Special thanks to Jukka Issakainen for adding a few observations to this article.
This is probably another one of those esoteric micro topics that only I am actually interested in exploring. But it is something that’s been rolling around in the back of my head for years, so I’m finally going to write about it. To those few obsessives who have the same ailment as me, join me, won’t you?
The origin of this topic starts with the cardback images on the packaging of the vintage Masters of the Universe figures. The backs of the 1982 figure cards showed the eight figures available that year, rendered in beautiful detail that in many cases exceeded the detail of the figures themselves. Most of these images were based on evolving concept art and prototypes for the figures.
Skeletor, Mer-Man and Zodac all feature what look like “double glove” forearms – as if the figures were wearing two sets of superhero gloves, with the edges of the gloves flaring out near the elbow. Only on Mer-Man were these features painted as gloves. On Skeletor the design looks somewhat altered to give it a more anatomical look, as if it’s part of his flesh. On Zodac, the design looks a bit more clearly like gloves, just unpainted. Also note that He-Man is shown with unpainted, flesh-colored wrist bracers, just like the actual figure.
As an aside: one of the things I love about the 2008 MOTU Classics line is that they released Skeletor and Zodac with the “double glove” forearms, with no attempt to add scales or anatomical irregularities, and left them unpainted. I love the boldness and audacity of saying, yes, look at these arms. They look like gloves, but they aren’t. This is just how Skeletor and Zodac look, and you have to accept that. Their anatomy is so alien that they have these clean lines that go out to points. Embrace the weirdness. We’re following the source material wherever it leads us.
On the vintage figures, this “double glove” look wasn’t actually used – instead the arms were sculpted with a single gloved look that also featured some subtle scales. This made them a bit more ambiguous – they could be anatomical or they could be gloves, depending on if they were painted over or not.
However, it was the cross sell art that was often used as the reference for many comic and storybook illustrators (especially in the first years of the line), and it’s interesting to see how they interpret Skeletor and Zodac’s forearms, as gloves, as anatomy, or just plain ambiguously. Discerning which was the intent is sometimes clear, sometimes not. So without any further ado, let’s begin!
Fate is the Killer (August 26, 1982)
In DC Comics’ Fate is the Killer, both Skeletor and Zodac are seen to be wearing gloves. The colorist even goes so far as to add shading not present in the source material. But even without the shading, the presence of lines all the way across the forearms reads as gloves.
The Key to Castle Grayskull (October 14, 1982)
In the follow-up story, The Key To Castle Grayskull, the lines across the forearms still suggest gloves, although the additional coloring is dropped, perhaps based on feedback from Mattel:
Within These Walls Armageddon (November 11, 1982)
In the final story in this DC series, we get the clearest depiction yet of these characters wearing flesh-colored gloves (single rather than double gloves here):
DC Minicomics, 1983
Moving onto the 1983 series of DC-produced minicomics (all illustrated by Mark Texeira), we see Skeletor again wearing gloves in most instances (Zodac makes no appearances until the larger Point Dread comic book that came with a record):
He-Man Meets Ram Man
The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces
The Terror of Tri-Klops
The Menace of Trap Jaw
The Tale of Teela
The cover of this comic gives Skeletor ambiguous or anatomical fins, but in the story they are drawn like gloves:
The Magic Stealer
The cover of this comic gives Skeletor ambiguous or anatomical fins, but in the story they are drawn like gloves:
The Power of… Point Dread
This comic seems somewhat more ambiguous for some reason, even though we do usually get a full line across the forearm where the gloves would terminate. But they do seem a bit more fin-like here than in previous minicomics.
The Power of Point Dread
In the Alfredo Alcala-illustrated Power of Point Dread, Skeletor lacks the cross sell art style arms (as is the case in every minicomic illustration done by Alcala), but Zodac has them. In one panel they are clearly gloves, but in another they are gone altogether:
The other minicomics tend not to reference the cross sell art look. In fact, as the series went on, the animated look for Skeletor tends to dominate, while Zodac doesn’t appear at all. Temple of Darknessdoes depict Skeletor with dark purple gloves, but it’s not drawing from the cross sell art look, but instead mixes the concept art look with the animated cartoon look.
However, the Golden series of books draws upon the cross sell art very frequently, so I’ll cover those as well:
Caverns of Fear
In this story I’d say the Skeletor on the cover (by Gino D’Achille), has ambiguous arm fins while the version inside the pages (illustrated by Al McWilliams) is clearly wearing gloves. In both cases the artists are drawing from the cross sell artwork, but they both color the character’s feet like the vintage toy.
Thief of Castle Grayskull
In this tale, illustrated by Fred Carrillo, Skeletor seems to actually be wearing flesh tone bracers – his hands read as bare to me.
The Sword of Skeletor
On the cover (D’Achille) Skeletor’s arm fins seem to clearly be a part of his anatomy, although they look strangely like gills here:
Skeletor’s appearances inside the story (again illustrated by Fred Carrillo) usually look like bracers again, although in one panel they are colored like gloves:
Zodac also appears in this story, and it looks to me like he has flesh tone gloves or bracers:
The cover of The Trap gives Skeletor smooth forearms, with no gloves or strange anatomy. However, in the internal story (illustrated by Dan Spiegle) features a Skeletor with clearly anatomical forearm fins:
The later Golden stories don’t always draw from the cross sell art, but the conceit of flesh-colored gloves or other costume elements pops up randomly across the various books:
In a couple of cases, Webstor is given the flesh colored gloves, despite him not having that design in his own cross sell art. Mer-Man in one case is drawn using the lines from his cross sell art, but the coloring from his toy, giving him flesh-colored double gloves as well:
The Magic Mirror
In The Magic Mirror, Skeletor has the forearm fins in both his regular costume (cover by Earl Norem) and in his Battle Armor costume (illustrated by Fred Carrillo). The Battle Armor Skeletor cross sell art didn’t feature that design either. In both cases, the illustrator makes these look like metallic bracers.
Years later of course Skeletor would stop messing around with ambiguous-looking gloves and get serious about handwear:
I hope you enjoyed this rather weird journey. Until next time!
Post script: it occurs to me that some might wonder what the designer of Skeletor actually intended? From a 2006 Q&A with Matt Joswiak and Mark Taylor:
Matt J: Are the ridges on the toy’s forearms meant to represent gloves?
MarkT: No, they are part of his unnatural sub structure showing through his hide.
We don’t actually know who illustrated the cross sell artwork for the first wave of figures, but the “double glove” look may have been influenced by the original Skeletor B-sheet, which had drooping, rotting flesh on the forearms, in a similar shape to gloves:
However, Zodac’s B-sheet doesn’t have the double glove look – his design was based on Mark’s knowledge of the existing sculpted parts for the line, so the double glove look must have come from the anonymous cross sell art artist:
DISCLAIMER: This article is a collection of information from various interviews (both text and audio), documentaries and panel appearances of Mark Taylor. Many of his statements have been somewhat or entirely paraphrased for brevity and format, but the content and ideas come from Mark’s own ideas and public statements. The sources for these statements are given at the end of this article.
For many years, fans of Masters of the Universe would look up to their minicomics, VHS-tapes or books to delight in the stories of He-Man, Skeletor and vast array of colorful characters.
Early on there were many inconsistencies between various stories, from the minicomics to DC Comics stories to the Filmation Animated Series. All of these variations can be considered in many cases different canons (much to the delight of fans when they had the ability to pick and choose their favorite elements, or frustration in some cases where folks hoped to have only a single, core version). Because of so many of these varying depictions of the characters and the world, Dark Horse even made a very thorough book, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Character Guide and World Compendium (2017) entailing these respective canons, and a follow-up He–Man and the Masters of the Universe Character Guide and World Compendium – Supplemental Guide (2021).
But there is one more version that hasn’t gotten all that much attention. The ideas and narrative by the late great Mark Taylor.
“Taylorverse”… “Taylorvision”… call it what you want. When working at Mattel on He-Man, Mark Taylor created a unique version for the characters and the world that later went on to have drastically different incarnations through comics, books and animation.
No official release-date was announced, and it’s unclear how how close it was to being finished or if it will ever be released.
Cover art by Ken Coleman.
According to a panel during Power-Con (2018) by Mark Taylor, it was to divulge more information about who is He-Man’s father and much, much more. We don’t know if that will ever see publication, sadly. What we have tried to do in absence of that is to collect of the information we have gleaned from Mark’s various interviews over the years. We have divided this information up by subject, starting with Castle Grayskull.
Castle Grayskull was not built as such, but grown mystically by unknown beings many eons before humans existed. Originally Castle Grayskull was a giant that sunk into the ground. It is the head of the giant that is partially visible and some parts on the head that were his “armor.” It’s always possible that this giant could come back to life someday!
Some ancient civilization realized that the skull was a place of power, so they built the castle around it.
Just being near the Castle can sap life force. Entering the Castle has the potential to enhance your power, but it is also draining to the soul. For that reason, those who would wish to exploit the Castle’s power should not take up long-term residency there. Distance helps for relief and recuperation. Extended habitation causes personality changes and can be very dangerous to those around the affected individual.
There is nothing typical about Castle Grayskull. At first glance its interior and exterior look vaguely like a medieval castle, but this fortress bridges time and space. Castle Grayskull as a surface entity can only house approximately 50 people, but always on a temporary basis. There is a large courtyard where the various mounts and vehicles of visitors are stowed.
The façade is 19 feet high and the dome is 45 feet high. The Jaw Bridge is 17 feet high by seven feet wide, the windows three feet by seven, and the tower is 42 feet high. The towers are defensive positions, and the watch towers and the turrets are for mounting anti-air attack weapons. The dome generates mystical power and the Jaw Bridge is activated by voice (opening the gate requires a specific command as well as the Power Sword).
Castle Grayskull is the thing that all of the characters fight over. Because of its location it would have to be invaded by boat. It’s a symbol of power, and it was similar to the Oracle of Delphi – you could get all kinds of power and knowledge from within. A lot of the stickers and paper elements inside were really symbols of the kinds of power you could get from Castle Grayskull. One of the eternal symbols of mysticism in human history been the skull.
GRAYSKULL’S SURROUNDING FETID LAKE/MOAT
Castle Grayskull is located in the center of a moat that is toxic to most living creatures. There are living inhabitants of the moat, which are both strange and dangerous.
The Castle itself has seven floors beneath the level of the moat. As you descend each level, reality, time and space become more and more distorted.
Inside Grayskull is a Space Suit and other weapons and armory. These were left by a technologically-advanced race who came to the land in flying saucers. These beings had mysteriously left long, long ago. So Grayskull was a dead place with nobody living inside it or “guardian” for it either. There was always the possibility that these beings could return someday.
A secret code is required to get the elevator inside the castle to take you down to the levels under the castle. Each successive level brings more power and also more danger.
There are physical and magical traps hidden throughout the castle. The trap door leads to the first level basement. It also conceals clues to the secret password for the elevator.
Grayskull extends into the space/time continuum in the lake bedrock. The levels below the weapons storage room start with all the weapons that exist within one century each way from the present, the floor below that within five centuries each way, and so on.
[Mark thought that Castle Grayskull could eventually be expanded by adding playsets associated with other figures, such as a water playset for Mer-Man and an air or mountain playset for Stratos.]
PIT OF SOULS / WELL OF SOULS / DWELL OF SOULS
The Pit of Souls [also variously referred to as the Well of Souls or Dwell of Souls] is a dungeon containing undying monsters from the beginning and end of time that also extends into the time and space continuum – possibly by means of a miniature black hole. The powers of the castle are linked to these evil prisoners.
Getting the monsters trapped in the Dwell of Souls required luring monsters into the pit with sacrificial human victims. The monsters would then be trapped in the pit. The king [He-Man’s father] who oversaw this effort could use those trapped monsters as leverage against all other Kings in the land, threatening to release them if he didn’t get his way.
He comes from a mysterious conception and is rumored to be half human and half immortal. (2006 interview)
The King who lived inside Grayskull had a harem and one woman there bore him He-Man. (2018 Power of Grayskull documentary)
One of He-Man’s father’s wives wanted to kill He-Man when he was a baby, along with He-Man’s mother. His mother enlisted the help of the king’s Man-At-Arms in order to save the child. Man-At-Arms agreed to take the infant away through the atomic wasteland. There He-Man grew in strength and learned battle techniques from his mentor. Afterwards he picks up Battle Cat and his adventures start.
He-Man grew up in Atlantis, which no longer exists, it was destroyed by a terrible quake and tidal wave. He-Man was nine-years old and being trained as a Prince when the disaster struck. He was one of the very few to survive. (2006 interview)
He-Man is the ideal hero in all respects – he isn’t just someone with incredible strength, standing at 6’3” and weighing 230lbs. He has a sense of nobility and restraint, and also has a quiet sense of humor. He possesses special senses which helps him greatly – otherwise Skeletor would’ve eliminated him. He-Man also is resilient to pain, poison, etc.
The cross symbol on He-Man is what his friends recognize him by [Mark also mentioned he was inspired in creating that symbol for He-Man by the look of the Knights Templar]. He-Man is a good person, noble and has the very highest moral character and he tries to set an example for all people. He knows a lot about magic, but he never uses it. He-Man knows there is always a price that must be paid when using magic.
He-Man avoids wearing too much armor. He’s almost like a berserker. He wants to win by relying on his own strength and fighting skill, rather than relying on armor.
He-Man isn’t destined to become the King of Grayskull [as the later stories like Glut-minicomics suggested].
He-Man’s mother was very beautiful and a phenomenal athlete. She is part of the King’s harem alongside Skeletor’s mother. He-Man’s mother doesn’t know any magic, so when Skeletor’s mother wanted to kill her and her child, she made a deal with Man-At-Arms to take her baby and run away. She was killed during the fight with Skeletor’s mother.
PRE-WELL OF SOULS
Skeletor used to be a handsome, normal looking human, just like He-Man. He plotted to take over the Castle from the king, but he was thrown in the the Well of Souls. In the Well the creatures and animals ripped all the skin off his face and make him aware of magic the hard way.
AFTER EMERGING FROM WELL OF SOULS
Once Skeletor got out of the Well of Souls, he was a deformed super-human, standing at 6’4” and weighing 290lbs. He had heightened senses, much like He-Man, but he also had an extra sense: he can detect the weakness in an opponent that he can use to his advantage.
In this new form, he had three toes and ridges protruding from his forearms. He has a skull for a face and glowing eyes. The eyes glow when he is angry (which is most of the time). As he emerged from the Well, he made a hood for himself to cover his glowing eyes and distinctive silhouette. This was made from the eyelid of a dragon that tried to kill him when he got out of the Well. His armor is tougher than steel, made from an armadillo monster that tried to defy him.
His intellect is unmeasurable, off the charts. But he is also the ultimate bipolar, going from quiet malevolence to towering rage, a rage that hinders his true intellect. Skeletor’s voice sounds like he is speaking from the bottom of a well. Skeletor never sleeps.
His plans always focus on the Castle. Destruction and inflicting pain are his joy, with self-titled “Lord of Destruction” as his moniker.
Skeletor used magic but He-Man never did. Skeletor could animate anything and go anywhere. In my mind that was one of the main differences between the main characters and their followers.
Skeletor’s mother is a sorceress who knows about magic and sorcery. She is a member of the King’s harem alongside He-Man’s mother. It was she, who used her magical abilities to furnish the cap on top of the Well of Souls for the King, so that all the monsters couldn’t get out, unless the King wanted them to. When Skeletor’s mother fought He-Man’s mother, she killed her.
Years after Skeletor had been thrown into the Well of Souls, the tribe was completely eliminated by a malevolent witch poisoner (Skeletor’s mother) who then helped him escape from the “Well” but when she saw what it had done to him she went insane and drank her own poison. (2006 interview)
“And him [Skeletor] and his mother decide to kill the king. They fail. The king captures them. And the king kills the mother and throws the boy into the Well of Souls.” (2018 Power of Grayskull documentary)
Man-At-Arms was the king’s champion at Grayskull. He was a very honorable man and was tired of the corruption he witnessed.
Man-At-Arms is the master of weapons. His father already was someone who would bring home technology and weapons that he found. When he was older, Man-At-Arms did the same thing. Man-At-Arms isn’t as tough as He-Man, which is why he uses his armor and weaponry. He is a match for Beast Man in combat situations, having a high degree of intelligence/sophistication, but no special strength.
He took He-Man away as a child at his mother’s request, in order to stop a plot by Skeletor’s mother to kill He-Man. He ran with the baby through the Wasteland where He-Man grew incredibly strong. Man-At-Arms taught him all the battle techniques, both old and new.
[Man-At-Arms is based on the Spanish Conquistadors. With Star Wars being a popular thing, elements of high-tech were added onto Man-At-Arms’ armor.]
“I based it on the Spanish Conquistadors. I always wondered how those suckers had the nerve to do the things they did. They had to be ballsy beyond belief! Mattel’s marketing team was really on me to incorporate lots of technology, since Star Wars was still so popular. So I told them I could put high-tech gear on Man-At-Arms. I’d just read Piers Anthony’s classic science-fiction novel Sos the Rope, about a character who goes into a wasteland where a superior civilization had once lived. And he digs down and brings out their technology, which gives him a huge advantage over everyone else! So Man-At-Arms does that too.”
“…heroes can’t use magic! It weakens them, in a way. Villains, on the other hand, can use magic whenever they want a shortcut. It’s the Faust story, basically.”
[10 Things We Learned from Mark Taylor, the Designer of He-Man – The Robot’s Voice]
Beast Man was supposed to be the largest character by mass at least. Beast Man in Taylor’s conception didn’t have the power to control or talk to animals. He was more of a pit fighter and berserker. His back story was that he had been used as a fighter for entertainment in a gladiator ring. His armor was something he acquired to prevent fighters from jumping on top of him. His whip was taken from a captor who was trying to whip him. Beast Man was a berserker who couldn’t wait to fight anyone or anything.
Beast Man isn’t pure human – his DNA was altered/mutated by whatever happened to the world in the distant past, and it moved his chromosomes over a couple of steps. Beast Man is low on intelligence and high on strength. He’s evenly matched with Man-At-Arms, who is low on strength and high on intelligence.
He-Man and his allies don’t generally use magic. The only one that does use magic to some extent is Teela. Because of that, He-Man would never accept her as a true ally. She was always on the outside.
Despite that, He-Man was romantically interested in Teela, but he couldn’t show it – any weakness at this critical moment in history would give the evil forces an opportunity to use her against him. He-Man also doesn’t fully trust Teela because she dabbles in magic, and He-Man having history that his mother was killed by a sorceress type woman.
Teela didn’t give her allegiance blindly. She could hold Skeletor off for a while with magic, although she wasn’t as powerful as him. She could communicate with animals. She wasn’t evil, but she was in it for her own purposes. Her origins were mysterious, and she didn’t come into the world in a natural way.
[later known as Goddess thanks to DC Comics]
Originally the Sorceress was going to be a changeling according to Taylor.
She was intended to be like a spy and play both sides with some magic but the “professionals” felt that was too complex.
Mark has also said that, though initially “bad”, he had the idea that Sorceress could at times team up with either Skeletor or He-Man.
Zodac was originally good, as noted in Mark Taylor’s b-sheet art and text:
“Sensor: Man of the the future scientifically heightened senses, knowledge & weapons. Acts in support role to He-Man and as a foil to Tee-La’s mystic nature.“
“Zodac was all about flying. He was the air wing. I was influenced by Flash Gordon and the flying Vikings.” -Mark Taylor
Zodac has a lot of mystery. He’s not a bounty hunter as stated in some marketing materials. He doesn’t side with either He-Man or Skeletor completely. He wants to get into Castle Grayskull for his own reasons. He believes that the castle is a weapon that could tip the balance either way, and he wants to be able to control that weapon. He’s more familiar with mysterious technology and would understand how to use it. He’s not completely human – he may be a descendant of the people who constructed Castle Grayskull around the giant’s skull. At times he betrays He-Man and Skeletor.
Mer-Man was a prince in his respective kingdom. He was supposed to be evil [note: early Mattel documents indicated that Mer-Man was grouped with the heroes at one point – it’s possible that someone other than Mark made that designation]. Mer-Man had a rivalry with Stratos. Rather than Mer-Man shooting freezing water from his sword (in the Don Glut minicomics), Mer-Man would have had some kind of jellyfish sting associated with his sword.
Mer-Man could stay on land indefinitely, but he was at his best underwater, and could best even He-Man in that environment. Mer-Man was also very stealthy. In Taylor’s vision Mer-Man was Skeletor’s first recruit. Mer-Man also had the power to control sea animals.
Mer-Man would have had his own underwater playset, and there would have been more opportunity for underwater adventures. The playset/castle, like Castle Grayskull, would have grown over time with additional add-ons.
[According to Mark, both Stratos and Mer-Man were always the last two that kids picked to play with from the original lineup of toys that were tested.]
“Mer-Man tested the lowest. Tony Guerrero the great sculptor and I chased the negative child test comments until we finally realized the marketeers were just messing with us and then we went with what we had. Mer-Man was the weakest but people who like him really like him (I based him on Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing).”
aka Wing Man akaBird Man aka Avatar*
Stratos was a prince in his respective kingdom.
[*Avatar is name that Stratos is referred in the 2006 audio-interview. Concept-artworks show working names like “Wing Man” and “Bird Man” only.]
Stratos would have been a prince of a mountainous kingdom, and would have had his own castle that would have been a playset. [Although Stratos was listed as evil in one or two of the early Mattel documents, in Mark’s mind Stratos was always heroic.]
Stratos had the ability to shoot a beam from his wrist. His primary power was flight, which was really defensive in a fight. The beam allowed him to hold off Skeletor for a while.
Stratos comes from a race of mountain-dwelling people who had evolved with specialized equipment and abilities for flight and for surviving very cold temperatures. Mark didn’t see this civilization as being highly technologically advanced, except for the fact that they had developed flight. Stratos had excellent vision, like an eagle or a hawk.
In the beginning the Wind Raider would have been something that Stratos found and used, but it became associated with Man-At-Arms because production on Stratos was delayed.
[The Wind Raider was actually intended to work as both a boat and an aircraft. Although the final vehicle design was done by Ted Mayer, Mark Taylor did some early drawings that described some of the vehicle’s features. For instance, when on the water, the wings would rotate up and act as “photo sails”. The anchor is described as a “power ram/grapnel.” The dragon design bears strong resemblance to a Viking ship’s figurehead.
He-Man found the Battle Ram parked in a cave. He had to try to find out how to work it, and he had assistance in that from Man-At-Arms. It’s a powerful device and it helps differentiate him from a medieval knight.
The front portion of the Battle Ram can hover over the ground, perhaps a foot and a half high. It can only travel for short distances. In order to go long distances, it must be ported with the rear half of the vehicle. It wasn’t necessarily a hovercraft – the source of its ability to hover was mysterious and inexplicable. It could be used as a battering ram as well. [in Mark’s canon, the Battle Ram doesn’t have the ability to teleport, unlike what was represented in minicomics].
MAN-E-FACES & RAM MAN
Battle Ram Blog: Did you have an origin story in mind when you designed Man-E-Faces? How about Ram Man?
Mark Taylor: Yes, but no one was interested, they wanted to ship it out immediately to animators and movie producers, you know “professionals”. I designed him to have a different and interesting feature besides a twist waist. All the answers to my original story are in clues in Castle Grayskull, where they should be like a puzzle.
We hope everyone enjoyed this piece. It was a lot of fun digging through many audio-files, interviews and video panels to discover the earliest story aspects from Mark Taylor himself.
We are grateful for the various interviewers who took the time to reach out to Mark and Rebecca over the years. We are especially grateful to Mark and Rebecca for always being willing to talk to fans about He-Man. Mark was a true visionary who will continue to be missed by all of his many fans. Happy 40th anniversary He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!
MOTU Origins is a fun line that I’ve enjoyed collecting, but there are a few aspects of the the line that are less well liked by fans. Probably the two biggest gripes (in terms of the figures themselves) are the default He-Man head and pretty much every retail Skeletor head to date). Lots of fans are looking for more vintage-accurate heads for the two main characters in the line. Mattel has released a good (although not 100% spot-on) vintage style He-Man head that comes with Battle Armor He-Man (as well as the convention exclusives), but they really haven’t captured the original Skeletor head in any version so far. Nature abhors a vacuum, so various customizers from the fan community have stepped up to fill that need.
I recently purchased a few custom heads from Lee’s Customs (you can reach him on Twitter, Facebook or eBay). I actually am less interested in nailing the vintage figures (I already have those) than I am in variants based on vintage artwork. Thankfully we have gotten several comic book variants in the line (such as the SDCC and Power-Con sets), and it looks like we’re going to get even more this year (Green Goddess and some kind of repaint or reissue of Lords of Power Mer-Man and Beast Man).
But I would also love to see some variants based on the vintage cross sell artwork. That was the source material for quite a few Masters of the Universe Classics figures, and I think that style would be great to see for at least the “8-back” characters in Origins.
To that end, I bought Lee’s custom Skeletor, He-Man and Lords of Power Mer-Man heads to try my hand at approximating at least some of those looks. (Lee also sells casts of the other Lords of Power characters, a custom Eternian Guard head, and various He-Man heads to help you create Faker, Slime Pit He-Man, Anti-Eternia He-Man or Savage He-Man.) The He-Man and Skeletor heads are cast from the 1982 figures, but altered to be able to fit on a MOTU Origins figure. They’re sturdy and good quality casts that closely match the Origins colors. Some Blu-Tack may be required to help the heads fit snugly on the pegs.
You can buy the heads fully-painted or cast in a base color. I opted for the latter. Here’s what I was able to come up with so far (I haven’t started painting He-Man’s head yet):
For Skeletor, rather than using the bold color lines of the vintage figure, I opted for a more subtle, cross-sell art inspired face coloring. I also painted his feet blue to replicate the bare feet of the artwork. Of course the sculpt of his shins and forearms don’t follow the cross sell art designs. I tried my hand at resculpting those parts on a spare Skeletor, but my skills aren’t quite up to the task, I fear.
For comparison, below is the stock MOTU Origins Skeletor. For the record, I think the stock head sculpt is pretty good, but the paint work doesn’t do it any favors. It’s a nice “alternative” head but not the one I’d have chosen for the standard Skeletor head.
Getting a cross sell-inspired Mer-Man of course required the custom head from Lee. But I also was able to get some hands, armor and a sword from the MOTU Classics Mer-Man (I found these for sale individually as parts on eBay). This allowed me to get the correct four fingers and ornate armor. Again, the shins and forearms aren’t accurate to the source material in terms of sculpt, but everything else is pretty close. (Mer-Man appears blueish in pictures, but in person he’s more green than blue.)
For reference, here is the stock MOTU Origins Mer-Man, which is based on the vintage figure, albeit with some changes to the specific color shades used and to the straps on the armor. In hand it’s a pretty good-looking figure, but I prefer the cross sell art look.
I’m glad there are fans in the community like Lee offering custom heads like this. It really shows the potential of what can be done with the MOTU Origins line beyond just highly articulated versions of vintage 1980s figures.
Post script: I contributed to the upcoming Dark Horse book, The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s available to pre-order now!
Buying the exclusive combo pack (which includes a supplemental Character Guide) supports me and all the other contributors to these books: http://toyguide.thepower-con.com. Alternatively, the combo is now also available through Big Bad Toy Store.
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: