DC’s New ‘He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe’ Comics Are Secretly Awesome
When the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated series found its way to Netflix Instant not too long ago, I thought it would make perfect background noise for my work day; some nostalgic entertainment to help pass the time while working on the site. But as an adult, what I discovered in that early 1980s cartoon based on an action figure line was far more distracting and indeed more sophisticated than I ever realized as a little boy. While the animation itself is crude (and famously recyclable), the show expresses a palpable sense of otherworldly adventure and intrigue through its writing but even more so through it’s surprisingly awesome art direction. I thought, this medieval-techno world of Eternia and its heroes, villains, magics and prophecies could really be great if someone wanted to really dig into it.
Well, it turns out someone did, and that someone was Keith Giffen. One of my favorite creators for his work on Justice League International, L.E.G.I.O.N., Vext, Lobo and so much more, Giffen (along with key contributions from Pop Mhan, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Frazer Irving, Ben Oliver, Philip Tan and James Robinson) has been quietly excavating the Masters of the Universe mythology in a number of DC Comics titles which are among the most entertaining the company is producing at the moment.What you may remember from the original animated series is still largely true in DC’s new He-Man ongoing: the world of Eternia is a place of fantastic technology but still rooted in magical traditions, creating a cool Fourth World-ish society ruled by the benevolent King Randor from the capital city Eternos. The greatest power on the planet — possibly in the whole universe — is that contained within Castle Grayskull, which the villain Skeletor wishes to conquer at all costs. Grayskull is protected by the Sorceress, an enigmatic, beautiful woman whose influence extends beyond the walls of the castle when she takes the form of a falcon and guides heroes on their various quests. The Sorceress’ champion is the titular and unstoppable He-Man, who wields the power of Grayskull through his magic sword. He-Man has a secret identity: Prince Adam, son of King Randor and Queen Marlena, an astronaut from Earth who became marooned on Eternia and married the king.
Hardcore He-Man fans are doubtlessly familiar with the deeper, more intriguing backstory that forms the foundation of DC’s current series. ComicsAlliance contributor Lee Leslie wrote a great post about the history of that mythology going all the way back to the mini-comics that came with the original action figures. But it was newly expressed through three one-shot “origin” comics focusing on He-Man, Skeletor, and Hordak, the last being written and particularly well drawn by Giffen in a truly epic Kirby style which really got me hooked on the He-Man mythology. It was in that book, available now digitally, that Giffen takes us back one million years to a crazy battle for the universe itself between Hordak and Zodac, the Cosmic Enforcer, a hero whose life and armies were given in vain in a trap set by the villain Hordak, whose terrible victory becomes something of an ancient myth in the million years hence.
In the truly dark and even tragic Origin of Skeletor one-shot, also available digitally, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Frazer Irving introduce us to Keldor, blue-skinned son of Eternia’s human King and a woman of the Gar race. It is because of monarchal tradition that Keldor is not the heir to Eternia’s throne. That honor goes to the King’s second-born, fully human son Randor, even after Keldor saves his half-brother from an agent of Hordak. Feeling betrayed and vengeful, the young Keldor conspires with Hordak to conquer Eternia for himself. Keldor is hideously scarred in the battle, his face completely burned away leaving only a grotesque skull that, in the hands of Irving, becomes a haunting and beautiful image that shoots like lightning into your memory and makes the once cartoonish villain live again. Hordak rescues his young apprentice and rechristens him Skeletor in a moment reminiscent of Star Wars.
The third origin one-shot is that of He-Man, written by Fialkov with gorgeous, dreamlike visuals by Ben Oliver. Also available digitally, this book reveals (although possibly not for the first time) that Prince Adam is a direct descendant of the legendary King Grayskull who prophesied a future war between two of his progeny. The Sorceress confirms to Adam that he and his uncle Skeletor are those two parties, and that he will become He-Man.
In a prologue miniseries confusingly also titled He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Skeletor succeeds in capturing Castle Grayskull but ultimately fails at unlocking the secret of its power. In the course of the adventure, Skeletor murders the Sorceress before being brutally defeated by He-Man and transported to the side of an unseen villain who reveals he has been manipulating Skeletor all along.
The new series by Giffen and Pop Mhan begins with a celebration of the Sorceress’ life that’s interrupted by an invasion of the Horde, the army of Hordak himself. Leading the charge is a human woman called Despera who He-Man’s friend, the incredibly fierce warrior woman (and breakout star of the whole project, it has to be said) Teela, recognized immediately as her forgotten childhood friend Adora — who, as every child of the ’80s knows, is destined to become She-Ra, the Princess of Power.
That brings us to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #3. On sale this week in finer comics shops and digitally, the book finds Adora and the Horde at the gates of Castle Grayskull, preparing for a full-scale assault. This is the latest chapter of what we’ve discovered has become one of the most entertaining adventure comics being published by anyone at the moment, and we think you should read it. Here’s an advance preview courtesy of DC.