My youngest son, Tarzan, has just discovered the Masters of the Universe. Not through any great marketing scheme, but through a used book sale we attended a few weeks back. The kids’ books were a quarter each, or five for a buck. I bought about 20 books, grabbing them at random. We go through a lot of books in this house of readers.
One of them was a children’s storybook featuring the Masters of the Universe. As soon as I saw the cover (above), I knew it would be bad before I opened it, and tonight, we finally opened it. Tarz wanted it read to him before bed. It was all I could do muddle through its bizarre combination of pre-school storytelling and comic-book word balloons, intermixed with pretty brutal violence. See that fine painted cover? The interior art looks nothing like that.
Reading to Tarzan, who just turned 6, is tricky business. He has a question about everything. And when he got his first look at He-Man, he was curious.
- Him: “Who’s that guy?”
- Me: “That’s He-Man.”
- Him: “Is he tough?”
- Me: “Yeah, he’s the toughest. Anyway, ‘He-Man raised his power sword and swung it mightily …’
- Him: “Daddy? Why is He-Man wearing a bra?”
I had no answer. And as he drifted off to sleep, I started wondering about the Masters of the Universe and why the whole concept was so weird. I didn’t have the toys — they came out just as I was entering my teens, so I missed the whole thing — but I remember some comics appearances, and I’ve seen episodes of the cartoon. Now, after Googling, I have a few questions of my own:
- What is going on? Sorcerors carry pistols? Magic castles and alien creatures? Swords ‘n’ cyborgs? I thought there would be some kind of well-thought-out backstory, but it turns out there never really was. This is what happens when toymakers and cartoon producers hash out a concept without really thinking about it.
- Why are they the Masters of the Universe? They never leave their planet, which seems to be a stone-age barbarian culture with computers and flying cars. I still don’t get it.
- Why is this guy called He-Man? Who thought that was a good name? For that matter, why does everyone else’s name have “Man” in it. Beast Man, Mer Man, Man At Arms, Ladies Man, Gets Beer On Poker Night Man … and then there’s Skeletor. He’s called that because he’s a skeleton. Get it?
- Were the producers hoping nobody would notice the concept was just Black Star with blonde hair? Now, Black Star I remember, but what I remember about it is enough to make me wonder why anyone would want to rip off its concept.
- In his secret identity as Prince Adam, why did he wear so much pink? Was it because he had to pretend to be a sissy, despite his massive physique? “Wow, I’d suspect the prince was He-Man if he didn’t cry every time his green tiger walked by. Say, doesn’t He-Man have a green tiger? Oh, right, He-Man’s green tiger wears a mask.”
- Why does everyone have the exact same bowlegged muscle-bound body, with fur shorts? Are fur shorts really that sensible? And if Skeletor is a skeleton, why is he so buff? Is he a magic steroid skeleton? Like Carrot Top? Side note to casting directors for the rumoured new He-Man movie: Carrot Top is probably available.
There was, of course, a really shitty Masters of the Universe movie in the 80s. I took my then-girlfriend’s little brother to see it, but I’ve blocked a lot of that time period out. Reading about it now, I note that it starred Dolph Lundgren as He-Man (there’s a good sign), and, for some reason, Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill. Yes, this is the movie that launched Tom Paris into space. Thanks, folks. Strangely, the sequel was never made, and the script adapted into the early Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Cyborg. Thanks again, Masters of the Universe!
I just hope my kid forgets he ever discovered this.