Dark Horse Books, $39.99, ISBN 978-1-61655-592-4
Popular Culture, 2015
If you have ever liked the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, toys or comics even a little, boy, are you in for a treat with The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, well, this heavy but visually attractive book will clue you in too.
Oh, alright, I’ll explain a bit. Once upon a time, the toy company Mattel wanted to design a line of action figures aimed at boys. This book contains some interesting materials on the genesis of this toy line. Some smart fellow decided that a great way to sell the toys was to create a cartoon featuring characters from the toy line. Hence, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was born. This is a cartoon set in some kind of steampunk fantasy world, with castles and magic co-existing with jet planes and laser guns, and that world is populated by people with either a weird aversion to pants or, if they wear skin-tight lycra thingie, they must wear a bikini bottom over it, old-school Superman-style.
I suspect that this “let’s put a colorful triangle over everyone’s crotch” design was to facilitate the creation of the toys, but it also leads to some seriously adorable homoerotic aesthetics. Really, just look at Man-E-Faces – that man is geared up for a futuristic BDSM party. He-Man himself is walking around wearing only a loincloth for modesty, and when you have muscular hairy dudes with names like Fisto, I won’t be surprised if many gay kids discover their sexuality while watching the 1980s cartoon. This book has a lovely section devoted to reproducing the poster arts created for the toy line and comics (they are basically one and the same, since each toy comes with an exclusive mini-comic), and for every lingering love lavished on the curvatures of Teela and Evil-Lyn, two of the handful of token ladies in the whole setting, there is much more love lavished to ensure that every male character has perfectly shaped buns, muscular thighs, and pumped-up arms all rendered in gorgeous colors. Given that some of these characters are half-beasts, everyone, even Rule 34 people, can have a party here.
Oh, and it’s not just He-Man’s gang that gets the spotlight here. His sister She-Ra and her entourage also get their share of attention here too. I personally find everything about the She-Ra setting too… pink… for my liking. Oh, and She-Ra can keep the boring Sea Hawk and his hideous character design, Bow is my bae. Ahem.
Aside from the Boris Vallejo-style visual pornography in this book, there are also plenty of details and visuals that will thrill folks who were into the toys or cartoon back in those days. This book is a veritable treasure trove as it contains interviews with writers and artists, peeks into early character designs and concepts, sneak peeks into rejected designs or designs that never went to production, and – oh joy – a complete line-up of all the toys ever produced. There are even info on the movie, highlights of the reboot cartoon series, and a section on fan works and alternative interpretations. I personally find the focus on the reboot cartoon the least interesting part of this book, but that’s just me. I could never warm up to the rebooted cartoon as I feel that it tries too hard to be all adult and edgy, so much so that I actually miss the often unbearable over the top cringe factor of the 1980s cartoon.
All in all, this is an outstanding nostalgic trip, a fun and entertainment look into behind the scenes of the whole thing (my goodness, the calculated decisions that went into milking kiddies’ money via the cartoon and the toys), and memorabilia for fans. Even if you don’t like the whole thing or are not familiar with it, get this one for the artworks. So, so much pretty in this one, with some bonus “I can’t believe artwork for a kiddie cartoon can be this homoerotic!” delight as icing on the happy cake. No, really, people, The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is full of cool and awesome.