UK London Editions Comics

Issue #14

Release Date: September 1986

Stories:

It's a Zog's Life
Return of the Great Beasts
The Children of Eternia

Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla

This issue’s cover features an illustration from the story “Return of the Great Beasts”.

This issue's Intro page.

Story 1: "It's a Zog's Life"
Writer: Brian Clarke

Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla

Synopsis: After his attempt to attack He-Man (seen in the previous issue), Zog, the miniature alien child with the tiny but powerful spacecraft, flies his craft to Snake Mountain to offer his services to Skeletor. He uses his ship to create the illusion of a fierce fire-breathing dragon, which enters Skeletor’s chamber to attack him. Beast Man attempts to use his power over animals to drive the creature away, but his powers are useless against it. Zog then uses the ship to create another illusion – a pirate warrior who enters the chamber and saves Skeletor from the dragon. The warrior tells Skeletor that he knew the creature was coming to Snake Mountain to destroy Skeletor, so he followed it there to save Skeletor and offers his services to Skeletor’s army. Skeletor ridicules the warrior and mocks him, pointing out that the fact the warrior saved him proves he is not evil, for a truly evil warrior would have allowed the creature to destroy him. Zog is shocked to realize just how evil Skeletor is, and realizes he must try harder if he is to gain entry to Skeletor’s forces. He controls the pirate warrior to tell Skeletor he has the ability to defeat He-Man, and Skeletor agrees to give him the chance, for if he truly can defeat Skeletor’s most hated enemy, Skeletor will place him second-in-command of his army. Skeletor orders the warrior to accompany him to a small village where He-Man is making a public appearance that day, to award a small boy for his bravery in standing up against Skeletor. A short while later, in the village, He-Man presents the young boy with a medal for bravery, but as he does so, Skeletor attacks the village with Beast Man and Stinkor, and the pirate warrior by his side. Together they attack He-Man, who is unprepared for the attack from all four at once and is knocked unconscious by Stinkor’s odour. Watching the fight from his spacecraft, Zog is becoming scared as he witnesses just how evil Skeletor really is. With He-Man unconscious, Skeletor mounts an attack on the young boy who earlier dared to oppose him, and Zog, shocked at seeing someone his own age about to be destroyed by Skeletor, switches sides and controls the pirate warrior to attack Skeletor. As He-Man regains consciousness, he is glad to see the strange warrior has changed sides, and together they banish Skeletor and his men from the village, sending them fleeing. The pirate warrior then agrees to explain what is going on, and asks He-Man to hold out his hand. Although confused at the request, He-Man does so, and as the stranger vanishes into thin air, Zog’s tiny spacecraft lands in He-Man’s hand. Zog emerges from the spacecraft and explains he stole the ship from his homeworld, hoping its power would enable him to gain entry to Skeletor’s army. Now that he has realized how evil Skeletor is, he has changed his mind and declares he will now aspire to be a heroic warrior instead of an evil one. Agreeing to confess all upon his return to his homeworld, Zog climbs back into his spacecraft, and as he blasts off, He-Man commends Zog for having shown the greatest kind of bravery – to admit when he has made a mistake and to do something about it.

Review: The story “My Sword, My Enemy” in Issue #13 introduced us to the strange character of Zog, the tiny alien child who attempted to attack He-Man with illusions created by his powerful spacecraft. Issue #14 begins with the natural continuation of that story – with Zog making good on his promise to join Skeletor and using his powers to impress the Lord of Destruction enough to grant him access to his evil army. “It’s A Zog’s Life” consequently carries a strong moral message about the true nature of evil and the meaning of courage.

As Zog reaches Snake Mountain, we get a great scene of Skeletor actually engaging socially with his henchmen, having a laugh with Beast Man and Stinkor over reminiscences of his past evil doings, while drinking from a goblet. This untypically relaxed atmosphere between Skeletor and his henchmen shows us a different side to his character, and it’s great to imagine the Evil Warriors getting intoxicated together while sharing reminiscences of their past schemes.

The unexpected attack from a fire-breathing dragon, in fact a mirage created by Zog’s spacecraft, springs the three Evil Warriors into action, Beast Man attempting to gain favour with Skeletor by using his animal powers to drive the creature away. As it is not a real creature, his powers have no effect, and this enables Zog to put the next step of his scheme into action – by creating a fake ‘warrior’ with his spacecraft, who ‘saves’ Skeletor from the beast in the hope of winning his approval.

Zog proves his naivety here, for having failed to realize that such an action would not impress Skeletor at all, who instead mocks him, since a truly evil person would have allowed the monster to attack him rather than save him. We get a great illustration of Skeletor mockingly waving the stranger on as he orders him to leave, and Skeletor and his henchmen casting mocking glances over their shoulders as they walk away.

Shocked at the extent of Skeletor’s evil, but still wishing to impress him, Zog persuades Skeletor to allow him to stay by insisting that he can help Skeletor defeat He-Man. Skeletor agrees to give him the chance to prove this, for such an achievement would allow him the ranking of second-in-command of Skeletor’s army. Beast Man and Stinkor’s reactions to this offer are very amusing, both jealously expressing their own desire for this position. There’s a real sense here of Skeletor’s henchmen’s tendency to suck up to him and their determination to win their master’s favour.

The scene switches to a small peasant village, where He-Man is presenting a medal of bravery to a young boy who apparently dared to stand up to Skeletor in a recent attack on the village. This provides Skeletor with the perfect opportunity to attack the village with Zog, allowing the latter to prove his claim to be capable of defeating He-Man. As we see Zog’s tiny spacecraft tagging along unseen with the warriors, we learn that the spacecraft does not actually belong to Zog; rather he stole it from his homeworld with the aim of defeating He-Man and impressing his hero, Skeletor.

The sudden attack on He-Man by the four warriors proves too much and he is quickly overpowered, with Stinkor’s odour knocking him unconscious. At this point, Zog begins to feel scared upon witnessing Skeletor in action, and seeing Skeletor about to destroy a boy as young as him, Zog is finally convinced to change sides, and turns against Skeletor before he can attack the boy.

As He-Man recovers, the combined powers of He-Man and Zog are enough to send Skeletor and his men fleeing, and Zog’s illusory ‘warrior’ agrees to explain all, asking He-Man to hold out his hand, following which Zog’s spacecraft lands in He-Man’s hand as the image of the warrior fades away.

As Zog explains all and agrees to return to his homeworld, confess all and aspire instead to be a Heroic Warrior, the story’s moral is driven home as He-Man commends Zog for having the bravery to admit he has made a mistake and be willing to do something to put it right. This is a powerful moral message for the story’s young readers and ends the story on an emotional note.

While the opening story of this issue has been entertaining and mostly satisfying, we cannot help but wonder if more could potentially have been made of Zog’s abilities – Skeletor leaves the story still unaware of Zog and believing his pirate-like ‘warrior’ projection to be real, so as far as he sees it, this naïve warrior simply aspired to impress Skeletor, proved in the end he was not actually evil at all, and that was that. Yet if Skeletor had found out about Zog and his ship’s abilities, maybe the story could have taken a more interesting turn? Could he have perhaps pressured the 'warrior' more to find out exactly how this rather harmless-looking warrior could possibly possess the power to defeat He-Man? It is quite likely Skeletor would have wanted to take advantage of the abilities of Zog’s ship to trick He-Man with illusions and potentially overpower him, an ability that was demonstrated in the prequel to this story in Issue #13. Indeed, that very story ended with He-Man musing that if Skeletor or Hordak were to learn of Zog's abilities, Eternia could be in real trouble. It seems a shame, and perhaps anti-climactic, that this potential story development was not given the chance to take place in the sequel. Thus, had Skeletor been made aware of Zog, and perhaps taken advantage of his youthful naivety to keep Zog on his side, perhaps by stroking his ego and deceiving him into thinking he saw him as a true ally, the gates could have been opened for a far more dramatic story with more drastic consequences, rather than the straightforward story we get here. Nevertheless, we have to remember the comics’ writers only had five pages in which to tell the story, and more complicated and elaborate plots were thus riskier for them to pursue – so given the circumstances, we can commend this story for being an entertaining adventure in its own right and delivering a strong moral message to the young readers. Zog (he is referred to generally as being ‘a Zog’, indicating Zog is the name of his species rather than his actual name) is a particularly interesting character with an intriguing storyline and redemption arc of his own, and one that many younger readers may relate to as an ‘outsider’ kid who hero-worships and idolizes the bad guys before learning the hard way that there is nothing clever or glamorous about being evil. It would be interesting to learn more about his species and homeworld – as his whole species is likely diminutive in size, is their whole planet tiny as well? It would have been interesting to have seen this character reappear in a later story, perhaps involcing his homeworld directly.

As it stands, although it could potentially have been something much stronger, “It’s A Zog’s Life” is nevertheless a memorable and effective story with a great guest character in Zog, and a strong message about the true differences between good and evil.

****

This issue’s Master Mail. A slight confusion on Scrollos’ part with his answer to the second letter – he mentions the Crawl Bomb as a creation of Hordak’s, but it was actually Skeletor who used the machine build by Two Bad, back in Issue #7!

****

Story 2: “Return of the Great Beasts”
Writer: Unknown

Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla

Synopsis: On the outskirts of an Eternian village, Hordak reveals his newest invention – a Time Portal machine, which he is using to bring the great beasts of Eternia’s past to the present. He sets the savage beasts on the villagers, whose weapons are powerless against them. A villager flees to the Royal Palace of Eternos and alerts Teela to the danger. Later, He-Man, Battle Cat and Teela arrive at the village, and as they witness the destruction, He-Man receives telepathic contact from The Sorceress, who tells him that Hordak has tricked him – with He-Man lured away from the Royal City, Hordak has used the advantage to send the beasts to attack the palace. Back at the palace, the Heroic Warriors are desperately trying to defend the city from the beasts, but their powers and weapons have no effect. He-Man, Battle Cat and Teela return to the city, and He-Man aims to lure the leading beast away from the city so the others may follow, but the creature is too powerful for him. Scouting with binoculars, He-Man spots Hordak and his Time Portal, some distance from the city. He-Man uses his sword to blast a hole in the ground, and tunnels his way beneath the city, emerging behind Hordak. Hordak uses the machine to summon another savage beast from the past, which he sets on He-Man, but He-Man sends the creature hurtling back with a blast from his sword, and the creature smashes into Hordak’s laser weapon, causing the machine to explode. The creatures vanish and Hordak teleports away, and the Heroic Warriors begin rebuilding the palace.

Review: This issue’s Hordak story features another new invention of Hordak’s, this time delving into Eternia’s ancient past with his scheme of bringing savage beasts from the planet’s history into the present to wreak destruction. While many of the challenges faced by He-Man and his comrades in the London Editions comics are resolved with a thinking-based solution, “Return of the Great Beasts” is a pure action story, with a rather straightforward progression rather than the comics’ trademark unusual plot twists.

The story opens with a setting that has become very familiar for Hordak-centric stories, with Hordak demonstrating his new invention, and one of his henchmen – in this instance Leech – comically misunderstanding him, the classic playoff of maniacal warlord aside the buffoonish henchman. The Spanish art team have been very creative with the designs of the beasts, some more reptilian in appearance, others bird-like.

One of the most memorable points of this story occurs with the scenes in the Royal gardens, concerning the interplay between Prince Adam and Teela. We get a fun scene reminiscent of the Filmation cartoon series, with Teela jokingly mocking Adam’s apparent laziness as he relaxes in a hammock while she and Man-At-Arms play air-ball, and she ‘accidentally’ knocks Adam into the pond, soaking him. This playful, love/hate dynamic continues after they are alerted to the latest danger threatening Eternia, as Prince Adam excuses himself to “go and dry off” to cover for his transformation into He-Man, causing Teela to berate him with “Why can’t you be brave like He-Man?”

There follows a brief diversional tactic on the villains’ part, as He-Man and Teela investigate the destruction of the village, and He-Man is alerted back to the city by a telepathic summons from The Sorceress, revealing that Hordak has tricked him and used his absence as an opportunity to attack the Royal Palace with the beasts. Given He-Man’s usual skills of foresight, it seems a bit untypical that he would not have foreseen that Hordak would attack the palace in his absence. Nevertheless, there is a sufficient line of defence at the palace, although the Heroic Warriors are no match for the great beasts. He-Man attempts to use scientific knowledge to his advantage by attempting to lure the lead beast away, in the hope the others will follow with their herd mentality, but the creature overpowers him and knocks him into the river, with a nice reference to the Adam and Teela scene before as He-Man muses that “this is the second time I’ve been soaked today!”

He-Man manages to defeat the threat by burrowing underground with his sword and emerging behind Hordak, using his sword to fire a blast at the creature Hordak sets upon him, causing it to smash into Hordak’s laser weapon, which fires at the machine and causes it to explode, transporting the creatures back to their own time period. 

Hordak laments that he will not be able to build another such machine as it was powered by Crysalism, the rarest ore in Eternia, and teleports away. The panel on which he does so is drawn rather clumsily, as Hordak actually has a happy expression on his face after his scheme has been defeated.

With a rather simple resolution, as the Heroic Warriors simply set to work seemingly effortlessly rebuilding the city, ultimately this story feels somewhat lacking. There was a lot that could be done with the premise of Hordak teleporting beasts from Eternia’s past to the present to attack Eternia, but all we really get out of this is a few basic action sequences and a rather easy defeat, and this story is missing the kind of suspenseful plot twists and intellectual challenges that we are used to from the LE comics. This story could potentially have been a good opportunity for a thinking-based plot solution, maybe involving He-Man having to delve into the history books to find some sort of secret or weakness about the beasts that could have enabled him to defeat them… but as it is, we just get a very basic action story – no specific details are revealed about the beasts other than that they are from the past, without even specifying what period of Eternia’s history they come from – for instance, the Elders have by now been established as prominent figures in Eternia’s history; did they perchance ever encounter these creatures? But we are not told anything, and this story can really be summarized rather easily with “Hordak attacks Eternia with savage beasts, and He-Man defeats them” – rendering the time travel element of the story little more than a gimmick.

But the story should not be written off as completely unmemorable – despite the basic action plot, it does at least showcase the human sides of our lead heroes, with the brief interplay between Adam and Teela, the half-serious, half-joking way in which Teela mocks Adam’s laziness and the semi-flirtatious way she ‘accidentally’ knocks him into the pond, with He-Man re-alluding to this when he is himself knocked into the river and soaked again when battling the beasts. There wasn’t a great deal of room for character development given the limited space in which to tell the stories, so little moments of humanity like this are always welcome, and in this instance, it saves the story from being completely generic and forgettable.

Overall, however, while it may be this issue’s cover story, “Return of the Great Beasts” is not an example of the LE comics at their strongest – with generic action and little in the way of memorable or challenging moments it seems like a wasted opportunity, especially since by this stage in the comics’ run we really have begun to have higher expectations.

****

Story 3: “The Children of Eternia”
Writer: Unknown

Art: Amador Garcia

Synopsis: As Eternos City is bathed in the rays of a peaceful summer sun, King Randor and Queen Marlena watch the children of their city playing in the streets, from the palace balcony. Meanwhile, within the palace, He-Man, Teela and Man-At-Arms are discussing a problem about which they have been warned by Zodac, the Cosmic Enforcer – “The future of Eternia is in danger from its future”. A short time later, the king and queen rush in, saying that the children of the city have mysteriously vanished. Stratos soon arrives at the palace and tells the heroes that he has been scouting Eternia for the missing children but has found no sign of them – only that the story is the same everywhere; the children all across Eternia have simply vanished. And this is not even the worst of their troubles – while scouting Eternia, Stratos has witnessed a huge army setting up camp on the Northern Plain near the city. Knowing that they can not risk endangering the city, He-Man leads Teela, Man-At-Arms and Stratos to the Northern Plain to investigate this threat. Upon reaching the plain, the heroes find the camp that has been set up by the mysterious army, and within it are the army themselves – with Skeletor leading them. The heroes enter the camp and confront Skeletor, and Skeletor explains that the army themselves are the missing children – they have fallen under the spell of the Light of Zor, controlled by Evil-Lyn from the Cave of Doom, which not only causes them to obey Skeletor’s orders but also aged them to adulthood. Skeletor gloats that the heroes are helpless, for they will not dare attack his new army knowing that to do so would be to hurt the innocent children. He-Man and the others reluctantly leave the camp to work out a strategy to defeat Skeletor’s latest scheme. He-Man leads the others to the Cave of Doom where the spell is located, and they are attacked by Skeletor’s henchmen. They break past the Evil Warriors, only to find a huge wall barring their way – but He-Man effortlessly smashes through it, and on the other side they find the Light of Zor, guarded by Evil-Lyn, Two Bad and Jitsu. Stratos swoops towards the villains from above, snatching the Light of Zor from Evil-Lyn’s grasp and breaking the spell. At that moment, the other Evil Warriors who the heroes broke past earlier arrive on the scene, and Evil-Lyn gloats that the heroes are now outnumbered so still cannot defeat them. However, her boast has been made too soon – Skeletor uses a teleport spell to transport all the Evil Warriors back to Snake Mountain, having lost his control over the children. The heroes leave the cave and head back towards the city, and as they head home, they see the children, all returned to normal. Followed by the children, the Heroic Warriors head back to Eternos to celebrate.

Review: The London Editions MOTU comics have become renowned for their offbeat, experimental and strikingly original story premises. “The Children of Eternia” is a story that falls into this category, with its intriguing premise of the mysterious disappearance of all the children in Eternia coinciding with the sudden appearance of a mysterious evil army, who turn out to the be the children themselves, magically aged to adulthood. This is a brilliantly intriguing premise that would seem to have amazing potential story-wise. Sadly, none of that potential is utilized here, and this story is a huge example of a wasted opportunity as a great idea is simply thrown away before our eyes.

The story opens nicely, with the peaceful scenario of King Randor and Queen Marlena relaxing on a summer evening by watching the children play in the streets of Eternos, in the heat of the summer sun, while a more sombre scenario plays out within the walls of the palace as the heroes ponder a mysterious warning they have received from Zodac that “The future of Eternia is in danger from its future”. Notable here is the rare mention of Zodac, who has been alluded to in this form before in Issue #4, and actually appeared briefly in Issue #5, his role being that of a watcher from behind the scenes who cryptically forewarns the heroes of impending danger. The catalyst for the plot then occurs with the sudden disappearance of the children, and Stratos’ report of a mysterious army that has set up camp on the Northern Plains near the city.

The heroes later arrive on the Northern Plains to see the mysterious army being led by Skeletor, and they immediately put two and two together and realize that the sudden appearance of this army must be somehow connected to the missing children. Skeletor’s revelation – that the army are the children, magically aged to adulthood and forced to obey his commands – is a neat plot twist and one that maybe even adult readers would not necessarily have seen coming. The army have the appearances of seasoned warriors approaching middle-age, so it is a really striking idea that completely innocent children could have been magically aged into fully-skilled, bloodthirsty warriors.

Sadly, it is at this point that the story takes a massive U-turn, and rapidly descends downhill. Skeletor’s mistake here is by telling the Heroic Warriors that the army are the missing children, rather than leaving them to find out for themselves. And not only does he tell them this, but he even goes as far as to specify the exact magical artefact that has been used on the children, and even where that very artefact is located! Thus giving the heroes the very information they need to go after the spell, cancel its effects and save the day. Way back in Issue #9 we saw Hordak berate Leech for giving too much information to the heroes, and while this is Skeletor rather than Hordak, it still seems highly illogical to have one of the evil leaders commit that exact same error himself by literally giving the heroes all the specifics they need to thwart his scheme. Skeletor even says himself “I had hoped that you would attack my army, thus hurting your own children.” So why give them this information when he had the option not to? There is a huge challenge posed to the heroes, in the fact that they will not dare fight or attack the army to avoid hurting the children, but absolutely nothing is made of it, since the heroes have all the information they need to put a stop to this scheme.

Everything is pretty much plain sailing from here onwards – the heroes reach the Cave of Doom, break past Skeletor’s minions with ease, break effortlessly past a wall that bars their way, and find the Light of Zor. And surely when they reach the Light of Zor, the Evil Warriors guarding it put up a good fight to stop them getting hold of it? No, not even that – Stratos simply flies through the air and snatches it from Evil-Lyn’s grasp with the greatest of ease.

If the reader is already feeling a little flustered by how easily everything is working out, the next few panels only add insult to injury – the warriors whom the heroes had broken past at the entrance catch up with them, and with the heroes finding themselves badly outnumbered, He-Man declares that “Perhaps Skeletor will still win this battle.” But at that moment, Skeletor shoots himself right in the foot by choosing to teleport all of his minions back to Snake Mountain just at the moment they had the heroes at their mercy – purely because he was annoyed at finding the spell cancelled and the children returned to normal. Skeletor has already done enough to ensure his own scheme is thwarted in this story by telling the heroes the very information he should have kept from them; now he only makes things worse for himself by teleporting his minions away right at the point they had the heroes outnumbered and could have defeated them.

The final two panels show the Heroic Warriors reuniting with the missing children, returned to normal, and heading home with them to celebrate. Celebrate the fact their adversaries are so hopelessly incompetent perhaps? All very well, but the readers by this stage will certainly not feel like celebrating, because what seemed at first like a groundbreaking, challenging story has swiftly descended into the farcical and illogical. Skeletor has simply handed the heroes a straightforward victory on a plate and left the path right open for them to foil his scheme. Generally throughout the comics he has come across as a convincing threat to Eternia, frequently crafty and believably evil, with his main downfall being his ego and vanity. Yet this story just makes him look outright incompetent and makes the entire conflict seem pointless if he is capable of foiling his own schemes as effortlessly as this.

This story sadly leaves us feeling rather dejected, since the idea behind it showed so much promise and there was so much more that could have been done with it. What if the Heroic Warriors had, for instance, entered battle with the army and injured some of them before they had realized they were the children? Perhaps we could also have seen the shock of the children’s parents upon seeing what had happened to their offspring, or explored the aged children’s minds themselves – were their memories wiped for instance, or could some of them perhaps have recalled their pasts and broken past the spell? Perhaps we could have had a scene of one of the ‘children’ attacking their own parents? The idea of a child temporarily becoming not only an adult, but a bloodthirsty warrior, for a certain period of time, before reverting to childhood, is an intriguing and even disturbing idea – it would have seemed a great idea to have explored the children’s own experience of this to at least some extent, yet this angle is not explored at all. Either way, rather than the Heroic Warriors being told the truth by Skeletor himself, it would have made far more sense to have had them deduce that the army were the missing children, perhaps after initially believing the army to have kidnapped the children, and to have had to strategically work out a way to reverse the spell, rather than being given the exact details they needed to effortlessly break it.

We always have to keep in mind the limitations of space when reviewing the stories in the comic, and indeed perhaps this particular story would have benefitted better from being a 2 or 3-parter. But either way, having what could have been a psychologically challenging story resolve itself as easily as it does just seems like a huge waste of a great idea.

With a decent if not groundbreaking opening story in “It’s A Zog’s Life”, a humdrum second one in “Return of the Great Beasts” and a seriously lacklustre third one in “The Children of Eternia”, this issue does feel like a bit of a disappointment, considering how powerful and groundbreaking Issue #13 was. There is perhaps the sense that the stories are being rushed a bit, now that the writers’ workload has increased with the She-Ra comic to work on as well. But anyone fearful that the quality of the comic was heading downhill could have slept soundly – this issue was but a small low point before Issue #15 returned the MOTU comic to form and catapulted it nicely into its heyday.

© Aidan Cross, 2020.

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