Spoilers ahead for He-Man/ThunderCats #3, on sale today.
It is pretty common for big superhero summer crossovers to kill off at least one character in the hopes of keeping readers shocked and engaged. Marvel's recent Civil War II, for instance, started with the death of War Machine and took down Bruce Banner/The Hulk along the way.
It's far less common for intercompany or inter-brand crossovers to do that kind of thing. Had a major character died during the Marvel vs. DC event in the '90s, for instance, nobody ever would have been able to reprint that character's death without all the complex financial maneuvering that currently keeps that miniseries out of the hands of new fans.
Not so much with He-Man/ThunderCats, a crossover decades in the making, the third issue of which hit stands today.
"To me, the bigger concept is about the quest for power versus responsibility," artist Freddie Williams II told ComicBook.com. "There's some overlap between Prince Adam's leadership, and then Lion-O's sort of questioned leadership, and them seeing the respect for each other, and the power level. There's a lot of things in that. I wish I was more articulate in that, but that's some of the things that I've picked up on. Also the dark quest for power on the Skeletor/Mumm-Ra side as well."
The first issue saw Prince Adam -- He-Man in his de-powered form -- stabbed through the chest by his own sword at the hands of Mumm-Ra, the ThunderCats' ever-living antagonist. There was some confusion as to whether or not Prince Adam had been saved when he called out for "the power of Grayskull," but in this week's issue, readers learned that's apparently not the case.
That's because Skeletor has been pulling the strings throughout most of the crossover: he's the one who gained possession of both Lion-O's Sword of Omens and He-Man's power sword for long enough to sap He-Man's power, returning him to Prince Adam and taking away the powers that were keeping him alive. He did so, by the way, by destroying Mumm-Ra and then consuming his ashes to gain his powers...so don't expect that to go particularly well for Skeletor as the story develops.
That leaves He-Man about as dead as a hero can get in these kinds of stories: They hold a funeral, with his Power Sword being presented to Prince Adam's father Randor by Lion-O. What will happen to He-Man's power when it is almost certainly wrested from Skeletor? Whether they can find a way to restore the hero or whether his spirit will find its way into another is the big question at this point.
(And, really, who wouldn't pay to see Lion-O with the power of Grayskull for a few pages?)
Obviously any story that starts with the death of a super-powered character as a starting point will likely end in his resurrection in some way or another. Still, after decades, He-Man is dead...and that's causing some people who might not ordinarily have picked up a comic book crossover like this to sit up and take notice.