He-Man – the self-anointed “most powerful man in the universe” is an icon of popular culture. The rousing theme tune is ingrained into the minds of a generation of children who enjoyed one of the wittiest playground chants in history – who didn’t sing: ‘I have the power/To pick up a flower/And throw it two metres away’ along to the music? (Ed: At my school it ended: ‘… in half of an hour it hurts’. LOL!)
He-Man was the perfect man – big muscles, tall and healthy with lovely long blond hair. That’s what every 80s schoolboy looked for in their heroes right? Oh, no sorry, that was Hitler.
(There’s an urban myth that He-Man started life as a toy-range spun off from the then forthcoming Conan the Barbarian film. When Conan turned out to be a violent 18 certificate, Mattel re-jigged the concept into kid friendly He-Man. With the toy moulds already cast, they simply changed the lead figure’s brown hair to blond. This at least goes someway in explaining He-Man’s revolting golden mullet.)
Masters of the Universe (which originally ran from 1983-85) may have been basically a half hour commercial for the Mattel toy-line, but I couldn’t get enough of it. Basic animation and repetitive plots didn’t stop me lapping up the weekly adventures of the warriors of planet Eternia. I had all the figures too – Ram-Man (below, whose special power was head butting things), MekaNeck (special power – extra long neck) and best of all Buzz-Off (special power – he was a bee).
Every episode began with Prince Adam, (AKA He-Man), explaining the premise of the show: Basically, he had been gifted magical powers by a woman dressed as a bird in order to defend a big castle that looked like a skeleton for his arch-enemy, Skeletor. (As a child, I could never understand why He-Man’s house looked exactly like his worst enemy. If I was Skeletor, I’d take one look at Castle Grayskull and think I had a pretty good claim to it.)
He-Man made even less effort to hide his secret identity than Superman. I’m amazed no one on Eternia ever figured it out. Here are three tell-tale signs that He-Man is really cowardly Prince Adam.
- Prince Adam looks exactly the same as He Man. At least Clark Kent had the decency to take his glasses off, Adam just whips off his shirt. Lazy.
- Price Adam has a massive yellow and green striped pet tiger. He-Man has a massive yellow and green striped tiger. Just how many massive green and yellow striped tigers are there on Eternia? I never saw anyone else with one. At least when Cringer changed into Battlecat he bothered to put on a mask.
- As explained in the intro, Adam has entrusted his true identity to just a few selected people – first, his mystical guide the Sorceress, then his trustworthy best friend Man-At-Arms. But why stop there? Why not let it slip to Orko, a bungling idiot-wizard from the planet Trolla? He sounds like the type to keep a secret. Good thinking He-Man.
Never the less, Skeletor remained clueless as to He-Man’s true identity. Maybe that was because Skeletor DIDN’T HAVE ANY EYES. Or really even a proper face for that matter.
One of the scariest children’s cartoon characters ever created (followed by Thundercat’s Mumm-Ra the Ever Living and the gay skeleton out of SuperTed), Skeletor’s hooded skull-face was genuinely terrifying. Like He-Man, he surrounded himself with various hench-men such as the vaguely rude sounding Fisto, Stinkor and Fakor, and his horrifying face didn’t stop him having a girlfriend either – the glamorous Evil-Lyn. (Presumably this was after breaking up with Slightly-naughty-Janet).
Almost every single episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe featured Skeletor trying to capture Castle Grayskull and/or He-Man’s Power Sword. Then, at the end of every show, He-Man would pop up again to share a moral completely unrelated to the story, such as ‘don’t eat too many sweets’ or ‘be nice to your mum’. This was hard to take from a man in red furry pants who’d just spent the previous 25 minutes beating up a man with a terrible wasting disease.
He-Man was sadly cancelled after two series, and over the years various reincarnations, including a terrible live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren in 1987, failed to capture the magic of the original. Imitators quickly followed in the shape of She-Ra, Thundercats and Captain Planet.
But perhaps Masters of the Universe’s greatest legacy was the phenomenal rise of televised wrestling that followed its demise in the late 80s. He Man’s young audience found slightly more realistic successors in the equally muscle bound stars of WWF and Wrestlemania. And after all, if you shaved off Hulk Hogan’s moustache at his peak, doesn’t he sort of remind you of someone…?
By Luke Chilton