Masters of the Universe is back after nearly 20 years
I finished the 5 episodes of the new Masters of the Universe series on Netflix a little while ago. But it took a while to consolidate my thoughts regarding the Kevin Smith show. (Also, I was bogged down with work, but hey, nobody wants to know about that.) Let’s start at the beginning.
Back in 1983, He Man and the Masters of the Universe first graced the screens. Originally conceived to market the toy line, He Man is notable for breaking the boundaries of censorship that had restricted what happened in children’s shows. It was already controversial as it was produced to sell a line of toys, advertising to children was already a problem during this period. Like G I Joe, He Man attempted to mitigate the negative publicity of a hulking scantily clad man beating up monsters all while trying to sell toys.
How did they do this?
Every episode had a central theme. And each theme was worked into a life lesson, and a moral of the story at the end of the episode. Hell back in the 80’s He-Man taught about the importance of consent — “It’s your body and no one should touch you in a way you feel is wrong”
So, to anyone who has a problem with the new show being “woke”, He Man was woke before woke was mainstream.
The original show ran for 2 seasons, with a total of 130 episodes, and even a Christmas Special in 1985.
The success of this show brought with it the live-action critically panned/cult loved Masters of the Universe in 1987. Where He Man was played by Dolph Lundgren. A couple of years later he went on to act as Frank Castle/The Punisher in the first film adaptation.
Skeletor was portrayed by the legendary Frank Langella.
Fun fact: This movie featured a young Courtney Cox, who went on to become Monica Geller in the FRIENDS tv show. AND, the actress who played the Sorceress was Christina Pickles, who years later portrayed her mother, Judy Geller.
In 1990, The New Adventures of He Man came to the screen. I remember watching this on VHS as a kid and wondering “What happened to He Man?” or “That’s not He Man!” While supposedly following the same continuity, this series took our hero into the far future to the planet of Primus. However, Skeletor also makes his way there. This ran for 1 season with 65 episodes, which as I tried to rewatch the other day, gave me nightmares while I was wide awake.
I hated almost everything about this series, this was a wannabe anime, with bad character design and even cringier dialogue. Yes, that’s a toga wearing Adam, and a ponytailed He Man. Also, what the heck is up with Skeletor’s design.
I wonder how King Grayskull felt about this abomination. It did not have the power.
Some of it is up on youtube if you want to hunt it down.
12 years later the franchise got a reboot with the 2002 series He Man and the Masters of the Universe. I genuinely enjoyed this series, sadly it only ran for 2 seasons with just 39 episodes. However, it brought He Man to a new audience. And branched out into even more comic books, which explored the mythology of the He Man universe.
Something which is also utilised in the new Netflix series.
With the first 5 episodes of Masters of the Universe Revelations, Smith makes it clear that this isn’t just a He Man story. It talks about all the Masters. Something that has been done in comics as well. While the central aspect of the story centers around the possible destruction of Eternia and the Universe, it focuses on characters like Teela, Man-at-arms, Evil-Lyn, and Orko. The possible end is triggered by the age-old struggle between He Man and Skeletor.
Revelations brings to light what we’ve always known, that there are rich, compelling, characters that are worth exploring. Stories like this have been explored in the comics, but as I recently found out in conversation with a few friends who love comics and animation, many fans haven’t read them, or know they exist.
Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t just character development and serious storylines. I mean, watching Tri-Klops turn into some sort of technology based cult leader is hilarious. Or lines like “There’s something fishy about that guy.” That remind us of the campiness of the original series.
The updated character design keeps the original costumes as inspiration, but it doesn’t feel like every male character is a repainted version of one cookie cutter bodybuilder template. Or every female character is one shape with different gear. Which I truly enjoy. Also, lots of little easter eggs around regarding the toy line itself. The show pretty openly pays homage to the fact that it owes its existence to the toy line.
The voice cast is tremendous, lets start with the pop-culture heavyweight himself Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill. Hamill’s penchant for being the voice of evil comes forth as Skeletor. At one point I think he snuck a little Joker in there too.
The former vampire slayer and pesky kid Sarah Michelle Geller takes the reigns as Teela.
From Evil Queen to Evil-Lyn, Lena Headey, brings an almost Shakespearean villainy mixed with emotional character development that I wouldn’t have thought possible.
Chris Wood who played the first live adaptation of Mon-El in Supergirl, takes the role of Prince Adam/He Man, and honestly does a damn good job.
With Liam Cunningham, Diedrich Bader, Kevin Conroy, Phil LaMarr, Henry Rollins, Justin Long, and more rounding it up.
The interesting plotline reminds me a bit of the 2012 comic series where He-man and the Masters have lost their memories and must go through a series of trials to get Eternia back from Skeletor.
The biggest complaints I’ve seen online are “Where’s He-Man?” or “He Man is woke, this is the Teela show”
Honestly, the show isn’t called He Man and the Masters of the Universe this time. It’s just called Masters of the Universe. That should have been a clue. Granted He Man is a central part of the show, but we’re 5 episodes in. Give it time.
For me, there is a lot of inspiration from the source material, and the various comics that have come about over the years. The delving into the history of Eternia, into King Grayskull, into the many secrets of Grayskull. I’ve enjoyed the show so far. Smith even did a prequel comic book that you can check out.
Do I wish there was more He Man?
Yes of course.
But that doesn’t stop it from being a good show.
The first 5 episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelations are streaming on Netflix. I suggest going in with an open mind, and treating it like a Masters story, not just a He Man story.