Saturday, March 30, 2013

MOTU Marathon: The Finish Line

Huzzah! Eight and a half months and over 150 posts later, we’ve reached the end of the Mammoth Read-Along Masters of the Universe Marathon. I freely admit, it ended up being an order of magnitude bigger than I’d anticipated when I conceived of it, but I’ve found it to be a profoundly satisfying experience, and I sincerely hope that you’ve enjoyed it anywhere close to as much as I have.

I should take a minute to talk about what we’ve looked at over the last month, starting with this question: DC, what the hell are you doing? The 200X comics, which I appreciate now more than ever, displayed a healthy respect for the MOTU characters even as they reshaped the franchise for a more mature audience. In contrast, DC, with its blatant disdain for these well-established characters, seems to be saying, “Let’s take this fundamentally silly children’s stuff and make it as gritty and badass as possible because people like things that are gritty and badass.” (For the record, they’re gritty and badass by He-Man standards, not comic book standards – but either way, it’s just not working.) You will quote me this proverb: If it ain’t broke, don’t take a steaming (but gritty and badass) dump on it.

I’ve been trying to stay open-minded with these DC comics, but so far we’ve run the gamut from mediocre stories told badly to terrible stories told extremely well. I feel like I could have given nearly all of them a RECOMMENDED AGAINST if I’d wanted to; reading most of them the first (and, in many cases, second) time actively irritated me.

It’s remarkable: even though they demonstrated fidelity to the spirit of the MOTU world and its population, the 200X comics were severely constrained in the stories they could tell because of licensing issues, and now, ten years later, DC comes along and black is white and up is down.

These new DC comics, which seem to be geared toward those who liked He-Man as a child and then grew up and either forgot what it was really like or became embarrassed by it, are to He-Man what Tootsie Rolls are to chocolate. DC hasn’t yet given me a single reason to take this incarnation seriously. If you love He-Man and you aren’t reading these comics, you aren’t missing a thing.

Yellow Cross He-Man himself has powers that are neither fabulous nor secret, and thus far the most interesting thing about him is whether he will end up ranking ahead of or behind Space Ponytail He-Man at the far end of the He-Man pantheon table. One thing’s for certain: Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Or maybe one day we’ll all look back and pretend none of this ever happened.

But enough of that. I don’t want the last two weeks to ruin the great run we’ve had. Let me get the stink out of my mouth the best way I know how:

And again:

One more:

There we go.

A final note: in conjunction with the MOTU Classics figures, Dark Horse has been producing a number of new mini-comics, and we may eventually take a look at those. (Those comics’ archive page is HERE.)

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Masters of the Universe: Origin of He-Man is a 2013 DC one-shot written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Ben Oliver.

First of all, what the heck was wrong with the origin from the Halperin bible and the 200X cartoon? This vacuous deus ex machina has no pizazz at all. Again, just as with The Origin of Skeletor, if you don’t already know the basic of origin of He-Man, you’re probably going to be pretty unimpressed (likely, you’ll be unimpressed in any case). Most egregiously, this is an origin in which He-Man never has a secret identity, as the comic opens with Adam transforming for the first time in front of Skeletor.

Fialkov uses the same structure here he used in The Origin of Skeletor: alternating flashbacks and not a lot of character development, context, or supporting cast. There’s further weakening of the Randor character – I’ve given up on him – and Prince Adam is neither interested nor interesting.

About the only thing worthwhile going on here is the moderately interesting conversation between Adam and Skeletor, which mostly centers on backstory exposition. However, there’s not enough to do much with.

Oliver’s characters look pretty good – in the rare instances they aren’t entirely in shadow. The colorists do a fantastic job. But what do we have to do to get some backgrounds around here? Oh, and the Sorceress looks like a stripper.

Origin of He-Man is an abject failure. DC continues to “fix” what isn’t broken, and I’m beginning to wonder if, by the end of this, I won’t think more highly of Space Ponytail He-Man than Yellow Cross He-Man. I may already.  


Its archive page is HERE

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #5-8 (DC digital comics)

Concluding the brief run of digital comics, these four issues, by a variety of writers and artists, feature backstory vignettes with Evil Lyn, Orko, Trapjaw, and Adora.

In “Evil Lyn” (I guess we’re dropping the hyphen), Evil Lyn becomes romantically involved with an ex-royal guardsman, and we get further setup for future stories with the second of the two most powerful relics in “the Everything.”

So, now we’ve got sex in a He-Man comic, eh? No doubt if anybody prominently involved with the creation of Masters of the Universe is dead, they’re spinning in their graves. The other thing that feels out of place here (although I guess when you think about it, it really shouldn’t) is the big flat-screen TV in the tavern, on which the patrons watch highlights of Yellow Cross He-Man battling Skeletor on the evening news. It can’t be long before we get a MOTUC figure of Repor-Tor, Heroic Newsman, or somesuch. 

The art’s fine, but I guess the colorist had the day off. The primarily black and white art gives this comic a noir feel, but this isn’t the sort of story that really benefits from such a treatment.

On the whole, this is a decent enough story, but it doesn’t tell us anything new about Evil Lyn, and those who know the character will see the ending coming a long way off.


In “Orko,” Orko screws up one of the Sorceress’s spells, throwing Eternia’s reality into flux. And by flux I mean complete madness.

Wow. Just, wow. Did Jeff Parker get drunk watching cartoons and dash this off in fifteen minutes? With overt pop culture references to The Dark Knight Returns, Spongebob Squarepants, Pac-Man, Calvin and Hobbes, Roger Rabbit, and lots more, this is Cartoon Network on the hallucinogenic drug of your choice. And the dialogue is often brutal.

However, this comic is also refreshing in a way, as it gives us a nice little break from the shameless grim-and-grittification of the franchise. And Parker nearly redeems himself with Power Sword-wielding Orko shouting, “I temporarily have the power!”

The hero of this comic is artist Chris Gugliotti, who successfully executes a myriad of styles in terms of drawing, inks, and color, and, in the cases of the pop references, in the manner of the original artists (but dude, that Orko on the left side of the cover is creepy as hell). This single comic should be all the portfolio he’ll ever need.

There’s no real story here, nor any point to the goings-on beyond showcasing Gugliotti’s artistic abilities, but it’s worth checking out for that, plus the craziness – it’s all craziness.


“Trapjaw” is a prequel to “Evil Lyn.”  Here, Kronis is an information broker and thief in a heist gone bad.

Wait, what? Yellow Cross He-Man throws a gun so hard that it makes Kronis’s jaw detach and his face turn green (talk about careless and irresponsible; Yellow Cross He-Man, we have “The Problem with Power” on line one)? And then these nanites save Kronis somehow? Not only is this origin kind of small-time, it’s also change purely for change’s sake: the 200X Icons of Evil one-shot gave us a much more significant, much more satisfying (and much more badass, while we’re at it) origin for Trapjaw.

What I do like is how Higgins has given us an overarching plot running through these stories. One hopes all this setup will be returned to in the ongoing monthly so we get our due payoff.

The art is fairly good. The splash page with Yellow Cross He-Man is about as epic as we’ve seen in these comics. And it’s nice to see a faithful (200X-ish) Snake Mountain (and Skeletor). However, all the buildup to give us a last-page reveal for Trapjaw? Come on – this character’s thirty years old – plus we’ve got the cover. Or is the big deal supposed to be that he’s basically got a garbage disposal for a throat?  

In short, this is a competently executed but needless and weak new origin.


In “She-Ra,” Despara – that is, Force Captain Adora – begins to recall flashes of her infancy; her story will be continued in the new ongoing monthly.

I don’t really have a problem accepting Adora as a cold-blooded Horde killer (she also murders a peripheral She-Ra character you probably don’t care about): it’s an understandable, logical, nigh-unavoidable step for any adult treatment of the character. If we get an appropriately climactic Damascus Road moment (I’m not holding my breath), I’m on board all the way.  

Drew Johnson’s art is very good, and the red-orange-black color scheme throughout sets the tone nicely. The Horde Troopers – now men instead of robots – have gotten a solid update. Adora’s outfit fits the Horde motif a lot better than the old cartoon one’s did, but if you don’t mind me saying so, it’s mighty weird to see Hordak’s face on top of boobs.

On the whole, this is the best new comic DC has given us, and it offers a glimmer of hope going forward. I don’t know that I need a bunch of She-Ra in my He-Man so soon, and one can’t help but imagine that they’ll find some way to screw things up, but I guess we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.


These comics’ archive page is HERE

Monday, March 25, 2013


Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Skeletor is a 2012 DC one-shot written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Frazer Irving.

So we’re using the MOTU Classics origin of Keldor as Randor’s bastard half-brother. Fine; it’s not so terribly different from what the 200X series gave us. Except…the reason Keldor can’t be king after Miro is because he’s mixed race, not because he’s illegitimate. Is it just me, or does spineless Randor’s perpetuation of the culturally-ingrained racist establishment not jibe with any of the He-Man worlds we know?

In line with this, Randor is presented as a rather weak character, which is, I suppose, consistent with the horrific moral failure he commits in the digital comic. Man, when I was a kid, Randor had a pair; even more so his 200X incarnation; times have certainly changed.

Keldor is also entirely unimpressive, but for storytelling reasons: even though the book is half flashbacks, we get none of his character arc here. Keldor tells us repeatedly how great he is, but we never see him do anything – all we see is a pathetic egotistical loser with his face melted off.

I’d wager that most people who read this comic already have a pretty good idea about the origin of Skeletor – and given that, this issue needs to impress – which it doesn’t. But if you’re brand new to the He-Man party, this issue will raise as many questions as it answers, both in terms of the specifics (e.g., Keldor’s betrayal, his acid face, why people hate the Gar, etc.) and the general (e.g., what’s going on in a meaningful sense with any of the relationships between these characters).

The murky art – heavy inks, smudgy colors, surrealist tendencies, minimal backgrounds – fits well enough with the murky storytelling. That is to say, I didn’t care for it; your mileage may vary. Hordak looks like something H.R. Giger would have come up with.

Whether you’re an old reader or a new one, The Origin of Skeletor probably isn’t going to do much for you – except, perhaps, irritate you.


Its archive page is HERE

Saturday, March 23, 2013

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #1-4 (DC digital comics)

These four digital comics, by a variety of writers and artists, feature backstory vignettes with Sir Laser-Lot, Man-At-Arms, Battle Cat, and Randor.

In “The Lost Knight,” Sir Laser-Lot saves some kids from a pack of beastmen. Geoff Johns is a big-time comic writer, so he gets to do a comic about the fan character he made up when he was eight. Smoke it if you got it.

Storywise, there’s not much going on. The red Skull of Power that Skeletor was talking to in the mini-series is here. There’s also a little King Grayskull-era backstory.

Without his armor, Sir Laser-Lot looks he like belongs in a ’90s X-Men comic. The art is passable, I suppose, although a lot of the time, posture, musculature, and facial expressions make characters look like zombies. Evil-Lyn looks ridiculous, and Skeletor is absurdly gigantic.

Another fan character who got his own MOTUC figure, “The Mighty Spector,” is mentioned here, so I guess we’ve got these characters becoming an established part of this particular mythos to look forward to (Spector isn’t shown here, but, continuing the X-Men reject theme, he looks like a cross between Cable and Deadpool). How this series thinks it can go full badass while introducing characters with names like these is entirely beyond me (and it’s clearly not the silly names that don’t fit).  

It’s not terrible, but this one doesn’t do much but give some vague backstory and setup; it’s hard to care too much about these new characters. This was not the best way to start the series.


In “Man-At-Arms,” Duncan is sent by the Sorceress to retrieve a powerful relic from a magical monastery.

It’s hard to know what to make of this version of Man-At-Arms – this comic is all about showing off his gadgets, and doesn’t do much character-wise but show us that he’s a determined badass and that he has a strange disdain for magic that feels profoundly un-Eternian.

As explicitly stated by the Sorceress, this story centers on one of the most powerful relics in “the Everything.” “The Everything”? That’s the best we could come up with? We’re supposed to take “the Everything” seriously?

The art is fair, although the inks are a little heavy and the running poses are bad. Unlike (most of) the mini-series, Castle Grayskull actually looks like it’s supposed to. But this new Sorceress design is just awful. Put some clothes on, lady.

After receiving no next to development in the mini-series, Man-At-Arms receives next to no development here; once again, we seem to be trading character for badassery. Disappointing.


In “Battle Cat,” Cringer/Battle Cat recalls how, when he was a cub, his family was slaughtered by a pack of purple Panthor-type cats.

So we’re explicitly sticking with the not-talking Cringer/Battle Cat. Another disappointment, if not the least surprising. From a storytelling standpoint, then, having him think in sentence fragments is a nice try, and while it kind of works, it feels a little off.

But what, exactly, are we supposed to take away from this as far as the relationship between Cringer/Battle Cat and Adam/He-Man? Yellow Cross He-Man just happens to wander by in Cringer’s hour of need and zaps him with the power of Grayskull? And that’s it? This is a significant dropped ball.

The art on this one is very solid. The cats all look good, and the heavy inks and color selection fit well with the tone of the piece.

A talking Battle Cat is too much to ask for in this day and age; fine, I understand that. Even so, while this one does some things rather well, it misses the mark by not addressing Battle Cat’s key relationship in a meaningful way – or, honestly, at all. And who does Cringer curl up with at the end? Teela. How do you tell a Cringer story without Adam? What are we doing here, guys?


In “Randor,” Prince Randor leads a band of soldiers against a monster that’s been terrorizing the countryside.

I love what they did with Leech. Turning him into a horrific creature that turns its victims into zombies? That’s badassery that works. And the story itself is well told: Costa gives us a compelling full-circle narrative in just a few pages. From a storytelling standpoint, this comic is by far the best of these four.

The art is a strong fit for this issue. The heavy inks and dark colors set the tone for this blood-soaked issue perfectly. However, some of the figures are very clunky, as Nguyen frequently has perspective-related trouble with the size of arms and legs.

However, all of this comic’s strengths are in vain, as in the last few pages, this story does unforgiveable damage to the character of Randor. Every previous incarnation of Randor was a man of integrity, courage, and compassion; this Randor is a self-admitted “monster,” brooding, continually haunted by his secret atrocity.

If this comic were about any random character, I’d give it a RECOMMENDED, maybe even, with some better drawing, a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – Costa tells a great story. But because of the irredeemable harm it does to Randor, I repudiate it utterly.


These comics’ archive page is HERE