The saga of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe spanned nine years, from the introduction of the first wave in 1982 to the release of the Movie in 1987, and then from the start of the New Adventures in 1989 to their end in 1991.
I'm sure everyone has a favorite portion out of this time period. Some appreciate the barbaric feel of the line as presented in 1982 and 1983, while She-Ra lovers would probably pick 1985 to 1987, when the Princess of Power battled to free and protect Etheria. There may even be a few out there who think that the age of the New Adventures toys and cartoon was the pinnacle of the MotUniverse.
For me, the Golden Age, the era when MotU and my love of it was at its height, ran from 1984 to 1986, climaxing in 1985.
1984 was the start of He-Man's grand takeoff, it would appear. The line had done reasonably well for Mattel in the past two years, but with the release of the cartoon in the fall of 1983, the toys really started to become hot sellers. Mattel responded to the increased demand by more than doubling the number of figures and vehicles released in 1984 compared to 1983.
The new wave of toys was also a step forward in some ways from the older ones. The gimmicks of the line continued in 1983's trend of stepping beyond the simple 'power punch' of the first eight figures, with tricks such as Kobra Khan's mist breath, the spring-loaded arms and metallic fists of Fisto and Jitsu, or Webstor's nifty line-climbing. These features helped to make each figure unique and desirable. The vehicles were also new and vibrant, including the Dragon Walker, possibly the most unique vehicle in the entire line. Snake Mountain, meanwhile, provided a counterpart to Castle Grayskull and a stronghold for the forces of Evil. All of these factors helped develop Eternia; while that's something common to the entire run of the line, very few years of releases have had the overall impact that those of 1984 did.
The cartoon, meanwhile, was having a strong impact on the development of Eternia. Some elements from the DC Comics mini-series of 1982 had been folded into the cartoon history, such as King Randor and Queen Marlena, Adam, and Cringer. Others were original to Filmation, such as Orko and the final form of the Sorceress and her relationship to Teela. These elements, mixed in with the classic foundations of the story, and with a few such elements taken out (such as the importance of the Sword of Power), formed what stands for many of us as the defining version of Eternia. Its importance can be seen in the fact that it was used as the foundation for everyone producing stories of He-Man and his friends from that point on. The cartoon even impacted the toys, something that could be seen in the release of Orko and Prince Adam figures (the latter of which specifically mentioned the cartoon on its packaging), and the fact that most of the mini-comics released that year were based on specific episodes of the cartoon.
All in all, 1984 was the first year I spent as a full-fledged He-Fan, and remains one of my favorite years for the vast breadth it brought to Eternia. The cartoon was in full swing, the toys were taking off like a rocket, and storybooks and other licensed material were being released in droves. The world was expanding remarkably, bringing new characters and weapons into the original conflict.
While 1984 expanded on the basics, 1985 added some new twists to the story and the line.
The toy line of 1985 was a bit slimmed down from 1984, probably a reaction to the fact that three years' worth of previously released toys were still on the shelves. The toys that were released were of excellent quality, though, including my own favorite versions of the leaders of the two key sides in the Great War. Another element of the toyline, one unique to 1985, was Mattel arranging Heroic and Evil Warriors in clearly defined archenemy sets, bringing out these relation- ships in the mini-comics included with the characters in question. It's something I'd done myself with previous releases, but it was nice to see Mattel make it official.
The 1985 vehicles were fewer in number, but well designed. The Land Shark improved Skeletor's ground support with a nicely designer assault tank, while Spydor proved an impressively designed vehicle that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "bestrode the battlefield like a colossus". The Heroic Warriors, meanwhile, were gifted with the Bashasaurus, which I consider one of the coolest vehicles in the line's history.
The cartoon released its final batch of episodes in this year, including classics like "The Problem With Power", and the "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" magazine was at its peak. However, the real impact came in the summer and autumn of 1985, when the scope of the story expanded to a second world.
The addition of Etheria, the Horde, and She-Ra to the MotUniverse was, in my opinion, the most dramatic change the line ever saw. A second champion of Grayskull, a second world, a second set of heroes and villains, and a second conflict were all added, distinctly separate from the first line but interwoven with it.
"The Secret of the Sword," which was adapted from the five-part "She-Ra: Princess of Power" premiere "The Sword of She-Ra," was the first Masters theatrical movie, and to my mind, the better of the two. Through this, either on the silver or the small screen, many of us were introduced to Adora, Hordak, and the others.
While many associate the Evil Horde with She-Ra, I've always tied them in just as much with He-Man. I think that adding the Horde to the struggle between the Heroic and Evil Warriors adds a nice 'wild card' to the conflict. They can provide an alternative to the Evil Warriors as enemies for He-Man, show up to attack Skeletor and add an additional complication to a story, or for true epics, form an uneasy alliance with Skeletor and his band for assaults on Eternia. That's not to deny their importance to the Matter of Etheria, but I think they also add a valuable element to the Eternian side of the story.
The addition of these elements, along with the great stuff released for the basic elements of the Masters of the Universe, help make 1985 my favorite year. The release of the Horde, "The Secret of the Sword," and "She-Ra: Princess of Power" added tremendous width and depth to a story that was on the brink of growing stale.
If 1985 added a bit of spice to the saga, 1986 dumped the whole spice rack in.
The early part of the year introduced us to the Comet Warriors or Rock People, whose two names reflect their varied and confused origins. They add another non-Eternian element to the whole story, and while a minor player in the toy line and the cartoon, they had a sizeable presence in the mini-comics.
While the first releases of the year looked into the depths of space, the rest of the major releases plumbed the distant past.
The Snake Men stirred from their tomb beneath Snake Mountain to menace Eternia once more in 1986. Aside from Terror Claws Skeletor, these were the only 'Evil Warriors' released in 1986. While they added a fourth faction as well as a touch of Eternia's history, it was beginning to feel as though Skeletor and his henchmen were being overlooked.
Indeed, while some great things were added to the line in 1986--enough that make it one of my favorite years--it was feeling like the end was near. There were no new episodes of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe," and "She-Ra: Princess of Power" failed to reach the same levels of popularity as the original show. Even the toy line was starting to slump, both in terms of sales--it made only $200 million or so in 1986, a huge drop from 1985's $400 million or more--and in quality. The figures were lighter and more frail than in past years, and the designs were showing signs of slipping. Even the story was beginning to grow overly convoluted, with the original emphasis on He-Man, Skeletor, and Castle Grayskull slipping.
Despite all this, there were still high points. The Slime Pit was a playset beloved by many. The Laser Bolt, Blasterhawk and Fright Fighter remains some of my favorite vehicles. The Snake Men figures were cool, and in the autumn of 1986, the largest and most elaborate toy in the history of "Masters of the Universe" hit the shelves--the legendary Eternia. For me, that was the high point of the 1986 line, as well as the release that marks the end of the Golden Age.