He-Man acts as a repository for every lazy homosexual joke not already taken by Batman and Robin. He’s the most honestly named hero in existence: two masculine terms pressed closely together. He discovered “fabulous secret powers” by yelling about how great it was while gripping his sword, which turns his cowardly pet into a rampaging beast. The whole thing works on more levels than the Empire State Building’s elevator and is even more phallic. Which makes it surprising that the series has more heartbreaking psychological drama than a Lifetime channel movie.
Prince Adam is secretly He-Man, and this secret puts everyone he loves in more danger than secretly being made of plutonium. In the first episode Adam is warned not to reveal that he’s actually useful in order to protect his family. But they’re the royal family of a kingdom made entirely of evil monsters and natural disasters. Many parts of their land are both. Every villain on the planet has already sworn to murder them. A random spaceblob could accidentally crash into Eternia, gain the miracle of sentience, and its first thought will be “Kill the royal family.” In fact, that was basic plot for several episodes. Anything that could possibly kill them will. It’s the only universe where the laws of physics are French revolutionaries.
This isn’t like Clark Kent and Superman, where he needs a secret identity to stay grounded with the regular people. Prince Adam hangs out with the Masters of the Universe, the only group in existence who shout more and wear less than he does. All He-Man’s secret identity accomplishes is giving every villain one free shot at killing the world while he runs away to apply instant fake tan. If Skeletor had ever discovered guns he’d have won while Adam was still stammering excuses. Luckily everyone on Eternia insists on using magic, which never works, or lasers, which can apparently be repelled by rippling abs. (This is actually true. Real scientists just don’t work out enough to discover it.)
The problem is when people mock this homosexuality. Especially on Eternia. Everyone gets to wear as little as they want, walking around in full costume. The nation’s defenders are a parody of a Pride parade. They have a guy who specializes in fisting, a big burly guy whose only function is ramming a helmet into things, they daily wrestle with a hairy Beast Man, and they have a guy whose whole power is making his throat as long as necessary.
Which makes it all the more painful that the whole series is a story of crippling shame and repression. This is a lot more complexity than you expect from a studio which only bothered to animate He-Man punching things once, despite punches being He-Man’s primary export, hobby, and job skill. He started every episode by punching the entire audience. Which only makes it more powerful that the whole series is about him being stuck in the closet. His physical strength doesn’t help him be honest, despite him telling us specifically to be honest at the end of every episode. The only people who know about his secret are the woman who helped him find out the truth about himself, the man with the most magnificent moustache on the planet, and an actual floating fairy.
He spends most of his time posing as a lazy underachiever, pretending not to care about anything when he knows he can do more. He hangs around with a mannish girl who could not be less interested in him romantically, presumably to keep his parents off his back. And you get the impression she’s doing it for the same reason. This is the only cartoon with a romantic subplot of convenience. He’s only honest when things get dangerous and he thinks he might die soon, or when there’s enough confusion that he thinks people won’t notice.
The worst part? Everyone knows and they don’t care. Eternians might think headbutts are a valid response to tank armor, but even they don’t think a tan and a cat-mask make an entirely different person. (And many of them are right about the headbutt thing too.) They’re just letting Prince Adam work through his issues in the way that makes him seem happy. When Adam literally leaps out of a closet in his He-Man persona, he never notices that nobody asked him to enter it in the first place. Some day, he’s going to just leave that pink waistcoat off, and bring that nice Skeletor boy home to meet the family, and we’ll see the most fabulous royal wedding in the universe.
Luke McKinney knows booze & video games. He recently risked his soul with Magic: The Gathering and still has nightmares about tapping twenty dollar cards without that being sex slang. Follow him on Tumblr.
Luke brilliantly dissected The Amazing Mindjob Beneath the Original Total Recall and figured out the mechanics behind another iconic hero with The Dark Knight’s Dumbest Moments Come from His Best Bat-Qualities.