In 2012 we saw the relaunch of the He-Man comics franchise under DC, with a limited series that was also supported by several digital one-shots, most of which have since then been collected into trades. While the relaunch got off to a rough start at first, it quickly picked up steam, leading to DC giving the franchise an ongoing series in mid-2013, a series that culminated a few weeks ago in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #19, though not before we got a new series that took the series forward, He-Man: The Eternity War.
This collection should actually be titled as Volume 2, but DC’s numbering counts the limited-series as volume 1 and volume 2 contains the various origin one-shots that have come out in the last couple years. So everything follows on from there, with Volume 3 containing the first six issues of the ongoing series. In this trade version, collecting issues #7 through #12 of writer Dan Abnett’s run on the title, we find out what happens to our heroes in the wake of the revelations about Despara really being Princess Adora of Eternia, and the fact that with the Sorceress’ death previously, Eternia needs a new guardian. This is where King Randor hits upon the idea of journeying to one of Eternia’s deepest and most mystical realms, and we get a great story about the heroes facing up to some really weird and fantastical challenges.
Note: The trade collection will be released in March this year.
In Keith Giffen’s first arc on the ongoing series, we saw that following the banishment of Skeletor and the death of the Sorceress that the Masters had barely enjoyed any reprieve when Hordak and his armies attacked Eternia. The void left on the world by the death of its greatest mystical defender had left it open to invasion, and so Hordak took advantage of a perfect opportunity for him. And he sent one of his greatest warriors to lead this invasion, Despara, formerly Princess Adora, twin sister to Prince Adam. The first volume ended on a rather somber note for the Masters, even though they had temporarily won against their foe.
That is where Dan Abnett picks up the story and just rolls ahead with it at full-steam. In this new arc, we see that without the guidance of the Sorceress, the Masters are having a really tough time against the vast hordes that Hordak has sent to their world. He-Man and the Masters can only do so much and without possession of Castle Greyskull as a rallying point, their task is all that much harder. And so it is that King Randor puts forth the idea of journeying to the most ancient and mystical depths of Eternia to find a solution to their problem. If the Sorceress can indeed be brought back to the world of the living, then the Masters have a chance, for only the Sorceress truly understands the vast powers of Castle Greyskull.
For my money’s worth, this was an excellent story. Where the first one was often a grim tale told in the typical style of the New 52, Dan takes some care in crafting a tale that is also light-hearted. The narrative points at the heart of the What Lies Within arc are quite grim indeed, especially towards the second half, but there isn’t the same kind of dark tension to the story that could be seen before. And that allows the characters some more breathing room to strike out on their own and really stand out from the rest.
Character relationships are pretty strong in this arc and I think that Dan does a good job of taking old concepts from the franchise’s lore and giving them his own spin. The fate that befalls King Randor is quite tragic indeed, especially given all the development his character saw in the first half of the story and the strengthening of the relationship between him and Adam, despite their differences over their chosen course of action. But at the same time, it also creates some excellent drama and allows Dan to pull a rabbit out of the magic hat. The specific execution I found lacking since there was very little to no setup for it, far as I could tell, but at the same time, it was also a great moment. He definitely turned the status quo on its head with that.
Where He-Man and Teela are concerned, for they are also central to the entire story here, their relationship also continues to develop and grow. The friendship that I remember from the Filmation cartoons was in full-force, though with a newer outlook for the most part. And the fate that befalls Teela herself, well that is something to consider long and hard. It is clearly what Dan was building up to in this arc, and I think it puts a nice spin on things. I certainly did not see anything like that coming, not given the villain who was revealed towards the end of the arc.
Rafael Kayanan is the artist on #7, with Kathryn Lano on colours and Deron Bennett on letters with Yildiray Cinar and Randy Mayor on the cover. The same team transitions on #8, except that the cover is by Joe Bennett and Randy this time. Michael S. O’Hare is on #9 with Deron on letters and the cover by Frazer Irving. The same team then transitions for #10, except the cover is by previous series artist Pop Mhan. And then we have Tom Derenick on #11 with Tony Avina’s colours, Deron’s letters, and the cover by Ken Lashley and Tony. The only change to the art team on the final issue is that the cover is by Ryan Sook.
So we can see that despite the writer staying the same (thankfully!), the artists were rotated every 2 issues. The differences in the artwork can strike you as a bit random, but we also get to see three different visual interpretations of the setting and the characters by three different art teams. And the styles vary so much, that in the end, you are actually pulled into the experience rather than being thrown out of it with all the changes. The first and third teams go back a bit towards the DC house style of the New 52, but the second team goes off the rails and delivers a very fun, modern cartoonish experience with these characters. The colours are brighter as well, which really helps to break the grim experiences of the characters in those two issues.
The best work is undoubtedly by the third team, given all the major things that they have to incorporate and the villains that make their entry in the final two issues, but even then, I think all three teams did a damn good job. Some visual cohesion would have been welcome of course, but I liked the “break”. It made for good transitions between the particular scenes of those respective issues, and gave a much wider look into everything that you see. And can I just say that I absolutely loved Teela’s new outfit, which is so much better than what she had before.
So all around, some really great writing and some really great artwork as well. A recommended read without a doubt.