UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: October 1986
Menace of the Magnetron
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This issue’s cover is clearly based on a scene from the story “Mind Swop” although it does not directly depict the events of the story – for in the actual story, Skeletor is in the form of He-Man when he is atop Castle Grayskull, while He-Man is trapped in Skeletor’s body.
Notice that the story teasers on the cover have mis-spelled the word ‘Magnetron’ (from this issue’s story “Menace of the Magnetron”) as ‘Magatron’.
This issue’s intro page sees Scrollos inviting the readers to send in suggestions for ideal Christmas presents for the MOTU characters, while the Orko the Magician strip sees an amusing encounter between Orko and a cartoon-like ghost.
Story 1: “Mind Swop”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: In Snake Mountain, Two Bad presents his latest invention to Skeletor – the Nega-Mind Transmitter, a ring-shaped device that enables the wearer to swop minds with any person of their choice, providing they are able to see the other person when operating it. Skeletor sets out to Castle Grayskull, intending to use the device to switch bodies with He-Man. Inside Castle Grayskull, He-Man and Fisto are enjoying a game of Blocker when the castle comes under attack. They rush to the battlements and see Skeletor attacking the castle with a very basic cannon that is clearly no use against Grayskull. With He-Man lured out onto the battlements, Skeletor uses the ring to transfer his mind into He-Man’s body, and Fisto is taken aback when He-Man suddenly attacks him, attempting to hurl him over the edge of the turret. Down below, He-Man’s mind has been transferred into the body of Skeletor, and seeing Skeletor in He-Man’s own body endangering Fisto’s life, he rushes to the battlement, using Skeletor’s staff as a pole enabling him to vault to the castle turret. He reaches the top of the turret and is about to save Fisto, but just then The Sorceress appears, and believing He-Man to be Skeletor, she casts a spell that transports him back to the ground below with the Evil Warriors. Seeing Skeletor’s body materialize on the ground below, Two Bad and Beast Man mistakenly think the mind transfer has been cancelled and Two Bad urges his master to rethink himself back into He-Man’s body. But since it is still He-Man’s mind within Skeletor’s body, Two Bad has unwittingly revealed to He-Man how the mind transfer works. Upon realizing their mistake, Two Bad and Beast Man attack He-Man, but as Skeletor is still stronger than both of them, He-Man is still easily able to hold his own against them in Skeletor’s body. With the two henchmen out of action, He-Man uses the ring to transfer his mind back into his own body, just as Skeletor, in He-Man’s body, is about to attack The Sorceress. He-Man’s mind resurfaces in his own body and he reveals that before transferring his mind back, he threw the Nega-Mind Transmitter to Castle Grayskull so Skeletor will not be able to use it again. Down below, Skeletor blames Two Bad and Beast Man for his scheme’s failure, and chases after them in anger.
Review: Mind swopping between characters is a classic recurring theme in sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and so it’s no surprise to see that theme being put to use in the MOTU mythos, naturally between He-Man and Skeletor, and it is executed here with a dose of wry deadpan humour to make for a fun and entertaining story.
The story opens with Two Bad presenting his latest invention to Skeletor. We have seen Two Bad’s invention skill showcased before in Issue #7’s “Crawl Bomb”, and “Mind Swop” is the second of several stories throughout the comic’s run that would place Two Bad’s role as Skeletor’s inventor in the spotlight. Typically, Two Bad’s two heads argue over which one of them was the main genius behind the new invention of the Nega-Mind Transmitter – which appears in the form of a small, harmless ring, but allows the wearer to swop minds with any person of their choice, providing that person is in their sight. The subject of mind transmission has been touched on previously in the comics, in Issue #6’s “Mind Stone” – only the artefact in that story only enabled the user to control the body of the subject, whereas the Nega-Mind Transmitter enables a full body swop.
The scene switches to Castle Grayskull, and here we see He-Man and Fisto engaged in a game of Blocker – clearly the Eternian equivalent of chess, and this would be the first of numerous instances in the comic where we would see members of the Heroic Warriors play this game. Since the London Editions comics often emphasised the theme of brains over brawn and portrayed He-Man as a kind of ‘thinking person’s superhero’, using strategical thinking rather than his muscles to outwit and overpower the villains, it is natural that these warriors would enjoy and excel in a chess-like game involving logic and strategy. Fisto mentions he has been taking tips from Man-At-Arms, who we would certainly expect to be an expert at such a game.
The heroes’ game is interrupted by a blast from outside as the castle comes under attack, and rushing out to the battlements, they see Skeletor attacking the castle – but the ‘crude weapon’ he is using to attack the castle – a basic cannon that Skeletor knows is no use against Grayskull – indicates Skeletor likely has a trick somewhere up his sleeve. Once Skeletor puts the Nega-Mind Transmitter to use and swops bodies with He-Man, this allows for some excellent comedy moments executed in the UK Comics’ trademark deadpan style.
The panel showing Skeletor’s mind entering the body of He-Man is hilarious, as He-Man suddenly begins to yell “I’ve done it! Ah! The power! Never have I felt so strong and powerful” confusing Fisto with his sudden out-of-character speech. Yet what is funny about this panel is not so much He-Man’s sudden out-of-character behaviour as Fisto’s reaction to it – as Fisto is shown leaning casually forward against the battlement, looking rather unfazed, even bored as he simply asks “Why are you speaking so strangely, He-Man?” without even so much as looking at He-Man!
Skeletor uses He-Man’s strength to cast Fisto over the edge of the rampart, enabling Fisto to put his action feature to use as he swings his fist to free himself from Skeletor/He-Man’s grip and catch onto the edge of the rampart to prevent himself falling. Down below, He-Man’s mind has arrived in the body of Skeletor, and seeing what is happening above, he quickly sets about putting Skeletor’s abilities to use in stopping ‘himself’ from invading Grayskull. He uses Skeletor’s staff to pole vault to the top of Grayskull. While this makes it look like it could be surprisingly easy for Skeletor to gain entry to Grayskull, it seems to be suggested that it is He-Man’s mental awareness that enables him to achieve more in Skeletor’s body than Skeletor himself would.
When he reaches the top, there is a mistake in the panel that shows He-Man reaching the rampart – for although he and Skeletor are still in one another’s bodies, both are shown speaking the other’s dialogue! There follows another particularly amusing comedy moment when The Sorceress suddenly materializes on the rampart and, believing ‘Skeletor’ to actually be Skeletor, casts a spell that teleports him back to his minions, thus stopping He-Man’s own attempt to save the castle! It is not like The Sorceress at all to make such a careless mistake and place her own castle in direct danger, and with The Sorceress having been shown to be particularly powerful so far in the comics, even saving the day herself in Issue #13’s “The Reality Shaper” this uncharacteristic mistake could be seen by some readers as undermining her character a bit – but either way, it is a great comedy moment! (Though I should imagine the Elders gave her a disciplinary hearing and issued her with a final written warning after this cock-up!)
The next comedic cock-up is made by Two Bad, as he mistakenly thinks the mind spell has been cancelled out and urges his ‘master’ to rethink himself back into He-Man’s body – thus giving away to He-Man how the mind transfer works and what he needs to do to save the day. Beast Man urges Two Bad to attack He-Man so that if they defeat him, Skeletor will not be angry with them – but while He-Man may be weaker in the body of Skeletor, Skeletor is still a lot stronger than both his minions, and He-Man is able to put his own battle skills to practise in Skeletor’s body, overpowering the two minions with a few swift punches. Once they are out of action, he is able to use the ring to think himself back into his own body, just as ‘He-Man’ is about to attack The Sorceress.
‘He-Man’ is suddenly surrounded by a glow of energy, and his own mind resurfaces back in his body, and he tells his comrades that he threw the ring to the battlement of Grayskull just before he transferred his mind back, so Skeletor will not be able to use it again. Down below, as you would expect, Skeletor has blamed his henchmen for his failure, and the final panel shows him comically chasing after Two Bad and Beast Man in anger.
As mentioned before, mind swopping is a theme that has been used time and time again in sci-fi and fantasy, and it is the kind of theme that allows for not only enthralling action and adventure, but excellent opportunities for comedy as well. The writer of this story has clearly realized that, and executed the story very nicely. Although The Sorceress’s little mistake here did seem somewhat out of character, there’s no denying it is a hilarious comedy moment, and the story has been executed very well with the London Editions comics’ trademark touch of very British deadpan humour. A very entertaining opening to Issue #16 indeed!
Some interesting questions on this issue’s Master Mail page, including the question of whether Faker is Skeletor’s son (I suppose in a way he is, since Skeletor apparently created him). The answer to this question gives us a teaser towards the upcoming Secret Files of Scrollos series, a recurring feature that the comic would become well-known for. We also get a question regarding the panel at the end of Issue #10’s “When Strikes the Faker” in which He-Man was shown discussing his secret identity seemingly in front of Fisto. Scrollos’ answer explains that Fisto was just out of hearing range in this panel, but a lot of readers had asked this question!
Story 2: “Blind Terror”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Amador García
Synopsis: He-Man is visiting the village of the Cat-Nik people, where he is using his strength to help them build new huts. But Skeletor is spying on him in secret, via a viewscreen in Snake Mountain. Skeletor unveils to his henchmen, Spikor and Stinkor, a new magical artefact that has come into his possession – the Talisman of Sight, which has the power to blind anyone whom the wielder aims it towards. He sends Spikor to the Cat-Nik village with the aim of luring He-Man to Snake Mountain. Spikor flies in a Hover-Vehicle to the Cat-Nik village, where he brings He-Man a challenge from Skeletor to a man-to-man fight at Snake Mountain. He-Man topples Spikor from his vehicle, climbs into the cockpit and pilots the vehicle to Snake Mountain, suspicious that Skeletor is leading him into a trap. Upon landing at Snake Mountain, He-Man suddenly finds himself blinded, Skeletor having aimed the Talisman of Sight at him unseen. Skeletor instructs Stinkor to use his stench to overpower He-Man, and with He-Man temporarily helpless, Skeletor binds him in Enchanted Chains and heads to Eternos City with his Evil Warriors, Stinkor remaining behind to guard the imprisoned He-Man. Skeletor and his minions reach the royal city and Skeletor uses the Talisman of Sight to blind all the Heroic Warriors. Although the warriors do their best to fight against Skeletor’s army despite their blindness, their effort is ineffective and Skeletor quickly gains the upper hand. Back at Snake Mountain, He-Man manages to use his strength to break free from the chains, and Stinkor, too scared at the prospect of having to fight He-Man alone, hurries toward the royal city to warn his master that He-Man has escaped. But He-Man is able to smell Stinkor’s odour and uses it to follow Stinkor, unseen, back to the city. Back at Eternos, although the Heroic Warriors are very close to defeat, Buzz-Off finds that his insect visor has not been affected by Skeletor’s enchantment, and able to see again, he flies towards Skeletor and swipes the Talisman of Sight from his grasp. The Heroic Warriors immediately regain their sight, and the battle quickly swings in their favour. Shortly after, Stinkor arrives at the city to warn Skeletor of He-Man’s escape, and He-Man himself then appears, having followed Stinkor’s scent, his sight now restored. Realizing he stands no chance now He-Man is back, Skeletor teleports himself and his army away.
Review: This story begins in the Cat-Nik village, which we have seen before, back in Issue #4’s “Raiders From the Sky”. The Cat-Niks look different here from how they were drawn in their previous appearance – the aforementioned story depicted them as a yellow-skinned tribe, whereas here they are shown with a Caucasian skin tone. The difference in their appearance is likely because this strip is drawn by a different artist – by Amador García rather than José María Ortiz Tafalla, who drew “Raiders From the Sky”.
The scene cuts to Snake Mountain, where Skeletor is spying on He-Man using a viewscreen, in a similar manner to how he would regularly spy on the heroes using his crystal ball in the cartoon series. The use of a viewscreen rather than a magical device is indicative of the London Editions comics’ preferred emphasis on the sci-fi aspects of MOTU, rather than the fantasy.
As Skeletor unveils the latest magical artefact he has acquired, he summons two of his henchmen, Stinkor and Spikor, the latter of whom we have not seen much in the comic so far, only brief background roles. In typical Skeletor fashion, the Lord of Destruction tests the Talisman of Sight on his two henchmen, causing them both to be temporarily blinded. We get a nice moment of sadistic black humour from Spikor with his thought bubble: “If he ever tries that again he will find one of my spikes in his back!” For a villain who was not given much characterization in the comics, and who seemed generally cowardly despite the physical advantage of his spikes, it is nice to get a hint of a dark side to his character for a change.
When Spikor flies to the Cat-Nik village to lure He-Man away, he is shown flying a very interesting-looking vehicle, which most fans will notice looks strikingly similar to the Talon Fighter from the MOTU toy line. The Talon Fighter, in the Mattel toy line and most other media, was shown to be a very large vehicle with a closed cockpit, and in the Mattel minicomics it was also a magical vehicle that could be commanded only by He-Man and usually stood atop Point Dread, a mystical stone structure that was merged with Castle Grayskull. While other media, notably the Filmation cartoon series, deviated from this by making it a regular Heroic vehicle with no mystical powers, it was consistently shown to be a vehicle used by the Heroic Warriors. Yet here, this Talon Fighter-like vehicle is clearly the property of the Evil Warriors, and is shown looking much simpler, as a very small and basic open-topped flying vehicle. At no point is it referred to by the toy’s name – the panel text only refers to it as a ‘Hover-Vehicle’ – but there is no mistaking that the artist has clearly based its appearance on the Talon Fighter, marking the only time this particular vehicle (a very early release in the Mattel toy line) would appear in the UK Comics.
He-Man responds to Spikor’s challenge from his master – to a man-to-man fight at Snake Mountain – by toppling Spikor from the vehicle and taking control of it himself! The reader can’t help but wonder here if He-Man has left Spikor to potentially endanger the Cat-Nik villagers, but as this is particularly unlike He-Man, it is safe to assume that the vehicle has flown a fair distance from the village by the time He-Man topples its pilot.
We see Snake Mountain from the outside in the following panels, and again it is drawn looking slightly different from normal. While it has been shown with its regular toy appearance in Issue #4’s “Mountains From Space” and Issue #9’s “He-Man the Powerless”, it was given a more castle-like appearance in Issue #7’s “Double Split” and now appears looking different again, simply consisting of the main bird-like head, its mouth serving as the entrance in a similar manner to Castle Grayskull. The aforementioned stories that showed the mountain in its toy form were drawn by José Tafalla, while Amador García, the artist for this strip as well as “Double Split”, has veered away from the regular appearance of Skeletor’s base by experimenting with his own designs.
Naturally, He-Man is suspicious, knowing that Skeletor would never willingly face him in a fair fight, so he proceeds with caution, but is taken unawares by Skeletor, who zaps him with the Talisman of Sight from behind, blinding He-Man and enabling Stinkor to use his odour to overpower him, so Skeletor can imprison him in Enchanted Chains. In the panel in which He-Man has been blinded, the Talon Fighter vehicle behind him has been mistakenly drawn as the Wind Raider.
Skeletor leads his minions to the Royal Palace of Eternos, where he uses the Talisman of Sight to blind the entire team of Heroic Warriors. With their natural bravery, the warriors charge into battle nonetheless, but they are not used to fighting sightless and the battle quickly progresses in the favour of the Evil Warriors.
Back at Snake Mountain territory, we see a mighty superhuman effort from He-Man as he breaks free from the chains, shouting his catchphrase “I have the power!” as he breaks loose. Stinkor, who has been left behind to guard him, is naturally too afraid to fight He-Man alone even if He-Man is blind, and flees the scene to go and warn Skeletor of his enemy’s escape, but we learn here that Stinkor cannot help but give off odours when he is scared, and this allows He-Man to track him back to the Royal City.
In a nice creative twist, the battle at the Royal Palace finally swings in the heroes’ favour when Buzz-Off tests his insect visor and finds that his insect eyes have not been affected by the Talisman of Sight. This is a great way of putting to use the insect visor that came with the Buzz-Off action figure, which although it was intended to give him the power of insect vision, was very rarely ever put to use across any MOTU story media, so having Buzz-Off’s visor play a key part in saving the day in this story is a very nice touch. It was always good to see members of the supporting cast of Heroic Warriors save the day in the UK Comics, proving how essential all the Masters were as a team, and here Buzz-Off gets his moment to shine as he pretty much single-handedly thwarts Skeletor’s scheme by swiping the Talisman of Sight from Skeletor’s grasp, following which the heroes all regain their sight and the battle immediately swings in their favour.
Although He-Man has escaped by now and soon shows up at the palace, his sight now restored, it is Buzz-Off who is the real hero of this battle, for he has pretty much defeated Skeletor’s scheme without He-Man having to move a muscle. Skeletor orders his minions to press on, hoping that without He-Man on their side, the Heroic Warriors may still lose, but once He-Man shows up, Skeletor knows they stand no chance and teleports himself and his minions away. The story ends in traditional MOTU style with a pun and a joke as He-Man remarks on how they have proven that “justice is never blind in Eternia”.
“Blind Terror” is a perfect example of a great action story, the very type of story that MOTU was created for. Amidst the entertaining action sequences, this story also gives us some great spotlight roles for minor players like Stinkor and Buzz-Off. Another great story in the London Editions MOTU mythos!
Story 3: “Menace of the Magnetron”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: In Snake Mountain, Skeletor is receiving a visit from a humble scientist named Kratos, who says he has invented a metal-attracting machine called the Magnetron that can be of great use to Skeletor. Skeletor mocks the scientist and tells Trap Jaw he can have his way with him, but when Kratos protests that the Magnetron will be able to defeat He-Man, Skeletor chooses to give him a chance to prove this, and orders Kratos to lead him to the Magnetron. Outside Snake Mountain, Kratos presents the machine to Skeletor and explains it is a flying machine that is powered by sunlight, and has a built-in tractor beam that will attract iron or any metal that contains iron. He proves its power by using the machine to attract Trap Jaw’s partially metal body to its base, and explains it can easily be used against the Heroic Warriors, as it will attract their weapons and thus disarm them before a battle. Meanwhile, Prince Adam is making a formal visit to an Eternian mining village, where Drakor, the leader of the miners, presents him with a belt buckle made with metal from their own mine. Just then, Skeletor flies overhead in the Magnetron, which attracts Man-At-Arms’ metal suit to its base, causing Man-At-Arms to be sucked upwards and captured by Skeletor. Prince Adam attempts to rescue his friend, but the Magnetron also attracts Adam’s sword, which Skeletor does not recognize as He-Man’s Sword of Power. Skeletor orders Kratos to destroy the others, but Kratos tells him the sunlight is fading and will thus cause the Magnetron’s power to fade, rendering such an assault impossible. Skeletor vows to return the next day to use the machine on the whole of the Heroic Army, and escapes with Man-At-Arms and the Sword of Power. Back at ground level, Drakor uses his knowledge of metals and their properties to explain to Prince Adam how he believes Skeletor’s new machine must have worked to draw Man-At-Arms to its base. Prince Adam rises to the challenge of countering Skeletor’s impending assault without being able to transform to He-Man, and together with Teela, returns to the Royal Palace. At the palace, Adam assembles the Heroic Warriors and orders them to arm themselves with wooden sword and shields before dark, and get ready to counter the impending attack, ensuring they have no iron or steel on them. Overnight, Adam leads the Heroic Warriors to the coastline which Skeletor will need to cross on his way to the city, and at the mining plantation, orders Drakor to issue each man with a bronze knife. Eventually, Skeletor appears overhead in the Magnetron as expected, and despite Teela’s skeptical protests, the warriors carry out Adam’s orders and use wooden catapults to launch rocks at the Magnetron. Upon seeing their wooden swords, Skeletor mistakes these for their regular weapons and orders Kratos to use the Magnetron to disarm them. As the Magnetron flies towards the Heroic Army, it flies over the iron mine and its magnetic force causes it to be drawn towards the iron mine itself, crashing to the ground. When the machine crashes, Adam retrieves his Sword of Power and transforms to He-Man when no-one is looking. He-Man rescues Man-At-Arms, and Skeletor attempts to counter him with one of the swords, only to find to his dismay that it is made of wood and useless against He-Man. Realizing they stand no chance, Skeletor and the Evil Warriors flee the scene, and He-Man has some fun teasing Teela, who is reluctant to admit that Prince Adam’s scheme worked perfectly.
Review: The UK Comics were consistently excellent at coming up with new and innovative ideas for MOTU stories, and while it may seem a little mundane at first glance, “Menace of the Magnetron” is an ideal example of one of these. Drawing on real-life science with its plot of Skeletor using magnetism to gain advantage over the Heroic Warriors, it allows for a fantastic action-based plot with numerous unexpected twists and turns, yet its real strength lies in its superb characterization, particularly when it comes to the interplay between Prince Adam and Teela. It is also a rare example of a story that shows Prince Adam working to save the day as himself, rather than as He-Man.
The story begins with an excellent panel illustration showing Skeletor reclining on the throne of Snake Mountain in a fantastically louche pose, with one leg crossed over the other, as a smiling Evil-Lyn pours a drink of wine (or blood, or whatever that red substance he drinks is!) from a flask into his goblet! (We’ve seen Skeletor with these goblets in several issues by now, yet we can’t help but wonder how exactly he drinks when he has no lips!) Fittingly for a panel depicting Skeletor in such a decadent pose, the narration box describes him as “Lord of Misrule” – an old English title given to an officer appointed to preside over Christmas revelries during the Feast of Fools, which often involved drunkenness and wild hedonism! Another great touch to this first panel is Trap Jaw gripping the scientist Kratos in his claw as he positions him before Skeletor, Kratos desperately trying to persuade Skeletor that he can be of use to him! This makes for possibly the best opening panel of any story yet in the comic.
Skeletor is unconvinced by this humble scientist’s attempts to impress him, and tells Trap Jaw to “amuse yourself with him” but when Kratos suggests that his new invention could defeat He-Man, this is a chance Skeletor just does not want to miss out on, however slim, so he orders Trap Jaw to let Kratos go in case “this vermin has something”.
Skeletor and Evil-Lyn remain particularly demeaning and harsh towards Kratos when he leads them outside to where the Magnetron awaits, refusing to let him speak until Skeletor has spoken to him, and yelling “Don’t tell us, idiot… show us!” as Kratos explains the Magnetron’s powers. He finally convinces Skeletor it may be worth giving this machine a shot when he succeeds in attracting Trap Jaw’s semi-metal body to its base. The Magnetron’s ability to attract iron means a whole army could potentially be disarmed of their weapons before a battle.
The scene switches to a mining plantation where Prince Adam, with Man-At-Arms and Teela, is making an annual tour of Eternia’s resources, and the lead miner, named Drakor, presents him with a belt buckle made with metal from their own mine. Adam promises Drakor he will “wear it always” – a promise he clearly did not keep, as we never saw him wear it in future issues! It is noticeable here that Adam is wearing a very visible scabbard in which he is keeping his sword – not something he would usually wear, but it has clearly been put in here for story purposes, so Adam has a reason to have the Sword of Power on his person (which those unaware of his secret identity will presumably mistake for a normal sword). Playing up to his usual role of the fun-loving Prince, Adam asks Drakor what the miners do for amusement, and Drakor shows him the bowls they use to play bowling with down on the beach. This is where the particularly strong character development in this story comes in, as the interplay between Adam and Teela kicks off. We have seen instances of this in previous stories such as Issue #1’s “Skeletor’s Surprise” and Issue #14’s “Return of the Great Beasts”, but here the dynamic between these two is brought so much to the forefront of the story that it becomes a subplot in its own right – and one that winds up surpassing the main plot in entertainment value! Teela protests against Adam’s interest in the bowling game, because “We’re not here to play childrens’ games”. Man-At-Arms quickly points out the flaw in her criticism by noting just how heavy the bowls are – “Some child he would be! Who could lift one of them?”
Adam is shown to remove the scabbard containing the belt buckle and his sword when joining Drakor in the bowling game – just as the Magnetron appears overhead, and attracts Man-At-Arms’ metal suit to its base, together with the scabbard and the Sword of Power, as well as Teela’s sword. Adam clings onto Man-At-Arms’ leg in an attempt to save him, but is unable to hold on and falls into the sea below.
As the sunlight is fading, the Evil Warriors are unable to enact a full-on attack just yet as the Magnetron is powered by sunlight – but Skeletor vows to return with his army the following day and we get a great piece of dialogue from Evil-Lyn as she says “And I want to deal with Teela.... personally!” These two women have barely shared a scene in the comic so far, but their rivalry was a key feature of many early MOTU media and was showcased in several episodes of the Filmation cartoon series. Man-At-Arms mistakenly refers to the Sword of Power by the name of She-Ra’s sword, as ‘the Sword of Protection’, indicating there was some confusion among the comic’s writers between the names of the swords as they wrote simultaneously for the MOTU and She-Ra comics.
We get a great moment in the following panel as the scene shifts back to the surface and Adam has emerged (seemingly completely dry) from the sea. Spotting Teela shedding tears he tells her “Weep not, Teela, we shall get your father back” to which Teela responds “An Eternian warrior does not weep, Prince Adam, I have a grain of sand in my eye”. Truth be told, while she may be one of the main characters in the franchise, Teela has not had a great deal of exposure in the comics so far, usually consigned to brief cameos and background roles while newer characters like Moss Man, Fisto and Sy-Klone take the forefront. So it is great to finally see her getting some decent story time, and her characterization is handled brilliantly, her tough exterior carefully concealing her emotional and sensitive side.
The story takes a particularly interesting turn here, for since Skeletor has (unknowingly) made off with the Sword of Power, Adam has no choice but to try to foil this scheme as himself, without turning to He-Man. In most of the London Editions Comics’ stories, we don’t see Adam at all; rather he spends the whole story as He-Man, and we occasionally wonder just how necessary the double identity of the character actually is in this mythos – but now and then a story comes along that puts the secret identity theme to great use, and this is a fine example of one – particularly as it allows Adam to shine in his own right while maintaining his act of being a casual fun-loving prince. And in the process, it brilliantly explores the awkward tension between himself and Teela. While Teela, not realizing that He-Man is unavailable, states “We must get word to He-Man” Adam is quick to point out “There are other weapons besides swords and spears… We still have our brains!” and sets to work leading the heroes to victory as himself.
Back at the Royal Palace, Adam assembles the Heroic Warriors and issues orders to mobilize them against the impending assault, with each of his orders bluntly criticized by Teela. Adam orders the warriors to arm themselves with wooden swords and shields and assemble on the coast to face Skeletor’s attack, while Teela retorts with crisp and sarcastic criticisms, saying “We won’t frighten Skeletor with toys!” and “Prince Adam has become insane” while lamenting He-Man’s absence. We see how eager she is to criticize the prince, and keen readers of the comic will notice just how hypocritical she is actually being – for in past issues she has constantly complained about Adam’s apparent cowardice and unwillingness to participate in the combat on Eternia, yet now that she finally sees Adam not only rising to the challenge, but taking it upon himself to command the whole army, she is criticizing his every move! Plus we can’t help but think that if Adam was in the form of He-Man and issuing the exact same orders, she would be fawning over his every move praising his incredible bravery and intelligence. Teela just does not want to see any good in Prince Adam, and from the development she would get in later stories, we can justifiably speculate that she has a way of blinkering herself to Adam’s strengths whenever he shows them, determined as she is to remain the stronger of the two. This shows great character depth for a comic consisting mostly of 6-page stories, and you can only imagine just how complicated things would be if she were to find out her childhood friend who she is so eager to think poorly of is in fact He-Man, the man she admires the most.
It is great to see how effective the miners are in assisting Prince Adam’s plan, serving gladly as equals to the Heroic Warriors in this counter-attack, their contribution thoroughly valuable to the Masters in saving the day. (This positive depiction of miners may certainly seem interesting in the British cultural context of the time, with the Miners’ Strike against Margaret Thatcher’s gradual erosion of the British coal mining industry over the previous two years being very prominent in the British cultural psyche of the time.)
The following panel is hilarious, as Teela spots the fleet of Evil Warriors approaching and laments that “we don’t have He-Man to aid us!” to which Prince Adam casually replies “You have me, Teela” to which Teela answers “With respect, Prince Adam, I think the army would have preferred a more – er – experienced commander.” Adam is clearly having fun here, for as we know, he is an experienced commander, and he’s clearly enjoying playing with Teela’s expectations, maintaining his act of being a foppish prince while at the same time competently rising to the challenge of countering Skeletor’s assault. While the Filmation cartoon series explored the dual identity of the show’s hero in great depth and occasionally showcased Adam making a stand as himself to help save the day, we never got to see him go so far as to lead an entire army to victory in his own right, and for the UK Comics to show him doing exactly this is a genius move when Adam’s story time is generally extremely minimal compared to He-Man’s. After all, we have been shown consistently throughout the comics that He-Man’s real strength is his brains and intelligence rather than his muscles, and so it makes perfect sense that he could use his powers of strategy and foresight to defeat the villains when in the form of Prince Adam – all while putting his acting skills to great use as well, maintaining his casual act as Adam so as not to give away his secret with his sudden proactive role in combat.
As Skeletor appears over the horizon in the Magnetron, with Kratos and the imprisoned Man-At-Arms, he is angered by the Heroic Warriors’ counter-attack as they catapult rocks toward his vehicle, and as planned, mistakes their wooden swords and shields for metallic ones and orders Kratos to fly over the army to attract the weapons to the Magnetron. It is a brilliant touch to see none other than Prince Adam himself step to the edge of the shore and declare “Do you have the courage to face me alone, Skeletor?” Skeletor’s bullying of Kratos, who he clearly sees as a feeble old man and refuses to treat respectfully no matter how useful his machine proves, is showcased well on the following panel as he grips Kratos by the head, forcing him to put the machine onto full power, although Kratos of course knows much better and realizes that flying over the iron mine on full power will only destroy the Magnetron, by causing it to be sucked towards the mine, the latter being much larger. The Magnetron crashes and Prince Adam retrieves his sword (which the story is still referring to as the ‘Sword of Protection’). He uses the opportunity to transform into He-Man while the villains’ backs are turned, and cuts Man-At-Arms free from the chains.
Skeletor is rather perplexed at the sudden appearance of He-Man, but not quick enough to put two-and-two together and notice Prince Adam has vanished, and seizes one of the wooden swords, lunging at He-Man without realizing it is a wooden weapon. When He-Man breaks the wooden sword effortlessly with a quick swipe of his own sword, Skeletor realizes he has been fooled by the Heroic Warriors’ counter-attack and immediately retreats with his Evil Warriors.
And of course, Prince Adam’s plan has worked perfectly – which He-Man is quick to point out to Teela. Teela is completely reluctant to acknowledge the success of Adam’s plan, and dismisses it, saying “It was sheer luck! The only plan Adam’s ever made was to get out of doing any work!” (Rather unfair, given the amount of work Adam has put into this counter-attack.) This allows He-Man to have some fun with her, teasing her by responding with “But he [Adam] is likeable!” This angers Teela further, as she replies “Likeable? Who would like Prince Adam?” to which He-Man – drawn here with a rather goofy expression – replies with the most eccentric yet of the many jokes to end the stories in the comic – “Skeletor found him attractive – in fact, positively magnetic!” This unusual and almost homoerotic joke, with its 'freeze frame joke' style end panel echoing US sitcoms, brings the story to a close perfectly, on a high and humorous note.
And it would be very hard indeed for the reader not to be feeling extremely satisfied at the end of this story – for in a mere six pages, the comic has crafted a story very strong on entertaining action and sci-fi, together with fantastic deadpan comedy, and best of all, brilliant characterization of both the villains and heroes, particularly Adam and Teela. While the villains’ portrayal here, with Skeletor’s maniacal demeanour and Trap Jaw’s sadistic delight at the start at the opportunity to ‘amuse himself’ with Kratos was impressive enough in itself, it is the characters of Adam and Teela who really shine in this story, and the interplay between these two is what makes this story most distinct from others and stays in the reader’s mind. If there is any flaw to this story it could be argued that it rather overdoes Teela’s arrogance – she does indeed come across as pretty unlikeable here, for while she has frequently teased Adam in the past, here she goes to the extent of berating and denying his success in fending off an assault by Skeletor all with his own strategic planning – and this seems especially harsh given that she has always complained in the past about Adam’s apparent cowardice and unwillingness to participate in the combat on Eternia. And more still, she pretty much says outright at the end that she dislikes the prince, responding with disbelief to He-Man’s description of Adam as ‘likeable’. Having had only basic character development in previous issues, Teela is certainly starting to come off as pretty unpleasant here – but in the wider context of the comics’ run, this story serves as an excellent showcase of just how complicated the relationship between Adam and Teela is. This is something that would be explored further in several later issues, most particularly in the “Story of Teela” two-parter about Teela’s origins that ran from Issues #57-#58 – we got a sense of the childhood bond between Adam and Teela and Teela’s exasperation with Adam’s apparent laziness, partly as a result of her own having been trained as a warrior from birth. Yet it was clear she liked him deep down even though the tough exterior she put on to live up to her warrior duties made it difficult for her to express or admit any affection for him, even to herself. In return, Adam held a lot of admiration for her and grew exasperated at her constant disappointment in him and the necessity for him to act the role of a coward and layabout to protect his secret identity – and he retaliated to this subtly in the form of He-Man – for as He-Man, he would express to Teela his liking for Prince Adam, in the hope that seeing the man she admired the most express fondness for Adam would make her rethink her view of him. In the wider context of how the characters were developed in later issues, the dynamic between the two of them makes a lot of sense here, and we get the impression Teela in particular is a very emotionally complex character and the relationship between Adam/He-Man and Teela is clearly deserving of an entire story in its own right. With the comic’s constraints of space, and the need to focus on action rather than character depth to satisfy Mattel, it was a theme that could only be covered fairly minimally throughout the comics – but when it was, it was handled brilliantly, and the depth to the characters of Adam/He-Man and Teela is extremely impressive as a whole.
And as a whole, “Menace of the Magnetron” is nothing short of a mindblowing story that ranks very, very firmly among the comics’ best – in fact, while Issue #13’s surreal and twisted “The Reality Shaper” just beats it in my personal opinion as the best story so far at this stage, I would certainly not berate someone for regarding “Menace of the Magnetron” as the comic’s best story to date. And the weird thing is, on the surface it really looks at first as though it shouldn’t be anything too spectacular – a rather basic scheme by Skeletor using a pretty simple-looking machine utilizing no magic but just basic science, and created by a humble inventor desperate to impress Skeletor, seems a lot less interesting than most stories, particularly when compared to the grandiose threats of stories like “Mountains From Space” and “The Reality Shaper”. On the surface this story seems to have all the hallmarks of an at best average and probably forgettable story. But it is just executed so damn beautifully, with superb characterization, fantastic illustrations by Jose Tafalla, excellent guest characters in Drakor and the miners, great twists and unexpected developments, a rare chance for our hero to save the day as Prince Adam rather than as He-Man, and best of all the sensational subplot and hilarious yet somewhat emotionally-driven dialogue between Adam and Teela. Unexpectedly, this outwardly humble story winds up being not only by far the strongest in this issue, but one of the comics’ all-time finest moments. The writer clearly must have realized just how well this formula worked, for a lot of its elements were re-used a few issues later in a very similar story titled “The Sleep of Skeletor” in Issue #21, which also featured Prince Adam taking leadership and foiling an evil scheme as himself, amidst continuous criticism and denial from Teela.
With an incredible number of strengths for a six-page comic story, “Menace of the Magnetron” is a surefire winner and an example of the London Editions Comics at their very best – as He-Man says at the end, it’s “positively magnetic”. While the humble wannabe villain inventor Kratos may not get that much characterization or rank among the story’s stronger components, we can certainly say he proved himself useful when he offered his services to Skeletor – he gave us one of the damned finest stories the comic has seen yet.
© Aidan Cross, 2020.