The Biggest Superhero Films That Didn't Happen, Part 2
Comic Books, Film
Mattel’s Masters of the Universe has endured for more than three decades, inspiring animated series, comic books, video games and, yes, that spectacularly bad live-action film. And now it’s the basis for an incredibly earnest fan film.
Funded through a $12,000 Kickstarter campaign, director Daniel Benedict’s “Fall of Grayskull” stars pro wrestler Brian Cage as He-Man, who of course fights his arch-nemesis Skeletor for the power of Grayskull and the fate of Eternia. If you’re a fan of the franchise, chances are you’ll find a favorite character in this 30-minute short: Teela, Tri-Klops, Evil-Lyn, Hordak (played by Val Staples) — they’re all there.
If Ubisoft’s Toy Soldiers: War Chest wasn’t on your radar before, it undoubtedly will be now: The company revealed this morning the toy-versus-toy action and strategy game will include characters from Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe.
The fourth game in the Signal Studios series, it’s billed as a battle of eight armies, with “one toy box to defend.” Judging from the trailer, it’s effectively an epic bedroom-floor battle imagined by sugar-fueled 8-year-old, using all the toys in the box. Only, y’know, played out in a video game.
Dark Horse has revealed the previously announced Art of He-Man and Masters of the Universe will also be released in a limited edition of just 4,000 copies.
Produced in partnership with Mattel, it’s the first official art book devoted to the enduring multimedia franchise. Packaged in a die-cut, two-piece Castle Grayskull slipcase, with a foil-embossed cover and portfolio print, the nearly 400-page limited edition includes rarely seen concept sketches and prototypes from the Mattel archives, restored art from Earl Norem, and interviews with the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Paul Dini and Erika Scheimer. In addition, there’s commentary written by Tim and Steve Seeley.
The wishes of countless nostalgic comic book and animation fans appear to have been answered, because they can now purchase Underoos in adult sizes.
Produced by Fruit of the Loom beginning in 1978, the line of underwear — “Underwear That’s Fun to Wear!” — allowed children to wear T-shirts and underpants that mimicked the costumes of their favorite comic book, cartoon and movie characters, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, C-3PO and Archie and Veronica.
Although Saturday at Comic-Con International was dominated by movies and television — led by Warner Bros. Pictures, Marvel Studios and Legendary Pictures — there was still room for plenty of comics news. First and foremost, the announcement of Marvel’s Star Wars plans.
That line, telling canonical stories set between the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, launches in January with Star Wars, by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday, followed in February by Star Wars: Darth Vader, by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca with covers by Adi Granov, and in March by the miniseries Star Wars: Princess Leia, by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson.
“What’s great about this time period is that all the characters are kind of on the table,” Aaron told CBR News. “Of course this is still early on and these people have pretty much just met each and just come together. So they’re still finding their place within this group and sort of figuring out their relationships with each other. Then there’s the fact that when you look at the gap between Episode IV and Episode V there’s some pretty major beats that happen off screen. So this gives up the opportunity to grab those beats and lay them down as part of the same canon as the movies.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a federal judge last week sided with the toymaker in its 2013 lawsuit against writer Donald Glut, who claimed he created the characters in 1981, owns the copyrights and merely licenses them to Mattel (a license, he said, that would expire in 2016).
The company insisted Glut was commissioned to write “He-Man and the Power Sword,” “The Vengeance of Skeletor,” “Battle in the Clouds” and “King of Castle Grayskull” and to create backstories for He-Man and other characters under the direction of the toymaker. Mattel noted the writer acknowledged as recently as 2001 that the minicomics were work for hire for which he received neither credit nor royalties. Besides, the toymaker argued, if there were any confusion about the rights, Glut had a legal obligation to come forward years ago.
Glut’s attorneys countered that his delay wasn’t unreasonable, as he believed his claim fell within the termination period stipulated by U.S. copyright law. But Mattel insisted that because the minicomics were work for hire, Glut never owned the copyright to be able to license or terminate it.
Glut, who wrote the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, also penned episodes of such animated series as Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, The Transformers and Centurions, as well as issues of Marvel’s Captain America, Conan Saga, The Invaders. Kull the Destroyer and The Savage Sword of Conan.
Years before Bruce Timm made his mark on superheroes with his work on Batman: The Animated Series, he plied his trade in the early 1980s as a background and layout artist for the animation studio Filmation. While he spent his days working on cartoons like G.I. Joe and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Timm devoted his nights to pitching Marvel and DC Comics. After a chance meeting with a Marvel editor, Timm got his break — but not at the House of Ideas. Instead, he made his professional comics debut in 1984 on the Masters of the Universe minicomics.
For three years Timm worked on this series, packaged with the Mattel action figures, sometimes inking other artists and sometimes drawing his own. He contributed several covers to the series, especially in the European editions. Here’s a sampling of the various covers and pin-ups he’s done, as well as some interior pages. Be warned: It’s a lot different than the Bruce Timm time you’ve grown to love from animation, but it still has a special charm.
Have 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.
Mattel hopes it has the power to tamp down claims by writer Donald Glut that he has a copyright stake in the original Masters of the Universe minicomics packaged with the action-figure line three decades ago.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Los Angeles, and first reported by Courthouse News Service, the toymaker seeks a declaration that it is the sole owner of the lucrative multimedia franchise, asserting that Glut’s four stories were work for hire. Mattel refers to the writer’s claims of ownership as “both baseless and stale,” insisting the statute of limitations long ago expired.
According to the complaint, Glut was commissioned in 1981 to write “He-Man and the Power Sword,” “The Vengeance of Skeletor,” “Battle in the Clouds” and “King of Castle Grayskull” and to create backstories for He-Man and other characters under the direction of the toymaker (“Mattel told Glut what the toys could do and directed him to have the characters in the minicomics do these things as much as possible,” the document states). The company notes the writer acknowledged as recently as 2001 that the minicomics were work for hire for which he received neither credit nor royalties.
The Masters of the Universe first crossed over with the DC Universe — well, Superman, at least — in July 1982’s DC Comics Presents #47, which found the Man of Steel teleported to Eternia, where he teams with He-Man to battle Skeletor, and again that same year in a special preview story. Three decades later, it’s happening again with DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe, which kicks off in August.
However, one superhero appears to be getting a head start.
DC Comics has debuted Ed Benes’ cover for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #4, which reveals a radically new look for the hero of television, film and toyboxes.
Gone are the trademark furry shorts and metal harness the character has worn since toymaker Mattel launched the line of action figures in 1981, replaced by what appears to be Eternia’s version of football gear, complete with honest-to-goodness pants.
“In the epic war against the forces of Hordak ripping through the pages of the current series, He-Man must don the sacred armor of his ancestors,” DC states on its blog. “While fans may be surprised by this turn of events, this dynamic direction for one of the world’s best-known heroes is firmly rooted in the classic legacy of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. After all, so long as you stay true to the core concepts, it’s always exciting to explore new possibilities, right?”
Masters of the Universe #4 goes on sale in July.
To entice fans to subscribe to its new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, DC Comics has partnered with Mattel to create a limited-edition variant cover created using Masters of the Universe action figures. A 12-issue subscription can be purchased here.
Written by Keith Giffen and penciled by Pop Mhan, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 features the return of She-Ra to Eternia as He-Man’s newest enemy. It goes on sale April 17.
Thirty-six questions. Six answers. One random number generator. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where creators roll the virtual dice and answer our questions about their lives, careers, interests and more.
Today’s lucky creator is Rob Guillory, artist and co-creator of Chew. Today sees the release of Chew #30, “the issue that is gonna take EVERYBODY by surprise.” It marks the halfway point of the the Eisner-award winning comic published by Image Comics, in addition to being a big wedding issue, so check it out.
My thanks to Rob for agreeing to answer our questions. Now let’s get to it …
This weekend, fans of Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power and ThunderCats will descend on Torrance, California, for the second annual Power-Con/ThunderCon, an event devoted to the 1980s media franchises.
While much of the programming is dedicated to the toy and animation aspects of the pop-culture mainstays, there are panels devoted to the He-Man and She-Ra minicomics (they came with the original action figures) and the ThunderCats comics, “the Art of Eternia,” MVCreations (which created He-Man comics from 2002 to 2004), and the rarely seen He-Man newspaper comic strips.
Comics guests include Blond, Shannon Eric Denton, Leanne Hannah, Larry Houston, Josh Howard, Pepe Moreno, Tone Rodriguez, Nei Ruffino, Mark Dos Santos, Tim Seeley, Felipe Smith, Matt Tyree, Anthony Washington and Dave Wilkins.
Power-Con/ThunderCon kicks off Saturday morning at the Torrance Marriott South Bay and continues through Sunday.
DC Comics today announced a fairly last-minute shuffle on its He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic. According to The Source blog, Keith Giffen will take over writing duties from James Robinson starting with the very next issue, September’s #2.
“He-Man and friends were a big part of my son’s young life,” Giffen said. “That meant that they became a big part of my life too. I can still rattle off the plotlines to more than a few of the cartoons and am still pretty good at reattaching the arms and legs of woefully abused action figures. I’m thinking that more than qualifies me to write the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic book. Well… that and the fact that I so want to. I mean, c’mon… it’s He-Man!”
Robinson was solicited as the writer for issues 2 and 3, and in fact is still listed on the DC Comics website as the writer for both (as I type this, anyway). The post doesn’t mention why they’ve made the abrupt change. Robinson is in San Diego this week, so no doubt the question will be asked.
Robinson is certainly busy enough right now, what with Earth 2 and apparently some sort of Image series that will be announced on Saturday.