He-Man continues to pack a powerful punch 30 years later

2:28 PM, Jul 7, 2012   |    comments
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Thirty years after his debut, He-Man still has some pop-culture muscle.

The fantasy warrior with the huge biceps and the rest of the Masters of the Universe (MOTU) started out in the world of mini-comics and toys in 1982 before moving to cartoons and a 1987 movie starring Dolph Lundgren. But by the power of Grayskull - and the power of nostalgia - MOTU continues to hang around for the adults who grew up with it.

DC Comics recently launched a Masters of the Universe comics series as well as one purely digital. However, the toy company Mattel is the major factor helping to keep the franchise alive with the MOTU Classics collector's line of figures. New versions of vintage heroes and villains, as well as those of the Filmation 1980s cartoon series and the 2002 anniversary toys, will be on display at Comic-Con next week starting on Wednesday at the annual "Preview Night."

Plus, Mattel will give details on Club Eternia - a figure-of-the-month club that marks its fourth year in 2013, with sign-ups and renewals beginning July 13 - and have for sale a figure named Vykron, based on the original prototype He-Man figure from 1982 but with military, space and barbarian accessories.

For many fans, getting the likes of He-Man, his pals Man-At-Arms, Battle Cat and Teela, and bad guys such as Skeletor, Hordak, Tri-Klops and Mer-Man takes them back to a Cold War era with definitive good-vs.-evil stakes, says Scott Neitlich, Mattel's MOTU marketing manager.

In He-Man's case, that meant stopping Skeletor and his henchmen from wresting control of the mystical Castle Grayskull on the planet Eternia and harnessing its power to become the one true Master of the Universe.

MOTU just really captures that old-school spirit and fantasy aspect, Neitlich says. "There's such a wide cast, you could always find some character that relates to you personally and that you could feel a part of this world."

Plus, he adds, most who grew up with these toys in the '80s only had the figures parents or grandparents bought for their birthday or were able to get by scrounging up enough allowance. "Now that we're adults between 25 and 40, this is a chance to not only recapture our youth and our favorite characters, but to complete the line and buy the figures maybe we never got to own."

The toy designs have also come a long way in 30 years - the majority of the figures all looked like they just walked off the stage of a bodybuilding contest.

However, there is something simple and pure about those figures and in the naming of characters such as He-Man, Beast Man and Trap Jaw, says Ruben Martinez, a Mattel design manager who works closely with its MOTU figures. "Those really played up to the character and told you everything you needed to know about them."

The He-Man faithful have also helped carry the flame over the years, from starting fan websites such as He-Man.org to keeping him in the public consciousness. Actor and MOTU aficionado Seth Green often pokes loving fun at He-Man as well as G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Wars and others on his stop-motion animated series for Adult Swim, Robot Chicken.

One joke on the show - Skeletor going to an Eternian dentist named Mo-Larr - even turned into a special Mattel toy exclusive at Comic-Con two years ago.

"Masters of the Universe has always been a favorite of mine," Green says. "Super humans and spooky monsters in an epic battle of ancient magic and sheer will - what's not to love?"

When designing the newer toys, Martinez says the MOTU sculpting group, the Four Horseman, often veers more toward the vintage look and feel, and that's also the bread and butter for Mattel.

Four years into the Classics line, the company is still getting around to the oldest characters. Mekaneck, for example, was one of the earliest MOTU figures, and Mattel will have him for sale in October at the website MattyCollector.com. He and his extending robotic neck will be on hand at Comic-Con, as will Granamyr, a red dragon from the mini-comics and cartoon who is "exceedingly bigger" than the other MOTU figures, Neitlich says.

The one character most fans hound them to make? Ram-Man. He's proved troublesome for Martinez because, to make him right, his team would have to start from scratch in terms of tools to make him and couldn't borrow parts from other figures. "Whenever we deal with characters like that, it's always frustrating."

More often than not, though, Neitlich and others work to exceed fan expectations and fulfill promises, he says. Mattel ran a create-a-character contest in 1987, but the winner, Fearless Photog, was never made - the company rectified that in January of this year. (The winner of a new contest begun last year will be unveiled at Comic-Con next week.)

Also, Mattel is completing a mini-comic story line that was started way back in 1987 with a new Dark Horse Comics book that ships with the Dragon Blaster Skeletor toy in September.

Neitlich finds that adults still collecting MOTU, and the moms and dads introducing He-Man and pals to their children, have a primordial connection with the franchise and take to heart the famous phrase that turns Prince Adam into the mighty He-Man with the hoisting of his magical sword: "By the power of Grayskull ... I have the power!"

"I was a little scrawny kid from Connecticut," Neitlich says. "Being able to just instantly transform into this musclebound heroic warrior who could take on anything, it was aspirational.

"The best is still yet to come. It may be the 30th anniversary, but I can't wait for the 60th."

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