There’s that old joke where a guy tells a waiter, “The food was terrible... And there wasn’t enough of it!” That’s kind of how I felt at the end of reading DC’s new take on Masters of the Universe, written by James Robinson, with art by Phillip Tan. The book doesn’t do more than set up the premise, introduce a few characters, and have one action scene, so as an issue of a comic book, there’s not even much there to like; and yet, by the end, I was craving issue two.
So, here’s the set-up: somehow, so way, evil guy Skeletor has figured out how to beat He-Man, and put him in the body of a weakling woodcutter named Adam. We’re told through narration that the world is horrible, and things seem like good will never win, but what can a guy with an axe do about it? That’s when Adam starts having dreams of Castle Grayskull, epic battles, and all the toys you used to know and love to play with.
When he befriends a falcon who he instantly knows is named Zoar, things start to click, and so he heads off into the woods, leaving home and searching for his destiny. Oh, and then there’s a gigantic fight scene, and a teaser for the conflict to come.
The star of this issue is Phillip Tan, who gets to draw pretty much every character in the He-Man universe battling, during dream sequences. And the end battle, as well, is excellently choreographed, and eminently exciting. There’s a sense of cinema to the whole thing, or at least that Tan is borrowing the language of animation that He-Man comes from. At times, Robinson steps back and adds no words to a two or three panel page, drawn mostly in wide shots that clearly show each move the battling characters are making.
Contrast that with the scenes at Adam’s hut, which are cramped, sometimes hard to connect to each other, and not particularly interesting to look at. The narration tells us that things seem wrong, that every day is the same, so this may be a specific choice on the part of the author and artist; but it also makes for a somewhat boring reading experience... Mainly because aiming to write something boring, and succeeding, makes it, er, boring.
Surprisingly though, this is where I think the book could have used more room to breathe. The set-up, and hut scenes are pretty much brushed away. We’re told things are terrible in the world, but we never get to see this in action. We’re told every day is the same, but we really only get to see one day. Not to play armchair writer, but it would have been great to see this repetition in action.
That kind of room could only have come if this book was an original graphic novel, instead of a six issue mini-series... And given DC’s current commitments to that form, it’s a bummer that they didn’t release the series that way. Particularly also given the ending, which certainly sets up the rest of the series, and leaves you wanting more, but also with that empty feeling I mentioned before.
On the more positive side of things, Robinson has made a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe book that actually is completely new reader friendly, and that’s a great thing. You don’t have to know your Fisto from your Zodac to know that the guy with the skull mask is bad, and the big nearly naked guy with the blonde hair is good. There’s plenty of shout outs for fans of the franchise, but Robinson knows that those fans have gotten kind of old - so this is aimed at them, sure, but it’s also courting a new generation, as well.
Look, what’s the job of a first issue: to hook you, right? And here, this book hooks you through a fantastic battle sequence, the return of character you thought were lost in the ‘80s, and a premise that, while not nearly explored enough, is still intriguing. Those looking for transcendent comics that redefine the form... Well, you probably weren’t going to pick up a comic called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe anyway. For the rest of you, enjoy a light, fun trip down memory lane. You just may want to wait until you can eat the whole meal.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 hits comic book shops July 4th from DC Comics.
Geoff Johns Creates New Masters Of The Universe Character In DC Digital Comic!
EXCLUSIVE! DC Comics Launches Brand New 'He-Man and the Masters of The Universe' Comic From Writer James Robinson