Friday, April 9, 2010

From Here to Eternia

A recent post and discussion over at Spell Card! got me thinking about my love for Masters of the Universe. I don't mean the 80s cartoon with a Captain Marvel in purple tights and a Prince Valiant haircut, a cowardly lion tiger, and a moral for kiddies every episode. I mean the first, more pulpish, post-apocalyptic, sword & sorcery version--before even the 1982 DC comics limited-series. I mean the version appearing in the the four original mini-comics (though these first few were picture books, not comics).

These four were written by Donald Glut, who knew how to adapt Sword & Sorcery material for younger audiences with his comics work, including Dagar the Invincible and Tragg and the Sky Gods for Gold Key. Glut talks about the origins of some of the concepts in an online interview. The evocative art for the four stories was by Alfredo Alcala, a Filipino comic book artist who's worked for DC and Marvel, on books including Conan, and Kull the Conqueror. What the two gave us was darker, moodier, and more streaked with pulpy highlights, than the decidedly brighter, more superhero-esque cartoon to follow.

To illustrate what I mean, let's take a look at the first in the "saga." Here's my commentary on 1981's He-Man and The Power Sword:


We open with a bona fide Hero's Journey "Call to Adventure." He-Man, greatest warrior of his primitve jungle tribe, leaves his people to go defend the legendary Castle Grayskull ("a place of wonders") from the forces of evil. Instead of having a secret identity, He-Man is part of a proud (sometimes) barbaric lineage of Sword & Sorcery characters. He's got a nobler goal than Conan or Brak, but like those forebears he's fascinated by a wondrous elsewhere.

He-Man becomes the first of his people to "trudge the craggy cliffs and quake-torn valleys" outside of the jungle. It's not long before his courage and "jungle-bred stength" is needed. He sights a jade-skinned woman in a cobra headress fighting a purple monster that looks like it might be from a lost in space episode. He-Man rushes into the fray and despite the woman's mystical blasts ("She is a sorceress!" he thought), he pretty much does the monster slaying himself.


Had this not been a kid's book, the shapely Sorceress might have rewarded the warrior other ways, but since it is, He-Man instead gets "Supernatural Aid" (again with the Hero's Journey!). The Sorceress gives him the treasures she's guarded all these years, things made "centuries before the Great War by Eternia's scientists."

Here's one of those cool details. We've got a Great (so great its capitalized) War, and scientists making medieval appearing weapons. "What kind of scientists are those?" one might well wonder. I know 8 year-old me did.

He-Man takes the loot which includes a "strange vehicle" (understatement) that's "combination battering ram, catapult, and space-warp device." Those pre-Great War scientists did some out-of-the-box thinking.


Meanwhile, Skeletor, and his minion Beastman, and ogling the "warrior-goddess" Tee-La (it was hyphenated here) who's watering her "unicorn charger." The two villains attack, as Skeletor plans to make Tee-La his bride. We're told she "fights like a demon, her body possessing the spirits of many ancestral champions," but Skeletor's energy blade wins the day.

They carry her with them to Castle Grayskull--"a fortress so ancient no one knew its origin." Over the objections of the Spirit of the castle, Skeletor forces open the Jaw-Bridge. Skeletor's after the other half of the Power Sword so that "the magic fires, created by ancient scientists and sorcerers will blaze again." Cool.


It turns out Skeletor is from another dimension. The Great War ripped a whole in the walls between dimensions and threw him into Eternia. He plans to open another rift and bring through an army of conquest.

Elsewhere, He-Man is visited by Man-At-Arms. What happens next is weird: "'And what brings the famous Man At Arms to my humble house?' He-Man asked sarcastically." Why all the sarcasm, He-Man? Anyway, Man At Arms ("whose people are the masters of all weapons") fills He-Man in on Skeletor's shenanigans. The two set out to stop him, with impulsive He-Man space-warping ahead.

Somehow, in the bowels of Grayskull (sold separately), Skeletor knows He-Man is coming and sends Beastman up to shoot the turrett laser at at him. Beastman proves surprising effective at this, and has He-Man down when the Man-At-Arms cavalry arrives to turn the tide. The He-Man makes the Jaw-Bridge open wide and the heroes head inside to find Tee-La.

Skeletor's had enough time to get the the Power Sword reunited. As the blade crackles with "green fire" he boasts: "I am invincible. There is nothing I cannot do. Nothing!" The best use this power for is apparently making weapons come to life and fight He-Man.

At that moment, the Sorceress reappears glowing with the same green energy as the power sword (Ah hah!). She chastises Skeletor for abusing power and splits the sword again. He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and the just freed Tee-La throw a beating on the two villains, but let 'em cry "mercy!" and run off (it's a kid's book, remember?). The Sorceress again hides the Power Sword and changes the lock on the castle.

"Do you think that's the last of those two or the Power Sword?" Man-At-Arms asks.


Do I really have to tell you He-Man's answer?

There you go, Great Wars, green Sorcereress, extradimensional portals, barbarian heroes, super-science, and sorcery. How cool is that?

9 comments:

James said...

Cool! I didn't know where the He-Man stuff came from.

Brutorz Bill said...

I remember those little mini-comics.
Good stuff!

Trey said...

Yeah, there goofy fun, and exhibit a bit of depth the cartoon jettisoned.

Brutorz Bill said...

I had forgotten the sorceress was originally green!

Trey said...

Yeah. I suspect that might have been to clearly differentiate her from the Teela toy.

Norman Harman said...

Kids ruin everything.

Trey said...

Well, maybe some kids. ;)

Mainly, I think its the way people think they have to craft media for kids that messes stuff up.

Can't we have any creative fidelity and originality in our sketchily backstoried material designed to sell toys! :D

Tom Fitzgerald said...

Admittedly it's inspired by the cartoon, but this exhition has some groovy stuff.

http://ihavethepowerart.blogspot.com/

Trey said...

Some interesting stuff there! Thanks for the link, Tom.