Heroic Vehicles

Battle Ram – Mobile Launcher (1982)

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I was obsessed with the Battle Ram the moment I saw it on the shelf as a kid. Maybe that’s obvious from the name I chose for this blog. Unlike most of the other MOTU items I got as a kid, there was no window box or bubble in the packaging. The Rudy Obrero art sold the toy all by itself, and it was more than up to the task.

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To this day it remains my favorite piece of art ever produced for the Masters of the Universe line. Let’s take a closer look at the full painted scene:

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Artwork by Rudy Obrero

Every piece Rudy Obrero did for Masters of the Universe was moody and full of movement and mystery (with the possible exception of the Attak Trak box art). This illustration, like the Wind Raider pieces he did the same year, features two separate action scenes. The bottom scene, which would have been facing front at about eye level for kids wandering the toy isles of Toys ‘R’ Us (or in my case, the White Elephant), depicts He-Man guiding the Battle Ram over difficult terrain as evil warriors rain down fire from above.

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He-Man is shown here with white colored fur at the tops of his boots. Every time Obrero depicted He-Man, he had these boots (sometimes the fur is white, other times it’s more of an ocher color). They’re actually based on the prototype version of He-Man that Obrero used as a reference. The mass-produced toy had fully red boots.

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Prototype He-Man with two-toned boots

The top portion of the art was subdivided into two sections on the actual box. The top-most section was again facing front and featured He-Man shooting through the air on the front portion of the Battle Ram (aka the Sky Sled). Evil versions of the Sky Sled (which also appear in the Castle Grayskull box art) send out twin laser blasts while a fierce battle rages below.

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The middle section faces up rather than forward due to the shape of the box. Several back halves of Battle Rams are launching missiles. Skeletor, Beast Man, Stratos, Man-at-Arms and Teela (sporting her concept spear that never appeared in the vintage toy line) are seen, along side a warrior with a horned helmet and Castle Grayskull in the background. It looks like all-out war.

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Top and middle sections flattened out. Source: Issakainen/Cyrce

As a kid, I was instantly hooked. I had never seen anything like it. As I said, Obrero’s artwork (done in oil) really sold this vehicle. It didn’t hurt that the artist tended to add extra details, like a protruding jet engine on the back of the Sky Sled and under-guns that the actual toy only hinted at (but were actually present in the prototype version).

A modified version of the artwork appeared in the Japanese Takara toy catalog. It looks like a cross between the Battle Ram box art and the Power of Point Dread comic book cover:

Takara Cover

Yet another modification to the artwork was done on the Brazilian Estrela version of the Battle Ram. They even modified the cross sell art on the back of the package. It’s unclear to me why this was done.

A Swedish language advertisement took elements of the Rudy Obrero Battle Ram artwork and modified it to advertise a number of MOTU vehicles:

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Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

The toy was designed by Ted Mayer, who also designed the iconic Wind Raider, Attak Trak, Eternia, Slime Pit, and quite a few figures that came out between 1985 and 1987. Let’s take a look at some of the artwork and prototypes leading up to the creation of the Battle Ram:

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Early Battle Ram concept by Ted Mayer; image courtesy of Ted Mayer. Notice that the vehicle has six wheels (four within tank treads) and no figurehead on the front.
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This version of the Battle Ram has the familiar gargoyle figure head. However it’s clear from the background image that the idea was for the front wheels to detach along with the front section. At this point the Battle Ram had no flight capabilities.
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Battle Chariot concept, by Ted Mayer; image courtesy of Ted Mayer

The first two of the above concept drawings are recognizable as ancestors in the Battle Ram family tree. There are several differences from the final toy, of course. In both images, the Battle Ram had six wheels, four of them set with tank treads. The first image features a Recaro-type seat and lacks the gargoyle figurehead in the front. The second version has the familiar gargoyle figure head. However it’s clear from the background image that the idea was for the front wheels to detach along with the front section. At this point the Battle Ram had no flight capabilities. I would guess that there would have been an additional wheel under nose of the vehicle to allow it to roll freely.

The third drawing is actually a separate vehicle concept, called Battle Chariot, and actually appeared in the first MOTU mini comic, He-Man and the Power Sword, along side the front half of the Battle Ram:

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Ted says he was influenced by hot rod and WWII aircraft design, and you can certainly see those elements in in the form of exhaust pipes and nose art.

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Close to final Battle Ram concept by Ted Mayer

The above concept drawing shows the Battle Ram (featuring He-Man in a helmet, which he had in most early concepts) looking much closer to the final vehicle. At this point it has only four wheels, and the detachable front section has been re-envisioned as a flying vehicle.

The prototype (sculpted by Jim Openshaw) is a bit more detailed in places than the toy was. The guns on the front section are certainly more detailed and distinct. The stickers are also different (there is a skull on the back of the vehicle rather than the masked face image), and the rocket is missing its gargoyle face. The expanded horizontal “handle” area in the very back of the vehicle is also missing from this prototype:

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Image source: He-Man.org
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Image source: He-Man.org
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Rudy Obrero probably based his artwork from this image, or one very much like it. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
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Image courtesy of Ted Mayer
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Prototype Battle Ram with prototype He-Man. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer
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Prototype Battle Ram as shown in the 1981 licensee kit.
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Prototype Battle Ram as pictured in Tomart’s Action Figure Digest.
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Control Drawing – “Catapult Vehicle” by Ted Mayer. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer

Let’s take a closer look at the final toy:

As suggested by the packaging artwork and concept drawings, the front half of the production toy detaches from the main vehicle, and is something of a flying WaveRunner. I’m not sure if a toy vehicle had come out before with that concept, but as a five year old I’d never seen anything like it, and it added a tremendous amount of play value. The back half features a spring loaded rocket launcher with a red firing mechanism. The rockets themselves (called battering rams on the packaging) came with sculpted gargoyle faces. The wide profile of the rockets was designed to help prevent accidental choking.

In the original concept, the front half wasn’t actually supposed to be able to fly through the air. It was supposed to hover close to the ground, which is apparent in both the minicomic, He-man and the Power Sword and in the description in the 1984 UK Annual:

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Description from the 1984 UK Annual, which drew from very early source material.
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Image from He-Man and the Power Sword, showing the front half of the Battle Ram scooting along the ground.

A griffin face adorned the front of the vehicle. The back also featured an image of a masked face. The labels were created by Rebecca Salari Taylor, who also did the labels for Castle Grayskull and Wind Raider:

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Rear sticker. Image source: “e-man

The Battle Ram is the first and best example of what made Masters of the Universe vehicles so great. They were a marriage of Gothic aesthetics with futuristic tech, relics in the MOTU universe of a bygone age of mass-produced technological wonders.

The Battle Ram was heavily promoted in catalogs and marketing materials:

It also made several appearances in the first few mini comics (along with that unproduced Ted Mayer concept discussed earlier):

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Battle Ram as “space-warp device”

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“Carries Warriors through Space and Time” – A TARDIS for He-Man?

Other appearances:

Filmation primarily depicted the Sky Sled portion of the Battle Ram, although occasionally the complete vehicle would make an appearance. A green version with a snake head called the Doom Buggy was also created. As with most Filmation depictions, the design was simplified to facilitate animation:

In the Filmation-produced MOTU commercial (as well as the series guide), however, just about everything had the level of detail of the actual toys. The image immediately below looks rotoscoped:

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There were many great vehicles produced for the Masters of the Universe toyline, but in my opinion, none greater than the amazing Battle Ram.

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Evil Beasts

Panthor – Savage cat (1983)

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Today we’re taking a look at Skeletor’s savage cat, Panthor. At first glance you could dismiss him as a cheap Battle Cat repaint without the helmet. When I first saw him as a kid, it was immediately apparent that that’s what he was. Battle Cat’s pose and saddle are instantly recognizable, making reuse of his sculpt more obvious than other parts (say, for instance, the standard male chest).

I think if Mattel had left him as a straight-up repaint, we as kids might have felt a bit cheated. Wisely they opted to produce Panthor with some short flocking, giving him a realistic furry texture and making us feel better about spending our allowances on him. Instead of just a an inferior copy of Battle Cat, Panthor became a deluxe toy with realistic fur. What kid could resist that?

1983 Dealer Catalog

Apparently, earlier in Panthor’s development, he was slated to reuse the Battle Cat helmet as well, and was black with purple armor:

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From the Filmation series guide

In retrospect it was wiser (not just cheaper) to omit the helmet, which is probably Battle Cat’s most distinctive feature. Panthor’s final color scheme was chosen by Mattel designer Martin Arriola.

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On the shelves, there were a few options in 1983 if you wanted to pick up a Panthor. All of them featured some pretty epic artwork:

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This was the standalone Panthor box (above). The artist here is something of a MOTU mystery. He did box arts for Mattel after Rudy Obrero but before (and concurrent with) William George. No one seems to know what his name is. The style is very much along the lines of Rudy Obrero’s (that is to say, moody and Frazetta-like). That’s probably why I like it so much.

Mattel also offered a Skeletor/Panthor gift set, which featured artwork by the same mystery artist, this time with a battle scene featuring Skeletor/Panthor vs. He-Man, Man-At-Arms vs. Beast Man, and Castle Grayskull standing in the background:

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The pose you see for Beast Man and Man-At-Arms comes straight out of the 1981 Licensing Kit. Thanks to Jukka for pointing that out to me!

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Image via He-Man.org. Artwork by Errol McCarthy.

There was a third way to get your hands on Panthor, in the form of the Battle For Eternia giftset. Apparently this was produced in low quantities, as buying the boxed version in 2015 will require taking out a second mortgage:

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This set featured Skeletor, Panthor and Man-E-Faces, and might be my favorite of the Panthor box arts. It’s something about how Man-E-Faces is portrayed and the craters and moons in the background, I think. There were two versions released: one with the standard Skeletor, and another with Battle Armor Skeletor, presumably released in 1984.

A fourth way to get your hands on the purple panther was to buy the Battle Armor Skeletor and Panthor gift set, featuring artwork by William George:

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BA Skel Panthor Bill George

A year after Panthor’s release, Mattel was apparently considering releasing a deluxe version of Panthor, with articulation and some sort of pouncing action feature. This July 13, 1984 illustration by Ed Watts demonstrates the concept. This version of Panthor was, unfortunately, never released in the vintage line, although the 200x version wasn’t far off from this idea.

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Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol 1

In the finalized Filmation version of Panthor, he looks very much like the vintage figure (with green eyes), except for the fact that they’ve cut back on the extra fur around his face, giving him an appearance more like a real panther (ignoring the fact that he’s oversized, purple, and domesticated enough to wear a saddle).

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In The Sunbird Legacy, published by Golden Books, some humanoid panther men appear. From their coloration they seem to be inspired by Panthor:

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Panthor was on of the first in a series of evil opposites in the Masters of the Universe toyline. Battle Cat had his opposite in Panthor, He-Man had his opposite in Faker, Zoar had his opposite in Screeech, and Stridor had his opposite in Night Stalker. It was a fun and creative way to refresh existing molds. The goal was undoubtedly to maximize profits, but in the end it’s amazing what can be accomplished with a simple change of colors.

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From the 1985 German MOTU Magazine. Image via He-Man.org
Evil Horde

Bat Pak: Escape vehicle for the Evil Horde

From German artist Deimos comes an amazing illustration of a concept for an Evil Horde vehicle. This is an evocative piece with loads of atmosphere and action. His artwork seems to include a lot of details specific to the vintage toys, while giving the characters a feeling of depth and realism (or as realistic as it gets with Masters of the Universe).

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Der Offiziersbursche!

The design came from the Summer 1986 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine. Thanks, Matthew Martin, for the tip. I would have loved each and every one of these as a kid. I’m not sure why Mattel never produced them.

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Source: He-Man.org