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Waiting for the Trade = Masters of the Universe

Waiting for the Trade

Masters of the Universe (vol 1): The Shard of Darkness
written by Val Staples, art by Emiliano Santalucia & Enza Fontana
collects Masters of the Universe (vol 1) 1-4

Why I Bought This: He-Man is my favorite 80s cartoon and this trade was in a $4 bin at a comic show I went to so for that price why not?

The Plot: Orko finds a magic crystal that grants great mystic power but corrupts whoever holds it.

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1Skeletor is at Snake Mountain trying to squeeze the last drop of magic energy from the Shakaraan Crystal that he has apparently possessed for years. Evil Lynn spies on him. She knows the true origin of the crystal and says it is far more powerful than Skeletor knows. Meanwhile Orko is sad that his magic does not work well on Eternia and we see a typical day of his blunders. He goes off into the woods where he finds a crystal pendent at the bottom of a well. Man-at-Arms is lecturing Adam on power and responsibility when the fire alarm goes off. Adam transforms into He-Man but before he can save the day Orko summons a massive snow storm to snuff the fire. Man-at-Arms exams Orko’s pendant and believes they ought to take it to the Sorceress at Castle Grayskull. As they depart we see that Evil Lynn is watching them on a crystal ball.

Chapter 2 – The Sorceress explains the Shard is part of the Shakaraan Crystal, an object of great power which contains an ancient evil (implied to be King Hiss in the artwork but that doesn’t pan out). She tasks He-Man with going alone to the dark hemisphere to destroy it. Meanwhile Evil Lynn bribes Trap Jaw to her cause to undermine Skeletor. She also makes Tri-Klops an offer to join her. Meanwhile He-Man is getting snippy with his friends as he prepares to depart. Meanwhile Tri-Klops talks with Trap Jaw about where their loyalties should lie. Meanwhile He-Man navigates the volcanoes of Mordor, I mean the Dark Hemisphere, and then begins to feel the temptation of the Shard. He is staring at it when Evil Lynn reveals herself to him.

Chapter 3 – Evil Lynn tries to recruit He-Man possibly through hypnotism since her eyes are glowing purple but he rebuffs both her offers of world domination and seduction. She still volunteers to help him, noting if he defeats Skeletor she stands to benefit the most. While he doesn’t trust her, he lets her teleport him to the bowels of Snake Mountain. She takes him to an alcove where Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops are waiting and reveals the crystal’s origin; namely there are only the two fragments waiting to be reunited. She uses the power of the larger crystal on He-Man imprisoning him by molding steel around him telekinetically. Meanwhile Man-At-Arms and Orko compare notes and Duncan realizes the Shard corrupts its user and that He-Man is in danger. Tri-Klops takes He-Man’s fragment with the goal of uniting the crystals but He-Man is obsessed with his fragment and that gives him the strength to break free. He attacks Tri-Klops and despite taking a sword to the leg He-Man pummels him pretty good. Lynn uses the larger crystal to level-up Trap Jaw but He-Man takes him down to. He-Man threatens Evil Lynn but Trap Jaw recovers and shoots his bad leg from behind. Trap Jaw uses his power up to KO He-Man. Evil Lynn is about to merge the crystals when Skeletor appears and snatches the Shard from her hand.

Chapter 4 – Skeletor zaps Evil Lynn with his Ram Staff and chastises Trap Jaw as we learn Tri-Klops informed Skeletor about the shenaghins in his ranks. Skeletor then reunites the crystals. Meanwhile Man-at-Arms is leading small army of airships to Snake Mountain and Skeletor sends his own fleet to intercept them. He-Man awakens chained to a wall where Skeletor gloats about the power of the crystal. He-Man however still craves his precious. He frees himself and attacks. In the melee He-Man and Skeletor end up switching weapons. They end up both reaching the crystal at the same time and He-Man uses the power to KO Skeletor. The Crystal then separates He-Man and Adam. It intends to use He-Man’s body as a host for its own essence. Adam still has the Power Sword and fights on despite being outmatched in both strength and magic. The crystal entity assumes a demonic form but eventually Adam manages to impale it and kill it with his Sword which then turns him back into He-Man. He-Man then shatters the crystal and the ensuing explosion damages Snake Mountain. Man-At-Arms arrives just in time to catch He-Man from his free-fall off the mountain. Man-At-Arms and Sorceress compare notes in the aftermath: she had sent He-Man alone to minimize the danger to others if He-Man was corrupted but was confident that Adam’s innate goodness would win out in the end. In the final epilogue we see the Shard is at the bottom of a ravine outside Snake Mountain.

Critical Thoughts – I love the art. I cannot say enough about how good this book looks. The colors are bright, the character designs are vibrant and the fight scenes are dynamic. Even better there is a massive pin-up gallery in the back of the book, which contains a host of extras including a sketch book and interviews with the creators.

Unfortunately the story itself is rather mundane. There’s nothing in it that we haven’t seen before and any interesting beats the story sets up do not pay off.

We start off focused on Orko and I hate Orko. I came to He-Man through the toy line first and the cartoon second, and while I enjoyed the cartoon in my childhood, Orko (and Cringer) is by far the weakest part of the original cartoon as he is just another in the long line of annoying dork sidekicks that were foisted upon the audience in most 70s and 80s cartoons. So right off the bat we are starting this story with the least interesting character in the mythos and it doesn’t even pay off as Orko finding the amulet has no real effect on him; although in this case that is a blessing because who wants to see Dark Orko as the villain?

This brings us to the corruption plot of the Shard. It is very by the numbers in execution not offering anything new to this trope. Even when He-Man succumbs to the Shard’s darkness, he never fights the other heroes. He just attacks the villains more viscously. Admittedly because of the art and choreography these are the two strongest scenes in the book, but given the quality of the art I feel like any fight scene would be good and the plot surrounding it in this case is not making it any better than it would be otherwise.

The Shard itself also doesn’t seem to do much. Evil Lynn uses it to wrap He-Man up in an existing inanimate object. I feel like she could do that anyway, as there is an episode of the animated series where she pulls a meteor swarm from space to the planet and guides it as an attack. Compared to that, how hard is it to wrap a girder (and also why would she think that could hold He-Man, who’s been shown to be able to lift mountains)? If its big powers are telekinesis and leveling up physical strength I can’t see why magic users like Skeletor and Evil Lynn would want it since they rarely fight hand-to-hand and wouldn’t trust their henchmen to be stronger than them for extended periods. The ultimate reveal that the Shard houses the most generic-looking demon one could imagine is also a big disappointment after the prior art teased King Hiss—you can’t tease one of the big bads of the He-Man universe and then deliver a nameless disposable villain instead.

 That last criticism also applies to what I think is the biggest fault of the story: it does not deliver on its most interesting ideas. I’d rather have seen Evil Lynn master the crystal’s power and become the main villain of this arc than having Skeletor turn up in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I like Skeletor just as much as anyone else who likes MotU, but he does not do anything in this story that he doesn’t do in 1,000 other MotU stories; whereas, seeing Evil Lynn gain ultimate power would be something new, and would give Skeletor something new to do for however long it lasted. Furthermore, from a purely narrative standpoint it is Lynn that is the prime mover of the action in chapters one through three, so her not being there for the finale in chapter four is dramatically unsatisfying.

Grade: The art is an A, the story alas is barely a D. I am calling it a C+ for the art and the extras.