Friday, November 9, 2012

Wednesday Comics (on Friday): He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

I have always said that the great heroes of comics are not unpopular, they just don't always have the best writers.  Superman is, arguably, the most popular superhero of all time, and yet sales of his book are not always great. 

The problem, I think, is that we assume the character will sell himself and that the writing is less necessary.  But that couldn't be further from the truth.

And to illustrate my point, I look to the new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

The beloved '80s cartoon and toyline has returned to DC Comics to once again engage us in the battle for Eternia. 

Now if you watched the show as a child and then tuned into any re-runs as an adult, you can see that the cartoon has not aged well.  It might lead one to think that the story and characters themselves are no longer exciting and relevant.

Enter super-star writer James Robinson, author of the greatest comic book series of all time: Starman.  He has been tasked with re-introducing us to the Eternia universe.  This is no easy feat considering how many different comics have tried to catch on with readers.

But Robinson understands that to show how great the characters are, you need a great story.  Period.

Rather than return to the origin, Robinson brings us to a new future.

Adam is not a prince.  He is the son of a wood-cutter in a deep forest.  But he dreams of adventures and swords and skull-shaped castles.  But he tries to forget about them as he toils away in the shadow of Snake Mountain.

But when his father takes ill, he decides to leave the woods to look for aid.  But there he is confronted by Beastman, who is feral and horrifying.  Adam has only his mortal strength, but his muscle memory is that of a warrior, and the two do battle in an exciting and creative way.

As the series continues, we learn that Adam is under a spell by Skellator, the full extent of which we know not.

One of the strongest aspects of the story is that hook.  I want to know what happens next.  Where are they going?  How did they get here? 

It's exciting to watch Adam act not as He-Man, but as a mortal.  This elevates the danger, but also the wit he must apply in order to save his skin.

And Robinson is also slowly revealing new environments and villains, giving texture to characters like Beastman and Trap-Jaw in ways I never thought of, but seem very right.

Philip Tan's art is faithful to the character designs, but he adds texture to them, making them feel well-worn and world-weary.

I am only on issue 2, but I am committed to the long haul. 

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