Masters of the Universe, for all its diversity and creativity, was quite an economical toyline, creatively (and sometimes uncreatively) using and reusing the same molds over and over again throughout its run. Sometimes this was done fairly invisibly, and other times it was as plain as the nose on Faker’s face.
In this series I’ll be cataloging the reuse of existing molds, in context of what is known and what is likely about which figures were created in what order. For example, He-Man’s prototype was almost certainly finished before Man-At-Arms, so Man-At-Arms reused He-Man’s legs, rather than vice versa. I’ll also include parts that were reused from other toylines.
Sometimes existing parts were modified for use in new toys. For example, Beast Man’s chest seems to have been based on He-Man’s chest sculpt, albeit with a great deal of hair added to it. This didn’t save money on tooling, but it did save some time and effort for the sculptor. I’ll point this out whenever I see it. Whenever a modified part is used again, however, I’ll refer to it as belonging to the toy that used it first (for example, Stratos and Zodac reuse Beast Man’s chest).
I won’t comment on “invisible” parts, such as neck pegs or waist springs that are normally not seen.
First, the toys from 1984 that had (at the time) all new parts:
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 Four: 1985
Name: Bashasaurus Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man attacks Battle Armor Skeletor using the Bashasaurus’ “basher ball” as a small dragon-like creature looks on. In the distance, Clawful and Trap Jaw run down the winding path from Snake Mountain.
Name: Battle Bones Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man, Teela, Fisto, Man-At-Arms, Man-E-Faces, Buzz-Off, Battle Armor Skeletor, Beast Man, Kobra Khan, Jitsu, Whiplash and Evil-Lyn pose next to Battle Bones. In a separate scene, Battle Armor He-Man, Fisto, Man-At-Arms, Man-E-Faces, and Mekaneck use Battle Bones to attack Battle Armor Skeletor, Tri-Klops, and Beast Man.
Name: Dragon Walker (Euro Edition) Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man pilots the Dragon Walker over rocky, volcanic terrain. Beast Man and Tri-Klops are ready to attack but seem unsure how to proceed. In the foreground, a small pterodactyl-like creature seems ready to take flight. In a separate scene, Battle Armor Skeletor (riding in Land Shark) and Beast Man lurk in the background.
Name: Fright Zone Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: 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.
Name: Hordak Grizzlor Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: He-Man approaches Grizzlor and Hordak, his sword and shield at the ready. The sinister Fright Zone stands in the background.
Name: Jitsu & Night Stalker Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: in the middle of a desolate and rocky landscape, Jitsu and Night Stalker attack Fisto, who seems to have been caught without backup.
Name: Land Shark Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: Skeletor drives Land Shark over a cracked and rocky desert. A vicious looking dragon-like creature looks on.
Name: Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor Skeletor, driving Land Shark, races across the cratered desert floor. From his vantage point on a rock, Man-At-Arms seems ready to leap into battle. A vicious-looking winged dragon creature watches from a gnarled tree branch.
Name: Modulok Year: 1985 Artist: Unknown Description: Modulok is shown in fifteen body configurations and poses.
Name: Night Stalker Year: 1985 Artist: William Garland* Description: Charging down the narrow path from Snake Mountain, Battle Armor Skeletor and Night Stalker attack Battle Armor He-Man and Mekaneck. A reddened sky and strange rocky formations are the prominent features of Skeletor’s domain. (*Artist name not confirmed for this particular piece, but the art seems to match the style of the Panthor illustrations.)
Name: Spydor Year: 1985 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor Skeletor looms large over Battle Armor He-Man as he uses Spydor to attack the most powerful man in the universe. In the background, tooth-like volcanoes belch smoke. Three moons hang in the alien sky.
My introduction to Fisto came in first grade, when a classmate pulled out several of his newest He-Man figures to show the rest of us. The three figures I remember him showing us were Tri-Klops, Jitsu and Fisto.
I already owned Tri-Klops from way back in Kindergarten, but I hadn’t seen these two new figures with their spring-loaded right arms that terminated in either a giant metallic fist or chopping hand. The entire group was suitably impressed, and we each took turns testing out their action features.
In the commercial above, Fisto is pitted against Clawful, another character from 1984 with an enlarged right “hand”. I don’t know if that’s because the Jitsu action figure wasn’t quite ready yet, or if they thought that Clawful would sell more. Jitsu seems like a more obvious nemesis for Fisto.
Fisto was created by Mattel designer Colin Bailey (see: my interview with Martin Arriola). Although no concept art for Fisto has been either found or at least made public, there is an image of his prototype.
The image below, which can be found on both He-Man.org and Masters Unbound, shows a prototype built around the basic He-Man buck. The sculpt for his metal fist and armor is a bit rough, with noticeable divots and irregularities. He seems to have larger eyebrows compared to the final toy. This version also has the standard He-Man arms. The final version of Fisto would have enlarged deltoids to accommodate the width needed for the spring-loaded arm mechanism. He would also be given a closed left hand to allow him to better hold his sword. In this case, the sword is an unmodified copy of Tri-Klops’ sword, but the final toy’s sword would be cast in purple.
The cross sell artwork created for Fisto, at first glance, appears to be identical to the finished toy. But upon further examination, this one still has the standard He-Man arms, complete with open left hand. This time his sword is the correct purple color:
Compare that to the final toy, which has the changes discussed previously:
The sword, I think, is an odd choice, given the figure’s action feature. I would think a blunt weapon, like a mace or a hammer, would be better suited to Fisto’s fighting style.
Like many MOTU figures, Fisto was had some variations depending on country of origin or date of manufacture. Malaysian figures have a larger, more hollow head, with much darker purple boots, belt and armor. Various Hong Kong figures have medium or light purple armor, belt and boots. Some have brown hair, and others have auburn or bright red hair:
There were also a couple of versions that came with a purple Jitsu sword.
For the single carded figure, the artwork on the back was done by the venerable Errol McCarthy, which shows Fisto giving Skeletor a knock-out punch:
Some more great Fisto-related artwork from McCarthy:
Fisto was sold in a JCPenny two-pack with Buzz-Off. The box had minimal artwork – the black and white line art that Mattel shipped out to retailers for use in ad copy.
Fisto was also sold in a gift set with Stridor, with great piece of artwork that seems to have been illustrated by William Garland, based on its style.
Fisto is often associated with Stridor, just as Jitsu is associated with Night Stalker. It’s a rather unique relationship. In general He-Man seems to be given the heroic vehicles and steeds and Skeletor is given their evil counterparts. But Fisto seems to have been popular enough to merit his own steed. That’s certainly the case in one of my favorite mini comics – The Clash of Arms.
In the story, Fisto, riding on Stridor, is ambushed by Clawful, Tri-Klops, Webstor, and Jitsu. He is captured and forced to fight for his life in Skeletor’s arena. He’s successful in beating off Clawful and Jitsu in turn, but Whiplash nearly spells the end for Fisto before He-Man comes in and breaks up the fight.
Another notable Fisto story in the mini comics is Masks of Power. In this tale, Fisto and He-Man are obliged to team up with Mer-Man and Skeletor to stop two little demons who have stolen powerful masks and threaten to take the power sword.
In Skeletor’s Dragon, Fisto doesn’t play a major role, but there is a fun sequence where the heroes are testing their strength. Fisto bests Man-At-Arms at the “tower of power”, but of course when He-Man takes his turn, he sends the mechanism into orbit:
Fisto plays some substantial roles in several of the Golden Books stories. In Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, Fisto, again paired with Stridor, leads the search for the coveted Dragon’s egg, and battles against Beast Man and invented villain Goat Man:
In The Magic Mirror, Fisto is replaced by a mirror image duplicate (Skeletor in a magical disguise). Skeletor is discovered when He-Man notices that “Fisto’s” steel fist is on his left hand rather than his right.
In Demons of the Deep, Fisto, He-Man and Ram Man discover an underwater duplicate of Castle Grayskull inhabited by Skeletor, who controls some nasty robot sea monsters.
In the Filmation He-Man cartoon, Fisto’s design is, as usual, simplified for animation. The most noticeable change in design here is that he is given an enlarged fist even compared to the one on the Mattel toy.
Fisto is also given an origin story. In “Fisto’s Forest”, we learn that Fisto, like Man-E-Faces, started out as a villain. He’s a loner who lives in the woods and makes trouble for anyone he comes across. Eventually (and somewhat abruptly) he sees the error in his ways and joins forces with He-Man.
Personally, I remember Fisto best from the episode, “To Save Skeletor.” In the story, Fisto and his compatriots must save the evil warriors (Trap Jaw, in the frame below) from the Lovecraftian demon Sh’Gora.
In my mind, Fisto is one of the few heroic warriors who I could see as a leading character in his own spin-off series (I’d say the same Teela and perhaps Zodac). Like most characters released after 1982, he’s a bit gimmicky, but not to the point where he becomes overly cartoonish. I could see a series of comics where Fisto and Stridor explore the savage wastes of Eternia, challenging evil warlords, winning the hearts of bar maids, and causing lesser men to quake at the sight of his mighty red beard.
I remember getting Night Stalker as a birthday surprise in the fall of 1985. I believe I got him along with Battle Bones. I hadn’t heard anything about either toy, but I was pretty impressed with both of them. Of course as long as I got He-Man toys, I was happy. I was an easy kid to shop for.
Night Stalker, along with Faker, Screeech, Stinkor, Moss Man and Panthor, come from the “cheap repaint” school of Masters of the Universe toy design. Night Stalker was a recast version of Stridor (who had been released the year before), in gold, purple and black. The US release did not include a recolored version of Stridor’s head armor piece, but Brazilian, Venezuelan, and French versions did. His sticker designs were quite different from Stridor’s.
Like Stridor, Night Stalker had a surprising lack of articulation. The design of his legs would lead you to believe that they were movable, but in fact they were not. The only moving parts on both horses were the tail, the rear gun, and the front guns. I was a little surprised by this fact when I first opened him up, but given the lack of articulation on Battle Cat, I made my peace with it pretty quickly.
Unlike an organic horse, Night Stalker was outfitted with a cockpit. The rider would sit in a seat with his legs inside the mechanical steed’s body. He could control the horse via a control panel rather than reins:
Night Stalker was sold individually and in a gift set with Jitsu. I’ve always liked the fact that Night Stalker had a rider associated with him besides Skeletor. I feel like it adds a bit of depth to both Jitsu and Night Stalker. You can imagine the two of them having independent adventures far away from Skeletor’s watchful eye.
The artwork on the individually packaged Night Stalker was done by an
unknown artist, who I believe also did the artwork for Panthor, Stridor,
Point Dread and others. The artwork for the two-pack was done by the
great William George:
To date I haven’t identified any colored cross sell art for Night Stalker. Some red line art appears on the back of the Fright Zone box, and I also located some black and white line art created for advertising copy, featuring Jitsu as the rider:
Night Stalker didn’t show up in the mini comics, but he did make a few appearances in the UK Masters of the Universe comic book series (images via He-Man.org):
In Issue 3 of the series, Tri-Klops rides a living horse that seems to resemble Night Stalker, although it may be a coincidence (hat tip to James Eatock, who made that observation 10 years ago on his blog).
Night Stalker also makes a couple of appearances in the German audio plays (hat tip to Tetsuo S.):
Night Stalker also appears quite frequently in the German Ehapa Verlag comic series:
According to James Eatock’s excellent He-Man and She-Ra guide, Night Stalker was intended to appear the Filmation He-Man series under the name “Knight Mare”, but for some reason never found his way into an episode. I would guess that that that name Knight Mare was Night Stalker’s initial working name at Mattel. The robotic horse was also called Knight Mare in the old German toy magazines and audio plays (hat tip to Klemens F. and Kevin D.).
Night Stalker seems to be less popular than his heroic brother Stridor, but personally I prefer the evil horse. I’m sure part of that is driven by nostalgia (I never owned Stridor as a kid), but I also think his color scheme is just more striking.