Evil Beasts

Night Stalker – Evil Armored Battle Steed! (1985)

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I remember getting Night Stalker as a birthday surprise in the fall of 1985. I believe I got him along with Battle Bones. I hadn’t heard anything about either toy, but I was pretty impressed with both of them. Of course as long as I got He-Man toys, I was happy. I was an easy kid to shop for.

Night Stalker, along with Faker, Screeech, Stinkor, Moss Man and Panthor, come from the “cheap repaint” school of Masters of the Universe toy design. Night Stalker was a recast version of Stridor (who had been released the year before), in gold, purple and black. The US release did not include a recolored version of Stridor’s head armor piece, but Brazilian, Venezuelan, and French versions did. His sticker designs were quite different from Stridor’s.

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From the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Images via Orange Slime.

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Like Stridor, Night Stalker had a surprising lack of articulation. The design of his legs would lead you to believe that they were movable, but in fact they were not. The only moving parts on both horses were the tail, the rear gun, and the front guns. I was a little surprised by this fact when I first opened him up, but given the lack of articulation on Battle Cat, I made my peace with it pretty quickly.

Unlike an organic horse, Night Stalker was outfitted with a cockpit. The rider would sit in a seat with his legs inside the mechanical steed’s body. He could control the horse via a control panel rather than reins:

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Night Stalker’s control panel.

Night Stalker was sold individually and in a gift set with Jitsu. I’ve always liked the fact that Night Stalker had a rider associated with him besides Skeletor. I feel like it adds a bit of depth to both Jitsu and Night Stalker. You can imagine the two of them having independent adventures far away from Skeletor’s watchful eye.

The artwork on the individually packaged Night Stalker was done by an unknown artist, who I believe also did the artwork for Panthor, Stridor, Point Dread and others. The artwork for the two-pack was done by the great William George:

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To date I haven’t identified any colored cross sell art for Night Stalker. Some red line art appears on the back of the Fright Zone box, and I also located some black and white line art created for advertising copy, featuring Jitsu as the rider:

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Night Stalker didn’t show up in the mini comics, but he did make a few appearances in the UK Masters of the Universe comic book series (images via He-Man.org):

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Note that He-Man is actually riding Stridor, who has been inadvertently colored in Night Stalker’s colors.

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In Issue 3 of the series, Tri-Klops rides a living horse that seems to resemble Night Stalker, although it may be a coincidence (hat tip to James Eatock, who made that observation 10 years ago on his blog).

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Night Stalker also makes a couple of appearances in the German audio plays (hat tip to Tetsuo S.):

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Image source: He-Man.org
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Image source: He-Man.org

Night Stalker also appears quite frequently in the German Ehapa Verlag comic series:

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Image source: He-Man.org

According to James Eatock’s excellent He-Man and She-Ra guide, Night Stalker was intended to appear the Filmation He-Man series under the name “Knight Mare”,  but for some reason never found his way into an episode. I would guess that that that name Knight Mare was Night Stalker’s initial working name at Mattel. The robotic horse was also called Knight Mare in the old German toy magazines and audio plays (hat tip to Klemens F. and Kevin D.).

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Image source: He-Man and She-Ra, A complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures, by James Eatock and Alex Hawkey

Night Stalker seems to be less popular than his heroic brother Stridor, but personally I prefer the evil horse. I’m sure part of that is driven by nostalgia (I never owned Stridor as a kid), but I also think his color scheme is just more striking.

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From the 1985 German MOTU magazine. Image via He-Man.org.
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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 by William Garland:

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Garland did box arts for Mattel after Rudy Obrero but before (and concurrent with) William George. 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, again illustrated by William Garland, 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 (again illustrated by William Garland). 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