He-Man gets a new partner: Sun-Man, a pioneering Black superhero toy
Eternia has a new Black hero. Sun-Man, a muscular action figure sold in the ’80s that was born from the need for a diverse alternative to He-Man, will join Mattel’s Masters of the Universe roster, giving a new generation of children the chance to pair up He-Man and Sun-Man in the battle against evil.
The addition of what may be the first Black superhero toy comes amid a big push by Mattel to reinvigorate the Masters of the Universe line. New He-Man and She-Ra toys are on display at various retailers. Netflix released as an edgy TV-PG sequel to the classic ’80s cartoon. And there’s also the new series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which is set to launch Thursday on Netflix and serves as a more kid-friendly computer-graphic animated series.
Sun-Man was invented by another toy company, but his origin story has always had a connection to He-Man. The idea was the brainchild of a woman named Yla Eason, sparked in 1984 by her then 3-year-old son, who told her he didn’t think he could be a superhero like He-Man because He-Man is white.
When she couldn’t find a Black action figure hero in stores, she was driven to fill that void. Eason created Olmec Toys to produce multicultural superheroes for boys and girls, the first of which fall under the story of Sun-Man and the Rulers of the Sun. The characters all look like they can fit right into the He-Man universe of super buff, barely clad men. (Among Sun-Man’s teammates were telekinetic ninja Space Sumo, futuristic scientist Holographo and numerical genus Digitino, all of whom fought against the enemy Pig-Head.) Eason eventually grew the company to $5 million in sales. She now teaches at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.
As Eason describes her character in interviews, Sun-Man gets all his strength from the sun, which makes his skin impervious to injury from swords or punches. He doesn’t use violence to defeat evil, rather he outwits with intelligence and exhibits self-confidence.
Mattel is licensing Sun-Man under an agreement with Olmec Toys and designed a new premium action figure to bring the toy back for the first time in decades. The articulated figure includes swappable heads and hands, removable wings and shield, and a sword with a flame effect. The packaging includes a comic that tells Sun-Man’s backstory and how he fits into the He-Man universe. This $30 collectible will be available for fans to pre-order at Mattel Creations on Monday, Sept. 13.
A more basic Sun-Man action figure for kids ages 6 and up will also be heading to store shelves, next to He-Man and She-Ra figures, just like Sun-Man did decades ago.
Back in 1986, a Washington Post column welcomed Sun-Man to his rightful place on toy shelves alongside He-Man, Rambo and GI Joe, writing: “For too long, many black children have been unable to enjoy the fantasies of power because they could not identify with superheroes who were white. Until now, only Mr. T — who is not quite super — was all that was available.”