Welcome back to The Collector’s Corner. I was extremely busy last week helping my daughter sell Girl Scout cookies. It cut into my daily routine more than I had anticipated. But, I am back this week with an all new installment and today I am going to talk about another of my favorite toylines, Masters of the Universe, which was produced and sold by Mattel. You may have heard of it growing up, it featured some great characters, the most popular being He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. As before, I will talk a little about the history of the line, then the toys themselves.
When it comes to the creation of the Masters of the Universe (MOTU) line, there is some debate involved about who the original creator was. Roger Sweet was a lead preliminary designer at Mattel during a large part of the 1970′s and 1980′s, and when Mattel passed on a request by George Lucas to create Star Wars toys in 1976, Sweet was desperate to create the next big toyline. Sweet has claimed to be the inventor of He-Man and the MOTU line, but this has never been officially acknowledged by Mattel, and has been disputed by other contributors to the MOTU line over the years. Mattel had, up to the point of the MOTU line’s release, failed to produce a captivating toyline or even make a small dent in the retail toy world. Finally, with MOTU, they struck gold, so to speak.
The MOTU line was immensely popular when I was a kid. I consider it to be in the top 5 most popular toylines on the 1980′s. MOTU was a line like none we had seen before. Action figure lines of the past had ranged in sizes and features, for instance, the 12 inch G.I. Joe line of the 60′s and 70′s; the 8 inch Mego action figure line; the massively popular 3 3/4 inch Star Wars line; the Japanese imported Microman line that was called Micronauts in the US, also being 3 3/4 inches. MOTU brought a new scale and feature to our backyards and living rooms, each figure in the initial line stood at 5 1/2 inches tall and featured a twisting spring-loaded waist, enabling a figure to replicate a sword slash, shield block, or punch. That was incredible for me, as the only real figures I had ever owned at this point were Star Wars figures or Mego figures, and lacked any type of action feature built into the figure.
Since its inception back in 1981, MOTU has spawned 6 different toylines, 4 animated series, a live action movie (not that great, but Frank Langella as Skeletor was amazing), and multiple comic books. The MOTU line was set in a fantasy setting with bits of science-fiction thrown in to make it different. Heroes and villains were present and it allowed for hours of fun as my brother, our friends, and I would create our own battles or even recreate the ones we had seen on the cartoon.
The original line of figures each came packed with a miniature comic book. Each comic was usually an origin story of the character that it was packaged with. The origins of the figures differed vastly from the cartoon which debuted in 1983. The cartoon relaunch in 2002 basically started over from scratch yet again, and established its’ own continuity as well.
MOTU figures were pretty simple. As with other toylines, many parts were re-used and repainted to create new figures, which is a very useful cost cutting measure. Most all figures shared the same torso, arms, and legs, while each having their own head and accessories. This practice was nothing new, and the practice continues in many lines to this day. Some figures required completely different arms, legs, and torsos due to their extreme differences. Later releases in the MOTU line saw a wider array of new parts used to create new figures, which was made easier due to very strong line sales.
Let’s examine the first year of the MOTU line. Early figures hit the market in late 1981, while the rest of the fist wave hit the market in 1982.
First of all, if you are talking about MOTU, it only makes sense to talk about the most popular character, the main hero of the line, He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. He-Man came packaged with a battleaxe, a shield, a baldric, and one half of the Power Sword. He-Man had blonde hair, brown boots, brown shorts, an orange belt, and a couple of gauntlets, which were unpainted. He-Man was a direct descendant of King Grayskull, the legendary hero of Eternia. He-Man was the sworn protector of the planet Eternia and specifically Castle Grayskull, and like a lot of superheroes, he had a secret identity, that of Prince Adam, the son of Eternia’s king, Randor, and queen, Marlena. The only people on Eternia who knew Adam and He-Man were one in the same were Man-At-Arms; The Sorceress; Orko; and Cringer, Adam’s pet tiger, who also transformed into Battle Cat when Adam became He-Man. Adam became He-Man by extending his sword skyward and shouting “By The Power of Grayskull!” A bolt of lightning would then strike (similar to Billy Batson turning into Captain Marvel when he shouts “SHAZAM!”) and the transformation would be completed by He-Man declaring “I have the power!” When I was a kid, I often contemplated holding a sword skyward in a thunderstorm to see if I could become He-Man. Logic won out, thankfully. I could have ended up looking like this guy…
Man-At-Arms was He-Man’s most trusted ally. Man-At-Arms was a title, given to him by King Randor, as the Eternian weapons master and combat instructor to the royal family. His given name was Duncan, and he was also the royal palace chief inventor and mentor to Adam, guiding the young prince in the ways of combat and life. Duncan was one of the few people that knew Adam was really He-Man. Duncan was the adoptive father to Teela in both the 1983 cartoon and the 2002 version. The Man-At-Arms figure shared the exact body parts as He-Man, aside from his head, which featured a sculpted battle helmet. His entire body was molded in green to represent his bodysuit he wore under his armor. His accessories included an orange battle mace, orange chest armor, an orange shoulder and arm protector, and an orange shin guard.
The warrior goddess Teela was the adopted daughter of Man-At-Arms and best friend of Prince Adam. She was believed to be the daughter of The Sorceress, the protector of Castle Grayskull, and that one day Teela will become the next Sorceress of Grayskull. She is a fierce warrior and frequently busts Adams balls because he is lazy and has no clue that she is actually talking to He-Man. As the daughter of Duncan, she is an expert in hand to hand combat, and eventually is named captain of the royal guard. Her figure featured red hair, brown boots, a white leotard with golden accents, and a pair of molded gauntlets and arm bands each painted gold. Her accessories included a combination chest armor/headdress similar to a cobra, a small shield, and a snake-like staff.Stratos was the final hero to round out the first year of the MOTU line. Stratos was the King of the Bird People, and a powerful warrior capable of flight and superior eyesight, giving him a huge advantage as a spy and on the battlefield. His figure was molded a little differently, with the legs having no sculpted boots and his arms, legs, and torso having the appearance of fur. Stratos’ head was helmeted with goggles, revealing only the lower portion of his face and mouth. He was bearded and seemed to have a simian appearance. His entire body was molded in gray, with blue shorts and a red belt. His accessories included wings for each arm and a strap on rocket pack. Some versions featured blue wings and a red rocket pack, and some versions featured red wings with a blue rocket pack.
Battle Cat carries He-Man into battle, and fights alongside him as well. He is a massive and ferocious green tiger, equipped with an armored saddle and armored headgear, and deadly fangs and claws to boot. Battle Cat’s alter ego is Cringer, Prince Adam’s cowardly pet tiger. As mentioned before, he transforms when Adam becomes He-Man.
Power. Absolute power. Total control over all living things. Chaos. Destruction. Evil. Every toyline needs a great villain, and Skeletor is just that villain. Originally listed as The Lord of Destruction, Skeletor would never cease his quest to conquer Castle Grayskull, unlock the secrets kept within, and overthrow Eternia. He wished to become the master of the universe. Skeletor was originally introduced as a demon from another dimension, but over time it was hinted that he may have once been Keldor, the brother of King Randor. Skeletor was ruthless and ambitous, and only He-Man was powerful enough to stop him. His figure features the same torso as He-Man, his legs and arms are slightly retooled to feature clawed hands and feet. His body is molded in blue, with purple boots, black shorts, and his head features a purple cowl over his skulled face. His accessories include a purple power sword (which can be combined with He-Man’s half of his power sword), purple chest armor and waist piece, and a purple ram-head staff.
Skeletor of course needed henchmen to carry out his plans, and his chief henchmen was Beast Man. Beast Man was a savage warrior, however, he also had the ability to control almost every creature on Eternia, including the largest and fiercest. He-Man and his friends had their hands full as it were, suddenly they had this guy sending legions of monsters at them. Beast Man shared the same body as Stratos, the only difference being his head, of course, and his body was molded in orange. His accessories included a whip, red chest armor, and a pair of red spiked arm bands.
Rounding out the villains in the first wave was Mer-Man, the warlord of the ocean. Mer-Man, like Beast Man, had the ability to control creatures, but only cold blooded aquatic monsters, not sea mammals. Mer-Man was amphibious, but his strength, while great, was far greater in water than on land. He was believed to be not only the king of his species, but ruler of all things underwater (kind of like Aquaman, but nowhere near as cool). Mer-Man’s body shared the same mold as Skeletor, the differences being the head and the body molded in green. He featured orange shorts and an orange belt (hrmm, green and orange. Aquaman similarities again?), yellow chest armor and a yellow sword.
There was one final figure in the initial MOTU line, and he was a head-scratcher to say the least. Zodac, the evil cosmic enforcer, err, the cosmic enforcer, umm, just who was he anyway? Zodac had no appearances in the mini comics, not even the one that came packaged with him. He was in only 3 episodes of the cartoon, in which he was presented as a neutral all knowing cosmic entity. The issue here was that Zodac was out for over a year with no media appearances and was labeled as an evil character, then he is neutral in the cartoon, and it confused kids to say the least. His description on the packaging simply said ”Zodac attacks the Heroic Warriors with all the evil power at his command” and did not give any other information such as his powers, so, a lot of kids passed on Zodac. I had him, but I knew that he was a neutral being since he did appear later in a mini comic with the Point Dread playset. Later, Mattel dropped the “evil” tag on his packaging, adding even further confusion. His figure shares the arms and torso of He-Man but the legs of Skeletor. He had a helmeted head, gray boots, gray shorts, a white belt, a red gun, and red chest armor. He looked pretty cool, anyway.
There were also 2 vehicles in the initial wave, the Battle Ram and the Wind Raider. The Battle Ram was a large tank-like vehicle, which seated one figure. The front half separated and became a small air chariot called the Sky Sled, and the rear section fired missiles. Ahh, the days of spring loaded hard plastic pieces, where you could shoot each other in the eye and no one gave much of a shit. I miss those days.
The Wind Raider was a transport vehicle that could fly, and had a working winch that you could pull a figure out of a perilous situation by turning the hood mounted skull. It was green with yellow wings and a tailfin. Not a very exciting vehicle, honestly.
The MOTU line also had some cool playsets and vehicles, none being cooler than Castle Grayskull, which to this day, is highly popular in the secondary market. It was the first large playset in the line, and aside from looking bad-ass, it had several cool action features. The castle was molded in green with some black highlights, and everyone loved the giant skull on the front of the castle. The castle drawbridge, or jawbridge, had a lock which could be opened by inserting the power sword into the keyhole. The jawbridge itself featured raised teeth around the edges, creating the appearance of an open mouth at the castle entrance.
The castle folded up for easy storage and had a handle incorporated into the structure. When opened, the interior of the castle featured two floors. There was a working elevator platform, a trap door, a throne, a spinning battering ram, a weapons rack with various weapons, a laser cannon for the tower, and a flag. The Point Dread & Talon Fighter playset released in 1983 would also connect to Grayskull to enhance it’s defenses. The interior was pretty plain, with stickers representing details, like a grate-covered pit full of creatures next to the jawbridge beneath the trap door. By turning the throne, the trap door released, dropping figures to the bottom floor into the monster pit.
Castle Grayskull was essentially the main plot point in many of the cartoons. Skeletor (and later Hordak and King Hiss) assumed that by invading and conquering Grayskull, the secrets contained within would give him the power to become the master of the universe. The origins vary again of course, due to the numerous continuities over the years.
When I return to cover Masters of the Universe in future installments, I will cover more heroes and villains, more vehicles, and of course, Skeletor’s fortress, Snake Mountain! I hope you have enjoyed this week’s installment of The Collector’s Corner. Next week, I am going to cover a new line, but, I am leaving it up to you this time. Tell me what you want to hear about next! Leave a comment or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for stopping by!