The Ninjabot

It Has the Power: DC’s New Take on MOTU

Posted on February 10, 2013 at 11:26 am by Tyler Waterman

There are few characters that garner my geek love more than He-Man. To say I grew up with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is almost a literal statement; He-Man was introduced in February of ’82, and nine months later, so was his biggest fan. You can’t find a picture of me from ages one to five without a He-Man sword in my hand. I had every single toy, vehicle and playset, stunning when you consider just how many there were. My entire room was He-Man, including a He-Man tent that I built and slept in on top of my bed.

Little kid me really liked He-Man.

Even now as an adult (or as close as I get), I still love the series, even though I’m far less blind to how ridiculous it really was. Was the cartoon a corny and low quality marketing tool that was so heavily edited that He-Man wasn’t even allowed to use his sword offensively? Yes. Did it have some of the most ludicrous character designs ever with even worse names to go with them? Very much so, yes. Did it give birth to one of the most insane Christmas specials ever? Dear lord yes. But at the same time, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe changed everything. Despite its heavy editing and strict content restrictions, the show was still one of the most mature and openly violent cartoons on TV. Make no mistake; if you were a fan of shows like G.I. Joe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you can thank MotU for opening the doors that made those shows possible.

Trust me, these are the faces of badass.

Trust me, these are the faces of badass.

I’ve always pined for He-Man to make a triumphant return, but my hopes have never been high, mostly because the previous attempts have ranged no higher than “ok” or as low as “god awful.” The first attempt, The New Adventures of He-Man, was almost unwatchably bad. He-Man was suddenly small, none of the characters carried over besides Skeletor, it was set in space; it was a bad cartoon to the uninitiated, and to fans of the original it was a slap to the face. The live action move Masters of the Universe starring Dolph Lundgren was actually pretty great, but was still so different from the cartoon that it felt more “inspired by” than “actually He-Man.” In 2002, another reboot was attempted, also named He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. This series had significantly better animation and writing than itsĀ predecessorsĀ  but suffered from the “extremeness” seen in most early 2000’s cartoons that was left over from the 90’s. That was the best attempt to date, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but feel like I was never going to see a better reboot than that.

Then last year, DC announced two new Masters of the Universe titles. One would be a weekly digital-only series, each focusing on a single character, which would support a printed MotU miniseries that would run six issues long. The creative teams announced were solid, with the first digital issue being written by Geoff Johns himself, as it focused on a character he created. It was very clear that DC was taking this license very seriously, and just like that, my hopes soared. Could this be the He-Man reboot I’d always wanted?

It turns out, it wasn’t… it was even better.

hm2

Yup, this isn’t the He-Man I grew up with!

The danger with reboots of classic kid shows or comics is that the creators are typically so determined to show the characters can be mature that they go way too far to prove it. That’s why words like “gritty” or even “mature” itself have taken on such an eye-rolling quality. Yes, I do want you to bring back my childhood heroes and make them more modern and grown-up. No, I don’t want you to do that by making them kill everyone that looks at them funny, by giving them a drug and/or alcohol problem, or by making them have sex with anything that slows down enough for them to catch. What we want from these kind of reboots is to see how these characters have grown up with us, not to see how ridiculously they’ve spun out of control.

DC’s MotU reboot does exactly that, and does it better than any other reboot that I can recall.

Right out of the gate, the premise is cool and compelling. Rather than starting from scratch, the story begins at the end, and bad news: Skeletor won. Now the ruler of Castle Grayskull, Skeletor has cast a spell on all of the Masters of the Universe, leaving them alive but unable to remember who they were before. They’ve now been scattered across Eternia, each enslaved in some way by one of Skeletor’s minions. The crown jewel of Skeletor’s victory is the special fate left to the Royal Family. King Randor has been left nearly mindless, and the only person to watch him is Prince Adam, who believes he’s a simple woodsman and has no memory of his former life or of being He-Man at all.

hm3

Everyone got it bad, but no one got it worse than the Sorceress.

Adam’s lack of memory is starting to fade, however. He’s been having dreams of powerful warriors thwarting evil villains that seem more like memory than fantasy, and after the appearance of an orange hawk that he knows is named Zoar but does not know why, Adam decides all of these things can’t be coincidence. He decides to venture out of the forest, seemingly guided by the hawk. He has no destination in mind, but is compelled to find… something, and the further he gets the more the evidence mounts that he’s right to be suspicious of everything.

From here spins the best Masters of the Universe tale I’ve read, and believe me when I tell you I’ve read or watched them all. It delivers everything I’ve ever wanted from a He-Man reboot. The cheesy dialog has been replaced with an intense story that hints at an even greater tale of how we got here in the first place. All the one-dimensional characters are revealed to be far more complex, particularly the villains. Best of all, the silly battles of the show are replaced with real combat with real ramifications. This He-Man simply can’t get by on picking up a guy and throwing him into all the other guys like he could back in the day.

This time around, the Sword of Power gets bloody. And Battle-Cat isn't playing around anymore, just ask the guy in his mouth.

This time around, the Sword of Power gets bloody. And Battle-Cat isn’t playing around anymore, just ask the guy in his mouth.

There are many things I am a fan of, but only a few I consider myself an absolute authority on, and He-Man is one of them. That being said, let me be absolutely clear: DC’s MotU titles are without question the definitive take on these characters. I’ve always wished I had one shining example of how undeniably cool the MotU characters and world could really be to those who ask me “why the heck do you like He-Man so much,” and these books have given me exactly that. Even better, this was just the beginning: all of this was just the setup for an ongoing MotU title starting this April.

I grew up with He-Man, and ever since all I’ve ever wanted was for He-Man to grow up with me. Thanks to DC, three decades later I finally got my wish, and it has all the power I wanted it to have.

You can follow Tyler on Twitter @BatmanIncVP.

    • This series was bad ass. I loved every second of it and I've told everyone I know to read it.

    • Tyler

      It's the He-Man story we need, AND the He-Man story we deserve!

    • Gorthawr

      Sorry – but I really can't agree with you at all; a He-Man who slays and covers the Sword of Power with blood just isn't He-Man – it's so utterly alien to his nature – and the nature of the Power – that it's way off course. The point is that, with the Power within him, he is so much stronger and more skilled in battle than everyone else that he has absolutely no need whatsoever to kill – especially the also-rans and expendable men in grass-skirts. Eternia has stylized warfare – and the chief protagonists fight one another – not the rabble. In any case, if He-Man is no better than his opponents, with no clear moral distinction – why should we really care who wins?

      I think that this "new" take owes a lot more to yet another tired old DC superhero retread than it does to any actual understanding of the Eternian mythos and all its innate complexities; it's a He-Man lite for those who find moral certainties too demanding.

      I really don't see this as a "grown-up" He-Man, I'm afraid – quite the reverse!

      Sorry!

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