If there was ever a decade where companies learnt there was money to be made from kids then the 1980’s is surely it. This surely was the beginning of the merchandising age, where any toy, cartoon series, film, comic could reasonably expect to be refactored from one form of media to all of the others, with a motley array of lunchboxes, quilt covers, clothing and just about anything else you can think of thrown in for good measure.
One such example is the He-Man range of toys. The toy range was originally conceived as a tie-in range of toys for the Conan the Barbarian film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Given this films propensity for violence and “more adult themes” it was deemed that such a toy range was doomed to failure (no real surprise there – who ever thought it was a good idea in the first place?). The designs were therefore tweaked and in 1981 Mattel unleashed He-Man on the world.
In his original muscular form, our blonde haired hero wore little more than a pair of furry underpants and a harness intended for keeping his Power Sword and Battle Axe on his back. He also carried a shield. By far the most interesting feature of this He-Man was his power punch. The body of the toy twisted at the waist and was sprung loaded, so you could wind him up and make him punch other toys with surprising force. That is until the elastic inside him began to loosen up!
In 1982 the figure was rereleased along with his giant tiger steed Battle Cat. He-Man could sit on the back of Battle Cat, who for some reason was bright green in colour. The following year he was joined by companions Teela and Ram-Man in action figure form. It wasn’t until 1984 that the range took off properly, with the introduction of many new characters created for the cartoon series, which started in 1983. Most importantly of these was undoubtedly Skeletor, He-Man’s arch enemy. Let’s face it, what use is a hero without some kind of evil villain to go up against.
On the side of good He-Man was joined by Teela’s father Man-at-Arms, his alter ego Prince Adam and Cringer his pet cat, and Orko, a strange little magician who was little more than a floating hat and tunic, there more for comic relief than anything else. Who can forget the transformation process from the cartoon, which was explained at length in the title sequence, with Adam explaining how magical powers became his when he held aloft his magic sword and said “By the power of Greyskull“. I always wondered if this was something he discovered by accident…
The bad guys were a lot more fun though, with characters such as Beast Man, Evil-Lyn, Tri-Klops and the fishy Mer-Man. Apart from Evil-Lyn most of Skeletors troop of ne’er-do-wells were generally pretty inept at the best of times. Evil-Lyn usually fared somewhat better, being of an obviously higher intelligence level than her companions, but of course He-Man and company would always end up being triumphant.
He-Man was more than just a jumped up Barbarian. Indeed he was referred to as “The Most Powerful Man in the Universe”. This meant he was not only super strong, but super fast, super athletic and just about super-anything else. In the cartoon series some of his powers included being able to blow as hard as a hurricane, turn sand into glass by rubbing it in his hands very quickly, and most ridiculously, shattering a falling moon to pieces using his bare fists.