Lately, thanks to my glorious local library system, I’ve read a couple comic collections that are off the beaten path.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Mini-comic Collection
As a true child of the 80’s, I remember well the He-Man toys and cartoon show. I wasn’t a big fan of the toy line. I liked them well enough, but I was just a little too old for them when they hit big. However, being a cartoon junkie, I did watch the cartoon. One of the unique things about the He-Man line is that they packaged mini-comics in with many of their toys, and with many years and MANY toys produced, that added up to a lot of comics. Dark Horse has managed to collect them into one mighty hardbound tome, and let me tell you I think this thing can stop a bullet.
This was a fun trip down memory lane, and it was interesting to read interviews with several of the creators who went on to be giants in the industry, including Bruce Timm who brought us the monumental Batman: The Animated Series. It’s also fun to see the evolution of the He-Man mythos. The toys and comics pre-date the Filmation cartoon series, and the early comics present a different, more primal saga that has more in common with Conan and John Carter than what we are familiar with, and it is these tales that I found to be the most fun. They have a certain raw quality to them that appeals to me, and they make a good attempt to keep a solid continuity, even when some aspects of the stories end up feeling awkward as things progress.
Eternia is a changed world, where there was once a series of great wars. The details are not given, but the implication is given that the present world of swords and sorcery is built on the graves of an ancient civilization of great technology, and this is just the beginning of the differences between this world and that we came to know in the cartoon series. There is no lazy Prince Adam and cowardly Cringer acting as secret identities for He-Man and Battlecat. Instead, He-Man is a warrior from a primitive tribe who goes out into the world to seek adventure. He-Man’s powers come not from a magical infusion from Castle Greyskull, but from the armor harnesses he wears; one gives him tremendous strength and the other an impenetrable force field, but he can only wear one at a time. The secrets of Castle Greyskull are no more defined here than in the cartoons, but there is an implication that the castle holds technology saved from the destruction of the ancient civilizations of Eternia. The castle itself is home to a spirit who speaks to the heroes occasionally, but only rarely allows anyone within its walls and only in times of great need. Even the Sorceress, who is Greyskull’s guardian but does not reside within the castle. This setup for Greyskull works better for me than the one in the cartoon, where the heroes have ready access to the castle, and the hints of what powers are within is more evocative than the completely undefined secrets in the cartoon.
As an aside, the whole Clark Kent/Don Diego disguise of Prince Adam never worked for me. The excuse of wanting to protect your family is foolish when your parents are the king and queen, already the sworn enemies of Skeletor. It is not possible to put their lives in greater danger than they already are. If anything, the requirements of maintaining such a ruse puts them in greater danger than revealing your identity.
But I digress.
As the book progresses the stories do get rather tedious, and I did skim quite a few. The sheer volume of work combined with the increasing focus on the appropriate toy over characters or world building causes many stories to lose their luster. There are still fun tales to be found in the later comics, but they get lost in the mass of increasingly childish stories.
Still, the book retails for $30, a bargain if you’re an old fan. For me it was fun to read, but not something I’ll be adding to my bookshelf. However if you do have it in your local library, I recommend checking it out.