Heroic Warriors

Stratos – Winged warrior! (1982)

Stratos graphic

Released late in the first year of Masters of the Universe figures, Stratos was one of the few from that 1982 that I didn’t own as a kid. I remember encountering him for the first time at a friend’s house: “Who’s this guy? Oh yeah, I remember seeing him in the comics. Where’s his weapon? No weapon? I guess it’s cool that he can fly. Is he a flying monkey?”

Stratos, designed by Mark Taylor, appears to have been originally conceived as a villain.

wings of wickedness

Given the working name “Bird Man” (also, perhaps “Wing Man”) Stratos was intended to have the hairy arms and legs of Beast Man, but the furless homo sapiens chest of He-Man:

Mark Taylor Stratos
Mark Taylor B-sheet, photo by Jukka Issakainen, image from the Power & Honor Foundation

The body in the B-sheet isn’t fully colored, but a bit of color on the chest indicates a tentative flesh tone or orange color scheme. However, he could also be interpreted as having a light gray body. His wings are blue, and his red backpack attaches around his waist and his neck. That design comes through in the first mini comics drawn by Alfredo Alcala, depicted as first a villain and then a hero:

Orange Stratos
Evil Stratos, in orange fur
page-13
Good Stratos, with tan fur/skin

Eventually his backpack was redesigned and his body color was changed to gray, which was reflected in the last mini comic of 1982. The colors of his backpack and arm feathers were also reversed:

page-22

This design also appears in the cross sell art:

Stratos Cross Sell Best
Stratos cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

Notice in this hand-painted prototype (with another redesign to the chest harness), Stratos has a hairless chest, which matches up with the original Mark Taylor B-Sheet and the cross sell art:

promo
Source: 1981 License Kit/He-Man.org

This image from the 1984 Annual (which used images taken from early prototypes) makes it clearer that Stratos had a smooth chest. This design makes him seem far less animalistic:

annual stratos proto
Image from: He-Man.org. Note that the harness also lacks the feather design at the shoulders.

I thought I had found yet another prototype of Stratos in a German promotional booklet. The harness seems to have a criss-cross pattern on the front, which reminded me a little of the cross sell art. But I think this is simply a case of the photographer putting the harness on incorrectly:

vintage promo 1984a vintage promo 1984b vintage promo 1984c

Eventually it was decided that Stratos would have the same furry chest as Beast Man:

stratoschest
Image source: The Art of He-Man

There were some variations of early production versions of Stratos. Some came with blue wings and a red backpack, and others with red wings and a blue backpack. The rarest version had a blue beard and gray goggles. All mint on card examples of this variant that I have seen have blue wings, but loose examples have shown up with red wings. I’m not sure if those were original to the figure or if some part swapping occurred.

In any case, it’s possible that the blue beard version of Stratos is the very first version released, as it accords with Mark Taylor’s original color scheme. However, the earliest Stratos prototypes (as shown earlier in this post), had red wings and a blue backpack, so I remain a little uncertain on the issue. Most blue bearded examples seem to have blue “eyebrows” as well, but there was at least one example (in the first image below) with gray “eyebrows”.

 

The red wing/gray beard version is probably the most popular, as he was most frequently depicted in this color scheme:

IMG_9721 IMG_9722 IMG_9723 IMG_9724

But of course the blue wing/gray beard version has its fan base too:

1123432   3213 - Copy42313 - Copy

The first release of Stratos was packaged on the “eight back” style card.

11  1111

Subsequent versions featured this scene on the card back by artist Errol McCarthy:

stratosback
Strangely, Stratos is depicted with three-toed feet

Stratos seemed to appear frequently in books and comic books in the first few years of the line, but his appearances became rarer afterwards.

001 cover 09

DC Comics - To Tempt The Gods
DC Comics – To Tempt The Gods
20
In the Sunbird Legacy book, Stratos’ compatriots at Avion were shown in the familiar colors but given unique headgear and wings on their backs
Ladybird Wings of Doom book
Ladybird Wings of Doom book
Not sure how his working name
Not sure how his working name “Bird Man” showed up in 1987

Stratos made occasional appearances in the Filmation cartoon. He wasn’t depicted as a flying ape-like creature. He looks instead like a human in a kind of flight suit.

IMGP4655

filmstratos

Of course, in the Filmation Series Guide he looks a lot closer to the toy:

he-man-guide-9_full

Stratos also makes some appearances in Rudy Obrero’s Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram box art:

grayskull greatBattle Ram high resolution

Stratos probably isn’t near the top of most people’s favorite MOTU character lists (although some people absolutely love him). As a kid he didn’t particularly spark my interest, but as an adult I find him enormously charming.

most powerful toys

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20 thoughts on “Stratos – Winged warrior! (1982)

  1. I never owned a complete Stratos, and hadn’t paid much attention to him, so I never realized that he actually had a jet pack on that harness. I was under the impression that the 200X version added the jet pack to make him seem “cooler.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh, Stratos. A strange ol’ character. As one of the resident “early barbarian mythos” fans, I should like Stratos. And part of me does. But, when you break him down, particularly as a figure… he’s actually kinda boring!

    Don’t get me wrong, the concept is great – and perfectly logical for the early origins of the line; a flying, winged warrior. But for whatever reason, during execution, he just seems to have become slightly uninteresting, especially on hindsight.
    Maybe it’s due to his colour scheme. I understand that each figure was given their own differing colour palette to distinguish them, but – from some of the early sketches that seemed to hint at him having caucasian or even orange-y skin, the grey they finally settled for (quite drab) didn’t really do him any favours. For many years I’ve wished that he’d been more silver-y blue, as depicted in the (excellent) UK Ladybird books. And lthough the design of Stratos’ bird people varied somewhat in different media, I always thought that their typical design looked far more interesting, and which some of this design had gone ‘backwards’ into the final version of Stratos! 🙂

    Although fleshed out over the concept stages, Stratos’ costume never fully worked. The earliest concepts (and as seen in some of the earliest mini-comics) saw him with a ‘plume’ of features on his neck/shoulders which was fairly cool, but this was later developed into a jetpack. In the earlier sketches and prototypes, this jetpack had a reasonably good looking harness. But by the time of the actual figure, this had been amended to a rather unpleasing version that just looked like the standard first-two-waves-figures armor on backwards. Even the feathers around the neck on the earlier concepts of the harness were lost; and this rather basic armor is one of the things that lets the final figure down the most. (Also, I never did understand – if Stratos could fly anyway, why did he need a jetpack? To go faster, I suppose!)

    The heroic/evil designating of Stratos was interesting too, and not uncommon (at one point, Mer Man might have been a heroic warrior, and Tri-Klops too), however it’s interesting to see just how late his siding seems to have been decided on – even the first couple of mini-comics depict him as an evil warrior. These early evil references even followed through to some later merchandise, with some items stating him as an evil warrior appearing as late as 1984. In my own MOTU world, Stratos was a once noble birdman who had been turned bitter and evil as a result of the Great Wars which wiped out most of Eternia (reflected in his skin colour change) who was eventually convinced by the barbarian He-Man that there was hope in saving Eternia, and returned to his rightful place as leader of the bird people.

    As for the ‘which came first’ colour combination of wings/jetpack… I never have fully deduced. For many years I believed the red wings / blue jetpack to be the original; but then it seemed it to be the opposite. Maybe there actually never was a distinct version and there always was two versions?

    The day I brought my childhood Stratos figure, the pin that held the wing on his left arm snapped off as my dad assembled it with me, meaning that the wing hand to awkwardly be held on my an elastic band forever more. Also over time, as with many other examples of the figure, over time the paint on the nose of my Stratos wore away, leaving him with a red alcoholic looking nose!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stratosphere was one of the first figures that I got as a child and I always had a soft spot in my heart for him. He didn’t have a cool weapon or much of a backstop (at least not with the original mini comics, which were my first introduction to the world of Masters of the Universe and served as the primary blueprint for the head canon of my youth). He just had his oddly charming design, looking like a monkey man with a jet pack, helmet, and feathered sleeves that were his “wings”. I ran with that and made him a slightly unhinged ape man that found a trove of Ancient devices that included his helmet, jet pack, and “wrist blasters” that were portrayed in one of the mini comics and thought that the made him a “bird man”. He was so plain that I thought I had to give him a cool back story as a kid.

      Liked by 1 person

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