”I have the Power! ...to be a much better show than you thought I’d be”
So Netflix finally dropped their new show Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Produced by showrunner Kevin Smith of Silent Bob, View Askewinverse, and Dogma fame, this new show is essentially a five-episode miniseries that picks up right where the original 80's cartoon left off. While it also left He-Man's name off the title (which will be important later), it takes all the beefcake bodies, veiled queerness, "fabulous superpowers," and 80's heavy metal look and feel of that original show, and adds the 21st century sheen of context and stilted adulthood.
We nostalgia monkeys often forget that our favorites from the early 80s were created expressly to sell toys to our developing little minds. He-Man was the first to do it and did it so well I once dislocated my shoulder trying to recreate the “Thunderpunch He-Man” sound.
What I’m saying is expect more toys coming soon, but also more 40-year-olds in the ICU this time.
So let’s get my general attitude out of the way to start: I loved it, and might watch the whole thing again. I wish I had daughters to enjoy it with so we could play Teela vs. Mer-Man together and I could surprise them with buckets of water. Taking something I enjoyed as a young child, then pushing it forward to my now adult eyes is very different than simply starting over with a reboot like the 2002 version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe show. Revelations is a sequel, not a do-over. It’s like waking up after watching the incredible Masters of the Universe film, starring Frank Langella as Skeletor (and the actors he devoured along with the scenery… Monica from Friends and Ivan Drago I think), falling asleep, and waking up 35 years later to watch the brand new 3rd season of the cartoon that for some reason was made for a 40-year-old.
The only other time I felt something similar was watchingG.I. Joe Resolute, a mature take on the popular 80’s cartoon from the same era. Now, instead of A-Team-inspired battles where only the robots get shot and characters survive every crash, we were treated to an anime-flavored show with bullets, blood, and ninjas to take the G.I.Joe memory to the same place it occupied in our heads as children. In other words, despite how cool it is, it’s all very weird. Imagine if your parents grabbed you to get you to watch a more adult version of a show they loved from 1966. “Hey, kids! Let’s get a load of this! I used to love this show as a kid!”
When I first heard about Revelation and Smith’s involvement I was prepared to pass on the whole thing. I’m burned out on new versions of old things and have seen enough violent cartoons and reboots of reboots to last another half lifetime. Now I have enjoyed most of Smith’s work going all the way back to Clerks, but revisiting the 90s stuff from 25 years later has shown it to be a bit visually stilted, homophobic, and far too reliant on even older forms of nerd culture to be more than mere “old favorites.” Because this was also Kevin Smith of Chasing Amy fame too. As novel as a movie with lesbian characters was at the time, the story of a comic book creator falling in love with another comic creator, yet being unable to reconcile her sexual past and his closest male friendship just doesn’t hold up particularly well through a more futuristic lens.
Masters of the Universe and its cousin She-Ra didn't get their substantial queer following by not being understanding of their communities as the properties have aged. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power got it when it ran on Netflix in 2018 with a bevy of queer characters and unique representation, but I remained unconvinced if the Revelations sequel would do anything close to that. Luckily, we didn't get old-school Kevin Smith; we got Jersey Girl Kevin Smith. We got the guy who has a daughter of his own he watches these things with and who wants to make new versions of old things rather than merely riff on their existence for jokes. That made for a much more incredible offering than I was prepared to receive.
Spoilers for Masters of the Universe: Revelations Start Here
The last thing I expected from Masters of the Universe: Revelation was for it to pull a Mad Max: Fury Road. This story isn't really about Prince Adam or his alter-ego He-Man at all. It's about First Lady of the Franchise Teela, her relationship to foster father, Man-at-Arms, the mystery of parentage, and her deep betrayal of being the only one left out of Prince Adam's secret life as He-Man. For years she fought side by side with the Champion of Eternia while maintaining her own loving unrequited relationship with the prince of the realm. By the end of the first, she's forced to find out they are the same person while watching them both die equally in service of saving the universe.
No more He-Man. No more Prince Adam. No more evil Skeletor.
Which points at the most powerful piece of iconography of the series. We live in a world where we think killing the bad guys will stop the bad things from happening. This never works. It just creates power vacuums and martyrs and leads to therapy bills or alcoholism. Sometimes we may not have a choice, but murder is seldom the domain for the compassionate. Revolutions are great as long as there is a cultural shift beyond merely intimidating or murdering everyone else. This is one of the few shows that really takes that notion to heart.
So rather than watching He-Man bounce from adventure to adventure, beating up everyone in his path, we’re instead treated to a quest storyline where Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her mercenary partner Andra (Tiffany Smith) team up with Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey) to save all the magic in Eternea before the universe is destroyed. It may sound ridiculous, but it’s serious, universe-saving business here in Revelations. The women of this universe take center stage from the and constantly remind you that He-Man’s name isn’t even in the title anyway.
So with a show like this, which features quite possibly the largest, most believable group of muscular female body types I have ever seen animated, a sidelined male “main” character, and greater depth alongside its violence, there’s already angry internet living types out there voicing their negative opinions. Maybe it’s personalities you trust, or maybe you’re just seeing the results of their review bombing on RottenTomatoes, IMDb, etc.
For some, seeing even fictional women with physical power or character agency is a gross betrayal of their worldview. For some, black characters can't be pure of heart, good with technology, or real OCs (original champions) while traditionally evil female characters can't learn their lessons and become someone that shows compassion to former rivals. Their goal will be to kill whatever love this show gets. I'm just here to say, don't buy into their unfair takes and tell those interested in this show to watch it rather than believe the hype.
Luckily, you have the power to enjoy these episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelations regardless of how any haters might feel about it. Hopefully, you’ll think it’s as great as I did, share with your youths, then toss buckets of water at them when they least expect it because they loved it, and got it too.
Story originally posted on Fanfare on Medium