Saturday, October 26, 2013

DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe #2: Things don't get any better

I was pretty disappointed in the first issue of DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe, the miniseries in which the two sets of characters that have previously appeared in comic book, cartoon and toy form—most of which I had read, watched and played with as a child—share the same story-space for the length of a comic book miniseries.

That was the issue in which we learned the parameters of the conflict: John Constantine and He-Man's mom vs. Skeletor and Black Alice, for the fate of Earth-New 52! It was safe to assume that things would get better as the series progressed, as they could hardly get worse. But, you know what happens when you make an assumption...

Things do improve slightly on the getting-more-characters-from-the-DC Universe-in-the-book department, but there's no attendant uptick in quality, and the most fascinating thing about the book remains seeing how a creative team with two such rich readymade setttings and casts with the directive to weave them together can come up with something so small, uninspired, cliched and dull.

Read with me, won't you...?

For the cover of the second issue, cover artist Ed Benes returns to a too-often employed motif from his time as the primary artist on the 2006-launched volume of Justice League of America: A villain standing triumphant on a generic plane upon which are littered the prone, unconscious bodies of the Justice Leaguers. Here the villain is the Benes-designed New Look Skeletor, and the knocked-out Justice League is joined by a few knocked-out He-Man guys.

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Something looks slightly different about the art this time out, but Dexter Soy remains the sole credited artist on the book (although this time he does have a co-colorist, Veronica Gandini). The bigger change in the creative team comes in the writing department. Keith Giffen is no longer the sole credited writer. Here, he's credited simply with the plot, while Tony Bedard (who, like Giffen, is a writer DC seems to regularly turn to for pinch-hitting purposes) is credited with the script.

It's well worth noting that in the very first panel they address one deficiency from the first issue. The never-named black-haired lady that was more than likely Madame Xanadu is now specifically identified as such. The caption in the first panel reads, "GREENWICH VILLAGE, PLANET EARTH: The Fortune-telling Parlor of Madame Xanadu."

The action picks up right where it left off at the end of the previous issue. Evil-Lyn has just transported He-Man and Teela from their home world of Eternia what we now know is Madame Xandadu's place. There, He-Man's mom has been talking to John Constantine about Skeletor, when suddenly the place was crawling with skeleton-headed magic rat monster things.

After a few panels of futile attempts to fend them off, Evil-Lyn and Constantine unite their magical abilities to suck the monsters into something from Spencer's that Madame X. happened to have on her shelf.

To accomplish this spell, Evil-Lyn must dry-hump Constantine:
There's a little exposition, as He-Man's mom explains that she was originally an astronaut from Earth and how she crash-landed on Eternia an fell in love with its king, and the other visitors from Eternia explain that Hordak has taken over there, so they've come to fetch Skeletor to help them fight Hordak off and/or save the DC Universe from Skeletor's plan which, you'll recall last issue, involved him sucking it dry of magic at the behest of a mysterious new partner.

"Where is Skeletor, anyway?" Teela asks, setting up the next scene, which takes place on "THE JUSTICE LEAGUE SATELLITE."

PAGES 5-7:
While the intruder alert goes off, most of the members of The New 52 Justice League fly down the hallway, despite the fact that some of them (Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg) can't actually fly. Ironically, Superman, who can fly, appears to be running down the hall.

That intruder is, of course, the new, giant-sized Skeletor, who coincidentally quotes Shakespeare at the League and powers-up, Dragonball Z-style. When Superman attacks, Skeletor knocks him back and tells the assembled superheroes that he requires "powerful minions," and then shoots a bunch of skeletal faces out of his hands, shouting "Scare Glows...Attack!" 

Let us here pause to consider the Scare Glow.
He was one of the later Masters of the Universe action figures released, in 1987. By that point, I was ten, and my interest in the toys was long-past waning, and the cartoon—which was never very good—was completely supplanted from my imagination by the likes of not only G.I. Joe and Transformers, but newer shows like The Real Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which revealed that just how terrible the He-Man cartoon was, even relative to other 1980s cartoon shows meant to sell toys to little boys (That was also the year I saw the live-action Masters of The Universe movie in theaters, and if ever there was a nail to hammer into a coffin of growing disinterest...)

Scare Glow, like most of the MOTU toys, had a gimmick of some sort to distinguish him. His was that he glowed-in-the dark. He essentially resembled a Skeletor action figure, were Skeletor wearing one of those skeleton Halloween costumes, with the white bones over a black body-suit. He also wore a purple cape, and was labeled "Evil Ghost of Skeletor," which could be read two ways: He was either the ghost of the dead Skeletor, or he was a ghost that worked for Skeletor.

Apparently, the latter is the more popular interpretation, but given how late Scare Glow came into being, he's a blanker canvas of a character than many of the other characters. I'm kind of sorry I never got his action figure. Glowing-in-the-dark is a pretty good gimmick for an action figure, really, and he has one of the better dumb-pun names common among those characters. Looking at the rest of the late-in-the game Masters of The Universe characters (Clamp Champ,  Rio Blast, Extendar, Ninjor, etc), he also stands out as particularly not-as-lame.

The only place I've seen him outside of a toy store aisle or Internet entry, however, was in the first story-bit that appeared in the Masters Of The Universe trade written by Giffen, James Robinson and Geoff Johns. A Scare Glow appears in the first few pages, Johns' contribution, set during Eternia's past.

It was just a skeletal ghost, reducing the character that had until that point existed only in my imagination from a proper character to a creature of some sort, not Bigfoot or The Devil, but a bigfoot or a devil (In toy line terms, Scare Glow wasn't a proper character like, say, Destro from the G.I. Joe line or The Shredder from the TMNT line but, rather, more like Cobra Trooper or Foot Soldier, a name-less minion type of which you could have doubles of and it wouldn't matter, as in your imagination there would be dozens of them anyway).

How would you use such a character in a comic book miniseries entitled DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe...? Would he cross scythes with Batman villain Scarecrow, and the latter would remark upon the strange coincidence of their similar names? Would  he fight DC's heroic ghosts like The Spectre (whose 1990s solo series featured glow-in-the-dark cover gimmicks on more than one occasion) or Deadman, or perhaps Dr. Thirteen, the so-called "Ghostbreaker"...?

Nope. Here "Scare Glow" is just the name of some ghost-things that Skeletor shoots out of the palms of his hands, in order to possess the Justice Leaguers. 

Batman alone has the presence of mind to shout "Computer: Emergency teleport!"

Why didn't Cyborg think of that? Dude's like three-fourths computer!

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Meanwhile, in Eternia, a few of the Masters there are looking for  Evil-Lynn, He-Man and Teela. Typical of what we've seen so far, these characters are all incredibly poorly introduced.

The first image of Man-At-Arms this issue features him in silhouette, from the shoulders up, in the background. He appears in three more panels: Another one as a silhouette, in an extreme long-shot; in a tight-ish close-up, seen in profile from the shoulder up; and, finally, in a close-up from the sternum up or so.

Stratos, who also appeared last issue, gets two lines and two panels, only one of which really shows the reader what the character looks like.

A few more characters appear for the very first time here.

Roboto appears in three panels, never getting a full reveal or introductory image (Close-up, medium-shot revealing a good three-fourths of his body, long-shot silhouette). Battle Cat  in two (close-up, long-shot silhouette). Moss Man, a friendly forest spirit/nature guardian that resembles a cross between the evil Beast Man and Swamp Thing (the toy used Beast Man's mold, but coated it in a fuzzy green material that smelled like pine cleaner and collected dog hair and lint like nobody's business), gets two panels and two lines of dialogue; he only appears from afar in silhouette and then in a close-up that only shows us the character from the neck up or so. It looks like he has tentacles on one shoulder, maybe...?

Luckily, Man-At-Arms has a "Horde dimensional transponder" to trace their energy signal, so they can make a rescue attempt.

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Constantine and his group walk into the Batcave. The Batcave! I didn't know Constantine knew where the Batcave was, but I don't know, magic!

There are some interesting reactions to the decor; Evil-Lynn sees the orange-ish red T-Rex and off-model giant Joker playing card and remarks that she likes his style, whild Teela regards a row of glass cases containing uniforms (including a Pre-New 52 Robin costume and Nightwing's New 52 costume...for some reason...?) and remarks, "Let's get out of here. I think he kills kids--!"

Batman stumbles out of a column of...teleporter energy, a Scare Glow still clutching at his cape, and He-Man cuts off the Scare Glow's arm, the rest of it disappearing with the column of energy. Batman is not happy to them there in his secret headquarters, and, in the best moment of the comic, enforces his no smoking policy.

Then Soy draws the strangest images of Batman's cowl I've ever seen:
Some artists—almost all of 'em, actually—draw Batman with white triangle eyes, caused either by the way he mask fits, like a sort of artistic flourish, or by the fact that he has lenses in the eye-holes in his cowl (that's been the case for as long as I've been reading comics anyway; we've all seen comics where he's got night-vision or infrared capabilities in his lenses, right? And sometimes he even has, like, Terminator-style data appearing before his eye on it, via built-in, high-tech computer what-have-you...?

Other artists draw Batman with eyeballs visible in his cowl. It's mostly just Alex Ross who does that these days, and, obviously, the live-action Batmen have all had eyeballs instead of white triangles in their cowls.

But Soy draws the cowl eye-holes big enough to sh ow the skin all around Batman's eyes, and gives him white, pupil-less eyes, as if he were wearing white contact lenses. Only in this one, single image though.

Teela gets in a pretty good jab at Batman, provided you know who or what Hordak is already, and then we finally get to some DC Universe vs. a Master of the Universe.

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Fight! Superman arrives in the Batcave, his eyes glowing purple. He is now in Skeletor's thrall!
He throws Batman, Constantine and some black shapes so hard that they literally smash through the roof of the Batcave, arc high into the air in front of stately Wayne Manor, and crash back to the ground so hard they crack it.

And they live!

Or wait, wait wait. Now that I'm looking at this scene for the fourth time, I see that the huge hole might have been created when Superman flew through the ground and landed in the Batcave, not by Batman and company's bodies being thrown through the roof of the cave. That would make more sense; if that's what  happened, then it's only remarkable that Batman and Constantine survided that incredible fall.

Or, I don't know, maybe that's not Constantine, but He-Man, and that jagged black bit is meant to be his sword, not a piece of a trench coat. Yeah, that must be He-Man.  Makes sense, given his placement in the next panel.

Shitty art! It sure makes it harder to read a comic book!

(I wonder what that gray bit in the corner of the last panel there is mean to be...? Some part of Cyborg maybe...?)

So anyway, the possessed League shows up, and there are a few panels of some fighting. Teela shoots Aquaman to no avail, and gets flying kicked from behind by Wonder Woman.

The Flash grabs He-Man's mom, and He-Man punches the flash. The Superman returns to the scene and shit gets real.

How real?
Superman—possessed by Skeletor, remember—shoots his heat-vision directly into He-Man's eyes at point-blank range...! And He-Man's okay? I know he's supposed to be super-strong and all, but his eyeballs are strong enough to repel Superman's heat-vision...? That's a lot more strength than I would have imagined He-Man to have, but, I don't know, maybe the fact that his strength is somehow magical (I think; I don't know the origin of this version of the character) makes him more resistant to Superman's powers...? But wait, that can't be right, or else when he kicks Superman in the chest, a "magic" kick should have have had greater effect, right...?

Oh, and also Teela is super-strong too, I guess, as not only did Wonder Woman's kick not kill her, but she's even not being strangled to death when Wondy tries garroting her!

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In a two-page spread, He-Man stabs his over-sized super-sword, now crackling with electricity,  right into the middle of Superman's S-shield, a good foot or two of blade sticking out of Superman's back. With a loud, red, wiggly SKLUTCH, He-Man has impaled the possessed Superman! Everyone else reacts with wide-eyed, slack-jawed surprise, even the possessed Leaguers.

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He-Man withdraws his blade, Superman THUMPs onto his back, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern at least seem to come out of Skeletor's spell, and Batman makes a face that looks like its got bits of disgust, anguish and about-to-cry in it, shouting in a red circled dialogue balloon, "What have you done?!"

He's obviously just totally killed Superman forever, Batman, and now DC's going to cancel Action Comics and Superman and Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman and you're going to have to start hanging out with Shazam or Martian Manhunter now. Obviously.

Or I don't know, maybe one of the three wizards on the scene can magic away traumatic stabbing wounds...? I guess we'll find out next month, because I am not going to stop reading a Justice League/He-Man comic no matter how poorly made it is or how much of a waste of raw story material it may be.
And to think I used to think DC Comics Presents #47 was a lame comic! Look, Giffen and Bedard just took Superman's anxious thoughts from the cover of a 1982 comic book for children, and realized them, in a graphic and gruesome fashion in an attempt to please those same children now that they're adults! It's DC's business entire business model, demonstrated in a single scene of a single comic book.


Anonymous said...

Seeing that cover all I could think was Why is The Monitor mashed up with Skeletor?

Anonymous said...

I was pretty jazzed to see Dexter Soy draw some DC characters, but was really let down by the poor visual storytelling you pointed out. Seriously, I thought that hallway scene was awesome until you made me notice Aquaman five or six feet off the ground in a running position.

Julius Wagner said...

Justice league were on a sattelite, so theyre floating from the anti gravity.