Monday, June 15, 2015



He-Man: The Eternity War #4–6 (DC) are written by Dan Abnett and illustrated by Pop Mhan. Here, She-Ra has a showdown with Hordak, Skeletor returns, and Space Boots He-Man sees a vision of the future in which he becomes a brutal dictator.

The characterizations continue to be extremely weak. The only interesting character here is Skeletor, because he’s the only one with any personality; that is, he’s the only one who isn’t a pretentious speechifying cardboard cutout.

We get a little bit more lore here, and in a very palatable dose. The implication, however, is terrifying: the religion of this Eternia is one in which the goddess seems to be whatever the ruling party wants her to be. That’s one small step away from Lovecraftian horror, and that shows you exactly how misguided this series continues to be.  

We are explicitly told that this is a parallel universe to the Eternia(s) I care about, the one(s) I have loved since childhood (although the iPhone game?! Really?!). That does make me unclench my buttocks a little bit, but it also underscores the fact that bleak Lovecraftian Eternia is a weak-sauce universe, and I for one would much prefer to be back in one of the better ones. Nothing to be done for it, alas.

While it fits in this world, from a broader perspective, He-Man-as-evil-dictator is a laughable premise, one that’s impossible to take seriously. Nevertheless, it’s used as a hypothetical here to decent effect.

Mhan’s art is solid as usual, but we’re reminded again just how bad the designs of Skeletor’s warriors are. Hordak, the Evil Warriors, She-Ra, He-Man—it’s just bad character designs across the board these days. There are also flashes here of what I called the “techy and off-putting designs” at the end of The Art of He-Man, plus that Battle Cat person, which has me bracing myself in expectation of this property taking a turn for the severe worse (I mean, honestly, as disappointing as this grim and gritty version of He-Man has been, who thinks grim and gritty New Adventures would be any better?).

As the covers of these issues clearly indicate and as their contents confirm, these still aren’t remotely close to being comics you can share with your kids. As someone who has derived a great deal of pleasure from indoctrinating my small children with a passionate love for the old Filmation cartoons, this continues to be profoundly disappointing (This is the last time I complain about this, I promise. It’s not going to change; I know that.).

In short, in spite of the many things they do badly, a coherent if unimpressive story and a decently interesting and much-needed plot turn at the end of #6 keep these issues afloat.


Thursday, April 30, 2015


The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2015) was published by Dark Horse Comics in collaboration with The Power and Honor Foundation. It features copy by Tim Seeley, Steve Seeley, and James Eatock. With over 300 color pages, this is quite a book: it covers nearly 35 years, from the seminal 1980 toy concepts all the way up through DC’s current run of weak-sauce comics and beyond.

Arranged topically rather than strictly chronologically, this book provides the broad strokes of the art. If you’re looking for a history of the franchise, you won’t find it here. And while The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe isn’t comprehensive on any of its subjects, it does provide a representative sampling of everything.

The first two chapters cover the classic toy line, and the Mattel design memos and proto-versions of the characters are some of the most interesting parts of the entire book (How about that unproduced “Ball Buster” vehicle? Man, I miss the ’80s). There’s plenty of art here that was featured on the toy packaging, but no pictures of the toys in the packages or in the stores, so if you were hoping for that, caveat emptor.

Chapter 3 covers the minicomics. If, like me, you still have all yours, this section might not do a whole lot for you (and remember the minicomic collection is coming out in November). I don’t mean to nitpick, but there’s a pretty glaring error on p. 73, where a page from “The Search for Keldor” has a caption about “The Ultimate Battleground.”

From there, the book moves to Filmation, where the highlights are the storyboards and some interesting developmental designs for She-Ra (who has token representation throughout the book) and Hordak. It also comes with a little He-Man/Skeletor cel you can take out, which is cool.

Chapter 5 encompasses the ’80s comics, books, and magazines. There’s a fantastic collection of Earl Norem’s amazing paintings here, plus some pages from the unreleased Star #14, where He-Man’s wearing the Dolph costume and “Grayskull” is misspelled.

The most notable part of Chapter 6, which covers the live-action movie, is the design concepts by Ralph McQuarrie (of Star Wars fame). I’ve complained about William Stout’s designs for the movie, but holy smokes, this McQuarrie stuff is horrendous. Remember kids, no matter how bad things get, it could always be worse!

Chapter 7 covers New Adventures. Boo. The amazing, horrific highlight here is that before NA was produced, there was a “military pitch called H.E.M.A.N.” where He-Man “joined the US Army.” Remember, kids, it could always be worse!

The book moves on to cover the 200X series, featuring a lot of art you’re probably familiar with plus designs for new characters that weren’t used (none of them were missed), and then to MOTU Classics. This latter chapter feels less about the art and more about shilling the figures, although it redeems itself somewhat with the maps and diagrams.

The last chapter briefly covers the He-Man app game, He-Man’s Facebook page (the two most wasted pages in the book), and the current misguided run of DC comics. It concludes with some techy and off-putting designs of indeterminate purpose (New New Adventures, anybody?), including a Battle Cat who can change into a person. Remember, kids, it can always get worse!   

The book also includes a number of interviews interspersed throughout. Some are interesting, but others are just not good (minicomic writer Steven Grant: “I didn’t pay attention, I didn’t think about it, I don’t know, I can’t remember”).

In all, I could have done with more ’80s stuff and less new stuff (it’s about a 2:1 ratio as it stands), but you can’t please everybody, and I really can’t complain too much. And while there’s a little too much marketing and pandering at times in the last 100 pages, this is a very impressive collection.

Unless you’re the most hardcore of collectors, there’s likely a decent amount of stuff here that you haven’t seen before, and both the familiar and the unfamiliar make The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe well worthwhile for anyone who still holds a passion for He-Man.


Monday, April 6, 2015



He-Man: The Eternity War #1–3 (DC) are written by Dan Abnett and illustrated by Pop Mhan. Here, Giger-abomination Hordak turns back into regular Hordak and forges himself a Power Sword, because all the cool kids have one these days and I hope you brought enough for everybody.  

Welcome to the new He-Man, same as the old He-Man. As expected, there’s a heavy dose of lore here, especially in issue #1, which is mostly recap so as to serve as a jumping-on point for new readers. Castle Grayskull is back somehow, and so is pretty much everybody else of note, including Skeletor, who can apparently use his awesome magic powers to come back to life but not to conjure himself a new jawbone.

In issue #2, Space Boots He-Man leads the snake troops into battle, while in issue #3, She-Ra chases MacGuffins. Meanwhile, Man-at-Arms fights a bunch of snake men allies for no other reason than to get back onto our radar and then becomes Iron Man. Lots of fighting ensues; most of it just feels obligatory, necessary to offset all the exposition we have to slog through.

Space Boots He-Man finally moves to the forefront in issue #2, although pretty much only because there’s a giant monster that needs killin’. He’s still not worth a damn as a character, though, because he’s got no real personality: he’s a generic hero shouting generic inspirational heroisms while fighting whatever bad guy is directly in front of him (and She-Ra’s almost exactly the same way, only more matter-of-fact and less angsty).

At one point, Man-at-Arms tells him, “You’re the strongest man I’ve ever known. Not because of the sword or the power of Grayskull. Because of you.” If only that were true, I would probably like these comics. This version of He-Man hasn’t done anything at any point to merit that praise, mostly because Abnett doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do with him. This He-Man’s got no wisdom, no compassion, no cleverness, no sense of humor—none of the things that made Filmation He-Man (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, 200X He-Man) such an endearing and admirable character. Not that Abnett’s left any real room in the story for these qualities anyway—his He-Man is little more than a grim and merciless killing machine, a video game character, and not at all someone who’s fun to hang out with or read comics about.

Mhan’s art is fine as usual, and the battle scenes are well done. There’s an awful lot of posing, though, especially in issue #1, since it’s mostly folks just standing around talking. And I will say, Space Boots He-Man does look slightly less terrible with that He-Dolph cape, although Battle Cat, like so many other characters in this series, looks completely ridiculous. Also, tell me that the Hordak-ified Castle Grayskull doesn’t look like the idol from the old Fireball Island board game. Stick a big marble right in there.

I’ve made fun of a bunch of stuff here, but honestly, these comics don’t actually do anything wrong per se. But the fact is, with all these one-dimensional characters and the throw-in-everything-as-fast-as-possible approach, I just don’t care—there’s no reason for me to care, nothing (and, more to the point, nobody) in particular to care about (in these three issues, we’re supposed to wonder whether three notable characters are dead—it just doesn’t matter). This all still feels like pretend He-Man to me, like weak fan fiction from folks who think grim and gritty = trendy awesome, and no matter where Abnett, DC, and Mattel go with this story (I expect the expected), that seems unlikely to change.