Heroic Vehicles

The Battle Ram in Minicomics and Golden Books

The longer I write this blog, the more I realize there is almost no limit to the amount of material that can be written about the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline. I will run out of steam before I ever run out of subjects to write about.

In this post, I’ll examine the Battle Ram‘s appearances in minicomics and Golden Book stories (I’ll skip the Golden coloring books, simply because I don’t have good images for all of them).

Interestingly, in the earliest minicomic stories, it was the Battle Ram, not Battle Cat, that was He-Man‘s primary mode of transportation.  By 1983 that changed, and He-Man and Battle Cat became inseparable, while the Battle Ram became more frequently associated with Teela or Man-At-Arms.

When I went through the Dark Horse He-Man Minicomic Collection, I was actually a little surprised at how infrequently the Battle Ram shows up. It actually appears much more often in the Golden collection of stories.

For reference, the vehicle in question is called the Battle Ram, but the detachable front half is referred to as the Jet Sled – although that term isn’t often used within the stories below.

Update #1: I should note that the Battle Ram was designed by Ted Mayer. Alfredo Alcala’s depictions of it (including the image at the beginning of this article) are based on the early prototype sculpted by Jim Openshaw, which in turn was based on Ted Mayer’s concept drawings. More on that at Ted Mayer’s website and in my original Battle Ram toy feature.

Update #2: I wasn’t originally going to include the Giant Picture Books because they’re not really stories per se. But the artwork is so nice, I broke down and decided to include them. Thanks to Jukka for sharing the lovely images, which come from James Eatock (internal) and Polygonus (covers).

1982 Minicomic: He-Man and the Power Sword 

The Battle Ram is pretty ubiquitous in the first ever minicomic (written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala). Notice that in early media like this, the front half of the Battle Ram does not soar through the air – rather it hovers low over the ground. That was Mark Taylor‘s idea for how the vehicle was supposed to work.

Gifts from the Sorceress
He-Man parks his ride out front while he punches himself a cave out of the bare rock.
He-Man shows off the Battle Ram’s “space-warp” device.
Hovering low to the ground.
He-Man pays the price for overconfidence.
This is the only time the back half of the Battle Ram shows up in the first series of minicomics. Based on the prototype designed by Ted Mayer, it seems to have a flame thrower as well as a missile launcher.

1982 Minicomic: The Vengeance of Skeletor

The Battle Ram is a near-constant presence in what would turn out to be one of the most violent of the MOTU minicomics. Written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala.

Again the Battle Ram hovers close to the ground.
Overturned Battle Ram.
Smoking in the background.
He-Man rights his vehicle.
Chugging along the ground.
This is why it’s called the Battle Ram!
Parked next to Teela’s Charger.

1982 Minicomic: Battle in the Clouds

Battle in the Clouds is the first story where the front half of the Battle Ram (Sky Sled) is not limited to hovering close to the ground. In this story it can soar high into the sky, which serves as an excuse to write it into a story about a furious air battle featuring the Wind Raider. Written by Don Glut, illustrated by Alfredo Alcala.

Mer-Man watches as He-Man overwhelms Skeletor with superior firepower.
He-Man flies off, no longer earth bound. Mer-Man makes a pact with Skeletor.
Stratos pushes the Battle Ram out of harm’s way.
No seat belt on the Battle Ram.
Mer-Man learns not to press random buttons.
Battle Ram vs. Wind Raider
Man-At-Arms takes a tumble.
Man-At-Arms watches the air battle from below.
Stratos removes Mer-Man from the aircraft.
Stratos learns to embrace technology.

1983 Minicomic: The Tale of Teela

This is the first minicomic that features both halves of the Battle Ram together. which seems to be Teela’s vehicle of choice. Sadly, it’s also the last appearance of the Battle Ram in the vintage minicomics. Written by Gary Cohn, penciled by Mark Texeira, inked by Tod Smith, colored by Anthony Tollin.

Responding to voices in her head, Teela takes the Battle Ram out for a drive. What could go wrong?
Tri-Klops nearly undergoes a chestectomy courtesy of the Battle Ram.
Separated from her vehicle.
The long drive home.

1983 Golden Book: Thief of Castle Grayskull

In this story, Teela is again the driver for Battle Ram, which seems to be mostly used as transportation, as far as this story is concerned. Written by Roger McKenzie, illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Gino D’Achille.

The heroes, with their fantastic vehicles, congregate outside Castle Grayskull. The Battle Ram is dark gray instead of its usual slate blue color.
The skies darken.
Teela pilots the Battle Ram over rocky terrain.
Battle Ram in silhouette.
Teela prepares to blast Beast Man and his henchmen.
Obscured by flowers.

1983 Golden Book: The Sword of Skeletor

Teela is again the driver for the Battle Ram in The Sword of Skeletor. In this story, the Battle Ram can apparently travel across water as well as land. Written by Roger McKenzie, illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Gino D’Achille.

An amphibious Battle Ram!
Parked in front of Grayskull once more.

1983 Golden Book: The Sunbird Legacy

The Sunbird Legacy is probably the greatest of the Golden stories, with an epic, comic book feel. In this story Man-At-Arms is the driver for the Battle Ram, and he uses it to great effect against Beast Man. Written by Roger McKenzie, illustrated by Adrian Gonzales and Fred Carillo, cover by Earl Norem.

Man-At-Arms takes the Battle Ram for a spin.
Battle Ramming!
Either a tiny Battle Ram or an enormous Beast Man.

1984 Golden Book: Mask of Evil

This story features a brief shot of an out-of-scale Battle Ram from the rear. It’s not clear who’s driving it, though. Written by John Hughes, illustrated by Al McWilliams, cover by Earl Norem.

Apparently the Battle Ram came in child sizes as well. All kinds of perspective issues here!

1984 Golden Book: Giant Picture Book – Heroic Warriors

This isn’t a story so much as a collection of lovely artwork by Fred Carillo. The Giant Picture Book series does include some biographical information on selected characters, however.

Image source: Polygonus
Man-At-Arms smashed through the undergrowth in his trusty Battle Ram. Image source: James Eatock

1984 Golden Book: Giant Picture Book – Evil Warriors

This evil version of the heroic Giant Picture Book gives us a tantalizing look at the Battle Ram – just before Jitsu goes and destroys it. You’re not winning any points with me, Jitsu! Artwork by Fred Carillo.

Image source: Polygonus
A Filmation-style Jitsu tosses Man-At-Arms. Image source: James Eatock
Jitsu commits the unpardonable sin. Image source: James Eatock

1985 Golden Book: The Rock Warriors

This story features a single shot of the Jet Slet, again piloted by Teela, but colored in red and orange. Written by Michael Kirschenbaum, illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Earl Norem.

Teela pilots a red version of the Battle Ram!

1986 Golden Book: A Hero In Need

Two gray Jet Sleds are on almost every page of this story, piloted by Teela and Prince Adam. Written by Elizabeth Ryan, illustrated by Fred Carillo, cover by Earl Norem.

Prince Adam and Teela race through the woods.

Teela zooms away as Adam looks for some privacy.
Teela apparently forgets the Battle Ram has its own blasters.
A quick 180.

Well, this is confusing.
Perspective issues strike again.

 

 

Golden books images comes from He-Man.org

More on the Battle Ram:

Advertisements
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.

IMG_3312
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
IMG_3317
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
online-roadripper1_full
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.
online-roadripper2_full
Gift set line art by William George. image via He-man.org

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

Grayskull_1
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.

Heroic Vehicles

Dragon Walker -Sidewinding Beast/Vehicle (1984)

Dragon Walker Grapic

The Dragon Walker is one of my all time favorite Masters of the Universe vehicles. I don’t recall if I had seen the Dragon Walker at the store and begged my parents for one, or if they surprised me with it for my birthday. I just remember getting it and frantically searching the house for a pair of C batteries. As I recall we didn’t have any and I had to wait for my parents to buy some. What an agonizing wait that was.

I realize some fans find the sidewinding locomotion concept to be so impractical that it has soured them on the toy. Not me. I thought of the Dragon Walker as the Eternian equivalent of the G.I. Joe Bridge Layer – a vehicle built for getting the good guys across rivers and crevasses.

bridgelayer_leftfront_iso_open
Image via Yo Joe

The main elements of what would eventually be the Dragon Walker are present in this concept illustration by Ed Watts. The coat of arms design is different from the final toy, featuring a cross and dragons rather than the stylized H from Battle Armor He-Man’s costume. In this concept the driver stands rather than sits, and holds on to a red laser canon mounted on the dragon’s head. The concept was also quite a bit larger than the actual toy.

Ed Watts Dragon Walker Large
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Ed Watts designed a number of produced and unproduced vehicles for the Masters of the Universe line, including the following (note – all of these Ed Watts concept illustrations originate from The Power and the Honor Foundation):

Ball Buster – an early version of Bashasaurus. The action feature concept is identical to the latter, but in this incarnation the vehicle is purple and green, with no dinosaur theme (or indeed any animal or mythical creature theme). It was envisioned as a vehicle for the evil warriors:

ball buster ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Battle Bones – a unique creature that works as a kind of action figure carrying case:

battle bones ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Turbosaurus – a design that shares some aesthetic similarities with Dragon Walker. Turbosaurus looks like a kind of mobile command center in the form of a dinosaur. There appear to be two characters in this illustration that are dressed like Man-E-Faces, one without a helmet:

turbosaurus ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Cyclo Marauder – had it been produced, this would have been the only sea vehicle (aside from the Wind Raider, which ended up being portrayed as an air vehicle in published media) produced for the Masters of the Universe Toyline. It had an interesting double shark motif and was apparently intended for the heroic warriors:

cyclo maurauder ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Three-headed beast – a bizarre steed concept with no name attached to the illustration. From the looks of it I don’t think Skeletor will be arriving at his destination any time soon:

weird thing ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Torton – another great-looking vehicle that looks distantly related to the Dragon Walker. The Torton would have held five heroic warriors and had a fun looking grabbing claw at the end of a crane arm:

Ed Watts Torton Large
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The final Dragon Walker toy was a bit smaller than Ed Watts’ concept, no doubt to keep costs low:

1234

dragon-walker
From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog

William George painted the packaging illustration, which features Battle Armor He-Man riding the Dragon Walker through a prehistoric-looking landscape. One hallmark of many of George’s MOTU illustrations is the presence of little dinosaur-like creatures off to the side of the main action.

12

William George Art

William George line art dragon walker
Original William George line art. Image via He-Man.org.

The cross sell art for the Dragon Walker was very true to the design and look of the toy:

The Spanish version was released without the cellophane window, and included an additional William George illustration and some product photos. Judging by the inclusion of the Land Shark vehicle in the background, I would guess that this box was released in 1985 at the earliest:

(Images via Masters Unbound and 20th Century Toy Collector)

And here is line art:

william-george-dragon-walker-spanish

A US version of this packaging was planned, but never released. Here is a picture of the proof sheet from Grayskull Museum (thanks to Tokyonever for the pointer):

box15

William George also painted a poster featuring the Dragon Walker for Kellogg’s as part of a promotion they were running with Mattel. Mattel designer Ted Mayer tells this story:

There was stuff I did not know about, because Mattel kept us designers isolated, regarding other departments, or outside stuff. I remember that one day the He-Man posters appeared out of nowhere that were done for Kellogg. Apparently Marketing just went out and did them without consulting us. We were pissed off, because we considered ourselves the main reference point.

As it happened, they hired Bill George to do them, and we were good buddies. Funny story. Bill came to me and said “I have to do these paintings for Kellogg’s, but they said I can’t sign them.” Because they were for such a big company he wanted the exposure. I had the same problem with the aircraft illustrations I used to do. I told him to hide his signature inside the illustrations, but do them upside down so they where not obvious. That’s what he did, and they never found it.

Kellogs Poster 2

Kellogs Poster upside down signature - Copy
William George’s hidden signature

The mechanism of the Dragon Walker is rather ingenious. Rather than a vehicle moving along a track, the track and the vehicle move one after the other. A patent was filed for it on January 10, 1984, crediting Michael Gurner and Herbert May as the inventors. From the abstract:

A moveable toy consisting of a base and a motorized vehicle. The base includes a track having a central groove ending in openings at either end. The track includes teeth which cooperate with a drive gear held in the vehicle to drive the vehicle along the track. Rotors having notches on the top surface are rotatably held in openings at each end of the central groove in the track. Upon actuation, the vehicle travels along the track until it arrives at either end of the track, where the vehicle rotates the base to allow the vehicle to continue along the track end for further movement of the toy in the same direction.

The concept is demonstrated in this video on the Grand Illusions YouTube channel:

From the video description:

The other one is made by Mattel, and Tim remembers the crowds of people watching this with fascination, the first time it was shown at a toy fair.

The character drives his dragon vehicle along the track; once he reaches the end of the track, the track swivels around, so that the section of track that was behind him is not in front of him, and he can set off again, along the track. This keeps repeating, and so he can cover quite large distances quite quickly, on his amazing ‘never ending’ track!

The inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine included a blueprint-style poster of the Dragon Walker. I hung this on my wall as soon as I got it and studied every detail:

dragon-walker-bp-poster-hi-res
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Curiously, the poster doesn’t identify the Dragon Walker by name, but instead calls it the Heroic Warrior Carrior. Man-At-Arms is said to be the inventor. Notice that the color version at the top is off-model. It resembles the Filmation version, but it’s not clear if there is actually any place for the driver to sit!

Poster DW - Copy

Errol McCarthy created a few illustrations of the Dragon Walker for licensing purposes (images via He-Man.org):

The Dragon Walker made an appearance in the background of the mini comic, Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!

It also plays a role in several Golden Books stories, such as The Rock Warriors and Maze of Doom:

The Dragon Walker shows up a few times in the Filmation Cartoon, in episodes like “Attack From Below”, “The Time Wheel”, and “Fraidy Cat”:

219-10-Slow-Speed-Chase-Gif
Animated GIF from He-Man Reviewed
dragon-walker-filmation-model
Image source: He-Man and She-Ra – A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures

As shown in the above GIF and model sheet, Filmation increased the size of the seat so that it could fit multiple characters.