What’s Old is New Again: Superman vs. He-Man by Jerry Whitworth
This summer, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe will follow Skeletor to Earth and battle the Justice League in DC Universe vs. The Masters of the Universe. Written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Dexter Soy set to start in August, this six-issue miniseries is the latest in a line of multimedia crossovers for DC Comics (including 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, 2011’s Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes, and the aborted Transformers/JLA). The concept itself has origins in the Toys “R” Us-exclusive DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe Classics toyline that started in 2010 featuring two-packs of repainted/remodeled action figures from the DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics toylines from Mattel. Both premiering in 2008, the separate toylines were produced by Mattel featuring sculpts from Four Horsemen Studios before being paired together later in seven sets. Beyond this, the Masters of the Universe has in many ways had a long relationship with DC Comics.
Conceived in 1980 by Mattel designer Roger Sweet, He-Man was conceptualized as Sweet’s bid to create a toyline of action figures for Mattel following the company’s mistake of letting Star Wars go to Kenner (and its storied success). Compared to Conan the Barbarian and John Carter in the past, the concept of He-Man also shares some similarities to the character Captain Marvel (Prince Adam to Billy Batson, He-Man to Captain Marvel, the Sorceress to Shazam, Castle Grayskull to the Rock of Eternity, Cringer to Mr. Tawky Tawny, etc). The similarities certainly haven’t escaped the minds of creators as Geoff Johns gave a nod to this in the event Flashpoint when Tawky Tawny would transform into a Battle Cat-like companion to Captain Thunder. Both franchises also feature a hybrid of super science, magic, barbarians, and monsters. For Marvel, there’s Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind, and Mr. Atom and for He-Man there’s Hordak, Tri-Klops, and Trap Jaw. For Skeletor and Evil Lyn there’s Oggar and Blaze. For Beast Man there’s King Kull. For the Snake Men there’s the Crocodile Men. For Niatpac Levram there’s Faker. For Jitsu there’s Nippo and for Evil Eye there’s Mantenna. And so on and on.
The Masters of the Universe toyline would hit store shelves in 1982 where Mattel produced mini-comic books included with the action figures (beginning in 1984, some of these comics provided early work for artist Bruce Timm who became famous for his work on the DC Animated Universe). That same year, DC Comics would begin producing comics books for the Mattel franchise starting with DC Comics Presents #47 featuring Superman (under the spell of Skeletor) vs. He-Man. Later that year, a fourteen-page follow-up story “Fate is the Killer” would appear in sixteen monthly books published by DC Comics to promote the three-issue miniseries Masters of the Universe that started publication the following month. The character Zodac inadvertently was fashioned to an extent after Metron of the New Gods by series writer Paul Kupperberg. In 1983, the Mattel toyline would be adapted for the animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe from Filmation (who produced some of DC Comics’ earliest television content, including live action and animated adaptations of Captain Marvel, the latter only a year before its work on He-Man). The animated series would provide some of the earliest work for writer Paul Dini (also famous for his work on the DC Animated Universe).
Towards the end of the initial run of the Masters of the Universe toyline, Mattel would contract Cannon Films (famous for its low-budget action films like The Delta Force, Missing in Action, American Ninja, and Cobra) to produce a live action motion picture based on the property. Directed by Gary Goddard, the film was in many ways Goddard’s love letter to Jack Kirby (so far as wanting Kirby to draw concept design but was shot down by the studio who felt comics were for children). Goddard drew inspiration from the Fantastic Four, Thor, and the New Gods (and likely a little flair from Star Wars) in crafting the movie with a twenty-two million dollar budget and premier in 1987. Since word came of the intended homage, fans have drawn connections between He-Man and Orion, Skeletor and Darkseid, the Cosmic Key and the Mother Box, the Sorceress and the Highfather, Beast Man and Kalibak, Evil Lyn and Granny Goodness, Blade and Kanto, Karg and Desaad, Lubic and Dan Turpin, Man-At-Arms and Mister Miracle, Teela and Big Barda, and the Power of Grayskull and the Source. The poorly received film would do little to renew interest in the franchise which largely faded away within a few years.
Following the success of the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline, DC Comics would be given another opportunity to tackle the franchise this last summer in a series of digital-first comics with each issue focusing on a different character starting with Geoff Johns and his original character Sir Laser-Lot (which would become an action figure a few months later). They would follow this up later in the year with a six-issue miniseries titled He-Man and the Masters of the Universe by James Robinson and Keith Giffen and one-shots Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Skeletor and Masters of the Universe: Origin of He-Man by Joshua Hale Fialkov. Starting this June, Keith Giffen and Pop Mhan will be producing the ongoing series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for DC Comics (which will also feature She-Ra, the Princess of Power).
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