Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Department of Lost Barbarians: He-Man

   Wait? He-Man? That He-Man? A Barbarian? Yep. Not only that but truly a lost barbarian because he was retconned into something else a couple of years after he first appeared. I only learned of the character's alternate origin yesterday while searching for information for an upcoming post about comic book artist Alfredo Alcala, and I thought some of my fellow sword & sorcery fans might find it of interest.
   Legend has it that the Mattel toy company originally was going to do a toy line based on the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie but the deal fell through so they came up with their own barbarian, however various toy collectors have told me that this story is apocryphal. (This is apparently a major point of contention among He-Man collectors.)
   However, Mattel definitely had the big barbarian in mind as this very early sketch for a He-man design shows.
This much I already knew, since back in 2011, Mattel included a figure made from this sketch, called Vikor, in their Masters of the Universe Classics line. I picked one up, of course. As action figures go, it's a pretty damned cool Conan figure. Personally I always thought the Vikor sketch bore quite a resemblance to this Neal Adams drawing of Conan from the cover of Marvel's Savage Tales issue #5.
However, it was this illustration by the aforementioned Alfredo Alcala from the very first He-Man mini-comic, which was included with some of the toys, that gave me the idea for this post. Note that in the text under the picture that He-Man is a member of a jungle tribe, a true barbarian. Check out the flint spear and the loin cloth.
A couple of pages later, He-Man rescues a green-skinned sorceress from a dangerous beast and she rewards him by giving him weapons and a set of armor that increases his strength to a superhuman level.

There's no secret identity in the original version. No Prince Adam and no mention of a mother from Earth or all the trappings from the Filmation cartoon series that would come a few years later. The Original he-man was a flat out, Conan style Barbarian. I think I prefer him that way.    Anyway, Alfredo Alcala, who did quite a bit of work on Marvel's Conan comics and about whom I'll have more to say later, drew several He-man mini comics for Mattel. I've got a couple on the way from Ebay as we speak.


Anonymous said...

When I was a young man it was the next generation, the elementary school kids when I was in high school, that were playing with He-Man and his fellows.
So, while I approved of youngsters playing Sword & Sorcery, I could never take the character and his world seriously.
Maybe I missed out a little.

Alcala's work for the toy line was pretty good, but have you seen the paintings that Earl Norem did for them? Some of that stuff is, no bull, pretty stunning work. Striking detailed panoramas full of struggling, almost Asgardian figures, and an occasional odd aura of whimsy created by the artist's placing obvious plastic toys into epic and otherwise realistic landscapes. Unique and pleasing stuff.

John Hocking

Charles R. Rutledge said...

John, I have indeed seen Norem's paintings and they are really something. I plan to do a post on them in the future. I was comparing some of them with his Savage Sword of Conan covers just this morning. And I know just what you mean about the brightly colored toys popping up in an otherwise classic S&S scene. I was too old for the toys as well. After my time.

Cromsblood said...

Pretty hard to take someone with the name "He-Man" all that seriously John.

Such humble beginnings in that alternate origin, perhaps that came with an alternate, more down to earth name that we have not found out about...yet.

Now that I think about it,my handle (Cromsblood) isn't all that much better. Ha!

Lefty Gordon said...

The word "He-Man" is an older term for the more modern semantic, "Alpha-Male". The personality type is prevalent in characters such as Tarzan, Beowulf, and of course Conan. There is an excellent reference to the term, in the 'Bull Fight' chapter of the book "Old Yeller".
And for the record, I think that the whole Adam/"Power of Greyskull" concept killed the masculinity required for anyone to be named He-Man. That guy barely fights, and doesn't even so much as flirt. The original mini-comic does much more to deserve the name.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Lefty, yeah I like the original concept better. Why does He-man need a secret identity anyway?