Friday, April 8, 2016


Written by: Roger McKenzie
Illustrated by: Adrian Gonzalez & Fred Carrillo | Cover by: Earl Norem

Read along at!

As a child, this was probably my favorite of all my MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE comics and storybooks. As an adult who recently unearthed it at his parents' house, there's still a lot to appreciate about it. Published in 1983, the second year of the MASTERS toyline's existence and the same year the classic Filmation cartoon series debuted, THE SUNBIRD LEGACY is an odd hybrid of the pre- and post-cartoon continuity. It's also an oddity in the realm of MASTERS storybooks, being a hardcover comic book rather than a traditional storybook with blocks of text and a single illustration per page. To my knowledge, this is the only book of its kind created for the MASTERS line out of the many books produced by Western Publishing, a division of Golden Books.

The story, set on planet Eternia as were all iterations of MASTERS, follows He-Man and his allies, Man-at-Arms, Teela, and Stratos, as they attempt to stop the evil Skeletor and his henchmen, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man, and Mer-Man, from assembling an ancient missile called the Sunbird, created in a long lost era by an Eternian warlord named Dyr. Our heroes split up, each traveling to a different corner of Eternia, where they then each battle an enemy counterpart. But the villains are successful, capture the heroes, and launch the missile. He-Man and company break free and defeat Skeletor and his cronies, and He-Man hops aboard the Sunbird as it takes off, defusing it before it can destroy Eternia's royal palace.

Though not exactly sophisticated, the story straddles a line between the simplicity of a children's book and the slightly more advanced nature of a comic. The story is very straightforward, good versus evil, and follows the common kids' show trope of splitting up the "team" to fight their enemies one-on-one, but this also allows for some exploration of various parts of Eternia and gives us a look at each character's strengths, both good and evil.

Though this book may have predated the cartoon series' release -- I'm not certain exactly when it hit shelves relative to the show's September '83 debut -- it's clear the creative team is working from some of Filmation's concept material, thanks to appearances from He-Man's confidante the Sorceress, as well as Prince Adam's parents, King Randor, and Queen Marlena -- all drawn and colored to more-or-less resemble their animated counterparts.

But at the same time, it's clear that -- with the exceptions of that Filmation-created trio -- artists Gonzalez and Carrillo are working more from pre-Filmation visual reference. All the pre-existing toy characters are drawn to closely resemble their plastic incarnations, to the point that Teela is never seen without her snake armor (an accessory completely eliminated by Filmation) and Man-at-Arms lacks his distinctive Filmation moustache.

As a result, this story sits between the earlier undefined MASTERS era and the more polished, kid-friendly Filmation period. Yes, MASTERS was always a children's toyline, but the earlier stories, in the form of mini-comics packed with the figures and other ancillary material, tended to present an untamed Eternia in which He-Man was essentially a wandering barbarian, and where he and Skeletor each owned one half of the Power Sword which, when united, would allow its wielder inside the mystical Castle Greyskull.

Personally, I really like this MASTERS era more than any other. We get a bit of the barbarian He-Man here, as he lops off the head of a giant snake and battles the skeletons of long-deceased warriors, reanimated by Skeletor. But the inclusion of the more familiar Prince Adam identity and other better-defined relationships help to tie this in with the cartoon I loved so much as a child.

As a story, THE SUNBIRD LEGACY isn't bad. It could perhaps be a bit deeper, but McKenzie is playing in a world barely formed and for his part, he does a pretty good job. But as a concept, it's more than the sum of its parts. It lives outside the clean and colorful world of Filmation but retains the most essential trappings of that continuity. It really is a wonderful marriage of the "proto"-MASTERS and the Filmation MASTERS, and of a storybook and a comic book. It isn't high art, but it easily lives up to my thirty-plus year-old memories as a fine installment in the saga of He-Man.


  1. I was a huge MotU kid back in the day - it's really the first character/fictional universe that I remember knowing and caring about it. I don't remember this book, and from the sounds of it, it probably came out too early for me, unless it happened to linger on shelves for a few years, until I'd have been old enough to actively seek it out.

    I should check, but I assume it's not included in the recent collection of all the action figure pack-in comics from Dark Horse (which is fantastic)?

    1. It's not in the minicomic collection, though if you follow that link at the top of the page, you can read it at if you're interested (though their scans are weirdly out of order for some reason, but they're at least labeled).

      At any rate, I really liked this book as a kid. I also have this very vivid memory of reading it while sitting at a table in a semi-nice restaurant, of all places, with my family. We must have been out for some special occasion.