Evil Mutants

Skeletor: Ultimate Evil Lord of Destruction (1989)

The 1989 He-Man reboot included no characters from the original Masters of the Universe line, other than He-Man and Skeletor. The so-called “New Adventures” line is filled with colorful, oddball villains (and, frankly, some less-than-exciting heroes). My favorite figures from the line are the various Skeletor variants, and the 1989 version is no exception.

The New Adventures series isn’t well loved by most He-Man fans, but in a way it seems like an effort by Mattel to step things up a notch. These figures that had better articulation, more sculpted detail, and quite a bit of painted detail compared to the original line, and with little or no reuse of parts.

All of the New Adventures Skeletor variants were designed by Dave Wolfram, who had previously designed figures like Scare Glow and Snake Face. The initial 1989 version was developed from his original Laser Light Skeletor design, inspired by the work of HR Giger:

Laser Light Skeletor concept art (working title: Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor), by Dave Wolfram
Laser Light Skeletor, released in Europe in 1988.

The broad conceptual ideas were carried over for the New Adventures design, but the color scheme was modified, initially with a lot of dark blue and red details, with a purple cape. In the concept art below he was also given some kind of pouches at his legs, and a new red staff design featuring a human skull with a bat on top. He was given different boots and, for the first time, gloves. He also features a helmet rather than his usual cloth hood:

Concept art by Dave Wolfram, from May 25, 1988. Image via The Art of He-Man.

The concept version of the character actually makes an appearance on a 1989 bag, although this version has a red cape:

A CGI version of the concept Skeletor (albeit with a finalized staff) also appears in a promotional video (thanks to Dušan M. for the tip):

In the produced toy, the color scheme was altered again, with much more red throughout the costume, and contrasting purple boots and gloves. The staff was redesigned, with some prongs at the end that look like they could shoot bolts of electricity. The helmet and staff were molded in gun metal gray. The pouches he was wearing on his thighs were changed to cybernetic implants.The final figure has a white face with a forest green border around it – the only Skeletor to feature that particular color scheme.

A hand-painted version of the final figure appears in the 1989 French He-Man catalog:

Image source: Grayskull Museum
Image source: Grayskull Museum

In the 1989 German He-Man magazine, Skeletor is depicted a couple of times wearing a bizarre-looking helmet. I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be:

Hand-painted final prototype on a Spanish playing card. Source: http://cuevadelterror.blogspot.com

The final production figure appears in the US 1989 dealer catalog:

One of the coolest things about the figure, in my opinion, is some of the sculpted detail on his back and the back of his head. This is obscured by his cape and helmet normally. It’s quite creepy looking:

The staff has a rather creepy looking, chitinous creature around the back of the skull, which wraps its tail around the upper handle:

Skeletor has a fun but rather subtle action figure. When you turn his waist his hands raise up, making him lift his staff as if to fire.

Cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

The commercial for the electronic He-Man Power Sword actually has really great footage of an actor dressed as “New Adventures” Skeletor. This costume also shows up in the He-Man vs Skeletor commercial shown earlier in this article.

Skeletor was sold on his own card and in a gift set with He-Man. The artwork on the front was painted by long-time MOTU packaging illustrator, William George.

Packaging art by William George. Image from The Art of He-Man.

According to the 1989 Sears Christmas Wishbook, Skeletor was supposed to be available in a gift set with Hydron, but I’ve never seen an example of that:

Image source: http://www.wishbookweb.com/
Image source: http://www.wishbookweb.com/

There were four minicomics produced for the 1989 He-Man reboot, and all of them featured Skeletor. In the first, The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy), Skeletor interrupts Prince Adam as he transformed into He-Man, and is badly injured. In Skeletor’s Journey (illustrated by Carrol Lay), he uses bionic replacements to heal himself and we see him finally in his new costume.

The character looks particularly dynamic in the Bruce Timm-illustrated The Revenge of Skeletor:

In the bottom right panel, we get a look at the cybernetics on Skeletor’s back.

The New Adventures of He-Man animated series (produced by Jetlag Productions) features the character for a surprisingly few episodes before he’s upgraded to his Disks of Doom variant costume. The series starts off on Eternia, before He-Man and Skeletor are whisked off into the future, but both of them already sport their New Adventures costumes. Unfortunately Skeletor has some off-putting and comical-looking eyes for the first five episodes. Otherwise his costume is fairly true to the toy, minus the electrical implants in his body:

By episode six the eyes are blackened, but he also changes to his Disks of Doom costume by the end of the story:

Character-wise the New Adventures version of Skeletor was a more comical figure, manipulating and flattering rather than pounding his fists and demanding. He wasn’t leading his own army at this point – he was dependent upon the cooperation of the Evil Mutants, lead by Flogg.

Initially Mattel had planned to ask Filmation (the studio that had produced the first He-Man cartoon), to animate the new reboot, to be titled He-Man and the Masters of Space (information via Dušan M./James Eatock). Filmation went out of business in 1989, but they did create some artwork and a basic storyline for the pitch. Skeletor’s visual depiction is somewhere midway between the original concept design and the final toy:


Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

The 1989 He-Man series was featured in the UK He-Man Adventure Magazine. In this story Skeletor is beamed aboard the ship of Flipshot and Hydron, but Prince Adam tags along for the ride. Strangely we don’t get an explanation for Skeletor’s costume change (images are from He-Man.org):

UK He-Man Magazine pinup

Pinup from German He-Man magazine. Artwork by Giuliano Piccininno – information is from the MOTU Art Facebook page.

There was a series of Italian notebooks that featured New Adventures artwork. The cover of one of them features a concept-art inspired Skeletor (thanks to Petteri H. for the tip):

The Italian magazine Magic Boy featured several New Adventures stories. In one of them, Skeletor acquires a magical chest harness from a six-armed statue and soon after grows six arms of his own (images are from He-Man.org):

Overall I think the rebooted 1989 Skeletor has quite a compelling design, and is worth picking up even if you’re not, generally speaking, a New Adventures fan. In fact, all of the revamped Skeletors are worth a look.

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History

Copyrights in MOTU (Part One: 1981)


Image source: MOTUC Figures

In previous posts I’ve covered trademarks and patents in Masters of the universe, and organized the material into a cohesive Masters of the Universe Timeline. In this post I’m going to be covering Mattel’s He-Man-related copyrights, sourced from the US Copyright Office, for 1981. Eventually I’ll fold these dates into the MOTU Timeline article as well.

Some of the copyright entries have some interesting details and comments, so I’ll include most of the original text (errors and all), eliminating some redundancies and the registration numbers.  Each entry has multiple dates, but I’ll sort according to “Date of Publication”. I’ll do a separate post for each publication year.

A few notes – the “Date of Publication” for the early toys listed universally as February 15, 1981. The figures were not actually sold that early, or even really close to their final designs. The He-Man project was well underway, however. They may have sometimes just chosen a safe, early date for some of these. I believe that entries that have more unique publication dates are more likely to reflect an actual production or release date. The minicomics in this post all have a publication date of November 28, 1981, which at least sounds plausible as a “printed on” date.

Note also that while the male figures are generally called “figurines”, Teela is referred to as a “doll”, apparently based only the fact that she’s a female figure. In reality, Teela is every bit as much an action figure as He-Man.

1981

February

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Battle ram : no. 81-3990.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Beast Man : [no.] 81-5043.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: He-Man : [no.] 81-5040.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Man-at-arms : no. 81-5041.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Merman : [no.] 81-5046.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Skeletor : [no.] 81-5042.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Stratos : [no.] 81-5047.
Description: Figurine.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-26
Title: Teela : [no.] 5045-81.
Description: Doll.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Wind raider : [no.] 81-5117.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-11-04
Title: Zodac : no. 81-5044.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. only.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-10-25
Title: Castle Grayskull : [no.] 81-3991.
Description: Sculpture.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-02-15

November

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-28
Title: Masters of the universe
Name: The Vengeance of Skeletor
Description: 22 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Text
Registration Date: 1982-12-08
Title: Masters of the Universe : He-Man and the power sword.
Description: 26 p.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: He-Man and the power sword

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1982-12-07
Title: King of Castle Grayskull.
Description: 22 p.
Series: Masters of the Universe
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28

Type of Work: Visual Material
Registration Date: 1983-01-17
Title: Comics maitres de l’univers : no. 81.
Notes: Cataloged from appl. Only. Appl. states titles on copy: Les Maitres de l’univers; Masters of the universe.
Date of Creation: 1981
Date of Publication: 1981-11-28
Other Title: Les Maitres de l’univers Masters of the universe

Thanks to Miguel A. for inspiring this series!

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MOTU History

Lords of Power Collection: at the dawn of He-Man

Update: this post has been recently updated with slightly nicer quality images, plus a new picture not previously shared. Many thanks to Andy Youssi.

A rather incredible set of pictures has recently surfaced, showing early Masters of the Universe prototypes. Shared by Andy Youssi, son of freelance artist John Youssi, these images come from a collection of slides set in a View-Master-like apparatus. Apparently this was a very early promotional item.

John Youssi (known for his pinball machine illustrations) did illustrations for MOTU retail display cases and marquees, and Mattel shipped him these early prototypes, as well as the pseudo View-Master. Andy had the good fortune of being able to play with these prototypes for a month, while his father used them as models for his illustrations.

Andy describes his experience playing with these amazing prototypes:

Hold onto your seats for this, but after these slides, Mattel actually shipped the prototypes to my Dad for a month so he could illustrate the characters & Castle Grayskull in detail for some of the promotional posters & display shelves put up in toy stores. My introduction to loving Masters of the Universe was seeing & falling in love with those Lords of Power prototypes as a 5 year old kid, before the public knew what any of this was! I think the saddest day of my childhood was when my Dad’s illustration jobs were finished, and he had to pack the prototypes up & ship them back to Mattel… but that month with them made me a fan for life before they even hit stores! One of the most exciting emotions I had was the anticipation of them being released in stores, and building the collection up again, knowing we could actually keep it this time!!!

It’s been known for some time that “Lords of Power” was an early working title for Masters of the Universe. In an interview (conducted by Jukka Issakainen) with packaging designer Bob Nall, the artist said:

I designed logos and packages for many brands and settled on Boys items (mostly Hot Wheels). When the product designers developed He-Man (largely designed by Mark Taylor – who worked in the same group) I had the opportunity to look at the retail face of the brand. We looked at many names before coming up with MOTU – it was almost called ‘Lords of Power’ but many thought that was too religious in nature.

Image source: Jukka Issakainen

In the first image below, we see that this is the “Lords of Power Collection”. Interestingly, this set also comes with the Masters of the Universe logo as well. We’ve seen some of these prototypes before – He-Man, Mer-Man and Skeletor, certainly.

The Beast Man and Man-At-Arms prototypes in the image below have not been shown publicly before to my knowledge. Man-At-Arms’ design brings to mind his cross sell artwork and Alcala minicomic appearances (complete with fur-lined armor and large mace); those illustrations were almost certainly based on this model. The model, in turn, is based on the original Mark Taylor B-sheet design.

Beast Man, however, is a very primitive design indeed, resembling an early Mark Taylor Beast Man sketch, but recolored in the orange, red and blue color scheme that has come to be associated with the character. This appears to have been done before Mark Taylor’s final B-Sheet for the character.

From interviews with Mark Taylor, it appears that Teela was sculpted very early on, but for some reason was not included in these photos. Perhaps it was because early versions of the figure were considered by some to be too “sexy”.

For comparison, here’s a very early Mark Taylor concept drawing of Beast Man:

Image via Grayskull Museum

And here’s Mark Taylor’s finalized B-Sheet design for Beast Man:

Below are He-Man and Man-At-Arms as they appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Note that they are both based closely on early prototypes:

Man-At-Arms as illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

This next image that Andy shared focuses in on He-Man and Man-At-Arms, with Battle Ram and Battle Cat in the background. Battle Cat is the early prototype with a striped tail and orange around his mouth. The Battle Ram is also an early prototype, more detailed than the final toy. All of these toys have finer paint applications and most of them have greater sculpted detail than their mass-produced counterparts. We can clearly see Man-At-Arms’ armored fist, a detail absent from his final toy. His boots are brown, while He-Man’s boots are two-toned red and yellow.

Here’s a clearer view of this early Battle Cat’s paint scheme:

Image via Tokyonever

Here’s a somewhat clearer view of the He-Man prototype:

Image via He-Man.us

Below we see another image focusing on He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Battle Ram. You can see that Man-At-Arms has a fully armored left forearm. In profile we see that his metal “glove” is actually a flat piece covering what looks like an unfinished left hand.

Here’s another view of the Battle Ram prototype, with an earlier, helmeted version of He-Man piloting it.

Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

In the image below we get a front-on view of the prototype Castle Grayskull – an angle we’ve never seen before. We can also see, for the first time, the front of the jaw bridge in this image – it doesn’t have the wood details of the final toy. This particular prototype may be a different casting of the prototype than the one we’ve seen before. It certainly seems to have more green paint than that version (shown four images down). An article going over the differences between the prototype castle and the final toy can be found here.

In the image immediately below, Skeletor holds the castle, while the heroes launch an assault.

Note that in the image above, the back of He-Man’s harness crosses in an “x” shape. This is also seen in artwork by Alfredo Alcala:

Another view of the prototype castle, with moat. This one seems to have less green paint.

In the image below, Man-At-Arms stands at the foot of the castle. We can see the back of his armor, which is solid, as opposed to the thin straps on the final toy.  Beast Man operates the laser turret, which is put on the opposite side of the castle from where it normally sits. We can see a flag that appears to depict He-Man’s axe – which is certainly different from the twin sword design of the mass-produced castle.

The two-sided light/dark flag design used on the commercially-available Castle. The artwork was done by Mark’s wife, Rebecca.

Here we see the entire castle opened up. Skeletor and Beast Man seem to have been victorious. We see that the opposite side of this flag depicts a skull with two enlarged canine teeth. It looks somewhat like the castle’s face. Note also that this prototype version of Skeletor does not have a skull face, but rather a decomposing face.

Here’s another view of the Skeletor prototype, with unfinished staff. Note the decaying face. He also has bare human feet and arms with no fins.

Image source: He-Man.org

Here’s an image that wasn’t shared the first time around – labeled “He-Man Collection”. We get a nice view of all the toys at once, including a nice front view of Mer-Man.

Finally, here’s that Masters of the Universe logo:

Thanks very much to Andy Youssi for kindly sharing these images and for telling his story. Stay tuned – he is also planning to share some of the artwork done by his father for Lords of Powe… er, Masters of the Universe!

Update: some somewhat clearer shots from the Power of Grayskull documentary:

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Resource

Parts Reuse in MOTU, Part One: 1982

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 1982 that had (when they were created) all new parts:

He-Man

Teela

Castle Grayskull

Battle Ram

Wind Raider

These toys from 1982 reused some existing parts:

Skeletor

Beast Man

Man-At-Arms

Mer-Man

Stratos

Zodac

Battle Cat

Parts Reuse series:

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