Evil Vehicles

Land Shark – Evil Monster/Vehicle (1985)

Land Shark is one of those Masters of the Universe vehicles that had to exist. There was no way they weren’t going to get around to making a chomping shark car vehicle, given enough time.

According to The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, the idea for making this kind of vehicle came from Roger Sweet, and Ed Watts (who also worked on the Dragon Walker) created the design details in the concept drawing below:

Image Source: The Power and Honor Foundation Catalog

The concept design, compared to the final toy, has much sharper lines (ideal for mowing down foes, but probably too sharp for a kid’s toy) and larger eyes, but the broad ideas that went into the final vehicle are all there. Notice that Trap Jaw is depicted driving the vehicle. In a way, the Land Shark is kind of a vehicular version of Trap Jaw, sharing not only his chomping mechanical jaw but also his color scheme. In Watts’ artwork, they even have similar weapons (although non of Trap Jaw’s attachments actually looked like that). The concept version is maroon and green, while final toy was maroon and blue (all three are predominant colors on Trap Jaw).

The cross sell artwork for the Land Shark (which incidentally seems to have been rarely used) is based closely on the final design used on the toy:

The trademark for Land Shark was filed September 10, 1984, and the patent was filed on November 13, 1984 .

Land Shark was sold individually and in a set with Battle Armor Skeletor. The box art on both sets was illustrated by William George:

Land Shark appears with some frequency in the series of minicomics released in 1985. The depiction in comics more or less matches the look of the final toy, although the guns are simpler and seem to connect to the vehicle with a different kind of hinged joint (this is true in all of the minicomic appearances, with the exception of Leech). This may represent an earlier prototype design. Excerpted images below are from the Dark Horse He-man Minicomic collection.

Curiously, Hordak drives the Land Shark in Hordak – The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge:

Errol McCarthy produced a couple of illustrations for the Land Shark. One of them was used in the 1987 Style Guide, which described the vehicle this way:

Role: Evil man-eating assault vehicle
Power: Power to seek, seize and consume the enemies of Skeletor

“Evil man-eating assault vehicle” seems like a good tag line for the toy. I’m surprised it wasn’t used on the actual packaging.

Land Shark makes a couple of appearances in the Golden books stories: A Hero In Need  and The River Of Ruin (images via He-Man.org):

William George included the Land Shark in his 1985 and 1986 posters:

Earl Norem pitted the Land Shark vs the Laser Bolt in a poster included in the Spring 1986 issues of Masters of the Universe Magazine:

Norem also included the vehicle in his “Lake of Mystery” poster, although interestingly he turns it into a water vehicle in the surreal scene below:

The same issue of MOTU Magazine features a story called “The Comet Warriors Have Landed!” The vehicle also makes an appearance there:

The vehicle only made two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in the episodes “The Gambler” and “The Cold Zone”. Predictably the vehicle is simplified for animation purposes. The guns were also dropped from the sides. Update: Dušan M pointed out that the animators also added a retractable roof so they wouldn’t always have to animate a driver. Aidan Cross points out that the Land Shark appears to be sentient, since in “The Cold Zone” it snaps aggressively when the Attak Trak says it would rather not be left alone with the Land Shark.

The Land Shark is a gimicky vehicle to be sure, equal parts menacing and comical. But, it’s undeniably one of the coolest vehicles released for the evil warriors, who never quite seemed to have enough of them. The lion’s share of always seemed to go to the good guys.

Image Source: Battlegrip
Image source: Battlegrip

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Artwork

Castle Grayskull in Box Art

As a kind of sequel to my post about Castle Grayskull in the minicomics, I’d like to turn to Castle Grayskull as it was depicted in the box art. It shows up less frequently than you might expect.

Although Rudy Obrero painted the box art for the first year and a half of the Masters of the Universe toyline, most of the pieces of box art that feature Castle Grayskull were painted by him. That makes sense, as the the time to most heavily cross-promote the playset would be around the time it was released.

Battle Cat (1982)

Rudy Obrero’s first piece for MOTU was actually for the Battle Cat packaging. Castle Grayskull really isn’t the star of this illustration. Most of the detail is saved for Battle Cat and He-Man, while the castle is half-shrouded in mist in the background.

Notice the barbarian warrior on top of the turret.

Most of Rudy’s depictions of the Castle generally follow the design of the playset However, this one is kind of a transitional piece, in between the prototype and the final toy design. It has the rounded teeth, full towers (these were shortened on the production playset) and red laser cannon of the prototype, but has lost the prototype’s tower ledge and “pawn” piece on the helmet. The “pawn” was actually present in Rudy’s original charcoal drawing (below). That indicates that some of the changes made to the castle happened while Rudy was still illustrating this piece.


Image via the Rudy Obrero Box Art Collection (Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation)

Castle Grayskull (1982)

The landscape around the castle seems to change with each depiction. In Battle Cat, it seems to be sitting in a valley. In the Castle Grayskull packaging illustration, the scenery is much more dynamic. The castle is surrounded by a deep chasm, seemingly filled with lava. We don’t get a good view of the ground directly in front of the castle, but it seems that the jaw bridge is the only thing making it accessible by land.

The castle itself is highly detailed, based on the playset but amped up with bigger teeth and a meaner looking face. It has the finalized laser blaster and flag designs. In my opinion this is probably the single most iconic piece of artwork ever done for the Masters of the Universe line.

Battle Ram (1982)

In Rudy Obrero’s Battle Ram illustration, the castle is is in the distant background. It has the general look of the version of Castle Grayskull that appeared in the Battle Cat illustration. In this instance, the castle is set some distance away from a deep chasm.

He-Man and Wind Raider (1982)

The castle is a bit more finely detailed in Rudy Obrero’s He-Man and Wind Raider illustration. It follows the general look and design of the Castle Grayskull packaging, but now the castle sits on a rocky, smoke-filled battlefield, with no hint of any trenches or chasms.

Wind Raider (1982)

Rudy Obrero’s Wind Raider illustration (below) is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, it again seems based on Rudy’s Castle Grayskull packaging illustration, complete with oversized jaw bridge. In this scene one tower has been destroyed by He-Man’s Wind Raider anchor (remember at this point the castle was no one’s home base).

Finally, the Castle this time sits on small, rocky island in the middle of a lake (or so it appears). That’s significant because that’s the setting that designer Mark Taylor originally had in mind for the castle:

“The visible Castle rises above a fetid lake/moat inhabited with assorted exotic and dangerous flora and fauna, the castle extends seven levels/floors into the bedrock of the lake. Each level distorts reality (i.e., time and space) more than the one above. For example: the levels below the weapons storage room (armory) start with all the weapons that exists within one century each way from the present (MOTU time), the floor below that within five centuries years each way and so on.

“The Pit of Souls is a dungeon containing undying monsters from the beginning and end of time, that also extends into the time and space continuum (probably a miniature black hole). The powers of the castle are linked to these evil captives. Skeletor and his minions would love them released but also fear their potential. One must be very careful when listening to their counsel because they are extremely clever and totally evil.

The elevator when properly programmed (secret code) drops into these descending levels, of course, with each level potential danger as well as power lurks… This is obviously not the Eternia envisioned by marketing at Mattel, it is my world of He-Man.”

Attak Trak (1983)

For whatever reason, Rudy Obrero’s Attak Trak illustration is a mix of influences. In most respects it looks very much like the playset, but at the top of the helmet it features the prototype “pawn” piece.

Location-wise, this looks like another rocky battle field, like the one in He-Man and Wind Raider or in Battle Cat:

Zoar (1983)

Rudy Obrero’s Zoar illustration has Castle Grayskull on top of a rocky hill. Design wise, it’s a very close match to Rudy’s Castle Grayskull packaging illustration.

Skeletor and Panthor (1983)

This illustration by William Garland features a Castle Grayskull that very much resembles the way Rudy Obrero depicted it in Battle Cat. Garland, however, seems to prefer to set his battle scenes in the desert, with blowing clouds of dust everywhere.

Point Dread & Talon Fighter (1983)

This William Garland illustration features a mirror image Castle Grayskull – the tallest tower with the window is on the wrong side. It also seems to have the prototype “pawn” piece on top, and feature’s Garland’s usual desert location.

Panthor (1983)

Castle Grayskull is easy to miss on William Garland’s Panthor illustration. It’s off in the distance and it happens to face upward on the box.  The design and location of the castle are more or less identical to Skeletor and Panthor.

Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor (1984)

William George didn’t illustrate Castle Grayskull all that frequently, but when he did, he tended to put it on top of a mountain, often with a winding path leading to it. His castle generally follows the look of the playset, albeit with longer teeth.

Eternia (1986)

William George included both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain in his Eternia box art illustration. Interestingly, this version of the castle seems more closely based on the prototype than the playset. The castle seems to be set on a small hill rather than a mountain, but the winding road leading to it is still there.

Flying Fists He-Man & Terror Claws Skeletor (1986)

William George again sets his Castle Grayskull up on a mountain, although there is no path leading up to it this time. The face on the castle is a little compressed looking in this interpretation, with an upper jaw that seems to hang far out over the entrance.

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Artwork

Battle Cat Box Art Scan

Rudy Obrero’s Battle Cat packaging illustration was the first piece of box art done for Masters of the Universe, which I think affords it a special place among the myriad of other pieces of ingenious artwork created for this toyline. I would put it in my top three personal favorites (the other two being Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram, with the He-Man and Battle Cat giftset artwork coming in a close fourth). When it comes to MOTU box art, there is a great deal of amazing work to choose from. Rudy’s work is my favorite, but of course I also love the art of the late, great William George.

Rudy Obrero was hired by Mark Taylor to paint Frank Frazetta-like artwork for the fledgling Masters of the Universe toyline, and that feeling is perhaps most evident in the original Battle Cat illustration.

I shared the original scan several months back in another post, but I’ve since done some digital manipulation to remove the most obvious wear marks and the horizontal packaging fold that goes across Battle Cat’s legs. Enjoy!

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Snake Men

Sssqueeze – Evil Long-Armed Viper (1987)

Sssqueeze graphic

I have no recollection of ever seeing Sssqueeze in stores, but by 1987 I had stopped following what was new in He-Man’s world (back in the day that meant scouting out catalogs and toy aisles rather than forums and social media). My first reaction to seeing him as an adult was that I didn’t think he fit in with He-Man at all. His head reminds me of those hollow plastic Imperial beasts you used to find everywhere. And of course his ultra-long bendy arms are incredibly goofy-looking and gimmicky.  He also reminds me of something that might have come out in the Galaxy Warriors toyline.

But, as is often the case, Sssqueeze won me over once I bought an example for myself. Yes, he’s still goofy, but he’s got some interesting and unique design elements going with his costume, and I am a sucker for his bright green, purple and orange color scheme.  It’s nice that he doesn’t reuse any parts from previous figures, although he easily could have made use of legs from Rattlor or King Hiss.

Sssqueeze is a part of the Snake Men faction (their logo in on his chest). However, like Tung Lashor, he doesn’t seem to be a snake at all. His head has looks like it was taken from some kind of dinosaur. His long arms are certainly snake-like, but otherwise he seems to be a distant cousin of the Snake Men who decided to join in on their fun.

Sssqueeze’s early working name was Tanglor. The concept art below shows the character with a rather oversized head, and some black paint behind the Snake Men symbol, but otherwise it’s pretty close to the final toy, which was sculpted by Eddy Mosqueda:

Tanglor concept
“Tanglor” concept art. Image source: The Art of He-Man
Squeeeze axel
Cross sell artwork courtesy of Axel Giménez. The artwork is faithful to the look of the final toy.

The figure itself had flexible rubber arms with internal metal wires to maintain their position, similar to Gumby toys. The arms could be rotated within the figure’s hard plastic body, or even slid from side to side, giving the character two arms of different lengths. He had the familiar spring loaded waist, but given the weight of his upper body, it moves rather sluggishly.

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Sssqueeze in Mattel’s 1987 Dealer Catalog (image via Orange Slime)

The artwork on the back of Sssqueeze’s card was done by the prolific Errol McCarthy, and I believe the artwork on the front was done by Bruce Timm.

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Sssqueeze instr
sssqueezecardback
Image via Grayskull Museum
sssqueezevsrioblastextendar_full
Image via He-Man.org

McCarthy also illustrated the character for use on a T-shirt and also for the 1987 Style Guide.

According to the Style Guide, Sssqueeze “entangles foes with his powerful constrictor snake arms. Sssqueeze just can’t keep his long arms off any enemy. As soon as a fight starts, he’s in the thick of things, wrapping up the first warrior he gets a grip on.”

There is also a fact file on Sssqueeze in the 1989 UK MOTU Annual:

Image source: He-Man.org

Squeeze plays a fairly major role in two mini comics released in 1987 – Revenge of the Snake Men! and Energy Zoids. In the former he goes by his working name, Tanglor.  At the behest of King Hiss, Snake Face, “Tanglor” and Blast Attak launch an assault on the royal palace, nearly succeeding in overthrowing all the heroic warriors there.

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In Energy Zoids, Sssqueeze helps Skeletor capture Rotar, but ultimately becomes Rotar’s weapon as he unleashes his attack against Twistoid.

Sssqueeze works for Hordak in issue 8 of the Star Comics Masters of the Universe series, where he faces off against He-Man, who is equipped with his Scubattack accessory (images via He-Man.org).

In the Fall 1988 issues of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine, Skeletor sends Sssqueeze, Blast Attak, Snake Face and Ninjor to capture King Randor, who has been stranded in the desert.  He-Man defeats the villains with little difficulty (images via He-Man.org).

The same issue comes with a poster painted by the legendary Earl Norem. In the scene, He-Man faces off against Snake Face and Ninjor, while Clamp Champ takes on Blast Attak. Sssqueeze holds King Randor captive at the top of a cliff.

Norem sssqueeze Fal 1987

The Winter 1988 issue features a puzzle made from a tangle of Sssqueeze arms.

winter 1988 magazine puzzle
Image source: He-Man.org

Issue 7 of the 1988 German Ehapa Verlag comic series came with a poster by Esteban Maroto, featuring Sssqueeze, Snake Face and Blade:

8807 maroto

Sssqueeze also appears in William George’s Preternia poster:

Preternia_1


Sssqueeze is certainly one of the goofiest characters in the MOTU line, but also one of the most fun to play with. He’s certainly the most poseable, and works great as a desk toy.

sssqueeze ad art

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