Galactic Guardians

He-Man – Most Powerful Man in the Universe! (1989)

The 1989 He-Man reboot is often considered by most fans to be a failure. It’s true that the line was less commercially successful than the original line (a high bar to clear). On the other hand, the rebooted “He-Man in space” line lasted for four years – twice as long as the more popular 200x reboot. So, perhaps it’s not fair to call it a failure.

I was never a fan of the “New Adventures” reboot, until one day I was. I think it was a sudden and intense interest in Laser Light Skeletor that drew me in that direction. Still, while I love most of the evil characters in the 1989 line, most of the heroes are a bit under-cooked for my tastes. My theory is that they kept the heroes more generic-looking so that they could be reused for other toylines (and indeed, several of them were reused in Mattel’s Demolition Man toyline).

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I remember running into this toyline on the shelves and thinking “that’s not He-Man” and walking away. I’m sure that’s not the reaction Mattel was going for. At the time I was reluctantly collecting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – reluctantly, because I considered myself too old for toys. Little did I know.

The 1989 edition of He-Man was designed by Martin Arriola. Two versions of the concept art were shared in Dark Horse’s Art of He-Man book, depicting the figure with and without his snap-on armor and gold helmet.

Unlike the “New Adventures” Skeletor, this He-Man would have almost no visual references to any previous version of the character. He’s got gold boots, blue pants, a totally redesigned sword and shield, redesigned harness, and a retro-futuristic armor and helmet. Without any context, I don’t think anyone would immediately connect this design to He-Man, which is I think one of the areas where the reboot went astray. That’s not to say that it’s a bad design – it’s a pretty neat space adventurer design. But is it He-Man?

The idea for the shield and probably the sword seems to have been to use clear plastic (giving it something of a connection to the previous year’s Laser Power He-Man). However, in prototypes that showed up in catalog artwork, we see a solid gold sword and a dark, transparent shield.

The gold sword and dark shield would make their way into the packaging artwork and other media:

He-Man card front artwork by William George
He-Man cardback artwork. Image source: The Art of He-Man
He-Man cross sell artwork. As indicated by the artwork, twisting his waist would make He-Man either slash his sword or raise his shield.

The final toy seems to use LISA (light collecting) plastic in the sword and shield, which were also used in Lego sets around that time. The figure also has a combined H/M symbol added to his belt, a feature not present in the concept art or prototype. The face does resemble the original 1982 He-Man’s face, but it’s subtle enough that it would be easy to miss that this was a He-Man figure, with no other visual references to previous versions. The figure could be displayed with or without the snap-on armor and helmet.

The design is somewhat reminiscent of Bow from the She-Ra line:

He-Man’s boots are a metallic gold plastic with a bit of swirliness. That type of plastic would pop up in toys all over the line, in various shades of silver, gold, bronze, and copper. This is especially apparent in figures like Optikk:

He-Man was sold in a number of configurations: a single card, or in giftset with either Skeletor, Flogg or Slushhead.The design of the single card’s bubble is a bit little different on the Euro card, which has a smaller section for He-Man’s accessories.

US Card
Euro card

He-Man appeared in toy form and in CGI form in a promo for the new line in 1989:

As mentioned previously, Mattel had planned to ask Filmation (the studio that had produced the first He-Man cartoon) to make a cartoon series for the He-Man reboot. Its title would have been He-Man and the Masters of Space (information via Dušan M./James Eatock). Filmation went out of business in 1989, but they did create some artwork and a basic storyline for the pitch. He-Man’s look here more or less follows the design of the toy, although he has a solid gold sword like the prototype, as well as some additional red detail.


Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

Filmation tended to prefer symmetrical character designs, allowing them to flip cells over reuse them in the reverse pose. To that end, this look was also created.


Image via the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group/Dušan M.

Interestingly, Errol McCarthy also illustrated a version of the character with somewhat similar armor:

Image source: He-Man.org

For more information on some of the details of Filmation’s vision for the reboot, see this post at the Ancient Library of Grayskull Facebook group. Or, check out cereal:geek issue 14.

After Filmation went out of business, the job of animating the series went to Jetlag. The series starts off on Eternia, before He-Man and Skeletor are whisked off into the future, but both of them already sport their New Adventures costumes.

Startlingly, after getting a warning from the Sorceress, a redesigned Prince Adam transforms into He-Man right in front of his parents, who hadn’t been aware of his secret identity previously. From there he rescues Hydron and Flipshot from Skeletor’s clutches, and returns with them to the future to save Primus from the mutants.

The Jetlag version of the character I think looks a bit better than the action figure, at least color-wise. In my opinion the brown works much better with blue than gold does. Even his sword is silver rather than gold. But I’ve always had a weird bias against blue and gold together.

He is not the all-powerful collossus as depicted in the Filmation series. He has to struggle to defeat even ordinary villains. Strength-wise, he’s very similar to He-Man as depicted in the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie.

He-Man very rarely has his shield in the Jetlag series, but when he does, it resembles the dark prototype version.

Mattel put out four minicomics for the series, illustrated by three different authors. In this canon, a familiar-looking Prince Adam (holding a power sword that looks like Mattel’s 1989 light-up power sword) actually permanently transforms into his new He-Man self in front of Skeletor. Skeletor had tricked Hydron and Flipshot into transferring the power of Castle Grayskull into their ship. Skeletor planned to hyjack it and take the power for himself, but Prince Adam stops him, and permanently transforms into his futuristic-looking self on the ship.

Light up Power Sword and Skeletor staff, from 1990 German He-Man magazine. Image from He-Man.org

On the cover of The New Adventure, He-Man wears his helmet and armor, but otherwise he goes without these accessories for the rest of the short series (images are from Dark Horse’s He-Man minicomic collection).

The UK He-Man Adventure Magazine covered the New Adventures series, sometimes depicting the character with breastplate and helmet, sometimes with just his helmet, and sometimes without either accessory. The design is, again, based on the prototype figure (images via He-Man.org):

So, finishing my thought from earlier in the article – what to make of this radical He-Man redesign? I have to say I like the design overall, but I think it was a mistake. Without the label on the package, no kid would have looked at this figure and guessed that it was supposed to be He-Man. There should have been some kind of call-back to the original character, beyond just giving him blonde hair and a sort-of similar face. He should have retained some of his original colors – gray, red and orange.

1989 He-Man vs 1982 He-Man

He could have retained the helmet and chest armor (ideally in silver or gray), but underneath there could have been the usual X-shaped harness with either an H or a cross symbol, with some futuristic embellishments. We needed something to tell us that this was not just future space man, but future space He-Man.

Image source: Tallstar/He-Man.org

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14 thoughts on “He-Man – Most Powerful Man in the Universe! (1989)

  1. two minds.. problem is, you need to follow it as following on from Laser-light versions. But due to poor sales, theses were very rare releases so it would seem more like a jarring jump to many. but following the full evolution, it’s much less of a jump so not really a problem.

    1. I wonder how much New Adventures sold in the US vs Europe? Euro cards are very common on ebay in the US, and of course only in Europe would anyone have been familiar with the Laser figures.

  2. I’m glad to not be the only one to have noted the similarities between this He-Man and Bow. Basically they took He-Man and transformed him in Bow: what could go wrong? 😀 😀 😀 😀
    I had this along with Skeletor and the transparent material used for the sword was not a great choice: it was ot very durable and because the hole in the right hand was very tight so the transparent sword handle snapped very soon.

  3. Ah yes, those familiar sound effects associated with Adam’s transformation into He-Man: “Fling! Floop! Flip!”

    Seriously, I am always kinda jealous of all the comics UK MOTU fans got back in the day that were never released here! Seems like a no-brainer to collect as many of those as possible for reprinting in a future Dark Horse MOTU book.

    Your reaction to first seeing the new He-Man was pretty much identical to my own. I remember seeing the words “He-Man” from the end of the toy aisle, and excitedly rushed over, only to be disappointed once I saw the figures. All the store had were some single-carded He-Man figures and the two=pack with Slush Head, and at first, my 10 year-old mind thought some asshole company had come up with some buck Rogers-themes knockoff of He-Man! When I looked on the back of the package, I saw that there was a Skeletor figure as well, and that this was actually an official continuation. I was still pretty ambivalent, but weird future He-Man was better than no He-Man at all, so it went on my “me wanty” list.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the figures weren’t really good enough to hold my interest. Slush Head became a Skeletor henchman, joining the likes of Mumm-Ra, Darth Vader, Destro, and the Blackstar demons as figures from other toylines who wound up working for Skeletor, while He-Man became a denizen of the darkest recesses of my toy box.

    As you say, it’s a nice design, but it’s not He-Man. The Four Horsemen rectified this as much as they could with the MOTUC version of the figure, but I still just don’t see He-Man when I look at it.
    The Optikk figure is super cool, though; He surely would have become an honored Skeletor minion if I’d seen his figure back then. (Much as his MOTUC version has!)

    That commercial is something else! It’s funny to think how my mind would have been blown to see that back in 1989. That clunky CG animation would have been some cutting edge stuff at the time!

    1. I think I would have really liked the villains had I given NA more than a single withering look when I was a kid. Especially the post 1989 villains. Slush Head and Flogg are cute (remind me of 50s sci fi B movie characters), but guys like Optikk and Hoove and the various Skeletor variants are pretty wicked.

      1. I probably would have too, looking back on them now. The distribution for the figures was so terrible in my area that I only saw He-Man and Slush Head everywhere, so they never really had a chance to grab my attention.

        1. I’m sorry but I cant’ help myself, I must say it: looking at it now having “Flop” as sound effect seems somewhat prophetic 😀 😀 😀

          1. well, it was ‘Floop’ which isn’t even pronounced as Flop… and as noted, it lasted 4 years.. hardly a flop. And it looks much more like He-man then that… 200X stuff.. what where they thinking.. even worse people that call it ‘anime’ like… it was a complete mess..

  4. It came up to me that aside for the obvious changing of genre and design, one important reason why they failed with the NA could be summarised in one word: mistery.
    The whole MOTU universe revolves around mistery: the mistery of Grayskull, the mistery of Skeletor, the mistery of this or that artifact/place/character etc… It was true for the first two waves of minicomics, some comics and in the filmation cartoon. Mistery pervades every corner of the MOTU’s universe.

    The NA has no mistery at all. It is a clean Sci-Fi story where everything is pretty clear and explained (minus the reason why He-Man is not superstrong anymore: I remember a friend of mine asking “so why he bothers to transform at all? What’s the point?”).
    It is perfectly possible to create a Sci-Fi story with that kind of mistery and Star Wars is the more recognizable example (well, the pre-prequel material at least), but the NA is not the case.
    It is not because people that the NA is/was not appreciated but because who made it overlooked many important elements, thinking that simply slapping on the “He-Man” title would have been enough: bad mistake and that killed anything good the toyline and the cartoon may had.

  5. Thanks for doing a write-up on this. I’ve been a bit curious about this line, since I didn’t really see it too often, and I never saw any episodes of the cartoon tie-in. In fact, until I found this blog, I wasn’t aware that there WAS a cartoon tie-in.

    Just like Waylon, when I first saw the “New He-Man” figures, they were in just one toy store in my area, and the only thing available was the two pack of He-Man and Slush Head. There were a few dozen packs of those in that shop, but nothing else. I was still a fan of the He-Man characters, so I bought them. I agree the He-Man re-design was a bit underwhelming, but Slush Head was actually a cool looking baddie.

    I certainly enjoyed the comic book insert. It was nice to see Prince Adam become He-Man permanently, and have Skeletor at long last discover that they were the same person. Seeing Skeletor getting fried by mystic lighting was both unexpected and awesome. The cliffhanger ending with an extra-crispy Skeletor fleeing into outer space while laughing maniacally stuck in my head. (It was certainly a good set-up to redesign him as a space cyborg type of character.)

    It took me a while, but eventually I did locate a couple of other characters from the line, namely Skeletor and Hydron. But I never did come across any of the others. So from what I can tell, the distribution of the line, at least in my vicinity (the New York tri-state area) was really poor.

  6. A great write-up as always, Battleram. Like many (most, it seems), I never took to NA at all. In the days before internet and so having no way to know about “a new version of He-Man”, I can clearly remember seeing this new He-Man figure on the shelves in Woolworths here in the UK whilst on a school holiday shopping trip, and at first thinking it was a cheap bootleg! It wouldn’t be unheard of, as some of the cheap knock-offs could be quite blatant (I had a knock-off toy Knight Rider car, which packaging was ‘Night Rider’, without the K, so suspected that the ‘He-Man’ label might be nothing to do with Masters of the Universe), and some of the big stores carried these knock-offs regardless.
    Either way it played on my mind until a while later I saw the new revamped UK comic announcing these ‘New Adventures’. I had been a MOTU fan since the start, but by the late 1980s it had ran out of steam and really felt to be ‘over’, so what we’d now call a reboot wasn’t unsurprising, but even so I just HATED it. Every element I loved about the early-days MOTU was totally missing. Furthermore, beyond a couple of okayish concepts for the villains, the designs were just dull, and I didn’t like the smaller size.

    I think I agree with Battleram’s thoughts, that NA He-Man’s design didn’t work but there were no references to the classic design. The colours were wrong, the armor bore zero relevance, and even the sword and shield other than actually being the same types of weapon as the originals, looked totally unrelated. Even with the many vintage He-Man variants, there were always common running themes. I think his armor should have at least resembled his traditional cross-style harness, and would have worked better in a spacey silver, which would at least echo the original grey. (Also, maybe give him a “space ax” too, to at least reflect the original weapons). His face looked too much like John Travolta, and his clip-on armor and helmet looked way too clunky and uninteresting. When you do cyber-space technology and it doesn’t even look interesting, that is not a good sign.

    It’s interesting to note that Filmations concept sketches for He-Man and Skeletor actually re-use some old stock poses for the pair, just updated into a NA appearance. I wonder if this Filmation-proposed series had ever come to be, as it would have seemingly been closer to the previous classic series, if it would have helped us kids make the transition and “like” NA… actually I still think not.

    The packaging on the (lazy) two-packs (generic “Mutant” tag instead of character names) is also a bizarre design choice with it’s stencil font. It almost echoes one of the unused suggestions for a He-Man reboot of him becoming more of a army-man. But the stencil font, especially in white, just looks far too much like ‘The A-Team’, which used the same font on most of it’s merchandise and which had it’s own toyline.

    I am one of the many that loathed NA for years, leaving a bad taste in the mouth from the tail end of a once-glorious toyline. It is only until more recent years with the Classics and things such as this blog, that I will at least look at them in terms of concept designs and maybe pick out some (limited) element that I do like.
    But with nearly zero ties to the previous incarnation (they coulda at least sent key sidekick characters such as Teela & Man-At-Arms, and Beast Man and Evil-Lyn into the NA universe to help things carry over a bit more (yes I know a version of Teela does appear in a NA cartoon episode). But there is no drive to the new series, no point or mystery – what are they actually fighting for? A couple of “dull” planets instead of the whole Universe? Maybe if He-Man and Skeletor had become accidentally transported into deep space and were separately searching for a way home? Something, ANYTHING to give ‘space He-Man’ a bit of a drive or goal, at least. But I think what NA ended up as was too much of an unguided mish-mash with no ‘goal’ which further alienated fans.

    There is the interesting point that, at four years, NA did outlast the 200x version by two years. However this might partly be countermanded by considering that, like TV series and all modern toys and franchises, it’s a much more “dog eat dog” world now, with more choice, less chance, and where the ax can fall at any given moment.
    Would we have taken to NA if they had been more of the larger, chunky size of MOTU? It may have helped loads, but I don’t think was a full solution. Would we have liked NA if it was totally unconnected to He-Man at all? I’m afraid I think it would have barely been noticed.

    Even so, loving looking at some of the concept and development of these NA characters. (Although still a few vintage MOTU characters I’d love to see covered, Battleram).

    1. Yes, I suppose the competition wasn’t so stiff in 1989. I agree with all your points about how NA could have been improved.

      I’ll still be covering the original MOTU lineup. I’ve got a piece on Roboto halfway written 🙂

      Thanks for the comments

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