understand the proper context in popular culture of He-Man, one must first analyze the concepts, the history, and the methods behind it. Or I could just talk about
the cartoons and the toys.
"He-Man" is an important part of the cartoon pantheon, one-third of the 80s
cartoon Trinity along with "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers." When the show debuted
in 1983, Saturday morning television had abandoned us, the elementary and middle
school children of that time. Action cartoons did not exist. "Super Friends" didn't count -- Wonder Twins, remember. There were lots of cartoons
on every channel every Saturday morning, but they were either "Smurfs" or Smurfish
clones like "Rubik the Amazing Cube," or bizarre concoctions like the
"Laverne and Shirley" cartoon where they were in the Army and their sergeant
was a talking pig. All of them taught moral lessons through talking animals.
Even then we kids would get together and say "Remember when cartoons were cool?"
Those recollections were only primordial sense-memory, really. Cartoons HAD
to have been cooler than they were at the time. We just KNEW it. Maybe when
we were babies cartoons were cool. It was a very dark time, dark enough to make
you actually want to go outside.
Thank goodness for weekday afternoons. When "G.I. Joe" debuted with its first
5-part mini-series, everything changed. Suddenly there were action
cartoons everywhere, where heroes fought villains with guns and fists and things
blew up. (I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw a cartoon character
punch another cartoon character: Duke on "G.I. Joe," vs. a Cobra soldier). Best
of all, there were dozens and dozens of episodes, compared to 10 maximum per year on Saturday morning. And there were toys. The cartoons were
made to advertise the toys, to make us buy. So we did, happily and
often. It seemed only fair. They were providing cool cartoons for us. Surely
we could help them out a little.
"He-Man" had a pedigree of bad-assery. Action figures were made to tie
in with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Conan the Barbarian" movie, but when the producers
saw the R-rated flick, they discovered that there was absolutely nothing about
it that a 7-year-old ought to be looking at. They couldn't make a Tree
of Woe playset, or a Thulsa Doom that comes with Harlot-Eviscerating Action.
So they took the Conan figure prototypes, painted their hair blondd, and created
He-Man. Or so goes the legend.
The toys just looked awesome. The action figures were ripped and cut, with their
biceps and pecs and delts and other terms weight-lifters use, all explicitly
captured in plastic. They could rip Ken's head off, and make Barbie like it.
There were castles, and laser guns and spaceships, too. The box art kind of
looked like those novels and calendars in our big brothers'
rooms. He-Man rode a giant green tiger. I firmly believe this fact: There
is nothing cooler than a giant green tiger.
Many of us, I remember, were totally ready for the "He-Man" cartoon, because
we already were getting the cool toys. Too bad for us. He-Man was the strongest man in the universe, but he never smashed
buildings or thumped on goons. He had a sword and never cut anything or anybody.
Most stories featured a moral lesson being heavy-handedly slapped down on us.
The show had a great concept: a fantasy world with magic, monsters, and laser
guns. It had everything we could want. And a giant green tiger.
I was surprised to discover on the Internet Movie Database that some well-known to the sci-fi geek names wrote for the show. DC Fontana, who wrote a bunch of episodes of the original
"Star Trek" among many other things; J. Michael Straczynski, creator of "Babylon
5," Paul Dini of "Batman: The Animated Series," and Lawrence Ditillio, writer
for "Babylon 5." Of course, in the early 80s, JMS and Dini
had not yet done the things most fans know them for. That's right -- He-Man
was like training wheels for "Babylon 5" and "Batman."
I remember being very disappointed in the show. There must have been at least 100 unique figures and vehicles in the stores, but He-Man,
Man-at-Arms, Battle Cat, Teela, Skeletor, and Beastman were in every episode.
If a figure made it to the cartoon, it was never for more than an episode. They even had made-up villains, never mind the 5 dozen action
figure villains that sat rotting on the shelves at Wal-Mart.
In the other two shows, "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers," it was fun looking for characters you owned in crowd scenes. They'd all get
a line of dialogue. They even let that Transformer who turned into a giant microscope
talk. Meanwhile, that He-Man villain figure with the lobster claws sat unused
on your floor, or in your baby brother's mouth.
Let no one ever forget Orko, the bumbling sidekick. That was one wacky dude, with his red dress and pimp hat.
I have a brief, confessional tangent.
What follows is the truth. Avert your eyes if you must. Back in those days,
I was into the role-playing games. Dungeons and Dragons. That kind of thing. I am not ashamed. But I had nobody to play them with.
The other kids in the neighborhood were really into "He-Man." I got in my head
that I could create a He-Man role playing game.
My favorite part of role-playing games was reading about the setting and the
characters. The writers of those things had to do extensive research and planning
to get all the origins and weapons and powers and locations correct, to produce
an accurate simulation. I knew that I had to do the same thing with He-Man.
I would make the game completely accurate and exacting. I, of course, assumed
that the four kids around my block would totally appreciate how I'd captured
the feel of playing He-Man.
I could just see it: "I'm gonna spend 25 Grayskull Points, to add some column
shifts to my Power Sword."
"Sorry. Orko just rolled double 1's on his Spell Casting -- again. Your pants fall down."
I made an episode guide. I found it when I was at my parents' house the other
day. No, I don't live there anymore, thank you very much).
I even tried to map the planet they were on, Eternia. It would have been easier to explain the magic system on "Bewitched." The most backstory ever given was in the animated movie
"Secret of the Sword" that introduced She-Ra. She had a sword and a miniskirt. It was awesome.
To be fair, I'm sure the writers never assumed that Little Joe Crowe (or
anyone else) would ever try to make sense of the He-Man
universe. I gave up when I realized everyone would dislike the "He-Man"
fighting system, which consisted primarily of dodging or taking your foes' weapons
The best thing about the show, besides the aforementioned
"BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!" Nothing on television was ever so exciting as the 10
seconds each show when Prince Adam stuck that sword up and yelled.
It made you think something cool was about to happen. And sometimes it did. Like that one time with evil blue chick Evil-Lyn.
Oh yeah. Evil-Lyn. I need to lie down for a moment.