By Nick Saunders
I am sure you can recall the moment when you first fell in love. Maybe it was sharing a snack pack with that cute little girl at the lunch table in 1st grade, or possibly that seemingly eternal slow dance to Keith Sweat’s “Twisted” at your high school prom. It could have even been the star-crossed glance you shared with that special someone in line at the beer keg in college.
For me, it was the Christmas when I received my first He-Man figure. I distinctly recall the exultation I felt when I separated the plastic bubble from the cardboard backing and inhaled that oh-so-sweet aroma of cured plastic and paint. Now this was a freaking action figure; like none before, and none since. Many toys have come and gone since that fateful day, but this is unquestionably the moment my torrid affair with these plastic indulgences began.
He-Man has gone through a few interpretations over the last 32 years, some amazing, some terrible, and some ridiculously expensive. Here is a quick overview and my thoughts on each.
The original Masters of the Universe (MOTU) line was released by Mattel in 1981, and lasted until 1987. It was partially conceived as the result of an abandoned licensing agreement to create a toy line for the movie Conan the Barbarian. For some odd reason Mattel decided that a movie featuring graphic violence and sexuality wasn’t the most appropriate theme for children’s toys. Either that, or they were unable to design a figure that could accurately replicate James Earl Jones turning into an anthropomorphic snake, and threw in the towel.
Due to some loosened regulations related to television programming for children, MOTU was the first toy line to have its own accompanying cartoon series. This was probably the most significant contribution of the Reagan administration to American society, second only to its invention and proliferation of crack cocaine. The figures themselves were innovative in both concept and design, with action features of increasing complexity, and characterization unheard of by prior toy properties due to the synergistic effect of the accompanying cartoon. They also came with mini-comics, which had no continuity relation to the cartoon show but were great for a laugh.
Unlike most of the toys I owned as a child, I still have quite a few original MOTU in my possession. Most are missing weapons and have wear and tear, but I still don’t ever see myself parting with them. They are worth far more to me than the pittance I would get from selling them.
I would be remiss to not include a summary of the spin-off series She-Ra: Princess of Power. It was wack; consider it summarized.
Two years after Mattel cancelled the original MOTU line, they released a follow-up line called simply He-Man. Mattel conceived this as a futuristic continuation of the original series, upping the ante by making this conflict an epic intergalactic space opera rivaling that of Star Wars. I’m kidding about the latter comparison; it was awful. He-Man and Skeletor devolved into anemic milquetoast shells of their former selves, who surrounded themselves with a motley stable of generic nobodies as a supporting cast. The toys were horribly designed and featured atrocious build quality- my brother’s “He-Man” broke the first day he had it. If you are unfamiliar with this abysmal series consider yourself fortunate, as I can sum it up with one statement- He-Man had a ponytail. BOOM.
Fast-forward to the year 2000. Shortly after I recovered from 3 months of cave dwelling due to my fears of a Y2K catastrophe, Mattel released the MOTU Commemorative Series. Many of the original figures were re-issued in limited release, which was an amazing way to recapture those long-lost treasures of childhood. I myself scored a Clawful and Stratos from this series, and regret not purchasing more when I had the chance.
Based on the interest and success of the Commemorative Series, from 2002-2004 Mattel produced an all-new MOTU series sculpted by the Four Horsemen (master sculptors who had defected from McFarlane Toys). These toys (typically referred to as MOTU Modern, MOTU 2002, or MOTU 200X) were dramatically stylized updates of their 1980’s predecessors, and once again had an accompanying television series to support it.
Although carried by all major retailers, the distribution tended to be inconsistent which resulted in poor sales and many ridiculously hard to find figures. I am pretty sure I ended up dropping $30 on eBay for Roboto because I was so sick of searching for him in stores.
Regardless of some of the frustration I encountered, I have a special love for this line and still have the entire collection I acquired. On a recent outing I happened to luck out and obtain the Holy Grail of my MOTU collection, the super-rare Toyfare Exclusive Faker. I nabbed this handsome SOB for an unbelievable $30 MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) at Pop Culture Paradise, as opposed to the $100 average it sells for on eBay.
After another 4 year hiatus, Mattel released the currently ongoing MOTU toy line, called MOTU Classics, which are sold exclusively online through their website. These figures, also sculpted by the Four Horsemen, feature more extensive articulation (think DC Universe Classics), and simplified sculpts more evocative of the aesthetic of their 1980’s precursors. I personally do not collect this line, primarily due to the fact that I find it exorbitantly expensive. A single figure costs around $25-30 if bought directly from Mattel, and upwards of $50 from a secondary retailer (I’m looking at you, BigBadToyStore). I gots a kid to feed now people, so my days of buying $30 He-Man figures are long gone, besides the above-mentioned once-in-a-lifetime Faker acquisition of course. Additionally, and this is a highly contested issue amongst the MOTU fandom, I personally prefer the look of the MOTU 200X figures, and don’t think the lines blend well together on a shelf.
All criticism and bemoaning aside, I am very excited to see MOTU still alive and kicking, and hope that Mattel someday produces another mass release line that those of us who aren’t trust fund babies can still afford to collect.