How Masters Of The Universe Continues To Unlock My Imagination
Imagine a barren wasteland. Strange, almost extraterrestrial flora sparsely dots the landscape while a small, six-legged creature scuttles into its burrow. A distant rumble rapidly approaches and what appears to be a large group of sharks glides into view. A sudden blast of laser-fire streaks across the sky. Its origin? A cannon mounted atop the main turret of an ancient castle whose facade resembles the skull of some forgotten humanoid beast. The group of sharks is near enough now that we see they are in fact tanks. Each is fitted with a sharklike face (complete with chomping metallic jaws) and they begin to fire back at the castle. Within seconds, robots, mages, bee-like people, hairy beasts, and sorceresses descend and begin to battle with one another. At the battle’s center; a magician with the face of a skeleton and a large barbarian warrior riding a horse-sized tiger decorated in heavy armor.
Welcome to my childhood.
I truly have Toys R Us to thank for introducing me to Masters Of The Universe. I distinctly remember walking into a store during the early 80’s with my mom and seeing a massive display loaded with big, chunky action figures of every possible kind. It was obvious who the main hero was. He-Man! A hulking barbarian with golden blond hair and an elegant sword. His nemesis was just as obvious. Skeletor! A blue-skinned mage with a laughing skeleton face and weilding a staff with a ram’s head mounted to it. What was their story? Where did these people live? Why were they fighting? Even without knowing the answers to these questions, I knew I needed them.
One of the great things about Masters Of The Universe (MOTU) in the 80’s was that the action figures were coming out faster than they were appearing in cartoons. Today, more often than not, it seems that a cartoon or movie will be released and then action figures and merchandise will follow. With MOTU, it was the opposite. Because of that, a figure would appear on shelves before you had any idea who they were or what their unique abilities or powers were. You had no idea what their voice sounded like, what their personality was like, or if they were even truly good or evil. My imagination was on fire as I would open up a new figure and write my own backstories about who they were and why this particular character’s ability to make his neck grow longer was vitally important to the kingdom’s safety. “Oh hey look! This character named Tri-Clops has a rotating eye-headband thing! Cool!” Again, there was no explanation as to why that was the case or what each eye even did. My imagination didn’t care.
We live in a time when we almost demand explanations and as much detail as possible. I am also an avid Star Wars fan and I think about how many times the Star Wars community will go into rage mode if we can’t get some explanation for why a certain decal was on a ship or how a particular model of a droid was suddenly found on a planet it hadn’t inhabited before in previous films. I love when we allow our imaginations to fill in the gaps. With MOTU, I was given the opportunity to create broad stories while letting the characters become who I wanted them to become. Even as the cartoons started to roll out, so many details about character origins, motivations, and powers were still left unanswered. The episodes were made in such a way that it didn’t need to explain everything. You just accepted that this was how the world of Eternia was. It was ok though because my own story would constantly be running through my mind as I watched.
I am loving that Masters of the Universe is being reintroduced to a new generation and that new stories are being told. The Netflix series, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, has been a joy to watch. I truly feel like Kevin Smith was given a big bag of MOTU toys and allowed to play with them how he pleased. In every interview or teaser you could see the happiness and excitement in his, and the actors’ faces. They were all kids in a toy store.
I know that some fans were not pleased with the series up to this point and I sympathize that it may not have delivered on some of the character focus or backstories that some were hoping. However, prior to the show’s release, I went out and immediately started buying up the relaunched toys.
I cracked open Castle Grayskull and introduced my kids (ranging in age from 9–16) to each character; not by showing them a movie, cartoon, or comic, but by simply telling them their names and letting them explore what the action figure could do. Something magical happened. Within minutes they had a full-scale battle set up and immediately had their minds made up about who was their favorite, which characters were the funniest, and who were the bad guys. They were laughing, making sound effects, and developing their own relationships between the characters.
*Spoiler Alerts Ahead*
We watched Revelation together and when Teela was titled the new “Man At Arms”, my daughter literally cheered. When Trap Jaw teamed up with Tri-Clops to head up the technology cult against magic, my kids understood why those two would do that. When Orco died, two of my kids cried. I LOVED every minute of Revelation because of the reactions it gave to this new generation. Each episode had me more and more excited about what was about to happen next. My whole family is begging for Part 2 to be released and I am thrilled to be an older fan and still be right in the middle of the excitement.
These characters are something special. I recommend you watch the Netflix episode of The Toys That Made Us about Masters of the Universe. The story behind their creation is just as imaginative, wacky, and magical as Eternia itself. But before you go turn on any of these shows, shut off the TV, put down the video game controller, put away your phone, turn off the music, and go play with some toys. If you have kids, find out what their favorite toy is and ask them if you can play together. Run to the store and buy at least He-Man and Skeletor (these two are always in stock) and let your imagination run wild. I promise, you will not regret a single minute of it.