I’ve nearly hit my breaking point with this whole winter weather thing, folks. It happens every year around this time. The frigid temps, the snow, the ice, by late February, it all seems to become finally too much for me, sapping all of my strength and motivation. It’s like I just want to crawl into a hole and sleep until Spring really comes.
So as a result, one of the things that suffers is my ability to write meaningful blogs, which is truly a problem given we have this website and fan base that genuinely comes back day after day to hear what the Ghosts have to say. In fact, given this was my Read Pile entry for the week, I sincerely had like 4 books lined up that I could have written this entry about, but one by one, they all fell by the wayside. That one was too long, that one was too short, didn’t like the art in that one, that one had too much Superman, you get the point.
So at that point, I started to panic about what I was going to write about for this week’s comic book blog, when I saw my savoir on my office shelf. In someways it should be considered my bible, because it’s probably one of the most important comic collections I have in terms of it’s influence on me over the years, as well as the fact I constantly am coming back to these stories year after year especially in times of great trial. Yes, I’m talking about the Dark Horse omnibus collection of all of the classic He-man & the Masters of the Universe Mini Comics.
Yes, sir, those wonderful little comic books that came prepackaged with all the figures I adored growing up. Along with Spider-man, these were the first comic books I read religiously as a child and again formed the basis of everything I know about comics to this day.
I’ve been wanting to do a read pile entry on this book for a long time, but I struggled on how to do it, given its an enormous book at almost 1230+ pages! But then it dawned on me: Why not do this book in chunks? Like list three or so favorite stories from the tome at a time and talk about why I like them so much? In this way, I could actually milk this particular book for 3 or 4 different blog posts anytime that writer’s block similarly seized me by the cajones and refused to let go.
So without further ado, here are three of my favorite He-man mini comics from those golden days of plastic futuristic barbarian fun!
King of Castle Grayskull
Written by: Donald Glut
Art by: Alfredo Alcala
In somewhat of a reboot of the original MOTU origin story, this tale is all about Skeletor tricking Teela, who is portrayed in a Sorceress type role as a caretaker of the Castle Grayskull, into letting him gain access into the all important Fortress of Mystery and Power. He quickly uses the Castle’s natural defenses to overwhelm Teela and imprison her, before turning his attention to He-man who has come to her rescue.
Although, he originally overpowers He-man, the Most Powerful man in the Universe eventually sets both he and Teela free, and Eternia’s most famous couple have a tense rooftop battle with Skeletor involving laser cannons and awesome flying punches.
Why it’s so good:
Although some may prefer the origin story of He-man as laid out in “He-man and the Power Sword”, that was not the tale that I grew up with, nor do I think it’s the best of the original mini comics. For my money, King of Castle Grayskull is the better story because it doesn’t waste time giving you backstory, but instead just throws you into the middle of the adventures on Eternia, giving you enough information on Castle Grayskull to make you care, but then just sticking to the unfolding action.
It also benefits from a small cast of mainly He-man, Teela, and Skeletor as they do battle among the incredible backdrop that is this iconic Castle. As a result, it really does make you want to play Masters of the Universe and recreate some of these exquisitely drawn fight sequences done by Alcala on your own.
Plus, I love the way Castle Grayskull is portrayed in this story, as not just the “good guy” base as it was in the Filmation cartoon, but as a ancient forbidding fortress filled with danger and untold power for whichever side manages to capture it. It should have never left those roots. In turning it into just He-man’s hangout for him and his friends, it lost a lot of its potential in terms of storytelling in my opinion.
Several years ago, Donald Glut, who also wrote the other 3 original Masters of the Universe mini comics, lost a court case with Mattel, over the issue that he had created the characters involved with the franchise and only licensed the ideas out to Mattel. The court ruled in the favor of Mattel after it was cited that Mr. Glut said personally on many occasions that the job of writing the mini comics was just contract work. Plus they also cited that if it was such a big issue, why didn’t Glut step forward earlier, like y’know when people gave a damn about MOTU as Mattel raked in the money hand over fist in the mid 80s.
So in essence the rule to follow here is if you do go out of your way to create characters and back stories for a toy line, never say anything other than you invented everything, even if it’s not true. And make sure you stand out on every street corner during the height of it’s popularity and yell about the fact that you did so.
And although I’m usually for creator rights, if the guy said that he wrote the stuff for contract, then well he wrote the stuff for contract. Mattel should have retained the rights to the franchise regardless of the fact that I think they mismanage the crap out of it.
Plus, I’m sure if they lost the lawsuit the response from Mattel would be “Ok, no more Masters of the Universe” since its not really a cash cow for them anyways. And well, wouldn’t that just suck nads for someone that enjoys collecting those toys?
The Terror of Tri-Klops
Written by: Gary Cohn
Art by: Mark Texeira
While searching for someone with enough basic competence to eliminate He-man once and for all so his conquest of Eternia can move forward unhindered, Skeletor settles on recruiting one of the most feared hunters in the universe, Tri-Klops, to accomplish the task. Not only is Tri-Klops an fierce-some swordsman but his combination of night vision, 360 vision, and X-ray vision makes him nearly unbeatable on the battlefield.
Tri-Klops takes up the challenge and systematically lures all of He-man’s allies into traps as to subdue them one by one to force He-man to engage him in single combat. The two warriors clash with Tri-Klops nearly ending He-man’s life with a barrage of sword strikes. However, He-man at the last second lands a vicious haymaker that forces Tri-Klops to flee.
Why it’s so good:
Do I have to repeat word for word what I wrote in a previous blog about why Tri-Klops was the all time greatest Masters of the Universe figure? Because I’m not going to do it. That’s why I gave you that link.
You go ahead and read that article. Nah, I’ll wait for you. In fact, I insist.
I’ve got images of the greatest sword swinging bounty hunter on Eternia wailing on He-man’s shield. I’ll be here when you get back.
Okay, so you read it? So, now you know why this is one of my favorite mini comics of all time. Everything about this story paints the picture that Tri-Klops is a bad ass that you don’t want to mess with. Like Boba Fett, Bullseye, and Deathstroke all rolled into one.
The perfect mercenary for the Eternian battlefield and one of the few Evil Warriors Skeletor actually sought out to join his ranks because of his superior skills. He nearly single handedly defeats Ram-man, Battle Cat, Teela, and He-man, which is more than can be said for any of the other cronies Skeletor has working for me. Yep, this comic is fantastic because it gives us a true villain worthy of testing He-man’s mettle.
This mini comic was one of several from the Series 2 line of action figures that were co-produced with DC Comics, who was also putting out a MOTU limited series at the time.
Mark Texeira who did the excellent art on this series of mini comic books, did not do the art for that series, as he was replaced by George Tuska as penciler with Alcala on inks. However, Mark did later go on to work on another DC Comics/Toy Company cross promotion when he did the artwork for the Power Lords Comic Book Mini Series.
Power Lords was a toy line put out by toy company Revell in some ways to cash in on the success and popularity of the MOTU toy line among young boys.
King of the Snake Men
Written by: Steven Grant
Art by: Bruce Timm
While exploring a lost part of Snake Mountain, Skeletor comes across a strange sealed pool which he decides to use his magical abilities to open. In doing so, he allows the villainous King Hssss to escape from his centuries old prison and once again walk free upon Eternia. In subsequent backstory, you discover King Hssss is an ancient enemy from Eternia’s past who at one point had subjugated the entire planet with his armies of snake soldiers. He wants Skeletor’s help to reawaken the rest of his former troops, promising him a share of his kingdom for his assistance.
Of course, always the schemer, Skeletor leverages this request into securing King Hssss’s help in destroying He-man, who is tricked into an ambush by this pair of no goodnicks. However, He-man manages to break free of their trap long enough to plunge the Sword of Power into the prison’s seal and using its vast magical energies destroy it forever, thus cutting King Hsss off from his armies, save for a couple random warriors like Rattlor and Tongue Lashor.
Why it’s so good:
Well I could spend all day just talking about the art because it is incredible, but I think I’ll save that for the Fun Fact section. Instead what I’ll talk about is what an effective origin story this is for another major baddie in the MOTU universe. You see, I was never really a fan of Hordak as a villain. I understand the need to populate the He-man universe with credible threats that weren’t just Skeletor, especially after all of the Evil Warriors, like Beast-Man, Mer-Man, Trap Jaw, and the like were moved away from being their own villains that allied themselves with Skeletor, to just being old Bone face’s cronies. So they came up with Hordak to play that part of another major threat to sub in once and awhile to add some variety to the stories.
The problem is Hordak never had that great of an origin story in the mini comics, so it was hard to judge exactly what his deal was. Was he a vampire? Was he a wizard? Was he a technlogical terror? No, that only came in based on the cartoon. In the comics, he was nothing but some horrific creature of the night, but a rather vague horrific creature of the night.
But the same can’t be said for King Hssss. This guy has a backstory and a hell of a good one too. I remember reading the mini comic for the first time when I was like 7 years old and thinking, “Yeah, this snake guy is definitely not someone I would want to mess with. Look at all those snake soldiers that work for him with all the laser guns! That’s some legit firepower there! No wonder he ruled Eternia for so many years.”
I will say that he still was portrayed as somewhat of a second banana major bad guy to Skeletor simply because Skeletor was always in on his schemes as well as a silent partner, but at least he was never depicted as a flunkie. Actually, they were more like villainous BFFs, kindred spirits that reveled in chaos and enslavement. I always thought that was a neat little wrinkle. I mean, good guys have pals that they hang out with, equals that they consider their peers, why couldn’t the same be for bad guys too?!?
So yes, this mini comic was drawn by the legendary creative force behind Batman: The Animated Series and countless other DC cartoons in the late 90s, Bruce Timm. It was actually just one of many that were drawn by this animation titan in the mid 80s starting with series 5 of the figures. Many MOTU fans including myself heap praise on Mr. Timm for delivering some of the most beautifully drawn mini comics the series had seen since the early days of Alcala and Texeria, and really ushering in a late series creative renaissance for these important supplemental materials for the toys.
This particular mini comic is extremely well known for no other reason than the “slave girl” panel included during a flashback to the early days of King Hsss’s rule over Eternia. In a series that had been largely regulated to stuff for kids, this momentary injection of genuine sex appeal back into MOTU is still the stuff of legends, and is fondly remembered by a lot of male fans, who were young boys at the time, as a moment we all collectively said “Boy, she makes me feel funny.”
So much did this have an impact on MOTU fans that the character of Hsss Slave Girl has appeared on many of the fan votes for potential new action figures for the MOTU Classics line in the past couple of years. All this from one little panel…it makes you wonder if Bruce Timm knew what he was doing all along with it’s inclusion.