The Masters of the Universe property has played a critically important role in our studio’s 20-year history. The “200x” series of redesigned MotU figures was one of the first big projects we worked on as a new company. Little did we know at the time that the 200x series would turn out to not even be the biggest impact we would make on the world of MotU toys – an impact that all started with this figure, King Grayskull.
The End of 200x
When the 200x series began in 2002, everyone was very excited for the new direction of the line. We had a blast rethinking classic MotU characters as part of this series and everyone had high hopes that the toys would usher in a new era of MotU fans. Alas, while the line did enjoy some success, and we will certainly always look on it with great fondness, Mattel decided to end the 200x series in 2004, just two years after it made its debut.
While we were understandably disappointed in the cancellation of 200x, we were still very proud of the toys that had been released and we were happy to have been able to work with characters and a property that had been such a big part of our own childhood.
Moving on to other projects, it would be almost 4 years before we would revisit Masters of the Universe again.
A Classic Approach
With 200x a few years behind us, we were hungry for another shot at Masters of the Universe, so we took it upon ourselves to create a new He-Man figure in the style that would eventually come to be known as "Classics". We contacted some of our friends in boys design at Mattel to set up a breakfast meeting while we were at SDCC in 2007 - and we didn't tell them what the meeting was about!
During the meeting, it seemed to us that the reception of this new style of MotU figure was a bit lukewarm until the director of boys design at Mattel at the time, David Voss - who was at that meeting, said that he wanted us to take the prototype to the Mattel booth, put it on display without any explanation, and then we'd all just sit back and gauge fan reaction.
After we got an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the mysterious figure on display, Mattel decided we should launch what would later be dubbed "Masters of the Universe Classics" with a SDCC exclusive version of King Grayskull - a character from the 200X MotU cartoon which was based on our original more barbaric designs of He-Man for the 200X MotU action figure line (another story for another time). It was essentially the He-Man prototype we'd shown Mattel to get them interested in the idea at that breakfast meeting the year before, but with a few tweaks and additions.
A Kingly Debut
Like most SDCC exclusives, the King Grayskull set featured not only a cool figure, but equally amazing packaging. The team at Mattel outdid themselves on this release, designing a box that looked like Castle Grayskull, complete with an opening mouth/drawbridge as well as lights and sounds! It really was an impressive way to announce to toy collectors everywhere that Masters of the Universe was back!
In addition to the standard King Grayskull figure, Mattel also released a “bronze statue” variant where the figure was painted to resemble a statue complete with a patina-like deco. This version and the standard style were available for purchase from the Mattel booth at SDCC in 2008, and the pair were also sold directly on MattyCollector.com. Fans who purchased the set online were randomly sent one of these two versions. In most cases, the standard version was what was sent since that one was produced in greater numbers, but many lucky fans did receive the bronze variant – but that version actually was not the rarest of the King Grayskull figures done at this time!
In addition to the two versions of King Grayskull sold directly to fans, Mattel produced 2 figures cast in clear blue plastic as the “Spirit of King Grayskull”. These two rarities were used as raffles prizes for specific charity events.
The Start of Something Great
The fan reaction to King Grayskull was amazing, just as it had been at SDCC in 2007 when we showed off our prototype for Mattel. This exclusive figure proved to be a great way to kick off Masters of the Universe Classics. That line would run from 2008 until 2016 at Mattel, and a spin-off of the line would then be picked up by Super 7, who continued to work with Four Horsemen Studios on the figures.
The King Grayskull figure would eventually be reissued in the MOTU Classics line as a regular release in 2010 (with a different colored cape and minus the elaborate packaging) and a new glow-in-the-dark “Spirit of Grayskull” would be offered in 2015.
Note: Thank you to Steven Biesiada for the photos used in this article
Published on 07.21.20