Lords of Power

Lords of Power – the original pitch

Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary

Earlier this year, Scott Neitlich, former brand manager of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, read aloud the original pitch for the “Lords of Power” toyline (which would of course eventually be renamed to Masters of the Universe). The relevant videos are below:

I thought it would be useful to post a transcription of that original pitch here. Since most of it is presented verbally, my formatting won’t match that of the original document. But I find it’s useful to have text to refer back to when thinking about the development of the line. I’ll provide some illustrations to break up the text:

Lords of Power Pitch

Before we show our new male action figure product for 1982 I would like to briefly set the stage by describing how and why we created this new line.

There is a basic market demand for M.A.F. products. It was there before Star Wars and it’s still there. The 1980 current market size of over 200 million in sales at A price is largely dominated by Star Wars, with 2/3 of the share. With other licensed product and non-licensed comprising the remainder on an approximate equal basis, though the licensed area can generate large sales volume, entry into this area is a risky proposition, dependent on a) the success of the movie and b) the timing of its release, coupled with product availability.

As a result, Mattel established two business objectives and strategies for 1982. We will continue to seek out new licenses 1) but be highly selective and 2) new licenses should reflect the latest and future movie trends. The most important objective is to create a new non-licensed product line which will 1) satisfy the current needs and desire of boys and target age range (four to eleven), re-establish a solid basic multi-year business which is not dependent on the success of a movie, and offer the consumer an attractive alternative. We’ve seen the need for something new with the early movement of Clash of the Titans even before the movie was released and before any advertising.

How can we achieve this second goal? In the past Mattel has conducted two major research studies each creating results and direction which produced successful product lines. With this in mind we established our development state and strategies for a new product line which are:

• To conduct a major research program on a national basis
• To determine theme direction and key product features
• Create a product line based on the research results
• Confirm the viability of our new line with a follow-up research program

In the initial research program we interviewed mothers as well as children and discussed play patterns, who their heroes are and how the moms feel in general about the male action figure category. As part of our qualitative analysis, we discussed theme direction. We began with 30 themes and reduced it to 10 themes systematically.

Of the top 10 the three most popular were:

a) fantasy
b) space
c) military

Fantasy was by far the most popular and we discovered that kids liked the idea of a play situation which was a) timeless in nature with b) power and dominance as desirable characteristics.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation. Update: per Rebecca Salari Taylor these were not the figures used in the initial pitch for the three themes – she says the figures used initially were much rougher. These figures were a later revision.

The next steps in this first research program was to switch to an in-depth quantitative analysis of those popular themes. Here are the prime factors required to create a successful male action figure line:

• Figures need size and power.
• Exciting action features are a bonus.
• Snap-on removable accessories are a desirable bonus.
• Vehicles need good detail and action features are prime motivators for additional figure sales.

Based on our initial research results we developed a product line and put it into a nationwide research test against the entire Star Wars and one other male action figure line. If the initial test results continue to come along the same trend we will have a tremendously successful product line. Figures perform four times better than the requirements established by our research department. Our accessories and playsets perform five times better than what would be required to consider the line viable.

Image source: Andy Youssi

From the research results it’s obvious we’ve developed the most powerful male action figure line of all time: He-Man and the Lords of Power. Our collection contains eight action figures, which beginning with He-Man are all figures that are five and a half inches tall, much taller than most competitors; are incredibly strong and powerful in appearance; have snap-on armor and clothing; are highly detailed are articulated for poseability; including a spring-loaded battle action waist which gives them the needed action play feature.

These are our additional figures:

• Man-At-Arms – He-Man’s best ally and friend
• Skeletor – the ultimate enemy
• Beast-Man – number one stooge for Skeletor
Mer-Man – uses his aquatic powers to help He-Man
• Stratos – who has the power of flight
• Sorceress (Cobra) – has the powers of mysticism but is also very beautiful
• Tee-La – beautiful warrior goddess

Image source: The Power of Grayskull documentary

All figures will be sold in a display package to highlight their unique visual appearance and quality. Our first accessory item is the Battle Cat which will be sold separately as well as with He-Man in a deluxe gift set. The Battle Ram is an unusual combination of ancient and future technologies. It has a battering ram which is launched and the front disconnects to pick up a jet powered sky cycle.

Our smaller vehicle is called the Turbo Chariot and can be used for transportation or in battle. The Chariot will also be offered with He-Man as a gift set. All of the figures are designed to fit every accessory item.

Concept by Ted Mayer

I would like to introduce our major playset which we believe will be the focal point of our line. As a result of our research project we have included the key features that we know are necessary in a successful playset. A good playset should have a multi-level play situation and include several action features for extended play and value. Being portable is also a real plus feature.

Image source: James Eatock/Andy Youssi. Designs by Mark Taylor.

And this is Castle Grayskull. [It is] 14 inches tall and 26 inches long and has accessories like flag pole and ladder as well as a jaw bridge which can be opened from the outside with the magic sword or from within by the secret lever. The elevator helps He-Man or his enemies up to the second floor and He-Man can turn the giant throne to activate a trap door to dispose of evildoers. Then you can put your action figures and accessories inside, fold up and head for your next adventure.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Now I’d like to show you our research test tape. Please remember that this is not a commercial and was produced under strict guidelines to avoid unfairly influencing the children being tested. The tapes made of the competitive product follow the same format and style.

Now I’d like to discuss how we’re going to market this new line. We are fully aware of the need for hard-working commercials to launch He-Man and we already have heavily involved in the creative development of two 30-second kid commercials and a 60-second commercial which tells more of a story while showcasing the line and product. We generally talk about ABC levels of advertising. I think this is the order of a triple campaign with the overall objective of making the Lords of Power the most powerful theme in the universe.

To aid our advertising campaign here are a few of the promotional programs we are developing beginning with rebates offered through cross-couponing concentrating on the figures and the castle as our primary sales targets interest has been expressed by fast food franchises, a major tie-in promotion. And we are currently negotiating a time with a breakfast cereal company using their package back and other offers. We plan to offer mail-in specials like accessory packs, collector comics, and possibly even an exclusive ninth action figure.

Scott puts forward the hypothesis that the exclusive ninth figure could have been “Savage He-Man.” That’s certainly possible. Or, it might have been intended to be Faker, since the earliest Fakers came on the original “8-back” cards.

We will also be providing some unique pop display materials which are now being created. There will be a mini comic or storybook included with each figure to relate an adventure, provide cross-sell and will include rebate coupons. The first comic is near completion now.

Now I think it is a good time to give you a very brief synopsis of He-Man’s very first adventure. Man-At-Arms informs He-Man that the evil Skeletor has entered Castle Grayskull. If Skeletor can control the secret powers of Grayskull he would rule the universe. He-Man and Man-At-Arms ride to the castle to drive their villains back to their dark world. They enter Castle Grayskull after man at arm silences the laser cannon being used by Beast Man against our hero. The battle which follows rages on throughout the castle, but the strength of He-Man and the help of his allies Man-At-Arms, Tee-La the warrior goddess who has been held captive by Skeletor, and the spirit of Grayskull itself are all too powerful.

The evil-doers are driven from Grayskull after pleading for mercy. Our hero He-Man granted them mercy this time but now they know they should not be trusted and that they may someday return to try to recapture Grayskull to discover its materials secrets of power. He-Man with the aid of his specialized vehicles, his loyal and strong allies and the spirit and wisdom of Castle Grayskull will be on a constant guard against the evil treachery of Skeletor and his villainous followers.

Everything we have points towards success, a great product line of powerful characters with action features which have the extended play value of extended snap-on accessories, exciting action vehicles that enhance the play value of the figures and a giant playset which is portable, has exciting play features and adds a new dimension to the male action figure business, and an entire line which was developed and proven through two separate nationwide marketing research programs. A broadline and extensive advertising and promotion campaign which shows our commitment at this point.

I’d like to say we hope you will all join in the excitement being generated around He-Man and become enthusiastic participants in making He-Man a successful and profitable new brand for 1982!

Image source: James Sawyer

To read more about the Lords of Power, check out my original article.

Return to Table of Contents.


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (2015)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (released October 21, 2015) is a comprehensive collection of minicomics from 1982 to the early 90s, plus a taste of the 2002 and modern Masters of the Universe Classics mini comics.  It’s a concept that I think a lot of He-Man and She-Ra fans had been wishing for for quite some time.

The collection was edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with advisement from Val Staples. The comics themselves were scanned and collected by Leanne Hannah, Rod Hannah, Jon Kallis, Rachel Crockett, and Val Staples.

Many of these comics had been available for some time digitally from sources like He-Man.org and The Good Old Days, but not always scanned in high resolution, and certainly not always in a format that was easy to read. Collecting minicomics for the most part isn’t generally terribly expensive – that is, until you get to rare issues like The Ultimate Battleground or Energy Zoids. And certainly having the comics collected in one book is a more convenient to consume and digest them. Having a comprehensive collection in production order nudged me to read read comics I might have otherwise skipped. And of course the pages are blown up significantly larger than the original printings, with the exception of The Power of Point Dread.

Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection covers more than just standard release comics. The previously unpublished Return From Terror Island (inked but uncolored) is included along with an introduction by James Eatock. There is also a script for another unpublished comic, Ring of Dreams, with an introduction by Danielle Gelehrter. The general rule for this collection is minicomics that were packed in with toys, or were intended to be packed in with toys.

We also get an introduction to mini comic variants. One of the most fascinating is the early promotional version of He-Man and the Power Sword, which features an early version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as well as references to the toyline’s early working name, “Lords of Power.”

That logo, by the way, has some points in common with the logo used on some French Masters of the Universe minicomics:

The collection is also peppered with with footnotes full of trivia and interesting connections, written by Jukka Issakainen:

Out of curiosity, I asked Jukka how the trivia portion of the book came about. This is what he told me:

Early on, there was no trivia planned. I had touched base with Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon with some questions about minicomic order and variant differences, and later Val Staples who was coordinating the book contacted me back via Skype on these matters. During a couple of conversations he asked if anything popped into my mind that should be included in the book [comics, booklets, specials], but as they had most things already covered, I mentioned that if the book could include some trivia it would be a cool addition.

Scattered in between the many dozens of mini comic stories the collection is filled  with quite a number of interviews (conducted by Danielle Gelehrter) with fourteen mini comic artists and writers, vintage and modern. They include:

  • Mark Texeira
  • Gary Cohn,
  • Michael Halperin
  • Larry Houston
  • Christy Marx
  • Stan Sakai
  • Lee Nordling
  • Steven Grant
  • Jim Mitchell
  • Errol McCarthy
  • Val Staples
  • Tim Seeley
  • Daniel Chabon
  • Scott Neitlich

All of this is icing on the cake for anyone who cares to delve into the history of the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power minicomics. If not, then the comics themselves are worth the price of admission and then some

The large bulk of the book is made of up of the original 51 Masters of the Universe minicomics, which were packed in with figures and other toys from 1982 to 1987. Because the comics span six years and were produced by dozens of different artists and writers, there are some quite dramatic tonal shifts throughout the series.

The series begins with the stark jungle-barbarian post-apocalyptic wastelands of the Alfredo Alcala and Don Glut stories, which are the only comics in the series that don’t have speech bubbles. In fact, Mattel called them “adventure books” rather than comics or minicomics.

This advertisement appeared in the original He-Man and the Power Sword “adventure book”. However, the Dark Horse collection omits all of the original ads.

That distinctive style gives way to Mark Texeira and Gary Cohn’s faster-paced bronze age style adventure tales. I’m a big fan of the artwork and storytelling, but I find some of the color choices a bit perplexing sometimes, with emphasis on orangey-browns and vivid magenta throughout.

Following the Texeira/Cohn comics, Alfredo Alcala returns to illustrate another series of stories (this time with traditional word bubbles). The writer for the next run of Alcala-illustrated comics was most often  Michael Halperin, who wrote the original Masters of the Universe Bible. The MOTU Bible contained the “proto-Filmation” canon – that is to say, elements that would influence the development of the Filmation cartoon, but were not identical to the world Filmation created. Some examples – Prince Adam exists, but is a more serious character and has a different costume. King Randor is also depicted as a much older man.

The tone remained somewhat serious throughout the second run of Alcala comics (perhaps with the exception of The Obelisk, written by Karen Sargentich). Some of the post-Alcala comics, illustrated by Larry Houston, were downright brutal:

From The Clash of Arms

After a few chaotic and frankly bizarre comics midway through the series (the mini comics for Leech and Mantenna spring to mind), the comics seem to settle into a predictable but solid rhythm and style, particularly when Bruce Timm was at the illustrator desk. The Filmation influence is present through most of the series, but the mini comics are often just a shade darker, with some actual action and violence (but almost never any real consequences).

The Dark Horse collection includes all eleven original Princess of Power minicomics, all of which were new to me. The first of POP comics, The Story of She-Ra, features a brief appearance by Hordak, but otherwise Catra is the main villain, and no other male members of the Evil Horde appear in the series.

These are tightly contained stories that for the most part focus on Princess of Power-branded characters. It’s an interesting alternative universe to the Filmation She-Ra series, which not only featured an almost complete line-up of Evil Horde villains, but regularly featured guest characters from He-Man’s world as well.

The Dark Horse collection also features all four original New Adventures of He-Man mini-comics (the short-lived sci-fi reboot that immediately followed the original line), a selection of two comics from the 2002 series, and three mini-comics from the modern Masters of the Universe Classics series.

The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy, who was responsible for much of the post-1982 cardback art on the original He-Man figures) is a fun story, because in it Skeletor witnesses first-hand Prince Adam’s transformation into He-Man. Perhaps more could have been done with Skeletor’s reaction to this revelation, but all the built-up subtext almost tells that story for you:

The collection features the one 2002 minicomic that fans were already familiar with, plus another featuring Smash Blade He-Man and Spin Blade Skeletor that was never released. The comics were written by Val Staples and Robert Kirkman, with artwork and colors by Emiliano Santalucia, Enza Fontana, Marko Failla, Neal Adams,Kevin Sharpe, Brian Buccellato, Steve Cobb, and Val Staples.

Finally, we get a taste of three minicomics from the 2009 Masters of the Universe Classics series. All three were written by Scott Neitlich and Tim Seeley (the first in the series was based on the vintage Powers of Grayskull mini comic written by Phil White and penciled by Larry Houston) and illustrated by Wllinton Alves and Michael Atiyeh.

Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection satisfies a need that had gone unmet for a long time among He-Man and She-Ra fans, but it also whets our appetite for more books along these same lines. Personally I’d love to see another collection comprised of full-sized MOTU comics and magazines from the 1980s to present day, not to mention a collection of the classic Golden Books adventures.

Return to Table of Contents.