Super7

My Super7 MOTU Wish List, Part 2.5

Wouldn’t you know it, in my second and “final” Super7 Wish List, there was one more thing I neglected to mention. One of my biggest wants in fact. I’d really love to see 5.75″ scale figures based off the vintage cross sell art. I did cover a few of these, where they happened to coincide with early prototype designs. But there are a few more cross sell-based designs I’d like to see.

The 7″ Masters of the Universe Classics line drew heavily from this well, and it would be great to see the same thing in vintage-style figures, particularly for the following characters:

Mer-Man

Teela

Skeletor

Man-At-Arms

Zodac

Stinkor

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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, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. 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, 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.

Early short strap version vs long strap reissue
Early version with dots (left) vs reissue without

Some early figures, in fact, seem to have bright white dots in the eyes, that are a shade lighter than the rest of the face paint:

Image via John Oswald

However, here 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. It does not appear to have the dots in the eyes, and this isn’t the only example I’ve seen. It’s possible that Beast Man started out without the dots (perhaps by mistake), then dots were added early on, and removed again in later versions. Or perhaps this is like Blue Beard Stratos, where one can find both the Blue Beard and corrected versions both on the early test market cards.

Possible early Beast Man figure without the dots in the eyes, but with light blue face and armor paint

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

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History

Copyrights in MOTU (Part One: 1981)


Image source: MOTUC Figures

In previous posts I’ve covered trademarks and patents in Masters of the universe, and organized the material into a cohesive Masters of the Universe Timeline. In this post I’m going to be covering Mattel’s He-Man-related copyrights, sourced from the US Copyright Office, for 1981. Eventually I’ll fold these dates into the MOTU Timeline article as well.

Some of the copyright entries have some interesting details and comments, so I’ll include most of the original text (errors and all), eliminating some redundancies and the registration numbers.  Each entry has multiple dates, but I’ll sort according to “Date of Publication”. I’ll do a separate post for each publication year.

A few notes – the “Date of Publication” for the early toys listed universally as February 15, 1981. The figures were not actually sold that early, or even really close to their final designs. The He-Man project was well underway, however. They may have sometimes just chosen a safe, early date for some of these. I believe that entries that have more unique publication dates are more likely to reflect an actual production or release date. The minicomics in this post all have a publication date of November 28, 1981, which at least sounds plausible as a “printed on” date.

Note also that while the male figures are generally called “figurines”, Teela is referred to as a “doll”, apparently based only the fact that she’s a female figure. In reality, Teela is every bit as much an action figure as He-Man.

1981

February

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Battle ram : no. 81-3990.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Beast Man : [no.] 81-5043.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: He-Man : [no.] 81-5040.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Man-at-arms : no. 81-5041.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Merman : [no.] 81-5046.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Skeletor : [no.] 81-5042.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Stratos : [no.] 81-5047.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-26
Title: Teela : [no.] 5045-81.
Description: Doll.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Wind raider : [no.] 81-5117.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Zodac : no. 81-5044.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-25
Title: Castle Grayskull : [no.] 81-3991.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

November

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-28
Title: Masters of the universe
Name: The Vengeance of Skeletor
Description: 22 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-08
Title: Masters of the Universe : He-Man and the power sword.
Description: 26 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: He-Man and the power sword

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-12-07
Title: King of Castle Grayskull.
Description: 22 p.
Series: Masters of the Universe
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1983-01-17
Title: Comics maitres de l’univers : no. 81.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. Only. Appl. states titles on copy: Les Maitres de l’univers; Masters of the universe.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: Les Maitres de l’univers Masters of the universe

Thanks to Miguel A. for inspiring this series!

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MOTU History

Lords of Power Collection – at the dawn of He-Man

Update: this post has been recently updated with slightly nicer quality images, plus a new picture not previously shared. Many thanks to Andy Youssi.

A rather incredible set of pictures has recently surfaced, showing early Masters of the Universe prototypes. Shared by Andy Youssi, son of freelance artist John Youssi, these images come from a collection of slides set in a View-Master-like apparatus. Apparently this was a very early promotional item.

John Youssi (known for his pinball machine illustrations) did illustrations for MOTU retail display cases and marquees, and Mattel shipped him these early prototypes, as well as the pseudo View-Master. Andy had the good fortune of being able to play with these prototypes for a month, while his father used them as models for his illustrations.

Andy describes his experience playing with these amazing prototypes:

Hold onto your seats for this, but after these slides, Mattel actually shipped the prototypes to my Dad for a month so he could illustrate the characters & Castle Grayskull in detail for some of the promotional posters & display shelves put up in toy stores. My introduction to loving Masters of the Universe was seeing & falling in love with those Lords of Power prototypes as a 5 year old kid, before the public knew what any of this was! I think the saddest day of my childhood was when my Dad’s illustration jobs were finished, and he had to pack the prototypes up & ship them back to Mattel… but that month with them made me a fan for life before they even hit stores! One of the most exciting emotions I had was the anticipation of them being released in stores, and building the collection up again, knowing we could actually keep it this time!!!

It’s been known for some time that “Lords of Power” was an early working title for Masters of the Universe. In an interview (conducted by Jukka Issakainen) with packaging designer Bob Nall, the artist said:

I designed logos and packages for many brands and settled on Boys items (mostly Hot Wheels). When the product designers developed He-Man (largely designed by Mark Taylor – who worked in the same group) I had the opportunity to look at the retail face of the brand. We looked at many names before coming up with MOTU – it was almost called ‘Lords of Power’ but many thought that was too religious in nature.

Image source: Jukka Issakainen

In the first image below, we see that this is the “Lords of Power Collection”. Interestingly, this set also comes with the Masters of the Universe logo as well. We’ve seen some of these prototypes before – He-Man, Mer-Man and Skeletor, certainly.

The Beast Man and Man-At-Arms prototypes in the image below have not been shown publicly before to my knowledge. Man-At-Arms’ design brings to mind his cross sell artwork and Alcala minicomic appearances (complete with fur-lined armor and large mace); those illustrations were almost certainly based on this model. The model, in turn, is based on the original Mark Taylor B-sheet design.

Beast Man, however, is a very primitive design indeed, resembling an early Mark Taylor Beast Man sketch, but recolored in the orange, red and blue color scheme that has come to be associated with the character. This appears to have been done before Mark Taylor’s final B-Sheet for the character.

From interviews with Mark Taylor, it appears that Teela was sculpted very early on, but for some reason was not included in these photos. Perhaps it was because early versions of the figure were considered by some to be too “sexy”.

For comparison, here’s a very early Mark Taylor concept drawing of Beast Man:

Image via Grayskull Museum

And here’s Mark Taylor’s finalized B-Sheet design for Beast Man:

Below are He-Man and Man-At-Arms as they appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Note that they are both based closely on early prototypes:

Man-At-Arms as illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

This next image that Andy shared focuses in on He-Man and Man-At-Arms, with Battle Ram and Battle Cat in the background. Battle Cat is the early prototype with a striped tail and orange around his mouth. The Battle Ram is also an early prototype, more detailed than the final toy. All of these toys have finer paint applications and most of them have greater sculpted detail than their mass-produced counterparts. We can clearly see Man-At-Arms’ armored fist, a detail absent from his final toy. His boots are brown, while He-Man’s boots are two-toned red and yellow.

Here’s a clearer view of this early Battle Cat’s paint scheme:

Image by Tokyonever

Here’s a somewhat clearer view of the He-Man prototype:

Image via He-Man.us

Below we see another image focusing on He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Battle Ram. You can see that Man-At-Arms has a fully armored left forearm. In profile we see that his metal “glove” is actually a flat piece covering what looks like an unfinished left hand.

Here’s another view of the Battle Ram prototype, with an earlier, helmeted version of He-Man piloting it.

Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

In the image below we get a front-on view of the prototype Castle Grayskull – an angle we’ve never seen before. We can also see, for the first time, the front of the jaw bridge in this image – it doesn’t have the wood details of the final toy. This particular prototype may be a different casting of the prototype than the one we’ve seen before. It certainly seems to have more green paint than that version (shown four images down). An article going over the differences between the prototype castle and the final toy can be found here.

In the image immediately below, Skeletor holds the castle, while the heroes launch an assault.

Note that in the image above, the back of He-Man’s harness crosses in an “x” shape. This is also seen in artwork by Alfredo Alcala:

Another view of the prototype castle, with moat. This one seems to have less green paint.

In the image below, Man-At-Arms stands at the foot of the castle. We can see the back of his armor, which is solid, as opposed to the thin straps on the final toy.  Beast Man operates the laser turret, which is put on the opposite side of the castle from where it normally sits. We can see a flag that appears to depict He-Man’s axe – which is certainly different from the twin sword design of the mass-produced castle.

The two-sided light/dark flag design used on the commercially-available Castle. The artwork was done by Mark’s wife, Rebecca.

Here we see the entire castle opened up. Skeletor and Beast Man seem to have been victorious. We see that the opposite side of this flag depicts a skull with two enlarged canine teeth. It looks somewhat like the castle’s face. Note also that this prototype version of Skeletor does not have a skull face, but rather a decomposing face.

Here’s another view of the Skeletor prototype, with unfinished staff. Note the decaying face. He also has bare human feet and arms with no fins.

Here’s an image that wasn’t shared the first time around – labeled “He-Man Collection”. We get a nice view of all the toys at once, including a nice front view of Mer-Man.

Finally, here’s that Masters of the Universe logo:

Thanks very much to Andy Youssi for kindly sharing these images and for telling his story. Stay tuned – he is also planning to share some of the artwork done by his father for Lords of Powe… er, Masters of the Universe!

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