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.