When it comes to almost any cartoon series, one thing is almost always constant. For every hero, there is an enemy. The Autobots had the Decepticons, G.I.Joe had Cobra, The Thundercats had the evil Mutants, hell even Strawberry Shortcake had the Purple Pie Man. But after defeating the same enemy day in and day out from episode to episode, things can get rather stale. So in an effort to keep things interesting…more bad guys are oftentimes added to the punch.
This was the case with He-Man. After beating Skeletor over and over again, Mattel decided it was time to add a new bad guy faction to the mix. First they introduced the evil Horde in 1985. But during the time of the Horde’s introduction, Mattel was focusing most of their resources on the He-Man spin-off series, She-Ra. As a result, while initially released as part of the He-Man line, the evil Horde was more popularly known as the main adversary of She-Ra and her Rebellion.
Fortunately, despite She-Ra’s popularity, Mattel wasn’t quite done with He-Man and a year later gave him a new enemy of his own. Enter King Hiss and his army of Snake Men. Now unlike Skeletor and his evil warriors who covered all types of “evils” from evil beast men, evil ninjas to evil…lobster and skunk men, King Hiss and his army were more united under a common theme in that they were all snake….men with Hiss himself taking it a step further.
While no one would have any trouble recognizing a typical snake man walking down the street…given their reptilian looks. King Hiss looked rather…plain. In fact that was his selling gimmick. He posed as a heroic human looking warrior in order to lure any unsuspecting victims near. Once they were within striking distance he would shed his entire upper body to reveal his true form….a body made out of….you guessed it…snakes.
Unfortunately King Hiss introduction to the toyline came a little too late to save the He-Man franchise. The Filmation cartoon ended without Hiss making a single appearance, and pretty soon after, the entire toyline was done. So all we got for his backstory was a mini comic included with the toy and a brief description found at the back of his packaging.
Then in 2002, the He-Man franchise was rebooted with a brand new cartoon and toyline featuring inspired updated character designs. And while initially Skeletor received top billing as the main baddie in season 1 of the cartoon, King Hiss and his snake army quickly snatched up that mantle in season 2.
As the story goes, King Hiss actually existed way before the time of He-Man & Skeletor. He was originally the main adversary of He-Man’s ancestor, King Grayskull, the original wielder of the power sword. Oh and as an interesting historical tidbit, you know Skeletor’s headquarters SNAKE mountain? I’ll give you one guess on who the original owners of that mountain were. Anyway, after numerous battles, King Grayskull with the combined aid of the Cosmic Enforcer Zodak and the Elders or Eternia, was able to finally defeat Hiss and his army and banish them all into an inter-dimensional prison called the Void where they remained trapped for centuries. Until they were finally set free in the present day by disgruntled Skeletor employee Evil Lyn with the help of a snake man descendant Kobra Khan.
In the new series, the snake men are the beneficiaries of the best character re-imagining in my opinion. And no one benefits more than King Hiss himself who is no longer the one-trick-pony that his toy originally portrayed him as. This time around he is a powerful sorcerer, and a ruthless leader with an affinity for eating his fallen enemies by swallowing them whole. He is also shown to be a more effective leader than Skeletor whose lackeys serve him out of fear or having nothing better to do. In comparison, Hiss is generous to his men and treats them with respect. And in return his men serve him with fierce and unwavering loyalty, with every one of them willing to give up their lives for their leader. Hiss sees the snakemen as the true master race of Eternia and everyone else as…food.
Throughout the second season of the cartoon, King Hiss and his army wreak havoc on both He-Man and Skeletor. He goes toe to toe with the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull and defeats her, permanently scarring her with his magical venom.
He also manages to defeat Skeletor and his men and take back Snake Mountain as well as kill off a super powered ally of Skeletor, Webstor..something never really done in the original Filmation cartoon.
Using the ancient artifact the serpent crown, he also turns a few of He-Man’s closest allies into snake men including his oldest friend Duncan, turning him into “Snake Man-at-arms” (get it?).
His most impressive feat though was when he managed to revive their serpent god, Serpos whose petrified remains turn out to be that gigantic snake coiled around Snake Mountain. In the end, it takes the combined forces of He-Man, the forest elder god Moss Man and Cosmic Enforcer Zodak to once again defeat Hiss. It’s with his defeat that the second season ends and unfortunately the series itself is cancelled thereafter. And with that ends Hiss story…for now.