Friday, December 5, 2014


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #19 (DC) is written by Rob David (Mattel’s head writer) and illustrated by Tom Derenick. This is a standalone flashback story, the last before the series gets rebranded as He-Man: The Eternity War. Here, twelve years in the past, young Prince Adam wants to join the Masters and Keldor attempts a coup.

Perhaps this plot would have been more interesting did it not parallel Scar’s stampede in The Lion King so flagrantly and so obviously. As it is, the bulk of the story is thoroughly predictable. There’s some good interaction between Adam and Teela, but the characters are otherwise on the flat side. And man, that inner monologue doesn’t fit a kid Adam’s age at all.

There’s a decent amount of lore here, including backstory on Keldor’s parentage and a bit about how Adam is unique. That’s great, I guess, if you go for that sort of thing; for me, two pages to “explain” the hocus pocus of how Adam is this unique prophecy-fulfilling messiah of destiny isn’t a particularly exciting climax. I know he’s a unique prophecy-fulfilling messiah of destiny—he’s He-Man, for dang sakes. But this is hardly the only time this series has had its focus on lore take priority over its focus on character or storytelling.

Masters of the Universe is like the original Star Wars trilogy in that these are worlds populated by main characters (and conflicts) that are the purest of archetypes, worlds that work perfectly well without bothering to answer “How does X work?” Why should they? Unnecessary explanations of fantastical core story elements are not only tiresome, they pull back the curtain to show the audience exactly how dumb and/or silly things really are (I’m looking at you, Phantom Menace). They explain the wonder out of everything.

“The Force!” or “Magic!” are completely sufficient How? answers for these kinds of stories—as somebody once said, “Any sufficiently explained magic is indistinguishable from science.” To wit, I never in my life wondered how the Power of Grayskull worked because I already knew what it was and what it signified.

As far as Masters of the Universe is concerned, the loremongering originated with MOTU Classics’ unnecessary attempt to cram all the pre-Filmation material (which I find to be an amusing quirk of the franchise and have no problem dealing with) into a single canon. But consider: the broad strokes of lore we got in the classic Filmation cartoon were sufficient to the task. The added details we got in the 200X show were welcome, and with the exception of the one-off second-season episode “The Power of Grayskull,” they were incorporated tangentially into the stories. But this DC material—this is like somebody explaining how a TV works when all you want to do is watch a show. Never mind that this lore is (to me, at least) confusing (that’s a nice way of saying there are holes in it) and not very interesting (because its relevance to the stories is minimal at best).

I got a little bit literary and pretentious there; sorry about that. Put succinctly, I would rather see an engaging story involving characters I’ve loved for thirty years than hear about King Miro’s blue baby mama or get a technical explanation of the theology of the Sorceress and the Goddess. If you can do both at the same time (or work it in more gracefully), cool, but so far, I haven’t seen it.

Derenick’s art is solid. I’m particularly impressed with his range of facial expressions. A nice job all around.

In conclusion: this final issue of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a perfectly decent read, but unless you have some sort of frightening passion for third-gen (MOTU Classics) lore, it’s also one you can do perfectly well without.


Monday, October 27, 2014



He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #16–18 (DC) are written by Dan Abnett and illustrated by Pop Mhan. Here, Space Boots He-Man and Adora arrive at Anwat-Gar, where grim and gritty serious business ensues.  

The center of this story—Adora murdering (or, if you prefer, “murdering”) Space Boots He-Man with the Cursed Blade—generates no suspense, for several reasons. Obviously, Space Boots He-Man can’t be dead, and obviously, Adora can’t still be evil with “The Origin of She-Ra” all over half the covers, so we tread a lot of water until we finally get to the explanation.

Abnett greases the story through the pipe with a bunch of mystical mumbo-jumbo plotting—the Teela-Sorceress makes Adora jump through all these angsty hoops because she “moves in mysterious ways.” Understandably, Adora’s mad that she got all this convoluted mess instead of an upfront explanation—her beef is the same as the reader’s, and it’s totally legit. The whole encroaching-Fright-Zone-dispelled-by-the-power-of-Grayskull business is glossed over pretty quickly, too, and seems like little more than an excuse for that splash panel.

All that said, within this misguidedly R-rated vision of He-Man (with He-Man lying, throat slit, in a huge puddle of his own blood, I think that’s fair to say—and if there were ever questions of whether you could share these comics with your small children, there certainly aren’t anymore), Adora’s ultimate decision for good—more gradually arrived upon than in the original origin story—is decently satisfying. Overall, is it a good origin story? Not really—it’s okay, but it isn’t in the same category as Filmation’s haphazardly plotted Secret of the Sword (which, don’t get me wrong, I like quite well).

I’m pretty happy with Mhan’s art here. Particularly nice touches include Tri-Klops flying the Roton and He-Ro as the son of King Grayskull. She-Ra’s new design doesn’t thrill me, but it’s better than anything He-Man’s worn this year, and I’m quite impressed with how un-scanty and un-fan-servicey it is. But why does the Sword of Protection change mid-scene from its classic form into that impractically pointy paddle?

On the whole, the second half of this “Blood of Grayskull” arc is DC and Abnett doing more DC and Abnett things. I may not be enthusiastic about it, but I can live with it, and that’s something.


Saturday, September 6, 2014



DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe collects the eponymous 2013–2014 six-issue mini-series written primarily by Keith Giffen and illustrated primarily by Dexter Soy. Also included is DC Comics Presents #47 (1982), which we looked at some time ago. Here, Skeletor has fled to Earth, where he plans to drain the world’s magic—until a greater threat forces everyone to team up.  

This is a Masters of the Universe-centered story—non-He-Man fans probably won’t get much out of it (unless, perhaps, Justice League Dark gets you excited). But given Giffen’s previous work on Masters of the Universe, it’s unexpectedly unterrible, especially for a crossover.

Oh, it’s full of the problems that plague Giffen’s MOTU writing, including tons of inane bickering and plenty of characters lapsing into “hip” teenager-speak. But to those of us who have been travailing through DC’s MOTU comics, it’s worthwhile for its backstory and its tolerably satisfying conclusion of the red skull arc.   

It’s not all sunshine and bunnies, though—there’s plenty of stupidity. This is most glaring in the middle act, where, while the reader is patiently waiting to hear how Superman’s not really dead (come on, that’s not a spoiler), everyone in several Justice Leagues who isn’t named Batman is an idiot. (MOTU character: “Excuse me, can we have a rational conversation?” DC hero: “Rah! Fight you!” Repeat.)

Even when cool things happen, dumbness is right behind, grasping at the heels. We get Marlena, finally—only she’s been “cursed never to return” to Eternia, which just makes everybody shrug and go home; meanwhile, we never get an explanation for how the Justice League gets unpossessed.

Of course, the big news in this story is the resolution of the red skull business. The red skull, as you’ve no doubt deduced if you’ve kept up on your reading, is Horde Prime, who is also Orko, because eff yo childhood. Orko as a Diablo-style evil demigod is as terrible an idea as it sounds, but that horse left the barn a long time ago, so ugh, fine, let’s just go with it.

(The conclusion is rather abrupt on this front, too: “Nice job, the bad guys are gone forever.” “Um, we didn’t save Orko.” “Enh, we’ll get around to it later.” “But what about trying to free Marlena so she can finally go home?” “THE COMIC IS OVER, MAN, CAN’T YOU SEE THERE’S ONLY ONE MORE PAGE? GET IN THE PORTAL.”)

Sigh. Let’s end on a positive note.

Soy’s art is pretty good here, and a good fit—not too dark, not too cartoony. He also gives us quite a few more backgrounds than we usually get in these MOTU comics. Assuming he’s not responsible for Skeletor’s new look, I’ve got no beef with him.

So then: while DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe is chockfull of flagrant dumbness, it isn’t as bad as I expected.


Saturday, August 9, 2014



He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #13–15 (DC) are written by Dan Abnett and illustrated by Pop Mhan.

#13 is a standalone flashback story that sets up the rest of the arc: in the aftermath of his defeat of Hordak (that’s Regular Hordak, not Giger Abomination Hordak), King Grayskull has to deal with this series’ mess of a prophecy while King Hssss incites a coup.

It’s nice to see Grayskull with that classic look, and he seems like a more interesting character than Space Boots He-Man has been to this point, but again, this story is grim and gritty without much in the way of context, and thus what could have been a poignant moment here goes by the wayside for lack of backstory.

In #14 and #15, all the big developments from the last arc are packed away in the closet as Space Boots He-Man accompanies Adora in search of Anwat-Gar. (Why is she going there? Because she has a map, duh.) The covers make it obvious where this is all generally headed—but our problem has always been with the details. One hopes they at least leave the samurai stilts out of it this time.

Storytelling aside, Abnett’s writing is okay. The tone of his dialogue still isn’t consistent and the series still isn’t grounded at all, but at least now you get the feeling that he might get there someday, especially if he could condescend to tell some smaller-scale stories. No, the biggest problem remains the dark tone of the series, which just doesn’t work for me at all—not because I don’t like dark, but because with this tone, these characters simply cannot bear any real resemblance to their classic versions, the ones we know and actually care about. Here’s an example:

We get quite a good moment in #15 where Space Boots He-Man actually does something quite He-Manly (albeit after having to think about it for a while first). On the other hand, the Horde Troopers are now explicitly living beings rather than robots (which they certainly seemed to be in #1–6), and Space Boots He-Man is butchering them by the score in the process. So there’s that.

I have to say that Mhan’s art is definitely growing on me. It’s cleaner than it was earlier in this series, which helps a lot. The attention to detail is strong, and all the little throwbacks to the 1980s are delightful—the three towers of the old Eternia playset on Grayskull’s tapestries, for example, or Adora’s outfit.

On the whole, these issues are nothing to get excited about, but once again, I find myself cautiously optimistic going forward (and the cover to #15 earned this series the tiniest bit of extra goodwill). Stay tuned.


Saturday, May 10, 2014



He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #10–12 (DC) are written by Dan Abnett and illustrated by Michael S. O’Hare and Tom Derenick. Here, the Justice League of Eternia continues its journey into the underworld, where it turns out that Randor has secretly been dead for years and years and that it’s actually been King Hssss in disguise the entire time. No, seriously.

Well then. Maybe if anybody had ever given us any kind of foundation for these characters, I might care that Randor’s supposed to be dead. Instead? Meh, and profoundly so. (While we’re on the subject, is Man-at-Arms supposed to be dead? Does anybody know? Almost forgot about that guy.)

So here’s the big payoff, and while I’m tempted to say it’s the first interesting bit of storytelling we’ve had in this series, I have a feeling it’s going to turn out to be little more than a deus ex machina used to sweep the board clean (following a big, overlong army fight, of course) for the next round of foundationless, unengaging “storyline”: Teela becomes the new Sorceress—the old-timey green Teela snake armor one—so the JLE gets to have Snake Mountain as a base and have their own army of Snake Men. The irony would be great if this had been anywhere near competently set up.

Last time, I predicted skipping to get through this story—I was right. We go straight from Moss Man dying in the desert to Moss Man commanding a Final Fantasy-style airship with guns on it. All right, fine. But this is a comic book—why are we getting his recap with close-up face shots instead of with actual pictures of what happened?

The lack of grounding in this series is bewildering. It’s well-documented that DC’s not using any of the old mythoi—these absolutely are not those characters. If there’s any “foundation” to speak of, it’s the little paragraphs from the MOTU Classics figures’ cardbacks. That’s plenty to go on, right?

We’ve had a six-issue miniseries and 12 issues of the ongoing, and we’ve already gotten all three of He-Man’s Big Bads. What’s the almighty rush? You’d think they were still making toys. Whether Iron Pants He-Man’s chopping on Horde Troopers, nightmare creatures, or Snake Men for two straight issues, it gets old equally fast.

For these reasons and others, this arc feels slapped together. Abnett’s sticking with the tried-and-true fight-while-spouting-exposition approach to writing comics. Issue 10 is mostly just talking, while issue 11 is mostly just fighting while talking.

(Battlecat? Battle-Cat? It’s Battle Cat, Abnett, you should ask somebody, and let’s not even talk about Sarnscepter.)

While it’s certainly better than Giffen’s, Abnett’s dialogue is just too much at times (“This shot-cannon is most efficacious”? Are you wearing a monocle? Are you Sir Hammerlock?). And then there’s this, from Iron Pants He-Man: “You will all pay with your souls!” Like in a Hellraiser kind of way? What does that even mean?

On the art front, so much for O’Hare. He and his fine work are gone after issue 10. Derenick replaces him—his art is perfectly competent, although his faces are chunky. We’ve had a lot worse. More relevant is that He-Man gets a new outfit that’s even stupider than the one he’d been wearing. Dude looks ridiculous. Nice space boots, turkey.   

Abnett’s not as flagrantly annoying as Giffen. My problem with him isn’t what he’s doing with the plot and the characters, it’s how he’s going about it. The bottom line is, these comics, these characters, this Eternia still don’t feel like any He-Man I know about, mostly because they’re so generic, so cookie cutter, so one-dimensional, existing only to dash heroically from one colossal melee combat to the next while lamenting the most recent apocalyptic turn of events the reader hasn’t been made to care about. So while these issues trot out some story elements that could be interesting, it seems pointless to talk about whatever potential this series might have as long as it refuses to invest itself in its characters or its storyline.


Monday, April 21, 2014

THE STORY OF SHE-RA (mini-comic, 1985)

Not to be confused with The Sword of She-Ra or The Secret of the Sword, The Story of She-Ra (1985) is the first Princess of Power mini-comic. He-Man’s in it, or we wouldn’t be here. No author or artist is credited, but I’d guess Larry Houston on the pencils and maybe Bruce Timm on the inks.

This is a vastly different origin: Adora’s still kidnapped by the Horde as a baby, but the only ones who appear in this story are Hordak and Catra. As this story begins, Adora’s already free and a good guy somehow, she’s already got the sword somehow, and she turns into She-Ra on her own (in front of Catra) somehow. Thus, He-Man drops by pretty much just to say hi. It’s borderline incoherent. Typos abound. Also, the moral’s printed explicitly in red because…girls are stupid?

The art is perfectly fine and the colors are good, but it can be confusing because Adora looks like She-Ra already, like the action figure does. When Adora changes into She-Ra, her headpiece flips around to go over her eyes, Batman-style, following the original toy concept; otherwise, her outfit doesn’t really change.

In short, this one’s a mess. It might be worth a look just for how wacky it is.


Read it HERE

Monday, April 7, 2014


Here’s yet another Secret of the Sword tie-in I missed the first time around. This 1985 comic, which was given away at theaters, chronicles the first half of the film. No author or artist is credited.

The comic is obviously slapped together. We’re covering half the movie in six pages, so the plot is barely coherent. Punctuation is in short supply. Overall, the thing reads like somebody cranked it out on his lunch break. Example: He-Man realizes she is the one Sorceress (sic) sent him to find. “You? You’re the one I came to find!”

The art suggests a similar situation. Sometimes, it’s perfectly good, but in a lot of panels, the figures are stiff and awkward, are in bizarre poses, or are obviously crammed into these tiny panels (the last panel features the scrawniest arms I’ve ever seen on He-Man).  

Also included is a full-page promotion for a spectacular He-Man/She-Ra sweepstakes that I’m sure I would have gone nuts about in 1985 (17,000 prizes!).

Any value this comic has is purely as a collector’s item. If you’re looking for a print adaptation of The Secret of the Sword, you’re better off with The Sword of She-Ra or the eponymous duology.


Read it HERE