© Aidan Cross, 2019.

UK London Editions Comics

Issue #3

Release Date: April 1986

Stories:

Man-At-Arms: Traitor

Jewel of Fire

Undersea Attack

Cover by: Unknown artist

Cover by: Unknown Artist, supplied by Selecciones Illustradas (SI)

This action-packed cover image is the first UK Comic cover to directly relate to a specific story within. This cover depicts a scene from the story “Jewel of Fire” as He-Man and Sy-Klone do battle with a gigantic serpent.

This issue’s introduction from Scrollos invites readers to send their letters in, promising a signed photo from He-Man for anyone whose letter was printed. This never came to fruition - according to Brian Clarke, "We were supposed to have a stack of promo pictures from Mattel but the whole thing faded away." The Orko the Magician strip, while remaining almost the limit of Orko’s use in the comics for the moment, is also the only segment of the comic to have featured Cringer so far.

Story 1: “Man-At-Arms: Traitor”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Summary: Skeletor, from his domain in Snake Mountain, reveals to his warriors that he has heard from one of his spies that Man-At-Arms has created a new super-weapon. Intending to steal this weapon for himself, Skeletor sends Trap Jaw out, with a Hypno-Gas devised by Evil-Lyn placed in his mechanical arm, which when used on Man-At-Arms, will brainwash him and make him Skeletor’s slave. Trap Jaw flies towards the Royal woods in his Disc-Flyer, having been told by Skeletor that Man-At-Arms and Prince Adam will be in the woods that day. As Man-At-Arms and Prince Adam approach, Trap Jaw attacks Man-At-Arms with the Hypno-Gas, and Prince Adam runs away and becomes He-Man. When He-Man arrives to save his comrade, Trap Jaw flees the scene in the Disc-Flyer, and He-Man hurls a dead tree at the vehicle, knocking Trap Jaw to the ground. As He-Man attempts to interrogate Trap Jaw about the reason for his attack, Man-At-Arms springs at He-Man from behind, attacking him. Realizing that Man-At-Arms has been possessed by the effects of the gas to serve evil, He-Man reluctantly fights with his comrade, as Trap Jaw climbs back into the Disc-Flyer and attempts to escape. Man-At-Arms breaks away from He-Man and holds him off, and Trap Jaw swoops down in the Disc-Flyer, rescues the Evil Warriors’ new ally and transports him to Snake Mountain. At Snake Mountain, Skeletor instructs Man-At-Arms to use his resources to build his super-weapon, which will be powered by Skeletor’s Sun-Fire and used to attack Eternos. Several days later, Skeletor’s army launches an attack on the Royal city with Man-At-Arms’ new weapon. Skeletor’s Sun-Fire approaches the city from overhead, converting sunlight from above into a beam of deadly energy as Man-At-Arms aims his Beam-Cannon at the Palace. The Heroic Warriors are ready to strike back, but He-Man refuses to let them, confusing them. Suddenly, the energy beam is moved just as the Palace is about to fall, and the Beam-Cannon begins to sink beneath the quicksand. As it sinks, the energy beam hits the Sun-Fire above, destroying it, and Man-At-Arms, who had moved the beam himself, deserts Skeletor’s forces and rejoins the Heroic Warriors. The warriors strike back at Skeletor, and he flees the scene. Later, back inside the Palace, He-Man explains to the other heroes that Buzz-Off alerted them several weeks ago that Skeletor had a new super-weapon. In a plot to trick Skeletor into revealing the weapon so they could destroy it before it could be used, He-Man and Man-At-Arms made it common knowledge that Prince Adam and Man-At-Arms would be in the woods on a certain day, knowing that Skeletor would take this advantage to double his attack strength by kidnapping Man-At-Arms to enhance the weapon’s power. After Trap Jaw had possessed Man-At-Arms with the Hypno-Gas, as He-Man and Man-At-Arms fought, He-Man had been able to use his sword to clear Man-At-Arms’ mind, and they agreed to play along with Skeletor’s scheme and allow Skeletor to think Man-At-Arms was still under his power, so he could manipulate the attack to fail and result in the destruction of Skeletor’s super-weapon. The Heroic Warriors celebrate their latest victory.

Review: This brilliantly complex story is a surefire winner and probably the strongest story in the London Editions comics yet, at this early stage. Really it’s quite remarkable to think this story fits into just five pages. In that small space we get a story full of complex and surprise plot developments and a major twist ending that completely turns the story on its head. Even older readers will find the final resolution of this story a challenge, and it is particularly complicated for younger readers! As a child, this was my first issue of the London Editions comics; I missed issues #1 and #2 first time round. So this was the first story I read in the comics, and since I was only 4 at the time, I barely understood it at all – it was only when I was a fair bit older, about 9 or 10, that I was able to sit down and really try to get my head around this story. It was too complex for my younger mind to really grasp, but was that a bad thing? Absolutely not – as a child, the complex nature of this story did not impede my enjoyment of it at all; it only challenged me to think harder and appreciate the depth of the stories in this comic. That is indeed one of the key strengths of Brian Clarke’s writing – he will never write down to his younger audience; rather he will challenge their brains and encourage them to expand their mental abilities.

The Evil Warriors with a bowl of fruit on the council table!

While the comic so far has focused on the newer toy releases in the MOTU line, this story brings the older characters to the forefront, from the initial waves of toy releases. The opening scene at Snake Mountain (the first time we see Skeletor’s throne room and council chamber in the comics) depicts Skeletor’s original team of five villains from the earlier toy waves, famously introduced to many in the Filmation cartoon’s pilot episode “Diamond Ray of Disappearance” – Beast Man, Trap Jaw, Mer-Man, Evil-Lyn and Tri-Klops. This opening panel features a very curious oddity in that there is a bowl of fruit placed on the table – totally not the kind of food you’d expect the Evil Warriors to be eating! (Perhaps Skeletor was encouraging them to eat healthily to catch up with He-Man’s fitness levels…) The very oddly-coloured Mer-Man, his face a banana skin-yellow instead of his usual green, will also strike fans as very strange; possibly an error by the Spanish art team at Selleciones Illustradas as they grew used to drawing the characters.

Skeletor’s dialogue here is actually quite misleading given the way the story unfolds – he claims to have been informed by one of his spies that Man-At-Arms has created a new super-weapon, which he intends to steal for himself. Yet this is not what has happened at all – in total contradiction, the Heroic Warriors have been told by Buzz-Off that Skeletor has a new super-weapon (the Sun-Fire), which they are aiming to find out more about. Man-At-Arms has created no such weapon, and later on Skeletor clearly knows this, as when he captures Man-At-Arms he instructs him to build a weapon from scratch. So this would seem to be a slight error in the narrative; really Skeletor should be explaining in this scene how he intends to capture Man-At-Arms to make him build a weapon that can be used in conjunction with his own Sun-Fire machine in his planned assault on the Royal Palace. It’s possible that the Heroic Warriors deliberately leaked this false information to bait Skeletor into attacking, but it’s very unclear. This error does cause an already complex story to become slightly more confusing than it should be, but as it is confined only to the opening panel it can be easily forgiven.

The following action scene, with Trap Jaw springing his assault on Man-At-Arms and Prince Adam (Trap Jaw travelling in his Disc-Flyer- a non-toy vehicle exclusive to this one story), then fleeing the scene at the sudden appearance of He-Man before the possessed Man-At-Arms attacks his own friend, is a great sequence. The reader is kept guessing as to just what the outcome of this fight will be, and seeing Man-At-Arms suddenly attack his own closest comrade is a neat touch.

We get a good illustration showing Man-At-Arms alongside Skeletor’s team of Evil Warriors, followed by a reference to Flash Gordon as Skeletor vows to feed Man-At-Arms to the Boreworms once he is done with him! This would be one of many entertaining references to other well-known fantasy and sci-fi franchises that would be incorporated into the stories throughout the comics’ run.

While this story has given Skeletor’s original crew of Evil Warriors some time in the spotlight, likewise it showcases the earlier Heroic Warriors too. Under Mattel’s instructions, the comics generally concentrated on newer releases like Sy-Klone and Moss Man, but this story places the earlier characters of Stratos and Ram-Man at He-Man’s side; characters frequently seen in the Filmation cartoon but whose appearances were generally much sparser in the comics. Stratos realizes just how drastic the situation of Man-At-Arms teaming up with the villains is, given that he knows all the heroes’ secrets and weaknesses.

As the villains mount their attack, with Man-At-Arms’ Beam-Cannon powered by Skeletor’s new super-weapon – the Sun-Fire machine, which converts sunlight into deadly energy – we see that the artists have interestingly chosen to depict Skeletor’s army as composed of filler characters – generic demons created purely for these panels as opposed to characters from the toy line. This brings to mind the legendary artwork of Rudy Obrero who drew much of the art for the Mattel toy packages, occasionally drawing random demons to flesh out the battle scenes rather than exclusively concentrating on the action figures.

The battle scene depicts generic background demons instead of Skeletor's regular warriors

The twist in the plot begins to show itself as He-Man confuses his comrades by refusing to allow them to strike back even though the situation seems urgent, causing Stratos to wonder if He-Man is also under Skeletor’s evil power. As Skeletor’s scheme suddenly backfires, Man-At-Arms reveals out of the blue that he is still on the good guys’ side after all. This sudden twist, and He-Man’s subsequent explanation of what had really been happening behind the scenes the whole time, is a very impressive resolution for this story; a twist that even older readers probably would not have seen coming. (And I would wage a bet that many parents who read this comic to their kids had a tough time explaining this story to them!) The scene where He-Man explains to the Heroic Warriors how he and Man-At-Arms had engineered the whole development of events from behind the scenes, even before Trap Jaw’s attack at the beginning, is both intriguing and inspirational, especially when he explains how he had been able to clear Man-At-Arms’ mind with the sword during their fight and agreed for him to play along with Skeletor’s scheme. As in Issue #1’s “Orko to the Rescue”, even the other Heroic Warriors, not to mention the readers, have been kept in the dark as to how He-Man has foreseen Skeletor’s moves from the very start and manipulated events to work out in the heroes’ favour. Having the lead hero narrate flashbacks to earlier events in the story to reveal what had really been happening behind the scenes is a plot device we’re accustomed to in detective stories and thriller movies, and it’s always a very entertaining plot device, but in a five-page story in a childrens’ comic it is particularly impressive!

Man-At-Arms goes on to explain how he knew about the quicksand near the city walls, and used mathematics to work out where to position the Beam-Cannon in order to destroy the Sun-Fire. Thus demonstrating the story’s moral by showing just how important mathematics is, even on the battlefield – kids, pay close attention in Maths lessons in school! After this more than impressive story outcome, you just want to join the Heroic Warriors in celebrating this particularly impressive victory over the evil forces. (I’m sure they popped open the champagne bottle after the final panel.) This story is the best example yet of the strength of Brian Clarke’s writing and the complexity of the UK Comics that allows them to stand out so firmly among other MOTU media. These stories utilize mathematical logic in bringing about their outcome, and really emphasize the importance of brains over brawn. This is certainly no ordinary children’s comic – and if this story actually got the younger readers trying harder at Maths, it most definitely can be judged a success! A truly excellent MOTU story and a shining example of the London Editions comics’ unique strength.

This ‘Master Mind’ feature – a pun on the popular British quiz show Mastermind – tests the readers’ knowledge of the MOTU characters.

Story 2: “Jewel of Fire”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Summary: A lonely fisherman, returning from a long day at sea, spots something gleaming in the sand as he reaches shore. It is a water-tight pot, which he opens to reveal a well-preserved map, guiding the user to the location of the Jewel of Fire, which could make the holder the most powerful being on Eternia. The fisherman takes the map to the Royal Palace of Eternos, but as he does so he is spied by Tri-Klops, who uses his distavision to read the map from a distance. The fisherman arrives at the Royal Palace, where he presents the map to Prince Adam and Man-At-Arms. Meanwhile, at Snake Mountain, Tri-Klops explains his discovery to Skeletor, and Skeletor sets out in the Roton with Beast Man and Kobra Khan, journeying to the Valley of Monsters in the heart of the jungle, where the jewel is located. He-Man has set out simultaneously to find the jewel, with Moss Man and Sy-Klone at his side. The ground splits open beneath them and a gigantic serpent creature springs out, attacking them. Sy-Klone uses his spinning power to defeat the beast and He-Man uses his sword to trap it beneath the ground again. Recognizing the pathway in front of them as having been cut by a Roton, He-Man realizes Skeletor has been there before them , and Moss Man uses his power of camouflage to scout ahead for them unseen. Moss Man encounters a team of Ape-Lettes waiting to ambush the heroes, under Beast Man’s power. The Ape-Lettes smell him and spring an attack, so Moss Man uses some Aroma-Blossoms to mask his scent and overpower the Ape-Lettes. He returns to his friends and tells them about his encounter with the Ape-Lettes. Realizing that Skeletor has clearly set traps for the heroes all along the path, He-Man decides they should cut their own path through the jungle, and Sy-Klone uses his power of super-speed to cut a path through the undergrowth. He-Man realizes that Skeletor must be accompanied by Beast Man and Kobra Khan, as the serpent that attacked them before was likely controlled by Khan’s power over snakes. Skeletor and his henchmen, meanwhile, have reached the Valley of Monsters, where they encounter a beast that attacks them, but Beast Man and Kobra Khan use their power over animals to stop the creature. Soon, the heroes encounter another team of monsters, under the power of Skeletor’s henchmen. They make short work of the creatures, and Skeletor, watching from a distance, demands his henchmen send more creatures to attack them, but Kobra Khan warns him that sending more creatures will over-stretch their powers as they can only control so many creatures at once. The heroes are becoming exhausted from their battle as more creatures spring out to attack them, but suddenly the power of Beast Man and Kobra Khan snaps under the strain of controlling too many creatures at once. The creatures regain their normal animal fears and He-Man uses his sword to start a fire, that will keep them at bay. As the heroes reach the cave containing the jewel, Beast Man and Kobra Khan flee from them and report to Skeletor, who has stumbled into the web of a Giant Gongos Spider. Skeletor breaks free from the web just as the heroes arrive, but reveals that he already has the Jewel of Fire in his grasp. But He-Man then reveals that the Jewel of Fire is a lost fragment of Castle Grayskull, that is destined to return to the castle once it has been released. He uses the power of his sword to command the jewel to return to Grayskull, and Skeletor teleports away with his henchmen. In his haste to leave, Skeletor leaves his Roton behind, and the heroes board the vehicle for their journey home.

Review: This story presents the classic scenario of He-Man and Skeletor simultaneously going after a powerful artefact and their race against one another to obtain it first. It’s a scenario that’s been done many times throughout the various MOTU media, perhaps most famously in the Filmation episode “The Search”, and here it’s executed wonderfully with lots of fun action scenes and entertaining interaction between the characters. Once again, He-Man is able to use logic and foresight to strategically defeat the villains, while Skeletor’s massive vanity and mania brings about his own defeat.

The story gets off to a gripping start, with the solitary fisherman stumbling across the ancient map on the beach. As the spying Tri-Klops journeys away on Night Stalker to inform Skeletor, Night Stalker is depicted in a unique manner, as an organic horse wearing only minimal armour, as opposed to a robot as he is generally viewed by fans. New to the toy line at this point in time, the heroic and evil war horses Stridor and Night Stalker were conceived of by Mattel as organic horses wearing heavy armour, but following Filmation’s depiction of Stridor as a robotic horse, this became the normal portrayal of both horses across most media. This particular depiction of Night Stalker is unique, as a black stallion wearing golden armour.

We get a brief, speechless appearance of Orko in the Royal Palace scene, in one of his rare appearances outside of his own strip, as he fiddles with a card trick while Man-At-Arms and Prince Adam play chess (or ‘Blocker’ as the Eternian equivalent of chess would later be named by the comics). The story makes use of a particularly common line from the cartoon series “But I thought it was only a legend”, playing with the reader’s likely familiarity with the line by having both Prince Adam and Skeletor speak it simultaneously.

The heroes’ race against the villains through the jungle is entertaining and packed with great action sequences. Moss Man and Sy-Klone both give good demonstrations of their powers as they counter the various traps Skeletor has set along the way. He-Man is able to use deductive reasoning to work out which of Skeletor’s henchmen are with him, with the Ape-Lettes behaving as though under Beast Man’s control, and the serpent under the control of Kobra Khan. Speaking of Kobra Khan, this is his first role in the London Editions comics, and presents his main power as being his control over snakes. Skeletor once again proves that he is truly the boss from hell, the type who anyone who has ever slaved away in an office is familiar with, who refuses to listen to the concerns of their workers when a job is beyond their human limits, but blames them anyway when things inevitably go wrong. He does not listen to Kobra Khan’s warning that he and Beast Man can only control so many creatures at once, and that their hold over the creatures will break if they continue to send more after the heroes. But when their hold does indeed break, Skeletor nevertheless blames his henchmen for failing and insists on punishing them.

The climactic resolution is executed nicely, with Skeletor revelling in having beaten the heroes to the jewel, only to find too late that it is a lost fragment of Castle Grayskull and will return to the castle at He-Man’s command. By retrieving the jewel, Skeletor has unwittingly helped to make Grayskull even more powerful. We get a nice closing panel as well, with Sy-Klone shown breaking the fourth wall by addressing the reader as the heroes prepare to board the Roton home.

“Jewel of Fire” depicts a classic MOTU scenario with He-Man and Skeletor both racing against one another to be the first to obtain a precious artefact, and it’s just the type of MOTU story we all love – executed perfectly with fun action sequences, amusing dialogue, a few surprise twists and turns and a more than satisfactory resolution. A huge heap of fun!

This issue’s competition page. Amusing anecdote here – as this was my first issue of the comic as a child, I got very excited at the chance to win these new figures (particularly Two Bad, who I was already a big fan of) and entered the competition. On the date specified here as the closing date – Friday 16th May 1986 – I can still clearly remember getting up that morning and excitedly checking the post to see if the toys were there! (Fortunately I don’t think I was too disappointed when they weren’t!)

Story 3: “Undersea Attack”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Summary: Beneath the surface of the Eternian sea, a violent sea-quake erupts, opening a deep hole in the planet’s crust. Mer-Man reads the mind of a fish that has swum through the hole, and reports his findings to Skeletor. The hole opens out into a pool in the Royal garden, thus providing Skeletor with an easy passage through which to invade Eternos. Skeletor is impressed with Mer-Man’s news, and tells Mer-Man that if he does one more deed as good as this, he will make him his second-in-command. Excited at the prospect of being Skeletor’s second-in-command, Mer-Man plots to kidnap Prince Adam to attain this promotion. He swims through the undersea tunnel into the pool in the Royal garden, where he springs an attack on Prince Adam, transporting him back through the tunnel to Skeletor. Impressed, Skeletor imprisons the prince in a cage. Within the cage, Adam overhears Skeletor talking about his plan to invade Eternos through the undersea passage, and sets about escaping the cage, using the ring on his finger to reflect the sunlight at the seaweed that binds the cage shut, setting the seaweed alight and allowing him to escape. Adam retrieves his sword and runs away to transform into He-Man. As Skeletor is busy mounting his assault, He-Man lifts a huge boulder and hurls it at the submarine which Skeletor intends to use to invade the Palace. Skeletor is furious and blames Mer-Man. He sets his henchmen on He-Man, but He-Man makes short work of them, and Man-At-Arms and Teela descend on the battle in Wind Raiders, using a Nutro-Web to trap Skeletor’s henchmen as Skeletor himself flees the scene. He-Man then dives into the sea and uses his sword to permanently seal the undersea passage shut, to prevent the possibility of it being used for further invasions of Eternos. Back on the surface, Teela is confused at how Prince Adam is nowhere to be seen, but Man-At-Arms assures her they can trust He-Man to bring the Prince home.

Review: The first water-based story in the London Editions comics, this story has a noticeably different artwork style from the others we have seen so far. Naturally, Mer-Man gets a spotlight role in this story, and is portrayed here as eager to please Skeletor in the hope of becoming his second-in-command, “the best job in all evil-dom”.

Finally Teela gets a role in the story, having been little more than a background character in the comic so far. This story expands on the relationship between Adam and Teela, bringing in the classic Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman scenario with her annoyance at Adam’s supposed cowardice, her admiration of He-Man, and her confusion at how the two of them are never seen in the same place at once. Adam uses his cowardly act to his advantage after he spots a strange movement in the pool, feigning the need for a nap so that Teela will leave him alone to transform to He-Man and investigate. As it turns out, he is just too late, for Mer-Man succeeds in capturing him before he can transform, and presents Adam’s sword to Skeletor, who does not recognize it as He-Man’s Sword of Power. Mind over muscle works once again in our hero’s favour – while he may be unable to transform to He-Man without his sword, Prince Adam is still able to use his brain power to escape, figuring out that if he uses the ring on his finger to reflect sunlight at the seaweed binding the cage shut, he will be able to set the seaweed on fire and enable himself to escape. The ring seems to be there solely for plot convenience – we have never known Prince Adam to wear jewellery before – but it makes for an entertaining escape that proves our protagonist is just as much a hero in the form of Prince Adam as he is as He-Man.

As in “Man-At-Arms: Traitor”, the artist again chooses to depict non-toy ‘filler’ demons among Skeletor’s crew rather than just characters from the toy line. The character who reacts as the boulder destroys the submarine is another random demon, seen only in this single panel.

Another 'filler' demon on Skeletor's side

He-Man has no trouble dealing with a whole team of Skeletor’s Evil Warriors, much to Skeletor’s annoyance. After Man-At-Arms and Teela have trapped the Evil Warriors using the Nutro-Webs, Webstor gets his first moment in the spotlight as he – being the master of escape – manages to escape the trap and follow his master as he flees. This brief appearance may have no major story significance, it serves only to establish the character of Webstor and his special ability to escape any trap – but it seems particularly significant in retrospect given just how strongly this ability, and Webstor’s overall characterization, would be built on in later issues, giving probably the strongest and most intriguing portrayal of Webstor in any story media. This brief moment in the spotlight serves as a nice introduction to a character who would go on to be one of the best-written villains in the comics.

We get a good dramatic illustration of He-Man as he dives to the bottom of the sea to seal the undersea passage once and for all. The story ends with Teela’s confusion over why Prince Adam is absolutely nowhere to be seen, and Man-At-Arms, as one of the few people to know He-Man’s secret identity, sharing in the joke with He-Man as he assures her he will bring Prince Adam home with him. He-Man’s excuse to be honest is pretty feeble, but this is all part of the humour, as Teela becomes suspicious, the first of numerous moments throughout the comics in which she would almost come close to working out He-Man’s double identity.

This is an entertaining story that makes for a great closure to a particularly strong issue of the comics. We’ve finally seen Teela’s role get some development along with her relationship to Prince Adam and He-Man. And we’ve also seen Prince Adam use his mental agility to beat Skeletor when not in the form of He-Man. Given that Prince Adam did not appear at all in Issue #2, one could almost have argued that the hero’s double identity is pointless in this particular canon – but this story proves otherwise, as our hero was here able to use his secret identity to his advantage to defeat Skeletor’s scheme covertly.

And the comic in general is becoming stronger with each issue, establishing a solid supporting cast of heroes and villains alongside He-Man and Skeletor. Hordak and the Horde are absolutely nowhere to be seen in this issue and the reader could easily argue their role serves little purpose at this stage, but this is soon to change, as the next issue will demonstrate. The comic is providing the reader with the perfect mix of action, adventure and challenges to the brain, particularly with the “Man-At-Arms: Traitor” story, and can only get even better from here.

The final page of this issue sees the debut of "Brains, Not Brawn", a very popular feature that challenged the reader to solve complex puzzles and conundrums. This feature is particularly apt seeing as the stories in the MOTU comic frequently placed emphasis on the importance of brains over brawn. These puzzles were often far from easy and were a challenge for both younger and older readers. Notice also the depiction of Night Stalker in this puzzle; drawn as an organic armoured horse just as he appeared in the "Jewel of Fire" story in this issue.

Issue #4 >

© Aidan Cross, 2017.

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