Friday, October 12, 2018



Writers: Steven Grant & Phil White
Artists: Bruce W. Timm, Chris Carlson, & Larry Houston
Inks: Steve Mitchell, Bruce W. Timm, & Chris Carlson
Letters: Stan Sakai | Colors: Charles Simpson
Editor: Lee Nordling

Still free to forge a path away from Filmation's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE TV show (and with SHE-RA cancelled as well, clearing the ongoing Filmation continuity completely from the table), 1987 sees the minicomic universe continue to expand Eternia's mythology, even as the toyline winds down. Only six comics were published in '87, and nearly all of them reveal some unknown clue or tidbit about the universe's past.

First up, "The Search For Keldor" sees King Randor (now dressed in battle armor thanks to his newly-released action figure) and the Sorceress (also representing a long overdue toy) team up to search for Randor's brother, Keldor, who vanished before Prince Adam was born. But Skeletor learns of the king's quest and realizes he must stop it at any cost. With his henchmen, Ninjor and Scare Glow, Skeletor battles Randor, his bodyguard Clamp Champ (a favorite of mine from the toyline's later years and the first black character rendered in plastic among He-Man's allies), the Sorceress, and He-Man.

Though never actually revealed in this comic, the intention was of course that Skeletor would be revealed as Randor's brother -- and therefore, as He-Man's uncle! I believe later MASTERS continuities ran with this idea, which I think is a great sort of tragic angle to take (and way more original than making Skeletor a contemporary of Prince Adam, like a childhood friend or a brother or something), but the truth never came out during the property's initial run.

"Enter: Buzz-Saw Hordak!" comes next, as the leader of the Evil Horde learns that the Three Towers have reappeared on Eternia and travels there with Dragstor and a new henchman, Mosquitor, to seize their power. Though he's thwarted, Hordak does obtain a new ability from the Central Tower, which transforms him into "Buzz-Saw Hordak" (he shoots buzz-saws out of his chest now).

Once again, we get a tidbit of Eternia's past revealed here, as Hordak states that he helped to build the Central Tower centuries ago, before his banishment to Etheria, reminding readers that, like the Snake Men, the Evil Horde existed on Eternia long before He-Man and Skeletor.

"Energy Zoids" is a fluffy one-off story which sees Man-at-Arms and Skeletor each develop little robots to fight for their sides. It somehow comes off as more of a toy ad than any other minicomic so far, though I can't put my finger on why -- perhaps it's because the story is explicitly written around these beings being created and propped up as big deals, rather than simply inserting them more organically into a larger story, as most of the prior comics did with their showcase toys.

"Revenge of the Snake Men!" brings two of King Hiss's original henchmen from the distant past into the present, as Sssqueeze and Snake Face join the fray by kidnapping Queen Marlena for their master -- but He-Man and Extendar soon save her. This story presents the oddity of the Snake Men making their home in Viper Tower, which is attached to Central Tower, which is attached to Grayskull tower, the location from which the villains snatch the queen. So basically, the Snake Men live about fifty feet away from where the good guys are hanging out, and no one finds this odd. Granted, the towers are supposed to be scaled way bigger in the comics than the playset was with the action figures, but even so, it's a little weird.

The ugliest, most amateurish minicomic of them all, "The Cosmic Key", comes next, and requires a bit of backstory: in 1987, Cannon Films released a live-action MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE motion picture starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella. It was a box office flop (though I think it's gained something of a cult following in the ensuing decades), and Mattel did practically nothing to support it, toywise. The movie features versions of the MASTERS characters in different outfits from their plastic counterparts, but Mattel didn't bother to produce, say, a movie-style He-Man or Skeletor. Instead they kept the original figures on shelves, and added three movie characters to the line among them: the dwarf Gwildor, on He-Man's side, and the villains Blade and Saurod to work for Skeletor.

So in this story, some evil cloud arrives on Eternia and the Sorceress decides that she must raise Gwildor from the bottom of the sea so he can use his "Cosmic Key" to stop the cloud. (And when Gwildor appears, he's inexplicably depicted only from the back for multiple pages, even though his appearance isn't presented as any sort of surprise. Like I said, amateurish!) Skeletor, meanwhile, magically summons up two new henchmen (the afore-mentioned Saurod and Blade) to help him seize the key. Mind you, Skeletor literally just summoned two other new henchman, Ninjor and Scare Glow, in "The Search for Keldor". At this point, if actual origins aren't going to be given to any of these guys, I'd almost just prefer they appear as established members of Skeletor's crew with no explanation, as was the case midway through the minicomics' run with villains like Two-Bad and Kobra Khan.

Anyway, He-Man stops Skeletor and Gwildor is saved, never to be seen again. Mattel's interest in promoting the movie characters is so minuscule, in fact, that this minicomic is only about half the length of all the other ones! (Yet somehow I just managed to type more paragraphs about it than any of the other comics so far.)

1987 -- and the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE toyline in its entirety -- ends with "The Legend Begins!" Advertised as part one of a three-part saga, this was intended as the minicomic equivalent of a "backdoor pilot" to introduce He-Ro, a wizard from Eternia's ancient past who was to be the star of a new MASTERS spinoff toyline, POWERS OF GRAYSKULL. But for whatever reason, instead of expanding the line, Mattel canceled it.

In "The Legend Begins!", the Sorceress transports He-Man back in time (though her reason for doing so is unclear, other than some vagaries about "legends beginning from truth"). In Eternia's past, He-Man sees the Snake Men, serving an "Unnamed One", ravaging a village. The Sorceress prohibits He-Man from interfering in events which have already passed, but when Skeletor arrives as well, having followed our heroes back from the present, He-Man joins the battle in disguise. Eventually, a shadowy figure (who would have been revealed as He-Ro in subsequent comics) appears and transports He-Man, Skeletor, and the Sorceress back to the present.

And that's it! The entire life of the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE toyline told through six years' worth of minicomics adventures. The stories weren't all winners and the artwork was sometimes sub-par, but these comics, alongside the HE-MAN TV series, informed an entire generation of youngsters as to how to properly play with their MASTERS figures.

But, though the toyline and comics are done, we aren't. Mattel launched a daily newspaper strip late in the life of the MASTERS line, intended to showcase new characters after the Filmation show had gone off the air. And while it ultimately had a fairly short lifespan of four-and-a-half years, the strip did outlast the toys, ceasing publication in 1991. Next week, we'll begin a look at the strip, so our sojourn to Eternia hasn't ended just yet...!


  1. The 2002 MOTU cartoon included the origin of Skeletor when Randor's rival Keldor was hit with acid; however IIRC they never established any family connection between the two. I think it's only the bios on the Classics figures that explicitly state this.

    Also is this the only appearance of Faker in the line?

    "Enter: Buzz-Saw Hordak!" is a really odd comic. Most of these are quick origins followed by showing how cool the new toy is, but here Hordak only gains his new powers on the final page.

    From memory "The Cosmic Key" has a copyright date later than any of the other comics and is the shortest of all, suggesting a rush job to tie in with the movie. Maybe the artist didn't have enough reference for Gwildor?

    1. I think the current DC comics also use Keldor as Randor's brother, but I could be mistaken. At any rate, I believe those comics borrow a lot of their continuity from the Classics figure bios.

      And you're right; as far as I can tell, this is the only time Faker appears in a mini-comics, only about four years too late! (Though I did read on that Battle Ram blog that you referred me to that Faker was reissued later in the line, so that could be the reason for his inclusion here.)

      I suspect you're right about "The Cosmic Key" -- the art certainly looks like a rush job, at least. And the story is really kind of lazy too, in my opinion. Mattel either didn't have much faith in the movie, or didn't realize until fairly late that they should support it within the toyline!

  2. These minicomics open up terrific memories of "MOTU."