He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a cornerstone of '80s geek culture, forming cornerstones of the emergent “toy sales influencing children’s media” approach that gave us shows like Transformers and GI Joe, as well as the infamous Marvel event Secret Wars. As such, kids became obsessed with collecting all of their favourite characters in action figure form, to spin epic yarns of their own about their beloved show. Chances are, you know someone with a box of Masters of the Universe figures still stashed away some place dusty that they just can’t bring themselves to part with.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. When we look back at the things we loved as children, it’s easy to get swept away and misremember the details. Like remembering the game you used to love as a gripping adventure with breathtaking visuals. Misty-eyed, you boot it up for the first time in an age and are shocked when it looks like crap and controls even worse. Like we said, nostalgia is a powerful emotion. So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at the Masters of the Universe figures that enthralled an entire generation. We know, this will hurt, but it’s for the best. We swear.
15 PRINCE ADAM
Prince Adam was He-Man when he wasn't He-Man, essentially. Laid back and careless, the only thing Prince Adam was really responsible for was slinking off when danger was near to transform into He-Man, who was actually capable of taking care of the situation. To be fair, the Prince Adam figure isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just really boring.
It was a re-paint of the He-Man sculpt bundled with a sword, belt and a nice velvet vest, so at least you got some accessories. Prince Adam makes it on this list because it’s what an action figure really shouldn’t be: Boring. The vest was the most unique thing in the package, and let’s face it, why get Prince Adam when you could get (and probably already had) He-Man himself. It’s like getting a Peter Parker figure instead of Spider-Man.
14 RAM MAN
A close ally of Stratos, Ram Man was a fairly prominent member of the Heroic Warriors that fought alongside He-Man. Shown in the cartoon as a stocky, loyal warrior who was a bit slow on the uptake, Ram Man could (somehow) spring himself forward to act as a human battering ram. Admittedly, this is a pretty cool power to have.
The thing is, this figure made it really hard to actually have Ram Man do this. Loaded with springs inside the body, you would have to launch him from a vertical surface to portray his powers, otherwise he’d just shoot up into the air and tumble back down uselessly. Add in the inability to move his arms up and down, and the figure really only had one purpose.
13 TWO BAD
Billed as a “double-headed evil strategist”, Two Bad was actually a villain with one body and two minds who was just as useless as the rest of Skeletor’s minions. His two halves were constantly bickering with each other and, as a result, Two Bad never got anything done. He also, let’s be honest, looks weird, kind of like his torso is about to pop like a balloon after being tied at the waist. Never a good look.
Two Bad does have a big redeeming quality however. The figure was equipped with the “twist and punch” mechanism common to the line, but due to the way his arms moved, you could actually make Two Bad punch himself in the face. Whether that was an intentional design choice is still up for debate.
One of the more capable members of Skeletor’s forces, Clawful had the potential to be a really cool figure. However, the differences between his portrayal on the cartoon and the figure earn him a spot on this list. Clawful had a head fin, a uniform color and symmetrical claw-hands on the cartoon, but apparently this was too much for the toy manufacturers to produce.
The figure sports only one claw, an approximated version of a head fin and, weirdest of all, arms and legs that seemed to be human and made him look like a Frankenstein’s monster-esque experiment gone wrong. The whole point of the toy line being integrated with the cartoon is to let the kids watching reenact and expand upon the storylines they see on the TV, and this lazy version of Clawful doesn’t do that justice.
Another figure that looks nothing like the cartoon version, Faker actually debuted in the toy line and featured in the cartoon second, which is where the problem lies. Faker was one of the first figures released, and is essentially a re-paint of the He-Man sculpt. The backstory told us that he was an evil robot version of He-Man, used by Skeletor to try and trick King Randor.
But when Faker appeared on the cartoon, Filmation decided to reuse the He-Man model they already had to cut costs, and altered the backstory to suit this. It’s kind of sneaky to sell kids a figure at the beginning of the toy line, have them get used to it, and then change the character entirely when they decide to feature it in the cartoon. Admittedly, this is more a failing of the cartoon than the toy line, and the accessories are pretty cool.
The Mekaneck figure was released with the tagline “The Heroic Human Periscope”, which just raises so many questions. Why would you need your periscope to be human? How often can that really come in handy? Surely one of the myriad flying heroes could do a better job of spying than a man with an extendable neck? When you boil it down, Mekaneck’s concept sucks.
He was even called Mekaneck before he had his mechanical neck installed. How does that happen?! The figure’s neck would only extend when you twisted its waist, which limits the already very niche ability even more. To top it off, Mekaneck’s weapon of choice was a club, which compared to the great magical and technological items used by the other heroes, is underwhelming to say the least.
Gwildor replaced Orko in the, frankly disastrous, 1987 live-action Masters of the Universe movie. You’d think that any replacement of Orko would be a good thing but Gwildor, despite his status as a walking plot device, is kind of a pointless action figure. Essentially a cosmic locksmith with no fighting prowess, the only reason to buy Gwildor would be for the Cosmic Key that came packaged with him.
Nevermind that the figure looks like a Gremlin and an Ewok somehow managed to birth a child. Gwildor is the type of figure you would, high on the buzz of seeing the Heroic Warriors on the big screen, hassle your parents for, only for him to languish in the bottom of your toybox while your other figures used the Key without him.
8 JET SLED & HE-MAN GIFT SET
The Jet Sled & He-Man gift set comes across like another cash-grab attempt, pairing a figure nearly everyone already had with a vehicle He-Man would likely never have a use for. The Battle Ram, which was already on sale by the time this gift set came out, already included a Sky Sled, and both were actually used by He-Man on a regular basis in the cartoon. But what really clinches its slot on this list is the garish blue harness that you can equip He-Man with.
Is it a lifejacket? Or does it, somehow, help propel He-Man while he’s riding the sled? Of all the dangerous situations He-Man flings himself in to while battling Skeletor, is falling off of his jet sled really so important? The man wields a magical sword on a daily basis; it’s not likely he’d pay much attention to proper safety protocols.
7 MOSS MAN
Moss Man is a really cool character. Essentially the Swamp Thing of the Heroic Warriors, Moss Man can control plant life to attack people or camouflage himself, using these powers to spy on the enemy and fight Skeletor’s goons. The figure, though, does not do Moss Man justice. Most apparently, they covered it in green flocking that looks like it would feel harsh, which isn’t great when the point of the figure was to have children play with it.
Secondly, and most confusingly, they infused the plastic with a “real pine scent”. Why would they consider this a feature kids would appreciate? No child, in the history of children, has ever expressed a desire to have their action figures smell like a cheap in-car air freshener. Apparently the plastic retained the smell really well, even after hours of being handled by sweaty hands, so at least they did it well.
There’s not much to love about Mantenna. Featured in the She-Ra cartoon, Mantenna served as both the punching bag of Hordak and the comedic relief. Often tricked into falling down a trap door by his fellow villains, it’s hard to take Mantenna as a threat when even the Horde, who are proven to be useless every week, look down on him. Worse than this is the look of the figure itself.
A lever on Mantenna’s back let you control his eyes, making them protrude out of his skull, which manages to be both useless and horrific at once. But the worst feature of Mantenna absolutely must be the mouth. Take a close look and you’ll see what I mean. How they thought that looked like lips and teeth is beyond me. Once you notice it, it becomes all you can see.
Stinkor, the “Evil Master of Odors”, is an anthropomorphised skunk who uses his toxic odors to incapacitate his foes. Clearly, after the technological feat of infusing Moss Man with a real pine scent, Mattel wanted to explore the concept further. However, Stinkor was relegated to the toy line alone. He came along too late to be included in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and the She-Ra writers swore, after laughing heartily at the thought of a character being a “walking fart joke”, to never use Stinkor in any capacity.
He did, however, feature in the 2002 reboot series. The figure didn’t even hold its smell, and apparently it was almost non-existent to begin with. Mattel’s scent based hubris was ultimately their downfall, and it’s hard to disagree with the outcome.
Marketed with the tagline "Young Heroic Comet Warrior", Rokkon was part of Mattel's attempt to cash in on the then exploding popularity of the Transformers show and line of toys. Hailing from the planet Geolon, Rokkon was one of the representatives of the Rock People, who could morph from a rock form to a humanoid form as and when required.
He literally transformed in to a rock. It’s hard to imagine a kid getting excited about a figure that can transform into a stationary geological object. Rokkon, and the other Rock People figures, are such an obvious attempt to snatch some Transformers money that it’s really all you can think of when you look at them. To top it all off, the figure’s transformation was apparently overly simple and unsatisfying.
An amphibian creature with the power to drain other people's powers, Leech sounds like he'll be great villain on paper. Alas, that was not the case. With his hands, feet and mouth all replaced by suction cups, Leech is another character that raises more questions the longer you consider him. How did he talk? Or walk anywhere without getting stuck? Why did he have a crossbow, and how could he even use it in the first place?
The main draw of the figure is that, when moistened, his mouth can be used to stick him to things. Apart from sticking him on to Castle Greyskull and having the heroes take pot shots at him, there's nothing a child could do with Leech when gathering all of their forces for a showdown. To butcher a famous phrase, Mattel figured out they could, but never stopped to think if they should.
By the end of the production run of the original Masters of the Universe figures, Mattel were scrambling for anything that could rejuvenate the line. Enter Twistoid. Wholly cybernetic, Twistoid had a vaguely humanoid upper half, but a spinning top replaced his legs to allow him to whirr into combat at high speeds. His backstory was never fleshed out due to the cartoon ending before his release, and to be honest it’s probably for the better.
You can almost smell Mattel’s desperation. Believe it or not, the actual figure was even worse than the backstory. Mattel based Twistoid’s entire character on his spinning abilities, but neglected to check if the figure could actually spin! Apparently the figure was weighted in such a way that made it impossible to actually spin it, and with that the Twistoid figure would have become useless as well as stupid.
1 ASTRO LION
Astro Lion holds an esteemed position. It serves as the absolute purest example of Mattel's lazy, short-sighted and desperate cash-grabbing behavior. The figure is essentially a similar, but worse, concept than Rokkon and the Rock People. Astro Lion was a Meteorb, a race of beings who could transform from a vaguely animal-like form to, wait for it, an egg. Seriously. An egg.
What is a kid, looking for exciting and dynamic new additions to their collection, for something to spark their imagination, supposed to do with something that sort of looks like a lion, or completely looks like an egg. It's genuinely hard to imagine what the Mattel executives were thinking when they came up with this. Imagine grabbing a present on Christmas morning and finding this underneath the paper. Astro Lion is, far and away, the worst figure to come out of the original Masters of the Universe line.
Are there any other crappy Masters of the Universe toys that we missed? Let us know in the comments!