Masters of the Universe, often referred to as “He-Man” or abbreviated “MOTU”, is a toy series created by the American toy manufacturing company Mattel in early 1981. The franchise has since generated a variety of products including, but not limited to, six lines of action figures, four animated TV-series, one feature live-action film, as well as several comic series.
The action figures were in most cases sold separately and packed individually with a transparent, plastic clam-shell on a cardboard backer. Each figure came with a mini-comic as well as one or more accessories, such as weapons, staffs, and shields. Many of them also came with removable plastic armor. The back of the card backer had pictures and names of other Masters of the Universe figures available at the time. In some cases, certain figures were packed and sold together as a gift set or versus set.
Released alongside the action figures were also many vehicles, creatures, play sets, and a number of accessory packs. Some of these were battery operated. All figures, beasts, vehicles and play sets were available in the United States, with a few exceptions. Certain figures, such as the 12 inch Megator and Tytus, were produced in Italy and distributed in Europe only.
The standard action figures are 5½ inches tall and are, with a few exceptions, made of hard rubber and plastic. The majority of the action figures have articulation in the neck, shoulders, hips and waist. Many of them also have an action feature, the “battle-action waist”. As the figure was twisted at the waist it would, with the help of a spring, allow the figure to spin back with a “punch”. Over the years, more action features were introduced with new figure releases, such as Ram Man’s battering ram feature and Kobra Khan’s water spraying feature.
The early series action figures consisted of only two differently molded chests, one pair of shorts, and three sets of arms and legs. The action figures’ parts were subsequently mixed-and-matched in different colors for new figures. As the toy series progressed, more new molds were created and integrated into the toy line, but both body parts and accessories were often used multiple times for different figures.
Mattel not only re-used action figure parts to create new figures for the series, but they also used figure molds from other toy lines to make creatures like He-Man’s trusted companion, the tiger Battle Cat and the falcon Zoar.
The play sets, vehicles, and creatures came in various sizes and price ranges, and many of them had one or more action features. The largest and most expensive play set was the “Eternia”, which is today the most sought-after play set in the Masters of the Universe toy line. The vehicles also varied in size and complexity, from the small Roton with its rotating saw blade, to the large, battery operated, walking Spydor.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, the interest for Masters of the Universe had started to wane, and the last wave of toys was released in 1987 in the United States (1988 in certain parts of Europe). Inspired and motivated by the overall success of the series, the He-Man franchise was revived by Mattel only two years later, with the 1989 release of a new toy series called “He-Man”.