Dragon Blaster Skeletor was the “deluxe” version of Skeletor that everyone in my grade school peer group coveted. You could tell he was a deluxe figure because he came on an oversized card and wore an oversized dragon backpack and came with a real metal chain. These were the unmistakable tokens of quality in the secret language of childhood.
Dragon Blaster Skeletor actually has a fascinating backstory. In my interview with Martin Arriola, he explained to me that the action feature was once quite dangerous:
MA: Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.
BR: Oh, like what?
MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.
I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.
I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.
BR: That’s insane!
MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.
So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.
Early catalog images of the figure seem to depict a standard hollow head Taiwan figure with the new dragon backpack piece. They also include the original Skeletor’s baltea accessory, although that was cut from the final figure. This look was carried forward into the cross sell art as well.
The actual production toy had a solid, rubbery head. Mexico versions had face paint reminiscent of earlier incarnations of Skeletor, but Hong Kong examples have quite a jarring “M” pattern on the green sections of the face. Some Mexico examples had the original Skeletor feet, but most had enlarged feet (with reduced sculpting detail) for the purposes of greater stability, given the weight of the backpack. Boot colors ranged from reddish purple to blueish purple to a very dark purple. The baltea was also cut from the production version.
As mentioned earlier, this version of Skeletor was packaged on an oversized card. It features some artwork by William George on the front and an action scene by Errol McCarthy on the back:
Note that the dragon is supposed to paralyze victims with venom – which seems to be muscling in on Kobra Khan‘s raison d’etre. Maybe that ‘s why he ultimately defected to the Snake Men faction.
The 1987 Style Guide talks a bit about Skeletor’s dragon pet:
Weapons: Skeletor stalks the land with his evil pet, freezing foes with the dragon’s vicious paralyzing venom.
Dragon Blaster Skeletor came packaged with the minicomic Skeletor’s Dragon, which shows off his new action feature as well as the Battle Bones carry case toy.
In the story, Skeletor’s chains have mystical energy draining powers, and his dragon frequently walks around off his leash:
Skeletor’s design has a strong Filmation influence (especially around the face and boots), and a differently colored costume than the toy. The colors may be based off of early concept art for the figure. The minicomic artwork is by Peter Ledger, with colors by Charles Simpson.
Errol McCarthy depicted the variant for use in a T-shirt design in the artwork below:
McCarthy also illustrated the character in the poster below that appeared in the UK Masters of the Universe Magazine:
He also appears in a 1985 MOTU poster by William George. He is again shown with the baltea from the original Skeletor figure:
Dragon Blaster Skeletor isn’t my favorite Skeletor variant – in fact he’s probably my second least favorite, next to Terror Claws Skeletor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. Skeletor is Skeletor, and it’s hard to make a bad Skeletor figure.
The end of the year seems to be a traditional time for top 10 and top 25 lists. It seems like an American ritual to tabulate lists of the most popular things we did, said, ate or watched over the course of one trip around the sun.
I’ll post them in ascending order of popularity. Try, if you can, to imagine this list read by David Letterman:
This year I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work a little with some people from the Netflix original series, The Toys That Made Us. Mostly that amounted to me providing them with some background information on the history of He-Man, as well as suggesting a number of people that they ought to seek out and interview. It’s a great show – check it out if you can!
Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. I appreciate all the kind support and encouragement from all the readers, and for all those who have contributed to my blog with information, images, and corrections. Here’s hoping for a great 2018. Good journey!
Battle Blade Skeletor is the last Skeletor variant produced in the New Adventures of He-Man toyline. This is probably an odd place to start my foray into this series of toys, but I’ve been slightly obsessed with this figure since I first encountered it in a vintage toy shop a couple of years back. Part of it is I think there is something in the face that reminds me of Laser-Light Skeletor – another figure I’m obsessed with.
Because the figure came out at the tail end of the New Adventures line (actually simply called He-Man, but most fans call it New Adventures of He-Man after the associated cartoon), there isn’t any real media or stories to go along with him, at least that I’ve been able to find.
My guess is, like Laser-Light Skeletor and the first New Adventures version of Skeletor, Battle Blade Skeletor was primarily designed by Dave Wolfram. I don’t know that for sure, but he bears all the hallmarks of Wolfram’s style, including the narrow lower face, tech-infused body and suit, and generally creepy, asperous design language.
Battle Blade Skeletor has some general elements in common with his predecessor, Disks of Doom Skeletor. Both have star shaped boots, recalling feel of characters like Buzz-Off and Whiplash. Both have tall boots and a skull themed costume, but DD Skeletor’s costume looks more “heavy industrial” (particularly around the torso):
Curiously, a similar design is present in the principle villain (illustrated version) in Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (thanks to Stradlemonkey for pointing this out). The game was released in 1990, the same year as Disks of Doom Skeletor. Disks of Doom Skeletor’s trademark was filed on November 16, 1989, so I would guess Mattel’s design came first.
It’s possible Battle Blade Skeletor’s design was also influenced by some concept art by Errol McCarthy (an artist who had worked on Masters of the Universe since the early days of the original line). In the art below, we see the skull motif again in Skeletor’s costume. In this instance Skeletor has a fully-robotic body. Interestingly he also has hair – a trait he shares with Battle Blade Skeletor.
We get a look at a hand-painted final prototype version of the figure in the 1991 German He-Man magazine below. This version has crisper paint as well head articulation – the final figure has a static head. We also see an early version of Thunder Punch He-Man (the 1992 version). Both figures are quite a bit bulkier-looking than the 1989 versions of He-Man and Skeletor. I think Mattel was trying to capture a little of the chunkiness and heavily-muscled appearance of the original 1982 He-Man and Skeletor figures here.
Skeletor is described, roughly translated, like this:
The new ruler is now even more dangerous and ambitious. With his strong articulated right arm he smashes his new throwing machine in the direction of his opponents. His new haircut of real hair, his new shield and his new skull and crossbones make him undoubtedly the most beautiful among the Nordor.
An exploded view of Battle Blade Skeletor’s test shot is shown below, over a copy of the “He-Ro Son of He-Man” bible:
This is the only version of Skeletor to feature rooted hair. It’s a strange design choice. My particular copy doesn’t have the rooted hair (no doubt someone pulled it out), and I think it looks better without:
Battle Blade Skeletor has a spring-loaded, ball-jointed right arm that allows him to toss his “quadro-blade” weapon. He also comes with a shield that continues with the creepy skull motif. The white paint on his torso glows in the dark. Unlike the 1989 Skeletor, this version is almost in scale with the original 1982 MOTU line. He stands at about the same height, although of course that’s while standing up straight – something most of the original figures couldn’t do.
William George painted the artwork on the front of the figure’s packaging, but I don’t know who was responsible for the illustrations on the back.
The back of the package gives us a little bit of a bio:
Skeletor has been transformed by lumina radiation absorbed in an atom-smashing explosion. His eyes blaze with evil and his Battle Armor glows with power.
Mission: 1) To slice He-Man down to size and lead him to a shameful end at the Galactic Guardian Games on the planet Primus. 2) To seize all of the power in the universe.
I guess it’s good to have life goals! The Galactic Guardian Games refers to a storyline in the animated series, produced by Jetlag. Skeletor appears (more or less) in his Battle Blade outfit toward the end of the series (thanks to DarkAlex1978 for pointing that out). Essentially this is his look after he lost his “Disks of Doom” helmet during a battle with He-Man in “The Tornadoes of Zil” (thanks to Dave for the tip):
It’s strange to me that Mattel was still making Skeletor figures in the era of grunge music. Come to think of it, this is certainly a grungy-looking figure, so he somewhat captures the spirit of the era.