History

The Fighting Foe-Men

One of several copies of The Fighting Foe-Men script

Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting Man-At-Arms with an early weapon from a previous piece of concept art. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

It’s fairly well known by now that early on, Masters of the Universe had a number of working names. One of them was Lords of Power, a topic I’ve covered previously. Another was The Fighting Foe-Men, which will be the topic of this article.

Former Masters of the Universe Classics brand manager Scott Neitlich shared a number of early MOTU documents his his retrospective video below on the rollout of the Classics toyline. I’d like to discuss those documents relevant to the Fighting Foe-Men idea:

Don Glut, under contract from Mattel, wrote a story treatment for the line, apparently with the idea of turning the treatment into the mini comic books to be included with the figures. The Fighting Foe-Men document includes many working figure titles and a few ideas I recognize from my conversations with MOTU designer Mark Taylor, so Glut may have just taken whatever the Mattel team had at the time and expanded it out into a first attempt at a MOTU mythos:

SETTING

In the distant past, or possibly the distant future, a great global war broke out on the distant planet Eternia. The war was waged among the powerful scientists and sorcerers that ruled that planet. The energies unleashed during that war destroyed the two warring factions, and sent Eternia into a space/time warp, where it remains held in a timeless limbo.

Eternia is a rugged, primitive type world, inhabited by various warlike races. Occasionally other beings from distant worlds are cast into the time warp to take refuge on Eternia. The planet’s surface is a savage world of dense jungles, dark forests, active volcanoes, etc. The seas are turbulent and infested with bizarre formes of marine life. The skies are dominated by all manners of strange flying creatures. What little remains of Eternia’s past science has been channeled into various weapons of war — weapons appearing both primitive and yet strangely futuristic.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic Eternia is one of Mark’s ideas, so this may have been communicated to Glut.

Among the remnants of the pre-war days of Eternia is the ominous and awesome Castle Grayskull. The Castle is so ancient that none of Eternia’s inhabitants knows who (or what) built it. What is known is that the Castle is equipped with all manners of weapons, traps and devices. The place is a veritable fortress. Legend has it that the Castle harbors, in some secret place, the mysterious Power Gem — the product of both pre-war science and sorcery. The Power Gem will make its possessor all-powerful and the master of all Eternia. Naturally, then, Castle Grayskull and the Power Gem are coveted items and the reason for much conflict on Eternia.

I hadn’t seen this “Power Gem” concept before. Obviously it was dropped, and perhaps was the inspiration behind the Power Sword.

Skeletor talks about the Power Sword in He-Man and the Power Sword, written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

Castle Grayskull concept, by Mark Taylor

HEROES

Among the various characters living on Eternia are four strange beings that we can consider heroes. They are:

He-Man — A native of Eternia, raised by his jungle-dwelling tribe. He is a mass of muscle, with incredible physical strength and a short-fuse-temper. His prowess got him awarded, by the tribe’s elders, a series of fantastic weapons and costumes which they had found in the ruins of a fortress once occupied by Eternia’s pre-war scientists. The costumes augment his strength, each one giving him a single new power — a forcefield, the increased strength of a Hercules, etc. He-Man loves his people, but he craves excitement and adventure, and so has set off on his own. He does not always fight fair and often resorts to underhanded methods to get the job done.

The costumes that give He-Man different abilities are familiar from the first minicomic, but the characterization of He-Man as someone who is a short-tempered lout who doesn’t fight fair is something that was obviously abandoned quickly.

He-Man concept art, by Mark Taylor

He-Man’s forcefield garment, as mentioned in the Glut’s Fighting Foe-Men treatment

Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting He-Man and the Sorceress with an early concept vehicle, the Battle Catapult. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

Battle Catapult concept by Mark Taylor

Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting He-Man and the Sorceress battling a monster. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

MAN-OF-ARMS (alternate names: Arms-Man, Knight-Man, War-Man) — A cold, calculating and totally confident Master of All Weapons. He was trained since childhood by his people in the arts of battle, and is master of such weapons as the laser-axe, the electro-sword and any others that come his way. Unlike He-Man, he is a planner and never plunges into battle without ample preparation. He has left his people to right wrongs wherever he finds them, but knows that, if necessary, he can summon his people to his side as an army.

This depiction of “Man-Of-Arms” (Man-At-Arms) seems pretty close to Mark Taylor’s own conception of the character, and seems at least compatible with his appearances in early minicomics.

Early minicomic art by Alfredo Alcala, depicting Man-At-Arms in a concept vehicle design by Mark Taylor. Image source: Power of Grayskull documentary. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

Concept vehicle by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

An early concept that became Man-At-Arms. From Mark Taylor Sketches Vol 1

WING-MAN (alternative name: Air-Man) — One of the last of a race of mountain-dwelling beings who have mastered the air. Wing-Man is a denizen of mountain peaks hidden high above Eternia’s clouds. He utilizes a flying craft equipped with various weapons resembling characters of flying creatures — a deafening bird’s cry siren, a hornet’s sting, etc. But he can fly without use of the craft, thanks to a set of foldable wings — including a set of bird’s wings, bat’s wings, insect’s wing, etc. He has a good sense of humor and is a natural practical joker, which makes him bearly [sic] tolerable to such brooding characters as He-Man.

Wing-Man or Stratos sounds pretty similar to his minicomic depiction, until you get to the description of his various wings. I’m not sure if that was ever in the works at Mattel or if that’s something Glut came up with on his own.

Stratos concept. Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor

MER-MAN (alternative name: Sea-Man) — The last survivor of an extraterrestrial race of water-dwellers. When his water-world was drawn into its sun by the force of gravity and evaporated, Mer-Man — a scaly humanoid with fishlike gills and fins — escaped to Eternia and took residence in its seas. There this intelligent being took command of the sea’s creatures. He can exist on land, where his strength, accustomed to the pressures of the sea’s depths, is increased — but extreme heat can dehydrate him, weakening and eventually killing him.

I had heard something like this characterization for Mer-Man before, but hadn’t seen evidence to support it until now. Mer-Man’s susceptibility to dehydration is familiar from the comics, but otherwise his backstory and heroic characterization is totally unlike anything seen in MOTU canon.

Mer-Man as a hero was also something that shows up in a figure sheet included in one of the extra scenes in the excellent Power of Grayskull documentary:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Mer-Man getting dehydrated in the heat of Skeletor’s blade

Image source: The 2016 Mark Taylor B-Sheet Collection . Scan by Axel Gimenéz

VILLAINS

Each of the villains is out for his own gain, usually to obtain the Power Gem for himself, but they occasionally accept one of them as their leader — Beast-Man

BEAST-MAN — Another native of Eternia’s jungles whose tribe — or pack — has seemingly always been at war with their natural enemies, the human tribe of He-Man. Beast-Man has formidable strength, but it is his ferocity that makes him a natural leader. He has the agility of a gorilla. But when he dons his various costumes, he takes on the powers of other animals — the speed of a gazelle, the charging force of a rhino, etc. Beast-Man, though he despises He-Man’s tribe, yearns to take one or more of its females as a bride. He is totally evil and corrupt. His only redeeming quality is the “love” he bears for his own race, though it is actually more like instinct than any real emotion. His voice is gutteral, almost a growl.

This is a quite surprising casting of Beast Man as the primary enemy of He-Man. I had heard that this was once the case, but had never seen actual evidence until now. In this treatment he is given parallel powers to He-Man, in that he gains different power from wearing different costumes.

Beast Man and Mer-Man prototypes. Image via Andy Youssi

Early Mark Taylor Beast Man concept art

DE-MAN — A regular demon in the flesh. De-Man once inhabited an alien dimension resembling Dante’s version of Hell, but was thrown into Eternia’s dimension when the great war created a rift between the two dimensions. De-Man is possibly Beast-Man’s most dangerous ally. He has incredible powers and weapons, which can throw bolts of fire, electrical energy, cold. etc. He can control the very elements, bringing down a terrible storm from a cloudless sky, etc. He speaks in a raspy voice and is waiting for just the right opportunity to turn against Beast-Man and seize the Power Gem for himself. Then he will reopen the dimensional rift and bring more of his own race – to conquer eternia.

Some of De-Man’s (Skeletor’s) story here shows up in He-Man and the Power Sword (specifically the part about De-Man as a demon from another dimension). The control over the weather wasn’t really explored. De-Man’s obsession with the Power Gem became Skeletor’s obsession with the Power Sword.

Mark Taylor’s De-Man (Skeletor) concept art, published by Super7 and the Power and the Honor Foundation. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

Skeletor’s origin story

WOODS-MAN (alternate names: Tree-Man, Green-Man) — Another naturally-born Eternian. The master of the Forests and Jungles, Woods-Man has the power to control all plant life. Being a manlike plant himself, Woods-Man does not have the ability to speak — but he does have a telepathic ability to communicate with others of his kind or other plants. His secret ambition is to subjugate all animal life and make Eternia’s plants the rule or this planet.

At first glance Woods-Man reminds me of Moss-Man, who was released in 1985. However, this may have been referring to the Mark Taylor concept below:

From Mark Taylor Sketches Vol 2

KA-MAN (named for the crocodilian Caiman) — a humanoid reptile, not too smart, but incredible sinister and evil. Being reptilian, the scaly warrior is cold-blooded and susceptible to changes in temperature. When he speaks it is hardly more than a hiss. Like a lizard, he can scale walls, change his color to match his environment, look about in all directions with his globelike eyes, etc. His various costumes give him extra reptilian powers — the rattle and striking power of a snake, the fiery breath of a dragon, etc. Naturally his snakelike fangs are venomous. His small reptile’s brain affords him little thinking ability and makes him extremely susceptible to taking orders.

It’s hard to know for sure, but this Ka-Man character might be referring to this Mark Taylor concept:

From Mark Taylor Sketches Vol 2

After the characters are set up, Glut lays out a story synopsis for the first comic book in the series, one that sets up the heroes independent and squabbling warriors who must reluctantly form a team to stop the villains. He-Man’s arrogance at first prevents them from working together, after the forces of Beast-Man bring them to the brink of destruction, they must unite in order to survive.

In the Fighting Foe-Men treatment, as in He-Man and the Power Sword, He-Man makes his home out of rocks.

Included among the documents is what looks like feedback from Mattel for some changes to the story. Those changes include making Grayskull more mysterious and emphasizing that it holds the secrets of the universe. Mattel also wanted to make De-Man (Skeletor) the primary villain. He-Man was to be made more heroic and less arrogant and underhanded; he was also supposed to get along with the other heroes. In this feedback, Tee-La (Teela) was to be written out of this particular story. That last edit obviously didn’t take, as Teela features prominently in the minicomics written by Glut.

“Tee-La” attacks “Beastman” in the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword

Return to Table of Contents.

Artwork, Reviews

T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 2

Many thanks to my buddy Doug Feague for kindly sharing pictures of his copy for this article.

At the 2019 Power-Con, Mark and Rebecca Taylor made available to fans a collection of art prints called T. Mark Taylor – Sketches 2. It’s a sequel to the first set of sketches released at Power-Con last year. A few pieces from this set appear in the 2016 Mark Taylor – The Original B-Sheets Collection, which I reviewed in depth. I’ll take a look at each piece of artwork and provide a little commentary, although several of these pieces are new to me and I don’t know the backstory behind them.

Dungeon Sticker

To start out with, the cover (shown above) is the famous Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker, which was illustrated by Rebecca Salari Taylor.

The dungeon has all sorts of meaning for Mark Taylor, who envisioned it as having held Skeletor at one point, turning him into the monster who he eventually became. More on that in a future article.

Sorceress

The Sorceress was included in the 2016 Mark Taylor Portfolio, and is one of my all time favorite pieces of art. This character’s design was eventually merged with Teela’s. The Sorceress would later show up in the 1983 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon with a completely redesigned costume. But she does make an appearance in this form (albeit with a green face) in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword. You can read more about this character here.

Face Shifter

Face Shifter is one of many face-changing character concepts that Mark Taylor came up with, eventually leading to Man-E-Faces. This particular version may have inspired the armor used on Terror Claws Skeletor, and possibly even the costume for the New Adventures character Flipshot.

Viking Raid

Viking Raid depicts and early Castle Grayskull concept. This one also appeared in Mark’s 2016 portfolio collection and in Dark Horse’s The Art of He-Man.

Kang Gi

As I understand it, this character was apparently pulled from Mark Taylor’s sketch book from years before his work at Mattel, and the intent was to use him as one of Skeletor’s henchmen, but may have also been considered for the Conan line that never came to be.

Kang Gi’s face bears a strong resemblance to Webstor, and may have been used as a springboard in the creation of that character.

Ram Man

This is a rather exciting bit of concept art for Ram Man that I personally had never seen before. His look is fairly well developed, although he features the red/brown/orange color scheme that seemed to stick with the character right up until the toy was released in stores, where the colors were changed to red and green. The overall look is quite similar to Ram Man as he appears in the minicomic, He-Man Meets Ram Man.

The Merciless

Known to many fans as “Demo Man”, The Merciless is a differently colored version of a piece of Mark Taylor concept art that has been floating around for the fan community for some time. This version features a darker color palette and a blue beard. This may have been a concept for the unproduced Conan line.

The Enforcer

The Enforcer is a character that I’ve not seen previously. To me he fits in very well in the world of MOTU, and I would leave to see a figure made from this wonderfully weird and quirky design.

Mokus

Another character that is completely new to me, Mokus looks like some kind of giant, frightening but also whimsical plant monster. I’d love to learn the backstory behind this character.

Stalker

Stalker is a great plant monster concept predating Moss Man. The face reminds me just a little of Swamp Thing, and the plant-based costume and weapon are right on target.

Blaster

Blaster is a classic-looking science fiction concept character. His helmet almost looks like the prow of a space ship. He seems to be shooting beams of some kind out of his writstband as well. This is another concept I hadn’t seen previously.

Back Page

Finally, the back page features a lovely message from Mark, adorned with another piece of art from the Castle Grayskull playset, again illustrated by Rebecca.

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Galactic Guardians

Battle Punch He-Man (1990)

Battle Punch He-Man was the first He-Man variant in the “New Adventures” reboot of the He-Man series. The name “Battle Punch” implies some kind of action feature, although the figure had none. He did have some unusual articulation that was marketed as a kind of action feature, but I’ll get into that just a bit later.

Design & Development

Battle Punch He-Man seems to have been designed by Mark Taylor, who also designed the original He-Man released in 1982. Shortly after the successful launch of the original Masters of the Universe toyline, Mark left Mattel (eventually working on the wildly successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toyline), but he returned as a vice president at about the time that New Adventures line was going full steam.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor

Mark Taylor’s design (above) has some of the broad elements that made it to the final toy, including the specific look of the boots and the sash around his torso. However, Mark’s design seems to depict a rather disheveled He-Man, with torn clothing and gauze wrap around his fists. He looks like a street fighter rather than a space fighter.

In some ways, Battle Punch He-Man is actually closer to the look of He-Man as he appeared in the Jetlag New Adventures of He-Man animated series than was the 1989 release of He-Man. That might have been coordinated, as the New Adventures series was released the the year before Battle Punch He-Man. The animated version essentially looks like Battle Punch He-Man with the sword (and occasionally, shield) of the 1989 release, but in gold.

Update: Dušan M. pointed out that this promotional art for The New Adventures of He-Man is even closer to Mark Taylor’s sketch. He also pointed out that the series debuted in 1989, not 1990:

Update #2: Robert Barbieri recently uncovered some early Jetlag animation concept artwork that was based on Mark Taylor’s concept. Note that this version has the traditional power sword:

Image Source: Robert Barbieri
Image Source: Robert Barbieri

We can see the further development of the figure design in the artwork below (artist unknown), first shown in Mattel’s 2009 SDCC Art Book. The concept art below is pretty close to the look of the final figure, with the exception of the shield. The shield has a stylized bird design on it, while the production shield would have the “New Adventures” He-Man triangular logo on it as as well as some sculpted battle damage.

Images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

He-Man was given a new power sword as well, with an asymmetrical hilt design.

Battle Punch He-Man vs Disks of Doom Skeletor
Battle Punch He-Man with the unreleased Clawber bird.
Spanish playing card. Source: cuevadelterror.blogspot.com
Spanish playing card. Source: cuevadelterror.blogspot.com

Some similar artwork appears on these French party invitation cards, shared by Øyvind Meisfjord:

The cross sell artwork for the figure shows the finalized design that would be used for the mass-produced toy:

We can see the final hand-painted prototype for the figure in Mattel’s 1990 dealer catalogue:

Image courtesy of Battle Armor Dad
Image courtesy of Battle Armor Dad
Image courtesy of Battle Armor Dad

Production Figure

Battle Punch He-Man is slightly bigger and bulkier compared to the 1989 version. He has some of the same standard articulation that most figures in the series had, including ball joints at the knees and hips. His main feature, however, was a diagonal articulation joint across his chest, which allowed you to manually wind him up for a punch (there was no spring-back action, so the entire action was manual), while making the figure look completely bizarre in the process. Used subtly, however, the articulation can slightly alter his pose and posture in useful ways.

Something has gone horribly wrong

The figure also featured a more pragmatic bit of articulation – a hinge joint at the wrist, allowing him to realistically hold his sword aloft for the first time.

Unlike the 1989 He-Man release, this version has a sculpted pony tail, which conforms to the Mark Taylor concept art as well as the animated depiction.

Packaging

The packaging for Battle Punch Figure features artwork on the front by (I believe) William George. I’m not sure who did the art and instructions on the back.

The back of the card includes a bit of a bio for Battle Punch He-Man:

The most powerful man in the universe! Only He-Man, with his ultra-energized sword and shield, can defeat Skeletor’s new weapons – the Disks of Doom. A stranger stranded in a strange place and time, He-Man has a lot to learn about the future world of Primus. And, the gentle people of this peace-loving planet have a lot to learn about the evil of Skeletor from He-Man.

Mission – To unite the Tri-Solar System against Skeletor and lead a star-legion of Galactic Guardians into combat to defend the last great civilization of mankind.

Battle Equipment: Powersword & Energy Shield

His backstory is all relatively straightforward. There is no explanation for why his power sword and shield looks so different compared to the previous release. Also on the back are the the instructions for his “action feature”:

I can’t imagine any kid had hours of fun playing with that particular feature, but I do think in terms of his overall costume design he is the best looking of the three “New Adventures” He-Man figures.

Other Appearances

Petteri Höglund helpfully pointed out that Battle Punch He-Man appears in the box art for several New Adventures oversized items, as well as on the cover of this promotional VHS tape:

Image courtesy of Petteri Höglund

Unfortunately I haven’t identified a lot of media associated with this variant. If I come across any comics or additional catalogs featuring the figure, I will certainly update this piece to include them.

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