Comic Review > He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 (DC Comics)

HeMan1_CVR

A good piece of advice for living one’s life in general is, “If you haven’t anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” There are many blogs and websites that would immediately vanish into the ether were their authors to subscribe to this philosophy. However, in general I have always tried to be as fair and reasonable as possible on PGPoA. There have been a few times where I’ve simply skipped a review rather than having to write something really negative.

I also just don’t like getting down on someone when they’ve put time and effort into creating a piece of art. I think of all the effort, by one person or the combined work of many people, that goes into making a toy, or a movie, or a novel, and the idea of bashing the end product and making light of their efforts bothers me.

But sometimes I just can’t let it go by without comment, and DC Comics’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic – which recently wrapped up its initial six-issue storyline and will become an ongoing title next month – is one of those times.

So settle in, folks. While I’m going to try to avoid clicking into full-on rant mode, I am going to be honest in my opinions. There were six main issues of the comic, plus two one-shots (the Origin of He-Man and the Origin of Skeletor) and, most annoyingly, eight Web-exclusive short comics that are pretty important to following what the hell is going on, but won’t see print until (presumably) the collected edition.

I started to write a whole background piece on the history of MOTU comics for this post, but I decided that was both time-consuming and beside the point. In general, though, I think it’s hard to write a comicbook (or make a cartoon or a movie) about a character named He-Man and attempt to make it palatable to savvy modern readers (never mind how to handle characters with names like Two Bad, Ram Man, or Rio Blast).

I can give you some quick context for how I’m approaching this comic: my favorite MOTU comic – actually my favorite MOTU story in any medium – is the 1982-3 three-issue miniseries from DC Comics. Other favorites include the Millennium-era “Shard of Darkness” miniseries and the Beast Man and Trap Jaw “Icons of Evil” one-shots.

I’ve already reviewed the initial Web-exclusive comic, “The Lost Knight.” Written by Geoff Johns, it did not prepare me for what was to come.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1

Release Date: July 2012
Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Philip Tan
Inkers: Ruy Jose, LeBeau Underwood
Colorists: Richard and Tanya Horie, Carrie Strachan
Letter: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover: Philip Tan and Dave Wilkins
Assistant Editor: Sarah Litt
Editor: Kwanza Johnson

You know what’s never a good sign on a comic book? Whenever any of the artistic duties are split between multiple people. We’ve got two inkers and two colorists here, and that’s just the first hint that DC may not be all-in for He-Man.

Plot Synopsis: Adam, a simple woodsman, has dreams of being a hero fighting evil forces. One day he’s befriended by an orange-and-blue falcon.  Shortly after, for reasons he can’t articulate, he’s compelled to wander into the woods, where he’s immediately attacked by Beast Man. Using fighting skills he’s surprised to find he has and some quick thinking, he defeats Beast Man and continues on his way. In the last panel, we see Skeletor telling Beast Man to tell “everyone” that Adam must be stopped.

And that’s it for issue #1. Ten pages out of twenty – i.e. half the issue – are spent on the Adam/Beast Man fight.

James Robinson is a prolific writer and while I’m not personally all that familiar with his work, he appears to have written many great comics that people enjoy. That said, I really have to question his approach here. I don’t know how much of it was Robinson’s idea and how much was concocted in some sort of editorial meeting, but the decision to use a storyline in which Skeletor has conquered Grayskull and erased the memories of the heroes is just bizarre.

Oddly enough, it does have echoes of the Four Horsemen’s original concept for the Millennium era of MOTU. I’ve discussed it often but I’ll briefly recap it here: the Four Horsemen envisioned a world where Skeletor had conquered Eternia by obtaining the Power Sword and the heroes, still led by He-Man, had gone underground and formed a rebellion. The so-called “Keldor swords” were in fact the good and evil halves of the Power Sword. (The “techno-sword” carried by He-Man in the Millennium era was supposed to be a replacement sword created by Man-At-Arms and enchanted by the Sorceress.)

There are similar ideas at play here – some of which will be discussed in more detail later, such as the fate of the Power Sword. But I really have to question the decision to go with the “erased memories” idea. What this means is it’s going to be months before we get to see He-Man in action in a comic called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I understand that the comic industry is currently obsessed with the idea of multi-issue story arcs that can be collected into trades, but if you’re going to do that, for heaven’s sake, just finish the whole thing – preferably with a consistent crew of creators – and release it all at once, rather than making us read an entire issue of a comic where barely anything happens except for a fight between Beast Man and He-Man’s alter-ego (never mind the Web-exclusive stuff).

My copy of issue #1 is the SDCC exclusive one that included the “Lost Knight” prologue, and man, does Philip Tan’s art look weak next to Howard Porter’s. I suspect Tan was rushed, as was the whole project, given the multiple inkers and colorists, but I don’t know enough about his art to say whether this is up to his usual standards. All I can say is I don’t much like it myself – it has an unfinished, sketchy quality to it, and his human faces look terrible in most panels except for a few where he seems to have spent more time on them.

But I’m more concerned with the story, and the indications from this first issue is that it’s gonna drag. As I read the first issue I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be a long time before I saw He-Man fight anyone (despite the fact that every single cover of the series would feature He-Man in full armor).

Strap in, people. We’ve only just started.

11/2000

Previously Reviewed:

Comments now closed (12)

  • Robinson dropped the project after the first issue. Keith Giffen took over and tried to salvage the story but it was just a lot more of the same. It does ramp up a bit towards the end but just when it gets going its over.

    DC has been good about publishing hard copies of their digital books like Batman Beyond so I'm hoping they put the digital MOTU comics out in print at some point.

  • I understand the blogger's mindset is currently obsessed with the idea of multi-post comic reviews that can be collected into a "best of the year" recap, but if you're going to do that, for heaven's sake, just finish the whole thing and release it all as one post, rather than making us read an entire review of a comic where barely anything happens except for a fight between Beast man and He-man's alter-ego.

    Ok, I'm joking; but I am really looking forward to your reviews of the other issues.

    • LOL

      I really do look forward to Poe's reviews here, and I'm glad he overcame his reticence about negative reviews. Everything I've read about these MOTU comics has sounded like a turn-off and the same old gritty reboot crap that you see everywhere.

  • It was good to be reading some new MOTU comics, but yeah this series didn't impress me overall. Reading all six together, there were some elements I liked but Stranger is right- as it gets good, it's done.
    My thought behind DC choosing to have Skeletor make everyone forget who they are is that it served as a "reboot" without actually having to reboot anything. It attempted to introduce new fans to the story while presenting a story in media res for those already familiar with MOTU. Whether that was successful or not is definitely up for debate.

    I actually did a podcast with a friend who had next to no familiarity with MOTU. He read the six issues (later he read the two one shots) and we discussed the series. He actually seemed to like it more than I did, but he definitely was lost on a number of concepts. It was an interesting discussion as I think DC was trying to target comic readers who had a passing familiarity with He-Man but not much else. Anyways, interesting work here Poe.

  • i've always felt, for my own purposes, that a little over the top hyperbole in the name of humor is helpful and cathartic for a geek dealing w/ the insanity that is the media surrounding their property of choice. not everyone gets it, not everyone likes it, but it makes me feel better. i don't have a blog at stake here, so my mileage is clearly different than yours, but i don't see any inherant flaw in pointing out when something sucks… sure, lots of people put their time and effort into it. that doesn't mean it has value. lots of people worked very hard to kill teachers during khmer rouge rebellion, that does not impart to it a work ethic, nor an intrinsic value.

    as it pertains to this comic, if it sucks, it sucks. don't beat around the bush. i'm constantly appalled at what some "professional" comic artists pass off these days. some of them make liefeld look like van gogh. the mass amnesia storyline is weak, that's all there is to it. if skeletor had that kind of power, he'd have used it a long time ago. he could have used it at any point, made he-man forget who he was or what he stood for, and had easy access.

    which brings up a query for me: what is skeletor's endgame in the modern era? in the old days, it was relatively straightforward, he wanted the power sword, because it unlocked casle grayskull, the home of magical power… except, in the new era, where skellie is the victim of racism, and seems to want randor's throne. he doesn't give a crap about the power sword he-man's carrying any more. and really, why does he care about the castle, there are a ton of powerful locations and mystical objects all over the place, which he regularly harnasses to try to conquer grayskull by force… but if that's even possible, doesn't that mean that he doesn't need grayskull at all? if he's supermagic force, and can access, say the ram stone, to crack open grayskull like a nut, then what does need grayskull for? to kill the sorceress, whom he's never met, and who's done him no personal harm? or is he just trying to kill he-man? cuz the traps thing, that never works, but oddly, it works on everyone else on eternia, so why not kill all of them and leave he-man nothing? when he's hurt and alone, step up and take him out, either you're the overlord of evil or you're not, right? act like it! the next time skellie kidnaps teela, kill her! kill man at arms! kill randor!

    • The amnesia storytelling device just sounds like a big stumbling block to enjoying the classic dynamics of MOTU. I would think a good writer good present a more iconic MOTU set-up while still making it interesting and easy to follow.

  • How did I get my hands on this thing? Did it come packed with Vykron or something? I did read it. . .

    A comic based on an IP that currently only markets to die hard fans, that then retcons the story in ways that would surely not please many of those fans. Throw in suspect storytelling and art that won't likely appeal to many, and you get. . .

    Exactly what we would suspect from Mattel!

    • It was an SDCC exclusive – I think Rustin Parr may have thrown in some copies for all of us in his SDCC box. So you may have gotten it that way.

      • There was an SDCC exclusive cover that was given out with Vykron but the actual comic series was in stores just like every other comic.

  • I've said it before and I'll say it again : Considering that this first miniseries takes five (FIVE!) issues to get to Adam actually becoming He-Man, I'm not willing to throw 25 bucks on a recurring series where everything takes forever to get going. I mean, I could understand it taking two, maybe three issues, tops, but five is just way too many. I didn't even pick up the last issue, I was so disappointed.

  • As hokey as comics in past decades have been, at least you could pick up an issue of, say, Spider-Man from the '80s and actually read a complete story from cover to cover. I don't know if I should blame Bendis, but some of the sloooow storytelling today isn't necessarily a good thing, IMHO.

  • I agree with you, Poe, the original DC mini series is the best Masters of the Universe comic book to date. I'm old enough to have actually been around when it was first released, and having already been a fan of the toys, I loved the DC comic series. In fact, I believe the mini series came out before the cartoon did.

    So I was initially curious when I heard about the new DC comic series and after giving it a try for 4 issues, all I can say about it is two words: Unnecessary and annoying.