He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – Skeletor’s Revenge!

Last Sunday I looked at the first of two He-Man specials that Filmation produced to preview the first and second seasons of the show. The prior one was a bit of a dry affair beyond Teela’s Quest, but this week is a lot more fun.

Instead of the Sorceress or He-Man or Orko, Skeletor is hosting the special from Snake Mountain with Beast Man and Evil-Lyn. The animators really went to work this time, creating some new, really expressive animation for them. Skeletor intimidates the audience into being his friends by turning Beast Man into a frog temporarily before telling us how hard it is being a villain, scaring people, causing problems, before sending us to the first episode.

Day of the Machines

An immediately different Man-At-Arms in this episode, one who’s far more relaxed but having a crisis of confidence after an experiment goes wrong. Skeletor aims to exploit this by creating Byte, an energy creature that can mess with machinery even worse, and sending it to the royal palace. Man-At-Arms shrinks himself down so that he can go inside the computer that’s gone rogue and fix it.

Not a lot to say with this one as an episode, but it’s interesting how much the series had changed and found its groove, with Duncan having settled well into the kindly figure he was far better as, Teela as the action girl, He-Man at times being just the guy who’s tall enough to reach stuff on the top shelf. Skeletor was good as and as worked well elsewhere as the overlord of evil, but the thing that made him popular was as more of a mischief maker, which is the role he fills here.

Worth noting that this episode is one written by the late David Wise, who was a really prolific writer for animation in the eighties and nineties and before, to the point that he used plots and characters and even dialogue across different shows, so Byte is a more muted version of Kremzeek from Transformers and shrinking down to get into a computer to fix it is kind of an inversion of Leonardo and Donatello at normal size infiltrating the shoulder of Krang’s android body when it had become a giant in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Back to Snake Mountain, Skeletor is bitching about always losing to He-Man and decides to place the blame in the fairest place – on “boobs” like Beast Man and Evil-Lyn, which gives us a chance to meet some of his new evil warriors, such as Whiplash, Kobra Khan and Webstor, who features in the next episode.

The Cat and the Spider

Prince Adam and royal archaeologist Melaktha remove a cat statue from the Temple of the Cats in the Vine Jungle, incurring the wrath of the cat people. Also, Skeletor is aware that the statue has powers too, so he wants it and sends cat burglar (or spider burglar) Webstor to get it. At the same time, cat agent Kittrina is out to get it back, meaning a three way hunt for it before things get out of hand.

The late Larry DiTillio wrote this episode, and a lot of the pivotal He-Man (and She-Ra) episodes, and it’s a strong start to the second season, both as far as the writing and the artwork. A really interesting society of quasi-Egyptian cat people are produced that we never see again. Kittrina would’ve made an awesome ongoing ally of He-Man with all her different skills and weaponry and bold personality, especially in conjunction with Teela. Nor was a link made to the Magicats of the She-Ra series, guest stars of an eponymous episode that J. Michael Straczynski tried to present in a hidden pilot spin-off show that went nowhere as he left the company soon after.

Anyway, it’s the best episode of the special and a classic episode, which saw release in some places, like the UK, on a video tape moulded out of pink plastic for an interesting look, similar to how the WWF tapes released by Silver Vision had blue tabs on them. I’m also reminded that He-Man had a few different characters who had the hots for him, like Teela, Bowena and Frosta, but Battle Cat had Kittrina flirting with him, much to Cringer’s embarrassment in a funny ending to the episode.

Back at Snake Mountain, to counter Skeletor’s new villains He-Man has a few friends as well to help him, including Buzz-Off, Mekaneck (“Here’s a real weirdo!”, comments Skeletor as he stretches his enormous neck into the air), and the amusingly-named Fisto (not mentioned here, but he started off as a villain and turned good and sided with He-Man). You’d think that would roll us into an episode featuring one of them, but nope.

Trouble in Trolla

Orko is recalled to his home world of Trolla by his girlfriend Dree-Elle. Orko’s Uncle Montork has been replaced as the best wizard on Trolla by an upstart wizard called Snoob. In a funny scene, Orko goes to Snoob’s house to see what’s what and gets turned away, so he sneaks in and finds that Snoob has been colluding with Whiplash, who wants his own magic powers.

The world and cast of Trolla had been visited in the previous season, but despite best efforts the budget meant that the studio had to take some of their spare, fairly normal features and just reverse them, but with a bit more money and a bit more effort the world is far more weird, with evil pig creatures called Krooms who are dressed like conquistadors and vikings and executioners as well as far more unique locations and a tree octopus and pet dinosaur. He-Man is basically a guest character to have some muscle to match Whiplash with.

It’s interesting that Larry DiTillio also wrote this one as it’s a very different tone to the last one, aimed far younger. Shows his versatility as a writer. The episode also ends with a roast google reference, which has become a bit of an in-joke with He-Man and She-Ra fans.

One more time at Snake Mountain, Skeletor feels like He-Man is always one step behind him… and he is, as he turns up to see off Beast Man and Evil-Lyn and tell us to watch every day from Monday to Friday… what a capitalist!

Conclusion: Far more fun with Skeletor hosting and how the characters had developed from the ones we were starting to like to the ones we loved. A shame there’s not an equivalent for She-Ra, but hey-ho!