Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe (commonly abbreviated to MOTU) is a media franchise created by Mattel. Among others, it features the characters of He-Man and Skeletor on planet Eternia. Since its initial launch in 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, although this is not officially acknowledged by Mattel. The earliest storybooks and much of the original backstory were written by Donald F. Glut.

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 whiich 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 them from the TV cartoon-influenced minicomics that were released to tie-in with the TV series, this first version of Eternia has been dubbed 'Mini-eternia' or Mineternia.

DC Comics (1982-3)

Shortly after the début of the toy line, DC Comics began publishing a MOTU comic series, which made several adjustments to the story. These comics established the existence of the kingdom of Eternia, ruled over by King Randor (called King Miro in early appearances) and Queen Marlena. In this comic series, He-Man now has a secret identity: Prince Adam, the son of Eternia's rulers. Prince Adam is chosen by The Sorceress and she gives him the power to turn into He-Man and he takes on the role of Eternia's defender. His identity is kept secret from all but The Sorceress and Man-At-Arms. The characters of MOTU were introduced in DC Comics Presents #47 in which Superman is transported to Eternia and teams up with He-Man and later returning for a second adventure.

Although the characters of Prince Adam, Randor and Marlena were introduced to the public in the DC comic series, they are often believed to be the creations of Filmation studios, as the Filmation staff were already at work on developments for the upcoming cartoon series at the time the comics were published.

Cartoon series (1983-1985)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, was produced by Filmation and made its television debut in 1983.

Eternia is ruled by King Randor and Queen Marlena. Their son is Prince Adam, a cowardly blond muscleman dressed in a Cote d'Azur chemise. 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!" he is transformed into He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. He-Man is a brave blond muscleman in a baldric with a cross pattee and loincloth. Most episodes are about Skeletor's repeated attempts and failures to enter Castle Grayskull. He-Man invariably defeats these attempts. Although similar in respects to the version of the story presented by the 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, 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). In similar fashion 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 directly tied to the action or central theme of the episode.

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.

It is also noted for featuring early script-writing work from Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, and Paul Dini of the 90s Batman-fame. One episode, "Battlecat", was written by Star Trek's D.C. Fontana.

The middle years of the Mattel minicomics adopted the same scenario as the animated series, and even adapted some stories for the comic form.

Episodes were also adapted directly into a comic series simply titled "He-Man", published in Brazil, Chile and Argentina. As every panel was redrawn from a TV still, it even shared the show's visual repetition.

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 single-handedly provided voices for nearly all female characters, but the bulk of the characters were voiced by the show's executive producer Lou Scheimer who in the earliest episodes went under the name Erik Gunden. He-man and Beast Man were voiced by John Erwin and 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.
  • The 1980s Filmation cartoon owes much of its design and format to 1980-1981 short lived animated series BlackStar which was also produced by Filmation. The planet Sagar of Blackstar is very similar to Eternia. Blackstar's Starsword is one-half of the Powerstar, the Evil Overlord, voiced by Alan Oppenheimer, possesses the other half, the Powersword. Though not referenced in the He-man cartoon, this is a parallel to the original concept of the MOTU universe where He-man and Skeletor possessed identical swords that each contained half of an ultimate power.

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. 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.

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.

Marvel Star comic series

In 1986, Marvel Comics debuted a Masters of the Universe title under their relatively short-lived "Star" imprint, a line aimed at younger children, primarily featuring other licensed properties such as The Muppets. Star's Masters title lasted only 13 issues and opened with a new version of the introduction of Hordak and the Evil Horde. As the series progressed it generally focused on spotlighting latter-day characters and vehicles which had been released as toys after the completion of the Filmation animated series. In general, the comic had a tendency to follow the characterisation and vague continuity of the Filmation cartoon, whilst visually depicting the characters as more accurate representations of the toys themselves, for example showing Teela in her snake armor, which was never worn in the cartoon, and presenting the Fright Zone and Snake Mountain with their distinctive playset designs, which also bore little resemblance to their onscreen appearances.

Issue #11's "Whose Enemy Am I Anyway?" involves He-Man and Hordak being kidnapped and sent to another world. Due to mutual amnesia, they become comrades, providing a dilemma as to how to deal with this new relationship when their memories are eventually restored.

A particularly noteworthy two-part story "Life-Time" in the final two issues uses a time-travel device and a similar premise to It's a Wonderful Life in which Prince Adam questions the further necessity for He-Man's existence and gets a rude shock when his musings are suddenly put to the test. When his Power Sword is accidentally transported a decade into the future, Adam travels through time to retrieve it, only to find himself in a future in which, deprived of the sword and thus the ability to turn into He-Man, Adam's older self has been unable to stop Skeletor from conquering Eternia. This dystopic near-future story, which contains paraphrases of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, casts an orphaned Teela as the new Sorceress and leader of the resistance. It also depicts the destruction of Castle Grayskull and includes a scene in which Adam finds his desolate and maltreated parents shackled in a dungeon.

The Star line also includes a double-length one-shot adaptation of the 1987 Masters of the Universe live-action film. Curiously, the comic portrays all the pre-existing characters other than Beast-Man with their traditional toy/cartoon appearances rather than with the film's heavily redesigned ones. Adapted from an earlier draft of the movie script, it also features some departures from the movie such as the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor taking place high atop Grayskull's battlements rather than deep in its bowels. There is also a moment where He-Man offers his hand to his falling nemesis, who had been directly betrayed by Evil-Lyn, who spurns the offer, preferring to plummet to his apparent doom. Most significant of all is a peculiar coda not present in the film, in which the remains of two flags are discovered in the caverns of Grayskull: an American flag and one from NASA which bears the words "Starfinder 5. July 10, 2221." In a wholly unique twist to all other versions of MOTU continuity, this comic adaptation of the film suggests that Eternian humans are descended from the crew of an American space mission from the far future. While this was possibly inspired by two episodes from the Filmation series it is said that Queen Marlena was a space pilot from Earth who crash landed on Eternia, although nothing other than a vaguely futuristic spacecraft indicated that she came from the far future, nor did the children who came from Earth in the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special.

Later minicomics (1985-1987)

Beginning with the introduction of Hordak, the mini-comics began to diverge in someways from the scenario shown in the She-Ra animated series. Whereas in the cartoons many new Masters toys appear as based in an Etheria under the rule of Hordak with a resistance headed by Adora/She-Ra, the mini-comics stayed primarily on Eternia. Etheria only appeared as Hordak's main base of operations.

Many years earlier Hordak had been overthrown by his minion Skeletor and banished from Eternia. He returns, accompanied by his minions the Evil Horde, and seeks to conquer the planet. Occasionally allying with Skeletor, though more commonly seeking to destroy him as well, Hordak meets repeated opposition from He-Man.

An even more dramatic addition to the legends of Eternia comes in the mini-comic King of the Snakemen. In this, Skeletor discovers a pool of energy buried in Snake Mountain which contains the ancient emperor King Hiss. Hiss reveals he had conquered many planets before invading Eternia. Large parts of the planet had fallen to the Snakemen before they were defeated by the "Council of the Elders" and banished to another dimension. Hiss now seeks to recover his fellow Snake Men and bring vengeance to Eternia.

Further details of Eternia's ancient past are revealed in subsequent mini-comics. The most dramatic revelations surround "The Three Towers" - Grayskull Tower, "a symbol of goodness", Viper Tower, "a symbol of all that is evil", and Central Tower, holding the "ultimate power". This giant structure is raised from underground by Hiss and Skeletor and becomes the focal point for further adventures as He-Man seeks to prevent all three villains, from acquiring the secrets of the towers. In the process of defending the towers a series of fascinating discoveries are made.

Hordak recognises the towers and claims to have helped build Central Tower, though little further is discovered. The return of the Towers also enhances the Sorceress' magic and she is able to help King Randor in his search to discover what had happened to his long-lost brother Keldor. Skeletor is determined to stop this search, claiming "that knowledge could destroy me". It is strongly hinted, but not confirmed, that Keldor had become Skeletor.

The most astounding revelations come when the Sorceress takes He-Man through a time portal to visit Eternia's ancient past.

The Powers of Grayskull

The distant past of Eternia, dubbed "Preternia", 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 very last 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.

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 it is clearly implied that He-Man derives his power from his sword, there is no explicit indication that is strength ultimately comes from Grayskull, although his weapon is referred to by Skeletor as "The Sword of Greyskull", making the connection fairly easy to infer. 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 Greyskull".

Some fans, however, disagree with the interpretation that the film diverges in continuity with the observation that many of these apparent inconsistencies with the "main" cartoon/minicomic canon can be easily be explained by interpreting the film as simply being set some time after the events of the regular canon. Apart from obvious inconsistencies of design (all the character's costumes and especially the Power Sword and Castle Grayskull), there is little in the film which is wholly unreconcilable with the cartoon & minicomics. There is virtually no material in the film which directly contradicts past canon; rather there are merely few references to it. This interpretation points to the fact that at the start of the film Skeletor has already conquered Grayskull, and much of Eternia, which could easily explain the absence of many classic characters such as King Randor, Orko etc. Such characters can easily be supposed to have been captured, killed or driven into hiding prior to the start of the film. More importantly, this argument maintains that the lack of a depiction of, or even references to, Prince Adam does not by any means preclude his existence, and some would argue that under the drastic circumstances of the film's plot He-Man would have no time or reason to adopt his secret identity.

Furthermore, while Skeletor's Stormtrooper-esque legions admittedly have no previous depiction in the franchise and although their origin or precise nature are not divulged, the very existence of such an army makes Skeletor's unprecedented victory all the more plausible. Also, such a shift in the nature of the conflict could explain the heroic warriors' own escalated use of high-tech weaponry, which was, after all, always an element of classic MOTU, going back to the earliest toys. Given the vague similarity between Skeletor's black-armoured soldiers from the film and Hordak's robot Horde Troopers (in particular supported by the fact that when stabbed or shot these soldiers give off sparks and occasionally explode, suggesting a robotic nature), some have speculated that Skeletor's rise in martial prowess can be accounted for by his having defeated his former teacher and rival at an earlier point and, as a result, taken control of his Horde armies.

A sequel to the film was written, but by 1989 Cannon Films was in financial troubles and couldn't pay the license fees to Mattel and the script was transformed into the action film Cyborg (starring Jean-Claude Van Damme). A new He-Man movie is in development, Joel Silver and Warner Bothers Productions are in negotiations to acquire the rights to the franchise. However, the project has not yet been green-lit and information remains largely consigned to rumor.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Connection

Comic book writer/artist John Byrne has indicated that the Masters movie is 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.

This viewpoint is chiefly in response to comments made in issue #497 of Comic Shop News by Byrne, who said "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|[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!"

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 Next Men (issue #26 specifically). In the letter Goddard indicated that Byrne wasn't far off in his comparison between New Gods and 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."

The New Adventures of He-Man (1990-1991)

In 1990, three 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 both He-Man and Skeletor transported to the futuristic planet of Primus ruled by Master Sebrian. As He-Man leads the Galactic Guardians, Skeletor forms an alliance with Flogg and the Mutants. The new series contains clear continuity links to the original Masters of the Universe, and is clearly intended as a continuation of the existing mythology. The depiction of Skeletor was particularly noteworthy, as it deviated quite significantly from the characterisation established in the original Filmation series.

Other than He-Man and Skeletor, The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull is the only character from the original series to make regular appearances. In the newer series, The Sorceress acts 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 in the pilot episode.

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. 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.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe 2002 toyline and cartoon series

In 2002, a new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series was produced and aired by Cartoon Network in tandem with the release of the new wave of Mattel toys 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.

Some characters are marginally more redesigned than others (such as adding explicitly cybernetic elements to Tri-Klops and a huge, hunchbacked physique to Beast-Man), while many retained almost exactly the same basic designs (including Skeletor and especially Ram-Man) with merely more detailed and "mature" sculpts. Most redesigns simply involved making certain elements slightly more hyperbolic, such as Trap-Jaw's enlarged steampunk arm design. Another distinct improvement of the new toyline is that each figure was given a unique sculpt, whereas the original 1980s toys re-used the same three torso and arm/leg molds for almost all figures and even recycled weapons and armor amongst later characters.

Although the new 6" figures are slightly larger than the originals they incorporate a very similar design philosophy of minimal articulation (by modern standards) and a "battle-ready" stance, although the new figures did include additional discreet joints to allow for wrist articulation, as well as double-jointed shoulders and hips for greater possibility. Most figures include homages to the original action features of their 1980s counterparts, such as Man-E-Faces' rotating visage or Kobra Khan's water-squirting action, as well as redesigns of their classic weapons.

One point of contention for many fans of the original Masters toyline is the otherwise uncharacteristically extreme redesign of He-Man's Power Sword. Instead of the classic design He-Man now wielded an enormous anime-influenced mecha blade which many fans found ugly and inappropriate. 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. However, Mattel decreed that they wished 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.

The toyline was ultimately short-lived, lasting less than three years. Fans, detractors and market commentators all offered different theories as to why this occurred. Many fingers were pointed at the massively-overproduced abundance of He-Man and Skeletor variants, which clogged shelves, leaving the market glutted with unwanted product and preventing the figures viewed as more desirable figures from becoming widespread. Conversely, however, it could well be argued that the failure of the two main characters to sell (variants or not), coupled with the low ratings of the cartoon show despite its airing in a prominent timeslot, suggest that the line simply failed to interest the children of the 21st Century.

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.

The new animated series was produced by Mike Young Productions and lasted 39 episodes and involved much tighter continuity and a somewhat greater depth of characterization than its Filmation predecessor. It is particularly noteworthy for cementing the fact that Keldor and Skeletor are the same person, 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. 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.

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 along with her long-standing, unspoken and unconsummated crush on He-Man.

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, in a transition more reminiscent of Shazam's Captain Marvel. By an odd coincidence, a shortlived Captain Marvel cartoon was made by Filmation. 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 outrageously 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 lead 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.

Masters of the Universe Classics 2008- will be the exclusive home of this line of action figures.

The figures will be released on a monthly basis.

  • He-Man - October 31st
  • Beast Man - November 15th
  • Skeletor - December 15th
  • Stratos - January 15th
  • Merman - February 15th
  • Zodac - TBD 2009


Grayskull: Masters of the Universe is 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.


In the Fall of 2005 BCI Eclipse began releasing DVDs of He-Man on region 1.

  • 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 will be released on DVD in 2008. The first of three volumes was released on February 19th, 2008. Volumes 2 and 3 will follow later in 2008.

Masters of the Universe outside the United States

In the UK He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was shown on the ITV network in their recently-developed Children's ITV strand, being first broadcast on the very same day as the U.S. debut of the show, September 5, 1983, albeit on a weekly rather than daily basis, resulting in "first-run" episodes being shown up until 1988.

The episodes were often edited for time, which has resulted in some confusion in the series' fan-base, as sometimes entire scenes were omitted (strangely, the same phenomena occurred in the US with certain title-cards when the series was put out on VHS). Ironically, the moral segments at the end of the shows, viewed as the "redeeming value" of the series by many, were nearly always edited out. Also in the UK, ITV was forbidden from airing MOTU toy-commercials along with the cartoon. ITV were the only terrestrial channel in the UK to show MOTU and started showing it in September 1983, although it should be noted that the episodes were mostly broadcast in a completely different, seemingly random order, which gave rise to continuity errors on occasion. Children's ITV finally stopping running the series in mid 1990, re-runs of the episodes, this time a bit less edited, had appeared in the mornings during school holidays for several years, whereby they started showing The New Adventures of He-Man on an irregular basis through 1991. For a relatively brief time, He-Man was also shown on the satellite TV channel The Children's Channel (TCC). TCC also broadcast The New Adventures of He-Man from 1991-1995, cycling through the series numerous times. None of the original shows have been broadcast on any UK television channel since.

He-Man was also dubbed in to a number of languages. While most were slavish translations of the original a few are worth of special notice:

  • In Swedish the 1983 cartoon exists in three dub versions, done by VDC, Mediahuset and Media Dubb AB while the 2002 only is in one version.
  • In French He-Man is known as "Musclor", however the show's theme song was not altered and so the back-up singers still chant "He-Man" in the opening and during the cartoon. The French opening also lacks the translated yell of the intro sequence "and the Masters of the Universe" which was included in almost all other dubs.
  • German had two different dubs, one for television and a second for the VHS release. However, both versions use the same intro sequence chant "He-Man und die Meister des Universums" although He-Man's voice in the VHS version sounds nothing like the one from the TV dub. The German language dub is also notable since it is the only intro which explicitly calls the Sorceress by the name "Zoar", which more properly is the name of her falcon form. Also the German language dub is the only one where Cringer's whimping was re-recorded. During a rerun in 2002 the series was called "He-Man - Tal der Macht" (He-Man - Valley of Power).

Germany is the only land where He-Man became very popular as a Hörspiel with 37 episodes.

  • The Italian dub is the only one to have a unique laughter for Skeletor, which was more cackling and "witch-like". However, the new laughter was mixed with the old one rather than being dubbed over and the old laughter can still be heard in the opening. She-Ra is sometimes called Sheila.
  • The Hispanic American version had the entire theme-song re-recorded with added lyrics. Also rather than saying the Spanish equivalent to He-Man catch-phrase "I have the power" (during the transformation-sequence) He-Man clearly says "Yo soy He-Man" (I am He-Man). This is unintentionally similar to the opening of "She-Ra" where she also says "Yo soy She-Ra" (I am She-Ra) rather than "I have the power". During the episodes, however, He-Man says "Ya tengo el poder" (Now I have the power).
  • In Finnish the 1980s version was subtitled for Television, while on VHS there were 9 episodes dubbed and rest were subtitled. The reason for this is not entirely self-evident but may had been caused by the lack of dubbing companies at the time (many other cartoons were only released as subtitles in the late 1980s). Additionally, since the televised episodes ran on MTV3 (which at the time subtitled most of its imported children's programs) this may had simply been caused by a lack of resources (as YLE had been dubbing children's programmes since the 1970s). The New Adventures of He-Man cartoon was partially dubbed for VHS release. The 2002 series received full dubbing.

Toy line notes

The toy line 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 would become paraphrased by the Filmation cartoon as "I have the power!", He-Man's famous catchphrase.

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."

The Bonfire of the Vanities

In Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, the protagonist Sherman McCoy, played by Tom Hanks in the movie version, identifies himself (a highly-paid bond trader) as a Master of the Universe after seeing a child playing with a MOTU toy. As a result, the phrase "Master of the Universe" was briefly popular as a pejorative name for any young and wealthy financier.

Links to Conan the Barbarian

There is an enduring urban legend about the so-called "Conan toy line". 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, and most likely false since the first He-Man action figures were produced in 1981, a year before the first Conan film. 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. At that time, the barbarian fantasy theme, later applied to the He-Man/Masters concept and line, was broadly visible notably in Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo barbarian fantasy art - not specifically from Conan.

Mattel MOTU action figures of the 1980s

The action figures themselves were often repaints and head-swaps of existing characters, outfitted with different equipment; for pure 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 where used (Ram Man, Man-E-Faces, and Trap Jaw all had new mold pieces).


See also

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