Heroic Warriors

Man-E-Faces: Heroic human…robot…monster! (1983)

I distinctly remember when I got Man-E-Faces (along with Ram Man) as a present, probably for my birthday in 1983. There was something endlessly fascinating about his ability to change faces at will. In my mind it was his way of disguising himself. Sure, no one would be fooled given his very distinctive silhouette, but that’s how I thought of it.

Man-E-Faces was something of a sea change for the line as it had existed in 1982. He was given all new parts (legs shared with Trap Jaw, who came out the same year) and a new gimmick – a rotating head drum that allowed you to display three distinct faces: human, robot, and monster. His design had more technology integrated into it than any MOTU figure that had come out before, although it was more steam punk than Star Trek.

Incidentally, his blaster was later reused as a tail gun for a couple of the Voltron lions:

You might notice that his legs are a little too short for his body. That’s probably because his rotating faces action feature gives him a rather tall torso, which may have necessitated smaller legs in order to fit into the standard MOTU packaging.

The single-carded Man-E-Faces was released in a couple of different flavors – standard, featuring his red blaster, and a deluxe version with pink chest tubes (often referred to now as Man-E-Weapons) that came with five bonus weapons from the Castle Grayskull set, but cast in maroon.

Man-E-Faces was also released in a three-pack with Battle Armor He-Man and Man-At-Arms, a J.C. Penny two-pack with Faker, a J.C. Penny two-pack with Battle Armor He-Man, and in a giftset with Skeletor and Panthor:

Image courtesy of Tokyonever

Errol McCarthy did the cardback illustration and style guide art for Man-E-Faces, as he did for most of the figures in the line:

Image source: KMKA
Image via He-Man.org
Image via He-Man.org

The figure was designed by Mark Taylor, shortly before he left Mattel:

Notice that while the design details are close to the final toy, the color choices around the helmet are different. On the final toy, parts of the helmet are colored in flesh tone or orange. This image and the image below come from The Art of He-Man. Artwork by Mark Taylor.

All the classic Man-E-Faces elements are present in the B-sheet and design documents above, but the look is slightly different from the final toy, with purple detail on the shoulders and a helmet without any tan/orange accents. The figure was sculpted into a prototype, and some some ridges and sloping were added to the top of the helmet. He seems to have green accents on his shoulders and thighs:

Alfredo Alcala’s take on the character in Danger at Castle Grayskull seems to be based on the above prototype:

Man-E-Problems

The cross sell artwork is mainly based on the prototype sculpt:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

An earlier incarnation of Man-E-Faces (called Multi-face) was also designed by Mark Taylor. While the original artwork hasn’t been published, Emiliano Santalucia has created a mock-up for a potential Masters of the Universe Classics figure based on that artwork, which appears to have been quite different from the finished MEF design:

Source: Emiliano Santalucia

Update: the original version of this artwork by Mark Taylor was recently shared in the documentary, The Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man:

There was another related Mark Taylor concept called Maska-Ra that was explored but never developed. Rather than a spinning face mechanism, Maska-Ra would have come with a variety of masks to imitate other characters, luring the unwary to their doom:

From the “Bring Your Man-E-Faces To Work” Facebook page, via The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Update: another Man-E-Faces concept was recently shared by Mark Taylor’s wife, Rebecca (below). This has the removable mask idea from Maska-Ra, although it has a more conventional body. The the arms and legs contain design elements that would be used in the final figure. The chest armor recalls the design later used in Terror Claws Skeletor (1986), and the overall look may have influenced the design of the 1989 figure Flipshot:

Update: yet another quasi-Man-E-Faces concept was shared by Rebecca, with Joe Amato for the podcast Fans of Power. This version has a chitinous, insectoid look and a reversible head. The legs on this character are very similar to the final toy’s design, but otherwise this is a totally different take on the concept:

Image courtesy of Doug Feague

Man-E-Faces was packaged with his own mini comic (drawn by Mark Texeira), called The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces. He was depicted as an Eternian actor who was given a potion by Skeletor that would change him into a monster and bring him under Skeletor’s control. The Sorceress tries to free him from the enchantment, and in a struggle between the two powers, a third face arises – that of a neutral robot.

He is also depicted as a helpless pawn of Skeletor in the Danger at Castle Grayskull comic, drawn by Alfredo Alcala:

Man-E-Faces was given other origin stories in British publications. In issue 3 of the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine, Man-E-Faces is transformed by Skeletor as punishment for mocking him in a play:

Image source: Bustatoons. Brought to my attention by Joe Amato.

In the 1985 UK Masters of the Universe Annual, Man-E-Faces is again transformed by Skeletor, in a somewhat unsettling story about abductions and lab experiments. In his monster form he is evil, and in his robot form he may be controlled by anyone.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Man-E-Faces made an appearance in the box art for Battle Bones (by William George) and the previously mentioned Battle For Eternia (by William Garland) three-pack. Man-E-Faces was slated to appear as the prisoner in the Snake Mountain box art (by William George), but at the last minute Man-At-Arms was substituted (for more on that, read this interview with package designer Bob Nall):

Image source: Jukka Issakainen
Image source: Tokyonever

In the Filmation cartoon, MEF was an outcast who had to be gently coaxed away from evil by He-Man:

Early Filmation designs for the character, as shown in the Series Guide below, show a design that seems primarily based on the early prototype version of he character, albeit with a rather unique-looking robot face:

He also appeared in a number of adverts, promotions, catalogs and miscellaneous entertainment:

Later in life, Man-E-Faces struggled with his weight:

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

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Evil Warriors

Mer-Man: Ocean warlord! (1982)

Masters of the Universe probably could not have happened in any decade other than the 80s. In 1982, it came at the heels of two  disparate but very popular movie franchises – Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. Those influences weighed  heavily on the first wave of He-Man figures, playsets and vehicles. Almost every figure, although generally barbaric in appearance, featured some kind of subtle sci-fi element. Even the grim, Frazetta influenced Castle Grayskull had a laser turret and a computer system.

Frazetta invades kindergartens

Does not compute.
Luke, who’s your daddy? (Image via MOTUC Figures)

As the line grew long in the tooth it tended rely more on gimmicks, but the early figures were mostly about cool designs. Mattel artist Mark Taylor was responsible for the lion’s share of the early figures and for Castle Grayskull. Ted Mayer assisted with the sculpting of Castle Grayskull and created the line’s first two vehicles, Battle Ram and Wind Raider. He also went on to design many of the 1985-1987 figures.

It’s normal for toys to have some inconsistency between first promotional material and finished product. That happened all the time in the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Series. Filmation would receive early concept art for a figure and create a story based on that art. By the time the toy came out it would sometimes be radically different.

For young kids in the 80s, often the first glimpse of upcoming figures came from the cross sell art on the back of MOTU packaging. When Mattel released the first four figures in 1982, we could see on the back of the package that more were coming.

A lot of us already had our He-Man, Skeletor, Beast Man and Man-At-Arms figures. But who were these other guys? Mer-Man especially caught my eye. These were the first action figures I ever had, and the idea of an aquatic half-man half-fish warrior really fascinated me.

Below: the cross sell art for Mer-Man comes in varying shades of green, generally. Early examples (such as on test market cards) tend to be more bluish. The original art may have had straight blue skin, as show in the first image below, but varying degrees of yellow tint may have been used to shift him into the green spectrum.

Image courtesy of Tokyonever. I believe this image comes from Mattel’s cross sell art used in the recent MOTU Giants line.

Blueish version, from a test market Man-At-Arms card
Greener version, from the back of a Battle Ram box.

Those of us who got in on the very first release of He-Man and Skeletor lived with that cardback image of Mer-Man for months. Imagine our surprise when we got this instead:

The gloves and shin guards were unpainted. The sword bore a closer resemblance to corn than coral (note: I am informed by Mantisaur82 that Mer-Man’s sword is supposed to be a weapon made from a sawfish rostrum, and that actual weapons have been made after this fashion). The furry shorts were orange instead of yellow. The armor’s detail was softened considerably. And most of all, the design of the face seemed markedly different from the cross sell art we had memorized.

A lot of MOTU collectors talk about Mer-Man a little bitterly. Like they were so disillusioned with the way the toy was changed from the artwork that it soured them on the figure. And yes, as a kid I was a little dismayed at the difference at first. But when I really looked at him closely, I realized I was still kind of in love with Mer-Man. And let’s face it, he looks a lot more villainous in his toy form than he did on the card back illustration.

Mer-Man’s initial concept design (by Mark Taylor) was actually quite different from both the action figure and the cross sell art. The original concept (known as “Sea Man”) would have had unique legs, arms and a scaly loin cloth. The cross sell art cut down on the fishy details, and the toy version even more so.

Mark Taylor B-Sheet – black and white copy. Image via The Art of He-Man
Colored version of Mark Taylor’s Mer-Man concept art, published by Super7 and the Power and the Honor Foundation. Note the original colors – blue skin with yellow gloves and boots, and yellow and copper outfit. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Below is the early Mer-Man  prototype, sculpted by Tony Guerrero.  Notice the model is very faithful to the concept art, down to the pose.

Image source: The Power & The Honor Foundation, retrieved via Facebook
Prototype Skeletor and Mer-Man. Image source: The Power & The Honor Foundation, retrieved via Facebook
Image courtesy of Andy Youssi
Image courtesy of Andy Youssi

Mer-Man’s revised sword design is laid out in the Mark Taylor B-sheet design below. Note that the teeth of the sword don’t go out as far as the edge of the sword. I’m sure this had to do with limitations of manufacturing technology at the time.


Mark Taylor B-Sheet – Mer-Man’s sword. Image via The Art of He-Man

Mer-Man’s final, hand-painted prototype appears below. The sculpt is identical to the mass produced toy, except the sword is missing the hand guard.

If you take a close look at the head on the original concept art, it’s actually somewhere between the somewhat goofy cardback and the simplified but more intense vintage toy face. In fact, if you were to color that original concept design just like the vintage toy (as I did below), it would be much clearer that they were really the same basic character, just simplified, recolored and made a bit meaner looking.

But why were the painted gloves and shin guards removed? Almost certainly to cut costs. The second half of the first wave of figures that came out in 1982 (Mer-Man, Stratos, Teela, Zodac) all had reduced paint apps and/or accessories compared to the first four (He-Man, Skeletor, Beast Man, Man-At-Arms). This despite the fact that the line outsold all expectations, even in the first year. Mark Taylor and Ted Mayer have both said that Mattel was very reluctant to invest money in new tooling for the MOTU line, even after its unexpected success.

The first (1982) release of Mer-Man had his belt painted green, as shown previously. Subsequent releases left the belt unpainted. I would assume the idea was to cut costs, and much of the belt was obscured by his armor anyway.

Orange belt re-release

The first edition Mer-Man came packed on the “8-back” cardback (pictured earlier in this post), while reissues starting in 1983 featured a painted scene by artist Errol McCarthy:

Mer-Man was also sold in a giftset with Battle Armor Skeletor and Webstor, and in a JCPenny giftset with the original Skeletor.

Image source: Grayskull Museum

I’ve heard scuttlebutt around the internet that Mer-Man was originally conceived of as a heroic warrior from an oceanic world that was destroyed. However, I’ve never seen any real evidence that Mer-Man was once heroic. Even in the first mini comic, where Stratos’ affiliations seem to be with Skeletor, Mer-Man was portrayed as an evil warrior.

Update: I finally saw some evidence for Mer-Man as a heroic warrior. An early internal Mattel document describes him this way: “Mer-Man – uses his aquatic powers to help He-Man.”

Interestingly, in Mattel’s 1982 dealer catalog, Mer-Man is not explicitly affiliated with either Skeletor or He-Man:

According to designer Mark Taylor, Mer-Man wasn’t the most popular toy when the figures were undergoing child testing:

Tony Guerrero the great sculptor and I chased the negative child test comments until we finally realized the marketeers were just messing with us and then we went with what we had.  Mer-Man was the weakest but people who like him really like him (I based him on Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing).

Perhaps because he didn’t test as well as other early characters, Mer-Man nearly went into the bin of rejected concepts. As Mark Taylor explained:

Well, they almost rejected Mer-Man. They didn’t understand him, and wanted to take him out of the line. I had a hard time convincing them to keep him. I said “Don’t you understand? There has to be someone who lives in the water!” I was envisioning a magnificent line of toys that could be played with in the water. Decades later, George Lucas did a similar thing in The Phantom Menace. I worked for the US Navy for almost ten years in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, so I really wanted to do undersea stuff. I was a diver, and I felt the mysticism of being under water. That’s such an amazing area to get into.

Mer-Man’s most notable minicomic appearances are probably in the first four, written by Don Glut and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. In the series, the design of the character is based on Mark Taylor’s early concept art (and in Battle In The Clouds, based on Mer-Man’s cross sell art. In this series, Mer-Man is arguably Skeletor’s most competent and dangerous ally:

Likewise, Mer-Man is a formidable foe in the early Golden Book MOTU stories:

Perhaps Mer-Man’s strangest appearance is in Leech – The Master of Power Suction Unleashed. For whatever reason, Mer-Man is depicted with a beard:

In the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, Mer-Man was again one of Skeletor’s most devious and competent allies. As king of his own undersea kingdom, he often undertook plots against the heroic warriors apart from Skeletor.

Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t still tossed around by He-Man at the end of the day:

Image source: Heritage Auctions

Mer-Man’s filmation design seems to be a simplified version of Mark Taylor’s original concept design, complete with the yellow gloves and boots. However when Filmation was producing an early He-Man Television commercial, they came up with a model for Mer-Man that was closely based on the actual toy:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation
Image courtesy of Dušan M.

In Filmation’s Series Guide, Mer-Man looks like a cross between his vintage toy and and Mark Taylor’s concept art. In the description below, it’s mentioned that Mer-Man has command over sea creatures (similar to Beast Man’s command over beasts of the land). In this description, Mer-Man’s powers can be effected by the tides, although that wasn’t really explored in the cartoon:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Mer-Man makes various appearances in box art and posters as well, and his design is usually based either on his cross sell artwork or his 1982 toy:

Mer-Man underwent subtle and radical redesigns in different media over the years. He may be the most inconsistently portrayed character in all of MOTU. He’s also my favorite. There’s something about him I’ve always found fascinating and a little bit mysterious.

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