Monday, December 31, 2012

BATTLE UNDER SNAKE MOUNTAIN by John Braden, Pablo Marcos, and Judith Marcos

Battle under Snake Mountain is a 1986 Masters of the Universe children’s book written by John Braden and illustrated by Pablo and Judith Marcos. Here, King Hiss discovers an underground passage leading from Snake Mountain to Castle Grayskull.

This was written as a read-along book, so it has more drama injected into the narrative, particularly early on. Much of the book is a lot of good setup for what seems like a solid plan – so it’s too bad that the climax involves poor execution on the part of the Snake Men (He-Man shouting to create an earthquake isn’t that impressive either).

There are some canonical eyebrow-raisers going on here that will make the reader wonder if Braden was working from anything other than a pile of toys. Snake Mountain is King Hiss’s fortress, and Skeletor’s never mentioned. He-Man lives in Castle Grayskull and sleeps there (he has a He-Man bed and everything), and every indication is that Prince Adam doesn’t exist. He-Man’s also got some kind of Spider-Man-esque danger sense.

The art is a strength, as the Marcoses demonstrate good attention to detail and excellent use of shading. Their characters are good-looking and faithful to the figures (even if King Hiss is a little cone-headed). The only complaint is that what Braden describes as a “giant barge” is illustrated as a tiny dinghy.

In the end, a weak, predictable resolution and blatant canonical ignorance bring down an otherwise well-written story with nice art.


Read it HERE

Saturday, December 29, 2012

THE HORDES OF HORDAK (mini-comic, 1986)

The Hordes of Hordak is a 1986 Masters of the Universe mini-comic written by Steven Grant and illustrated by Red Grant and Bruce Timm. Here, Hordak kidnaps Sy-Klone and sends an army of Horde Troopers against the Heroic Warriors.

Going against the good guys with overwhelming numbers is a fresh and logical approach. However…

I understand that the gimmick of the Horde Trooper action figure was that it “broke” when you pressed the button on its chest, but let’s be frank: an army of soldiers whose weak point is the middle of the chest is the worst idea of all time (they don’t even carry shields!). I’m not sure that even an Achilles’ Face would be dumber than an Achilles’ Sternum (at least then we could get some “not in the face!” jokes going).

The art is more than competent, even if this isn’t Grant’s or Timm’s finest work. Hordak looks quite good – if a little snaky – and the action panels are well done. However, there are issues with face consistency, and some panels look like the inks were rushed. Worst, the decisive moment of the conflict on page 12 is apparently so violently awesome that it can’t be illustrated, as we get almost an entire page of little more than action lines and an action word; however, it does spare us from finding out how a factory utterly explodes just from having a sword lobbed in its general direction (clearly the factory was built using the same design principles as the troopers themselves).  

The art’s pretty good and the concept is solid, but this comic is dumb, dumb, dumb.


Read it HERE

Friday, December 28, 2012


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Magazine #6 is the Spring 1986 issue, and prominently features Flying Fists He-Man.

This issue’s lone story, “The Comet Warriors Have Landed!,” is an alternate origin for the Rock People – why we need a story like this after the mini-comic “Rock People to the Rescue!” is beyond me. The story itself feels like it could have been a Filmation episode, although it’s really been dumbed down. Kirschner does a good job again with Filmation-style art, and of making the Flying Fists metal undershirt look more like the Battle Armor.

With great painted art, “The Lake of Mystery” is the highlight of the activities, which also include the engaging (if obvious) “King Randor Radar,” a somewhat more helpful “Sketch Pad” drawing guide than previously offered, and another why-bother connect-the-dots.  

The He-Man of the Issue is Nathan Bitner, who won the Create-a-Character contest and, with it, a staggering prize package that’s still remarkable two and a half decades later even though Fearless Photog never went into production (which is a little surprising given that he’s way less lame than Snout Spout, Rotar, Twistoid, or the Meteorbs). For more on the contest and Bitner, look HERE and HERE.

There are also two Norem posters: the cover plus He-Man in the Laser Bolt versus Skeletor in the Land Shark.

Read it HERE

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

REVENGE OF THE SNAKE MEN! (mini-comic, 1986)

Revenge of the Snake Men! is a 1986 Masters of the Universe mini-comic written by Phil White and illustrated by Chris Carlson. Here, King Hiss unleashes new minions to abduct Queen Marlena.

So here’s yet another kidnap/rescue story, although in this one, the reader can’t help but wonder what some of these characters’ motivations are. King Hiss’s plan is to abduct the Queen to blackmail Randor – but then she’s “permanently” turned to stone and it doesn’t seem to bother him. Prince Adam sends the Sorceress off but keeps Extendar, creating a situation in which he can’t change to He-Man and in which he’s completely dependent on the conveniently made-up and previously unbeknownst stone-melting properties of the Power Sword (whereas “Extendar, take the queen to safety” would have led to a tidy resolution of this story by the end of page five). And victory is a direct result of bumbling by the Snake Men – although how they expected He-Man to stay stone as long as he’s holding his sword is beyond me.

The only other thing of note here is that Sssqueeze is called “Tanglor,” which is reminiscent of the Sy-Klone/Tornado late-production name change of yesteryear.

Carlson’s art is pretty good. His male figures tend to be stocky, with lumpy faces, but his forms and backgrounds are solid. The colors are less garish than in many of the contemporary mini-comics, which adds to the atmosphere.

This one is not unentertaining, but the dumb writing really brings it down.


Read it HERE

Monday, December 24, 2012


Masters of the Universe #1 is the first issue of Marvel Comics’ bi-monthly He-Man comic under their Star imprint, which was used primarily for licensed children’s properties. This issue, “The Coming of Hordak,” was written by Mike Carlin and illustrated by Ron Wilson and Dennis Janke. Here, Skeletor tries once again to break into Castle Grayskull, this time to obtain magic that will keep Hordak from entering Eternia.

There’s a great deal of monologuing and expository speechifying going on here, as though anybody was buying this comic who didn’t already have some familiarity with He-Man. Yes, this is the first issue, but let’s keep things moving. There are also some niggling dialogue problems: Teela calls Man-At-Arms “Man-At-Arms,” not “Father,” and characters say hip, jivey things like “Orko m’man” and “sez you.”

There’s plenty of action, as the issue amounts to little more than a huge fight scene that serves to highlight all the selling points of every bit of Evil Horde merchandise. There’s some silliness going on here, too, starting with Skeletor digging in the ground with his Terror Claws, which don’t actually have any claws on them. And then we have, contrary to what Hordak says, Orko unleashing Hordak on Eternia by the power of his magic. Seriously?

But it’s not all bad. In spite of everything, we get the impression that Carlin (who wrote most of this series’ few issues) is going give us somewhat more well-rounded characters than we’ve had in the past. In the midst of all the pontificating, we get some reflection by He-Man on the moral implications of his actions (it’s nothing new, but it’s competently done), as well as some rare and interesting introspection from Skeletor, who also has strong opinions on getting help from He-Man (and which contradict certain depictions in other media).

The art is pretty good, and exceedingly faithful to the toys. I count this as a plus, although Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain are drawn to look exactly like their playsets, and the Royal Palace looks like it was copied from a Filmation cel. The full-page He-Man transformation is excellent. There are some issues, though; most notably, He-Man’s sword is wildly inconsistent from panel to panel, and exactly what He-Man does to defeat Hordak at the end isn’t clear at all.

There’s some potential here, but we’ve got to do better.


Read it HERE

Saturday, December 22, 2012


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Magazine #5 is the Winter 1986 issue.

There’s only one story here rather than the usual two: the six-page comic “Into the Maze.” It’s the kind of shoddy work that will inspire a dozen plot questions from even the youngest reader: Why wouldn’t Hordak just build a cage? Didn’t He-Man reveal his identity? Why did he have to turn into lame Thunder Punch He-Man? Doesn’t Orko already know He-Man’s identity? Can’t Hordak turn into a rocket to escape? And so forth. About the best thing that can be said for it is that Paul Kirchner does a fantastic job of duplicating the Filmation art style.

The overall quality level of the activities here is higher than usual, although this issue includes what is easily one of the lamest connect-the-dots puzzles of all time.

There are a number of interesting vintage promos and ads here, including spots for the Keep the Torch Lit campaign, Muppet Magazine, the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special, and a “Glow-in-the-Dark Solar Ball” that brings a certain vintage SNL skit immediately to mind.

The “He-Man of the Issue” isn’t “just anybody” this time; it’s Trevor Ferrell, who was nationally recognized for his activism on behalf of the homeless (he was name-checked in Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union speech and had a TV movie made about him).

This issue’s posters include Norem’s cover, an illustration of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade He-Man/She-Ra float, and an advertisement for Mattel’s short-lived Wheeled Warriors toyline. Also included is a four-page Wheeled Warrior comic/advertisement, the climax of which involves one vehicle kicking another in the butt.

Read it HERE

BONUS: Here, courtesy of Pat Sajak and Modest Mussorgsky, is that impressive float in action.