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UK London Editions Comics

Issue #20

Release Date: December 1986

Stories:

Joy Bringer

Child's Play

Secret Files of Scrollos, part 2

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Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla

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The MOTU comic marks its 20th edition with this special Christmas issue, featuring some MOTU stories with a seasonal twist.

****

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Story 1: “Joy Bringer”
Writer: Tom Sweetman
Art: Amador García

Synopsis: The winter weather on Eternia seems to be inexplicably colder and harsher than ever before, to the point that Eternia has frozen to a standstill and the people are living in sadness and fear. The fierce winter conditions are not natural – they are the work of Hordak, who has used the twin forces of science and magic to deepen the winter weather, gripping Eternia in an Ice-Fear. The Sorceress has used her magic to detect the source of the Ice-Fear, and summons He-Man, Man-At-Arms and Moss Man to Castle Grayskull, where she reveals that Hordak is behind the harsh weather that grips their land. As no vehicles can travel in the current climate, He-Man and his comrades march on foot to the Fright Zone, where they confront Hordak and demand he explains what he has done. Hordak explains that he has created a fear in the hearts of all the people, and the winter will not disappear from Eternia until they can believe in something good again. Before He-Man and his comrades can challenge him further, Hordak teleports away, and He-Man returns to Castle Grayskull, where he sinks deep into thought as he tries to figure out a way to end the Ice-Fear. Meanwhile, in the forests of Eternia, a woodcutter named Nik-Las is doing his best to heat the small cabin he shares with his mute daughter, Mouse. He is giving his daughter all the warmth and love that is possible under the conditions, but fears he may have no choice but to venture out into the snow and risk his life to collect firewood as their supply runs low. Back at Castle Grayskull, He-Man thinks of a radical plan, and suggests to Man-At-Arms that while the hearts of the people may have sunk into despair, if they are able to give the children something positive to believe in, this may be enough to melt the Ice-Fear. He-Man and Man-At-Arms work all night, collecting toys and gifts for the children and piling them into large sacks. That night, they traverse Eternia, visiting all the homes where children live and leaving toys and gifts in the bedrooms of the children. The next morning, Mouse awakens to find a toy doll in her room, while Nik-Las finds food and firewood in the cabin. Overjoyed at the miracle, Mouse speaks her first ever words, “Father… kiss… mouse”, and Nik-Las, overjoyed at hearing his daughter speak, interprets this as meaning a ‘Father Kis-Mus’ has visited them with these gifts. Outside, the ice begins to melt as children across the land are overjoyed at their gifts. Back at Castle Grayskull, He-Man and Man-At-Arms, exhausted from the night’s work but relieved at the success of their plan, relax and celebrate, and decide to do the same thing every year.

Review: The MOTU comic sees in the Christmas season with this heartwarming story with a seasonal spin - which writer Tom Sweetman developed over a few pints with editor Brian Clarke in a pub in Manchester. As a comic primarily aimed at children, it could have seemed all too easy to go down a particularly cheesy, silly and toddler-friendly route and opted for a wacky, cutesy adventure, perhaps focusing on Orko, to mark the Christmas season. But the MOTU comic, in its nine months of existence so far, has generally taken a more mature approach to the saga and refused to patronize its readers or play too safe. And so what we get is a far more sombre and emotion-laden story, which manages successfully to invoke the spirit of Christmas without slipping into tired old cliches.

Of course, having a MOTU story with a Christmas theme is problematic in itself, since it makes no sense for characters on an alien world on the other side of the universe to be celebrating a religious festival from Earth. The writers could all too easily have played safe and overlooked this, taking an “oh well, the kids won’t think of that” approach, but this comic has always taken an intelligent and mature approach to the MOTU universe, and they’re not going to slip too far into silly mode just because it’s Christmas. So what we get here is a MOTU story that evokes a Christmas spirit without ever actually using the word ‘Christmas’, bringing about a winter celebration close enough to Christmas for the readers to identify with it, without going as far as to venture into theological absurdity.

Writer Tom Sweetman makes a brave move with this story, for the bulk of it, prior to its resolution, is particularly bleak and sombre for a story in the Christmas edition of a children’s comic, and may even strike some readers as depressing. But in taking this approach, he pulls off an impressive feat by giving us an emotionally heavy story with a heartwarming and uplifting resolution, and in doing so, giving the reader a sense of the true meaning of Christmas.

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The story opens with a panel depicting Castle Grayskull surrounded by snow, and Amador García’s distinctive style of illustration perfectly captures the feeling of bleakness and despair at the heart of the story. As Eternia has been frozen to a standstill, Hordak sits triumphantly within his Fright Zone, his expositional dialogue revealing to the reader that he is the source of the harsh weather that has spread across Eternia, having combined the forces of magic and science to grip Eternia in an Ice-Fear. It seems a neat touch that it is never revealed exactly how Hordak achieved this, and what specific inventions or spells were used to bring about the conditions – the mystery behind Hordak’s scheme makes it seem all the more deadly.

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The scene switches to Castle Grayskull, where The Sorceress has summoned He-Man and his comrades, having used her magic to trace the source of the Ice-Fear to Hordak. The idea that the cold is so ferocious that none of the Heroic Warriors’ vehicles would be able to withstand it, leaving the heroes no choice but to march to the Fright Zone on foot, makes the situation seem particularly drastic – there is a real feel that Eternia has been reduced to a sullen, icy wasteland.

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We get a brief battle scene between the Heroic Warriors and the Horde when they finally cross paths, and He-Man is able to use his strength to overpower Hordak and demand he explain how exactly he has caused the Ice-Fear. Hordak, of course, relishes in expounding his genius feat to his mortal enemy, and explains how the winter will not disappear from Eternia until the people are able to believe in something good again. (The idea of a winter spell striking fear into the hearts of all humankind and destroying all positive thought within them, causing them to see only the bad in things, is borrowed from Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairytale The Snow Queen, a story Tom Sweetman loved.) Although he inadvertently reveals to He-Man here what he must do to save Eternia, it is ultimately Hordak’s over-confidence that is his downfall, for he clearly believes there is no way He-Man could ever inspire the Eternians to believe in anything positive enough to melt the Ice-Fear.

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After He-Man returns to Castle Grayskull, where he sits in solitude to think of a way he could restore the Eternians’ positive spirits to melt the ice, the scene switches to the story’s particularly memorable guest characters, who carry the bulk of the story's second half. The narrative enters the lives of a peasant woodcutter, Nik-Las (clearly named in reference to St Nicholas, whose name Santa Claus is derived from), and his mute daughter Mouse, an innocent young girl who has been mute from birth. This scene gives us an insight into the conditions in which the ordinary Eternians are living – Nik-Las is trying his best to provide warmth and food for his daughter, yet he is running low on firewood and fears that he may have no choice but to venture out into the snow to gather more, with no certainty of surviving. It is made clear from Nik-Las’ dialogue that his wife has passed on, indicating his fear that Mouse could be left orphaned were he to venture out alone.

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Mouse’s thought bubbles give us an insight into her mind, her state of fear, and how she wishes she could speak so she could tell her father she loves him. Noticing his daughter’s tears, Nik-Las hugs her close, then tucks her into bed, reassuring her he will still be there in the morning.

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Back in Castle Grayskull, He-Man has finally been struck with an idea, and tells Man-At-Arms that while the hearts of men may have frozen, if he can give the children something to believe in, this may be enough to melt the Ice-Fear. And this is where the Christmas spirit enters the story, as He-Man and Man-At-Arms begin gathering toys to give the children of Eternia as gifts. It is not quite clear where they get the toys from, but in a very curious panel we see a trio of shadowy figures standing behind a table on which toys stand – appearing to be elves of some sort. I’m not entirely clear if that was the artist’s intention, but were there room in the story it would certainly make sense for He-Man and Man-At-Arms to enlist the help of elves, to enhance the Christmas feel – either way this particular panel gives off a ‘Santa’s workshop’ vibe.

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The next panel shows He-Man and Man-At-Arms entering Mouse’s bedroom during the night, to leave a toy doll as a gift. He-Man’s dialogue even contains the line “Ho, ho, ho!” as he expresses his enjoyment at bringing warmth to the hearts of the children. It is a great touch to have He-Man himself serving the role of the Santa Claus figure on the Eternian equivalent of the Christmas season.

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The next morning, Mouse awakens to find the toy doll in her room, then the door bursts open as Nik-Las runs into his daughter’s bedroom, overjoyed that a miracle has occurred and somehow, there is food and fuel for their fire, indicating He-Man and Man-At-Arms have left more than just toys, but also resources for the peasants’ survival.

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When Nik-Las sees the doll that Mouse is holding, he asks her who gave that to her, and Mouse, rejuvenated by the positivity in the air, speaks her first ever words, managing to say the words “Father… kiss, Mouse!” (Tom Sweetman's idea for this story began with this singular line, which he wanted to use and so developed the story around it.) Nik-Las interprets this as meaning a ‘Father Kis-Mus’ has visited the cabin overnight (Father Christmas being the British name for Santa Claus, in case any international readers are unsure) and picks his daughter up and hugs her as he celebrates the greatest gift of all – Mouse finally being blessed with the gift of speech.

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Outside, the ice and snow melts as the sun beams down and the laughter of children is heard all round Eternia. In Castle Grayskull, a tired but overjoyed He-Man rejoices with Man-At-Arms over the success of their plan – and Man-At-Arms suggests they do the same thing every year to make sure the Ice-Fear never returns. The story closes with a panel of Castle Grayskull, now in a warmer climate, and the narration panel tells us “You know what happened to destroy the Ice-Fear, but wherever you go, whatever you do… you must never tell Hordak!” Sensibly, so as not to undermine the uplifting feel of the story’s closure, Hordak’s undoubtedly angry reaction is not shown, but it is a neat touch that he is given no idea of how the Ice-Fear was destroyed – he does not even know for sure it was He-Man who stopped it. In this, the story carries a fantastic moral message about the power of childhood joy and magic (again, reflecting the moral of The Snow Queen, from which it drew inspiration), and completely epitomizes the true meaning of Christmas; the power of warmth and goodwill to overcome and transcend the struggles of life.

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That Tom Sweetman has managed to craft a perfect MOTU-themed Christmas tale without ever slipping into an overly cheesy or patronizing tone is a remarkable accomplishment. The mature tone of the story is also commendable – while children reading the comic, many of who will still believe in Santa Claus, will of course be thrilled at the idea of He-Man filling the role on Eternia that Santa Claus does on Earth, the idea entertained by Nik-Las of a ‘Father Kis-Mus’ being the source of the toys will strike a chord with older readers who are aware that Santa Claus/Father Christmas is a myth, and how He-Man’s scheme has given birth to the idea of a mythical winter spirit that brings toys to the children every year, perfectly reflecting the magic of Christmas for young children on Earth. It is also a very interesting twist the way that Hordak’s scheme seems to be more psychological than mystical or scientific – the Ice-Fear has been driven predominantly by the complete despair felt by the Eternians, and it is destroyed likewise by the positivity in their hearts brought about by the gifts they miraculously receive.

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In crafting such a powerful and emotional Christmas story whilst staying true to the spirit of the comics and never slipping into cheesy or cutesy territory, “Joy Bringer” is undoubtedly one of the MOTU London Editions comic’s strongest successes yet.

****

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There are some interesting questions and answers in this issue’s Master Mail. One reader enquires as to how Ram-Man came to have springy legs, and Scrollos answers that he intends to cover this in the new Secret Files of Scrollos strip. Although many of the characters’ origins were covered in this strip during the comic’s run, Ram-Man was sadly never one of them, despite this response. The answer to the question about The Sorceress and Light Hope is also intriguing, suggesting a historical link between the two, which has certainly been implied in the Twins of Power Special and the She-Ra comic, particularly the story “Freedom Castle” in Issue #7 of She-Ra, which revealed that The Sorceress has a long history with Etheria. The final letter and its answer are particularly intriguing, as the reader suggests Prince Adam and He-Man may have the same fingerprints, and Scrollos’ answer suggests this may indeed be the case and could prove He-Man’s downfall, hinting that this could be covered in a future story. With such an excellent idea for a story, it is very unfortunate that the comic never produced a story exploring this very idea.

****

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Story 2: “Child’s Play”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Amador García

Synopsis: In a small Eternian village within the vicinity of Hordak’s Fright Zone, a group of children are playing a game of heroes and villains. A particularly big and tough boy called Tom-Sern declares himself in charge and dictates the game, stating that he will be Hordak and a smaller, disabled child called Par-Ker, who uses a crutch to walk, will be He-Man. Tom-Sern engages Par-Ker in a pretend fight, which culminates in him throwing a huge bucket of water all over the unsuspecting and helpless Par-Ker. As Par-Ker is knocked to the ground, Tom-Sern and the other bigger boys walk away laughing. Outside the village, Hordak is gathered with the members of his Horde, having heard that the people of the village are followers of King Randor rather than himself, and intending to confront them over their alleged disloyalty with the threat of punishment. Hordak and his men descend into the village, where Hordak addresses an assembly of villagers, who feign loyalty to him and pledge their service, lying to protect the village. They bow before Hordak, but the young Tom-Sern makes his way to the front of the crowd and tells Hordak they are lying, for they are all followers of Randor and he is the only person present who would never betray the Horde. Hordak decides he has use for a young boy of Tom-Sern’s loyalty, and takes him away to the Fright Zone. Once Hordak and his men have gone, the village chief, together with Tom-Sern’s distraught parents, send for He-Man to rescue the wayward youth. He-Man arrives at the village in the Bashasaurus, and heads out to the Fright Zone to rescue Tom-Sern. Unseen by He-Man, Par-Ker sneaks on board the Bashasaurus, feeling He-Man may need his help. Later, in the Fright Zone, Hordak has strapped Tom-Sern to a table in his laboratory, and explains that Tom-Sern’s body is of no use for him, but he has lots of use for a mind full of evil thoughts, so he intends to transfer Tom-Sern’s mind into the robotic body of a Horde Trooper, placed on another table nearby. Tom-Sern becomes distressed at what Hordak intends to do to him and tries to beg him not to go through with it, and just at that point, He-Man arrives in the laboratory and demands Hordak release Tom-Sern. Hordak places his hand on the lever of his console and threatens to pull it and activate the process if He-Man comes any closer, so He-Man offers to take Tom-Sern’s place himself if Hordak agrees to release the boy. Hordak likes the idea of the mind of He-Man in a creation of his own, so he agrees, and sets Tom-Sern free, strapping He-Man to the table instead and activating the process, setting the machine so that He-Man’s mind will become evil as it is transferred. Hordak then leaves to mount an attack on Eternia now that He-Man is out of the way, and Tom-Sern is full of regret, having only now realized just how evil Hordak is – and how brave and noble He-Man is. As Tom-Sern despairs at being unable to help He-Man, Par-Ker suddenly enters the lab, and asks He-Man what would happen if he were to step in the middle of the lazer beam transferring He-Man’s mind into the Trooper. He-Man tells him it could cause the machine to short circuit, but it is far too dangerous to do it as the beam may be powerful enough to destroy Par-Ker. Par-Ker hesitates, then thinking of how all his life he has been a nobody and wanted to be a hero, he steps into the beam, and collapses in an electric shock as the machine short circuits. Breaking free, He-Man carries the unconscious body of Par-Ker to the Bashasaurus, and returns to the village, together with Tom-Sern. Days later, as Par-Ker recovers in bed, he is hailed a hero by the villagers for saving He-Man. Tom-Sern promises never to bully him again, and he and the other boys, having learned the true nature of good and evil, praise Par-Ker for his heroism.

Review: The second story in this special Christmas edition of the MOTU comic continues with the softer tone established by the first, emerging as its natural successor. While not a Christmas story, it follows in the footsteps of “Joy Bringer” by being a story with a strong emotional edge that brings the ordinary citizens of Eternia to the forefront rather than focusing squarely on He-Man and the Masters.

No connection of course to the horror movie franchise of the same name (or for hardcore Cult TV geeks, the truly excellent and brilliantly surreal episode of Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense with that title – of which, come to think, a version with a MOTU twist would have been amazing!), “Child’s Play” is set in a small Eternian village within Hordak’s Fright Zone, and places at its forefront two young boys – the macho bully Tom-Sern, and his victim, the smaller, disabled child Par-Ker. The characters are named, respectively, after two characters from Marvel's Spiderman comics - Flash Thompson and Peter Parker - on whom their personalities are also loosely based, this story using numerous tropes from early Spiderman stories.

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It has been established in the comic that Hordak rules a small area of Eternia in the vicinity of his Fright Zone base, and this is the first of a small number of stories that would give us a direct glimpse into the lives of the ordinary people unfortunate enough to live within the Fright Zone district. Tom-Sern, seemingly the leader of a gang of young bullies within the village, places himself in charge of a group of boys’ game of heroes and villains, and declares he will play the part of “the mighty Hordak”, while Par-Ker, who he addresses disrespectfully as “you little weed”, will be He-Man. Tom-Sern clearly idolizes Hordak, while He-Man is Par-Ker’s personal hero. Appropriately, the two boys are drawn to resemble their respective idols, as Par-Ker looks very much like a young He-Man or Prince Adam, his shirt the same colour and shape as Prince Adam’s jacket, while Tom-Sern’s shirt is a similar shade of purple to Hordak’s chest plate. As the boys begin their game, and Tom-Sern’s friends laugh to one another “Watch this! He falls for it every time” it becomes clear that this game is not just some innocent fun, so much as a way for Tom-Sern and his bullies to maliciously gang up on Par-Ker and humiliate him.

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We see how seriously Par-Ker takes the game and how strongly he desires to emulate his hero He-Man, as he tries to work out a way he can wrestle away the large stick Tom-Sern is using as a weapon, thinking to himself “All of Eternia is at stake!” This makes Tom-Sern’s ultimate scheme come across as all the more cruel, when he hurls a previously hidden bucket of water all over Par-Ker when Par-Ker gets too close, calling it “The Cosmic Water Bucket!”

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As the bullies walk away laughing, leaving Par-Ker fallen on the ground, his crutch dropped, we see just how mean and cruel Tom-Sern is. Not only do he and his friends idolize Hordak and view He-Man as ‘sissy’, but they gain their amusement from bullying a smaller, weaker and disabled boy, setting him up to think they are playing a fun game before hurting and humiliating him – and their dialogue indicates this is a regular occurrence in these boys’ lives. Our sympathies are naturally with Par-Ker, and we can see from his thought bubbles that while he may be physically weaker, he is a lot stronger in character than the bullies, and wants nothing more than to be a hero like his idol He-Man. (The outdated language here is notable, for Par-Ker refers to himself as ‘lame’, a term in common use at the time but now considered offensive when referring to people with disabilities.)

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The scene switches to Hordak and his Horde members, who are gathered on a hill overlooking the village, Hordak having been informed by his agents that people in the village praise the name of Randor and are disloyal to Hordak. Hordak intends to confront the villagers about this allegation and deal with them. As usual, Hordak’s mania is countered nicely by the comedic dialogue of his henchman Grizzlor, who remarks “What silly people, master. Shall I destroy them for you?” This is answered with a kick down the hill from Hordak as he declares his ways are a lot more subtle than that – Grizzlor actually enjoying the resulting tumble down the hill, shouting “Weeeeehhh! This is fun…” as he rolls down the rocky hillside.

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Hordak confronts an assembly of the villagers, and the village leaders reluctantly lie to protect their village, pledging their services and loyalty to Hordak in his battles against Randor and He-Man. As the villagers all bow before Hordak, we understand the true nature of Hordak’s rule – for these people live under a totalitarian regime that silences independent thought, and they are forced to feign loyalty in order to evade the inevitable punishments and possible executions that would follow, were they to truly stand up for what they believe in. Grizzlor’s childlike enthusiasm and chanting of “Hor-dak! Hor-dak!” adds a touch of light humour to this otherwise serious point of the story.

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It is at this point that Tom-Sern springs forward from the crowd and blows the villagers’ cover, telling Hordak they are lying and are all in fact followers of Randor. Hordak is impressed by the boy’s youthful rebellion and loyalty to him, and decides he has use for him, taking Tom-Sern away with him to the Fright Zone as he leaves the village.

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We are treated to a brief scene of Tom-Sern’s distraught parents conversing with the village leader, who sends for He-Man. He-Man arrives in the Bashasaurus and sets out to rescue Tom-Sern, at which point Par-Ker, unseen by He-Man, sneaks on board the Bashasaurus in case He-Man needs his help in rescuing Tom-Sern. In contrast to Tom-Sern’s cowardice, Par-Ker is brave enough to risk accompanying He-Man covertly to the Fright Zone, in spite of his disability. The fact he will go to these lengths to save a boy who has hated and bullied him for so long shows the inherent nobility in Par-Ker.

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Later in the Fright Zone, Tom-Sern, for whom the idea of joining forces with Hordak and visiting the Fright Zone was a dream come true, is now learning the hard way just what kind of evil maniac he has been hero-worshipping. While he may have been sick and cowardly enough to bully a smaller, disabled child, his youthful rebellion is born of naïvety rather than inherent evil, and he is shocked to find out the nature of Hordak’s true plans for him. Hordak has no use for the body of a young boy, so he intends purely to take advantage of Tom-Sern’s naïvely twisted mind and blind loyalty to him, by transferring his mind into the lifeless body of a robotic Horde Trooper. We get a quick plug here for the She-Ra comic as Hordak expresses his intention to send Tom-Sern in Trooper form to Etheria to battle She-Ra and the Rebels. (This method of experimenting on innocent civlians to create new cybernetic Horde members also foreshadows the creation of the characters of Snout Spout, Extendar and Dragstor in later issues.) Tom-Sern is shocked at Hordak’s plans for him and tries to beg him not to go through with them, just as He-Man bursts in and demands Hordak release his captive. He-Man realizes that Hordak will only activate the process if he comes any closer, so in a moment of true bravery, he offers to take Tom-Sern’s place if Hordak promises to release him.

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The idea of He-Man’s mind in a creation of his own is too good for Hordak to resist, so he goes ahead and straps He-Man to the table in Tom-Sern’s place, leaving Tom-Sern helplessly watching, ashamed of his own foolishness as He-Man appears doomed, Hordak leaving the lab to mount an attack on Eternia now He-Man is out of the way.

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After Hordak has been gone a while, Tom-Sern is amazed to see none other than Par-Ker enter the lab, and Par-Ker is more hopeful that there may be a way to rescue He-Man. Approaching the table, he asks He-Man what would happen if he were to place himself in the middle of the beam transferring He-Man’s mind into the Trooper. He-Man tells him it could cause the machine to short circuit, but advises him against it as the beam may be powerful enough to destroy Par-Ker himself.

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In what is probably the most powerful and emotional scene in the comics yet, Par-Ker hesitates, knowing that to risk saving He-Man could cost him his life – but all his life, he has been a nobody and has always wanted to be a hero – so, ready to make that ultimate sacrifice, he steps into the beam, and in a brilliantly striking illustration, his body is electrocuted, dropping his crutch as the beam courses through him.

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Fortunately, while it has rendered him unconscious, the electric shock has not been quite enough to kill Par-Ker, and He-Man, who has broken free, carries the young boy back to the Bashasaurus, followed by Tom-Sern, taking both boys safely home to the village.

The scene cuts to several days later, and Par-Ker is recovering in bed, Tom-Sern feeding him medicine as the two boys finally bond as friends, both changed forever by their ordeal. Tom-Sern tells Par-Ker that when he is better, he can choose what games they play and Tom-Sern will never bully him again – but Par-Ker says that’s not important; they should all have an equal say in their games, and he didn’t do what he did to get his back on Tom-Sern – he did it for Eternia. Outside, the other boys who had earlier joined Tom-Sern in bullying Par-Ker are now cheering Par-Ker, hailing him and He-Man as heroes. The two boys’ experience in this story has not only changed their lives, but those of all their young friends in the village, who have learned the true nature of good and evil.

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Bringing children to the forefront of a MOTU story could easily have been a disastrous move – many comics and TV shows, Filmation’s MOTU cartoon among them, were frequently guilty of portraying children in an overly patronizing manner, rendering them unintentionally unlikeable. Thanks to Brian Clarke’s writing talents and refusal to patronize his young readers, “Child’s Play” is one of the comic’s greatest ever stories, one deserving of awards. He portrays the characters of Tom-Sern and Par-Ker very much like real children, who come across as thoroughly believable to the reader. Of course, most of the comic’s young readers will have themselves played at being He-Man, Skeletor and Hordak, and they are sure to see a lot of themselves in the two boys. Like Tom-Sern, many young boys will have enjoyed envisioning themselves as Hordak and playing the role of the villain in their games, and stories like this hit home that while it is all very well to play at being such characters, they are not to be admired or treated as role models, for evil is ultimately a form of cowardice, while the truly admirable and noble traits are embodied in heroes such as He-Man who are prepared to risk their lives for the greater good. The character of Tom-Sern embodies the rebellious streak inherent in many teenage and pre-pubescent boys, who rebel against authority by adopting wayward lifestyles and risky role models. (This kind of naïve youthful rebellion is very much what led to the creation of the Hitler Youth during World War II, and to this day causes many youths worldwide to be radicalized, idolizing and seeking to emulate dictators and corrupt world leaders.) By tapping into this psyche, the comic helps ensure that its readers are less likely to travel along such a route, and hits home that there is nothing boring or ‘sissy’ about aspiring to be like He-Man, for he is a true hero dedicated to ending injustice and saving the lives of others. In showing how the brave young Par-Ker is able to save the lives of He-Man and Tom-Sern – and possibly even Eternia itself – all in spite of his disability, it shows the reader that true heroism can be present in even the most humble of people, and just because someone is disabled does not mean they are inferior or helpless. (It’s also worth noting here the parallels with Mouse in “Joy Bringer”, both stories featuring a handicapped character overcoming their disability.) The characters of Tom-Sern and his bully friends are able to redeem themselves in the end because their wayward nature was the result not so much of an inborn cruelty as a sheltered life and great naïvety, and now they have learned the true nature of good and evil, they are certain to mature and travel along a more commendable path. And of course Par-Ker, haven proven himself a life-saving hero at such a young age, can only go on to great things, and will hopefully grow up to be every bit the hero that He-Man is.

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“Child’s Play” is a huge change from the norm within the comic in that He-Man is really more of a guest star in this story – its true stars are Par-Ker and Tom-Sern, and while it follows very naturally from the issue’s opening story “Joy Bringer” in being an emotionally-driven story that brings the ordinary denizens of Eternia into the spotlight, for me it surpasses that story due to its particularly powerful message and the character of Par-Ker’s moving act of self-sacrifice, rendering him the perfect role model for the young readers. The Christmas edition of the MOTU comic could very easily have played safe and gone down a cute and comedic route – instead it has been challenging, intelligent, sometimes bleak, and heavily emotional, carrying some of the most powerful moral messages ever seen in the comics. In co-achieving that impressive feat, “Child’s Play” is a true winner.

****

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Story 3: “Secret Files of Scrollos, part 2”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla

Synopsis: Continuing from the first installment in Issue #18, Scrollos unveils more of his secret files to the reader, showcasing profiles of Man-At-Arms, Stratos, Cringer/Battle Cat, Zodac, and Castle Grayskull itself.

Review: This strip follows on from part 1 of the “Secret Files of Scrollos” series in Issue #18, which from that issue onwards, would appear in every second issue of the comic. That first instalment in the series introduced us, one by one, to the members of the Heroic Warriors of Eternia. This instalment picks up where the previous one left off, introducing us to the warriors who were omitted first time round. Most likely to satisfy Mattel, that first instalment showcased the newer toy releases – so this one showcases the earlier ones who were left out of the first instalment.

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Man-At-Arms is the first of these, and this strip expands on what the comic’s first ever strip “The Legend of Grayskull” in Issue #1 told us, that it was Man-At-Arms who accompanied the young Prince Adam to Castle Grayskull, where The Sorceress gave him the powers of He-Man for the first time. The illustration panels here show that scenario taking place, and indeed a later instalment of the Secret Files in Issue #35 would tell us the story in full.

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Next up is Stratos, who being one of the first toy releases from the MOTU line, has had only minimal exposure in the comics so far. In line with the character’s regular background across other media, this strip establishes that Stratos rules the airborne kingdom of Avion, where he is leader of a race of Bird-Men. (Notable here is that his race is described as ‘Bird-Men’ rather than ‘Birdpeople’ as in a lot of media; Delora, Stratos’ wife – or sister depending on the medium – despite appearing in a lot of different MOTU story media, was sadly never acknowledged by the London Editions Comics.) The narration panel explains that Stratos’ royal duties mean he is often away from Eternos, which could explain his rare appearances in the stories within the comics. Interestingly, the second panel on this page states that “Stratos and his army help to defend the Northern side of Eternia from the expanding forces of Hordak”, indicating the kingdom of Avion is some kind of barrier against Hordak’s Fright Zone, though this was never covered in further detail.

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Next up is Cringer, whose double identity as Prince Adam’s cowardly pet cat and He-Man’s fearless steed Battle Cat is covered here.

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Next we get an excellent panel of the Masters all together as a team, one of several of this nature that would appear throughout the comic’s run. The narration panel explains that after receiving the powers of Grayskull, He-Man sent a call across Eternia for the greatest heroes to join his battle against the dark powers, and his call was answered by numerous heroes from across Eternia, thus forming the Masters of the Universe.

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The next character to be covered is Zodac, who has only made two brief appearances in the comic so far – Issue #5’s “Hordak’s Assault” and a brief cameo in the Twins of Power Special. The narration panels here explain that Zodac comes from a very powerful galactic race who have sworn to maintain the cosmic balance between good and evil – so Zodac’s prime purpose is to make sure that neither side ever wins the conflict on Eternia; thus he helps not only He-Man but also Skeletor and Hordak at times, enabling them to evade total defeat by the Masters and essentially keeping the comics’ status quo intact. We are told here that because of this, some people view Zodac as being evil, but this is not the case; he exists solely to maintain the cosmic balance. In the brief appearances he has made so far in the comics, Zodac has assisted He-Man with advice when particularly dangerous schemes have been mounted by the evil forces; we have not seen any stories where he has acted on the side of evil. Sadly there were to be no further stories featuring this character, which is unfortunate as while he may not be ‘evil’, his morality is certainly questionable if he really does intend to perpetuate the war on Eternia, and although He-Man seemed to respect him in past issues, it is hard to believe he would not take issue with Zodac’s approach and view him as an adversary of sorts.

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Next up, we are told about Castle Grayskull itself, and it is explained to us exactly what are the powers and secrets within its walls that the evil forces covet so badly. As well as holding the source of great magic, Castle Grayskull holds an even more powerful weapon – knowledge, for Grayskull’s library contains all the secrets of the universe; hence its knowledge could be used by the evil forces to take control of the universe. We are shown that Grayskull also has a gym – which indeed we have seen in previous stories such as Issue #11’s “Hordak’s Captives” – enabling He-Man and his comrades to increase their strength against the forces of evil, and Man-At-Arms’ laboratory workshop is also located within the basement of Grayskull, and is the place where he constructs the many weapons, vehicles and machines used by the Masters.

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(It is worth noting here that sadly, one Heroic Warrior – Ram-Man – has been left out completely. While he was one of the earliest figures released in the toy line and consequently appeared less frequently in the comics as they focused on later releases, he has nonetheless had a few memorable story appearances and it is unfortunate that at least some of his background could not have been told in the Secret Files, especially as the letters page in this very issue actually promised us his origin.)

Next, we are told how there are parts of Grayskull that even He-Man is forbidden from entering, and only The Sorceress knows what lies behind these doors. Grayskull is also, we are told, part of a network of space tunnels enabling He-Man to travel anywhere in the universe – and the most common portal is the one connecting Eternia to Etheria, the home of He-Man’s sister, She-Ra.

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This instalment of the Secret Files ends with a fantastic illustration showing He-Man and She-Ra together, before the faces of their adversaries Skeletor and Hordak, while the misty, demonic eyes of Horde Prime look on, foreshadowing his further appearance in later issues, the narration panel telling us that we will soon learn the background to the evil empires of Hordak and Skeletor, and the secrets of Horde Prime. Horde Prime has already been introduced and given a highly memorable role in the Twins of Power Special a few months prior to this issue, and this is a brilliantly dramatic way to end the Christmas issue, by foreshadowing further appearances by the ultimate big bad guy behind the scenes.

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© Aidan Cross, 2021.