He-Man is a fictional character and the hero of the Masters of the Universe franchise. In most variations, he is the alter ego of Prince Adam. He-Man and his friends defend the realm of Eternia and the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.
In 1976, Mattel's CEO Ray Wagner declined the deal to produce a toyline of action figures based on the characters from the George Lucas film Star Wars, due to the $750,000 license required upfront. Following the commercial success of the film trilogy and its related merchandise during the next few years, Mattel launched several unsuccessful toylines; none captured the public's imagination, or impacted the toy market.
In the race to design the next hit action figure, Roger Sweet (a lead designer working for Mattel's Preliminary Design Department during much of the 1970s and 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 if he gave marketing something it could sell, he had won 90 percent of the battle.
The only way I was going to have a chance to sell this [to Wagner] was to make three 3D models - big ones. I glued a Big Jim figure [from another Mattel toy line] into a battle action pose and I added a lot of clay to his body. I then had plaster casts made. These three prototypes, which I presented in late 1980, brought He-Man into existence. I simply explained that this was a powerful figure that could be taken anywhere and dropped into any context because he had a generic name: He-Man!"During the 1980s, rumors claimed that Conan the Barbarian was a source of inspiration for the He-Man character. According to this rumor, Mattel had a licensing agreement to make the Conan action figures associated with the 1982 film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently, such an idea had to be modified in order to avoid objections from parents concerned that a toyline for children was promoting a film containing nudity and violence. In addition, brown-haired prototype versions of the He-Man action figure (bearing a strong resemblance to the Conan character created by Robert E. Howard) were produced and given away by Wonder Bread as a promotion through a mail-in offer. Later he became to be known by collectors as Won-Dar - a rare MOTU collectors' item to this day.
- Roger Sweet
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 film). The toyline existed prior to the movie, 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 suing Mattel over copyright 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.
Of the three original He-Man Trio prototype models, the barbarian themed He-Man was black haired with a deeply tanned eastern European or Middle Eastern appearance. His helmet had no horns. Later, at the direction of Tom Kalinske, then in Mattel's upper management, He-Man was made more clean-cut and changed to a blond... Plus, He-Man's skin was lightened, though definitely still tanned. - Roger SweetThe concept of He-Man originated by Roger Sweet in the form of the He-Man Trio was first presented by Sweet to Mattel upper management at a Product Conference in mid-December, 1980. The He-Man Trio consisted of three prototype plaster models, which had some painted formed sheet wax outfit parts. The He-Man Trio originated / brought into existence the following attributes:
1. The super powerful "He-Man" name as a male action figure that instantly communicates exceptionally great physical strength, size, and power.
2. The highly generic / open-ended "He-Man" name as a male action figure that enables the He-Man male action line to accept practically any theme, time period, degree of technology, situation, etc., and combine them all into one highly generic and versatile line.
3. The immensely physically powerful and massive He-Man physique with the 2 - to - 1 body proportion. This means that the He-Man figure is two times as tall as he is wide across the shouldrs. In comparison, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Olympia at a height of 6 feet 1 inch, and weighing 230 pounds, had about a 3 1/2 - to - 1 body proportion. Then, based on a volumetric body weight examination, the He-Man Trio He-Man at 6 feet 1 inch tall would weigh 750 pounds. That is one very big reason why he was and is He-Man.
4. The battle action stance. This is unlike the relaxed, static poses, or distorted positions found in other competitive action figures of the time.
5. The battle action waist. This spring-loaded feature enables He-Man to power punch and throw weapons and other objects - such as small, puny Star Wars and G. I. Joe figures.
6. Much ripped, bare muscular flesh showing.
7. The figure's ability to have attached and hold outfit parts, weapons, and other accessories.
8. The battle action open-mouthed facial grimace expression.
9. The He-Man Trio figures showed that the He-Man / Masters of the Universe line's figure configurations could be basically simple to design and manufacture - yet still be highly appealing.
The He-Man Trio figures were 9 1/2 inches tall. The 1982 and Original Series Masters figures were 5 1/2 inches tall. But the above He-Man Trio physical attributes, scaled down, were transferred directly into all seven of the 1982 Masters of the Universe line male figures. And, in total, those He-Man Trio physical attributes also went into fifty-six of the He-Man-shaped figures in the Original Series Masters line from 1982 through 1987.
Based on valid and factual observation and analysis, all of the above information is readily proven to be true.
The above combination of He-Man attributes that Roger Sweet originated at the beginning of the concept composed Sweet's masters plan that was absolutely essential for Sweet to initially sell the He-Man concept in the form of the He-Man Trio to Mattel upper management at the mid-December, 1980 Product Conference. And those He-Man attributes were extremely essential for the He-Man / Masters of the Universe line to become the phenomenal success that it was.
- Roger Sweet
Prince Adam has a strong human physique. He has passion for freedom, and a love for adventure. He is a free spirit whose escapades are known throughout Eternia. In The New Adventures of He-Man, Adam is portrayed as an easy going young man rather than a feminine, fun loving prince. In fact, Adam is shown behaving more like his alter ego He-Man, without much concern of people linking his behavior with He-Man. This could be representative of the idea of Adam as the true persona, or simply that Adam believes that since he and He-Man do not look alike, the people of Primus probably would not suspect them of being the same person. Throughout the original comics, the 80's cartoon, the full-length feature film or the 2002 animated remake, He-Man/Adam has no romantic interests. In the 2002 series, the earlier "happy-go-lucky" prince image is brought back; he goes so far as to show that initially Adam is a spoiled/carefree prince who does not think anything bad could possibly happen to him or his world. He carelessly scoffs at the Sorceress when she informs him of his destiny to become He-Man. When the reality of danger finally confronts him and endangers his father's life, Adam takes the necessary step to become He-Man. The act seems to have a maturing effect on him. Though he still retains some of his youthful naivety and continues to behave as a shallow fun lover so as not to be suspected of being He-Man (who behaves in a more mature and responsible manner than Adam), He-Man still displays Adam's sense of humor. It is shown early in the first episode following the initial pilot, The Courage of Adam, that Adam resents having to maintain a weak persona as himself. He feels that it damages his relationships with his father King Randor and with his lifelong friend Teela, and wishes to prove his worth beyond He-Man. In the end, he is forced to accept that he must maintain the facade for their safety.
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 aftermath of the Great Wars, which devastated the civilizations which once ruled supreme. The wars left behind advanced machinery and weaponry, known only to select 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 the evil villain Skeletor. He-Man possessed one-half of the Power Sword; Skeletor had the second half, and used it as his main weapon. When joined, the two halves of the Power Sword will provide the key to Castle Grayskull (this is why the two 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.
By the time the animated series was developed, He-Man's origins had been revised: his true identity was Prince Adam of Eternia, son of King Randor and Queen Marlena (an earthling), who ruled the Kingdom of Eternia on the planet of the same name. The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull endowed Prince Adam 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!" The differences from Prince Adam and He-Man were minimal; He-Man had a slightly deeper voice, and slightly darker skin and hair.
Prince Adam's pet was a cowardly green tiger named Cringer. When Adam became He-Man, he transformed Cringer into a brave armored green tiger named Battle Cat by pointing his sword at him – an ability Adam discovered accidentally the first time he turned 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 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.
Adam was friendly with the beautiful, strong-willed Teela, who (unbeknownst to her) was the daughter of the Sorceress. Teela was adopted by Prince Adam's mentor, Man-At-Arms (whose proper name was Duncan). Adam and Teela grew up together and now, as Captain of the Guard, she was entrusted to protect the prince. Unaware of his alternate identity as He-Man, she saw Adam as lazy and cowardly.
Man-At-Arms was He-Man's closest companion and the Eternian royal family's innovator of technology and weapons. In many 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 communicates 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 in 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 television series.
He-Man's chief adversary was Skeletor: a blue-skinned sorcerer with a yellow skull for a head, wearing a cowl. He was skilled in black magic and all forms of combat. 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 (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 henchmen who aid with his evil schemes.
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 film Prince Adam was not seen at all; only He-Man was shown. This He-Man was much more aggressive than his 1980s TV-series counterpart, attacking with lasers, his sword and bare fists several times throughout the film. 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 film ended with a post-credit scene in which Skeletor emerged from the liquid and proclaimed, "I'll be back!".
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-Man had left Eternia and pursued Skeletor into the depths of space, where Skeletor had set 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. He-Man's 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, He-Man 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 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...".
To tie in with a new line of action figures based upon the original toy line, a new He-Man cartoon 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 second-season episode "The Power of Grayskull" revealed Adam/He-Man as a descendant of King Grayskull (a powerful barbarian hero from Eternia's ancient past), who sacrificed his life 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 (2009)
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 a vintage He-Man figure) and Wun-Dar (based on the "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.
In June 2012, DC Comics began publishing a 6-issue limited series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, along side the weekly digital first series Masters of the Universe.
The series starts out with Adam as a woodcutter who has been having strange dreams lately that involved a powerful warrior fight evil across the land. Adam spends his days cutting wood and caring for his ailing father Fedor. Fedor seems to believe that he once lived in a castle, and when Adam tries to recall what their lives were really like, he can't. He shrugs the troubling feeling off, and returns to his work. For the last few days, Adam has had encounters with a colorful falcon which he names Zoar and would often share some of his meat with it. Following his latest dream, Adam has a kind woman look over Fedor while he heads out to find the answers to his dreams. Not long after his journey, he encounters a hairy monster named Beast Man who somehow knows his name. Adam manages to find a way to fend off Beast Man. After defeating Beast Man, Adam encounters Zoar again and then continues on with his journey still wondering how Beast Man knows his name. Beast Man reports back to Skeletor who has Beast Man spread the word that Adam must be prevented from learning who he really is at all costs.
Beast Man meets with Skeletor at Castle Grayskull where Skeletor is disappointed that Beast Man failed yet discovered that Adam is not without skill. Their attempt to wipe his memory completely failed to erase his instinctive understanding of battle. Skeletor shows Beast Man mercy, but warns that his troublesome nephew must die....if he doesn't stay within the boundaries. Meanwhile, Adam has traveled into the desert with Zoar as his guide. While crossing the desert, Adam is attacked by a gang of riders and is brought before their leader Trap Jaw who had been ordered to capture Adam on Skeletor's orders. Trap Jaw has Adam jailed with the promise that he will have a chance to petition his life on the next day. Later that night, a woman comes to Adam's cell to give water to him on Trap Jaw's orders. Adam quickly deduces that she doesn't work for Trap Jaw and asks for her name. The woman introduces herself as Teela and is hauled away by the suspicious guards before she can say anything else. When morning comes, Trap Jaw tells Adam that he must choose a person whom he will petition for his freedom. If he fails, he must fight to the death. If he survives, he can petition again until either the petition is granted, he dies in battle, or all the petitioned people are dead. None of Trap Jaw's men would accept the petition and Adam is thrusted into a one-against-many battle for his life. Grabbing a sword, Adam fights his way through the combatants in order to get away. Trap Jaw enters the battle planning to finish off Adam himself. During the battle, the ground shakes upon the approach of stampeding creatures. At the head of the charge is Teela, who apparently caused the distraction in order to save Adam's life. Trap Jaw and his men are trampled as the pair escape. When Adam is surprised that Teela knows his name, she doesn't know where she heard his name from. During their talk, Teela mentions that Zoar is not actually a real bird.
While marooned at sea, Teela and Adam have an argument where while Adam doesn't know that he was a prince, Teela doesn't even know her past. After Zoar brings them a coconut, Adam and Teela realize that there is an island nearby and fashion some oars to take them there. Upon arrival on the island, they are attacked by a group of warriors led by Man-At-Arms. After Adam and Teela are knocked out, Man-At-Arms finds Teela looking familiar to him and defends her from the other warriors' comments. Upon being brought to the queen of the warriors, some of Adam's memories surface as he somehow knows that the queen is named Evil-Lyn and that Teela swears that Man-At-Arms is her father. Evil-Lyn plans to sacrifice Adam and Teela to the Cauldron of Doom tomorrow morning. At Castle Grayskull, Skeletor is getting annoyed at the fact that none of his allies have successfully killed Adam. He can't leave Castle Grayskull to do the job himself or else he won't get back in. Even with all the torture he has caused the Sorceress of the castle, he worries that she is the key to unlocking the castle's power. Later that night, Man-At-Arms has some trouble sleeping and decides to visit the prisoners. He visits Teela's cell and wants to know why her appearance has been in his dreams. All she can think to do is to ask him whether he is her father. Man-At-Arms then looks at Teela, says nothing, and then returns to his home. The fact that Man-At-Arms also appears to have suffered some kind of memory loss in connection with them suggests that someone manipulated them into coming there. The next day, Adam and Teela are brought upon a long glass bridge extending over the Cauldron of Doom as Evil-Lyn explains that they must fight and that the one who doesn't fall into the Cauldron of Doom will go free. Adam and Teela are forced into battle yet they don't know how to bring an end to it. Adam admits he would gladly leap into the cauldron to save Teela, but she is sure that Evil-Lyn would have the survivor killed despite what she claimed. As they fight though, Zoar flies down and distracts them causing Adam to fall into the Cauldron of Doom.
He-Man was characterized as possessing 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 demonstrated his strength by lifting mountains and icebergs, and hurling them towards a desired target. 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 comics, he was shown as 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.
It was unknown if there is a limit to how long Prince Adam could remain He-Man before he reverted to Adam; 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 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 quick and acrobatic. There were also several instances in the original TV series where He-Man was able to communicate and sense the presence of the Sorceress by telepathy.
He-Man as a character was 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-Man was depicted as a leader – most noticeably in the movie 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 mini-comics, and a shield and other equipment while battling his foes). His sword, apparently indestructible, could deflect bolts of energy. His sister Adora's sword of protection was not indestructible; the stone in the hilt was once damaged, preventing her from transforming. In addition, the sword gave him the ability to transform him from Prince Adam into He-Man (and back) by utilizing the powers of Castle Grayskull. He also used the sword to transform Cringer into Battle Cat. Originally, He-Man's primary weapon was an axe. The breastplate on his battle harness was made of an Eternian mineral (corodite) which helped add to his physical strength. The origin of the battle harness was explained in the episode "Evil-Lyn's Plot" (written by Paul Dini).