The Enduring Legacy of He-Man & The Masters of the Universe!
I was around four years old when I first saw the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated show on TV in the early 80s. Like millions of other boys and girls my age, when I saw Prince Adam lift up that sword and say the magic words, “By the power of Grayskull,” I was hooked.
My mom bought me my first Mattel He-Man and Skeletor action figures soon after I saw the show. These were the first of dozens more figures and playsets to come, and those little pieces of plastic crack have been an insatiable addiction going on 40 years now.
Masters of the Universe spawned merchandise in virtually every category, from bubble bath to clocks, storybooks and even vinyl records and cassette tapes. I’m not covering any of that merchandise in this article, which deals strictly with the main toy line.
The 80s and 90s Kids
Growing up in the 80s and into the 90s, there wasn’t a lot of choice for kids when it came to entertainment. There were no 24-hour animation channels, PVR or video-on-demand. Heck, the closest we got was a VCR to record our favourite shows for endless repeat viewings that eventually wore out the magnetic tapes. We were tiny slaves to old fashioned broadcast television, which doled out a handful of animated shows like a slow IV drip, and boy, we lapped it all up.
There was He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters, Robotech, Bionic Six, The Defenders of the Earth, Bravestarr, Go-Bots, Transformers, Thundercats, Dino Riders, Dungeons and Dragons, just to name a few favourites. In the 90s, we got the updated animated versions of X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Justice League.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)
But among all these ground-breaking shows, the one that remained the touchstone of my childhood is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, as well as the wonderful toys that the show was based on, and even spawned in some cases thanks to the genius of Lou Scheimer and his talented writers and artists.
The original Masters of the Universe show came to an abrupt end after two seasons without wrapping up the story, but a new, updated show based on the IP soon followed, renamed The New Adventures of He-Man. The show and the associated toy line were a flop, and if you’ve ever watched it, you know why. With its focus shifting to a sci-fi tale and some weird artistic choices, it just wasn’t the classic Masters of the Universe we knew and loved.
Even though the show featured strong women like Teela and the Sorceress with their own great storylines, Mattel wanted to capture the female market segment and soon created She-Ra, He-Man’s long-lost twin sister. She-Ra was introduced in the awesome Secret of the Sword animated movie and continued to headline her own show, She-Ra Princess of Power, which spawned another line of successful toys aimed at young girls.
Masters of the Universe (1987) Movie
Thanks to the worldwide popularity of the brand, a movie was inevitable, so in 1987, we got the live-action Masters of the Universe movie starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and the brilliant Frank Langella as Skeletor in a scene-stealing performance. Unfortunately, the film was made by the infamous Golan-Globus who cut corners at every turn. The end product received mostly negative reviews, mainly for the low-budget production elements and not being entirely faithful to the source material. It Still, it went on to become a cult classic with Masters of the Universe fans. Decades after release, the film finally got action figures based on its versions of He-Man and Skeletor designed by William Stout. Now, these designs are being reproduced as part of the Masterverse line of 7 inch action figures.
200X Masters of the Universe
In the early 2000s, we got a proper reboot from Mike Young Productions that was a little darker and more violent than the original while maintaining the heart of the show and staying true to its characters. Popularly known as the 200X Masters of the Universe, this show spawned an entire line of new, updated action figures and even an electronic Castle Grayskull playset with light-up, sound and action play features.
Masters of the Universe Classics from Matty Collector
Not long after the 200X show came the revered Masters of the Universe Classics toy line from Mattel, sold direct to collectors via the Matty Collector program. This was a brilliant line of 7 inch figures that updated the original designs with better features and articulation. The crown jewel of this line for many fans was the Classics Castle Grayskull, a much more detailed playset scaled to accommodate the larger figures. As the Classics line wasn’t sold at retail, there are far fewer of them floating around today, but you can snag used or even mint on card (MOC) Masters of the Universe Classics from third party sellers if you’re willing to pony up the cash.
The Super7 Years
In a surprising move, the licence for Masters of the Universe toys was granted to Super7 in the 2010s. This line wasn’t based on a new show but rather served as a re-imagining of the original 5.5 inch line with character designs that were closer to their Filmation counterparts. These figures were aimed squarely at fans of the original show and was a runaway success. They soon expanded the line to include 7 inch figures similar to the Classics line, as well as smaller 3.75 inch “retro” figures styled to look like the old Kenner action figures from the 1970s. Toward the tail end of their licensing deal, Super7 went on to produce a crowdfunded Super7 Snake Mountain play set that sold for around $700 in very limited quantities.
Masters of the Universe Origins
The higher-ups at Mattel certainly noticed the success that Super7 was having with the brand, so in 2020, when they took back the licence, they announced the all-new Masters of the Universe Origins toy line for retail, which was once again a re-imagining of the original 5.5 inch toys but now with more detailed sculpts, accessories and most importantly, articulation.
At a price point of less than $20 per figure as well as accompanying vehicles, beasts and even an updated Origins Castle Grayskull for less than $100, the new line was well on its way to being a smash success. Wave after wave was released, with some characters appearing in plastic 5.5 inch form for the first time, like Anti-Eternia He-Man and Kol-Dar. The Origins line even introduced character styles from other lines, like the 200X He-Man and Skeletor figures and the 1987 movie versions of He-Man and Skeletor.
Masters of the Universe Masterverse
As if news of the Origins line wasn’t enough, around the same time in 2020, Netflix announced not one but two new Masters of the Universe shows, one aimed at fans of the 80s cartoon and the other a reimagining aimed at kids. Despite what you think of either show, both spawned two new awesome lines of toys, the most significant of which is the Masterverse line made in the 7 inch scale akin to Classics with great articulation, accessories and character variants that have never been seen before.
The Golden Age Will End…
In 2022, Masters of the Universe celebrates its 40th anniversary. I truly believe that, aside from the 80s, this is the best time to be a He-Man fan. We are spoilt for choice like never before and I doubt we ever will be again. If you are a Masters of the Universe toy collector, this my friends is the golden age that won’t come around again. Why? Well, barring a new generation of fans being cultivated, we are it. We are the fandom and, like it or not, we’re getting older. There’s only so much we can consume that will make it worthwhile for toy companies to continue producing toys for us year after year.
If you’re keen on reading an in-depth history of the Masters of the Universe toys along with full colour photos and artwork, I suggest the excellent The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe by YouTuber and toy collector Pixel Dan.
That’s a wrap for now.
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