The Good: Good beginning, Decent last third
The Bad: Erratic pacing, Unsatisfying and unclear artwork
The Basics: Despite unimpressive artwork and a long stretch of lackluster writing, He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within actually manages to be a worthwhile trade paperback anthology.
Despite having somewhat mixed feelings about the direction of the recent Masters Of The Universe works - both on television and in the continuing book form - I find myself continuing to pick up the trade paperback anthologies of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe comic books. This might have something to do with the fact that my wife and I have been going through the animated series from the early 1980s (and realizing together just how formative it was for me!) and wanting to balance that with something a bit more mature. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within definitely falls into the more mature category, not so much for graphic violence (the artwork is not that explicit), but rather for the existential crises that the book depicts.
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within is an anthology of six comic books (issues 7 - 12 of the 2014 DC Comic book line) and it tells a very complete story, though it very clearly comes on the heels of Volume 3 (reviewed here!). He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within picks up the story very much in progress, but does not feel like something that is incomplete; it is a desperate war story of a people under siege. And it mixes the potentially banal quest story with one of the graphic novel series's most effective reversals!
The human forces of Eternia have fallen to Hordak's horde and the few surviving heroes continue to fight to liberate Eternia. King Randor recognizes that the Horde's prioritization of excavating Sarnscepter means that there is something important there that must be denied to the enemy. So, Randor and his forces take on Grizzlor and his army at Sarnscepter. The fight goes poorly until they are joined by He-Man, Teela, and others (who have just returned from the DC Comics Universe). Hordak, unwilling to risk his hold over Eternia, orders an orbital bombardment, which obliterates Randor's forces. He-Man sees a vision of Zodak, who tells him an important change is coming. Awakening from that vision, He-Man discovers that, from the battle, only Randor, Teela, Stratos, Moss Man and Battlecat appear to have survived. In his desperation, King Randor makes a bold plan: the survivors will head into Subternia and traverse the six circles of the underworld to get to the heart of the universe to resurrect the Sorceress!
Randor's desperate plan quickly proves difficult to execute, as the Circle Of Dreams is filled with murderous nightmares. Recognizing that the underworld is mirroring the world above, by twisting what was once good and alive into something horrible and deadly, Randor insists on fighting through. But when Teela, Stratos and Moss Man appear to be devoured by a dream beast, even He-Man begins to lose hope. But the other three find themselves in the Circle Of Earth, where Moss Man comes to understand that the corruption of the Underworld runs deep when he begins to die fast and the trio is beset by Rock Men. On the verge of defeat, Stratos manages to find a way to save everyone by taking to the air. But what appears to be a shortcut to the Star Seed at the heart of Subternia is an opportunity for a surprise usurper to appear and menace everyone and everything on Eternia . . . using He-Man to achieve his own, nefarious, goals!
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within is a slow-burn of a story. It gets off to a decent-enough start and it finishes very well, but it gets lost in the middle. The early journey through Subternia is a repetitive, obvious, drawn-out battle that is not particularly engaging or well-rendered. Instead, like the desperate battle at Sarnscepter, the initial descent into Subternia is yet another blase battle sequence. Between the oppressive tone of Randor's desperation and the lack of anything significant happening on the character front, He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within gets off to a very rocky start.
But when Randor takes the helm of the sky ship Stratos finds in the underworld of air, the book abruptly turns in a very different and impressive direction. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within is distinct ultimately for moving two important characters forward - we see He-Man cry, perhaps for the first time ever?! - and there is something refreshing in the fact that it is not Adam who brings the conflict to its conclusion. Instead, Teela is given a moral dilemma and a huge character moment and the turn is an impressive one.
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within ultimately marks the return to the Masters Of The Universe books of the Snake Men. And until they pop back up, the artwork is, frankly, abysmal. The nebulous, poorly rendered artwork both requires characters to speak a running commentary and denies what they say. So, for example, the only way one might tell from what appears in the panel that Teela, Stratos and Moss Man have been devoured by a nightmare creature is that He-Man makes an exclamation that they have been consumed! Fortunately, he also tells the reader that he has just sliced open the nightmare worm when the artwork that follows that event is equally inscrutable. Later on, He-Man makes a comment about a red mist, which is nowhere visible on the page.
So, after several frustrating chapters of trying to figure out what is going on visually, paired with dialogue that reads like directions to the artist (and does not sound at all like things characters would say or would need to say in their circumstances), He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Volume 4: What Lies Within finally gets good. It gets good enough to want to read and want to read Volume 5, but there is no mistaking this anthology for anything other than very average pulp.
For other Masters Of The Universe products, please check out my reviews of:
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe - Season 2
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe Minicomic Collection Volume 1
DC Universe Vs. Masters Of The Universe
For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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