Back in the 60’s and 70’s the FCC had all kinds of rules in place about the amount of advertising that could be run during children’s programming. Why this was any of the government’s business in the first place I’ll never understand, but the bottom line was you couldn’t use kid’s programming to try to sell stuff to kids. ABC and Mattel found this out the hard way in 1968 when the FCC decided that the Saturday morning cartoon Hot Wheels was just an extended commercial for the toy cars (never mind that the show was about a racing team and specific cars were never actually featured).
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The show fell under continued governmental scrutiny and was taken off the air. This is why there isn’t one toy line from the 70’s that had a cartoon tie-in, or vice versa. But then in 1981, Ronnie Reagan deregulated the FCC, and the market - and parents - were now back in control of determining what got advertised to children on TV (look this is hardly the place for a political discussion, and that’s not my intent here at all, but however you may feel about Reagan, it is completely undeniable that this move was nothing but good for the country’s economy. Hasbro and Mattel are both American-based companies who experienced incredible growth during the 80’s toy boom and as a result provided thousands of Americans with jobs – something you’ll never hear me complain about).
Anyway, sorry for the digression there. The point of all this is, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was the first cartoon to be based on a line of toys following the deregulation, the first cartoon produced specifically for daily syndication (as opposed to Saturday morning) and the first cartoon allowed to feature a muscular "super-hero" type main character. The formula of having a cartoon that was also ostensibly a half hour toy commercial proved so successful that it was quickly followed by many others, most notably Transformers and G.I. Joe. However, some companies decided to forgo the whole “have an original idea and market it” concept and went with the much easier and cheaper “make toys that kids (or their less discerning parents) might confuse for a more popular toy" route. That’s where these guys come in…
Orion’s cronies were apparently the product of the same “completely rip off Mattel” memo, because the 'Defenders of the Planets' consisted of Weaponsmaster and Strongarm or as I like to call them “Man-at-Arms in Ram Man’s helmet” and “Trapjaw”. At least the villains, Zaardoom, Canis Major and Quasar, were fairly original looking, albeit incredibly ugly. Oh well, that’s what happens when people with absolutely no creativity whatsoever try to make toys.
The entire line only consisted of those six figures, plus four small rubberish monsters that came with each figure, and four larger riding beasts. The monsters all look like someone stole Battle Cat’s saddle, painted it gold, and stuck it on the back of some left over cheap rubber dinosaurs from another toy line.
Impressively (for a toyline mainly sold in drug stores, supermarkets, candy stores and dollar stores) Defenders actually had something of a story line – “Earth's solar system is being threatened by evildoers of star systems far away. Orion and the Defenders of the Planets must stop Zardoom and the evildoers from entering the Galaxy of Earth and her sister planets." The packaging bills Orion as the “invincible commander of the solar system forces, Weaponsmaster as “Defender General of the outer planets” and Strongarm as “Defender General of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars”. I don’t know about you, but I’ll sleep easier tonight knowing Stongarm is out there looking after us. I also love the idea that these guys are running around in fur loin cloths and Ugg boots but defending planets in space. But that’s just me.
'FANTASY WORLD' (Soma, 1983): This line shares the same characteristics as the other toys on this list – He-Man “inspired” concept and design, cheaply made, and sold in drug stores and supermarkets – with one small exception, which I’ll get to in a second. I scoured the Internet, but couldn’t find any story or background info on this line, which I suppose isn’t surprising given that these things were meant to capitalize on He-Man’s success with minimal expense on the part of the toy’s producer. The toy's packaging has names for the characters and little else. So I’ll just show you some pics of them and we’ll move right along.
Oh wait, that’s right, I told you there was an exception in this line. That exception is this:
Ok, sure fine, it’s clearly a complete rip-off of Skeletor’s Panthor, but for a cheaply made knock-off toy line, I think it’s very cool that they went to the trouble to flock the thing in velvet just like the real Panthor. These flocked 'Fantasy World' cats allegedly came in black and grey as well as purple, but I could only find Internet pics of the purple one.
'THE LOST WORLD OF WARLORD' (Remco, 1982): Unlike the other toys on this list, Lost World of the Warlord has an original concept, a back story, and is made by a company that, at least marginally, was a real competitor in the toy market. Remco may have been the bottom of the barrel when it came to action figures, but at least they had their toys sold in real toy stores. I’m pretty sure Remco’s executives went berserk in the early 80’s trying to snatch up any property that even remotely resembled 'Masters of the Universe', but more on that later. Warlord was a character created by Mike Grell for DC Comics in 1975. In the early 80’s toy companies worked with Marvel and DC a lot, comic tie-ins for toy lines were a lucrative commodity, and that way the toy companies didn’t have to worry about inventing characters, backgrounds and storylines. Marvel writer Bob Budiansky created most of the personalities and character traits for the Transformers, and the concepts that became G.I. Joe and Cobra were originally a pitch by Larry Hama to Marvel as an updated Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos. I was almost reluctant to include Warlord on this list because it was a licensed property, but the timing and the physical appearance of the figures make it abundantly clear that it was an attempt to cash in on He-Man’s popularity.
'GALAXY WARRIORS' (Sungold) and 'GALAXY FIGHTERS' (Sewco): Both of these are from the early to mid-eighties, and I’m doing them together because, well, they’re practically the fucking same. The only discernable difference is that the left hands on the Fighters are closed and can grip stuff and the left hands on the Warriors are more open. Other than that though, these are the same fuckin toy line, I’m sorry. Now, before I did this article I was convinced that these bad boys were another Remco knockoff, but all my research says Warriors were made by Sungold, and Fighters by Sewco. This is all based on the stamp on the figures themselves, the packages themselves don’t appear to have any identifying marks whatsoever. I couldn’t find anything at all on Sungold, but Sewco is a toy manufacturer based in Hong Kong which, ironically enough is making toys for Mattel now.
All the figures are pretty generic. There’s a few obviously He-Man based “hero” characters, some ugly humanoid evil henchmen and a bunch of non-descript monsters with animal heads. Every figure came with a fairly generic sword type weapon, a He-Man style chest armor harness and a clip-on shield that either had a design sculpted in it, or some kind of wacky sticker.
All in all, the Warriors and Fighters were exactly what they were intended to be, cheap toys that could fit seamlessly into a kid’s He-Man collection (or probably a cheap substitute for He-Man for poor kids who, unlike me, weren’t spoiled rotten). I remember seeing these guys everywhere as a kid. The Apothecary, every candy store on the boulevard, Waldbaums, everywhere. Even then though, I think I knew they were cheap knock offs and never really wanted them… and as a kid I wanted EVERYTHING. I learned while writing this article that not everything about the 'Galaxy Fighters' and Warriors was completely lame though; I found a little ray of sunshine in this storm cloud of cheap plastic. That ray of sunshine is this guy:
So there you have it, five of the most blatant He-Man rip-offs of the 1980’s, but these were not the only ones by a long shot. 'Beasts and Creatures' by Imperial, 'Earth Force' by Pace toys, 'Monsters of the Galaxy' by Squallum, Remco’s 'Warrior Beasts', 'Conan', 'Pirates of the Galaxseas' and pretty much every other toy line they put out (with the exception of the AWA wrestlers) were all attempts to cash in on He-Man’s success.
Of all the He-Man rip-offs that got toys in the 80’s, there’s one cartoon that didn’t and if I’m being honest, I always wished it did… 'Thundarr the Barbarian'! Thundarr was a pretty awesome cartoon despite being a complete rip-off of not only He-Man but Star Wars as well. The concept of the show was basically He-Man, if he had a lightsaber, a wookie friend, and lived on post-apocalyptic Earth. Despite the fact that it’s about as original as a photocopy of an album by a cover band, I still really like it and still remain confused as to why it never got a toy line. Check out the intro and tell me Thundarr’s not cool.
When he’s not acting like a complete Baltard, JoeyEsq can be found creating his own action figures and writing about it, and other stuff on his blog, Perpetual Dissatisfaction.