Robot 6

Too many creators, too little lead time spoil DC’s ‘He-Man’ reboot

hemanHave you ever heard the expression, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well?” Have you heard about  DC Comics’ He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, whose first six-issue miniseries was just collected? Have any of the people involved with the creation of those comics heard of that expression? Because from the results, it sure doesn’t seem to be the case.

The comics are poorly made — among the worst I’ve seen produced by an industry-leading publisher — but they’re bad in a very particular way.

They aren’t unreadable; I made it all the way through He-Man and The Masters of the Universe Vol. 1 without giving up. If pressed, I’m sure I could come up with some worse, more poorly made comics from DC in the recent past, but I might have difficulty thinking of worse comics from creators of such a relatively high caliber as some of those involved with this project, or an example of a series so bewilderingly bad.

Seemingly rushed through production like a term paper written the night before it’s due, many of the comics’ problems appear to originate with there being just too many creators working too fast and with little communication to meet a particular deadline. But,the funny thing is that it’s just a He-Man comic that no one in the comics-reading audience seemed particularly excited about, let alone interested in.

So it’s hard to imagine a  reason DC decided to steam ahead with its creation to meet an arbitrarily chosen deadline before, say, nailing down a single creative team. Put another way, this is a bad comic book, and I can tell you what makes it a bad comic book, but I can’t hazard a guess as to why the people responsible for it made the decisions they did that resulted in it being so bad.

The comic is, of course, the latest incarnation of a multimedia property that began in 1981 as Mattel toy line before spawning a popular and fondly remembered early-’80s animated series, a 1987 live-action movie, a 2002 revival of the cartoon and toy line and, of course, comic books, previously published by DC, then Marvel’s Star Comics line and, far more recently, Image Comics and MV Creations.

Although not part of DC’s New 52 line (although a crossover is imminent), He-Man suffered some of the too-common creative team problems that have plagued DC since the relaunch. Writer James Robinson, penciler Philip Tan and inker Ruy Jose were originally announced as the creative team, although Robinson only wrote a single issue before Keith Giffen took over (the pair share writing credits on Issue 2, while the rest of the series is all Giffen).

The art team turned out to be something else entirely: The six issues are penciled  by Tan, Howard Porter and Pop Mhan, three artists whose styles have little in common, with half of the issues penciled by more than one of the above, and the other half drawn either by Tan or Mhan, start to finish.

As for inkers, there are eight different artists in that category for these six issues, with as many as four inkers on a single issue.

With so many cooks in the kitchen, it’s little wonder how bad the comic looks, with the often dramatically redesigned characters sporting elements that come and go depending on the panel and, in a few particularly depressing instances, the artwork contradicting the script (one issue ends, for example, with one of the heroes having been shot through the shoulder with a crossbow bolt, but at the beginning of the next issue, the wound is gone; later the protagonists talk about the strange writing they see on a wall, yet the artist has drawn smooth, writing-free walls).

The trade opens with a short story by Geoff Johns, Porter and John Livesay featuring an original Johns addition to Masters of the Universe, one he apparently created as a child, which, given the child-like names and abilities of the characters, is actually kind of perfect: Sir Laser Lot. This brief adventure begins in the distant past, and ends with Sir Laser Lot and a mysterious skull artifact being summoned to Skeletor’s throne room.

From there, the series begins in earnest. Skeletor apparently has taken and occupied Castle Grayskull and utterly defeated his enemies — the Masters of the Universe — by wiping away their memories of their past lives and scattering them across Eternia. He-Man is now Adam, a simple woodsman, whose only clue to his heroic identity are his vivid dreams. One day an improbably colored falcon named Zoar leads him out of the forest, and, as he follows it, he slowly recovers certain memories (like how to fight, mainly) and picks up allies, first and foremost Teela, who is a slave in a desert town, and with whom Giffen has him bicker like they were in a barbarian screwball comedy (Man-At-Arms shows up in the second half of the series).

As they make their journey, they run a gantlet of villains, each of whom Skeletor has instructed to kill Adam, and each of whom spectacularly fails: These are Beastman (whose redesign seems to occur somewhere between Issue 1, when Tan was drawing him, and Issue 6, when Mhan was), Trapjaw (who wears a robe and scarf around himself for dramatic reveals, and effects the changing of the interchangeable weapons on his hand via some sort of glowing magic lizard), Mer-Man (who now has a tail, except when the artists forget to draw it, which is about one-third of the time) and finally Evil-Lynn (who rules a volcanic island and is here played as crazy as a loon). After each villain has been bested, their true identity is recovered and He-Man and Skeletor meet in battle.

If one can somehow forgive the book’s failing of the most fundamental aspect of comics — telling a story through words and pictures — and its rather wretched art (and I consider myself a fan of Porter and Mhan!), and focus on it purely as a script, it’s still not a very good one. It demands a pretty thorough working knowledge of the main characters and their conflicts (no problem for this 36-year-old, who started playing with He-Man figures at age 4) and apparently picks up on an already-in-progress story involving Orko having gone bad. Whether that occurred in some other DC MOTU comic, or continues from the Image or MV series isn’t mentioned; I would expect a book with “Vol. 1″ in the title to be the start of a story, though, and it is possible that Giffen includes that as simply a teaser for plot points to be explored in the ongoing that follows this miniseries.

The series is merely a  half-dozen fights between our heroes and barely introduced, increasingly tougher villains, until the book simply stops with a cliffhanger ending promising a different direction than the one we were just introduced to. It’s basically a long walk around a toy box, with the names of those toys occasionally being shouted out.

In addition to creative team chaos and redesigning for redesign’s sake (usually for the worse), the book has another thing in common with the current direction of the publisher’s main line: It’s clearly targeted at adults who grew up with this stuff and expect it to have matured with them, rather than to remain appropriate for the age group it was originally intended for.

So it’s rather violent for a He-Man, although the artists occasionally neglecting to draw blood or depict wounds tones it down  quite a bit. Even still, this is a comic in which Teela impales Mer-Man through the chest from behind (don’t worry, he’s fine), Skeletor snaps The Sorceress’ neck after months or years of torturing her and, in the climax, He-Man punches Skeletor so hard his lower jaw flies off and a pint or so of blood splatter flies out of his … skull … holes?

I haven’t thought a lot about Skeletor’s biology in the past, oh, 30 years or so, but apparently his skull is full of blood and, if you punch him hard enough, it’s like squishing a jelly doughnut.

I’ve heard the comics — which so far include at least three one-shots and an ongoing series, with Giffen the sole writer — do get much better after this miniseries. But then, I suppose they’d have to, wouldn’t they?

I’m certain there’s value in the He-Man intellectual property, and it’s well worth DC’s time to pursue developing it. What I’m uncertain of is why the publisher had to do it when it had to do it, quality be damned. A publisher that expects its audience to wait seven issues or so for a comic book series  to get any good at all is either cursed with shortsightedness that will always limit its success, or blessed with the most patient and forgiving audience it could hope for.

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15 Comments

“Too many creators, too little lead time”

Looks like this is DC Comics ‘motto’ since 2010.

“In addition to creative team chaos and redesigning for redesign’s sake (usually for the worse), the book has another thing in common with the current direction of the publisher’s main line: It’s clearly targeted at adults who grew up with this stuff and expect it to have matured with them, rather than to remain appropriate for the age group it was originally intended for”

Here’s DC Comics in a nutshell for you.

DiDio, Lee, Harras and Johns are demoralizing the company with increasingly poor decisions.

I heard the new series and the Hordak mini were actually really good.

Andrew Collins

July 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm

“Seemingly rushed through production like a term paper written the night before it’s due, many of the comics’ problems appear to originate with there being just too many creators working too fast and with little communication to meet a particular deadline.”

This pretty much sums up the bulk of DC’s New 52 output for me. Terrible, terrible comics for the most part.

And as for Johns, all I can say is it must be good to be king for him to be able to get some silly childhood notebook scribble introduced into the He-Man franchise…

The ongoing is ok, I guess the fact they chose She Ras origin to start it was designed to boost sales and I think it worked. Maybe she should’ve got her own series

Both movies and video games have for years had their production schedules artificially determined by companies selecting arbitrary release dates that have more to do with marketing than development. I suppose Time Warner has mandated DC follow the same illogical pattern.

Even if one could produce the best He-Man comic possible, at the end you’d still have a He-Man comic. Like everyone else here, I think this just sounds like a microcosm for whatever the hell it is they’re doing at DC, none of which involves the production of good comics.

I don’t like either that miniseries but the last issue is great.

The current Ongoing series is AWESOME!

The Skeletor origin book was really good as are the digital comics. I have been enjoying the She-Ra revival. I forgot about the evil Orko angle, what issue was that in?

What a shame. Ty said it best, seems like everything today is done for marketing and capital. I’ll stick with indie creators who have passion for their work.

DC are shit at doing well known properties that they acquire. He-man was a much better comic when it was at Image. The stuffed up the horror titles too. Avatar was doing a great job, and DC took it and dropped the ball. Nightmare on Elm Street was the worst of the 3.

John Lewis Wright

July 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

The problem with this comic is that they’re trying to do a mainstream imprint on a property that NOBODY at network would touch. People lose sight of this fact. NBC, CBS and ABC all passed on showing He-Man. This was the franchise that broke the MOLD and created a new model for cartoons in SYNDICATION. As in they could be dropped in at any time on any network that had a spot open. It could be showing on Fox in LA and on WB in Sacramento. Who knows? Of course at the time those were still independent stations but every market I’m sure had a couple of UHF stations that those two both later became. Anyways, the point is that someone like WB wouldn’t understand He-Man. Its not a broadcast station style of show. In today’s climate it would’ve been shown on Cartoon Network or The Hub as original programming. It was cable before cable had their own cartoons. It preceded New Adventures of Johnny Quest by over a DECADE! And there were many cartoons that followed. Transformers, GI Joe, Robotech, MASK, Centurions, Rambo, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos… these were all the RENEGADE cartoons of the 80’s. They were MADE to be the bad boys to broadcast channels. The only show to bridge the GAP of both? The Real Ghostbusters. So if DC wants to make a He-Man comic? Its gotta BE at Vertigo that they do this stuff. And when its THERE? Its gotta be like the squeaky clean cousin to Sandman’s darkness. Its gotta be like WWE coming on after an episode of Tales from The Darkside late at night on Saturdays. That sort of element. Its gotta be like its OWN ANIMAL. For British fans that means He-Man for cartoons was like your movie The Boat That Rocked. It did for ANIMATION by the 80’s what rock and roll once did for MUSIC in the 60’s. Yeah, even by our standards it was pretty far gone out there. We’re not crazy. He-Man’s creators at Filmation just had lots of courage and much clout from their decades already of doing cartoons on Saturday mornings for the previous two decades. He-Man was what they worked on when they got to be retired and gave younger artists an opportunity to learn like Frodo did from Bilbo in Lord of the Rings. It was a reflection of the Conan style pulp fiction stories and John Wayne or Roy Rogers type westerns from THEIR youth. Thank you.

So, the point of the story is that DC’s EIC and co-publishers don’t know what their doing…

In other BREAKING NEWS: Water is wet and the sky blue!

I agree on all counts. Also, despite what others may say (to each his own, I suppose), the ongoing isn’t any better and may, in fact, be even worse.

I like the identity of Despara that was created for Adora and that’s it. This book is rubbish, and it makes me sad, as I am a huge MOTU fan.

The Mini-Series in 2012 for He-Man was unfortunately very rushed. On top of it all, the visuals for majority of the 6 issues didn’t have the proper feel of the Planet Eternia where all this happens. None of the characters are in their recognizable colorful armor, so even for hardcore fans it took some time getting through the issues until the end that finishes the story in a bit of a hurry.
That one-panel mention of Orko betraying the heroes is not from any vintage story. Nor does it really make any sense if you know the characters and their chemistries that were built by many stories in 80s and even in 2002-version.

However while this mini-series was being published, DC also offered digital-stories that only had the first issue have connection to the printed comics.
In those, DC was able to show characters looking more familiar. The digitals though had sorta their own story-continuity, which became apparent when all were finished. (personally I still hope DC would make more digital He-Man stories, so not to be bound by the printed Ongoing story-elements).
From the the digital issue #8 “She-Ra” (that was a big hit with the fans art-wise and story-wise), DC found a direction to go to. So the 2013 ongoing bases on reader having read the digital comic to get more out of the experience with current issues.

Still I’m personally glad that there are more MOTU comics coming, despite this lackluster “reboot mini-series”. They can do something good as well as maybe retcon some of their own blunders. :)

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