Evil Beasts, Heroic Beasts

Battle Bones – Collector’s Carry Case (1985)

Battle Bones is pretty unique among every other official Mattel release for the vintage line. It rides the line between an in-world beast and a fourth wall-breaking collector case.

I believe I got Battle Bones as a birthday present along with Night Stalker in the fall of 1985. Both of them were a complete surprise – I hadn’t heard of either toy before unwrapping them. I was pretty happy with both toys, although of the two Battle Bones was a bit more fun, simply because I could fit nearly all my figures in it. And of course I made Battle Bones “eat” plenty of bad guys along the way.

Design & Development

Battle Bones was designed by Ed Watts, who also designed Dragon Walker. Watts’ concept at (below) is very close to what was actually produced, although the body was elongated, a handle was added on the back, and the teeth, eyes and horns were somewhat modified:

Image Source: Dark Horse/The Power and the Honor Foundation

According to The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, one proposed early name for Battle Bones was “Dem Bones”.

A patent was filed for the toy on December 14, 1984. The inventors are listed as Michael W. Barbato, Tony Rhodes, and Edward W. Watts. Watts of course did the visual design, but apparently the concept was created by all three. From the abstract:

A holder for animated figures in the form of the simulated skeletal structure of a prehistoric beast, including a simulated rib cage having clip members at the extremities thereof. Each of the clip members is configured for frictionally retaining an animated figure toy at a portion of its anatomy, particularly the waist. The animated figure holder is provided with a handle for carrying, and includes a skull configured to provide storage space.

Production Toy

The production toy was shipped partially disassembled, requiring a few screws and a screwdriver in order to connect the handle and the front and back halves of the body.

The toy can fit a total of twelve figures on clips on the ribs, six to a side. Like Stridor and Night Stalker, it’s mostly unarticulated, save for a hinge joint on the mouth, where accessories can be stored. The figure was cast in an off-white color, with no additional paint applications.

Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys apparently released a painted version of the toy, with a stripe of dark gray paint down the middle of the back and head. It’s known as “Camo Battle Bones” as a reference to “Kamo Khan“, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about it.

Packaging

The box art for Battle Bones was illustrated by William George. Two separate scenes are depicted on the front of the the box – one with Battle Bones acting as a carrying case, with Evil and Heroic Warriors clipped in, and one with the figure transporting characters into battle:

As depicted in the box art, Battle Bones could be used by either heroic or evil warriors. That idea is fleshed out more in the minicomics, and repeated in a 1985 poster by William George (featured later in the article).

Advertisement & Catalogs

Battle Bones was of course featured in Mattel’s own catalogs, but also advertised by a number of different retailers:

1985 JC Penny Catalog. Source: R.M. Hart
1986 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Source: Battle Armor Dad
Source: www.battlegrip.com
Image source: Steve Macrocranios
Image Source: Super Shogun
Image source: He-Man.org

Minicomics

Battle Bones’ backstory is laid out in Skeletor’s Dragon, a minicomic that came packed with Dragon Blaster Skeletor. In the story, Skeletor raises a buried pile of dinosaur bones to life, and forces the undead creature to do his evil bidding.

Eventually the Sorceress frees Battle Bones from Skeletor’s spell, and we learn that the creature is good, not evil. Battle Bones speaks to the Heroic Warriors, delivering a surprisingly poignant backstory:

In the minicomic, The Stench of Evil, Battle Bones is chosen by He-Man to go up against Stinkor, because Battle Cat wouldn’t be able to stand the smell:

Magazine

Battle Bones appears in a 1985 German MOTU Magazine, which used photos and dioramas to tell stories:

German Audio Stories

Battle Bones makes an appearance in the 1986 Europa audio story, “Skeletors Sieg”:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Stamp Case & Knock-Offs

HG Toys produced an adorable miniature Battle Bones Stamp Case for holding the various MOTU stamps that were released over the years:

The case was later bootlegged (with some slight modifications) as the Creepy Crawlers “Goop-A-Saurus”.

Artwork

Battle Bones appeared in a couple of posters that, like the box art, were illustrated by William George:

Image Courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Battle Bones also makes appearances in posters made available to members of the UK MOTU Fan Club:

Image source: He-Man.org
Image Source: He-Man.org

Battle Bones in Action

Øyvind Meisford contributed the following image and video of Battle Bones in action:

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Heroic Warriors

Rio Blast – Heroic transforming gunslinger (1986)

Rio Blast is surely one of the most incongruent-looking figures in the Masters of the Universe toyline. From 1982 to 1985, the MOTU line had a certain consistency – barbarian fantasy meets science fiction. Generally the characters looked either like Frazetta-esque warriors and wizards/witches, retro-futuristic techno-men, or animal-human hybrid monsters.

So why all of a sudden a cowboy character? The same year that Rio Blast came out, Mattel put out the Bravestarr toyline, which was essentially a western set in space (Filmation came up with the concept and put out an accompanying cartoon in 1987). Perhaps that had some influence.

Bravestarr. Image Source: Transformers-Universe.com

Design & Development

Rio Blast didn’t actually start out as a cowboy character. The concept, originally called Fire Power Man and designed by Ed Watts, was a villainous figure with a dark black and gold costume. The flip out gun feature was carried over to Rio Blast, but the look ended up being completely redesigned.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1. Aside from the guns and the mustache, the design looks nothing like Rio Blast.

As noted in the above section from the Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, this design would be used by Filmation to create the Colonel Blast Character. He was redesigned by the animation studio to better fit in with the Evil Horde:

Image source: Bustatoons

We can see the retooled cowboy design for Rio Blast in the cross sell artwork below:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Production Toy

Despite looking somewhat out of place in the MOTU line, Rio Blast is an impressive-looking figure. He’s well-sculpted and bristling with painted and sculpted detail, with no reused parts from other figures. Clearly Mattel went all out of this one:

As shown above, Rio Blast’s guns can be manually popped out of his thighs, wrists and chest. His four piece “blasterpak” can swing over his eyes, giving him even more guns and a targeting sight.

Packaging Artwork

The artwork on the front of Rio Blast’s card was done, I believe, by Bruce Timm, and the scene on the back was illustrated by Errol McCarthy:

Image Source: La Cueva Del Terror

Characterization & Backstory

Rio Blast was given a relatively elaborate backstory in the 1987 Style Guide:

Power: Has the ability to transform from normal warrior into an awesome arsenal of fire power. He’s the fastest draw in the universe.

Character profile: As the sole survivor of a group of heroic explorers in a starband near Eternia, Rio ended up as the “law” in that lost frontier. Flung by a metero to the surface of Eternia, Rio has naturally allied himself with He-Man in the battle against evil. Though Rio claims he “don’t like to shoot off my own guns,” he is a superb shot and like to remind the other Heroic Warriors of that as often as possible. His style occasionally gets in the way, but He-Man realizes he is an important ally. Unfortunately Rio Blast is nagged by the fact that he has left behind an untamed starband, and he often champs at the bit to get back. He-Man has promised Rio Blast to help get him home as soon as the warriors of Skeletor have been defeated once and for all.

Illustrated by Errol McCarthy

There was also a fact file published in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Comics & Artwork

Rio Blast came packed with a minicomic prominently featuring Rio Blast. The story doesn’t really reference the style guide backstory, other than saying that Rio used to be a lawman. In the story, Rio talks with an “old west” Texas accent and uses his guns to foil an attempt by Skeletor’s henchmen to drive some Eternian cattle away.

Rio Blast is prominent in the 1987 Winter issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine, where he faces off against Ninjor:

Image source: He-Man.org

He also appears in several pieces of art done for the magazine by Earl Norem:

Rio Blast also shows up in issue 4 and 5 of the 1987 UK MOTU Magazine

Update: Matthew M. has pointed out in the comments that Rio Blast appears in the November 1986 Star Comics story, Snakes Alive! In the story, we learn that Rio is terrified of Snakes, which King Hiss uses to his advantage:

Rio Blast makes an appearance in both William George’s Eternia box art and Eternia poster:

I was never all that interested in Rio Blast until I got one in hand. He’s now become my favorite Heroic Warrior of the 1986 lineup, despite feeling somewhat out of sync with the rest of the line.

Rio Blast advertising art

Rio Blast in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly contributed the following image and video of Rio Blast in action:

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Playsets

Fright Zone – Trap-filled stronghold of terror (1985)

I only saw the Fright Zone once as a kid, in the late 80’s. I was immediately filled with regret for never having owned such a creepy-looking playset, a situation that was not rectified until a quarter of a century later.

Of the three major playsets depicted in the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, the Fright Zone toy was the least like its animated counterpart. What I believe happened is that Filmation came up with its design on its own (an HR Giger-esque monstrosity), and then Mattel decided to use an older concept to represent the hideout of the Evil Horde in toy form. The animated Fright Zone would have been immense and complicated to produce, to say the least, although I suppose they could have replicated a portion of it.

The playset version of the Fright Zone begins with a December 5, 1983 piece of concept art called “Masters Villain Playset.” The concept, illustrated by Ed Watts, was no doubt intended for the Evil Warriors. It has the tree (this version has hands) down next to the jail cell, and it has some kind of man-eating plant on the right side, but otherwise it’s very close to the look of the final toy.

It’s not clear if the rock monster trap was included in this early concept, but there was a somewhat similar concept floating around Mattel:

A couple of separate patents were filed connected with the development of the Fright Zone playset. One (filed October 4, 1985) is connected with the tree and rock monster traps, and the other (filed April 5, 1985) is connected with the mold process for the rubber dragon puppet. Mattel applied for a trademark claim on the Fright Zone on January 27, 1984.

The playset has four main play features. There is the rubber dragon puppet that can be manipulated through the hole to its den on the right side of the playset. There is the haunted tree that can be made to grab hold of figures. There is the prison, which can be unlached with the flick of a switch, and there is the rock monster trap near the entrance to the dragon’s den, that can grab on to a figure’s foot:

The packaging artwork was painted by William George. In the fearsome Fright Zone, Battle Armor He-Man fights the dreadful dragon, while Hordak snares Battle Armor Skeletor with his tree trap. Buzz-Off is held captive in Hordak’s prison. Dead trees and craggy mountains surround the lair of the Evil Horde, and twin moons hang in the sky.

The Fright Zone also appears on the box art for Hordak/Grizzlor:

The 1987 Style Guide (illustrated by Errol McCarthy) described the Fright Zone this way:

Power: Ability to capture and consume enemies of The Horde.

Character profile: Located in Etheria, the Fright Zone is the dreaded domain of The Evil Horde. Exploreres are loath to enter the region, for few who travel into the Fright Zone ever return – and those who do are haunted forever after. It is the Fright Zone through which Hordak and his horde pass to enter the realm of Eternia.

As you might expect, the Fright Zone appears most frequently in the minicomics in 1985, the year it was released. It’s showcased most effectively in The Power of the Evil Horde, illustrated by Bruce Timm:

A Filmation version of the Fright Zone appeared in issue four of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine:

However, the same issue has this activity page depicting a playset-influenced version of Hordak‘s lair:

This version of the Fright Zone, in poster form appears in the same issue. It’s a much more realistic depiction, but still based on the playset:

Several other posters featured the Fright Zone as a backdrop. It was rendered at times just like the toy, and sometimes like the Filmation She-Ra cartoon version:

In the Masters Mail for the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine, issue 13, we get some clarification on why the different looks for the Filmation and toy/comic Fright Zones (you can read a bit more about this at James Eatock’s He-Man and She-Ra Blog). As retcons go, it’s pretty elegant and it works well enough for me:

Apart from miniature playsets like the Slime Pit and Point Dread, the Fright Zone was by far the smallest, but it was also the creepiest, and in my opinion, one of the most fun to actually play with.

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Evil Vehicles

Land Shark – Evil Monster/Vehicle (1985)

Land Shark is one of those Masters of the Universe vehicles that had to exist. There was no way they weren’t going to get around to making a chomping shark car vehicle, given enough time.

According to The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, the idea for making this kind of vehicle came from Roger Sweet, and Ed Watts (who also worked on the Dragon Walker) created the design details in the concept drawing below:

Image Source: The Power and Honor Foundation Catalog

The concept design, compared to the final toy, has much sharper lines (ideal for mowing down foes, but probably too sharp for a kid’s toy) and larger eyes, but the broad ideas that went into the final vehicle are all there. Notice that Trap Jaw is depicted driving the vehicle. In a way, the Land Shark is kind of a vehicular version of Trap Jaw, sharing not only his chomping mechanical jaw but also his color scheme. In Watts’ artwork, they even have similar weapons (although non of Trap Jaw’s attachments actually looked like that). The concept version is maroon and green, while final toy was maroon and blue (all three are predominant colors on Trap Jaw).

The cross sell artwork for the Land Shark (which incidentally seems to have been rarely used) is based closely on the final design used on the toy:

The trademark for Land Shark was filed September 10, 1984, and the patent was filed on November 13, 1984 .

Land Shark was sold individually and in a set with Battle Armor Skeletor. The box art on both sets was illustrated by William George:

Land Shark appears with some frequency in the series of minicomics released in 1985. The depiction in comics more or less matches the look of the final toy, although the guns are simpler and seem to connect to the vehicle with a different kind of hinged joint (this is true in all of the minicomic appearances, with the exception of Leech). This may represent an earlier prototype design. Excerpted images below are from the Dark Horse He-man Minicomic collection.

Curiously, Hordak drives the Land Shark in Hordak – The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge:

Errol McCarthy produced a couple of illustrations for the Land Shark. One of them was used in the 1987 Style Guide, which described the vehicle this way:

Role: Evil man-eating assault vehicle
Power: Power to seek, seize and consume the enemies of Skeletor

“Evil man-eating assault vehicle” seems like a good tag line for the toy. I’m surprised it wasn’t used on the actual packaging.

Land Shark makes a couple of appearances in the Golden books stories: A Hero In Need  and The River Of Ruin (images via He-Man.org):

William George included the Land Shark in his 1985 and 1986 posters:

Earl Norem pitted the Land Shark vs the Laser Bolt in a poster included in the Spring 1986 issues of Masters of the Universe Magazine:

Norem also included the vehicle in his “Lake of Mystery” poster, although interestingly he turns it into a water vehicle in the surreal scene below:

The same issue of MOTU Magazine features a story called “The Comet Warriors Have Landed!” The vehicle also makes an appearance there:

The vehicle only made two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in the episodes “The Gambler” and “The Cold Zone”. Predictably the vehicle is simplified for animation purposes. The guns were also dropped from the sides. Update: Dušan M pointed out that the animators also added a retractable roof so they wouldn’t always have to animate a driver. Aidan Cross points out that the Land Shark appears to be sentient, since in “The Cold Zone” it snaps aggressively when the Attak Trak says it would rather not be left alone with the Land Shark.

The Land Shark is a gimicky vehicle to be sure, equal parts menacing and comical. But, it’s undeniably one of the coolest vehicles released for the evil warriors, who never quite seemed to have enough of them. The lion’s share of always seemed to go to the good guys.

Image Source: Battlegrip
Image source: Battlegrip

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