He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was originally devised by Mattel as a toy line to take advantage of the late 1970s sci-fi/sword and sorcery boom (generated by Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian, respectively). Eventually He-Man and the Masters of the Universe evolved into a 400 million dollar idea complete with action figure line, cartoon and a live-action film.
I can probably write a small essay on the history, rise and fall of the Masters of the Universe franchise. In my youth, I watched the cartoon, collected the toys, owned the Panini sticker book and collected the stickers. I even remember seeing parts of the live-action film. However, since this is a DC in the 80’s blog, I’m going to try my very best to keep on topic.
In 1982, DC comics picked up the licensing rights to Masters of the Universe. He-Man and the rest of the Masters of the Universe met Superman in DC Comics Presents #47 (1982) and again two months after that in a new stand-alone story that was included as a special insert in all of the DC titles in September 1982. The special inserts were just a warm-up piece to get fans riled up for the three issue Master of the Universe mini-series that was later published in December 1982. Paul Kupperberg wrote all of the aforementioned issues.
In 1983, DC comics published the seven mini-comics that were packaged with the second wave of action figures. The goal of the mini-comic was to establish some back-story to the characters in the toy line. Due to the fact that the back-story was still evolving as the popularity of the Masters of the Universe grew, Gary Cohn was tasked to help fix anything that didn’t make sense from the first wave of mini-comics (from a toy line/continuity perspective). Cohn would go on to create and write Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld in 1983. Mattel’s She-Ra debuted in 1985. That should answer any “She-Ra vs Amethyst: who’s a copy of who” disputes.
What was DC’s contribution to Masters of the Universe?
- Introduced the concept of He-Man’s secret identity/alter-ego, Prince Adam.
- Introduced the kingdom of Eternia and Prince Adam’s parents (King Randor and Queen Marlena).
- Retconned He-Man’s origin (i.e. Prince Adam was selected by the Sorceress to defend Eternia)
These three major changes were later adapted to the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon (Filmation) in 1983.
I remember reading the special insert and the three issue mini-series when I was much much younger, and when I became of age to become familiar with Jack Kirby’s New Gods I always wondered what the deal with Zodak from Masters of the Universe was. As in: what was the Zodak/Metron connection? They both flew around in scientific-looking chairs, they both have access to futuristic weapons and they both try to remain neutral but end up helping the protagonist out in some way. Did Mattel rip of Kirby’s Fourth World character (Metron was obviously created BEFORE the 1982 toy line)? There have been theories suggesting that the original cast of characters in Masters of the Universe were based on Kirby’s Fourth World (ex: He-Man as Orion, Skeletor as Darkseid, Beast Man as Kalibak, etc..). Read more about the Zodak/Metron connection at http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/11/19/comic-book-legends-revealed-234/.
Star Comics (subsidiary of Marvel comics) picked up the Masters of the Universe license in 1986. DC would regain the Masters of the Universe license sometime in 2012.
Do you want to see scans of the mini-comics that were included with the figures? check ‘em out here: http://www.dyerworks.com/he-man/Scans.htm