Tuesday, July 31, 2012

THE TERROR OF TRI-KLOPS! (mini-comic, 1982)

The Terror of Tri-Klops! is a 1982 Masters of the Universe mini-comic, again by Gary Cohn, Mark Texeira, and Tod Smith. Here, Skeletor recruits Tri-Klops, who attacks He-Man while he’s in the middle of putting the moves on Teela.  

You’d think, “ah, Skeletor’s finally comes up with a real villain,” but all marketing to the contrary, Tri-Klops is portrayed as a lawful neutral-style warrior. At least Tri-Klops is refreshingly competent: he punches Battle Cat in the face and takes out all his non-He-Man opponents in one hit each.

This is a nice little story with more good art and dynamic action scenes. Tri-Klops talks through his teeth all the time and looks like he might actually be Clint Eastwood under that helmet, so points for that. And this comic gives us another hint at the evolution of the mythos: Battle Cat is talking.

This is easily the best of the second-wave mini-comics thus far.


Read it HERE

Monday, July 30, 2012

THE ORDEAL OF MAN-E-FACES! (mini-comic, 1982)

The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces! is a 1982 Masters of the Universe mini-comic by Gary Cohn, Mark Texeira, and Tod Smith. Here, Skeletor enchants Man-E-Faces to become a monster, then kidnaps Teela.

Cohn is clearly not trying very hard. This is the second issue in a row we get a new good guy helping Skeletor before coming around and fighting against him (then again, these characters are inherently kind of silly). Skeletor has the Power Sword somehow. And we get a scene where Man-E-Faces explodes…into a robot.  

What redeems this comic is that it gives us a glimpse of the next stage of the mythos’s evolution. We have the Royal Palace of Eternia here, and a town with an economy, and there’s no indication of the previous post-apocalyptic backstory (not that that’s necessarily better at this point, but it’s interesting). We also have the short-lived long-haired, blond Teela.

There’s really not a lot you can do with Man-E-Faces; this is good enough.


Read it HERE

Saturday, July 28, 2012

HE-MAN MEETS RAM-MAN! (mini-comic, 1982)

He-Man Meets Ram-Man! is a 1982 Masters of the Universe mini-comic. It’s written by Gary Cohn and illustrated by Mark Texeira and Tod Smith. Here, Skeletor tricks/forces Ram-Man to bash down the gate to Castle Grayskull by ramming it with his head for hours.

Ram-Man is yet another character with mental capacities at or below those of this comic’s target audience. This is a little more forgivable, though, given that in any continuity, he’s always the dullest tool in the entire shed. Which is perfectly understandable, considering that he rams things with his head for a living (why does he even need an axe?).

Thus we begin the second series of mini-comics (from here on out, they’re actual comics – a considerably better format for this medium). These are shorter books – 15 pages versus 22 previously. And here we get a hint that this pre-Filmation Eternia is a somewhat darker place: we have He-Man actually killing something (it’s a giant, savage monster, but still). He-Man’s still using the axe, but there’s no mention of the “forcefield garment” – hopefully we’re done with all that.  

Mark Texeira has become known primarily for his painted art, but his pencils are just fine. They’re nothing fancy, but they’re perfectly competent, and his action scenes are fluid (well, except for on the cover). He-Man’s hair is a little long and Beast Man looks kind of like a clown, but these are minor things.  

On the whole, it’s an enjoyable action comic.


Read it HERE

Thursday, July 26, 2012

BATTLE IN THE CLOUDS (mini-comic, 1981)

Battle in the Clouds (1981) is the fourth and last of the original series of Masters of the Universe mini-storybooks by Donald F. Glut and Alfredo Alcala. Here, Mer-Man steals He-Man’s strength-enhancing harness and the Battle Ram, and Teela gets captured for the third time in four books.

Man, what is going on here? The book ends in mid-story, with Teela still kidnapped and Mer-Man still in possession of the strength harness, like Glut wrote a 26-page story and they stuck with the 22-page format anyway. Mer-Man is still completely incompetent, and Stratos is close behind. Marketing-wise, it’s time to push the vehicles: the Battle Ram, the Wind Raider, and Battle Cat.

Aside from the usual quality art from Alcala, this is a pretty weak effort.


Read it HERE

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

THE VENGEANCE OF SKELETOR (mini-comic, 1981)

The Vengeance of Skeletor (1981) is the third Masters of the Universe mini-storybook by Donald F. Glut and Alfredo Alcala. Here, Beast Man and Mer-Man ambush He-Man, win somehow, and then, instead of killing him, throw him in the ocean, where he’s rescued by Stratos. You can probably guess what happens after that.

Story-wise, we get Stratos and Mer-Man with something to do, not much vengeance actually happening, and the stereotypical horrendous bungling from the evil minions. I get that this is for five year olds, but the plotting definitely has that “by five year olds, for five year olds” feel to it. Alcala’s art is good as always, though, and it’s nice to get some scenery besides the wasteland surrounding Castle Grayskull again.

This one’s better than King of Castle Grayskull, but not by much.


Read it HERE

Monday, July 23, 2012

KING OF CASTLE GRAYSKULL (mini-comic, 1981)

King of Castle Grayskull (1981) is the second Masters of the Universe mini-storybook, again written by Donald F. Glut and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Here, Skeletor, now unable to get into Castle Grayskull, takes about fifteen minutes to collect both halves of the Power Sword and get the lock open. He then “rules” Castle Grayskull for the short time it takes He-Man and Teela to kick him out.

Quite a few of the goings-on here, frankly, don’t make a great deal of sense. In just pages, Skeletor goes from unstoppable sword collector to castle owner who clearly has no idea what he’s doing. In the first book, he tried to capture Teela and marry her; here, he gets a friendly Teela ready to serve him, and he can’t wait to drop her down a pit. At least we get Battle Cat (although he’s not talking yet). This story does do a good job with its primary objective, though, which is to show off the finer points of the Castle Grayskull playset.

Alcala’s art is solid, but it’s not used to as good effect as in the previous book. His outdoor night scenes are the best, and we do get a little of that in the end.

On the whole, I’m not impressed.


Read it HERE

Sunday, July 22, 2012

HE-MAN AND THE POWER SWORD (mini-comic, 1981)

And now, to the beginning.

He-Man and the Power Sword (1981) is the original Masters of the Universe mini-comic (it’s actually a mini-storybook, as there’s one picture per page and all the text is in paragraph form at the bottom). No author or artist is credited, but it was written by Donald F. Glut and illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. Here, in post-apocalyptic Eternia, He-Man leaves his jungle tribe to defend Castle Grayskull from Skeletor, who’s busy trying to marry Teela and unlock the castle’s secrets. Everybody fights, and the Sorceress decides it might be a good idea to put a lock on the castle door.

This is, obviously, the pre-Filmation mythos at its most raw, and there are all kinds of idiosyncrasies for fans who are most familiar with the cartoon. The Sorceress is green, and she doesn’t live in the castle; that protector role is served by “The Spirit of the Castle.” He-Man has two identical harnesses: one that enhances his strength and a “forcefield garment,” both created “centuries before the Great War by Eternian scientists.” There are two halves of the Power Sword, and He-Man doesn’t have either of them. Teela is a “warrior-goddess” (but she still gets kidnapped). He-Man himself is kind of snarky.

It’s all very interesting. Not that this is some great story that makes a lot of sense, but that the MOTU world, in its primal stage and in this open, unstructured, primordial fantasy setting (this latter would be carried over to good effect in the cartoon), are brimming with potential. Alcala’s memorable art goes a long way toward this. His beefy, top-heavy characters tie in well with the action figures, his Skeletor is particularly menacing, and the use of color and shading give the book excellent atmosphere. On page 8, though, that looks like Stratos hanging out with Skeletor’s crew.

I was slightly impressed by just about every part of this except the plot. As these sorts of things go, that’s not bad at all.


Read it HERE

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Mammoth Read-Along Masters of the Universe Marathon

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who know that He-Man is awesome and those who missed the train way back round about 1983. He-Man was by far the most influential of my childhood heroes, and now, over 30 years after He-Man first hit the shelves, we’re going to take a walk down memory lane with a survey of He-Man and the Masters of the Universein print media. We’re calling it the Mammoth Read-Along Masters of the UniverseMarathon.

We’re going to take an extensive look at He-Man in books, comics, and mini-comics, from 1981 all the way up to DC Comics’ 2012 mini-series. I’ve never reviewed individual comics on this site before, but for He-Man, we do what we want. I bet we’ll even look at a thing or two that we die-hards missed the first time around.

As best we’re able, we’re going to treat this material with a more “serious” eye than most of this stuff has typically received (or deserves). Yes, a lot of it was little more than shameless toy marketing, but again, He-Man. We’re here for nostalgia, not Shakespeare. Any way it goes, we’re going to have fun with it. We’re going to start right off with the chronological beginning and, while we’ll generally go in order of publication, we may do a little skipping around (the mini-comics, for example, were typically produced well before they were first released; anyway, I’ll do my best on the dates). I will be giving ratings; scores will assume a certain degree of affection for the franchise. I’ll be relatively generous with the RECOMMENDEDs, as most of this material can be read in five to ten minutes.

All the stuff we’re looking at from the ’80s is obviously out of print, but there are scans of a great deal of it online. As we go, I’ll include the links I have available so you can read along. So get excited for that.

Now, a little background: the Masters of the Universe backstory was made up as the creators and marketing people went along, and the result of this is several mythoi, with no real attempt ever being made to reconcile these into a single continuity. As such, it’s nearly impossible to talk about a single He-Man canon, but that’s all right as long as we all know where we’re coming from.

Just about everything we’re going to look at is going to fit into one of three broad categories, each of which has its own take on both He-Man and the Masters of the Universe world (from time to time, the mini-comics also added new story elements, as they had first crack at all new toys; these elements were then adapted or ignored by the other media). It can be confusing, so here’s a little refresher.

The Pre-Filmation Mythos was originally seen in the early mini-comics and DC’s ’80s comics. Here, Eternia is a post-apocalyptic world in which the barbarian He-Man leaves his jungle tribe to protect Castle Grayskull. The Power Sword has two halves, Man-At-Arms doesn’t have a mustache, and, in the early stages, there’s no Prince Adam.

The Filmation Mythos is my favorite version of He-Man. Certainly it’s the one that had the biggest influence on my childhood and the one with the most stories. This originates with the 130-episode Filmation cartoon that began in 1983. He-Man’s true identity is Prince Adam, Man-At-Arms has a mustache, and Orko is a featured character. Just about every post-1983 story includes at least Orko and the Prince Adam identity. Rather than being distinctly separate, the pre-Filmation mythos evolved gradually into this.

The 200X Mythos is based on the cartoon that began in 2002. It is rooted in the Filmation series, extensively incorporates elements from the mini-comics and original toy line, and originates some of its own story elements and character histories.

There are other He-Man mythoi, but these are the three that matter most. And you have my solemn word that you will never throughout the marathon see the words “New Adventures.”

So, here we go on our nostalgic He-Man retrospective/sentimental journey/bonanza-palooza.

Get excited.