ill LYTeracy - On the Appeal of He-Man to Me

By Luke Y. Thompson in Toys
Monday, January 28, 2013 at 8:00 am

Polish Toys Collector

This blog post is inspired by a couple of comments I noticed during my first week on the job, and I hope those who made them will forgive my not remembering who exactly they were. One wondered why exactly both Rob and I found He-Man so appealing, while another suggested I hadn't given enough information about myself since coming onboard. There were a number of reasons for this latter point, chief among them being that I didn't want to look like I was touting any prior achievements as my reason for being here, nor did I want the posts to be so much about me - I figured things would come out in time, when relevant, and was occasionally amused by assumptions people would make.

Still, I don't think I can make my particular case for He-Man without a bit of biographical background...

You should know, then, that while I was born in the U.S., I grew up in Ireland, the son of an art history professor from southwestern Virginia and a vicar's daughter from England (perhaps you've noticed that I have a low tolerance for actors who try to fake those accents). And one thing to know about Ireland during the time I grew up there is that times were very different - take this recession we're in now and multiply it by ten years or so. As far as the pop-culture sphere goes, things took ages to cross the Atlantic. Put it this way: you know how Kenner missed the boat on getting Star Wars figures out in time over here? In Ireland, we got the figures before the movie (as far as I'm aware, anyway). The Ray Parker Jr. song "Ghostbusters" was a hit six months before any Irish kid had any idea there was a movie attached to it. And G.I. Joe was named first Action Man, then Action Force, and augmented with original characters and evil Soviet-like villains called Red Shadows.

That Roboskull was seriously badass...note the mix of repaints and other stuff

Once I became interested in Star Wars toys, my parents tried their damnedest to keep me to that one toy line, to spare their sanity and their wallets, no doubt. They also wanted me to be interested in the classics, so I read a lot of Greek mythology, sanitized down to kid-level (the degree of sex and gore in those books were mostly glossed over, though I still heard the one about Prometheus having his liver eaten every day). It was the interest in mythology that drew my eye to another toy line that appeared to be drawing strongly from it: Masters of the Universe.

Understand that when those figures first came out, there was no He-Man cartoon. There were just the basic characters, all of whom appeared to have analogues amongst the classical deities: Man-At-Arms could be Ares, Mer-Man would be Poseidon, Skeletor the grim reaper - we couldn't even be sure who was good and who was bad (the cards the figures came on were multilingual, so finding the right character descriptor was no casual feat), although it was clear skull-face guy had to be bad. And next to the spindly sculpts of the Star Wars toys, MOTU looked like McFarlane-level detail to our eyes then. I craved them because I wanted mythological gods to rule over my smaller figures, and after saving my own money, finally got a Skeletor, which I was so embarrassed by when confronted by my father that I promised I'd never by any more of them (little did we know I would ultimately own a near-complete collection). I had my grim reaper, my death.

I think the second one I owned was Webstor, because his climbing backpack gimmick was so cool. After him, I got a couple more via a grocery store promotion - Irish chain Quinnsworth (a grocery store that also had a small-but-decent toy section) would give you stamps with every purchase, and filling out a book could earn you a MOTU toy. For my eleventh birthday, I asked my wealthy grandmother to get me Snake Mountain, which came at the absurd price tag of 80 Irish pounds, which would have been about $150 - in 1980s dollars! She didn't really want to get it for me, but did anyway. By then I was fully in, pretty much.

At that point, I was aware of He-Man in other media - cartoons, storybooks, etc. And I was hugely disappointed. He felt like a joke; a character who beat all of Skeletor's elaborate traps simply by being too absurdly powerful. I bought the Battle Armor version of He-Man just so Skeletor could smash his chest armor again and again.

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