Oh dear. I’d be looking forward to the next part of the series much more if I hadn’t been so disappointed in the last one – which I though, frankly, poor
in almost all respects. Even leaving aside the picaresque plot (such as it was) and the pretty average standard of the artwork, the conceptualization,
characterization and – above all the writing – seemed to me all deeply flawed. And I’m somewhat at a loss why this had to be so as the framework already
existed – but was largely ignored or, worse, altered in ways that added nothing (indeed detracted from) the mythos and made very little sense whatsoever.
You see, I’m a writer – and have been for a several years, and to me, these things do matter. It is incomprehensible why some of the changes were
instituted when the canon already provided a higher standard of narrative storytelling by far. It is not merely a knee-jerk
reaction against change; it is a strong sense that such changes need to make cogent sense, to create a compelling new vision – and I see no convincing
evidence of this here.
When an idea takes flight and captures the wider imagination, then it moves onwards and upwards and acquires a life of its own – becoming in effect a part
of folk memory; the Masters may have begun as a toy line, but it has moved ground since then and has become, over a mere thirty years, a mythology
capable of standing on its own. The existence of this site and many like it surely proves the point. But this entails a basic responsibility to remain
faithful in essence to the material; how far can change go before the original and the new are at odds - and therefore different things entirely?
From this belief stems my innate disappointment – and my hope that things may get better. Can DC really do no better than this? I
think that fans deserve better than this – indeed I do. I get the distinct impression (in part from reading the writer’s own view expressed at interview)
that the desire to make a splash, to shock, to epater la bourgeoisie was the driving imperative here - and that it overruled all other
considerations. And, for that matter, how “new” actually is this approach? I would argue that it may be new to He-Man (though not in a good sense) but it
is very far from new in the DC context. What I see here is very familiar old DC ground - and He-Man bent and twisted to fit in with that, rather than any
effort being made to adapt to the pre-existing framework. There is a definite lack of understanding and appreciation and I would even go so far as to say
that I suspect a certain level of contempt for the Masters canon.
I illustrate my point with a few examples:
He-Man AS The Power
. This is patently absurd; the Elders are, in effect, the gods of Eternia and He-Man has been given access to their strength (though not necessarily their
wisdom or knowledge.) But that does not make him in person The Power - it really does not. To give the combined powers of an entire pantheon to a mortal man is insanity writ large – and the canon has very carefully avoided falling into this trap. The
Power is the equivalent of The Deplorable Word, of Sauron’s Ring, of Promethean Fire – it is patently NOT for mortals to wield. Power corrupts, it consumes
those who wield it, it corrodes good intentions and turns inexorably to evil ends. Even leaving this aside (and why would we, since it’s so vital a point?)
is it at all wise to give such power to a man who can be killed, or captured or enchanted? Obviously not – suggesting that there was a very good reason why
the canon avoided this error; Giffen and Co. might have taken heed of that. Wiser and better informed heads (such as Val Staples) even made the point that
He-Man has not been granted all the power of the Elders; their strength but not their wisdom. This makes him – correctly in my
view – the servant of a (very demanding) higher power – NOT the Power itself. This has huge implications for the richness of the stories – the ongoing
dramatic tension of his dual personality, the burden of wielding the Power, the nature of power itself. He-Man must be depicted as what he actually is; the
servant of a higher power, aware of his mortal status, his limitations; able on occasions to draw on yet greater power that comes to him as the embodiment
of that power – but certainly NOT that power himself. He may be the most powerful man in the universe – but he remains just that: a man – and subject to
the immutable laws of mortality. This leaves him vulnerable (which means, dramatically, that we can identify with him) and it gives him that vital aura of
nobility, wisdom and sorrow – the lattermost stemming from the knowledge that evil cannot be just destroyed. All this has been
swept aside – by a failure to understand or to care – and this in part explains the flatness of the new stories, their lack of involving depth and
complexity. Most of all, nothing has been created in place of what has been lost. The “new” He-Man is thus a shallow creation, shorn of the attributes
which rendered him unique. He-Man is not some generic DC superhero with intrinsic powers; he is a far more complex and subtle
creation that that – and therein lies his enduring interest and appeal.
The same applies to the significance of Adam – which is simply ignored. Adam has an important dramatic role; ignoring it detracts from the
richness of the material available to writers and they do so at their peril. Yes, the basic deception is patently absurd (though the 2002 comics handled it
really well) and involves some suspension of disbelief (hey - this is Eternia, after all) but there is more to Adam than this. Adam is the key indentifier,
the ‘real’ character – and has an important role in this respect; his innate decency made him fit to be chosen as a hero – and he retains that; and this is
vital. Adam protects He-Man from the corrosive effects of wielding the Power. People seem readily to assume that being He-Man is somehow intrinsically
wonderful; personally, I very much doubt that it is. Once Adam reluctantly assumed the duty – under pressure to save his father’s life – he also assumed a
terrific burden – and one that must come with a human cost. But Adam, not being himself a hero per se, is not easily corrupted – and endures. Note that
He-Man cannot remain in that role indefinitely – but must revert to being Adam; this is depicted as even happening sometimes involuntarily, under supreme
stress – and he, as Adam, on more than one occasion saves He-Man by being able to escape and resist what He-Man cannot. This duality can lead to tension –
sometimes comic and sometimes almost tragic – but invariably significant and conducive to compelling storytelling. And now, yet again, this is swept away –
and again – nothing is set in its place; tabula rasa is again the order of the day – and for what good reason?
A He-Man who takes human life
is a very fundamental shift – and an unwelcome one. It does not make the “new” He-Man more adult or somehow more fitted to 2013;
it diminishes him – renders him just like the rest of the loincloth-wearing sword-slingers. The real and significant point to remember is this: he is so
much more skilled and stronger than his foes that he doesn’t need to kill – thereby showing both his moral and military superiority. This is not simply Filmation morality – it is not. It is an appreciative view
of He-Man which stresses his astonishing compassion and humanity – which stem from his patent ability to kill – but forbearance in not doing so. In this
respect he is an embodiment of the will of the Elders – and that saves him from the fate his enemies would inflict upon him. The essential nature of He-Man
is that he is good; how many times has this point been made in every incarnation? How many times has he overcome his enemies –
and spared them, respecting the life of all Eternians, even the evil ones who would clearly not do the same for him? Yet, for all their evildoing they
cannot conquer him – because of his adherence to this code, which has the Power protect him while he enacts its ultimately benign will. Are we now to
accept that this no longer matters? That good can somehow overcome evil with evil’s weapons – and yet remain good? A thousand times no!
As for it being more ‘realistic’ – well – how far should we really be seeking gritty realism in Eternia, where sorcery mingles
seamlessly with technology, where all the women are beautiful, all the men have eight-packs – and no doubt, like Lake Woebegone, all the children are above
average? Think in those terms and the apparent demand for a killer He-Man may appear in its due perspective. On a personal note, before becoming a writer I
spent over ten years as an officer in the Armed Forces – much of the time in combat roles (with all the good and ill that inevitably follows from this) –
and I can honestly say that, while a large number of persons of various different nationalities tried to end me with a wide variety of weaponry (including
a sword) at no point did anyone ever attempt to blast me with a strike of sorcery! And that experience was adequately real for me to be completely sure
that He-Man taking human life is a very immature and retrograde step indeed. Horde troopers, rock monsters, robots – by all means, the more the merrier;
but NOT the violation of the sanctity of human life. Would that I could say the same; but, then, I am not He-Man.
Eliminating the Sorceress
for the sake of a shock moment adds what, exactly, to the dramatic potential of the new series? I can see no good reason for it at all – none. The true
significance of Castle Grayskull has been swept away with one stroke of a sword. But nothing has replaced it – only He-Man in person, as the Power (sic) as
the sole link with the Elders (vide supra.) This really does not seem to have been thought-through with any degree of clarity. Perhaps some prior research
would have helped.
has become no more than yet another feisty superhero decorative sidekick, complete with stripped-down costume and an endless supply of wisecracks. All
pretty standard DC stuff; I mean, hardly groundbreaking, is it? I personally have no problem with her skimpy costume - but I do with the fact that she
apparently suffers from Tourettes. Her abuse of English and constant smart**s attitude I find very wearing indeed. And in any case it’s internally
inconsistent; if He-Man IS The Power (sic) – meaning (bizarrely) that he is the actual embodiment of the gods – then surely her
continuing to treat him like Adam in her ongoing tedious and banal banter is singularly inappropriate. If one is to create a “new” take, then is it too
much to expect it to conform to its own contrivances? Apparently yes.
Orko as arch-traitor
. Words fail me at such an utterly feeble plot-contrivance. And this is meant to be a more mature approach, is it? Then I’d really, really hate to see a
So, taken as a whole, does this constitute a more adult, more mature take on the canon - or is it just a dull re-tread of the standard DC superhero
standard line? I would argue very much the latter;
I don’t detect much understanding of or sympathy for the traditional Eternian ideals expressed in the canon – and this strikes me as a shame – and also
conveys an element of hubris – or, at the very least, of re-inventing a perfectly serviceable wheel. I find the new series flawed in its fundamental
conceptualization, lacking in internal consistency and shallow in context. As a result it is not compelling storytelling.
Half an hour’s research and thought would surely have been sufficient to obviate some of the more obvious inconsistencies – but, as we know – thought is
irksome – and half an hour is a very long time.
Let me suggest as an antidote a re-read of the Shard of Darkness, from the 2002 Image Comics series. This elevated comics to the level of superb
entertainment – and set very high standards – which these simply can’t match. And Val Staples draws on the whole rich and wide range of material to create
dramatic storytelling that is intellectually as well as visually satisfying; a genuine tour de force – not least on account of Staples’ almost instinctive
understanding of the material and capacity to expound it with style and eloquence. The Shard illustrates superbly the points I have attempted to
make above; He-Man is set a test by the Sorceress – which he singularly fails – by falling for the tempting lure of supreme power inherent in the crystal;
he is driven mad, attempts to kill, falls into a very real peril beyond merely his life – and – just note how he is saved in the end. Now, to me, this is
The Comic as Art Form – it really is. And it sends this recent DC batch screaming back to the pit whence they came.
If you disagree, then I would humbly solicit that you should go and re-read it (or better still the whole series) – and it is right here on the site in all
its wonder and complexity. http://www.he-man.org/publishing/sub...id=52&subid=42 Staples and Santalucia was a very potent pairing indeed; it’s
tragic that this did not continue – and left us to the mercy of these recent dismal offerings. O Tempora O Mores….
And so a new batch of comics rolls onto the horizon – and judging by the spoilers thus far, they are going for the cataclysm – again. Not much sign of
building up a longer-term context, or exercising narrative restraint towards this. I’m not altogether surprised, frankly. Shock and awe at the expense of
such things has ever been attractive to the jejune and ill-informed. I had hoped that they might have gotten that out of their system – but the latest
indications are FAR from good.
I’m far more likely to hold my subscription than my breath.