Artwork

Lost Golden Book story – featuring He-Ro and Eldor!

Recently an eBay seller was auctioning a number of pieces of original art, many of which came from Golden Book. Among them was this page spread for a story that at least I have not yet heard of, called Passage of Time. Apparently it was going to feature He-Ro and Eldor!

For those who aren’t familiar, He-Ro and Eldor were planned vintage figures by Mattel at the tail-end of the toy-line in a spinoff line called “Powers of Grayskull”. We saw the first part of the story in the final minicomic of the series, but sadly the concept didn’t go any further.

Here we have proof that He-Ro and Eldor were going to be featured in a Golden Book story!

goldenbook-passageoftime-pg03_04

It looks like this was going to be published by the Golden Books division of Western Publishing Company. The writer is not credited or mentioned by the seller, although it could be Jack C. Harris, an active writer at the time for Masters of the Universe books, with titles like Secret of the Dragon’s Egg and Meteor Monsters.

The seller informed me that he thinks the art was done by Fred Carrillo, who worked on numerous Golden Books like The Sunbird Legacy, The Sword of Skeletor, Power From the Sky and more. To his credit, he was also a layout artist at Filmation Studios.

Hopefully more of this story can one day be found. We know Super7 will be making a vintage He-Ro and Eldor figures, so maybe there is hope!

Happy April Fools Day!

Story and image by Jukka Issakainen.

Evil Warriors

Kobra Khan – Evil master of snakes (1984)

KK Graphic

I remember quite well getting Kobra Khan. It was our last summer in our Eastern Washington house, before our big move across the mountains to a rainier, more temperate part of the Pacific Northwest. Although Kobra Khan was released in 1984, I didn’t get him until 1986. I remember gravely weighing my options at the store. I could get two toys, and I was determined that they be Snake Men. I  was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or the newly released King Hiss or Rattlor. I don’t remember seeing Tung Lashor at the time. After studying all three toys and their packaging intently, I concluded that King Hiss was a cool idea, but his hidden snake body wasn’t all that great looking, so I went with the other two figures instead.

Snake Men

I spent the last hot summer in the old house running around with Kobra Khan. After he had sprayed his paralyzing mist on all of my heroic warriors, he turned his venom on most of our house plants, and of course on me as well. The figure put out a highly dispersed sort of mist, and it was a great way to stay cool. I played with him so much that I remember getting a sore finger from pushing down on his head.

Kobra Khan seems to have originated with a Roger Sweet concept for a warrior wearing a snake costume, like a male version of Teela. Actually, the concept  recalls the G.I. Joe villain Serpentor on some ways, too, although that wasn’t released until 1986. In any case, as is noted in The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Roger Sweet’s drawing seems to have a hole in the snake’s mouth, suggesting the water squirting feature was already planned out at this stage:

Roger Sweet KK
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog. Like Buzz-Off, this character started out as a costumed human being.

The final toy was, of course, quite different from Sweet’s original concept. While both toy and concept were to reuse Skeletor‘s arms and legs, the final toy had a unique sculpted and scaley chest and crotch piece. Due to the action feature, he didn’t have the usual twist waist action feature. Kobra Khan was given a snake head rather than the concept human head and snake cowl. Probably due to the fact that the character’s head had to press downward in order to activate the spray feature, he lacked the characteristic cobra hood. For his accessory, he was given an orange-red version of Zodac‘s gun. The name Kobra Khan was trademarked on January 27, 1984.

Kobra Khan cross sell Axel
Image source: Axel Giménez


Kobra Khan was sold on the standard single card, as well as in a JCPenny two-pack with Whiplash. Errol McCarthy painted the scene on the back of his card, which features the villain trying to attack He-Man and Man-At-Arms with his hypnotizing mist:

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Image source: Grayskull Museum. Note that in this illustration, Kobra Khan’s center column of chest scales is painted brown.
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Image source: The Art of He-Man

Errol McCarthy also illustrated the figure in a variety of contexts for use in licensed merchandise:

One of the above illustrations was also used in the 1987 Style Guide. Note that the character is given the cobra hood that the figure lacked – no doubt an influence from the Filmation cartoon (more on that later). Interestingly, he puts a Snake Men symbol on Kobra Khan’s chest, which is part and parcel to the retconning of Kobra Khan as part of the Snake Men. That faction wasn’t introduced until 1986:

kobra_khan_m410_full

Interestingly, there was a version of Kobra Khan that did have the snake symbol on his chest– a variant made by Argentinian manufacturer Top Tops, called Kobra Khan Camuflado. Known as Camo Khan to many fans today, the figure had a green and black camouflage style paint job, gold boots and belt, and strangely, Buzz-Off’s clawed arms. He was given Clawful’s green mace as a weapon:

Kobra Khan first appears briefly in the background of the 1984 minicomic, Double-Edged Sword, and again in the background of Hordak, The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge (1985). He plays a much more central role in the 1986 minicomic, Rock People to the Rescue, where he teams up with Webstor against Rokkon and Stonedar.

In the 1986 comic, King of the Snake Men, Skeletor instructs Kobra Khan to join with King Hiss as a spy. But in Fastest Draw in the Universe (also 1986) Kobra Khan is again a henchman of Skeletor.

Kobra Khan appears prominently in the Golden Books story, Meteor Monsters, and plays a background role in Maze of Doom.

He also makes several appearances in poster artwork by both William George and Earl Norem:

Norem Snake Men
Illustration by Earl Norem. Note that Kobra Khan has his hood in this image.

He only appears once on box art – in the 1985 Battle Bones illustration by William George:

battle-bones-main

Kobra Khan didn’t appear frequently in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, but his appearances were memorable. The character was portrayed as clever and credibly threatening, able to knock out most opponents with his sleeping mist. His most memorable appearance is probably in “Disappearing Dragons”, where he teams up with Webstor and they square off against Buzz-Off and Mekaneck.

dis drag

In the series, Kobra Khan is typically illustrated with his mouth closed. When he wishes to use his knockout gas on someone, his cobra hood extends and the gas seems to come from the hood rather than his mouth.

filmation mist

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In “The Good Shall Survive” Khan displays the odd ability to elongate his arms (a trait later shared by Sssqueeze).

arms

The final He-Man episode, “The Cold Zone”, features Khan as the primary villain, and we learn more about the Reptons (the race of snake men on Eternia). Because of that episode, I generally like to display Kobra Khan in the Land Shark.

cold zone

Kobra Khan is typical of third wave characters in that he was never ubiquitous in Masters of the Universe storytelling, but he was used occasionally as a henchman or villain of the week. The principle characters of the mythos seem to be grouped around the figures released in 1982 and 1983 as a general rule, with few exceptions.

Evil Warriors

Whiplash – Evil tail-thrashing warrior (1984)

Whiplash Graphic

Whiplash, released in 1984, was part of a series of five animal-themed figures released in the third wave of the Masters of the Universe toyline, which also included Clawful, Buzz-Off, Webstor and Kobra Khan.

I had something of a love affair with the figure as a kid. I distinctly remember the existential agony of having to choose between him and Clawful at the store. Ultimately I went with Clawful, but it could have gone either way. I remember spending a lot of time playing with Whiplash despite that, so I think I was either able to borrow one from a friend or get my own later.

Just about everything I have to say about the development of Whiplash’s design was already said several years ago by James Eatock, in his excellent “Behind the Scenes – The Evolution of Whiplash” video. I’m including James’ video below, but I’ll also go over the details myself.

Whiplash was designed by Colin Bailey in July of 1982. His original concept, shown below, is in many ways quite different from the final toy, but there are points of convergence as well. The character has the same widely-splayed four toed feet and troll-like facial features that the final toy had. However, this concept character, called Lizard Man, had strangely furry calves, yellow legs, prominent spinal ridges, spikey violet bracers, and two prominent horns.

Whiplash Lizard Man Concept Colin Bailey
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Lizard Man made it into the December 1, 1982 MOTU Bible, and was listed among He-Man‘s allies:

LIZARD MAN – moves quietly, quickly and has the agility of his namesake. He climbs perpendicular walls and his tough lizard skin provides protection against most of his enemies. Liz has one drawback — every year he molts and becomes vulnerable to attack and completely useless to anyone.

The Colin Bailey concept was translated into into a simplified design suitable for animation by Filmation’s artists (see above video), but it was never used, and Lizard Man went back to the drawing board at Mattel. In the mean time, Filmation created a new character with the same name for their episode, “She-Demon of Phantos”:

lizard man

Mattel made some changes to the shape of Lizard Man’s (or at this point, I should say Whiplash – Mattel filed the trademark claim for that name on August 22, 1983) head, legs and tail. You can see this step in the evolution of the character in the minicomic, The Clash of Arms. Whiplash looks much closer to his final design here, except for his color scheme (green, yellow/orange and purple, like the original concept drawing) and the shape and length of his tail:

Comic Whiplash (2)Comic Whiplash

The final toy would have a much simplified two-tone green color scheme for his skin, with blue boots and loin cloth, and an orange belt. The hand-painted prototype figure, shown below in Mattel’s 1984 dealer catalog, has his final alligator tail design, and sports a purple repaint of the spear that came packed with Castle Grayskull. He reuses arms from Skeletor, as well as the legs and torso from Buzz-Off.

Whiplash Purple Spear FR

The production toy would come with an orange spear, but otherwise the design remained unchanged compared to the prototype:

whiplash cross sell axel
Whiplash cross sell art, courtesy of Axel Giménez

Whiplash’s face is somewhat perplexing. He has two large fangs sticking up out of his lower jaw, but he has a third, downward pointing fang that seems to come from the tip of his nose. You can also see that where the concept version had very prominent spikes on the top of his head, the final toy has two short nubs on either side of the crest on his head.

IMG_2877 - Copy

The final design is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of other lizard themed toys that Mattel released in 1980 – an inflatable lizard monster toy called Krusher, and Lizard Woman from the Flash Gordon series:

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Whiplash was sold in several configurations, including, of course, the standard blister card packaging, which has some lovely artwork by Errol McCarthy on the back:


McCarthy also depicted Whiplash in several other contexts:

The last image from the series above was used for a T-Shirt design. The final design (below) was colored, with the purple spear that appeared on the prototype version (images courtesy of Unsung Woodworks):

Whiplash was also sold in two giftsets – in a three-pack with Webstor and Stinkor, and a JCPenny two-pack with Kobra Khan:


Whiplash makes only two appearances, apart from his debut, in the minicomics. He shows up, confusingly, as a member of the Evil Horde, along with Clawful, Jitsu, Leech and Grizzlor, in Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!

Mantenna Whiplash
He also makes an appearance, this time as part of Skeletor‘s crew, in Hordak – The Ruthless Leader’s Revenge! While his depiction in the Mantenna comic was relatively toy-accurate, here he borrows the design from The Clash of Arms, albeit with corrected colors:

Hordak Whiplash
Whiplash appears in several of the Golden Books stories. One of my favorite is a scene from Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, where Whiplash lies in wait within a cave to ambush Man-At-Arms. Interestingly, the artist (Louis Eduardo Barreto) depicted the scaly villain with spikes around his shoulders:

A more toy-accurate Whiplash plays a minor role in The Magic Mirror, illustrated by Fred Carillo:

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Whiplash is again depicted with spikes around his shoulders in Maze of Doom, illustrated by Al McWilliams. It seems likely he used Barreto’s art as a reference for the character.

Filmation’s He-Man cartoon usually depicted Whiplash as one of Skeletor’s more competent Henchmen. Design-wise, the animated version of the character is more or less a simplified version of the action figure, but with Mer-Man-like feet, blue wrist bracers, and no orange belt.

Whiplash Model

One of my favorite episodes where Whiplash plays a prominent role is “To Save Skeletor”. In the story, Whiplash arrives half-dead at the royal palace, pleading for help from the heroic warriors. As it turns out, Skeletor had summoned an extra-dimensional being named Sh’Gora with the intent of using him to take over Eternia, but the creature had quickly overpowered the evil warriors and was threatening to destroy the planet.

to save skeletor

Whiplash makes a couple of appearances in the box art – once in the Fisto and Stridor giftset, and once in the Battle Bones box art:

Whiplash also makes a couple of appearances in posters by William George, from 1984 and 1985 respectively:

Whiplash appears prominently in one of my favorite pieces of MOTU artwork – a poster by Earl Norem that appeared in the inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine. The poster features He-Man, Stridor, Buzz-Off, Webstor, Clawful and a somewhat Filmation-inspired Whiplash: