MOTU History

Masters of the Taylorverse

by Jukka Issakainen with Adam McCombs

DISCLAIMER: This article is a collection of information from various interviews (both text and audio), documentaries and panel appearances of Mark Taylor. Many of his statements have been somewhat or entirely paraphrased for brevity and format, but the content and ideas come from Mark’s own ideas and public statements. The sources for these statements are given at the end of this article.

[Mark Taylor – Power of Grayskull the Definitive He-Man Documentary]

For many years, fans of Masters of the Universe would look up to their minicomics, VHS-tapes or books to delight in the stories of He-Man, Skeletor and vast array of colorful characters.

Early on there were many inconsistencies between various stories, from the minicomics to DC Comics stories to the Filmation Animated Series. All of these variations can be considered in many cases different canons (much to the delight of fans when they had the ability to pick and choose their favorite elements, or frustration in some cases where folks hoped to have only a single, core version). Because of so many of these varying depictions of the characters and the world, Dark Horse even made a very thorough book, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Character Guide and World Compendium (2017) entailing these respective canons, and a follow-up HeMan and the Masters of the Universe Character Guide and World CompendiumSupplemental Guide (2021).

But there is one more version that hasn’t gotten all that much attention. The ideas and narrative by the late great Mark Taylor.

Mark Taylor in his office at Mattel

“Taylorverse”… “Taylorvision”… call it what you want. When working at Mattel on He-Man, Mark Taylor created a unique version for the characters and the world that later went on to have drastically different incarnations through comics, books and animation. 

Before his death in December of 2021, Mark mentioned working on his autobiography He-Man & I: an Odyssey by T. Mark Taylor.

No official release-date was announced, and it’s unclear how how close it was to being finished or if it will ever be released.

Cover art by Ken Coleman.

According to a panel during Power-Con (2018) by Mark Taylor, it was to divulge more information about who is He-Man’s father and much, much more. We don’t know if that will ever see publication, sadly. What we have tried to do in absence of that is to collect of the information we have gleaned from Mark’s various interviews over the years. We have divided this information up by subject, starting with Castle Grayskull.


Castle Grayskull

Castle Grayskull was not built as such, but grown mystically by unknown beings many eons before humans existed. Originally Castle Grayskull was a giant that sunk into the ground. It is the head of the giant that is partially visible and some parts on the head that were his “armor.”  It’s always possible that this giant could come back to life someday!

Some ancient civilization realized that the skull was a place of power, so they built the castle around it.

Just being near the Castle can sap life force. Entering the Castle has the potential to enhance your power, but it is also draining to the soul. For that reason, those who would wish to exploit the Castle’s power should not take up long-term residency there. Distance helps for relief and recuperation. Extended habitation causes personality changes and can be very dangerous to those around the affected individual.

There is nothing typical about Castle Grayskull. At first glance its interior and exterior look vaguely like a medieval castle, but this fortress bridges time and space. Castle Grayskull as a surface entity can only house approximately 50 people, but always on a temporary basis. There is a  large courtyard where the various mounts and vehicles of visitors are stowed.

The façade is 19 feet high and the dome is 45 feet high. The Jaw Bridge is 17 feet high by seven feet wide, the windows three feet by seven, and the tower is 42 feet high. The towers are defensive positions, and the watch towers and the turrets are for mounting anti-air attack weapons. The dome generates mystical power and the Jaw Bridge is activated by voice (opening the gate requires a specific command as well as the Power Sword).

Castle Grayskull is the thing that all of the characters fight over. Because of its location it would have to be invaded by boat. It’s a symbol of power, and it was similar to the Oracle of Delphi – you could get all kinds of power and knowledge from within. A lot of the stickers and paper elements inside were really symbols of the kinds of power you could get from Castle Grayskull. One of the eternal symbols of mysticism in human history been the skull.

GRAYSKULL’S SURROUNDING FETID LAKE/MOAT

Mark Taylor’s art-print titled “Stygian Moat” from Power-Con.

Castle Grayskull is located in the center of a moat that is toxic to most living creatures. There are living inhabitants of the moat, which are both strange and dangerous.

The Castle itself has seven floors beneath the level of the moat. As you descend each level, reality, time and space become more and more distorted.

GRAYSKULL’S FLOORS/LEVELS

Inside Grayskull is a Space Suit and other weapons and armory. These were left by a technologically-advanced race who came to the land in flying saucers. These beings had mysteriously left long, long ago. So Grayskull was a dead place with nobody living inside it or “guardian” for it either. There was always the possibility that these beings could return someday.

A secret code is required to get the elevator inside the castle to take you down to the levels under the castle. Each successive level brings more power and also more danger.

There are physical and magical traps hidden throughout the castle. The trap door leads to the first level basement. It also conceals clues to the secret password for the elevator.

Grayskull extends into the space/time continuum in the lake bedrock. The levels below the weapons storage room start with all the weapons that exist within one century each way from the present, the floor below that within five centuries each way, and so on.

[Mark thought that Castle Grayskull could eventually be expanded by adding playsets associated with other figures, such as a water playset for Mer-Man and an air or mountain playset for Stratos.]

PIT OF SOULS / WELL OF SOULS / DWELL OF SOULS

The Pit of Souls [also variously referred to as the Well of Souls or Dwell of Souls] is a dungeon containing undying monsters from the beginning and end of time that also extends into the time and space continuum – possibly by means of a miniature black hole. The powers of the castle are linked to these evil prisoners.

Getting the monsters trapped in the Dwell of Souls required luring monsters into the pit with sacrificial human victims. The monsters would then be trapped in the pit. The king [He-Man’s father] who oversaw this effort could use those trapped monsters as leverage against all other Kings in the land, threatening to release them if he didn’t get his way.


HE-MAN

He comes from a mysterious conception and is rumored to be half human and half immortal.  (2006 interview)

The King who lived inside Grayskull had a harem and one woman there bore him He-Man. (2018 Power of Grayskull documentary)

One of He-Man’s father’s wives wanted to kill He-Man when he was a baby, along with He-Man’s mother. His mother enlisted the help of the king’s Man-At-Arms in order to save the child. Man-At-Arms agreed to take the infant away through the atomic wasteland. There He-Man grew in strength and learned battle techniques from his mentor. Afterwards he picks up Battle Cat and his adventures start.

He-Man grew up in Atlantis, which no longer exists, it was destroyed by a terrible quake and tidal wave. He-Man was nine-years old and being trained as a Prince when the disaster struck. He was one of the very few to survive. (2006 interview)

He-Man is the ideal hero in all respects – he isn’t just someone with incredible strength, standing at 6’3” and weighing 230lbs. He has a sense of nobility and restraint, and also has a  quiet sense of humor. He possesses special senses which helps him greatly – otherwise Skeletor would’ve eliminated him. He-Man also is resilient to pain, poison, etc.

The cross symbol on He-Man is what his friends recognize him by [Mark also mentioned he was inspired in creating that symbol for He-Man by the look of the Knights Templar]. He-Man is a good person, noble and has the very highest moral character and he tries to set an example for all people. He knows a lot about magic, but he never uses it. He-Man knows there is always a price that must be paid when using magic.

He-Man avoids wearing too much armor. He’s almost like a berserker. He wants to win by relying on his own strength and fighting skill, rather than relying on armor.

He-Man isn’t destined to become the King of Grayskull [as the later stories like Glut-minicomics suggested].

Draft line art by Alfredo Alcala from “King of Castle Grayskull.”

HE-MAN’S MOTHER

He-Man’s mother was very beautiful and a phenomenal athlete. She is part of the King’s harem alongside Skeletor’s mother. He-Man’s mother doesn’t know any magic, so when Skeletor’s mother wanted to kill her and her child, she made a deal with Man-At-Arms to take her baby and run away. She was killed during the fight with Skeletor’s mother.


SKELETOR

PRE-WELL OF SOULS

Skeletor used to be a handsome, normal looking human, just like He-Man. He plotted to take over the Castle from the king, but he was thrown in the the Well of Souls. In the Well the creatures and animals ripped all the skin off his face and make him aware of magic the hard way.

AFTER EMERGING FROM WELL OF SOULS

Once Skeletor got out of the Well of Souls, he was a deformed super-human, standing at 6’4” and weighing 290lbs. He had heightened senses, much like He-Man, but he also had an extra sense: he can detect the weakness in an opponent that he can use to his advantage.

In this new form, he had three toes and ridges protruding from his forearms. He has a skull for a face and glowing eyes. The eyes glow when he is angry (which is most of the time). As he emerged from the Well, he made a hood for himself to cover his glowing eyes and distinctive silhouette. This was made from the eyelid of a dragon that tried to kill him when he got out of the Well. His armor is tougher than steel, made from an armadillo monster that tried to defy him.

His intellect is unmeasurable, off the charts. But he is also the ultimate bipolar, going from quiet malevolence to towering rage, a rage that hinders his true intellect. Skeletor’s voice sounds like he is speaking from the bottom of a well. Skeletor never sleeps.

His plans always focus on the Castle. Destruction and inflicting pain are his joy, with self-titled “Lord of Destruction” as his moniker.

Skeletor used magic but He-Man never did. Skeletor could animate anything and go anywhere.  In my mind that was one of the main differences between the main characters and their followers.

SKELETOR’S MOTHER

Skeletor’s mother is a sorceress who knows about magic and sorcery. She is a member of the King’s harem alongside He-Man’s mother. It was she, who used her magical abilities to furnish the cap on top of the Well of Souls for the King, so that all the monsters couldn’t get out, unless the King wanted them to. When Skeletor’s mother fought He-Man’s mother, she killed her.

Years after Skeletor had been thrown into the Well of Souls, the tribe was completely eliminated by a malevolent witch poisoner (Skeletor’s mother) who then helped him escape from the “Well” but when she saw what it had done to him she went insane and drank her own poison. (2006 interview)

“And him [Skeletor] and his mother decide to kill the king. They fail. The king captures them. And the king kills the mother and throws the boy into the Well of Souls.” (2018 Power of Grayskull documentary)


MAN-AT-ARMS

Man-At-Arms was the king’s champion at Grayskull. He was a very honorable man and was tired of the corruption he witnessed.

Man-At-Arms is the master of weapons. His father already was someone who would bring home technology and weapons that he found. When he was older, Man-At-Arms did the same thing. Man-At-Arms isn’t as tough as He-Man, which is why he uses his armor and weaponry. He is a match for Beast Man in combat situations, having a high degree of intelligence/sophistication, but no special strength.

He took He-Man away as a child at his mother’s request, in order to stop a plot by Skeletor’s mother to kill He-Man. He ran with the baby through the Wasteland where He-Man grew incredibly strong. Man-At-Arms taught him all the battle techniques, both old and new.

[Man-At-Arms is based on the Spanish Conquistadors. With Star Wars being a popular thing, elements of high-tech were added onto Man-At-Arms’ armor.]

“I based it on the Spanish Conquistadors. I always wondered how those suckers had the nerve to do the things they did. They had to be ballsy beyond belief! Mattel’s marketing team was really on me to incorporate lots of technology, since Star Wars was still so popular. So I told them I could put high-tech gear on Man-At-Arms. I’d just read Piers Anthony’s classic science-fiction novel Sos the Rope, about a character who goes into a wasteland where a superior civilization had once lived. And he digs down and brings out their technology, which gives him a huge advantage over everyone else! So Man-At-Arms does that too.”


“…heroes can’t use magic! It weakens them, in a way. Villains, on the other hand, can use magic whenever they want a shortcut. It’s the Faust story, basically.”


[10 Things We Learned from Mark Taylor, the Designer of He-Man – The Robot’s Voice]


BEAST MAN

Beast Man was supposed to be the largest character by mass at least. Beast Man in Taylor’s conception didn’t have the power to control or talk to animals. He was more of a pit fighter and berserker. His back story was that he had been used as a fighter for entertainment in a gladiator ring. His armor was something he acquired to prevent fighters from jumping on top of him. His whip was taken from a captor who was trying to whip him. Beast Man was a berserker who couldn’t wait to fight anyone or anything.

Beast Man isn’t pure human – his DNA was altered/mutated by whatever happened to the world in the distant past, and it moved his chromosomes over a couple of steps. Beast Man is low on intelligence and high on strength. He’s evenly matched with Man-At-Arms, who is low on strength and high on intelligence.

TEELA

Female warrior (Teela) B-sheet artwork by Mark Taylor – May 28th, 1981

He-Man and his allies don’t generally use magic. The only one that does use magic to some extent is Teela. Because of that, He-Man would never accept her as a true ally. She was always on the outside.

Despite that, He-Man was romantically interested in Teela, but he couldn’t show it – any weakness at this critical moment in history would give the evil forces an opportunity to use her against him. He-Man also doesn’t fully trust Teela because she dabbles in magic, and He-Man having history that his mother was killed by a sorceress type woman.

Teela didn’t give her allegiance blindly. She could hold Skeletor off for a while with magic, although she wasn’t as powerful as him. She could communicate with animals. She wasn’t evil, but she was in it for her own purposes. Her origins were mysterious, and she didn’t come into the world in a natural way.


SORCERESS

[later known as Goddess thanks to DC Comics]

Sorceress B-sheet artwork by Mark Taylor – June 8th, 1981

Originally the Sorceress was going to be a changeling according to Taylor.

She was intended to be like a spy and play both sides with some magic but the “professionals” felt that was too complex.

Mark has also said that, though initially “bad”, he had the idea that Sorceress could at times team up with either Skeletor or He-Man.


ZODAC

aka Sensor

Zodac was originally good, as noted in Mark Taylor’s b-sheet art and text:

Sensor: Man of the the future scientifically heightened senses, knowledge & weapons. Acts in support role to He-Man and as a foil to Tee-La’s mystic nature.

“Zodac was all about flying. He was the air wing. I was influenced by Flash Gordon and the flying Vikings.” -Mark Taylor

Zodac has a lot of mystery. He’s not a bounty hunter as stated in some marketing materials. He doesn’t side with either He-Man or Skeletor completely. He wants to get into Castle Grayskull for his own reasons. He believes that the castle is a weapon that could tip the balance either way, and he wants to be able to control that weapon. He’s more familiar with mysterious technology and would understand how to use it. He’s not completely human – he may be a descendant of the people who constructed Castle Grayskull around the giant’s skull. At times he betrays He-Man and Skeletor.


MER-MAN

Mer-Man was a prince in his respective kingdom. He was supposed to be evil [note: early Mattel documents indicated that Mer-Man was grouped with the heroes at one point – it’s possible that someone other than Mark made that designation]. Mer-Man had a rivalry with Stratos. Rather than Mer-Man shooting freezing water from his sword (in the Don Glut minicomics), Mer-Man would have had some kind of jellyfish sting associated with his sword.

Mer-Man could stay on land indefinitely, but he was at his best underwater, and could best even He-Man in that environment. Mer-Man was also very stealthy. In Taylor’s vision Mer-Man was Skeletor’s first recruit. Mer-Man also had the power to control sea animals.

Mer-Man would have had his own underwater playset, and there would have been more opportunity for underwater adventures. The playset/castle, like Castle Grayskull, would have grown over time with additional add-ons.

[According to Mark, both Stratos and Mer-Man were always the last two that kids picked to play with from the original lineup of toys that were tested.]

“Mer-Man tested the lowest. Tony Guerrero the great sculptor and I chased the negative child test comments until we finally realized the marketeers were just messing with us and then we went with what we had.  Mer-Man was the weakest but people who like him really like him (I based him on Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing).”


STRATOS

aka Wing Man aka Bird Man aka Avatar*

Stratos was a prince in his respective kingdom.

[*Avatar is name that Stratos is referred in the 2006 audio-interview. Concept-artworks show working names like “Wing Man” and “Bird Man” only.]

Stratos would have been a prince of a mountainous kingdom, and would have had his own castle that would have been a playset. [Although Stratos was listed as evil in one or two of the early Mattel documents, in Mark’s mind Stratos was always heroic.]

Stratos had the ability to shoot a beam from his wrist. His primary power was flight, which was really defensive in a fight. The beam allowed him to hold off Skeletor for a while.

Stratos comes from a race of mountain-dwelling people who had evolved with specialized equipment and abilities for flight and for surviving very cold temperatures. Mark didn’t see this civilization as being highly technologically advanced, except for the fact that they had developed flight. Stratos had excellent vision, like an eagle or a hawk.


WIND RAIDER

In the beginning the Wind Raider would have been something that Stratos found and used, but it became associated with Man-At-Arms because production on Stratos was delayed.

[The Wind Raider was actually intended to work as both a boat and an aircraft. Although the final vehicle design was done by Ted Mayer, Mark Taylor did some early drawings that described some of the vehicle’s features. For instance, when on the water, the wings would rotate up and act as “photo sails”. The anchor is described as a “power ram/grapnel.” The dragon design bears strong resemblance to a Viking ship’s figurehead.

BATTLE RAM

He-Man found the Battle Ram parked in a cave. He had to try to find out how to work it, and he had assistance in that from Man-At-Arms. It’s a powerful device and it helps differentiate him from a medieval knight.

The front portion of the Battle Ram can hover over the ground, perhaps a foot and a half high. It can only travel for short distances. In order to go long distances, it must be ported with the rear half of the vehicle. It wasn’t necessarily a hovercraft – the source of its ability to hover was mysterious and inexplicable. It could be used as a battering ram as well. [in Mark’s canon, the Battle Ram doesn’t have the ability to teleport, unlike what was represented in minicomics].


MAN-E-FACES & RAM MAN

Battle Ram Blog: Did you have an origin story in mind when you designed Man-E-Faces? How about Ram Man?

Mark Taylor: Yes, but no one was interested, they wanted to ship it out immediately to animators and movie producers, you know “professionals”.  I designed him to have a different and interesting feature besides a twist waist. All the answers to my original story are in clues in Castle Grayskull, where they should be like a puzzle.



We hope everyone enjoyed this piece. It was a lot of fun digging through many audio-files, interviews and video panels to discover the earliest story aspects from Mark Taylor himself.

We are grateful for the various interviewers who took the time to reach out to Mark and Rebecca over the years. We are especially grateful to Mark and Rebecca for always being willing to talk to fans about He-Man. Mark was a true visionary who will continue to be missed by all of his many fans. Happy 40th anniversary He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

Mark Taylor and Jukka Issakainen – German Grayskull-Con 2013


SOURCES:
Mark Taylor’s written answers (Nov 14th, 2007) to Matt Joswiak’s questions, located at: http://s7.zetaboards.com/The_Dubious_Zone/topic/424452/2/ [accessed via WaybackMachine]
“The Power of Grayskull – The Definitive He-Man Documentary” [2018] + Kickstarter backer extra interviews [2018]
Audio interviews with Mark Taylor by ‘Akikage’ aka Matt Joswiak [2006]
10 Things We Learned From Mark Taylor, the Designer of He-Man [Topless Robot]
“The Toys That Made Us – episode 03” [2017 Netflix]
Dejan Dimitrovski – Guest post [Battleram Blog] “Mark Taylor’s Castle Grayskull – Introduction”
Battleram Blog – “Mark & Rebecca Taylor on the origins of He-Man
Battleram Blog – “Wind Raider: Assault Lander”
Battleram Blog – “Sorceress: Heroic Guardian of Castle Grayskull”

Return to Table of Contents.

Heroic Warriors

MOTU Origins He-Man/Prince Adam Set (2019 SDCC Exclusive)

The 2019 San Diego Comic Con Mattel exclusive He-Man and Prince Adam two-pack took most Masters fans by complete surprise. After years of larger scale MOTU Classics figures with modernized proportions and articulation, Mattel was finally doing another line of vintage-inspired 5.5″ He-Man figures. Unlike the 2000 Commemorative Line, however, it was clear that Origins was to be updated with modern articulation, while keeping the overall vintage look.

Because the initial offering, in the form of a He-Man/Prince Adam two-pack, was done in the style of vintage minicomics, many fans (including myself) assumed that the new MOTU Origins line would plumb the “origins” of the MOTU franchise, which generally lie in the early concept figure designs that often showed up in minicomics (minicomics had to be illustrated ahead of production schedule, with artwork often based on prototype designs).

As it turns out, Origins will mainly be based on the vintage MOTU figures as they appeared in the toy aisles. The minicomic styling of this set will be the exception rather than the rule. I certainly hope that Mattel will find creative ways to get more minicomic style figures out to hardcore fans (perhaps in the form of a mini subscription, like the MOTU Classics model), even while the more well-known vintage toy designs appear on toy shelves in the fall of 2020. I would love to see minicomic/concept versions of Skeletor, Sorceress/Goddess, Mer-Man, Beast Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms and Stratos.

The SDCC exclusive set comes with the most richly-detailed and indulgent packing I’ve seen from Mattel. The set is collector friendly – the figures inside can be removed and replaced without damaging the packing in the least. I have to applaud this move from Mattel. Interestingly, the packaging includes credits for all the people who worked on the finished product:

Toy designer: Brandon Sopinsky • Packaging Designer: Roy Juarez • Packaging Engineer: Adam O’Connor • Copywriter: Robert Rudman • Comic Book Writer: Tim Seeley • Line Art: Axel Gimenez • Colorist: Val Staples • Background Painter: Nate Baertsch • Comic Book Letterer: Ed Dukeshire • Illustration Support: Joseph Zacate • Sculpt: Adam deFelice & Sean Olmos

The outer box for the set features He-Man’s harness (in the Alcala/minicomic/concept style, featuring red squares along both the front and back of the harness) over a Grayskull-green stone texture:

The inner box features a transparent cover that adds character and other art over the backgrounds featured on the box itself. All of the artwork is stunning. Below I will show the design of each side of the box, with and without the transparent cover:

The artwork is largely inspired by the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by the legendary Alfredo Alcala. There is also inspiration drawn from Alcala’s He-Man and the Insect People, and Battle Cat box art by Rudy Obrero. Those influences are more apparent in the included minicomic, written by Tim Seeley and featuring a retcon of the traditional “savage” origin story written by Don Glut that makes room for multiple He-Men as well as Adam as he appeared in early DC Comics (penciled by Curt Swan and George Tuska) and third wave Alcala comics.

Axel Giménez, who did much of the line art, often directly credits the Alcala influence in the artwork, although for the box cover that was removed from the final colored version:

The comic in the set is situated between two windows, featuring Prince Adam and He-Man:

Early photos released by Mattel show some slight differences compared to the final set. Originally the Adam of the set was to include his own boot knife, as well as a gold-painted handle on the Power sword. He-Man’s boot knife originally went all the way through the cuff of his boot, making the tip of the blade visible (as shown below):

The final figures of course have those peculiarities removed. Let’s take a closer look at He-Man. He comes with a vintage toy style head as well as a new minicomic style head. He also comes with three pairs of removable hands, an axe and a shield. In the photo below I show him with the vintage toy style head, compared with an original, first-release Taiwan He-Man from 1982:

MOTU Origins He-Man (left) vs vintage first release He-Man from 1982 (right)

Aside from the added articulation, He-Man of course features the two-tone boots, boot knife, symmetrical bracers, rounded shield, modified axe and modified harness that are all hallmarks of the character as he appeared in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword:

The minicomic design is based on a prototype of the figure, designed by Mark Taylor and sculpted by Tony Guerrero:

Source: Andy Youssi
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The alternative head is meant to represent the look that Alfredo Alcala gave him in the minicomics, with a shaggier hairstyle:

MOTU Origins He-Man compared to a vintage, first-release Taiwan Skeletor from 1982.
MOTU Origins He-Man riding a vintage, first-release striped tail Battle Cat
MOTU Origins He-Man on a vintage Battle Ram
Prototype He-Man and Battle Ram. Image source: Andy Youssi

He-Man’s sculpt is closely based on the vintage 1982 figure, albeit with a lot more articulation. The arms and chest in particular are very faithful to the original, although the legs are a bit softer in sculpt. Where the vintage version was rather miserly regarding paint applications, the Origins figure features painted bracers (symmetrical this time, based on the “punching rocks” scene shown earlier) and three colors on his boots. His boots are also slightly larger, which makes him a bit more steady on his feet.

He-Man’s added articulation allows for a great degree of posability. The additional removable hands are a nice touch as well.

He-Man’s head, arms, hands, torso and boots are all removable – a feature that will allow for some fun mix and match swapping down the line.

Prince Adam is a much bigger departure from the vintage 1984 figure. Like He-Man, he comes with two different heads and three sets of hands. He also comes with a power sword in the style of the version that appeared in the early Alfredo Alcala minicomics as well as the early DC Comics:

Vintage figure (left) vs 2019 release

Prince Adam first appeared in the 1982 DC story, From Eternia With Death! This version of Adam, however, is most closely based on the character as he appeared in To Tempt The Gods (pencils by George Tuska, inks by Alfredo Alcala) as well as He-Man and the Insect People (illustrated by Alfredo Alcala).

To Tempt The Gods
He-Man and the Insect People

Prince Adam’s cloth vest and elastic belt recall the 1984 figure, although of course the colors of his costume are quite different.

The plastic used on this set is the usual high quality material we’ve come to expect from Mattel. It’s actually fairly similar in feel to the material used in the vintage figure (aside from the heads, which in this release are hard plastic rather than soft, hollow polyvinyl. All of the joints work well, with no looseness or issues. The joints around the elbows and hips are, however, a bit inelegant. I have heard that issue will be addressed in future MOTU origins figures.

As the early minicomic source material is the MOTU canon I find most exciting, I was thrilled by this release. I just hope we’ll be able to complete a full cast of characters of early minicomic style variants in the MOTU Origins line.

Return to Table of Contents.

Heroic Warriors, Super7 5.5" Figures

He-Man: Most powerful man in the universe! (2018)

Announced in 2017, Super7’s vintage style, 5.5″ Filmation inspired He-Man figure was released in 2018 along with similar versions of Skeletor, She-Ra and Hordak. The design ethos seems to be based on the following premise: what if, in the 1980s, Mattel released a series of He-Man variant figures that were “as seen on TV”? That’s pretty much exactly what we get with this series, including the occasional design shortcuts that Mattel might plausibly have implemented in the 80s.

Design & Development

Within the packaging for He-Man we get a brief write-up of the history of how He-Man’s design was translated from toy to cartoon:

In the above sheet (put together by The Power and The Honor Foundation), we see the vintage He-Man figure, along with the animated commercial version, and a finalized version of He-Man’s animated design.

In He-Man’s first animated appearance (a commercial animated by Filmation Studios to help advertise the toyline), He-Man more or less follows the design of the action figure, including the rectangular details on his harness and the round designs on his belt and bracers. He also carries his axe and sword, which were originally intended to be his primary accessories. The commercial can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BpmvudrnPlj/

As shown in the card that came with the Super7 He-Man figure, He-Man’s more detailed action figure design was simplified for ease of animation once the animated series was greenlit for development. His primary weapon became his power sword in the series.

The prototype He-Man figure was revealed in February of 2017 at New York Toy Fair. It’s pretty close to the mass produced figure, although his colors are a bit different, and the hair separation is better on the prototype. He also has a nice matte finish throughout.

Image source: He-Man.org

An early factory sample with some quality control issues was also shown a bit later along in the process. The red paint is flaking off of the harness, which seems to have been made from some sparkling metallic plastic material. This issue would be corrected on the final figure.

Image source: He-Man.org

Production Figure

Design-wise, the sculpt of the chest and pelvis seem to be taken directly from the vintage 1982 figure. The arms are based on the vintage figure as well, but the bracers have been made symmetrical and their design simplified. The feet have been changed, removing all the wrap detail from the original boot design.

He-Man has the same spring-loaded power punch feature of the 1982 original. The figure comes with a cartoon style power sword, as well as a shield (used rarely by Prince Adam in the cartoon) and a half sword that fits with the corresponding Skeletor half sword. Incidentally, He-Man was depicted with the shield in Filmation’s promotional materials, and the half sword almost made it into the show:

Image source: La Cueva del Terror
Image source: James Eatock

The figure’s harness unfortunately doesn’t fit very well around the back, and sits a bit low. It can be made to sit more or less correctly, but requires some finessing. Also, the figure is extremely glossy. I was able to coat the figure with Vallejo Matt Varnish to somewhat reduce the glossiness:

Packaging

The design of the packaging was directed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. The main carded version (which was actually released second) is based on the original 1980s design, with an “AS SEEN ON TV” burst which, although not featured on vintage MOTU packaging, was pretty commercially ubiquitous at one point. The shape of the bubble on the front has been altered compared to the vintage packaging.

Image source: Brooklyn Comic Shop

The main artwork on the back was done by Errol McCarthy, who worked on cardback art for most of the vintage MOTU figures. The Filmation-style cross sell artwork and the insert were illustrated by Emiliano Santalucia:

The first version to be released was actually a two pack, in the style of some of the vintage figure gift sets. This set was released in limited numbers.

Another limited release of the figure came in the form of a “Los Amos” package, based on the design of vintage “Los Amos” (Mexico) figures:

Yet another version will also be released in the style of the Japanese Takara packaging:

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Production Variants

1982 MOTU Figures: The First Production Run (Part 1)

Because Masters of the Universe figures were produced over many years in a number of different countries, there is no shortage of production variants, some subtly different and some radically different from the norm. In my own collecting, I’ve always gravitated toward the earliest figures released in the US, particularly for the first wave of figures. They tend to have the nicest paint and plastic applications, in my opinion. All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the US. A common term for the very earliest figures in the line is “test market figures”, although the term isn’t usually used for the vehicles or Castle Grayskull.

Much assistance for this article was given by John Oswald. The research of Mantisaur82 and Tokyonever has also been invaluable.

Broad Characteristics

The early Taiwan figures tend to have the sharpest detail and the finest paint applications compared to later reissues. Subsequent releases tend to cut down on the paint applications and sometimes on the sculpted detail. The earliest figures tend to have boots that are painted on using spray paint and a paint mask, which sometimes shows up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures seem to use a dipping method. Since this seems to apply to all the early figures (or at least those with painted boots), I won’t mention this when I talk about each individual figure.

On the lower backs of the figures (or in Teela’s case, the lower part of the back of the head) they are stamped © Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan. This stamp can also be found on the undersides of the male heads. These figure were released in 1982, but most MOTU figures are stamped the year before they were sold in stores, when the tooling was being created. However, as these Taiwan figures were released in subsequent years, they often retain the 1981 date, albeit sometimes with a slightly larger font.

He-Man

The very first versions of He-Man tend to have a certain coloring – dark orange belt (later versions could range from light orange to mustard yellow to coral), brick-red boots and loin cloth, and dark gray accessories. He has a belly button, which was eventually removed from the mold starting in 1983 (although some 1983 figures seem to still have it). Some of the early accessories seem to be slightly blue-tinged. The straps on the back of his harness have short tabs on them – they were lengthened in subsequent releases to make it easier for children to hold when putting the armor on.

Early versions seem to have a tighter fitting latch in back as well, and intense yellow hair. It’s very common to see the boots not painted all the way up to the top in these early figures. If they are painted all the way to the top, there is usually some uneven overspray in some areas regardless. Later figures have the boot color applied by dipping the legs in paint.

His accessories are stamped with code numbers that indicate He-Man’s SKU number (5040), a number to indicate which accessory it was, and “© Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan.” All of them, except for the shield, include another number that is separated from the others. I believe it’s a batch number. So an axe marked 2 is from an earlier batch than one marked 7. That’s my theory – I don’t know this for sure. His shield lacks any code numbers, and is simply marked “Taiwan.”

Update: I’ve added some more detailed observations about the earliest Taiwan He-Man figures. The differences I’m noting immediately below are not from year to year, but within the first year of production of He-Man figures (1981, sold beginning early in 1982):

Hair: the early figures’ hair seems to be intense yellow, almost orange tinged. Slightly later in year the hair starts to be a lighter yellow color. I’ve found two main types of paint used – a glossy textured kind of paint, and a non-textured paint that seems almost like a dye.

Two very early He-Man figures. The example on the right has the textured, glossy paint. I think both were used concurrently.

Belt: the earliest ones are dark orange. The color is a bit lighter as you get later in the year, for instance on carded 8-back He-Man figures that have the warranty information added.

Belly Button: the earliest ones (sold on 8 backs without warranty) are a bit uneven looking. By the time you get to the 8-backs with warranty, the belly button looks anatomically correct.

From left to right, you can see as the figures get later, the belt gets lighter and the belly button becomes more anatomical.

Waist Punch Feature: the earliest versions have a stopper, so when you twist the waist, it swings back to punch, but stops in the middle. A bit later in the year that stopper was removed, so the punch action doesn’t stop quite in the middle, but keeps moving a bit beyond that. This is also evident in early Skeletor figures, as well as all other first release first wave figures.

Sword: the early ones seem to be marked 4 or 9. The earlier numbered swords tend to be a darker blue/gray color, although you can look at many examples and few will be the exact same shade.

Axe: the early ones are marked 2 or 7. The earlier numbered axes tend to be a darker blue/gray color, although you can look at many examples and none will be the exact same shade.

Harness: the early ones are marked 5 or 10. The 5s I’ve seen seem to be a dark gray/blue, with small oval tab on the latch in back. The 10s seem to have more of a almost multi-hue gray plastic, slightly brighter red paint, and a slightly elongated tab on the back. Both have short straps, and both seem to appear very early, although the 10s seem to persist later in the year. 15s look very similar to 10s and come later still.

The dark blue/gray harness on the left is marked “5”. The one on the right is marked “10”. I’ve found examples of both in very early packaging (no warranty carded He-Man figures and the first release He-Man and Battle Cat gift sets)
The dark harness on the left has the small oval tab (where the harness latches) and is marked “5”. The one on the right has an elongated tab and is marked “10”

I should say that I believe sometimes accessories with the markings outlined above did persist later than early 1982. In general, however, the trend seems to be for the numbers to go higher with time. I’ve seen numbers as high as 33 on later figures.

Shield: Early ones are marked Taiwan. The tabs on the back should be more or less intact. Slightly melted at the top, but not completely melted to the back of the shield, as happened later in production. The exact shade of gray varies quite a bit.

Early shields look like the example on the left.

Here are some examples of four early He-Man figures. The two figures on the left are the earliest, although I couldn’t say which came first. The figure second from the right came later in the year (it lacks the stopper in the waist punch feature), and the one on the far right came later still.

And here are my two earliest Taiwan He-Man examples (below, and above on the left). Both have harnesses marked 5. The one on the left has some overspray on the chest emblem, which isn’t too uncommon. The one on the left also has weapons with the earlier number markings, and they are slightly darker gray/blue.

Here is an example (below) of a very early carded Taiwan He-Man, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back. This is often referred to as the “test market” card. This example of He-Man has boots painted closer up to the top and the darker blue/gray harness and shiny hair paint, similar to the loose example (above, on the right)

Image source: Hake’s Americana

After 1982, the first substantive change to Taiwan He-Man figures was the lengthening of the straps, as shown in this comparison image:

The second substantive change to Taiwan He-Man figures was the removal of the “belly button”, as shown here:

Skeletor

The first Taiwan Skeletor is unique in the following ways:

  • Orange marks on his “cheeks”
  • Half-painted boots
  • Purple trunks
  • Light blue paint in his eye sockets
  • Short straps on the back of his armor

The subsequent Taiwan release omits the orange cheeks. The next version after that has black shorts, and the version after that gives him fully-painted boots. Later still, he loses the light blue paint in his eye sockets. There are “mix and match” versions out there too, with odd combinations of these features. Perhaps this was from the factory mixing older leftover parts with newer parts. Later versions also omit the “belly button.”

The early Skeletor’s staff is marked Taiwan, and his sword is also marked simply as Taiwan (later versions of the sword add some code numbers on the underside as well). This early example has rather brittle accessories, so I won’t remove them to discover what codes are under his chest armor and belt.

Here is an example of a very early carded Taiwan Skeletor, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back.

The images below show the evolution of the face paint on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:

The images below show the evolution of the boots on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:

The images below show the evolution of the straps on the Taiwan figures, again in chronological order from top to bottom:

And finally, the images below show the evolution of the trunks and belt on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:

Battle Cat

There are at least three distinct very early Taiwan Battle Cats.


V1: Striped Tail Battle Cat

Only a handful of examples of this ultra-rare variant are known to exist. This version matches the color scheme of the original hand-painted prototype. Distinguishing characteristics include:

  • Striped tail
  • Orange around the mouth
  • Teeth painted white front and back
  • Stripes crisscross over part line on back
  • Longer, rough-looking stripes on the left shoulder
  • Extra stripe on right front leg
  • Marked “© Mattel, Inc. 1976 Taiwan” on inner right rear leg
  • White dots in eyes
  • Marked “1” underneath saddle and helmet
  • Textured “fur”

You can spot this variant in early catalog pictures of MOTU figures. The orange lines on this cat match the black lines on the original Big Jim Tiger the figure is based on. It also has finely textured fur (difficult to see unless it’s in hand), again like the Big Jim Tiger.

Enlarged to show texture!
Striped tail paint pattern (left) crosses over the back, while the more common Battle Cat paint pattern (right) does not. Left image is from Tokyonever. Thanks to John Oswald for pointing this out.

V2: Textured Battle Cat

The first mass-produced version of the Taiwan Battle Cat retains the textured “fur” of the first sample version (and the Big Jim Tiger), but omits the extra orange paint applications on the mouth and tail. The teeth are also only painted white from the front. Like the rare striped tail model, it is marked © Mattel, Inc. 1976 Taiwan. It also is marked “1” underneath the saddle and helmet.

V1 (left) vs V2
V1 (left) vs V2
Enlarged to show texture!

V3: Non-Textured Battle Cat

The next incarnation of the early Taiwan Battle Cat is missing the texture from V1 and V2. It’s marked © Mattel, Inc. 1978 Taiwan. It also is marked “1” underneath the saddle and helmet, and retains the white dots in the eyes. The orange paint is somewhat lighter than previous versions. My particular example came from a damaged early 1982 Battle Cat box featuring only the 1982 cross sell art on the back. It also seems to have a brighter red saddle and helmet, although this doesn’t necessarily come across in the photos below. I’m not sure if the textured version was more likely to come in either the single Battle Cat box or the early He-Man/Battle Cat gift sets – it’s difficult to tell with mint in box examples whether or not the texture is present.

V1 (left), V2 (middle), V3 (right)
V1 (left), V2 (middle), V3 (right)

Man-At-Arms

The first Taiwan release of Man-At-Arms has the following characteristics:

  • Red dots on his helmet
  • Blue belt, in the same color as his helmet
  • Light to medium green body and light orange armor
  • Short straps at the back of the armor
  • Light red trunks/boots, similar to He-Man’s

On the example below, the chest armor is marked 5041-2289A © Mattel Inc. 1981. All the other accessories are unmarked.

The next Taiwan releases omitted the red dots, and have longer straps at the back of the armor. Later Taiwan releases feature a gray belt and much darker colors all around, and a helmet that is somewhat teal-colored.

First issue Taiwain red dot (top), vs. second Taiwan release
First issue short straps (top), vs. long straps reissue
Early blue belt (top) vs. later gray belt. The gray belt version also omits the “belly button,” as did later He-Man figures
First release Man-At-Arms figure on card. Image source: Hake’s Americana
“Test market” first release cardback

Beast Man

Early Taiwan Beast Man figures aren’t dramatically different from later versions. The most obvious differences are that the first versions have white dots in the eyes (some of them, at least – I’ll get into that), light blue face paint, even and circular blue paint on the front of the armor, and a short strap around the back of the armor. I believe I have identified some differences between the “test market” G0 figures and the subsequent G1 release.

There are two variants available on the initial “test market” cards – a version without dots in the eyes, and a version with bright white dots in the eyes. I have now seen examples of both on the first release packaging. I really can’t say which came first, although the version with dots more closely follows the intended design, based on the look of a hand-painted Beast Man prototype.

I would also note that the whips on these first release figures don’t fit as well in the figures’ hands. That seems to have been corrected with later releases.

The second “G1” card release often has the dots on the eyes as well, but the dots are more of an off-white color, like the rest of the face. The armor also tends to be slightly more pinkish. On both G0 and G1 versions, the strap around the back of the figure is short. The G1 version often has no waist stopper on the spring waist feature.

Early short strap version vs long strap reissue
Image via John Oswald. Bright white dots vs off-white dots.

Below is an example of a very early carded Taiwan Beast Man, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back. This version lacks the dots in the eyes. The off-white dots seem to be prevalent on G1 and G2 cards 8-back cards.

Olmo (catone82) shared with me some images he found of a G0 “test market” card for Beast Man (owned by MOTU Gefter), which does feature white dots. These do seem to be the bright white dots, although I’m going to try to get that verified with the owner of this figure.

Covered in part two: Stratos, Mer-Man, Teela, Zodac, Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider.

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