Extant’s Pull List – 2015 Year In Review Part 1

I’ve been reading comic books in one form or another most of my life. I started collecting (mostly DC) comics just after the Death/Return of Superman storyline. In more than 20 years of spending money on Wednesdays, I have bought thousands of books. Several times in 2015, much like with pro wrestling, I considered giving it up entirely.

It wasn’t an altogether bad year. I’m going to try and focus on some of the high spots of the year here, but the lows have been frustrating, especially when it comes to DC Comics. Now several years into the most recent reboot, several of the characters I grew to care about are unrecognizable from their former incarnations.

Most disappointing to me has been the company’s treatment of Superman. In the second half of the year, DC Comics revealed his secret identity to the world, depowered him back to 1938 levels and has its entire world doubting him. That’s… not how Superman should be treated.

Of course, with all the complaints about what they’ve done to Superman, DC has introduced the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois – fresh from the waste of time that was the Convergence crossover – into the new universe, hiding under new identities with their son and trying to save the world in secret. So, at least there’s that.

Yes, there was a lot to complain about in the comics world throughout 2015, but there was a lot to like, too. So let’s forget the bad and focus on some of the better things I’ve read over the last 12 months.

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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

(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

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

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.