History

The Fighting Foe-Men

One of several copies of The Fighting Foe-Men script

Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting Man-At-Arms with an early weapon from a previous piece of concept art. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

It’s fairly well known by now that early on, Masters of the Universe had a number of working names. One of them was Lords of Power, a topic I’ve covered previously. Another was The Fighting Foe-Men, which will be the topic of this article.

Former Masters of the Universe Classics brand manager Scott Neitlich shared a number of early MOTU documents his his retrospective video below on the rollout of the Classics toyline. I’d like to discuss those documents relevant to the Fighting Foe-Men idea:

Don Glut, under contract from Mattel, wrote a story treatment for the line, apparently with the idea of turning the treatment into the mini comic books to be included with the figures. The Fighting Foe-Men document includes many working figure titles and a few ideas I recognize from my conversations with MOTU designer Mark Taylor, so Glut may have just taken whatever the Mattel team had at the time and expanded it out into a first attempt at a MOTU mythos:

“THE FIGHTING FOE-MEN”
(working title)
presentation by Donald F. Glut

SETTING

In the distant past, or possibly the distant future, a great global war broke out on the distant planet Eternia. The war was waged among the powerful scientists and sorcerers that ruled that planet. The energies unleashed during that war destroyed the two warring factions, and sent Eternia into a space/time warp, where it remains held in a timeless limbo.

Eternia is a rugged, primitive type world, inhabited by various warlike races. Occasionally other beings from distant worlds are cast into the time warp to take refuge on Eternia. The planet’s surface is a savage world of dense jungles, dark forests, active volcanoes, etc. The seas are turbulent and infested with bizarre formes of marine life. The skies are dominated by all manners of strange flying creatures. What little remains of Eternia’s past science has been channeled into various weapons of war — weapons appearing both primitive and yet strangely futuristic.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic Eternia is one of Mark’s ideas, so this may have been communicated to Glut.

Among the remnants of the pre-war days of Eternia is the ominous and awesome Castle Grayskull. The Castle is so ancient that none of Eternia’s inhabitants knows who (or what) built it. What is known is that the Castle is equipped with all manners of weapons, traps and devices. The place is a veritable fortress. Legend has it that the Castle harbors, in some secret place, the mysterious Power Gem — the product of both pre-war science and sorcery. The Power Gem will make its possessor all-powerful and the master of all Eternia. Naturally, then, Castle Grayskull and the Power Gem are coveted items and the reason for much conflict on Eternia.

I hadn’t seen this “Power Gem” concept before. Obviously it was dropped, and it was replaced by the Power Sword.

Skeletor talks about the Power Sword in He-Man and the Power Sword, written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

Don Glut, in a 2001 interview with Matt Jozwiak, said: “The Power Sword was a sort of homage to the various “Power Stone” stories in the 1940s Superman comic books.” The Power Gem must have been a variation on the Power Stone theme, and then it became the Power Sword.

Castle Grayskull concept, by Mark Taylor

HEROES

Among the various characters living on Eternia are four strange beings that we can consider heroes. They are:

He-Man — A native of Eternia, raised by his jungle-dwelling tribe. He is a mass of muscle, with incredible physical strength and a short-fuse-temper. His prowess got him awarded, by the tribe’s elders, a series of fantastic weapons and costumes which they had found in the ruins of a fortress once occupied by Eternia’s pre-war scientists. The costumes augment his strength, each one giving him a single new power — a forcefield, the increased strength of a Hercules, etc. He-Man loves his people, but he craves excitement and adventure, and so has set off on his own. He does not always fight fair and often resorts to underhanded methods to get the job done.

The costumes that give He-Man different abilities are familiar from the first minicomic (although in this case, the tribal elders give him these items, rather than the Sorceress), but the characterization of He-Man as someone who is a short-tempered lout who doesn’t fight fair is something that was obviously abandoned quickly.

He-Man concept art, by Mark Taylor
He-Man’s forcefield garment, as mentioned in the Glut’s Fighting Foe-Men treatment
Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting He-Man and the Sorceress with an early concept vehicle, the Battle Catapult. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.
Battle Catapult concept by Mark Taylor
Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting He-Man and the Sorceress battling a monster. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

MAN-OF-ARMS (alternate names: Arms-Man, Knight-Man, War-Man) — A cold, calculating and totally confident Master of All Weapons. He was trained since childhood by his people in the arts of battle, and is master of such weapons as the laser-axe, the electro-sword and any others that come his way. Unlike He-Man, he is a planner and never plunges into battle without ample preparation. He has left his people to right wrongs wherever he finds them, but knows that, if necessary, he can summon his people to his side as an army.

This depiction of “Man-Of-Arms” (Man-At-Arms) seems pretty close to Mark Taylor’s own conception of the character, and seems at least compatible with his appearances in early minicomics. However, Man-At-Arm’s mission and motivation was given to He-Man in the published minicomics.

Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting Man-At-Arms in a concept vehicle design by Mark Taylor. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

Concept vehicle by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

An early concept that became Man-At-Arms. From Mark Taylor Sketches Vol 1
Early “Man-Of-Arms” with laser-axe illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

WING-MAN (alternative name: Air-Man) — One of the last of a race of mountain-dwelling beings who have mastered the air. Wing-Man is a denizen of mountain peaks hidden high above Eternia’s clouds. He utilizes a flying craft equipped with various weapons resembling characters of flying creatures — a deafening bird’s cry siren, a hornet’s sting, etc. But he can fly without use of the craft, thanks to a set of foldable wings — including a set of bird’s wings, bat’s wings, insect’s wing, etc. He has a good sense of humor and is a natural practical joker, which makes him bearly [sic] tolerable to such brooding characters as He-Man.

Wing-Man or Stratos sounds pretty similar to his minicomic depiction, until you get to the description of his various wings. I’m not sure if that was ever in the works at Mattel or if that’s something Glut came up with on his own. I would guess it is the former, since a variety of costumes were offered for Mattel’s Big Jim and Barbie figures.

Stratos concept. Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor

MER-MAN (alternative name: Sea-Man) — The last survivor of an extraterrestrial race of water-dwellers. When his water-world was drawn into its sun by the force of gravity and evaporated, Mer-Man — a scaly humanoid with fishlike gills and fins — escaped to Eternia and took residence in its seas. There this intelligent being took command of the sea’s creatures. He can exist on land, where his strength, accustomed to the pressures of the sea’s depths, is increased — but extreme heat can dehydrate him, weakening and eventually killing him.

I had heard something like this characterization for Mer-Man before, but hadn’t seen evidence to support it until now. Mer-Man’s susceptibility to dehydration is familiar from the comics, but otherwise his backstory and heroic characterization is totally unlike anything seen in MOTU canon.

Mer-Man as a hero was also something that shows up in a figure sheet included in one of the extra scenes in the excellent Power of Grayskull documentary:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Mer-Man getting dehydrated in the heat of Skeletor’s blade

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

VILLAINS

Each of the villains is out for his own gain, usually to obtain the Power Gem for himself, but they occasionally accept one of them as their leader — Beast-Man

BEAST-MAN — Another native of Eternia’s jungles whose tribe — or pack — has seemingly always been at war with their natural enemies, the human tribe of He-Man. Beast-Man has formidable strength, but it is his ferocity that makes him a natural leader. He has the agility of a gorilla. But when he dons his various costumes, he takes on the powers of other animals — the speed of a gazelle, the charging force of a rhino, etc. Beast-Man, though he despises He-Man’s tribe, yearns to take one or more of its females as a bride. He is totally evil and corrupt. His only redeeming quality is the “love” he bears for his own race, though it is actually more like instinct than any real emotion. His voice is gutteral, almost a growl.

This is a quite surprising casting of Beast Man as the primary enemy of He-Man. I had heard that this was once the case, but had never seen actual evidence until now and I had honestly dismissed the idea. In this treatment he is given parallel powers to He-Man, in that he gains different power from wearing different costumes.

Beast Man and Mer-Man prototypes. Image via Andy Youssi

Early Mark Taylor Beast Man concept art

DE-MAN — A regular demon in the flesh. De-Man once inhabited an alien dimension resembling Dante’s version of Hell, but was thrown into Eternia’s dimension when the great war created a rift between the two dimensions. De-Man is possibly Beast-Man’s most dangerous ally. He has incredible powers and weapons, which can throw bolts of fire, electrical energy, cold. etc. He can control the very elements, bringing down a terrible storm from a cloudless sky, etc. He speaks in a raspy voice and is waiting for just the right opportunity to turn against Beast-Man and seize the Power Gem for himself. Then he will reopen the dimensional rift and bring more of his own race – to conquer eternia.

Some of De-Man’s (Skeletor’s) story here shows up in He-Man and the Power Sword (specifically the part about De-Man as a demon from another dimension). The control over the weather wasn’t really explored. De-Man’s obsession with the Power Gem became Skeletor’s obsession with the Power Sword.

Mark Taylor’s De-Man (Skeletor) concept art, published by Super7 and the Power and the Honor Foundation. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

Skeletor’s origin story

WOODS-MAN (alternate names: Tree-Man, Green-Man) — Another naturally-born Eternian. The master of the Forests and Jungles, Woods-Man has the power to control all plant life. Being a manlike plant himself, Woods-Man does not have the ability to speak — but he does have a telepathic ability to communicate with others of his kind or other plants. His secret ambition is to subjugate all animal life and make Eternia’s plants the rule or this planet.

At first glance Woods-Man reminds me of Moss-Man, who was released in 1985. However, this may have been referring to the Mark Taylor concept below:

From Mark Taylor Sketches Vol 2

KA-MAN (named for the crocodilian Caiman) — a humanoid reptile, not too smart, but incredible sinister and evil. Being reptilian, the scaly warrior is cold-blooded and susceptible to changes in temperature. When he speaks it is hardly more than a hiss. Like a lizard, he can scale walls, change his color to match his environment, look about in all directions with his globelike eyes, etc. His various costumes give him extra reptilian powers — the rattle and striking power of a snake, the fiery breath of a dragon, etc. Naturally his snakelike fangs are venomous. His small reptile’s brain affords him little thinking ability and makes him extremely susceptible to taking orders.

Ka-Man again has the concept of having various costumes that give him different powers. It’s hard to know for sure, but Ka-Man might be this Mark Taylor concept below. It’s certainly reptilian and has “globe-like” eyes. According to Mark’s wife Rebecca, this was originally a private sketch by Mark, which he later proposed as a henchman for Skeletor.

From Mark Taylor Sketches Vol 2

After the characters are set up, Glut lays out a story synopsis for the first comic book in the series, followed by a longer summary. He sets up the heroes as independent and squabbling warriors who must reluctantly form a team to stop the villains. He-Man’s arrogance at first prevents them from working together, after the forces of Beast-Man bring them to the brink of destruction, they must unite in order to survive. I’ll post the entire document at the end. I’ve made the text darker to make it easier to read, although the screen shots aren’t great as far as resolution goes. I’m also typing out the synopsis and summary, and I’ll add a few unrelated illustrations that happen to more or less align with the story.

HE-MAN
STORY SYNOPSIS

In the distant past, warring factions succeeded in destroying each other, sending the planet Eternia into a space/time warp. Filled with war-life races and tribes, only a few remains of the cities were left along with many bizarre forms of life.

He-Man (raised in the jungle, with massive muscles and power-giving costumes) is trying to begin a new life where he can seek and choose his own adventures.

He is interrupted by Wing-Man and told that lights have been seen in the Castle Grayskull (indeterminably old, uninhabited, holds secret “power gem”). He-Man journeys to Castle Grayskull to discover that Beast-Man has captured the beautiful Tee-la and taken her into the Castle. He hopes to make Tee-La his bride when he uncovers the power-gem and gains its supreme power.

He-Man recruits Mer-Man and Wing-Man to help recapture the castle. On the way he must defeat Man-of-Arms (later becomes an ally.)

Beast-Man, Ka-Man, Tree-Man and De-Man manage to overpower and capture the three attackers. The revived Man-of-Arms launches his own attack but is near defeat. When He-Man uses all his strength to break free himself and his companions, He-Man rushes to the defense of Man-of-Arms, and together they defeat Beast-Man and his evil gang. Beast-Man pleads for mercy, and He-Man releases him after he promises not to try to recapture the power-gem.

Tee-la is returned to her people and He-Man wonders if Beast-Man will keep his promise. (Probably not.)

SUMMARY OF 1st BOOK

In the woods of He-Man’s former tribe, a beautiful young woman named Tee-La is captured by Ka-Man. Her people come to her defense, but are suddenly confronted by Woods-Man and De-Man. Woods-Man commands the vines and plants to attack the tribe, while De-Man adds to the attack by firing his laser weapon. Ka-Man makes good his escape with Tee-La, with De-Man and Woods-Man following.

Elsewhere, He-Man is busy starting his new life away from his tribe. Putting on a costume that increases his strength, he starts building himself a dwelling by carving out huge slabs of rock from the mountainside and setting them into place.

He is interrupted by Wing-Man, who flaps overhead with his hawk-wings. Wing-Man says that lights have been observed in the windows of Castle Grayskull and he fears it may have been taken-over by evil beings seeking the legendary Power Gem. He wants He-Man to go with him to investigate. He-Man is angry for the interruption, saying he chooses his own adventures, and hurls a boulder at Wing-Man to drive him away.

At the castle, Beast-Man awaits the return of his three henchmen with their prize, the lovely Tee-La.

When she is brought to him, she panics and tries escaping the castle, only to fall victim to one of the castle’s numerous traps. Beast-Man says that soon he will have the Power Gem that will make him supremely powerful and the ruler of all Eternia — and that she will then become his bride. She cringes at the terrible thought.

Meanwhile, as He-Man finishes his rock dwelling, he sees stepping out of the jungle a number of his former tribesmen.

They related to him how Tee-La was captured and taken away to be given to the Beast-Man, He-Man’s natural (and worst) enemy. Now his attitude changes. Donning another costume, the one that gives him his forcefield, he gets into his chariot and starts rolling in the direction of the distant Castle Grayskull.

Wing-Man, in his flying craft, flies low over the castle when he is spotted by Beast-Man and his cohorts.

De-Man creates a storm and Wing-Man finds himself trying to dodge bolts of lightning. He dons his wings in time to “bail-out” before a bolt destroys his ship.

But as he saves himself, he is defeated by Ka-Man, whose dragon’s breath burns his wings to a cinder. He drops into the waiting arms of Beast-Man. Beast-Man says that Wing-Man’s presence has given him the idea of how to find the Power Gem… use a hero.

In the sea, Mer-Man notices the temperature of the water changing. It begins to bail and become intolerable. Surfacing, he discovers that it is the work of De-Man, who is using his demonic powers to create a heat-wave. Finding himself dehydrating, Mer-Man succumbs to the intense heat and becomes the prisoner of De-Man.

He-Man is still on his way in his chariot, rolling over the rugged terrain, when he is stopped by Man-of-Arms, who wishes to accompany him, having heard there are wrongs to be righted at Castle Grayskull. The arrogant, single-minded He-Man says he neither needs nor wants any help. Man-of-Arms takes his rejection as a personal insult and challenges him to battle, using on of his fantastic weapons. But the weapon cannot pierce He-Man’s forcefield and Man-of-Arms is easily defeated by He-Man’s strength. Man-of-Arms is left beaten and defeated, while He-Man continues on his way.

At the castle, Beast-Man — threatening Mer-Man with more heat, and with the deaths of his other two captives, Wing-Man and Tee-La — forces him to do his bidding. Beast-Man reveals an ancient scroll which states that the Power Gem might be located somewhere beneath water. There is a subterranean lake beneath the castle and that is where Beast-Man believes the Power Gem to be. Mer-Man swims to the bottom of the lake, finding a light in the murky depths. As he grasps the glowing stone, he fears that Eternia is now in the hands of its most evil inhabitant.

He-Man, in his chariot, reaches the castle and challenges his enemy, Beast-Man.

Beast-Man appears atop the castle saying that he now can do anything. He holds up the glowing stone, but it does nothing. This is not the Power Gem! Laughing, He-Man launches his attack with his chariot’s weapons. But the angry Beast-Man commands his three cohorts to defend him. De-Man’s power cuts through He-Man’s forcefield, after which he is overpowered by the attacking Ka-Man and Woods-Man.

Now He-Man, Wing-Man and Mer-Man are all chained in the castle’s torture room. Wing-Man tells He-Man that they should have teamed up earlier. Seeing the captive Tee-La, He-Man believes, at last, that Wing-Man was right. He-Man struggles with all his might, but cannot break his bonds. Beast-Man laughs … when he is interrupted by a commotion from outside.

It is a revived Man-of-Arms, making his own attack — with his own array of fantastic weapons — on Castle Grayskull. Beast-Man orders his cohorts to repel the attack and make Man-of-Arms his prisoner, also. As this is done, He-Man continues to struggle with his bonds and finally — looking once more at Tee-La — musters the superhuman effort to break them. Then he frees the others.

Outside, Man-of-Arms is fighting valiantly like a true knight of old, but is rapidly falling to the overpowering opposing forces. As he is ready to suffer defeat, He-Man, Wing-Man and Mer-Man, acting as a team, rush to his defense. Mer-Man and Wing-Man attack De-Man, Ka-Man and Woods-Man, while He-Man goes after Beast-Man. While the heroes and villains pit power against power, He-Man and Beast-Man engage in a furious one-on-one battle, a fight which eventually takes them to the very top of the castle. Finally He-Man manages to raise Beast-Man over his head and threatens to dash him to the ground, when Beast-Man pleads for mercy. Being human and not a beast, He-Man succumbs, and lets Beast-Man go, on the condition that he promises that he and his allies will never return to seek the Power Gem or cause trouble. Beast-Man promises.

As He-Man, Tee-La and the other heroes watch the departing villains, and prepare to return the young woman to her people, Man-of-Arms wonders if Beast-Man will keep his promise. Probably not, says He-Man, but at least when that time comes the heroes will be ready for them. For He-Man has learned something this day — that sometimes it is good to have allies in battle (not always, but sometimes!). They make a good team, he says, and someday they might again band together for battle.

THE END

Included among the documents is what looks like feedback from Mattel for some changes to the story. Those changes include making Grayskull more mysterious and emphasizing that it holds the secrets of the universe. Mattel also wanted to make De-Man (Skeletor) the primary villain. He-Man was to be made more heroic and less arrogant and underhanded; he was also supposed to get along with the other heroes. In this feedback, Tee-La (Teela) was to be written out of this particular story. That last edit obviously didn’t take, as Teela features prominently in the minicomics written by Glut.

“Tee-La” attacks “Beastman” in the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword

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Reviews

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (2015)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (released October 21, 2015) is a comprehensive collection of minicomics from 1982 to the early 90s, plus a taste of the 2002 and modern Masters of the Universe Classics mini comics.  It’s a concept that I think a lot of He-Man and She-Ra fans had been wishing for for quite some time.

The collection was edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with advisement from Val Staples. The comics themselves were scanned and collected by Leanne Hannah, Rod Hannah, Jon Kallis, Rachel Crockett, and Val Staples.

Many of these comics had been available for some time digitally from sources like He-Man.org and The Good Old Days, but not always scanned in high resolution, and certainly not always in a format that was easy to read. Collecting minicomics for the most part isn’t generally terribly expensive – that is, until you get to rare issues like The Ultimate Battleground or Energy Zoids. And certainly having the comics collected in one book is a more convenient to consume and digest them. Having a comprehensive collection in production order nudged me to read read comics I might have otherwise skipped. And of course the pages are blown up significantly larger than the original printings, with the exception of The Power of Point Dread.

Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection covers more than just standard release comics. The previously unpublished Return From Terror Island (inked but uncolored) is included along with an introduction by James Eatock. There is also a script for another unpublished comic, Ring of Dreams, with an introduction by Danielle Gelehrter. The general rule for this collection is minicomics that were packed in with toys, or were intended to be packed in with toys.

We also get an introduction to mini comic variants. One of the most fascinating is the early promotional version of He-Man and the Power Sword, which features an early version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as well as references to the toyline’s early working name, “Lords of Power.”

That logo, by the way, has some points in common with the logo used on some French Masters of the Universe minicomics:

The collection is also peppered with with footnotes full of trivia and interesting connections, written by Jukka Issakainen:

Out of curiosity, I asked Jukka how the trivia portion of the book came about. This is what he told me:

Early on, there was no trivia planned. I had touched base with Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon with some questions about minicomic order and variant differences, and later Val Staples who was coordinating the book contacted me back via Skype on these matters. During a couple of conversations he asked if anything popped into my mind that should be included in the book [comics, booklets, specials], but as they had most things already covered, I mentioned that if the book could include some trivia it would be a cool addition.

Scattered in between the many dozens of mini comic stories the collection is filled  with quite a number of interviews (conducted by Danielle Gelehrter) with fourteen mini comic artists and writers, vintage and modern. They include:

  • Mark Texeira
  • Gary Cohn,
  • Michael Halperin
  • Larry Houston
  • Christy Marx
  • Stan Sakai
  • Lee Nordling
  • Steven Grant
  • Jim Mitchell
  • Errol McCarthy
  • Val Staples
  • Tim Seeley
  • Daniel Chabon
  • Scott Neitlich

All of this is icing on the cake for anyone who cares to delve into the history of the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power minicomics. If not, then the comics themselves are worth the price of admission and then some

The large bulk of the book is made of up of the original 51 Masters of the Universe minicomics, which were packed in with figures and other toys from 1982 to 1987. Because the comics span six years and were produced by dozens of different artists and writers, there are some quite dramatic tonal shifts throughout the series.

The series begins with the stark jungle-barbarian post-apocalyptic wastelands of the Alfredo Alcala and Don Glut stories, which are the only comics in the series that don’t have speech bubbles. In fact, Mattel called them “adventure books” rather than comics or minicomics.

This advertisement appeared in the original He-Man and the Power Sword “adventure book”. However, the Dark Horse collection omits all of the original ads.

That distinctive style gives way to Mark Texeira and Gary Cohn’s faster-paced bronze age style adventure tales. I’m a big fan of the artwork and storytelling, but I find some of the color choices a bit perplexing sometimes, with emphasis on orangey-browns and vivid magenta throughout.

Following the Texeira/Cohn comics, Alfredo Alcala returns to illustrate another series of stories (this time with traditional word bubbles). The writer for the next run of Alcala-illustrated comics was most often  Michael Halperin, who wrote the original Masters of the Universe Bible. The MOTU Bible contained the “proto-Filmation” canon – that is to say, elements that would influence the development of the Filmation cartoon, but were not identical to the world Filmation created. Some examples – Prince Adam exists, but is a more serious character and has a different costume. King Randor is also depicted as a much older man.

The tone remained somewhat serious throughout the second run of Alcala comics (perhaps with the exception of The Obelisk, written by Karen Sargentich). Some of the post-Alcala comics, illustrated by Larry Houston, were downright brutal:

From The Clash of Arms

After a few chaotic and frankly bizarre comics midway through the series (the mini comics for Leech and Mantenna spring to mind), the comics seem to settle into a predictable but solid rhythm and style, particularly when Bruce Timm was at the illustrator desk. The Filmation influence is present through most of the series, but the mini comics are often just a shade darker, with some actual action and violence (but almost never any real consequences).


The Dark Horse collection includes all eleven original Princess of Power minicomics, all of which were new to me. The first of POP comics, The Story of She-Ra, features a brief appearance by Hordak, but otherwise Catra is the main villain, and no other male members of the Evil Horde appear in the series.

These are tightly contained stories that for the most part focus on Princess of Power-branded characters. It’s an interesting alternative universe to the Filmation She-Ra series, which not only featured an almost complete line-up of Evil Horde villains, but regularly featured guest characters from He-Man’s world as well.

The Dark Horse collection also features all four original New Adventures of He-Man mini-comics (the short-lived sci-fi reboot that immediately followed the original line), a selection of two comics from the 2002 series, and three mini-comics from the modern Masters of the Universe Classics series.

The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy, who was responsible for much of the post-1982 cardback art on the original He-Man figures) is a fun story, because in it Skeletor witnesses first-hand Prince Adam’s transformation into He-Man. Perhaps more could have been done with Skeletor’s reaction to this revelation, but all the built-up subtext almost tells that story for you:

The collection features the one 2002 minicomic that fans were already familiar with, plus another featuring Smash Blade He-Man and Spin Blade Skeletor that was never released. The comics were written by Val Staples and Robert Kirkman, with artwork and colors by Emiliano Santalucia, Enza Fontana, Marko Failla, Neal Adams,Kevin Sharpe, Brian Buccellato, Steve Cobb, and Val Staples.

Finally, we get a taste of three minicomics from the 2009 Masters of the Universe Classics series. All three were written by Scott Neitlich and Tim Seeley (the first in the series was based on the vintage Powers of Grayskull mini comic written by Phil White and penciled by Larry Houston) and illustrated by Wllinton Alves and Michael Atiyeh.

Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection satisfies a need that had gone unmet for a long time among He-Man and She-Ra fans, but it also whets our appetite for more books along these same lines. Personally I’d love to see another collection comprised of full-sized MOTU comics and magazines from the 1980s to present day, not to mention a collection of the classic Golden Books adventures.

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Heroic Warriors

He-Man: “Mattel’s Jungle Man”

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

He-Man has been depicted in many different ways over the years. Sometimes he’s something of a knight, complete with archaic English pronouns, keeping a close watch over a medieval fiefdom. Sometimes he’s a square-jawed, unbreakable man of steel, protecting a futuristic monarchy from comically-inept enemies. Sometimes he’s a barbarian warrior piloting technological wonders from another age through war-torn battle fields.

But in his first ever media incarnation, He-Man was a jungle man, something of a blond Tarzan with a dash of Conan the Barbarian, gifted with special weapons and equipment from the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull.

Indeed, it’s not surprising that early media depict He-Man as a Tarzan-like character. In the 1970s Mattel had produced a line of Tarzan toys, so it would have been a natural direction to take the new Masters of the Universe line. He-Man the jungle warrior was a short-lived concept and was soon replaced with other themes, but I’d like to explore it in this article.

Tarzan and the Giant Ape. Packaging artwork by Mark Taylor.

The first minicomic of the toyline, He-Man and the Power Sword, kicks off the MOTU mythos with the theme of He-Man as jungle tribesman turned defender of Eternia. And really, it’s not so surprising that He-Man would be characterized in this way, given that the comic was written by Don Glut (artwork by Alfredo Alcala). Glut was the creator and writer of the Dagar The Invincible comic series from the early 1970s, which features as its protagonist a blond-haired jungle warrior in a primitive costume.


In a 2001 interview conducted by Matt Jozwiak, Glut explained:

Originally, when I came onto the [MOTU] project, there were no stories at all. Not all the characters and places were yet named and not all of the characters had been invented. All that existed then were some prototype toys and some general ideas of who and what they were and what they could do.

I’d been writing comic-book and filler text stories for Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Whitman, Gold Key Comics and Golden Press). Western then had an account with the Mattel toy company. One day my editor at Western, Del Connell, told me that Mattel was coming out with a new line of toys called Masters of the Universe and needed someone to write four booklets that would be included with the toys…

It’s hard to remember much of this, as it was long ago and so quickly executed. Basically, I was given Polaroid photos of the prototype toys. I’d written lots of sword and sorcery and heroic adventure type stories by this time and so it was relatively easy to come up with the personalities. He-Man, for instance, was your typical “noble savage stereotype” a kind of combination Tarzan and Conan. I just used the same standards and principles I’d applied to earlier stories to “Master of the Universe”. And the plots were similar, too. Most such plots involve a villain who needs “something” (a magic jewel, a secret formula, etc.) to achieve a goal (conquer the world, achieve immortality, etc.) and a brave hero who fights to prevent the villain from accomplishing this. You simply “fill in the blanks,” changing the particulars from story to story.

And indeed, this exactly the kind of story-telling used in He-Man and the Power Sword. He-Man, the mightiest warrior of tribe, sets out to defend Eternia and Castle Grayskull from unknown threats. How he comes to the conclusion that they are threatened is not explained. In this scene we get a glimpse of He-Man’s tribe in the background as he sets off with spear in hand.

Although He-Man is simple and primitive, the Sorceress soon gifts him with force field armor that adds to his strength, a battle axe, a shield, and a futuristic time warp device (the Battle Ram).

With his augmented strength, the primitive He-Man carves his home out of the bare rock using nothing but his fists.

The MacGuffin that Glut refers to as the basis for his story telling is, in this case, the Power Sword, hidden deep within Castle Grayskull. Skeletor manages to force his way into the castle and succeeds in retrieving it.

Another early Glut-penned mini comic, Battle in the Clouds, has a more subtle portrayal of the “jungle He-Man”. We don’t necessarily see He-Man as a Tarzan-like figure here, but when he needs assistance from Battle Cat, He-Man returns to the forest and makes an animal call to summon his friend:

An advertisement for the Masters of the Universe Pop-Up Game appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword that again makes reference to He-Man as a jungle warrior. From the advertisement:

Based on the Mattel jungle man. Pop-up sections are two volcanoes and the graphics of He-Man and other characters. Object of play is to cross the treacherous terrain of jungle, climbing the volcanoes which open, causing a man to fall through.

This is probably the strongest jungle-themed depiction of He-Man. The board features a thick jungle with three active volcanoes and twisting paths. Skeletor and Beast Man are the “volcano keepers” who try to destroy He-Man on his journey to save Eternia.

Western Publishing version
Peter Pan Playthings version

In the 1983 DC Comics-published The Key to Castle Grayskull, He-Man is not a jungle man per se, but he does have old friends who live in the forest – a tribe of jungle warriors led by Ceril, their chief (images via He-Man.org):

Ceril and He-Man’s story goes back further than He-Man’s partnership with Battle Cat. After He-Man defeated the sorcerer Damon, who had enslaved Ceril’s people, the tribe was ever after loyal to He-Man.

The instruction sheet that came with Castle Grayskull depicted He-Man holding a spear, hearkening back to how he was depicted in He-Man and the Power Sword. The same illustration, but with the boot knife from the aforementioned comic (as well as the original Mark Taylor b-sheet) was also used in retail ad sheets:

Finally, at one point, (probably in late 1982 or early 1983, judging from the photo below) Mattel was planning to make a jungle-themed playset for He-Man and his friends. The playset featured thick foliage, a waterfall, caves, boulders, a rickety rope bridge, and a giant python. You can also see the laser canon from Castle Grayskull peeking out from the cave on the far right. The playset was later repurposed for Snake Mountain.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol. 1

In his later days He-Man seemed to lose all vestiges of his early barbarian/jungle warrior heritage, becoming instead a kind of Superman-like figure in furry shorts. However, as someone whose first exposure to the character was the earliest mini comics and the first wave of toys, my heart will always lie with the He-Man of spear, sword and sorcery.

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Evil Warriors

Skeletor’s Energy Blade

Skeletor’s most iconic weapon has always been his havoc staff, with its distinctive and menacing ram’s skull. The two are so interconnected as to be practically inseparable. Skeletor also carried his purple half of the power sword, and it made plenty of appearances in mini comics and story books.

There is however, another weapon that Skeletor carried in the 1982 mini comics (artwork by Alfredo Alcala, story by Don Glut). This was Skeletor’s energy blade (sometimes called lightning blade or lightning weapon). It was a fairly ordinary-looking short sword with a curved hilt that was capable of releasing searing blasts of energy, or even calling up magical images.

I always assumed that this particular sword’s design was an invention of artist Alfredo Alcala. But I recently noticed what appears to be the same sword showing up in early box art by Rudy Obrero. That lead me to believe that the energy blade may have originally come from Mattel*. I’d like to think there is a B-sheet lying around in a box somewhere with a drawing of this sword in it. Without definitive proof, of course, we can’t know for sure.

Here are some representative appearances of the energy blade in the 1982 mini comics. There is some variation with how it was drawn, even within the same comic:

Here are the appearances of the sword in Rudy Obrero’s packaging illustrations for the Battle Ram, He-Man/Wind Raider, Wind Raider, He-Man/Battle Cat, and Castle Grayskull boxes. Note that at times Beast Man carries the same sword:

Incidentally, a sword of the same design appears in Man-At-Arms’ hand in the 1983 comic book, The Power of Point Dread:

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

He-Man holds a similar sword on the cover of the same booklet (hat tip to Jukka Issakainen):

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

Somewhat similar swords appear in this 1982 advertisement for Faker:

Image source: Robert Schultz. Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

In one depiction of Mark Taylor’s Vikor character (who pre-dated He-Man), Vikor carries a sword similar to the energy blade:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man

*Update:

Øyvind Johannes Meisfjord pointed a fatal flaw in my reasoning. It seems that Alfredo Alcala drew a very similar looking sword that predated the He-Man property by several years:

1976 illustration of Conan by Alfredo Alcala

Furthermore, swords similar to those in the Rudy Obrero illustrations show up in artwork by Frank Frazetta and John Buscema throughout the 1960s and 1970s:

Given this evidence, it seems unlikely now that the common source for this design was Mattel (it’s possible, but I don’t think a strong case can be made for it). I have to conclude that Alfredo Alcala was drawing upon the fantasy concepts he’d been illustrating for years, and Rudy Obrero was drawing upon general sword and sorcery themes of the ’60s and ’70s. Given Mark Taylor’s Frazetta influences, he probably drew from the same general creative well for his Vikor sword.

Thanks to Øyvind for challenging my theory. I think it’s been successfully refuted!

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