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Evil Warriors

Whiplash – Evil tail-thrashing warrior (1984)

Whiplash Graphic

Whiplash, released in 1984, was part of a series of five animal-themed figures released in the third wave of the Masters of the Universe toyline, which also included Clawful, Buzz-Off, Webstor and Kobra Khan.

I had something of a love affair with the figure as a kid. I distinctly remember the existential agony of having to choose between him and Clawful at the store. Ultimately I went with Clawful, but it could have gone either way. I remember spending a lot of time playing with Whiplash despite that, so I think I was either able to borrow one from a friend or get my own later.

Just about everything I have to say about the development of Whiplash’s design was already said several years ago by James Eatock, in his excellent “Behind the Scenes – The Evolution of Whiplash” video. I’m including James’ video below, but I’ll also go over the details myself.

Whiplash was designed by Colin Bailey in July of 1982. His original concept, shown below, is in many ways quite different from the final toy, but there are points of convergence as well. The character has the same widely-splayed four toed feet and troll-like facial features that the final toy had. However, this concept character, called Lizard Man, had strangely furry calves, yellow legs, prominent spinal ridges, spikey violet bracers, and two prominent horns.

Whiplash Lizard Man Concept Colin Bailey
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Lizard Man made it into the December 1, 1982 MOTU Bible, and was listed among He-Man‘s allies:

LIZARD MAN – moves quietly, quickly and has the agility of his namesake. He climbs perpendicular walls and his tough lizard skin provides protection against most of his enemies. Liz has one drawback — every year he molts and becomes vulnerable to attack and completely useless to anyone.

The Colin Bailey concept was translated into into a simplified design suitable for animation by Filmation’s artists (see above video), but it was never used, and Lizard Man went back to the drawing board at Mattel. In the mean time, Filmation created a new character with the same name for their episode, “She-Demon of Phantos”:

lizard man

Mattel made some changes to the shape of Lizard Man’s (or at this point, I should say Whiplash – Mattel filed the trademark claim for that name on August 22, 1983) head, legs and tail. You can see this step in the evolution of the character in the minicomic, The Clash of Arms. Whiplash looks much closer to his final design here, except for his color scheme (green, yellow/orange and purple, like the original concept drawing) and the shape and length of his tail:

Comic Whiplash (2)Comic Whiplash

The final toy would have a much simplified two-tone green color scheme for his skin, with blue boots and loin cloth, and an orange belt. The hand-painted prototype figure, shown below in Mattel’s 1984 dealer catalog, has his final alligator tail design, and sports a purple repaint of the spear that came packed with Castle Grayskull. He reuses arms from Skeletor, as well as the legs and torso from Buzz-Off.

Whiplash Purple Spear FR

The production toy would come with an orange spear, but otherwise the design remained unchanged compared to the prototype:

whiplash cross sell axel
Whiplash cross sell art, courtesy of Axel Giménez

Whiplash’s face is somewhat perplexing. He has two large fangs sticking up out of his lower jaw, but he has a third, downward pointing fang that seems to come from the tip of his nose. You can also see that where the concept version had very prominent spikes on the top of his head, the final toy has two short nubs on either side of the crest on his head.

IMG_2877 - Copy

The final design is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of other lizard themed toys that Mattel released in 1980 – an inflatable lizard monster toy called Krusher, and Lizard Woman from the Flash Gordon series:

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Whiplash was sold in several configurations, including, of course, the standard blister card packaging, which has some lovely artwork by Errol McCarthy on the back:


McCarthy also depicted Whiplash in several other contexts:

The last image from the series above was used for a T-Shirt design. The final design (below) was colored, with the purple spear that appeared on the prototype version (images courtesy of Unsung Woodworks):

Whiplash was also sold in two giftsets – in a three-pack with Webstor and Stinkor, and a JCPenny two-pack with Kobra Khan:


Whiplash makes only two appearances, apart from his debut, in the minicomics. He shows up, confusingly, as a member of the Evil Horde, along with Clawful, Jitsu, Leech and Grizzlor, in Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!

Mantenna Whiplash
He also makes an appearance, this time as part of Skeletor‘s crew, in Hordak – The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge! While his depiction in the Mantenna comic was relatively toy-accurate, here he borrows the design from The Clash of Arms, albeit with corrected colors:

Hordak Whiplash
Whiplash appears in several of the Golden Books stories. One of my favorite is a scene from Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, where Whiplash lies in wait within a cave to ambush Man-At-Arms. Interestingly, the artist (Louis Eduardo Barreto) depicted the scaly villain with spikes around his shoulders:

A more toy-accurate Whiplash plays a minor role in The Magic Mirror, illustrated by Fred Carillo:

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Whiplash is again depicted with spikes around his shoulders in Maze of Doom, illustrated by Al McWilliams. It seems likely he used Barreto’s art as a reference for the character.

Filmation’s He-Man cartoon usually depicted Whiplash as one of Skeletor’s more competent Henchmen. Design-wise, the animated version of the character is more or less a simplified version of the action figure, but with Mer-Man-like feet, blue wrist bracers, and no orange belt.

Whiplash Model

One of my favorite episodes where Whiplash plays a prominent role is “To Save Skeletor”. In the story, Whiplash arrives half-dead at the royal palace, pleading for help from the heroic warriors. As it turns out, Skeletor had summoned an extra-dimensional being named Sh’Gora with the intent of using him to take over Eternia, but the creature had quickly overpowered the evil warriors and was threatening to destroy the planet.

to save skeletor

Whiplash makes a couple of appearances in the box art – once in the Fisto and Stridor giftset, and once in the Battle Bones box art:

Whiplash also makes a couple of appearances in posters by William George, from 1984 and 1985 respectively:

Whiplash appears prominently in one of my favorite pieces of MOTU artwork – a poster by Earl Norem that appeared in the inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine. The poster features He-Man, Stridor, Buzz-Off, Webstor, Clawful and a somewhat Filmation-inspired Whiplash:

Playsets

Snake Mountain – Evil stronghold of Skeletor (1984)

Snake-Mountain graphic

Snake Mountain was a toy I only ever saw twice as a kid. I never owned one, but I certainly admired it from afar. Up close it was perhaps not as exciting to play with as it looked (and certainly not as instantly memorable as Castle Grayskull), but as Skeletor‘s evil hideout, it had undeniable evil charm.

The first known mention of Snake Mountain seems to come in the December 1, 1982 Masters of the Universe Bible by Michael Halperin. There is one episode of the Filmation cartoon (“Diamond Ray of Disappearance”) that was written a bit before that (November 30, 1982), but it was revised months later, and I don’t know if Snake Mountain was included in the original script.

Skeletor led them to his lair beneath the twin peaks of SNAKE MOUNTAIN. Around one of the crags twisted a terrible carved snake. A portal along the snake’s back until it reached the fanged mouth. Entrance here entrapped the incautious stranger for once a person stepped into the snake’s jaws they snapped shut thrusting the trespasser into almost inescapable dungeon.

A footbridge connected one mountain with the other where a blood red waterfall cascaded over crags, past blasted trees and murky swamps. Skeletor’s chamber hid behind BLOOD FALLS and only he knew its entrance, its traps and snares. The lair itself was a dark cavern dripping with venom. In one corner, its eyes blazing red, its tail twitching, sat Skeletor’s pet and charger, the giant cat PANTHOR. Its purple fur glistened as its muscles rippled when it stretched out iron claws from the mighty paws.

In other media, Skeletor’s stronghold was being called Point Dread. The 1983 Filmation Series Guide described it this way:

Point Dread is a craggy peak emerging from the Eternian Ocean. It is an extinct volcano with a tunnel leading down to a fantastic ruined, Atlantis-like city hidden beneath the ocean floor. Inside Point Dread, Skeletor keeps all the treasure he has plundered from a thousand worlds. There are also mines and construction sites waiting for the slaves Skeletor plans to take once he has seized control of Eternia.

But the heart of Point Dread is the great council chamber where Skeletor summons the sinister Masters of the Universe. Here Skeletor sits on a raised platform above the round table where are gathered the likes of…

he-man-guide-13_full1
Image via He-Man.org

This idea was echoed in the 1985 UK MOTU Annual (the UK annuals seemed to consistently draw on older source material):

Point Dread of course became the magical/technological moving perch of the Talon Fighter, which could relocate from the top of a mountain to the top of Castle Grayskull. Snake Mountain became Skeletor’s fortress. In September of 1983, when the He-Man cartoon debuted, kids were introduced to Snake Mountain for the first time. It was an imposing structure – a large pointed peak punctuated with jagged “teeth” and a giant snake carving wrapped around it. Nearby was another, smaller peak, and Blood Falls flowed in between them:

extblood falls

The interior of the mountain featured a bone throne and a table with a magical globe for spying on enemies, a docking bay for Skeletor’s fleet of vehicles, various creepy creatures, and myriad twisting passageways. The snake carving was also hollow, and Skeletor could stand in the open mouth and overlook his dark domain:

Snake Mountain was trademarked by Mattel on August 15 of 1983. At some point in 1983 Mattel started working on a playset. But, rather than base the toy off of Filmation’s designs, they elected to come up with a completely different look, based off of a previous jungle playset design that had been abandoned:

Jungle Playset
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Mattel wasn’t saving any tooling by reusing the idea, but perhaps it was a way to quickly re-sculpt a previous effort into a viable product.

Colin Bailey did some of the preliminary design work on the toy, as is visible in this design drawing from The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog:

Skeletor Playset Colin Bailey

His drawing is simply called “Skeletor Playset” and shows the goblin-like face and manacles that would be built into the right half of the design.

The main attractions of of the playset are clustered on the exterior – the shackles, the “talking” goblin face, the wolf echo microphone, the bridge (a fragile piece even in the 80s, and too narrow for figures to cross any way but sideways), numerous semi-hidden sculpted faces and claw-like root structures, the stairway, the gate and trap door, and the “striking” snake. There was also a scaling ladder, reused from the original Castle Grayskull playset.

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The interior was pretty bare bones by comparison. There was a net to catch warriors who fell through the trap door, there was a volume control/switch for the echo microphone, and a couple of stickers on the floor. The goblin mouth could be articulated from the rear.

The box art was painted by William George. Early versions of the art, dated 1983, show Man-E-Faces in shackles, but the final artwork replaced him with Man-At-Arms. For more on that read this interview with Bob Nall, by Jukka Issakainen.

comparison_snakemountain-mane_to_mana
Image source: Jukka Issakainen, from interview with Bob Nall

Snake-Mountain

snakemountain1_full
Image via He-Man.org
snakemountain2_full
Image via He-Man.org

There were a couple of variations on the packaging. In some versions, the mountain is quoted as saying “I am the spirit of Snake Mountain” and in others it says “I am the voice of Snake Mountain.” I don’t know the reason for the change, but if I had to guess it would be because some parents might have objected to the “spirit” of Snake Mountain for religious reasons.

box variations tokyonever
Image source: Tokyonever

As a playset, Snake Mountain felt a bit undersized compared to Castle Grayskull. It was technically taller, but only because of the archway. The rest of the playset was about 25% shorter, and the stairs were out of scale with the chunky He-Man figures. It was still an impressive and coveted item, but it paled in comparison to Grayskull.

According to the 1987 Style Guide, Snake Mountain was the “talking mountain of evil.” The style guide gives the mountain several characteristics that were never used in any canonical materials, to my knowledge:

Power: Ultimate evil power center, which commands and controls Skeletor and his minions.

Character Profile: Snake Mountain is the home base for the Evil Warriors. Within it resides the horrible spirits of the Lords of Destruction. It is from these wicked spirits that Skeletor and his henchmen draw their evil power. A baffling series of catacombs are built beneath Snake Mountain. Exploration there has been limited; even Skeletor is fearful of what may reside there.

Errol McCarthy did the artwork for the Style Guide, and depicted Snake Mountain in several other illustrations as well:

Snake Mountain’s first several appearances in the minicomics follows the toy design. You can see that here in Siege of Avion and The Obelisk, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala:

Avion SM
Siege of Avion, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala
Obelisk SM
The Obelisk, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

In The Clash of Arms, illustrated by Larry Houston, a simplified version of Filmation’s Snake Mountain makes its minicomic debut:

Clash SM

With the advent of the Snake Men in 1986, Snake Mountain was reimagined as having been the fortress of King Hiss and his minions thousands of years in the past, before they were locked away in a pool of energy (the “Pool of Power”) in the caverns under the mountain:

In the 1986 Kid Stuff story book/record, Battle Under Snake Mountain, the fortress seems to be under the control of King Hiss, with no mention of Skeletor at all:

When Snake Mountain appears in the Golden Books stories, it is typically modeled after the toy:

The UK Masters of the Universe comic series (issue 22, 1987) tried to harmonize the toy and Filmation designs, although the reasoning used (Skeletor needed more protection, and so rebuilt the mountain) seems to require more explanation – I don’t quite follow the logic here:

Snake Mountain, in its toy form, makes an appearance in all of the posters illustrated by William George for the toyline:

Skeletor’s stronghold was also used to sell other Masters-related merchandise, including games, puzzles, and even a themed Hot Wheels stunt set:


Snake Mountain had a lot to live up to, following Castle Grayskull. It could never quite measure up to it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The design itself was certainly creepy, although perhaps in a more childish kind of way compared to Grayskull. It gave you a lot to look at and a lot to play with, but lacked the depth and archetypal pull of its predecessor.

Snake Mountain

Reviews

He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures

He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures is a nearly-600 page love letter to the 1983 and 1985 Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons. James Eatock, the author (the She-Ra section was co-written by Alex Hawkey) has been reviewing and researching the cartoon since at least 1997, and knows more about the series than perhaps any living person. In fact, Eatock published his own Unofficial Guide to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe back in 2010, so it’s fitting now that he has been able to publish an official guide through Dark Horse.

unofficial

The book takes an exhaustive look at each episode of the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, offering a synopsis for each episode, a list of characters, memorable quotes, reviews, morals, deleted scenes, information on animation reuse, trivia, artwork and more. There is also a forward by storyboard artist and writer Robert Lamb, as well as some information on abandoned episodes.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these cartoons. I remember well the power struggles over control of the TV when I was a kid. My big sisters would always steer us toward episodes of Three’s Company, Different Strokes, The Monkees or Gilligan’s Island, but when I had a choice, I would always be watching He-Man.

Having said that, the Filmation cartoons have never been the focus of my own research in this blog. My research interests lie mainly in the development of the toys and packaging and comics. So for me, the book is actually a godsend. Anything I could possibly want to know about any episode in the series seems to have already been uncovered by Eatock and Hawkey (or if it hasn’t, it’s probably unknowable).

The book is called a guide, and it works very well in that capacity. I’ve found that the best way to digest this book is to read about an episode and then go immediately watch it, so you can catch all the behind the scenes facts and surprising connections across the series.

One of my favorite things about the book is all the marvelous artwork (in fact, I think a sequel that focuses entirely on artwork would be warranted, particularly rarer pieces from the animated commercial and Filmation’s highly detailed backgrounds). Dušan Mitrović illuminates the black and white character model sheets with colors that are authentic to the look of the series:

There is a great deal of development artwork in the book, including some lovely pieces by Fred Carrillo, known primarily among fans for his work illustrating many of the Golden Books series of He-Man stories:

Eatock’s enthusiasm for the series is infectious, and even non-Filmation fans will find themselves being drawn into the depths of the series through the eyes of the author. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a fan of the cartoon, this book is a must-own.