Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rediscovering He-Man

Some Sunday nostalgia on the Masters of the Universe cult. First, read this piece about rediscovering He-Man (link via Shruti). I love the references to the homo-eroticism – characters named Ram Man and Fisto and such. It reminds me of the Star Wars light sabres and the onanistic connotations of Han (Hand) Solo's name, as well as Sam and Frodo’s attempts to save their world by destroying the gigantic vagina in The Lord of the Rings.

Samit also writes about He-Man here, accurately pointing out that for many of us boylings in the mid-1980s, playing with those toys was a crucial first step towards metrosexuality years before the term was coined. (“You do realise they’re dolls, don’t you?” my mother would say. “They’re ACTION FIGURES!” I’d growl back.) I must disagree with the young duck on one point: Teela wasn’t hot. She-Ra (He-Man’s twin sister, separated at birth) …now she was some woman. She rode a unicorn named Swift Wind and could turn her sword into a lasso. Excellent!

I picked up my first He-Man toy around the age of eight and contented myself for some months with the few characters that were available in India (Prince Adam/He-Man, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Skeletor, the Sorceress, Beast-Man, a couple of others). But it was during a two-month vacation in London that true nirvana was obtained. In the Toys section on the fourth floor of Selfridges, I discovered why the West called itself the Developed World: here were dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Masters of the Universe characters that I’d never even heard of in India. My cousins and I bought huge numbers and spent hours playing with them, scripting and acting out stories. Each of the figures came accompanied by a 20-page comic book that explained the provenance of the character in question, and this helped us work out our plots. (Those comics, very cheap rip-offs of Tolkien and other sages, were my earliest introductions to a fantasy landscape outside of Enid Blyton’s Toyland and The Enchanted Wood, or the Indian mythology of Amar Chitra Katha.) I even picked up a couple of Masters of the Universe audio-books (to date the only books I've listened to on tape), including one about Mer-Man, lord of the deeps, with fantastic underwater sound effects.

Our favourite characters included the dastardly ssssnake men – like Tanglor, whose long pipe-like arms made him distinctly different in shape and size from any of the other figures; Mosquitor (who had a chest cavity that would fill with a slimy red liquid if you pressed a button at the back); the evil Hordak (who was an even bigger bad-ass than Skeletor), the stinky Stinkor (the toy gave off a faintly unpleasant smell), the awful Clawful and many others.

My appetite was whetted by the fact that a live-action film titled Masters of the Universe was coming out that summer. In London I picked up a promotional book about the film; it had a plot synopsis with movie stills, but more interestingly it had a page featuring info on all the main characters, with blanks where the mug-shots of the characters were supposed to be. You had to gradually fill those blanks by collecting stickers from candy stores – they came with purchases of specific chocolates. As you might guess, I made sure to accompany my aunt each time she went shopping to Tescos that summer. (I only got to watch the film months later on videocassette. It had Dolph Lundgren in the He-Man role and a decent-ish cast including a young Courtney Cox, 10 years before Friends.)

Needless to say, after returning to India with my prize collection I was for a while the star among my He-Man-obsessed friends, none of whom had more than 7-8 of the most basic toys. We set up elaborate games including knocking the figures down with darts and bows and arrows, and playing hide-and-seek with them (it was especially useful to hide the all-green Moss Man among plants in the garden; finding him could take hours).

Then, after a few months we lost interest, turned our attention to other things (the Ramayana/Mahabharata obsession was just setting in), and the toys were tucked into a plastic bag and consigned to the storeroom – until I retrieved them this morning and found that Stinkor still hasn’t lost his stink, nearly 20 years after I bought him.

He-Man memories. Such fun.


  1. When I was in school, we ran a samizdat cyclostyled porn mag called "Humphaven" (15-year-olds aren't subtle) for Rs 5 (equivalent to around Rs 70 in current terms).
    HH had a long running popular series called "He-Man, She-Woman, It-thing" - it was written by a gent who is now perhaps the world's greatest expert on golden lenses and a likely Nobel prize winner.
    Nostalgia beckons!

  2. Aaah yes! He-man and then GI Joes in my case. Those were fun days. I didnt have such an extensive experience with the He-Man series as you did [although I owned my own Castle Greyskull...muhaahaha!], but I owned innumerable GI Joes and their related tanks and action vehicles. You would just have the action figures in your hands, and it was up to your creativity and imagination to conjure up a world for them to be in. All the different stories we made, wars we fought and battles we planned just out of just those figures! Kids nowadays have computer games and playstations to confine their minds in - they play constrained by the rules of the game. In my childhood, our rules were defined only by the limits of our own ingenuity and imagination.

  3. Jai,
    Thanks for great memories!



    Do you, by any chance, remember the story of the oriental (chinese?) boy who went in search of his mother? What was the name of the series?

    ta-da-ti-ta-da-to .....

  4. Ah, he-man. The nerdy looking guy who, every time he got stressed would disappear into private, pull out his...errr...sword, wait till lightning exploded from its point, shout "I have the power" at the moment of climax and come back all charged with testosterone. Talk about references to homo-eroticism. As I remember he even had a walking libido figure in the form a great cat.

    I think the reason I never managed to get really interested in He-Man as because the names were too boring. I mean think about it He-Man, She-Ra, Ram Man, Skeletor, Man-at-Arms. Come on. Would it have killed them to put a little bit more effort into coming up with more intelligent names. Like Luke Skywalker, for instance.

  5. DD: Need details. Will call later.

    C&B: Somehow I never got into the GI Joe thing. But thanks for reminding me about that huge Castle Greyskull - we used to envy any kid who had it. Wasn't there a version that glowed in the dark?

    Falstaff: I strongly object. He never "disappeared into private", he did it right there in the open!
    BTW, read the Slate piece I've linked to - it says many of the same things.

    Amar: I don't remember. But do check this link - it has a cool list of syndicated children's TV series from the 1970s onwards, including Giant Robot!

  6. I was never into GIJOEs and all these other superheroes for some reason. My brother was though.

    But we used them even when we were a little older, for something that we called a "boxing match". In this, we would throw the two GIJOEs at each other and then give them points based on how they crashed into each other (there were strict criteria, I assure you), deciding the winner after a few rounds.

  7. My brother had some of them. He never let me play with them though, he wanted to maintain the distinction between girls' 'dolls' and boys' 'action figures'. I bet you didn't let any girls play with your collection either. You men are mean from a very young age.

  8. Yes there was a glow-in-the-dark version too. Till late childhood we thought it was just a legend, but then I saw it at a friend's place.
    I can't believe there is so much disinterest and, indeed, some amount of scorn regarding GIJoes in the comments here! There were more of them in number, with more vehicles, and much more flexible limbs too! Not to mention the cartoons, which served to instruct and educate us about the special talents of the different figures.
    I strongly disapprove of the so-called "boxing matches" described by Anirudh. They are degrading and display lack of imagination on his part. Just clashing them together, I say. What a waste!

  9. Thanks for this post. Really enjoyed it. :) Looking back, I wonder what subtexts my sister and I were internalising when we played with those He-Man & co action figures (but then again, we loved Barbie too, and I at least turned out okay!). Somehow, it never occurred to me till now that that they were boys' toys.

    Have you seen "The Skeletor Show" spoofs? Hilarious stuff.

  10. Hah! Stinkor!! That's brilliant!

    Well, I used to have a collection of quite exotic Barbies and when I was about 12, used to have them put on kind of a Barbie Lido strip club. I had a cousin participate in the venture, and one day, she came over with a chastened face and said what we were doing was Totally Wrong and requested that she be excused from all future strip club events. :P