Monday, September 09, 2013

DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe #1 is not a very good comic book.

At various points in my life, Mattel's Masters of the Universe line of toys, DC Comics' Justice League and comic books in general were among the things I was most interested in, passionate about and/or obsessed with.

DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe is a comic book series in which the characters from the MOTU toy line meet and, one imagines, fight the DC Universe characters (who, based on the covers, seem to come mainly from the ranks of the Justice League). It is, in other words, a thing seemingly created especially for me—Well, not me-me, but readers like me.

Despite my many, many reservations about the potentially quite low quality of the book, based on the creative team of writer Keith Giffen and artist Dexter Soy (the former of whom wrote a terrible miniseries with a similar premise, DC/WildStorm: Dream War, in 2008), my brief previous exposure to DC's new-ish He-Man comics and the new designs of the MOTU characters, I bought myself a copy of the first issue and read it. The equation of MOTU + DC + Comics was just too powerful for me to resist.

Sadly, the comic did not meet my extremely low expectations. Look—

The issue of the book I picked up featured cover art by Ed Benes, one of my least favorite comics artist, showing the DC characters rushing and or shooting towards unseen foes, one of whom is carrying a gun he's shooting at Batman's feet. I know the other half of the image contains the Masters of the Universe characters, because I saw the solicitation for the book online a few months ago.

(For what it's worth, this issue actually shipped a week late. I only noticed because when I went to look for that image, I expected to find it in DC's September solicitations, as it came out last Wednesday, the first Wednesday of September, but found it instead in the August solicitations, scheduled for an August 28th release. I have to stop looking at this picture now, because the more I study it, the more angry and irritated I get).

I guess DC cut in the image in half, hoping some reader somewhere might buy two copies, just so they can have a complete image? Does that really work...?

I should note that none of the five characters on the half of the cover I got actually show up at all in this first issue, save for Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern appearing in a black and white photo on a the screen of a laptop in a single panel, when a character from the DC Universe tries to explain the Justice League to Skeletor.

The guys on the He-Man half fare a little better; 4/5ths of them appear in the issue.

PAGES 1-2:

According to the captions, the story opens in the following setting "EARTH: Greenwich Village, New York City." A young woman is running down the street, pursued by large rats with no skin or flesh on their heads, exposing their skulls, which are glowing. When they pass through an elaborate glowing sigil in the street, they all explode with a CH-TOOM!

The blond lady sits down on a porch, and a black-haired lady opens the door, says something about John and his magic traps and invites her in.

Neither character is introduced and, in the case of the black-haired lady, no name is given throughout the entirety of the book. I'm assuming she's Madame Xanadu, because she says "I've been expecting  you" to the blond and Xanadu is a fortune-teller, but some indication of the character's name might have been helpful. All we know for sure from the text is that she's a woman, she has black hair and she knows John Constantine. She's not wearing fishnets, so she's probably Xanadu and not Zatanna, right?

PAGES 3-6:

Are you reading Giffen's other Masters of the Universe comics, which consist of the ongoing He-Man and the Masters of The Universe and myriad origin one-shots? Hopefully, because whatever is happening in those comics seems to be reflected here.
This scene is set on "ETERNIA: The Kelting Pass." The personae daramatis are: He-Man, in his new red costume with a big, stylized H on the chest; Teela, in her new armor, which resembles a more revealing and form-fitting version of her father's; Man-At-Arms, who looks just like he did on the stupid cartoon, right down to the stupid mustache; and Stratos, who is now slimmer, less hairy and wears a red mask and goggles that covers his whole face, and makes him look a bit like G.I. Joe guy Snake Eyes. Like Snake Eyes, he is apparently mute.

He-Man and Teela bicker in whispers like this is a bad version of a screwball comedy as the quartet vaguely attack (jumping in the direction of) some vague robotic enemies (only seen in long-shot or mostly off-panel). Man-At-Arms tells Teela to leave one functional this time, as she apparently completely destroyed the last robot she fought because, as she explains, "He was checking out my butt! The perv!"

The robots have a big metal cube in which Evil-Lynn sits huddled, bound with licorice rope.

PAGE 7: 

The Masters sit around a campfire with the rescued Evil-Lynn. She doesn't have yellow skin, like her toy did, but white skin.  We don't get a good look at her costume or design, but it looks like she might be wearing leaves on her helmet. Soy is pretty awful at introducing characters; in the first two pages in which Evil-Lynn appears, the reader only sees her from the shoulders up and as a silhouette in extreme long-shot.

It will be ten more pages before we get a good look at this Evil-Lynn character, who the creators seem to be assuming everyone knows so well already that knowing what she looks like isn't important.

Stratos finally gets a line of dialogue: "Uh-huh." So I guess he's not mute. He's just taciturn. Or it's hard to talk through his new mask. One.

PAGES 8-9:

The blond lady, who we learn is named Marlena, continues to talk to the black-haired lady, and then asks to speak to John Constantine about Skeletor.

John Constantine appears as if on cue, given a nice, full-length introductory panel of the sort other characters like Evil-Lynn coulda used.

Constantine is one of the only DC Universe characters to appear in this comic, by the way, with the exception of the black-haired woman who is probably Madame Xanadu and a minor anti-hero we'll get to shortly.  That's sort of weird, isn't it? That John Constantine is now the primary representative of the DC Universe instead of, say, Superman or Batman or one of those other superheroes on the cover?

Also interesting? Constantine just played a central role in the six-part, three-book "Trinity War" storyline that lead in to DC's first big line-wide crossover in a few years. And now he's apparently the lynchpin of the the DC crossover with the MOTU characters. Who knew DC's superhero writers were apparently dying to write the character this badly for so long? 

PAGES 10-11: 

The scene shifts to a mysterious group of four towers with no openings or maybe just some kind of stone henge-like group of obelisks on "EARTH: Salem, Massachusetts." That's where Dr. Fate lived, in a mysterious tower with no openings, but that was the old DC Universe, not the New 52-iverse. Now there was never a Dr. Fate on Earth-New 52; Fate lives on Earth-2, the next parallel dimension over.

Two people are talking; one of whom has his own special dialogue balloons: They're yellow with purple letters inside and purple borders. Those word bubbles belong to Skeletor.

You may have heard that Skeletor has also been redesigned for the purposes of this story, which is apparently big enough news that USA Today covered it. Here are the first four panels Soy drew featuring the new design, which was apparently cooked up by Benes:

Introductions obviously aren't Soy's strong suit, so maybe he wasn't the best choice for a book like this, which is at least partially intentioned to introduce new, freshened-up versions of the characters.

(The New 52 Skeletor, by the way, is pretty dumb-looking. He has a more stylized looking, emotive skull, with prominent fangs and no lower jaw of any kind. It just floats in a black space between his purple football pads and his new hood/hat. I'm not even sure how to describe it. Remember how he used to carry that cool staff topped with a ram's head? Well, now he wears a tiny little purple animal skull atop his head like an ill-fitting toupee, and it has really, really long, drooping, curved horns, but not curved like a ram's horns; rather, they sort of look a bit like tusks, but not tusks that would fit either the purple animal head or Skeletor; they sort of radiate out of his shoulder.  Here isn't really a good look at him in the whole book, but he wears purple armor, has blue arms, is really big, and has a lot of chain-mail dripping here and there. His cape, which glows a neon yellow at the tips, looks like its design was inspired by tire treads, and he carries no weapons).

Skeletor is hanging out with Black Alice, a minor character originally created as a villain by Gail Simone, Joe Prado and Ed Benes during a 2005 Birds of Prey issue. Simone apparently quite liked the character, a teenage goth girl with the power to siphon the magical abilities of other DC magic-users, giving herself a new, goth girl version of whichever character's powers she's siphoning, returning to her several times in several different titles.  Giffen must like her too, having previously written her in his Reign In Hell miniseries and using her here, which marks her New 52 debut (For what it's worth, she doesn't appear to be siphoning any particular characters' powers, and is being used as a sort of local handler or tour guide by Skeletor, who is on Earth for a special mission at the behest of...a floating set of eyes with make-up suggesting they might belong to a powerful female of some sort...?)

PAGES 12-14:

The blond lady explains the plot of the series to the black-haired lady and Constantine: Skeletor is traveling to different worlds in an attempt to harvest the magical energy that serves as the soul of each planet; when he does it, the planet dies.

She introduces herself a little more thoroughly, in a scene in which she throws Constatine into...I'm going to guess an invisible book case...? I can see boards and books behind him, but they're appearing out of the green fog that makes up the interior of the black-haired lady's house. Whatever the reason this book was a week late, it wasn't because Soy needed more time to draw backgrounds.
Anyway, the blond lady is "Marlena of two worlds, wife of Randor the Fourth...WARRIOR QUEEN OF ETERNIA!" (Also? He-Man's mom).

PAGES 15-16:
In "The House of Secrets or Mystery or Whatever," Black Alice tells Skeletor about the three Justice Leagues, offering the most detail on the original: "Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and some guys whose names I forget."

PAGES 17-20:

Back on Eternia, He-Man, Teela and Evil-Lynn talk for a while about what Skeletor's up to, exactly, and whether they should follow him. Evil-Lynn teleports them to the black-haired lady's house before they can make their decision final and official. 

On this final splash page, we see Marlena and Constantine being attacked by the glowing skull-headed rats, while He-Man says "Mom?!" and Constantine says "You have got to be kidding me," which would have been a lot funnier if He-Man appeared wearing his classic, barely-there barbarian garb.

A tag along the bottom of the page reads: "Next issue: Crisis On Whichever Earth This Turns Out To Be!"

So, to recap: We join a somewhat convoluted story in-progress, have a bunch of barely introduced (verbally or visually) characters thrown at us, get some incredibly lazy, slipshod, amateurish artwork and reach the end of the first issue of a comic book entitled DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe with the parameters of that conflict being roughly defined thusly: He-Man, Teela, Evil-Lynn and He-Man's mom are going to team up with John Constantine and some lady to stop Skeletor and Black Alice.

I'm assuming it gets better. It's just got to, right?

1 comment:

A Hero said...

"and then asks to speak to John Constantine about Skeletor."

I have to admit, this is a sentence I never expected to see.