THE ORIGINAL MOTU TOYS
The Masters Of The Universe toyline began in the early 1980s. It was partly inspired by the Conan stories, and toy manufacturer Mattel ended up designing a barbarian warrior named He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. He-Man's arch-enemy Skeletor and his monstrous lackey Beast Man represented the forces of evil, constantly striving to breach the defences of Castle Grayskull. The action took place on the wild and beautiful planet Eternia.
New characters were quickly developed, including He-Man's allies Man-At-Arms, Stratos and Teela, and Skeletor's underlings Mer-Man, Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops. A set of minicomics accompanied the toys, which helped to build the mythology of Eternia.
The toyline kept growing, and each new member of the Masters Of The Universe had a special feature or unique talent. A cartoon was created too, and this had an interesting effect on the toyline. Entitled He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, the series made some drastic changes to the original barbarian themes, no doubt with the young audience in mind. He-Man sadly lost his individuality, and became the heroic double of Prince Adam. While the validity of these alterations to the original story can be challenged, the standard of the story-telling in the cartoons remained high, and introduced more fans to Eternia.
Several series of toys were produced, and the introduction of two new warrior clans - the Evil Horde and the Snake Men - added more drama and variety. The MOTU toys were about 5 ½ inches tall, and had a number of vehicles and steeds to assist them traverse the landscape of Eternia. Playsets such as Castle Grayskull were also created.
A second line of toys was designed to accompany the MOTU. This was the She-Ra - Princess Of Power series. It was obviously meant to expand the female audience, but the idea of warriors doing battle while wearing fluffy pink clothing was hardly inspirational. To be fair, the series was reasonably successful. The same cannot be said for the New Adventures Of He-Man toyline which Mattel introduced after the MOTU run reached its end. This was a hopeless attempt to make He-Man more exciting by sending him into outer space. Of course, this was totally the wrong direction. Had Mattel endeavoured to return the MOTU to their barbarian roots, I feel that the success of the series may have lasted longer. The Princess Of Power and New Adventures series are beyond the scope of this website, as they are not relevant to the origins of the MOTU.
The original MOTU toys are still widely sought after, and some figures are still available in their original packaging. Characters such as Scare Glow and King Randor are the hardest to find, as they were not produced in such large quantities as the earlier series figures. Interest in collecting the original toys will grow as the new and redesigned toys become popular with a new generation of fans. The Masters Of The Universe toys were among the most successful action figures ever produced, and their status as cult toys is proven by the continued interest of countless fans worldwide.
A very important part of the original toyline was the artwork used on the figure cards and boxes. The earliest figures were supplied on a card known as the Eight Back, so called because it showed eight characters. Later card art showed the character engaged in some activity (often a battle). Unfortunately this art work was not particularly exciting. However, while the card art was not great, the box art was dramatic and mysterious. The art portrayed a wild and untamed Eternia where heroic warriors battled demons in a never-ending war for supremacy.
The importance of the original artwork is often overlooked by fans. It is seen as rather inconvenient by those who consider the softer cartoon world to be the genuine article. It is interesting that the 2008 limited edition figures have finally acknowledged the original influences of the art and stories. Have a look at the Eight Back image below and consider how similar the new figures are to those portrayed on the card.
Some of the original Masters were reissued in 2000. This line was known as the Commemorative Series. Apparently Mattel had to buy original figures as the company had no models in storage and no tooling equipment. So although the 2000 models looked just like the originals, they were actually created from new machinery.
Disappointingly, the Commemorative Series was produced in low numbers and the line was short-lived. There was no noteworthy promotion of the line by Mattel (particularly internationally) and I never saw the figures here in England. I only found out about this line when I created Vaults. I have decided against creating a separate page about the commemorative figures, because they are essentially the originals and there is little else to say about them.
Shortly after this series, the next incarnation of the Masters was born. The
2002 line, created by the Four Horsemen, was produced on a commercial scale. Despite
some imaginative designs, this series had its failings and was not successful. The
arrival of the Classics has brought the next chapter to the Masters story,
keeping many of the original themes alive and preserving the MOTU legacy.