BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL!
Sorry, I had to check if those magic words might work for me. After all, that’s how Adam, the hulking hippie prince of Eternia, turns into He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Unfortunately, all they got me were strange looks from the neighbors, all of whom now think I’m weird. Maybe I’m holding the magic sword wrong.
I grew up when “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” first aired on TV, and I even had a few of the action figures that the show was designed to sell to kids my age. While I wasn’t the biggest He-Fan of all time, I liked cartoons and toys where good guys could beat up bad guys, and in the He-verse that was pretty much the entire menu.
A few months back I accidentally came across the show on one of the streaming services, and decided to show my kids a little bit of what my childhood was like. Apparently my childhood was awesome, because they were howling with laughter as they saw He-Man’s crew fend off their nasty foes with courage, daring and some unintentionally hilarious hi-jinks. It was amazing.
Now all they want to watch is “He-Man,” and if I’m going to end up watching all of these episodes again, I might as well recap them and get some pageviews out of it. Plus, I might pick up some tips on how to say the magic words. Then I can strut down the street, riding a giant green cat in my shorts and sleeveless armor and brandishing a sword, and then we’ll see who’s the weird one.
Every episode of “He-Man” starts with an introduction from Adam, “prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull… Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, By the power of Greyskull!” His cowardly cat friend Cringer becomes “the mighty Battle Cat,” while Adam turns into “He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe!” To prove it, he punches the television screen. Don’t sit too close to the TV while you’re watching this show. The only three beings who know their secret are The Sorceress, who does magic and is into bird cosplay; Man-at-Arms, whose Tom Selleck mustache makes up 90 percent of his body mass; and Orko, their comical flying Jawa mascot. “Together,” he sums up, “we defend Castle Greyskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.”
Everybody up to speed? Here we go!
Diamond Ray Of Disappearance
Our first visit is not to Castle Greyskull but to Skeletor’s snake-shaped castle, where he’s making his minion Beast Man summon all the other ne’er-do-wells back to headquarters. Beast Man is red, hairy and grunts a lot, sort of like Rupert Grint in the last few Harry Potter movies. Skeletor’s action figures – er, um, I mean, evil accomplices include:
- Mer-Man, not to be confused with the First Lady of the Comedy Stage, Ethel Merman. This guy is “warlord of water,” and his hobbies include hammer throwing marine life
- Evil-Lyn, “sorceress of night,” so naturally she’s out practicing her powers in the daytime
- Tri-Klops, “master of vision,” who can see through rock but his eye insurance never covers the full cost of his special order frames
- Trapjaw, “wizard of weapons,” who has detachable right arms and has apparently never heard of just holding stuff in his hands.
Skeletor also has a purple panther, which I assume he stole from Prince’s house.
Here’s the reason he’s brought them all to his castle: “At last I have the means to conquer Eternia and crush He-Man once and for all!” Mer-man points out that Skeletor has said this many times before and He-Man has stopped them every time. But this time Skeletor has a small white box containing the “lost” Diamond Ray of Disappearance (if it’s in the box, how is it lost?). Any living being who he zaps with the Ray will be “exiled into another dimension.” Skeletor is so impressed with his plan, he snickers through his own presentation.
While the denizens of Snake Mountain put their evil plans into action, the brave heroes at Castle Greyskull stand around watching Orko put on a magic show. His signature trick is “accidentally” covering Man-at-Arms with eggs, and he is very good at it. “The only trick we want to see is you disappearing!” says the old grump. But suddenly, they hear some pew pew pew outside the castle walls, and it’s Trapjaw, riding a kind of flying chariot and shooting lasers. Teela, the “best warrior in Eternia” and Man-at-Arms’ daughter, leads a group of soldiers to defend the castle.
Prince Adam and Cringer want nothing to do with this. A battle against evil, Adam says, “is no place for us.” King Randor harumphs about this: “If only he were more of a prince.” Jeez, I don’t see you taking to the skies, tough guy! Of course, Adam is actually sneaking off to turn himself into He-Man. After Teela shoots Trapjaw’s chariot down, He-Man deflects some of Trapjaw’s energy bow shots and then curls up his Lasertron in an, um, unusual way and throws the villain off-screen. Prepare yourself for a lot of villain-throwing in this series.
Skeletor is not worried about Trapjaw’s defeat. “That clumsy oaf has served his purpose!” he cackles. The air “attack” was just a diversion, meant to lure Teela and her company out of the castle. And it works: Skeletor barges into Greyskull and uses his Ray to send the Sorceress, Man-at-Arms and the royals into dimensional exile.
Only Orko is able to escape, so he finds He-Man and Battle Cat and warns them about the Ray. He-Man asks the little guy to round up their other friends for a counterattack while he sneaks into the castle to commune with the Sorceress through a magic mirror that sort of makes the whole concept of “exile” moot. Ah well. The Sorceress warns He-Man that he can free the captives if he can crush the Diamond of Disappearance. The only catch: “if you look at it too long, you will be banished here forever.”
Skeletor, who was just inside the castle zapping everyone, is now somehow outside the castle trying to break in. When he pulls the front door open, He-Man and Battle Cat are inside. “Next time you might try knocking first,” says our hero, who throws Beast Man and Mer-Man (told you!). They get some help from Teela and Battle Cat, plus two new characters: Stratos, who has bug-like goggles and bird feathers on his costume, and Ram Man, who, well, rams things with his head. Orko, the comic relief character, defeats Tri-Clops, master of vision, by spinning his goggles around and making him dizzy.
Skeletor tries to use the Diamond Ray on He-Man, who deflects the beam with his sword. The diamond falls into a crack in the ground, which is good because Skeletor can’t use it but also not good because He-Man needs to smoosh it or his parents will be stuck in that mirror forever.
He-Man uses his immense strength to break his way into the rock and start crushing the diamond, but – gasp – he looks at it too long and starts to fade in and out of view. Orko has some sage advice here: “He-Man, please don’t disappear!” Fortunately he’s able to crush the diamond before he becomes Eternia’s answer to John Cena. Skeletor shakes his fists at the sky. “Very well, He-Man, you’ve won this time. But I’ll be back!” And he disappears.
Now back to the good guys’ magic show! The king asks Orko for a special trick: “Make my son appear on time!” And sure enough, Prince Adam appears, only he’s broken the king’s special flying zoom chariot. “At least he destroyed it… on time!” Orko says, which makes the old man chuckle and keeps Adam in the line of succession.
Like a lot of 80s cartoons, “He-Man” ends its episodes by giving some kind of lesson we can learn from the episode, to come off as quasi-educational content and soften the effect of what’s otherwise a half-hour long toy commercial. Skeletor, He-Man explains, was looking for a shortcut to power and wealth, but “it doesn’t work that way. The people who succeed are the ones who work for what they want,” says a member of a hereditary dynasty who was handed magic powers.
And that’s our first episode! It’s very strictly He-Man 101, as a first episode should be: Skeletor and his crew plot to take over Eternia, and He-Man and company foil them. The fun comes in how challenging the plots become for the heroes, and how clever they have to be to fend them off. I’m also a fan of the voice acting on this show. In particular, I like Alan Oppenheimer, who voiced Skeletor, was good at making the show’s big bad scary enough to seem like a threat, but who’s also so full of himself that he would end up foiling his own schemes half the time. Maybe I should try some of his line-reads in front of the neighbors!
Next episode: Teela’s Quest