Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The first of the many daily, half-hour cartoon adventure series designed to sell toys and action figures, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was reportedly intended as a "light" variation on the grim sword-and-sorcery property "Conan the Barbarian." It was introduced as a DC Comics feature in 1981, the first step in a campaign mounted by Mattel Toys. Step number two was for Mattel to hire the Filmation studio to create an animated series based on He-Man, a decision made on the basis of Filmation's impressive work on the previous cartooner Blackstar. Once the cartoon series was in production, it was pitched to the ABC network, which took a pass out of fear that the FCC would look askance at what was essentially a 30-minute toy commercial. Finally, the series was offered to local syndication--and to mollify the FCC, it was agreed that no advertisements for the various "He-Man" playthings would be telecast within any episode of the series proper. As a result, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe debuted on a station-by-station rather than network basis on September 1, 1983. The series took place on the planet Eternia, ruled over by the good King Randor and Queen Marlena; their half-earthling son was the stunningly handsome, pure-hearted Prince Adam. In contrast, resident villain Skeletor was squirreled away in a dark corner of the kingdom known as Snake Mountain, endlessly plotting and planning to invade Castle Grayskull and thereby obtain the wisdom and unlimited power of the Council of Elders. To prevent this, Prince Adam periodically held his magic sword aloft and shouted "By the Power of Grayskull"--whereupon he was instantly transformed into the superpowered He-Man. Our hero's allies included the elusive Sorceress, the "force" behind Adam's good works; Adam's mentor Man-at-Arms, the "Obie Wan Kenobe" counterpart; his comical sidekick Orko, a Trollan magician; Adam's pet tiger Cringer, a nervous sort who more than lived up to his name--except when Adam's sword transformed him into the fierce BattleCat; the morphing robot Man-E-Faces; and human periscope Meckaneck. On the side of e-vil, Skeletor's cronies included the fierce but dimwitted Beast-Man, Evil-Lyn the witch (who, like Man-E-Faces, could likewise morph into different shapes and personalties), Shotoki the Mistress of the Night, the demon Negator, and the stone-visaged Gargon Warriors. At the time this series originally aired, local television was under pressure to include positive, "pro-social" messages in their programming. To that end, Dr. Donald F. Roberts of Stanford University supervised the 30-second information bites or moral lessons included at the end of each He-Man episode. Lasting 130 installments, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe spawned a spinoff in 1985, She-Ra: Princess of Power, introducing Prince Adam's hitherto unknown twin sister Adora, ruler of the planet Etheria, who likewise used a sword and an incanation to become super-heroic. Five years later, DIC Enterprises brought forth The New Adventures of He-Man, a scrupulously non-violent sequel set in outer space. And in 2002, the Cartoon Network brought forth a brand-new He-Man and the Masters of Universe, which despite its title was a prequel to the original show, exploring the origins of the various characters and revealing, among other things, that the odious Skeletor was actually Keldor, twin brother of Eternia's King Radnor--and thus also He-Man's uncle! Last but not least, in 1987 a live-action theatrical film version of the property, Masters of the Universe, was produced, starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor.