A CHARACTER GUIDE AND WORLD COMPENDIUM
Another superb volume has been added to the MOTU collection from Dark Horse publishers. This one is arguably the most important so far because it is an encyclopedia of extraordinary depth which examines material from a broad range of sources. These include the minicomics which were released with the original figures, the various cartoon series, comics from across three decades of MOTU history, audio plays, the Classics biographies and minicomics, and the UK annuals from the 1980s. The source material hasn't been limited to English language sources; there are German and Brazilian examples referenced in the book as well. The quantity and quality of the research is very impressive.
The book has been divided into seven chapters: Characters; Beasts, Creatures & Monsters; Factions, Organisations, Species & Races; Artifacts, Devices & Weapons; Spells & Magic; Locations and Vehicles & Transportation. The chapters are illustrated with selected artwork, scans and photographs. Each entry has at least one cited source. For those with multiple sources the grounds for inclusion required them to provide different information, so some sources were not referenced if they did not contribute anything new. As this is an encylopedia the entries are concise while remaining informative. There are over four thousand entries in the book.
This is a volume that will take MOTU fans many hours to go through. It is a joy to read and study. I've certainly discovered huge amounts of information from sources that I never knew existed, and my memory has been jogged about others, including the first UK annual that I loved as a young MOTU fan. (This was the book which featured photographs of figure prototypes and included the original Gorpo character.) I've been reminded of characters such as Queen Amaxa and Prince Amberis who featured in the annual's stories and who will hopefully appear in Classics form at some point.
There is some variation in how the entries have been named. Some locations are prefixed with 'City of' or 'Kingdom of', so if you can't find a place by name alone, consider how else it might be described. Targa, for example, is just listed as Targa, whereas Tarn is the Kingdom of Tarn. There are very few cross-references to other entries, so a little digging might be needed to find what you're looking for. You might find a small number of examples which aren't in the chapter you might first consider. For example, the Dark Obelisk and Giant Magical Clock (Filmation) and the Obelisk (minicomics) are considered to be locations rather than artefacts, whereas the Magic Stealer is identified as an artefact, not a location as I assumed it would be described.
A book like this - even with its wealth of data - is inevitably going to be scrutinised for missing entries. It hardly seems fair considering the enormous amount of work which clearly went into this project. But I actually think that is a good thing because the motivation to fill the gaps can only be beneficial to the collective knowledge of MOTU fans. It doesn't hurt to make suggestions and I trust those who worked on the book won't interpret them as criticism. One device I can think of that I can't find in the book is the unnamed hypnosis transmitter used by Skeletor in The Terror of Tri‑Klops! minicomic. It could be argued that the Eternian North Pole (The Magic Stealer! minicomic) should be mentioned, as should the Great Wall (The Clash of Arms). Eternia as a kingdom gets only the briefest mention (German comic), but there were at least two more significant occurences: the UK annual and the Power of Point Dread! record book.
Interestingly many of the characters have titles listed, but sometimes those featured on the toys are excluded on the grounds that the book is not a toy compendium. But this isn't consistent, and I'd argue that a character guide really needs this information whenever it exists, especially as the taglines described defining characteristics. The chapter dedicated to characters is the largest section of the book (roughly 40%) and is generally very thorough. The obvious candidates are all included, of course, but the extent of the research reveals itself in the obscure examples. There are characters who featured in newspaper strips and have therefore only ever existed as black-and-white drawings, and some who were never drawn at all. Where illustrations have been found they have been lovingly restored and edited, which must have been a huge undertaking in itself.
The book is a celebration of the Masters of the Universe and reveals how expansive this fictional universe became. The other Dark Horse books are hugely significant in their own way, but I think this one is the most important because of its encyclopedic nature. I've been a fan of the MOTU from the beginning, but I'm left pleasantly bewildered by how much stuff I'd never heard of. Even after filtering out the bits I'm not so interested in there is still plenty of new or little-known material to hold my attention. I love this book and I recommend it to everyone who loves the Masters of the Universe.
There is obviously an audience for these Dark Horse books. (I think five have been published as of May 2017.)
It makes me wonder what could be coming next. Perhaps a book featuring the early DC comics? We've already
had the superb minicomic book so I'd like to think this could be a possibility. Characters such as Ceril
and Damon (who are both mentioned in the compendium) were created back in 1982 - in other words they came
into being right alongside the original Masters - but have until now been lost to a proportion of the fandom.
I've never seen the DC comics - I don't know if they ever made it to the UK - but there is surely a wealth of
MOTU lore to explore right there. But for now make sure you treat yourself to A Character Guide and
World Compendium. You won't be disappointed.