Heroic Warriors

Orko: Heroic court magician (1984)

Of all of the He-Man toys I got when I was young, Orko was perhaps the most disappointing to me at the time. I had no interest in him at all. Like many fans, I was introduced to He-Man through the first wave of toys and mini comics. While I loved the Filmation He-Man cartoon (which debuted in September of 1983) as a kid, I never gelled with Orko. To me he represented a softening of the brand to something silly instead of awesome. He-Man to me was about axe-wielding barbarian dudes fighting skeletons and monsters. Orko didn’t fit with that image for me.

That’s not exactly how I feel about the matter as an adult. While my preferred vision will always be the world of the early mini comics and story books, I have a great deal of affection for the little Trollan wizard.

In any case, I received both Orko and Prince Adam as birthday presents in 1984. I wouldn’t have chosen either of them had I been consulted. I had similar problems with Prince Adam and was always wanting the cartoon to get to the “good part” where the weak Prince Adam would be replaced by the hero, He-Man. But, on some level I was still happy to get anything He-Man related, and Orko came with a fun action feature and some interesting goodies (more on those later).

Orko makes his first appearance in the December 1, 1982 MOTU Bible, written by Michael Halperin. His original name was Gorpo, and he was described this way:

GORPO* – a tiny, mystical alien who dropped in quite unexpectedly from another dimension and made himself at home in the royal palace. Gorpo doesn’t usually walk, instead he floats a couple of feet off the ground. His amusing tricks and quick wit entertained the king and queen who decreed the alien to be the official Magical Jester-in-Residence. Unfortunately, Gorpo’s magic doesn’t always work as well as it should. Gorpo has a hard enough time just pulling a rabbit from a helmet or making an egg materialize. The rabbit inevitably gets loose and sends Cringer up a tree. And the egg may materialize in Man-At-Arms’ pocket — broken. Because he’s always popping up at odd place, Gorpo discovers Adam’s other persona and is sworn to loyal secrecy by the Sorceress.

Fans of the Filmation He-Man cartoon will recognize this description of Orko instantly, because that is exactly how he is portrayed in the series.

Gorpo shows up again in the 1984 UK Masters of the Universe Annual. Despite it’s relatively late date, the Annual obviously draws from some very early source materials, as it features pictures of early prototype figures and refers to Orko as Gorpo. In the annual we get a look at the character of Gorpo, who looks very much like the Orko fans are familiar with, except his colors are completely different. Here he is shown with a blue costume and Caucasian skin:

Scans courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Gorpo’s name was changed to Orko by Filmation. Giving him an O on his chest instead of a G would allow animators to flip animation cells and get double the use out of them, saving time and money.

In the Filmation MOTU Series Guide, we see an intermediate step in the evolution of the character’s design. In the image below, we see Orko with the familiar magenta robe and orange hat. Notice that his skin has a grayish hue and his scarf is magenta rather than purple. He also lacks any design on the front of his robe.

Image via He-Man.org. In this expanded bio, it is revealed that Orko came to Eternia from another world. In the series it is revealed that Orko’s home world is Trolla.

At some point in the design process at Filmation Studios, his colors were altered yet again. He was given a purple scarf, blue skin, and a black O on the front of his robe. This was his final design:

Based on the success of the Filmation cartoon series, Mattel started working on an action figure version of Orko in 1983. The earliest prototype looks rather crude, but it gets the general idea across. It seems to be made from clay and felt, with a conical body. Notice he has pink hands, orange ears, and a pink scarf.

A second, more polished prototype appears in the 1984 Mattel Toys Dealer Catalog. This one looks quite similar to the final toy, except his hat is a bit cruder, his right hand is angled differently, and the “O” on his robe is more oblong. His ears and hands are still orange and pink, respectively, but his scarf is now purple.

The cross sell artwork for Orko seems to be a hybrid of the above prototype and the final toy:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez
Line art used in ad sheets

A different version of the cross sell art was used in the Brazilian Estrela packaging:

Orko was given a rather fun action feature. The included ripcord could be used to spin a small metal rod on the bottom of the figure, causing him to “run” around in circles.

Orko also came with a magic trick consisting of plastic coins with pictures of evil and heroic warriors. You were supposed to be able to cover the coins with a plastic implement and “replace” the evil coins with heroic ones. I could never get it to work, which I suppose is fitting given that Orko’s magic never seemed to work quite right for him.

Unlike every other figure the vintage MOTU series, Orko was stamped with a Filmation copyright rather than a Mattel copyright. I assume that means Filmation retained rights to the character they created, and Mattel had to pay licensing fees.

Orko’s hat was removable, but given that his face was supposed to be in the shadows of his hat, he never quite looked right without it.

Orko showed up in the following gift sets:

  • Prince Adam/Orko
  • Battle Armor Skeletor/Orko/Battle Armor He-Man
  • Thunder Punch He-Man/Orko

Errol McCarthy created the scene on the back of Orko’s card, and illustrated quite a few other pieces staring or featuring the character:

Orko was a nearly ubiquitous presence in the Filmation He-Man cartoon. Voiced by the late, great Lou Scheimer, Orko played a couple of roles in the series. He was the traditional “fool” character, often getting the heroes into scrapes by acting impetuously. He also played the role of the child in the series, with Man-At-Arms as his surrogate parent. (I first heard this analysis articulated by Emiliano Santalucia on the Roast Gooble Dinner podcast.)

Throughout the series, Man-At-Arms often tells Orko to do things like clean his room and do his chores, and it is Man-At-Arms who metes out punishments when Orko misbehaves. I think Orko was created as a character that children could relate to, but personally I related most to He-Man.

In the third or fourth act of many stories in the series, however, Orko also played a pivotal role in turning the tide against the villains. In Orko’s Return, the little wizard is kidnapped by Beast Man and Trap Jaw, who have secured a magic amulet. With it, they are able to create for themselves a magical fortress, and force Orko to obey their words exactly. Orko takes advantage of their inexact language to thwart many of their plans by giving them what they asked for but did not want.

Thanksgiving comes early when Trollan roast gooble is for dinner.

The mini comics and Golden Books stories portray Orko in pretty much the same way.

Masks of Evil:

Time Trouble:

Hordak: The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge!

(Images via He-Man.org)

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Commercials

1983 US He-Man commercials

Continuing from last week when I covered all of the US toy commercials released in 1982, let’s take a look at what came out the following year. In 1983, Mattel released commercials that technically featured every new product, although there were no ads that I know of solely dedicated to Evil-Lyn, Tri-Klops, Panthor, Zoar or Screeech.

Probably my favorite of the commercials released in 1983 is this ad featuring all of the MOTU product available to date. Note that Zodac is grouped with the Evil Warriors:

The little kid at the end I think perfectly captures my reaction to these toys when I was that age.

The Man-E-Faces commercial has one of my favorite lines of dialogue:

Dad: “He-Man, he’s your friend?”

Boy (speaking as He-Man): “Friend and ally. He’s just kind of weird sometimes.”

The Ram Man commercial shows off Ram Man’s action feature quite well, but also highlights the original play pattern behind the Castle Grayskull playset – that it could be controlled by either the heroes or the villains at any time.

The Trap Jaw commercial uses a stand-off with He-Man to showcase all of Trap Jaw’s unique gimmicks and action features, with the curious exception of the figure’s articulated jaw:

I included the following commercial in my post for 1982 US He-Man commercials, as there seems to be a chance that it was released in 1982. However, as Faker is generally grouped with the 1983 wave, I’ll include it here as well:

I don’t remember seeing this Attak Track commercial as a kid, but if I had I would have been begging my mom for one. This thing looks unstoppable (or at least, it can’t be stopped by cardboard props):

There were actually two slightly different versions of the Point Dread and Talon Fighter commercial. One was narrated by Peter Cullen (best known as the voice of Optimus Prime), and the other by an unknown voice actor (hat tip to Grimbot2).

The facial expressions of the kid holding Skeletor are pretty priceless.

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Evil Warriors

Screeech: Barbarian bird (1983)

My first memory of Screeech (yes, his name is spelled with the extra “e”) is from kindergarten. There were a couple of days during the year where kids were invited to bring a favorite toy to school to show to the class. On one occasion I recall bringing in Mer-Man, who I was enamored with at the time (and still am). But another boy brought in Screeech. I owned Zoar, but I had never seen this purple and blue repaint.

It was pretty clear to me what he was – a repainted version of Zoar. Had I been a little older I might have recognized that both were repainted versions of the Big Jim Eagle:

Screeech makes all kinds of thematic sense in the Masters of the Universe scale of cosmic balance. For every Battle Cat there is a Panthor. For every He-Man there is a Faker. And for every Zoar there is a Screeech. In fact, the colors for both Screeech and Panthor were chosen by the same designer at Mattel – Martin Arriola.

Screeech was sold individually, in a gift set with Skeletor, in a gift set with Battle Armor Skeletor, and in a gift set with Trap Jaw. The packaging illustrations for the first two sets were painted by Rudy Obrero, who also did the artwork for Castle Grayskull, Battle Cat, and many others.

The Battle Armor Skeletor/Screeech set was illustrated by an unknown artist – perhaps someone on staff at Mattel:

BA Skeletor Screech

The Trap Jaw/Screeech gift set was quite plain by comparison:

Image Source: Grayskullmuseum.com

Screeech is probably the most obscure character from the first few years of the MOTU toyline. He was rarely depicted in stories or television, and when he was shown, it was usually very much in the background.

A noteworthy exception to that is in the Golden Books story, The Sunbird Legacy. In the story, Evil-Lyn has the power to transform into Screeech. This ability gives the character some nice symmetry with Filmation’s version of the Sorceress.

In Sunbird, Screeech resembles a buzzard rather than an eagle or falcon. I’m not sure if that’s because the artist wasn’t given a visual reference for the character, or if there were plans early on for Screeech to have a unique buzzard appearance.

Screeech’s cross sell artwork is likely just a recolored version of the original Zoar line art. It was seldom used, however. It didn’t appear on the back of any boxes that I’ve been able to identify. The only full color version I’ve found is on the back of the Power of Point Dread comic book and record:

Artwork by Errol McCarthy

In the Filmation He-Man cartoon, Screeech is a mechanical bird sent on missions by Skeletor to drop bombs on the heroic warriors:

According to James Eatock, the name for Screeech in the original cartoon scripts was the Robot Raven. Perhaps this was actually a character invented by Filmation, but renamed Screeech at the last minute to tie things back to the Mattel toy.

Illustration by R.L. Allen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

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Evil Warriors

Trap Jaw: Evil & armed for combat (1983)

Trap Jaw was kind of the holy grail of MOTU figures among my friends growing up, and it’s easy to see why. With his three weapons attachments (storable on his WWF-style belt), articulated jaw, loop for repelling and vivid and liberally applied colors, Trap Jaw was truly a deluxe figure.

Sadly, I never owned old Metal Mouth as a kid, but I have a very clear memory of playing with my friend’s figure. The first thing I did was make Trap Jaw get to work on chewing up every weapon in sight.

Om nom nom…

In a May 21, 1982 concept drawing by Mattel designer Colin Bailey, we see the first iteration of Trap Jaw’s design. Called “X-Man” at the time (it’s easy to figure out why that name was dropped), the design featured the articulated jaw, a pulley on the top of the helmet, a fully articulated robot arm with four attachments (claw, iron fist, grapnel and hand) and accessory belt, and a rifle that  could be held in the robotic hand. X-Man had a hairy chest and a human-looking left arm. He also would have used the same legs as He-Man.

The articulated jaw concept was apparently recycled from an unproduced 1982 Big Jim concept, Iron Jaw. It also recalled the villain “Jaws” from the James Bond film Moonraker, crossed with a pirate.

Image Source: PlanetEternia

This early concept appeared in full color in the mini comic, The Menace of Trap Jaw, which came packaged with the figure. From the comic, it’s evident that Trap Jaw was originally intended to have pale green skin and maroon trunks, boots and helmet. His arm is a bit squared off compared to Colin Bailey’s concept drawing, and his belt features a ram’s skull rather than a human skull and cross bones, but otherwise the design is identical.

Artwork by Mark Texeira

As we see in the prototype shown below, Trap Jaw’s colors were significantly altered later in his design process. While he retained his green face, the rest of his skin was changed to a rich blue color, and his attachments and accessories were changed to either black, maroon or green. In this prototype he has been given He-Man’s left arm, painted blue. He also sports Man-E-Faces’ legs. The boots are painted black, with green accents (the feet are somewhat smaller than the final design, however).  His belt features rivets around the edges, but it’s unclear from the image if there is a design in the center.

Image source: He-man.org

The cross sell artwork seems to be based on this prototype design. In the cross sell art there is no design the center of Trap Jaw’s belt, so I would guess this was absent from the prototype:

Strangely, on the backs of some mini comics, Trap Jaw was shown without his jaw and without the black chest overlay. He also has the skull and crossbones design missing from the earlier cross sell art:

Interestingly, Trap Jaw showed up in precisely this condition in the 1983 Consumers Catalog (below). I wonder if that error lead to the error in the above version of the cross sell artwork.

Image source: Dinosaur Dracula

The final figure is slightly different from the prototype. Trap Jaw’s belt features a skull and cross bones in the center area, but lacks the rivets of the prototype. Also, rather than reusing He-Man’s left arm, the final figure utilizes a modified version of Man-E-Faces’ left arm, with some changes made to the design of the shoulder, forearm, and back of the hand.

In the afore-mentioned mini comic, Trap Jaw is portrayed as a ruthless criminal. Accidentally brought to Eternia by Skeletor, Trap Jaw manages to harness the power of Grayskull, and can only be taken down by the combined forces of Skeletor and He-Man.

In the Filmation cartoon, Trap Jaw is a bumbling and almost lovable henchman of Skeletor. Dubbed “the wizard of weapons”, he is also the mechanic and engineer of Snake Mountain.

In the series guide, Trap Jaw is colored more or less like his toy counterpart. He has the organic left arm of the prototype version, and he seems to have some embellishments to his armor and claw attachment:

Source: He-Man.org

However, in the actual cartoon the chosen design was a simplified version of the prototype version of Trap Jaw. One obvious difference from the prototype version is that his boots and mechanical arm are colored the same maroon color as his helmet and jaw. I would guess the change was made to make the lines of his weapons and boots more visible, without the need for shading.

Model sheet courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image by Jukka Issakainen

In the MOTU Bible (penned by Michael Halperin), Trap Jaw’s back story is similar to his mini comic origins:

TRAP JAW – part human, part robot, he’s a fearsome criminal stranded on Infinita and fallen under the command of Skeletor. Trap Jaw has a removable artificial arm which can be replaced by a laser blaster, hook sword or other devices of evil. Sometimes he isn’t fast enough to make the change and then He Man or his friends get the better of the vicious criminal. His jaw is a hideous steel trap which can chew through almost anything and he’s totally evil and villainous.

In the Golden Books-published Caverns of Fear, Trap Jaw has gray skin and a unique boots. He isn’t given much characterization here, and only pops into the story to briefly hold Teela hostage:

Trap Jaw doesn’t make many appearances in box art, but he does appear in the background of this Bashasaurus illustration, along with Clawful:

Artwork by William George

Trap Jaw remains one of the most beloved characters of the MOTU mythos. Part pirate, part Bond villain and part barbarian cyborg, Trap Jaw is truly greater than the sum of his bionic parts.

Artwork by Errol McCarthy. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.

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