The darkness that could have been: He-Man and Thundercats

8 02 2011

by AngryPanda

In my last entry about Thundercats I was so focused on the design choices that would also appear in Silverhawks later I forgot to mention something that the ‘hawks did not inherit. The original Thundercats were in many way similar to the Masters of the Universe (This was an obvious design choice, considering how succesful the Masters of the Universe TV-Series had been). Semi-Myistical warrior who use lost technology to fight an ancient evil that uses magic. A prince with a magic sword that allows him to protect his people. That should sound familiar. Fighting with the remains of a much more advanced culture against monstrous enemies in landscape that might very well be the ruins of a civilization (in Thundercats this is even canon, at least in the comics). Of course both cartoons were lighthearted and campy, as they all were and I’m not saying they should have been different. But they could have. The settings are clearly suited for much darker tales. In fact a later Thundercats comic book tried to go that way. It brought us this infamous image of the kid-cats grown up and enslaved by Mumm-Ra.

The comic was poorly received but that’s not the point here. Apart from the obvious infusion of sex this looks a lot darker and edgier than the original.

I have never read the comic and couldn’t say anything about the quality. The style reminds me of the oversexed drawings Image used in the 90s but that doesn’t mean the story is good or bad. What it clearly was is different. Fans hated it (at least the internet say so and the internet never lies…). But I’m going to make a bold statement here and say that even if this comic book had been fun on toast the same fans would still have hated it for being different and for being darker and edgier. Because that’s what pathetic people do to squeeze money out of a franchise, there’s not other reason for it. Unless there is…

I can’t say about Thundercats but as stated in the beginning it was clearly based on He-Man and holy shit was that different in concept than in the funny little TV-Show we all saw. Just like WoW, the first ideas for the Masters were some pretty dark stuff, including an almost unbeatable evil force, spirits of the elements and human sacrifice. And this is not just theory, this stuff was actually released. The first hint should be the box art of the old toys. The style of this stuff alone should give you a hint that things were not as peachy as in the TV-Series.

Work from Earl Norem, one of the original artists who came up with the Masters.

I wish I could see the original scripts but what we do have are the minicomics that came with those first toys. They introduced us to a completely different Eternia than the bright and heroic one we know. This was a dark and mystic world in which He-Man was no superhero but barely had the power to stop Skeletor at all. It wasn’t about defeating evil but for letting humanity see another day in a world too dangerous for them. The fansite Dyerworks has called this version of the world Mini-Eternia or simply Mineternia. I think they should have their spleens eaten by badgers for that name but that’s not the point here.

A Darker World ..

The first eleven Masters of the Universe minicomics introduced us to a He-Man, who was more barbarian warrior than superhero, and he roamed a post-apocalyptic world, Eternia, which seemed to be verily alive with elemental power.  Those first minicomics gave us forests and mountains protected by the mysterious Teela, a goddess of nature and of magic!  They gave us deep, perilous oceans terrorized by the sea demon, Mer-Man, and his monsters, ..and they showed us a vast cosmos presided over by the god-like enforcer, Zodac!

The Magic Stealer comic introduces us to Procrustus, god of the Inner World, but, without ever really showing us, leaves us to imagine how dark and foreboding his subterranean realm might be!  The Castle Grayskull of The Tale Of TeelaandThe Menace Of Trap-Jaw wasn’t a magic clubhouse protecting Eternia from evil, as in the TV cartoon; it was an ancient weapon-of-mass-destruction–a terrible, haunted place that Eternia needed He-Man’s protection from! The He-Man of the minicomics was not so much a champion of the gods, as he was a champion of mankind, defending its right to exist in a world, trapped between warring gods and devils!

So who else has no problem believing that this was originaly intended as a place of evil?

So a darker story is not always an attempt to make an old franchise shell out some more money. My favorite examples are the fanboys complaining about the 2000 series of Ninja Turtles and that it lost the spirit since it is too dark. Compared to the comics it is still nothing. In fact I think it tries to strike a balance between the two. It isn’t always about what you saw first and I find it hilarious how people see that these things are “clearly wrong” without even knowing that sometimes their beloved series was originally very much like that. I looked up some Masters of the Universe artwork and it is amazing what people do with this stuff. I’m pretty sure there’s even a ripped and armed version of the Carebears on Deviantart but with the Masters they don’t even have to change anything. They just look that badass.

Hordak. Before he fought against Barby and could turn himself into an electric shaver.

Beware the purple overload is starting now.

The archetype of evil lairs.

She really should wear her hair open more often.

Even the much brighter style of the 2000 series can still fit into this sicne the same elements are in it. The looks is way more cartoonish though. The new Thundercats looks a lot like the new He-Man did now that I think about it.

I really like the updated Sorceress.

In the end I have to say that  would love to see a version based on the orginal Masters concepts. The 2000 series didn’t go there and the Thundercats reboot clealry goes for a brighter look too. In that case I don’t mind. I don’t know if the ‘cats were every planned this way but it is a fun idea to just look at their world and see how it could be done. In the end that doesn’t mean it has to be. Still if I had the option I’d love to see both, the bright and the dark. In the end it would have to be a comic book since there just aren’t noteworty cartoons for adults on the western market anyway. If possible I’d prefer the old art style versus the high-gloss-teenage-masturbation fantasies Image does though. Something like this:

Cheetara

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2 responses

28 02 2011
Ho! « This would be more awesome with lasers

[…] about Thundercats and they launch a new series? God please let this be a gift. Ok so I wrote about Masters of the Universe too but they already screwed up that revamp recently so they get a free pass for that. If they […]

30 05 2016
The_Comixeur

Whine all you like about the Mini-Eternia name, ..but, it grew out of discussions about the Masters minicomics, specifically and exclusively. The DC Comics miniseries and Golden Books that came after them included elements (Prince Adam, Cringer, etc) that would later be featured in the cartoon. Both the pre-Filmation DC Comics series and the Filmation cartoon make He-Man a superhero, with a cliched secret identity; so, the presently popular ‘Pre-Filmation’ is a stupid way to distinguish one from the other.

Furthermore, there was a time, when He-Man.org was a very unfriendly place to discuss the original minicomics. H’org’s ‘Classic’ board favored the cartoon fans, and there was no hiding that, on their part. H’org fans freely and regularly trashed the minicomics and their fans, ..while anyone, who defended them too enthusiastically, was called ‘difficult’ by moderators and threatened with banning – I was one of them. Well, we got sick of putting up with the H’org community’s BS and started our own forums and fan fiction sites, and that is how the Miniternia fandom began.

He-Man Tales (now powered by my site, Dyerworks.com) featured full-length scans of the minicomics, long before H’org ever gave a damn about them or posted any scans. When H’org finally got around to creating a minicomic-reader construct, it was no surprise to us that it was practically identical to the reader we already had. We also featured interviews and brief bios of the minicomics creators – Gary Cohn, Alfredo Alcala, Mark Texeira, Donald Glut, etc – all of whom were practically unknown to H’orgers, ..and we did it before He-Man.org.

I’m telling you this because there’s a lot of knuckleheads online, these days, who ham-handedly trash the Miniternia movement, without knowing anything about why it exists or how it started; so, let’s set the record straight! Do you really think there’d be an MOTU Classics line, had not the Miniternia fansites sparked the interest of the larger He-Fan community and started a conversation about them? For years, the climate on H’org and other forums was entirely dismissive of the minicomics and disrespectful of their creators. We changed all of that, ..and we get very little credit for it.

When we minicomics fans talk about ‘Mini-ternia’, we mean it ..and not the watered down crap that came after the minis. The minicomics created an enigmatic world for the Masters that the DC miniseries couldn’t match in THREE full-length comic books! It’s an insult to the minicomics and their fans to lump them in with that DC miniseries and the Golden Books, under that lazy-azz ‘Pre-Filmation’ handle.

I’m a Miniternia fan – not Pre-Filmation – and proud of it. Call it ‘Original He-Man’ or whatever you like, ..but, ‘Pre-Fil’ is an oxymoronic mess that should be junked.

I still think the only hope that Masters’ has of moving beyond kiddie-toon pablum and taking its rightful place in the larger heroic fantasy genre is returning to the original minicomics. Big-budget feature films and novel series, based on the original minis will revolutionize the public’s ideas about what He-Man’s world can be in a way that the Filmation cartoon never will. Unfortunately, it seems Mattel is slow to learn that lesson, and that is why, though the media has been chatting about it for TEN years, ..we haven’t seen a He-movie, yet.

You did a good job, overall, and made very good use of our introduction. Good luck.

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