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:

Snake Men

Rattlor – Evil SNAKE MEN creature with the quick-strike head (1986)

Rattlor Graphic

My memory of getting Rattlor is quite vivid. 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, and we were taking a road trip vacation to California before the move. I remember gravely weighing my options at a store along the way. I could get two toys, and I was determined that they be Snake Men.

I  was looking at getting Kobra Khan, or perhaps 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.

Rattlor (2)
Rattlor ad sheet artwork. Notice in the first illustration he is holding Skeletor’s staff and has a belt similar to Trap Jaw’s; in the second he has what appears to be an off-model King Hiss shield (thanks to Manic Man for that observation)

Rattlor started life as a Roger Sweet concept, although in this very early concept drawing he’s barely recognizable. As is evident in the artwork, he was to have a yellow and green color scheme and would have reused Buzz-Off‘s legs and Skeletor‘s arms, just like Whiplash. If you look carefully you can see the rattle at the end of his tail, without which we would have no visual cues to assume this character was based on a rattle snake. There are no obvious signs that his head was to have the pop-out action feature. This design came about sometime around 1983, at the same time Whiplash and other third wave characters were being developed, per Aidan in the comment section.

Rattlor concept Roger Sweet
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

Depictions of Rattlor in the minicomics give us a glimpse of an intermediate design. He is usually depicted with the dragon-like spines from the prototype, but with the updated scaly limbs and two-toed feet that were used in the final toy. This represents a mid-point in Rattlor’s design evolution. Most of these appearances feature the character with his final rust, cream and blue color scheme, but in his first appearance he is yellowish orange.

The actual toy has an elongated neck and a tail with a sculpted rattle at the end of it, but otherwise it has little in common with Sweet’s initial design, and the final toy was redesigned by John Hollis, who also worked on Extendar and Turbodactyl. The toy’s head certainly looks much more rattle snake-like than the concept artwork. Rattlor lost the spines along his back, and the final figure featured all new limbs. He came with a staff borrowed from King Hiss, but molded in brick red plastic.

In order to accommodate Rattlor’s long neck when it was recessed, his torso had to be quite large compared to most He-Man figures. His legs are relatively short, however – they’re about the size of Beast Man’s legs, but look even more undersized because of his large torso. His arms look like they were based on the He-Man’s arms (with a similar open left hand) with added scales and gloves, and slightly different musculature. Curiously, the staff is omitted in the cross sell artwork below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rattlor’s quick-strike action feature was activated by pushing a button on the back of his belt, revealing a long yellow (or sometimes red) neck. There were also some loose bits of plastic in the figure, so that when you shake him you hear a rattling sound.

The artwork on the back of Rattlor’s packaging was done, I believe, by Dave Stevens, who also did the packaging artwork for Moss Man, Stinkor and Spikor. The name Rattlor was trademarked by Mattel on June 17, 1985, a year before the toy’s release.

Image Source: StarCrusader

As mentioned earlier, Rattlor’s design in most of his minicomics appearances represents an intermediate stage in his development, particularly in his first appearance in King of the Snake Men. His appearances in the last couple of minicomics of the toyline are much closer to his toy look. Throughout, he is described as a fairly typical muscle-headed henchman who rarely says much. In Snake Attack! Tung Lashor seems to be the brains, while Rattlor is the brawn. Rattlor also appears in The Ultimate Battle Ground, Revenge of the Snake Men, Energy Zoids, and The Powers of Grayskull.

When Rattlor and Tung Lashor are introduced in King of the Snake Men, it’s mentioned that they had been serving Hordak before King Hiss summoned them. This is a reference to their appearances on the She-Ra cartoon series (they came out too late to appear in the original He-Man series, which ended in 1985).

In the She-Ra series, Rattlor is usually mute, although that’s not the case in the Christmas Special, where Rattlor gets a brief line. (There are other She-Ra episodes where he is given lines as well – see the comment from SpineBear at the end of this article.) Design-wise, Filmation’s Rattlor lacks the colored strips on his arms and legs, and he’s given purple trunks and a blue belt:

Image via ebay
Image via ebay

Before Filmation settled on the toy-like design for Rattlor, they were using a model sheet based on Roger Sweet’s original design:

org_limited_edition_prints0_full
Image source: James Eatock, by way of He-Man.org

In the 1986 Kid Stuff story book/record, Battle Under Snake Mountain, Rattlor seems to be more intelligent and talks more frequently than in other media, although he seems constantly terrified of King Hiss:

Image Source: He-Man.org
Image Source: He-Man.org

Both Rattlor and Tung Lashor are wildly off model in the 1987 UK MOTU Magazine story, “Attack of the Snakemen.” Tung Lashor especially looks unrecognizable and bizarre (I first learned about this issue from James Eatock’s excellent He-Man and She-Ra Blog).

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Image Source: He-Man.org

In the MOTU newspaper story, Vengeance of the Viper King, Rattlor is also wildly off model, albeit based on line art from the Filmation She-Ra series. He appears here with green skin and no tail:

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Image Source: Dark Horse Newspaper Comic Strips
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Image Source: Dark Horse Newspaper Comic Strips

Rattlor appears in issue 7 of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine in The Armies of King Hiss:

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The same issue features one of Earl Norem’s most iconic MOTU paintings, featuring all of the snake men (including Kobra Khan, who had been retconned into that faction starting in 1986) that existed up to that point:

William George illustrated the character in both his Eternia playset boxart and in his Eternia poster:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Artist Errol McCarthy drew Rattlor in a number of contexts, including in an illustration for the 1987 Style Guide:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Style Guide characterizes Rattlor this way:

Power: Can sneak up on enemies and strike with lightning speed and precision.

Character Profile: Rattlor never says much: he’d rather just hiss. He sticks close by Tung Lashor, keeping a low profile so his attacks are that much more surprising. Just before he is about to strike, Rattlor will sound his ominous battle rattle, giving his quarry the merest fraction of a second to realize his horrible fate.

Note: Filmation has positioned Rattlor as a member of The Evil Horde. For story purposes, he and Tung Lashor joined The Evil Horde when King Hiss was banished eons ago. Now that King Hiss has returned, however, Rattlor and Tung Lashor have rejoined him.

Rattlor is my favorite of the snake men. I love his Southwestern-looking color scheme, his detailed scaly skin, and of course his action features. I would have preferred a unique weapon for him, but otherwise he’s one of my favorite figures to come out in the last years of the line.

Resource

Parts Reuse in MOTU, Part Seven: 1988

Masters of the Universe, for all its diversity and creativity, was quite an economical toyline, creatively (and sometimes uncreatively) using and reusing the same molds over and over again throughout its run. Sometimes this was done fairly invisibly, and other times it was as plain as the nose on Faker‘s face.

In this series I’ll be cataloging the reuse of existing molds, in context of what is known and what is likely about which figures were created in what order. For example, He-Man’s prototype was almost certainly finished before Man-At-Arms, so Man-At-Arms reused He-Man’s legs, rather than vice versa. I’ll also include parts that were reused from other toylines.

Sometimes existing parts were modified for use in new toys. For example, Beast Man’s chest seems to have been based on He-Man’s chest sculpt, albeit with a great deal of hair added to it. This didn’t save money on tooling, but it did save some time and effort for the sculptor. I’ll point this out whenever I see it. Whenever a modified part is used again, however, I’ll refer to it as belonging to the toy that used it first (for example, Stratos and Zodac reuse Beast Man’s chest).

I won’t comment on “invisible” parts, such as neck pegs or waist springs that are normally not seen.

First, the toys from 1988 that had (at the time) all new parts. For fun, I’m including unproduced toys as well.

Tytus

Image Source: He-Man.org

Megator

Image Source: He-Man.org

Laser Power He-man

“Ambush” Playset (unproduced)

Image Source: Grayskull Museum

These 1988 designs reused some existing parts:

Laser Power He-Man (Spanish version)

Laser Light Skeletor

There were at least six figures additional figures planned as part of the 1988 line, but were never released. These were to be entirely constructed from existing parts, no doubt as a way to inject some quick cash into the dying line at minimal cost. We only know the name of one of them (Strobo), so I’ll make up names for the others:

Strobo

Snake Trooper

Cyborg Strike

Bow Blaster

Snappor

Samuran

Note: The above artwork is by Errol McCarthy, sourced from He-Man.org. I’m assuming “Sumuran’s” arms and legs would reuse He-Man’s, although the artist draws them without gauntlets or boots, so it’s possible they might have been new parts.

More in this series: