Good Thing: ‘He-Man’ Mini Comics And The Mythologies Of Childhood
I’ve never been a huge Masters of the Universe fan. I mean, not since I was seven or eight years old. I’ve never bought a figure as an adult; I don’t even read the current comics, although I’ve considered it. But the toys, and the comics they came with, were really important to me as a child, and I’m certainly not above nostalgia. So I was happy to receive the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Minicomic Collection from Dark Horse for my recent birthday.
The book is a thick hardcover with a red ribbon bookmark, and as I was sitting with a friend who’s my age, thumbing through the book, admiring the artwork — which is particularly strong in the early stories — I noted, “It’s so weird that this book exists. When we were little, who would have thought this would be an object we’d have or want in our late 30s?”
Later, by myself, as I read various stories from the book, I began to think about how much this thick bound volume feels like a religious text. Not so much a religion I follow, but perhaps one I was raised with. And that’s when it hit me: this is a thing that changed with my generation. This is the reason people around my age and younger have never let go of our childhood loves the way our parents did.
It was Masters of the Universe, after all, that started the explosion of children’s entertainment that was designed solely to sell toys. Our parents watched cartoons, read comics, and played with toys, but they were never engulfed in whole multi-media worlds that were constructed to make them care about particular characters. The motives of the storytellers were crass, but when they hired talented people to do the work, the product looked great and often worked exactly as it was meant to.
We were handed whole mythologies when we were five or six; tales of heroes and demons complete with creation myths, magical rules, and apocalyptic prophecies. It wasn’t supposed to mean anything; it was just supposed to make us want specific toys. But we were too young to be cynical, and accepted that the stories were just as important as we were led to believe. Now, decades later, a residual sense of that importance remains.
I think maybe it’s strongest with Masters of the Universe because the fantasy setting and emphasis on ancient magics give it a more literal sense of the mythological. Even the inconsistencies between stories add to the feeling of myth. Is He-Man a barbarian from a lost tribe, or a spoiled prince who transforms by magic? I’m not sure, but we talk about where King Arthur really comes from too.
And I’ve decided to embrace it. I’m not founding a religion or anything, but I feel no need to disavow that remaining element of childhood awe that these stories conjure up. It’s tempting to take the cynic’s position: that I was tricked into caring about something that was only ever marketing, and that I should resent it now.
But there are greater evils in this world that a 35-year-old Mattel toy line, and if reading about the time Trap-Jaw stole the Power of Greyskull makes me happy, I’d rather read it, and be happy.
In Good Thing we celebrate something we love from comics or pop culture, because every day could use something good.
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