I’ve binge-watched MOTU: R (the new series helmed by Kevin Smith on Netflix) twice now, and holy shit is it awesome?!! For some reason however, people seem to dislike it, and have given it such a slew of negative reviews on social media channels such as YouTube and Rotten Tomatoes, that I felt it was necessary to give my own positive review here, and address some of the issues that people seem to have with it.
Recently, I’ve been playing with my Mega Construx MOTU mini-action figures to create my own He-Man themed narrative based on, and styled after the original mini-comics that came with the action figures. In my comic, Orko has somehow turned Eternia and its various heroes and villains into building bricks, which gave me a jumping off point to begin a story that could redefine and update the relationships between characters. I was surprised and delighted at how many of the themes I have been trying to explore turned up in MOTU: R.
First of all, before I talk to the complaints I’ve heard about MOTU: R, I’d like to offer my own observations and insights as to why I find it such an endearing and vital addition to the MOTU lore that 80’s kids like me have treasured for decades.
The biggest and most immediate difference from the original 1980’s cartoon is that this new Netflix series is styled in the pattern of a comic book story arc, where each episode builds upon the last and enhances the tale. In the 1980’s, episodes did loosely interconnect, but were largely single story shows in which the “problem of the day” was able to be overcome by our heroes by the end of a 30-minute episode. MOTU: R is more like a two-hour movie cut into five parts. This highly appealed to me, because it is similar to what I am doing with my own MOTUCTX mini-comic, and because this style of narrative gives the story-teller more room and breadth to explore character development for a wider array of characters.
The second most apparent change in the styling of the show is that in MOTU: R, the characters actually fight each other. In the 1980’s, broadcasting standards were such that in order to avoid the appearance of promoting violence - He-Man never actually punched Skeletor. He would always create a wind-tornado by twirling his arms or a punch the earth to create a quake or something similar. The only things that were shown being the recipients of his mighty beat-downs were robots, natural landmarks and things like rocks, or hugely non-humanoid things like demons.
Here in 2021 however we don’t give no fucking shits! This show punches, stabs, kicks, and even explores character development that shows signs of permanent battle damage.
My absolute favorite piece of character development in this show is Evil-Lyn. She is so much more three dimensional than I ever gave her credit for; although the main protagonist in the show is Teela who has always been a fairly successful adaptation of the feminine hero, at least in my opinion – because I always included Teela with the other toys I played with as a kid.
Evil-Lyn however was just Teela’s negative to me. She was the “girl bad-guy” the way that Jitsu was the negative of Fisto or Panthor was the negative of Battle-Cat. Teela has had a secretive destiny ascribed to her since the 1980’s, but Evil-Lyn had never been as successfully or interestingly developed until now.
In particular I find her relationship with Orko to be the most compelling relationship in the whole show, and it’s through Orko’s eyes that we first see Evil-Lyn as a person and not just a sorceress. She expresses her regret at serving Skeletor and laments sacrificing her own destiny to help him achieve his. She tells Orko that she added the ‘Evil’ to her name - she wasn’t born with it, and after Orko’s demise she sets her helmet aside at his grave possibly indicating a return to just plain Lyn. Listen to that sigh when she reluctantly returns to the service of Skeletor in the season finale. I am very interested to see where Kevin Smith takes her character next season.
Other villainous character development worth mention and attention belongs to characters like Tri-Clops – who started a cult, and Beast-Man who behaves more like a nobleman than the clumsy animal we remember from the 80’s. It’s cool to see that the evil minions of Snake Mountain are finally being treated with the same consideration always attended to the heroes. More about this in a bit...
Teela herself is also a stunning piece of characterization – I mean; she abandons her new promotion right at the beginning of the show like “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you… you’re cool, fuck you – I'm out.” The realization comes slow to her that, even though she never knew Adam’s secret, He-Man always counted on her to go toe-to-toe with him in his He-Man form is what really counted.
I feel like maybe this is one of the two main reasons why Adam chooses to reincarnate in the realm of Preternia as his ‘lesser-self’ instead of as He-Man. He always knew that Teela was just as competent as He-Man was without the Power of Grayskull. She didn’t need it, she had girl-power!
Speaking of character arcs… does no one else credit the massive change in He-Man himself? He-Man KILLED Skeletor! No, not that time… I’m not talking about He-Man sacrificing himself to destroy Skeletor and save the universe. That’s regular old He-Man doing what He-Man does. I’m talking about He-Man succumbing to rage when Skeletor kills Moss-Man and running him through with the power-sword in revenge. (I think this is the probable other reason why he reincarnates as Adam instead of He-Man, and why he has the Preternian relationship with Moss-Man that he does.) Basically, He-Man did what the Joker has been trying to get Bat-Man to do for decades, and when he does it, Skeletor is… shall we say pleased?
So, as awesome as all of this attention of MOTU lore and detail is, why has it been received so immediately badly? Kevin Smith has been quoted as saying that this was a “love-letter” to the MOTU fans, and that he had approached the content and story with deliberate care. How did it go wrong?
Well, it didn’t. My recommendation is that if you have a tiny penis and are threatened by women, you're not going to like this show. If you are confident enough in your sexuality to set aside your suspension of disbelief at the incredulity of "the Teela Show." Then it's pretty awesome. If you didn’t like it (for the reasons outlined below) then you didn’t get it. I believe its an awesome continuation of the MOTU legacy and many of the complaints I am hearing repeatedly are simply ignorant of the truth. I could not stand by and let something I love become besmirched by people who are not really fans of what is behind the concept and themes being explored. Complaints basically follow one (or both) of two-threads:
1. “She-Man” – Apparently a lot of incels out there have taken to the keyboard to complain that Teela, and not He-Man is the protagonist of the show. In fact, He-Man dies in the first episode, Teela saves him – and then he dies again in the finale! Teela is the impromptu leader of the coalition from Grayskull and Snake Mountain, and just as all true and good leaders are made, she is forced into this position by circumstance and does not seek it. In fact, Scareglow intimates that her greatest fear is that she is somehow destined to become as legendary a figure as He-Man himself.
So first off, to all of you numb-nuts who champion the She-Man complaint I can’t state emphatically enough – YOU ARE IN THE WRONG PLACE, AND YOU DON’T BELONG HERE. This isn’t and was never supposed to be a story about He-Man. I mean for fuck’s sake… it’s in the title! If you want He-Man (a white cisgender male hero) to be your protagonist, then you need to be re-watching the 1980’s cartoon called "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe." It is an awesome cartoon to be sure - but this 2021 addition to it is called "Masters of the Universe: Revelation." No mention of He-Man in the title at all because yes, there can be stories about the other Masters of the Universe, and this is one of them. It is a story about Teela and the issues and pressures that the heroes adjacent to He-Man face.
It’s also a story about Revelation, or when you learn something you didn’t know. Teela learns that Adam is secretly He-Man at the moment of his death and feels betrayed, but I don’t think that’s the Revelation intended by the title. At several moments during the series Teela comes close to learning the secret that her mother is the Sorceress of Grayskull; (see the 80’s cartoon for background reference) once from Man-At-Arms, once from Adam and once from the Sorceress herself, (in addition to the moment with Scareglow mentioned previously.) In each one of these moments, circumstances intervene and the subject gets changed. I feel (perhaps because it mirrors the mini-comic I am creating myself with Mega-Constux) that the most important scene to foreshadow the impending Revelation intended by the title, is the greenish tint imparted to Teela’s skin by Scareglow’s magic. He tells she that she fears being special and powerful in a moment when her appearance is similar to that of the Green Goddess of Eternia seen in the original Mattel mini-comics that were sold with figures.
If I’m right about this (at least it’s what I would do) then the whole point of this story will be that Teela has always had the power and destiny to be He-Man’s equal and the true test she faces is her acceptance of that fact. He-Man might be part of the show, a vital part – but this time (as another great female lead recently said) ‘it’s not about you.’
2. “SJWs” – The next most prevalent complaint that I am hearing over and over from the same incels (as well as some women?) are that the show is too “woke.” Like, what the fuck does that even mean?
Women aren’t supposed to be strong? Heroes like Andra and King Grayskull (as well as that killer Clamp-Champ cameo) aren’t supposed to be black? Villains aren’t supposed to be complex? IDK?
Let’s start with the villains. I’ll pass over Evil-Lyn because we discussed her amazing character arc already and because Tri-Clops is far more interesting to *ahem* ‘look at’ from a SJW perspective. (Do you ‘see’ what I did there?)
In Skeletor’s absence Tri-Clops has seized control of Grayskull and denounced magic and sorcery in favor of technology. He has gathered a cult following which seems to be fairly easy as magic has been greatly weakened in Eternia in the absence of the power sword. However, he is secretly using the magic of Skeletor’s havoc staff to infect and mutate his minions into technological soldiers in the name of something he calls “Motherboard.”
To me, this is a pretty direct parallel to the cult of Trumpism now known as the GOP claiming to favor democracy while adhering to increasingly more fascist techniques and behavior. Trump claims to do one thing, and then secretly does the other. The only real difference between Trump and Tri-Clops is that it takes Evil-Lyn to reveal that the motherboard is secretly powered by what little magic remains in Skeletor’s havoc staff; while Trump talks about his secrets on international television and then expects us all to believe that we ourselves are so stupid as to have misheard or misunderstood him. Fake fucking news – the truth is that Trump sucks harder than Trap-Jaw when fed a metal arm with a buzz-saw hidden inside, and if you go ask Trap-Jaw he’ll admit it sucked hard.
Okay, so what about the blackness of MOTU: R? I have heard both of the arguments that making a character who is traditionally white-skinned a character of color is and should be acceptable, and that doing so should not be acceptable because it asks us to accept a character of color on the basis that they are borrowing credit from their white counterparts.
In the case of King Grayskull, I feel like the first argument is more applicable because he himself explains that in Preternia, the champions are able to reincarnate as they so choose. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if he is white or black, it doesn’t even matter if he is supposed to be white or black. King Grayskull chooses to be black. Haters can fucking live with it.
As for Andra, although she has some slight root in MOTU lore, she’s pretty much a ‘background of the picture’ - ‘one-time mention’ character that Kevin Smith had the freedom to invent pretty much from scratch. She was a member of Teela’s guard (who apparently defected with Teela) and that’s about it. For Kevin Smith to make the only new character in the series a black woman, speaks volumes about his commitment to inclusion and creating positive role models of color that mirror our society and the real-life heroes in it. That IS woke! (but like, how could a thing possibly be too woke?)
As for the complainers who champion the SJW argument of the show, I have to once again expose your ignorance by explaining a few things. The original 1980’s cartoon was SUPER-WOKE. Not just in its representation of characters in a fantasy barbarian semi-dystopia, (Teela has never been a reward for He-Man’s heroism. He doesn’t “win” the girl, he treats her as his friend and equal) but also in that it had a motherfucking moral to each one of the stories that was explained by the characters at the end of each episode. For shit’s sake, Orko even taught me not to eat too much candy or I could get a stomach ache!
Also, the term SJW is an acronym meaning ‘Social Justice Warrior’ which itself refers to an individual who talks the talk (usually on the internet) but doesn’t actually walk the walk. How can you possibly ascribe that moniker to Kevin Smith or the show he’s created when it demonstrably (for the reasons I’ve just discussed) does indeed walk the walk.
Smith is a filmmaker by trade and he has used the experience and wisdom he has earned from his career to make something that genuinely challenges some of the ideas we hold about who our heroes and villains are and should be. MOTU: R is woke, and that’s a VERY. GOOD. THING. If you disagree, then you are basically exposing yourself as part of the problem it is trying to fix. I hope that you can learn from it.
3. Anime – Oh yeah, and to all you limp baby-dick whiners out there who complain that the actual animation style is too ‘anime’ or too similar to the MOTU-200X series: STFU. Just shut the fuck up already. I can tell which character is He-Man and which one is Skeletor. The animation is far more beautiful than anything I can draw myself and I’ll happily watch characters that look like this all day long. Grow the fuck up. That opening sequence was so beautifully nostalgic I was a kid again!
In conclusion, I feel that it is important to remember that this is only the first half of Kevin’s Smith’s complete story, and we will have to wait for the second part in order to see how it all turns out. I do not feel in any way that Teela being important in this show diminishes He-Man’s importance, or that the issues that the show tackles detract from the action, excitement or pacing of the narrative, but in fact are so intricately woven-in as to be integral to the development of the story as a whole.
And more on point, if you feel you have the right to complain about the show, about Teela, about societal issues or the animation, what does your interpretation look like? What have you made MOTU? I’m willing to guess nothing – but I’ll show you mine if you show me yours…
To Kevin Smith, I must say “Fuck the Naysayers, ‘cause they don’t mean a thing – this is what style we bring!” and on a personal note – thanks holmie. This show is badass, Teela and Andra are badass, Evil-Lyn is motherfucking badass, MOTU is BADASS and I hope and pray that you’ll continue creating content for this badass brand. If you need me to buy action figures or some other kind of merch to help show support for the show and keep it going, let me know where they are in stock… and to Netflix, - don’t bow to the racism, misogyny and generalized GOP hatefulness directed at the show. It is wonderful and you should continue to produce both more content in the MOTU universe, as well as more content that features positive representation and exploration of the societal issues we are facing today.