The good thing about being a ’90s kid was that there was always an abundance of discarded ’80s toys lying around in cardboard boxes at car boot sales and antique fairs when I was growing up. Awesome stuff that was just begging to be discovered, usually at a very reasonable price.
After recently watching a YouTube video from my buddy 6sh0t Changer Reviews, I was reminded just how much love I had for an ’80s toyline I picked up cheaply in the ’90s. I don’t quite know when I was first introduced to the overly muscular He-man and his bizarre assortment of chums and adversaries, but I definitely owned quite a few of them as a kid. I recall that it was with a MOTU figure that my Grandad first taught me how to haggle, with him inquiring as how much a Saurod figure was at a local jumble sale (he was told £1) and then getting me to ask if they would take 50p for it. They did, and with a little lever thing on his back which you could wind up to make sparks shoot out of his mouth, he swiftly became one of my favourite toys. I might have to pick up another Saurod one day as I sadly don’t own one anymore and the fact he was instrumental in teaching me about bargaining for a better deal, I think as an adult my appreciation for him would even surpass my childhood love of his ability to spew sparks.
But enough about toys that I don’t even own, I’m going to take a look at some that I do. More specifically, the original first wave of figures from 1982. It’s a bit of a wonder that I’ve been posting on this site for as long as I have without really mentioning MOTU. With my love of fantasy, sci-fi and cheesy cartoons, MOTU should definitely have appeared long before now. So here are the first eight figures!
The main man! With a ripped physique of an ’80s Arnold Schwarzenegger and sporting a silly blonde pageboy hairstyle, He-man is the obvious protagonist of the series. He comes equipped with his sword of power, a battleaxe and a shield that seems ridiculously out of proportion to the rest of his body.
Though I do love the silly campness of the Filmation cartoon, He-man was originally intended to be more of a violent barbarian, solving problems with the swing of his axe instead of the violence-free, overly moralistic way that he defeats his foes in the cartoon. I mean, what’s the point of owning a sword and being to ripped to hell if you ain’t gonna try and snap Beastman’s spine in two or attempt to hack off Merman’s legs? I gather that merely throwing your enemy into a small pond is technically more kid friendly but it’s a bit namby-pamby.
Seeing as the original cartoon wasn’t still being broadcasted in the ’90s when I was playing with MOTU figures, my first introduction to He-mans adventures was in the Ladybird book series. Although He-man still wasn’t really a brute, he didn’t seem to shy away from actually fighting his enemies like he did in the cartoons. I’m probably gonna cover the books on here in the future, as they’re awesome and feature some really nice artwork.
When I was playing with my figures, He-man was always a total badass who would happily mow down any of Skeletor’s minions if provoked, which made for far more exciting play than just throwing them into ponds. Even though he might be a bit of a wuss in the cartoons, I have to give respect to anyone who was so tough that they’d happily go into battle with little more than a harness, a loincloth and some furry boots to protect them.
I never really knew what Man-At-Arms role was meant to be as a kid. To me, he was a kind of Q to James Bond, an arms dealer/inventor that would kit out the other heroes for a decent price. I did find it amusing that he was the only character that actually really bothered with armour, but even he wasn’t gonna bother kitting his whole body out, with his right arm and leg being devoid of any protection.
Man-At-Arms comes equipped with a mace, which I never thought to be a very cool weapon but it did the job I guess. In my head I always thought it looked a lot like a microphone, so if Man-At-Arms was going to hit one of Eternia’s open mic nights or a karaoke bar, he would be totally prepared.
Man-At-Arms in the cartoon sported a fierce moustache that even Tom Selleck would be envious of, but this version of Man-At-Arms is sadly devoid of any snot-mop whatsoever. I had heard that this is perhaps because kids would want to buy multiples of Man-At-Arms, so they didn’t want him to look too specific so he could be used as a generic soldier but whether this is true or not, I don’t know. Besides, it was the ’80s and everyone had moustaches, so they could have still slapped one on this figure.
Though Man-At-Arms isn’t my favourite figure in the line, I do think he’s neat. My version still has the twist waist punch action, which seems to have stopped working on most of my other figures so I’m glad one of them can still pack a punch.
As outfits go, wearing a giant snake headdress is pretty out there, even in Eternia. And it looks totally awesome. Teela never wore anything like this in any of the books or cartoons (to my knowledge anyway) but she wore it as an action figure and she rocked it. To go with the general serpent theme, she also wields a staff shaped like a cobra (which I imagined to be capable of spitting balls of energy as a kid) and a teeny little shield.
A little while down the line, Mattel would release figures of a faction known as The Snake Men, and I wonder if they would be pissed off at Teela’s choice of attire? Cultural appropriation and all that. I’m not a Snake person so I don’t find it unoffensive, with Teela being one of my favourite, most interesting looking figures in the original line.
I never owned Stratos as a kid, but I desperately wanted to. I searched everywhere for him- in every cardboard box at every car boot sale and every overpriced toy dealer’s table at every antiques fair, but it just wasn’t to be. I passed through my childhood without ever being in ownership of Stratos.
As an adult, I’m not sure I think Stratos is as cool as I would have done as a kid. His face looks a bit weird, a bit like a monkey wearing goggles and he doesn’t come with any accessories except for his clip on wings and rocket harness, which doesn’t really cut it for me in the accessory department. Anything that can’t maim one of Skeletor’s minions isn’t worth getting excited about.
Stratos appeared in the MOTU Ladybird books, as did his sexy wife Delora (of whom was unashamedly one of my first crushes as a kid). Here she is getting kidnapped by a big-ass pterodactyl thing.
I think most guys would admit that Delora is a good looking woman, but most guys wouldn’t realise how amazingly non-shallow she is. She could probably have her pick of any of the guys in Eternia but instead she goes for a monkey-faced man whose back is swathed in thick hair.
That’s real love, that is.
The weird thing about Delora and Stratos is that in the Filmation cartoon, Delora was his sister and not his wife as producers thought that boys wouldn’t react positively to love interests within the series. It seems weirder to me that kids might read the book and know her as his wife, and then watch the cartoon and see her as his sister, sparking questions on whether Eternia has some damn loose incest laws.
Anyway, that’s the first wave of heroes, so I’m now moving onto the the villains.
Another character who has also been afflicted with a back of thick hair, Zodac was originally sold as an ‘Evil Cosmic Enforcer’ but in the cartoon he was generally on the side of good being a wise, peaceful character who just wanted to keep watch over Eternia.
I just can’t get excited about Zodac. I don’t know if it’s just that he is obviously using various sculpts from other figures in the line, or that he comes with such lackluster accessories (a gun and chest armour) but he is so damn boring to me. Of all of the villains in the original release, Zodac is definitely my least favourite. Yawn.
Beast Man is surrounded by a small amount of mystery to me. I owned this toy as a kid, but I have absolutely no idea where it came from. I remember going in my parents room one day, and there was a pile of clean laundry on the bed, and next to that pile of washing was this figure. Neither of my parents knew where it came from, though as an adult I’m wondering if it was a figure my Gran had picked up off from a car boot sale for me and had sent it over with some clothes she had also bought and washed. I guess I’ll never know but for quite a long time I never felt like Beast Man belonged to me and that someday a random kid would knock on the door and ask for his Beast Man back.
Beast Man is awesome. He looks like a ginger, warpaint wearing Sasquatch and comes with a whip which passes my tight scrutiny of what is deemed as a worthy accessory. You can use it to swing Beast Man off things which I totally dig, as I can easily imagine him swinging off trees with it. He also comes with a chest piece and two pieces of arm armour as well.
In the cartoons Beast Man was a dimwitted, useless henchman but to me he was an awesome, feral warlord who ruled Eternia’s jungles and could hold his own against Skeletor most of the time.
Despite his overly surprised expression which looks like he has just found out the questionable details of Stratos and Delora’s relationship , I love Mer-Man. I don’t think he looks totally aquatic but he certainly looks aquatic enough, being a dark bluish green colour and wielding a sword that looks like it’s made of coral. It also looks a bit like a corn on the cob, with just a few bits of corn left on it.
I definitely owned Mer-Man as a kid, but I don’t really remember playing with him much. I certainly have more appreciation for him as an adult anyway. I think I was a bit distracted by some of the other figures I had like the Evil Horde, which all seemed to feature really neat gimmicks, whereas the earlier MOTU figures didn’t do a great deal apart from look cool.
They re-used the sculpt of Mer-Man for a later figure called Stinkor and just changed the colour of him from green to black and packaged him with different accessories and it’s amazing how totally different it looks. Maybe if they had made Zodac silver or something I would appreciate him more and would have found it easier to ignore the fact he is mostly made from parts recycled from other figures.
Mer-Man is totally cool anyway and is personally another firm favourite from the line. And now here’s the final villain of the line!
Every hero needs the yin to their yang and Skeletor is certainly that to He-man. Looking every bit as muscular as He-man, Skeletor is a cool blue colour broken up by purple body armour, hood, boots (though socks might be a more apt word) and a green and yellow skull for a face. He also comes equipped with a ‘Havoc Staff’, a foreboding looking scepter with the skull of a ram placed atop. Like He-man, he also comes with his own sword of power. The really neat thing about both of their swords is that they fit together with the intent that you can use them to unlock Castle Grayskull, a large castle playset that I owned as a kid (but sadly don’t anymore) which was one of the most impressive looking toys I ever owned.
Both of the swords have warped a little over the years but still clip together nicely at the cross guard. They fit into a little ‘keyhole’ in Castle Grayskull which opens up the castle door, from what I remember anyway.
As a villain, I love Skeletor. He’s fantastic in the Filmation cartoon, where he is a bumbling, comedic, incompetent antagonist and in the Ladybird books where he actually comes across as a bit more capable and menacing. I had many adventures with my Skeletor figure as a kid, and when I found out he had an enemy in the form of the villain Hordak, I think he ended up battling Hordak more than he did He-man, even working alongside He-man on many occasions.
You can’t really deny that a character must be a damn good one when it transcends just being a toy and becomes a staple part of pop culture. Skeletor and He-man have both been used in the past year as characters in a moneysupermarket.com advert which I think every MOTU fan should check out at least once. It’s silly but it’s a lot of fun and from a marketing point of view it’s a pretty good idea. I bet a lot of people don’t really want to have to do grown up things like look around for a good deal on credit cards, loans and mortgages, so associating a boring thing like a financial comparison website with iconic characters that many people found exciting as kids makes a lot of sense. I think a few companies are doing that now, as I’ve seen Scooby Doo and Top Cat fairly recently on adverts for banks. I’m all for anything that introduces a bit of fun into mundane, grownup things anyway.
I think that rounds off my look at the original figures from the first wave of the MOTU toyline anyway. There were a few vehicles and creatures that I haven’t covered, mainly because I don’t own them but MOTU is certainly a toyline that I will defiinitely return to on here in future, just because I had so much fun playing with these figures and posing them for pictures.
To conclude this post, I think it would be fitting to finish with a kind of moral ending like the old Filmation cartoons.
“In today’s post, we looked at the importance of personal grooming. Remember boys that if you don’t make the effort to keep clean and tidy, the only girl who will want to marry you might very well be your sister. Stratos found this out the hard way when he didn’t shave his back. That’s not to say that even if you do keep clean tidy you’ll definitely find romance, as I have a completely hairless body and haven’t had any luck at all, but it can’t hurt to try. Until next time, bye bye!”