Fabulous Powers & Fatal Secrets
Recently, YouTube has been suggesting to me videos in which a wide variety of numbskulls mug for the camera, their faces distorted into grimaces or embarrassed faces that would make a Disney Channel actor roll their eyes. Their heads and shoulders are cut out, pasted onto a still from Masters of the Universe: Revelation, with captions or speech bubbles proclaiming “What REVELATION got WRONG” or “KEVIN SMITH LIED” or “WHAT is WRONG with MOTU?” Etc. I guess I have been subjected to this nonsense—having to hit “Do not recommend this channel” over and over—because I made the mistake of watching some of the stuff on the official channel for the show.
This is all to say there’s a lot of, frankly, idiotic clickbait nonsense surrounding the show right now. You won’t find that here. Instead, you’ll find the thoughts of a guy (me, if that wasn’t clear) who A) has loved the MOTU characters since he was five and B) is a writer who has a decent understanding of storytelling. I’m going to go through episode by episode, talk about some of the fan-pleasing touches I noticed, how it made me feel, and how successful I thought the show was.
Warning: Beyond This Point There Be Spoilers.
Let the Power Return!
I’ve watched the five episodes currently available twice now. The first time, it was with pure, unadulterated fan glee. I was just enjoying the moment. The second run through, I allowed the critical part of my brain to have its say. One thing that did not change between viewings, however, is the way my insides leapt as those damned red rocks flew across the blue background. It’s a minor detail, to be sure, but as anyone who loved the old toy line knows, those red rocks were an essential part of the old packaging. One that got dumped for the generally excellent Masters of the Universe Classics toyline in favor of some very blah green bricks.
The opening credits just got better from there, highlighting the art (or at least VERSIONS of the art) of some of the greats from the toy line. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the art of MOTU is one of the reasons I loved it so much. The MOTU figures were my first storytelling devices. And while my stories were fueled by the cartoon, it was also VERY much fueled by the minicomics and the gorgeous painted art that appeared on packaging, merchandise, and the official MOTU magazine. Seeing that art brought to life brought tears to my eyes. Partly because I was grateful that, during the very first PowerCon (the US MOTU convention) I got to meet some of those artists.
I got to meet Earl Norem and shake his hand. The man who created the image below, and SO many others, which thrilled me and inspired me. I bought a couple of his prints. He signed them. I got to tell him how much his art meant to me. He was so humble and overwhelmed. The convention was the first time he understood how much the art of the show had meant to us, the MOTU fans. He said he had no clue. By chance, Nate Baertsch walked up. A talented artist in his own right who I knew through He-man.org. As I told Norem how much his art inspired me, I was able to shift the focus to Nate, saying that he was an incredibly talented artist who was also inspired by him. Nate did the key art for the new MOTU: Revelation show. The circularity of this makes me so happy as a fan. I love to think of all the kids who will see Nate’s art and be inspired to make art. This was in 2011. Norem, whose work spanned decades and a wide variety of work, passed away in 2015 at 92.
This is all to say that the opening of the show meant a lot to me. My only semi-complaint is that I’d’ kind of loved to have seen it every episode. But I get why they didn’t do that, since the show is one big, connected story.
Episode 1: The Power of Grayskull
Let’s get to an actual episode, shall we? Kevin Smith wrote the first episode, and I think it was a great choice. It plays to his strengths, as it riffs on the feel of the old Filmation show while also giving us some good character work to re-establish the different character’s relationships. This is the episode that’s closest to an old Filmation episode and sets this new show up as a spiritual successor (though not a direct one, more on that in a future entry) before the show really mixes things up and turns the entire concept of MOTU on its head.
Mark Hamill seems to be having a blast as Skeletor, and he’s an inspired choice for the main villain, able to impart both humor and menace. Does he sound a bit like the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series? Sure, but he’s got his own spin. And I honestly don’t think the similarity is a bad thing. Sarah Michelle Gellar has such a distinctive voice, I’ll have to admit I found it slightly distracting at first. But after a while I got into this new voice for Teela. Chris Wood has less to play with as He-man. He just has to embody He-man’s goodness and make the puns work. Oh, and say the legendary words with force and conviction. I thought he did all these things admirably.
One thing I think deserves a lot of attention in this episode is the big turning point. The moment when Skeletor kills Mossman (voiced beautifully by vintage MOTU voiceover artist and wonderful human being Alan Oppenheimer) and enrages He-man. He enrages him to the point that he seems to fully intend to kill Skeletor and rams him through with the Power Sword. This, of course, would have been unthinkable in the old series, as He-man only hacks up robots with it back then. This leads to Adam and Skeletor’s deaths, which leads to Teela (and Randor) finding out that Adam is He-man. They both flip out. This seems to be a source of contention for some fans. “Teela would never do that!” they cry. As if we’ve ever seen Teela pushed to the brink like this. Her best friend (Adam) and the man she loves (He-man) have just died. And she finds out they were one and the same. Further, she finds out that she was the only person besides Randor who was kept in the dark about it. I think not only is it a justified and understandable story beat, but it’s a killer way of breaking apart the family just as they should be coming together.
You might not like that story beat. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story beat. I will admit there was a little bit of uneasiness about it the first time I watched it. Because it is shocking. This is Teela like we’ve not seen her before. But that’s the point! That’s what good storytelling does! It tests characters in ways they’ve not been tested before.
- The look of this show is gorgeous. I love the rich, saturated colors. Grayskull, lonely on it’s scarred plane. The swirling clouds overhead. I love it.
- When the “façade” of Grayskull falls away, I was stunned by the beauty of the Hall of Wisdom. We got a little sneak peek at it in the comic book prequel. And I must be honest and say that usually I don’t care for explanations about Grayskull. I usually would prefer it to be ancient beyond comprehension and reason. But I liked this.
- The opening voice over is a lovely nod to the opening of the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie. I’ve always loved the concept that Eternia is at the center of the universe, and that the power plays between good and evil echo throughout the cosmos. We get a little bit of that here.
- The cast of the show is incredibly tight. We get cameos of Clawful, Spikor, Fisto, and Clamp Champ here. But they are fleeting. This is consistent with the old cartoon, which was much less concerned with selling toys than Mattel would have liked, no doubt.
Next Time: Episode 2: The Poisoned Chalice. We’ll see how Eternia and its inhabitants have changed after the terrible events of episode 1, dig more into some of the other performances in the series, and ask the question… does Eternia have a Shakespeare