Evil Warriors

MOTU Classics Mer-Man

Masters of the Universe Classics Mer-Man, released in April of 2009 and again as a blue variant in November of 2010, is still, for me, the best figure ever released in the Classics toyline. Part of that is certainly the painstakingly accurate reproduction of Mer-Man as he appeared in the vintage cross sell artwork, but part of it also is the shading and detail on the figure itself.

First release Classics Mer-Man in green

Source Material

The main source material for the Classics Mer-Man (green version) is explicitly the vintage cross sell artwork. It’s nearly a perfect reproduction of that depiction, and a passion project for Eric Treadaway of the Four Horsemen. The details reproduced from the artwork include:

  • Color and shape of the gloves
  • Four-fingered hands, with open left hand
  • Bare feet with smooth, yellow shin guards
  • Yellow loin cloth
  • Yellow detail on face
  • Large eyes
  • Upward pointed fins on the head
  • Sculpted gills around the neck
  • Wide chest armor with enlarged spikes
  • More detailed sword (the Classics version is more detailed still than the source material)
Scanned by the author.

The figure was augmented beyond the source material with some colored gems on the armor and some additional shading throughout the figure. There are some nods to the vintage figure as well. The most obvious one of course, is the second head, sculpted after the vintage figure, but also the green belt, which was featured on early releases of the 1982 toy.

Vintage toy style head
First release 1982 made in Taiwan figure

It should be noted that in some respects the Classics vintage style head is somewhat less detailed compared to the original vintage head. The vintage head has fins that terminate in individual protuberances, while the fins on the Classics head are rounded at the ends, and more closely resemble ears.

There is one nod to the 2002 Mer-Man figure as well – the trident accessory. Of course the 2002 figure is also influenced by the vintage cross sell art, particular in the head sculpt:

The blue version of Mer-Man that came packed with Aquaman is supposed to resemble Mer-Man as he appeared in the earliest minicomics illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. That version was based on early concept art by Mark Taylor and an early prototype sculpted by Tony Guerrero.

Alcala’s depiction of Mer-Man
Mark Taylor’s original Mer-Man B-sheet, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.
Tony Guerrero prototype Mer-Man. Image courtesy of Andy Youssi

The color scheme is similar to the minicomic version (blue skin, blue and yellow sword, full yellow boots), but it borrows wholesale the sculpt of the original green release of Mer-Man. It doesn’t have the unique boots, gloves, belt and other details of the minicomic/concept version, so it actually winds up looking like earlier versions of the cross sell artwork, which featured a blue-skinned Mer-Man:

Image courtesy of Tokyonever
Blue Mer-Man

This Mer-Man also has the green belt of the vintage toy. Note also that early concept art gave Mer-Man copper/gold/ accents on  parts of his costume, which didn’t end up in the minicomic artwork.

Return to Table of Contents.

Reviews

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2015)

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (published by Dark Horse, April 28, 2015) is a celebration of He-Man from his  earliest known concept drawings in 1979 to his latest 2015 evolution in modern comics and toys (images below courtesy of Jukka Issakainen).

Limited Edition printing of The Art of He-Man, with Castle Grayskull slipcover and exclusive artwork by Gerald Parel.

The focus of the book is primarily on artwork, although there is some time spent on toys. In many ways the Dark Horse book seems to take some cues from Mattel’s 2009 book, The Art of Masters of the Universe (a San Diego Comic Con exclusive). The 2009 book took a broad approach to the subject, starting with early concept artwork and moving on to cross sell artwork, box art, mini comics, the New Adventures of He-Man line, the 2002 He-Man line, the ongoing Masters of the Universe Classics adult collector line, and finishing up with some modern concept art for a potential rebooted line.  The Dark Horse book follows the same general outline, but radically expands it with more than five times as much content.

The Art of He-Man was written by Tim and Steve Seeley and edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with contributions by Emiliano Santalucia, Joshua Van Pelt, James Eatock, Danielle Gelehrter, Val Staples, and others. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, from current and former insiders at Mattel to external collectors and experts, The Art of He-Man is able to delve deeper into the subject than the 2009 Mattel SDCC book, and expands the territory into areas like the 1983 Filmation cartoon and the 1987 live-action film.

By comparison, The Power and the Honor Foundation’s 2011 Catalog Volume One went into far greater depth on the subject of toy design, but stayed away from topics like packaging design, mini comics, and Filmation. Some of the artwork from both The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog and the 2009 Mattel book made it into The Art of He-Man, but by no means all of it.

Early on, The Art of He-Man was slated to be much shorter, capping out at 168 pages by the beginning of chapter 10 (thanks to Jukka Issakainen for the image and the reminder):

After I believe some extensive contributions from The Power and the Honor Foundation and others, the page count was radically increased to about 320 pages total:

The Art of He-Man starts things off with some tantalizing internal memos, most of them directly or indirectly related to the creation of He-Man. One notable exception is the December 24, 1981 memo from Mark Ellis looking into the creation of a generic male action figure line for use in licensed properties. The He-Man line had already been largely created by then, and the memo seems to favor a smaller scale line of figures.

If you’re familiar with my blog, it might not surprise you that the first chapter of The Art of He-Man is my favorite, as it covers early concept designs by Mark Taylor, Ted Mayer and Colin Bailey, as well as the first He-Man prototype sculpted by Tony Guerrero. We also get to see a number of other concept drawings by Roger Sweet, Ed Watts, Mark Jones, James McElroy, David Wolfram and others. Quite a lot of the artwork in the sample below was contributed by The Power and the Honor Foundation:

About 40 pages in, the book switches gears to packaging artwork, including figure and vehicle cross sell artwork, some of it blown up gloriously large. It’s here where I get a little frustrated at the limitations of printed media, as many of these images are heavily cropped.

At about 50 pages in, the book changes focus to concept artwork for unproduced toys like He-Ro, Turbosaurus, Rotary Man, Rhino Man, Torton, and others. Some of my favorites here are the Ed Watts concepts, which were also contributed by The Power and the Honor Foundation. Watts created some really imaginative vehicle and vehicle/creature designs in full color illustrations with background scenery included.

Turbosaurus, by Ed Watts. An early incarnation of Gigantisaur. Originally via The Power and the Honor Foundation.

About 60 pages in the book begins to explore some of the painted packaging artwork that appeared on product boxes and cardbacks. We’re treated to a gorgeous, two-page spread of Rudy Obrero’s iconic Castle Grayskull illustration. We also see a great deal of artwork by prolific MOTU artists Errol McCarthy and William George. There is also the packaging illustration for Tyrantosaurus Rex artwork by Warren Hile, who painted several packaging illustrations near the tail end of the line.

At around the 70 page mark, the book changes focus to the vintage mini comics. I would say that this section had been rendered mostly redundant by the Dark Horse He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection (more on that in a separate article), but this section does feature some lovely blown up pages, as well as an interview with writer Steven Grant and illustrator Larry Houston.

Speaking of interviews, The Art of He-Man is peppered with them. Interviewed subjects include:

  • David Wolfram
  • Dolph Lundgren
  • Earl Norem
  • Eric Treadaway
  • Erika Scheimer
  • Gabriel de la Torre
  • Gary Goddard
  • Joe Ferencz
  • Larry Houston
  • Paul Dini
  • The Power and the Honor Foundation
  • Rob David
  • Scott Neitlich
  • Steven Grant
  • Val Staples
  • William Stout

At the 85-page mark, the book switches focus to the subject of the Filmation He-Man series. It includes some lovely drawings from the early Filmation animated toy commercial, and development artwork and story boards for the actual series. One of my favorites is a page showing numerous early designs for Hordak. There is also included a replica animation cel and three printed backgrounds, so you can get a tangible lesson in the magic of traditional hand-drawn animation.

At 120 pages in, we turn to the subject of artwork from magazines, story books and posters. That means we’re treated to a number of large size images of artwork by the late, great Earl Norem, not to mention the fantastic William George.

Artwork by Earl Norem

Some 150 pages into the book, there is a smattering of miscellaneous subject matter, from the vintage DC comics, newspaper comic strips, Golden Books, coloring books, as well as some style guide and licensing artwork by Errol McCarthy.

At 175 pages, the book takes a very in-depth look at the 1987 Masters of the Universe motion picture, a topic not covered in the 2009 Mattel art book. This section is thick with interviews, draft scripts, and concept artwork by William Stout, Claudio Mazzoli and Ralph McQuarrie.

Ralph McQuarrie’s Man-At-Arms

The subject turns to the New Adventures of He-Man some 200 pages into the book. We get to take a peek at early attempts to relaunch He-Man as a G.I. Joe-like military hero, before designers eventually moved toward a science fiction look for the most powerful man in the universe.

New Adventures of He-Man concept, by Martin Arriola

At 219 pages we finally move on to the 21st century, with a look at the 2002 reboot of Masters of the Universe. I remember at the time I did encounter the Commemorative reissues of the vintage toys (I bought one of the five-packs immediately when I saw it at Toys ‘R’ Us), but I somehow missed the entire 2002 relaunch.

We get some great concept drawings from the Four Horsemen,  including depictions of many new characters who never made it into the toyline or the cartoon series. This section also covers the Mike Young Productions cartoon, with some lovely background art, as well as an extensive look at artwork from the MVCreations comic book series. I do like the Four Horsemen’s original concept He-Man, but I’m not as fond of the anime look and oversized weapons that are peppered throughout the 2002 line. On the other hand, I absolutely adore the line’s vision for characters like Stinkor, Leech, Mer-Man and Webstor. I also find the stories in the 2002 cartoon series more compelling than the original Filmation series, although I prefer the look of the original cartoon.

four-horsemen-concept-he-man
Concept 2002 He-Man, by Four Horsemen Studios. Image via The Art of He-Man.

At about 250 pages in, we turn to the 2009 adult collector series, Masters of the Universe Classics. We to see some of the artwork that Rudy Obrero produced for the toyline (including his maps of Eternia and Etheria), as well as prototypes from Four Horsemen Studios. There are also maps, concept art, packaging artwork by Nate Baertsch and Axel Giménez. Tucked away in this section is also the original 1981 Wind Raider box art, which was used as a basis for the Masters of the Universe Classics version of the toy.

Classics “Alcala” style Skeletor and prototype Demo Man

The last 20 pages or so are a hodgepodge of subjects, from mobile games to social media,  modern DC MOTU comics and far-out, exploratory artwork.

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is practically mandatory reading for any serious He-Man fan, but I there’s I think it’s broad enough to appeal even to non-collectors who merely remember He-Man with fondness.

Several sections of the book have since been expanded into separate Dark Horse books, or else are in the works:

  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection
  • He-Man and She-Ra – A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – The Newspaper Comic Strips (Available February 14, 2017)
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – A Character Guide and World Compendium (May 16, 2017)

I hope that at some point we’ll see the subjects of vintage toy concept artwork and packaging artwork get the same treatment. The two topics could easily fill a couple of large volumes, and would be, in my opinion, required reading.

Modulok illustration for Masters of the Universe Classics, by Axel Giménez

Return to Table of Contents.

History

Masters of the Universe Timeline (1971-1987)

timeline-cover-2

In my continuing quest to understand the history of the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline, I’ve put together the following timeline. It’s generally focused on toy design, drawing dates from concept artwork, internal Mattel documents, patent filings, trademark filings, and even the Masters of the Universe Bible. My goal here is to give readers a sense of how the He-Man toyline developed and evolved. I’ve also included a few dates gleaned from the CPI (Conan Properties International) vs Mattel court cases. I believe this will help put to bed the idea that He-Man started out as a Conan figure. While He-Man was certainly influenced by Conan as depicted by Frank Frazetta, the He-Man project predates Mattel’s work on the Conan property by some time.

I drew on a number of different sources in compiling this information. Those sources include:

This is by no means an exhaustive timeline. I included only those pieces of information that were dated in some way. That includes information from court cases that was assigned an approximate date, like an early 1981 date for Tony Guerrero’s He-Man prototype. That also means that undated material like Mark Taylor’s Demo Man concept or Roger Sweet’s Mekaneck concept are not included in the timeline. I could of course infer dates for this kind of material, but I wanted to avoid guessing and stick to known facts.

I also have stayed away from dates tied to media not directly related to toy production. There are many specific dates available for individual episodes of the Filmation He-Man cartoon, for instance, but that is really outside of the parameters of this particular project.

I have only included a few images of concept designs here – some of them appear in earlier posts in this blog, and almost all of them appear in the sources I drew from. Unfortunately it would not be practical to try to include all of them in this post.

Finally, I’ve included some names that were listed in the Masters of the Universe Bible. The Bible itself is dated December 1, 1982, which gives us an early (if not exact) date for at least the conceptual existence of characters like Orko (or Gorpo, as he was first named) and Jitsu (or Chopper).

1971

“King of Styx” – illustration for a short story by Mark Taylor. Some elements later reused for Skeletor. Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor

1979 – “The King of Styx” concept, by Mark Taylor

1979

Torak, by Mark Taylor – 1979. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

1979 – Torak (He-Man) & early Skeletor concept, by Mark Taylor
1979 – First Castle Grayskull sketch, by Mark Taylor
Aug 15, 1979 – Category Management Teams memo

1980

December 1980: Roger Sweet’s “He-Man” trio; the barbarian figure was based on designs by Mark Taylor

May 22, 1980 – Fantasy Make Believe idea disclosure form, Roger Sweet
June 11, 1980 – Male Action Figure attributes list
September 8, 1980 – Figure Attributes list
September 21, 1980 – Space/Monster/Fantasy Figures budgeted hours form, Roger Sweet
November 3, 1980 – Megaton Man project request form, Roger Sweet
Late November, 1980 – Work started on “He-Man trio”, Roger Sweet with Mark Taylor
Mid-December 1980 – He-Man trio presented at Mattel Product Conference
December 30, 1980 – He-Man Characters & Accessories idea disclosure form, Roger Sweet

1981

Tony Guerrero’s early 1982 He-Man prototype. Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest.

Early 1981 – He-Man prototype, by Tony Guerrero
1981 – Bird Man (Stratos) concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Mer-Man concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Castle Grayskull concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Battle Cat concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Sensor (Zodac) concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Heroic Figure Battle Tester (Castle Grayskull combat trainer) concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Heroic Figure (He-Man) concept, by Mark Taylor
1981 – Heroic Figure (He-Man) battles plant monster concept, by Mark Taylor
January 6, 1981 – He-Man Vehicles and Accessories idea disclosure form (modular vehicles), Roger Sweet
January 23, 1981 – Drawing by Colin Bailey depicting Mark Taylor working on He-Man project, titled “Death of Mark Taylor From Night Visitation”
March 30, 1981 – De-Man (Skeletor) concept, by Mark Taylor
April 1, 1981 – Man-At-Arms concept, by Mark Taylor
April 2 1981 – Tree Man (Beast Man) concept, by Mark Taylor
April 6 1981 – He-Man (tan boots) concept, by Mark Taylor
April 7 1981 – Battle Ram (tank treads version) concept, by Ted Mayer
April 24, 1981 – Memorandum urging negotiation for Conan license
May 3, 1981 – He-Man (red/yellow boots) concept, by Mark Taylor
May 5, 1981 – CPI draft licensing agreement sent
May 28 1981 – Female Warrior (Teela) concept, by Mark Taylor
May 28, 1981 – Battle Ram control drawing, by Ted Mayer
June 3 1981 – Sorceress concept, by Mark Taylor
June 5 1981 – Battle Chariot concept, by Ted Mayer
July 1981 – He-Man designed by this month, per CPI vs Mattel lawsuit
July 14, 1981 – Memorandum discussing Mattel’s presentation of He-Man to Toys ‘R’ Us
July 23, 1981 – September 21, 1981 – Tony Guerrero worked on Conan toys
July 31, 1981– CPI and Mattel entered license agreement to manufacture toys based on Conan movie
August 10, 1981 – Attak Trak mechanism patent filed (non-Mattel)
September 16, 1981 – Mer-Man sword design concept, by Mark Taylor
September 30, 1981 – “Proprietary Line Concepts” document (Megaton Man, Kid Gallant, Robin & The Space Hoods, Monster Fantasy/He-Man)
November 28, 1981 – King of Castle Grayskull published per copyright records
November 28, 1981 – He-Man and the Power Sword published per copyright records
November 28, 1981 – The Vengeance of Skeletor published per copyright records
December 21, 1981 – Castle Grayskull trap door mechanism patent filed
December 14, 1981 – He-Man trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Teela trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Man-At-Arms trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Stratos trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Wind Raider trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Battle Ram trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Beast Man trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Mer-Man trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Zodac trademarked
December 14, 1981 – Masters of the Universe trademarked
December 21, 1981 – Battle Cat trademarked
December 21, 1981 – Castle Grayskull Trap Door patent filed

1982

Attak Trak concept drawing, by Ted Mayer – Mark 23, 1982. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer

1982 – Ram Man concept, by Mark Taylor
1982 – Gargo/Gargoyle dragon concept, by Mark Taylor
1982 – Man-E-Faces concept, by Mark Taylor
January 1982 – Mattel requested termination of Conan license agreement
January 15, 1982 – Castle Grayskull trademarked
January 15, 1982 – Skeletor trademarked
February 17, 1982 – Mattel introduces new “Masters of the Universe” toy line at Toy Fair
March 1, 1982 – Possible debut of the He-Man toyline, based on rebate offer date in first mini comic
March 4, 1982 – Attak Trak control drawing, by Ted Mayer
March 23, 1982 – Attak Trak concept, by Ted Mayer
April 14, 1982 – CPI and Mattel entered into a termination agreement
May 21, 1982 – Trap Jaw concept, by Colin Bailey
July 1982 – Wasp Man (Buzz-Off) concept, by Colin Bailey
July 1982 – Lizard Man (Whiplash) concept, by Colin Bailey
September 27, 1982 – Attak Trak trademarked
September 27, 1982 – Man-E-Faces trademarked
September 27, 1982 – Point Dread & The Talon Fighter trademarked
September 27, 1982 – Ram Man trademarked
September 27, 1982 – Trap Jaw trademarked
September 27, 1982 – Zoar trademarked
October 5, 1982 – Sultra (Evil-Lyn) concept, by Colin Bailey
December 1, 1982 – Marlena Glenn (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – King Randor (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Tri-Klops (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Snake Mountain (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Panthor (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Prince Adam (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Sorceress (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Cringer (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Gorpo (Orko) (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Delora (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Ram Man (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Spy Man (Mekaneck) (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Bugoff (Buzz-Off) (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Tri Trak vehicle (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Roton (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Faker (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Black Widow (Webstor) (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Fang Man (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Chopper (Jitsu) (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Tornado Traveler vehicle (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – War Sled (evil Battle Ram) (MOTU Bible)
December 1, 1982 – Grinder vehicle (MOTU Bible)
December 07, 1982 – King of Castle Grayskull copyright registered
December 08, 1982 – He-Man and the Power Sword copyright registered
December 28, 1982 – The Vengeance of Skeletor copyright registered
December 10, 1982 – Tri-Klops trademarked

1983

Dragon Walker concept by Ed Watts, 1983. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation.

1983 – Dragon Walker concept, by Ed Watts
1983 – Snake Mountain packaging sketch, by William George
1983 – Dragon Walker with Land Shark packaging sketch, by William George
January 21, 1983 – Evil-Lyn trademarked
January 21, 1983 – Heroic Warriors trademarked
January 21, 1983 – Evil Warriors trademarked
February 16, 1983 – Panthor trademarked
February 16, 1983 – Screeech trademarked
May 23, 1983 – Prince Adam trademarked
May 25, 1983 – Faker trademarked
May 25, 1983 – Point Dread trademarked
May 25, 1983 – Talon Fighter trademarked
August 15, 1983 – Snake Mountain trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Battle For Eternia trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Buzz-Off trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Clawful trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Fisto trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Jitsu trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Mekaneck trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Road Ripper trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Roton trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Stridor trademarked
August 22, 1983 – Whiplash trademarked
September 5, 1983 – Filmation He-Man cartoon debuts
September 17, 1983 – Gyro (early Roton) concept, by Ed Watts
September 19, 1983 – Spider Attack Vehicle (early Spydor) concept, by Ed Watts
September 19, 1983 – Ball Buster (early Bashasaurus) concept, by Ed Watts
September 22, 1983 – Zap ‘N’ Go Vehicle concept, by Ted Mayer
September 26, 1983 – Dungeon concept, by Ted Mayer
September 29, 1983 – Vehicle Launcher (very early Road Ripper) concept, by Ted Mayer
November 18, 1983 – Masters Playset (two towers) concept, by Ted Mayer
December 5, 1983 – Villain Playset (early Fright Zone) concept, by Ed Watts
December 5, 1983 – Webstor trademarked
December 8, 1983 – Flying Fists He-Man/Battle Armor He-Man concept, by Ted Mayer
December 8, 1983 – Dragon concept, by Ed Watts
December 8, 1983 – Dragon concept, without helmet, by Ed Watts
December 29, 1983 – Mekaneck patent filed
December 29, 1983 – Battle Armor He-Man patent filed

1984

Torton, by Ed Watts – February 9, 1984. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

1984 – Mantisaur concept variations, for “New Ventures”
1984 – Jaws I, Jaws III, various unproduced vehicles concept, for “New Ventures”
1984 – Battle Armor Skeletor & Panthor packaging sketch, by William George
1984 – Dragon Blaster Skeletor packaging sketch, by William George
January 10, 1984 – Dragon Walker patent filed
January 27, 1984 – Battle Armor trademarked
January 27, 1984 – Kobra Khan trademarked
January 27, 1984 – The Fright Zone trademarked
February 9, 1984 – Torton concept, by Ed Watts
March 29, 1984 – Hordak concept, by Ted Mayer
June 1, 1984 – Horned helmet warrior woman concept, by Ted Mayer
June 6, 1984 – Modular Man (Multi-Bot) concept, by Ted Mayer
June 7, 1984 – Horde Octopus Woman (Octavia) concept, by Ted Mayer
June 13, 1984 – TM action figure concept, by Ted Mayer
June 15, 1984 – Snout Spout (black and white) concept, by Ted Mayer
June 18, 1984 – Walking skull vehicle concept, by Jim Keifer
June 19, 1984 – Early Megator concept, RS
July 6, 1984 – Chest cannon He-Man concept, by Ted Mayer
July 6, 1984 – Multi-Bot concept, by Ted Mayer
July 7, 1984 – Chest monster Skeletor concept, by Ted Mayer
July 7, 1984 – Transparent Man (Roboto) concept, by Ted Mayer
July 7, 1984 – Jester figure (Acrobad) concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Rotary Man (early Hurricane Hordak) concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Horde Mummy concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Vulture figure concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Stilt Stalkers concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Jet Sled (close to final) concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Helicopter accessory concept, by Ted Mayer
July 8, 1984 – Claw climbing accessory concept, by Ted Mayer
July 9, 1984 – Handsome concept, by Ted Mayer
July 9, 1984 – Basher concept, by Ted Mayer
July 10, 1984 – Megalaser concept, by Ted Mayer
July 10, 1984 – Octavia (colored) concept, by Ted Mayer
July 12, 1984 – Big Foot concept, by Ted Mayer
July 12, 1984 – Snowman concept, by Ted Mayer
July 12, 1984 – Tung Lashor concept, by Ted Mayer
July 13, 1984 – Green witch concept, by Ted Mayer
July 13, 1984 – Archer woman concept, by Ted Mayer
July 13, 1984 – Snout Spout concept, by Ted Mayer
July 13, 1984 – Masters Gigor concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Mantor (Mantisaur) concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Attak Pose Panthor concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Cyclo Marauder concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – War Wing parachute concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Monster Walker (snake mountain face), by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Fright Fighter concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Dart (Laser Bolt) concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Dungeon concept, by Ed Watts
July 13, 1984 – Battle For Eternia game concept, by Ed Watts
July 15, 1984 – Tyroar concept, by Ed Watts
July 15, 1984 – Turbosaurus (early Gigantosaur) concept, by Ed Watts
July 16, 1984 – Disc Blaster concept, by Ed Watts
July 16, 1984 – Weapons Factory concept, by Jim Keifer
July 22, 1984 – Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor packaging sketch, by William George
September 10, 1984 – Grizzlor trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Hordak trademarked
September 10, 1984 – The Horde trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Land Shark trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Leech trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Mantenna trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Spikor trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Spydor trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Stinkor trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Thunder Punch trademarked
September 10, 1984 – Two Bad trademarked
September 15, 1984 – Canyon Hopper concept, by Ed Watts
September 18, 1984 – Motorized waking monster armor concept, by Ed Watts
September 24, 1984 – Dragon Fly (Fright Fighter) concept, by Ed Watts
September 29, 1984 – Transforming figure concept, by Ed Watts
October 3, 1984 – Firepower Man (Rio Blast) concept, by Ed Watts
November 13, 1984 – Land Shark patent filed
November 23, 1984 – Bashasaurus trademarked
November 23, 1984 – Night Stalker trademarked
November 23, 1984 – The Evil Horde trademarked
December 1, 1984 – Engine Man (Dragstor) concept, by Ed Watts
December 11, 1984 – Conan Properties, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc. lawsuit
December 14, 1984 – Battle Bones patent filed
December 14, 1984 – Sy-Klone patent filed
December 17, 1984 – Mantenna patent filed
December 19, 1984 – Dragon Blaster trademarked
December 19, 1984 – Modulok trademarked
December 19, 1984 – Moss Man trademarked
December 24, 1984 – Two Bad patent filed
December 28, 1984 – Battle Bones trademarked

1985

Eternia sketch, by Ted Mayer

1985 – “The Slime Pit” finished painting, by William George
1985 – Hurricane Hordak pencils, by William George
1985 – Flying Fists He-Man pencils, by William George
January 3, 1985 – Roboto patent filed
January 3, 1985 – Thunder Punch He-Man patent filed
January 4, 1985 – Bashasaurus patent filed
February 5, 1985 – Wolf head Eternia concept, by Ted Mayer
February 26, 1985 – Early Blast Attak concept, by Mark Jones
March 29, 1985 – Seaman (Scubattack) concept, by Alan Tyler
April 5, 1985 – Fright Zone puppet tooling method patent filed
April 18, 1985 – Heroic Giant (Tytus) concept, by Alan Tyler
June 14, 1985 – Laser Bolt trademarked
June 14, 1985 – Terror Claws trademarked
June 15, 1985 – Gyrattacker concept, by Ted Mayer
June 17, 1985 – Flying Fists trademarked
June 17, 1985 – Rattlor trademarked
June 17, 1985 – Rokkon trademarked
June 17, 1985 – Stonedar trademarked
June 17, 1985 – Sy-Klone trademarked
June 17, 1985 – Tung Lashor trademarked
June 24, 1985 – Slime Pit trademarked
July 8, 1985 – Spydor patent filed
July 25, 1985 – Slasher/Punjab concept, by Roger Sweet
September 4, 1985 – Triceratops (Bionotops) concept, by Mark Jones
September 4, 1985 – Turbodactyl concept, by Mark Jones
September 9, 1984 – Horde Slurb concept, by Mark Jones
September 13, 1985 – Dragon Lord concept, by Alan Tyler
September 13, 1985 – Sorcerer concept, by Alan Tyler
September 13, 1985 – Steel Kill concept, by Alan Tyler
September 13, 1985 – Laser Bolt patent filed
September 16, 1985 – Secrets of Grayskull “New Notes” document (Grayskull Tower, King Hiss, etc.)
September 22, 1985 – Early Jet Sled concept, by Ted Mayer
September 25, 1985 – Horde Trooper patent filed
September 27, 1985 – King Hiss patent filed
September 27, 1985 – Megalaser patent filed
October 4, 1985 – Fright Zone patent filed
October 11, 1985 – Hurricane Hordak patent filed
October 17, 1985 – Secrets of Grayskull Preliminary Story Background Eternia, King Hiss, etc.)
November 4, 1985 – Medusa-Man (Snake Face) concept, by David Wolfram
November 12, 1985 – Horde Trooper trademarked
November 12, 1985 – Mantisaur trademarked
November 12, 1985 – Multi-Bot trademarked
November 12, 1985 – Snake Men trademarked
November 12, 1985 – Snout Spout trademarked
November 21, 1985 – Tyrantisaurus concept, by David Wolfram
November 26, 1985 – Crack-Pot (Blast Attak) concept, by Richard Lepik
December 6, 1985 – Streak concept, by Alan Tyler
December 12, 1985 – Blasterhawk trademarked
December 16, 1985 – Evil Giant (Megator) concept, by Alan Tyler

1986

Rokkon/Stonedar patent illustration – filed January 14, 1986

January 9, 1986 – Extendar trademarked
January 9, 1986 – Rio Blast trademarked
January 14, 1986 – Rokkon/Stonedar patent filed
March 15, 1986 – Comet Warriors trademarked
March 21, 1986 – Battle For Eternia (game) trademarked
March 21, 1986 – Fright Fighter trademarked
March 24, 1986 – Stilt Stalker trademarked
May 14, 1986 – The “Multiples” (heroic) concept, by James McElroy
June 9, 1986 – Tower Tools/Cliff Climber/Scubattack mechanism patent filed
June 14, 1986 – Sticky Minions concept, by James McElroy
June 14, 1986 – Spider People Centipede concept, by James McElroy
June 15, 1986 – The Multiples (evil) concept, by James McElroy
June 16, 1986 – Recording Sound Playset concept, by James McElroy
June 18, 1986 – Spider People Tarantula concept, by James McElroy
June 20, 1986 – The Lockers concept, by James McElroy
June 20, 1986 – Skeletor Dragon Disguise concept, By James McElroy
June 20, 1986 – The Slime Monster concept, by James McElroy
June 20, 1986 – Gwildor concept, by Alan Tyler (based on movie designs)
June 29, 1986 – The Optimagic concept, by James McElroy
June 30, 1986 – The Voice concept, by James McElroy
June 23, 1986 – Rotar/Twistoid patent filed
June 23, 1986 – Eternia trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Grayskull (figure) trademarked (cancelled)
June 23, 1986 – Jet Sled trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Monstroid trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Buzz-Saw trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Mosquitor trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Sorceress trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Meteorbs trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Cometroid trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Ty-Grrr trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Astro Lion trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Comet Cat trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Tuskor trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Dinosorb trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Crocobite trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Rhinorb trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Orbear trademarked
June 23, 1986 – Gore-Illa trademarked
July 9, 1986 – Giant Foot Print Trap concept, by James McElroy
July 9, 1986 – Net Trap concept, by James McElroy
July 13, 1986 – Gyrattacker patent filed
September 16, 1986 – Blast Attak patent filed
September 22, 1986 – Bionotops trademarked
September 22, 1986 – Gigantisaur trademarked
September 22, 1986 – Powers of Grayskull trademarked
September 22, 1986 – Tyrantisaurus Rex trademarked
October 1986 – He-Man military pitch, by Stephen Lee
October 6, 1986 – Eldor trademarked
October 6, 1986 – Rotar trademarked
October 6, 1986 – Turbodactyl trademarked
October 6, 1986 – Twistoid trademarked
October 6, 1986 – Tytus trademarked
October 7, 1986 – Blast-Attak trademarked
October 7, 1986 – Gwildor trademarked
October 14, 1986 – Cliff Climber trademarked
October 14, 1986 – Scubattack trademarked
November 17, 1986 – H.E./M.A.N. concept, by James McElroy

1987

Megator concept, by Mark Jones, based on Mark Taylor’s Demo-Man concept – 1987. Image source: The Art of He-Man/The Power and the Honor Foundation

1987 – Megator concept, based on Mark Taylor’s Demo-Man, colored by Mark Jones
April 27, 1987 – Saurod trademarked
April 27, 1987 – Megator trademarked
May 18, 1987 – Laser Power He-Man drawing, by David Wolfram
May 18, 1987 – Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor (early Laser-Light Skeletor) concept, by David Wolfram
June 22, 1987 – Regular Bio-Mechazoid Skeletor (early Laser-Light Skeletor) concept, by David Wolfram

Thanks to Shawn for pointing me towards the CPI vs Mattel material.

“Death of Mark Taylor From Night Visitation.” Artwork by Colin Bailey, January 23, 1981. Given to Mark when he was working on his “dark project” (He-Man). Image courtesy of Rebecca Salari Taylor.

Return to Table of Contents.

Heroic Warriors

He-Man: Most powerful man in the universe! (1982)

He-Man was released with the first wave of action figures in the 1982 Masters of the Universe line. But for a simple, relatively unadorned action figure, He-Man has a complex and storied history. His origins are the subject of much controversy, and frequently discussed lately in the wake of the recent Toy Masters documentary and the Dark Horse Art of He-Man  book. I can’t definitively settle those controversies, but I will attempt to present the key facts as I understand them in the development of the most powerful man in the universe.

From Rudy Obrero’s Castle Graykull box art illustration

Design & Development

The earliest known artwork related to He-Man is a 1979 drawing by Mattel artist Mark Taylor. When Taylor was hired at Mattel, he initially did packaging design for the Barbie line. In his free time he would sketch the kinds of fantasy heroes he had been interested in since he was a child. He was influenced by Tarzan and Prince Valiant comic books, as well as the artwork of Frank Frazetta and the various artists featured in Heavy Metal magazine.

Torak, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

In this 1979 sketch (above), Torak certainly looks the part of He-Man. The facial features, determined expression and blond hair are all very familiar. The leather strap around his chest almost looks like half of what would eventually be He-Man’s distinctive chest harness. There is even a villain in the background who resembles Skeletor.

Update: Emiliano Santalucia of The Power and the Honor Foundation has learned that the character known as Vikor, commonly thought to be an early He-Man concept, was in fact Taylor’s sketch for the aborted Mattel Conan line. In retrospect perhaps it should have been obvious – he looks very much like the classic Conan character, and not much like any version of He-Man:

Mark Taylor’s Vikor (actually Conan), from the Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Conan doing battle with a giant lizard, by Mark Taylor. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation, via The Art of He-Man.

As Taylor tells the story, Mattel was looking for a new boy’s action figure line that could be produced without paying licensing fees to a third party. The company had passed on making Star Wars toys, and of course Star Wars had become enormously successful in the meantime. Mattel’s existing boy’s lines (Clash of the Titans, Battlestar Galactica and Flash Gordon) could not compete with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. As part of the initiative to create a new male action figure line, Roger Sweet (a designer at Mattel), used some of Mark Taylor’s drawings to assist in developing a pitch for a new line of action figures. For a presentation to Mattel CEO Ray Wagner, Sweet created three rudimentary action figures, which were really Big Jim figures packed with extra clay muscles. In Roger’s concept, the character could be a generic hero, outfitted with science fiction, barbarian or military costumes, and would have access to science fiction vehicles.

Roger Sweet’s “He-Man Trio”, late 1980

As you can see, a recognizable version of the final He-Man harness is present on the center figure, which has come to be known to fans as Vykron:

Roger has acknowledged in a podcast interview (Masters of the Universe Chronicles) that Mark Taylor designed the harness for his barbarian prototype, including the inclusion of the Templar cross. And if you look closely at the bracers on the center figure, you can see they come from Mark Taylor’s Torak character. The helmet also comes from another Mark Taylor design from the 1970s. This fits with statements by both Mark Taylor and Ted Mayer that Roger’s model was based off of Mark Taylor’s designs. Of the three 1980 prototypes, it was the barbarian-themed figure that was green-lit by Ray Wagner for further development.

Mark Taylor also drew a couple of illustrations in 1981, apparently based on the prototype (in turn based on Mark’s designs). The harness in these drawings was even closer to the final toy design:

Still, Roger Sweet has been claiming for many years that he designed He-Man:

“What I always say is, I originated and named He-Man, and originated the general concept of the Masters Of The Universe. I constructed three prototype figures at nine and a half inches, which I first showed at a product conference at Mattel in late 1980. These three prototype figures brought He-Man into existence. They were all of He-Man in different themes and configurations. One had a barbarian theme from the ancient past (low tech), another had a current military enhanced theme (mid tech), and the other one had a futuristic military, a la Star Wars, enhanced theme (high tech), showing that He-Man can go anywhere, and do anything, at any time, in any theme. These figures were nine and a half inches tall, and the figures in the line from 1982-87 were five and a half inches. But I knew if I showed these figures at the height they ended up being, I would have a very poor chance of selling the concept, so I made them very tall, huge, and very impressive.” – Roger Sweet

As far as Roger Sweet’s barbarian prototype goes, the harness appears to be the only element on the sculpture that is unique to the final He-Man’s design. And as we’ve already learned, it was Mark Taylor, not Roger Sweet, who designed the harness. It appears, moreover, that the entire costume was designed by Mark Taylor. Roger appears to have been the sculptor, not the designer (later, finer sculpts were done by Tony Guerrero). Sweet has based his claim to creating He-Man on this prototype, but it’s hard for me to see how Sweet can be given any credit for the design of He-Man.

Based on all available evidence, it is my opinion that Mark Taylor is the principal and primary designer of He-Man, with some ancillary contribution and input from many others at Mattel. In fact, the whole 1982 lineup was almost entirely designed by Mark Taylor, with help from Ted Mayer on the vehicles. The toyline was really Mark’s vision, at least for the first year of its existence.

As far as I can tell, Roger Sweet’s contributions to He-Man (the figure) were primarily as follows: the name itself, and the “power punch” action feature, and the idea to exaggerate the musculature (as Roger often says, he wanted He-Man to make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a wimp). Roger Sweet’s more significant contributions to the Masters of the Universe toyline seem to have come later, with figures like Tri-Klops, Mekaneck, Webstor, Kobra Khan and others. We have Sweet’s concept drawings for most of those figures, but all the concept artwork for He-Man and other figures released in 1982 comes from Mark Taylor.

“When I first saw the [1982] Masters of the Universe line all together I thought it was somewhat weak because it was low-tech and it was conservative. My concept of MOTU was that it combined everything- low-tech, high-tech, past, present and future. I wanted MOTU to be as expansive as possible and do anything that was appealing. I would love to see a G.I. Joe segment in MOTU. I wouldn’t mind seeing a character like [Child’s Play] Chucky in it.

“In other words, anything could go into it. When I became the manager in charge of creativity for the line in 1983 I worked real hard to change that.” – Roger Sweet

The first year of the Masters of the Universe line

Rudy Obrero, the freelance packaging artist behind the artwork for the earliest MOTU product boxes (Castle Grayskull, Battle Cat, Wind Raider, etc), described his working relationship with Mark Taylor:

I don’t remember the conversations [with Mark Taylor about the MOTU line] but I remember the feeling I got. I left there thinking this guy is really into it. He’s really into this. And that’s why I always thought he created it. It just felt like it was his baby.

Source: Power & Honor Foundation
Image Source: Power and Honor Foundation
Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. Note that this version has reduced horns on the helmet. Perhaps it’s a degraded copy of the original.

This 1981 model (above) by the late Tony Guerrero is closer to the final He-Man design in some ways. The bracers and belt now look very recognizably He-Man, as does the belt/loin cloth. I’m not sure if this was meant to have a harness put over top it or not, but I would assume that it did.. A cast of this sculpture appears in early prototype pictures of Ted Mayer’s Battle Ram vehicle, as well:

Close to final Battle Ram concept by Ted Mayer

Incidentally, a helmet very similar to the one on the above prototype appears on the door to Castle Grayskull:

Image source: Poe Ghostal

The horned helmet stuck with He-Man until very late in his development. It appears in several versions of Mark Taylor’s B-sheet for the character, including an early colorized version dated April 6, 1981, and a later recolored version dated August 3, 1981:

From the Mark Taylor Portfolio, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation
Colorized version from August 3, 1981. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

This version looks very close to the final production figure. The colors have been made brighter to be more appealing to children. The shield looks close to the final version.

A prototype (below) was sculpted based on the 1981 B-Sheet. Most of the elements from the B-sheet are there, with the notable exception of the horned helmet. This version is also missing the bracer on the left wrist and the boot knife. Perhaps the left bracer is missing because its presence on the B-sheet was obscured by the shield.


Closer to final prototype. Image source: He-man.us

Mini comic artist Alfredo Alcala probably used both the B-sheet and the above prototype as a reference, because his earliest depictions of He-Man have specific elements from both (notably, the knife in the boot, the two-tone boots, the belt, the occasional lack of a bracer on the left wrist, and the shape of the axe).

Another view of the close to final prototype appears in this photo (courtesy of Ted Mayer) of an early version of the Wind Raider. In this image, the detail on the right forearm bracer is more evident. From this angle, it looks like the harness is a part of the chest sculpt, although it’s difficult to say for sure. It’s also clear that the cross symbol on He-Man’s chest is also more raised than the final toy.

Update: More views of this early prototype have recently surfaced in these promotional images shared by Andy Youssi. These images include He-Man’s prototype axe:

Mark Ellis, who was in charge of marketing for the fledgling MOTU line, explains some of the changes to He-Man’s design:

Preliminary Design did the original figure for the theme test, one of which was the barbarian. After the research came back on the theme, work began on developing the line. Engineering and the art departments took over the development of the characters.  Each character was modified a few times, each time being a little less barbarian and finally to what was produced. In developing the original line, you have to remember that we were introducing it without the benefit of a movie, comic character, or TV show.  It was on its own.  From the Usage Research, kids when they are 5 and 6 want to know if the character is good or bad.  So over time, changes were made to make He Man more clearly good and Skeletor and his cronies made to look quite different from the good guys.  I do remember changing He Man’s hair to be blond because my boss had blond hair.  I had a chart on my office wall to keep track of who was who, and what their special powers were so that everything we did in the commercials and packaging was consistent.

You might have noticed that every version of He-Man we’ve seen so far lacks the iconic power sword. The sword seems to have been an added later as a marketing consideration, according to Ellis:

I will say that at Mattel, we were careful to make sure the sword fit into the characters hand.  An idea was proposed when we were doing the television commercial for the line that involved a split sword.  That is why He Man’s and Skeletor’s swords fit together. We later dropped that idea in the development of the commercials.

I’d also like to note that the upward-curved cross guards on the sword were meant to be open, as in the Alfredo Alcala artwork (below). But it appears that strengthening connectors were added to the cross guards because the plastic used was so flexible. So the ends of the cross guards were often depicted in media as being fused together, especially in the Filmation cartoon – an interesting accident brought about by engineering and safety considerations.

Quick mock-up of the Power Sword with open cross guards

According to designer Mark Taylor, the upward curved cross guards were actually meant to be handles, as you turned the sword like a key to open Castle Grayskull. In his view of the He-Man mythos, He-Man would have inherited one half of the sword from his ancestors, and the Skeletor would have inherited the other half.

It was recently pointed out to me by Dušan Mitrović that there is an early Filmation drawing that features the half sword concept. The split sword idea was dropped before the show went into production.


Image source: James Eatock

This final, hand-painted He-Man prototype (below) brings all the refinements and changes (many driven by market research) into the final iconic look for the most powerful man in the universe:

Notice the unpainted bracers on the forearms – a cost-saving measure. From The Art of He-Man.

The cross sell art (below) is very true to He-Man’s finalized design, and so was likely created sometime after the final prototype:

Packaging

He-Man was first packaged on the sought-after “8-back” card. Reissued versions featured an amazing scene on the back of the card of He-Man, Teela and Man-At-Arms gazing out over the rolling hills of Eternia, vigilant for any signs of Skeletor. My favorite version is the reissued “12-back” card, because it features that artwork.

Art by Errol McCarthy, from The Art of He-Man

The first He-Man 8-back release figures were made in Taiwan. The version below is the very first release, which you can tell because it has no warranty information listed on the back, no subtitles for the character names, and no batch number (ie G1, G2, G3, and so forth):

He-Man, Mexico “8-back” packaging, 1983, with warranty:

He-Man, Taiwan “12-back” packaging, 1984:

Production Figure

Early versions of the 1982 made in Taiwan loose figure (stamped 1981) have a sculpted belly button, which disappeared from the figure starting in 1983. I believe the earliest versions have somewhat blue-ish gray accessories, while subsequent versions have more of a flat gray color.

The belt color ranged from an orange-salmon color to more of a mustard yellow. His hair color could be subdued or quite bright. I won’t explore production variants in depth in this particular blog post.

One of the things that really captivated me about He-Man as a kid, aside from his powerful appearance and striking but simple design, was his face sculpt. It wasn’t a handsome face. He had very strong cheekbones and muscular jaws. Depending on the angle, his expression could go from a grimace to a smile. It’s really a remarkable face, and a testament to the great skill of Tony Guerrero.

He-Man in Action

Some photos and a short video of He-Man in action, contributed by Øyvind Meisfjord:

Reception

He-Man and his early compatriots were an instant success. Even before the debut of the Filmation cartoon, the Masters of the Universe line sold five million figures in its first 10 months:

Trade magazine advertisement, reusing a pose by artist Alfred Alcala in the mini comic, King of Castle Grayskull. Image via www.motucfigures.com

Gift Sets

He-Man, as a toy, was sold in a number of configurations, apart from the single-carded figure. I won’t get into He-Man variants (ie, Battle Armor He-Man, Thunder Punch He-Man, etc) for now. But the standard release He-Man was available in the following gift sets:

  • He-Man/Battle Cat
  • He-Man/Wind Raider
  • He-Man/Jet Sled
  • He-Man/Skeletor
  • He-Man/Teela
  • He-Man/Teela/Ram Man

You can explore what these items looked like at the excellent Grayskull Museum site.

An interesting side note. In early materials He-Man is referred to as “Strongest man in the universe” rather than “Most powerful man in the universe.”

Artwork

He-Man appeared in most of the box art produced for the MOTU line. My favorite depictions of He-Man in box art tend to be the Rudy Obrero pieces. I’m also quite fond of William George’s depictions, but I’ll get into his artwork in another post when I discuss Battle Armor He-Man:

Origin Story

He-Man’s origin story changed dramatically over the first few years of his existence. In the Alcala/Glut mini comics, he was a jungle warrior who had been gifted by the Sorceress/Goddess with some powerful weapons and artifacts. His harness acted as a force field and amplified his strength. He-Man was strong but he couldn’t move mountains. He could be overpowered by enemies like Beast Man or Mer-Man, if he wasn’t careful. He-Man was always He-Man in this continuity – there was no Prince Adam.

In the earliest Golden Books stories, He-Man again lacks an alter ego. He is simply He-Man, tireless protector of Castle Grayskull:

In the 1982 DC Comics series, the alter ego of Prince Adam was introduced for the first time. This Adam (dressed in a blue vest) could only transform into He-Man by entering the “Cavern of Power”.

By the time the Filmation cartoon debuted in 1983, Prince Adam was sole keeper of the power sword (in other canon it was often hidden in obscure places or guarded by the Sorceress), and he used it to summon the power of Castle Grayskull and transform into He-Man. He was warrior with immense, almost limitless strength, but he had an aversion to violence except as a last resort.

Animation

In the Filmation cartoon, He-Man’s design was noticeably softened. He lost the rectangular elements on his harness and the detail on his bracers and belt. But in the Filmation-produced commercial, He-Man retained the details of the vintage toy:

He-Man as he appeared in the Filmation cartoon
He-Man from the animated commercial. Image source: The Art of He-Man

Advertising

As the protagonist of the MOTU line, He-Man was of course featured prominently in almost all marketing materials for the line, including catalog images and television commercials:

Impact

He-Man captured the imagination of a generation of children, from 1982 until the demise of the Masters of the Universe line in 1988. He was a bit of a contradiction, though. He tapped into the primordial barbarian fantasy worlds that were so popular during the 70s and early 80s (Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, etc), but he also had a heart and was a good role model for children. And despite the fact that he wore furry shorts and rode a giant tiger, he would also pilot fantasy vehicles and fight opponents armed with laser canons.

Equal parts Conan, Trazan, Luke Skywalker, Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant, He-Man was derivative of dozens of disparate but iconic characters. But He-Man also transcended those influences and became something much more. Would it be at all plausible to say that He-Man represents some kind of unconscious primordial image – a Jungian archetype? Maybe that’s taking things a bit too far. But then again, maybe not.

As Mark Taylor recently said:

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes. Joseph Campbell’s concepts about myths and legends and icons are ingrained in all artists’ mentality. If you’re going to tell a story, you need to understand Joseph Campbell.

As an artist it’s always been integral to me to tell the story. Even if I’m doing something that you wouldn’t think has a story to it, like a painting, I have to feel that I’m telling a story.

I think I got this [idea of what a hero is] by looking at Greek literature and Tarzan and Prince Valiant. I would read it with my dad, which was really important, and I wanted to be the next hero. And at the same time I was kind of fascinated with the idea of Cro-Magnons and Vikings. They would just go into battle with almost no armor on. They went into battle, and so did the Greeks and so did all the heroes. A hero doesn’t need a lot of armor. To me the hero is the guy that is willing to go out there and just do it no matter what. His job is to prevail.

Illustration by Earl Norem
Illustration by Earl Norem

Return to Table of Contents.