Heroic Warriors

Strongest Man in the Universe

marvel

Everyone knows that He-Man is the most powerful man in the universe. If you bought the action figure in the 1980s, it was there right under his name:

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If you watched the Filmation He-Man cartoon, you heard him call himself that at the beginning of every episode:

I am Adam, prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!” Cringer became the mighty Battle Cat, and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Only three other share this secret. Our friends the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Orko. Together we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.”

But before He-Man was the most powerful man in the universe, he was merely the strongest man in the universe. Is there a difference between the two, or is it just semantics? Before I get into that, let’s take a look at the places where He-Man was called the strongest man in the universe.

The first published instance comes from the 1982 Mattel dealer catalog, which was made available at Toy Fair, February 17, 1982. This is where the new Masters of the Universe line was first unveiled to the public. The catalog itself is a treasure, because almost every He-Man toy shown is a prototype (granted, most of them are late-stage prototypes). As you can see below, the catalog calls He-Man the “strongest man in the universe”:

The Mattel 1982 Wish List, released in November, gives He-Man the same appellation:

He-Man is also called the strongest man in the universe in a couple of Masters of the Universe Gift Sets – “He-Man and Wind Raider” and “He-Man and Battle Cat”. In both cases it is only in the earliest, first editions of the gift set that He-Man is called the “strongest”. In all reissued editions his tag line was changed to “most powerful”.

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In a 2013 interview, Mark Ellis, former Director of Marketing for Mattel, seems to use the two taglines interchangeably:

What became clear was that for a five year old, power was a central issue because seemingly they were always being bossed around.  Psychologically, they wanted to be the boss.  They wanted the power.  This then was manifested in the figure by making him “the strongest man in the universe.”  The idea is, if you are in charge of the most powerful man in the universe, then this feeds directly into the “why” of their play.  As the line developed, the phrase “I have the power” was born to emphasis that point.

This is an interesting bit of trivia, but what does it mean? Maybe nothing, but as you might have guessed, I have a theory or two. He-Man, in his first incarnation, was not the nearly omnipotent superhero powered by Castle Grayskull’s magic that he would later become. In the first minicomic, He-Man and the Power Sword, He-Man was a jungle warrior chosen by the Sorceress to be the guardian of Castle Grayskull. She gifted him with a costume, “made before the Great Wars by Eternia’s scientists”. It gave him superhuman strength – enough to punch through solid rock. (This recalls Thor’s belt Megingjord, which, when worn, doubled Thor’s strength.) However, He-man could still be overpowered by a quick-witted enemy like Mer-Man.

In months following the publication of these early minicomics, however, He-Man’s astounding strength was reinvented as a magical force gifted from Castle Grayskull. By the time the Filmation cartoon aired, his power became amped up to such an extent that he became something of a flightless Superman. He could create whirlwinds just by spinning his arms. He could move the moon out of its orbit. He could lift and throw Castle Grayskull itself. He-Man truly went from “strongest” to “most powerful” man in the universe.

Another thing to consider – He-Man was, by far, the most muscular-looking figure who had ever been produced at the time. I remember very clearly my older brother telling me how unrealistic he thought those muscles were when He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and Beast Man first arrived in our house late in 1982. I remember pouring over the mini comics, but at that age I was mostly just looking at the pictures, and I never got the idea that He-Man’s strength came from anything more than the size of his muscles. As an observant kid, I took note that He-Man’s arms were much bigger than Skeletor’s or Beast Man’s arms. I was a little annoyed when I realized that Man-At-Arms had the same build as He-Man – I thought only He-Man should look that strong.

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The “strongest man” tagline might very well simply have been driven by He-Man’s remarkably muscular appearance, before any thought of either technological or magical enhancements entered the scene.

Now, is any of this really why his tag line was changed? Maybe not. Maybe in the end marketing decided that “most powerful” just had a nicer ring to it. Whatever sparked the revision, it certainly reflected the change in characterization that we got from the early 1982 stories to the ones that started to come a year or so later.

Let’s not forget, of course, that even the very first editions of He-Man, which predate the gift sets I mentioned earlier (but postdate the Toy Fair catalog), give He-Man the “most powerful man” tagline. So whatever was driving the change, it was going on very early, even if “strongest man” persisted here and there for almost a year.

One more note: in Mark Taylor’s original conception, He-Man’s strength was supernatural, making him the strongest man in the universe, but not so strong that he could lift castles. He didn’t need a sword or any other external items to augment his strength – it was innate.

I’d like to acknowledge Tokyonever, curator of the Grayskull Museum. He first brought to my attention the fact that early He-Man/Wind Raider gift sets had the “strongest” tagline.

Reviews

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (2015)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomic Collection (released October 21, 2015) is a comprehensive collection of minicomics from 1982 to the early 90s, plus a taste of the 2002 and modern Masters of the Universe Classics mini comics.  It’s a concept that I think a lot of He-Man and She-Ra fans had been wishing for for quite some time.

The collection was edited by Daniel Chabon and Ian Tucker, with advisement from Val Staples. The comics themselves were scanned and collected by Leanne Hannah, Rod Hannah, Jon Kallis, Rachel Crockett, and Val Staples.

Many of these comics had been available for some time digitally from sources like He-Man.org and The Good Old Days, but not always scanned in high resolution, and certainly not always in a format that was easy to read. Collecting minicomics for the most part isn’t generally terribly expensive – that is, until you get to rare issues like The Ultimate Battleground or Energy Zoids. And certainly having the comics collected in one book is a more convenient to consume and digest them. Having a comprehensive collection in production order nudged me to read read comics I might have otherwise skipped. And of course the pages are blown up significantly larger than the original printings, with the exception of The Power of Point Dread.

Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection covers more than just standard release comics. The previously unpublished Return From Terror Island (inked but uncolored) is included along with an introduction by James Eatock. There is also a script for another unpublished comic, Ring of Dreams, with an introduction by Danielle Gelehrter. The general rule for this collection is minicomics that were packed in with toys, or were intended to be packed in with toys.

We also get an introduction to mini comic variants. One of the most fascinating is the early promotional version of He-Man and the Power Sword, which features an early version of the Masters of the Universe logo, as well as references to the toyline’s early working name, “Lords of Power.”

That logo, by the way, has some points in common with the logo used on some French Masters of the Universe minicomics:

The collection is also peppered with with footnotes full of trivia and interesting connections, written by Jukka Issakainen:

Out of curiosity, I asked Jukka how the trivia portion of the book came about. This is what he told me:

Early on, there was no trivia planned. I had touched base with Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon with some questions about minicomic order and variant differences, and later Val Staples who was coordinating the book contacted me back via Skype on these matters. During a couple of conversations he asked if anything popped into my mind that should be included in the book [comics, booklets, specials], but as they had most things already covered, I mentioned that if the book could include some trivia it would be a cool addition.

Scattered in between the many dozens of mini comic stories the collection is filled  with quite a number of interviews (conducted by Danielle Gelehrter) with fourteen mini comic artists and writers, vintage and modern. They include:

  • Mark Texeira
  • Gary Cohn,
  • Michael Halperin
  • Larry Houston
  • Christy Marx
  • Stan Sakai
  • Lee Nordling
  • Steven Grant
  • Jim Mitchell
  • Errol McCarthy
  • Val Staples
  • Tim Seeley
  • Daniel Chabon
  • Scott Neitlich

All of this is icing on the cake for anyone who cares to delve into the history of the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power minicomics. If not, then the comics themselves are worth the price of admission and then some

The large bulk of the book is made of up of the original 51 Masters of the Universe minicomics, which were packed in with figures and other toys from 1982 to 1987. Because the comics span six years and were produced by dozens of different artists and writers, there are some quite dramatic tonal shifts throughout the series.

The series begins with the stark jungle-barbarian post-apocalyptic wastelands of the Alfredo Alcala and Don Glut stories, which are the only comics in the series that don’t have speech bubbles. In fact, Mattel called them “adventure books” rather than comics or minicomics.

This advertisement appeared in the original He-Man and the Power Sword “adventure book”. However, the Dark Horse collection omits all of the original ads.

That distinctive style gives way to Mark Texeira and Gary Cohn’s faster-paced bronze age style adventure tales. I’m a big fan of the artwork and storytelling, but I find some of the color choices a bit perplexing sometimes, with emphasis on orangey-browns and vivid magenta throughout.

Following the Texeira/Cohn comics, Alfredo Alcala returns to illustrate another series of stories (this time with traditional word bubbles). The writer for the next run of Alcala-illustrated comics was most often  Michael Halperin, who wrote the original Masters of the Universe Bible. The MOTU Bible contained the “proto-Filmation” canon – that is to say, elements that would influence the development of the Filmation cartoon, but were not identical to the world Filmation created. Some examples – Prince Adam exists, but is a more serious character and has a different costume. King Randor is also depicted as a much older man.

The tone remained somewhat serious throughout the second run of Alcala comics (perhaps with the exception of The Obelisk, written by Karen Sargentich). Some of the post-Alcala comics, illustrated by Larry Houston, were downright brutal:

From The Clash of Arms

After a few chaotic and frankly bizarre comics midway through the series (the mini comics for Leech and Mantenna spring to mind), the comics seem to settle into a predictable but solid rhythm and style, particularly when Bruce Timm was at the illustrator desk. The Filmation influence is present through most of the series, but the mini comics are often just a shade darker, with some actual action and violence (but almost never any real consequences).


The Dark Horse collection includes all eleven original Princess of Power minicomics, all of which were new to me. The first of POP comics, The Story of She-Ra, features a brief appearance by Hordak, but otherwise Catra is the main villain, and no other male members of the Evil Horde appear in the series.

These are tightly contained stories that for the most part focus on Princess of Power-branded characters. It’s an interesting alternative universe to the Filmation She-Ra series, which not only featured an almost complete line-up of Evil Horde villains, but regularly featured guest characters from He-Man’s world as well.

The Dark Horse collection also features all four original New Adventures of He-Man mini-comics (the short-lived sci-fi reboot that immediately followed the original line), a selection of two comics from the 2002 series, and three mini-comics from the modern Masters of the Universe Classics series.

The New Adventure (illustrated by Errol McCarthy, who was responsible for much of the post-1982 cardback art on the original He-Man figures) is a fun story, because in it Skeletor witnesses first-hand Prince Adam’s transformation into He-Man. Perhaps more could have been done with Skeletor’s reaction to this revelation, but all the built-up subtext almost tells that story for you:

The collection features the one 2002 minicomic that fans were already familiar with, plus another featuring Smash Blade He-Man and Spin Blade Skeletor that was never released. The comics were written by Val Staples and Robert Kirkman, with artwork and colors by Emiliano Santalucia, Enza Fontana, Marko Failla, Neal Adams,Kevin Sharpe, Brian Buccellato, Steve Cobb, and Val Staples.

Finally, we get a taste of three minicomics from the 2009 Masters of the Universe Classics series. All three were written by Scott Neitlich and Tim Seeley (the first in the series was based on the vintage Powers of Grayskull mini comic written by Phil White and penciled by Larry Houston) and illustrated by Wllinton Alves and Michael Atiyeh.

Dark Horse’s Minicomic Collection satisfies a need that had gone unmet for a long time among He-Man and She-Ra fans, but it also whets our appetite for more books along these same lines. Personally I’d love to see another collection comprised of full-sized MOTU comics and magazines from the 1980s to present day, not to mention a collection of the classic Golden Books adventures.

Heroic Warriors

Buzz-Off: Heroic spy in the sky (1984)

Buzz-Off is one of those figures that I never owned as a kid and had limited exposure to in general. I remember seeing him only once in the wild – when visiting some distant relatives for the first time. I remember their son showing me his He-Man collection, which included Mekaneck and Buzz-Off (the first time I had seen either figure in person).

My exposure to him as a character otherwise was mostly punctuated by his appearance in the Filmation cartoon episode, “Disappearing Dragons”, and his inclusion in a couple of my favorite mini comics.

Buzz-Off first appears in the December 1, 1982 Masters of the Universe Bible, under the name Bugoff. I believe that many of the characters listed in the Bible were just very early “back of the napkin” ideas without much development. In this case, Bugoff was based on a beetle rather than a bee, although Buzz-Off retained the high-tech wings in the description below:

BUGOFF* – part man, part beetle, but with high-tech wings, flies swiftly and fast. His sword and lance are his stingers. Bugoff’s beetle-like armor protects him from many dangers including some of the laser weapons of Skeletor and his crew.

*These names are not set yet and may change

In July of 1982, Colin Bailey finished an illustration of a character called Wasp Man, who has many design touches in common with the final Buzz-Off action figure. He has the wings pinned to his back, the yellow and brown striped chest, the helmet with the enlarged insect eyes, the clawed hands, and the  enlarged monster toes.

Concept Wasp Man, by Colin Bailey. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation/The Art of He-Man

There are a few differences from the final figures as well. Wasp Man has spiny protrusions on the sides of his lower legs, and it looks like his clawed hands were supposed to be gloves. His thighs lack the bony protrusions of the final toy. He has white fur around his shoulders and head, and his wings are white and almost moth-like. But the most obvious difference is the head – it’s a reuse of He-Man’s head. From the working name Wasp Man it doesn’t sound like he was supposed to be a kind of He-Man variant, so the idea of reusing the head from the main protagonist in this way is rather bizarre. Then again, it’s possible that part of the original He-Man head was used as a basis for Mekaneck, so it’s not unheard of.

In this early mock-up of the figure (below), we see a hand-painted mashup of parts, with He-Man’s head (with brown hair instead of blond) and limbs borrowed from Zodac. The striped chest on this piece almost seems to resemble a rib cage. You can see some very thin insect wings on his back, and of course a large helmet with a somewhat creepy-looking insectoid face.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Volume One

Given the parts used here, as compared to the concept drawing, it’s likely that Buzz-Off’s limbs had not yet been sculpted, and the designers went with the closest analogs they had on hand.

Interestingly, there was a version of He-Man released with brown hair – often called Savage He-Man (or erroneously “Wonder Bread He-Man”), he seems to have been been given out as part of a promotion, but otherwise very little is known about him. He may not have anything to do with Buzz-Off, but I thought it was an interesting little connection.

Image courtesy of Arkangel

Roger Sweet designed a character called Mandible Man, who seems to fit the description of Bugoff from the MOTU Bible. Mandible Man even shares the limbs and torso that Buzz-Off had (also used selectively on Clawful and Whiplash). Colin Bailey’s design for Wasp Man don’t seem to exactly match those final sculpted parts, although it certainly looks like an early pass at them. Mandible Man appears to have been made with the exact final sculpted Buzz-Off/Whiplash parts in mind. Putting on our historian’s hat, that should tell us this design came after these parts were sculpted, and Wasp Man came before.

Mandible Man, by Roger Sweet. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Volume One

The final version of Buzz-Off is mostly derived from the original Colin Bailey artwork. Wisely they decided to give him a unique insect head, which has none of the creepiness of the prototype model’s mask. The final, hand-painted prototype appears in the promotional image below:

Final prototype.

The hand-painted prototype also appears in a 1984 Mattel German catalog. In this imeage you can see that the model appears to have been cast in pink and painted over by hand.

Image courtesy of Olmo

This cross sell artwork used to promote the toy is quite faithful to the design of the final prototype. The final prototype itself is identical to the final toy, except for the eye color, which was changed to blue/green for the mass-produced toy.

Buzz-Off cross sell artwork. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

His clawed arms have the same spiky protrusions as the concept art, although now they look like a part of his anatomy. Similar structures were added to his thighs. His helmet was removable, but so loosely fitting that it was easily knocked off. For a weapon he was given a brown version of the axe from Castle Grayskull’s weapons rack, albeit with an extra loop to allow him to hold it. Even so, it didn’t work terribly well – had his claws been rotated 90 degrees, he could have held the weapon much more naturally.


One my my favorite things about Buzz-Off is the design of his chest. The brown area is covered in little bumps, while the yellow bands that go around this chest are mostly smooth, with a few alternating ridges. That makes him wonderfully tactile in hand.

His wings are quite remarkable as well. Cast in translucent yellow, they have little mechanical parts throughout the structure. There are lots of details to discover in this toy.

Although Buzz-Off’s limbs are technically new pieces, it is apparent that they were made by modifying the original arms and legs used on He-Man. The musculature, in the areas where there are no added ridges or bumps, is identical.

The action illustration on the back of Buzz-Off’s card was done by Errol McCarthy. There are actually two different versions of the illustration on the printed cardbacks. Both of them are different from an earlier take that Errol drew that was not used. I’ll show them in what I believe is the order of design. You can see that Buzz-Off starts off with feet that are quite bird-like in the line art version below:

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Errol McCarthy’s first take on Buzz-Off. Image via He-Man.org

Cards marked “NEW!” on the front (representing the early release cards) often feature the illustration below on the back, which is similar to the illustration above, but with feet that are a bit closer to the shape of the toy:

The more common version of the cardback illustration has feet that are closer still to the look of the toy, with thicker toes and clearer delineation between claws and feet. The image is also flipped in mirror image from the original.

McCarthy also illustrated Buzz-Off (along with many other characters) for licensed He-Man T-shirts. This one has feet reminiscent of Skeletor’s:

Image source: He-Man.org

Buzz-Off was also sold in a gift set with Moss Man and Mekaneck, and in a JC Penny two-pack with Fisto.

Image via Grayskull Museum

Buzz-Off makes a couple of appearances in the MOTU box art, in the illustrations for Battle Bones and The Fright Zone. Both were painted by William George:

Buzz-Off also shows up in a few posters by Earl Norem and William George:

Buzz-Off shows up fairly frequently in the mini comics. My favorite appearances are in He-Man and the Insect People and The Obelisk, due in large part to the artwork by Alfredo Alcala.

In Insect People, He-Man, Teela, Buzz-Off and Mekaneck discover a race of insect-like people living under ground. Apparently, however, they are unrelated to Buzz-Off and no mention is made of any kind of connection between the two (mini comic images via the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini Comic Collection).

In The Obelisk, Buzz-Off plays a much more active role in the story, first as spy, and then as a warrior who manages to send Skeletor running:

Buzz-Off is also a major character in Grizzlor: The Legend Comes Alive! Buzz-Off scares his compatriots (Man-At-Arms, Fisto, and Teela) with a spooky campfire story about a legendary monster called Grizzlor, who turns out to be very real.

Buzz-Off is a frequent collaborator with Mekaneck, not only in the mini comics but also in the Filmation He-Man cartoon series. Both of them are supposed to be spies, although in a fight I think Buzz-Off’s claws and axe (or stinger lance, which he used in the cartoon) would come in a lot more handy than Mekaneck’s periscoping neck and ornate club.

In the cartoon, Buzz-Off is part of an entire race of bee people. This is one of the few times an animalistic character is said to be part of a larger race of sentient beings in the cartoon series.

Several years back, The Power and the Honor Foundation shared this early model sheet for Buzz-Off (edit: Dušan Mitrović informs me that this was for Bug-Off), which is based off of Colin Bailey’s original concept drawings. Often Filmation would go with concept designs rather than final toy designs given the lead time required to produce an episode. In this, case, however, they ended up going with a simplified version of the final toy design.

Buzz-Off is also a recurring character in the Golden Books series of He-Man books, although perhaps his strongest appearance is in The Rock Warriors:

Buzz-Off seems to have been fairly popular, given the relative frequency of his appearances in the cartoon and mini comics. He was even offered as a Halloween costume by Ben Cooper back in 1985:


Conceptually, Buzz-Off is not so different from characters like Mer-Man or Beast Man. Like them, he is a kind of human/animal hybrid. The bee motif does make him seem less serious, but he remains a personal favorite of mine.

Image source: Wishbook
Heroic Warriors

He-Man: “Mattel’s Jungle Man”

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

He-Man has been depicted in many different ways over the years. Sometimes he’s something of a knight, complete with archaic English pronouns, keeping a close watch over a medieval fiefdom. Sometimes he’s a square-jawed, unbreakable man of steel, protecting a futuristic monarchy from comically-inept enemies. Sometimes he’s a barbarian warrior piloting technological wonders from another age through war-torn battle fields.

But in his first ever media incarnation, He-Man was a jungle man, something of a blond Tarzan with a dash of Conan the Barbarian, gifted with special weapons and equipment from the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull.

Indeed, it’s not surprising that early media depict He-Man as a Tarzan-like character. In the 1970s Mattel had produced a line of Tarzan toys, so it would have been a natural direction to take the new Masters of the Universe line. He-Man the jungle warrior was a short-lived concept and was soon replaced with other themes, but I’d like to explore it in this article.

Tarzan and the Giant Ape. Packaging artwork by Mark Taylor.

The first minicomic of the toyline, He-Man and the Power Sword, kicks off the MOTU mythos with the theme of He-Man as jungle tribesman turned defender of Eternia. And really, it’s not so surprising that He-Man would be characterized in this way, given that the comic was written by Don Glut (artwork by Alfredo Alcala). Glut was the creator and writer of the Dagar The Invincible comic series from the early 1970s, which features as its protagonist a blond-haired jungle warrior in a primitive costume.


In a 2001 interview conducted by Matt Jozwiak, Glut explained:

Originally, when I came onto the [MOTU] project, there were no stories at all. Not all the characters and places were yet named and not all of the characters had been invented. All that existed then were some prototype toys and some general ideas of who and what they were and what they could do.

I’d been writing comic-book and filler text stories for Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Whitman, Gold Key Comics and Golden Press). Western then had an account with the Mattel toy company. One day my editor at Western, Del Connell, told me that Mattel was coming out with a new line of toys called Masters of the Universe and needed someone to write four booklets that would be included with the toys…

It’s hard to remember much of this, as it was long ago and so quickly executed. Basically, I was given Polaroid photos of the prototype toys. I’d written lots of sword and sorcery and heroic adventure type stories by this time and so it was relatively easy to come up with the personalities. He-Man, for instance, was your typical “noble savage stereotype” a kind of combination Tarzan and Conan. I just used the same standards and principles I’d applied to earlier stories to “Master of the Universe”. And the plots were similar, too. Most such plots involve a villain who needs “something” (a magic jewel, a secret formula, etc.) to achieve a goal (conquer the world, achieve immortality, etc.) and a brave hero who fights to prevent the villain from accomplishing this. You simply “fill in the blanks,” changing the particulars from story to story.

And indeed, this exactly the kind of story-telling used in He-Man and the Power Sword. He-Man, the mightiest warrior of tribe, sets out to defend Eternia and Castle Grayskull from unknown threats. How he comes to the conclusion that they are threatened is not explained. In this scene we get a glimpse of He-Man’s tribe in the background as he sets off with spear in hand.

Although He-Man is simple and primitive, the Sorceress soon gifts him with force field armor that adds to his strength, a battle axe, a shield, and a futuristic time warp device (the Battle Ram).

With his augmented strength, the primitive He-Man carves his home out of the bare rock using nothing but his fists.

The MacGuffin that Glut refers to as the basis for his story telling is, in this case, the Power Sword, hidden deep within Castle Grayskull. Skeletor manages to force his way into the castle and succeeds in retrieving it.

Another early Glut-penned mini comic, Battle in the Clouds, has a more subtle portrayal of the “jungle He-Man”. We don’t necessarily see He-Man as a Tarzan-like figure here, but when he needs assistance from Battle Cat, He-Man returns to the forest and makes an animal call to summon his friend:

An advertisement for the Masters of the Universe Pop-Up Game appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword that again makes reference to He-Man as a jungle warrior. From the advertisement:

Based on the Mattel jungle man. Pop-up sections are two volcanoes and the graphics of He-Man and other characters. Object of play is to cross the treacherous terrain of jungle, climbing the volcanoes which open, causing a man to fall through.

This is probably the strongest jungle-themed depiction of He-Man. The board features a thick jungle with three active volcanoes and twisting paths. Skeletor and Beast Man are the “volcano keepers” who try to destroy He-Man on his journey to save Eternia.

Western Publishing version
Peter Pan Playthings version

In the 1983 DC Comics-published The Key to Castle Grayskull, He-Man is not a jungle man per se, but he does have old friends who live in the forest – a tribe of jungle warriors led by Ceril, their chief (images via He-Man.org):

Ceril and He-Man’s story goes back further than He-Man’s partnership with Battle Cat. After He-Man defeated the sorcerer Damon, who had enslaved Ceril’s people, the tribe was ever after loyal to He-Man.

The instruction sheet that came with Castle Grayskull depicted He-Man holding a spear, hearkening back to how he was depicted in He-Man and the Power Sword. The same illustration, but with the boot knife from the aforementioned comic (as well as the original Mark Taylor b-sheet) was also used in retail ad sheets:

Finally, at one point, (probably in late 1982 or early 1983, judging from the photo below) Mattel was planning to make a jungle-themed playset for He-Man and his friends. The playset featured thick foliage, a waterfall, caves, boulders, a rickety rope bridge, and a giant python. You can also see the laser canon from Castle Grayskull peeking out from the cave on the far right. The playset was later repurposed for Snake Mountain.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol. 1

In his later days He-Man seemed to lose all vestiges of his early barbarian/jungle warrior heritage, becoming instead a kind of Superman-like figure in furry shorts. However, as someone whose first exposure to the character was the earliest mini comics and the first wave of toys, my heart will always lie with the He-Man of spear, sword and sorcery.