|Masters of the Universe character|
Art by Alex Ross
|Created by||Roger Sweet, Mattel designer, commissioned by Ray Wagner|
|Nickname(s)||The Most Powerful Man in the Universe|
King Miro (grandfather)|
King Randor (father)
Queen Marlena (mother)
Princess Adora/She-Ra (twin sister)
He-Man is the principal character of a series of comic books and several animated television series, characterized by his superhuman strength. In most variations, he is the alter ego of Prince Adam. He-Man and his friends attempt to defend the realm of Eternia and the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.
In 1976, Mattel's CEO Ray Wagner declined a deal to produce a toyline of action figures based on the characters from the George Lucas film Star Wars, due to the $750,000 license required upfront. Following the commercial success of the film trilogy and its related merchandise during the next few years, Mattel launched several successful toylines which captured the public's imagination, or significantly influenced the toy market.
Toy designer Mark Taylor explained that the original design of He-Man in a series of sketches while working for Mattel was inspired by Cro-Magnon men and Vikings. Furthermore, his original design of Beast Man was rejected by Mattel for looking too much like Chewbacca.
In the race to design the next hit action figure, Roger Sweet (a lead designer working for Mattel's Preliminary Design Department during much of the 1970s and 1980s) realized that simplicity was the key to success. According to his 2005 book Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea, Sweet knew that if he gave marketing something it could sell, he had won 90 percent of the battle.
The only way I was going to have a chance to sell this [to Wagner] was to make three 3D models - big ones. I glued a Big Jim figure [from another Mattel toy line] into a battle action pose and I added a lot of clay to his body. I then had plaster casts made. These three prototypes, which I presented in late 1980, brought He-Man into existence.
During the 1980s, rumors claimed that Conan the Barbarian was a source of inspiration for the He-Man character. According to this rumor, Mattel had a licensing agreement to make the Conan action figures associated with the 1982 film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently, such an idea had to be modified in order to avoid objections from parents concerned that a toyline for children was promoting a film containing nudity and violence.
Sweet refuted the rumor, saying that he conceptualized and developed the He-Man/Masters of the Universe franchise in late 1980 (two years before the release of the Universal Pictures film). The toyline existed prior to the movie, beginning production in 1981 and marketing in 1982. At that time, Mattel did not have a license with Universal to make toys for the film, which resulted in Conan Properties International suing Mattel over copyright infringement, due to He-Man's similarities to Conan.
From the lawsuit of CPI vs. Mattel:
In 1980, CPI, through its agent, Conan Licensing Company ("CLC"), began negotiations with Mattel regarding the possible licensing to Mattel of certain toy rights in CONAN. During this time, Mattel received a substantial quantity of material on the CONAN character. On July 31, 1981, CPI and Mattel executed a License Agreement whereby Mattel was granted "the right to make and sell certain plastic action figures of CONAN and ancillary characters as depicted in the CONAN movie." Amended Complaint, para. 12. The Agreement provided, however, "that nothing in the License should be construed as an assignment or grant to Mattel of any right, title or interest in or to CONAN, and that all rights relating thereto were reserved by CPI (except only for the licensee to use the property as specifically agreed to)." Amended Complaint, para. 14. It was also agreed that, after the termination of the License Agreement, Mattel would not make or sell any CONAN toys.
In January 1982, Mattel requested that the License Agreement be terminated. On April 14, 1982, CPI and Mattel entered into a termination agreement which provided that "all materials created and or developed by Mattel for use in connection with products under the CONAN License" would be delivered to CPI's agent, CPC, which would have "the exclusive right to use such material." Amended Complaint, para. 17.
In February 1983, Mattel introduced "He-Man,"a fantasy character as part of its new "Masters of the Universe" toy line of action figures. Since that time, Mattel has also featured He-Man and the other Masters of the Universe characters in, inter alia, a television series, comic books, and video tapes. Thereafter, CPI commenced this action asserting that these figures are copies of CONAN, were created under the License, and are CPI's property. Amended Complaint, paras. 20, 21.
Originally, He-Man was presented to Mattel executives not as drawings and wax models, but in the form of the He-Man Trio: three three-dimensional prototype models depicting He-Man as a barbarian, a soldier and a spaceman. Out of the three concepts, the barbarian version was chosen to be the basis of the toyline. Considering that the Conan character was created almost 50 years before the development of the He-Man franchise, it is possible that the Masters of the Universe borrowed many aspects from Conan; however, it was not intended to be a toyline for the film after legal agreements were dissolved. Additionally, Roger Sweet has claimed also to have been "real impressed" by the paintings of fantasy artist Frank Frazetta when creating He-Man. Expanding further on the barbarian theme, Mattel hired comic-book writers and artists such as Donald F. Glut and even Earl Norem and Alfredo Alcala (who both were still working on Savage Sword of Conan comics since the mid-1970s) to create additional characters (and their back stories), posters, package inlays, box art and mini-comics for distribution with the action figures.
Of the three original He-Man Trio prototype models, the barbarian themed He-Man was black haired with a deeply tanned eastern European or Middle Eastern appearance. His helmet had no horns. Later, at the direction of Tom Kalinske, then in Mattel's upper management, He-Man was made more clean-cut and changed to a blond... Plus, He-Man's skin was lightened, though definitely still tanned.
Appearances in media
In the illustrated books released with the first series of toys, He-Man was a barbarian from an Eternian tribe. The planet's inhabitants were dealing with the aftermath of the Great Wars, which devastated the civilizations which once ruled supreme. The wars left behind advanced machinery and weaponry, known only to select people. An early incarnation of the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull gave He-Man some of these weapons, and he set out to defend the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the evil Skeletor.
He-Man possessed one-half of the Power Sword; Skeletor had the second half, and used it as his main weapon. When joined, the two halves of the Power Sword will provide the key to Castle Grayskull (this is why the two figures' swords could combine into one, when the action figures were initially released). In one early illustrated story, He-Man and Skeletor united their two Power Sword halves to form the true Power Sword, defeating a common enemy.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2012)
The series was followed by three more, lasting a total of just over two years and ending in June 2015.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)
By the time the animated series was developed, He-Man's origins had been revised: his true identity was Prince Adam of Eternia, son of King Randor and Queen Marlena (an earthling), who ruled the Kingdom of Eternia on the planet of the same name. The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull endowed Prince Adam with the power to transform into He-Man, which Adam did by raising his Power Sword and proclaiming, "By the power of Grayskull..." Once the transformation was complete, he continued "...I have the power!". He also is able to return to his former form by saying, "Let the power return." This is seen in episode 110, "The Problem With Power". The differences between Prince Adam and He-Man were minimal; He-Man had a slightly deeper voice, a different wardrobe (soldier armor and boots), and slightly darker skin and hair.
Prince Adam's pet was a cowardly green tiger named Cringer. When Adam became He-Man, he transformed Cringer into a brave armored green tiger named Battle Cat by pointing his sword at him – an ability Adam discovered accidentally the first time he turned into He-Man. Cringer, naturally, cowered in fear at seeing what Adam had become; while reassuring him that nothing had really changed, Adam pointed the sword of power at Cringer, which sent a bolt of energy toward the tiger and transformed him. Battle Cat served as He-Man's steed and fierce fighting companion ever since. Cringer's name is thought to have come from the cat's cowardly nature.
Adam was friendly with the beautiful, strong-willed Teela, who (unbeknownst to her) was the daughter of the Sorceress. Teela was adopted by Prince Adam's mentor, Man-At-Arms (whose proper name was Duncan). Adam and Teela grew up together and now, as Captain of the Guard, she was entrusted to protect the prince. Unaware of his alternate identity as He-Man, she saw Adam as lazy and cowardly.
Man-At-Arms was He-Man's closest companion and the Eternian royal family's innovator of technology and weapons. In many episodes, Man-At-Arms unveiled new and fantastic weapons or devices which helped He-Man and his friends. Castle Grayskull was the source of He-Man's powers. Inside the Castle lived the Sorceress, who granted Prince Adam his transformative abilities and communicated telepathically with He-Man. To protect his family He-Man kept his double identity a secret, sharing it only with Orko, Man-At-Arms, Cringer/Battle Cat and the Sorceress.
The spin-off cartoon series She-Ra: Princess of Power later revealed that Adam had a twin sister: Princess Adora, a leader in the Great Rebellion against Hordak on the planet Etheria. Adora, like Adam, was given the gift of the power of Grayskull and had her own sword which she used to transform into She-Ra, Princess of Power. He-Man made a number of appearances in the She-Ra: Princess of Power television series.
He-Man's archenemy was Skeletor, a blue-skinned sorcerer with a yellow skull for a head (concealed with a cowl). He was skilled in black magic and all forms of combat. He was also shown to be extremely cunning and intelligent. Though his origin was mysterious, and the cartoon described him only as a "demon from another dimension", a tie-in comic implied that Skeletor's true identity was Prince Keldor (older brother of King Randor), thus making him He-Man's uncle. It was revealed in the animated motion picture He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword that Skeletor was Hordak's right-hand man until his capture (Hordak referred to Skeletor as "my old pupil" and Skeletor's throne-room in Snake Mountain as "my old throne-room" – to which Skeletor retorts, "my throne-room now") and (supposed) release. Skeletor was accompanied by a group of henchmen who aided his evil schemes.
Masters of the Universe (1987 film)
In 1987 Cannon Films produced a live-action film directed by Gary Goddard, Masters of the Universe, which featured Dolph Lundgren in the role of He-Man; it was a commercial failure. In this film Prince Adam was not seen at all; only He-Man was shown. This He-Man was much more aggressive than his 1980s TV-series counterpart, attacking with lasers, his sword and bare fists several times throughout the film. The film ended with a spectacular and violent clash with Skeletor, in which Skeletor was flung deep beneath Castle Grayskull into a pit filled with steaming liquid. The film ended with a post-credit scene in which Skeletor emerged from the liquid and proclaimed, "I'll be back!".
The New Adventures of He-Man (1990)
After the end of the Masters of the Universe toy line Mattel attempted to revive interest in He-Man by producing a new toy line, entitled He-Man. The accompanying storyline in the mini-comics packaged with the figures explained that He-Man had left Eternia and pursued Skeletor into the depths of space, where Skeletor had set his sights on conquering the distant world of Primus (a planet with great technological resources). He-Man was shown to have relinquished the identity of Prince Adam altogether, basing himself on Primus where he led a team of defenders known as the Galactic Guardians. He-Man's appearance was retooled for the new toy line, with a space helmet and golden armor added to his attire to give him a more futuristic appearance; his sword was also redesigned.
In the insert comics issued early in the toy line's run, Prince Adam begins to transform – only to be grabbed by Skeletor, who was astonished to see that Prince Adam was casting some kind of strange spell (not realizing he was about to transform into He-Man). Still holding onto Adam, Skeletor was caught in a backwash of power as the comic proclaimed "Prince Adam is no more. Long Live He-Man!" Therefore, He-Man was responsible for the cybernetic breastplate on Skeletor's figurine.
A cartoon series was produced by Jetlag Productions to accompany the toy line, entitled The New Adventures of He-Man. Although generally following the story line from the mini-comics (with certain deviations, such as Skeletor's already having the cybernetic breastplate and never discovering that Prince Adam and He-Man were the same person), this series maintained the double identity of Prince Adam and He-Man. On the planet Primus, Prince Adam posed as a traveling merchant and the nephew of Master Sebrian to disguise his secret identity. His transformation oath was altered slightly, to become "By the power of Eternia...".
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002)
To tie in with a new line of action figures based upon the original toy line, a new He-Man cartoon series was produced in 2002-03 by Mike Young Productions again entitled He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. This series retold the Masters of the Universe story from the beginning. He-Man's origin was told in a 90-minute series premiere, in which the 16-year-old Prince Adam was summoned to Castle Grayskull by the Sorceress to assume the identity of He-Man and his role as Eternia's defender. The portrayal of his character in this series was consistent with Filmation's portrayal, although the character of Prince Adam was brasher and more youthfully energetic than his 1980s counterpart (conveying the image of a teenage boy saddled with the responsibility of defending a planet from evil). The Adam/He-Man character was redesigned, to make the character's secret identity more credible. The third-season episode "The Power of Grayskull" revealed Adam/He-Man as a descendant of King Grayskull (a powerful barbarian hero from Eternia's ancient past), who sacrificed his life to save Eternia from the Evil Horde and originally wielded the Sword of Power. He was the original owner of Castle Grayskull; his sword was concealed in the castle for centuries before being given to Prince Adam, who inherited his ancestor's own power channeled through the sword (thus giving added meaning to the phrase "By the power of Grayskull...").
Masters of the Universe Classics (2008)
This action-figure line combined elements from the He-Man universe into a cohesive storyline with biographies on the figures' packaging. These biographies suggested that several "He-Men" have come into existence – such as Vikor (based on an early concept design for the vintage He-Man), Oo-Larr (based on the jungle He-Man from the first minicomic), and Wun-Dar (based on the so-called "Wonder Bread" He-Man figure) – but Prince Adam was the only one who actually wielded the Power Sword and transformed into the true He-Man.
Actors playing He-Man
In the Filmation series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe as well as She-Ra: Princess of Power, He-Man and Prince Adam were voiced by John Erwin. Erwin alternated between two distinct deliveries, though in the show's intro he spoke with his He-Man voice as both characters. According to executive producer Lou Scheimer, Erwin did not think his own voice was heroic enough which is why a reverb was added to it in sound-editing. After retiring from professional voice-work, Erwin has not done official publicity appearances due to his shy nature.
In the 1987 live-action feature film, He-Man was played by Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren was forced to do all his own stunt-work due to not having a stunt double of equal build. He never transforms into Prince Adam but does deliver the franchise catchphrase "I have the power" late in the film. Cannon Films producers originally wanted to dub over his dialogue. After Lundgren redubbed his own lines multiple times, director Gary Goddard was able to retain his voice performance. At the time, Lundgren was dismissive of the part (in stark contrast to his co-star Frank Langella) but has since appeared in promotional material relating to the film.
In the 2002 series, both characters were voiced by Cam Clarke.
Mike O'Hearn was rumoured to portray as Prince Adam/He-Man in the upcoming live action movie after he posted on Instagram. However, he himself quashed the rumour saying he only wanted to do the part and was not officially cast for the live action movie.
Powers and abilities
He-Man was characterized as possessing super speed, indestructible skin, and superhuman strength. The extent of his strength was unknown, but on one occasion he was able to hoist Castle Grayskull and throw it through a dimensional doorway. He-Man also demonstrated his strength by lifting mountains and icebergs and hurling them towards a desired target. In the episode "She-Demon of Phantos", he was shown to be the only person to break Photanium (claimed by Man-At-Arms to be the strongest metal in the universe). In the comics, he was shown as able to go one-on-one with pre-Crisis Superman. On the original action figure's packaging and in the introductory sequence of the 1980s cartoon series, He-Man is claimed to be "the most powerful man in the universe". His strength was derived from magical powers within Castle Grayskull.
He can remain as He-Man for as long as he wants but if he takes too much damage or uses too much raw force, he will revert to his original form of Adam. In the 2002 series, He-Man is shown enduring the brunt of at least two large explosions, which he survives, but reverts to Adam in the process, suggesting that even He-Man has a limit as to how much abuse he can endure before his superhuman strength and stamina are exhausted. For He-Man to change back to Prince Adam he holds out his power sword, says "Let the power return!", and then He-Man and Battle Cat would change back in to Prince Adam and Cringer. In the 2002 series, He-Man was shown enduring the brunt of the Ram Stone of Zalasia (a gem whose mystic force could pierce any barrier or topple any obstruction). He survived, but reverted to Adam in the process. In combat against the snake-god Serpos, He-Man was struck by the giant snake's tail and sent crashing into a mountain. When he fell to the ground, he was again in Adam's form; this suggested there was a limit to He-Man's strength and stamina.
He-Man's prowess is not limited to strength; he is also depicted as being extremely quick and acrobatic. His speed has been demonstrated by running fast enough to escape massive explosions and by moving his arms fast enough to counteract the winds of a tornado. He-Man is also shown leaping great heights, usually flipping through the air several times before landing safely on his feet.
It is also suggested that He-Man possesses some form of telepathic powers as well. There were several instances in the original TV series where He-Man was able to communicate and sense the presence of the Sorceress by telepathy. It was also shown that he has the ability to communicate with his sister She-Ra across great distances.
He-Man as a character is largely non-violent, only resorting to combat as a last resort. He used his genius-level intellect more often, preferring to outsmart his adversaries; most violent actions typically consisted of body-throws. In accordance with broadcast standards of the period, in the Filmation cartoon, He-Man could not use his sword as an offensive weapon or punch or kick anyone. He was only allowed to destroy robotic enemies. The 1987 film and 2002 series, however, showed him fighting more aggressively. He-Man was depicted as a leader – most noticeably in the movie adaptation, where he is referred to as the "leader" of the resistance. Skeletor intended to force him into submission, rather than killing him – fearing that doing the latter would turn He-Man into a martyr who would inspire others to fight.
He-Man's primary weapon was his sword, but he also used other weapons (such as a laser-gun in the film and mini-comics, a battle axe, a shield, and other equipment - including vehicles) while battling his foes. His sword, apparently indestructible, could deflect bolts of energy. His sister Adora's Sword of Protection was not entirely indestructible; the stone in the hilt was once damaged, preventing her from transforming. In addition, the sword gave him the ability to transform from Prince Adam into He-Man (and back) by utilizing the powers of Castle Grayskull. He also uses his sword to transform Cringer into Battle Cat. In the earliest versions of the story (for example, the first four minicomics) He-Man's primary weapon was an axe, as the sword was intended as a plot device to gain entry to Castle Grayskull. The breastplate on his power harness was made of an Eternian mineral (corodite) which helped add to his physical strength. The origin of the power harness was explained in the episode "Evil-Lyn's Plot" (written by Paul Dini).
According to a book by Michael G. Cornelius, He-Man is considered a narrow definition of masculinity, citing He-Man's description as the literal "Strongest man in the universe" and his chief adversary Skeletor's primary weapon being his intellect.
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- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe at the Internet Movie Database (2002 series)