Friday, July 30, 2021

Guttor #3 - Within These Pages...Confusion!

I'll give one thing to DC Comics Skeletor: he's a quicker study than the animated version.

Turns out that searching for the Power Sword and trying to take Grayskull hasn't been working, so Skeletor decides to kidnap the Sorceress Goddess and make He-Man find the Power Sword instead.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Masters of the Universe #1 came out in August, 1982, the month after the Preview insert. Paul Kupperberg returns as writer, with George Tuska on pencilling duties. Mini-storybooks artist Alfredo Alcala is back to ink the first two issues, with Rodin Rodriguez taking over in #3. Adam Kubert and Ben Oda are our letterers, and Adrienne Roy and Anthony Tollin are the colorists. Getting Alcala back, even just for inks, really does make a difference; he brings a Prince Valiant quality to Tuska’s pencils in the first issues, which is lost a bit in Rodriguez’s cleaner style. Tuska definitely feels more suited to this setting than Curt Swan did; much as I love Swan, this era of Masters of the Universe really lives in a more brutal, Conan-inspired place than what would come later, and that’s just not what Swan’s classic superheroic style is best at.

Our story begins at another party, where Prince Adam is continuing with that playboy lifestyle, though we get explicit confirmation that this is at least in part an act.

I think this is a really interesting hook for the character, even if it clearly wasn’t very sustainable for a children’s property, particularly one as beset by watchdog groups as Masters of the Universe. The alter ego with a different personality from the hero is nothing new in superhero comics, and we’ve even seen characters like Batman playing the carefree Casanova, but Adam feels a little distinct here, characterized closer to Johnny Storm than Bruce Wayne. Usually the immature, impulsive character who’s always thinking about the opposite sex is played straight, as character flaws that the hero genuinely needs to overcome; it's less common to make those the hallmarks of his secret identity.

Adam gets attacked by demons in his bedroom, and finds Cringer when he hides under the bed, which is a solid gag. We never do find out what the demons were doing there. They rush off to the Goddess's magic cavern, where they are transformed—but find Skeletor instead of the Goddess (who is occasionally also called the Sorceress in the story). Skeletor has imprisoned her, and will only release her if He-Man retrieves the Power Sword for him, which the Goddess has hidden away. In order to find the sword He-Man will need to find three talismans (talismen?) representing the sea, the sky, and the cosmos. 

It's a fetch quest to start the fetch quest. Not the most auspicious start to a series. Or end to one.

He-Man returns to the palace, where we get confirmation of something that fans have always speculated about: do He-Man and Prince Adam really look that similar? In the DC Universe, the answer appears to be yes:

It also plays into a longtime fan theory that Queen Marlena knows Adam's secret. Now that he's back to the palace, He-Man seeks help from the palace wizard, Tarrak, who is being attacked by demons himself! 

He-Man, Teela—wearing for this issue only a sword-and-sorcery standard metal bikini—Battle Cat, and Man-at-Arms manage to defeat the demons, but not before they take the cosmos talisman. Meanwhile, the Bird-People of Avion are attacked by a squad of Beastmen, who are after the sky talisman, which Stratos wears. Stratos seeks help from He-Man, and with Tarrak's assistance, the heroes set off to find the other two talismans. 

This specific outfit and pose feels so familiar.

He-Man and Battle Cat head into the jungle, where they meet a clan of barbarians that He-Man has encountered before, in what feels like a nod to his classic origins. He-Man once helped them battle a sexy evil wizard named Damon.

The barbarians know where the cosmos talisman is, but before they can retrieve it, the group is attacked by demons again. He-Man takes the talisman, and is transported away. 

Out in the Sea of Blackness, Man-at-Arms, Teela, and Stratos are looking for the sea talisman, which is being held by the Mer-People. Fortunately, Tarrak gave them potions so they could breathe underwater. Mer-Man leads a fight against them, because this version also has ambitions of his own, until Skeletor pulls a Darth Vader from a distance. Teela is less than grateful, so Skeletor leaves them to the mercies of the Mer-People.

Just going to admire how great Skeletor looks in that first panel for awhile.

But Stratos claims the sea talisman just in time, and the whole crew is transported into a Steve Ditko drawing. 

They get attacked by demons again, but are saved by Zodac, who refuses to give them any information about the person sending the demons, but a page later we learn that it's the wizard Damon, who wants the Power Swords so he can control Eternia, not that dimensional-carpetbagging wizard-come-lately Skeletor. He's gotten considerably less sexy and more...problematic since that brief appearance in the previous issue. 

Seriously, he looks like the antisemitic caricature from that Carman video. He also happens to be right next to where the Goddess stored the two halves of the Power Sword, but they're in an impenetrable force field, which is not mentioned again. 

Zodac uses the talismans to open a portal to the Sword's location (sort of?) and then gives them to Zoar the poorly-drawn falcon before sending the heroes on their way. 

Feels like the reference got away from you a bit.

Meanwhile, Damon decides to tip his hand by attacking Skeletor, who lashes out with magic that is strong enough to teleport them both into Castle Grayskull, just as Damon had planned. But in a pretty great moment of both villains trying to two-steps-ahead each other, that was all part of Skeletor's plan, and he apparently kills Damon. 

These comics go pretty hard for stuff that was based on toys for babies.

Also, this happened earlier in the issue.

The heroes also end up in Castle Grayskull, which is apparently where the Power Sword is, even though we already saw Damon with the Power Sword before he was able to access Castle Grayskull.

You and me both, He-Man. The heroes split up to search the castle. Stratos gets caught in a giant spiderweb, Man-at-Arms gets blown up by a tripwire, and Teela ends up in a hedge maze until she stumbles on Skeletor, who pulls the Power Sword out of a magic warp. 

He-Man shows up shortly after, but Skeletor sends Beast-Man (singular) and a monsterized Man-E-Faces (who was briefly introduced earlier in this third issue) against the hero. Eventually He-Man, Teela, and Zoar get the sword away from Skeletor, and then the Goddess appears to say "actually I wasn't in any danger, but your friends are all caught in booby traps." The End. 

What an absolutely bizarre miniseries. It feels like it was initially intended to be four issues and cut down to three, but that change had to be made before the first issue—with its "Mini-Series 1 of 3" banner—went to the printers. The promotional push makes it seem like DC was intending to do a lot more than three comics and a handful of mini-comics. Editor Dave Manak speculated that there might have been an issue with contract negotiations, but I'd be really interested if there's a clearer answer. Every aspect of the DC Masters of the Universe license feels abnormally cut off, right down to the end of this story. 

Whatever the reasons were, this would be the last full-sized Masters of the Universe comic from DC for almost 30 years. Next time we'll pick up with the Marvel/Star Comics. 

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