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In 1969 the US television networks were shaken to their core and beaten about the neck and lungs until they coughed up flakes of matter; the Federal Communications Commission deemed that ABC’s Hot Wheels show – based upon Mattel’s toy vehicles of the same name – was "designed primarily to promote the sale of a sponsor's product, rather than to serve the public by either entertaining or informing it”. The FCC’s reaction was to impose strict regulation on the networks, banning all product-based programs in “the interest of the public”. Out went similar shows including The Adventures Of Johnny The Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Hobbyist, and Fanny The Hostess Twinkies-Loving Cat.

The ruling was to last nearly fifteen years until 1983, when the FCC – possibly swayed by the swaggering movie marketing behemoth that was Star Wars – declared it too broad. It pulled back the covers, and invited product manufacturers and programme makers to leap into bed once again. It was little surprise that Mattel was at the front of the line, sheaths, creams and chocolate bodypaint in hand. Within weeks of the regulations being abolished, Mattel had inked a deal with animation studio Filmation, a company with over 20 years experience in the field (remember Tarzan and Godzilla?). The result was He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, designed primarily to promote a lacklustre toyline introduced by Mattel some years earlier, but developed in such a fashion as to not make the fact too obvious.

Partly inspired by Conan The Barbarian, the cartoon was as much super-hero nonsense as it was swords and sorcery. It told the tale of the effeminate Prince Adam, for whom flouncy shirts and pink tights were everyday wear. When evil struck – inevitably in the form of the Doctor Doom-inspired Skeletor – Adam bellowed the immortal phrase “By the power of Grayskull!” and was immediately transformed into the bronzed, ripplingly-muscled, scantily-clad, blade-wielding He-Man. The feller had thighs that looked as if they could crush planets. Truly this was the ultimate homo-erotic fantasy.

Naturally, He-Man was surrounded by potential action figure fodder – both good and bad. On the side of light was the moustachioed Man-At-Arms, friction-powered Yoda-esque wizard Orko, spring-loaded Ram-Man (not, as the name suggests, part-sheep, but instead had springs for legs), and Battle Cat, a ferocious green talking tiger that had its own cowardly alter-ego, Cringer. Skeletor was inevitably backed by the likes of “The sucking Leech”, Stinkor, and Bubblegun’s favourite, the absurdly-named Man-E-Faces, who could change his appearance – albeit not terribly convincingly – by spinning a button on the top of his head. Though dire in the extreme, Masters Of The Universe was a phenomenal success. Kids didn’t seem to care that nobody ever got killed in the land of Eternia, or that He-Man never wielded his sword with lethal force (it would usually be used to deflect laser bolts, or the hilt would be brought down on enemies’ heads); they could make that happen once they got the blister packs open, and the Mattel toy line made a rumoured $1 billion in seven years. It even spawned a dreadful movie (starring Friends’ Courtney Cox and some bloke out of Star Trek Voyager), and a spin-off series focusing on Adam’s sister She-Ra (have you spotted that naming convention yet?).

Unfortunately for Mattel, a relaunch of the toy line, accompanied by a new series not produced by Filmation, flopped in the early 90s due to market saturation and a general lack of audience interest in a big, blonde ponce in hotpants, with a bowl haircut and a sword.

Naturally, other toy lines borrowed from Mattel’s “advertoon” plan. Unlike He-Man, 1984’s Transformers with it’s infamous theme song, “Transformers – robots in disguise!”, (inevitably changed by rude children to “Transvestites – gentlemen in disguise”) was an ace idea; toy robots which metamorphosed into cars and planes with only the minimum of effort (though of course the average adult was unable to perform the process with any degree of success). Hasbro bought the concept to the West courtesy of Japanese toy manufacturer Takara, where it was known under the Diaclone and New Microman lines. With the help of licensee Marvel Comics, Hasbro cobbled together a backstory involving a war between the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons, and they were already well on the way to a multi-media phenomenon. The toys were great, and particular note must be made to figures which transformed from robots to a giant Sony Walkman and audio tape. However, the practicalities of being able to change into a giant Sony Walkman in the midst of battle was lost on us even then. The line was officially cancelled in 1990, though not before an animated Transformers movie (with a dire US cock-rock soundtrack) had done surprisingly well at the box office. Hasbro has intermittently attempted to revive the Transformers, but to little interest.

Of course, He-Man and Transformers weren’t the only toy/animation tie-ins of the 1980s. A sort of amalgamation of the two resulted in M.A.S.K., while Thundercats was a stylish rip-off of He-Man, but with cats as the main characters (and contrary to popular opinion, when Lion-O yelled “Thundercats ho!” he wasn’t referring to Cheetara, the Thundercats’ ho’). Mattel and Filmation had another stab at glory following the cancellation of He-Man, but the result – BraveStarr – was perhaps too high concept to appeal. A sort of sci-fi Western, featuring a Native American space sheriff, the toys languished on shelves before being relegated to the bargain bins, and ultimately a big bonfire. And while we’re at it, there’s probably little need to mention the words “Ninja” and “Turtles”…

TV animation tie-ins are currently out of favour. Lines based upon the live action Japanese kick-o-fests Power Rangers, Beetleborgs and the like, had their moments in the spotlight, but generally speaking it’s summer blockbuster movies and videogames that tend to get the toy treatment these days. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, you may ask? It is neither: like so much else in life, it is just a thing.

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1.   In Masters Of The Universe, what did Orko have on the front of his smock?

2. What was She-Ra’s real name?

3. What was Battlecat’s real name?

4.  Where did Skeletor have his headquarters?