Heroic Warriors

Laser Power He-Man – Heroic Master of Light Energy (1988)

Laser Power He-Man was released Italy and Spain a year after the end of the Masters of the Universe toyline in the US. He was a figure most North American fans were not aware of until they discovered it online years later. That was certainly true for me. Because the figure was produced in limited numbers overseas, it’s one of the most expensive vintage He-Man toys to acquire today. (Update: I’m also informed that there was some distribution of Laser Power He-Man in Switzerland. Thanks to Olmo for the information.)

Design & Development

In my interview with David Wolfram, he gave some great information behind the development of the Laser Power He-Man, and his evil counterpart, Laser-Light Skeletor:

Laser light Skeletor and the corresponding He-Man were both done for the international markets. The domestic MOTU line was essentially dead after the 1986 (or maybe 1987, it is hard to remember precisely). Pre-Toy Fair, which was a Mattel-only event held in August in Scottsdale for many years. I remember the marketing person saying that no domestic buyers even wanted to go in the gallery.

However, the international markets were a couple of years behind in their product cycle, so they wanted a few pieces of new news. It just so happens that one of the new MOTU segments we had been looking at was a “Power Crystal” segment with crystals “powering” vehicles, interacting with playsets, etc. The He-man and Skeletor were borrowed from that segment.

While MOTU was tanking domestically, it was still going strong internationally, which was a year behind in the product cycle. This was done to have something new for that market. LISA (the light transmitting plastic) was a fairly new “shiny toy” for the designers at the time, so that was the hook for that segment. I think Martin did the final He-Man design. I frankly don’t remember for what purpose I did that awful He-Man illustration for, but I’m sure that it was after the fact (and most likely rushed), and I’m sorry that it has survived.

David Wolfram

A few things to unpack there. David mentions some artwork that he did for Laser Power He-Man. Martin Arriola was the actual designer of the figure, but David did a study of the character, seen below. The concept has white boots and a kind of white collar at this stage of his design. He has the familiar combined “HM” emblem on his belt, used on figures like Battle Armor and Thunder Punch He-Man:

Artwork by David Wolfram. Image source: The Art of He-Man/The Power and the Honor Foundation

David also mentions a power crystal segment, where crystals would be used to power playsets and interact with toys. We certainly see evidence of that in concept art by James McElroy for various crystal powered vehicles and playsets, and in an early Laser Power He-Man prototype:

Crystal powered capture accessory, by James McElroy. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/Dark Horse
Crystal powered Battle Base, by James McElroy. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation. Laser Power He-Man is shown with the playset.

There was some discussion of making the He-Man “crystal segment” into an interactive TV series, as noted in the concept art below. Mattel abandoned that idea for He-Man and instead implemented it with Captain Power:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation. Note that we see roughed out Laser Power He-Man and Laser Light Skeletor figures with the “Harm Arm”
Captain Power ad. Image source: He-Man.org

The earliest known prototype for Laser Power He-Man keeps the general shape of the concept “collar” piece, but it’s turned into a backpack. His color scheme has a lot more blue in it, which will persist to the production toy.

Behind his head you can see the green crystal that his segment would have been based on. This prototype is a kind of kit bash, with arms from the original He-Man figure, hands borrowed from Rio Blast, and what looks like the original He-Man’s legs, hacked up and straightened out. The face looks pretty close to the original He-Man, but with updated hair.

Crystal-powered Laser Power He-Man prototype. Image source: Grayskull Museum
Crystal-powered Laser Power He-Man prototype. Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: Antieternia Facebook page
Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: La Cueva del Terror

In the next stage in Laser Power He-Man’s development,we see him with his final, newly sculpted body, which included silver gloves and a smaller belt. The green crystal was removed from his backpack, and some subtle changes were made to his harness. His face has also been modified. Instead of bearing his teeth, he’s been given a more placid expression.

Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: MOTU Vintage Toys Facebook page
Image source: Grayskull Museum

Action Figure

The final Laser Power He-Man figure design has a somewhat simplified harness/backpack design, and a much modified light up power sword design, but otherwise is fairly similar to the previous prototype:

Laser Power He-Man cross sell art, with unpainted gloves.

As with Laser Light Skeletor, the figure’s light up feature is activated by raising his right arm. A wire is snaked from the sword, under the armor on the right arm (which seems to exist only to hide the wire) and into the backpack. The light in the sword is powered by an AA battery that fits in the backpack.

The Italy release (shown below) has the newly sculpted head, which some have speculated is supposed to resemble Dolph Lundgren, who played He-Man in the 1987 Masters of the Universe Movie. Alternatively, it could resemble some actor who might have starred in the (never produced) interactive He-Man TV show. That’s purely speculative – they might not have had any actors in mind for the series.

Looking at this and the early prototype closely, however, I think the most likely interpretation is that it’s just supposed to look like the original He-Man’s face sculpt, but with a more neutral expression and updated hair.

Like Laser-Light Skeletor, all of Laser Power He-Man’s tooled parts are unique to the figure:

Image source: He-Man.org
Custom figure by Barbarossa Custom Creations

Laser Power He-Man was also produced in Spain. The Spanish versions are marked Italy, but they can be easily distinguished by the fact that they use the original 1982 He-Man head sculpt (images and videos courtesy of “NoPatricioNo”):

The figure has ball-jointed legs, as opposed to the rubber connectors used in most MOTU figures.
With Top Toys He-Man for comparison.

Packaging

Laser Power He-Man was sold on an oversized card. There’s some nice artwork on both front and back, although I’m not sure who illustrated it:

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

The card art on the front and back differs just a bit from the actual figure. It shows He-Man with bare hands, a black hilt on his laser sword, and a kind of brass knuckles like strap around his right hand. No doubt this represents a late stage concept or prototype design.

Update: I got a bit more information about dates and card types for the Laser figures from Dani Ramón Abril, of Yo Tengo el Poder :

I wanted to comment The Lasers were sold in 1988 in Europe with Eurocard (England, Germany, Italy and France) and in 1989 in Iberocard (Spain and Portugal).

Spanish Advertising

The catalog that came packed with the Spanish figures cross sell art of both figures:

Image source: He-Man.org

The cross sell art also appears on these Spanish stickers:

The Yo Tengo el Poder site has unearthed a couple of other interesting Spanish ads featuring both laser figures:

Image source: Dani Ramón Abril
Image source: Yo Tengo el Poder

There is also a great 1989 mini magazine published in Spain that features the Laser figures, which comes by way of La Cueva del Terror.

Into the Future

Because Laser Power He-Man was only released in Europe and at the very tail end of the line, he doesn’t appear in stories or comics. I think he has a pleasing futuristic design. Not as exciting as Laser-Light Skeletor perhaps, but overall a nice take on a space age He-Man.

In many ways, Laser Power He-Man represents an intermediate step in the evolution of the the New Adventures He-Man figure from the rebooted 1989 line. The “New Adventures” He-Man figure was also designed by Martin Arriola. His colors and costume are quite different from Laser Power He-Man, but he does feature a translucent “laser” sword, which persisted in Martin’s futuristic He-Man designs:

Right to left: New Adventures Thunder Punch He-Man, Battle Punch He-Man (designed by Mark Taylor), 1989 He-Man, and Laser Power He-Man (replica)

Return to Table of Contents.

Reviews

Barbarossa Custom Creations Laser Power He-Man

Earlier this year I acquired the Barbarossa Custom Creations Laser Light Skeletor. I had become somewhat obsessed with the figure, and it was my best shot at getting a complete, working and nice-looking example of the rare, European release figure at a price that wouldn’t require the sale of an internal organ. At the time I was only planning on getting the one figure, but I was so impressed with it, I had get Laser Light Skeletor’s heroic counterpart, Laser Power He-Man.

If you’ve ever purchased a custom or replica action figure from any customizer/builder, you know they’re not cheap. That’s just a factor of economies of scale. It’s considerably more difficult for one person to create one figure at a time than it is for a fully equipped factory (with steel molds, paint masks, etc.) to pump out one figure among tens of thousands. It’s even more difficult with a complex toy like Laser Power He-Man, with his internal electronics. But as the original laser figures were produced in low numbers and only released oversees, they go for quite a lot of money on the secondary market. In this case, the replica is something like a third of the cost of the original.

Barbarossa offers the figure in both of its vintage configurations – with either the unique head sculpt that came with the Italian version of the figure, or the 1982 style head which came with the Spanish version of the figure. The Italian version is often called the “Dolph” head for its resemblance to Dolph Lundgren. In my opinion, no He-Man head sculpt will ever surpass the original 1982 version. However, I opted for the Italian “Dolph” version, as this was my one chance to get a figure with that particular head, and I’ve already got the original head on my other vintage He-Man figures.

Vintage 1988 Italian LP He-Man vs 1988 Spanish LP He-Man

Barbarossa has actually done something really interesting with this figure that adds to its durability. Rather than casting the figure in one or two colors and painting in the details (as was done in the vintage figure), Barbarossa casts the trunks and boots in the same teal as the armor. The belt and gloves are cast separately in silver. These pieces are glued together for a seamless look, and the there is no possibility of paint wear on the gloves or boots (an issue that plagues many vintage figures). The only painted parts, in fact, are the head (hair, eyebrows, and eyes) and the silver accents on the armor. The figure retains all of his vintage points of articulation. Another modification is that the belt lacks the “M” design of the original.

The plastic has a very realistic feel to it. I don’t know what the secret formula Barbarossa uses for his materials, but it feels very much like a factory figure. The cast is nice and crisp, with better paint details than many factory examples.  The figure also stands solidly without a tendency to fall over.

The light up action feature has been altered from the 1988 original. Instead of raising his arm to activate the sword, the light turns on with a switch hidden in the battery compartment. The light runs on a watch cell battery, rather than an AA battery as the original did.

If you happen to have a vintage LP He-Man without his accessories, Barbarossa also sells them separately for a reduced cost.

The sword glows quite brightly, especially in the dark. I took some shots with him next to the modern Masters of the Universe Classics Laser Power He-Man for comparison.

He looks great next to his arch nemesis, Laser Light Skeletor (also by Barbarossa):

Laser Power He-Man was quite a departure from the original He-Man design. In 1988 Mattel was heavily exploring different ideas for a more sci-fi take on He-Man. Laser Power He-Man represents an intermediate step in that direction, just before the “New Adventures” reboot:

Original 1982 He-Man and Barbarossa replica Laser Power He-Man
Left to right: 1992 Thunder Punch He-Man, 1990 Battle Punch He-Man, 1989 “New Adventures” He-Man, Barbarossa Laser Power He-Man.

You can see in the photos above that a big theme in Mattel’s sci-fi themed He-Man figures is translucent yellow swords. My understanding is that all of the above figures were designed by Martin Arriola, with the exception of Battle Punch He-Man, who originates from a design by Mark Taylor. Laser Power He-Man, to me, is much more recognizable as a He-Man figure than any of the New Adventures versions. I suspect if the rebooted line had been more in the style of the Laser figures, they might have had greater success.

I’ll explore the history of Laser Power He-Man in more depth in a future toy feature. In any case, I’ve been thoroughly pleased with Barbarossa’s customs so far, and would recommend his Laser figure replicas to anyone looking to add these hard to find figures to their collection.

Return to Table of Contents.

Galactic Guardians

He-Man – Most Powerful Man in the Universe! (1989)

The 1989 He-Man reboot is often considered by most fans to be a failure. It’s true that the line was less commercially successful than the original line (a high bar to clear). On the other hand, the rebooted “He-Man in space” line lasted for four years – twice as long as the more popular 200x reboot. So, perhaps it’s not fair to call it a failure.

I was never a fan of the “New Adventures” reboot, until one day I was. I think it was a sudden and intense interest in Laser Light Skeletor that drew me in that direction. Still, while I love most of the evil characters in the 1989 line, most of the heroes are a bit under-cooked for my tastes. My theory is that they kept the heroes more generic-looking so that they could be reused for other toylines (and indeed, several of them were reused in Mattel’s Demolition Man toyline).

I remember running into this toyline on the shelves and thinking “that’s not He-Man” and walking away. I’m sure that’s not the reaction Mattel was going for. At the time I was reluctantly collecting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – reluctantly, because I considered myself too old for toys. Little did I know.

The 1989 edition of He-Man was designed by Martin Arriola. Two versions of the concept art were shared in Dark Horse’s Art of He-Man book, depicting the figure with and without his snap-on armor and gold helmet.

Unlike the “New Adventures” Skeletor, this He-Man would have almost no visual references to any previous version of the character. He’s got gold boots, blue pants, a totally redesigned sword and shield, redesigned harness, and a retro-futuristic armor and helmet. Without any context, I don’t think anyone would immediately connect this design to He-Man, which is I think one of the areas where the reboot went astray. That’s not to say that it’s a bad design – it’s a pretty neat space adventurer design. But is it He-Man?

The idea for the shield and probably the sword seems to have been to use clear plastic (giving it something of a connection to the previous year’s Laser Power He-Man). However, in prototypes that showed up in catalog artwork, we see a solid gold sword and a dark, transparent shield.

The gold sword and dark shield would make their way into the packaging artwork and other media:

He-Man card front artwork by William George
He-Man cardback artwork. Image source: The Art of He-Man
He-Man cross sell artwork. As indicated by the artwork, twisting his waist would make He-Man either slash his sword or raise his shield.

The final toy seems to use LISA (light collecting) plastic in the sword and shield, which were also used in Lego sets around that time. The figure also has a combined H/M symbol added to his belt, a feature not present in the concept art or prototype. The face does resemble the original 1982 He-Man’s face, but it’s subtle enough that it would be easy to miss that this was a He-Man figure, with no other visual references to previous versions. The figure could be displayed with or without the snap-on armor and helmet.

The design is somewhat reminiscent of Bow from the She-Ra line:

He-Man’s boots are a metallic gold plastic with a bit of swirliness. That type of plastic would pop up in toys all over the line, in various shades of silver, gold, bronze, and copper. This is especially apparent in figures like Optikk:

He-Man was sold in a number of configurations: a single card, or in giftset with either Skeletor, Flogg or Slushhead.The design of the single card’s bubble is a bit little different on the Euro card, which has a smaller section for He-Man’s accessories.

US Card
Euro card

He-Man appeared in toy form and in CGI form in a promo for the new line in 1989:

As mentioned previously, Mattel had planned to ask Filmation (the studio that had produced the first He-Man cartoon) to make a cartoon series for the He-Man reboot. Its title would have been He-Man and the Masters of Space (information via Dušan M./James Eatock). Filmation went out of business in 1989, but they did create some artwork and a basic storyline for the pitch. He-Man’s look here more or less follows the design of the toy, although he has a solid gold sword like the prototype, as well as some additional red detail.


Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

Filmation tended to prefer symmetrical character designs, allowing them to flip cells over reuse them in the reverse pose. To that end, this look was also created.


Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

Interestingly, Errol McCarthy also illustrated a version of the character with somewhat similar armor:

Image source: He-Man.org

For more information on some of the details of Filmation’s vision for the reboot, see this post at the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group. Or, check out cereal:geek issue 14.

After Filmation went out of business, the job of animating the series went to Jetlag. The series starts off on Eternia, before He-Man and Skeletor are whisked off into the future, but both of them already sport their New Adventures costumes.

Startlingly, after getting a warning from the Sorceress, a redesigned Prince Adam transforms into He-Man right in front of his parents, who hadn’t been aware of his secret identity previously. From there he rescues Hydron and Flipshot from Skeletor’s clutches, and returns with them to the future to save Primus from the mutants.

The Jetlag version of the character I think looks a bit better than the action figure, at least color-wise. In my opinion the brown works much better with blue than gold does. Even his sword is silver rather than gold. But I’ve always had a weird bias against blue and gold together.

He is not the all-powerful collossus as depicted in the Filmation series. He has to struggle to defeat even ordinary villains. Strength-wise, he’s very similar to He-Man as depicted in the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie.

He-Man very rarely has his shield in the Jetlag series, but when he does, it resembles the dark prototype version.

Mattel put out four minicomics for the series, illustrated by three different authors. In this canon, a familiar-looking Prince Adam (holding a power sword that looks like Mattel’s 1989 light-up power sword) actually permanently transforms into his new He-Man self in front of Skeletor. Skeletor had tricked Hydron and Flipshot into transferring the power of Castle Grayskull into their ship. Skeletor planned to hyjack it and take the power for himself, but Prince Adam stops him, and permanently transforms into his futuristic-looking self on the ship.

Light up Power Sword and Skeletor staff, from 1990 German He-Man magazine. Image from He-Man.org

On the cover of The New Adventure, He-Man wears his helmet and armor, but otherwise he goes without these accessories for the rest of the short series (images are from Dark Horse’s He-Man minicomic collection).

The UK He-Man Adventure Magazine covered the New Adventures series, sometimes depicting the character with breastplate and helmet, sometimes with just his helmet, and sometimes without either accessory. The design is, again, based on the prototype figure (images via He-Man.org):

So, finishing my thought from earlier in the article – what to make of this radical He-Man redesign? I have to say I like the design overall, but I think it was a mistake. Without the label on the package, no kid would have looked at this figure and guessed that it was supposed to be He-Man. There should have been some kind of call-back to the original character, beyond just giving him blonde hair and a sort-of similar face. He should have retained some of his original colors – gray, red and orange.

1989 He-Man vs 1982 He-Man

He could have retained the helmet and chest armor (ideally in silver or gray), but underneath there could have been the usual X-shaped harness with either an H or a cross symbol, with some futuristic embellishments. We needed something to tell us that this was not just future space man, but future space He-Man.

Image source: Tallstar/He-Man.org

Return to Table of Contents.

Evil Warriors

Dragon Blaster Skeletor – Evil leader & dreadful dragon (1985)

Dragon Blaster Skeletor was the “deluxe” version of Skeletor that everyone in my grade school peer group coveted. You could tell he was a deluxe figure because he came on an oversized card and wore an oversized dragon backpack and came with a real metal chain. These were the unmistakable tokens of quality in the secret language of childhood.

Dragon Blaster Skeletor actually has a fascinating backstory. In my interview with Martin Arriola, he explained to me that the action feature was once quite dangerous:

MA: Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.

BR: Oh, like what?

MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.

I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.

I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.

BR: That’s insane!

MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.

So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.

This concept art by Colin Bailey (below) seems to have been for some kind of dungeon master Skeletor. The lock, chains and cuff from this design ended up being used for Dragon Blaster Skeletor.

Early catalog images of the figure seem to depict a standard hollow head Taiwan figure with the new dragon backpack piece. They also include the original Skeletor’s balteus accessory, although that was cut from the final figure. This look was carried forward into the cross sell art as well.

The actual production toy had a solid, rubbery head. Mexico versions had face paint reminiscent of earlier incarnations of Skeletor, but Hong Kong examples have quite a jarring “M” pattern on the green sections of the face. Some Mexico examples had the original Skeletor feet, but most had enlarged feet (with reduced sculpting detail) for the purposes of greater stability, given the weight of the backpack. Boot colors ranged from reddish purple to blueish purple to a very dark purple. The balteus was also cut from the production version.

As mentioned earlier, this version of Skeletor was packaged on an oversized card. It features some artwork by William George on the front and an action scene by Errol McCarthy on the back:

Note that the dragon is supposed to paralyze victims with venom – which seems to be muscling in on Kobra Khan’s raison d’etre. Maybe that ‘s why he ultimately defected to the Snake Men faction.

The 1987 Style Guide talks a bit about Skeletor’s dragon pet:

Weapons: Skeletor stalks the land with his evil pet, freezing foes with the dragon’s vicious paralyzing venom.

Dragon Blaster Skeletor came packaged with the minicomic Skeletor’s Dragon, which shows off his new action feature as well as the Battle Bones carry case toy.

In the story, Skeletor’s chains have mystical energy draining powers, and his dragon frequently walks around off his leash:

Skeletor’s design has a strong Filmation influence (especially around the face and boots), and a differently colored costume than the toy. The colors may be based off of early concept art for the figure. The minicomic artwork is by Peter Ledger, with colors by Charles Simpson.

Errol McCarthy depicted the variant for use in a T-shirt design in the artwork below:

McCarthy also illustrated the character in the poster below that appeared in the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine:

He also appears in a 1985 MOTU poster by William George. He is again shown with the balteus from the original Skeletor figure:

Dragon Blaster Skeletor isn’t my favorite Skeletor variant – in fact he’s probably my second least favorite, next to Terror Claws Skeletor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. Skeletor is Skeletor, and it’s hard to make a bad Skeletor figure.

Return to Table of Contents.