Production Variants

1982 MOTU Figures: The First Production Run (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1!

Because Masters of the Universe figures were produced over many years in a number of different countries, there is no shortage of production variants, some subtly different and some radically different from the norm. In my own collecting, I’ve always gravitated toward the earliest figures released in the US, particularly for the first wave of figures. They tend to have the nicest paint and plastic applications, in my opinion. All of the 1982 lineup was manufactured in Taiwan, except for Castle Grayskull, Battle Ram and Wind Raider, which were initially manufactured in the US. A common term for the very earliest figures in the line is “test market figures”, although the term isn’t usually used for the vehicles or Castle Grayskull.

Much assistance for this article was given by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. The research of Mantisaur82 and Tokyonever has also been invaluable.

Broad Characteristics

The early Taiwan figures tend to have the sharpest detail and the finest paint applications compared to later reissues. Subsequent releases tend to cut down on the paint applications and sometimes on the sculpted detail. The earliest figures tend to have boots that are painted on using spray paint and a paint mask, which sometimes shows up as unevenness at the boot tops. Later figures seem to use a dipping method. Since this seems to apply to all the early figures (or at least those with painted boots), I won’t mention this when I talk about each individual figure.

On the lower backs of the figures (or in Teela’s case, the lower part of the back of the head) they are stamped © Mattel Inc. 1981 Taiwan. This stamp can also be found on the undersides of the male heads. These figure were released in 1982, but most MOTU figures are stamped the year before they were sold in stores, when the tooling was being created. However, as these Taiwan figures were released in subsequent years, they often retain the 1981 date, albeit sometimes with a slightly larger font.

Stratos

V1: Blue Beard

The earliest Taiwan Stratos figures have the following characteristics:

  • Blue beard and eyelids
  • Gray goggles
  • Three tabs each strap
  • Short straps

Commonly referred to as “Blue Beard” Stratos, this figure is quite rare and difficult to find. The reason that it’s rare is that it seems to be a factory paint error – early Stratos prototypes all have blue goggles and a gray beard. It seem that the error was caught very quickly, which is why so few of these figures are around. From the beginning, Stratos was available with either blue wings and a red backpack, or red wings and a blue backpack. This continued throughout the production run.

Image source: Carlo. Per Tokyonever, the back of this card is the first release 8-back “test market” card, with no warranty or SKUs listed under the figure names.

V2: Short Strap

The next early run of Taiwan Stratos figures have the following characteristics:

  • Gray beard and eyelids
  • Blue goggles
  • Four tabs each strap
  • Short straps

Even this version of Stratos is a little difficult to find – the subsequent versions with elongated straps seem to be much more numerous. V2 can also be found on the first “no warranty” cards, so the run of Blue Beards must have been VERY limited. Like all US-release versions of Stratos, this one was available in both red and blue wing variants.

“Test market” cards. Image source: Asher99
Short strap (top) vs long strap

Mer-Man

The first Taiwan Mer-Man figures have a couple of distinguishing characteristics that are easy to spot:

  • Green belt
  • Short straps on the back of the armor

Subsequent Taiwan releases added the longer straps and eventually omitted the painted belt.

Green (top) vs unpainted orange belt
Short straps (top) vs long straps

Teela

Taiwan Teela figures don’t have a ton of obvious variations during the first two years they were produced. The general characteristics are deep red hair and boots and dark red accessories in the figures released from 1982-1983.

However, an extremely rare first issue Teela has recently been discovered by John Oswald, who runs the Lords of Power blog on Facebook. Like the Striped Tail Battle Cat, this variant was probably an early sample used for catalog photographs (and indeed this version shows up in several of them.

V1: Green Snake Eyes Teela

Characteristics include:

  • Painted green eyes on snake armor with “v” pattern
  • Accessories seem almost translucent, like hard candy
  • Dots in eyes are hand painted (uneven)
  • Dark red accessories and deep red hair/boots
  • Marked “© M.I. 1981 Taiwan” on back of neck.
  • Shield slightly deformed on one side
Images via John Oswald
Image from the 1983 Mattel dealer catalog, via John Oswald
Image from 1983 Mattel Department Store Division catalog, courtesy of John Oswald

More common early Taiwan Teela figures generally have the same characteristics as the above example, minus the green snake eyes and the deformed shield.

Zodac

The earliest Taiwan release of of Zodac has a rather unique looking latch in the back of the armor, in addition to short straps. Subsequent reissues lengthened the straps and gave him a more conventional-looking latch.

First release (top) vs second release

Castle Grayskull

The very first release of Castle Grayskull has a much neater paint pattern on the face, with black applied only within the eyes, nose, and down the center of the helmet. You can see this version in Mattel’s 1982 Wish List catalog. The teeth, helmet, and towers have some green spray applied to them. It’s not clear if this very first version (below) ever made it to consumers, or if it was only made for in product photography.

Image courtesy of John Oswald

It’s also possible this early version came with black string for the elevator, rather than the usual white (first brought to my attention by John Oswald). That’s what’s shown in early catalogs, anyway. The early release castle was manufactured in the USA, and has the following codes stamped on it.

  • Under the entrance: 1162C2
  • Near the handle: © Mattel Inc 1981 USA 3991-2139
  • On the back side of the helmet: 3991-2129 © Mattel Inc 1981 USA
Notice the black string on the elevator.

The next (but still very early) release of the castle, as near as I can tell, is similar to the first release, except the black paint around the eyes and nose is not so carefully applied, and it has a less structured paint pattern on the helmet. Overall there is more overspray across the face and towers.

Both early versions were manufactured in the USA, and have similar codes. The second release castle has the same codes as the first, with the exception of the marking under the entrance. The one in the image above is coded 1812C2.

Both early versions also have a flat turret floor in the shorter of the two towers. On later versions, the floor piece had slots added to hold the laser cannon in place:

As we learned in the MOTU documentary, The Power of Grayskull, factories initially were looking to use some kind of paint mask for Castle Grayskull, but they were instructed by Mattel to do the painting free-hand (presumably to save time and therefore money). As a result, the paint applications seem to be rather haphazard, especially in later editions of the castle.

Early versions of the castle came in a box that featured only the 1982 figures on the back. The artwork here was traced directly from a photo used in Mattel’s 1982 Dealer Catalog:

Starting in 1983, the back of the box was altered to feature cross sell art from both the 1982 and 1983 figures:

Image source: Hake’s Americana

Update: I have some additional information about the first release castle in a separate article.

Battle Ram

The first release Battle Ram was manufactured in the US. I haven’t noticed much if any variation in the US-release Battle Rams other than country code. The first release vehicles are stamped “© Mattel Inc, 1981 U.S.A.”, as shown below:

The first release Battle Ram box shows only the 1982 figures on the back of the packaging:

Starting in 1983, Battle Rams were manufactured in Mexico as well as the US. The Mexico versions omit the country of origin on the copyright stamp, as shown below:

The back of the 1983 packaging features contemporary figures like Trap Jaw and Man-E-Faces. Starting in 1983, the box also features the Rudy Obrero artwork on the bottom as well as the front of the box:

Wind Raider

Like the Battle Ram, the first release Wind Raiders were produced in the US. The back of the packaging shows cross sell art from only 1982 figures. This holds true for both the single release Wind Raider and the He-Man/Wind Raider gift set.

Mexico reissue
Wind Raider box
He-Man/Wind Raider giftset box

The wings on first release Wind Raiders have the following markings (the tail and underside of the vehicle are also stamped USA, and orange plastic is darker than made in Mexico versions of the vehicle):

Starting in 1983, Wind Raiders were manufactured in Mexico as well as the US. The Mexico versions are stamped “Mexico” on the wing tips and the underside of the vehicle. 1983 boxes also feature the Rudy Obrero art on the bottom of the box, and include 1983 figures in the cross sell artwork on the back.

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Artwork

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art: Brazilian Variants

The Brazilian Estrela toy company was one of several foreign manufacturers to purchased a license to produce Masters of the Universe Figures. However, the artwork they used on their packaging was slightly different from the artwork that appeared on US packaging (front and back).

My theory is that Estrela purchased the rights to make the toys, but not the rights for the artwork. Maybe it was cheaper to contract the art out locally. Most of the Estrela cross sell art is closely based on the US version, with some slight variations, almost always on the face. They also seem to modify artwork to make it look closer to the actual toy, whenever possible. This is especially evident for their cross sell art for Castle Grayskull, Wind Raider, Teela, Stratos and Ram Man. Note they also remove the orange stripes on Battle Cat’s tail – a feature included on the prototype but not on the vast majority of factory versions.

Estrela cross sell artwork comes courtesy of Jukka Issakainen, originally scanned by Polygonus. US artwork comes from Axel Giménez, Tokyonever, Jukka, StarCrusader, and my own photos and scans.

Please allow some time for photos to load.

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art:

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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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Artwork

Tomart’s Action Figure Digest #202

Tomart’s Action Figure Digest #202 features one of several articles from the magazine dedicated to the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline. Almost all of the concept art in the article below comes from former Mattel designer Ted Mayer.

The author of the article (who is not named) gets the general thrust of the history of the toyline right for the most part, although there are several factual errors. For instance, the author identifies several variant He-Man and Skeletor designs made midway through the line as early concept versions of the original figures. They also conflate Ted Mayer’s green witch concept with Evil-Lyn (they’re unrelated) and seem to place Vulture Man before Screeech or Zoar (Vulture Man came after).

Still, it’s a fun article with lots of interesting concept art and prototypes. Selections from issues 89, 90 and 91 are available from both He-Man.org and Grayskull Museum (there is definitely some overlap between those articles and this one), but I’m not aware than anyone has shared scans from this particular issue before.

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