Heroic Vehicles

Road Ripper – Warrior Carrier (1984)

road ripper graphic

I remember getting the Road Ripper as a present when it came out in 1984. I want to say I got it at the same time as the Dragon Walker.  It didn’t blow me away like the Dragon Walker did, but it was a memorable vehicle and I sent it speeding across the kitchen floor on many Saturday mornings.

The Road Ripper seems to have been the brainchild of Mattel designer Roger Sweet. I believe that an early working name for the vehicle was the Tri-Trak. As described in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, the Tri-Trak was “a three-wheeled motorcycle which He Man uses whenever he needs a fast ground transport. Tri-Trak travels most of the places the Attack Trak goes only much faster. The motorcycle bears two very deadly photon machine guns.”

An early version of the vehicle had a much smaller figurehead on the front of the vehicle, a couple of small fins on the back, and control handles for He-Man to hold on to. This early concept was colored red rather than green, and had a comparatively narrow front end.

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Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

A subsequent revision to the design was much closer to the final toy, with its enlarged figurehead and green color scheme. It was more highly detailed than the final toy, with additional orange and yellow triangular patterns and green mechanical details, but otherwise it’s very familiar to anyone who owned the production vehicle.

Road Ripper roger sweet
Image source: The Art Of He-Man/The Power and the Honor Foundation
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Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

A somewhat similar concept was illustrated by Ted Mayer on September 29, 1983. It has the twin guns mentioned in the description of the Tri-Trak, although it seems to have four wheels, not three. It would have used a launcher base as a means of propulsion, with a similar ripcord feature. However, given that the Road Ripper was trademarked on August 22, 1983, this may have been a related idea and not a version of the Road Ripper itself.

Image Source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

According to the Power and the Honor Foundation catalog, Roger Sweet got the idea for the Road Ripper from the Evel Knievel Super Stunt Cycle.

The final toy has a rubber seat belt (similar to the ones used in the Attak Trak and Dragon Walker), rather than the clip featured in the concept artwork. The sculpt work is well-executed, and it’s augmented by a number of brightly colored stickers. It came with a long red ripcord, that, when pulled through the back of the vehicle, set a heavy rubber wheel hidden underneath the vehicle in motion, propelling the whole thing forward.

Road Ripper Catalog Fr

The cross sell art closely mirrors the toy, but it lacks some detail in on the back area of the vehicle:

road-ripper cross sell

The Road Ripper was sold individually and in a gift set with Battle Armor He-Man. The artwork on the front of both boxes was done by William George.  They both have a sense of speed to them, and feature the artist’s usual desolate landscapes and fearsome little creatures:

Artwork for individual Road Ripper packaging, by William George
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Road Ripper line art, by William George. Image via He-Man.org

Artwork for Battle Armor He-Man/Road Ripper gift set, by William George.
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Gift set line art by William George. image via He-man.org

William George also illustrated the Road Ripper in this 1984 MOTU poster:

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Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys produced a version of the Road Ripper in blue, although they retained the artwork on the packaging that depicted it in green:

Errol McCarthy illustrated the Road Ripper for a T-Shirt design:

The vehicle makes a two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in “The Time Wheel” (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out) and “The Energy Beast.” It doesn’t last long in the the latter story, as Orko starts up the vehicle and quickly crashes it, destroying it. Man-At-Arms remarks that he had spent six months working on it.

Road Ripper Model Sheet

It also makes a single appearance in the mini comics. It shows up in a single panel in Temple of Darkness, illustrated by Larry Houston.

Temple of Darkness
An off-model red version of Road Ripper shows up in Issue 71 of the UK MOTU magazine, which in turn originates from Ehapa MOTU issue 7 (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out):

UK MOTU 71
Image via He-Man.org

It also appears in the first issue of the US MOTU magazine, in the short comic story, Maddening of the Monstones. He-Man uses it as his primary means of transportation:

The Road Ripper never had the kind of permanence and ubiquitousness that other vehicles like the Wind Raider and Battle Ram had, but it was a fun little racer and I think it fit in well with the other Masters of the Universe vehicles. Surprisingly, Tonka even made a Road Ripper-themed crossover tricycle. I suppose that makes sense given the fact that the Road Ripper also has three wheels, but it’s an interesting choice given the general lack of exposure of the vehicle otherwise.

Tonka Road Ripper Matt Butcher
Image source: Matt Butcher

The general formula for MOTU vehicles really seems to be angular, Star Wars vehicle-like bodies, combined big engines and animalistic figureheads at the front, which is as good a description as any for the Road Ripper. In fact, it reminds me in many ways of the Battle Ram, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Battle Ram were a major source of inspiration.

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Artwork

Creatures of William George

One of the defining characteristics of the packaging artwork of William George is the inclusion of small dinosaur or dragon-like creatures in the background and foreground of the illustration. They add a dimension to the illustration that goes beyond simply demonstrating the product – there is also some world-building going on. The Eternia of William George is a hostile, dangerous and often desolate place, where threats come in all sizes.

I’ll only be focusing on creatures that William George invented for his paintings, not creatures that were part of the products for sale.

Battle Armor He-Man and Road Ripper (1984)

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A pint-sized dinosaur and sea serpent.

Dragon Walker (1984)

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A miniature pterodactyl

Road Ripper (1984)

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Two lizards.

Roton (1984)

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A lizard.
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A tree-climbing demon.
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A flying bird, with encampment in background.

Bashasaurus (1985)

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A diminutive dragon.

Land Shark (1985)

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A wicked-looking little dragon.

Land Shark & Battle Armor Skeletor

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Part vulture, part pterodactyl.

Laser Bolt (1986)

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A tiny, beaked dinosaur.

Scubattack Power Gear (1987)

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A vicious-looking eel.

Megator (1988)

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An ordinary horse, frightened by the stampeding Megator.
Evil Warriors

Jitsu – Evil master of martial arts (1984)

Jitsu Graphic2

My  introduction to Jitsu came in first grade, when a classmate pulled out several of his newest He-Man figures to show the rest of us. The three figures I remember him showing us were Tri-Klops, Jitsu and Fisto.

I already owned Tri-Klops from back in kindergarten, but I hadn’t seen these two new figures with their spring-loaded right arms that terminated in either a giant metallic fist or chopping hand. The entire group was suitably impressed, and we each took turns testing out their action features.

Jitsu’s development starts quite early in the series, in the December 1982 MOTU Bible written by Michael Halperin, under the working name, Chopper:

CHOPPER – has a right hand that’s enormous. With one mighty blow this villain can chop through bricks, trees, anything that gets in his way. He’s formidable in hand-to-hand combat.

There is actually some overlap between Chopper and a Filmation character called Strongarm – James Eatock goes into detail in this video for the He-Man Official Youtube Channel:

According to Martin Arriola, Jitsu was created by Mattel designer Colin Bailey. Although no concept art for Jitsu as a toy has been either found or made public, there is an image of his prototype.

jitsu org
Image source: He-Man.org
Proto 2
Image source: Grayskull Museum

The prototype is quite different in some respects from the final figure. As you can see, the prototype was originally to reuse Skeletor‘s legs. Like Fisto, he was also going to reuse Tri-Klops’ sword (the example in the image above isn’t even repainted). He also uses He-Man‘s arms, rather than Fisto’s arms. Everything else in the rough prototype seems to match the general thrust of the figure’s final design.

The Filmation design may represent an intermediate stage in the character’s design, or it may be a “Filmationized” version of the final toy. This incarnation of Jitsu features human feet with unique red samurai boots and an enlarged but ungloved right hand. He also has a purple belt and bracers:

Jitsu appears in a single episode – “The Dragon Invasion”.  In this scene, he squares off against Ram Man, and they both come out a bit worse for wear in the end:

Jitsu gif
Images used in the animation courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

On August 22, 1983, Mattel filed a trademark for the name Jitsu, instead of the original Chopper. The toy was released the following year.

The final design utilizes He-Man’s legs, with two toned gold and black boots. He is also given a unique katana weapon, although the finger guard is molded on the wrong side of the handle. He reuses the left arm, right upper arm, and slightly shallower chest from Fisto. He has a unique head sculpt and unique two-piece armor – the latter would later be used for Mattel’s King Randor figure:

The action scene on the back of Jitsu’s packaging was illustrated by the inimitable Errol McCarthy:

Jitsu Graphic
Image source: Starcrusader
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Image source: He-Man.org

Jitsu instructionsMcCarthy also illustrated the character, along with Fisto, for this T-Shirt design:

Jitsu’s cross-sell artwork is quite faithful to the toy, down to the backwards hand guard on the sword:

Jitsu cross sell from Axel
Image source: Axel Giménez

Jitsu was also sold in a JCPenny two-pack with Clawful, and in a gift set with Night Stalker. The artwork for the Night Stalker gift set was done by William George.

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Image source: Grayskull Museum

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Jitsu Night Stalker

Jitsu and Nightstalker are the “evil opposites” of Fisto and Stridor, who were also sold as a set. Evil opposites is a theme that pops up over and over again in the vintage Masters of the Universe line.

Battle Cat and Panthor

Aside from the Night Stalker gift set, Jitsu appears on one other piece of box art for the Masters of the Universe line – Battle Bones, by William George:

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Jitsu is never really center stage in any story he appears in. His biggest moment in the minicomics is definitely in The Clash of Arms, where he faces off against Fisto and is quickly defeated:

Jitsu also makes some very minor appearances in Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde and in Hordak: The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge.

Jitsu is a little less camera shy in the Golden Book stories, The Rock Warriors and Demons of the Deep, both illustrated by Fred Carillo. He is far from front and center here, but at least he’s operating at the level of henchman of the week, together with Webstor in the first story and Mer-Man in the second:

Jitsu also makes an appearance the Golden Giant Picture Book, also illustrated by Fred Carillo. Here Jitsu commits the worst sin imaginable – he smashes the Battle Ram with his giant golden chopping hand. The images below come from the Bustatoons blog.

Jitsu also appears in several posters painted by William George from 1984 to 1986: