Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #16 from 53 Things Only 80s Girls Can Understand
How She-Ra was the O. G. badass.
I think Buzzfeed might have gotten their female Masters of the Universe characters mixed up here, because I’m pretty darn sure that Teela was the real O. G. badass of the series…the animated series.
Or, maybe the Sorceress was.
In any event, when I first considered this list item, I couldn’t for the life of me place She-Ra in the same sphere as He-Man. While doing my dutiful research, I remembered that’s because she wasn’t. At least not at first. She was introduced in a later animated movie. Looking at images of her action figure, I’m pretty sure she was not in my collection of Barbie and Jem dolls. But Teela…Teela was, as was all the badassery that came with her.
I’ve mentioned He-Man plenty here before. If my family had placed itself just a few years earlier in time, we might have had one of those homes where you couldn’t walk two feet without stepping on a Star Wars figure. While we missed out on the severe proliferation of Star Wars toys in the late 70s and early 80s, He-Man was our Star Wars. Again with the research, it revealed that the now-classic He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon only lasted two years (1983 to 1985), but it lived on for many years in reruns, which is more than likely how it ended up in our cartoon rotation. Also, I had a younger brother who, at an early age, became quite enamored of He-Man and his crew. So, we became a He-Man house.
It started out silently and innocuously at first, as these things do. One Christmas my brother got a set of the figures: He-Man, his trusty steed Battle Cat, He-Man’s second in command, Man-At-Arms (lots of hyphenation in the Masters of the Universe), and Teela. Oh Teela, in your warrior gear complete with “snakeskin” armor and an powerful staff, you where my favorite! Okay, so maybe she wasn’t bestowed with magic powers like He-Man, but she could kick ass with the best of ’em. I don’t recall her precise role in the animated series (sorry, there are only so many hours in the day for researching 80s toys/cartoons), however, she was one of Prince Adam’s (Prince Adam is to He-Man as Clark Kent is to Superman) compatriots and was cool as a cucumber in her tall, fur boots. Erm…mostly. She was also brash and occasionally got into trouble. Look, she had issues, alright? I mean, you’d have issues too if you raised by an army vet in yellow and green armor and were possibly the daughter of a sorceress who could change into a falcon.
At my brother’s next birthday after that Christmas, the He-Man collection grew by a few more figures, this time from the evil side: Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Trap Jaw, and Man-E-Faces – which was totally the best because he had three; tres; 1, 2, 3 faces! And then it grew by leaps and bounds at the following Christmas when we, uh…my brother got the Castle Grayskull playset. Hooo-leee crap of it wasn’t the most awesomest thing EVAR! That mother opened up to reveal hours of the most multi-tiered fun a bunch of kids could have with molded green plastic in the shape of a castle that was in the shape of a skull…complete with a mouth drawbridge. A skull’s MOUTH. Shaped like a DRAWBRIDGE. I cannot repeat that loudly or nonsensically enough.
The final big round of He-Manalia came into our possession …it had to be that next summer, because my siblings and I spent it playing that most fantastical of made-up games, “Adventures with He-Man and Barbie.” So with a He-Man crew of thousands (or dozens) and a Barbie crew of exactly two (plus Ken), we set off in the yard and sent of action figures flying here, there, and everywhere; sometimes of their own accord by actually flinging them out of trees, sometimes manually by running around with them. One of our poor Barbies had an unfortunate encounter with a sticker bush, the scars from which never did heal properly. And about a dozen He-Man figured were summarily dismembered during the festive activities. That same summer, during one particularly hyped-up round of play, my sister broke her collarbone. That brought “Adventures with He-Man and Barbie” to a resounding end.
Somewhere in the realm of the late 1980s (or very early 1990s), my mother packed up all our He-Man toys into a box that I swear seemed to be the size of a small boat. All the broken figures were tossed, but a sizeable number of usable toys remained. We had all moved onto other things – video games, Transformers, clothing obsessions — so nobody was paying much attention anymore to the almighty battle for control of the universe between He-Man and Skeletor. My mother and I drove the box over to our church for its annual toy drive. During the ride, I pawed through the box and its memories. We never did had a Prince Adam figure, but we did have Battle Cat’s less noble counterpart, Cringer. I found little Teela still decked out in her snake-y armor, though her staff was long gone. I picked up Man-E-Faces and wheeled through his many faces. Poor Man-At-Arms had sustained a number of battle wounds to his paint job. As for He-Man…oddly enough, he still had his sword but had lost his removable breastplate thingy. Without it, he looked kinda like a generic, bare-chested “barbarian.” So, good thing he still had that sword, y’know, so the kids would now. “By the Power of Grayskull” and all that.
When we got to the church, not a word was spoken as the box was removed from the car and left with a person in the vestibule. The drive home was just as quiet. He-Man departed as he had arrived, in silence.