UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: August 14, 1986
Skeletor: Lord of the Air
The Space Race
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This issue’s cover is based around the second story “Skeletor: Lord of the Air”; although the scene it depicts does not come directly from that story, for the cover shows He-Man atop (presumably) Stridor, who does not appear in that story. Stridor does however appear in this issue’s third story, “The Space Race”. Many fans will notice that ‘Stridor’ is actually coloured as Night Stalker, Skeletor’s evil war horse (who also appears in “The Space Race”) – though this is almost certainly a mere error on the colourists’ part.
After much teasing and hints throughout previous issues, this issue’s intro page finally reveals how She-Ra will be introduced to the London Editions comics – with a free She-Ra comic to be given away with the next issue of MOTU, to be followed by a fortnightly She-Ra comic that will come out every alternate week from the MOTU one! Issue #12 is set to be a particularly special issue.
Story 1: “Hordak’s Captives”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: Hordak and the Evil Horde attack the village of the Dinoreps, a peaceful race of creatures who are unaware of the war that ravages Eternia. The Horde minions herd them into Hordak’s makeshift prison camp, and Hordak sends Leech to Castle Grayskull, with a pair of Electro-Bonds. In Castle Grayskull, He-Man and Sy-Klone are working out in the castle gym when the intruder alarm sounds. The two heroes venture outside the castle, where they are greeted by Leech, who tells them that Hordak has taken the Dinoreps captive and will destroy them unless He-Man surrenders the keys of Grayskull to him. He-Man agrees to accompany Leech to the Dinorep village in the strength-sapping Electro-Bonds, but before he leaves, reminds Sy-Klone that he knows what he must do next. Leech brings He-Man to the Dinorep village, but Hordak is furious when Leech reveals he let Sy-Klone go free – and sure enough, at that moment Sy-Klone comes to He-Man’s rescue, using his strength and speed to break He-Man free from the Electro-Bonds. Furiously, Hordak threatens to detonate a Posibomb and destroy everyone in the village if He-Man comes any closer to him. As Modulok attempts to take He-Man captive, He-Man inhales deeply into his powerful lungs and lets out a jet of high-powered air that knocks the Posibomb out of Hordak’s grasp. He-Man and Sy-Klone then make short work of Hordak’s henchmen, freeing the Dinoreps in the process, and Hordak teleports away, vowing to unleash his Horde Troopers on He-Man next time round. The rest of the Horde quickly retreat, and the freed Dinoreps pledge their alliance to He-Man and the Masters.
Review: Like many issues at this stage, Issue #11 opens with a Horde-based story, and this one introduces us to a new race on Eternia, the Dinoreps, as well as developing the heroic duo of He-Man and Sy-Klone; the latter having become by now He-Man’s most regular sidekick in these opening stories.
Like the Cat-Niks in Issue #4’s “Raiders From the Sky”, the Dinoreps are a simple, primitive tribe who live a peaceful life secluded from the rest of Eternia. Most notably, the Dinoreps are stated to be completely unaware that Eternia is engulfed in a great war between good and evil, and thus they are about to learn the hard way that they do not live on a peaceful planet. Their status makes them an easy target for the Horde, and they wind up prisoners as part of Hordak’s latest scheme to trap He-Man.
While he has still yet to play a major role in any of the stories, the artists seem to be having fun getting creative when drawing Modulok, illustrating various unusual configurations of his multiple body parts, based on the multitude of different ways the toy could be assembled. We see him here split into two separate creatures as he holds the Dinoreps at gunpoint.
Cut to Castle Grayskull, in which He-Man and Sy-Klone are working out together in the gym. This is the first time we have seen that Grayskull has a gym, and as far as I know this is a unique feature to the UK Comics, though it certainly makes sense. Sy-Klone speaks a bit of educational advice to get the young readers exercising, as he states that “A healthy body, combined with a keen mind, is the greatest weapon in the universe”!
The intruder alarm sounds as Leech reaches the Castle to carry out Hordak’s plan. Sy-Klone gets some good development in this scene – we have seen glimpses in previous stories of his youthful excitability and brashness, and this is very much showcased here, as he has to be restrained by He-Man after he almost lets his anger gets the better of him and lashes out at Leech. He-Man then tells him that he is going to comply with Leech’s instructions and accompany him to the Dinorep village, and then Sy-Klone must carry out his part of the plan, to which he semi-nervously agrees. There is a great chemistry shown here between the heroic duo, with He-Man the more methodical and calculating of the two, and Sy-Klone the younger, more excitable hero, gradually learning to curb his energetic excitability to adapt to He-Man’s more subtle, methodical and covert way of retaliating against evil.
We get some good comedic moments with Leech once he brings He-Man to the Dinorep village. His childlike personality and low intelligence are an amusing foil to Hordak’s diabolical schemes, and as we have seen him do before, he fouls up, letting slip that he not only did nothing to prevent Sy-Klone from stopping Hordak’s plans, but told him exactly where he was taking He-Man – leaving the path right open for Sy-Klone to come to the rescue. And sure enough, Sy-Klone immediately arrives on the scene, using his power of super-speed to reach the village and break He-Man free from the Electro-Bonds.
Hordak is not ready to accept defeat just yet, and orders Modulok to take He-Man prisoner, threatening to detonate a Posibomb and destroy the Cat-Nik village if He-Man makes any move against them. He-Man surprises Hordak by blowing the Posibomb from his grip with a powerful jet of air exhaled from his lungs; a trick similar to that often used by Superman in various comics and movies. While this is a creative way of avoiding direct physical violence and thus satisfying Mattel’s rules, the comic does seem to be pushing the boundaries more against the ‘no violence’ guidelines – after giving us its most violent story yet in Issue #10’s “When Strikes the Faker”, we here see He-Man directly punch Modulok to the ground in the following panel.
Sy-Klone, likewise, gives an impressive battle performance, spinning the lower part of his body at super-speed to cause a powerful wind that both scatters the Horde and smashes apart the makeshift prison, freeing the Dinoreps. We get a dramatic panel showing He-Man single-handedly holding Hordak aloft by gripping his cape, and Hordak teleports away, revealing he will set his Horde Troopers on He-Man next time round, and thus giving us a teaser for the next issue. The Horde Troopers, up until this point, had only been seen in the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon series and were not usually associated as much with MOTU, yet to be acknowledged by the Mattel MOTU toy line (Horde Trooper action figures were eventually produced later in the toy line’s run). With Issue #12 seeing the debut of She-Ra in the London Editions mythos by introducing He-Man’s sister with a free comic of her own, this issue will also see the introduction of the Horde Troopers to the MOTU stories. We have previously seen some very basic Horde Troopers looking different from the cartoon ones in Issue #5’s “Hordak’s Assault” (and any purist of the comics who does not watch the She-Ra cartoon may well be confused by Hordak’s statement here, since we saw those Troopers were no threat at all to the Masters!), so the next issue will see the Troopers of the series brought into the comic.
Hordak’s cowardice is highlighted here by having him retreat without bothering to take his Horde members with him, causing them to make a hasty retreat after being left behind. While the Dinoreps may have lived in blissful ignorance of the war on Eternia, we see here that they are most certainly no cowards, for they non-hesitantly pledge their allegiance to the Masters’ cause.
We are used to these basic but entertaining Horde stories opening the comic issues by now, and it is always great to see how much character development and creative plot twists Brian Clarke can pack into these short 5-page stories. “Hordak’s Captives” is another very good story that introduces the Dinoreps and gives us some good character development for Sy-Klone and Leech, and gets Issue #11 off to an effective start.
This issue's Master Mail page.
Story 2: “Skeletor: Lord of the Air”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: As Stratos and Buzz-Off fly through the Eternian skies on air patrol, they are attacked by an army of Grangers, flying reptilian creatures wearing an emblem of Skeletor’s face on their chests. The Grangers trap Stratos in a strong net, but as they fly off with him, Buzz-Off manages to take one of the Grangers as a prisoner of his own. He knocks the Granger into the lake below, which takes the flight out of the creature and enables Buzz-Off to bind him in a vine from a nearby tree. Buzz-Off flies back to Grayskull with the captured Granger, and He-Man uses his sword to force the creature into telling them why the Grangers kidnapped Stratos. The Granger reveals that his race are Skeletor’s new team of air soldiers, whom he is training at his ‘Air School’. Their first mission was to capture one of the Heroic Warriors, and now they have proven themselves they will be sent on their main mission – to destroy Eternos. Ram-Man takes the Granger to the dungeon, then He-Man, Buzz-Off and Ram-Man set out to find Skeletor’s Air School and stop the assault on Eternos from taking place. When they reach the foot of the mountain atop which the Air School is located, He-Man attaches a strong rope to the Battle Ram projectile, which Ram-Man fires to the top of the cliff, enabling the two of them to ascend to the top of the mountain while Buzz-Off flies upwards. Reaching Skeletor’s Air School, they spot Stratos imprisoned in an airborne cage, so Ram-Man springs upwards and rams the cage, destroying it and setting Stratos free. The commotion catches the attention of Skeletor, who sends Beast Man to attack the heroes before sending a team of trained Grangers towards them, instructing them to attack in formation. The Grangers attack, but as they do so, He-Man instructs Stratos and Buzz-Off to each take an end of the thick vine that covers the mountain top. The two flying heroes soar upwards and trap the entire army of Grangers in the vine, tying them into a tight knot. The heroes then use a formation of their own to advance on Skeletor and Beast Man, and realizing he has been beaten, Skeletor quickly flees the scene with Beast Man. The heroes leave the trapped Grangers at the top of the cliff and set about returning to Grayskull.
Review: The lack of flying warriors in Skeletor’s crew mean that stories with Skeletor as the villain tend not to be airborne in nature – so the idea of Skeletor recruiting an army of flying creatures to do his bidding makes for a refreshing change from the norm, as well as enabling some quality time in the spotlight for the heroic flying characters Stratos, Buzz-Off and Ram-Man (and yes, I do mean to include Ram-Man there, for while he may not technically possess the power of flight, his spring action and ‘human battering ram’ ability mean his method of attack is practically airborne).
We have seen only a little of Stratos and Ram-Man in the comics so far; being earlier releases in the Mattel toy line meant that by this stage in the line’s run, they were often shafted to the sidelines throughout the various MOTU media, and indeed the UK Comics have focused more strongly on newer toy releases such as Sy-Klone, Moss Man and Fisto. So it’s good to see Stratos get a spotlight role here, paired naturally with Buzz-Off, one of the newer characters who shares his flying ability.
The Grangers, the evil flying creatures which Skeletor has recruited as his new soldiers, have a good design, appearing half-reptilian and half bird, and they come across as a fearlessly loyal and powerful army for Skeletor. We see here that He-Man’s sword possesses the power to force the truth out of the creatures (it is not entirely clear whether the Grangers have the ability of human speech or if the sword magically enables He-Man to understand the creature), while we get a good joke relating to Ram-Man’s power when he says he will be ‘hopping mad’ if he finds they’ve harmed Stratos.
We are treated to a nicely creative demonstration of the Battle Ram’s abilities when He-Man uses the vehicle’s ram projectile to enable him to climb the cliff, by attaching a rope to it before firing it to the top of the cliff, snagging it on the rocks so that he and Ram-Man can ascend. The whole idea of a training school for these flying creatures atop the mountain is a great touch and shows that Skeletor is getting creative in his schemes to conquer Eternia.
Ram-Man quickly ‘springs’ to Stratos’ rescue as soon as he spots him imprisoned in the airborne cage. This is only Ram-Man’s second appearance in the comics after Issue #3’s “Man-At-Arms: Traitor” which also saw him briefly paired with Stratos, and he gets a bit more development here; he seems to have a protective streak towards Stratos and it would have been good to have built on this a bit more. As one of the franchise’s more popular characters it is unfortunate that Ram-Man was not generally used that much in the London Editions comics – while he never seemed quite as dull-witted or comical as his portrayal in the Filmation cartoon, he still comes across as a likeable character – rash but warm-hearted and thoroughly dedicated to helping his friends. The way he frees Stratos here, by leaping into the air directly below the cage, bouncing off a Granger’s back and headbutting the cage open, is a great action sequence.
We get a good comical moment between Skeletor and Beast Man as Skeletor emerges from his hiding place, angry to see that He-Man has found out about his school, and ordering the cowardly Beast Man to attack the heroes, against his better judgement.
The Grangers are clearly far more competent warriors that Skeletor’s usual team, and they attack the Heroic Warriors far more willingly, using an air formation. He-Man comes up with a typically creative solution to beat them, by ordering Stratos and Buzz-Off to take both ends of the layer of vines atop the mountain to trap the whole army of Grangers in a tight net. (Notice the badly administered balloon amendment in the panel on the right.)
All in all, “Skeletor: Lord of the Air” is a fun and entertaining story that makes a refreshing change from Skeletor’s usual schemes, and gives us some great new antagonists in the Grangers while all members of the regular cast – good and evil – get some fantastic dialogue and action scenes.
Story 3: "The Space Race"
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Amador Garcia
Synopsis: Two aliens from a far-off world are journeying towards Eternia in their space craft. They make planet-fall on Eternia and use the ship’s chameleon circuit to give it the appearance of a harmless rock, while the aliens set about searching for the two beings they need to serve their purpose. Meanwhile, He-Man is returning from patrol with Stridor, when he is suddenly fired at by Skeletor atop Night Stalker. He narrowly dodges the blast from Skeletor’s Energy-Pistol, and leaps on Stridor’s back, racing towards the villain. But as He-Man chases after Skeletor, both hero and villain suddenly find themselves being swallowed by an eerie energy field that appears from out of nowhere. On the other side of the Energy Field, they encounter the two aliens. Angry at being imprisoned, Skeletor attacks them with his Energy-Pistol, and a battle erupts as the aliens fight back. He-Man stops the fight by hurling a huge boulder into the middle of the energy beams, and demands to know why the aliens have captured himself and Skeletor. The aliens explain that they are from two opposing armies on a far-off, technologically advanced planet that is caught in a seemingly never-ending war. Both sides in their war are proving equally powerful, and seeing no hope of an end to the war, the aliens have come to Eternia in search of two beings themselves at war with one another, whom they intend to pit against one another in a race. They will bet on each racer, and whichever side wins the race will decide who wins the war on the aliens’ planet. Not only that, but the winner of the race will be given the Cosmic Bomb, a powerful device that will allow them to rule Eternia themselves. Skeletor non-hesitantly agrees to take part, and although He-Man is reluctant to race, he knows he has no choice, for if he refuses, then Skeletor will win and be given the Cosmic Bomb. The two enemies begin the race atop their respective war horses, Stridor and Night Stalker. Right from the start, Skeletor begins cheating his way to victory, using his Energy-Pistol to cause a rockfall that leaves He-Man lagging behind. He-Man smashes through the rocks, but is then confronted by evil flying Latchmores summoned by Skeletor to keep him delayed. He manages to break past the creatures, but by this stage Skeletor is far ahead and nearing the finishing line. He-Man manages to catch up with him by bending a tree over and using it as a catapult to spring himself forth. He knocks Skeletor from atop Night Stalker, and is about to beat Skeletor to the finishing line, when he grips hold of Skeletor and pushes him forth so that they both cross the finishing line at the same time, causing a draw. The two aliens are perplexed that He-Man would intentionally cause a draw when he could have crossed the line himself and ruled the planet, and He-Man explains that to rule by force is wrong and if he were to use the Cosmic Bomb to keep Skeletor in his place it would make him just as bad as Skeletor. The aliens tell He-Man that he has given them much to think about, and they will return to their homeworld and set about resolving their conflict by peaceful means instead of by war. Skeletor, however, refuses to adopt a peaceful stance, and angrily teleports away, leaving Night Stalker to find his own way home.
Review: An alien race sets two enemies, both representative of opposing armies, against one another in a man-to-man combat, the outcome of which will determine the fate of an entire army. This is a plot that will be very familiar to fans of science fiction, having been used first and most famously in a 1967 episode of Star Trek titled “Arena”, itself inspired by a 1944 short story of the same name by Fredric Brown first published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. The plot went on to be reused in episodes of classic sci-fi shows such as The Outer Limits and Blake’s 7, and indeed it was used not once but twice in the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon itself, in the 1984 episode “The Arena” titled in direct homage to its source of inspiration, and the 1985 episode “The Games”. As an avid lover of classic sci-fi, it is no surprise that Brian Clarke took it upon himself to write his own MOTU story with this theme for the London Editions comics, and “The Space Race” is a fantastic variation on the theme that is easily the strongest story in this particular issue.
“The Space Race” was originally intended to be the closing story of Issue #9, but was held back when the artwork from Selecciones Illustradas failed to arrive on time, winding up appearing two issues later instead. It is a great story that not only gives us a rare instance of He-Man and Skeletor pitted directly against one another in a man-to-man competition, but has a real feel of classic vintage sci-fi about it. Appropriately, the opening panel begins with a direct nod to this story’s source of inspiration, Star Trek, beginning with “For some, space is the Final Frontier.”
The two aliens who make planet-fall on Eternia and set up the race of the title are very interesting and intriguing characters. Their designs resemble classic B-movie aliens, skinny, small in height and not all that intimidating, even friendly looking, yet still we fully buy them as leaders of technologically advanced opposing armies – they come from a world so far advanced in technology and weaponry that they are reliant more on machines than on physical strength; they possess high intelligence, but in the advancement of their civilisation, basic humanity and compassion have become alien concepts to them, so the idea that their conflict could ever be resolved by co-operation rather than by force is something they have never even entertained. The smiles on their faces as they emerge from the spacecraft seem to convey a sense of relief that they are about to achieve the means of putting an end to their centuries-long war.
The race theme of the story gives the comic the perfect chance to showcase the two war horses of the MOTU toy line – the heroic Stridor and the evil Night Stalker. This marks Stridor’s first appearance in the comic, Night Stalker having been seen briefly in Issue #3’s “Jewel of Fire”. Although Mattel intended Stridor and Night Stalker to be organic horses in armour, the fans generally consider them to be robots, after Stridor was depicted as such in the Filmation cartoon series. It is not entirely clear whether they are robotic or organic in this story, but in Night Stalker’s previous appearance in Issue #3 his appearance was notably different and was clearly organic, while He-Man’s stopping by a river to give Stridor a drink would indicate that he, likewise, is an organic horse in this canon.
Skeletor’s method of springing a surprise attack upon He-Man and Stridor with an Energy-Pistol while mounted atop Night Stalker is a nice touch, evocative of classic Western movies. A relatively ordinary gun seems an unusual weapon for Skeletor to use, but nevertheless works well, in this Western-esque setup.
He-Man gives a great display of his strength when trapped inside the aliens’ energy field, as he hurls a huge boulder into the midst of Skeletor and the aliens’ combat – as in Issue #10’s “When Strikes the Faker” we can see how he is able to smash an entire boulder to fragments with minimal effort.
The aliens’ expressions are deadly serious and morose as they explain their backstory and the centuries-long war that their homeworld is engulfed in, which constantly results in a draw due to both sides having equally powerful technological resources at their dispense. While neither of the aliens seem to be evil or malevolent in nature, they are nevertheless completely divorced from all sense of basic compassion and morality – their species have become so absorbed in technology and machinery that they automatically assume both He-Man and Skeletor will willingly accept the Cosmic Bomb from them to rule supreme over the other – for them, rule by force is simply a given and the very idea of co-operation between opposing factions is entirely lost on them. While they are not threatening in their approach to He-Man and Skeletor, they are quite condescending towards the Eternians, viewing them as a ‘primitive’ culture, failing to realize that this culture possesses much more humanity and wisdom, and the very sense of empathy that their own planet needs to end its terrible conflict.
Potentially the aliens could have pitted He-Man and Skeletor against one another in mortal combat, in a fight to the finish, but the idea of a head-to-head race atop their respective war horses is a great touch as it makes for lots of fantastic action sequences as Skeletor cheats his way to victory and He-Man must use all his might to stop him, as well as undoubtedly satisfying Mattel’s non-violence rules. While He-Man’s natural method is to play fair, in the end he has no choice but to cheat himself by using a tree to spring himself ahead of Skeletor, knowing that a grisly fate awaits both the aliens' homeworld and Eternia if he allows Skeletor to win. Although this move puts He-Man directly on the line to victory, in one of his finest moments of heroism he pushes Skeletor over the finishing line alongside himself so that the race results in a draw.
The aliens are completely taken aback by this action, leaving He-Man to explain that were he to allow an entire army to be defeated by his victory – and to use the Cosmic Bomb to dominate Eternia by force – this would make him no better than Skeletor, and that peace must be achieved by trust and natural justice rather than by threats and violence. Both aliens are understanding in their response, for He-Man’s explanation has clearly awakened a sense of empathy that has lain dormant in their species throughout the centuries, and they prepare to leave Eternia with a new perspective on how to bring an end to their war. They are excellent guest characters and it would have been good to imagine what could have been done in a sequel to this story, perhaps with them summoning He-Man to their homeworld to play a more direct role in restoring the peace to their planet.
While this story has come to a great conclusion, it is rounded off brilliantly with some deadpan comical dialogue from Skeletor as he pretty much flounces off from the scene, declaring the others to be fools as he teleports away and leaving Night Stalker to ‘find his own way home’.
“The Space Race”, while being a great homage to Star Trek as well as classic Western movies, ranks easily among the London Editions Comics’ finest stories, with an entertaining head-to-head contest between He-Man and Skeletor, and a classic He-Man moment in its culmination as he demonstrates how conflict is best resolved by compassion and not by force.
This issue ends with a teaser for Issue #12, which will introduce She-Ra to the London Editions mythos and will contain a free She-Ra comic as a precursor to the new fortnightly She-Ra comic series.
It is also worth noting that the "Brains, Not Brawn" feature vanished from this issue onwards - unfortunately this feature was not to return, despite occasional demand from fans on the Master Mail page.
© Aidan Cross, 2018.