Andy’s Read Pile: Masters of the Universe, The Sunbird Legacy
As for today’s geek post, I did have a couple of ideas such as finishing my Top 10 Essential NES games or doing a read pile post about the 12 issue Marvel miniseries, Avengers/Invaders. But in typical Andy Larson style, at the last minute, I decided against both of these ideas. I’ll save them for future blogs when I’m desperate for ideas to fill up this page for all you hungry blog swillin’ savages.
I have been worrying a bit about my read pile choices though recently. Why you ask?
It’s because this blog shapes my reading tastes. I first find myself only reading books that I’ll eventually do read pile entries on, so that I’m killing two birds with one massive stone. And then I worry that if too much time passes before I write the read pile entry, I’ll forget it like long division thanks to years of chugging frothy pitchers of suds. And that’s kind of frustrating because there are a lot of books I want to read, but I can’t let myself because I’m not ready to write a blog entry about it. Either that, or I won’t read something because I feel like I’m doing the topic to death on the blog and it’s not right.
I found myself in this predicament this past Saturday night as I finally wanted to read the Golden Books’ Masters of the Universe graphic novel “The Sunbird Legacy”. I thought to myself that I shouldn’t do a read pile on a MOTU book at all given the sheer number of posts I’ve made about He-Man and his Eternian drinking buddies. I mean there have been wild rumors that I must be on Mattel’s payroll or something secretly, which my response is Mattel doesn’t even make MOTU toys anymore. That’s those awesome folks over at Super7. So if there’s one company I’d gladly take cabbage from to help spread the word about the fine work they are doing to keep my childhood unhealthily alive, it’d definitely those guys…but I digress.
However, then I reminded myself, that since I had done a Superman Read pile in the wake of my crushing defeat during the last versus showdown on our June Bonus Podcast, it would doing a great injustice to my favorite barbarian superhuman if I didn’t do a read pile on one of his books. So consider this read pile fulfilling my patriotic duty to the Noble houses of Randor on the planet Eternia!
As classic MOTU stories go, it doesn’t get better than this outside some of the original mini comics. This book is in my humble opinion the first real graphic novel about Masters of the Universe, and despite it being aimed at kids, it delivers a splendid little corker of a story. Plus you got that insanely good Earl Norem cover, who is serious contention to be on the top of my list of greatest MOTU artists ever (although its hard to challenge the godfather himself, Alfredo Alcala).
As I mentioned before, this particular book is part of the series that Golden Books put out in the mid 80s to appeal to kids and more importantly their book buying parents. And although they are presented as “books”, I feel the entire series is actually more of a comic book dressed up in a book’s clothing, as there are word balloons, a comic like presentation of the story in panel form, and those bombastic special effects. And although I might be biased in saying this just because I have such fond memories of getting these books as a kid, I really think the stories still pretty decent even as an adult. Sure, they are a little watered down and simple, but no different than some golden or silver age comics I’ve read in the past.
I think the most difficult thing about this book, is the fact that because it was a book and not a comic book, it’s just very hard to find. I personally found my copy of it at a flea market several years back sitting in an old milk crate between a Porky Pig book and a Curious George makes Pancakes. I count myself very lucky that I did and that the little old Grandma that was probably just cleaning out her attic didn’t realize it’s value either.
However, back to the actual book itself, let me tell you, as a fan of MOTU, there is TON of stuff to love about this story! That’s not just fan wank either, as I really feel like this book does a really great job of hammering home how foreboding the world of Eternia is, the high stakes war between good vs. evil on an epic scale, and with an all ages appeal that makes the book enjoyable for both parents and kids alike. As a Dad with young kids, I often remark that it’s sad that they don’t make more comic books which deliver a solid story without resorting to the more “heavy” adult themes some audiences feel are necessary to make the stakes believable. Let’s just be clear, “dark” doesn’t always equate to “adult” in terms of storytelling, and I feel this book does a great job of highlighting the more horror aspects of the high fantasy genre without resorting to over the top gore or violence.
It doesn’t hurt that the book is written by Roger McKenzie, who collaborated with Frank Miller on Daredevil, as well as writing short stories for the horror anthology books, Creepy and Eerie, that latter I feel allowed him to craft a particularly menacing Skeletor as well as the rest of the He-man Rogues Gallery.
The story is really one of those good ol’ fashioned Mcguffin quests as Skeletor wants to obtain this ultimate weapon called the Sunbird, which is essentially the Eternian version of an ICBM with a nuclear warhead (very Cold War 80s). In order to do that though he needs to collect the various pieces to reconstruct it. This common plot device allows the story to no only be split between a variety of Eternia’s insanely neat locations such an the Sky mountains of Avion, to the Vine Jungle, etc. But it also allows the showcasing of some of the other core members of the He-man supporting cast such as Man At Arms, Teela, Beast Man etc.
In fact one of my favorite sections in the book, is the battle between He-man’s ally, Stratos, and his bird men of Avion vs. Skeletor’s evil witch consort, Evil Lyn, high above the icy peaks of the Mystic mountains. Evil Lyn brings a cadre of ice dragons to capture her part of the Sunbird and the resulting battle, although only a few pages long, really captures the gravitas of these barbaric wars that rage on Eternia’s surface. Not only that but Stratos, who is often the odd man out when it comes to He-man’s original friends from series 1 of the toy line, gets a chance to really shine with some fantastic aerial maneuvers which show why he’s worthy to be the Lord of all the high flyers on this planet. Later on Evil Lyn gets to show her own raw power as she turns into the demon falcon, Screech, blasting mountain sides with bolts of magic most foul. Just a simply terrific little exchange from a book that is chocked full of them.
Whether its this frigid confrontation, or Teela battling Lovecraftian tentacled horrors in the middle of the Tar swamp before boarding Mer-man’s flying pirate ship, or He-man battling wave after wave of undead warriors conjured up by the Lich King himself, Skeletor, on the desert plains of the Sands of Time, this book excels at taking very recognizable motifs from any Dungeons and Dragons game or Tolken book and making them fit within the Masters of the Universe story.
The ending I’ll say is a bit over the top in how He-man ultimately defeats Skeletor’s plans despite the bone faced overlord initially succeeding in reuniting the Sunbird weapon. That struck me as standard Filmation fare, which although isn’t terrible in the context of watching that TV show, wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for from a story that seemed to deliver so much more than just your regular old Saturday morning 80s campiness. However, I won’t spoil it in case the rest of what I’ve reviewed here as wet your appetite for this book.
As I’ve mentioned, there aren’t really a ton of great sword and sorcery comic books out there, other than Conan the Barbarian. Even He-man which has had a decent chunk of comic book adventures written about him over the years can be very hit or miss in terms of the quality of story. But I can say that other than the original DC 3 issue miniseries, and some of the earliest mini comics, Sunbird Legacy is the way to go if you want an engaging fantasy adventure. I can even say that if you aren’t a fan of Masters of the Universe, but just like the Lord of the Rings movies, or D&Desque stories and want something to read to give you ideas your next campagin. Besides, there’s a whole army of Kirbyesque panther men getting whooped on for a couple pages, surely that’s worth your time, right?
Andy’s Read Pile Rating: A