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Parts Reuse in MOTU, Part One: 1982

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 1982 that had (when they were created) all new parts:

He-Man

Teela

Castle Grayskull

Battle Ram

Wind Raider

These toys from 1982 reused some existing parts:

Skeletor

Beast Man

Man-At-Arms

Mer-Man

Stratos

Zodac

Battle Cat

Parts Reuse series:

Return to Table of Contents.

Heroic Warriors

Orko: Heroic court magician (1984)

Of all of the He-Man toys I got when I was young, Orko was perhaps the most disappointing to me at the time. I had no interest in him at all. Like many fans, I was introduced to He-Man through the first wave of toys and mini comics. While I loved the Filmation He-Man cartoon (which debuted in September of 1983) as a kid, I never gelled with Orko. To me he represented a softening of the brand to something silly instead of awesome. He-Man to me was about axe-wielding barbarian dudes fighting skeletons and monsters. Orko didn’t fit with that image for me.

That’s not exactly how I feel about the matter as an adult. While my preferred vision will always be the world of the early mini comics and story books, I have a great deal of affection for the little Trollan wizard.

In any case, I received both Orko and Prince Adam as birthday presents in 1984. I wouldn’t have chosen either of them had I been consulted. I had similar problems with Prince Adam and was always wanting the cartoon to get to the “good part” where the weak Prince Adam would be replaced by the hero, He-Man. But, on some level I was still happy to get anything He-Man related, and Orko came with a fun action feature and some interesting goodies (more on those later).

Orko makes his first appearance in the December 1, 1982 MOTU Bible, written by Michael Halperin. His original name was Gorpo, and he was described this way:

GORPO* – a tiny, mystical alien who dropped in quite unexpectedly from another dimension and made himself at home in the royal palace. Gorpo doesn’t usually walk, instead he floats a couple of feet off the ground. His amusing tricks and quick wit entertained the king and queen who decreed the alien to be the official Magical Jester-in-Residence. Unfortunately, Gorpo’s magic doesn’t always work as well as it should. Gorpo has a hard enough time just pulling a rabbit from a helmet or making an egg materialize. The rabbit inevitably gets loose and sends Cringer up a tree. And the egg may materialize in Man-At-Arms’ pocket — broken. Because he’s always popping up at odd place, Gorpo discovers Adam’s other persona and is sworn to loyal secrecy by the Sorceress.

Fans of the Filmation He-Man cartoon will recognize this description of Orko instantly, because that is exactly how he is portrayed in the series.

Gorpo shows up again in the 1984 UK Masters of the Universe Annual. Despite it’s relatively late date, the Annual obviously draws from some very early source materials, as it features pictures of early prototype figures and refers to Orko as Gorpo. In the annual we get a look at the character of Gorpo, who looks very much like the Orko fans are familiar with, except his colors are completely different. Here he is shown with a blue costume and Caucasian skin:

Scans courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Gorpo’s name was changed to Orko by Filmation. Giving him an O on his chest instead of a G would allow animators to flip animation cells and get double the use out of them, saving time and money.

In the Filmation MOTU Series Guide, we see an intermediate step in the evolution of the character’s design. In the image below, we see Orko with the familiar magenta robe and orange hat. Notice that his skin has a grayish hue and his scarf is magenta rather than purple. He also lacks any design on the front of his robe.

Image via He-Man.org. In this expanded bio, it is revealed that Orko came to Eternia from another world. In the series it is revealed that Orko’s home world is Trolla.

At some point in the design process at Filmation Studios, his colors were altered yet again. He was given a purple scarf, blue skin, and a black O on the front of his robe. This was his final design:

Based on the success of the Filmation cartoon series, Mattel started working on an action figure version of Orko in 1983. The earliest prototype looks rather crude, but it gets the general idea across. It seems to be made from clay and felt, with a conical body. Notice he has pink hands, orange ears, and a pink scarf.

A second, more polished prototype appears in the 1984 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog. This one looks quite similar to the final toy, except his hat is a bit cruder, his right hand is angled differently, and the “O” on his robe is more oblong. His ears and hands are still orange and pink, respectively, but his scarf is now purple.

The cross sell artwork for Orko seems to be a hybrid of the above prototype and the final toy:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez
Line art used in ad sheets

A different version of the cross sell art was used in the Brazilian Estrela packaging:

Orko was given a rather fun action feature. The included ripcord could be used to spin a small metal rod on the bottom of the figure, causing him to “run” around in circles.

Orko also came with a magic trick consisting of plastic coins with pictures of evil and heroic warriors. You were supposed to be able to cover the coins with a plastic implement and “replace” the evil coins with heroic ones. I could never get it to work, which I suppose is fitting given that Orko’s magic never seemed to work quite right for him.

Unlike every other figure the vintage MOTU series, Orko was stamped with a Filmation copyright rather than a Mattel copyright. I assume that means Filmation retained rights to the character they created, and Mattel had to pay licensing fees.

Orko’s hat was removable, but given that his face was supposed to be in the shadows of his hat, he never quite looked right without it.

Orko showed up in the following gift sets:

  • Prince Adam/Orko
  • Battle Armor Skeletor/Orko/Battle Armor He-Man
  • Thunder Punch He-Man/Orko

Errol McCarthy created the scene on the back of Orko’s card, and illustrated quite a few other pieces staring or featuring the character:

Orko was a nearly ubiquitous presence in the Filmation He-Man cartoon. Voiced by the late, great Lou Scheimer, Orko played a couple of roles in the series. He was the traditional “fool” character, often getting the heroes into scrapes by acting impetuously. He also played the role of the child in the series, with Man-At-Arms as his surrogate parent. (I first heard this analysis articulated by Emiliano Santalucia on the Roast Gooble Dinner podcast.)

Throughout the series, Man-At-Arms often tells Orko to do things like clean his room and do his chores, and it is Man-At-Arms who metes out punishments when Orko misbehaves. I think Orko was created as a character that children could relate to, but personally I related most to He-Man.

In the third or fourth act of many stories in the series, however, Orko also played a pivotal role in turning the tide against the villains. In Orko’s Return, the little wizard is kidnapped by Beast Man and Trap Jaw, who have secured a magic amulet. With it, they are able to create for themselves a magical fortress, and force Orko to obey their words exactly. Orko takes advantage of their inexact language to thwart many of their plans by giving them what they asked for but did not want.

Thanksgiving comes early when Trollan roast gooble is for dinner.

The mini comics and Golden Books stories portray Orko in pretty much the same way.

Masks of Evil:

Time Trouble:

Hordak: The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge!

(Images via He-Man.org)

Return to Table of Contents.

Stories

1983 Kid Stuff Masters of the Universe story record – full transcript

kid-stuff-cover
Image source: He-Man.org

The 1983 Kid Stuff Masters of the Universe story record (written and produced by John Braden) is an interesting piece of intermediate MOTU canon. Its production predates the debut of the Filmation cartoon, and represents an intermediate step between pre and post-Filmation canon. The story seems to be informed by the Masters of the Universe Bible, written at the end of 1982 by Michael Halperin. The recording hasn’t been available in written form, so I’ve transcribed it here.

There are a few interesting tidbits here:

  • Prince Adam shouts, “By the power of Castle Grayskull” twice in order to transform into He-Man.
  • Evil-Lyn speaks in an old crone’s voice and transforms into Screeech. Screeech is a black vulture.
  • Panthor is black, not purple.
  • Castle Grayskull is located in the middle of a thick forest.

In order to make the read a little more interesting, I’ve added illustrations from various sources (most via He-Man.org or Bustatoons’ He-Man and She-Ra Blog), including other Kid Stuff story books.

Masters of the Universe (Lyrics):

A glimmer of magic in the darkest night
A sword is drawn o’er the endless fight
The forces of evil never rest
But we are ready to put them to the test

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the makers of our destiny
And we will struggle til the universe is free

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
The universe, the universe

Lost in space, lost in time
With our mighty power
We will fight, we will win
The victory shall be ours
It shall be ours

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the makers of our destiny
And we will struggle til the universe is free

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
The universe, the universe

Lost in space, lost in time
With our mighty power
We will fight, we will win
The victory shall be ours
It shall be ours

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe

Far in the deepest reaches of space, hidden from view by the swirling gasses of trillion solar systems lies a world beyond all imagining. Here, spinning in the endless blackness of space, exists the planet Eternia.

eternia

Eternia – even in the name you can hear the magic. The roar of the winds that whip their way through the rocky mountain tops. The crashing of the waves that cast themselves on the sandy shores of time on this mysterious world, tucked away in a forgotten corner of the universe. Eternia. The equatorial vine jungle whose steamy swamps swarm with gigantic serpents and twisted man-eating plants, whose roots dangle dangerously, waiting to trap and devour any foolhardy Intruder.

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Eternia, where the evergreen forest towers, as immense trees reach upward toward the fleecy blue sky overhead. The thick ferny underbrush teems with countless strange creatures who have evolved into life forms much different than those on earth. Great winged lizards dangle by their scaly claws from the top-most branches of the pines, while deep within the mossy caves that line the cliffs, awesome dragons watch the world through beady green eyes and spew their sulfurous breath out into the morning chill.

Eternia. The sprawling sands of time. A desert whose shifting dunes hide ruins of long past ages when great stone temples lined the streets of imperial cities. All gone now. Swallowed up and swept away by the constant changing sands. All that remain are a few crumbling monuments to tell the tale of a forgotten civilization that labored and perished in the unforgiving desert.

Eternia – a world of unimaginable beauty and unspeakable danger. For it is here, on this isolated planet, that one of the greatest battles between good and evil in the universe is being played out. The monstrous Skeletor, a villain of unending cunning and wickedness, has escaped after years of isolation on his own planet, Infinita: and with a legion of demons at his side, threatens the safety and tranquility of Eternia.

Skeletor
Image Source: Bustatoons Blog

But Eternia has a protector. A hero foretold in legend and myth since the dawn of Eternian time. Centuries ago Eternia’s wise rulers, the Council of Elders, sensed that some time in the future, danger would descend on their planet. In one moment of incredible concentration, they compressed all their accumulated knowledge and wisdom about the universe into one omnipotent glowing orb of power. They transformed the center of their government, the lustrous hall of Wisdom, into a fearsome rocky castle with a stone face of a skull at its front. They placed the orb of light and wisdom deep in the musty dungeons of the castle, where it would be safe from the forces of evil. Over the thousands of years that followed, the thick evergreen forest swallowed up the frightful edifice, and it disappeared into memory and folk legend. But, to this very day, its name brings a chill of fear and awe. It is the mighty Castle Grayskull.

And now, the evil warrior that the wise Council of Elders feared has arrived. Skeletor stalks the planet, searching for a way to seize control. But at every turn, his wickedness is checked by the heroic protector spoken of in the old tales. A giant of a man, with long golden hair and rippling muscles that gleam in the brilliant Eternian sunlight. This is He-Man.

In order to protect his true identity and thus make it harder for Skeletor to destroy him, He-Man lives a double life as Prince Adam, playful son of King Randor and Queen Marlena. Even now, as we speak, Prince Adam is playing with his pet tiger, Cringer. In the beautiful gardens that surround his father’s castle, he and his feline friend romp in the tall grass, happy and care-free, unaware that as He-Man, he is about to face the most difficult and dangerous challenge of his life – a life and death struggle with Skeletor. The outcome of which will determine the fate of the planet, and perhaps the entire universe.

04
Image source: He-Man.org

Prince Adam: Ha-ha, careful my furry friend. Your claws are sharp. Sometimes you do not realize your own strength. Here, I will toss this stick out on to the lawn, and you will find it and return it to me. Do you understand?

Cringer growled with pleasure. He loved the long afternoons he and his master spent in games and fun. Adam hurled the wooden stick high into the air. It soared over the flower beds and landed far away in a bushy area at the very edge of the castle grounds. Sometimes Prince Adam didn’t realize his own strength either.

Cringer charged away after the stick.

Prince Adam: Good cat. Find it and bring it to me.

Suddenly a huge black shadow swept across the green lawn. The warm afternoon air was stirred to a chill at the flapping overhead of two gigantic wings. Prince Adam gazed up into the cloudless sky and saw an amazing sight. It was Zoar, the falcon. The great winged bird whose wingspan was more than 20 yards across glided low, skimming the tops of the tall trees that surrounded the castle walls. And most amazing of all, on the falcon’s wide feathered back rode Man-At-Arms, Prince Adam’s teacher and companion. In a swooping arc the giant bird and its rider soared over the lawn and landed in a flurry just a few yards from the young prince. Man-At-Arms slid down along one of the gigantic wings as Prince Adam rushed to his side.

05
Image source: He-Man.org

Prince Adam: Greetings my friend, and greetings to Zoar the falcon too. I see concern on your brow, my teacher.

The enormous bird settled its mammoth wings by its side in a gust of wind as Man-At-Arms put his hand on Prince Adam’s mighty shoulder, and the two of them walked through the garden, talking.

Man-At-Arms: I am afraid, sire, that I am not the bearer of good news.

maa
Image source: He-Man.org

Prince Adam: This I sensed, my friend. Please tell me what is wrong.

Man-At-Arms: There is trouble in the northlands my lord. The wicked Skeletor has found his way dangerously close to castle Grayskull.

Prince Adam: That boney fiend! His wickedness knows no bounds,

Man-At-Arms: It is worse than you think my prince. Skeletor has learned of the wisdom of the elders which is hidden deep inside castle Grayskull. He has vowed by all that is unholy to break into the castle and gain control over the elders’ wisdom.

Prince Adam: This must not be done! With this power Skeletor could easily rule all Eternia. His cruel leadership would plunge our world back thousands of years into the dark ages once more. All across the planet the light of hope and joy would be snuffed out by this fiend. He must, he will be stopped if it takes my last breath to do it.

Man-At-Arms: I knew, my lord, that you would not let your people down. The fate of the planet rests on the outcome of this battle.

In an instant Prince Adam reached down and grasped the sword which always hung by his side. He seized it in his strong hand and lifted it high overhead. It gleamed in the afternoon sun. This was the sword of power, given to him by the Sorceress, protector of Castle Grayskull.

With this mighty weapon, Prince Adam could transform himself and his pet tiger Cringer into He-Man and Battle Cat, his armored mount.

Prince Adam: I am ready to do my duty to defend this planet. Skeletor will perish!

Then, in a booming voice that echoed off the Castle walls and out into the forest, Prince Adam shouted the magic words that would cause his amazing transformation.

Prince Adam: By the power of Castle Grayskull, by the power of Castle Grayskull!

HM
Image Source: Bustatoons Blog

The earth shook underfoot and black clouds swept across the Eternian sky, darkening the sun. Overhead, the heavens opened up and down through the inky clouds flashed a brilliant bolt of white light. In a split second it flashed on the very tip of the sword power like a bolt of lightning. A shower of blue sparks flew upward toward the heavens. Even the gods watched on in amazement as in a blinding moment the molecules of Prince Adam’s body danced and swirled in a kaleidoscopic pattern of energy and change. Moments later as the blue smoke cleared, Prince Adam was gone. In his place, muscles poised for action, stood He-Man.

By his side stood Battle Cat. The power of Castle Grayskull had transformed Cringer into a fierce animal, a huge cat with green and yellow stripes and gigantic sharp claws and fangs. He-Man leaped up onto the enormous cat’s broad muscular back and with a shout, the two brave fighters charged off into the forest toward Castle Grayskull.

hm bc.jpg
Image Source: Bustatoons Blog

Meanwhile, on a rocky bluff overlooking Castle Grayskull, Skeletor and his wicked followers, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man and Tri-Klops gazed down at the view below. It was dusk and the setting Eternian sun cast strange twisted shadows as its last remaining rays filtered down through the ancient pines.

cardback_triklops
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Far below Skeletor and his friends, rested Castle Grayskull. In the dim, half-light of sunset, the Castle glowed with an eerie green light that seemed to radiate from within the moss-covered stone walls. The eye-like windows of the skull faced castle stared out menacingly as if to warn any would be intruders to stay far away.

A shroud of swirling fog was settling over the castle now. It wrapped its misty fingers around the castle towers and spiraled towards the damp earth. The castle’s entrance, the huge tooth-lined mouth of the skull, was sealed shut. Like the mouth of a long dead man, it knew many secrets but would speak none of them. Small leathery bats flapped their way out of the cracks in the castle walls and darted madly across the blackening sky. It was a sight that would fill most people with fear and disgust. But it had just the opposite effect on Skeletor. The castle’s bony exterior mirrored his own skull face, and he gazed on admiration.

cg

Skeletor: Isn’t it beautiful? What a lovely sight. And to think, soon Castle Grayskull will be mine, all mine! Once I am inside the castle I will find the secret of Castle Grayskull, and the wisdom of the elders of this miserable planet will belong to me. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Of course, there is the small matter of the unavoidable fight between He-Man and me. But that is of little consequence. His puny power will prove to be no match for the power of evil I posses. By the time the sun sets another day, I, Skeletor, will be the supreme ruler of all Eternia. And Castle Grayskull will be mine! Mine! Mine!

End side one.

It is dawn on Eternia. As the morning sun creeps up above the craggy mystic mountains, it spills its warm life-giving light onto the dark and foggy valleys below. Small furry creatures stir in their holes. High in the pine trees creep birds stretch their stiff feathered wings while other birds, night predators, return home to their lairs in caves and hollow trees. Even the myriad strange plants that line the forest floor respond to the sun in a ballet of movement too slow to be seen by any eye. They unfurl tender new leaves and twist their faces toward the warmth of the rising sun.

But, this morning, the peace and tranquility of the forest is shattered by a strange intruder. It is He-Man and Battle Cat. All through the long night they’ve raced on toward castle Grayskull determined to reach the castle before Skeletor can begin his attempt to enter the fortress. Battle Cat is fast as the wind, but can they reach the castle in time?

hm-bc-2

Nearby, at Skeletor’s campsite, everyone is still sleeping. Everyone, that is, except Panthor, Skeletor’s mammoth black cat. Perhaps it is a scent carried along the wind, or the sound of the rustling bushes that has awakened the cat’s senses. The gigantic animal is anxious and paws at the ground nervously. He smells danger. Soon Skeletor opens his wicked eyes with a start and looks around.

panth
Image source: He-Man.org

Skeletor: What is wrong, my good friend Panthor? Do you smell or hear something that we cannot sense yet? Up, up you lazy creatures! I have a feeling He-Man is drawing near. We must not let him catch us unprepared.

Soon, Tri-Klops, Beast Man and Evil-Lyn were awake and preparing themselves for battle. As they donned their armor, Skeletor gazed down on Castle Grayskull. Even the gleaming light of the morning sun could not erase the dark and foreboding shadows that clung to the castle walls. In the bright sunlight, Skeletor could appreciate the immense size of Castle Grayskull. Its towers reached skyward and the mammoth stones around its base dwarfed even the huge trees of the forest.

From deep within the castle walls Skeletor thought he could hear a sound, softly at first, but growing slowly louder. It was a voice. No, not one voice but rather a chorus of voices speaking as one. The voices sounded anxious as if they sensed that something dark and horrible was waiting outside the castle walls. The sound grew louder until it reverberated thru the valley and rang with a fury in Skeletor’s ears.

“I know that sound,” whispered Skeletor in a low and raspy voice. “It is the voice of the Council of Elders, keepers of the wisdom and power. Of course they are nervous. They know I am nearby and that soon all that they possess will belong to me. So sing, fools, sing! This is the day I have dreamed of all my life. By sunset, I will be the master of Castle Grayskull.”

05
Image source: He-Man.org

Skeletor and his friends made their way down the side of the rocky cliff toward the castle. The approach to the castle was hard. The path was old and clogged with thorny vines and bushes. Skeletor slashed at the underbrush with his sword and hacked his way onward.

Soon they reached the entrance to Castle Grayskull. They all gathered around the raised drawbridge which was caked and crusty with age, and gazed up toward the parapets high above. The fortress seemed impenetrable.

Skeletor: I have not come this far only to be stopped by a wall of stone. We must find a way inside this blasted castle.

“Perhaps I can be of some small assistance, your royal wickedness,” intoned Evil-Lyn in her raspy bird-like voice. “I too have many powers. Watch as I demonstrate my amazing skills.”

Her bird-like eyes grew wild with excitement. “Yar!” She closed the cape overhead and grumbled a strange, unintelligible chant. A pale green mist began to form about her. Soon she was glowing with a putrid light. A foul odor filled the air. When the fetid smoke cleared, Evil-Lyn was gone. In her place scratching at the ground was a hideous vulture. It was Screeech, the alter ego of Evil-Lyn.

screeech

The filthy bird had a plan. She would fly up to the top of the castle and see if she could gain entrance through one of the eye socket windows. With a dreadful screeching sound, the repulsive bird flapped its feathered wings and lurched skyward.

He-Man: Look, Battle Cat, do you see what I see? There by the castle tower. That ugly black bird is circling the parapet trying to get inside. By the power of Zodac, I’m sure that is Evil-Lyn, a companion of Skeletor. We must hurry. I just hope we are not too late to save the castle from this foul intruder.

He-Man and Battle Cat charged onward thru the tall bushes. The giant cat leaped high in the air, covering enormous distance with a single bound. Soon He-Man and Battle Cat arrived at a clearing right outside the castle.

He-Man: Unholy heathens! How dare you try and enter Castle Grayskull. Skeletor, you boney coward! Prepare to fight!

Skeletor: Well, well, if it isn’t He-Man, the pure and puny. We have been expecting you, haven’t we my friends? How I have looked forward to this day. Finally, a chance to put your fabled strength to the test.
You may be strong, He-Man, but you will find you are no match for the great Skeletor. You will perish, just as sure as daylight is devoured by the night, time and time again

He-Man: You are eloquent, my fiendish enemy, but you fail to understand the true nature of the universe. While it is true that night time devours the day, it is doubly true that every morning the sun returns to frighten away the cowardly darkness. Just like the darkness of midnight, you are doomed by time and fate, Skeletor. Darkness has no power here. Be gone!

Skeletor: Ha ha ha! We shall soon see who has the power in the universe. Enough talking. I grow impatient with your idle words. It is time to fight.

He-Man: I would prefer not to engage in violence, but I see now that it is the only language you understand. So, we will fight. By the power of Castle Grayskull!

Skeletor jumped up onto the mighty back of Panthor and drew his sharp sword.

Skeletor: To battle, Panthor. The enemy is upon us! Attack! Attack!

panthor-black
Image source: He-Man.org

Battle Cat roared into action. He reared up on his hind legs and let out a terrifying growl. As the two arch enemies charged across the stony ground toward conflict, He-Man had drawn the sword of power, and it gleamed in the dazzling sunlight. Soon they were upon each other in battle.

he-manandbattlecatvsskeletor-color_full
Image source: He-Man.org

The clash and clatter of sword against sword rang out across the battle field. Tri-Klops and Beast Man stood by and watched in awe as the two giants fought furiously. Suddenly, down from the sky flew Screeech. The savage vulture caught He-Man by surprise and in an instant knocked the sword of power from his hand. In a split second He-Man was struck with a bolt of energy from the sword of Skeletor, and he crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust.

SCR
Image Source: Bustatoons Blog

Skeletor: So light always triumphs over darkness does it? We shall soon see about that. You are defeated He-Man. You are powerless without that sword.

He-Man lay on the ground, stunned and silent. Could this really be happening? Could he actually lose the battle to Skeletor? Then he heard the sound. Softly at first, like a ringing in his ears. Whispering voices. But what were they saying?

Council of Elders: Vortex! Vortex!

On the verge of unconsciousness, He-Man strained to understand the voices.

Council of Elders: The vortex! The time vortex! Right beside the castle walls. You cannot see it, but it is there. Believe us, believe us! You must trick Skeletor into the vortex. It is your only chance. The vortex, the vortex! Vortex…

He-Man staggered to his feet. He understood now. All across Eternia there are time vortexes. Mostly they are concentrated in the Sands of Time Desert, but here and there all over the planet there are these strange vacuums of empty space. Like tunnels through time, they lead back far into Eternia’s history. Anyone who stumbles into one of these holes in time will tumble backward for endless centuries.

07

He-Man knew now what he must do. Still reeling, he shouted to Skeletor, “I am down, but I am not defeated! If you want me, you will have to catch me!”

Skeletor: With pleasure, He-Man. I love the hunt as much as the kill. Come my friends, join me on Panthor. We will chase the cowardly He-Man for sport! What fun!

Beast Man, Tri-Klops and the vulture Evil-Lyn boarded Panthor, and the monstrous cat charged after He-Man. He-Man darted back and forth, leaping high onto rocks, and behind thick bushes. He was amazingly agile of foot, and soon Panthor was dizzy from the constant turning and spinning. Again He-Man heard the voices.

Council of Elders: Over here! Trick him over here! Into the vortex. But be careful. The vortex will capture you too, if you misjudge the distance. Be brave! Be brave! The entire planet is counting on your skill.

He-Man staggered toward the spot where the vortex swirled invisibly. Once he was sure of the exact location, he stood a few feet in front of it and shouted tauntingly to Skeletor.

He-Man: All right you bag of bones, I’m tired of playing with you. I will tear you limb from limb with my bare hands. I await you! Come to me, you coward!

The threat infuriated Skeletor. He dug his heels deep into the flanks of Panthor and with all his helpers he charged angrily toward He-Man

Skeletor: You die, you fool. You die!

He-Man stood courageously. Behind him he could feel the time vortex swirling into infinity. One false move and he would tumble backward into the past and Skeletor would conquer all of Eternia.

The mammoth black cat was almost upon him now. He could see the wild glow in Skeletor’s eyes. Then, as quickly as a fox, he jumped to one side. Skeletor and his minions were unable to stop or turn. They crashed head first into the vortex.

Skeletor: By all the devils, what is happening?

He-Man looked on in wonder as right before his eyes, Skeletor, Panthor, Evil-Lyn, Tri-Klops and Beast Man began to sparkle in the sunlight. They had fallen into the time vortex. Every molecule of their bodies was spinning madly off course and flickering on and off light a firefly. They were growing invisible.

Skeletor: Help us! Help please! Don’t let us die!

He-Man: You will not die Skeletor. You have been trapped in a time vortex. It will carry you far away from here to another time, far in the past. Perhaps for a while we here on Eternia will be safe from your tyranny. Farewell Skeletor! Farewell!

Skeletor: You may have tricked me this time, but be warned. You have not seen the last of me. I will find my way out of this time trap, and return to challenge you again, He-Man. Of that you may be sure. You have not seen the last of Skeletor. I will have revenge. Revenge! Revenge! Revenge!

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The voice of Skeletor faded away to nothing and he was gone, lost in the swirling infinity of time. But He-Man knew better than to count his enemy out. If anyone could find his way back from the depths of history, it was the evil Skeletor. And if it wasn’t Skeletor, it would be yet another foe. For there is always some selfish soul ready to take up the low road of tyranny. He-Man knew at that moment that the battle would never be truly over. In his heart, he knew that he would struggle all his life against the cowards and bullies who mistake gentleness and concern for weakness and fear. But if there were battles to be fought, he could think of no better cause. It was as old as time itself. All across the infinite universe, thousands of brave men and women were carrying on the struggle against tyranny. He was but one lone soldier in an army of heroes. Together, they were truly Masters of the Universe.

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Masters of the Universe (reprise)

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
The universe, the universe

Lost in space, lost in time
With our mighty power
We will fight, we will win
The victory shall be ours
It shall be ours

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the makers of our destiny
And we will struggle ‘til the universe is free

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
The universe, the universe

Lost in space, lost in time
With our mighty power
We will fight, we will win
The victory shall be ours
It shall be ours

We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe
We are the masters of the universe

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Reviews

Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection

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One of the most exciting things to come out for Masters of the Universe in recent years is the Mark Taylor Original B-Sheets Collection, first offered for sale at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con.

The focus of this blog has always been the vintage 1980s MOTU toyline. I’m not breaking with that focus, but because this collection gets at the origins of He-Man, I think it’s very apropos to review it here.

Produced by The Power and the Honor Foundation in collaboration with Super7, the portfolio consists of eleven pieces of original artwork by Mark Taylor. These were the essential designs that culminated in the Masters of the Universe toy line.

Several of these pieces have been available for some time in black and white from such sources as Grayskull Museum and Mattel’s 2009 art book. Some were included in the 2011 Power and Honor Foundation Catalog. Others were made available in the Dark Horse Art of He-Man book (which included a great deal of artwork shared by Foundation). Some were even offered as Easter eggs in the 2012 Glitschsoft game, He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe.

However, most of this artwork has never been seen in full color until now. This is also the first time, to my knowledge, that the original concept artwork for Zodac has been made available to the public.

Before you even get to the artwork, there’s a lot to unpack in the cover. The front features a very subdued silver version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as recreated by Emiliano Santalucia for the BCI DVD releases. The familiar exploding rocks from the vintage card art are punctuated in red around the title of the collection. In the background there is a blown-up, gray-on-black image of the original concept He-Man design. Everything is slightly embossed for a very nice three-dimensional feel.

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The back cover features a photo and biographical sketch of Mark Taylor, along with an interesting explanation of the origins of the term “B-sheet”

A note from the back cover – the original full-color Teela drawing was lost at some point. The one included in this collection was carefully recolored from other early source materials to capture the original intended look.

Each piece of artwork also includes the character name inside a banner, and line art version of the Masters of the Universe logo. These serve as a homage to the artwork of another artist who worked on the He-Man line – Errol McCarthy. A few examples of this kind of artwork, from The Power and the Honor Foundation website, are below:

Mark Taylor’s B-sheet designs are printed on thick, high quality card stock. I’ll cover each individual illustration, but I will say that one thing that strikes me about this artwork is the amazing colors. The shading and highlighting on many of these pieces is quite dramatic and vivid, giving them a sense of richness that was only hinted at in the line art we had seen previously. Mark Taylor has a unique and instantly recognizable style. Not every designer puts this much care and artistry into what are really preliminary designs, but I think this shows how invested Mark was in this concept.

Each piece is dated 1981. Some tell you the exact date on which they were created, while others give you only the year. For fun, I’ll go over the artwork in the order they are dated. I’ll make an educated guess about the ones without a specific date.

Battle Cat – 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

For years we’ve seen a partially-colored version of this concept, which was first hosted at the Grayskull Museum, beginning March of 2008.  The Grayskull Museum has also displayed black and white B-sheet illustrations of Skeletor, Teela, Sorceress, Man-At-Arms, and others, which have been passed around by fans since that time.

The Grayskull Museum’s version of the Battle Cat B-sheet is described as a color study. I would assume that means that Mark was testing out different colors before committing to any one color scheme. In the color study, there are some pink and purple shades incorporated into Battle Cat’s armor. When Grayskull Museum asked Mark about the date of the image back in 2008, he said he believed it was done in 1979, although that may have been his best guess, as it doesn’t appear to be dated.

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Image source: Grayskull Museum

The illustration included in the Mark Taylor Collection is the final version, and it features the colors we’re familiar with on the vintage toy. The tiger design is of course taken from the Big Jim tiger (or actually going further back, the Jungle Cat from Mattel’s Tarzan line), but Mark designed a saddle and helmet for the figure to make it work as a new toy for the Masters of the Universe line.  The shape of the saddle here is somewhat sleeker and swept backwards than its plastic counterpart, but otherwise the design is very close to what kids were playing with in the early 1980s.

From my interview with Mark:

I had used the cat on the Tarzan line. I liked the sculpt but the 5.30″ He-Man figures wouldn’t ride on him and I wanted him to ride on a huge cat.  Nobody messes with a guy riding a huge armored cat!  … The head armor came from my childhood sketches and had to be engineered for costs and molding ease, or the marketeers would lose it.

Castle Grayskull – 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

Although Castle Grayskull is not given a specific date here, I would guess that this drawing was created quite early in the process of formulating the Masters of the Universe toyline. I believe that is the case because there are no recognizable MOTU figures in this drawing – they look like fairly standard background sword and sorcery characters. Mark sketched similar-looking warriors in his mock-up for the Wind Raider box art, although of course He-Man is also included here:

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Image courtesy of Ted Mayer

Mark called the castle the “Dwell of Souls” (the name Castle Grayskull was created by Don Glut, freelance story writer for the early mini comics). Mark has a complex back-story and mythology for Castle Grayskull and for the characters he created. You can read about some of that in my previous post about the castle.

In the portfolio illustration, we see that the castle is surrounded by water (a “fetid lake”, as Mark describes it). The sides of the castle don’t much resemble the mass-produced playset, but you can see in the castle’s face many elements that were carried into the toy, including the elongated fangs and the asymmetrically-shaped cheekbones. Interestingly, the face of this Castle appears to be hooded, and bears strong resemblance to Skeletor.

Fans may remember this exact illustration from the Art of He-Man book published by Dark Horse published in 2015. It’s nice, however, to have such a large version of it for display.  A black and white version also appeared on the Grayskull Museum website years ago.

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Image Source: Grayskull Museum

Skeletor – March 30, 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

Skeletor, or “De-Man” (a play on the word demon and the name He-Man) as he is labeled here, is the earliest of the B-sheets that bear a specific date. The black and white version of this drawing (as discussed earlier) has been around for some time, but this is the first time most fans have seen a high-quality colored version. I absolutely love the use of color here, particularly the eldritch red lighting on Skeletor’s left side.

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Image source: Grayskull Museum

The element that most sticks out about this early Skeletor is the fact that he does not have a skull face. He seems to have more of an undead look, not unlike the ThunderCats villain Mumm-Ra (ThunderCats, of course, did not come out until four years later).

Almost everything else about this Skeletor will be familiar to fans of the early MOTU mini comics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Other than the forearms and the face, Alcala’s earliest depictions of Skeletor are very closely based on Mark Taylor’s original design. He has the same bare feet, the same armor design with yellow bat motiff, and the same “commando” loin cloth (which is to say, he had no furry underwear underneath).

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The design of Skeletor’s arms in the B-sheet is very interesting. The flesh of his forearms and hands seems to be decaying. There also appears to be some hanging skin towards the character’s elbows (unless I’m misreading the intent there). Looked at in another light, they almost resemble gloves, and indeed were interpreted as glove-like fins in later incarnations, such as the cross sell artwork and the mass-produced toy.

Skeletor’s pose here seems to have influenced the way the character was drawn in the cross sell artwork used on the back of packaging. The pose on the B-sheet design is a bit more dynamic, but otherwise the two versions cut the same profile.

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Man-At-Arms – April 1, 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

This concept Man-At-Arms is positively bristling with intricate wires, hoses, buttons, and miscellaneous alien devices. The colors used here don’t quite match any other depiction of Man-At-Arms that I am aware of. That is to say, most of the colors are similar to those found in the cross sell artwork (as is the pose to a certain extent), but the character here sports orange boots and orange fur around his chest armor.

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Image Source: Grayskull Museum

It’s clear to me that the color of his belt and helmet are supposed to be a metallic silver color. In artwork that can often translate as light blue. And indeed in many other incarnations his helmet and belt became more blue than silver.

Speaking of his belt, you’ll note that Man-At-Arms features a squared-off belt buckle, unlike the circular design of the vintage toy . You can also see that the fur of his loin cloth peaks over the top of the belt. These details are repeated in the He-Man, Stratos and Beast Man B-sheet designs. Man-At-Arms also features a knife tucked into his right boot, which he shares with the concept version of He-Man. These parts were clearly intended to be reused.

His pose here seems to have influenced the artist who drew his cross sell illustration, at least from the waist up:

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Image courtesy of Axel Giménez. Note the black boots and black fur around his chest armor.

Mark’s Man-At-Arms concept drawing is one of my very favorites in this collection, which took me a little by surprise.

Beast Man – April 2, 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

Beast Man, or “Tree Man” as he was originally called, is quite a visually striking figure. His colors are not quite what I had expected. Generally speaking, Alfredo Alcala’s early mini comic artwork echoes quite closely Mark Taylor’s concept designs. But his first Beast Man illustrations depicted a character who is entirely red, with only splash of yellow on his armor to break up his monochromatic design.

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Contrary to expectation, this version of Beast Man has a blue loin cloth and blue detail on his armor and around his eyes, very much like the vintage figure. There are other earlier incarnations of an ape-like or bear-like henchman character that appeared in monochromatic red. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t an earlier version of this B-sheet at some point that was colored that way.

In any case, this version has somewhat ambiguously-colored fur. There is quite a bit of highlighting and shading going on that gives his fur a somewhat orange look on balance. But I believe the intent was for him to have a much more reddish-orange color.

You might have noticed that Beast Man carries no whip here. That is also true of Beast Man as he is depicted in the early mini comics as well. Given that the whip was borrowed from a Big Jim action figure, it may have been something of an afterthought.

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Image Source: Axel Giménez

The pose used in Beast Man’s cross sell illustration (above) is almost identical to Mark Taylor’s concept version.

He-Man – April 6, 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

The most powerful man in the universe is indeed quite powerful looking in this B-sheet design. This is another case where I was somewhat surprised at the colors when I first saw them. He sports tan and red boots, red and silver gauntlets, and a plain gray shield.

I was already familiar with a later version of this design (dated May 3, 1981) that had a different color scheme altogether. That color scheme will again be familiar to fans of the early Alfredo Alcala mini comics. He-Man has two-tone red and ocher boots (with boot knife), orange gauntlets, and an orange and gray shield. This version also has orange details on the straps of his armor, rather than the red used on the final design. I must confess that the May 3 version is actually my preferred version – I think the colors are perfect here. Perhaps it will make an appearance in part 2 of this portfolio, should one be offered (which is my not so subtle way of lobbying for a sequel).

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog
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Probably the detail that will stick out most to He-Man fans is his helmet. This was of course dropped in the final toy, but the presence of this helmet really punctuates the original barbarian concept of the character. In time He-Man came to be depicted as almost Superman-like in his personality and abilities (with a Clark Kent-esque alter ego to boot), but it’s pretty hard to think of him like that with this helmet on. Personally I love the look here and would love to see some version of this design made into a figure or a statue. Really that goes for all of the figure designs in this portfolio.

You might notice that He-Man does not carry a sword. The axe was his original weapon, and the sword was added later. This particular axe also found its way into the early mini comics.

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Image source: The Art of He-Man

Teela – May 28, 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)
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Image Source: Grayskull Museum
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Teela without her collar/overlay piece (which ended up being a permanent part of the toy, rather than an accessory), by Mark Taylor. Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor.

As mentioned previously, the colors for Teela (here called simply “Female Warrior”) were restored using prototypes and early mini comic artwork as references. Once again fans of early Alfredo Alcala mini comics will recognize this incarnation of Teela with her blonde hair, spiky red tiara (which was based on a hair accessory owned by Mark’s wife, Rebecca), two-toned brown and white boots, and exquisitely detailed gold and white costume.

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While Teela’s gold and white shield shows up in the Alcala artwork, her spear, as it appears in this illustration, does not. A similar spear does show up in an early prototype of Teela. This prototype of course features the snake armor that was originally intended for Mark Taylor’s Sorceress character.

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Teela’s posture in Mark Taylor’s B-sheet is nearly identical to her posture in the cross sell artwork, although again by that time her design had been cross pollinated with the design of the Sorceress. I don’t think any incarnation quite captured Teela’s face as Mark drew her.

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Sorceress – June 3, 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

The artwork in this portfolio does not give an exact date for the Sorceress, but a black and white version that has been circulating for a number of years is dated June 3, 1981.

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Image source: Grayskull Museum

The Sorceress’ form is in many details identical to Teela’s. She shares the same legs, arms, and basic outfit. As Emiliano Santalucia has explained, the idea was that the Sorceress would reuse Teela’s body. However, the gold detail going up and down the front of Teela’s costume, in addition to her gold collar, was actually intended to be a removable piece. The Sorceress’ design omits that overlay and instead gives her a cobra-themed headdress.

This character is again familiar to fans of the early mini comics. This green Sorceress (commonly referred to as the Green Goddess now) shows up only in the first mini comic – He-Man and the Power Sword. One crucial difference between the comic and the original concept is that the comic depicts Sorceress as having green skin. In Mark Taylor’s original concept, she is wearing some kind of green body suit, not unlike Man-At-Arms’ costume.

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Although the Sorceress and Teela were merged into a single toy, the character of the Sorceress did not entirely disappear. She re-emerged as a character called the Goddess in the second series of mini comics, although it’s a rather confusing concept. Teela was also portrayed in other media with this same look:

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It’s a shame that this version of the Sorceress was never released in the vintage line – she’s a striking-looking design, and frankly the toyline could have used more female characters. According to Mark, Sorceress was intended to be a kind of double agent and a changeling.

Mer-Man – 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)
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Image source: The Art of He-Man

Of all of the wonderfully vivid and creative illustrations in this portfolio, Mer-Man is my hands down favorite. In no other media has Mer-Man ever appeared so highly detailed or so rich with color. The closest version we have seen to Mark’s original vision was again in the early mini comics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Even then, Alcala simplified the colors and some of the detail (primarily in the colors of his clothing and face – Alcala omitted the copper accents and simplified the shape of his gloves).

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I’m particularly pleased with the range of blues and greens appearing on Mer-Man’s skin. This design is practically begging to be translated into a toy or a statue.

In Mark Taylor’s concept, the shape of Mer-Man’s armor is actually fairly close to what ended up in the vintage toy, albeit without most of the spikes. In Mark’s illustration you can see that Mer-Man would have had some gill-like structures around his neck, which is also indicated in the cross sell artwork:

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The cross sell artwork is very much based on Mark Taylor’s original design (including the pose), although the limbs are simplified and his chest armor is significantly widened. His skin color was also made much greener, perhaps to move him further away from Skeletor’s skin tone.

In his original form, Mer-Man would have required 100% new tooling and molds to produce. Over the course of his design process, Mer-Man was simplified to the point where he could entirely reuse the body and limbs used for Skeletor. Seeing Mark Taylor’s original concept now, it’s unfortunate that his vision was never fully realized in toy form.

Stratos – 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)
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Image source: The Art of He-Man

One of the hallmarks of many of these drawings by Mark Taylor is their mix between highly detailed realism, and the altered dimensionality inherent in the production of a plastic toy. That is apparent throughout the portfolio (for instance, Mer-Man’s gloves), but also  in the shape of Stratos’ (originally known as both “Bird Man” and “Wing Man”) feathers. A fully realistic illustration would have rendered the feathers much thinner in profile, but of course Mark was creating this artwork with molded plastic toys in mind as the end product.

The biggest detail about this artwork that sticks out to me are the eyes. We’re used to seeing Stratos’ “eyes” as goggles, but here they do appear to be his eyes. This transforms his look completely, giving him a much more bird-like appearance than was evident in the vintage toy.

Another thing to point out here is Stratos’ backpack. The design around the front is quite different from either the vintage toy or the cross sell artwork, as there are no straps going down his chest. Alfredo Alcala based his early illustrations on this concept Stratos, although he got the skin (or perhaps fur) color wrong. As you can see, Mark added some yellow and tan lighting effects to the center of Stratos’ chest, but I believe the intent all along was for Stratos to be light gray.

Zodac – 1981

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From the Mark Taylor Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

This Zodac (or “Sensor” as he was originally called) drawing was no doubt created last of the 11 pieces included in this portfolio. As Emiliano Santalucia pointed out several years ago at Grayskull Con, the design details are based on parts already sculpted for the toyline – specifically Skeletor’s arms and legs and Beast Man’s chest.

This is the only piece in the portfolio that has not been published in any form until now. As such it was the one I was most curious about, and it did not disappoint.

Zodac looks quite alien here. He adopts a straight-legged stance, but otherwise has the familiar Skeletor feet and forearms. The version from the cross sell art seems a bit tame by comparison:

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Zodac’s expression here is heroic, if a bit cocky. Mark’s original intention was for Zodac to be an ally of He-Man. Perhaps the name “Sensor” came about because his helmet enhanced his vision and hearing – at least that’s my guess, going from the design cues. Mark has also said that Zodac “was all about flying” – perhaps he would have provided air support for He-Man in the Wind Raider.

Final Thoughts

As amazing as this artwork might look on your flat screen monitor, trust me when I say that it’s nothing compared to how it looks in person. This portfolio was printed in a limited run for San Diego Comic Con, so not everyone was able to get their hands on it. I hope that Super7 and The Power and the Honor Foundation will eventually make more copies available for fans who couldn’t get it the first time around. If you are even a moderate He-Man fan, you need this artwork in your life.

As I intimated earlier, I’d love to see a sequel to this portfolio. Items on my personal wish list would include the August 8, 1981 version of He-Man, alternate versions of any of the characters included in this portfolio, and artwork for Man-E-Faces, Ram Man, and any number of unproduced characters that Mark might have worked on before he left Mattel.

I hope also that this collection of concept illustrations will lead to the production of 3D versions of these designs, whether that takes the form of  new 5.5″ scale action figures, statues, or Masters of the Universe Classics figures. It would be, I believe, a fitting tribute to the man whose creativity and vision launched this beloved toyline.

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Mark Taylor in his office at Mattel. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

Thanks to Jukka Issakainen for pushing me to write this review. 

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