I was never much of a video game kid. It’s not that I hated them. My brother David and I had a NES followed by a Sega Genesis when we were kids and I really enjoyed playing those games. But, given the choice, I was always one for my action figures. I would spend hours completely enthralled, creating all sorts of stories and adventures for my figures and using my imagination to transform everything from the couch to the coffee table to the fireplace to the backyard into wild worlds for them to traverse. I loved my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved my Ghostbusters. I loved my various superheroes. But as a kid my world began and ended with He-Man.
When Rob offered me the chance to do a guest post for My Side Of The Laundry Room, I jumped at it. Soon after finding Rob’s site, I quickly fell in love with his writing style and his content and my friendship with Rob is a wonderful blessing that’s come from blogging. So I was super excited to do this post…annnnd then I started overthinking it. Seriously, I perseverated over this for months. Do I write about the Turtles? My Spidey toys? How about LEGOs?!? Oooo, what about my Star Wars Micro Machines?!? Silly Past Michael, wasting all that time. I should have known this was always going to be about He-Man. When I think of my childhood, my old toys, and all those wonderful memories of falling into the world of fantasy for the first time – the areas Rob traverses with such authenticity, fun, and poignancy on this site – there’s no other place for me to start than with He-Man.
Ahh…He-Man. How great was He-Man?!? The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull gave Price Adam the Sword of Power, allowing him to transform into He-Man (and turn his cowardly tiger Cringer into the mighty Battle Cat) whenever he’d lift the Sword of Power above his head and proclaim, “By the power of Grayskull…I have the power!” Then, together with Teela, Man-At-Arms, Orko, and a variety of other allies, He-Man was ready to protect the planet and kingdom of Eternia from the evil forces of Skeletor. He-Man would be the first fantasy world I’d completely immerse myself in (I said those magic words myself with my own toy sword countless times!) and it’s worth noting I can still name far more He-Man characters than I can remember anything about algebra. And I’m happier for it too :).
But I digress. Let’s set the stage! It was Christmas 1984. I was two-and-a-half years old. As the story goes (as told by my parents), He-Man was the big toy that year. However in the lead up to Christmas I hadn’t made any mention to Mom or Dad that I wanted anything He-Man related. Heck, they didn’t even know I knew who He-Man was let alone that I was a fan. So, come Christmas I received many wonderful gifts…but was a little sad He-Man wasn’t among them. Cue Grandma saving the day! The day after Christmas, Grandma ventured out to every store in town to try and track down a He-Man for me.
Given his burgeoning popularity the stores were understandably empty but, undaunted, Grandma swept through town until she found a Battle Armor He-Man at Toy World on our West 38th Street. Remember Battle Armor He-Man?!? He had the cool chest plate that spun in his chest revealing three different levels of “damage” to his armor. And he was my very first He-Man. Honestly, he probably deserves to be displayed in a place of prominence in my home now instead of in a box with my other He-Man toys at my parents’ house. (They say they’d love me to take them all to store at my house but, secretly, I think they’d miss them so I do the good son thing and leave them there.) Anyway, Grandma came down and gave him to me, launching me into the world of He-Man toys. WOO! Life was good. For a year Battle Armor He-Man was my one and only He-Man and he led my little growing collection of his friends into battle with Skeletor’s cronies. The following year, my brother David was born on December 13th (yes, it was a Friday the 13th…and he was born at 10:13 at night…also, Dad’s gas bill when he filled up his truck earlier that day was $13….gah!!!) and he “got me” the original He-Man figure as a little present when he came home from the hospital. Classy move David – way to come into the world as a good kid. Needless to say, we instantly hit it off.
In preparation for writing this post I spent an evening at my parents house recently going through my old box of He-Man toys. Some of the toys were a little wobbly, the rubber bands inside them that allowed them to pivot having become a bit stretchy with age. But by and large they were still in pretty good shape! (Thank you Mom for not storing them up in the attic!) The only one who’d lost a leg was Stinkor, something Dad would have been okay with as he disliked the “skunk scent” of my Stinkor toy so much he made me keep him out in the garage for days after I first got him to “air him out.” The rest were still kicking though. Naturally I explored these lovely collectables had a ball playing with them again! I crawled around the house setting them up in different poses and taking their pictures (the (totally professional) pictures that accompany this post). So many memories came flooding back!
I loved these guys. I loved the He-Man cartoon. I had He-Man shirts. I ran around the house with my Sword of Power and little shield. I read He-Man comic books. Mom even took any duplicate He-Man stickers we had and, using a pair of manicure scissors, cut out the characters so I could use them as smaller little toys to create my own little mobile Colorform-esque scenes to play with. I’m not making this up! At the time it just seemed awesome but thinking back on it now…wow. Talk about patience!!! I played with He-Man all the time. They were used and they were loved. They used to sit in a bin at the foot of the couch where I’d spend countless hours creating battles for Eternia. (Spoiler alert: He-Man always won.)
One of my favorite memories of my youth has to do with He-Man. Mom and I used to sit out at the picnic table on our back porch when I was little, staring up at the sky, and daydream about He-Man and Teela flying down in their Wind Raider to Earth and taking us off to adventures in Eternia. We’d talk about how exciting it would be and where we’d go and what we’d do when we got to Eternia. Even now, over thirty years later, those daydreams still feel so vivid. I can feel the bench of the picnic table beneath me, Mom next to me, and the vision of He-Man and Teela coming down to take us off on all sorts of adventures.
It’s worth taking a brief break from my nostalgic musing to point out something I noticed as I was going through all my old He-Man toys. A regular and frustrating/saddening trend in superhero toys today is the lack of representation for female characters. The hashtags #WhereIsNatasha, #WhereIsRey, and #WhereIsGamora regularly trend on Twitter after the major merchandise is rolled out for every big superhero blockbuster only to reveal – yet again – the females have all been left out. In their Age Of Ultron toy line, Marvel/Disney infamously took Black Widow out of her brilliant, badass motorcycle scene when she was dropped from the Quinjet to zip through traffic and put Captain American on the damn motorcycle. To say the obvious: this is bullshit. To elaborate a bit more, the excuses the companies offer are bullshit too. We’ve heard everything from “Girls don’t like to play with superhero toys” to “Boys won’t buy girl toys” and on and on. I say again, bullshit.
Look at my youth! Teela and Evil Lyn were a huge part of my action figure experience!!! Why wouldn’t they be? They were important parts of the show. I can still remember how excited I was when, in 1987, they finally made a Sorceress action figure. How could I authentically play He-Man without her?? The answer to my five-year-old mind was I couldn’t. I didn’t see a girl character nor a toy for girls nor a toy I shouldn’t play with as a boy nor a toy marketed to one gender over another. Rather I saw a character who was an important part of He-Man’s story. I felt the same way when She-Ra entered the picture. Princess Adora was Prince Adam’s sister! She was important too! As you can see from the picture below, She-Ra (as well as her foes Catra and Double Trouble) always lived right alongside my He-Man toys, just as Teela, Evil Lyn, and the Sorceress did. So, to all you sexist toy manufacturers, here’s the thing. If I could love all these female characters because they were awesome and an important part of the story in the hyper-masculine setting and sharp boy/girl toy divisions of the 1980’s, we’re certainly in a place where we’re all comfortable doing that now. So grow-up Disney and all your little toy-producing minions and stop being such sexist a-holes. Let’s give credit to the amazing female characters we have in our superhero stories, Star Wars stories, and the like and give them their place alongside their male counterparts on the toy shelves!! Also, one token female toy in the whole line doesn’t cut it either. You can do better. We deserve better. Okay, social justice rant tangent over. Now where were we?
Walking back down Memory Lane with all my old He-Man toys made for a wonderful night. He-Man was such an important part of my life and such an early part of my life. I’m sure there’s all sorts of foundational life lessons I’ve learned from He-Man that I don’t even remember came from He-Man. For example, as a theology teacher I can tell you every religion around the world has their own version of the Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated. The first place I learned that? He-Man! I had this little cup with a two or three panel He-Man comic on it where Hordak had Buzz-Off trapped in a cage. He-Man saved Buzz-Off and placed Hordak in the cage reminding Hordak of the Golden Rule. I remember sitting at the kitchen table as Mom talked me through the meaning and implications of this important message. Treat others as you want to be treated – just one of (I’m sure) many important life lessons I first learned from He-Man.
As Geek Culture has exploded over the past fifteen years, I’ve been able to return to many of the stories, sagas, and characters I loved as a kid, whether seeing new versions of their story or returning to the movies/comics/cartoons I devoured in my youth. I’ve reconnected with Spider-Man, Star Wars, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Ghostbusters. However, I’ve yet to return to He-Man. I’ve heard about a new cartoon series that came out a few years ago. I’ve seen the complete series or individual season DVDs of the original He-Man: Masters Of The Universe show online and when I browse our local FYE. I’m sure they’re streaming someplace too. But I never pick them up. For me, at least for now, He-Man remains this perfect, unspoiled memory shining brightly from my childhood. And I’m happy to leave him there. I’m not ready to see He-Man with “adult eyes.” Maybe I never will be. But He-Man can still save the day when I need him. So now, on days plagued by “adulting,” stress, or even a little ennui, I can let my mind drift back to those joyful memories. There’s nothing like the pure happiness of childhood to break the funk of a bad adult mood. Sometimes if the mood strikes me, I’ll still invoke those magic words for the countless time, driving away a bad mood because, “By the power of Grayskull…I have the power!”
[Rob’s Note: I am truly thankful that Michael graciously shared his love for one of the all-time great action figure lines, Masters of the Universe. His post paints a beautiful picture of an entire family’s “moment in time” with He-Man and his allies and villains. Nostalgia is something that makes us who we are and is strong enough to forge friendships, create a shared dialog, and give us the strength to tackle a new day. Michael’s story is testament to that and I can’t thank him enough for allowing us into his past. For those of you who haven’t (and it shouldn’t be too many of you), please check out all of Michael’s wonderful posts over at his site, My Comic Relief . Treat yourself to his awesome comic book reviews, character essays, and (sadly) his posts about the America we now call home. Thanks again Michael.]