If you’re a child of the 80’s, you’re likely familiar with Masters of the Universe, even if you never watched it as a kid. The adventures spawned of the world of Eternia inspired many games of pretend in schoolyards around America when I was a mere boy, and led to much obsessive collecting of action figures. The series has survived for four decades, though it was never quite as popular as it once was following a disastrous live-action adaptation in 1987.
Still, the series did see an animated revival in 2002 and has enjoyed a steady stream of new action figures thanks to Mattel’s Masters of the Universe Classics line. Hither comes Masters of the Universe: Revelation – a continuation of the classic 1983 animated series inspired by the 1981 toy line, overseen by Kevin Smith. (Yes. THAT Kevin Smith!)
The first episode quickly conveys the concept of the classic show for those are unfamiliar with it. Our setting is Eternia; a world of science and sorcery, where the source of all the universe’s magic is hidden away within the mystic Castle Grayskull. Defending the castle is a mighty Sorceress and her chosen champion, Prince Adam of Eternos, who is transformed into the burly He-Man through his Sword of Power. Only a few trusted allies are aware of the secret life Adam lives and, much lke Bruce Wayne, he plays the part of a bumbling buffoon to guard his identity.
The first episode plays out like something from the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, with He-Man’s nemesis, the dark wizard Skeletor, launching an attack on Castle Grayskull. This occurs while the heroes of Eternia are largely occupied with a ceremony of promotion, as Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard of Eternos, is promoted to the position of Man-At-Arms, following in her adoptive father’s footsteps. From here things build to the titular revelation and what follows next leads to a dramatically different series.
Most fans of the classic cartoon will find Masters of the Universe: Revelation to be a worthy successor to the classic series. It is, as Kevin Smith promised in the early press, a continuation of what came before rather than a reboot or revamp. It is well animated and the voice acting is impressive, but that’s unsurprising given the cast is full of veteran voice actors (like Mark Hamill as Skeletor) and a number of actors who, while not having done much voice work, are fantasy and science-fiction mainstays, such as Chris Wood (Mon-El on Supergirl) as Prince Adam and He-Man and Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, as Teela.
I have a bit more to say about the revelation of the title, so read no further if you want to remain completely unspoiled. Feel free to come back and read on once you have watched the first five episodes.
Some dark-hearted sorts spoiled the secret early on that Masters of the Universe: Revelation is centered upon Teela. This led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the woke elites and alphabet mafia were corrupting even such innocent and wholesome entertainment as He-Man. These complaints neatly ignored that Teela was presented as a great warrior with an epic destiny awaiting her in the original series and that she routinely had to save Eternia without the benefit of a magic sword. So centering the story of Revelation around her is a natural continuation of the classic show.
The final four episodes put a dark spin upon the classic series, as Teela finds herself roped into leading a party of Good and Evil warriors to reforge the broken Sword of Power before all the magic fades from Eternia and the universe dies. The villains are made more menacing, with most of Skeletor’s followers forming a technology-worshipping cult that transform people into cyborgs. The tone remains true to the original series’ blending of science fiction and fantasy, but the writers eke more ethos out of the characters than even J. Michael Straczynski and Paul Dini ever managed.
I suppose saying we see Eternia ala Game of Thrones would be an overly-easy comparison (particularly with Lena Headey as the voice of Evil-Lyn and Liam Cunningham as Duncan the Man-At-Arms) but the series manages an amazing balancing act, pushing these classic characters in new directions while remaining true to them. It also throws out a number of nods to the lore of the original show and toys, as well as the comics, the live-action movie and all the spin-offs, so fanboys can have fun trying to spot all the references.
In short, Masters of the Universe: Revelation is precisely what its title suggests. While honoring its past, it establishes a new foundation for the future of the franchise. With beautiful animation, great voice-acting, amazing writing and one hell of a cliffhanger, I can’t wait to see Part 2.