UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: December 1986
Buzz-Wheel of Destruction
When Strikes Konzilla
Ghost of He-Man
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This issue’s cover was inspired by the cover of an issue of Blackhawk comic from the 1950s (see below), which likewise inspired the story “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction” which this cover represents.
This issue's intro page.
Story 1: “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: Two Bad presents Skeletor with his new invention – the Buzz-Wheel of Destruction, a large mechanical wheel with razor sharp spikes across its edges, and a set of lasers within a panel in its centre. Shortly afterwards, He-Man and Battle Cat are visiting a small village whose inhabitants have asked them to attend a special ‘thank you’ ceremony. As they greet the villagers, the heroes notice the Buzz-Wheel heading through the nearby trees, making straight for the village. He-Man blasts the wheel with his sword, but the wheel fights back with its own in-built lasers. He-Man notices some text on the side of the wheel stating that it was designed and created by Two-Bad for his master, Skeletor. He-Man deduces that this means the village is likely not the intended target, rather he himself is. He leads Battle Cat away from the village in the hope the wheel will follow them, but although the wheel does manoeuvre away from the village, rather than following He-Man it heads straight for Eternos City. When it reaches the city, the Heroic Warriors prepare to fight back, but He-Man already has a plan – he pulls up a small tree from out of the ground, and uses it to dig a rut in the ground. Once the wheel falls into the rut, He-Man is able to use the tree to keep clearing the ground and lead the wheel away from Eternos. Later on, at Snake Mountain Skeletor is addressing his warriors, telling them that Two Bad will from now on be his second-in-command, having created the weapon that is set to destroy He-Man. But just then, Stinkor enters the chamber informing Skeletor that something has gone wrong with Two Bad’s plan. The warriors head to the ramparts, and see that He-Man is using the tree trunk to dig a deep trench in the ground, through which the wheel is following him, now on a direct collision course with Snake Mountain itself. Two Bad is left with no choice but to press the auto-destruct button on the control panel, destroying the Buzz-Wheel. Skeletor sets into motion Two Bad’s punishment, while He-Man heads back to the village to make sure the villagers are safe.
Synopsis: This story sprang from an idea for a comic cover that writer Brian Clarke had, after being inspired by the cover of a 1950s issue of Blackhawk comic depicting a large deadly wheel called the Flying Buzz-Saw. Brian felt the idea could work well in a MOTU story, and so developed this story; the cover of this issue consequently paying homage to the Blackhawk cover. “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction” follows in the tradition of many of the London Editions MOTU comics’ opening stories in that it revolves (sorry) around a new invention of the villains that is set upon He-Man. Although this is different in that such stories usually feature Hordak as the villain, given that technology is his forte rather than Skeletor’s. “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction” thus follows earlier stories such as “Crawl Bomb” (Issue #7), “Mind Swop” (Issue #16) and “And One Shall Save Them” (Issue #17) in that it features a technological device being utilized by Skeletor rather than Hordak – and like the aforementioned stories, said device is an invention of Skeletor’s technician, Two Bad.
Two Bad, one of the newer action figure releases at the time, has established a solid, prominent presence in the MOTU comics by this stage, as Skeletor’s comedic technician who comes up with genius inventions which nonetheless fail due to some kind of amusing mistake made by Two Bad himself. When a story centres on Two Bad, you can be pretty much assured of some quality comedy moments.
The story starts with Two Bad presenting the Buzz-Wheel to Skeletor, his heads bickering as usual over which one of them was the brains behind the invention. Some nice continuity is shown here when Skeletor hopes that the device will work better than the Crawl Bomb, which was also referenced in Issue #17’s “And One Shall Save Them”.
The scene shifts next to He-Man and Battle Cat, who are arriving at a small peasant village, where they are guests of honour at a ‘Thank You’ ceremony. Whether the villagers are thanking them for saving them on a previous occasion, or just for being there for the Eternians when they are needed, is not quite clear. Battle Cat approaches the villagers very modestly, expressing his dislike of being the centre of attention and embarrassment when made a fuss of. His thought bubbles are an amusing touch as the villagers enthusiastically fawn over him and He-Man – “But it would be nice if they weren’t so loud!”
Perhaps fortunately for Battle Cat, the villagers aren’t given long to make a fuss over him, because the visit is quickly interrupted by the attack of the Buzz-Wheel, which comes rolling over a nearby hill, cutting through a tree and heading straight for the village. He-Man attacks the wheel with a blast from his sword, but the wheel fights back with its own built-in lasers. As He-Man loses his balance and stumbles to the ground, he notices an inscription on the side of the wheel, reading “DESIGNED AND CREATED BY TWO BAD FOR HIS MASTER SKELETOR”. Similar to Two Bad’s previous invention, the Crawl Bomb, the wheel has an almost primitive, steampunk feel to it, an amusing quirk of the inventions of this particular character.
He-Man deduces that as the wheel is an invention of one of Skeletor’s henchmen, it must have been sent to attack him rather than the village, so he leads Battle Cat away from the village in the hope the wheel will follow them and render the village safe. It does appear to do so, but eventually ignores them and careens right past them, leading He-Man to deduce that it has been programmed to attack Eternos City. Quite why it followed He-Man and Battle Cat when they led it away then is not quite clear; did it just steer its course away from the village by coincidence when they moved?
He-Man does not take long to think up a plan, and as he remarks “perhaps those trees can help us” it is amusing to see Battle Cat criticize He-Man’s idea, saying “This is no time to lose your mind, He-Man”. It is very rare that Battle Cat is given centre stage in any of the comics’ stories, but here he is coming across with a deadpan wit and dry, sarcastic humour, in line with his cartoon counterpart, a side of the character which really should have been showcased more in the UK Comics.
The wheel reaches Eternos and the Heroic Warriors prepare to fight back, but they have their work cut out for them as He-Man has already concocted the plan that will save the day, for he pulls a small tree out of the ground and uses it to dig a rut in the ground which he tricks the wheel into falling into, then he uses the tree trunk to clear the ground ahead, leading the wheel away from the city.
Back at Snake Mountain, Skeletor is addressing his warriors, proclaiming Two Bad his new second-in-command for having created the weapon that will destroy Eternos for him. Perhaps purposefully, it seems rather silly that Skeletor is so confident about the Buzz-Wheel’s victory at this early stage – when Two Bad has created so many inventions before that have failed due to an oversight or mistake on his part, it seems extraordinarily naïve to assume with so much certainty that this one will succeed, without even bothering to oversee the wheel in action! Two Bad’s thought bubble is a nice touch, revealing that the two-headed minion secretly plots to destroy Skeletor himself with a new weapon once Skeletor has conquered Eternia, so he may replace him on the throne.
Sure enough, Skeletor would have done well not to be so over-confident, for no sooner has he pronounced Two Bad his second-in-command than Stinkor enters the chamber to deliver the bad news that something has gone wrong with Two Bad’s plan. They rush to the outside of the mountain to see He-Man leading the wheel away from Eternos and towards Snake Mountain itself, by using the tree trunk to form the trench in the ground through which the wheel runs. As in previous stories, for instance Issue #7’s “Double Split”, the impression is given that Snake Mountain and Eternos City are not actually all that far from one another.
Skeletor orders Two Bad to stop his own invention before it destroys Snake Mountain (while we have not seen the wheel destroy anything more than a tree, the implication is that it is capable of destroying entire buildings, including ones much larger than itself). Two Bad has no choice but to press the auto-destruct button on his control panel, which his thought bubble tells us he had arranged to allow him to threaten Skeletor once He-Man had been defeated. Naturally, the story then ends with Skeletor setting about Two Bad’s punishment, while He-Man heads for the village to ensure the villagers are okay.
While these opening stories, showcasing a new weapon utilized by the villains, tend to be rather basic and straightforward, there are a few oversights of logic in “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction” that give it the feel of having been rushed and not fully thought through. For instance, despite Skeletor’s supreme confidence in the wheel, it is really quite a stretch to believe this one weapon could single-handedly destroy the whole of Eternos City, without even so much as an army of warriors to accompany it, especially when the city has a whole army of Heroic Warriors to counter it with their own weapons and technology. Likewise, the exact way the wheel operates is not quite made clear, since it appeared to be following He-Man at first when he led it away from the village, only to careen right past him and head instead for the city, making its diversion to follow He-Man make little sense in hindsight. Despite these flaws, the story has some strong points – for one, its characterization of Battle Cat with his dry humour and sarcasm, and most importantly its furthering of the role of Two Bad within the comic. Having been portrayed ever since Issue #2’s “Skeletor’s Champion” as a very independent warrior within Skeletor’s ranks, capable of thinking up crafty schemes of his own, we have also seen in Issue #7’s “Crawl Bomb” that Two Bad is unafraid to answer back to Skeletor when penalized, which puts him a notch above most of Skeletor’s other henchmen, and here we see that he is secretly plotting to overthrow Skeletor himself once He-Man has been defeated, and aspires to himself become Eternia’s ruler. (An evil ruler who constantly argues with himself is an amusing enough idea as is, making the reader wonder as to the great comedy potential such an idea would have were the comic ever to do a story in which Two Bad actually achieved this wish.) While he is a great comedy henchman and frequently bumbling and careless, he nevertheless seems a capable independent villain who may just some day concoct an invention that actually works, and he is easily one of the most entertaining of the supporting villains. Ultimately, despite several flaws, “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction” makes for an entertaining opener for this issue and a solid showcase for the character of Two Bad.
This issue's Master Mail page.
Story 2: “When Strikes Konzilla”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Amador García
Synopsis: Skeletor has travelled to the Island of Monsters in his Spydor vehicle, accompanied by Beast Man, whose power he hopes to use to gain the unwilling help of a creature that inhabits the island. The two villains encounter a giant lizard creature that Beast Man assumes is the creature Skeletor seeks, and offers to use his powers to capture it. But Skeletor tells him this is not the creature, and Beast Man instead uses his powers to drive it away. A short while later, the two villains reach a clearing, where Skeletor tells Beast Man that the creature he seeks is none other than the great Konzilla, and he wants Beast Man to use his powers to attract the great beast towards them. Beast Man does so, and Konzilla comes crashing towards them, through the trees. Beast Man is terrified of Konzilla’s gigantic size but nervously manages to keep the monster under his powers. A few days later, outside Castle Grayskull, He-Man, Sy-Klone and Buzz-Off are repairing the jaw bridge after a recent attack by Hordak. Buzz-Off heads to the forest to pick some fresh fruit for their lunch, but as he flies over the forests, is distracted by a movement from below, which turns out to be the great beast Konzilla, which catches Buzz-Off in its long, vice-like tongue. Buzz-Off just manages to twist himself free, and races back to the castle to warn his friends about the monster, just as Konzilla approaches them. He-Man, Sy-Klone and Buzz-Off fight back against Konzilla, but the creature’s great strength enables it to quickly gain the upper hand. From a distance, Skeletor and Beast Man are watching the fight, and Skeletor is confident that the defeat of He-Man is certain. But Beast Man, knowing that Skeletor could not have done this without his help, demands that Skeletor promise he will allow Beast Man to rule by his side when he conquers Eternia, otherwise he will release Konzilla. Skeletor refuses to debate this, and instead blasts Beast Man with his staff. But the blast causes Beast Man to lose his hold over Konzilla, and as He-Man and the other heroes fight the creature, it suddenly becomes less aggressive and stops attacking them. Konzilla then speaks to them, explaining he does not want to fight them and only attacked them because he was under the control of Beast Man, of which he is now free. Together with Konzilla, He-Man, Sy-Klone and Buzz-Off confront Skeletor and Beast Man, and Skeletor retreats, Beast Man begging his master’s forgiveness for causing the plan to fail. Accompanied by He-Man and his friends, Konzilla heads to the shore, where he wades into the sea to return to his island home, telling the heroes that should they ever need his help, they are free to call on him.
Review: This story was an inventory script written by Brian Clarke to try out potential new artists for the MOTU comic, in the hope of bringing some UK-based artists on board. When no one proved successful, Brian passed the script to the regular team at Selecciones Illustradas (SI) in Spain, and Amador García, as usual, did a fine job of illustrating it. We have seen several instances in the comic before of Beast Man’s power to control animals, and this story finally brings this ability of his to the forefront, with Skeletor utilizing Beast Man’s power to possess a beast with the strength to destroy He-Man and his comrades.
The story begins with Skeletor and Beast Man arriving on the Island of Monsters, a craggy outcrop of waste land which, as the name suggests, is home to many ferocious beasts. It is interesting how both of them seem to have travelled there via land-based transport – Spydor and Night Stalker respectively – when an air vehicle would have made more sense, with the Island of Monsters segregated from the mainland. Beast Man’s fear of the creature they seek is immediately made clear, as he is terrified that the creature will find them before they find it. They encounter a gigantic lizard creature, which Beast Man assumes is the creature Skeletor seeks, but Skeletor tells him it is not, and Beast Man instead uses his powers to drive it away, fearing just how gigantic the object of their search must be.
When they reach a clearing, Skeletor tells Beast Man that the creature he seeks is the great beast Konzilla, and reluctantly, Beast Man uses his animal powers to attract the creature towards them. Konzilla is illustrated in full ferocity as he comes crashing through the trees, and although Beast Man is terrified, he reluctantly uses his powers to obtain control over the creature.
The scene switches to a few days later, with He-Man, Sy-Klone and Buzz-Off repairing the jaw bridge of Castle Grayskull following a recent attack by Hordak. Buzz-Off flies over the forest to pick fresh fruit for the heroes’ lunch, but finds himself attacked by Konzilla, who traps him in his long, reptilian tongue. He manages to writhe free and warn his comrades, who attack the creature before it can attack them, but it proves far too powerful for them, possessing so much strength that even boulders are no weapon against it, for they smash upon impact with Konzilla.
Skeletor is watching the battle in secret from a distance, Beast Man at his side. This is where the story takes an interesting turn, for as Skeletor becomes completely confident in Konzilla’s victory over his enemies, Beast Man is quick to point out that Skeletor could not have achieved this victory without himself and suggests that Skeletor give him his own kingdom to rule, when the battle is over. Skeletor refuses to acknowledge this fact or debate the matter with Beast Man, but Beast Man is not to be deterred so easily and demands that Skeletor promise to let him rule by his side, threatening to release Konzilla if he does not agree. Skeletor, ever reluctant to give his minions too much credit, even when their help has proven valuable, will not allow his ego to be threatened in such a manner and instead threatens Beast Man back. But Beast Man sticks to his guns, remarking that to refuse is to lose the battle, and Skeletor’s pride gets the better of him as he blasts Beast Man with his staff, causing the exact outcome Beast Man has threatened – the release of Konzilla from his control.
Konzilla has retained the upper hand in the battle with the Heroic Warriors, but he suddenly becomes less aggressive and stops attacking the heroes, and we see now that Konzilla is not an evil beast by nature, but a peaceful creature whose great size and strength has been taken advantage of by Skeletor for evil means. Clearly an intelligent creature capable of human speech, Konzilla speaks to the heroes and explains that he only fought them because he was under Beast Man’s control. The heroes, together with Konzilla himself, confront Skeletor, who has no choice but to surrender and retreat. At this point, Beast Man’s confidence completely subsides and he is now overcome by fear of his master’s wrath, grovelling and begging Skeletor’s forgiveness for causing him to lose – even though in truth it is Skeletor who brought about his own defeat, his vanity having gotten the better of him by refusing to give Beast Man his due credit.
The story ends with Konzilla parting ways peacefully with the Heroic Warriors, wading back into the ocean to return home while offering his services to the heroes should they ever need his help. This is an effective closure and a nice twist by having Konzilla turn out to be an honourable creature at heart; we would see no more of him in the comic but it would certainly have been good to have had him return to assist the heroes in a later issue.
While it may not rank among the classic stories of the comic, “When Strikes Konzilla” is a good story for Beast Man, for it shows us numerous different sides to his character – his fear of large monsters despite his potential to control them, the extent of Beast Man’s powers when his attempt to control Konzilla proves successful and results in him retaining control over the creature for several days, the boost in confidence this gives him as he demands Skeletor acknowledge his value to him and reward him with joint rulership of Eternia, and finally his overwhelming fear of his master’s wrath when the scheme fails, even though its failure was Skeletor’s own fault. Most often, Beast Man is treated as little more than a bumbling underling and Skeletor’s trademark ‘whipping boy’, but this story presents him in a stronger light as we realize just how potentially valuable his service is to Skeletor – had Skeletor’s ego not gotten the better of him, he could easily have achieved victory over He-Man on this occasion, and Beast Man would very much have deserved the credit and a reward for single-handedly helping Skeletor achieve this. Although Beast Man’s own cowardice presents itself at the end as he fears his master’s wrath and grovels pitifully before him, begging forgiveness, we realize here that he is a lot more powerful than he is given credit for, and cannot help but feel a bit sorry for him with the inevitable nasty punishment he’s set to receive from Skeletor.
“When Strikes Konzilla” does not quite rank among the classics of the London Editions comics, but it is definitely a story with its own distinct qualities and strong points that render it a memorable and enjoyable read.
Story 3: “Ghost of He-Man”
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: In the Royal Palace of Eternia, King Randor is addressing an assembled audience, explaining that he has assigned Fisto and Moss Man the duty of spying on Snake Mountain from a safe distance, so that they may report on Skeletor’s actions and enable Eternia’s defence forces to keep one step ahead of the evil warlord. The two Heroic Warriors head to Snake Mountain, where they take their place at a small hill to the west of the mountain. But they are shocked to be greeted there by a hologram of Skeletor himself, who reveals that he is aware of their every move. Fisto and Moss Man return to the palace and tell King Randor what happened, and Randor deduces that there must be a traitor in their midst who reported their actions to Skeletor. He summons He-Man and Teela and explains the situation to them, and they head out to Snake Mountain hoping to find the answer. They take their spot on the same hill, but are greeted by another hologram of Skeletor. He-Man attacks the hologram, but as he makes contact, he suddenly vanishes into empty air together with the hologram of Skeletor. Fisto and Teela assume this was part of Skeletor’s plan and that He-Man must have been destroyed. They return to the palace to deliver the sad news, and word travels fast across Eternia. The villains of Eternia rejoice at He-Man’s defeat, but at the Royal Palace, He-Man’s grieving friends and comrades hold a memorial to He-Man in the palace throne room, laying flowers before a statue of He-Man to commemorate their lost hero. As they mourn, Man-At-Arms suddenly notices a message written on the throne room wall, purporting to have been written by He-Man himself, saying he knows who the traitor is and will reveal his identity. The voice of He-Man then sounds throughout the throne room, saying he has returned in spirit form and will now reveal the traitor. He-Man then appears, his body glowing with a luminous energy, and points out the traitor, a member of the Palace guards, who collapses to his knees, terrified. The other guards escort the traitor away, and He-Man then drinks a special potion, which causes the glow to go away, restoring him to his mortal form. He-Man explains that his whole ‘disappearance’ and apparent demise was his own scheme, which he planned in advance to enable him to discover the identity of the traitor. When He-Man disappeared during his confrontation with Skeletor, he had in fact bitten an invisibility capsule that rendered him invisible, and then secretly went undercover, discovering the identity of the traitor and returning to the palace to trick the spy into revealing himself. He had created the effect on his voice by speaking into a seashell, while the writing on the wall and the ghostly glow were caused by luminous paint. The Heroic Warriors rejoice at the return of their hero, but later in Snake Mountain, Skeletor realizes something is wrong when his spy does not contact him. Two Bad then enters the chamber with bad news – He-Man has returned, the spy has been captured and Skeletor is mocked throughout Eternia. Angrily, Skeletor takes his wrath out on Two Bad, wondering how He-Man managed to trick him in this way.
Review: By now, the UK London Editions Comics have established a distinct identity for themselves among MOTU story media, with their experimental and sometimes daring approach to stories. This particular story pushes the boundaries of experimentation even further by giving us something no other media have dared up until this point – a MOTU ghost story!
Readers of the She-Ra comic may spot a recurring theme here, as the most recent issue of She-Ra, Issue #7, featured a ghost story in the form of “Freedom Castle”. However in the latter instance the ‘ghosts’ were temporal recordings rather than sentient beings – here, we have a more traditional ghost story with the spirit of He-Man apparently returning from the dead. The classic ghost story in which a murdered person’s spirit appears at their funeral and exposes the identity of their killer has been told in countless different variations, and here the London Editions comic gives us a MOTU version of the story. Already the premise seems risky for MOTU media, given that ghosts are typically the spirits of dead people, and under Mattel’s guidelines, few media producing MOTU stories were permitted to acknowledge the existence of death. And indeed, this story’s own premise – of He-Man apparently actually perishing in battle with Skeletor and returning in spirit form to expose the traitor who caused his death – is a heavy one for the London Editions comics, and is certainly a case of them pushing the boundaries of what they could get away with.
This story may well evoke Issue #13’s “The Reality Shaper” in the minds of readers, for like that story its premise is highly experimental for a MOTU story while touching on themes of horror fiction. Sadly, while the latter story was a true classic among the comics’ output, “Ghost of He-Man” does not reach anywhere near the same standards – as original and as striking as the story may be, it just suffers from too many logical flaws to allow it to rank among the comic’s better stories.
The story opens rather untypically for a LE Comics MOTU story, with King Randor addressing the Royal Court, revealing he has assigned Fisto and Moss Man the duty of spying on Snake Mountain, so they can report Skeletor’s moves in advance and allow the Heroic Warriors to be one step ahead of him. This is unusual because it is rare in the comics that we see King Randor intervene directly in the war between good and evil on Eternia, most of the action seemingly being in the hands of the Masters and the Sorceress at Castle Grayskull – but it makes perfect sense for him to be taking such initiative, since he is after all the ruler of Eternia and the Masters serve under him. It would be nice to think he has been evoked to take such a move following the attack of the Buzz-Wheel of Destruction in the first story of this issue, so such potentially deadly attacks can be spotted in advance before they pose too great a threat.
Fisto and Moss Man venture to a small hill to the west of Skeletor’s domain, from where they can observe Snake Mountain covertly and report on any suspicious activity. It would make sense for Moss Man to use his powers of camouflage to blend in with the undergrowth in the area, although this is not mentioned here. The two heroes are surprised to find themselves seemingly under attack by Skeletor himself, who appears behind them, but his apparition turns out to be a hologram, and Skeletor instructs them to return to their ruler and tell him that Skeletor is aware of their every move.
When the incident has been reported to King Randor, the king deduces that there must be a traitor in their midst. (Possibly the guard depicted standing next to Randor's throne is the one who turns out to be the traitor; it is not quite clear but certainly makes sense to assume so.) This in itself is a great premise for a MOTU story; the idea of a traitor somewhere within the Masters’ ranks. He-Man and Teela set out to Snake Mountain to find the answer, though it seems quite unusual that they do not investigate the members of the Royal Court first to assess potential suspects.
Upon reaching the spot at which Skeletor’s hologram appeared to Moss Man and Fisto before, the heroes find themselves faced with another apparition of Skeletor, and this is where the story takes its major twist which pushes it into territory the MOTU comic has not gone before – but unfortunately, this is also where the logic of the story just stops working quite so smoothly. Although He-Man should surely be aware that this apparition of Skeletor is another hologram, like the one that appeared to his comrades before, he seems oblivious to this and attacks it, seeming to assume Skeletor is physically there. Upon making contact with the hologram, He-Man starts to vanish into empty air, telling Teela “I feel as if I’m getting weaker!” He vanishes completely, as does the hologram of Skeletor, and Teela and Fisto assume this was part of Skeletor’s plan. Teela asks Fisto if he thinks there is any hope for He-Man, and Fisto responds “We have to face the facts. He-Man, the mightiest warrior of Eternia, is… no more!”
Although this is clearly a case of the restrictions of space in the comics causing the story to have to move quicker than it should, it does seem a bit of a stretch to believe Fisto and Teela would just jump to the conclusion that He-Man is dead in this manner. If anything, it would seem more plausible that Skeletor has simply teleported him away and may have imprisoned him within Snake Mountain. A disappearance like this would surely warrant the conducting of a search before reaching such a conclusion, and even without managing to find He-Man, it is highly unlikely the Heroic Warriors would give up hope so quickly, for He-Man could in theory have been teleported to another dimension or something, and the warriors could easily use their magic and technology in an effort to trace him. Yet instead, they give up hope right on the spot after seeing He-Man merely vanish, and while it may have seemed a necessary move for the purpose of this story, it only makes the Heroic Warriors look rather incompetent by jumping to such a drastic conclusion based on no solid evidence.
As news travels fast on Eternia about He-Man’s apparent death, we get a brief cameo from Hordak as he celebrates the demise of his enemy while wishing it could have been him who defeated him. Hordak has not been seen in the MOTU comic since his last story in Issue #17, so this brief appearance here is a welcome surprise.
The scene switches next to the Royal Palace a short while later, where the Heroic Warriors of Eternia, together with the King and Queen, are conducting a memorial service for He-Man, mourning his demise before a statue of their hero marked with the inscription “IN MEMORY OF HE-MAN. WE WILL NEVER FORGET”. This is quite a hard-hitting scene by the comic’s standards, for it has always been the comic’s practice to avoid directly acknowledging the concept of death, under Mattel’s kid-friendly guidelines, yet although this story still follows suit – words like ‘dead’, ‘death’ and ‘died’ are nowhere to be found in this story, replaced by softer terms such as ‘gone’ and ‘no more’ – even the youngest of readers will understand here that the characters believe He-Man to be dead. It is quite an achievement that the comics should have got this far, given the strict nature of Mattel’s censorship. Naturally, to keep things as kid-friendly as possible, little is shown of the characters’ actual mourning and grief, but the sorrow of this scene is unmistakable and it is easily the most solemn and tragic moment in the comics to date.
The memorial service is then interrupted by a seemingly paranormal occurrence, as the ‘ghost of He-Man’ of the title presents itself. Man-At-Arms spots a message written on the throne room wall, purporting to have been written by He-Man, declaring “I know who the traitor is and I will reveal his identity. He-Man.” This leads Teela to conclude that “He-Man has returned… as a ghost!” While a dramatic moment, it is again a substantial leap to a conclusion on Teela’s part, for even if there was firm proof that He-Man was dead, surely the warriors’ first instinct upon seeing such a message should be to suspect a hoax, possibly the work of the Evil Warriors – for surely that is the exact sort of scheme they would concoct were He-Man to perish? The hall is then filled with an echoing voice that identifies itself as the spirit of He-Man. There is a major mistake in his dialogue as he says “I shall not rest while there is a traitor in Grayskull” when it is the Royal Palace the characters are in, and not Grayskull at all.
A spectral apparition of He-Man then appears, surrounded by an eerie glow. He declares he knows who the traitor is and says “Speak, traitor, or feel my icy touch” as he points out the member of the palace guard who has been secretly reporting to Skeletor, in true classic ghost story style. The traitor is simply a generic guardsman who happens to have been a spy – no-one the reader is familiar with – and he collapses to his knees in terror at being outed by He-Man, and is escorted away by the other guardsmen, yelling “keep this vision away from me”.
Teela’s dialogue on the following panel is rather clumsy, as she says “He-Man, you have returned. I don’t understand. I thought you were destroyed!” This dialogue makes little sense if she still believes He-Man to be a ghost, which is exactly what she stated on the previous page. He-Man drinks a special potion of some kind to make the glow go away, restoring him to his natural form, although this also makes little sense in light of what is revealed on the next page. He-Man explains that he had to find a way to trick the traitor into revealing himself, and thus essentially faked his death, by biting an invisibility capsule made from herbs found in the Forests of Rocks (previously mentioned in Issue #9’s “The Unwanted Gift”, continuity lovers) to turn him invisible and allow him to go undercover and discover the identity of the spy – and then created the illusion that he had returned from the dead as a ghost to scare the spy into outing himself. The echoing voice, the ghostly writing and the spectral glow are explained in amusingly mundane fashion – the voice effect having been achieved by speaking through a large sea shell, and the writing and glow caused by luminous paint! (See now though why the magic potion on the previous page makes no sense – why would he need to drink some kind of special potion to make the glow go away if all that was causing it was luminous paint?) He-Man remarks that “You were all so full of grief that you didn’t notice when I painted the message earlier today.”
We leave the Heroic Warriors altogether at this point, but the reader can’t help but feel the warriors’ next response upon hearing this explanation from He-Man would be something along the lines of “You sick twat, He-Man”. For as entertaining and original as this story may seem, this is where it really does defy all common logic – would He-Man really put his friends, comrades, and even family (the King and Queen are after all his parents, although they don’t realize it) – as well as the people of Eternia as a whole, since the news had travelled – through the grief of mourning his death, letting them go as far as holding a memorial service, just to expose a single spy who turns out to be a generic guardsman who poses no physical threat to the Masters anyway and could easily have been identified by less elaborate (and less insensitive) means? The Heroic Warriors have been made to look fools in this story as it is, with their wild jumping to conclusions about He-Man’s apparent death, and now He-Man himself comes across as an insensitive sick joker, completely lacking in empathy as he clearly finds his whole prank highly amusing. Eternia’s noble hero really sneaked around writing messages on the throne room walls while his friends and comrades were busy grieving for him? Some hero that is!
If He-Man really did feel that going as far as to fake his death and his subsequent return as a ghost was necessary in order to identify and expose the spy, you would think he would at least have tipped off his comrades beforehand – especially since Man-At-Arms for one is aware that He-Man is also Prince Adam, and so He-Man’s death means Prince Adam’s death – and that leads us to yet another logical flaw; surely in the event of He-Man’s death, Man-At-Arms would feel it was necessary to reveal He-Man’s secret identity and break the news of the Prince’s death to his parents, so Eternia may mourn its heir to the throne as well as its heroic defender? Given the constraints of story length, it was not that uncommon for stories in the LE comics to ignore Prince Adam altogether and act as though he didn’t exist – this story certainly falls into that category, but in the wider context it still makes no sense continuity-wise.
The story finishes off with a nicely comedic scene at Snake Mountain, with Skeletor – who has been revelling in the Eternians’ false belief that he destroyed He-Man – being delivered the bad news by Two Bad, that He-Man has returned, the spy has been captured and Skeletor is mocked throughout Eternia. When he yells “What! Have you no good news to give me?” Two Bad responds with “Yes, master. It’s our birthday!” to which Skeletor responds “Out of my sight or I will give you both a present to remember!” As mentioned earlier, Two Bad has by now established himself as a solid and effective comedy character in the comic, and to have him round off this story in a deadpan comedy style is a great touch, and brings the story to a nice humorous close, much needed seeing as it has featured some particularly morbid and tragic scenes.
Unfortunately, it is not enough to save the story as a whole. “Ghost of He-Man” seems like the sort of story that should have ranked among the classics, pushing the boundaries and taking a radically original and experimental approach by giving us a MOTU-themed ghost story – but due to a whole plethora of logical flaws and wild stretches of plausibility, it instead ranks among the weakest. It is certainly one of the comic’s most memorable stories, and a testament to how daring the UK Comics could be, by going as far as to actually have He-Man seemingly die in a story. Unfortunately, it is not executed well at all, and is in many ways a major disappointment.
It does seem a shame that the idea behind this story could not have been executed in a way that worked better. While the dramatic premise may have been better suited to a two-parter, the story could maybe have been saved had He-Man’s apparent demise actually been an accident, but rather than being dead, He-Man had only been transported to limbo or something, and could maybe have appeared in a spectral form by way of a weakness in the veil between dimensions to expose the guilty party (interestingly enough, He-Man actually does appear in a ‘ghost’ form in such a manner when trapped in limbo in a later story, Issue #35’s “The Nowhere Bomb”). This would certainly be more plausible than He-Man pulling an elaborate and rather sick joke to expose the culprit. The theme of a spy in the Heroic Warriors’ ranks may also seem a bit wasted – in itself that could have been a theme for a story without having to involve ghosts of any kind, potentially with the heroes working to expose the culprit by investigating all present members of the Royal Court. The traitor turning out to be just a generic guard may also strike some readers as rather boring – indeed it is understandable that the writer took this move given the restrictions, as they could hardly have had one of the Heroic Warriors turn out to be evil, and there would not have been enough space in the comic to develop the guard as a recognizable character. Nonetheless, having one of the Heroic Warriors turn out to be under an evil spell by Skeletor could possibly have worked, or it could even have been an opportunity to showcase a character who has yet to appear in a single story – Man-E-Faces, who could have been reporting to Skeletor under the control of his monster face.
The main quality of “Ghost of He-Man” is its originality in the context of the wider MOTU lore, and its daringness in pushing the boundaries to directly explore themes of death and the paranormal, while it coincides nicely with “Freedom Castle” in Issue #7 of the She-Ra comic, itself a ghost story of another kind. Unfortunately the quality of the story does not live up to its promise, and there is a feel that the story may have been rushed, possibly the effect of the increased workload on the London Editions writing staff with the She-Ra comic running simultaneously. “Ghost of He-Man” is undoubtedly an impressively brave and daring move on the writers’ part, but as an experiment, unlike earlier such stories this can unfortunately be said to be one that fails.
© Aidan Cross, 2021.