For my birthday one year a friend gave me a copy of Dark Horse Comics’ collection of the Masters Of The Universe newspaper comic strips. I hadn’t heard of these until then and I was really curious about them. I decided to make it a monthly review series to give me time to read each of the storylines, although Val Staples (who worked on the project and also runs He-Man.org, where I get most of the scans for the Masters Of The Universe and Princess Of Power minicomics when they come up in Free Comic Inside rotation) requested I not spoil the stories. I only did so when necessary and with a bit spoiler warning.
Now that I’ve reviewed the final storyline it’s time to look over the series as a whole. I avoided spoilers whenever possible in the story reviews, at the request of one of the people behind the collection and while I’ll try to do so here as well some may slip through without the spoiler warnings I did on the individual reviews. I want to be able to give my overall thoughts without worrying about tripping over myself so here’s the short version.
While the newspaper comics weren’t perfect, many but not all of the problems due to the inherent problems of doing an action story three panels a day plus working around not everybody having the Sunday comics, overall I found the stories very enjoyable. The cast was used well, the art is really good, and I would recommend this Dark Horse collection to fans of He-Man. As for the specifics, read on if you don’t mind risking a spoiler or two.
First there’s the stuff they did right. Jim Shull wrote the first story but the rest were written by Chris Weber and there isn’t a huge change in the writing. Everyone involved worked for Filmation, including artist Gerald Forton, colorist Connie Schurr (and it’s too bad the collectors couldn’t find the color version of stories near the end of the run, something I’ll discuss in the collection’s review over at The Clutter Reports this weekend), and editor Karen Willson. While there is a sort of familiarity these aren’t quite written like the Filmation shows. I don’t just mean the lack of moral of the day messages, I mean they knew they were writing for kids but that’s pretty much it. These don’t feel like extensions of the Filmation series (outside of the Collector showing up unnamed in the first storyline) but an original continuity borrowing the same ideas that Filmation took from DC and had become the way people see He-Man, like the secret identity or Marlena coming from Earth, though they do use the same character models.
The art itself is really good. While I did nitpick the change in the Power Sword early on (from something that resembled the classic look shrunk down for the comic strip to a more diamond shape blade) the characters and backgrounds are well done, not surprising given this is one of Filmation’s strengths so while they didn’t have the best animation they did have the best art. Not only are the regular characters done well but you can tell most of the new characters apart unless they’re in matching outfits like the Palace Guard, which is kind of the point of the uniform. They have unique designs from the other characters but still look like they belong in the same comic. The coloring for the Sunday strips is also good. While they could have used the brighter colors it wouldn’t have looked as good in the newspaper as it would have resembled the more comedic strips too much. They provide a nice atmosphere, especially in darker areas like Castle Grayskull or in some cave.
What I really liked was seeing how they tried to build upon the lore of Eternia. We get more snippets from the ancient times as well as other areas of not only Eternia but the surrounding galaxy. While I don’t know why Mattel didn’t also give them license to use the Princess Of Power characters the Evil Horde is from the Masters Of The Universe line and so there is at least some representation of She-Ra’s world, not to mention what happens when Adam has his time-traveling adventure. Adam also journeys to another planet for vacation. We also get some recreations of the movie characters. Gwildor is a recurring character whose history is fleshed out, while Blade and Saurod take part in one of the stories as does Ninjor and some original villains. While some stories I don’t think needed Skeletor he’s at least useful to the story. Good also visits the planet in the form of the Comet Warriors.
I also like how Adam’s secret identity played a bit more. There were stories where Adam couldn’t transform or had to find a way to excuse an absence. Speaking of lore, there was a building on to the lore of the Power Sword itself as a family heirloom and I get the feeling Weber wanted to explore the connection between He-Man and the Royal Family’s history, possibly leading to He-Ro and the dropped “Powers Of Grayskull” line. We also got to see him on Primus dealing with different secret identity issues and I think they gave him a better job than the New Adventures Of He-Man cartoon did. Adam also gets to shine as himself and shows that he has the potential to be a good king in the future while still having to be Eternia’s champion now.
However, nothing is perfect and the strips do have a few flaws. Most storylines needed a few extra strips, even just a week to keep the flow going properly. There were stories that were clearly cut short to fit the time, leading to the occasional plot thread that goes nowhere, yet there were also times of padding just meant to show off how powerful He-Man is or the skills of the other Heroic Warriors but cut into the actual story. Sometimes Adam was drawn wearing He-Man’s harness. There’s the obligatory Wonderland story that really didn’t do much outside of giving the Sorceress a reason to go on a walkabout in the next story. The biggest distraction is all the added romance subplots. Writer Chris Weber and editor Karen Willson were newlyweds and you can sort of tell that influenced certain relationships. Teela is now throwing herself at He-Man, who has a romance in the past as Adam and a truncated one in the future as He-Man. Man-At-Arms suddenly has a girlfriend and they get engaged during the course of the series. It would have been nice to see Miranda properly introduced and see that romance blossom. There is even a hint of a potential Skeletor/Evil-Lyn romance and that’s kind of creepy. At least in the 2000s series Evil-Lyn fell for Keldor before he lost his face and his mind.
Overall though I really enjoyed the series. While being a daily comic strip caused a few hiccups these were great He-Man stories and every fan of the franchise should at least check the newspaper strips out. I also had fun coloring a few of the black and white strips. It was good practice, but the ones in this article are all original coloring except for the one below, my favorite of the ones I colored. As for the Dark Horse collection, I’ll review that this weekend over at The Clutter Reports. As far as He-Man and She-Ra they won’t be disappearing from this site. There’s still more minicomics to review for Free Comic Inside and another project I have in mind, so Eternia and Etheria will continue popping up around here for some time to come. This article series however is finished so it’s time to close the book on the He-Man Newspaper Comics.