Friday, September 28, 2018

HE-MAN MINICOMICS 1985

"SKELETOR'S DRAGON" | "THE BATTLE OF ROBOTO" | "SPIKOR STRIKES"
"THE STENCH OF EVIL!" | "GRIZZLOR -- THE LEGEND COMES ALIVE!"
"LEECH -- THE MASTER OF POWER SUCTION UNLEASHED!"
"MANTENNA AND THE MENACE OF THE EVIL HORDE!!"
"HORDAK -- THE RUTHLESS LEADER'S REVENGE! | "THE TREACHERY OF MODULOK!"
"THE POWER OF THE EVIL HORDE!"

Writer: Christy Marx
Artists: Larry Houston, Peter Ledger, & Bruce W. Timm
Inks: Charles Simpson & Michael Lee
Letters: Stan Sakai | Editor: Lee Nordling

Following from a set of 1984 minicomic offerings that did their best to hew to the Filmation TV series' continuity (even though that show was still in the development phase when most of the comics were produced), 1985 brings us an odd hybrid of the Filmation universe existing in sort of a parallel world. The comics continue to maintain most of the Filmation trappings, and as we'll see below, even bring in the character of Orko, who originated on the show. As well, the cartoon's character designs continue to be used for the most part. However, 1985's comics also introduce a number of characters to the minicomic world, complete with origins in many instances (which were pretty universally eschewed in '84), even when the same characters were presented with alternative debuts in the animated series.

I'd like to note that the credits I've been presenting for all these minicomic posts are assembled to the best of my ability. Many of the earlier comics, going up through 1985, had no credits at all, while others had only artist signatures on the covers, or occasionally writer/penciler/inker signatures. I've done my best to search online and fill in blanks, but I can't speak to the complete accuracy of these credits. For example, Christy Marx wrote a number of 1985's comics, but there's no way to tell whether she penned every single one -- and in fact it seems pretty likely she did not -- however since no other writers are listed, she's the only one I can mention here even if she wasn't the sole scribe for the year.


It should also be stated for the record that the HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE MINICOMIC COLLECTION I'm using for this project, as published by Dark Horse, does not separate the comics by year. I've been using a combination of the Masters of the Universe Wiki and He-Man.org to figure out exactly where the annual delineations should be placed, but even then there's some confusion; for example, both sites state that "The Obelisk", which we looked at last week, was a 1985 comic, but the book prints it much earlier among the offerings generally agreed upon to be from 1984. Further, many of the comics we're about to look at below are listed as being published in 1984 on He-Man.org, but the Wiki lists most all of them as being in the class of '85 (and the book more or less agrees with this, at least as far as its order of contents goes).

So with those notices out of the way, on we go into the minicoics of (probably) 1985:

We begin with "Skeletor's Dragon", introducing (with no comment) a Skeletor variant figure known as "Dragon Blaster Skeletor" because he has a cute little baby dragon clinging to his back and squirting water at the good guys. However! The dragon referenced in the story's title doesn't seem to be this little guy; rather it's Battle Bones, a toy that was conceived as sort of an animal mount/carrying case for the Masters of the Universe figures. Battle Bones never appeared in the cartoon series as far as I remember, so the origin he's given here -- a fossil reanimated by Skeletor's magic -- doesn't seem to conflict with the canon the minicomics previously attempted to mirror.

On the other hand, "The Battle of Roboto" flies in Filmation's face by providing an origin for He-Man's mechanical ally, Roboto. The character debuted in the animated series as an extraterrestrial from a world of similar sentient mechanoids -- but here, he's an invention of Man-At-Arms who briefly succumbs to evil when Skeletor reprograms him. The good guys win him back, of course, and the Sorceress fixes it so Roboto can never again be used by evil. The story is your typical minicomic fare -- these tales rarely seem to move away from the "new toy attacks Castle Greyskull and/or the Royal Palace" plot -- but it's notable for Man-At-Arms imbuing his creation with the power of "invincibility". If it's that easy to just make something invincible (whatever that means), then why don't all the heroes wear impervious armor and drive around in indestructible vehicles??

Also worth mentioning is that Dark Horse includes a footnote to this story telling us to say goodbye to Man-At-Arms' mustache, which makes its final minicomic appearance here. The note speculates this was done intentionally to get the comic character's look in line with his action figure, but it seems just as likely to me that he was never intended to have a 'stache in these stories. It's nearly always colored the same fleshtone as the character's face, and it only appears, as far as I can remember, in the comics drawn by Larry Houston. I suspect Houston was simply rendering the Filmation model sheets more faithfully than any of the other artists working on these things. (But it is true that he will stop including the mustache going forward. He was just the only one drawing it in the first place!)

The next two stories are mostly unremarkable, bringing in some henchmen for Skeletor -- Spikor and Stinkor, respectively -- in "Spikor Strikes" and "The Stench of Evil!" He-Man's buddies Sy-Klone and Moss Man make their debuts in these tales as well, and while I'm at it, I should mention that the dual-headed Two-Bad popped up working for Skeletor in the Roboto story. (Personal anecdote no. 1: Speaking of Moss Man, one of my most vivid childhood memories is of the day I had been playing with my MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE figures outside, then after I brought them all back into the house, my dad mowed the lawn and ran over Moss Man, who I had missed grabbing and who my dad had missed seeing thanks to his all-too-effective power of camouflage! Fortunately my beloved grandmother, who had given me the figure in the first place, replaced him for me not long after.)

At this point, the minicomic universe diverges wildly from that of the cartoon series, with the introduction of the Evil Horde. Conceived as a new faction of villains for He-Man, and sold under the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE banner, the characters ultimately wound up as antagonists in She-Ra's TV series. Production on HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE was winding down, while his sister's show was just getting off the ground -- and since Mattel had no intention of dropping the He-Man toyline, characters like the Horde found their way into the sister show instead. It was kind of an ingenious move, when you think about it. Back in those less enlightened days, a little boy like me wouldn't have been caught dead watching a "girls' show" -- but if that girl was fighting He-Man's villains, then I was happy to watch!

(Though for whatever reason, even while I was still into the toys, I don't think I actually saw many episodes of either He-Man's second season or of SHE-RA -- I'm not sure why; the only reason I can come up with is that perhaps our local station moved the shows to a time slot I couldn't regularly catch.)

But the minicomics went a different direction, keeping the Horde as He-Man villains, per Mattel's original intention. Thus our next comic, "Grizzlor -- The Legend Comes Alive!" introduces the characters to Eternia. Grizzlor is said to be a mythological beast who menaced Eternia in the distant past, and who just happens to reappear after Buzz-Off tells a ghost story about him. Following this, "Leech -- The Master of Power Suction Unleashed!" (gotta love these Horde comic titles, by the way) introduces the title character as a new monster recruited by Hordak after fighting He-Man and friends. Subsequently, "Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!!" gives us a look at Hordak's lieutenant with a variety of enhanced sensory abilities.

The next story, "Hordak -- The Ruthless Leader's Revenge!", feels out of place where the Dark Horse minicomic collection places it. It basically introduces Hordak, explains the background of the Evil Horde, and kind of sets up everything from the preceding three comics. The only reason I can see why it might be stuck here instead is that it features all of Hordak's henchmen in action ahead of their debut appearances in the previous stories. Really, it's clear these comics were all produced around the same time with the idea that they could be read in any order, but I just feel like the background of the Horde and an explanation for where they've suddenly come from belongs at the beginning of the saga, rather than the end.

For the record, it's established in these tales that the Horde terrorized Eternia long ago before being banished to another realm, Etheria. Now, the portal between Eternia and Etheria has opened and the Horde has emerged once more. Hordak wants to conquer the planet, putting him at odds with He-Man, but he also hates Skeletor due to the latter once serving as his apprentice and betraying him. (Third factions were all the rage in the mid-eighties, by the way, with G.I. Joe introducing Zartan and the Dreadnoks as a wild card in the Joe/Cobra conflict circa 1984/85, and then going all-in with Destro's Iron Grenadiers as a full-fledged faction a couple years later.)

Obviously these stories were produced while the SHE-RA cartoon series was still in development, and I find myself wondering about the name "Etheria". In the cartoon, it's the planet where She-Ra and the Horde reside; a world of magic and fantasy not unlike Eternia. In these minicomics, it's more of an otherworldly realm, dark and foreboding, where Hordak lives. The name implies something ethereal, which fits the dark dimension idea better than it fits a random planet. I suspect Etheria was conceived as a parallel dimension attached to Eternia, but when SHE-RA came to be, the name was appropriated for her planet even if it didn't entirely fit. (Later iterations of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, by the way, would revisit the idea of Hordak being banished to another realm, calling that place "Despondos" instead.)

The year's final mini-offering, "The Treachery of Modulok!", gives us the final member of the Horde -- a two-headed being with the ability rearrange all his body parts. (Personal anecdote no. 2: I wanted all the Horde characters for Christmas in 1985, naturally, but my mom continually told me there was no way I was getting Modulok because he was so creepy. I eventually resigned myself to the fact that I'd never own him. Then, on Christmas morning, I was elated to find that "Santa" had delivered him in clear defiance of my mom's wishes. Aren't parents the greatest?) Modulok is presented here as a former minion of Skeletor who has disappointed him one too many times, and who throws in with Hordak instead. He-Man and Teela protect Castle Greyskull from Modulok, and He-Man appears as a new toy variant, "Thunder Punch He-Man" -- a figure created by to oppose Dragon Blaster Skeletor, described way up at the top of this page.

Though these were the only minicomics produced by Mattel in '85, there is one more offering presented in the Dark Horse collection: a storybook (which originally came with a cassette) featuring an alternate introduction of the Horde, told through fully painted images from Bruce W. Timm. A footnote in the reprint suggests that this book-and-tape set was extremely rare, coming packaged with a Hordak/Grizzlor two-pack -- but I know I owned it, so I guess I was one of the lucky ones or something. My recollection of the cassette is that, unlike most other multimedia tie-in products for MASTERS, it featured the actual Filmation voices for all the characters, which made it feel more "real" somehow than, say, "The Power of Point Dread/Danger at Castle Greyskull" from 1983.

The story itself is basically an alternative version of events in the just-covered minicomics: here Hordak appears on Eternia, battles He-Man, kidnaps Skeletor and Orko, and is ultimately defeated in Etheria (again a dark alternate dimension type of place) by our hero. The minicomics probably cover everything here more comprehensively, and certainly they're more accurate with the continuity, at least; this story features Prince Adam making an excuse to Man-At-Arms and Orko so he can go change into He-Man... the only problem being that those two characters, along with the Sorceress, are supposed to be the only ones who know Adam’s secret! But what this book does have going for it is some beautifully lush painted art from Bruce Timm — so even if the script, which also includes some pretty corny dialogue such as He-Man announcing (to an empty room) that he is the “Master of the Universe” after his transformation — is lacking, the pictures (and the Filmation voices) more than make up for it.

4 comments:

  1. "The Power of the Evil Horde!" is most interesting because of the artwork. ^-^

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  2. Minicomic Spikor initially apparently had two normal hands but along the way gets the left on replaced by the trident. I gather the toy must have been that from the get-go.

    It kinda makes sense to hype up all the Evil Horde character (toy)s each in their very own issue before the introduction of what Evil Horde as the whole is, as selling toys is the main idea.

    I'm disappointed at Moss-Man. The action figure was a real atavistic one, I don't want him be this hippie from the happy forest. His head apparently is a re-used and Beast-Man head. They also did the same at this point with Stinkor, whose head is a different-colored Mer-Man head.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, toy Spikor just had one hand that was a trident. (An extending trident!)

      I think Moss Man's entire body was practically a Best Man repaint! Stinkor shared more with Mer-Man than just the head, too -- and he had Skeletor's feet, if I recall correctly. MASTERS was never shy about reusing parts!

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    2. I remember that the Moss Man figure had a very distinctive odour.

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