In Part II of my breakdown of my own opinions about the new Netflix series from Kevin Smith, Masters of the Universe: Revelation I had the honor and privilege of sitting down with the man himself, Kevin Smith. You can check out Part I, right here.

Now, I am a big fan of the View Askewniverse (the world of Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob) and much of Smith’s other work in the entertainment industry. On top of that, I really, really enjoyed the first five episodes of his new Netflix series Master of the Universe: Revelation. If you didn’t read Part I of this series, go back and check it out above. It’s where I address the so-called “controversy” surrounding the release of this follow-up to the culturally significant original series that aired between 1983 and 1985.

Kliewer vs Smith: Interview for the Ages

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith and Masters of the Universe: Revelation promotional poster

Before we start this, let me just inform you that none of us were allowed to have the video footage from this interview. It took place in mid-June 2021 over Zoom, and let me tell you, Kevin Smith is a talker. And we’re all the better for it!

Context for the following conversation: my office, which I was Zooming in from for this interview, is adorned with all kinds of Star Wars, Batman and Jaws paraphernalia, among other fandoms.

Kevin Smith: Ben! How are you sir?

Ben Kliewer: I’m doing great! How are you Kevin?

KS: Fuckin’ love that room! Look at all those posters! I co-sign. That bust, the Batman bust! Come on. I’m gonna go divorce my wife and come live with you!

BK: That sounds good to me, it’s a plan! I’m just up the street from Scum and Villainy, we’ll be fine.

KS: Legit man. Fuck! That’s close!

BK: There you go, right? First of all, thank you for all the work that you’ve done. Huge fan of your work over the years. The Askewniverse and everything. And thank you for these five episodes of Masters of the Universe, it was a blast!

You could’ve made more of the standard 130 episodes that we’ve already seen, and just cashed a check and gone home. But you said “Fuck that” and you decided to make this poignant, powerful story about life and death, despair and hope. Not to mention an incredibly diverse cast with strong female leads. Can you talk about the development of how you went from “let’s watch this muscley white guy fight a muscley purple guy” and turned it into what these first five episodes are?

And Then Kevin Talked for Twenty Minutes

Kevin Smith
He-Man (voiced by Chris Wood) rides atop Battle Cat in Masters of the Universe: Revelation

Kevin Smith: Thank you! Listen, our work was laid out for us very well by the kids who did the original show back in the early 80s. And as much as I’m not going to say “they were incredibly ahead of their time,” they are more diverse than most cartoons. In every episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Teela is right there, right next to He-Man fighting side-by-side, if not protecting Prince Adam as his royal guard.

And, you know, Evil-Lyn was in Skeletor’s crew too. So at least they had both genders pretty well represented, although it was primarily geared towards boys, it would seem.

So, coming into it, it wasn’t me going “Hey, Mattel, I’ve got a cool pitch!” Mattel reached out to me. My agent was like “Mattel wants to meet with you to talk about something.” I said “What?” He said “They won’t say until you sign an NDA.” And I said “Where’s the meeting?” And they’re like “Santa Monica.” And I’m like “Oh fuck, that’s so far. I’m not going there.” And they said “They’ll come see you.” And I was like “Oh, they’ll come to my house? Alright, I’ll take that meeting!”

So Rob David came over, he’s our boss at Mattel television, and he’s also a guy that’s been writing wicked Masters of the Universe comics for DC for the last few years. So he’s a creative as well.

So, he came over and I signed the NDA and then he goes “We want to talk to you about He-Man.” And I said “Really! What about He-Man?!” And he’s like “Well, we’ve got a three-pronged approach to He-Man. There’s a movie that’s being made sooner or later. There’s a kids’ show that we’re doing right now called He-Man and the Master’s of the Universe which is CG oriented.” Then he said “There’s a middle project that’s very important to us because it’s about legacy. We want to do a series that’s for people who love the original series.”

And Rob was like “I loved your Daredevil run. I think you might be the guy!” And I was like “Get outta here! Alright, well, I’d be up for that. Give me some time, lemme see if I can come up with a story.”

“I’m Gonna Spin One and See If It’s Everything I Remember”

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Kevin Smith: And so, I knew my He-Man very well. I watched it when I was a kid. My parents wouldn’t buy me the toys because they were like “We bought you Star Wars toys, that’s enough!” They weren’t about to do a whole other thing.

So, I knew the cartoon insanely well. But then I went back and I was like “I’m gonna spin one, and see if it’s everything I remember.”

So, I watch the episode, and right in the beginning credits, you know, with the “I am Adam, Prince of Eternia. Defender of the Secrets of Castle Greyskull” you know, they have, to me, what was one of the most compelling lines, which was “Only three people know my secret” you know. That only three people knew that Prince Adam was He-Man. And one of those people was not Teela, the person who he was with constantly. You know, his closest friend.

And so I was like “Okay, so what it Teela finally found out? But what if she found out in the worst way possible? What if these two dudes who’ve been fighting forever, finally have the big fight where something irrevocably changes.”

And so, He-man is gone, for a moment, and so Teela has to deal with the fact that, not only has she lost a friend and someone who she loves, but this person has lied to her, her entire life. And she doesn’t even get to sort that out.

So I went back and I pitched what I was calling Masters of the Universe: The End of the Universe and it’s pretty much exactly these first five episodes, as well as the back five. So, I pitched that to Rob, and Rob was like “Uh, I’m loving this! Let’s take it to Netflix.”

I’m Gonna Have A Netflix Show?!

Netflix logo

Kevin Smith: And at that point, I was like “Oh shit. Rob, I gotta be honest with you; I’ve pitched to Netflix five, six times. Every time they love to see me, they’re very nice to me. And every time they’ve passed on what I’m doing. So I got no luck at Netflix man. You might not want to bring me to that meeting.”

And Rob was like “Oh, we already sold it to Netflix. This is already set up.”

And I was like “Are you fucking kidding me?! I’m gonna have a Netflix show?!”

And Rob’s like “Well, if Teddy likes your take.”

And so we went into Netflix and I met Ted Biaselli who is one of the greatest finds of my entire career in this business. A Creative Exec who shouldn’t be a Creative Exec, he should just be a writer. Ted loves Masters of the Universe.

He said “Look; I love Star Wars, I love Batman, but MOTU was my religion. So, this project means everything to me. I love that they’re doing a movie, don’t get me wrong and I love the kids show. But, this iteration of the show, being able to continue the show that I grew up watching… you’ve got to understand: Every episode I watched, I was afraid Skeletor was going to kill He-Man. Then I grew up and realized that was never gonna happen. What I’m looking for from this show, is that same feeling I had as a kid. I want stakes! I want to feel like this all matters. That people could die at any moment!

“The bench of characters you’ve got to play with here is so deep, it’s like Marvel or DC. Incredibly colorful characters. All I ask is that you don’t mock this stuff. I know it’s the low-hanging fruit to make fun of it or make inside jokes, but I’m just asking you, don’t do that. I’m not saying ‘don’t make it be funny’ because there was always humor in the show. But don’t talk down to these characters, don’t sneer at them, please. The one thing I’ve always wanted my whole life is that somebody would treat these characters like they’re Shakespearean.”

And so I was like “You know what man? I can’t do Shakespeare, but I can do Fakespeare. I can get you close. I can give Skeletor a big ol speech man! I’m great at monologues!”

Marching Orders from Netflix

He-Man (Chris Wood) Masters of the Universe: Revelation

Kevin Smith: And with those marching orders – and marching orders indicates that he was like ‘go forth and do it’ – Teddy was with us every step of the way. That’s why I knew we would never fail. Because we had the world’s biggest fan there and anything that he would’ve bumped into, would’ve gone away.

The biggest thing that Teddy bumped into – and this shows you how true of a fan he is – he probably won’t even remember this story – is that I wanted to call Andra’s character ‘Tedra’ in honor of Teddy because he brought us all together. So, we were going to create a new character, and she was going to be called Tedra.

Teddy was like “I love that, that means the world to me. But as a MOTU fan, there is no Tedra in this world. But, there is an Andra. There is a deep-cut character named Andra who is in the MOTU mini-comics, please name her that.”

So even that, he was like “That’s not going to fan-service me, by putting my name in the show. What’s going to fan-service me, is if you pull a character from a MOTU minicomic I read when I was a kid.”

With a guy like that on your side, you can’t fuckin’ lose! So, it was the joy of my adult, professional life making entertainment – like, I’m doing this shit, what, 27 years? – this was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done, that’s not something I created. Like, I’m working in a corporate structure, man. It’s Netflix, it’s Mattel Television, and generally I don’t do well within those structures, I’m more of an indie guy. But, it never felt like we were working for suits. It never felt like we were in a corporate structure, because everywhere I looked, the two people who were my bosses were bigger fans of the franchise we were working on than I was. They love it with their whole beings.

Let The Characters Be Dramatic

From left to right: Orko (voiced by Griffin Newman), Andra (voiced by Tiffany Smith), Teela (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), Roboto (voiced by Justin Long) and Evil-Lyn (voiced by Lena Headey) in Masters of the Universe: Revelation

Kevin Smith: So, because of that, I had two dudes riding shotgun – practically co-creators – who allowed me to kind of do this version of the story. They loved the story I pitched. They encouraged me to let the characters be dramatic.

There’s a scene between Evil-Lyn and Beastman in Part Two that is one of the finest dramatic pieces I’ve ever been involved with and that I’ve ever seen. And it’s two cartoon characters talking to each other.

But the performances are so rich. Kevin Michael Richardson playing Beastman, Lena Headey playing Evil-Lyn are so soulful and nuanced that it doesn’t matter what they look like. It doesn’t matter that they’re standing in the hallways of a castle that looks like a giant skull. It breaks your heart! There’s depth to this stuff, and we only got to do that because these two guys were like “Grow ‘em up.”

Like, not in the sense of grow them up and break them and say ‘Everything you understood about He-Man is wrong!’ That was never what we wanted to do. We went in saying ‘Everything you ever knew about He-Man is absolutely right. Everything that ever happened in all those cartoons is true. This is just what happened the next day, when somebody died.”

Because that’s the one thing they never had to deal with in their world! They had never dealt with death! They dealt with… characters barely punched each other! He never used the Sword on anybody! So the idea of what would happen to all these happy characters if somebody died – or, in our case, a lot of people died – how would they react?

What Happens When You Take The Two Central Figures and…

Kevin Smith
Skeletor (voiced by Mark Hamill) vs He-Man (Chris Wood) in Masters of the Universe: Revelation

Kevin Smith: I always referred to it in DC parlance; what happens to Metropolis when Superman dies? Like, we’ve seen it in The Death of Superman. Who are you, if the person you identify with and by is suddenly gone? So, in our case it was like, this is the story of Lois Lane if she found out Clark Kent was Superman after he died, and she’s gotta carry all that like “They both lied to me! Superman and Clark Kent! Now I can’t even yell at this piece of shit, because he’s dead!”

For me, that’s the kind of drama I love. That’s the kind of approach I took. The older I get, the less I’m interested in pleasing others, and I think about what would make me happy and what kind of story I would I like to see.

So, that dramatic meat was the stuff that I was like ‘Oh, I would love that if somebody did that.’ Thankfully both Teddy and Rob were like “Do it! Do it!” So, it was such a gratifying experience.

But, it was because I had those two guys on my side. I had my team of writers. I had Diya [Mishra], I had Eric [Carrasco]. Eric wrote episode five, one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read in my entire life. Marc Bernadin, of course, my co-host from Fatman Beyond, and Tim Sheridan – like, just incredible talent taking my story and making it even better by fleshing it out and writing scripts. And then Adam and Pat, who are directors at Powerhouse Animation, just elevated it beyond anything I thought possible. That’s the beauty of the animation process, your job is done, as the writer, early on. But you get to get the dividends for the next year, year and a half as all this material comes back to you and starts becoming a cartoon. It goes from words to pictures to designs and then to animatics. Then, here’s the first pass of the animation.

I’ll never forget when we saw the first episode fully animated. They called it the ‘first pass’ and I was gobsmacked at how beautiful it was. Pat and Adam are so meticulous, they were like “This is about 50% of the way there.” And I’m like “What are you talking about?! It’s all there!” And they’re like “No, what we do, our business, is the ‘lighting pass.’ That’s where we specialize here. So, what you’re seeing right here, that would’ve been find for Saturday morning in the 80s. But what you’re gonna see, is us putting special effects into this, and lighting effects and bringing colors down and stuff like that.”

Kevin Smith
Skeletor (Mark Hammil) in Masters of the Universe: Revelation

And they did! They turned it into this cinematic piece of animation! So, every step of the way, from when we got the animatics – which is literally like, black and white sketches of the characters, which was so good I was like “Put this on Netflix! People will watch this!” and Pat and Adam were like “Please don’t. Like, the good thing is coming.” And then when I saw the final version of episode one it was 50% ahead of what I thought was the final version. – everybody brought their A-Game and elevated it every step of the way.

And I got to enjoy it throughout the entire pandemic, and I know it was a horrible time for a lot of people. But for me, I sat here and every day somebody would send me something new about Masters of the Universe. And we got to record people, which we couldn’t do in person, but we got to do – like this – over Zoom. So, I got to live in Eternia while everyone else was dealing with the current hell that was our world back then.

It was a great place to be, I hope I get to go back to it!

Is… Is That The End? That’s The End.

Ben Kliewer: Thank you Kevin! That was awesome! And might I add that it is just wonderful to see you alive and well, and kicking and healthy.

Kevin Smith: Me too! I love being above ground!

Masters of the Universe: Revelation Part 1 (episodes 1-5 of 10) are on Netflix right now!

For more on MOTU and Netflix, keep checking That Hashtag Show!