Well today I thought I would take a look at a comic that has been out for a short while, a comic that had so much potential and yet... well just read on.
When DC comics once more began to create comics based on the 80's toy and cartoon phenomenon created by Mattel known as "Masters of the Universe" it was only a matter of time before they showed the world their own interpretation of the origin of the man who uttered (well shouted) the well known catchphrase "I HAVE THE POWER".
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, with art by Ben Oliver, The comic itself opens with Adam trapped beneath a pile of rocks, Skeletor looming over him and the Sword of Power mere inches from his hand. All seems hopeless until Adam first says those immortal words
"By the power of Grayskull..."
Now I have to admit that in media res is a good way to open this comic as it immediately captures the readers attention due to the drama of the situation and makes them want to know just how our young hero got into such a predicament. It is just a shame the rest of the comic failed to live up to this great opening.
As always in these kinds of tales we are then thrust back in time where we see Adam asleep in bed until he is suddenly awoken by a loud noise. Stumbling out of his room he makes his way to his parents room where he finds them frozen in fear.
This should have been a powerful and dramatic moment however it was hindered by the poor dialog such as when Adam approaches the room of Randor and Marleena and says "Father? Is all well..."
Unlike my review of Thanos Rising, where I said the "proper" way of speaking used by the people of Titan actually worked for the comic as it helped emphasize the utopian society he lived in, in this instance it just felt forced. It seemed more like the way in which a young child would write people speaking in a fantasy story that many children are prone to start writing (and which frequently never get past the first few pages). Unfortunately the result of this is to pull me out of the drama of the moment because instead of being invested in what is going on in the panels I can't help but be distracted thinking "nobody talks like that."
Unfortunately that is where the next problem this comic suffers from rears its head when it jumps back to the fight between the newly emerged He-Man and the overlord of evil known as Skeletor.. As I said earlier, starting in the middle of the tale was a good thing as it grabbed the readers attention by making them interested in what had gone on before and if it then done the norm and showed the progression of events leading up to that event, then it would have been fine. However it seems that the writer instead decided to employ a more disjointed approach to telling the story.
Now this can and has work, such as in the well known movies Pulp Fiction by Quention Tarantino and the Christopher Nolan movie Memento. The reason I find that it fails in this comic is that, apart from the use of the single word "Before..." neither the art nor the layout of the panels on the page make it clear that these two events are happening at different times. Simply looking at the pages as presented it would be easy to believe that Adam was descending a flight of stairs seeking the Palace Guards while He-Man and Skeletor fought somewhere else. This has the very real problem of making the story somewhat difficult to follow, which is also not helped by the art (which I will talk about in my sum up).
Now luckily the writer did seem to see that there may be a problem and from here on in the rest of the comic does show the events leading to Adam becoming He-Man without any jumps forward or back in the comics timeline.
Still it has its own problems
Searching through the palace for the person responsible for his parents current predicament Adam comes across the hunched over figure of Skeletor. Again this initial meeting between the two opposing main characters of the entire franchise should have been as powerful and dramatic (if not more so) as the moment when Adam discovers his parents under some kind of magical enchantment. Oh and don't say that the two opposing main characters are HE-MAN and Skeletor. Adam is He-Man so that would just be splitting hairs.
Anyway we have the dramatic moment when Adam meets Skeletor for the first time, an event that will eventually lead to him taking up the Sword of Power and becoming the mighty hero He-Man. This should have not only been the major defining moment of this comic but of the whole DC MOTU comic series in general. But again the whole thing is dragged down by the incredibly childish (and downright annoying) dialog that really makes a mockery of the whole scene.
Seeking the sword, which he believes to be his "birthright", Skeletor tries to enlist Adam's aid in finding it citing the reason that Adam won't refuse him is due to Adam being a coward. At first Adam seems to play along making it seem that Skeletor was right. Adam presents a sword to Skeletor claiming that it is the one he wants, but Skeletor immediately sees through this lie. He knows it is merely an antique because it has been on the wall since he was a "chi...". He doesn't finish the word but it is blatantly obvious he was about to say "child" which is in regards to the fact he is actually the brother of King Randor and thus the uncle of Adam.
Now it could be that in his fear Adam simply didn't pick up on what Skeletor almost let slip, but this does not excuse what comes shortly...
After deflecting an attack by Adam, Skeletor suddenly begins interested in an old tapestry detailing the forging of the Sword of Power and of King Grayskull's battle against Hordak and the Evil Horde. Again Skeletor drops not so subtle hints that he and Adam are related which Adam still doesn't seem to pick up on.
Drawn inexplicably to the tapestry Skeletor determines that the sword is hidden somewhere behind it. Adam tries to use this moment to attack but again he is thwarted by Skeletor, who this time hits him with a bolt of magical energy from his famous Havok Staff.
Somehow this results in Adam's mind being projected to Castle Grayskull where he meets the guardian of the Castle known simply as The Sorceress. She reveals that it is Adam's destiny to take up the sword of power and taht upon his death, King Grayskull foretold that two of his own blood would one day wage a war. She also nearly reveals that Skeletor is his uncle but decides he is not yet read to know that and again, luckily for her, Adam fails to pick up on yet another incredibly unsubtle hint as to his relationship to the evil blue skinned sorcerer he has just been fighting.
What makes it even worse is that it is highly doubtful that someone as wise as the Sorceress would let information like that almost come out due to a simple slip of the tongue.
Now look as I said it could be due to the fear and the adrenaline or whatever, but this inability to grasp what is so obvious isn't just a problem with Adam. Earlier in the comic Skeletor also has a similar moment. This is when Adam can clearly be seen reaching out for the sword and then becoming He-Man for the first time.
Skeletor's response to this is simply to ask
"Who are you?"
It could also be argued that Skeletor meant "what are you?" That he was asking how Adam was able to transform like that and break free of the rocks that he was trapped beneath. But the problem is that it doesn't read that way. Instead it reads like he believes they are two separate people and that He-Man has just appeared out of nowhere.
At best I could look at it as some strange homage to the Filmation MOTU cartoon where people were not able to recognize the fact that Adam and He-Man were one and the same person despite the fact they were conveniently never in the same place at the same time and the even more glaringly...they looked EXACTLY the same and both even had talking green tigers.
But this is not a look at the Filmation toon and the seriousness that this comic is seemingly trying to portray makes the idea that Adam's inability to grasp that Skeletor is his uncle or Skeletor seemingly not realizing that Adam and He-Man are the same person despite the transformation happening right in front of him is due to bad writing more then anything.
To sum up
What should have been an epic retelling of the origin of one of the most iconic characters from the 80's, a character who still has a major cult following to this day, is instead reduced to a highly rushed, disjointed mess with terrible dialog that seems to have been written not by a well paid master of his craft but a first grader who has been told to write a fantasy tale in the style of such authors as Tolkien.
Unlike the excellent origin seen the 2002 MYP cartoon series, which had Skeletor's forces attacking King Randor's forces and which eventually lead to Adam, Cringer and Man-At-Arms (with Orko tagging along) making the first fateful journey to Graysull. Adam is then presented with the sword and for the first time says that well known phrase and becomes He-Man just in time to save his friends and turn the tide of the battle.
Instead in this story it has Adam getting up in the middle of the night, meeting Skeletor and having some vision in which he speaks to the sorceress. It simply happens far too fast and really would have benefited from being prolonged over at least one more issue with Adam actually having to make his way physically to Castle Grayskull to claim his birthright and it is also not helped by the disjointed story.
Now the art style.
While the character models, as drawn by Oliver, are not bad (Skeletor actually looking quite terrifying and imposing in this) it is greatly ruined by the drab colors of Jose Villarrubia and Kathryn Layno which totally fails to capture the bright and colorful nature of the Masters of the Universe franchise that the vast majority of the fans are used to.
Another major problem I have with the art is the frequent lack of any clear background in most of the panels. This makes it hard to follow where the characters are and this in turn causes the story to suffer.
This comic had some much potential and could have been great if a bit more thought and effort had been put into its creation. Instead it simply feels like a boring rush job and because of this I have to give the Orgin of He-Man
2 Howling Wolves
Buy it if you must but don't expect too much.