Monday, November 18, 2013

THE SWORD OF SHE-RA by Roger McKenzie and Fred Fredericks

So here’s one that slipped through the cracks on me during the Mammoth Read-Along Masters of the Universe Marathon:  

The Sword of She-Ra is a 1985 Princess of Power children’s book written by Roger McKenzie and illustrated by Fred Fredericks. Here, Prince Adam takes the Sword of Protection into another dimension to find its rightful owner.

This book is, essentially, a severely abridged adaptation of the first half of Filmation’s The Secret of the Sword film. Substantial changes have been made (e.g., they’re rescuing Queen Angella from Beast Island rather than He-Man, and they get there on flying goats) and the story has been rearranged (e.g., they go to Beast Island before Adam ever finds Adora).

Aside from a single page with Hordak and Shadow Weaver, the named Horde villains are nowhere to be found – it’s troopers all the way through. One wonders whether this was done out of consideration for the PoP toyline or the delicate sensibilities of the young female audience.

Fredericks’ art is generally fine. He isn’t much for backgrounds and his male characters look stubby sometimes, but the female characters look good and the pages where he really applies himself are solid. The Horde Trooper are oddly colored, though. But an Earl Norem cover is always worth getting excited about.

The Sword of She-Ra is a passable version of She-Ra’s origin story, and it’s different enough from The Secret of the Sword that it’s worth checking out for that reason alone. Plus, where else are you going to see Cringer on a flying goat (sort of)?


Monday, October 14, 2013



He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #4-6 (DC) are written by Keith Giffen and illustrated primarily by Pop Mhan. Here, He-Man tries to rescue Teela and Adora learns the truth about her past.

Well. They couldn’t get rid of the classic vestiges fast enough, could they? Doing away with the classic He-Man outfit and Power Sword is pretty stupid on its own, but this sin is compounded in that the replacements are incredibly awful. He-Man’s new outfit looks like something Tony Stark would have come up with if he lived in the Gears of War universe. Never mind that we all know that He-Man’s not supposed to wear pants; the last time he wore pants, we got Space Ponytail He-Man, and look how that turned out.

The new Power Sword is just as bad. A forced attempt to match the sword to the chest armor results in the most ill-conceived cross-guard ever – you wouldn’t be able to use that sword without gouging your wrist to the bone or losing some fingers. But don’t take my word for it; look at the illustrations in these issues – it’s such a stupid concept that Iron Pants He-Man can’t even be drawn holding it believably.

What’s also remarkable is the fact that this style change was tacked on after the initial redesign: check out the before-and-after of the cover for issue #4:

Because why would we ever keep something the same when we can make it stupid? Ugh. Let’s move on.

This series is so much more tolerable when Teela and He-Man are apart and we don’t have all that god-awful bickering, although Giffen puts dumb chit-chat in the mouth of nearly every character. Based purely on their dialogue, the supporting Heroic Warriors are completely indistinguishable from one another.

Bickering aside, though, the writing’s really not any better. The plotting is a mess. Giffen makes some needless and stupid changes to the Adora backstory (and hell, with DC being what it is these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if they trotted out some Adora/Teela homoeroticism down the road). There’s a lot of farting around with “secrets” most readers have known for years. And why is the Sorceress just now getting around to dropping all this knowledge on everybody?

Like much of this series, the climax in issue #6 features a lot of pointless talking and not a lot actually happening. Hordak’s speech is ridiculous. What is he doing? What is his plan? Does he even know? I guess it really doesn’t matter, because Iron Pants He-Man doesn’t ever actually do anything – he’s just another guy.

I’m not through. Having slogged through all the yammering in the first eight pages of issue #6, I flipped to page nine, blinked, and uttered a blank-faced “Really?” Here, abruptly, without any lead-up or logic or dramatic effect whatsoever, in a single page that perfectly symbolizes precisely what he’s done to this property, Giffen destroys Castle Grayskull. Jesus, Giffen, what the hell? Did one of your children get beat up by a bully in a He-Man shirt twenty-five years ago? 

I said last time that you can’t trust Giffen with the Masters of the Universe property because he obviously doesn’t like it or care about it on its own terms, and he continues to prove that this is absolutely true. It’s kind of amazing, really – in a little over a year, DC and Giffen have managed to trample over the established personality of nearly every character and kill off the Sorceress and several minor characters, He-Man’s secret identity, his classic costume, the classic Power Sword, Castle Grayskull, and the very premise of the franchise.* And in just six issues of the monthly, they’ve obliterated all the setting that made Masters of the Universe what it is.

Everything Giffen does is cheap; nothing is paid for, nothing is earned. He walks away from this smoking, rancid wreckage of an arc leaving us with the scenario of a band of heroic rebels hiding out and fighting the Horde. That’s right, Giffen’s turned it into She-Ra: Princess of Power. All we need now is frigging Loo-Kee (oh, and She-Ra; despite what the cover to issue #5 might lead you to believe, there’s no actual She-Ra here anywhere).

If there’s any light at the end of this trainwreck-filled tunnel, it’s that Giffen’s not writing the next six issues. Storywise, I don’t know how much of this disaster is Giffen and how much is DC’s powers-that-be, but either way, it’s hard to imagine that Dan Abnett can do any worse.

So remember, kids, just because it says “He-Man” on the box doesn’t mean there’s He-Man in the box.


*Here’s where we’re at right now on the original** premise:

“I am Adam, Prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, ‘By the power of Grayskull! I have the Power!’ Cringer became the mighty Battle Cat, and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. Only three others share this secret: our friends, The Sorceress, Man-At-Arms, and Orko. Together, we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.

**Obviously, by “original,” I mean the Filmation mythos with Adam and Randor and everybody else, as these comics clearly have never had a thing to do with anything pre-Filmation.

Monday, July 1, 2013


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1-3 (DC) are written by Keith Giffen and illustrated by Pop Mhan. Here, the Evil Horde, led by Despara (Adora) invades Eternia.

The murderous rampage of an unstoppable Horde army is a compelling plot – if we could ever focus on it. But Giffen’s focus is always on the Most Powerful Bickering in the Universe! Just like in the miniseries, Giffen feeds us page after page of inane banter and petty bickering between Yellow Cross He-Man and Teela (in issue #2, it’s page 7 before we get a meaningful line of dialogue). This is certainly annoying in its own right, but it’s particularly bad in juxtaposition to Randor’s high fantasy speechifying. Giffen might not be able to deliver a compelling twist, cliffhanger, or narrative, but he is the undisputed king of immature sarcasm.

We’re also sticking with the no-secret-identity business, which is idiotic for a number of reasons, including the fact that Adam still runs off to transform (because he “needs space”? Seriously?) and, most egregiously, that there’s no reason for him to ever be Adam for any reason.

The problems mount. In #2, we get a cynical exchange between Randor and Yellow Cross He-Man about the unlikelihood of some of the characters, and in addition to making no sense in the context of the story, it absolutely shatters the reader’s suspension of disbelief. We also get some pretty severe Mekaneck-bashing, which is both in poor taste and too easy. It’s obvious that Giffen has not bought in to this franchise. To that, I say: Jesus, man, stop bitching about what you have to work with and tell us a story. We know Mekaneck is lame; stop telling us what we’ve known since 1984 and maybe try to do something about it.    

There’s still no development of any of the supporting characters. Roboto gets some significant screen time in #3, but he talks just like everybody else. And here we come to the foundational problem of these comics: Giffen has swept away decades of backstory and characterization, but made only a perfunctory effort to replace them. There is, therefore, no foundation upon which to relate to any of these characters or to care about what happens to them.  

If all of this isn’t enough evidence that Giffen is the absolute wrong writer for the job, there’s also the part where Teela randomly strips to her underwear in front of everybody for absolutely no reason.

On a more positive note, I’m okay with Pop Mhan as the regular artist for this series. His work generally ranges from competent to above average, and even if the backgrounds can be as scanty as Teela’s outfit, it’s the consistency – which was missing from the miniseries – that makes the difference. There are some nice touches with the design, too, as various buildings, characters, and vehicles hearken back to either the Filmation series or the 200X series. To that I say: the more, the better. But while we’re on the subject of the art, why on earth are Skeletor’s minions on the cover of #2?

One more thing. Here’s the alternate cover to issue #1, the one I got from my DC subscription:

That’s right, it’s an ad, complete with the website where you can buy all those toys. It’s terrible. It’s shameful. It’s insulting. It’s the new DC.

In conclusion, then, Giffen isn’t really hammering the square peg into the round hole any better than he did with the miniseries. You just can’t trust him with this property, nor should you. Just because these comics are slightly less terrible than the miniseries doesn’t mean they’re worthwhile.