MOTUC Director’s Commentary – He-Ro

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#12 He-Ro originally posted 04.10.2012

[box style=”doc”]It’s San Diego Comic-Con time!

Wow, how time flew. By the time we got to He-Ro, I couldn’t believe it had been a year since we launched MOTUC with King Grayskull at SDCC in 2008. Now here we were in 2009 and it was beyond obvious that we wanted another SDCC item to help promote the brand and launch us into a full second year of product in 2010.

The first eight or nine characters (through Tri-Klops) were chosen based on both shared tooling and their overall recognition as known MOTU characters. Now that we had SDCC coming around, it was the perfect time to go “all the way” and do a character that no one was expecting and would really push the brand forward.

Well, okay, we did show He-Ro on the NYCC fan panel slide of “what to expect in time” with characters as the line grew but, really, doing He-Ro was meant to be a clear sign to the fans and customers that MOTUC was here to stay, and really pushing the limits of character selection and going where no MOTU line had gone before.

So a little background. Who the heck is He-Ro?

If the 1987 MOTU line (which I was collecting as a kid, not working on professionally!) is anything like current Mattel toy lines, that means it was being worked on and designed in 1985, about two years prior to launch (the toy industry has about a 12-16 month lead time, which is why it is so hard to make changes quickly).

In 1985, vintage MOTU was at the height of its popularity. So it totally makes sense that the brand managers at the time (Tim Kilpin, our current General Manager!) would want to expand the toy line. The proposal he put together (which Tim was nice enough to locate and give to me when we were planning out MOTUC in 2008!) was designed to take MOTU to the next level and introduce new worlds and new challenges for He-Man.

The main thrust of the proposed 1987 line called “The Powers of Grayskull” (working title “The Rangers of Grayskull”) took He-Man back in time to “Preternia,” thousands of years before he was born where He-Man would meet up with He-Ro – the most powerful Wizard in the Universe. Together He-Man and He-Ro would battle the Snake Men and in doing so, He-Man would learn the Snake Men’s hidden weakness and use this knowledge to return to his own time and defeat Hssss and his army.

Sadly, by the time 1987 actually came around, MOTU was on its way out. A variety of things lead to the vintage line’s demise, but in the end, there just was not enough retailer interest to get to the proposed Powers of Grayskull line.

But that didn’t stop a few things from sneaking out.

Chiefly was the very last mini-comic, “The Powers of Grayskull Part 1, The Legend Begins!” This was meant to be the first of three issues that would set up the He-Ro “Powers of Grayskull” line and even introduced He-Ro in shadow on the last page. The issue did make it to market, shipping with several tail-end figures. But the promise of issues 2 and 3 never came to be. Most of the story laid out above was set up in this issue, but there was no payoff. At least not in 1987.

In addition to this single issue (of a 3 part saga!), the Powers of Grayskull line was also set to introduce new ride-on beasts (i.e., Battle Cat) in the form of robotic techno dinosaurs. Three of these dinos did make it to market as did the giant playset Eternia (the Three Towers), which was intended to be the Ultimate Battleground and a location that existed in both He-Man’s time and He-Ro’s time, linking the two heroes (the Towers were conveniently buried underground in the millennia between both hero’s times).
He-Ro appeared on the box art for Turbodactyle (one of the robo dino toys) and, most prominently, he and his mentor Eldor appeared in the Mattel 1987 catalogue as near-final product. This image has haunted collectors for years, making He-Ro and Eldor the “next” figures in the MOTU line… and toys that never came to be.

Well, to say this was what MOTUC was all about is an understatement!

Getting to unproduced prototype figures was high on my priority list and I jumped at the chance to get to He-Ro as quickly as possible. He was hand-picked by me to be the second SDCC figure for the line and to really show how deep we wanted to get (Keep in mind, this is long before we introduced Gygor, Vikor, Star Sisters or other concept figures.)

Another challenge with He-Ro was how was he going to fit into the storyline? At the onset of Classics, when I wrote the original bio brief, I did specifically call this out. The idea for Classics was to create a MOTU continuity separate from previous storylines, but one that would include the maximum number of characters to justify the maximum number of toys.

In the proposed 1987 line, He-Ro was going to be revealed to be He-Man’s ancestor (this is why He-Man had to wear a mask in the first mini-comic, so his ancestor would not recognized him, although all the Sorceress said in Issue 1 was “the reason for the mask would be revealed in time.”) But according to Kilpin’s notes and outline (published in our 2009 SDCC art book), this was the rationale and would have been revealed in issue 2 of the 3 part story..

Trouble was, the 200X series had introduced a definitive ancestor to He-Man in King Grayskull.

And we already did King Grayskull as the premier figure for MOTUC. Now we could have certainly kept them both as ancestors and had He-Ro predate King Grayskull or visa-versa, but honestly, it felt repetitive to have multiple ancestor figures. Instead, this was a great example of ye olde retro-conn’ing, where we wanted to take the best elements from all previous cannons to create this new MOTUC world.

In the bio outline document, it was noted that (when and if) we got to a He-Ro figure, we would make him the origin of the Power Sword, leaving King Grayskull the origin of the bloodline and securing them both as important contributors to He-Man’s origin and important characters who could not only co-exist, but actually had fought side by side. This was a perfect example of what MOTUC was all about. We made sure the new cannon incorporated roles for both characters, if for no other reason than to justify doing both toys!

So with his background set, now was time to tackle the actual new toy.

This would be the first ever actual He-Ro action figure, arguably a toy many fans had waiting 25 years for. So we knew we had to do him right.

There were a few accessory choices for He-Ro. He had a staff with a magic jewel in the prototype, but in the mini-comic and in some early art he had a completely different magic staff. In the end, we went with the toy accessory and also threw in a new version of the Power Sword. Because we only had card backs and actual toys to tell any “story,” including a translucent blue version of the Power Sword with He-Ro was a way of “telling the story though toys.” We wanted to visually show that He-Ro was the one who brought the sword to Eternia and made the sword in clear blue with a star field deco to show that this was the sword at full power, before the “Power of the Universe” was transferred from the blade to the orb. Using the toys to “tell the story” was key for MOTUC since the figures represented permanence on collector’s shelves and, in the absence of any animated or live action (or even comic book) content, we needed to maximize every opportunity we could to tell stories. Bio and figure accessories became it.

We specifically wanted He-Ro’s sword to be blue because that was the color of the power orb in the 200X series and we wanted to create a visual link between the orb and the sword to show where the power originally came from. The Horsemen’s prototype made the sword black/gray with stars, which did not match the orb and, due to early photo needs, this version of the sword wound up on the package, leading many fans to ask for it.

But in the end, this black version is not correct.

In order to link the sword as the source of the Orb’s power, it was important to visually link the orb and the sword, which is why it was changed to blue.

The magic staff was also a fun accessory to tackle and let us do our first (and only) chase figure for SDCC (or even in the line). While the vintage toy came with a green jewel in the staff (which I renamed a “spell stone” and is one of my favorite MOTU words to date!), we decided to add a little SDCC fun to the figure by having three different versions of the spell stone – green, red and purple. By packing the staff in closed position, fans would not know which stone color they had until opening the figure. This also ensured that MOC collectors could still get a He-Ro and not worry about the variant.

Of course, it wasn’t long before clever fans figured out (unbeknownst to us) that you could shine a flashlight through the package and it would reflect off of the small crack in the staff clamps and show which color spell stone your He-Ro had. Oh well!

Further, we also differentiated the SDCC version of He-Ro by tampo-stamping the SDCC logo under his armor. Again, this was a way of doing a legit variant for SDCC without affecting MOC collectors. No matter how you got your He-Ro figure, if you kept it mint-in-box, ideally all versions would look the same.

The three stone colors wound up being a huge hit. The green version, having been on the vintage toy, was produced in the highest quota. This was the stone of protection, letting He-Ro cast green bubbles around himself or allies as a force field. The red stone of defense would let He-Ro shoot red blasts at enemies. This was produced more than the green, but less than the purple. The very rare and least produced purple stone of healing would cast healing spells. We chose the colors because green was the vintage color, red really popped and looked nice, and purple, well, purple is my favorite color and I like using it whenever I can (see Mighty Spector’s outfit!).

Another issue with He-Ro was his vac metal.

The original prototype from 1987 had vac metal armor. This is a toy-making process where we apply reflective coating to a toy (see Hurricane Hordak for an example). We did explore this, but due to the way the armor snapped on and was attached to the cape, it just wasn’t working. Applying vac metal (or flocking) to a highly articulated figure is extremely difficult. While we strive to be authentic, it can wind up not only being difficult, but can look really bad.

So after a few discussions with the Horsemen, we dropped doing vac metal and went with a painted chest armor instead. This was definitely one of those issues where fans were split, but hey, maybe one day we can revisit it and do the cape as a separate piece, letting us having a better shot at doing vac metal. He-Ro has become quite a popular figure after all.

As I wrap up, a few last words about He-Ro’s bio.

Noted above, we knew early on that we wanted to create a world to justify both King Grayskull and He-Ro, if for no other reason than to justify toys of them both. Yes, without a doubt, there are many ways we could have done this. The one we settled on was making He-Ro a member of the Cosmic Enforcers and bringing the Sword of He to Eternia. This single concept, while new to the brand, helped usher in a lot of the retro conning we wanted to do for MOTUC to create the world we needed. It raised the importance of Orko (as a member of the Trollan Overlords of the Timeless Dimension whom He-Ro “worked for”), as well as helped craft a world that would support back stories for other “He-Men” like Vikor, Oo-Lar, Wundar and others. Our goal wasn’t to explain EVERYTHING, but calling the Power Sword the “Sword of He” (“he” being the Trollan word for “power”) in one step, could we now explore many of these new stories’ roads.

We knew the sword was going to become “The Sword of He” from Day 1 of the bios, but we purposely waited for He-Ro’s bio to reveal this, very consciously spreading out all of the new elements and retro conn’ing elements over time. We needed to really solidify this new cannon with core elements first before trickling in the new elements, even if they were set from the beginning.

Honestly, of all the “new” elements we introduced through MOTUC figures and bios, I was surprised calling the sword “He” received as little flack as it did. But I guess if you think about it, it kinda made sense. It helped justify both He-Man and He-Ro’s names, and it set up the existence of other “He-Men” throughout time as guardians of the sword until the one true He-Man (Adam) came along to claim the sword. (and this was of course done to justify, you guessed it – even more figures we could sell! Shocker!)

And yes, many fans will point out that He-Ro’s original real name was “Gray.”

This was because in the 1987 story (before 200X and MOTUC introduced King Grayskull), He-Ro was going to be He-Man’s ancestor. Now that He-Ro was the origin of the sword and not the bloodline, it just didn’t feel right having a King Grayskull and a “Gray”. We wanted to separate them more.

BUT: we know having He-Ro use the name Gray was still very important to fans and we have worked that into the story as well. More on this will be revealed in time. Keep reading the bios!

A final big change from the vintage concept for He-Ro was the character being a Cosmic Warrior and not just “the most Powerful Wizard in the Universe.” For the record, although he is ALSO a Cosmic Warrior, the fact that he comes with a magic staff with Spell Stones was intended as an indicator that he was also this powerful Wizard. One role was not intended to cancel out the other. It just expanded his importance and helped link He-Ro to the sword’s origin (and Orko’s expanded background for his people and his role). There is actually a lot more about He-Ro to be revealed, both through the new 2012 mini-comics and in future bios. In the end, we think fans and customers will jive with where we are going.

So that was about it on He-Ro. He sold very well at SDCC and succeeded in not only getting this figure to market, but as a figure, he physically represented how deep we wanted MOTUC to go. No longer were we just doing figures from the original line, but here for the first time was a step towards a larger world. He also introduced some great new shared parts, like the boots (used on various future characters like Zodak and Draego-Man) and his new loin cloth (also used on Zodak and perhaps others…). He was a success on multiple fronts and, as a figure I personally got to pick as Mattel’s MOTUC SDCC figure, a very personal project, too. Many toy fans dream of picking an SDCC figure (let along MOTU ones) and I knew I was truly living the dream. To this day, I remain extremely grateful for the opportunities working on this line has provided.

(AKA Toy Guru)[/box]

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