He-Man and the Masters of the Universe


Every generation has its pantheon of great toys. In the 1980s, toys such as Transformers and G.I. Joes were the Titans of the toy world. But the masters were He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Clad essentially in nothing but furry briefs and all-terrain Ughs, He-Man nevertheless captured the fancy of thousands if not millions of little boys across the country.

The story goes that in 1981, Barbie and Hot Wheels manufacturer Mattel wanted to make a foray into the action figure business. Needing a trustworthy hero to carry the franchise, an over-muscled action hero from yesteryear named Big Jim was dusted off and used as the model for three different prototype toys: a spaceman, a marine, and a barbarian. When the President of Mattel saw them, he handpicked the barbarian, saying, “These have the power.” Thus, not only was He-Man created, but his infamous catchphrase as well.

Developers immediately set to work fleshing out the story of a teenage prince named Adam who receives special weapons and powers from the Sorceress of mysterious Castle Grayskull. Whenever evil threatens, he becomes He-man and must defend Grayskull’s secrets and the land of Eternia from the forces of the treacherous sorcerer Skeletor, a blue-skinned baddie with a cowled skull for a head.

Aiding He-man were a number of other muscle-bound heroes such as tech savvy Man-At-Arms, high flying Stratos, dim-witted Ram-Man, and able but adoring Teela. Skeletor brought his own conscript of minions into each fray, notably the snarling Beast Man, “Creature From the Black Lagoon” faced Mer-Man, metal mouthed Trap Jaw, and jaundiced sorceress Evil Lyn.

As the toy line progressed, so did He-Man’s influence. A cartoon series began in 1983 lasted three years – one hundred thirty episodes – and introduced other characters. Eternia’s floating court magician Orko became a regular with Cringer, Adam’s cowardly pet tiger who became He-Man’s fearless steed Battle Cat whenever zapped by the Sword of Power.

Every toy came with a comic book and generally hit shelves simultaneously with an appropriate nemesis. For example, the nature-protecting Moss Man came out at the same time as foul-smelling Stinkor; Fisto, a mustachioed brawler with a gigantic metal fist was the perfect hero to battle Clawful, the crab-headed villain with the gigantic lobster claw for a hand. He-Man and Skeletor went through a few upgrades as well as both were released under the Battle Armor moniker, armor that rotated on contact to reveal “dents”. The cap slapping Thunder-Punch He-Man emerged just in time to thwart Terror-Claws Skeletor.

Before long, the Masters were sold with a variety of creative transportation devices such as the gargoyled tank/bike Battle Ram, the boulder wielding Bashasaurus, the swivel legged Dragon Walker, the rip-cord launched Road Ripper, and the laser endowed mechanical horse, Stridor. Villains brought their own impressive array of vehicular wonders to the scene: The chomping tank Land Shark, the blade whirling hover-craft Roton, the bug-winged Fright Fighter, and Stridor’s doppelganger Night Stalker.

In addition to vehicles, locations soon became a part of the He-Man collection as skull-gated Castle Greyskull and Snake Mountain both achieved playset status. In 1986, Eternia itself hit stores, with monorails connecting it to the other two domains, providing easy and inexpensive transportation to and from war zones for friend and foe alike.

In 1987, He-Man’s popularity faded even as he found his way onto the big screen in the live action film Masters of the Universe (featuring a then unknown Courtney Cox). Embodied by Dolph Lundgren, He-Man sought to prevent Skeletor (frenetically immortalized by Frank Langella) from opening up a portal to Earth and deifying himself with the Sword of Power.

Unfortunately, not even newer villains such as King Hiss and the Snake Men could save the briefed barbarian from the passing fancy of kids drawn to newer heroes like mutant turtles. He-Man made a short comeback in 1990 and a more substantial one in 2002, this time with more distinct character models with a darker aspect to them that hearkened to He-Man’s barbarian roots from the original comic. The exquisite details in these toys brought He-Man back to the forefront of children’s toy for a short time.

While He-Man may have moved on in the toy world, he remains a cultural icon to this day, having been parodied extensively in pop culture, as well as a prominent mention in the film Ghostbusters 2. But for all those who may laugh at the tackiness, the datedness, or simply the wardrobe, one only need consider the story itself to realize why kids loved He-Man. A magic sword turns an ordinary kid into “the most powerful man in the universe.”

What kid wouldn’t love that?

Did you play with He-Man toys as a kid, or faithfully tune into the animated series after school? If so, we’d love to hear all of your memories of this beloved character in our comments section below.

One Response to “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”

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  1. Gina says:

    I watched He-man (and She-Ra) faithfully, but only bought one action figure–that of the stunning beautiful Sorceress. My church and the Christian school I went to were on the anti-He-Man bandwagon, something I never got. I myself thought it was the most goodiest two shoes show I had ever seen, not something evil to be banned.

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