Mention names like Teela, Stratos or Skeletor to someone who was a kid in the '80s, and the response will likely be not only recognition, but adoration. [Newsarama Note: I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said "By the Power of Grayskull! I HAVE THE POWER!" Cringer became the mighty Battlecat, and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe! Yes, that was by heart. - Your friendly Editor LS]
In July, DC Comics is launching a brand new, six-issue He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic, trying to attract a whole new audience to those once familiar characters while still retaining the fandom of those who already loved it. Written by James Robinson with art by Philip Tan, the comic will update the concepts behind the toys for a modern audience.
The He-Man comic will be based on the 1980's media franchise that was built around a line of popular action figures and toys. In fact, Masters of the Universe was once so popular that the toys spawned two TV cartoon series and several spin-off lines of action figures, plus a live-action film.
Just like the cartoon, the He-Man comic takes place in the land of Eternia. But in the new comic, the evil Skeletor has already taken over the world, and Eternia's heroes have forgotten their "Master-ful" nature. A character called the "Sorceress" awakens He-Man to his true purpose, and he embarks on a quest to restore the rest of the group.
For the He-Man comic, Robinson is working with artist Philip Tan, with whom he was rumored to have been working on the Hawkman relaunch last year. Instead, Tan launched Hawkman with Tony Daniel, but then left when a new creative team came on board that title.
Before that, Tan provided art for DC series like Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. On He-Man, Tan will be working with inker Ruy Jose to update the well-known characters for Robinson's story.
Newsarama talked with Robinson to get the scoop on what readers can expect from the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic.
Newsarama: James, since this is a licensed property, is your approach a little different? And are you working with Mattel at all?
James Robinson: Yes, and I've been trying to come up with a story that suits my writing style and has a kind of new, creative approach to the story, but at the same time, is something Mattel can get behind, something that's not so crazy and off-the-wall that it changes the franchise in any way. So I do work with DC in Burbank, and also with people at Mattel.
Nrama: Can you describe how you've found that balance?
Robinson: It really is a balance. That's a good way of describing it, because I recognize that readers are going to want to see the things they recognize, but there should also be an expectation of originality. So on one level, it's a toy franchise, but on another level, it will be this exciting, epic struggle.
I'm making it much bigger. I'm giving it more of a grandiose feel that marries Conan and science fiction and science fantasy.
This whole storyline is so that we can tell a compelling story that works for people who have loved Masters of the Universe since they first saw it as a kid on TV and read all the prior comic books. It will work on that level.
But it also works as an introduction to the characters and the world for people who are picking it up for the first time.
And we're seeing it through the fresh eyes of Philip Tan.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Phil Tan?
Robinson: It's been fantastic. I'm getting all kinds of concept art, and he and I have been communicating about the approach we want to take on this.
He's bringing a more sophisticated and artistically nuanced depiction to both the characters and to the world of Eternia than existed prior to now.
Based on the character concepts I've seen, I think fans will be very happy, and we'll have some fun doing this book together.
Nrama: What is He-Man like when we meet him in the comic?
Robinson: When you first meet him, he's just a humble woodsman named Adam, who knows his place in the world. He's keeping his head down to avoid the villainous Skeletor, who's ruling all of Eternia, which is the land of He-Man.
The story is about him coming to terms with the fact that there's more to him than this simple life, and slowly taking the mantle of He-Man as he goes on this odyssey across Eternia and reacquaints himself with his fellow Masters of the Universe, who have also forgotten their past lives. So they need to have that past lives remembered for them.
Nrama: How did you approach Skeletor?
Robinson: As you can see with the artistic representation, he's a barbarian with a skull face. He should be terrifying. And obviously, in the cartoon, he wasn't.
So whilst not negating what came before, or treating it like it was childish, I'm treating Skeletor as more of a villain and more of a worthy adversary for He-Man.
Nrama: What other fan-favorite characters are featured in your story so far?
Robinson: Obviously, you'll see He-Man and all the major characters. They'll all make important and exciting appearances in the series at certain points.
You're going to see He-Man, you're going to see Man-At-Arms, you're going to see Teela, you're going to see Stratos. Of course, you'll see Skeletor, and as I said, he'll be the character you know, but more terrifying. You're going to see Beast Man. Who else? Sorceress. You're going to see all those characters along the way.
But each issue will slowly introduce one character, then the next character, so that it's not going to be this sort of mess of characters all introduced at once. You'll really get to understand who those characters are and enjoy their reappearance and their reintroduction into this universe of Eternia, and the world of He-Man and the Maters of the Universe.
Nrama: Were you familiar with He-Man before, or was this something where you heard about the project and started researching?
Robinson: I was not familiar with He-Man, but that was part of why I was attracted to it as a challenge, to familiarize myself with these characters. The one thing I'm very keen on doing is to not insult or offend people who have enjoyed that series in the past. You know, there are children's shows that I remember that, to me, are a vivid and cherished part of my upbringing. And I hate it when people make fun of them and say how corny they are or how dumb they are. And I know for certain people of a certain age, He-Man is a huge part of their past. People who have communicated with me via Twitter or in other ways have basically been very supportive and are very excited that I'm doing this for them. And I don't want to let them down and disrespect the core of these characters.
But at the same time, I feel like this project is also a challenge to write a story that will entertain them as adults, and I think we've done that.