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 1983 that had (at the time) all new parts:
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.
Tomart’s Action Figure Digest #202 features one of several articles from the magazine dedicated to the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline. Almost all of the concept art in the article below comes from former Mattel designer Ted Mayer.
The author of the article (who is not named) gets the general thrust of the history of the toyline right for the most part, although there are several factual errors. For instance, the author identifies several variant He-Man and Skeletor designs made midway through the line as early concept versions of the original figures. They also conflate Ted Mayer’s green witch concept with Evil-Lyn (they’re unrelated) and seem to place Vulture Man before Screeech or Zoar (Vulture Man came after).
Still, it’s a fun article with lots of interesting concept art and prototypes. Selections from issues 89, 90 and 91 are available from both He-Man.org and Grayskull Museum (there is definitely some overlap between those articles and this one), but I’m not aware than anyone has shared scans from this particular issue before.
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.)
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.)