Favorite Fictional Characters, #327: Skeletor
As much as I loved the classic Transformers cartoon and toy line, nothing screamed early-1980s merchandising-animation tie-in more than Masters of the Universe. If girls can trace their body image issues to Barbie dolls, pity the pudgy young boys of 1982, handed these ludicrously 'roided-out action figures. The muscles had muscles on these guys, and they weren't shy about it in the least. He-Man was all decked out for a gay pride parade in his slim bandolier, fur speedo, and lace-up Uggs. His barely-there action wear, combined with the ambiguous sexuality of the tow-headed cartoon version, made He-Man something of a stealth queer icon in latter years. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
But forget He-Man. Gay or not, he was a vague echo of Conan without the bloodlust, a vanilla bodybuilder moonlighting as a preachy do-gooder. It wasn't enough that he saved Eternia time and again, he had to lecture some poor kid on the show and then those of us in the audience about telling the truth, eating right, and not neglecting leg day in the gym. It was like a bizarre mashup of Mr. Rogers, professional wrestling, and Elton John.
No, I liked Skeletor. Sure, he was just as musclebound, but he seemed almost sheepish about it, like he had to work out because of the skimpy costumes and because everyone else did, but he wasn't really a gym rat like the other guys. Like Goose in Top Gun. For an arch-villain, Skeletor was more funny than fearsome. Here's a dude with magical powers, a horde of semi-competent henchmen, a skull for a head, and a fanatical obsession with defeating He-Man and penetrating the secrets of Castle Greyskull, but there was literally nothing remotely threatening or scary about him. You knew - more importantly, I think he knew - that all of his plots and machinations would come to ruin, foiled by the mostly-naked uber-man who bore a striking resemblance to the curiously bulky Prince Adam. He didn't stop, though, he kept coming back with some other ill-considered plan that relied on Beast-Man being able to count to three or some other fatal flaw. So he would retreat to Snake Mountain in a purple funk to lick his wounds and prepare for his next outing as the Cleveland Browns of the Saturday morning cartoon league. If nothing else, you had to respect his persistence.