Originally posted at The Inquisitive Loon –
For anyone who wasn’t subjected to He-Man early in life, I envy you. What began as a short comic series about a blond muscle-bound uber-man in a fur loincloth, eventually snowballed into the early 1980′s cartoon, which would later be adapted to live action cinema. The He-Man universe has waxed and waned in the public’s eye over the years, with variations on the original with each re-telling.
The latest cartoon He-Man, which aired in 2002, has seen several small tweaks to the He-Man lore. Some of them are welcome changes which benefit the show. Others could be seen as gross misinterpretations that do more harm than good. And I don’t mean harm to the original canon– He-Man was never about intelligent, thoughtful storytelling. What I mean by “harm” is that watching He-Man could result in the same caliber of brain damage as huffing cocktails of steroids and copier toner.
So Wrong, Yet So Right…
As the story goes, the mythical land of Eternia has enjoyed a sustained peace for many years. That is, until the evil forces led by Skeletor return to wreck up the place. But a prophecy has been foretold about the one who shall triumph over Skeletor–a Chosen One–a man of inner strength who shall inherit the powers of Eternia’s ancients, wield the sword of Castle Greyskull, and strike down the forces of evil. If any of that last part sounds like generic nonsensical mysticism and fate-meddling, it very much is.
Defending the realm against the skull-faced warlord are the Masters of the Universe, a ragtag group of elitist heroes who owe much of their abilities to cybernetic enhancements and superior bloodlines. They are led by Man at Arms, a cyber-Samurai, and Prince Adam, who looks and acts like any 14-year-old boy with unlimited funds. He’s impertinent. He ‘s brash. He cracks the sort of cringe-worthy jokes we all did at his age. And when he grabs hold of his “magic sword” his muscles inflate, he gets taller, and his voice deepens.
Prince Adam Complex
That’s right. When Prince Adam raises his sword the sky he transforms into He-Man, and receives all the effects of post-puberty athleticism without suffering the voice-cracking, acne-pocked embarrassment of adolescent irony. He simply engorges up to body-builder size, adopts a more mature persona, and no one in Eternia is the wiser. Which is very disturbing.
If you have a son or daughter watching this show, try to explain to them that Prince Adam is good enough as-is without having to triple his bicep size, grow a cleft chin, or diet down to 5% body fat. They’ll look at you like you’re patronizing them, and why shouldn’t they? Not even Prince Adam thinks he’s cool enough the way he is, caught in pre-adolescent limbo. Everyone treats him like a spoiled brat and a coward when he’s being himself. This is exacerbated whenever he’s forced to abandon his friends mid-fight, to find a remote location to transform into Superman…er, He-Man. I argue that if he really wanted to fool his folks he could just lock himself in the bathroom and leave the facet running.
Even Prince Adam’s boyhood crush, Teela, calls him a wimp to his face, making snide remarks about how Adam flees any time Skeletor’s minions come calling. She’s around his age, having grown up with Adam, and shares a deep bond with him, right up until the day Adam is bestowed with Grey Skull’s powers. But because some crazy old hawk-woman will peck out his eyes if he reveals that he’s secretly the He-Man, Adam has to swallow his pride, as well as the emasculating barbs from his allies.
Eternia is a Fragmented, Hellish Jungle.
The environment ranges from lava fonts and unpredictable meteor showers to acidic oceans and piranha the size of whales. The only justification for the sparse population and the hardiness (read: unkillable nature) of the people of Eternia, is that generations of living on a world that’s constantly trying to snuff out its inhabitants has eliminated anyone too weak to punch holes in grizzly bears.
And every biome not under human control is dominated by some species of demon-monster, demon-beast, or flaming-monster-demon-tribe, which invariably doesn’t give a dusty f*** whether you’re on the side of good or evil, because everything that moves looks like a wriggling Happy Meal. Even the most bumbling, moronic wizard in the land, whom the Masters of the Universe barely put up with, has near-godlike powers at his disposal, because he would’ve been eaten long ago if he couldn’t summon up a universe of pain to defend himself against Eternia’s horrifying flora and fauna.
Why Doesn’t Skeletor Rule?
On its surface this is a show about a royal family that wastes untold resources on repairing property damage caused by their own court wizard. Between Orko and He-Man dozens of ancient shrines, ruins, castles, artifacts, and precious gems have been smashed or lit on fire, ofttimes intentionally. The Masters of the Universe also hold extravagant feasts, spend tremendous amounts on weaponry and war research, and burn through tanks and rocket-cycles like they’re living in a monster truck arena.
Skeletor on the other hand leads a band of impoverished, racially diverse humanoids, against a military leader who isn’t even the elected representative of Eternia. The acting king was given power by proxy when the council of ancients fled Eternia upon Skeletor’s return. Now Skeletor is trying to retake the capital from the steward-king, except without the resources or numbers of the “Masters”, and without the help of a muscle-bound man-child with infinite power. He also operates out of a cave, because castles cost money. After the first season Skeletor is sounding less and less like the Evil Genius, and more like a grotesquely disfigured rebel leader.
The latest He-Man cartoon, which can be found on Netflix streaming, should be limited to college drinking games and studies in statecraft. Children shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near this show, lest they fall victim to body dysmorphic disorder. But if you’re a fan of the old He-Man, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The 2002 version has somehow kept the spirit of old He-Man, which was rooted in its awkwardly-timed dialogues and pauses, ridiculous villains, and the after-episode public service announcements. Because if you can’t trust a 300-pound man in leather straps who literally has the mind of a child, who can you trust?