or, “Back up, Muscle-boy!”
Perhaps I’m revealing too much personal information, but I remember Saturday morning cartoons, and I remember weekday afternoon cartoons. When I was a kid, I thought these shows were the best. I’ve had a chance to re-watch some of these and I am amazed at how easily I was entertained as a kid. Of course these cartoons were mainly designed to be 22 minute long advertisements for the toys based on characters in the show. It was quite the symbotic relationship between advertisers and TV producers. As far as I can tell, it was mandated at the time that even though the cartoons were full of violence and questionable morality, there had to be some sort of public service announcement to make it wholesome. Also as far as I can tell, producers thought children had the attention spans of goldfish because of the cartoons explained the premise every single time. Given all the sugary garbage food advertised during those shows, maybe kids really did have the attention span of goldfish.
Anyway, so I watched “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” Quite ambitious considering the show focused on one planet and He-Man’s allies weren’t exactly masters of anything. Granted, Man-at-Arms was the royal weaponsmaster, but many of his weapons were foiled by the comic bumbling or Orko. Or, because of narrative convention, the technology only worked when the story called for it. As the intro states, “fabulous secret powers were revealed to me when I held aloft my magic sword and said, ‘By the Power of Grayskull’” thus transforming Prince Adam into He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Yes, he says “fabulous secret powers.” This is one of the few instances I’ve seen of a place omniously called “Grayskull” that is actually shaped like a skull that is not evil. Let’s be honest – how many places shaped or named after skulls turn out to not be evil? As best I could tell, Grayskull was a source of magical power in Eternia but the Sorceress who guards the castle put most of the magic into Adam’s sword to make him He-Man. This left her in trouble if he wasn’t around to defend the castle. The Sorceress was also restricted to the castle and when she left was forced to the form of a hawk except under very specific and non-repeatable circumstances (isn’t it how that always goes)? I always felt sorry for her. Man-at-Arms, the Sorceress, and Orko were the only people who know Prince Adam’s secret (or so says the intro, but more on that). Also Cringer, his poor tiger who’s shot up with the same magic and turned into Battle Cat, is in on the secret.
There is so much to snark at in this show, especially now that I’m older. There is, of course, the gratitious use of recycled footage, up to and including He-Man’s punches. The dialogue tended to be bad, but there were some funny lines.
He-Man: Fighting is all you ever think about.
Skeletor: No, you’re wrong. I think about ruling Eternia more than I think about fighting. Fighting is a close second.
There’s the fact that Adam and He-Man look exactly alike except for a tan and costume change. There’s the fact that his attempts to hide his transformation generally involve nothing more stealthy than going around a corner. How many green tiger striped cats are there in Eternia anyway? I never saw another in the show besides Cringer/Battle Cat. Considering he has to yell to the crane jib, I mean, bellow out his catch phrase and is struck by lightning during the transformation, it’s amazing no one even noticed. Or did they? More on that later. Who doesn’t love names that pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the hero/villain? Man-at-Arms – he makes weapons. Skeletor – he has a skull for a face (and is a bad guy, even though Grayskull is good) and has a magic staff with a ram’s skull (still bad, even though Grayskull is good). Beastman – looks like a beast, controls beasts. Skunkor – yep, he looks like a skunk and smells bad. Evil-Lyn – a sorceress working for Skeletor. Cringer – he’s afraid of everything. The good guys and bad guys were even color-coded, in a general way. Good guys wore green and red, bad guys wore almost exclusively purple and blue (an exception being the red Beastman). Even Cringer, the good tiger was green, and Panthor, the evil panther (and another example of a creative name) was purple. Oh, and the voices. I felt so sorry for the voice actress, because there was only one. Granted, she generally only had to voice Teela, Queen Marlena, the Sorceress, and Evil-Lyn. Eternia didn’t have a lot of women. Well, women who featured prominently in the show. But those that did, well, they were kind of awesome. But more on that later.
Orko: He shined this light on them and they just disappeared.
He-Man: The lost Diamond of Disappearance. He must have found it.
Most of the characters in He-Man didn’t really matter. They were there to sell toys and get punched in the face and not much else. Even He-Man wasn’t much of a character. A friend of mine got “The Best of He-Man Season 1” DVD for Christmas one year, which featured the ten best episodes of season 1 as voted by the fans (or so the box says). It’s telling when it turns out the best of He-man is Teela and the Sorceress. I always felt sorry for the Sorceress since she couldn’t even leave the castle and had to hope He-Man was around.
Skeletor: Something’s happened to the Sorceress?
He-Man: You know what happened…
Skeletor: But I don’t, He-man, I really don’t. I haven’t done anything to the Sorceress…recently.
And Teela, while annoying, was at least trying to be useful and live up to her rank as Captain of the Guard. Of course, it turns it the Sorceress is Teela’s mother, which was actually an interesting plot point in the series. Who would have thought? Other notable characters on the good guy side were Orko and Cringer. Even as a kid I thought Orko was annoying. He was constantly messing everything up and frankly I didn’t buy into those episodes when he was back on his home planet of Trolla and supposed to be a great sorcerer. However, he managed to not quite be Scrappy Doo. Cringer, I thought, was not cowardly but just sensible. He didn’t want to fight and who can blame him? I also liked his snarky attitude.
Cringer (inside Castle Grayskull): Can we go now, Adam? This place gives me the creeps!
Adam: Cringer, that’s very rude. You apologize right now.
Cringer: I’m sorry you live in such a creepy place, Sorceress.
I would be remiss in recounting surprising characters if I left out Queen Marlena. Now, even as a child, it was obvious to me that King Randor was a complete moron. But oh, I had forgotten or never seen the episode with Queen Marlena’s crowning moment of awesomeness. The episode has the unassuming and frankly wimpy title of, “The Rainbow Warrior.” It turns out Marlena was an astronaut from Earth who got lost on a solo mission in an astroid storm and crash landed on Eternia. Prince (at the time) Randor saw her go down and took her to the castle and eventually they fell in love. Thank goodness some new blood got in that royal line. In this episode, Skeletor manages to capture Randor, Adam, Man-at-Arms, and Teela and demands the queen surrender the kingdom to him. Instead, she rallies the fleet, jumps in her original ship (“The Rainbow Explorer”) and proceeds to hand Skeletor his bony ass. She has an opportunity to free one of the four captives and chooses to free Adam, who if one does not know he’s He-Man, ranks as the second most useless person to rescue (after the king). Adam runs around a corner, turns into He-Man, and finishes curb-stomping Skeletor’s forces. Later Adam asks about this exchange, as he’s obviously aware of how useless he is as Adam.
Adam: I was wondering when Skeletor had us all chained up, why did you free me instead of one of the others?
Marlena: Because you are my son, Adam. I didn’t have time to free everyone. And I had a…feeling you would know what to do.
Adam: Mother, eh…
Marlena: Adam, a mother always knows her own son. And what he is capable of doing.
At that moment, I decided I heart Queen Marlena. At least someone in that damn castle stopped to pay attention when they heard someone shouting and saw lightning striking on a clear day.
Most of the bad guys were no more interesting than the good guys. Their name was their power and their personality. But I did find Skeletor and Evil-Lyn interesting. First of all, Skeletor flucuated between calculating overlord/sorcerer to whiny brat. Really. He threw temper tantrums when his plans got foiled and zapped his minions for no good reason (actually, they were mostly idiots, so as an evil overlord, I suppose he didn’t need a good reason). The only minion who was competent was Evil-Lyn and it was obvious she was only there to learn all his secrets and ultimately betray him. Skeletor got some good lines in though (see the subtitle quote). Oh, and listen to Skeletor whine in the Christmas cross-over episode when he finds himself being nice to the children (“I don’t want to be good! I want to be evil!”). Evil-Lyn, as mentioned before, is pretty much this cartoon’s version of Starscream (if you don’t know who that is and why there’s a trope named after him, well, you apparently played outside more than I did). Her magic was not weak (there was one episode she freed the Sorceress from a pretty nasty enchantment) but apparently she felt she wasn’t quite ready to take over from Skeletor. She also got in some snarky comments when Skeletor’s plans evitably failed.
The plots were nearly all Skeletor trying to take over Castle Grayskull. Sometimes other bad things happened in Eternia too. And sometimes Skeletor got in over his head and summoned something even more evil and dangerous than he was, which lead to team-ups with He-Man that were hilarious (see again the subtitle quote). And on occasion, there was an episode that highlighted if He-Man wanted to, he could have taken out Skeletor without half-trying. But he was the good guy, so the fight continued until Skeletor learned his lesson, which of course he never would.
He-Man: Well, that just about wraps it all up. Cringer, let’s go home.
Cringer: Oh! Home! My favorite word. Next to ‘food’ of course.