Apr 17, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 782: Masters of the Universe #1, May 1986

https://www.comics.org/issue/210028/

I've waxed lyrical about the end of this series already, a fantastic story pencilled by today's featured creator, Ron Wilson, so I thought we'd look at the beginning of the series as well. Unfortunately, it pales in comparison quite a bit. I mentioned in my previous posts on this series that it's only when a toy-based comic gets to a point where the toys upon which it was based are no longer popular that the characters and story can actually come out from beneath the marketing and flourish. At the time of this first comic's appearance, He-Man and his compatriots were still popular enough to have a television series and a still-lucrative toy line. Though the series is only 13 issues long, it was published bi-monthly, so we're seeing 2 years worth of comics. And 2 years can be a long time in the life of a children's toy. By the time 1988 rolls around, and "Lifetime" is presented in the final issues of the series, the toy line was winding down. Hence the good story.

This is, of course, not to say that today's story was necessarily bad, only that it was definitely skewed toward showing the toys to kids, rather than telling them a story. We get two views of castles in this issue, one of Greyskull and one of Skeletor's lair, Snake Mountain. And they are, quite literally, views of what the toy versions of those locations would look like if placed on a rocky, barren landscape. I know this not only because I've seen the toys, but because I had them way back when. Even at the issue's end, when He-Man is trapped in Hordak's "Fright Zone," the creature that attacks him looks literally like the hand puppet that comes with that set. While this might be good for advertising, some creative license needs to be taken in depicting toys as dynamic objects within a narrative.

Mr. Wilson's depictions of these toys, however, are very accurate, and given the ridiculousness of the characters he's been given to draw, he does a decent job of trying to twist someone like Leech, a character who drains life energy through suction cups on his hands, though the toy version simply has large flat suction cups for hands - how exactly does he do anything else? He looks like the toy in the comic, but really looks like he wouldn't survive long trying to do anything other than stick to a window. This said, it's also the first issue of the series. I imagine that rather than doing character design work, Mr. Wilson was simply given reference pictures of the toys and told to go to.

Masters of the Universe continues to be a popular franchise, though mostly with those who enjoyed the toys as kids, and in the later series of the story it gets a bit of a grit-washing in order to appeal to those grown fans. But the Wilson/Carlin iteration of the series was the longest-running comic during the first run of both toy and cartoon, and therefore holds an important place in the history of the franchise.

To be continued.

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