Binge 'n' Purge: Masters of the Universe Revelation
It’s like 2002 all over again.
You see, back then, two shows were premiering on Cartoon Network’s Toonami. The one I was looking forward to was Transformers: Armada…obviously. The other, which I certainly had an interest in, was an updated take on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
The first ranged from middling to suck, sadly. The second, however, ended up being a hallmark not only within its own franchise, but nerd-dom in general.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years. (19 to be exact.)
I’ve already written about the two War For Cybertron series that have been on Netflix, which, on average are…middling. While the third WfC series, Kingdom, is on its way, Masters of the Universe: Revelation has arrived…and having binge watched it, I think I’ve found the key media difference between Mattel and Hasbro: Mattel waits until there’s a story worth telling while Hasbro takes the age old approach of flinging poo to the wall and see what sticks.
[Aside: That’s not to say all Transformers series have been poo of course, but quality has varied greatly. No one would argue the significance of either franchise’s initial 80s offerings, even though they’re rather dated and cheesy now. But since then you’ve had Generation 2 for Transformers and New Adventures for He-Man…neither one terribly impressive although I’ve yet to watch the latter. But then Masters went dark while Transformers gave us Beast Wars/Machines (great), Robots in Disguise (good for an anime dub), Armada (middling to suck), Energon (middling to suck), Cybertron (middling), Animated (good), Prime (great), Robots in Disguise 2016 (we don’t talk about this one), Cyberverse (middling to good), the Prime Wars Trilogy (good ideas, poor execution) and now War for Cybertron trilogy (good ideas, middling execution…so…improvement?). In all that time, only one Masters series, the 2002 series (great). Sure, I’d love the point of this tangent to be that Hasbro favors quantity of material while Mattel opts for quality…well, anyone that follows both franchises knows that it’s a bit more complicated than that!]
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s tackle the main premise of the show:
As a follow-up to the original Filmation series, secrets are revealed and not every Master will make it out alive as Skeletor’s final assault on Greyskull not only threatens to tear the Masters apart from within, but threatens Eternia and the very fabric of reality itself. Old enemies, new allies with twists and turns that will eventually answer the question ‘Who has the Power?’
And from Kevin Smith…of all people.
I say that jokingly. I’ve been a fan of much of Smith’s work for most of his career as he’s run a wide range of projects, from his typical stoner comedy in the Askewniverse to his dalliances in horror with Tusk and Red State and of course his work in the Berlanti-verse of DC’s TV shows…to say nothing of his comics writing work for both DC and Marvel. So even though the common populace might be wincing at the prospect of Kev taking the reins of MOTU, at least here in nerd-dom we know his bona-fides check out. Ish.
You see, the biggest worry from various leaks and what have you and the resultant YouTube speculation is that we’d be looking at a series that was He-Man in name only…that this would be some kind of ‘woke’ interpretation of the Eternian mythos with Teela taking the limelight. And while I certainly can’t condone such opinions, one could see that their argument might have merit, given how the Berlanti-verse has been a little heavy handed at times with how it has handled inclusionary topics and characters.
Fortunately, that’s not too much the case here. [There’s an instance and yes, we’ll talk about it.]
Let’s get the semantics out of the way first: It’s called Masters of the Universe Revelation. Not He-Man Revelation, not He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Revelation…as such, while MOTU is most associated with He-Man, he is not the breath and scope of the franchise.
Secondly, while yes, the series is Teela’s journey, the show is very much about He-Man…the impact he made in both her life and the lives of the various Masters. So, while true that He-Man or Prince Adam don’t show up very much in the series, this is as much a He-Man story in the same way that Funeral for a Friend was a Superman story. To sum up succinctly: the hero’s absence tells as much at tale about the hero, perhaps even more so, as stories where the hero is present.
Now, you need to go into this knowing there’s a death toll. Like, seriously, if you have a favorite Master, I’d be worried. Obviously for the sake of spoilers, I’m not gonna name names but I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this is Transformers: The Movie ’86-level of killing off a chunk of the cast. Death or no death though, a lot of the cast really gets a chance to shine and that’s a testament not only to the writing, but also to the voice cast and voice direction provided that really breathes life into both the story and the characters within. (See what I did there?) Memorable series have memorable voices, and that definitely applies here (for the most part…we’ll get to that…). Take Orko…freakin’ Orko…usually annoying, the child POV character. After this series, I love me some Orko. Griffin Newman does an amazing job with the role. Mark Hamill voicing Skeletor sounds like…well, Mark Hamill voicing Skeletor…and that’s not a bad thing. There are a fair number of other cast members from the glory days of Bruce Timm’s DCAU, such as Kevin Conroy as Mer-Man, Susan Eisenberg as the Sorceress, Phil LaMarr as He-Ro…but then there are some star turns that really just work: Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, Henry Rollins as Tri-Klops and the one I loved the most…Tony Todd as Scare Glow.
Look, the highest praise I can give this show is that in terms of animation, appearance, acting and music (shout out to BSG’s Bear McCreary on this one!) everything keeps in the spirit of the beloved 2002 series, even if it, sadly, doesn’t pick up the baton from that series and explore its dangling threads.
So…the negative. I don’t wanna give the trolls any food…but yeah, Teela is the weakest link. The first thing that bothered me was the voice provided by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Now, I want to be clear, the part is well acted. Gellar is no slouch in conveying all the attitude and emotion the character needs to convey within the confines of the story. It’s not a fault on the part of the actress and it’s not a fault on the part of the voice direction. I just think her voice is pitched a little too high for the character and thus, a fault in the casting director. Reason number one, how she’s been voiced in the past. I’m not saying she should be down in the lower register like Evil-Lyn…but Gellar sounds a little squeaky at times…not exactly the voice of an Amazon warrior goddess. This leads directly into reason number 2, she’s not only drawn like an Amazon, she’s drawn like an East German weightlifter (for those of you that remember your Cold War humor). I mean, it’s just a little much for my tastes…but given the nature and events of Episode 2 of the series, well…let’s just say her look isn’t unexpected. You see, episode 2 is where the trolls can point and make their ‘woke’ accusations…and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Teela emerges from the events of the first episode with a new girlfriend Andra, read that as you will, and, shall we say a stereotypical hair cut: buzzed on one side, length on the other. Combined with the massive physique and…well…let’s just say it sure does smell like Berlanti-verse levels of heavy-handedness. Thankfully, it’s only this second episode where this posturing exists, the remainder of the story unfolds without anything that might be considered ‘woke-ness’. That being said, the episode is still cool, giving us a look at what happens to Snake Mountain in the absence of Skeletor, but episode author Diya Mishra would do well to perhaps study up on the lost art of subtlety.
The last annoyance I have isn’t directly with the show but instead with Mattel itself. When planning and releasing an action figure line to support a form of media, DO NOT PUT YOUR BIG REVEAL CHARACTER IN THE FIRST FUCKING WAVE. Kinda ruins the surprise.
While a little short at just 5 episodes, and with one hell of a cliffhanger (provided you didn’t already spoil it by going down the toy aisle…stupid Mattel), Kevin Smith and his team behind Masters of the Universe: Revelation have not only recaptured the fun and energy of the franchise that we last saw in the 2002 series, but also achieved Mattel’s mandate to Smith: To make He-Man Shakespearean. And that he certainly has. No, it’s not perfect, but no piece of media is…and its countless positives outweigh its one (one and a half if you count the toy bungle) negative. If you’re a fan of MOTU, you need to have watched this already. Now bring on part two!