Snake Men

King Hiss – Dreadful disguised leader of the SNAKE MEN (1986)

Co-written with Jukka Issakainen

On a family trip in 1986 I was faced with something of a dilemma. On the way to California in the car, we had stopped off at store that had a nice selection of He-Man toys, and I was told that I could pick two. I was determined that both figures be Snake Men, but which ones to get?

I  was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or perhaps the newly released King Hiss or Rattlor. I don’t remember seeing Tung Lashor at the time. After studying all three toys and their packaging intently, I concluded that King Hiss was a cool idea, but his hidden snake body wasn’t all that great looking, so I went with the other two figures instead.

The Snake Men, with Kobra Khan retconned into the faction

Design & Development

When Mattel and Filmation were working on the She-Ra Princess of Power animated series, they designed lot of characters in concert. The Evil Horde cartoon designs were meant for She-Ra’s show because the He-Man series had ended on its second season. Characters like Rattlor and Tung Lashor were created very early on. Mattel would later come up with a third evil faction, thanks to Tim Kilpin; the Snake Men, into which King Hiss was created. Rattlor and Tung Lashor served him, with Kobra Khan was retconned into the group as well.

Some additional background from James Eatock:

As for the snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor were designed ahead of King Hiss (and included as Horde Villains based on their earliest designs). By the time King Hiss was completed and the Snake Men as a faction had been created, She-Ra was already in full swing.

James Eatock

Various minicomics acknowledged Rattlor and Tung Lashor working for Evil Horde and used them from there on out as King Hiss’ servants. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that King Hiss was being planned for Filmation’s He-Man or She-Ra cartoons. During the She-Ra series, Rattlor and Tung Lashor sometimes were aligned with Skeletor, and sometimes with Hordak.

In terms of play concept, King Hiss came out of a series of designs by Ted Mayer for a figure concept that would have a removable outer disguise. One of the most well-known of the unproduced concepts is a character with a removable plant-like outer shell, as shown in the image below:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

One of Ted’s concept designs included a green-costumed monster with tangle of coiled snakes hidden beneath his costume:

Image source: http://ted-mayer.com
Another take on the hidden snake creature concept. This one has a more alien-looking disguise. Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

Ted’s concept art was quite creepy, both on the inside and on the outside. The toy design, on the other hand, was greatly toned down in comparison. The outside of the figure was given a heroic appearance. The idea was that King Hiss could trick the heroes into believing he was on their side, only to betray them and reveal the mass of snakes underneath. The mass of snakes was unfortunately limited by the constraints of having to fit inside a plastic shell depicting the human costume, so the snake part of the figure was a bit underwhelming.

King Hiss cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Action Figure

The shell of the costume consisted of four parts. The front and back of the chest and head, and the two arms. The torso piece completely concealed what was underneath, but the arms were open at the back. Consequently, the backs of King Hiss’ snake arms were painted green to match the external disguise.

King Hiss was given a serpent shield and snake staff. The staff would be reused for Rattlor, Tung Lashor and Snake Face, and consequently is one of the most reused weapon designs in the MOTU line. Everything else on King Hiss was a unique piece.

On September 27, 1985, Mattel filed a patent claim on King Hiss. The inventors listed are Roger Sweet and Ted Mayer.

Packaging

King Hiss’ artwork on the back was done by an unknown artist. Uniquely, it functions like a three-panel comic, telling the story of King Hiss’ gimmick.

Image source: KMKA

In Belgium, there was a special release of King Hiss that included a fold-out reversible mask in the packaging:

Characterization

The 1987 Style Guide describes King Hiss in terms of his gimmick:

Power: Disguises himself as a Heroic warrior, then peels back skin to reveal a snake creature – designed to take victims by surprise.

Style Guide
From the style guide. Artwork by Errol McCarthy

There is also a fact file on all the Snake Men in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Comics and Stories

In King of the Snake Men, Skeletor unleashes King Hiss from an energy pool he finds in the depths of Snake Mountain. King Hiss had apparently been trapped for thousands of years. In the story (illustrated by Bruce Timm), he teams up with Skeletor to lure He-Man into a trap:


Later in the story, King Hiss tells He-Man how thousands of years ago, he was rule of an empire of Snake Men that held dominance over several other planets. He came to Eternia and took up residence in Snake Mountain. Ultimately he was banished to another dimension by the Council of Elders, until Skeletor freed him.

In the Kid Stuff story, Battle Under Snake Mountain, King Hiss rules Snake Mountain, as if Skeletor never existed:

The Summer 1986 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine features the story, The Armies of King Hiss. Skeletor teams up with Hiss and his Snake Men against He-Man:

King Hiss shows up in several issues of the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine as well:

King Hiss appears in the November 1986 Star Comics story, Snakes Alive! In the story, we learn that Rio Blast is terrified of Snakes, which King Hiss uses to his advantage:

“He-Ro, Land of Legend” and He-Man Newspaper Strips

The Filmation “He-Ro Land of Legend” development from 1986 has a snake man character which possibly is the one Gérald Forton designed, and later used in the newspaper comic strip story arc, “Vengeance of the Viper King”:

From the Dark Horse He-Man Newspaper Comic Strips Collection

In “Vengeance of the Viper King,” King Hiss has the unique look only when in his true form. In his disguised form, he looks on model with the action figure:

Powers of Grayskull

King Hiss was to be (apparently) a principal villain in the abandoned Powers of Grayskull line. Tyrantisaurus Rex was envisioned as his primary mount:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man
From The Powers of Grayskull minicomic

Artwork

King Hiss appears in poster art by both William George and Earl Norem:

Artwork by William George. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.
Artwork by Earl Norem

Errol McCarthy also created several illustrations of the character:

King Hiss also makes an appearance in the box art for Tyrantisaurs Rex and Turbodactyl, both illustrated on the front by Warren Hile:

King Hiss had his limitations as an action figure, but he was actually an interesting concept and pretty fun to play with.

King Hiss in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has generously shared the following image and video of King Hiss in action:

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Artwork

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art – 1986

The artwork for this set comes from Axel Giménez, StarCrusader, Dark Horse’s Art of He-Man, He-Man World, eBay auctions, and my own photos and scans.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any cross sell-style artwork for the Eternia playset other than the red line art featured on the back of the Eternia box.

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art:

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Snake Men

Rattlor – Evil SNAKE MEN creature with the quick-strike head (1986)

Rattlor Graphic

My memory of getting Rattlor is quite vivid. It was our last summer in our Eastern Washington house, before our big move across the mountains to a rainier, more temperate part of the Pacific Northwest, and we were taking a road trip vacation to California before the move. I remember gravely weighing my options at a store along the way. I could get two toys, and I was determined that they be Snake Men.

I  was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or perhaps the newly released King Hiss or Rattlor. I don’t remember seeing Tung Lashor at the time. After studying all three toys and their packaging intently, I concluded that King Hiss was a cool idea, but his hidden snake body wasn’t all that great looking, so I went with the other two figures instead.

Rattlor (2)
Rattlor ad sheet artwork. Notice in the first illustration he is holding Skeletor’s staff and has a belt similar to Trap Jaw’s; in the second he has what appears to be an off-model King Hiss shield (thanks to Manic Man for that observation)

Design & Development

Rattlor started life as a Roger Sweet concept, although in this very early concept drawing he’s barely recognizable. As is evident in the artwork, he was to have a yellow and green color scheme and would have reused Buzz-Off’s legs and Skeletor’s arms, just like Whiplash. If you look carefully you can see the rattle at the end of his tail, without which we would have no visual cues to assume this character was based on a rattle snake. There are no obvious signs that his head was to have the pop-out action feature. This design came about sometime around 1983, at the same time Whiplash and other third wave characters were being developed, per Aidan in the comment section.

Rattlor concept Roger Sweet
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Ted Mayer’s Basher concept illustrates the general idea for Rattlor’s action feature. In this illustration the character’s head is being used as a blunt weapon, but of course for Rattlor the idea was that he could quickly strike his head forward and deliver a bite.

Image source: Power and Honor Foundation

As for the snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor were designed ahead of King Hiss (and included as Horde Villains based on their earliest designs). By the time King Hiss was completed and the Snake Men as a faction had been created, She-Ra was already in full swing.

James Eatock

Depictions of Rattlor in the minicomics give us a glimpse of an intermediate design. He is usually depicted with the dragon-like spines from the prototype, but with the updated scaly limbs and two-toed feet that were used in the final toy. This represents a mid-point in Rattlor’s design evolution. Most of these appearances feature the character with his final rust, cream and blue color scheme, but in his first appearance he is yellowish orange.

Production Toy

The actual toy has an elongated neck and a tail with a sculpted rattle at the end of it, but otherwise it has little in common with Sweet’s initial design, and the final toy was redesigned by John Hollis, who also worked on Extendar and Turbodactyl. The toy’s head certainly looks much more rattle snake-like than the concept artwork. Rattlor lost the spines along his back, and the final figure featured all new limbs. He came with a staff borrowed from King Hiss, but molded in brick red plastic.

In order to accommodate Rattlor’s long neck when it was recessed, his torso had to be quite large compared to most He-Man figures. His legs are relatively short, however – they’re about the size of Beast Man’s legs, but look even more undersized because of his large torso. His arms look like they were based on the He-Man’s arms (with a similar open left hand) with added scales and gloves, and slightly different musculature. Curiously, the staff is omitted in the cross sell artwork below:

Rattlor’s quick-strike action feature was activated by pushing a button on the back of his belt, revealing a long yellow (or sometimes red) neck. There were also some loose bits of plastic in the figure, so that when you shake him you hear a rattling sound.

Packaging

The artwork on the back of Rattlor’s packaging was done by an unknown artist (Jukka Issakainen pointed out that it’s not Dave Stevens, as I originally thought – it’s signed either MT or TM). The name Rattlor was trademarked by Mattel on June 17, 1985, a year before the toy’s release.

Scan by Starcrusader

Minicomics

As mentioned earlier, Rattlor’s design in most of his minicomics appearances represents an intermediate stage in his development, particularly in his first appearance in King of the Snake Men. His appearances in the last couple of minicomics of the toyline are much closer to his toy look. Throughout, he is described as a fairly typical muscle-headed henchman who rarely says much. In Snake Attack! Tung Lashor seems to be the brains, while Rattlor is the brawn. Rattlor also appears in The Ultimate Battle Ground, Revenge of the Snake Men, Energy Zoids, and The Powers of Grayskull.

When Rattlor and Tung Lashor are introduced in King of the Snake Men, it’s mentioned that they had been serving Hordak before King Hiss summoned them. This is a reference to their appearances on the She-Ra cartoon series (they came out too late to appear in the original He-Man series, which ended in 1985).

Animation

In the She-Ra series, Rattlor is usually mute, although that’s not the case in the Christmas Special, where Rattlor gets a brief line. (There are other She-Ra episodes where he is given lines as well – see the comment from SpineBear at the end of this article.) Design-wise, Filmation’s Rattlor lacks the colored strips on his arms and legs, and he’s given purple trunks and a blue belt:

Before Filmation settled on the toy-like design for Rattlor, they were using a model sheet based on Roger Sweet’s original design:

Image source: James Eatock, by way of Jukka Issakainen

Stories, Comics & Magazines

In the 1986 Kid Stuff story book/record, Battle Under Snake Mountain, Rattlor seems to be more intelligent and talks more frequently than in other media, although he seems constantly terrified of King Hiss:

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

Both Rattlor and Tung Lashor are wildly off model in the 1987 UK MOTU Magazine story, “Attack of the Snakemen.” Tung Lashor especially looks unrecognizable and bizarre (I first learned about this issue from James Eatock’s excellent He-Man and She-Ra Blog).

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Image Source: He-Man.org

In the MOTU newspaper story, Vengeance of the Viper King, Rattlor is also wildly off model, albeit based on line art from the Filmation She-Ra series. He appears here with green skin and no tail:

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Image Source: Dark Horse Newspaper Comic Strips
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Image Source: Dark Horse Newspaper Comic Strips

Rattlor appears in issue 7 of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine in The Armies of King Hiss:

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Artwork Appearances

The same issue features one of Earl Norem’s most iconic MOTU paintings, featuring all of the snake men (including Kobra Khan, who had been retconned into that faction starting in 1986) that existed up to that point:

William George illustrated the character in both his Eternia playset boxart and in his Eternia poster:

Artist Errol McCarthy drew Rattlor in a number of contexts, including in an illustration for the 1987 Style Guide:

Characterization

The Style Guide characterizes Rattlor this way:

Power: Can sneak up on enemies and strike with lightning speed and precision.

Character Profile: Rattlor never says much: he’d rather just hiss. He sticks close by Tung Lashor, keeping a low profile so his attacks are that much more surprising. Just before he is about to strike, Rattlor will sound his ominous battle rattle, giving his quarry the merest fraction of a second to realize his horrible fate.

Note: Filmation has positioned Rattlor as a member of The Evil Horde. For story purposes, he and Tung Lashor joined The Evil Horde when King Hiss was banished eons ago. Now that King Hiss has returned, however, Rattlor and Tung Lashor have rejoined him.

There was also a fact file on Rattlor in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual, which also says that Rattlor preferrs hissing to speaking:

Note the unusual colors scheme on Rattlor – he has blue legs and a yellow tail!

Rattlor is my favorite of the snake men. I love his Southwestern-looking color scheme, his detailed scaly skin, and of course his action features. I would have preferred a unique weapon for him, but otherwise he’s one of my favorite figures to come out in the last years of the line.

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Resource

Parts Reuse in MOTU, Part Five: 1986

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 1986 that had (at the time) all new parts:

Eternia


Image via He-Man.org

King Hiss

Horde Trooper

Mantisaur


Image via Lu Lu Berlu

Multi-Bot

Monstroid

Slime Pit

Stonedar

Snout Spout

Extendar

Rio Blast

Blasterhawk


Image via He-Man.org

Laser Bolt

Fright Fighter

Jet Slet


Image via He-Man.org

Megalaser

These toys from 1986 reused some existing parts – some of those parts were first created in the same year, however:

Flying Fists He-Man

Terror Claws Skeletor

tc1

Hurricane Hordak

Rokkon

Rattlor

Tung Lashor

Dragstor

Stilt Stalkers

As you can see, there is a great deal more new tooling and much less reuse of existing parts in 1986 than in previous years. Ironically, for all the money pumped into the brand, as I understand it 1986 was the first year that sales for the line started to slip. It is true that stylistically the 1986 lineup was much different than anything that had come before, especially in the heroic warriors lineup. I have to wonder if that had anything to do with faltering sales. It may have had nothing to do with it, but I know that the 1986 toyline did little to catch my eye as a kid, outside of the Snake Men.

There are a lot of limbs in the 1986 lineup that look awfully close to the original He-Man’s arms and legs. However, if you look very closely you’ll see that the musculature is subtly different. The sculptors may have used He-Man as a model, but I don’t see that existing parts have been modified in the same way that was frequently done from 1983-1985.

Update: Øyvind has informed me that only the front half of the armor was reused for the Stilt Stalkers. Thanks Øyvind!

Lastly, there were the Meteorbs- a frequently overlooked bunch of transforming egg toys produced by Bandai under the name Tamagoras in 1984, and rebranded for the MOTU toyline as Meteorbs. Not having held these in my own hands since the 80s, I’ve done my best to catch parts reuse, but I trust that if I’ve misrepresented anything here someone will correct me (images below are from www.he-man.org):

Cometroid

Gore-illa

Dinosorb

Crocobite

Astro Lion

Orbear

Rhinorb

Tuskor

Ty-Grrr

Comet Cat

Parts Reuse series:

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