UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: April 1986
The Living Rocks
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
The London Editions UK MOTU Comic finds its feet more with this superb second issue. This brilliant action scene on the cover was supplied by the Spanish artists at Selecciones Illustradas (SI) and was originally intended as the cover for Issue #1 (see the review of Issue #1 for the reasons why this was changed). Although not directly related to any of the stories within this particular issue, this superb action scene of He-Man and Skeletor doing battle as the ground opens up beneath them sets the scene for the comics’ breakthrough issue, in which the style and quality of the storytelling really become clear. This cover indicates the artists’ adherence to guidelines from Mattel over violence, since the Havoc Staff is striking the shield rather than making direct contact with He-Man, due to Mattel’s rules that no direct physical violence nor injuries could be shown. Also notice how the Sword of Power is coloured a light red rather than its usual gray/silver, appearing here a similar shade to the toy sword packaged with the Prince Adam action figure.
Story 1: “The Living Rocks”
Writer: Brian Clarke
The second issue’s intro page sees an invite from Scrollos for the readers to write in and submit photos of their toy collections. (The latter feature never came to be, although the regular letters page would debut in a few issues’ time.) We also get an amusing Orko the Magician strip seeing Orko use a tennis racket to beat Skeletor- the first appearance of a popular British sport in the comics, with football (in its Eternian incarnation of ‘Kickball’) making its presence much felt in later issues.
Story 1: "The Living Rocks"
Writer: Brian Clarke:
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Summary: He-Man and Man-At-Arms arrive in the Shadow Land, having been sent there by King Randor to investigate a rumour by the Shadow-Folk that a fearsome creature stalks the land. At first everything seems quiet, but then a planet-quake strikes, and a terrifying creature emerges from the ground. The heroes defend themselves from the creature’s attack, but their blows have no effect and the combined weight of the three of them causes the ground to collapse. He-Man and Man-At-Arms tumble into an underground tunnel, landing in a river. They are surprised that the creature is nowhere to be seen, but then a series of small rocks join together and recombine themselves into the creature, which is made of small sentient rocks combined together. They do battle with the creature once again, but realizing they are no match for it in its giant form, He-Man uses his sword to create a sound that shakes the creature apart by vibration. His plan succeeds and the creature breaks apart into the smaller creatures it is composed of. But then one of the rock creatures makes mental contact with He-Man and transmits its thoughts to him, telling him that the rock creatures were under a spell by Skeletor and did not wish to fight the heroes. Skeletor’s plan was to form the giant creature to cause damage on the surface world, which would distract the heroes and attract them away from the Royal City while Skeletor led an underground assault into the city. The creature explains Skeletor has invaded the underground home of the Mole-People and enslaved an army of them to burrow into the city. The rock creatures recombine themselves into their giant form and lead He-Man and Man-At-Arms to Skeletor’s underground base. He-Man frees some of the Mole-People whom Skeletor is holding prisoner, and Skeletor, in retaliation, orders his Attack-Droids to attack the heroes. As the Attack-Droids rush at He-Man, He-Man orders the Gem-Creatures to form themselves into a curved wall, which he uses to reflect energy bolts from his sword at the Attack-Droids, destroying them. Realizing his scheme has been foiled, Skeletor retreats and abandons the base, and the Mole-People rejoice in their freedom. He-Man promises the Mole-People that he will arrange for Royal Guards to be sent to protect their kingdom from any future attacks by Skeletor, and the Mole-People lead He-Man and Man-At-Arms back to the surface world.
Review: This is a particularly significant story for the UK Comics, because it was actually the very first story Brian Clarke wrote for the comics, and the one that landed him the job of Editor and lead writer. (See this site’s Interview with Brian Clarke for more detail.) Really it’s no surprise at all that this story got him the job, as his writing talents and feel for the world of MOTU really show through, packing a detailed and entertaining plot into the space of just five pages. This story takes us away from the familiar surroundings of Eternos City and Castle Grayskull into a mysterious underworld in which we meet some of the more unusual inhabitants of Eternia, and in the process get a memorable and gripping adventure.
The story is set up nicely from the start, with He-Man and Man-At-Arms’ exploration of the Shadow Land. The artwork here is excellent and very striking. As would be a regular plot device in the London Editions stories, the initial focus of the heroes’ investigation would turn out to be a mere diversion from the real issue at hand, concocted by the villains to attract the heroes away from the locus of the real problem. The Rock Creature that attacks the heroes is an effective adversary, and brings a touch of Eternian weirdness and surrealism when it is revealed to be formed from a race of small, sentient rocks that can combine together to form a single giant creature. This race of living rocks/Gem-Creatures were to be just one of many strange and bizarre races shown to inhabit Eternia in the LE Comics.
He-Man is quick to state his refusal to physically hurt the creature, in accordance with Mattel guidelines (“That which lives cannot stand against the mystical sword of He-Man”) and instead a strategic, scientific solution is used to defeat the creature, when He-Man uses his sword to emit a sound vibration that shakes the creature into its smaller components. As this was his first story, this shows just how effectively Brian Clarke was able to work around the Mattel non-violence guidelines, complying with them while still delivering an effective and entertaining action story suitable for all ages. Rather than making things overly soft or comedic, he has He-Man use his brain to defeat his adversary, using scientific knowledge and logic to bring his opponent down in battle. This method hits every mark, giving younger and older readers the action and adventure they want, while providing a source of education- together with the ‘Strange Universe’ feature on the opening page, the real-life science alluded to in the stories is certain to arouse curiosity about the real world in the reader.
Top: Skeletor's Underground Base in Issue #2. Bottom: full-colour version of the image from the reprint in MOTU Adventure Issue #2. Note how the word 'gone' has changed to 'dead'...
We get a fantastic illustration of Skeletor in his underground base, contemplating his latest maniacal scheme whilst overseeing the army of Mole-People he has enslaved. This illustration was later replicated in full colour when the story was reprinted in the Adventure Magazine. (Interestingly in the reprinted version, the word 'gone' was replaced with 'dead'. Most likely the reprint was coloured from an earlier pre-publication copy of the strip, before the word 'dead' had to be changed to 'gone' to satisfy Mattel's guidelines.) As in “Orko to the Rescue” in Issue #1, Skeletor is thoroughly confident of victory but has not reckoned with He-Man’s power of logic and deductive reasoning, which he has used to defeat the Rock Creature that Skeletor had been so sure would deal with him. He-Man once again surprises Skeletor with his presence in his underground base, and easily defeats his scheme. The Attack-Droids that he sends to attack He-Man are a nice touch, appearing very similar to Skeletor’s Land Shark vehicle which had hit toy shelves around that time, and once again He-Man uses a scientific solution to defeat them with the energy blasts from his sword, reflected off the Gem-Creatures as they form themselves into a defensive wall.
While this was the story that showed the London Editions management that Brian Clarke was the man to handle the MOTU comic, its positioning as the opening of the second issue allows readers to quickly adjust to the strengths of the comic series, quenching any reservations they may have had after the ‘testing the waters’ feel of Issue #1 and strengthening the comics’ vision of Eternia. “The Living Rocks” is a great MOTU story heavy on action, adventure and suspense, and gives us a fantastic exploration of the world of Eternia and the strange creatures that populate it.
This issue's competition page.
Story 2: “Hordak’s Revenge”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Summary: In his stronghold of the Fright Zone, Hordak reveals to his henchmen that he has concocted a plan that will ensure that He-Man and Skeletor destroy one another, leaving him free to conquer Eternia himself. He intends to lure them both to the Fright Zone and force them into a deadly combat that neither of them can win. He knows that Skeletor will jump at the chance to confront He-Man without his sword, so he intends to capture He-Man first. Hordak sends Grizzlor to Snake Mountain, where Grizzlor tells Skeletor that his master offers his friendship, and as his first gift to Skeletor he offers He-Man, who is now imprisoned in the Fright Zone. Meanwhile, He-Man and Man-At-Arms are wading through dangerous swamplands to the Fright Zone, investigating an attack by Mantenna on a village. They are overpowered by poisonous gas within the swamp, which causes them to pass out. Mantenna captures them both, and Skeletor later arrives at the Fright Zone to see He-Man and Man-At-Arms imprisoned, in the jail and the living tree respectively. Hordak tells Skeletor he will allow him to decide the fate of He-Man, and although Skeletor is hesitant to trust Hordak, he requests that he free He-Man and feed him to the dragon. Grizzlor opens the prison doors, but He-Man quickly traps Skeletor in the rocks near the dragon’s mouth, and sends Skeletor himself into the clutches of the beast. Man-At-Arms then breaks off one of the branches from the living tree, and He-Man catches it, using it to fend off the Horde members as he climbs to Man-At-Arms’ rescue. The two heroes have no trouble fending off the Horde, and begin their journey home. Later, back at Snake Mountain, Skeletor, having escaped the dragon with Beast Man’s assistance, declares that he will form no further pacts of peace with Hordak. At the Fright Zone, Hordak blames his henchmen for letting his enemies get away and despairs of ever being able to conquer the universe with such useless warriors.
Review: This story furthers the role of Hordak within the comics, having introduced him and his Evil Horde in Issue #1. It is clear that we have jumped forward in time a fair bit since the first issue, since Hordak is by now very familiar with He-Man, and both the Heroic and Evil Warriors are accustomed to the presence of the Horde on Eternia, whereas in Issue #1’s “Skeletor’s Surprise” Hordak was completely unfamiliar with He-Man and mistakenly believed him and his comrades to be part of Skeletor’s evil army. In theory it would have been good to have seen the Horde gradually adjust to Eternia and their adversaries there, with stories covering their first battle with He-Man etc., but it is easily understandable why Brian Clarke took the decision of jumping the narrative forward and playing the ongoing story arc more subtly. By having the status quo on Eternia firmly established, this allowed new readers to easily jump on board with the comic at any point, without having to worry about collecting back issues in order to follow the storyline.
In establishing the Horde as the secondary villains of the mythos, this story addresses the subject of their dual adversaries in the forms of Skeletor and He-Man, as well as the matter of why the evil forces work separately rather than teaming up with one another to obliterate the heroes. Hordak and Skeletor’s rivalry goes back a long way and Hordak knows he cannot trust Skeletor following his betrayal of him many years before. The main focus of this story is the complete distrust between the two evil warlords.
The scene of Skeletor and Beast Man in Snake Mountain, as they receive their visit from Grizzlor, is an entertaining scene, and superbly drawn by the Spanish art team. The interior of Snake Mountain appears interesting here, as it is drawn as a more basic medieval brick fortress, with a simple wooden door and table, rather than the rocky, cavernous, heavily fortified domain, almost impenetrable from the outside that we see depicted in the Filmation cartoon and Mattel minicomics. It appears surprisingly simple, but somehow works very nicely in this particular scene, as Skeletor unwinds casually, enjoying a drink from his goblet at the table while ranting about the inconvenience of He-Man’s presence on Eternia. Even evil Lords of Destruction enjoy a good drink as they unwind from the stresses of the working day… and older readers are certain to wonder just what Skeletor’s beverage of choice is! We get a fantastic illustration of Skeletor tossing the goblet over his shoulder as he agrees to accompany Grizzlor back to the Fright Zone.
While we may have jumped ahead in time a bit since the first issue, there are still plenty of clues that the Horde is new to Eternia. He-Man and Man-At-Arms seem to be visiting the Fright Zone for possibly the first time, wading through the murky swamplands as they search for Hordak’s base.
This story makes great use of the multiple action features from the Fright Zone playset, new to toy shelves at the time. The ‘trap-filled stronghold of terror’ is presented in its full glory, with He-Man trapped in the jail, Man-At-Arms in the living tree, the dragon awaiting its next meal and Skeletor trapped in the rocks near the dragon’s mouth, from where the beast snatches him. In the space of just one page, all the playset’s action gimmicks are used to move the story forward without coming across like a pure toy commercial.
Hordak’s newness to Eternia also comes across here, with a touch of naïvety and underestimation of He-Man’s strength. It is unclear exactly how he intends to ensure He-Man and Skeletor destroy one another – presumably he means for them to fight to the death somehow – but he has greatly underestimated just how impossible a task that will be, for not only does He-Man have no trouble dealing with Skeletor by knocking him into the dragon’s clutches, but he deals with the Horde completely effortlessly as well once he is free. It takes a lot more than straightforward traps and setups to defeat Eternia’s champion, and Hordak is clearly learning this the hard way.
The closing panels here are amusing and effective, as we see Skeletor, seemingly having a sulk at his humiliating defeat, denying Beast Man’s claim to have helped him escape the dragon before denouncing the possibility of any further team-ups with Hordak. Hordak, meanwhile, is blaming Grizzlor and Mantenna for the defeat he suffered at He-Man’s hands, similarly denying his own shortcomings. The humour here is very deadpan in execution, without portraying the villains as too bumbling or comical.
This is a pretty straightforward story, and Hordak’s scheme is foiled very easily by He-Man, but it works very well in establishing the adjustment of the Horde to Eternia, and Hordak and Skeletor’s complete dislike of one another combined with their exasperation at just how easily He-Man overpowers them. It is still not clear at this stage just what exact purpose Hordak serves in the mythos other than being ‘the second lead villain’ – he only has a few henchmen at his command and has shown no particular powers or abilities that set him apart from Skeletor as a force of evil. But of course, his role would be developed massively in later issues as he was presented to us as a man of science, using all manner of crafty technological marvels to attack the heroes as opposed to Skeletor’s sorcery and occult forces. So if the Horde seem like the weak link in the comics at this point, it was not to remain this way for long. This is a solid story that, while easy to overlook and not quite as strong as the others in this issue, plays a quintessential role in the comics’ general story arc.
Story 3: “Skeletor’s Champion”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Amador Garcia
Summary: Two Bad interrupts Skeletor in his private chamber claiming to have devised a plan that will enable Skeletor to finally defeat He-Man. He suggests that Skeletor hold a championship games to find an evil warrior with the power to beat He-Man. Skeletor feels the scheme may work, and sends an invitation across the universe for the mightiest evil warriors in the entire cosmos to come to Eternia to take part in the games. Soon, contestants from all over the universe begin landing on Eternia, and Moss Man spies a pair of aliens as they make planetfall on Eternia. Once all the contestants have arrived, Skeletor orders them all to engage in freestyle combat until there are twenty undefeated fighters left. The battle rages throughout the day until only twenty fighters are left standing. Skeletor then orders the twenty surviving fighters to go out separately to obtain one of the Six Sapphires of Sargon. Only the six who successfully obtain one of the Sapphires may return to Snake Mountain. When six competitors return to Skeletor with the Sapphires, he sends them in three teams of two to retrieve the Triangle of Telossi, and the team of two who return will face the greatest task of all. The Triangle is located at the summit of the Mountain of Telossi, an extraordinarily steep climb. When five of the competitors eventually reach the summit, three of them begin to fight among themselves for possession of the triangle. The remaining two aliens- the ones whom Moss Man witnessed land- refuse to join the fight and calmly retrieve the triangle, returning it to Skeletor. Impressed, Skeletor chooses to grant his title of champion to both these aliens who have passed all the tests. But then his blood boils as the two aliens remove their helmets, revealing themselves to be He-Man and Fisto in disguise, having donned the armour of the aliens after Moss Man saw them land and captured them. Furious, Skeletor orders his Evil Warriors to attack the two heroes, but He-Man and Fisto run towards the Triangle of Telossi and use it to freeze Skeletor and the Evil Warriors in time for one centon. He-Man and Fisto walk away from Snake Mountain, intending to place the Triangle and the Sapphires in Castle Grayskull for safekeeping. Later that night in Snake Mountain, after the freeze spell has worn off, Skeletor orders Mer-Man to bring Two Bad to his chamber, where he will punish him for thinking up a plan that failed so badly.
Review: This is a brilliant story and easily the highlight of Issue #2, as well as a major indicator of the strengths of this particular comic series at this early stage. Inspired by the archery contest in the Robin Hood legend, this story gives us an intriguing and entertaining narrative from the perspective of the villains, before the heroes reveal themselves in a solid twist ending, that older readers may well have seen coming but packs a punch regardless. We’ve already seen in the other stories how much of a bane He-Man is to Skeletor’s existence, and by this story’s end we can almost sympathize with Skeletor, even though we are naturally cheering He-Man on!
This is the first of many stories to put Two Bad in a spotlight role, himself initiating the evil scheme. Although he vanishes from the narrative almost completely after the opening scene in which he pitches his suggestion to Skeletor, we have seen him introduced as a solitary and cunning villain whose two heads – who comically argue and bicker with one another – are capable of working between themselves to concoct cunning plans to bring down the forces of good. While his appearance here may be brief it is an effective introduction to one of the newer characters in the toy line, who will come to play a prominent and memorable role in many stories later in the comics’ run.
Moss Man gets a good showcase here too; again he only appears briefly but his spying abilities are put to good use and like Two Bad, he would be come to be featured and developed prominently as the comic series progressed. The aliens themselves get some comical dialogue as they puzzle over the lack of dark and desolate scenery on Eternia. The challenges the competitors face make for entertaining reading and are very well illustrated, from the initial battle between the hundreds of entrants to the search for the Eternian artefacts of the Six Sapphires of Sargon and the Triangle of Telossi.
The story’s end, following He-Man and Fisto revealing themselves as the true victors of Skeletor’s championship games – a scheme that has backfired on him spectacularly due to the vigilance of the Heroic Warriors – is not only a neat twist of the sort we would become accustomed to with the LE comics, but contains some strong moral points as well. Ultimately this story highlights the shortcomings of evil in itself, in the short-sightedness and vanity that comes with greed and the yearning for power. The evil creatures who fought in Skeletor’s tournament brought about their own defeat in the end by choosing to fight one another for possession of the triangle, in doing so failing to notice the victors simply obtain it calmly without conflict. Skeletor’s games had been held to prove it was possible for evil to triumph over good, but only served to prove the opposite.
Skeletor deserves the humiliation he gets here, but typically is unable to handle it himself, so he blames it all on Two Bad, who proposed the scheme in the first place. The final panel is an effective closure for the story and highlights the extent of Skeletor’s evil nature. As he orders Mer-Man to bring Two Bad to him for punishment, Mer-Man only feels sorry for Two Bad, knowing that had his scheme worked, Skeletor would have claimed the idea as his own, but as it has failed he is punishing Two Bad. Skeletor is being presented brilliantly as a truly maniacal villain who is feared by even his own henchmen. Even Mer-Man has more of a moral conscience than the Lord of Destruction himself. The comic is striking the balance between a kid-friendly tone and a darker tone very nicely – although there is frequently an aura of comedy to the villains, particularly when they are humiliated by their failures, Skeletor in particular is coming across as truly heartless and bloodthirsty, and his portrayal, along with the way the artists draw him, with his hollow skull and the use of shadowing around his features, make him nevertheless a truly convincing villain and a threatening presence on Eternia.
And the comic in general is showing tremendous strengths of style and storytelling just two issues in. The world of Eternia is being fleshed out nicely with the myriad of strange races, creatures, locations and artefacts we’re seeing, and the key characters of He-Man and Skeletor are coming across very well – He-Man using his muscles and physical strength as secondary tools to his quick thinking ability in saving the day, and Skeletor the maniacal warlord striving in vain to outwit his enemy. Interestingly there is no mention of Prince Adam at all in this issue, bringing to mind earlier incarnations of the mythos in which He-Man had no secret identity. Likewise Battle Cat has yet to even be mentioned, let alone make an appearance, and Orko is nowhere to be seen other than his own short strip, while typical key players like The Sorceress and Teela are also absent from this issue, having only served a background role in the comics so far. The focus is all on He-Man as the lead right now, and the chemistry between him and the evil opponents he faces, and it’s being handled very well indeed in a comic series that is already showing an individualistic approach to the MOTU saga with lots of experimental touches rendering it distinct from other media.
Issue #3 >
© Aidan Cross, 2017.