From the start, Masters of the Universe drew comparisons to Robert E. Howard’s violent medieval epic Conan the Barbarian. Adapting that for children is supposedly not what Mattel set out to do, but the toy line was similar enough to fuel a lawsuit from Conan’s rights holders — a battle the House of He-Man would eventually win.
Children of the 1980s understand how exciting it was to buy a He-Man action figure. The packages came with 5-1/2-inch tall musclebound heroes, cool accessories, and detailed mini-comics containing a complete He-Man adventure. In those early days, the stories were one-dimensional and small on characterization.
However, Mattel continued tweaking the back stories, and by the time Masters of the Universe landed on television screens a few years later, a generation of schoolchildren were enthralled by this mystical new world filled with colorful characters and dripping with imagination.
Now step with us through the dimensional portal and enter a world that will feel simultaneously familiar and foreign as Screen Rant presents the 11 Things You Need To Know About The Masters Of The Universe.
11 France hates Skeletor
FCC Standards throughout the 1980s concerning what could and couldn’t be shown on television were a little out there. One unintentionally hilarious viewing of Scarface on regular cable during that time would confirm as much. (“Forget me? No, forget you!”) As nitpicky as it may have seemed, however, America never went so far as to ban Skeletor from the airwaves.
Some reports indicate that is exactly what happened with “Bonehead” in France. While it is not verifiable that France did indeed ban or put heavy restrictions on Skeletor, the rumor is a well-known one among hardcore Masters of the Universe fans, and it highlights the proverbial eggshells that Mattel was walking on at the time. No series before He-Man ever created a cartoon with the express purpose of marketing directly to children. G.I. Joe would follow suit in 1985 after the Masters of the Universe experiment worked (and more would follow suit).
At the time, however, scrutiny was so high on the content of the series that if one observes closely, they will notice that He-Man is never allowed to punch another living thing (though he did smash a few robots). Considering how crazy censorship standards were at the time, it would not be shocking to find out that the Skeletor rumor is true. What would be puzzling is how one could pull it off while still televising the series, considering Skeletor was a major villain for most of the 130 episodes.
10 Teela, Evil-Lyn, and the Sorceress died in 1995
The talented voice actress Linda Gary — sometimes incorrectly credited by a presumably dyslexic casting person as Linda Gray — lent her versatile voice to three female characters that made many little boys’ hearts swoon during the original series run. Those characters were Teela, Evil-Lyn, and the Sorceress.
Gary also pitched in on voice work most of the time for Queen Marlena, mother to Prince Adam and his sister Princess Adora (see She-Ra, Princess of Power). She was so committed to her roles that it was seldom noticeable that any of these characters — who often appeared in the same episodes — were voiced by the same person. Most of the time, Gary could be found doing voice work for cartoons and video games. Her highest profile film appearance was in the notorious thriller Cruising, starring Al Pacino.
Unfortunately, Gary’s life was cut short at the age of 50. She was diagnosed with brain cancer and died just one month shy of her 51st birthday.
9 Masters of the Universe only ran two seasons in its original form
Most passing MOTU fans, who were children when the first episodes came out, are shocked to learn the series ran for only two seasons. If it seems like there was more than that, it’s probably because Masters was a daily syndicated series, so one “season” was the equivalent of three for a typical half-hour weekly (65 episodes, as opposed to 22).
Even though series producers reused a lot of footage to help fill out the in-betweens on some episodes, that’s still an impressive feat for an animated series. After all, this wasn’t like old episodes of Dark Shadows, where if a boom mic accidentally enters the frame or an actor forgets their lines, you just run with it and move on.
Masters of the Universe episodes had to be produced ahead of time, so writers, artists, and editors, had to move quickly to meet the demands of a cogent-heavy show.
8 MOTU is Satanic propaganda, say some lunatics
One does not have to look far across the web to find detailed theories of how Masters of the Universe was basically a Satanic recruitment video series. It is hard to explain for brains that aren’t so wired, but some conspiracy theorists believe that both He-Man and Skeletor were symbols of the Devil, fighting against one another while fighting for their Dark Master. One site points to the cross symbol on He-Man’s armor and points out similar-looking symbols on the Pope and Hitler as some type of “proof” that Filmation was subliminally brainwashing the Jesus out of children.
Such theses are never short on details, but are often bereft of common sense. However, the sites that continue to report on these are only better thought-out and presented forms of what many who grew up with He-Man and organized religion remember from their youth.
While the vast majority of people — religious or otherwise — looked at Masters of the Universe and saw a simple kids’ adventure series, a few overly religious parents stigmatized it like porn.
7 Skeletor and Ming the Merciless are the exact same character
Most voice actors who worked on Masters of the Universe, had to do multiple voices. No one knows that better than Alan Oppenheimer, who performed dozens of characters and often multiple ones per episode. He is best known for breathing life — and the world’s most comically evil laugh — into Skeletor.
“Skelly” truly is one of the best-voiced characters in cartoon history. ’Tis a shame viewers did not get to enjoy more episodes. But wait, they do! In 1979’s Flash Gordon animated series (later retitled The New Adventures of Flash Gordon), Oppenheimer does two 16-episode seasons as Ming the Merciless, and other than the appearance of the two characters, there is no difference. Ming and Skeletor share the same laugh, the same penchant for bad jokes, the same high-pitched nasally twang. Want more Skeletor? Seek out Ming. You’re welcome!
6 Some of your favorite toys only appeared once on the series
New He-Man characters in action figure form were like gold to young collectors, and it didn’t matter if a character had never been seen before. In fact, that often added to the excitement. A strange offshoot of that excitement was that many characters ended up feeling more prevalent than they actually were.
Man-E-Faces — a favorite of ours — appeared twice in 130 episodes and made a background appearance in the He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special. Fisto never appeared until season 2, and then he was only featured prominently in two of the 65 episodes. On two additional occasions, he is basically a background decoration. His arch-nemesis — the gold-handed and dangerously-close-to-being-a-racist-stereotype Jitsu — showed up in only one episode. Poor Clamp Champ and Stinkor never appeared once. And the above examples are hardly exhaustive.
5 Superman gave He-Man his first big break
In 2013, the DC Universe went to battle with the Masters of the Universe — a fresh and unique team-up idea until one realizes that it was Superman who gave He-Man his first big break way back in 1982. The title — DC Comics Presents — pitted a Man of Steel controlled against his will by Skeletor against a fierce-looking He-Man.
What is even more interesting about this appearance is the genuine fear Supes has for his well-being. This is a guy who can stop a locomotive dead in its tracks, but he’s worried about his own mortality in the face of He-Man. A fresh young character couldn’t get a bigger boost than that, nor could a villain have better bragging rights than to say they turned Superman into their very own personal battering ram.
Predictably, the fight doesn’t have a clear winner, and Skeletor ends up the big loser.
4 You can finally get all of the He-Man mini comics
The He-Man mini comics were a unique way to familiarize young customers with a new product line and get them excited about the adventures ahead. The stories are also pretty barebone, which is especially noticeable when one considers how malleable the storylines and characters would become as the toy figures moved closer to their own cartoon.
Going back to revisit those mini comics is an education in itself, but it will take you a long time to consume everything that was produced. Dark Horse finally completed some of the legwork in November 2015 when they collected every single mini comic — both U.S. and U.K. published — into one 1,232-page volume. Early stories are more cartoon drawings with prose text, but by the fourth and fifth issue, they start taking the form of a traditional comic book, and Mattel started relying on serious comic book writers like Donald F. Glut to enrich the universe.
3 The New Adventures of He-Man is part of the original continuity
Mattel and Jetlag Productions teamed up for a revival of Masters of the Universe called The New Adventures of He-Man after the original series and its popular spinoff She-Ra: Princess of Power faded into the void. On the surface, this new series seemed like a different creature altogether. The only returning characters were He-Man and Skeletor. Eternia was a distant memory.
But digging further into the story, it becomes clear Mattel had no intention of abandoning the old continuity. Everything in Masters of the Universe still applies. Except now, instead of having a Conan-type character in a magical realm reminiscent of medieval times, you have He-Man as defender of the universe — a full-on space opera. The tonal shift results in a completely new and unrelated series bound by the common links of He-Man and Skeletor.
But even they aren’t the same. He-Man has a different look as does his arch-nemesis, and the voice actors don’t try to sound anything like the former cast. Keep in mind as you are watching this that it ran for 65 episodes, while a show like Firefly ran 12. Let that sink in a bit.
2 A 40th episode of the 2002 reboot does exist — sort of
One of Mattel’s biggest missed opportunities is the way the company gave up so easily on the 2002 reboot. The series had stellar writing, worthy voice work, and superior animation. Unfortunately, it ran a mere 39 episodes in spite of being a slicker and more competent production than any of its predecessors. However, a 40th episode does exist, and many He-Man fans may have “missed” it.
That’s because it never made it into animation. When the DVD set was released, however, Mill Creek Entertainment slapped together some of the drawings and had it finished out as a full-length comic book available as a PDF as part of the set. The package also features all 40 shooting scripts.
What is perhaps the most disappointing about the plug getting pulled so early, is how Mike Young Productions, the company behind it, had planned to incorporate more minor characters and diversity in the ensuing episodes. In fact, Clamp Champ, the lone black character in the entire toy line, was slated for a recurring role as one of the main Masters of the Universe characters, taking the place of Man-At-Arms, who was to be enslaved by the Snake People.
It would have made for a compelling storyline, and would have also righted the ship, so to speak, with He-Man’s less-than-stellar track record of playing into stereotypes.
1 Yes, there are live-action versions of both He-Man and his sister She-Ra
Not much has been said about She-Ra to this point, but the character was just as popular as He-Man for a short time. She also enjoyed her own series of two seasons and 93 episodes. She-Ra closed the doors on her series in December 1987, just as her brother, Prince Adam, was presumably drinking himself into oblivion over the horrible live-action rendition of his adventures from Cannon Films.
The 1987 film kept little of what fans liked about Masters of the Universe — OK, Skeletor was kinda cool — instead opting for a Hollywood script by someone who had apparently never watched an episode. What’s worse, it almost got a sequel, which would have been painful, considering Dolph Lundgren wanted no part of it. Had they been able to secure financing, Laird John Hamilton — yes, the surfer guy — would have stepped into the role. Like the first, earth was the proposed setting, and Skeletor would have been the evil CEO of a major corporation. Let’s hope McG does better on the in-development reboot!
As for live-action She-Ra, her one appearance was in a series of Funny or Die videos, played by the always-lovely Kylie Minogue and, as one would expect from the Donald Drumpf: Art of the Deal crew, it’s played entirely for laughs.
There it is — your master’s degree on Masters of the Universe. Now it’s your turn to educate us. What are some cool facts and tidbits you would consider “need to know” about MOTU, and who would you cast in the upcoming reboot film? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.