Once A Nerd: ‘Who doesn’t know He-Man?’

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Welcome to a new semi-regular column on Nerdvana: Once A Nerd, a series that explores how the stuff I liked as a kid affects the stuff liked by kids today. It’s fitting to start this series with a story about He-Man, who, in his original incarnation thirty years ago this month, was my first significant exposure to comics, cartoons, and action figures, all in one fail swoop. It doesn’t get more powerful than that in the universe of cross-promotional franchising to boys ages 5-12!
He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseI’ve recently returned to my career in after-school programming — which totally justifies my obsessions with comics, cartoons, and action figures as “research for work” — and the kids’ tastes in pop culture never fail to surprise me. While staples like Batman and Spider-Man are always on their radar, trends like Super Mario Bros. and Yu-Gi-Oh! occasionally blip on the radar, and time will tell what will join the ranks of “forever beloved.”

However, as of last week, I’ve never been more surprised by a kid’s love of a certain cartoon character, one that’s fundamental to my passion for superheroes. I was looking at my phone for the time, and the kid looked over my shoulder at my wallpaper.

“He-Man!” he blurted. “Cool!”

Yes, I have a Masters of the Universe wallpaper on my phone right now, and this 10-year-old kid recognized it immediately.

“You know who He-Man is?” I asked, stunned.

“Who doesn’t know He-Man?” he replied.

Once A Nerd: The author prepares for a 'He-Man'-themed birthday. (Russ Kazmierczak Jr.)
Once A Nerd: The author prepares for a He-Man-themed birthday.

Qubo, a station on digital television, airs He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and other Filmation classics every night during their “Night Owl” block. I watch it when I can and stroll down memory lane with the likes of He-Man, She-Ra, and Bravestarr, While this delights my inner child, I never realized real children are now experiencing these characters for the first time.

Furthermore, this particular kid seemed to genuinely like He-Man. He didn’t say anything about the Filmation’s series inherently dated campiness. Through his innocent eyes, Masters of the Universe is just another superhero cartoon with a moral at the end, as befits Qubo’s mission to “entertain, celebrate the fun of learning and feature positive role models” (from their website).

Thankfully, as a primer, MotU boasts the usual superhero tropes: a mild-mannered secret identity, good versus evil, and an outrageous blend of science and magic. From a comparative standpoint, He-Man is a Steve Rogers-type that turns into a Conan the Barbarian-type by evoking magic of a Captain Marvel-type. By combining these various timeless elements, He-Man may have become inadvertently as timeless, too.

Further, I would’ve thought that the production quality of the old Filmation series would’ve dissuaded kids, but the studio’s low budget methods are actually what kids are used to seeing in today’s cartoons, too. Since He-Man aired in daily syndication, Filmation strategically reused many animation cels to produce shows as quickly as possible. (This also explains why every major Filmation series had a necessary transformation sequence that ate up a good 30 seconds every episode!) This economic approach to animation isn’t unlike the Flash-animated cartoons of today, where characters’ mouths are the only elements in motion in any give scene, or where a body stands still despite the flailing of arms or legs. In either case, it’s maximum entertainment at minimal production time, and as long as the characters are endearing, kids really don’t care. They didn’t then, and they don’t now.

And it’s all thanks to Qubo, a network that by day airs educational programming for kids, and that by night rekindles the series their parents loved back in the day. I should know; I’ve been doing my research.

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