified two-tone green color scheme for his skin, with blue boots and loin cloth, and an orange belt. The hand-painted prototype figure, shown below in Mattel’s 1984 dealer catalog, has his final alligator tail design, and sports a purple repaint of the spear that came packed with Castle Grayskull. He reuses arms from Skeletor, as well as the legs and torso from Buzz-Off.
In this German catalog, you can see the prototype again, this time with some paint wear showing his Skeletor arms. He is holding Man-E-Faces’ sword:
The production toy would come with an orange spear, but otherwise the design remained unchanged compared to the prototype:
Whiplash’s face is somewhat perplexing. He has two large fangs sticking up out of his lower jaw, but he has a third, downward pointing fang that seems to come from the tip of his nose. You can also see that where the concept version had very prominent spikes on the top of his head, the final toy has two short nubs on either side of the crest on his head.
The final design is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of other lizard themed toys that Mattel released in 1980 – an inflatable lizard monster toy called Krusher, and Lizard Woman from the Flash Gordon series:
Whiplash was sold in several configurations, including, of course, the standard blister card packaging, which has some lovely artwork by Errol McCarthy on the back:
McCarthy also depicted Whiplash in several other contexts:
The last image from the series above was used for a T-Shirt design. The final design (below) was colored, with the purple spear that appeared on the prototype version (images courtesy of Unsung Woodworks):
Whiplash was also sold in two giftsets – in a three-pack with Webstor and Stinkor, and a JCPenny two-pack with Kobra Khan:
Whiplash makes only two appearances, apart from his debut, in the minicomics. He shows up, confusingly, as a member of the Evil Horde, along with Clawful, Jitsu, Leech and Grizzlor, in Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!
He also makes an appearance, this time as part of Skeletor’s crew, in Hordak – The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge! While his depiction in the Mantenna comic was relatively toy-accurate, here he borrows the design from The Clash of Arms, albeit with corrected colors:
Whiplash appears in several of the Golden Books stories. One of my favorite is a scene from Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, where Whiplash lies in wait within a cave to ambush Man-At-Arms. Interestingly, the artist (Louis Eduardo Barreto) depicted the scaly villain with spikes around his shoulders:
A more toy-accurate Whiplash plays a minor role in The Magic Mirror, illustrated by Fred Carillo:
Whiplash is again depicted with spikes around his shoulders in Maze of Doom, illustrated by Al McWilliams. It seems likely he used Barreto’s art as a reference for the character.
Filmation’s He-Man cartoon usually depicted Whiplash as one of Skeletor’s more competent Henchmen. Design-wise, the animated version of the character is more or less a simplified version of the action figure, but with Mer-Man-like feet, blue wrist bracers, and no orange belt.
One of my favorite episodes where Whiplash plays a prominent role is “To Save Skeletor”. In the story, Whiplash arrives half-dead at the royal palace, pleading for help from the heroic warriors. As it turns out, Skeletor had summoned an extra-dimensional being named Sh’Gora with the intent of using him to take over Eternia, but the creature had quickly overpowered the evil warriors and was threatening to destroy the planet.
Whiplash makes a couple of appearances in the box art – once in the Fisto and Stridor giftset, and once in the Battle Bones box art:
Whiplash also makes a couple of appearances in posters by William George, from 1984 and 1985 respectively:
Whiplash appears prominently in one of my favorite pieces of MOTU artwork – a poster by Earl Norem that appeared in the inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine. The poster features He-Man, Stridor, Buzz-Off, Webstor, Clawful and a somewhat Filmation-inspired Whiplash:
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 popular enough 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.