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He-Man Season 1: Complete!

Finally finished the first season of He-Man. It's something like 65 episodes long! Man, no matter what you say about the show, just getting that amount of episodes out is a damn feat!

The way they managed that is interesting, by building a library of animation over time that they would reuse.
This works to the shows detriment as well as it's benefit. On the one hand, the show is seriously limited in the types of shots and camera angles it can use-- it can mainly only use shots used before, and most shots are fairly straightforward so that they can be as reusable as possible. This prevents the show from being as visually dynamic or cinematographic as other shows from the 80s, like Thundercats or Ninja Turtles. And when they run into a spot where they just have to "make do" with the animation cells that they have, sometimes it's pretty funny. On the other hand, the drawings they have are actually really good for the most part, and the animation they have is pretty generally pretty smooth. Also, there is a certain charm to the simplicity, and it gives the show a remarkable visual consistency, that other shows of the era definitely don't have. There are very few "bad" episodes based on the visuals (although there are a few), because they're all pretty much the same.

Although that unbroken consistency really makes me dream of a "Spider-Friends Season 2" type of thing, where they got other animation studios of the time to produce a few episodes-- Could you imagine the Thundercats or Voltron team doing an episode of He-Man? Man, that would have been cool!

There are a couple episodes toward the end where they got a bit overambitious about drawing new cells, and that led to some noticeably bad drawings and animation-- and you know they're bad because they never use those bits of animation again!
I'm certain that if I were to work on a project like this, that's the mistake I would make too!

The story quality remains mostly the same since the last time I wrote about this, but then you get to the last five episodes or so, and suddenly the stories are actually really good. Like, noticeably better. I wonder if there was a change in the writers lineup at that point? Or maybe after sixty episodes they finally got sick of the usual formula and inspired to make something a bit more interesting?

The first one that stood out to me was an episode where Teela and Evil-Lyn have to team up to survive crossing some kind of desert wasteland. The episode was okay, but it was interesting to see the focus shifted from He-Man to Teela for a change.

Then there was one where some cosmic collector-type guy wants to kidnap He-Man to fight in his arena, and although that's a story trope in this series that always annoys the hell out of me, it was actually cool this time because they did a lot of really clever things.
For instance, when the bad guy shows up looking for He-Man, Teela is training Adam in the palace courtyard, and she grabs his sword to fight the bad guy, and the bad guy is impressed by her fighting skills, so he captures her, along with the sword. Now Adam has to save the day on his own, without his powers, which is something the show hadn't explored before, and was one of the very few situations in the whole series where I really didn't know how things were going to go down, which is always something that makes for an exciting story.
The way they wrapped it all up-- with Adam having to prove his own worth and relying on Orko and a powerless Cringer for help-- was actually clever and played out really well.
This episode even talked about some of the normally unspoken romance between Adam and Teela, where she actually says that she's looking for a man that's as clever as Adam, but as brave as He-Man, or something like that. Which could only have prompted Adam to say "WHAT THE HELL MAKES YOU THINK WE'RE DIFFERENT PEOPLE?!?!"

It's insane. She really has no clue.
I think Adam's mom might know, though. There's a couple of things she's said in later episodes-- or perhaps more the way she said them-- that seem to imply that when she's talking to Adam, she's talking to He-Man as well. I wonder if they'll play that up some more in season 2?
Randor has no idea, for sure.

Anyway, then there was another one that was really good, where the king of a city-state that's friendly with Eternia is poaching rare animals, and Adam and Teela have to confront him diplomatically before actually putting a stop to him. This one's interesting because it's one of the few times that He-Man is essentially the aggressor, proactively making moves against an uncooperative ally, rather than just defending someone from Skeletor.
It was actually kind of complex.

The morals of the story continue to be great too. Some of the lessons, like actually listening to what other people are saying, or not losing your temper so that other people can hear what YOU'RE saying, are so relevant for today. Seriously, someone should put all those lessons online somewhere, so He-Man and Teela can lecture 21st century Americans on their behavior.

So anyway, the first season started off pretty rough and random, and actually ended up with a pretty decent show. Good job, He-Man!
Also, I'm gonna say it. Orko's great. Yeah, he started off the series PAINFULLY annoying. Like, those Orko-centric episodes at the beginning of the season were some of the hardest to watch, but at this point they've figured out how to use him, and he's pretty great. He's actually interesting, almost funny, and I'm not going to say that he's not annoying, but he's exactly the kind of annoying you want him to be.
I'm pro-Orko.
Cringer has actually become almost interesting too, which is weird because I always thought of him as a bit of a non-entity, but the last few episodes actually make decent use of him.
The Sorceress is intrinsically interesting to me-- I really want to know more about her-- but we never do. Hopefully in season two there will be a couple Sorceress-centric episodes?
Man-At-Arms is the one character at this point that I still think needs some rehabilitation. He's just too boring. There are a couple episodes where they try to flesh him out, and go into his backstory a bit, but he always just feels like "the parent."
He needs to do something that's really impressive to make me want to see him on the screen more. At this point, his best contributions are simply inventions that He-Man uses, so it's not really Duncan's character that gets to benefit from them.

Will is still into the show, and still sometimes raises his little hand up into the air and says "He-Man!" and sometimes adds "and Orko!" So he's in the pro-Orko camp as well. And of course Battle-Cat is still his favorite.
And he LOOOOOOVES the "Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" book that Dark Horse put out a few years ago. Thanks to Timothy Seeley for that! Before bed every night he says "He-Man book. Read it! Read it!"

So anyway, that's my progress on He-Man. Now on to season two!

 

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More He-Man

He-Man update:
We're about 3/4ths of the way through season one. At this point they've built up a respectable enough library of animation that they can put together a pretty decent show, and the stories are a lot more cohesive than they were earlier on. Sometimes they're a bit formulaic, but they're still freewheeling enough to keep them weird.

In quality, I'd liken it to a good 60's comic book.

It's interesting to watch the creators learn what works and doesn't work for the show. Early on, they clearly thought Orko would be their hit character, but he was painfully annoying, so they sidelined him for a while-- actually, they sidelined the whole Eternian court, and had a few episodes where He-Man spent little or no time there, which gave the show kind of a cool, adventurous, Conan vibe.
Then they started to bring the others characters back more effectively. Fewer Man-At-Arms lectures, more interaction between Teela and He-Man, and now we get just enough Orko, and he's actually funny (usually... sometimes).

I should point out that the DVDs that I'm watching and the current Netlix stream order the episodes differently, which is strange. It doesn't really matter, but I think the DVD is probably more accurate, because there's a natural and clear progress to their animation stockpile, and the first episode of the DVD is much more clearly the pilot episode. The Netflix stream starts with the second episode of the DVD, which involves this insanely annoying wizard, and it's legit one of the worst episodes of anything I've ever seen. Seriously. If it was a choice between that episode and Daniel Tiger, I'd watch Daniel Tiger.

Anyway...

The strength of the series is still the concept design-- the crazy locations the characters travel to, and all the awesome monsters they fight. Seriously, those monsters are fucking great, and range from cool classic designs to just weird, weird, crazy shit with bizarre powers. I'm realizing just how much watching this show as a young kid influenced what I expect out of an adventure show, or maybe I liked this show so much because it really catered to my natural tastes. I don't know, either way, this show definitely gets your imagination pumping.

People have mentioned that they thought it seemed influenced by Jack Kirby comics, and honestly I don't see much of that, but I do see A LOT of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon influencing this-- actually, He-Man's mother, Marlena, pretty much is a female Flash Gordon (who doesn't play for the Jets ;) ).

The lore of the world of He-Man continues to take shape, and is pretty interesting to try to make sense out of. Eternia (which I guess is the name of both the city Randor rules and the planet itself, although he doesn't rule the whole planet) seems to be a feudal city-state with a few allies that it trades with both on and off planet, and a few cities it's enemies with, and a bunch of cities that it has no contact with whatsoever, and are mutually ignorant of each other. These cities are all either ruled by a sorcerer king/queen of some kind, or by a ruler who has a sorcerer as prime adviser.
So far, Eternia is the one exception to this, where instead of a sorcerer, they have Man-At-Arms, who is an inventor, although his inventions are so sci-fi that they're effectively sorcery.

There are also a bunch of sorcerers who just live on their own out in the wilderness. So there are a lot of magic people out there, and there's actually a sorcery college that Teela attended, although she didn't stick around long enough to learn magic (just long enough to break hearts).

The world is also completely littered with ancient ruins of advanced civilizations that had incredible magic or technological power. Some of them are secret, or forgotten legends, others aren't, and literally anybody can and will just wander into these things and snatch up some crazy death ray. That's largely Skeletor's MO, and after stopping him, He-Man will frequently just put the magic thing back where it was... which doesn't seem like the most secure protocol, but then again, like I said, there's so much of this stuff lying around that maybe it doesn't matter.
All this paints an interesting picture of a world that had collapsed, and is now emerging out of a long dark age, with different regions reconnecting with each other.

One interesting thing is that He-Man himself is treated as some kind of ancient legend that even people in far-off cities that have never heard of Eternia (the city) have heard tales of, but didn't think he was real. So it seems like Adam wasn't the first person to have this power, which is kind of cool, and adds to the mystery of Grayskull's past.

At this point they're starting to get a bit better at finding places for Adam to turn into He-Man that aren't COMPLETELY obvious, but it's still annoying that Teela at least hasn't figured this out. I mean, if some people think he's this mysterious force that wanders the wilderness fighting evil wherever it appears that's one thing, but how often can he just show up IN YOUR OWN HOUSE before you start asking questions?
"Good thing the naked barbarian man was wandering around our halls uninvited, or we really would have been screwed," is a really weird thing to find yourself saying so often.

Also, it occurs to me that this whole He-Man thing is a pretty sweet gig for Adam. Besides the "most powerful man in the universe" thing, his "cover" is that he has to spend most of his time acting like a spoiled rich kid who's too useless to trust with any real responsibility so that he can keep his heroing schedule open. So he does things like run around the castle having blindfolded tickle fights with the girls of the court. For real!
When I was a kid I thought Teela was a real nag, but I was totally wrong, Adam is the worst! (although she does nag...) (also I'm just jealous)

Of all the sorcerers I mentioned, Skeletor is recognized as uniquely powerful and evil. There are sorcerers more powerful (usually the hermit-style ones, like the Sorceress of Grayskull), but even they tread carefully around him. I think we learn some of his back story later, but at the point I'm at he's still a mystery. His powers are completely all over the place, casting some truly interesting spells every now and then, but the main ability he shows consistently is the very practical power to teleport himself and his henchmen wherever he wants them to be, and more importantly, back to base. This makes his henchmen practically un-aprehendable. So if you see them get caught, as happens occasionally, know that he COULD bring them back whenever he wanted, but he's just a dick. He's really the worst boss ever, which seems to be part of his philosophy of just being as evil as possible at all times.
And he's good at being evil too! In one of the best super-villain plots I've ever heard of, he defeated He-Man, erased his memory, and then dropped him into a portal to another dimension. That's fucking evil done right!

One of the things about this show is that it's usually said to be just a commercial to sell action figures... but if that's the case they sure don't show many of them! Other than the principle characters, you barely see any other of the action figures, which is kind of weird because there are SO MANY characters in the show that could easily have been turned into toys. I remember as a kid I just assumed half of them were, and that I just never saw them at the store.
I wonder if this changes at all in the second season.

Last time I posted about He-Man, Phil Jimenez mentioned the gay subtext in it, and, uh, yeah, that's definitely a thing, especially in the earlier episodes. Seriously, early on, Adam and Man-At-Arms are pretty much dating. I mean, they're two grown men going on picnics and stuff together, and I don't know what else to call that. I think they realized that would give a certain impression, so they started having more "professional" reasons for them to be hanging out when trouble strikes, so there's not as much of that as the season gets on, but one of He-Man's signature moves is still to throw boulders at people that look suspiciously like testicles...
Also, probably the most blatant gay subtext (if you can even call this subtext) was, after that thing I mentioned about Skeletor sending He-Man to another dimension, the dimension he ends up in is ruled by a GIANT PINK BUNNY who speaks with gay inflections in his voice, who wants to rule the world with He-Man at his side. Somebody was not being subtle there.

As a final note, I mentioned this last time, but I really like those little moral messages at the end. I remember at the time thinking that they were so annoying and played out, but they seem surprisingly fresh and relevant for today. Like, A LOT of people online could really learn something from He-Man and the crew.

Anyway, that's it. Damn, I had a lot to say about He-Man.

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He-Man

I've been revisiting the old He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon with my son, and writing about it on FB.  People have said I should share it elsewhere on the internet, so I'm posting it here-- enjoy!

I've been watching He-Man again with the kid, which I haven't actually watched since I was about 7 years old.
It's interesting to watch it again as an adult and pick up on things that I didn't as a kid, both story elements and production stuff. It's a freakin' weird show.
Eternia is a bizarre post-apocalyptic wasteland, littered with the remnants of destroyed ancient civilizations. It's actually a pretty cool setting for an adventure story.

I'm trying to watch it to see if there's some subtext that I didn't pick up on as a kid, like there is in some old shows like Spider-Friends, but when I watch it that way, the show just gets even stranger. For instance, it's hilarious how easily the good guys and Skeletor can constantly sneak into each others bases to spy without any problems. I wonder how far apart they live? Seems like maybe ten or twenty miles?
And I used to wonder why no one lived with the Sorceress at Castle Greyskull, but now it's obvious-- it's on the crappiest piece of real estate in Eternia! And there are so many other weird magical places that it probably doesn't stand out too much.

Teela makes a lot more sense to me now than she used to. I used to think she was just a nag who didn't have any powers, but actually she's the head of the guard (which I guess I used to think was Man At Arm's job), and Eternia's most impressive warrior other than He-Man. It's not that she's mean to Adam, but she's just frustrated with him.
Also her ass is ridiculous.
It's not, like, the directorial thesis of the show, the way Firestar's was in Spider-Friends, but just as part of her character design, she's got some junk in the trunk.

Adam makes more sense to me too, kind of. I mean, not his clothes, and the secret identity thing is still stupid and the Achilles heel of the show as a concept. Teela, who's an otherwise really sharp character, should totally see through that spray tan and realize what's going on. It's not even funny that she can't, it's just annoying. The flimsy excuses as to where Adam keeps going are kind of funny, though. But one thing I never picked up on before is that Randor is really disappointed in Adam as a son, and Adam uses the bumbling reputation of his identity to wreck his dad's stuff. There's something interesting there that could almost justify the secret identity if they did more with it.

Orko could have been a good character if the show itself had better comedic timing. As it is, just like as a kid, anytime he shows up, I really very badly want him not to be on screen.

I kind of love how inconsistent He-Man and Skeletor's powers are. They just can do whatever they need to for any given scene to work. Too many bad guys to punch? He-Man can just take a deep breath and blow them away. It's kind of great, and keeps an otherwise predictable show interesting.

The plots of the stories are... bonkers. Like, I really wonder what the hell the writers were thinking when they were coming up with this stuff. They're kind of fun in their randomness, but also I feel like with just the amount of time you'd have to spend writing all the dialog for an episode, you'd accidentally come up with ways of having them make just a little more sense.
And someone really thought annoying voices were a lot more fun than they actually are.

I'm fascinated by the animation quality of the show. There are moments of really great animation... but only moments. And they use those moments over and over again, which is sometimes kind of fun, but sometimes just frustrating. Like, you can tell that the directors had to jump through some weird hoops to make the action scenes with the limited animation they had, so you get a lot of random somersaults and stuff to stand in for motions that probably shouldn't be somersaults.
There's one great shot where someone collapses, and Teela kneels down to see if they're okay, but she ends up lounging next to them, with her arm romantically draped over them. Stuff like that is kind of hilarious, and just makes the episodes even weirder than they already are.

Will loves the show. He really likes Skeletor, and he points to the screen and roars any time Battlecat shows up. He thinks Orko's a baby, but loses interest if there's too much talking.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on revisiting He-Man.
Wow, this post is a lot longer than I thought it would be.

The end.

 

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OUTRAGE! My new comic series with Fabian Nicieza

Just announced:  Fabian Nicieza and I will be teaming up once again to make a brand new creator-owned series called OUTRAGE! 
I'm psyched to finally be able to talk about this!
You know how someone will post something stupid online, and you wish you could reach across the internet and smack them upside the head?  This character can do that.
Should be a lot of fun!
Read more about it here-- http://comicbook.com/comics/2017/08/30/Line-Webtoon-Outrage-Series

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