He-Man (real identity Prince Adam) is the main hero of the Masters of the Universe media franchise by Mattel, Inc. A half-Eternian/half-human (son of Eternian King Randor and of Terrestrial Queen Marlena), he protagonized three animated TV series (of which the 1983 original, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, was the most successful) and one not-so-successful 1987 film (Masters of the Universe). His mission is to defend the planet of Eternia and the secrets of Castle Grayskull (the source of his superhuman powers) from the evil forces of Skeletor and his minions. He also has a twin sister, Princess Adora (better known as She-Ra, who is the main heroine of her own sub-franchise, recently reincarnated on Netflix as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power).
In 1976, Mattel's CEO Ray Wagner refused to sign a deal to make a toyline of action figures based on George Lucas's Star Wars franchise, due to the $750,000 license required upfront. Following the commercial success of the original Star Wars trilogy and its related merchandise during the next few years, Mattel released several successful competing toylines which captured the public's imagination and significantly influenced the toy market.
Toy designer Mark Taylor explains that He-Man's original design 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 popular action figure, Roger Sweet (a lead designer working for Mattel's Preliminary Design Department during much of the 1970s – 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 giving the marketing department something it could sell would make him win 90% of the battle.
During the 1980s, rumors claimed that Conan the Barbarian was a source of inspiration for He-Man. According to this rumor, Mattel had a license to make action figures associated with the 1982 film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently, such an idea had to be changed so as to avoid objections from parents concerned that a toyline for children was promoting a film containing nudity and brutal, graphic 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 movie). The toyline existed before the film, 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 © infringement, due to He-Man's similarities to Conan.
Mattel won the lawsuit against Conan Properties, retaining the rights over He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Originally, He-Man was shown to Mattel execs not as drawings and wax models, but as the He-Man Trio: three 3D prototype models depicting He-Man as a barbarian, a soldier, and a spaceman. Out of the 3 concepts, the barbarian version was chosen to be the toyline's basis. Considering that Conan was created almost 50 years before the He-Man franchise's development, it's possible that the Masters of the Universe borrowed many aspects from Conan; however, it wasn't intended to be a toyline for the film after legal agreements were shredded. Additionally, Sweet also claimed he was "really 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 were both still working on the Savage Sword of Conan comics since mid-1970s) to create additional characters (along with their back stories), posters, package inlays, box art, and mini-comics for distribution with the action figures.
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 Great Wars' aftermath, which destroyed the civilizations that once ruled supreme. Advanced machinery and weaponry were left behind by such wars and known only to a select few 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 Skeletor.
He-Man possessed one-half of the Power Sword; Skeletor had the second half, and used it as his main weapon. When joined, both halves of the Power Sword will provide the key to Castle Grayskull (this is why both action 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 TV series, produced by Filmation, was developed, his origins had been revised: his true identity was Prince Adam of Eternia, son of King Randor and earthling Queen Marlena, rulers of the Kingdom of Eternia on the homonymous planet. The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull endowed him 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 is also able to return to his former form by saying, "Let the power return." This is seen in episode 130, "The Problem With Power". The differences between Prince Adam and He-Man were minimal, He-Man having a slightly deeper voice, a different wardrobe (soldier armor and boots), and slightly darker skin and hair.
His pet was a cowardly green tiger named Cringer. When he became He-Man, he transformed Cringer into a brave armored green tiger named Battle Cat by pointing his sword at him – an ability accidentally discovered by him during one of his transformations 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 Sorceress's daughter. Teela, adopted by Prince Adam's mentor, Man-At-Arms (whose proper name was Duncan), grew up together with Adam and now, as Captain of the Guard, was entrusted to protect the prince. Unaware of his alternate He-Man identity, she saw Adam as lazy and cowardly.
Man-At-Arms was He-Man's closest companion and the Eternian royal family's technology and weapons innovator. In several 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 of 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 TV series.
He-Man's archenemy was Skeletor, a blue-skinned sorcerer with a yellow skull for a head (concealed with a cowl). 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 (the 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 minions 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 movie, Prince Adam was not seen at all; only He-Man was portrayed. This He-Man was much more aggressive than his 1980s cartoon counterpart, attacking with lasers, his sword, and bare fists many times throughout the plot. 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 movie ended with a post-credits scene where Skeletor emerged from the fluid and proclaimed, "I'll be back!".
Toys & Television
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 had left Eternia and pursued Skeletor into the depths of space, where Skeletor had aimed 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. His 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 TV 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 Cartoon Network 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 to be a descendant of King Grayskull (a powerful barbarian and a hero from Eternia's ancient past), who sacrificed his life in order 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.
Powers and abilities
He-Man was portrayed with 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 showed his strength by lifting mountains and icebergs and hurling them toward his intended target. On one occasion, he welded a broken metal chain together simply by pushing the links together. 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 being 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. In the episode of the original series "Eternal Darkness", He-Man was shown pushing a moon of Eternia into a specific orbit, and then later returning it to its original position by hand.
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 into Prince Adam and Cringer. Also 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 that 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 shown by running fast enough to escape massive explosions and 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 demonstrated 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 was depicted as a leader – most noticeably in the film 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 the 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, because the sword was intended to serve as a plot device that would only be used in order to gain entry into 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).
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