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September 19, 2017

He-Man/Thundercats #2 (review)


He-Man/Thundercats #2 (review)
DC Comics, November, 2016
Writers: Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason

Our review of “He-Man/Thundercats” #1 was less than favourable due to what we felt was a needlessly complex premise: characters from the two Saturday morning children’s cartoon, “He-Man and Masters of the Universe” and “Thundercats”, smashing against each other, to puzzlingly enable a cadre of ancient omnipotent evil beings to steal He-Man’s sword of power, and then use the sword to defeat the Thundercats. We were of what we regard as the simple and reasonable view that godlike beings with the power and audacity to mess with multiple realities do not need He-Man’s magic sword to achieve what they want. In other words, the plot was silly.

Fortunately, the second issue of this crossover miniseries has relegated that roundabout plot to the background, focusing more on the story’s primary villain, named Skeletor. This character is the primary antagonist of the “He-Man” franchise, portrayed as a heavily muscular, hooded figure but with the face of a skull (the skull visage giving rise to the otherwise contradictory but ominous name).

Skeletor serves as He-Man’s nemesis and while they regularly come to blows, the villain’s main advantage over the hero is his cunning and intelligence. Of course, since the adventures of the adversaries happened within the confines of a cartoon show aimed towards young boys, Skeletor’s scenes were watered down to ridiculous but PG-friendly mastermind plots bound for failure. But “He-Man/Thundercats” #2 gives the writers much more leeway outside of Saturday morning television to showcase Skeletor’s capacity for scheming, in a way which prunes the childish plotting concerns found in the first issue.

As it turns out, getting the ancient evils involved was just part of Skeletor’s plan to get to a fellow villain with the grandiose title, Mumm-Ra the Ever-living. The goal was to use Mumm-Ra’s remains, which are remarkably and creepily still sentient, as a means to gain immortality. This is to enable Skeletor to co-opt the power of Grayskull (the source of He-Man’s magic-based power) without getting killed in the process – apparently, absorbing the power of Grayskull will kill individuals who are not virtuous, but immortality works as a loophole.

This may seem like yet another needlessly convoluted plan, but the difference is in the actors. The ancient evils did not need to go through all the trouble presented in the first issue to achieve their goals, as there is reason to believe that destroying Lion-O was already within their power. Skeletor, on the other hand, could not have achieved his goals without the ancient evils’ might and Mumm-ra’s immortality. Skeletor looks decidedly Machiavellian and it is a welcome character development.

But, further, unlike his “Thundercats” villainous counterparts, Skeletor’s goals are not as pedestrian as merely getting rid of a nemesis. Skeletor’s ambitions are in fact far greater, and underestimating him is a mistake for the ancient evils (although to be fair common sense and foresight scale inversely proportional to the amount of power one wields when it comes to Saturday morning cartoon villains.)

Aside from the more coherent plot, “He-Man/Thundercats” #2 also has notable improvements in other areas. The action set pieces are better by virtue of actually having one succinct episode, as opposed to a jumbled mess of various fight scenes between different franchise representatives. In this issue, we get villains from both franchises teaming up to take on He-Man. To the writers’ credit, for the first time we get to see what He-Man is capable of even without his sword of power.

The cartoons rarely gave He-Man’s abilities enough time to shine due to the short runtime of an episode and the editorial directive to never show inappropriately bloody violence: He-Man has never used his sword on any living thing, and his usual method of disposing of enemies is to grapple and throw them, usually in a puddle of mud for the visual drama of a dirty splash. The comic, on the other hand, shows why it is never a good idea to pick a fight with someone strong enough to crush boulders with his bare hands. The fight between He-Man and the group of villains is surprisingly a lot more violent than we expected from the franchise, and chances are this comic will be the only time a reader will witness He-Man’s alter ego, Prince Adam, profusely bleeding from a fatal wound.

Our substantive complaint in the previous review, that there is no novelty in Skeletor wielding the sword of power, is mitigated by the fact that Skeletor is about to use his newfound sword-powered might against the Thundercats, a novel scenario which will appeal to fans.

Notwithstanding and in contrast to the rocky start and disappointing setup in the first issue, “He-Man/Thundercats” #2 takes the story in interesting directions. It also sets a precedent for positive developments in terms of story quality. We have, to our frank surprise, a volte face recommendation on this series, with the warning that nostalgic attachment to the source materials may be required to fully appreciate the story.

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