Announced in 2017, Super7’s vintage style, 5.5″ Filmation inspired Skeletor figure was released in 2018 along with similar versions of He-Man, She-Ra and Hordak. The design ethos seems to be based on the following premise: what if, in the 1980s, Mattel released a series of He-Man variant figures that were “as seen on TV”? That’s pretty much exactly what we get with this series, including the occasional design shortcuts that Mattel might plausibly have implemented in the 80s.
Design & Development
Within the packaging for Skeletor we get a brief write-up of the history of how Skeletor’s design was translated from toy to cartoon:
In the above sheet (put together by The Power and The Honor Foundation), we see the vintage Skeletor figure, along with a work in progress and a finalized version of Skeletor’s animated design. His animated appearance in an early Castle Grayskull commercial is also referenced, although an image isn’t included, likely because most images of Skeletor in the commercial are close-ups.
In Skeletor’s first animated appearance (a commercial animated by Filmation Studios to help advertise the toyline), Skeletor more or less follows the design of the action figure, including the highly detailed costume, monster feet, and red eyes. The only liberty taken is with his face, which doesn’t feature the green paint applications of the action feature. The commercial can be viewed in its entirety here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BpmvudrnPlj/
As shown in the card that came with the Super7 Skeletor figure, Skeletor’s more detailed action figure design was simplified for ease of animation once the animated series was greenlit for development. The evolving and finalized designs can also be seen in the images below. He also has a more realistic hood design compared to the vintage action figure, and an angrier-looking face.
In some ways these changes brought him a bit closer to Mark Taylor‘s original design, which also featured a larger hood and relatively human-looking feet
In fact, material from the Series Guide shows an intermediate Skeletor design that is partway between Mark Taylor’s original concept and the Filmation version:
The prototype Skeletor figure was revealed in February of 2017 at New York Toy Fair. It’s pretty close to the mass produced figure, although his colors are a bit different, with paler blue skin, a more vivid yellow skull, and black fingernails:
Design-wise, the sculpt of the chest and pelvis seem to be taken directly from the vintage 1982 figure. The arms are based on the vintage figure as well, but the “fin” structures on the forearms have been removed. The feet have been changed, removing the three-toed feet and substituting the streamlined boots from the cartoon.
The production figure, as is always the case, isn’t quite as sharp as the prototype. It’s pretty closely based on the Filmation source material, but of course with the bulky proportions of the vintage toy.
The figure comes with a pretty Filmation-accurate Havoc Staff, with the exception of the color, which came out more pink than light purple. Skeletor also includes a purple version of the He-Man’s cartoon style Power Sword (not a weapon Skeletor used in the cartoon, but a nod to the vintage figure), as well as a half Power Sword that fits together with the 2018 Super7 He-Man figure. The Swords are pretty closely based on the animated design, but also feature a hand guard, which Mattel tended to use on almost all of its swords in the vintage line.
Out of the packaging the armor tends to ride a little low, and it’s fairly stiff plastic, making it difficult to adjust. However, 10 seconds with a hair dryer makes it temporarily rubbery and pliable, which allowed me to adjust the armor to sit correctly, as shown in my example above.
Compared to the vintage figure, the 2018 version is certainly less detailed, but the face actually looks a bit more evil. The new version has a hard head as opposed to the soft, hollow polyvinyl of the original. The Filmation-inspired Skeletor’s blue skin is also quite vivid compared to the pale blue of the original.
The design of the packaging was directed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. The main carded version (which was actually released second) is based on the original 1980s design, with an “AS SEEN ON TV” burst which, although not featured on vintage MOTU packaging, was pretty commercially ubiquitous at one point. The shape of the bubble on the front has been altered compared to the vintage packaging.
The main artwork on the back was done by Errol McCarthy, who worked on cardback art for most of the vintage MOTU figures. The cross sell artwork and the insert were illustrated by Emiliano Santalucia:
The first version to be released was actually a two pack, in the style of some of the vintage figure gift sets. This set was released in limited numbers.
Another limited release of the figure came in the form of a “Los Amos” package, based on the design of vintage “Los Amos” (Mexico) figures:
Wouldn’t you know it, in my second and “final” Super7 Wish List, there was one more thing I neglected to mention. One of my biggest wants in fact. I’d really love to see 5.75″ scale figures based off the vintage cross sell art. I did cover a few of these, where they happened to coincide with early prototype designs. But there are a few more cross sell-based designs I’d like to see.
The 7″ Masters of the Universe Classics line drew heavily from this well, and it would be great to see the same thing in vintage-style figures, particularly for the following characters:
Because Masters of the Universe figures were produced over many years in a number of different countries, there is no shortage of production variants, some subtly different and some radically different from the norm. In my own collecting, I’ve always gravitated toward the earliest figures released in the US, particularly for the first wave of figures. They tend to have the nicest paint and plastic applications, in my opinion. All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the US. A common term for the very earliest figures in the line is “test market figures”, although the term isn’t usually used for the vehicles or Castle Grayskull.
Much assistance for this article was given by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. The research of Mantisaur82 and Tokyonever has also been invaluable.
The early Taiwan figures tend to have the sharpest detail and the finest paint applications compared to later reissues. Subsequent releases tend to cut down on the paint applications and sometimes on the sculpted detail. The earliest figures tend to have boots that are painted on using spray paint and a paint mask, which sometimes shows up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures seem to use a dipping method. Since this seems to apply to all the early figures (or at least those with painted boots), I won’t mention this when I talk about each individual figure.
The very first versions of He-Man tend to have a certain coloring – dark orange belt (later versions could range from light orange to mustard yellow to coral), brick-red boots and loin cloth, and dark gray accessories. He has a belly button, which was eventually removed from the mold starting in 1983 (although some 1983 figures seem to still have it). Some of the early accessories seem to be slightly blue-tinged. The straps on the back of his harness have short tabs on them – they were lengthened in subsequent releases to make it easier for children to hold when putting the armor on.
Early versions seem to have a tighter fitting latch in back as well, and intense yellow hair. It’s very common to see the boots not painted all the way up to the top in these early figures. If they are painted all the way to the top, there is usually some uneven overspray in some areas regardless. Later figures have the boot color applied by dipping the legs in paint.
Update: I’ve added some more detailed observations about the earliest Taiwan He-Man figures. The differences I’m noting immediately below are not from year to year, but within the first year of production of He-Man figures (1981, sold beginning early in 1982):
Hair: the early figures’ hair seems to be intense yellow, almost orange tinged. Slightly later in year the hair starts to be a lighter yellow color. I’ve found two main types of paint used – a glossy textured kind of paint, and a non-textured paint that seems almost like a dye.
Belt: the earliest ones are dark orange. The color is a bit lighter as you get later in the year, for instance on carded 8-back He-Man figures that have the warranty information added.
Belly Button: the earliest ones (sold on 8 backs without warranty) are a bit uneven looking. By the time you get to the 8-backs with warranty, the belly button looks anatomically correct.
Waist Punch Feature: the earliest versions have a stopper, so when you twist the waist, it swings back to punch, but stops in the middle. A bit later in the year that stopper was removed, so the punch action doesn’t stop quite in the middle, but keeps moving a bit beyond that. This is also evident in early Skeletor figures, as well as all other first release first wave figures.
Sword: the early ones seem to be marked 4 or 9. The earlier numbered swords tend to be a darker blue/gray color, although you can look at many examples and few will be the exact same shade.
Axe: the early ones are marked 2 or 7. The earlier numbered axes tend to be a darker blue/gray color, although you can look at many examples and none will be the exact same shade.
Harness: the early ones are marked 5 or 10. The 5s I’ve seen seem to be a dark gray/blue, with small oval tab on the latch in back. The 10s seem to have more of a almost multi-hue gray plastic, slightly brighter red paint, and a slightly elongated tab on the back. Both have short straps, and both seem to appear very early, although the 10s seem to persist later in the year. 15s look very similar to 10s and come later still.
I should say that I believe sometimes accessories with the markings outlined above did persist later than early 1982. In general, however, the trend seems to be for the numbers to go higher with time. I’ve seen numbers as high as 33 on later figures.
Shield: Early ones are marked Taiwan. The tabs on the back should be more or less intact. Slightly melted at the top, but not completely melted to the back of the shield, as happened later in production. The exact shade of gray varies quite a bit.
Here are some examples of four early He-Man figures. The two figures on the left are the earliest, although I couldn’t say which came first. The figure second from the right came later in the year (it lacks the stopper in the waist punch feature), and the one on the far right came later still.
And here are my two earliest Taiwan He-Man examples (below, and above on the left). Both have harnesses marked 5. The one on the left has some overspray on the chest emblem, which isn’t too uncommon. The one on the left also has weapons with the earlier number markings, and they are slightly darker gray/blue.
Here is an example (below) of a very early carded Taiwan He-Man, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back. This is often referred to as the “test market” card. This example of He-Man has boots painted closer up to the top and the darker blue/gray harness and shiny hair paint, similar to the loose example (above, on the right)
After 1982, the first substantive change to Taiwan He-Man figures was the lengthening of the straps, as shown in this comparison image:
The second substantive change to Taiwan He-Man figures was the removal of the “belly button”, as shown here:
The first Taiwan Skeletor is unique in the following ways:
Orange marks on his “cheeks”
Light blue paint in his eye sockets
Short straps on the back of his armor
The subsequent Taiwan release omits the orange cheeks. The next version after that has black shorts, and the version after that gives him fully-painted boots. Later still, he loses the light blue paint in his eye sockets. There are “mix and match” versions out there too, with odd combinations of these features. Perhaps this was from the factory mixing older leftover parts with newer parts. Later versions also omit the “belly button.”
The early Skeletor’s staff is marked Taiwan, and his sword is also marked simply as Taiwan (later versions of the sword add some code numbers on the underside as well). This early example has rather brittle accessories, so I won’t remove them to discover what codes are under his chest armor and belt.
Here is an example of a very early carded Taiwan Skeletor, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back.
The images below show the evolution of the face paint on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:
The images below show the evolution of the boots on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:
The images below show the evolution of the straps on the Taiwan figures, again in chronological order from top to bottom:
And finally, the images below show the evolution of the trunks and belt on the Taiwan figures, in chronological order from top to bottom:
There are at least three distinct very early Taiwan Battle Cats.
V1: Striped Tail Battle Cat
Only a handful of examples of this ultra-rare variant are known to exist. This version matches the color scheme of the original hand-painted prototype. Distinguishing characteristics include:
Orange around the mouth
Teeth painted white front and back
Stripes crisscross over part line on back
Longer, rough-looking stripes on the left shoulder
You can spot this variant in early catalog pictures of MOTU figures. The orange lines on this cat match the black lines on the original Big Jim Tiger the figure is based on. It also has finely textured fur (difficult to see unless it’s in hand), again like the Big Jim Tiger.
The next Taiwan releases omitted the red dots, and have longer straps at the back of the armor. Later Taiwan releases feature a gray belt and much darker colors all around, and a helmet that is somewhat teal-colored.
Early Taiwan Beast Man figures aren’t dramatically different from later versions. The most obvious differences are that the first versions have white dots in the eyes, light blue face paint, even and circular blue paint on the front of the armor, and a short strap around the back of the armor.
Some early figures, in fact, seem to have bright white dots in the eyes, that are a shade lighter than the rest of the face paint:
However, here is an example of a very early carded Taiwan Beast Man, which can be recognized by the lack of warranty and lack of SKU/character subtitles on the back. It does not appear to have the dots in the eyes, and this isn’t the only example I’ve seen. It’s possible that Beast Man started out without the dots (perhaps by mistake), then dots were added early on, and removed again in later versions. Or perhaps this is like Blue Beard Stratos, where one can find both the Blue Beard and corrected versions both on the early test market cards.
Covered in part two: Stratos, Mer-Man, Teela, Zodac, Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider.
I thought it might be useful to put all the cross sell artwork together for easy reference. I’m busy working on some long-term projects at the moment, so my free time is at a premium. But, this is something I can put out that is relatively quick and painless.
Images come from Axel Giménez, Tokyonever, Jukka Issakainen, He-Man.org, and my own scans and pictures. I’ve got nice images for all of the 1982 cross sell art, but unfortunately the quality of what I have will vary for other pieces. I should note that as far as is known, all of the standard cross sell artwork that appears on MOTU packaging was illustrated by William George.