Rating: 3/5 – Bait & Switch: Justice League on cover, JL Dark on the inside.
Well Spectrumites (Spectrumphiles? Species? Speccies? let me know what you prefer), I thought I would provide a little proof that I do read Big Two comics. I get my Marvel comic talk out of my system from my appearances on the Marvel Noise podcast but that still leaves the Distinguished Competition. Here we not only have a Big Two book, but a licensed property. You folks know that licensed properties won’t scare me off and you also know that I like to try something new. By whatever combination of factors, I missed the whole He-Man boat; action figures, cartoons and comics. I did watch the spin-off She-Ra cartoon which was the same He-Man premise but with a young lady as the star. I did have the rough outline that Prince Adam uses his sword to secretly transform to He-Man and he fights Skeletor. Each side has muscle bound allies/proxies that battle it out. Earlier this year, I took a stab at this property with the DC comic He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 (Keith Giffen and Pop Mhan). That book seem steeped a little too much in the lore and did not find a home with me but I had no major complaints to the craft of the thing. This new book seemed like a nice chance to be eased into the world of He-Man while having the familiar feel of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg to carry me along. Warning: None of those characters are in this book except as a picture on a computer monitor in one panel. *Sigh* I really wish the covers had some connection to the contents. I wonder if no one tells Ed Benes and Randy Mayor (cover credits) the storyline? Still mission accomplished for the DC sales department as the bait and switch worked and I bought the comic.
We have the creative team of Keith Giffen (Script), Dexter Soy (art), Deron Bennett (letters), Michael McCalister (editor) and a bunch of folks from Mattel. The book also contains the credit “Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster by special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family” but don’t let that fool you, Superman is only on the cover and the aforementioned single panel showing a computer monitor image of Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. I like Giffen well enough but was not as familiar with Soy. ComicBook DB shows him to be a newer artist but with a credit on Superior Spider-Man. One nice thing about the Big Two books is the basic level of competent storytelling that the artists bring to the table. There are a few unfortunate examples, but generally speaking the creators know how to communicate a story, which is an underrated skill, however basic. I can work up critiques but here the artwork is pleasing to my eye and tells the story. I would say the artwork has an angular feel, with thick lines and plenty of blocky shadows, reminding me of a rougher Kenneth Rocafort. We don’t get any He-Man images as he is only in his Prince Adam persona here. Skeletor has been re-designed from the dolls to be stockier with long horns coming out and his lower jaw is missing from his trademark skull head.
Spoiler heavy plot summary in this paragraph so skip it if you are concerned. We start with a unknown woman (later revealed to be Marlena, Warrior Queen of Eternia) in peril from some unknown threat running and seeking safety at what I am going to guess is Madame Xanadu’s house. I have not kept up on Justice League Dark and Giffen never sees fit to give her a name in the entire issue which I think is a valid but minor criticism. We move to Eternia, where Prince Adam, Man-at-Arms and a fourth unnamed character in red with wings that pop out. Again, I don’t object to giving that guy a name but to be fair to Giffen he only has two lines and isn’t prominently featured. Teela immediately lets us know that Hordak, Adam’s sister, had taken control of Eternia but they are fighting to get it back. They take on a squad of baddies escorting a prisoner. In our only action sequence, they defeat the guards and free Evil-Lyn, their tradition enemy who offers them help if they free her. We move back to Marlena who seeks John Constantine and warns him that Skeletor seeks to drain the earth of magic which will kill it. Skeletor is teamed up with Black Alice but also converses with an unnamed third party that only appears as half a floating face warning him not to kill Black Alice. Alice warns Skeletor of the Justice League (giving our one panel, computer picture appearance) and the unknown threat from the beginning of the book attacks Xanadu, Marlena, and Constantine . We go back to Adam, Teela and Evil-Lyn. Lyn wants to cast a spell to take them to Skeletor but dimension hopping is a big no-no so Adam is nervous. Too late, she cast the spell and the three of them end up in the soup with Adam’s mother Marlena and Adam recognizing each other.
Giffen has been around the block a few times and probably knows to fill in the gaps but I think that is fatal for a first issue where you have two different properties. He fills the book with light banter back and forth with Adam and Teela and Constantine and Xanadu. There is also the obligatory image of Constantine lighting up a cigarette (twice). I can only assume this is written for people that are familiar with both properties as he leaves one major DC character completely unnamed, a minor “Master of the Universe” unnamed, and Skeletor’s ally?, spirit power? ghost? unnamed. It certainly is a difficult balance to introduce new readers without pandering to them at the risk of alienating your core fans but this feels like it is written only for the core fans. That is an understandable choice but when coupled with the misleading cover I do think an opportunity was lost. I would welcome any He-Man fans and/or fans of this book to chime in.
Reviewed by: Andrew Sanford – firstname.lastname@example.org
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