As a child in the early 1980’s I remember when the He-Man toys first came out, They were different from anything else on the shelves at that time, a strange combination of Conan and Star Wars. At first, though, there wasn’t any cartoon to introduce us to those characters. To do that, each Masters of the Universe toy came with a mini-comic. Those first books introduced us to He-man, Teela, Man-At-Arms and others as they fought Skeletor and his minions over the power within the mysterious Castle Grayskull. These pack-in mini-conics lasts the entire line, even in its sister , Princess of Power and reappears in some form in the later lines. Now all those classic stories are collected into one book.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini-Comic Collection is a hardcover graphic novel published by Dark Horse Books, in association with Mattel and DreamWorks Animation. The book reprints all 51 of the original mini-comics from the original Master of the Universe toy line, plus all the Princess of Power mini-comic and books from subsequent lines. There are also interviews with various writers and artists that worked on the line.
First of all the reprinted books look amazing. The original mini-comics were not that big but to see the art in a bigger, almost regular-sized comic format is great. The art, for the most part, looks good in a bigger size and you can really see the details. The colours are good too, albeit not a vibrant as comics today with the advent of computer colouring. As mentioned before, the book is a hardcover and is fairly hefty, due to containing so much material.
The stories hold up well, despite being written for a boy’s toy line 30 years ago. The earlier stories are an especially interesting read, as it is very different from what be got with the cartoons series. He-Man was not Prince Adam, but a warrior from a jungle tribe. There was no Sorceress, but a Goddess, a green skinned (as first) woman that gave He-Man his “techo-vest” with gave him his super strength and invulnerability. Man-At-Arms was not the King’s armourer, but the caretaker of lost technologies after a cataclysm wiped out civilization, and Skeletor was a demon from another dimension, seeking the power sword to conquer Castel Grayskill and unleash his kind on the world. The comics slowly build up the mythos of Masters of the Universe, adding details to certain character’s back stories (Teela is the clone/daughter of the Goddess/Sorceress) and introduced elements from other sources like Prince Adam (originally appeared in the DC Comics mini-series) and Oroko (from the FIlmation cartoon.) Even though some elements were dropped as the series went on to be similar to the cartoon, the mini-comics were its own entity.
There are interviews with some of the creative talent involved with the mini-comic, with names that would be recognizable by fans of comics and pop culture. The first few mini-comics (which were more like mini-story books) had art from Alfredo Alcala, who worked on various DC and Marvel properties, including Conan the Barbarian. Other names that some might recognize are writers Gary Cohn (various DC Comic books in the 80’s), Christy Marx (Jem), artists Mark Texeira (Wolverine, Punisher) and Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series and the DC Animated Universe) and even lettered Stan Sakai (creator of Usagi Yojimbo.) The interviews go into their involvement in the MOTU series and their memories of working on the project.
Reading these mini comics gain is definitely a nostalgia trip for me. I remember some of the stories, especially the early ones but there were some that I did not remember until I read them again. Most of them I did not read before, as I lost interest in the toys due to the silly Filmation cartoon, but it is clear from this collection the mini-comic followed its own path. Sure, some stories were blatant 12-panel adds for the new wave of figures or vehicles (Battle Bones really did not need an origin story!) but there are some hidden gems. Original stories like Slave City and The Secret of the Elixir of Life introduced original characters that were not toys or on the cartoon. Some were pretty violent, but not gory, with He-Man punching his foes or shooting them with a laser gun. Nothing over the top, but it raised eyebrows them and would do the same (at least) today.
The book also reprints the Princess of power mini-comic which, like the He-Man ones, don’t follow the cartoon series. the stories feature She-ra as she and here friends foil the schemes of Catra, Entrapta and others. Only one story has the Horde in it and then, it is only Horde Troopers. There is also the mini-comics from The New Adventures or He-man (1989-1990) which has He-Man and Skeletor continue their battle in space in the far future and two retailer exclusive comics from the 2002 Master of the Universe reboot. Finally, the book reprints three mini-comics released in the subscription-exclusive Master of the Universe Classics toy line.
Alongside The Art of He-Man book or by itself, this is a great book for fans of the various incarnations of He-Man. As a trip down memory lane or as a way of learning more about the series, this is a great book to add to your collection.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Mini-Comic Collection is available online, in comic book stores and book outlets everywhere. Check the web or your local stores for price and availability. It is also available as a 2 volume digital edition on Amazon.