Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe
Masters of the Universe
Publication information
First appearance 1982[1]
Created by Mattel
In-story information
Base(s) Eternia

Masters of the Universe (commonly abbreviated to MOTU; and sometimes informally referred to as He-Man, after the lead hero) is a media franchise created by Mattel.[2][3][4]

Although featuring a vast line-up of characters, the main premise revolves around the conflict between the heroic He-Man and the evil Skeletor on planet Eternia. Since its initial launch late 1981, the franchise has spawned a variety of products, including six lines of action figures, four animated television series, countless comic series and a film. Designer Roger Sweet claims to be the chief creator of He-Man and MOTU,[5] although this is not officially acknowledged by Mattel, and disputed by some other contributors. The earliest storybooks and much of the original backstory were written by Donald F. Glut.[6]


Origin of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

In 1976, Mattel's CEO Ray Wagner declined a request to produce a toyline of action figures based on the characters from the George Lucas film Star Wars.[7][8][note 1] Upon the commercial success of the film trilogy during the next few years and all related merchandise, Mattel attempted to launch several unsuccessful toylines, none of which captured the public's imagination or made a significant dent in the toy market.[7][note 2]

In the race to design the next hit action figure, Roger Sweet, a lead designer working for Mattel's Preliminary Design Department throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, realized simplicity was the key to success.[7][8] According to his book Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea published in 2005, Sweet knew that if he gave marketing something they could sell, he'd won 90% of the battle.[7][9][note 3]

"The only way I was going to have a chance to sell this [to Wagner] was to make three 3D models - big ones. I glued a Big Jim figure [from another Mattel toy line] into a battle action pose and I added a lot of clay to his body. I then had plaster casts made. These three prototypes, which I presented in late 1980, brought He-Man into existence."

"I simply explained that this was a powerful figure that could be taken anywhere and dropped into any context because he had a generic name: He-Man!"[note 4] [7]

—Roger Sweet[8]

It has been rumored that Conan the Barbarian was a source of inspiration for the He-Man character. According to this rumor, Mattel had a licensing agreement to make the Conan action figures associated with the 1982 film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently, such idea had to be modified in order to avoid objections from parents concerning that a toyline for kids was promoting a film with nudity and violence. In addition, brown-haired prototype versions of the He-Man action figure with a strong resemblance to the Conan character created by Robert E. Howard were produced and given away as promotion through an unknown mail-in order by mistake.[10]

This rumor has been refuted by Roger Sweet claiming that he conceptualized and developed the He-Man/Masters of the Universe franchise in late 1980, two years prior to the release of the Universal Pictures film. The toyline existed prior to the movie, starting production in 1981 and marketed in 1982. At that time, Mattel did not have a license with Universal to make toys for the film, which resulted in Conan Properties suing Mattel over copyright infringement with He-Man's similarities to Conan.[10]

From the lawsuit of CPI vs. Mattel:

"In 1980, CPI, through its agent, Conan Licensing Company ("CLC"), began negotiations with Mattel regarding the possible licensing to Mattel of certain toy rights in CONAN. During this time, Mattel received a substantial quantity of material on the CONAN character. On July 31, 1981, CPI and Mattel executed a License Agreement whereby Mattel was granted "the right to make and sell certain plastic action figures of CONAN and ancillary characters as depicted in the CONAN movie." Amended Complaint, para. 12. The Agreement provided, however, "that nothing in the License should be construed as an assignment or grant to Mattel of any right, title or interest in or to CONAN, and that all rights relating thereto were reserved by CPI (except only for the licensee to use the property as specifically agreed to)." Amended Complaint, para. 14. It was also agreed that, after the termination of the License Agreement, Mattel would not make or sell any CONAN toys."

"In January 1982, Mattel requested that the License Agreement be terminated. On April 14, 1982, CPI and Mattel entered into a termination agreement which provided that "all materials created and or developed by Mattel for use in connection with products under the CONAN License" would be delivered to CPI's agent, CPC, which would have "the exclusive right to use such material." Amended Complaint, para. 17."

"In February 1982, Mattel introduced a fantasy character, "He-Man," as part of its new "Masters of the Universe" toy line of action figures. Since that time, Mattel has also featured He-Man and the other Masters of the Universe characters in, inter alia, a television series, comic books, and video tapes. Thereafter, CPI commenced this action asserting that these figures are copies of CONAN, were created under the License, and are CPI's property. Amended Complaint, paras. 20, 21."

In the end, Mattel won the lawsuit against Conan Properties to retain the rights over He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.[10]

Originally, He-Man was presented in drawings and wax sculptures to the Mattel executives as a barbarian, a soldier, and a spaceman. Out of the three concepts, the barbarian version was chosen to be the basis of the toyline. Taking in consideration that the Conan character was created almost 50 years prior to the development of the He-Man franchise, it is likely that the Masters of the Universe borrowed many aspects from Conan, but it appears that it was not intended to be a toyline for the film after legal agreements were dissolved.[10] Additionally, Roger Sweet has claimed also to have been "real impressed" by the paintings of fantasy artist Frank Frazetta when creating He-Man.[8] To further expand on this initial barbarian theme, Mattel hired comic book writers and artists such as Donald F. Glut and Earl Norem to create additional characters and their backstory, posters, package inlays, box art and mini-comics to be distributed with the action figures.

The very first prototype He-Man was black haired with a deeply tanned eastern European or Middle Eastern appearance. His helmet had no horns. Later, at the direction of Tom Kalinske, then in Mattel's upper management, He-Man was made more clean-cut and changed to a blond... Plus, He-Man's skin was lightened, though definitely still tanned.

—Roger Sweet[7][8]

Versions of the franchise

As with many toy franchises which have been transferred to several different media there are a number of story differences between the various versions of Masters of the Universe. Complicating matters further, several media have made implicit attempts to change details to realign with other versions, with the result that internal discontinuities arise.

Mineternia: the original minicomics (1981–1983)

All of the original action figures came with minicomics that told stories involving the characters. In the earliest comics, He-Man is a wandering barbarian on Eternia, a world dealing with the aftermath of a Great War that has devastated the civilizations that once reigned, but has left behind fantastical machinery and weapons. The events of the Great War opened a rift between dimensions, which allows the evil warlord Skeletor to travel to Eternia, and he has now set his sights on the ancient Castle Grayskull, the 'fortress of mystery and power'. Whoever attains control of Grayskull will gain the power to become Master of the Universe. To prevent Skeletor from achieving his goal, He-Man has been given special powers and weapons by The Sorceress (referred to as 'The Goddess' in early stories, except in her debut appearance in which she is shown, the one and only time, to have green skin) and sets out to defend the castle from Skeletor. He-Man is supported by several heroic allies, such as Man-At-Arms, the Eternian master of weapons, and Teela, the adopted daughter of Man-At-Arms. Skeletor manages to find one half of the Power Sword, a great weapon which is itself the key to Castle Grayskull. He-Man has been given the other half by The Sorceress, and must prevent Skeletor from linking the two halves to gain access to the castle. To distinguish these stories from the TV cartoon-influenced minicomics that were released to tie-in with the TV series, fans dubbed this first version of Eternia as 'mini-Eternia', and the two words were fused into 'Mineternia' in 2003, by a minicomics fansite, called Eternia Minor (now, He-Man Tales).[11] Some fans also refer to this period as Pre-Filmation.

Cartoon series (1983–1985)

The animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was produced by Filmation and made its television debut in 1983.[12]

Eternia is ruled by King Randor and Queen Marlena. (The latter was born Marlena Glen, a Terran astronaut who married Randor after she was marooned on Eternia by the crash of her spaceship). Their son is Prince Adam, who pretends he is lazy, clumsy, careless, irresponsible and almost as cowardly as his pet tiger Cringer. (Adam's twin sister, Princess Adora, was kidnapped at birth by the evil warlord Hordak - who raised her as his own daughter to become a captain in his army). However, Prince Adam possesses a magic sword, and when he holds it aloft and says the magic words, "By the power of Grayskull...I have the POWER!!!" Prince Adam is transformed into He-Man, "The Most Powerful Man In The Universe".[2]

Many episodes, particularly the early ones, are about Skeletor's repeated attempts and failures to enter Castle Grayskull. He-Man invariably defeats these attempts, unless Skeletor defeats himself first via his own stupidity, arrogance and treachery. Though the animated cartoons were similar to the version of the story presented by DC Comics, Filmation focused more on the lighter, humorous elements of the story rather than the violent ones, in order to render it more suitable for a children's audience. A new character was also introduced in the form of Orko, a small alien magician who shares Prince Adam's secret and provides the comic relief for most episodes.

Despite the limited animation techniques that were used to produce the series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was notable for breaking the boundaries of censorship that had severely restricted the narrative scope of children's TV programming in the 1970s. For the first time in years, a cartoon series could feature a muscular superhero who was actually allowed to hit people (although most of the time wrestling-style moves were utilized instead of direct violence), though he still couldn't use his sword often. The cartoon was controversial in that it was produced in connection with marketing a line of toys; advertising to children was itself controversial during this period. In Britain, advertising regulations forbade commercials for He-Man toys to accompany the program itself (either before or after the episode, as there were no in-show commercials). Similar to other shows at the time (notably G.I. Joe), an attempt to mitigate the negative publicity generated by this controversy was made by including a "life lesson" or "moral of the story" at the end of each episode. This moral was usually tied to the action or central theme of the episode. In the United Kingdom, where the episodes were usually edited for timing reasons, these closing "morals" were nearly always edited out of their original broadcasts.[13][14][15]

The cartoon series was also remarkable because it was one of the first animated series produced directly for syndication, as opposed to most other syndicated cartoons of the time which were re-runs of old Saturday morning cartoons. The most notable production fact of the series was that it was the very first animated series where a bulk quantity of 65 episodes were produced so that the series could be stripped across 13 weeks.[12]

It is also noted for featuring early script-writing work from Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, and Paul Dini of Batman: The Animated Series fame[16] One episode, "Battle Cat," was written by Star Trek's D.C. Fontana.

Animated series notes

  • Due to the budget-constraints by Filmation, the He-Man cartoon only featured a voice-cast of four to five people, after Erika Scheimer joined the cast. Linda Gary, who through an early mis-crediting was often assumed wrongly to be actress Linda Gray, single-handedly provided voices for nearly all the female characters, but the bulk of the character voices were provided by the show's executive producer, Lou Scheimer, one of the founding producers of Filmation and at the time still its chief producer, who in the earliest episodes went under the name Erik Gunden. The character voices of He-Man and Beast Man were provided by John Erwin; that of Skeletor, by Alan Oppenheimer.
  • A common misconception about the cartoon series is that it was cheap to produce, due to the small number of voice actors and heavy reliance on stock animation. In fact, the series was one of the more expensive 1980s animated series to produce, primarily due to the entire series production being handled in the U.S., rather than having the animation outsourced to another country.

She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985)

In 1985, Mattel and Filmation decided to diversify the Masters of the Universe line beyond its traditional realm of "male action" in the hopes of bringing in a young female audience as well.[12]

Thus, Mattel created a new line Princess of Power and invented She-Ra as its feminine warrior-woman heroine. The toyline featured almost exclusively female characters, all of whom featured an emphasis on hair and clothing, with "real" hair and partially softgoods costumes. Essentially, the line attempted to fuse the appeal of Masters of the Universe with Mattel's most long-standing success, Barbie.

Filmation then had the task of revealing that Prince Adam had a twin sister, Princess Adora, who was first introduced in the animated feature The Secret of the Sword. This film was a compilation of the first five episodes of the new television series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, which ran for 93 episodes from 1985 to 1986, and was produced in lieu of continuing He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for a third year. He-Man often appeared in special crossover episodes of She-Ra to aid his sister, and many other characters from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, both heroic and evil, also had crossover episodes.

Just as Prince Adam transforms into He-Man with the use of his Sword of Power, Adora transforms into She-Ra via her Sword of Protection, a replica of He-Man's sword featuring a smooth white gem in its hilt. Adora's transformation into She-Ra is similarly triggered by holding her sword over her head, and by uttering her own unique invocation; "For the honor of Grayskull... I AM SHE-RA!" Unlike He-Man's sword, however, She-Ra's possesses the ability to transform into different weapons and accessories, such as a lasso, a shield or a flaming blade, when commanded by She-Ra.

She-Ra lives on the world of Etheria, which is dominated by the Evil Horde, and she fights to free her planet from its tyrannical ruler Hordak. Hordak and the Evil Horde were originally created in the MOTU toyline as a second evil force who were after both He-Man and Skeletor, and debuted in Mattel's minicomics as such. However, given that the He-Man series had been cancelled to allow Filmation to concentrate on She-Ra, Filmation decided to reassign Hordak and the Evil Horde as the main villains of the She-Ra series to give the characters exposure. The character of Catra, the only villain in the first wave of She-Ra toys, was therefore made a member of the Horde. Thus, the premise of the She-Ra series was the reverse of the He-Man cartoon, whereby the heroes are actually rebels countering an evil establishment.[17]

The Powers of Grayskull

The distant past of Eternia, dubbed "Preternia",[18] forms the basis of the next incarnation of the toyline, entitled The Powers of Grayskull. However the toyline was axed very early on, with only a few toys released. The main story information originates from the final mini-comic The Powers of Grayskull - The Legend Begins!, which was intended as the first of a three-parter, however only this issue appeared. The information provided in the mini-comics is supported by snippets of information on some of the toy packaging.

Ancient Eternia was populated by many creatures, including cybernetic dinosaurs and giants. When the Sorceress and He-Man arrive, followed by Skeletor, they find King Hiss leading an attack on a village in the hope of drawing out "The Elders", using some of the cybernetic dinosaurs to their advantage. Hiss serves an "unnamed one" and agrees to unite with Skeletor on the basis that he might be an emissary. Seeing Skeletor's interference, the Sorceress allows He-Man to enter the battle but, "for reasons that will be made clear to you in the future," he had to be disguised. He finds himself overwhelmed, but then a shadowy figure appears who turns the odds with a powerful wand. The stranger then sends the Snake Men back to their base and all the time travellers home. The Sorceress describes the intervener as "the Greatest Sorcerer of all" and He-Man is left asking, "But who is he?"

No further story information is given, and it remains unclear how the giants mentioned and released as toys would fit into the story. However, some marketing press releases and prototypes have shed further information.

The wizard was He-Ro, an ancestor of He-Man. Raised by his mentor Eldor and discovering special powers in a cave, He-Ro would have led the fight against the Snake Men. According to the mini-comics' writers it was intended that the central antagonist would be Keldor, a character revealed similarly late in the line to have been He-Man's uncle and also strongly hinted to have been the former identity of Skeletor. Whether or not Keldor was also supposed to be the "Unnamed One" Hiss served is not clear, although in an interview writer Steven Grant vaguely recalls that the intention was that the Unnamed One would be a greater evil who, as the Emperor was to Darth Vader, was intended to be the one who caused Keldor to become Skeletor.[19]

Live action movie (1987)

In 1987, a live action He-Man film was made by Cannon Films entitled Masters of the Universe. The release date in the USA was August 7, 1987. The film starred Dolph Lundgren in the title role of He-Man, Frank Langella as Skeletor, with Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill in supporting roles. The other characters from the original cartoon to appear in the film are Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster), Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher), Teela (Chelsea Field), Beast Man (Tony Carroll), and the Sorceress (Christina Pickles). The character Gwildor (Billy Barty) is included, apparently in place of Orko, because the special effects of the time would have been insufficient and too costly to create him.

Many viewers reviewed the motion picture in comparison to the cartoon, when it really was an adaptation of the toys only, which initially depicted He-Man as a barbarian in the first mini-comics (no Prince Adam or Orko). Ed Pressman was interested in the property before the cartoon was even aired and Filmation had no involvement whatsoever in the film.

In the movie, Skeletor has finally conquered Eternia after stealing the Cosmic Key from the locksmith Gwildor, which allows him to gain entry to Castle Grayskull. He imprisons The Sorceress within an energy-draining field and her powers are being transferred to him. In an attempt to rescue The Sorceress, the heroes He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Teela and Gwildor are accidentally transported to Earth by the Cosmic Key. Stranded on Earth, they are faced with the task of recovering the Cosmic Key and getting back to Eternia before Skeletor can gain the power of Grayskull, but Skeletor sends his minions to Earth with the mission of beating them to the Cosmic Key, and chaos ensues as the war between good and evil is transferred to Earth.

Numerous parts of the previously accepted history of the series are omitted in the film, including all references to Prince Adam, as well as Randor and Marlena, in fact it is implied that Castle Grayskull itself is the ruling point of Eternia rather than any royal city. The story concentrates more on the science fiction elements of the franchise rather than the fantasy. Aside from The Sorceress and Skeletor there is little reference to magic powers, with most of the characters relying instead on futuristic technology. He-Man himself uses a gun in some scenes in addition to his Power Sword, and he only displays superhuman strength in one scene, when toppling a huge statue. Although He-Man twice utters his catchphrase "I Have the Power" while holding the sword aloft in the iconic manner, he does omit the prefacing clause "By the Power of Grayskull".

Although Mattel had hoped that the movie would boost sales of the toyline, it instead had no effect on the line's falling sales, and the MOTU toy line was finally discontinued in early 1988 under immense financial difficulties. A sequel to the film was written, but by 1989, Cannon Films was in such severe financial troubles that it could no longer afford to pay the license fees to Mattel. Thus the script was transformed into the action film Cyborg, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Connection

In issue #497 of Comic Shop News, comic book writer/artist John Byrne opined that the Masters movie was in part derivative of "Jack Kirby's Fourth World", featuring characters now found in the DC Comics Universe: Orion (He-Man), Kalibak (Beast Man), Kanto (Blade), and Darkseid (Skeletor). Cross-dimensional travel from Eternia to Earth is via a concept identical to the classic Boom Tube. There are many additional parallels to be drawn from the Fourth World source material to the characters in the film than from the He-Man material.

Byrne wrote, "The best New Gods movie, IMHO, is Masters of the Universe. I even corresponded with the director, who told me this was his intent, and that he had tried to get [Jack] Kirby to do the production designs, but the studio nixed it....Check it out. It requires some bending and an occasional sex change (Metron becomes an ugly dwarf, The Highfather becomes the Sorceress), but it's an amazingly close analog, otherwise. And Frank Langella's Skeletor is a dandy Darkseid!"[20]

Even though director Gary Goddard provided a commentary track for the film's DVD release that makes no such claim regarding any intent to produce a covert New Gods adaptation, he did send a letter to Byrne in 1994, which was printed in an issue of Byrne's comic Next Men[21] In the letter Goddard indicated that Byrne wasn't far off in his comparison between the New Gods and the Masters of the Universe movie, and that it was (in Goddard's words) "greatly inspired by the classic Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom epics, The New Gods and a bit of Thor thrown in here and there."[21] Brian Cronin, author of the "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed" column, concludes that "the film itself was not intended to be literally a reworked Fourth World, although the intent WAS to make the film a tribute to Jack Kirby - just a tribute to ALL of his work, not just the Fourth World."[22]

New Movie

Grayskull: Masters of the Universe was an announced science fiction/fantasy film based on the toy line. According to Variety, it is produced by Joel Silver, and written by Justin Marks, and employing visual special effects to a large degree, as was done with the 2007 war film 300.[23] Warner announced that John Stevenson, director of Kung Fu Panda will direct the upcoming feature. On 12 May 2009 it was announced that the scripting duties had been handed to newcomer Evan Daugherty, with John Stevenson still attached to direct.[24] In September 2009, Sony took over the rights from Warner Bros to produce the Masters of the Universe live action film after Mattel and Silver couldn't agree on creative direction for the film.[25] Sony and Escape Artists' Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch will now start developing the project from scratch for Columbia Pictures. In April 2010, Sony hired screenwriters Mike Finch and Alex Litvak to draft a new script.[26]

The New Adventures of He-Man (1989–1992)

The New Adventures animated series.

In 1989, two years after the financially disastrous ending of the original Masters of the Universe product line, a second He-Man animated series titled The New Adventures of He-Man, was produced by DiC to promote Mattel's short-lived attempt to revive the MOTU brand with a new toyline, simply titled He-Man. The new series is radically different to the original fantasy-oriented milieu, shifting to an almost purely science fiction setting which sees He-Man transported to the futuristic planet of Primus ruled by Master Sebrian. As He-Man leads the Galactic Guardians, Skeletor bases himself on the evil world of Denebria, where he forms an alliance with Flogg and the Mutants, who are hellbent on conquering Primus for themselves. The series contains clear continuity links to the original Masters of the Universe, and was intended as a continuation of the existing mythology, although some fans see it as a separate canon from the original series due to the differences in style and character portrayal.

Other than He-Man and Skeletor, The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull is the only character from the original series to make regular appearances, acting as a guide to He-Man. Several other characters are featured in the pilot episode, including King Randor and Queen Marlena, who learn of the dual identity of Prince Adam and He-Man.[27][28]

The majority of the cartoon episodes were written by Jack Olesker, resulting in a tight continuity, which was almost entirely lacking in the earlier Filmation series. Neither the New Adventures animated series or toyline were nearly as popular as the originals, lasting only sixty-five episodes and a few poorly received waves of action figures.[28][29]

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe 2002 relaunch


In 2002, Mattel launched a new Masters of the Universe toyline with sculpts designed by the Four Horsemen. The new toyline was made surprisingly faithful to the original line, with the characters gently "re-imagined" and updated in terms of sculpting detail rather than radically reinterpreted.[30]

One point of contention for many fans of the original Masters toyline was the redesign of He-Man's Power Sword. According to the Four Horsemen, this was due to their original re-sculpts being intended for a continuation of the original storyline in which Skeletor had obtained both halves of the Power Sword (hence the new Skeletor figure's dual blades with clear "good" and "evil" hilt designs), necessitating a new sword to be built by Man-At-Arms and endowed with the properties of the original by the Sorceress.[citation needed] However, Mattel decided to reboot the continuity for a new generation of children, and thus the "new" Power Sword design became the "original" version for the new continuity.[31]

The line's faithfulness to the original series made it very popular with collectors, however, suggesting it would have been better served as a collector-based line, akin to DC Direct. This theory was borne out in the wake of the discontinuation of the mass-market toyline, with NECA taking the rather unprecedented step of continuing the toyline through action figure sized mini-statues scaled and sculpted to be aesthetically compatible for display alongside the Mattel toys, thus allowing fans to fill out their collections with other Four Horsemen redesigned characters that had yet to be produced as figures when the toyline was canceled. According to a December 8, 2005 interview with a Mattel representative on, NECA offered to produce fully articulated action figures for Mattel without taking any credit, but permission was denied. Instead, NECA was only permitted to produce nonarticulated statues.[32]

Cartoon series

A new animated series was produced to accompany the toyline, made by Mike Young Productions and lasting for 39 episodes. This series involved much tighter continuity and a somewhat greater depth of characterization than its Filmation predecessor.[33] It is particularly noteworthy for cementing the fact that Keldor and Skeletor are the same person (although no familial connection to Randor was established), showing Skeletor without his cowl as a floating skull with no neck, and the first animated appearances of Stinkor, King Hiss and the Snake Men (although several Snake Men characters had been previously shown as Horde members in She-Ra: Princess of Power). It was also revealed that Evil-Lyn's father is a powerful sorcerer known as The Faceless One.

Later episodes of this series were retitled Masters of the Universe vs The Snake-Men, and sidelined Skeletor as chief villain in favor of King Hiss, leader of the reptilian Snake-Men. Hordak and The Evil Horde were to be the main antagonist for the third season if the show had continued.[34]

The 2002 series was considerably more developed than previous incarnations, fleshing out a far more coherent history of Eternia. One episode, "The Power of Grayskull", goes into detail about Castle Grayskull's past, revealing it originally belonged to a barbarian hero named King Grayskull (from whom He-Man derives his powers, thus retconning the phrase "By the Power of Grayskull..." to refer to the king, not the castle), as well as revealing a considerably different background for Hordak, Skeletor's mentor. There were also several major alterations in character from the original series: Adam and Teela, for example, were reconceived as squabbling 16-year-olds (although some fans insist that this was also the age of the classic characters, despite their mature appearances), whilst King Randor was transformed into a far more diplomatically pro-active warrior-king, rather than the amiable but stern-faced character of old. Queen Marlena no longer was clearly stated to have been a stranded astronaut from Earth. Additionally, Teela was redesigned as being much leaner than her previous incarnation, though her basic character outline remained the same.

In addition, the physical transformation when Adam becomes He-Man is far more pronounced than in the original series, making it more plausible as to how no one notices a resemblance between Adam and He-Man. As Adam, he is reasonably fit but nowhere near as tall, muscular or adult as He-Man. Also, in this version, Cringer does not talk or display near-human intelligence as he does in the Filmation cartoon; here he simply meows when in Cringer's form, and roars when in Battle Cat's. Interestingly, He-Man's forebear King Grayskull, who looks like an older, even more muscular version of He-Man in a nearly identical costume, is depicted as riding an enormous steed similar to Battle Cat. However, instead of being a green tiger, Grayskull's mount is a colossal green lion.

Man-At-Arms is recast as a sterner, more authoritarian figure with an explicitly military position as the head of the armed forces of Eternos, thus becoming something of a General, and clearly second-in-command to King Randor. This is in sharp contrast to the more avuncular figure in the Filmation series whose place in the military hierarchy was vague compared to his primary role as court inventor. Although the technological emphasis in the new series is not strictly any stronger than in the original, the scale and application of high-tech in the MYP series is much greater. Although still retaining significant fantasy/barbarian elements, the new series displayed Eternos using vast factories to mass-produce fleets of vehicles like Dragon Walkers and Windraiders, of which only single prototypes existed in the original, as well as sundry robots and high-tech prisons.

While the original concept behind the title "Masters of the Universe" was meant to imply that the one who controlled Castle Grayskull would have the power to rule the Universe, this series redefined the term, "Masters of the Universe" as the name of an elite band of heroic warriors founded and originally led by Captain Randor. When Randor was named King by the Council of Elders he passed leadership of The Masters to his second in command, Man-At-Arms. When the series opens the band consists of Man-At-Arms, Teela, Stratos, Ram-Man, Man-E-Faces, Mekaneck, Orko and Prince Adam. As the series progresses the Masters of the Universe take on new recruits including Buzz-Off, Sy-Klone, Roboto and Fisto.

The transformation of Adam and Teela into bickering teens lends an element of caustic humour (usually Teela complaining about Adam's uselessness), but reduces the strong female presence of the original series. While Teela holds a high position within the MOTU in the 2002 series, she appears considerably reduced from the animal-sensate "warrior goddess" of the original. However, much of this is counterbalanced by the new version of Evil-Lyn. The 2002 series makes it quite clear that, in He-Man's own words, she is "Skeletor's most powerful lieutenant".

The series also featured a backstory for Skeletor. It is revealed that originally he was Keldor, an evil blue-skinned man who dabbled in dark magic, apparently worshiping the banished Horde leader, Hordak. He attacked the Hall of Wisdom where the Council of Elders dwelt, intent on usurping the Elders' power for himself, Captain Randor was summoned to defend the Hall. After an attempt to throw acid on Randor's face, Randor deflected the acid onto Keldor himself, badly disfiguring him. In desperation, the dying Keldor had Evil-Lyn take him to a temple where he could summon Hordak. Hordak saved his life and turned him into Skeletor, upon the agreement that Skeletor would free him from the dimension of Despondos, a promise Skeletor neglected to keep.

The series was intended to have an additional final season, which would have introduced the She-Ra storyline, but the series was cancelled before production.[citation needed]

Masters of the Universe Classics

A line of toys that were debuted in 2008. Sculpted by the Four Horsemen, these toys are updated versions of previous figures as well as figures of characters that have never before had a toy. As of February 2010, the figures of He-Man and Skeletor are available as Toys R Us exclusives packed in two-packs with Superman and Lex Luthor respectively, from Mattel's DC Universe Classics action figure line. Both lines are designed by the Four Horsemen. This dual line has since been expanded to include two-packs featuring Aquaman and Mer-Man, and Hawkman and Stratos, with more expected.

Dark Horse Comics will be producing mini-comics to be included in Mattel's Masters of the Universe Classics line of toys, continuing the series of mini-comics first introduced in the original He-Man toys of the 1980s. The mini-comics will be written by Tim Seeley and drawn by Wellinton Alves, with covers by Eric Powell. According to Seeley, the current mini-comics will finish off the story that was supposed to be the new direction of the original action figure line, before it was cancelled. The story will deal with the The Powers of Grayskull line, which included King Hsss, Tyrantisaurus Rex and He-Ro, tying the toy continuity to the He-Man line, also known as "Preternia He-Man". Seeley also states that the current Mattel line intends to blend the different He-Man continuities and select the best stories and ideas from MOTU history.[35]


In the Autumn of 2005 BCI Eclipse began releasing DVDs of He-Man on region 1. The spine art of each box set features a segment of a continuous image which, when all shelved side-by side in the correct order, form a long mural depicting locations from the various series, such as Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain from Eternia, Nordor and the Starship Eternia from Primus, the Crystal Castle and the Fright Zone from Etheria, and finally the revamped versions of Grayskull and Snake Mountain from the 2002 rebooted series.

  • The Best Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Top 10
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 1 Volume 1
  • He-Man And She-Ra A Christmas Special
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 1 Volume 2
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 2 Volume 1
  • The Best Of She-Ra: Princess Of Power: Top 5 Episodes & "Secret Of The Sword"
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 2 Volume 2
  • She-Ra: Princess Of Power: Season 1 Volume 1
  • The New Adventures of He-Man Volume 1 (December 26, 2006)
  • The New Adventures of He-Man Volume 2 (March 27, 2007)
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: Season 1 Volume 2 (April 3, 2007)
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: Season 2 (September 4, 2007)
  • The complete 2002 series was released on DVD in 2008 in three volumes, beginning on February 19, 2008. Although these volumes were released in a different packaging format to the previous DVDs, a BestBuy chain exclusive version of Vol. 1 came with an oversized slipcase that continued and completed the spine-art mural, designed to also hold the later-released volumes 2 and 3.
  • A box set containing the entire 2002 series was released in September 2009.

Toyline notes

The toyline was initiated by Roger Sweet, who managed the line throughout its whole original run. The character of He-Man was given three different designs: an old-fashioned style barbarian, a contemporary military man, and a futuristic spaceman. The barbarian design was the most popular, but the overall design was selected when a chief Mattel executive pointed to Sweet's prototype figures and declared, "those have the power," a line which the Filmation cartoon would paraphrase as He-Man's famous catch-phrase, "I have the power!".[citation needed]

Early promotional literature from Mattel refers to Skeletor and his followers as the "Masters of the Universe" and an early version of the opening title sequence for the 1980s incarnation also uses this description, and was used on the VHS version of the early episode "The Dragon Invasion." However, later literature and spin-offs use the term "Masters of the Universe" for He-Man and his allies. Series writer Robby London has commented that he noticed the change in description, and personally considers both sides, good and evil, to be the "Masters of the Universe." The 1987 live action film features yet another interpretation of the phrase, as the opening narration claims that whoever occupies Castle Grayskull will have "the power," and this power will make them "masters of the universe."

Links to Conan the Barbarian

There is an enduring urban legend about the so-called "Conan toyline." The story is that the Mattel Toy Company originally intended to base an action figure line on Conan the Barbarian, the pulp fantasy character created by Robert E. Howard which at the time was the lead in several popular series produced by Marvel Comics and due to be the subject of a major movie. However, after viewing the film, the Mattel executives despaired at the thought of promoting a children's toy with ties to a film featuring such graphic sex and violence. Thus they gave their doll blonde hair and re-dubbed him "He-Man". The legend is unverified but persistent. Roger Sweet, the originator of He-Man, asserts that the He-Man/Masters Of The Universe concept definitely was not an outgrowth of Conan. The He-Man concept, later renamed the Masters Of The Universe, was originated and developed by Roger Sweet in late 1980. Later, that initial concept was followed by the original comics by Donald F. Glut. The Conan license had been dropped by Mattel months before the He-Man concept was begun. Such fantasy artists as Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, made famous previously through their barbarian themed art, were undoubtfully a great inspiration for the MOTU creators. For instance, while designing the first He-Man prototypes, some artists like Mark Taylor brought forth a very Conan-esque dark haired He-Man bearing a horned helmet and barbaric outfit [36]

Although Conan is not "officially" a source of inspiration, Mattel may have taken advantage of his resemblance by hiring comic book artists (mostly working for DC comics and Marvel Comics) to design the mini-comics and box art. Earl Norem for instance, having worked on countless Savage Sword of Conan covers for Marvel, was kept in high esteem by Masters of the Universe fans for his astonishing posters, package inlays and box art. The confusion and "Conan toyline" urban myth may have stemmed from the striking similarities between Norem's Conan depictions [37] and He-Man. [38]

Link to Robert E. Howard's characters Kull, Thulsa Doom and the Snakemen

Linking to another figure from the Marvel Universe, Thulsa Doom (originally created by Robert E. Howard (1906–1936), the resemblance with Skeletor has this time passed relatively unnoticed, as Thulsa Doom is more King Kull's deadly foe than Conan's (except in the comics, where Conan-Kull crossover material was often seen). Thulsa Doom was depicted by Marvel as a powerful undead wizard bearing a skull head, wielding a scepter and constantly trying to revive the Serpent race in order to access the throne of Valusia.[39]

Keldor and Thulsa Doom share many other important features: in the MOTU mythos, it is revealed that Keldor in his mad quest for magical powers led him to acquire his skull head and being known as "Skeletor" since then; Thulsa Doom the necromancer is said to bear a human face prior to having a similar hooded skull look. Skeletor is hinted as having "extra-Eternian" origins (post-filmation origins are said to be half from Gar, half Eternian, while the pre-filmation shows a completely extra-Eternian Skeletor) and Thulsa Doom's heritage is mysterious (all we know is hat he roamed amongst the first men and the "Old race" ), thus both are depicted as evil foreigners coming to invade a peaceful kingdom, with the eventual help of "snake men" .

The "Thulsa Doom versus King Kull" duality along with the "Snake men" [40] plot may have been a solid basis to develop the Skeletor character.

Mattel MOTU action figures, accessories & playsets listing of the 1980s

The action figures themselves were often repaints and head-swaps of existing characters, outfitted with different equipment; for example, Stinkor was originally a color-swap of Mer-Man wearing a re-colored version of Mekaneck's breastplate. For much of the original line, there were limited molds. Two chests, hairy and smooth, one belt/pair of shorts, and three sets of arms and legs (smooth muscular, evil 'claw' fingers/toes, and hairy). Teela had her own mold, which was later duplicated for Evil-Lyn. When the second wave appeared, several new molds were used (Ram Man, Man-E-Faces, and Trap Jaw all had new mold pieces). Wave three incorporated the same torso for Whiplash and Buzz-Off. New legs were shared with Whiplash, Buzz-Off and early released of Clawful. Wave Four saw the introduction of more unique body parts (i.e. Leech, Mantenna and Sy-Klone) with Moss Man and Hordak being the only character to use entirely old body parts. Wave 5 was entirely new body parts for all but one character (Tung Lashor) whilst the final wave returned to the "classic" look.

Each action figure featured 5 points of articulation (possible head, arms and legs), removable armour, a weapon accessory and a spin loaded "Power punch". All 8 characters featured the spring-loaded twisting waist, but it was Wave 2 that saw additional action features unique to the character such as Tri-Klops's rotatable visor and Ram-Man's spring-loaded legs. Each figure would also come packaged with a mini comic. The line debuted in 1982 with just four figures to begin with: He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and Beast-Man. Later that year the remaining four characters from Wave 1 were released. They were Stratos, Teela, Mer-Man and Zodac. Each figure came with removable armour, a weapon and mini-comic. Mekaneck was the first character from Wave 3 to appear in shelves at the tail end of 1983. The rock warriors, Stonedar and Rokkon arrived in the UK a full year before the rest of their wave 5 counterparts. This may have been due to their appearance in the UK Masters of the Universe fortnightly magazine in 1986. Originally Beast-Man was meant to be He-Man arch rival, Stratos was an evil warrior and Mer-Man and Tri-Klops were both intended to be heroic warriors. This changed by the time of their release.

Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
He-Man Most Powerful Man In The Universe Heroic Warrior 1 1982
Man-At-Arms Heroic Master Of Weaons Heroic Warrior 1 1982
Stratos Heroic Winged Warrior Heroic Warrior 1 1982
Teela Heroic Warrior Goddess Heroic Warrior 1 1982
Skeletor Evil Lord Of Destruction Evil Warrior 1 1982
Beast-Man Savage Henchman Evil Warrior 1 1982
Mer-Man Evil Ocean Warlord Evil Warrior 1 1982
Zodac Evil Cosmic Enforcer Evil Warrior 1 1982
Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
Man-E-Faces Heroic Human...Robot...Monster Heroic Warrior 2 1983
Ram-Man Heroic Human Battering Ram Heroic Warrior 2 1983
Evil-Lyn Evil Warrior Goddess Evil Warrior 2 1983
Faker Evil Robot Of Skeletor Evil Warrior 2 1983
Trap-Jaw Evil & Armed For Combat Evil Warrior 2 1983
Tri-Klops Evil & Sees Everything Evil Warrior 2 1983
Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
Battle Armor He-Man Most Powerful Man In The Universe Heroic Warrior 3 1984
Buzz-Off Heroic Spy In The Sky Heroic Warrior 3 1984
Fisto Heroic Hand To Hand Fighter Heroic Warrior 3 1984
Mekaneck Heroic Human Periscope Heroic Warrior 3 1984
Orko Heroic Court Magician Heroic Warrior 3 1984
Prince Adam Heroic "Secret" Identity To He-Man Heroic Warrior 3 1984
Battle Armor Skeletor Lord of Destruction Evil Warrior 3 1984
Clawful Warrior With The Grip Of Evil Evil Warrior 3 1984
Jitsu Evil Master Of Martial Arts Evil Warrior 3 1984
Kobra Khan Evil Master Of Snakes Evil Warrior 3 1984
Webstor Evil Master Of Escape Evil Warrior 3 1984
Whiplash Evil Tail Thrashing Warrior Evil Warrior 3 1984
Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
Thunder Punch He-Man Leader Of The Heroic Warriors Now Packs A Powerful Punch Heroic Warrior 4 1985
Moss-Man Heroic Spy & Master Of Camouflage Heroic Warrior 4 1985
Roboto Heroic Mechanic Warrior Heroic Warrior 4 1985
Sy-Klone Heroic Fist Flinging Tornado Heroic Warrior 4 1985
Dragon Blaster Skeletor Evil Leader and his Dreadful Dragon With The Paralysing Spray Evil Warrior 4 1985
Spikor Evil Master Of Untouchable Combat Evil Warrior 4 1985
Stinkor Evil Master Of Odors Evil Warrior 4 1985
Two Bad Double Headed Evil Strategist Evil Warrior 4 1985
Hordak Ruthless Leader Of The Evil Horde The Evil Horde 4 1985
Grizzlor Hairy Henchman Of The Evil Horde The Evil Horde 4 1985
Leech Evil Master Of Power Suction The Evil Horde 4 1985
Mantenna Evil Spy With The Pop Out Eyes The Evil Horde 4 1985
Modulok Evil Beast Of A Thousand Bodies The Evil Horde 4 1985
Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
Flying Fists He-Man Heroic Leader With The Arm Swinging Action Heroic Warrior 5 1986
Extendar Heroic Master Of Extension Heroic Warrior 5 1986
Rio Blast Heroic Transforming Gun-Slinger Heroic Warrior 5 1986
Rokkon Young Heroic Comet Warrior Heroic Warrior 5 1986
Snout Spout Heroic Water Blasting Firefighter Heroic Warrior 5 1986
Stonedar Heroic Rock People Leader Heroic Warrior 5 1986
Terror Claws Skeletor Evil Leader With The Claw Swinging Action Evil Warrior 5 1986
Hurricane Hordak Ruthless Leader And His Whicked Whirling Weapons The Evil Horde 5 1986
Dragstor Evil Transforming Warrior/Vehicle The Evil Horde 5 1986
Horde Trooper Evil Collapsing Robot The Evil Horde 5 1986
Multi-Bot Evil Robot Of A Thousand Bodies The Evil Horde 5 1986
Kobra Khan (Re-release) Evil Snake Men Henchman The Snake Men 3/5 1984/1986
King Hiss Dreadful Disguised Leader Of The Snake Men The Snake Men 5 1986
Rattlor Evil Snake Men Creature With The Quick Strike Head The Snake Men 5 1986
Tung Lashor Evil Tongue Shooting Snake Men Creature The Snake Men 5 1986
Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
Clamp Champ Heroic Master Of Capture Heroic Warrior 6 1987
Gwildor Heroic Creator Of The Cosmic Key Heroic Warrior 6 1987
King Randor Heroic Ruler Of Eternia Heroic Warrior 6 1987
Rotar Heroic Master Of Hyper-Spin Heroic Warrior 6 1987
Sorceress Heroic Guardian Of Castle Grayskull Heroic Warrior 6 1987
Blade Evil Master Of Swords Evil Warrior 6 1987
Blast-Attack Evil Blast-Apart Robotic Warrior Evil Warrior 6 1987
Faker II Evil He-Man Imposter Evil Warrior 2/6 1983/1987
Ninjor Evil Ninjor Warrior Evil Warrior 6 1987
Saurod Evil Spark-Shooting Reptile Evil Warrior 6 1987
Scare Glow Evil Ghost Of Skeletor Evil Warrior 6 1987
Twistoid Evil Speed Twisting Robot Evil Warrior 6 1987
Buzz-Sas Hordak Ruthless Leader Of The Evil Horde The Evil Horde 6 1987
Mosquitor Evil Energy Draining Insectoid The Evil Horde 6 1987
Snake-Face Most Gruesome Of The Snake Men Snake Men 6 1987
Squeeze Evil Long Armed Viper Snake Men 6 1987
Character Log Line Allegiance Wave Year of release
Laser Power He-Man Heroic Master of Light Energy Heroic Warrior 7 1988
Laser Light Skeletor Evil Master of Light Energy Evil Warrior 7 1988


  1. ^ The rights to manufacture the Star Wars toyline were later taken over by Hasbro.
  2. ^ These included: Kid Gallant, a medieval knight; Robin and the Space Hoods, a sci-fi figure; and the daredevil Kenny Dewitt, pronounced "Can He Do It?"
  3. ^ Authorship of the He-Man character has been subject to debate, as two other designers, Mark Taylor and Jill Barad, have also taken credit for creation of the superhero.
  4. ^ Other names considered by the design team were Mighty Man, Megaton Man, Strong Man and Big Man.


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  12. ^ a b c "Remembering She-Ra and He-Man: Interview with Lou Scheimer". Animation World Network. Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
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  14. ^ Collins, Glenn (1985-12-12). "CONTROVERSY ABOUT TOYS, TV VIOLENCE a". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  15. ^ Diamond, S. J. (1986-06-30). "Marketing to Children Raises Big Questions". LA Times. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
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  17. ^ "The Best of She-Ra: Princess of Power Review". Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  18. ^ "Masters of the Universe Magazine #10". Mattel. April 1987. Retrieved 2010-11-03. "Journey to Preternia" 
  19. ^ "Interview with Steven Grant". Archived from the original on 2006-12-13. Retrieved 2007-02-14. 
  20. ^ Byrne, John. Comic Shop News #497 (c. 1996).
  21. ^ a b Goddard, Gary. Letter in "A Flame About This High," John Byrne's Next Men #26 (Dark Horse, June 1994).
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  34. ^ "Masters of the Universe Season Two Slithers To A Successful, If Premature, Ending". Toon Zone. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  35. ^ "CCI EXCLUSIVE: Seeley Scripts New Adventures of He-Man". Comic Book Resources. 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  36. ^ " official site: He-Man prototype sketch by Mark Taylor". 
  37. ^ "Earl Norem's official page: Conan gallery". 
  38. ^ "Earl Norem's official page: Masters of the Universe gallery". 
  39. ^ "Marvel Universe Handbook: Thulsa Doom". 
  40. ^ "Marvel Universe Handbook: Serpent Men". 

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