He-Man / ThunderCats

As with many of my generation, two cartoons virtually defined the high-adventure genre of techno-fantasy during my formative years. Both ThunderCats and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe featured pseudo-technological heroes engaged in a never-ending battle against the quasi-mystical forces of evil. Both cartoons made my parents very nervous with their parade of occultish imagery and the regular invocation of otherworldly forces. They were very concerned that these shows would cause me to join a cult; I was very concerned that they wouldn’t allow me to watch them anymore. Somehow we all made it through the 80s alive and cult-free.

I originally hesitated when I saw the first issue of He-Man/ThunderCats on the comic shop shelves. DC Comics had already burned me on Scooby Apocalypse and the language in Wacky Raceland was starting to grate on my nerves. I wasn’t ready to accept another “re-imagining” of fondly remembered characters that simply cast them as dysfunctional narcissists whose cursing abused my ears. I flipped through the first couple of pages with trepidation and quickly added the title to my pull-and-hold file.

Within the pages of that first issue, the character models I remembered from years past burst from the page in Freddie Williams dirty, gritty pencils and Jeremy Colwell’s layered colors. I knew these characters. The lines of dialog could have been drawn directly from the cartoons. The action of the first issue ramped up to a showdown between He-Man and Mumm-Ra that followed the same formula as the cartoons; bad guys attack, everybody fights, the bad guys enact a crazy scheme, the good guys counter with another crazy scheme, everybody fights until the good guys win. Then you reset and do it all again in the next episode. Only this time, midway through issue #1 Mumm-Ra took He-Man’s Sword of Power and gutted him like a fish.

He-Man / Thundercats (2016) #1

I had to read it twice to be sure. In the span of a few panels, a book I had expected to be a nostalgia-filled romp from 30 years ago took a turn that would never have happened on Saturday morning television. Unlike the travesty of Scooby Apocalypse or the vulgarity of Wacky Raceland I found this bit of unexpected violence strangely satisfying. Even kids know that swords are for killing people, or slaying monsters if you prefer. None of the characters in these shows ever got hurt for real, not in any way that wasn’t completely recovered by the start of the next episode. The show titles proclaimed that the fate of the universe was on the line every weekday at 3:30, but even as a kid it felt much more like a game than a battle of good versus evil.

He-Man / ThunderCats (2016) #2

And isn’t that what we really want from an adventure that pits the defenders of justice against the villainy of unrepentant evil? We want to see the bad guys do things that are selfish and despicable with consequences that play out in the lives of people affected by their actions. We want to see heroes pay a real and visceral cost in the cause of standing in the gap between the oppressor and the helpless. There is a place for heroes that triumph through cleverness and overcome adversity through skill, but it’s the element of sacrifice that sets apart those heroes who bear the whips and scorns of the oppressor’s wrong and by enduring end them, suffering the injury of evil intent and scorning the dread of that death whose undiscovered country will timely bear us all away. Hamlet’s tragedy is that he must oppose the ills of outrageous fortune in order to make his Quietus; the triumph of Christ is that He endured the full consequence of evil in the place of others and it was insufficient to remove His own righteousness. To intercept evil and prevent its impact only satisfies our sense of balance and fair play; to recompense the consequence of the last full measure of evil’s capability satisfies justice.

He-Man / ThunderCats (2016) #3

So if the cartoons of yesteryear failed to take themselves seriously enough, it certainly appeared as if the comic book crossover of today was taking itself seriously indeed. From now on, the bad guys play for keeps. Over the next six issues, everything I ever wanted to see them do in the old cartoon played itself out in front of me. Authors Rob David and Lloyd Goldfine stripped away every trope forced on the cartoons by the grassroots organization Action for Children’s Television. David and Goldfine eschewed the use of vulgarity, narcissism, and depravity in favor of methodical story construction and characters who understood the consequences of their actions and behaved with maturity. Williams’ art depicted ugly, brutal violence with visceral impact that needed no gratuitous gore. Throughout the book the old 80s character models and outlandish schemes reminded me that this particular battle of good versus evil filtered mature, epic fantasy through a lens of childhood nostalgia.

I’m not typically much for nostalgia. The popular show Stranger Things did very little for me that way. I do like seeing those old artifacts and elements, but in their original context. I generally prefer modern renditions that reflect the original inspiration and intent, but that are reflective of modern sensibilities. It’s no surprise then that I prefer the character models from What’s New, Scooby-Doo? over the 60s designs, the 2002 Masters of the Universe, and the 2011 ThunderCats. Right from the start, this crossover seemed to me like a step backwards. Getting me to buy every issue was going to take more than rose-colored memories of broadcast television.

He-Man / ThunderCats (2016) #4

The art was already doing much to set this telling apart from the source material. The character models still matched the original Mattel toys but Williams’ pencils exaggerated the field of depth and range of motion with heavy emphasis on the line work and regular explosions of krackle dots sized to resemble blowing grit or blood spatter. Colwell’s colors rendered the pastel candy palette of the cartoon in digital watercolor, layering shades to add additional depth and motion to the line art and muting the vibrancy of the characters. The resulting panels provided the book with the kind of visual complexity the cartoon lacked without dumping the old models. The pencils and inks may have been dirty, but the action was clean and dynamic with a clear progressive flow and good communication.

It would have been easy for David and Goldfine to simply serve up page after page of fan service, scheming nastiness from Skeletor and Mumm-Ra, goofy banter with Snarf and Orko, or Lion-O vs He-Man to the death. They gave me every bit of that. I didn’t feel like any of the main characters were mistreated and with only six issues I was perfectly satisfied that only Adam and Lion-O received proper character arcs. The story itself is little more than a vehicle for the fan service crossover situations, and even the primary character arcs are extremely simplistic. It really is very much the same as the old television shows. David and Goldfine could have left it at that without doing any harm to the franchise, instead they added a narrator to the action, a voice describing the action as it progressed and reflecting on the events.

He-Man / ThunderCats (2016) #5

Every issue received its own narrator with the owner of the voice revealed only at the end. Issue #1 pondered the pompous foolishness of those who toyed with power. The voice reviled Mumm-Ra for trading with the Ancient Spirits of Evil and called the Masters of Eternia fools for allowing evil to act when it could be prevented. The voice reflected on the absolute necessity for proactive heroes, lest evil beings remake the world in their own image as he, Skeletor, planned. Further issues saw characters despair over the struggle against evil, resolve to stand in the gap, and determine that evil was the only constant in the universe. It added weight and meaning to the spectacle of the crossover, reminding us that it is not life but the play that is a shadow that struts and frets its hour upon the stage, a tale full of sound and fury that signifies something.

David and Goldfine never really discuss what that something is that gives life its significance but they do assure us of two things: that evil can never be destroyed, and that heroes will always engage in the battle never-ending. He-Man/ThunderCats is a book worth reading if you’ve got fond memories of the characters or just want a taste of the best of 80s gonzo techno-fantasy. It’s worth considering the implications of the setting and the musings of the narrators. I enjoyed it quite a bit and even though there’s a bit of needless cussin’ from some of the characters I’m very glad to have added this story to my library. I give He-Man/ThunderCats a Quality score “Extremely Gratifying” and a Relevance score of “Suitable for Discussion”.

He-Man / ThunderCats (2016) #6


Winston Crutchfield has loved comics ever since he discovered his older brother’s stash of Spider-Man and What If? books forgotten in a dresser drawer. He blames his mother for teaching him to read and his grandmother for fooling nobody by “accidentally” picking up new comics at the drugstore with her crossword puzzles. He is the publisher and small business service provider at Critical Press Media, and may be found in the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike”.

Scooby Apocalypse

I love Scooby-Doo, so when DC added a Scooby book to the Hannah-Barbera revival line it immediately caught my attention. In Scooby Apocalypse, we get a glimpse of what it would be like if the Scooby gang met for the first time just as the world ended. It’s a kind of sci-fi version of The Walking Dead, where the Mystery Inc gang is cast as the survivors of a nanotech plague that transformed the whole world into monsters. The main characters are indeed named Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby. They do indeed ride around in a green van they call the Mystery Machine. Their visual models even show inspiration from the classic characters … and there ends any resemblance to anything remotely Scooby-Doo.

The original cartoon endures due to the formula of the mysteries and the chemistry of the characters. They’re obviously tight knit friends who work well together and look out for each other. The Scooby-Doo cartoon mysteries are some of the most well-crafted stories in the business, building on a series of action and character beats to reach a logical climax. The Scooby Apocalypse comic is instead a series of set pieces tied together through the use of common characters. It’s actually the exact opposite of the cartoons in terms of story and character construction.

Scooby Apocalypse (2016) #1

In fact, “exact opposite of Scooby-Doo” is a pretty good way to describe this comic. The characters are caricatures of teen drama stereotypes that bear no resemblance at all to the classic characters. Fred is a cowardly, helpless, doe-eyed simp, unable to think for himself. Daphne is filled with a reservoir of bitterness and anger married to a domineering and antagonistic mistrust. Velma is self-obsessed and socially non-functional. Shaggy is a prevaricating pacifist that waffles between apathy and anxiety with bipolar intensity. Scooby is used as both comic … relief is really not the right word, “attempt” perhaps? … and as a deus ex machina plot device. And they constantly fight amongst themselves. I’ve always found the Mystery Inc gang endearing and likeable, something impossible for the cast of this comic. Except for one brief moment in the first issue’s backup story, Shaggy and Scooby are simply not interesting enough to evoke emotion from the reader, and I actively hate the other three with a side order of resentment for the time spent reading about them.

Scooby Apocalypse (2016) #7

I’d take a minute to describe the plot, but I’ve already summed it up. The gang fights and bickers with each other constantly, about everything, and with zero consistency of character. The book is little more than a series of set changes where the cast moves from scene to scene continually sniping and being nasty to each other. I got sick of it very quickly.

Scooby Apocalypse (2016) #3

The rest of the book is a parade of gore, violence, and grotesquerie without reflection or purpose. Elements of the world seem to be presented solely for their shock value, without even the barest attempt at literary device. Issue #6 set another distressing pattern for the book by spending the entire issue in a flashback that was meant to reveal Velma’s involvement in the events that set off end of the world. The resulting story belabored a clumsy and blatantly obvious plot point while obsessing over Velma’s inability to behave like a functional adult. Issue #10 wasted the whole book exploring Velma’s fetishistic power fantasies without even attempting to be relevant to the rest of the series. We’re less than a dozen issues into the series and they’ve seemingly abandoned all pretense of telling a cohesive story in favor of finding increasingly shocking and offensive ways of portraying their main characters.

Scooby Apocalypse (2016) #10

The worst part is that writers Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis have continually and consistently turned out some of the best stories in comics literature. Giffen’s work on Legion of Super-Heroes remains some of my very favorite stories ever. He handled a diverse cast of characters deftly and through at least three incarnations (that I’ve read), telling a variety of stories from lighthearted fun to deadly serious. Giffen also helmed Marvel’s Annihilation event, telling a series of often brutal and occasionally touching war stories and elevating characters such as Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord from forgotten relics to fan favorites.

DeMatteis first came to my attention during his run that concluded the first Ghost Rider series. Johnny Blaze’s struggle against the demon literally inside of him resonated with me when I first read those books and continues to define for me the character of the Ghost Rider. His work on Captain America introduced to me Deathlok and the post-apocalyptic world of the Nth Command. His climactic battle between Cap and the Red Skull dug deep into the truly twisted depths of that villain. I was glued to the Spider-Man books when DeMatteis penned Kraven’s Last Hunt and later tortured Peter Parker with the loss of his friend Harry Osborn to the spectre of the Green Goblin.

Giffen and DeMatteis, of course, are unquestionably best known as a team for their creation of Justice League International, a book which postulated that superhero comics of the time were taking themselves far too seriously and catapulted obscure characters such as Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Martian Manhunter into the mainstream. They proved that superheroes can be funny and likeable and still deal with serious problems on a very human level. In fact, the Giffen and DeMatteis duo is pretty much my dream team for a story that casts Scooby-Doo and the gang as serious investigators in a world full of dangerous monsters … which makes this kind of epic failure baffling and disheartening.

Scooby Apocalypse #2

So what can we pull out of this dung heap? Is there anything here worth further consideration or discussion fuel? Not really. Velma confesses to being a central figure responsible for the nanite plague that transformed the world into monsters. Her primary defense is that she was trying to save the world and that others corrupted her work. But the book never follows up on the ethical question to any kind of resolution, nor does it even pretend to prompt the reader to do so on his own. Beyond that … I’m just writing off the series as an utter waste of time and money.

I usually cut books like this some slack, assuming they’re meant for a completely different audience. In this case, I can’t even imagine who that audience might be as I can’t imagine anyone voluntarily continuing to read this garbage. I give Scooby Apocalypse a Quality score of “Terrible” and a Relevance score of “Just Barely”.


Winston Crutchfield has loved comics ever since he discovered his older brother’s stash of Spider-Man and What If? books forgotten in a dresser drawer. He blames his mother for teaching him to read and his grandmother for fooling nobody by “accidentally” picking up new comics at the drugstore with her crossword puzzles. He is the publisher and small business service provider at Critical Press Media, and may be found in the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike”.

Wacky Raceland

In the summer of 2016, Warner Bros decided to try and reimagine their popular Hannah-Barbera cartoon characters as more mature versions of themselves. This line included four titles: Future Quest, which united the Hannah-Barbera actions heroes on an adventure throughout space and time; The Flintstones, looking at the stone-age Honeymooners through a modern sitcom lens; Scooby Apocalypse, where the Scooby gang meets for the first time just as the world ends; and Wacky Raceland, twisting the goofy wacky racers into post-apocalyptic speed demons in a world where it’s drive or die.

The old cartoon Wacky Races pitted 11 alliteratively named drivers and their impossible machines on a no-holds-barred cross-country demolition course with predictably goofy results. The new comic book looks like Mad Max meets Speed Racer. The cars now have an attitude of their own, driven by an AI that reflects, distorts, and sometimes clashes with the personality of their driver. These turbo-charged death machines are powered by self-repairing nanomachines and armed to the teeth. While the vehicles are clearly the product of advanced technology, the rest of the world struggles to survive clouds of voracious nanite swarms, monstrous leviathans, once-human mutants, and a blasted, radioactive landscape. The disembodied Announcer continually goads the racers forward with an agenda all her own.

Wacky Raceland (2016) #1

The meat of the story is of course the conflict between the racers. Of the 11 wacky racers – and you can be forgiven if you can’t recall anyone other than Dick Dastardly and Muttley – only a few are given any kind of in-depth treatment. Each one of the racers has their own motivations for driving, not just to gain their promised ticket out of the blasted wasteland and into paradise.

Dick Dastardley and Muttley
Wacky Races (1968), left; Wacky Raceland (2016), right

None of these people can really be called noble or selfless – or even healthy, really. Each one of them brings their own brand of despicable to the story, leaving us with a cast of characters both fascinating and repulsive. Every one of these people is a different kind of broken, sometimes compelling, sometimes off-putting, and sometimes just annoying. The Red Baron believes the apocalypse has been sent by the gods to weed out the weak and the degenerate. The Announcer has promised both Penelope Pitstop and Dick Dastardly that she will rebuild the winner’s family from the DNA in their bones. Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear need no more motivation than the promise of a drink at the next finish line.

The first five issues of this limited series really shine. Each issue zooms in on one of the characters, sprinkling hints of their past and teasing flashbacks around the action of the current story. Tedious explanations of motivation and laborious explorations of emotional depth are blessedly absent, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions about what drives the racers and the secret behind the Announcer’s seemingly godlike control of the world. The mystery behind the apocalypse, the role of the Announcer, and the lengths to which the racers will go to keep moving forward make for fascinating and truly compelling storytelling. At it’s heart that’s what this series is really all about, the ability of people to carry on with their lives in a world that provides little to no temporal joy, that’s actively trying to kill them, and whose hope of paradise at the end is more or less a blatant lie. It’s a starkly honest view of what happens when a wholly humanistic and materialistic worldview is taken to its logical conclusion.

Wacky Raceland (2016) #3

Writer Ken Pontac’s comic book credits are fairly slim, but he has an extensive career in film and television. He has been involved to varying degrees with some of my favorite shows over the years, including ReBoot, The Roswell Conspiracies, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, several incarnations of Sonic the Hedgehog, and Generator Rex. It is this last cartoon that seems to have left the biggest impression on Wacky Raceland, as they share a premise that Wacky Raceland cranks up to 11 and drops all pretense at being family-friendly.

Wacky Raceland (2016) #3

And Wacky Raceland is *not* family friendly. The violence is graphically portrayed in a world that is visually disgusting. The racers use casually vulgar language and obsess over very unsubtle sexual innuendo. Sergeant Blast is now a transsexual woman who forcefully and repeatedly advocates the correctness of his choices. These elements add nothing to the story and their interjection is adolescent at best and intentionally offensive at worst.

Finally, the story really suffers for being forced into a limited series format. The final issue just kind of lumps a conclusion on top of the story structure without effectively paying off the characters or worldbuilding. Another six issues would have given things time to develop and set up a proper payoff. Another twelve would have allowed the plot time to breathe and the characters room to grow. The final issue is crammed with lazy and nonsensical plot devices that run counter to the tone set by the previous five issues. It was a disappointing conclusion to a very promising premise – not ruinous, but profoundly disappointing.

If you like the idea of Mad Max meets Speed Racer in a world full of tantalizing and mysterious secrets, if you can get past the obscene language and at times too-frenetic artwork, if you want to meet a cast of degenerates whom you won’t be able to help but love to hate – or perhaps find yourself hating to love – then Wacky Raceland is for you. But is it a book for me? Not so much. The artwork doesn’t do a good job of communicating the action to me, the language is obsessively vulgar and needlessly offensive, and the intensely serious tone of the book climaxes with a ludicrous plot twist.

Wacky Raceland (2016) #3

It’s a shame, really. The question of life’s purpose leads to the cross, inviting us to leave the sin of this world behind for the joy of the next one. In the world of Wacky Raceland, even the stubbornly Catholic Peter Perfect is unable to hold out for the hope that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In a world without God, Lazy Luke’s ambition to crawl into a bottle and never come out seems like the only rational response. All six issues have been collected into a trade paperback and digital editions. I give Wacky Raceland a Quality score of “High, but Flawed” and a Relevance score of “High”.


Winston Crutchfield has loved comics ever since he discovered his older brother’s stash of Spider-Man and What If? books forgotten in a dresser drawer. He blames his mother for teaching him to read and his grandmother for fooling nobody by “accidentally” picking up new comics at the drugstore with her crossword puzzles. He is the publisher and small business service provider at Critical Press Media, and may be found in the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike”.