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.