© Aidan Cross, 2019.

UK London Editions Comics

Issue #13

Release Date: September 1986

Stories:

My Sword, My Enemy
Orko and the Genie

The Reality Shaper

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

This issue’s cover depicts a scene from the story “My Sword, My Enemy”. Is it just me or do some of those rocks in the background look a bit like… um, never mind.

This issue’s intro page features a particularly memorable Orko the Magician strip, with Orko bringing the cute baby dragons from his thoughts to life.

****

Story 1: “My Sword, My Enemy”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Synopsis: Prince Adam is enjoying a restful swim in a quiet bay near Eternos City. After he reaches the shore and prepares to head back to Eternos, he sees what looks like a blazing ball of fire careening through the sky above, heading right for him. He transforms into He-Man, but feels he is too late as the ball of fire is about to hit him. However, just as the ball of fire is about to make contact with He-Man, it dematerializes and vanishes into empty air. As He-Man processes his confusion, his sword suddenly wrests itself free from his grip and begins to attack He-Man himself. As he battles his own sword, He-Man manages to distinguish a faint ghostly shape surrounding the sword. He grips the blade and wrests the sword free from whatever is holding it, and a large, demonic creature materializes out of thin air, solidifying and launching an attack on He-Man. As He-Man prepares to do battle with the creature, it suddenly begins to shapeshift, metamorphosing into the form of none other than Queen Marlena. As the likeness of the queen fires blasts from its eyes and fingers at He-Man, He-Man spots a tiny spacecraft lying on the ground nearby. He picks up the spacecraft and the image of the queen fades away. He-Man demands that the craft’s occupant show themselves, and a tiny, childlike alien steps out. The alien tells He-Man that he is a Zog, and his main aspiration is to join Skeletor’s evil forces, so he intended to impress Skeletor by showing him he could defeat He-Man with his powers, which created the illusions he used to attack He-Man. Although the Zog is only a child, he vows to return and defeat He-Man to prove that he can be an Evil Warrior. The Zog climbs back into the tiny spacecraft and blasts off, disappearing into the sky above. He-Man suspects he will be seeing the Zog again soon, and that if he comes to the attention of Skeletor or Hordak Eternia could be in big trouble.

Review: This issue is a breakthrough edition of the UK London Editions comic in many ways. The initial contract London Editions had signed with Mattel was for 12 issues of the MOTU comic, which could be renewed for more issues if the comic was a success. The first 12 issues sold extremely well, so the contract was extended and therefore here, with its 13th issue, the comic was free to be more adventurous with its content, whilst bringing in new writers alongside Brian Clarke. While the first 12 issues had a feel of the comic finding its feet, it was here in Issue #13 that the MOTU comic really took off, venturing into more absurd and far-out territories which were to characterize the comic’s heyday. The surrealism and experimentalism which was to set the UK Comics apart from other MOTU media is particularly prevalent in this issue, and this first story, “My Sword, My Enemy” is a fine example of this streak. Within just five pages, Brian Clarke crafts a plot that continuously turns left instead of right and both surprises and confuses the reader, with one bizarre twist after another, culminating in the introduction of one of He-Man’s most unusual adversaries throughout all MOTU media.

Up until this point, either Skeletor or Hordak has been the main threat to He-Man in each story printed in the London Editions comics, aside from “When Strikes The Faker” in Issue #9 which featured Faker as sole villain. “My Sword, My Enemy” is the first story to present a threat that is connected to neither of the main evil forces from the toy line, instead introducing a particularly memorable guest character in Zog, who rather than being a true villain, is a misguided child – but one that happens to possess incredible powers and intellect, and makes for a thoroughly convincing adversary nonetheless.

Seeing a near-naked Prince Adam change to He-Man after emerging from the water at the start really does show just how little difference there is in appearance between Adam and He-Man – literally the only thing that changes is his shirt! The first attack with the burning space rock is a striking moment, and when the ball of flame unexpectedly disappears before striking He-Man, we know right away this is not going to be any ordinary MOTU story. The following attack, in which He-Man is attacked by his own sword, is a great touch, particularly as most MOTU media usually showed us that no evil force could make use of He-Man’s sword – so Zog succeeds here where many adversaries have failed throughout MOTU lore.

The gruesome demon that materializes out of thin air looks fantastic, and it is a particularly surreal and surprising moment when the demon metamorphoses into the form of Queen Marlena, about the most random and unexpected form for this bizarre adversary to take. He-Man seems reluctant to fight back at this point, and since, of course, Queen Marlena is He-Man’s mother, it must be particularly difficult for him to fight this apparition, even if he knows it is not really his mother he is facing. As an interesting side point – Zog states in the closing panels he had purposefully sought out He-Man, yet He-Man was in the form of Prince Adam at the story’s start, when the ball of flame came towards him. Could it be that Zog is somehow aware of He-Man’s double identity and therefore purposely chose the form of his opponent’s mother to deter him from fighting? Of course there is no actual physical difference between Adam and He-Man other than his clothes, and Brian Clarke has talked of how the writers “always left it fuzzy about just who knows He-Man’s secret identity” (see this site’s Interview With Brian Clarke) so it is a nice idea to think that maybe Zog knew about He-Man’s secret and exploited it to his own advantage on this occasion.

Deducing that these strange apparitions he is facing must be illusions, He-Man finally spots the miniscule spacecraft that is the real source of all these threats, and it is yet another surprise when the source of all the trouble turns out not to be some typical demonic warlord, but a childlike alien, who frets about being “in trouble” when he is caught. It is interesting how this creature from an alien world possesses the desire to join Skeletor and “defeat the great He-Man”, indicating that the conflict on Eternia is known throughout the wider universe.

As the Zog blasts off back into space, the scene is firmly set for a sequel as He-Man speculates that he is likely to be seeing Zog again soon, and the text panel provides us with a teaser for the continuation of the story in the next issue.

With all its surreal twists and turns, this story is a testament to Brian Clarke’s wild imagination as a writer, and a shining example of the weirdness that often characterized the London Editions MOTU comics. And it is an excellent start to an issue that skyrocketed the comic into far wilder territory that would kickstart the comic’s heyday.

****

This issue's letters page. The idea that the writer of the final letter actually thought She-Ra would attack He-Man always kind of... disturbed me.

****

Story 2: “Orko and the Genie”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Synopsis: Orko decides it is about time he cleared out his junk cupboard, which he has not opened for ages. He opens the cupboard, and a huge load of junk comes spilling out, scattering over the floor. In a half-hearted attempt to tidy the junk away, Orko comes across a magic lamp that he remembers was given to him by an old friend of his. He polishes the lamp, and a large genie materializes before him. The genie tells Orko that he possesses great powers of strength and magic, which can only be used by the first person Orko names, and that person will become the genie’s master. Orko responds, “Well you can serve anyone really, as long as it’s not Skeletor” but upon the mention of Skeletor’s name, the genie takes Skeletor to be his named master and heads off to find him. Fearing that Skeletor and the genie could cause great harm to Eternia, Orko sets off to warn He-Man. He explains to He-Man and the other Masters what has happened, and He-Man calls a meeting in the palace to discuss how they can deal with the threat facing Eternia. Shortly afterwards, a local farmer from a nearby village reports to the Masters, telling them that Skeletor and a strange green creature destroyed their whole village and their crops within moments. He-Man asks Orko where he got the magic lamp from, and Orko says it was given to him by Auburnia, the sorceress from the planet Amazonia. The Masters contact Auburnia via their Tele-Screen, and Auburnia reminds Orko that the lamp was one of two she gave him, and if he finds the second lamp and polishes it, he will get another genie whose powers can be used against the other. The Masters go to Orko’s quarters and find the second lamp, which He-Man polishes, and another genie emerges. He-Man names himself as its master, and explains to the genie what has happened. The genie reveals that the other genie is his brother, who is easily led astray and is always getting into trouble. In the meantime, Skeletor is commanding the first genie to use its strength to break down the walls of Eternos City. As the genie is set to begin destroying the whole city, the second genie appears before him and uses his own strength to overpower his brother, reducing him to a diminutive size. The heroic genie sets about helping He-Man and the Masters repair the damage done by the first genie, and He-Man expresses his gratitude.

Review: It has been some time since the comic has had an Orko-centred story – since Issue #4’s “The Carpet of Chaos” he has been confined mostly to the Orko the Magician strips at the start of each issue. Here he finally gets the spotlight again as his mishaps cause him to unwittingly unleash a huge threat onto Eternia.

On those rare occasions when Orko does come into the focus of the London Editions stories, it is always notable that unlike in the Filmation cartoon series, he never becomes unlikeable or irritating. While his childlike naivety and his difficulty in accustoming his magic to an unfamiliar world often lead to catastrophes, he is always undoubtedly well-meaning and a lot more intelligent and wise than he might first appear. The theme of Orko having to tidy his room was a common trait of early episodes of the cartoon series, and here it is used to great story effect as he explores the various magical artefacts among all the junk in his room, unwittingly unleashing the main evil threat of this particular story.

In a typical bumbling moment, after letting the genie free, Orko accidentally names Skeletor as the person who shall be the genie’s master. This first genie is all too willing to accept Skeletor as his master, for the genie is clearly malevolent in nature, appropriately given a demonic appearance by the artists with his green skin and devil-like horns. When Orko goes to warn He-Man of what has happened, we get the second appearance in the comics by the Rock People, following on from their introduction in the previous issue, Issue #12. They serve merely a background role here rather than partaking directly in the story, but this helps cement their role in the comics after their introduction. They are here given their toy colours rather than the more unusual brown and orange colour scheme they sported in the previous issue.

The Masters and Orko seek help from Orko’s friend Auburnia, the sorceress from the planet Amazonia, who gave Orko the lamp. A recurring theme during the comics’ run regarding Orko was that he was frequently shown to have lots of magical contacts throughout the universe, often travelling to alien worlds to visit them. Auburnia is the first instance of these contacts, and it made for a great touch to Orko’s character, showing that while he may be something of an outsider on Eternia, he holds a valued position within the wider universal network of sorcerers and sorceresses, and has a life of his own separate from that which he shares with the Eternians. It makes for an intriguing touch to his character, emphasizing how there is much more to Orko than meets the eye.

We only see Auburnia in one panel where Orko contacts her on the Tele-Screen, but she has a great appearance and it would certainly be interesting to see more of her and her homeworld – with a name like Amazonia, it would suggest a planet overrun by Amazon warriors. Auburnia reminds Orko of the second lamp she gave him, which will unleash another genie.

The second genie is freed when He-Man polishes the second lamp. This genie, the brother of the first one, is more heroic in nature, and is given an appearance not dissimilar to the genie from the classic film The Thief of Baghdad. Once the heroic genie is set loose on his brother, who is destroying the city with Skeletor, the trouble is resolved very easily. The heroic genie literally brings his brother down to size in a single-panel fight, reducing the evil genie to a diminutive size and causing Skeletor to flee.

The final panel is drawn quite clumsily, for although the genie’s dialogue is directly addressing Orko, Orko is not depicted in the panel at all. Nevertheless, this has been a fun story that has given Orko a memorable moment in the spotlight and introduced some entertaining guest characters in the genie brothers, whose presence dominates the story. Skeletor’s role here is particularly minuscule, making more of a cameo appearance, with the genie itself treated as the story’s real threat. Light-hearted and magical in feel, “Orko and the Genie” seems not entirely unlike an episode of the Filmation cartoon series, and sits securely in the middle of an issue that focuses heavily on expanding beyond the confines of typical MOTU stories and showing us more heroes and villains from beyond Eternia.

****

Although not MOTU-related, it's worth making a quick mention of this advert for the Enid Blyton's Adventure Magazine that appeared in this issue - this was included because it was another title edited by Brian Clarke...


****
 

Story 3: “The Reality Shaper”
Writer: James Hill

Synopsis: As the sun rises above Eternos City in the morning, many of the occupants of the Royal Palace are already awake and active. In his bedchamber, He-Man – the cross on his harness replaced by a Horde bat symbol – dons a cape and arms himself with a spear, set to join the other warriors in the banqueting hall to begin their conquest of the universe – intending to leave Eternia and sweep across the galaxies, conquering the universe in the name of Hordak. All the warriors of Eternia – the Masters, Skeletor’s Evil Warriors and the Horde – assemble in the Royal Palace banqueting hall, where Hordak addresses the congregation. He declares that half the warriors are to invade the world of Metalunos for its mineral resources, while the others are to travel to the planet Latos to enslave its population and set them to work in the mines of Metalunos. Hordak instructs his most trusted lieutenants – Moss Man, Leech and Evil-Lyn – to command these operations. From a distance, the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull is watching Hordak unbeknownst to him. Her mind is clouded and she cannot think straight, but she realizes that something is terribly wrong, and does her best to fight against whatever force is clouding her mind. Her mystic senses detect that reality itself has been somehow altered and reshaped into a new pattern that has caused all the warriors of Eternia, good and evil, to serve Hordak. Determined to find the source of this change, The Sorceress closes her eyes and allows her mind to leave her body, travelling across Eternia, until, in the grounds of Hordak’s Fright Zone, her mind’s eye sees the Reality Shaper – a hideous, grotesque creature that is somehow behind the change on Eternia. Returning her mind to her body, The Sorceress realizes that such a creature can only have come from Nega-Space, a realm that exists outside space and time. It has used Hordak’s dreams and desires as a model on which to base its altered version of reality, and The Sorceress herself is the only hope for restoring reality. She transmits a telepathic message to He-Man in the palace of Eternos, and He-Man begins to fight against the Reality Shaper’s influence, recovering his mind and recalling his true purpose. The Sorceress explains to He-Man what has happened, and she sets out to confront the Reality Shaper herself, while He-Man deals with Hordak. In the banqueting hall, Hordak offers his warriors a toast as they set out to begin their conquest, but his glass is suddenly shattered by a blast from He-Man’s sword, and He-Man leaps down from the balcony, delivering a punch to Hordak. He-Man is attacked from behind by Beast Man and Moss Man, but quickly overpowers them both, knocking out his usual comrade Moss Man with a blow to the jaw. Meanwhile, in the form of the falcon Zoar, the Sorceress has entered the Fright Zone and is using her magical powers to attack the Reality Shaper. Her attack only serves to further enrage the creature, so she arms herself with a force shield, but the creature is able to break through without effort. The Sorceress uses her remaining power to open a warp to Nega-Space, into which she sends the Reality Shaper with a blast of magic energy, causing the creature to be sucked back into its home dimension. Back at the palace, just as He-Man seems to be finally overpowered by an attack from Evil-Lyn, the warriors suddenly stop attacking him and begin to leave, in a state of confusion. As the warriors retreat, He-Man realizes The Sorceress must have defeated the Reality Shaper and returned Eternia to normal. Moss Man, in a state of severe confusion, asks He-Man why his jaw aches…

Review: As his workload expanded with both the MOTU and She-Ra comics under his wing, Brian Clarke began to hire new writers to work alongside him on the comics. One of these was James Hill. “The Reality Shaper” is James Hill’s debut story in the comics, and it is a hell of a stunning debut, pushing the London Editions MOTU mythos into darker, weirder and more twisted territories than it has ventured before.

The stories we have seen in previous issues, written by Brian Clarke, have never been afraid to push the boundaries and experiment. In his MOTU debut, James Hill pushes those boundaries even further and concocts the comics’ weirdest story yet – one that instantaneously brings to mind the classic sci-fi horror of shows like The Twilight Zone. Looking at his wider legacy within the MOTU and She-Ra comics, James Hill was always a writer to approach the stories from a deeper, darker and more emotionally-driven angle, and “The Reality Shaper” – a story with the atmosphere of a delirious, hallucinogenic nightmare – is one of his most powerful moments, a story that no reader is going to forget in a hurry.

From the opening panel we know this is not going to be any ordinary MOTU story, the first two panels teasing the reader by revealing that the denizens of the Royal Palace have for some reason been awake long before the crack of dawn, and showing us He-Man in his bedchamber, his back to the reader, for some reason up and about at an unusually early hour. (Of course, it is unusual enough for him to be in the form of He-Man so early in the morning rather than Prince Adam.) When he turns to face us on the third panel we see that the cross on his harness has been replaced with a Horde bat symbol, while his face bears an uncharacteristically evil expression.

The following panels demonstrate how this is certainly not the He-Man we’re all familiar with, as he dons a red cape and arms himself with a spear, placing himself willingly before Hordak in the banqueting hall, ready to serve the Horde’s conquest of the entire universe. And it is not only He-Man who is serving the Horde, but every single hero and villain on Eternia – every member of the Masters, Skeletor’s Evil Warriors and the Horde is wilfully obeying the command of Hordak. And having Skeletor shackled up helplessly in chains next to Hordak’s throne is a particularly nice touch!

We then get a speech from Hordak which demonstrates some great continuity with previous issues, the first indication within this story that while James Hill may be new to the comic, he has certainly been familiarizing himself with Brian Clarke’s vision of the MOTU universe as he namechecks multiple locations from previous issues. (A small error on the text panel refers to He-Man as ‘Adam’.) Hordak declares that the warriors will be invading the world of Metalunos – this planet was visited way back in Issue #4, which introduced it as a neighbouring world of Eternia where He-Man and his comrades battled with a ‘Massing Dwarf’. Hordak’s intention is to enslave the population of another planet named Latos and transport them to Metalunos, where they will be forced to work in the mines to procure the planet’s mineral and fuel resources for Hordak’s use.

It is worth noting that on the second panel on page 2 we get what is technically the first story appearance of Man-E-Faces within the comic – while he was depicted in the introductory strip “The Legend of Grayskull” back in Issue #1 Man-E has been completely left out of the regular stories so far, yet his head is seen right at the back of the congregation of warriors here, marking his first appearance in an actual story, even if it is only the tiniest of background appearances!

Hordak selects Moss Man, Leech and Evil-Lyn – one character from each side (the Masters, Horde and Evil Warriors respectively) – as his most trusted lieutenants, placing them in command of the operations.

Just as the reader wonders just what could have brought about such an impossible change on Eternia, we see that there is one person on Eternia who shares our realization that something is seriously wrong here. The following panels with The Sorceress are brilliant, as she struggles to fight against whatever evil force is clouding her mind and preventing her from thinking straight. So far in the comics The Sorceress has never really played a direct role in the stories, she has been more of an occasional advisor to He-Man, offering him various points of guidance along the way – so it is great to see her finally step to the forefront and take action to save the day herself.

The sequence in which The Sorceress allows her mind to leave her body and literally travel across Eternia is amazing and enhances the dream-like feel of this story. We also get further namechecks of places we have visited before in the comics – the Marshlands of Mytor from Issue #6’s “Pact of Evil” and the Mountains of Mourne from Issue #8’s “He-Man the Powerless”.  

The panel depicting The Sorceress’s mind’s eye opening within the ravages of the Fright Zone and seeing The Reality Shaper – a hideous, tentacled creature – is one of the most striking illustrations within the entire comic series yet.

The Sorceress deduces that the creature must have come from Nega-Space, a realm that exists outside the confines of space and time. Nega-Space was conceived as the London Editions writers’ equivalent of the Phantom Zone from the Superman comics, and later featured heavily in another James Hill story, “Future Visions” in the 1987 Princess of Power special. The Sorceress finally makes telepathic contact with He-Man and evokes him to fight against the influence of the Reality Shaper, drawing his sword and using the power of Grayskull to fully restore his mind, reverting the Horde emblem on his harness to the regular cross symbol.

There follows a great action sequence as He-Man makes his restored heroic presence known to Hordak. As Hordak offers his warriors a toast, He-Man shatters Hordak’s goblet with a blast from his sword, before leaping down from the balcony and delivering a swift punch to Hordak’s jaw. It is great to see He-Man make use of She-Ra’s catchphrase as well as he states “For the honour of Grayskull” while leaping down from the balcony. He-Man makes short work of Beast Man and his own comrade Moss Man, before being struck from behind by Evil-Lyn, causing him to fall at the mercy of the entire army of warriors. And for the first time in the comics’ run, we actually see a major weakness in He-Man’s character, as he actually allows himself to become overconfident when dealing with the warriors, failing to anticipate Evil-Lyn’s attack and almost sealing his own doom in the process! It makes for a refreshing change to see that even the most powerful man in the universe is not perfect.

On the following panels, for the first time we see The Sorceress take part in an action sequence, in her falcon form of Zoar. The Reality Shaper is a truly gruesome creature, possibly the most terrifying villain in the comics so far. Like something out of a classic sci-fi horror movie, it clings parasite-like with its tentacles to a tree in the Fright Zone, its hideous eyes opening as it is attacked by Zoar before it unveils its full form. The thought that this seemingly docile but revolting creature possesses so much power that it is capable of remoulding reality itself makes it a truly terrifying villain. What is perhaps deliberately unclear is whether Hordak himself has brought the Reality Shaper to Eternia, or whether the creature has just happened to travel there by chance and chosen Hordak’s desires as a model on which to build its distorted reality. Either way, the reader is awed by the tremendous evil power of this story’s horrific guest villain. Hordak’s schemes, which seemed rather amateur compared to Skeletor’s in the early issues, have become considerably more complex and elaborate as the comics have progressed – now he has the honour of being part of the most far out and chilling evil scheme yet.

The Reality Shaper is only narrowly defeated in the end – it is so powerful that not only is it unaffected by The Sorceress’s spells, but it is even able to break through her force field, meaning she only just manages to defeat it by opening a warp in space and time, sending the creature back to Nega-Space. For the first time, The Sorceress rather than He-Man is the true saviour of the battle, and it is a real one-up for her character since she has been a passive presence in the comics up until this point, barely partaking directly in the action until now. Since He-Man has actually acted carelessly in this story and almost been defeated, on this particular occasion it really is thanks to The Sorceress that Eternia has been saved, from perhaps its most severe threat in the comics’ entire run so far.

As the story comes to a close, it suffers slightly from the limited space allocated, as the final two panels seem slightly rushed. Ideally it would have been great to have seen the entire plethora of Evil Warriors and Horde members fleeing the palace grounds as they regain their senses, retreating in confusion, but due to space limitations we only get one panel indicating the warriors’ retreat, with its depiction of the confused Evil Warriors in the background. The story ends on a note of deadpan humour, as a confused Moss Man, regaining his senses, puzzles over why his jaw is aching, and He-Man is left having to explain that he punched his very own battle comrade! Although the ending does feel a little rushed this is still a nice touch to mark how things are returning to normal after the bizarre, tripped-out nightmare the characters – and the reader – have just experienced.

“The Reality Shaper” is not only a more than breathtaking debut for new writer James Hill, but perhaps the comics’ finest story yet. This dark, eerie, surreal nightmare vision brings the London Editions MOTU comic into darker and weirder territories than even its most hardened readers would have dared imagine, and as well as breaking new ground for the comic, helps in kickstarting its golden era as the comic, freed from the confines of the initial 12-issue contract, was free to be as experimental, weird and wonderfully out there as it liked. This is the point at which the UK MOTU Comic really takes off – and there are lots of fantastic, thrilling and chilling adventures to come.

© Aidan Cross, 2019.

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