Masters of the Universe Eternia painted artwork with overlaid text: "From Here to Eternia"

From Here to Eternia

By Justin Broderway

The first action figures I can remember playing with were Masters of the Universe figures handed down from an older cousin. He-Man battled Skeletor on the living room floor and I loved that handful of figures and that hard plastic Battlecat so dearly I kept them in an empty laundry detergent box. Thanks to the passing of time, those figures disappeared from my toybox, replaced by Mighty Max and LEGO. I would see them at yard sales and flea markets as I got older, in plastic baggies or piled in plastic containers for a dollar apiece. A complete Castle Grayskull commanded the humble sum of $15, marked down from $25. I passed each time. Even as an adult, when Super7 reissued the figures, I passed on them still, because I didn’t have the money or the space for them in any of the places I lived. 

Fast-forward to the Spring of 2020, and my friends were on the hunt for the G.I. Joe Classified line of action figures. On a visit to Selma, Alabama, we decided to hit the nearest Target, which was a 45-minute ride away in Prattville in search of those notoriously hard-to-find numbered packages. That would’ve been a Friday in March, and by the time we realized that the Prattville Target didn’t have any Classified figures and got back home to Selma, states across the country, including Alabama and Georgia, were shutting down as a result of the pandemic.

So we did what many others did that Saturday: we started drinking. On a beer run to Wal-Mart—a quick stop that included a swoop through the toy section—we saw them on the shelf: the first wave of the Masters of The Universe Origins line. Goaded by the sudsy intoxication of Miller High Life and the contact high of the thrill of the hunt with my friends, I scooped that first line into my arms—along with Battlecat—and became yet another adult on the hunt to reclaim my childhood. The dopamine hit sent me into an even higher state of bliss than I was already in, pandemic be damned. 

With my job shut down and facing the prospect of staying inside day in and day out for who knew how long, I—like so many others—masked up and spent my days hunting retail establishments in the Atlanta metro area for He-Man toys (for myself) and G.I. Joe figures (for my friends). I saw it all during those days: grown men digging furiously through huge bins of Hot Wheels, shoving matches in the trading card aisle, and annoyed wives and girlfriends demanding a manager over promises of in-stock toys. I saw exhausted retail employees explain time and again that the coveted toy was indeed not in the back, and even if it were, there was a mountain of toilet paper and boxes of hand sanitizer blocking it. It seemed that every adult male of Generation X had been consumed by something far more serious than a mutated flu. Collector’s fever had taken hold of us all. 

Wal-Mart shopping cart

And still, each time a new Masters of the Universe figure popped up on the shelf and lasted long enough for me to get there to buy it, the day became saved in the face of a national nightmare. I found Ram Man on the day Dustin Diamond died. There were times my hands shook from joy and excitement as a new figure was freed from its cardboard and plastic prison to join the fray of the ever-growing battle on my basement floor. As the days turned to weeks and then to months, supply chain issues snarled the retail sales industry and the negative experiences in the fray of the ever-growing battle between collector-crazy COVID consumers and the retail establishment left toy shelves forever bare. 

When the Wal-Mart exclusive “flocked” variant of Panthor began to elude collectors across the country, many completionist collectors gave up—and some turned to the secondhand market to score the furry plastic nostalgia bomb. I found a fellow collector on Facebook who had stumbled across a flocked Panthor somewhere in Alabama, and I paid him $5 over retail (plus shipping) to get mine.

But not to fear, toy companies teamed up with online retailers with a solution for the madness: just preorder online and guarantee you’ll never miss a figure. So I, like so many others, turned to my trusty smartphone, waiting at noon eastern to hit the “buy” button on each new Masters of the Universe Origins figure or vehicle that Mattel offered, and I had Entertainment Earth and BigBadToyStore bookmarked to check when each new wave came up for preorder. By the time the figures arrived on my doorstep, I had forgotten ever ordering them in the first place, so it was a nice surprise as the nation began to awake from its pandemic slumber. It wasn’t the same as finding them in store, but dopamine is dopamine. 

As Mattel got deeper into re-creating the original Masters of the Universe toy line, I owned not only the original half dozen or so of the figures I remembered but also Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain, and dozens of figures I had never even heard of. Every package on my doorstep delivered a lower and slower dopamine hit. I even bought the official encyclopedia to keep up with the plastic tsunami. I watched The Toys That Made Us episode on He-Man and the whole separate documentary Powers of Grayskull:The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Even with all of that knowledge, the rinse-and-repeat of preorder-and-forget left me dulled. Open a new figure, dump it into a plastic storage container and store it in my basement. The pandemic and the battle for Grayskull were both decidedly over. 

And then I got an email. The legendary Eternia playset was being re-created. Up to that point, I had only ever seen one Eternia playset in real life. It was at a vintage toy store in Dallas, Texas. It cost a whopping $300, which was astronomical for me at the time, long before the age of masks and sanitizers and shutdowns. And after all, who needed the legendary Eternia playset when I didn’t even own any of Eternia’s residents? So I marveled at this piece of collectible history and went on my way. But then I got that email. 

It was October of 2022 and Eternia was coming back to life in the form of a crowdfunded project directly from Mattel. And, as I had done so many times before, I was right there on my phone to harness the power of Grayskull and Two Bad (and even that terrible Masters of the Universe movie) in an effort to make my Eternia dreams a reality. Sure enough, thanks to a legion of fans (and the magic of Dolph Lundgren), the Eternia playset reached its fundraising goal and was going to become a reality. And so the waiting began. 

But the chimes of reality are harsh, indeed. I soon heard the song of a grown-ass man with laundry to do and bills to pay and, on occasion, words to write. Life, as it does, went on. Until February of 2024, when I got another email. Eternia had shipped. Finally.

I came home from work to find a massive box on my doorstep. I took a Tylenol and muscled the massive box into my house all alone, Prince Adam be damned. Dopamine sent my mental synapses firing at a rate to rival any source of power in any universe. And there it sat! Eternia! Just inside my front door!

Eternia Playshet shipping box

The days turned to weeks, and finally my wife asked the most important question in this or any other universe: “Are you gonna do something with that huge box by the front door?” I didn’t respond right away, but the next day I dragged it into a corner of the living room. There it sat. Right next to a beautiful purple Ibanez acoustic guitar and directly in front of a built-in bookshelf that held a LEGO Diagon Alley. Across from a century-old rocking chair and in plain view of me, every single day.

And every day, I looked at that massive box, with the gorgeous artwork, and said, “This weekend will be the weekend.” But the days once again turned to weeks. And weekend after weekend passed without an assembled Eternia.

Listen, there were entire weekends when younger me did nothing but play Goldeneye until my eyeballs hurt. I lived most of my life in a place where there was nothing else to do, and I didn’t have the money to do anything anyway, so my free time could be spent laser focused on Resident Evil 2 or watching the same movies over and over. Even as I got older, I still spent hours playing games or reading comics or watching King of the Hill after work. 

But somewhere along the way, something changed. I wracked my brain trying to pinpoint exactly what it was. I don’t have kids. My job is still 40 hours a week. I can’t blame my smartphone. I simply could not figure out where the time went—or rather, how I suddenly seemed to have more money than time. How could that be? My backlog of books, comics, video games, and toys has become insurmountable. 

I decided to diagram my days, keeping a record of what I did and what took most of my time, but by the fourth week the exercise was futile. There was no clear pattern. 

I genuinely panicked at the thought of all the sand that had passed through the hourglass (in the same voice that came from my grandmother’s TV at noon every day), but I realized I wasn’t alone. And that brought me some measure of peace. 

I’ve learned to accept that, like the song says, to everything there is a season. My days spent waltzing down a toy aisle and finding something I’ve been searching for are over. And it was time well spent—not wasted. It’s never wasted time if you’re having a good time, and life is too short to have a bad time, so I’m gonna have a good time. 

I don’t know how long it will be before Eternia is free from its cardboard prison. I’m sure a lot of readers are screaming that it shouldn’t be unboxed ever. I do know that I’ve got preorders placed for whatever the next figures are to be released, even if I’ve already forgotten what they are or when they are supposed to show up. I’ve also got a date with my therapist to make sure my panic about lost time doesn’t cause me any harm. I’m also wide open to suggestions about how to manage my time and dopamine. If you’ve got any suggestions, let me know, and drop a line to Huey Lewis, because he’s looking for a new drug too.