He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, rough beginnings
He-Man and the Master’s of the Universe is the first cartoon I can remember watching, maybe even the first TV show. Its influence on nerds today is unfathomable. He-Man was one of those cartoons that was created to follow a toy line (ala Transformers), and Mattel had an equation for success! Originally a planned Conan series, BUT due to the graphic nature of the 1982 film, the line was ALTERED to become what we now know as MOTC!! Leading to this fiasco: (Thanks to Nebezial for the pic)
Excerpts from the lawsuit between CPI and 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.”
Thankfully for all of us MOTU geeks, Mattel won that battle! Now, would He-Man be depicted as a Barbarian, Spaceman, or Soldier?? That was the major question on Mattel’s lap.
He of course took the path of the Barbarian, and He-Man: Master of the Universe was born! With his masters, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Ram-Man, Stratos, and many others! He-Man and his companions battled the forces of the evil Skeletor for the protection of Castle Grayskull and the planet Eternia itself!! Thus magic was born. Episodes were scripted by writers including J. Michael Straczynski and Paul Dini!! We are talking some classic material right here.
He-Man has a Sister?!
Out of this magic was born She-Ra: Princess of Power. Mattel wanted it’s goldmine to cross genders, and She-Ra was the perfect way! These figures were smaller in scale and featured “real” hair. A feature that was very popular in Mattel’s other line, Barbie. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Anywho, I’m sure you’ve heard my rant about the male character, Bow. His current MOTU Classics reincarnation is MUCH MORE manly than his PUNY form during the “Princess of Power” days. She-Ra was introduced to the He-Man universe via an EPIC movie called “The Secret of the Sword” she even ends up being his sister! Check it:
The Many Tellings of One Tale
The He-man we saw on TV was nothing like his comic book counter-part. He-Man and his masters made appearances across several publication houses. MOTU started off in the mini-comics entitled ‘Mineternia’ that were included with every figure, these comics were later re-titled ‘He-man Tales’. This may be the source of my comic book enjoyment. Anywho, the earliest conception of He-Man is a wondering warrior with in a war-torn Eternia. The great war had left behind magnificant pieces of technology that Skeletor and his minions were hell-bent on attaining. But in the distance lay the great Castle Grayskull, and whom ever possessed the power of Grayskull would harness the power of the Master of the Universe! In 1982, MOTU was picked up by DC Comics and this began the origin story that we are all very familiar with. Prince Adam was the son of King Randor and Queen Marlena, and he is chosen by the Sorceress of Grayskull to wield the power of He-Man! All the famous characters we know and love were introduced during this run, as well as a special guest appearance by the Man of Steel himself, Superman! Think about those awesome Mattel He-Man/DCUC two packsthat have been released over the past few years!!
Whole new perspective eh? Anywho, the Marvel series that was picked up in 1986 progressed the series beyond the TV screen, these future visions are what inspired a lot of action figures that were produced under MattyCollector’s MOTU Classics. A dystopic vision that showed Teela as the new sorceress leading a resistance force against the armies of Skeletor. A world where He-Man was defeated!! This simple concept had inspired 5 years of genius writing, then the movie came along….
This is the best they could come up with?!
In 1987 we got to experience the tragedy that was the MOTU live action movie, released by Cannon Films, and starred 80’s action star Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. Here is the synopisis:
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.
Here is the trailer, enjoy!
An Awesome Re-Imagining
In 2002, Mattel was watching as action figure lines such as Marvel Legends, MacFarlane Toys, ect were all BOOMING. So, Mattel got smart and hired action figure gurus, The Four Horsemen. Every character was given a “update” to their look but still kept the basics at heart. I collected many of these beauties. They were and still are one of my favorite toy-lines of all time. The attention to detail and accessories was amazing. A new cartoon was released to coincide with the toy-line release, and it was pretty awesome. Take a look-see.
Thirty Years have passed…
So now it’s 30 years later and we are gifted with things like MattyCollector’s MOTU Classics and 30th Anniversary figure collections, Robot Chicken inspired figure Molar: Eternian dentist, and a new DC Comics Mini Series by James Robinson, with a new ongoing series starting in April!! You know, Masters of the Universe is one of those things that really dates me…but I will always love it.
Get on it Jon Chu!!
Thanks to He-man.org