Bizarro Back Issues: The Ordeal Of Man-E-Faces! (1982)
So here's the thing about He Man and the Masters of the Universe: I don't know anything about it. I mean, I'm aware of it just from having been a kid in the '80s, and I've seen both the Christmas Special where we find out that Skeletor just really likes fighting and the live-action movie that's more inspired by Jack Kirby than anything else, but as far as the mythology behind the toy line? I got nothin'. The one thing I do know about it, though, is that it's just ridiculously, needlessly complicated.
So naturally, I want to know more.
Fortunately for me, the last few years have seen something of a MOTU renaissance that included a massive hardcover collection of the minicomics that accompanied the toys. I figured that if the underlying mythology was originally codified in those bite-sized chunks, I could probably get a handle on it. The only problem is that these things are both completely bonkers and completely amazing.
Take, for instance, the origin story for Man-E-Faces, a guy who has... well, you can probably guess what his toyetic ability was. What you may not know, however, was that he got that ability by being mangled by sorcery until he exploded in agony. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In terms of format, these things are absolutely fascinating. At fifteen pages, most of which are limited to two or three panels each, they're telling stories that are ultra-condensed, trimmed down to the bone with only the most essential parts making it onto the page. That makes them really interesting, because it also cuts out anything that you might consider to be the connective tissue of the story. I mean, this would be a pretty weird story if it had plenty of space to explain everything. As it is, Gary Cohn, Mark Texeira, Tod Smith, and Anthony Tollin are going at this thing as fast as they can.
And it all starts when Skeletor goes to a carnival.
Now look. I know that not every character can be the World's Greatest Detective, but you would think that if you're the #1 bad guy in the entire realm of Eternia, you would probably need to use something a little more effective than a hoodie to disguise yourself, especially if you are a massively buff skeleton man. I mean, Eternia does not have a whole lot of different body types, but Skeletor's barely even trying to hide here.
And yet, it works. After watching a performance by a traveling actor, Skeletor realizes that he can use the gift of Thespis... for eeeeeevil!
With that in mind, he breaks into the dressing room and zaps Man-E-Faces (it's never revealed whether that is his new nom de guerre or if he's just Man-E, the child of Doug-Las and Lin-Da Faces) and holds him at swordpoint until he drinks a potion that turns him into a monster.
Just go with it. It's fine.
Since Manny doesn't remember being turned into a monster, he continues on as a mild-mannered actor who ends up getting an invite to a dinner party thrown by the Royal Family of Eternia --- which apparently includes He-Man himself. That leads me to believe that this was early enough in the development process that the Prince Adam secret identity hadn't been introduced yet. Everything's going fine, with Manny presumably dropping some great impressions of Man-At-Arms or whatever actors do at dinner parties in Eternia, when Skeletor just straight teleports into the dining room and starts causing a ruckus.
And like... if Skeletor has the ability to teleport into He-Man's house at the dinner hour, why is He-Man an alive person right now?
The reason, of course, is that Skeletor doesn't want to kill He-Man. Instead, he has other goals that are way more intense than just direct murders.
That's right, y'all: We're dealing with demon summoning through human effing sacrifice! And here I thought He-Man comics would mostly just be about, you know, trying to get into the castle, or why you shouldn't skip leg day.
Thanks to the Sorceress --- which, in all honesty, is only a slightly less obvious character name than "He-Man" --- the good guys are able to get to Skeletor Headquarters in time to prevent the sacrifice. The thing is, even though Teela is still alive and well, Skeletor has already summoned a full-on Satan that rises from a pit of fire.
So I guess the human sacrifice was, like... optional? Is that how demons usually operate?
Also, it's worth noting that this dollar store Beelzebub is suffering from a severe lack of self-confidence.
Like, I don't want evil to win or anything, but at least believe in yourself, buddy.
While He-Man and Teela handle the Satan, the Sorceress and Skeletor battle each other for control over Man-E-Faces. Well, maybe saying that they battle each other isn't quite right --- they basically just stand there forcibly magicking Man-E-Faces back and forth between Monster and Man over and over, with Cohn and Texeira making sure to add in the fact that this causes him intense physical agony, which eventually gets so bad that he literally explodes.
You know, just in case you were worried that this thing wasn't going to scar any children for life.
So here's where things get weird: I think we can all agree that being transfigured to the point of explosion certainly makes a particular kind of sense, right? Conflicting forces being channeled against each other until something --- in this case a person's physical form --- just buckles under the strain and overloads. It might not be strictly logical, but I can get my head around it.
But then you get to the part where this turns him into a robot.
Folks, I just do not know anymore.
And that's that. With one final transformation after Skeletor inexplicably decides to peace out, Man-E-Faces is returned to his friendly human form and none of this is ever addressed, largely because it happens in the story's penultimate panel. All we get beyond that is the Sorceress just telling us that he's probably going to turn back into a monster at some point.
But maybe more concerning is that weird comment about how robots are neither good nor evil. I think both the Megazord and Ultron would probably disagree.