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?
Apparently, earlier in Panthor’s development, he was slated to reuse the Battle Cat helmet as well, and was black with purple armor:
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.
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:
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:
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!
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:
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:
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.
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).
In The Sunbird Legacy, published by Golden Books, some humanoid panther men appear. From their coloration they seem to be inspired by Panthor:
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.