It’s been two years now since I started Battle Ram – A He-Man Blog. It’s something that I had rattling around my brain for many months before it crystallized into a blog.
Most of the information in this blog isn’t new – intrepid MOTU historians have been digging up facts about their beloved toyline for years now. But what I wanted to do from the outset was tell the story of each toy, from its early concepts to finished toy to its depictions in stories and artwork. I didn’t see that complete story being told from any single source.
The bits and pieces of information lived in all kinds of disparate locations: hard-to-find books, forum posts, old podcast interviews, blogs, Facebook pages, fan sites and YouTube videos. As I started putting these sources together, I was also lucky enough to be able to expand on some of this information in my interviews with Mark Taylor, Rebecca Taylor, Ted Mayer, Rudy Obrero and Martin Arriola.
Of course I’ve also branched out from my toy-based features to more focused posts about things like box art, catalogs, commercials and obscure factoids.
I don’t want to get too precious about it. At the end of the day it’s a just a blog, after all. Everyone and their uncle’s barber has a blog. But it’s also kind of an online book, one that keeps getting longer each week, with helpful contributions and corrections by He-Man fans from all walks of life and all parts of the planet.
Here are a few statistics about the blog on its two-year anniversary.
Total views: 326,708
Total unique visitors: 79,871
Number of posts: 116
Average posts per month: 4.8
Estimated number of hours spent on this thing: 696
As always, thanks for reading. I hope the blog continues to be of interest to people who remember this toyline with fondness.
My mother got me Battle Armor He-Man as a replacement for my original He-Man after it was destroyed. However, I still had my original Skeletor, and in that case mom logic dictated that I didn’t need Battle Armor Skeletor, since I still had the original. Kids and collectors understand that owning a standard action figure and owning a variant are two different experience, but I couldn’t make that case as a seven-year-old.
So, I had to make do with my Kellogg’s puffy sticker, and of course I played with my friends’ figures whenever I could. I was endlessly fascinated by both the designs and the action feature of the Battle Armor variants.
Battle Armor Skeletor reuses the arms, legs, head, crotch and weapons of the original Skeletor, but includes a spring-loaded, rotating drum in the chest that could be activated with slight pressure, exposing three versions of a bat insignia showing varying levels of damage. The action feature was invented by Ronald H. MacBain and Tony Rhodes, and the patent was filed December 29, 1983. Martin Arriola also worked on the figure, which was trademarked on January 27, 1984. The original version of Skeletor was designed by Mark Taylor.
The cross sell artwork was based on the actual toy, so it had more accurate and updated arm “fins” and boots than the original Skeletor’s cross sell artwork:
A similar action feature was also used in Mattel’s Hot Wheels Crack-Ups cars, which debuted in 1985:
The front of Battle Armor Skeletor’s card has a burst describing the function of the action feature. Unlike most figures released in the toy line, there is no tag line underneath his name, although he is tagged with “Evil lord of destruction” when he appears in cross sell artwork.
Incidentally, when Skeletor was first released in 1982, his tag line was “Lord of destruction.” “Evil” was added to the front of it starting in 1983.
Errol McCarthy illustrated the fight scene on the back of the card along with the instructions, and also illustrated the figure in artwork for use in the 1987 Style Guide as well as on T-shirts and other licensed products:
In the 1987 Style Guide, Skeletor (depicted with his battle armor) is given the following bio, which draws upon the various updates and retcons done to MOTU canon over the years:
Once the student of Hordak on his home planet of Etheria, Skeletor trapped his mentor on Etheria and escaped through a dimension gate to Eternia. Now Skeletor embodies all that is evil in Eternia. His goal is to one day rule all of Eternia, bringing upon its citizens an unending reign of terror. For dozens of years, Skeletor waited, polishing his magical skills in anticipation of the day when he would break through the Mystical Wall that separated the good and evil areas of Eternia. On the 18th birthday of Prince Adam, Skeletor finally prevailed. It was on this fateful day that Prince Adam first transformed himself into He-man, thus saving Eternia from the evil advance of Skeletor. Skeletor is now committed to destroying He-Man and his allies.
The style guide also mentions Skeletor’s Dragon Blaster and Battle Armor variants:
Weapons: Skeletor stalks the land with his evil pet, freezing foes with the dragon’s vicious paralyzing venom. His Battle Armor gives him the power to withstand the mightiest blows of battle.
Battle Armor Skeletor was sold in a number of gift sets, which include the following:
Battle Armor Skeletor/Webstor
Battle Armor Skeletor/Webstor/Mer-Man
Battle Armor Skeletor/Panthor
Battle Armor Skeletor/Screeech
Battle Armor Skeletor/Panthor/Man-E-Faces
Battle Armor Skeletor/Land Shark
Battle Armor Skeletor/Battle Armor He-Man
The figure was also released in a number of unique Canadian gift sets (images from Grayskull Museum):
India-based Leo Toys released an unusual version of the figure, which featured the torso from Battle Armor He-Man in purple:
Battle Armor Skeletor, strangely, never appeared in the minicomics or in the Filmation cartoon. It does appear in the Golden Book story, The Magic Mirror (albeit with the skirt from the original Skeletor design), and on the cover of Dangerous Games:
Battle Armor Skeletor appears quite frequently on Masters of the Universe Box art, showing up in numerous paintings, most by William George:
Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor
Battle Armor Skeletor and Screeech
Dragon Walker (Euro Edition)
Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor
He also appears in a 1984 poster by William George:
The same artist also illustrated both Battle Armor Skeletor and Battle Armor He-Man for the 1985 board game, Battle For Eternia (thanks to Øyvind for the reminder). The illustration on the front depicts Skeletor and He-Man taking part in the board game with a couple of children, which is strikes me as a stroke of genius. I think a lot of us imagined what it might be like to interact with these characters in real life.
My introduction to Jitsu came in first grade, when a classmate pulled out several of his newest He-Man figures to show the rest of us. The three figures I remember him showing us were Tri-Klops, Jitsu and Fisto.
I already owned Tri-Klops from back in kindergarten, but I hadn’t seen these two new figures with their spring-loaded right arms that terminated in either a giant metallic fist or chopping hand. The entire group was suitably impressed, and we each took turns testing out their action features.
Jitsu’s development starts quite early in the series, in the December 1982 MOTU Bible written by Michael Halperin, under the working name, Chopper:
CHOPPER – has a right hand that’s enormous. With one mighty blow this villain can chop through bricks, trees, anything that gets in his way. He’s formidable in hand-to-hand combat.
There is actually some overlap between Chopper and a Filmation character called Strongarm – James Eatock goes into detail in this video for the He-Man Official Youtube Channel:
According to Martin Arriola, Jitsu was created by Mattel designer Colin Bailey. Although no concept art for Jitsu as a toy has been either found or made public, there is an image of his prototype.
The prototype is quite different in some respects from the final figure. As you can see, the prototype was originally to reuse Skeletor’s legs. Like Fisto, he was also going to reuse Tri-Klops’ sword (the example in the image above isn’t even repainted). He also uses He-Man’s arms, rather than Fisto’s arms. Everything else in the rough prototype seems to match the general thrust of the figure’s final design.
The Filmation design may represent an intermediate stage in the character’s design, or it may be a “Filmationized” version of the final toy. This incarnation of Jitsu features human feet with unique red samurai boots and an enlarged but ungloved right hand. He also has a purple belt and bracers:
Jitsu appears in a single episode – “The Dragon Invasion”. In this scene, he squares off against Ram Man, and they both come out a bit worse for wear in the end:
On August 22, 1983, Mattel filed a trademark for the name Jitsu, instead of the original Chopper. The toy was released the following year.
The final design utilizes He-Man’s legs, with two toned gold and black boots. He is also given a unique katana weapon, although the finger guard is molded on the wrong side of the handle. He reuses the left arm, right upper arm, and slightly shallower chest from Fisto. He has a unique head sculpt and unique two-piece armor – the latter would later be used for Mattel’s King Randor figure:
The action scene on the back of Jitsu’s packaging was illustrated by the inimitable Errol McCarthy:
McCarthy also illustrated the character, along with Fisto, for this T-Shirt design:
Jitsu’s cross-sell artwork is quite faithful to the toy, down to the backwards hand guard on the sword:
Jitsu was also sold in a JCPenny two-pack with Clawful, and in a gift set with Night Stalker. The artwork for the Night Stalker gift set was done by William George.
Jitsu and Nightstalker are the “evil opposites” of Fisto and Stridor, who were also sold as a set. Evil opposites is a theme that pops up over and over again in the vintage Masters of the Universe line.
Aside from the Night Stalker gift set, Jitsu appears on one other piece of box art for the Masters of the Universe line – Battle Bones, by William George:
Jitsu is never really center stage in any story he appears in. His biggest moment in the minicomics is definitely in The Clash of Arms, where he faces off against Fisto and is quickly defeated:
Jitsu also makes some very minor appearances in Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde and in Hordak: The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge.
Jitsu is a little less camera shy in the Golden Book stories, The Rock Warriors and Demons of the Deep, both illustrated by Fred Carillo. He is far from front and center here, but at least he’s operating at the level of henchman of the week, together with Webstor in the first story and Mer-Man in the second:
Jitsu also makes an appearance the Golden Giant Picture Book, also illustrated by Fred Carillo. Here Jitsu commits the worst sin imaginable – he smashes the Battle Ram with his giant golden chopping hand. The images below come from the Bustatoons blog.
Jitsu also appears in several posters painted by William George from 1984 to 1986:
Anyone who has been collecting Masters of the Universe long enough has heard about the mysterious brown-haired He-Man figure that goes for so much money on eBay. He is often (and erroneously) called Wonder Bread He-Man, based on a long-running fan theory that he was sold as part of a promotion that Wonder Bread was running with Mattel. The promotion was actually for a series of He-Man trading cards featuring artwork by Errol McCarthy.
The figure itself is a He-Man figure with brown hair, a brown loin cloth, a black belt and black boots. He seems to have come only with the maroon sword and axe that came with the special edition of Man-E-Faces (which in turn were originally created as accessories for Castle Grayskull). Sometimes he is sold with additional maroon weapons and a black version of Zodac’s armor that was released in the 1984 Weapons Pak, however the feeling among many collectors is that those were not original to the figure.
The most intriguing find so far comes from David and Darren Fowler, who first bought the figure about 17 years ago. Theirs is the only example known to date to come bagged with weapons and a buy three, get one free offer from Mattel. According to the offer, the purchases had to have been made between January 2, 1982 and June 30, 1983, and submitted proofs of purchase postmarked by July 15 1983. In the terms set out in the coupon, Mattel would send one random toy from the selected category (Barbie, Dazzle, Monchhichi, or Masters of the Universe). Those dates, plus the inclusion of the maroon Man-E-Weapons, makes me think this figure might have been released in 1983, even if it was actually manufactured earlier (it has a date stamp of 1981, like other first wave figures released in 1982).
The figure also has two manufacturing details that seem characteristic of figures that came out either late in 1982 or early in 1983. The first is his belly button, which is perfectly formed. Early 1982 He-Man figures had irregular-looking belly buttons, and starting sometime in 1983 they started doing away with the belly button altogether, so this version looks like those He-Man figures released in the middle, where the belly button was normalized. He-Man figures from that era also started having boots that were dipped in paint rather than sprayed, so the paint comes up all the way to the top of his boots, with no overspray. Savage He-Man has the “dipped” boots. For further reading on that topic, see this article.
To me this seems like the most plausible source for the mysterious Savage He-Man. However, the offer doesn’t specify what figure will be given, and there is no known packaging associated with it, so we really can’t be certain.
Other possible theories as to how it was sold include a Nestle Quick/Masters of the Universe promotion, a Jell-O/Masters of the Universe Promotion, and a promotion at the Children’s Palace. So far none of these has been confirmed – all we have so far is speculation.
Perhaps a more interesting question is why the figure was produced in the first place. Why would Mattel have produced a brown-haired He-Man with darker-colored boots and loin cloth? As you can imagine there are many theories. The most popular and persistent theory to date has probably been the notion that He-Man was originally Conan the Barbarian, and he was given a different paint job at the last minute so Mattel could reuse him for He-Man. And indeed, Conan Properties International (CPI) thought the same thing, and sued Mattel over it in 1984. CPI lost that case, partly because they were laying claim to some generic attributes that could also apply to a dozen different heroes in the sword and sorcery genre.
But more than that, the timeline just doesn’t support the notion that He-Man was a repainted Conan figure. On April 24, 1981, there was an internal memo within Mattel urging negotiation for the Conan license. By May 5 a draft licensing agreement was secured, and by July 21 the agreement was finalized. From July 23 to September 21, 1981, Tony Guerrero worked on sculpting toys for the CPI license. However, in January of 1982, Mattel, realizing that the movie was going to the opposite of kid-friendly, requested the termination of the CPI license agreement, and by April 14, 1982 the termination was finalized.
Long before Conan was even a twinkle in Mattel’s eye, work was underway on the He-Man project. Ultimately He-Man originated decades earlier in Mark Taylor‘s childhood drawings, but the character started to see serious development at Mattel by late November of 1980. Furthermore, almost every single character for the first wave of Masters of the Universe had been designed before Mattel entered into its agreement with CPI. (Of course, He-Man was certainly influenced by Conan – there is no question about that.)
However, that does not rule out the possibility that Savage He-Man was an attempt to reuse the original He-Man mold to make Conan toys. Mattel would do that whenever possible to save tooling dollars (as they did when they reused previous Big Jim and Tarzan molds to make Battle Cat, Panthor, Zoar and Screeech). And, as Savage He-Man’s colors do seem to roughly match Conan’s, this seems like a fairly plausible theory on the surface.
Update: however, court filings indicate that Mattel’s actual plan was to sculpt a new head and reuse the taller Big Jim bodies for the Conan line (thanks to jzguitars for the tip):
CPI and Mattel consummated their deal on July 31. In the meantime, Mattel’s employees had continued work on a Conan doll. Mattel’s marketing department decided early in June that Mattel should attach the Conan heads to the torsos of Mattel’s “Big Jim,” a doll with less exaggerated muscles, and a body closer to that of the average weightlifter (though not, apparently, to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger, see Affidavit of Mimi Shapiro ¶¶ 7-9 (May 19, 1988)). Memorandum from Joe Morrison to Mark Ellis (June 3, 1981). Guerrero then worked on the Conan doll from July 23, 1981, to September 21.
Some people are of the opinion that the figure itself is a hoax. I don’t think that’s plausible. While fakes do exist, authentic versions of this figure have the look of a mass-produced toy. The loin cloth is molded (not painted) in a shade of brown plastic that doesn’t exist in any other Masters of the Universe figure. Most of them seem to have some fairly unique mold artifacts in that area as well (shared by some versions of Prince Adam). And finally, the figure has shown up in large figure lots where the seller doesn’t seem to be aware that the figure has any special value.
Skepticism is understandable. After all, Mattel has not found any records of this figure or its promotion, and no former employees to date seem to remember it (including Martin Arriola). Still, the physical evidence alone strongly suggests this is an authentic Mattel figure.
Authentic Savage He-Man figures seem to generally have the following characteristics in common (images courtesy of Arkangel):
Another theory is that Savage He-Man was just a way of getting rid of some extra test run He-Man figures that were produced in alternate colors.. And to be sure, there is a test shot example out there that is reminiscent of the Savage He-Man, although his loin cloth is molded in black rather than brown. However, test shot examples from the factory are generally produced in very small numbers, certainly not enough to account for the number of Savage He-Man figures we find in the vintage toy market.
A similar theory holds that this was perhaps an alternate color scheme for He-Man that Mattel was toying with but ultimately rejected. That’s certainly possible, although that color scheme doesn’t match either of the B-sheet designs that were done for He-Man, and it doesn’t match the colors on any of the known prototypes, or at least not the prototypes that would have been anywhere close to toy production.
Yet another theory is that Savage He-Man may have something to do with Buzz-Off. As I’ve discussed in an earlier article, Buzz-Off’s prototype actually had a brown-haired He-Man head, with a bee mask that would go over it. Of course the mock-up also had Zodac arms and legs, so this is by no means a slam dunk. For more on that, see this video by Alternative Mindz.
One of my favorite theories, advanced by mozartpc27, is that Savage He-Man was actually an early version of Prince Adam, made before Filmation finalized the purple, white and pink look. Despite being released in 1984, the trademark claim for Prince Adam was filed May 23, 1983, earlier than any other third wave figure. In fact, the claim was filed the same month as Faker.
Perhaps Adam was meant to be a late 1983 figure with brown hair, but development on the look of Prince Adam for the Filmation cartoon caused Mattel to scrap their plans, leaving them with a number of brown-haired Prince Adams to deal with. There are even early versions of Prince Adam with the same mold artifacts as Savage He-Man (hat tip to Tokyonever):
However, it should be noted that the earliest pre-Filmation comic book depiction of Prince Adam gives him brownish-tan boots (subsequent versions had blue and yellow boots or red boots), and blond hair. So if this was Prince Adam, it was a somewhat novel color scheme.
At the end of the day, we really don’t know which of these theories is right, or even if any of them are right. And, frustratingly, we may never know the truth.
If you’re interested in reading more about the topic, there is an epic, 2600-post thread spanning 14 years on the He-Man.org forums. Give it a read if you’ve got ten hours to spare.
Update: An intriguing video recently surfaced, shared by Hong Kong Kilnt. It’s a claymation sequence from a movie featuring Masters of the Universe characters, including what appears to be Savage He-Man.
You can watch the full movie here (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for the link).
Update 2: Manic Man (from the comments below) mentions that in the Japanese versions of Mattel’s Dino-Riders toyline, blue-eyed and blond-haired figures were often repainted with darker hair and eyes. So it’s also possible that Savage He-Man was recolored for the Asian market. Perhaps Mattel did a test run of He-Man in these alternate colors before abandoning the idea. It seems as reasonable a theory as any.
Former Masters of the Universe Classics brand manager Scott Neitlich adds some additional evidence from Mattel archives, indicating that Savage He-Man (or Special Edition He-Man, as it’s described in letters) did indeed come out in 1983, was offered through a buy-3-get-one-free offer, and that the coloring was intended to make the figure special, so kids didn’t get an exact duplicate of a figure they already had. In retrospect this seems like the simplest possible explanation.
The letters referenced in Scott’s video (copied from the video):