Friday, September 14, 2018

HE-MAN MINICOMICS 1983

"HE-MAN MEETS RAM-MAN!" | "THE ORDEAL OF MAN-E-FACES!"
"THE TERROR OF TRI-KLOPS!" | "THE MENACE OF TRAP JAW!"
"THE TALE OF TEELA!" | "THE MAGIC STEALER!" | "THE POWER OF... POINT DREAD!"

Writer: Gary Cohn | Pencils: Mark Texeira
Inks: Tod Smith | Colors: Anthony Tollin

Following from the first round of "storybook style" 1982 minicomics by Don Glut and Alfredo Alcala, 1983 brings the first MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE pack-ins which can actually be called comic books. With Gary Cohn taking over writing chores from Glut, we also have Mark Texeira, who would come to prominence drawing GHOST RIDER in the nineties, turning in some of the earliest work of his career as artist.

Cohn and Texeira continue the setup established by Glut and Alcala, presenting Castle Grayskull as a mysterious edifice neutral to both good and evil, and giving us a fairly barren and lawless Eternia -- but they also provide glimpses of an established civilization, which the initial minicomics skipped. In 1982, a reader could've been forgiven for believing He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Teela, Skeletor, Beast Man, Mer-Man, and the Goddess were the only seven living beings on the planet. But now, thanks to Cohn fleshing out Glut's original vision, we see that's not the case.

The year's seven stories are mostly all devoted to spotlights on characters and/or vehicles introduced in 1983, with one minicomic explaining the origin of a 1982 character. The first outing, "He-Man Meets Ram-Man!", sees He-Man get into a skirmish with a bull-headed wanderer named Ram-Man. Skeletor then tricks Ram-Man into believing He-Man lives inside Castle Grayskull, and uses Ram-Man's power in an attempt to break into the fortress. But He-Man arrives and saves the day, and Ram-Man realizes he was in error when he took He-Man for an enemy. Right off the bat, this story gives us a look at the denizens of Eternia, as He-Man stops by a village during his journeys to save it from from a monster. We also see the Sorceress (alternately referred to as the Goddess in a couple of this year's tales), still depicted as Teela in her snake armor but presented as a different character, though she no longer has green skin as was the case in 1982.

"The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces!" comes next, and this time Skeletor uses a popular Eternian actor in a scheme to kidnap Teela and sacrifice her to a demon in exchange for entrance to Castle Grayskull. He-Man and friends rescue Teela and Man-E-Faces becomes another valued member of He-Man's circle of friends. This tale continues to flesh out Eternia, as we see the biggest population yet in these early stories. We learn on the opening page that the planet has a capital city and royal palace, complete with a king and queen, and plenty of fans in the audience to watch Man-E-Faces' performance.

And now, with two allies added to He-Man's team, it's time for Skeletor to gain a couple of new henchmen. One debuts in "The Terror of Tri-Klops", and the other in "The Menace of Trap Jaw!" The first of these tales sees Skeletor recruit a three-eyed mercenary to challenge He-Man, while in the second, Skeletor encounters a criminal from another dimension while attempting to break into Castle Grayskull, and winds up fighting alongside He-Man against him. When Tri-Klops is beaten, he somehow teleports away on his own, while Skeletor takes Trap-Jaw following his defeat. In a case of "reverse power creep", both villains are depicted as extremely cunning and powerful in their initial appearances, but will quickly devolve into mere minions of Skeletor in subsequent stories.

The next installment, "The Tale of Teela!", provides an origin for He-Man's warrior-goddess friend, and also introduces the toyline's newest vehicle, the Talon Fighter -- a mystical aircraft which, like Castle Grayskull, can be used by both good and evil alike depending on the moment. (Indeed, a number of the earliest MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE vehicles seemed to be designed with neutrality in mind; box art and licensing imagery are all over the place showing good guys and bad guys flying or driving the various toys.) Teela's origin is tied in with Point Dread, an outpost which materializes on Eternia once every twenty years. It's said that the last time it appeared, Skeletor used it in an attempt to clone the Sorceress and create an evil version of her which he would one day marry and use for his sinister schemes (tying in nicely with Skeletor's first appearance in the 1982 Don Glut minicomics, where the villain is initially presented as planning to abduct Teela and make her his bride).

There's no doubt the Filmation TV series must have been in development at this point, as all these stories present very early concepts of what would eventually become that show's backstory. The king here looks a bit like Filmation's King Randor, and he is given that name in this year's comics. There's no sign or mention of He-Man's alter ego, Prince Adam, yet, however. He-Man simply dines beside the king and queen as their guest at a banquet. (In fact, He-Man occasionally appears to live at the palace in these stories, contradicting the '82 comics in which he was sort of a hermit). We also get, for the fist time, total confirmation that Teela and the Sorceress are two absolutely different characters, as both appear on-page together in these stories before the revelation that Teela is a clone of the Sorceress -- in the cartoon, they're separate characters as well, and Teela is the Sorceress's biological daughter. And following from that, the idea that Man-At-Arms adopted and raised Teela, a fixture of the TV show, also makes its debut here.

The next story, "The Magic Stealer!", doesn't add a lot to the mythology, being a pretty straightforward action tale of He-Man working to stop Skeletor from draining Eternia of its magic -- though it does feature a surreal scene in which He-Man bumps into Procrustus, a god who holds the world of Eternia together from within. He-Man and this deity are on a first-name basis with one another, and have a little chat before He-Man proceeds on his way and saves the day.

It again fascinates me that some of this material made its way into pack-in comics that were sold with children's toys. All this talk of gods and goddesses feels like something that would have been protested by some of the more extreme watchdog groups back in the day -- but perhaps MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE was new enough that nobody noticed yet, or maybe kids just weren't sharing these little comics with their parents. But in any case, by the time He-Man hit the airwaves a year later, the infrequent mentions of the name "Goddess" had been entirely replaced with the word "Sorceress", and to my recollection, there was no further talk of Eternia's pantheon.

"The Power of... Point Dread!" wraps up the year's minicomics with another simple action story, as Skeletor once more takes control of the Talon Fighter and attacks the palace. He-Man takes off in the Wind Raider vehicle for a dogfight with Skeletor, while the villain's ground forces are repelled by Man-At-Arms and the Eternian guards. Again, the story contributes nothing to the mythos, but it's a solid adventure and it does provide us perhaps the most characters seen in one single story to date, as Skeletor enlists all his henchmen (plus a heretofore unseen army) for his siege, while Stratos and Ram-Man back up He-Man and friends in their defense of the palace.

Now, then -- while that's all the minicomics for 1983, the year did see one other bit of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE in comic format, as reprinted in Dark Horse's collection of these little booklets. A record and book set was released the same year, featuring full-cast recordings of two original tales. I can't find writer credits for either one, unfortunately, but the artwork comes from Alfredo "1982 Minicomics" Alcala.

The first of these stories borrows its title, more-or-less, from a prior minicomic: "The Power of Point Dread" sees Skeletor trick He-Man into wounding King Randor, thus binding our hero to hang out at the palace and apparently rule the kingdom while the king recuperates (possibly utilizing the idea that He-Man is Randor's son without the whole "Prince Adam" thing complicating matters?) -- and therefore presenting Skeletor with the opportunity to invade Castle Grayskull while its protector is too far away to help. (This tale explicitly tells us that the palace and the castle are several hours apart via even the fastest vehicle.) But the "cosmic enforcer" Zodac shows up (in, as far as I can tell, his only appearance in any of these comics or storybooks) and leads He-Man to Point Dread and the Talon Fighter, which makes the journey to Grayskull in mere moments, allowing He-Man to once more save the day.

Yes, it's sort of an alternate introduction for Point Dread. I like the previous story better, since it ties the location in with Teela's origin, but I have to say that Alcala's rendition of Point Dread as a remote fortress atop a tall, barren mountain is far cooler than Texeira's version -- which is basically just a little stone fort in the middle of a road somewhere. (And in both these stories, Point Dread magically travels with the Talon Fighter and eventually affixes itself to the top of Castle Grayskull, just as the toy was able to do.) Plus, I owned this book-and-record set as a child, so I have some very strong feelings tied to it that, for whatever reason, I don't have for most of the '83 minicomics -- aside from the Ram-Man one, which for whatever reason I remember far more vividly than the others.

"Danger at Castle Grayskull" is another straight action story, in which Skeletor gains access to Castle Grayskull and captures Teela, Man-At-Arms, and He-Man (and, in a bit that occurs often -- and pretty much exclusively -- in the Alcala-drawn stories, He-Man loses his harness while in captivity and runs around bare-chested for most of the action). Man-E-Faces puts in another appearance as Skeletor's thrall, and the villains are eventually routed, saving Grayskull once more.

The minicomics of 1983 are pretty much the last hurrah for the Eternia established by Don Glut in '82 -- and even this early, we can see bits of the more familiar universe beginning to form. But, even though the Filmation cartoon premiered in 1983, next week's '84 comics will present sort of a transitional phase between the prototype Eternia of these stories and that of the subsequent years, which would more fully embrace Filmation's status quo (if not its exact continuity).

8 comments:

  1. Well. I'm pretty sure "the Sorceress gives baby Teela to Man-At-Arms" scene was shown in one of the paper comics version. To my hazy recollection the comic rejected any mention of any "Goddess" as is likely so I totally interpreted the scene of Sorceress giving "our daughter" for Man-At-Arms to raise and Teela's origin to be very much less mystical. Of "Duncan, you randy moustached bastard in your sexy yellow armor...!" kind. I refuse to never give up this version.

    "Tri" didn't say anything to a 8 years old me excepts that it's the Finnish appreviation for 'doctor', so even after correctly deciphering the name I still on some lever always kept my initial assumption that Tri Klops was Dr. Klops like there was Dr. Doom and Dr. Octopus. Of actual medical kind, probably an optometrist.

    This second season writing seems to be pretty damn competent. Fun innovative stories.

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    1. Actually... It was this UK comic story (starting from page 15) that was published in our domestic book I was thinking about, and I seem to have it somewhat jumbled up with the early MARVEL SAGA issue where Jord gives their baby Thor for Odin to be raised. Sorceress is told to be a widow of an Eternian fighter who was good friend on Duncan, and she was asked by the Elders of Eternia to become the guardian of Castle Grayskull and had to give Teela away.

      http://www.he-man.org/publishing/item.php?id=941&image=12924

      But to my defence, Prince Adam and Teela are putting up their best Donald Blake/Jane Foster act in the story.

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    2. You're right, Teemu; these are all pretty well-written stories and they all further the continuity established in the previous year's round. The funny thing about that is that, in an interview in the Dark Horse collected edition, writer Gary Cohn remembers very little about this stuff and really didn't seem to care much for it all. It was just an easy paid job from his perspective; nothing more.

      I think there have been teases over the years that Duncan actually is Teela's biological father, but I don't know that they were ever confirmed in any continuity. The 2002 reboot series actually teased that Fisto (who was Man-At-Arm's brother in that series) was Teela's dad!

      Who knew MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE was so inclined toward soap opera!

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    3. Oh, and I meant to say that I love the name "Doctor Klops"! And hey, Tri-Klops was presented as Skeletor's technician in that 2002 show -- so maybe he has a doctorate in engineering or something...!

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  2. Your review on the '83 minicomics is very spot on, bro!

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  3. Its noticeable that He-Man exchanges the battle axe for the power sword. I wonder if the BLAKSTAR series, with its own 'power-sword-separated-to-different-tagonists' was the reason Filmation made He-Man keep the sword exclusively.
    I had the record as well. I've begun to gain a better appreciation with Alcala's work. My view of his work had been mired by his art for AMERICA VS. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY (which was the last comic book I got at my local comic store 30 years ago this October. Didn't return to the place until 1995), but then I realized it was the fault of the inkers.
    On our last commentary, I do wish to confirm DC Comics' version portraying facts that would be adopted by Filmation: the Prince Adam/Cringer identities, the Sorceress association, He-Man's mom being an alien from outer space (to Eternia's POV), although they do have Prince Adam able to twist a barbell and have everyone speak Shakespeare vernacular (save for Teela).

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    1. It wouldn't surprise me if Filmation jettisoned the "split sword" concept due to its similarity with BLACKSTAR. The show wasn't all that long off the air when HE-MAN started production, so they might've worried about repeating themselves.

      I do need to read those DC comics someday. I had read that Prince Adam debuted there, but I forgot. In reading these minicomics, I've learned that a lot of what both DC and Filmation did comes from a MASTERS "bible" written by the scripter of 1984's minicomics, Michael Halperin. So it seems that DC and Filmation both independently developed Eternia based on Halperin's ideas.

      (Halperin did create a Prince Adam, but his version was a foppish Eternian aristocrat totally separate from He-Man, who was just He-Man 24/7. I'm not sure if Halperin later incorporated the two himself, or if that was DC's/Paul Kupperberg's idea.)

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