The characters have their same personalities, and the
story --- an origin story of He-Man --- is in continuity with the
original series as far as I can remember.
The voices are even
recognisable, except for Prince Adam's, and I suspect he has a high
pitched voice because this series is set when he was sixteen years old,
being an origin story. King Randor and Skeletor were voiced almost identically to the eighties series, with Skeletor's voice acting having a bit of Tim Curry's Dr. Frank N. Furter added to it, which is so right. Evil-Lyn has been given a major power boost, and appears here as Skeletor's most dangerous ally and rival.
I was moving some old files onto a new machine, and I found this old,
old review, which was originally written on the C=64 and published.
Perhaps people now don't understand how badly children's fantasy/action
series sucked in the late Seventies. There was a renaissance in the
genre led by such series as Thundarr the Barbarian, He-Man,
Thundercats, and GI Joe. These series stuck in several peoples'
memories, it seems. Now they're nostalgia topics, and several of them
have been resurrected in various forms. Since I know several of these
series have major fans among the readers of the list, I thought I'd
Now, fortunately, things are very difference. The controversies over enforced pacifism in children's programming are now mostly behind us. It is difficult to imagine that in the current political environment, claims that children's entertainments were being used to market toys would have much of a chance of a hearing.
"He-Man and the Masters of the Universe"
Originally appearing in Dreamshore magazine, No. 15 (August, 1984)
Once again we shall consider the role of fantasy in children's
television, in the context of a review of the programme He Man and the
Masters of the Universe. In so considering, it is appropriate to begin
at the logical beginning, and so I shall: with a discussion of Cato the
Now, there may be some stockfish among the readers who failed to
immediately grasp the relevance and logical importance of Cato to the
issues at hand; indeed, there may in fact be some second-form tyro who
is unaware of who Cato was and what he did. I counsel these: read on!
I told you I would discuss him, didn't I? All shall be set plain.
If I were writing the dramatis personæ of a bad play, I might be tempted
to cast Marcus Portius Priscus Cato as a "lovable old curmudgeon." In
fact, he was the Jerry Falwell of his era. He was always hot for war
with the Carthaginians, who from the Roman perspective were like the
Russians and the Nazis rolled into one. The Carthaginians were the ones
who sacrificed babies to Moloch -- this, at least, was one of the
moral, uplifting tales I learned in Sunday School. If the
Carthaginians had won the Punic Wars, we'd all be speaking Aramaic. Yecch.
Cato fought the Carthaginians and Hannibal in the Second Punic War,
serving under Scipio Africanus. This wasn't enough for him. After all,
Carthage was still out there. As a Roman Senator, he ended each of
his speeches -- regardless of whether they were anti-abortion on demand
or pro-CIA -- with the words "Remember, Carthage must be destroyed!" He
lived just long enough to see this objective accomplished in the Third
Cato was also against the infiltration of Rome by "Greek culture." To
most Romans, Greek culture meant Plato and the Iliad; but to Cato, the
phrase meant about the same thing as it means in certain modern
pornographic literature. Of course, he'd be against it.
This portrait of Cato, however, is very one-sided; hee had another side
that was very different. When not completely absorbed by the threat of
Carthage, he would retire to his Tuscan farms and estates. This was
where the man's heart was at.
He wrote several works on agriculture. These works describe a world
that might have been designed by Monique Cagle. He loved to dote upon
the Ægipans and Fauns that haunted his woods and fields. He was a past
master at magick. His works preserve the spells used in rural Latium
to placate Unfriendly Ghosts, and the chants in honour of the Spirits
of the Vineyards.
This is another reason why he was hostile to Plato and Aristotle. He
felt that their emphasis on "philosophy" and "logic" was undermining
the Romans' ability to see and feel all of these magical things, and
leading them to dismiss them as "myths" or "fairy tales." He was right.
I told you he would fit in somewhere.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a cartoon that is set in a
swords-and-sorcery planet called Eternia. Eternia is ruled by King
Randor; his son is Prince Adam, the chief character of the stories.
Prince Adam is a cowardly blond muscleman dressed in a Cote d'Azur
chemise. However, he possesses a magic sword, and when he holds it
aloft and says the magic words "By the Power of Grayskull," he is
transformed in the-Man, the Most Powerful Man in the Universe. He-Man
is a brave blond muscleman in a skimpy, ineffectual looking baldric.
Prince Adam's pet is a cowardly cat named Cringer; but when Prince Adam
changes to He-Man, Cringer becomes a giant green tiger named Battle-Cat,
who has a saddle He-Man can ride in, and a more useful looking suit of
The Power of Grayskull mentioned above has its seat in the aptly named
Castle Grayskull, the entrance to which is indeed a big grey skull. A
Sorceress resides therein; she is part bird and part woman, and
possesses the talent of changing herself into a falcon. She also
communicates telepathically with He-Man, and apparently was the person
responsible for showing Prince Adam the knack of changing into He-Man.
He-Man has other allies, many of whom are in the King's service. There
is Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard, who often assists He-Man in his
battles. Her father is known simply by his title Man-At-Arms; he
invents weapons and other useful devices for the King. He-Man's
friends also include Orko, an inept magician from another dimension.
Orko can levitate; that's how he gets around. When Orko is just
showing off around the palace, all of his magic usually goes awry; but
when push comes to shove, he can usually pull through. There is also
Ram Man, whose head is useful for knocking things down, and Stratos,
He-Man's chief adversary is Skeletor. Skeletor is a blue muscleman
with a skull for a head, wearing a cowl. How Skeletor is able to see is
not explained. He lives in Snake Mountain. Snake Mountain is a classy
place, much classier than the royal palace or Castle Grayskull. It's
made completely of polished black basalt, and it has a giant stone
snake coiled around it. I wouldn't mind living there myself.
Skeletor's allies include Beast-Man, who's hairy all over and can
control the animals; Evil-Lyn, a witch with the usual complement of
malevolent powers, who wears a black swimsuit and bathing cap; Mer-Man,
Beast-Man's cousin from Innsmouth, half human and half fish, who
controls the sea; and Trap-Jaw, who holds the same office in Skeletor's
clique as Man-at-Arms holds in the King's.
The leitmotif of the episodes is Skeletor's repeated attempts and
repeated failures to gain admission into Castle Grayskull. Apparently,
were he to succeed, he would be able to wrest the power of Grayskull
from He-Man, and conquer Eternia. He-Man, not surprisingly, resists
The stories are often surprisingly good. He-Man is permitted a somewhat
larger scope of action than Action for Children's Television (ACT) is
comfortable with; not surprisingly, the show has been denounced for
"violence." He-Man is allowed to hit people (what's a muscleman for?);
and occasionally he will grab Skeletor by the cowl and throw him over
the horizon. Skeletor, for his part, is allowed to give He-Man a run
for his money sometimes. He has made He-Man weak by stealing all the
oxygen in Eternia. He has made Castle Grayskull disappear. He has
gotten hold of a "power element" that made him as strong as He-Man.
This makes the cartoons refreshingly superior to such ACT-diluted
programmes as The Superfriends, wherein the superheroes have such
overwhelming powers in comparison to their adversaries as to make their
mere appearance enough to stop the action.
Alas! All of these strong points are overshadowed by a fatal flaw. Each
show must contain a sermon. Often, the point of the sermon is made
painfully obvious in the plot; but in case any of the viewers didn't get
the message, He-Man or one of his allies will appear at the end of the
programmes to deliver a thirty second lecture on the Moral Principle
illustrated by today's episode. There is a remedy, however. You can
turn the set off or change the channel.
Didacticism is a symptom of a dying culture. When Cato was born, no
one doted self-consciously on the "traditions" and "moral values" of
Roman citizenship. They didn't need to. They just lived them, without
being told what they were doing. Cato, however, was born into a
changing world. Romans were being tempted by Greek "philosophy" and
"reason" to dismiss their legends as fanciful nonsense; and with them,
the values these legends implicitly expressed began to fade. Soon,
their Republic was transmogrified into an Empire; the Senators became
puppets; and all the early Emperors repeatedly and self-consciously
urged the Roman citizens to remember their Traditions and Values. And
of course, all of this earnest exhortation had no effect whatsoever.
Similarly, the producers of the He-Man cartoons are uncomfortable with
pure fantasy and fun. They feel compelled to put moral points in every
plot, unaware that their audience simply tunes them out. The legends
and magic of the He-Man cartoons may live on and influence minds and
culture in the future, and its influence may be a good one; but the
'moral points' so pointedly scored at the end of each episode are dry
as dust, and forgotten as soon as the set is off.
Like it or not, the commercial backing sparked a renaissance in children's action programming in the early 1980's. He-Man was a big part of that renaissance. The money involved brought back production values to US-market animated programming after the Hanna-Barbera dominated Seventies. (Admittedly, these values were more often present in animation from outside the USA.) For that, He-Man continues to deserve your attention.