Sword of Omens, Power of Grayskull: “He-Man ThunderCats” #1 (Review)

Oct 6, 2016

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He-Man Thundercats #1
DC Comics

Written by: Lloyed Goldfine and Rob David
Art by: Freddie E. Williams II

You got your sword of Omen in my Castle Grayskull. Rob David and Lloyd Goldfine script a new crossover series bringing the worlds of Third Earth and Eternia together for a muscle bound action figure event. David and Goldfine were both involved in crafting the world for the recent DC series Masters of the Universe. David has had his hands in expanding and enriching the lore of He-Man’s world for the past few years. Goldfine has worked with other former comic/toy/cartoon properties like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Both writers have experience trying to create meaningful new stories with existing licenses while still pulling on the nostalgic emotions of the past.

Both universes originate from the 1980’s world of toy and cartoon crossovers. He-Man and the cast of characters from Eternia were the brain child of Mattel’s toy designers looking to gain a larger market share in the action figure market. Mattel and it’s marketing division saw opportunities in the recently loosened restrictions around children’s programs to create a cartoon to promote the figures. He-Man was an early cross prince-adammedia property along with the likes of Transformers and the revamped G.I. Joe. Each toy came packaged with a comic and the syndicated cartoon series expanded the world in which these characters lived. ThunderCats, while not originally a Mattel property, used a similar marketing plan when it debuted later in the mid-1980’s. Action figures, cartoon series, and comics helped these characters saturate many childhoods, including mine.

While I am a child of the 80`s, I tried to approach this new crossover from the perspective of both a longtime fan and someone with only a passing familiarity. As a fan of these properties, David and Goldfine capture the spirit of them well. The evil Mumm-Ra of the ThunderCats universe is portrayed as powerful, yet ultimately a failure. The royal palace of Eternia and its’ subjects are a wonder acknowledgment to He-Man fans. The panels and dialog read like a who’s who’s cameo of characters and action figures from the past. Prince Adam does his best Clark Kent impression by being aloof to disguise his identity as He-Man, yet in the middle of a crisis in this issue, Prince Adam bravely saves his father. David and Goldfine demonstrate an understanding of these characters and allow them to be characters, not just caricatures of their cartoon past.

Credit needs to be given to the artwork of Freddie E. Wiiliams II as well. He wonderfully captures the muscle bound world of these former action figures. Williams’ art stays true to well defined comic depictions and does not get overly cartoony or stylized like recent versions of the ThunderCats series did.  Special credit goes to colorist Jeremy Colwell who’s colors feel almost airbrushed and stylistically allude back to the covers of the early He-Man min comics packed in with the action figures.

heman-coverAll this praise comes from a fan of the properties, but even as a fan there are concerns with this first issue. The pacing is rushed. Everything happens quickly without much context or build up. New readers unfamiliar with the characters are not given a warm welcome. History, character dynamics, and battles are assumed. Even the action of the characters in this issue feels rushed. There is a lot of momentum to get to the reveal at the end of the issue, but because of the hectic pacing, the reveal doesn’t feel earned. Trying to keep the readers in the dark to create plot twists is a reasonable storytelling device. But leaving new readers in the dark about how the plot could even be possible is problematic for new or returning casual fans.

David and Goldfine have two rich universes to work with and their history with Masters of the Universe provide hope that they will take good care of these worlds. The rushed plot and world building may slow down as the story arc develops. The rushed action did create a surprising reveal and the cliffhanger ending should bring readers back for the next issue. There are enough people out there with a casual nostalgia for either of these properties that they will be able to pick up this title and not feel lost. Anyone with memories of the toys or cartoons can feel familiar enough to understand the basic setup. Readers may not understand the setup and plot devices, but the original properties were not known for their richly developed lore. The subsequent issues need to be more than action set pieces to hold readers in the long run.

He-Man ThunderCats #1 is a great setup to merge these properties together in a meaningful way. If David and Goldfine can create characters and worlds that readers care about, this series has the potential to pull in a large fan base.