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:
I remember getting the Road Ripper as a present when it came out in 1984. I want to say I got it at the same time as the Dragon Walker. It didn’t blow me away like the Dragon Walker did, but it was a memorable vehicle and I sent it speeding across the kitchen floor on many Saturday mornings.
The Road Ripper seems to have been the brainchild of Mattel designer Roger Sweet. I believe that an early working name for the vehicle was the Tri-Trak. As described in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, the Tri-Trak was “a three-wheeled motorcycle which He Man uses whenever he needs a fast ground transport. Tri-Trak travels most of the places the Attack Trak goes only much faster. The motorcycle bears two very deadly photon machine guns.”
An early version of the vehicle had a much smaller figurehead on the front of the vehicle, a couple of small fins on the back, and control handles for He-Man to hold on to. This early concept was colored red rather than green, and had a comparatively narrow front end.
A subsequent revision to the design was much closer to the final toy, with its enlarged figurehead and green color scheme. It was more highly detailed than the final toy, with additional orange and yellow triangular patterns and green mechanical details, but otherwise it’s very familiar to anyone who owned the production vehicle.
A somewhat similar concept was illustrated by Ted Mayer on September 29, 1983. It has the twin guns mentioned in the description of the Tri-Trak, although it seems to have four wheels, not three. It would have used a launcher base as a means of propulsion, with a similar ripcord feature. However, given that the Road Ripper was trademarked on August 22, 1983, this may have been a related idea and not a version of the Road Ripper itself.
According to the Power and the Honor Foundation catalog, Roger Sweet got the idea for the Road Ripper from the Evel Knievel Super Stunt Cycle.
The final toy has a rubber seat belt (similar to the ones used in the Attak Trak and Dragon Walker), rather than the clip featured in the concept artwork. The sculpt work is well-executed, and it’s augmented by a number of brightly colored stickers. It came with a long red ripcord, that, when pulled through the back of the vehicle, set a heavy rubber wheel hidden underneath the vehicle in motion, propelling the whole thing forward.
The cross sell art closely mirrors the toy, but it lacks some detail in on the back area of the vehicle:
The Road Ripper was sold individually and in a gift set with Battle Armor He-Man. The artwork on the front of both boxes was done by William George. They both have a sense of speed to them, and feature the artist’s usual desolate landscapes and fearsome little creatures:
Artwork for individual Road Ripper packaging, by William George
Road Ripper line art, by William George. Image via He-Man.org
Artwork for Battle Armor He-Man/Road Ripper gift set, by William George.
Gift set line art by William George. image via He-man.org
William George also illustrated the Road Ripper in this 1984 MOTU poster:
Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys produced a version of the Road Ripper in blue, although they retained the artwork on the packaging that depicted it in green:
Errol McCarthy illustrated the Road Ripper for a T-Shirt design:
The vehicle makes a two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in “The Time Wheel” (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out) and “The Energy Beast.” It doesn’t last long in the the latter story, as Orko starts up the vehicle and quickly crashes it, destroying it. Man-At-Arms remarks that he had spent six months working on it.
It also makes a single appearance in the mini comics. It shows up in a single panel in Temple of Darkness, illustrated by Larry Houston.
An off-model red version of Road Ripper shows up in Issue 71 of the UK MOTU magazine, which in turn originates from Ehapa MOTU issue 7 (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out):
Image via He-Man.org
It also appears in the first issue of the US MOTU magazine, in the short comic story, Maddening of the Monstones. He-Man uses it as his primary means of transportation:
The Road Ripper never had the kind of permanence and ubiquitousness that other vehicles like the Wind Raider and Battle Ram had, but it was a fun little racer and I think it fit in well with the other Masters of the Universe vehicles. Surprisingly, Tonka even made a Road Ripper-themed crossover tricycle. I suppose that makes sense given the fact that the Road Ripper also has three wheels, but it’s an interesting choice given the general lack of exposure of the vehicle otherwise.
Image source: Matt Butcher
The general formula for MOTU vehicles really seems to be angular, Star Wars vehicle-like bodies, combined big engines and animalistic figureheads at the front, which is as good a description as any for the Road Ripper. In fact, it reminds me in many ways of the Battle Ram, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Battle Ram were a major source of inspiration.
One of the defining characteristics of the packaging artwork of William George is the inclusion of small dinosaur or dragon-like creatures in the background and foreground of the illustration. They add a dimension to the illustration that goes beyond simply demonstrating the product – there is also some world-building going on. The Eternia of William George is a hostile, dangerous and often desolate place, where threats come in all sizes.
I’ll only be focusing on creatures that William George invented for his paintings, not creatures that were part of the products for sale.
Battle Armor He-Man and Road Ripper (1984)
A pint-sized dinosaur and sea serpent.
Dragon Walker (1984)
A miniature pterodactyl
Road Ripper (1984)
Image cleaned up by RetroistA lizard.A tree-climbing demon.A flying bird, with encampment in background.
A diminutive dragon.
Land Shark (1985)
A wicked-looking little dragon.
Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor
Part vulture, part pterodactyl.
Laser Bolt (1986)
A tiny, beaked dinosaur.
Scubattack Power Gear (1987)
Image courtesy of Axel Giménez
A vicious-looking eel.
An ordinary horse, frightened by the stampeding Megator.
Update: Axel Giménez pointed out to me that there is another William George creature, outside of the box art. In his Bashasaurus poster, he includes one of his familiar little creatures on the rocks near Dragon Blaster Skeletor. It looks a bit like the creature in the Land Shark box art:
Image source: Jukka IssakainenA diminutive dragon.
One of the best things about getting new He-Man toys as a kid was the box art. The toys were of course amazing and fun, but personally I spent almost as much time staring at the boxes as playing with the toys. I remember being pretty heartbroken when my mother made me throw away my Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram boxes. She saw them as clutter, but for me they were almost stories in and of themselves. You could see whole adventures unfolding in a single painted scene.
Unfortunately, good photographs or scans of the original art are not available for every piece. If you happen to have a nicer images than I do (higher resolution, better composition, etc), please do feel free to share, and I’ll make an update! For pictures of the packaging itself, a neutral (white or black) background is preferred. High resolution scans of the artwork, where it appears without logos, would be ideal. Bottom line – if you have better images than I do, please share them!
One final note: I’m defining box art as the front-facing painted artwork that appeared on boxed Masters of the Universe toys. The illustrations on blister card packaging, then, are outside the scope of this series.
Part Three: 1984
Name: Battle Armor He-Man and Battle Cat Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Cat and Battle Armor He-Man leap through the air into battle.
Name: Battle Armor He-Man and Road Ripper Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man races over the rocky desert floor in the Road Ripper, as small dragon-like creatures look on. A volcano erupts in the background.
Name: Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor race up the rocky path toward Castle Grayskull, which is guarded by Battle Armor He-Man and Man-At-Arms.
Name: Battle Armor Skeletor and Screeech Year: 1984 Artist: Unknown Description: Screeech takes flight from the perch of Battle Armor Skeletor’s arm. Molten lava erupts from a nearby volcano and the skies are choked with black smoke. Image repair courtesy of Retroist.
Name: Battle For Eternia (2) Year: 1984 Artist: William Garland Description: Panthor swipes his claws at Man-E-Faces, as Man-E-Faces takes aim with his blaster at Skeletor, who is riding atop the savage cat. Twin moons hang in the smokey sky. (Note: this set has the same artwork as the version released in 1983, but includes Battle Armor Skeletor in place of Skeletor.)
Image courtesy of Tokyonever
Name: Dragon Walker Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man pilots the Dragon Walker over rocky, volcanic terrain. Beast Man and Tri-Klops are ready to attack but seem unsure how to proceed. In the foreground, a small pterodactyl-like creature seems ready to take flight.
Name: Fisto & Stridor Year: 1984 Artist: William Garland* Description: Fisto spots Skeletor and Whiplash as he rides Stridor through a perilous landscape, lit by twin alien moons. A menacing wolf-like creature lurks in the foreground. (*Artist name not confirmed for this particular piece, but the art seems to match the style of the Panthor illustrations.)
Name: Road Ripper Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: He-Man races over the rocky desert floor in the Road Ripper.
Name: Roton Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Skeletor tears through a grassy field in the Roton. A horned lizard and demon-like creature look on near a muddy pool of water. A huge, Jupiter-like planet and its orbiting moon dominate the night sky. A group of shadowy figures stand around a campfire in the distance.
Name: Snake Mountain Year: 1984 Artist: William George Description: Battle Armor He-Man takes aim with his axe at Battle Armor Skeletor, who stands at the high gate of Snake Mountain. Man-At-Arms is chained to the side of the evil fortress.
Name: Stridor Year: 1984 Artist: William Garland* Description: He-Man rides Stridor across the desert at night, his sword ready for battle. (*Artist name not confirmed for this particular piece, but the art seems to match the style of the Panthor illustrations.)