One of the best things about getting new He-Man toys as a kid was the box art. The toys were of course amazing and fun, but personally I spent almost as much time staring at the boxes as playing with the toys. I remember being pretty heartbroken when my mother made me throw away my Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram boxes. She saw them as clutter, but for me they were almost stories in and of themselves. You could see whole adventures unfolding in a single painted scene.
Unfortunately, good photographs or scans of the original art are not available for every piece. If you happen to have a nicer images than I do (higher resolution, better composition, etc), please do feel free to share, and I’ll make an update! For pictures of the packaging itself, a neutral (white or black) background is preferred. High resolution scans of the artwork, where it appears without logos, would be ideal. Bottom line – if you have better images than I do, please share them!
One final note: I’m defining box art as the front-facing painted artwork that appeared on boxed Masters of the Universe toys. The illustrations on blister card packaging, then, are outside the scope of this series.
Part Six: 1987
Name: Beam-Blaster & Artilleray Year: 1987 Artist: William George Description: In a shadowy desert scene, He-Man uses the Beam-Blaster to “blast” Hordak from his position on the Artilleray vehicle.
Name: Bionatops Year: 1987 Artist: Warren Hile Description: He-Man charges into battle atop the mighty Bionatops.
Name: Cliff Climber Power Gear Year: 1987 Artist: William George Description: Man-At-Arms scales a rocky cliff face with the Roto-Drill attachment at the ready; He-Man uses the Cliff Climber’s chest crawler feature to zoom down the mountain as Skeletor loses his footing. An enormous moon illuminates a range of pointed rock formations in the background.
Name: Gyrattacker (unproduced) Year: 1987 Artist: William George Description: Rotar launches the attack module (piloted by He-Man) at Twistoid. He-Man zooms off into the crater-filled desert landscape.
Name: Scubattack Power Gear Year: 1987 Artist: William George Description: Skeletor explores the murky depths of an Eternian ocean using the Scubattack. In a separate scene, Faker and Clamp Champ, both equipped with Scubattacks, engage in underwater combat as a vicious-looking eel looks on.
Name: Tower Tools Power Gear Year: 1987 Artist: William George Description: He-Man scales castle walls using Power Tools, as Prince Adam and Clamp Champ battle Ninjor far below. Sy-Klone and Terror Claws Skeletor battle on upper levels of the castle using Tower Tools circular saw attachments.
Name: Turbodactyl Year: 1987 Artist: Warren Hile Description: Turbodactyl, guided be He-Ro (unproduced), catches King Hiss in his claws. Several other Turbodactyls soar above a rocky cliff face.
Name: Tyrantisaurus Rex Year: 1987 Artist: Warren Hile Description: King Hiss launches a Dyna-Drone from the mighty Tyrantisaurus Rex.
I’ve often wondered about the exact dates that Masters of the Universe figures, vehicles and playsets were released. It’s quite difficult to suss out, and would probably require access to internal Mattel distribution documents that may no longer exist.
However, there is one way of fixing a date to specific MOTU-related items – the date that a trademark claim was filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office. While trademarks would have usually been filed in advance of the actual release date of the item, they do give us a general sense of the order that these toys had reached a certain stage in their development. There are probably exceptions to that, of course, but I think it should hold true in general.
There has long been a notion of “waves” in the world of MOTU collectors. Each wave corresponds to a year:
Wave 1: Items released in 1982
Wave 2: Items released in 1983
Wave 3: Items released in 1984
Wave 4: Items released in 1985
Wave 5: Items released in 1986
Wave 6: Items released in 1987
Wave 7: Items released in 1988
I’m accounting for the seven waves here, but I’m posting these strictly by order of trademark date. Sometimes that order contradicts fan notions about waves. When that happens, I’ll try to account for that too.
Most of the first wave items were trademarked on the same day – December 14, 1981. That also includes the name of the line, “Masters of the Universe”. Battle Cat was slightly behind, having been trademarked on December 21. Skeletor and Castle Grayskull didn’t get a trademark filed until January 15, 1982.
December 14, 1981:
HE-MAN, TEELA, MAN-AT-ARMS, STRATOS, WIND RAIDER, BATTLE RAM, BEAST MAN, MER-MAN, ZODAC, “MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE”
December 21, 1981:
January 15, 1982:
CASTLE GRAYSKULL, SKELETOR
Wave 2 gets a little messier. The first seven of the items were trademarked in September of 1982. Evil-Lyn, Panthor and Screeech were trademarked in early 1983. Interestingly, Faker wasn’t trademarked until May of 1983, slightly after Prince Adam. It’s possible that Prince Adam was intended to be released as a late second wave figure. In fact, there is even a fan theory that the figure known as “Wonder Bread He-Man” was in reality an early version of Prince Adam that was scrapped after the look was changed by Filmation.
Point Dread & The Talon Fighter were trademarked early on, in September 1982, but the separate names, Point Dread and Talon Fighter were trademarked individually in May of 1983.
September 27, 1982:
ATTAK TRAK, MAN-E-FACES, POINT DREAD & THE TALON FIGHTER, RAM MAN, TRAP JAW, ZOAR
December 10, 1982:
January 21, 1983:
EVIL-LYN, “HEROIC WARRIORS”, “EVIL WARRIORS”
February 16, 1983:
May 23, 1983:
PRINCE ADAM (release probably delayed until 1984)
May 25, 1983:
FAKER, POINT DREAD, TALON FIGHTER
August 22, 1983:
“BATTLE FOR ETERNIA”
As mentioned earlier, Prince Adam was the first figure released in the third wave to get trademarked (May 1983). Most of the rest of that wave was trademarked in August of 1983, including Buzz-Off, Clawful, Mekaneck, Fisto, Jitsu, and others. Webstor, “Battle Armor” (presumably covering both He-Man and Skeletor variants) and Kobra Khan bring up the rear. I couldn’t locate a 1980s trademark date for either Orko or Dragon Walker.
Mekaneck is considered by many to be a second wave figure, but don’t think that’s right. He was of course trademarked the same day as many other third wave figures. Beyond that, Mekaneck also appears in the 1984 Dealer Catalog, but is absent from the 1983 Dealer Catalog. The figure itself is stamped with the same date as other third wave figures (1983 – figures were released the year after the date stamp). He has the clam shell armor that is distinctive to third wave and later figures, and he does not appear in mini comics until 1984. Because so many things about Mekaneck point to him being a third wave figure, in my books that’s what he is.
“Fright Zone” was trademarked significantly sooner than the other fourth wave items, in January of 1984. Most of the others were trademarked later in the year, in September, November and December. Sy-Klone was the last to be trademarked, in the summer of 1985. He was actually trademarked on the same day as many figures released in 1986, although the figure is stamped 1984, indicating that he was released in 1985.He also appears with other fourth wave characters in the 1985 mini comics, so I believe this is a case of a delayed trademark filing but not a delayed release for the figure, if that makes sense.
I couldn’t locate a 1980s trademark date for Roboto.
January 27, 1984:
THE FRIGHT ZONE
September 10, 1984:
GRIZZLOR, HORDAK, “THE HORDE”, LAND SHARK, LEECH, MANTENNA, SPIKOR, SPYDOR, STINKOR, THUNDER PUNCH, TWO BAD
November 23, 1984:
BASHASAURUS, NIGHT STALKER, “THE EVIL HORDE”
December 19, 1984:
DRAGON BLASTER, MODULOK, MOSS MAN
December 28, 1984:
Date Not Found:
ROBOTO, EVIL ROBOT (unproduced)
Most of the 1986 figures and other items were trademarked in the summer and winter of 1985. Many were trademarked in early 1986 though. Eternia was among the last of that wave to be trademarked, in June of 1986. I couldn’t locate a 1980s trademark date for either Hurricane Hordak or King Hiss.
All of the 1987 items, save Saurod, were trademarked in 1986 – that is, those for which I could find a filed trademark. I couldn’t locate one for almost half of the items released in 1987. That may be because the MOTU line was crashing and burning by then. Interestingly, I did find trademarks for Gigantisaur and Eldor, even though these items were never released.
Of the four figures released in 1988 (Tytus, Megator, Laser Power He-Man, Laser Power Skeletor), only the first two had 1980s trademarks on file. Tytus was trademarked in late 1986, while Megator was trademarked in the spring of 1987. Both Tytus and Megator were slated to come out in 1987, but they were delayed a year and released only in Europe.
The issue of trademarks doesn’t tell us everything about release dates, of course. I can’t say for sure how long after a trademark was filed that the figure was released (I would guess several months in most cases). But I think it does say something about the order of development of these figures, vehicles and playsets, at least in a broad way.
This was a fairly complicated project. If you think I’ve missed something important, please do let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
Special thanks to Larry Hubbard for reminding me about the Weapons Pak and Aaron Johnson for reminding me about the Meteorbs! Also thanks to Mike Beezer for letting me know I’d forgotten about Webstor!
Thanks also to Axel Giménez for sharing several high quality pieces of art with me that were used in this post. Many (but not all) of the other images came from the excellent MOTU Portugal site. Others were cobbled together from my snap shots of the back of vintage packaging.
Here is the 1987 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog. Intended for retailers, Mattel’s dealer catalogs showcased all the latest and greatest releases, along with existing products within its various current (at the time) toy lines. New releases included:
Buzz Saw Hordak
Beam-Blaster & Artilleray
Megator (delayed until 1988)
Tytus (delayed until 1988)
Announced but unreleased items included:
Conventional wisdom about the 1987 lineup says that Mattel was putting out a lot of reused parts in the new figures (like Scare Glow, King Randor, Clamp Champ). But really parts reuse existed in every year of the line. Taken altogether, there was quite a lot of new tooling in 1987, and a lot of new ideas to expand the line in new directions. It’s a pity that the line fizzled out before these ideas could be fully explored.