Heroic Warriors

MOTU Origins He-Man/Prince Adam Set (2019 SDCC Exclusive)

The 2019 San Diego Comic Con Mattel exclusive He-Man and Prince Adam two-pack took most Masters fans by complete surprise. After years of larger scale MOTU Classics figures with modernized proportions and articulation, Mattel was finally doing another line of vintage-inspired 5.5″ He-Man figures. Unlike the 2000 Commemorative Line, however, it was clear that Origins was to be updated with modern articulation, while keeping the overall vintage look.

Because the initial offering, in the form of a He-Man/Prince Adam two-pack, was done in the style of vintage minicomics, many fans (including myself) assumed that the new MOTU Origins line would plumb the “origins” of the MOTU franchise, which generally lie in the early concept figure designs that often showed up in minicomics (minicomics had to be illustrated ahead of production schedule, with artwork often based on prototype designs).

As it turns out, Origins will mainly be based on the vintage MOTU figures as they appeared in the toy aisles. The minicomic styling of this set will be the exception rather than the rule. I certainly hope that Mattel will find creative ways to get more minicomic style figures out to hardcore fans (perhaps in the form of a mini subscription, like the MOTU Classics model), even while the more well-known vintage toy designs appear on toy shelves in the fall of 2020. I would love to see minicomic/concept versions of Skeletor, Sorceress/Goddess, Mer-Man, Beast Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms and Stratos.

The SDCC exclusive set comes with the most richly-detailed and indulgent packing I’ve seen from Mattel. The set is collector friendly – the figures inside can be removed and replaced without damaging the packing in the least. I have to applaud this move from Mattel. Interestingly, the packaging includes credits for all the people who worked on the finished product:

Toy designer: Brandon Sopinsky • Packaging Designer: Roy Juarez • Packaging Engineer: Adam O’Connor • Copywriter: Robert Rudman • Comic Book Writer: Tim Seeley • Line Art: Axel Gimenez • Colorist: Val Staples • Background Painter: Nate Baertsch • Comic Book Letterer: Ed Dukeshire • Illustration Support: Joseph Zacate • Sculpt: Adam deFelice & Sean Olmos

The outer box for the set features He-Man’s harness (in the Alcala/minicomic/concept style, featuring red squares along both the front and back of the harness) over a Grayskull-green stone texture:

The inner box features a transparent cover that adds character and other art over the backgrounds featured on the box itself. All of the artwork is stunning. Below I will show the design of each side of the box, with and without the transparent cover:

The artwork is largely inspired by the first MOTU minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by the legendary Alfredo Alcala. There is also inspiration drawn from Alcala’s He-Man and the Insect People, and Battle Cat box art by Rudy Obrero. Those influences are more apparent in the included minicomic, written by Tim Seeley and featuring a retcon of the traditional “savage” origin story written by Don Glut that makes room for multiple He-Men as well as Adam as he appeared in early DC Comics (penciled by Curt Swan and George Tuska) and third wave Alcala comics.

Axel Giménez, who did much of the line art, often directly credits the Alcala influence in the artwork, although for the box cover that was removed from the final colored version:

The comic in the set is situated between two windows, featuring Prince Adam and He-Man:

Early photos released by Mattel show some slight differences compared to the final set. Originally the Adam of the set was to include his own boot knife, as well as a gold-painted handle on the Power sword. He-Man’s boot knife originally went all the way through the cuff of his boot, making the tip of the blade visible (as shown below):

The final figures of course have those peculiarities removed. Let’s take a closer look at He-Man. He comes with a vintage toy style head as well as a new minicomic style head. He also comes with three pairs of removable hands, an axe and a shield. In the photo below I show him with the vintage toy style head, compared with an original, first-release Taiwan He-Man from 1982:

MOTU Origins He-Man (left) vs vintage first release He-Man from 1982 (right)

Aside from the added articulation, He-Man of course features the two-tone boots, boot knife, symmetrical bracers, rounded shield, modified axe and modified harness that are all hallmarks of the character as he appeared in the minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword:

The minicomic design is based on a prototype of the figure, designed by Mark Taylor and sculpted by Tony Guerrero:

Source: Andy Youssi
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The alternative head is meant to represent the look that Alfredo Alcala gave him in the minicomics, with a shaggier hairstyle:

MOTU Origins He-Man compared to a vintage, first-release Taiwan Skeletor from 1982.
MOTU Origins He-Man riding a vintage, first-release striped tail Battle Cat
MOTU Origins He-Man on a vintage Battle Ram
Prototype He-Man and Battle Ram. Image source: Andy Youssi

He-Man’s sculpt is closely based on the vintage 1982 figure, albeit with a lot more articulation. The arms and chest in particular are very faithful to the original, although the legs are a bit softer in sculpt. Where the vintage version was rather miserly regarding paint applications, the Origins figure features painted bracers (symmetrical this time, based on the “punching rocks” scene shown earlier) and three colors on his boots. His boots are also slightly larger, which makes him a bit more steady on his feet.

He-Man’s added articulation allows for a great degree of posability. The additional removable hands are a nice touch as well.

He-Man’s head, arms, hands, torso and boots are all removable – a feature that will allow for some fun mix and match swapping down the line.

Prince Adam is a much bigger departure from the vintage 1984 figure. Like He-Man, he comes with two different heads and three sets of hands. He also comes with a power sword in the style of the version that appeared in the early Alfredo Alcala minicomics as well as the early DC Comics:

Vintage figure (left) vs 2019 release

Prince Adam first appeared in the 1982 DC story, From Eternia With Death! This version of Adam, however, is most closely based on the character as he appeared in To Tempt The Gods (pencils by George Tuska, inks by Alfredo Alcala) as well as He-Man and the Insect People (illustrated by Alfredo Alcala).

To Tempt The Gods
He-Man and the Insect People

Prince Adam’s cloth vest and elastic belt recall the 1984 figure, although of course the colors of his costume are quite different.

The plastic used on this set is the usual high quality material we’ve come to expect from Mattel. It’s actually fairly similar in feel to the material used in the vintage figure (aside from the heads, which in this release are hard plastic rather than soft, hollow polyvinyl. All of the joints work well, with no looseness or issues. The joints around the elbows and hips are, however, a bit inelegant. I have heard that issue will be addressed in future MOTU origins figures.

As the early minicomic source material is the MOTU canon I find most exciting, I was thrilled by this release. I just hope we’ll be able to complete a full cast of characters of early minicomic style variants in the MOTU Origins line.

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Artwork

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art – 1984

The artwork for this set comes from Axel Giménez and my own photos and scans. The worst quality images in this set are for Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Armor Skeletor – more’s the pity.

Update: Battle Armor He-Man has been updated with nicer artwork (minus the sword) courtesy of Axel!

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art:

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Heroic Warriors

King Randor – Heroic ruler of Eternia (1987)

King Randor, like the Sorceress, is a character that originates very early in the MOTU mythos, but who didn’t get an action figure until the tail-end of the toyline.

King Randor has his origins in the the November 1982 DC Comics story, “Fate is the Killer”. The king and queen aren’t given names, but as Prince Adam’s parents, these are clearly the precursors to the Randor and Marlena characters that would be fleshed out later. Randor is a generic looking stock medieval King character, old enough to have white hair, and perpetually disappointed in his irresponsible son, Prince Adam.

In the following issue, “To Tempt the Gods” (December 1982), the king appears again, still without a name. In this issue he’s quite disappointed, even disgusted with Adam – to the point of feeling like he’d prefer He-Man to be his heir rather than Adam.

The unnamed king appears in a single panel in the next issue, “The Key to Castle Grayskull” (January 1983).

07 - Copy
Image source: He-Man.org

Meanwhile, in the Masters of the Universe Bible, completed by Michael Halperin on December 1, 1982, Adam’s father became known as King Randor and is given a backstory, along with the queen, Marlena:

Marlena staggered to her feet and lurched to the captains chair. She called out to the others. No one answered and when she looked only the spacesuits remained mute, empty and wrinkled. Little time remained to brood as the shuttle shot into the Eternian Ionsphere glowing red, yellow and white. She nosed the craft up and bounced off the layer of air slowing the vehicle for a smoother re-entry. Marlena couldn’t spot any runways for the shuttle so she aimed the ship at the only clear spot she saw — a long meadow in a lush, green valley.  The space craft hit the ground, its landing gear crumpled on impact and it sank to its belly skidding, pitching and crashing to a wrenching stop.

Unconscious, Marlena couldn’t know the helping hands pulling her out of the wreckage and carrying her to the royal palace of the reigning king of Eternia, the young and handsome RANDOR.

For several days she slept in the palace and each day Randor sat by her bedside and waited for her to wake. All the royal physicians and wizards provided potions and spells in order to insure her well-being and soon color stirred in Marlena’s cheeks. On the seventh day her eyes fluttered open and the first sight she saw was Randor’s rugged, handsome face. A spark flew between them as he reached out his fingers to touch her hand and they both smiled.

Skeletor waved his staff and a charge of energy sprang forth rolling back a huge boulder from one wall uncovering a screen. A wave of his hand and a picture swam into view — a picture of Eternia then that of King Randor and Marlena. At the sight of the former captain, the trio snarled and clenched their fists – and it wasn’t lost on Skeletor.

King Randor made Marlena his queen and three years later she bore an heir to the throne of Eternia — a son, PRINCE ADAM. He was handsome and imbued with his mother’s spirit of adventure and his father’s courage. As a child he had the run of the palace playing tricks and practical joke on his teachers and the nobles of the court.

This backstory was created as a guide for both the Filmation cartoon and printed media. In print media, Randor was almost always very much in the background, but he would be further fleshed out in the Filmation cartoon (more on that later).

We get a bit of this backstory in “To Tempt the Gods”, where we learn that Marlena crash landed on Eternia from Earth. We also get a look at a younger King Randor:

King Randor pops up in a few different places prior to the advent of the animated series.

Masters of the Universe Audio Story (Kid Stuff, 1983)

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.

Castle Grayskull (Kid Stuff, 1983)

He-Man & Battle Cat (Kid Stuff, 1983)

The Power of Point Dread (1983)

In this story illustrated by Alfredo Alcala, the king (not mentioned by name here) has his DC comics look. There is no hint that Prince Adam exists in this story.

The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces (1983)

This version of Randor in the DC-produced second wave of minicomics follows the general look of the 1982 DC series, albeit this time with a purple robe:

The Menace of Trap Jaw (1983)

The Magic Stealer (1983)

King Randor was, at one point in his development, called King Miro – this is briefly mentioned in the Filmation Series Guide, and I believe he is also depicted visually. The series guide reflects earlier designs for almost all of its characters, and here Randor/Miro again looks much like he did in the DC comics. Thanks to Dušan M. for reminding me of the “Miro” name in the comments.

The name Miro is also used in the 1984 UK Annual, which tended to draw from much earlier source material. Thanks to Jukka Issakainen for pointing this out.

Filmation redesigned the character away quite dramatically. He’s depicted as being much younger, and wears a blue jacket over a red tunic, with orange tights and blue slippers.

Randor was a frequent character on the show, occasionally playing a lead role in stories like “The Rainbow Warrior” and “Prince Adam No More”.

Randor’s look in the post-Filmation minicomics is all over the place. Sometimes he follows the DC look, sometimes he has something like the Filmation look, and in the case of the Leech and Mantenna minicomics, bizarrely, he has pink hair:

The Golden Book stories tend to give Randor several unique looks, only occasionally referencing existing, established designs for the character:

The action figure, released in 1987 (initially through a buy-three, get-one-free mail-away offer, possibly as early as 1986), looks like a kitbashed version of the cartoon character, sticking to the Filmation colors but otherwise grabbing whatever parts were handy to make a passable King Randor. He uses the basic He-Man body, but with Jitsu’s armor, the Castle Grayskull spear in gold. The only new parts are his head, crown and cape. Jitsu’s armor was made to fit over a slightly flatter chest, so King Randor’s armor had to be warped outward to work with the He-Man buck. The figure was designed by David Wolfram.

There are a couple of early models or prototypes of Randor. This one (from a French MOTU catalog) looks hand-painted, but otherwise looks just like the final toy, albeit with much brighter, shinier gold paint:

Another version appeared in the US Mattel dealer catalog. It looks like a factory piece, except his armor is painted just like the original Jitsu armor. Perhaps this was an early factory sample, where they had mistakenly used the original paint mask on the armor instead of the revised version for Randor. Or, his armor could have gotten lost somehow, and Jitsu’s armor was used as a quick replacement for the photo:

The cross sell artwork for King Randor is closely based on the final toy, although the work itself is a bit rough in places:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen. Artwork by Bruce Timm.

Despite Randor’s release being somewhat low effort, this is actually my favorite look for the character. He looks much more battle ready than either the DC or Filmation designs, and in a place like Eternia, it makes sense to have a king who can kick butt when needed.

Once the look of the toy had been established, the minicomics that followed started adhering to the Mattel design, except he was given a gray beard/hair.

The Search for Keldor

In this story, it is hinted that Skeletor (aka Keldor) is actually King Randor’s long-lost brother, although Randor himself does not know that Keldor is now Skeletor.

Revenge of the Snake Men!

Enter: Buzz-saw Hordak!

King Randor appears in a few posters by Earl Norem and William George:

King Randor also appeared in the Star Comics, which followed Mattel’s design for the character (thanks to Øyvind M. for pointing this out):

However, in the Commodore 64 Masters of the Universe game, the DC design was used:

King Randor’s long, slow evolution makes him a little more interesting to research than many other, more prominent characters in Masters of the Universe.  As a kid, I think I was dimly aware that a King Randor figure had been made, but I never saw one in person.  Nevertheless, his reuse of parts actually makes him seem instantly familiar now.

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Resource

Parts Reuse in MOTU, Part Three: 1984

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 1984 that had (at the time) all new parts:

Orko

Stridor

Road Ripper

Dragon Walker

Roton

These toys from 1984 reused some existing parts:

Battle Armor He-Man

Prince Adam

Mekaneck

Buzz-Off

Fisto

Battle Armor Skeletor

Whiplash

Clawful

Webstor

Kobra Khan

Jitsu

Snake Mountain

Weapons Pak

Parts Reuse series:

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