He-man poses mightily in a promotional illustration.


Original medium: Toys/animation
Produced by: Mattel/Filmation
First Appeared: 1982
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Starting with Magilla Gorilla in 1964, it became increasingly difficult to tell a TV cartoon from a toy line, a situation that eased up only when the Federal Communications Commission started taking a very …

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… dim view toward it. Toys and toons would debut close together, and cross-promote each other almost to the point of merging. Care Bears, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite … Tho it was of an entirely different genre, He-Man & the Masters of the Universe had a great deal in common with those.

Mattel launched the toy line in 1982 with a dozen separately-sold items, including He-Man himself, his arch-enemy Skeletor, his main squeeze Teela, and the Castle Greyskull playset for them to cavort around in. The setting was the extra-dimensional world of Eternia, a sort of medieval/barbarian amalgam, with weird creatures and a few high-tech or magical weapons and vehicles. Mattel added another dozen toys in '83, and kept adding more until 1988, when the line ran out of steam. It was relaunched in '89 with a more streamlined look, but this time it failed to catch on.

Almost immediately, there was a comic book version — mini-comics Mattel used to promote the line. These served mainly to show the various characters and objects in action, suggesting how kids with the toys might play with them. The first 11 were produced by DC Comics. After that, dozens more were produced in-house by Mattel, under the supervision of writer/editor Lee Nordling, who until the newspaper strip folded in 2003, supervised the Rugrats comics.

While DC was doing them, they crossed over into the company's newsstand comics line. In DC Comics Presents #47 (July, 1982), Superman was accidentally transported to Eternia, where he helped He-Man defeat Skeletor. Four issues later, the same title sported a special preview insert of Masters of the Universe (a promotional technique that had earlier been used for The New Teen Titans and Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew); and a three-issue Masters of the Universe mini-series began with a December, 1982 cover date. That was DC's last use of the characters. All were written by Paul Kupperberg (who has scripted dozens of DC characters over the years); and most were drawn by George Tuska (Buck Rogers, Crimebuster).

Meanwhile, Filmation (Fat Albert, Ghostbusters) had been producing animated promotions for the toy line. These promotions quickly expanded into a half-hour series, with 65 episodes, which debuted in syndication in September, 1983. The voice of He-Man (as well as Prince Adam, his wimpy alter ego) was done by John Erwin, whose other credits include Reggie Mantle, Archie's arch-rival. Skeletor was by Alan Oppenheimer (Merlin in The Legend of Prince Valiant, various voices in Phantom 2040) and Teela by Linda Gary (supporting roles in Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin and more). Melendy Britt (supporting roles in animated versions of Batman and Flash Gordon) voiced Princess Adora/She-Ra, who was later spun off into her own show and toy line.

The series was as well received as the toy line, and an additional 65 episodes were made. Filmation also did a Christmas special in 1985, and released feature-length versions in 1985 (The Secret of the Sword) and 1986 (Skeletor's Revenge). But Filmation had no hand in the live-action feature-length movie released in 1987, with Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella and Chelsea Field as He-Man, Skeletor and Teela, respectively.

In 1986, Marvel Comics licensed the property for its young readers' imprint, Star Comics. This series ran 13 issues, from May, 1986 through May, 1988. The "Star Comics" logo was dropped with #7, and the title was incorporated into the mainstream Marvel line.

For the TV tie-in to the 1989 relaunch of the toy line, Mattel switched animation producers. DiC Enterprises (Heathcliff, Kissyfur) put together 65 episodes of The New Adventures of He-Man, with Garry Chalk (Santa Claus in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys, Dum Dum in the live-action Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as He-Man and Campbell Lane (Alpha Prime in Robocop, narrator in Gundam Wing) as Skeletor. Like the toy relaunch, this version fizzled.

The He-Man franchise wasn't very active during the 1990s, but Mattel made another relaunch in 2002, with a whole line of brand-new toys. Mike Young Productions (Butt-Ugly Martians, Clifford the Big Red Dog) produced the TV version this time, with Cam Clarke (several voices in Eek! the Cat and various Disney TV productions) as He-Man and Scott McNeil (Harlock in Galaxy Express 999, Hack in Reboot) as Skeletor.

It's too soon to tell whether this will go over like the 1982 launch, the 1989 relaunch, or somewhere in between.


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Text ©2003-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Mattel.