As the summer time starts to kick into high gear, most of the Ghost Nation faithful should know by now that my comic choices in terms of read pile fare does tend to skew a little more on the lighter side. In years past, that would mean “swimming pool reading”. You know, that type of simple, action packed melodrama that would the old spinner racks would be full of when I was a kid, and that accompanied me to many a swimming pool as a way to stay occupied during Adult Swim.
Of course, thanks to COVID, this summer is extremely weird in that there are no swimming pools open so there’s no real opportunity to have any of the relaxing floats while reading a disposable trade paperback I picked up in a cheap bin somewhere. But at least in my mind, I’ve still got that swimming pool mentality so there’s no doubt that my fans out there are going to get some read pile recommendations that still will evoke simpler times and the easy living that comes only with this time of year.
As such, I thought it was time to finally cover a book I’ve been itching to do on the website since I wrote about a very similar series last summer. Plus given our fantasy related comics podcast is still pretty fresh on my mind and it technically fits with my “cheap” trade comment as I picked it up at a local comic con a couple years back for 3 dollars, all these things added up to the perfect time to write another article about He-man beating up Superman.
It’s happened so often that the Man of Steel and the Most Powerful Man in the Universe have come to blows that it’s no surprise that another writer would have gone eventually back to that well. But with this 2013 series from writer Keith Giffen and artists Tony Bedard and Dexter Soy, we got the first full blown “all hands on deck” crossover event between the characters of this famous toy line and some of the most famous heroes in all of comics.
But was it any good? As a die hard MOTU fan, I’m going to take a time out from my summer time fun and answer that question for you…
10 Cent Synopsis:
Following the events of the 2012 DC Masters of the Universe series which saw Skeletor use the skull of Horde Prime to wipe out the memories of everyone on Eternia and seize power from a weakened He-man, this particular series shows the aftermath of his eventual defeat once Grayskull’s own regains his identity and punches his jaw clean off. Turns out Skeletor is saved by a mysterious evil benefactor (who I’ll get to in a moment) and sent to Earth to steal all of its magical energy like some sort of untapped maple tree.
He-man, Teela, and the rest of the Masters follow him and hook up with the Justice League: Dark who is also investigating the strange draining of the Earth’s magical lifeforce.
From there, it’s all kinds of mind controlling shenanigans as Skeletor and his evil boss take over the minds of both Justice League and other DC heroes in an attempt to stop He-man from foiling their plans once again.
Oh and He-man stabs Superman to DEATH! Yeah, so you got that…
Ah yes! The day the New 52 approach to DC comics was slapped on the Masters of the Universe characters like a wet flopping flounder across our collective faces.
Well, maybe that was really the “She-Ra/Despara” series that occurred right before this technically, but this was the series that cemented the fact that the pretty boy non barbarian He-man in stupid red body armor and a foul mouthed X-treme sports version of Teela were here to stay. But more importantly, this was the series that gave us the new “52” redesign of Skeletor for the first time .
For some, the gripes and complaints over the change was the last straw for some of the MOTU faithful. The names thrown around to describe Skeletor’s new duds included: Tusk face, The SkeleMonitor (in a jab at the Crisis on Infinite Earths villain), and my personal favorite, Grimace Luthor, commenting on the character looking like a cross between Super Powers Lex Luthor and Ronald Mcdonald’s dim witted running buddy.
Personally, as a life long fan of the franchise, was I as shocked and abhorred as those changes other fans?
Yes, maybe the He-man stuff got my dander up, but I really didn’t mind the Skeletor redesign. Not because of the costume mind you. Costume itself has good and bad parts, but that’s not the point.
I do give credit to notions behind giving the new threads and pairing them against some of the most famous superheroes of all time as the entire move is creating buzz. Websites like IGN and MTV Geek at the time actually reported on this stuff, and its stirred up interest in those corners of geekdom that typically could have care less about this old toy line from the early 80s.
In short, like the MOTU Classics toy line, I think this particular series did reenvigor the fan base of this franchise to a certain degree, which has paved the way to for things nowadays like even more MOTU toys in stores this fall and the Kevin Smith produced Netflix series coming soon.
That said though, making the kindly childlike Orko the main bad guy by having him be possessed by ancient demonic forces from the dawn of history was a terrible move.
I understand that Orko has always been somewhat of an Achilles heel for MOTU. He’s so iconic but at the same time so whimsical and campy that it’s hard for writers to include him in more “serious” or “gritty” interpretations of the universe. So they ultimately end up changing him in some bizarre way to either make him irrelevant or in this case, utterly satanic.
Nope, I didn’t buy it for a second and it’s reveal of him as the main bad guy that’s point in this book where the series jumps the shark and never comes back. Simply put, you don’t need to change Orko. He represents a very classical fantasy related type of character: the magical creature.
Whether that’s a fairy, leprechaun, elf, gnome, smurf, heck even Yoda, these characters have a place representing elemental forces of the unknown and unseen. Sure, Orko is somewhat of a clumsy goof ball at times, but if you even that out with just a little genuine awe and wonder at some of the magic he can wield as well as make him a little more mysterious and crafty at times, you have yourself a wonderful character that fits perfectly in any MOTU universe regardless of the age demographic you are aiming for.
This book just changed Orko into the devil for what seemed to be just nothing more than shock value, and in some way spit on my childhood. More than the irrelevant costume changes, that part of this book really got to me deep down. And in the words of The Simpsons Comic Book Guy: “Worst. Orko. EVER!”
On the flip side to those comments, one of the nicest things about the trade version of this series is that as a bonus, they throw in a copy of DC Comics Presents #47 aka “From Eternia With Death” aka the first time He-man decided to get into a slobberknocker with a Pre-Crisis Superman.
It was primarily used as a “backdoor” pilot for the eventual MOTU mini series DC would produce shortly afterwards, but on it’s own merits, the story is beyond goofy. But with the scenes of Prince Adam drinking massive tankards of ale in a tavern to Beast-Man riding Supes like some sort of flying horse, it’s definitely got some charm.
Of course, in terms of Ghosts of the Stratosphere lore, this comic book is pretty well known around our offices because it was a major point of reference during one of our podcast debates in which I argued with my co-host Rob Stewart that He-man could beat Superman in a fight. Stew argued that there was absolutely no way anyone could beat a Pre-Crisis Superman with his insane power levels let alone He-man citing the fact that although he could take a punch from the Man of Steel, Prince Adam eventually got his ass handed to him like a chump.
I still say though that the Sword of Power was my ace in the hole in this argument because again it’s a magic piercing weapon so just like the 2013 series, it is shown to have the capability to slash Superman to ribbons. Heck, even Skeletor at least cuts his indestructible PJs for a moment before being over powered.
Regardless of whether who you think should win, give this classic episode of the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast a listen and decide for yourself!
With all the talk in the previous section about the despicable changes to Orko and the dumb looking costumes, I really haven’t mentioned much about the overall plot of the MOTU characters fighting the DC characters and whether that works.
The reason for that is because I don’t have much to say other than the premise really doesn’t work. Now I’ve read other crossovers between properties like the DC/Marvel ones over the years, and I know there’s a bit of “wink/wink” you have to take with things like continuity and established characterization for the sake of these things. Like the trade off for seeing Batman and Hulk hanging out together is that you are probably not going to the get the Batman or Hulk you are normally used to, but it’s all in good fun so you just roll with it.
Additionally, you have to accept the fact that there will probably be some sort of silly Macguffin or Deus Ex Machina that will be the impetus for getting the characters together which will not make a lot of sense if you think about it too hard. So you just resign yourself to again having fun reading the adventure and not get caught up in the details.
The problem with this crossover is that there are just too many conflicting plot lines and narrative threads that go nowhere. The book would have been better served sticking with the original premise set up in the first 2 issues that seemed to work just fine:
1) Skeletor wants to absorb all the magic on Earth (classic cartoon super villain thing)
2) He-man comes to stop him.
3) Skeletor uses his power to control the minds of the Justice League to fight He-man so he can’t stop his plans.
That plan seems to work fine up until the point that He-man stabs Supes to death at the end of issue 2, but then it goes off the rails. Then it’s all the Justice League snaps out of it, blames He-man for murder, but really Supes isn’t dead, it was a “magic clone” and the real Supes is imprisoned by evil Orko, so it’s not really murder, so everyone can be besties fighting evil Orko’s other mind controlled slaves like Black Adam and Killer Croc, then dogs and cats start living together, and in the words of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: It’s Mass Hysteria!
Again, I don’t know if the internal politics at DC Comics played a part in this entire decision to switch away from the original plot. Maybe they were uncomfortable with the notion of the JLA being baddies for 6 issues, but I will say it worked perfectly fine years later when He-man fought the Injustice versions of the JLA. As a result, I gotta look at this as a failure of sticking to your original guns in terms of a premise and letting the narrative completely devolve into a quagmire of meaningless fighting.
Honestly, you are probably just better off reading the original DC Presents He-man/Superman kerfluffle as it’s pretty much the exact same base story as this “more serious” encounter, even down to the temporarily mind controlled Superman.
However, at least the original has some fun kitchy charm to it. This is more of just a MOTU sized mess from beginning to end.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: D