|MOTU Day logo courtesy of The Toy Box|
Happy Masters of the Universe Day!
For those of you that have come to Needless Things for the first time thanks to the awesome team-up of sites celebrating this magical day, welcome! I am your host, Phantom Troublemaker, and I run things around here (which really just means I pay for the hosting).
1987 was a magical year. I saw RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys play the Astrodome. Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted on television. Hulk Hogan defeated Andre the Giant to become the WWF Champion.
Also, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley declared April 28th to be Masters of the Universe Day.
I could talk about all of those other things at length (and have, right here on Needless Things!), but since today is, in fact, April the twenty-eighth, I’m going to talk about Masters of the Universe. Which I also do quite frequently here on Needless Things and the Needless Things Podcast.
I’ll post the list again at the end so you don’t have to scroll back up. Because I’m nice like that.
Today I want to talk a little bit about my own Masters fandom, and also put over a couple of books that I think are essential reading for any fan of the outrageous exploits of He-Man and his pals.
My first big memory of He-Man comes from a birthday party. I can’t say for sure that it was 1982, but I do believe it was before I had seen He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I would have been six.
Back then it was a big deal to have a birthday party at McDonald’s. The restaurants weren’t quite the raging dumps of filth and hostility that they tend to be now. My early memories of Mickey D’s are of happy places with clean playgrounds, bright interiors, and excellent mascots like Mayor McCheese and Grimace. At this particular event there was a whole back room cordoned off for the birthday party. I don’t remember whose birthday it was – probably not even a close friend. When you’re that age you just try to invite as many people as you can to maximize your presents.
I may not remember the kid, but I certainly recall the bulk of his gifts – muscular men and monsters with bizarre combinations of swords and guns. They were bigger and more colorful than my Star Wars action figures and I was immediately intrigued. And scared – particularly of Beast Man. I found his face horrifying. Skeletor was no treat, either.
I remember watching as this lucky kid – whoever the heck he was – opened present after present and amassed what might have been the entire collection of Masters of the Universe figures that were available at the time. I didn’t care much about the humans, but my hands were itching to play with those monsters. Especially the fish guy. Once the presents were all opened a few of the figures inevitably were released from their packaging. One ended up in the cake. I don’t know why, but I remember that. The kid and his circle of friends were playing with the figures, but I managed to get my hands on that green and yellow fish guy, who I would later find out was Mer-Man.
At this point in my life my main toy experiences had been with Mego figures and with Star Wars. I can’t remember how the shift from Mego to Star Wars happened, but from 1979 through 1983 Star Wars was the dominant toy factor in my life. I loved the figures, the vehicles, the creatures – everything. But this fish guy; he was something different. Bigger. He could hold his weapons properly. And when you twisted his waist it snapped back into place, simulating an attack with his weird-looking sword. His face with the big, round eyes looked so intense and angry. I was fascinated.
There must have been a brief window between that birthday party and my discovery of GI Joe, because I managed to talk my mom into buying me some He-Man figures before I made the full-on switch from Star Wars to A Real American Hero. Mt flirtation with the denizens of Eternia was brief, so I don’t remember exactly which figures I had. I know He-Man and Skeletor were among them because I can still feel the frustration over never being able to get the Power Swords to connect together just right (you don’t even know how excited I was to assemble my first Classics Power Sword with improved Power Sword Combining Technology). I’m pretty sure I had Beast Man and Tri-Klops as well. I think Tri-Klops was in there because I never really liked Tri-Klops that much. To my young mind he was just a human with a stupid hat.
I’ve since softened on ol’ Klopsy (nobody calls him that).
As I’ve mentioned here on the site and at many of the toy panels that I’ve hosted, my parents were one toy line at a time kind of people. My mom would crumble frequently and I would end up with odds and ends from lines I didn’t necessarily collect – Centurions, Transformers, M.U.S.C.L.E, Battle Beasts – but I was definitely encouraged to focus my attention on a single line. And when GI Joe came along, that was it. My dad was a military man, and it very quickly became clear that GI Joe had the advantage in prying dollars out of his wallet. Plus, most of the rare father/son moments that we shared involved him explaining the various vehicles and weapons to me.
So GI Joe won the day and Masters of the Universe became another cartoon that I loved but only had a couple of toys from. And those toys didn’t get a ton of play because I was not a kid that could mix action figure styles. Even Star Wars and GI Joe figures were too aesthetically different for me, though COBRA did have some kickass space rides (vehicles were a different story).
But the Masters time would come.
In 1987, in addition to Mayor Bradley's designation of Masters of the Universe Day, we also got a live action He-Man movie starring Dolph Lundgren (the reason for the Mayor's wacky action). For more on that, check this out Episode 11 of the Needless Things Podcast recorded live at Dragon Con and featuring none other than Masters of the Universe production designer, William Stout!
In 1990 Mattel launched The New Adventures of He-Man and, quite frankly, I don’t see any need to discuss that.
Years later in 2002, I was all about the relaunch. Toy Fair magazine had dropped all 0of the details about a new cartoon and toy line and I was stoked. These new figures were being designed by a crew of rock star toy madmen called the 4 Horsemen. They were more streamlined versions of the original characters and the cartoon looked to be updated as well. Once again, I was intrigued.
These figures didn’t have the articulation of Toy Biz’s Spider-Man Classics or the ridiculously detailed sculpts of McFarlane Toys’ offerings, but they looked incredible. There was a sturdiness and artfulness to them that those lines were lacking. They were clearly toys, but also something more. The aesthetics were incredibly appealing to me.
But you don’t know until you buy one. So the first time I came across a Skeletor at Wal-Mart, I picked him up (I was still relatively uninterested in the humans at that point). He was fantastic. The sculpt was beautiful and the way that his sword worked was awesome. At this point in my life I was unrestricted by parental toy enforcement, so after that first figure I was hooked. On the bad guys, at least.
I scoured the toy aisles for any non-human characters I could find. Sadly, we all know how lousy the distribution was on that line. It’s one of the most challenging I’ve ever collected and there are still figures I’m on the lookout for. It was a frustrating experience that was ultimately all the more rewarding when I actually did find a new figure. To this day finding a new 2002 He-Man figure that I want is still one of the more exciting collecting experiences that I have. I finally broke down and bought a He-Man a couple of years ago. Now I’m eyeing a Trap-Jaw repaint that I should have just bought the first time I saw him.
The cartoon, on the other hand, was a whole other story.
I’m pretty sure that Cartoon Network made a big deal out of showing the first episode (or episodes – however it premiered) and I saw that. But I think that the show jumped around several times during its run. Also, we didn’t have DVRs then and I had something of a social life. Catching a cartoon on TV wasn’t as easy to do. I kept up with the toys as best I could, but I lost track of the cartoon fairly quickly. It wasn’t until years later when the series came out on DVD that I would finally see more than a handful of episodes. Now I’ve watched the Mike Young series several times and it’s one of my favorite cartoons ever. I still bothers me that we never got that third season with the Evil Horde (my favorite faction).
Finally there’s the current iteration – Masters of the Universe Classics.
Nearly thirty years after the original line launched, and yet once again I found Star Wars, GI Joe, and family to be factors in my collecting.
When I became aware of the Classics line I was not initially interested. Hasbro was deep into Star Wars and GI Joe lines that I was quite happy with and those were the main portions of my collection. He-Man wasn’t really one of my things. Inasmuch as it was, it was the 2002 version. And these new toys were not anything like those. Sure, they boasted nice sculpts and great articulation, but they were too reminiscent of the older, beefier He-Man. I didn’t want to devote any of my precious toy collecting dollars – now parsed away from the finances needed to take care of my family – to such a thing.
They got me with Scareglow.
I couldn’t resist that beautiful, glow-in-the-dark skeleton. And once I had the figure in my hands and actually got a feel for the line, I wanted more. My favorite character, Trap-Jaw, was offered just a few months later. And then I wanted Skeletor, so I bought him when he was offered again. I spent the rest of 2010 cherry-picking releases and then, when the 2011 sub was offered, I gave in and subscribed. And while I have certainly had moments of doubt (subscribing for 2013) and regret (opening the box with the Star Sisters inside), overall I would say that the Classics line comprises the best part of my toy collection.
That line may be ending, but consider this - in just three short months we will find out what the future holds for the Masters of the Universe toy line. Classics is over, but it has been all but confirmed that the style will continue on in a new line. According to the MattyCollector.com message boards, the Filmation Teela that was teased earlier in the year will be part of that.
Masters of the Universe has been a part of my toy collecting in one form or another for thirty-three years now. It isn’t my favorite thing, but I have to admit that, collecting-wise, it has been one of the most consistently exciting. From the few pieces I had as a child to desperately hunting the 2002 figures to the constant drama of the Classics line, He-Man and his associates might have provided more big collecting moments than any other single franchise.
I managed to ramble on for far longer than I thought I would, but I did promise a couple of book reviews. I’ll post full reviews at a later date since I’ve gone on so long.
Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation
by Lou Scheimer & Andy Mangels
I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “invaluable tome”, and now I can. This is an invaluable tome not only for any Masters of the Universe fan, but for any television enthusiast. Scheimer and his biographer, Mangels, cover the years that Filmation was creating He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power, but that is just a tiny fraction of this book’s fascinating content.
This volume serves as a document not only of Scheimer’s life and the rise and fall of Filmation Studios, but also the history of television. Lou and Andy provide a look behind the scenes at everything from contracts to licensing to voice acting – every aspect of producing television and selling it to networks is covered in varying degrees of detail. There’s enough here to satisfy anyone curious about the workings of the business, but it doesn’t bog down so much that you want to skip parts.
Lou Scheimer tells the story at a brisk pace in his enthusiastic, sometimes grandiose (but also at times self-deprecating)manner. When shows I wasn’t particularly interested in came up, there were always details that made the section worthwhile. And on top of that, Scheimer and Mangels jump around and pepper in enough anecdotes that the reader never really has the opportunity to zone out. Every show from Filmation’s grand and varied history is covered – their many collaborations with DC Comics, Fantastic Voyage, The Archie Comedy Hour, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and so many more. I had honestly forgotten just how many of the great shows of my youth had come from Scheimer’s production company beyond just He-Man and She-Ra.
I’ve had an absolute blast reading this. I’m reliving fond childhood memories and learning all kinds of interesting things about television and the people who worked in it. Plus, the book is massive. This isn’t just some coffee table book with a bunch of captioned pictures. Sure, there are plenty of pictures inside, but the written content is extensive. We’re talking 1963 to 1989 (the same as the original run of Doctor Who, which is a wild coincidence; OR IS IT!?! [it is]).
The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
by Tim Seeley & Steve Seeley
Buy this right now.
If you’re reading about Masters of the Universe Day, then you have some kind of interest He-Man in his many iterations. So just trust me and buy this thing before it’s gone.
This is the very best book I have ever owned. As a reading enthusiast, as a toy collector, and as a pop culture commentator, I say that this is the book I would take out of the burning house over all of the others.
I have never before seen such an exhaustive and thorough look at a toy line specifically and a franchise in general. Every question you might have about MOTU will be answered here. And it’s chock full of things I never even imagined we’d have the opportunity to see – unproduced toys and characters, concept art, and notes about the various toy lines. This is essentially the stuff that Matt Nietlich was using to plan Masters of the Universe Classics. It’s an amazing and unprecedented collection of information and art.
From the inception of the line and that famous first sketch of He-Man (looking exactly like Conan) to an explanation of animation cells for the cartoon to designs for the minicomics to concept art for the (hopefully) forthcoming motion picture. I cannot emphasize enough just how comprehensive this book is. It’s staggering. And beautiful.
Whether you’re new to Needless Things or a regular visitor, I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s look at Masters of the Universe. If you are new, please check out the NeedlessThings Podcast, especially our Masters of the Universe episodes. Add us to your feed and share us online.
And remember to check out all of our friends who are also celebrating today:
Until next time, we don’t say goodbye…