The ’80s Sci-Fi Cult Classic Is A Secret DC Ripoff

By Zack Zagranis | Published

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If you’ve ever noticed that the live-action He-Man movie had more in common with the New Gods than it did Mattel, you’re not alone. That’s because Masters of the Universe was loosely based on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comic books, a series of titles Kirby wrote and drew for DC in the early 1970s following his departure from Marvel. That connection is how we ended up with a Skeletor who was less of a cackling cartoon villain and more of a megalomaniacal world conqueror akin to Darkseid.

Masters Of The Universe Is Based On DC’s New Gods

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In 1987, millions of children who religiously watched He-Man on TV while clutching their He-Man action figures begged their parents to bring them to the theater to see the live-action Masters of the Universe movie. As soon as the movie was over, those millions of children collectively uttered the loudest “What the hell?” the Earth had ever heard. Where was Orko? What happened to Battle Cat? Where did all the discount Stormtroopers and laser pistols come from?

Masters Of The Universe Ignored The Saturday Morning Cartoon


Masters of the Universe was so different than the He-Man cartoon that it barely qualifies as a He-Man movie. But if you look at it as a movie based on DC’s New Gods, it suddenly makes sense.

He-Man isn’t acting like He-Man because he’s based on Orion. Skeletor isn’t a high-pitched buffoon but rather a menacing warlord like Darkseid. Likewise, Skeletor’s henchmen, Beast-Man and Blade, resemble Darkseid’s henchmen, Kalibak and Kanto. The character of Gwildor possesses a cosmic key that is essentially a Mother Box capable of creating a Boom Tube, Darkseid’s preferred method of travel throughout the DC universe.

Skeletor Is Based On Darkseid

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While the New Gods may have been the most overt inspiration for the movie, it wasn’t the only source director Gary Goddard drew from. Goddard, left to his own devices by Cannon, the studio producing the film, decided to make Masters of the Universe, a love letter to all things Jack Kirby. That means not just Kirby’s DC output but also his legendary work at Marvel, like Thor and the Fantastic Four.

Evil-Lyn, the devious sorcerous in Skeletor’s employ, shares a lot in common with Thor’s brother Loki. At the same time, Skeletor, as portrayed by veteran actor Frank Langella, mixes a bit of Doctor Doom in with his Darkseid.

The Director Confirmed The Long-Time Fan Theory

All of this was confirmed years ago after writer and artist John Byrne remarked that Masters of the Universe was the best New Gods film. Goddard was elated that someone finally understood what he was going for, and he wrote into Byrne’s comic book Next Men to praise Byrne’s insight.

“As the director of Masters of the Universe, it was a pleasure to see that someone got it. Your comparison of the film to Kirby’s New Gods was not far off.” Goddard wrote. He then explained how the movie was based on Kirby’s work at both Marvel and DC and that he intended for the film to be a “motion picture comic book.” Goddard even went so far as to attempt to hire Jack Kirby to do the conceptual art for the movie, but the studio wouldn’t allow it.

Masters Of The Universe Is Still A Strange Movie

Now that that mystery has been solved, we want to know what possessed Cannon to dub Masters of the Universe “The Star Wars of the ’80s” when two actual Star Wars movies came out in the same decade.

If you want to experience the film yourself, Masters of the Universe is streaming for free on Tubi.