UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: January 1987
The Sleep of Skeletor
The Perfect Trap
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This issue’s cover is particularly unusual in that it does not relate to any of the stories within the comic and features He-Man seemingly being overpowered by a set of completely unfamiliar warriors, who are not from the toy line nor have they ever appeared in the comics. They are a set of five Viking-like warriors with Horde bat symbols on their armor – yet not only have they never been seen with the Horde, but the Horde do not even appear in this particular issue.
Scrollos’ first editorial of 1987 addresses the popular demand from readers for a story featuring Webstor, who is given his first starring role in a story in this issue.
Story 1: "The Sleep of Skeletor"
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: Adam and Teela are out at sea in a small boat, and Teela is growing annoyed as Adam simply lazes about while she does all the hard work steering the boat. Suddenly, a larger boat rams into theirs, knocking Adam and Teela both overboard. Adam manages to grip onto the side of the larger boat and haul himself and Teela on board, but once on board they find the entire crew of the boat fast asleep, having been drugged. Meanwhile, Evil-Lyn is reporting to Skeletor that she has tested the sleeping gas Skeletor intends to use on the Masters on simple fishermen, and it has worked. They intend to swoop in on the Masters from the air, dropping a series of gas-filled bladders on them, which when burst, will cause all the warriors to fall asleep. Skeletor sets a team of slaves to work on preparing for the attack. Later on, in the fishing village from where the sleeping fishermen came, the villagers are shocked to see the men returned to the village fast asleep by Adam and Teela. The people are fearful that they will starve as the men had gone out earlier to fetch them food. Prince Adam tells the villagers to accompany him to the Royal Palace, where he will feed them. They do so, and once at the palace, Adam sets up a line of cooking fires outside the palace walls on which to cook the villagers’ food. As evening falls, Adam joins the villagers in an archery contest, just as Skeletor, Evil-Lyn and their slaves fly overhead in a series of hot-air balloons. They begin their attack, dropping the gas bladders on the palace, but the heat from the cooking fires causes the bladders to rise back up towards Skeletor and Evil-Lyn themselves. Adam transforms into He-Man and commands the villagers to fire their arrows at the gas bladders as they float towards the Evil Warriors so that their effects will backfire on the villains themselves. Skeletor and Evil-Lyn quickly don gas masks to save them breathing in the gas, and dip their balloon lower to ground level to attack He-Man from behind. But He-Man is ready for the attack and spins round, using his bow to knock the mask off Skeletor’s face, at the same time causing him to burst a gas bladder held by Evil-Lyn with his sword. Both Skeletor and Evil-Lyn are overwhelmed by the gas and fall asleep, as the balloon drifts away to sea. He-Man suggests to a skeptical Teela that the cooking fires were purposely prepared by Prince Adam to foil Skeletor’s attack, and Teela goes off in search of Prince Adam. He-Man sneaks away to transform back, and Teela finds Adam asleep, chastising him for having fallen asleep while the others were defending the palace, only to be met by a humorous quip from Adam.
Review: The first thing that regular readers of the comic will notice upon reading this story is its striking similarity to an earlier story – Issue #16’s excellent “Menace of the Magnetron”. The latter story ranks easily among the comic’s greatest moments with its distinct plot of Prince Adam leading the citizens of Eternia to a victory against Skeletor as himself rather than as He-Man, amidst heavy criticism from Teela, who refuses to recognize the genius of his plan, leading to some excellent character development as well as comedic moments. “The Sleep of Skeletor” is very much a successor to that story, reusing all of those key points to similar effect. The writer of these stories has not been identified for certain but it is clear they realized how well that formula worked, and gave us this much-welcome second story in the same style.
The Adam/Teela dynamic and subplot was central to the aforementioned story to the point the subplot surpassed the main plot in entertainment value, and likewise “The Sleep of Skeletor” sets this in motion right from the start, like its predecessor playing with aspects of the Silver Age Superman/Lois Lane psychodrama. The story begins with Adam and Teela out at sea in a small boat, Teela growing exasperated with Adam’s insistence on lazing about while she does all the hard work of sailing the boat. Notably, José Tafalla has drawn Teela with a red cape here, not a part of her regular costume but something Tafalla often added to the character to give her an appearance of increased authority.
Out of nowhere, the boat in which they are sailing is suddenly rammed from behind by a much larger boat, knocking both of them overboard. As Adam manages to grip onto the side of the bigger boat we get some further sarcastic banter between the two of them, with Adam’s dialogue of “Hang on, Teela!” and Teela’s response of “What do you think I’m doing?”
On board the bigger boat, they discover the reason why they were rammed – the entire crew is fast asleep. Adam finds a burst bladder, “like the ones we used to blow up and play with when we were children” – echoing children’s games throughout history, in which children would typically use an inflated pig’s bladder for ball games, long before actual sports balls were available for use.
Examining one of the sleeping fishermen, Teela finds this is no natural sleep but that the men have been drugged. Adam sets the ship to sail back to port, wondering why anyone would drug poor fishermen. We get our answer on the next page, when the scene shifts to Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. Evil-Lyn reports to Skeletor that a gas has been tested on simple fishermen – a gas which Skeletor intends for use on the Masters of the Universe. Their intention is to swoop in on the warriors from the air, and drop a set of gas-filled bladders on them, which will cause all the warriors, even He-Man, to ‘sleep like a baby’ once the bladders burst. Skeletor orders his slaves to prepare a series of hot air balloons for the assault on the Masters. Interestingly, rather than his usual team of Evil Warriors, Skeletor seems to be utilizing random slaves to carry out this particular scheme. They are never shown close up and it is not entirely clear where he has gathered them from, or how willingly they are serving him. The question is also begged as to where he obtained the bladders from – either he has been a particularly valued customer at the nearest butcher’s shop to Snake Mountain, or he’s had some of his minions slaughter a load of innocent animals for this purpose – and in an untypically dark move for the comic, these panels show what appears to be two dead birds on the ground close to the slaves’ operation – and two animal skulls at Evil-Lyn’s feet – quite possibly validating the latter theory.
Skeletor anticipates becoming master of Eternia once he has a sleeping He-Man in his grasp – and in another echo of “Menace of the Magnetron”, Evil-Lyn expresses the wish to deal with Teela personally.
Meanwhile, Adam and Teela have reached the fishing village where the drugged fishermen came from, and the women and children are shocked at what has happened to the men. As the villagers fear they will starve now the fishermen have been unable to bring back the food they ventured out for, Prince Adam invites them to accompany him to the Royal Palace, where he will feed them. We get a great exchange between Teela and Adam as Teela protests this move, saying “Surely informing He-Man of this is more important”, to which Adam responds “More important than my hungry people, Teela? I think not!” As was the case with “Menace of the Magnetron”, Teela can come across particularly unlikeable at times, and here she is pushing her own unpleasantness even further by implying she would happily leave innocent people to starve, placing the needs of the defence line first. It is likely she is not really giving the matter much thought, for as with the latter story, she simply jumps at the chance to criticize Prince Adam’s every move, regardless of how rational or heroic it may be – but he puts her in her place swiftly, and we can see here that even to someone unaware that he is also He-Man, Adam is clearly a very worthy heir to the throne; he is a true man of the people who puts the needs of his subjects first. Without any hint of class snobbery, he not only feeds his people and brings them back to the palace with him, but invites them to join in an archery game, treating them as true equals.
Shortly afterwards, Skeletor and Evil-Lyn lead the attack on the Royal Palace, themselves and their ‘slaves’ hovering above the palace in the hot air balloons. This is an interesting and very effective touch, having the Evil Warriors use this more basic and mundane mode of transport rather than using the evil airborne vehicles, i.e. the Rotons, in this scheme. The utilization of basic resources on both Heroic and Evil sides – like with the wooden weapons and the large boulders used by the miners in “Menace of the Magnetron” – shows that you don’t necessarily need the typical futuristic technology and mystical enchantment for a great MOTU story; sometimes basic natural resources can be just as effective and entertaining in combat!
Prince Adam’s plan works and as the gas bladders are dropped from the air, the heat from the cooking fires propels them back up towards Evil-Lyn and Skeletor, enabling Adam to quickly sneak off and change into He-Man, following which he leads the villagers in shooting their arrows at the gas bladders so their effects will backfire on the villains. As the bladders burst, Evil-Lyn quickly whips out a pair of gas masks for herself and Skeletor to wear, and they dip the balloon to ground level, where Skeletor thinks he has caught He-Man unawares from behind. But as it turns out, He-Man has anticipated and prepared for this attack, spinning round and using his bow to knock the gas mask off Skeletor’s face, simultaneously causing him to burst a gas bladder held by Evil-Lyn with his sword and leading the two of them to fall asleep. (It is not quite clear from the panels how Evil-Lyn also loses her gas mask, but we can assume it simply falls off in the heat of the battle.)
Subsequently, Skeletor and Evil-Lyn’s hot air balloon drifts out to sea as they succumb to the sleeping gas, along with the other balloons steered by the slaves, who have presumably also fallen victim to the effects of the gas. (It appears here that the Royal City is very close to the sea, although this has not been evident in past issues.) Teela remarks on how lucky they were that the heat from the cooking fires drove the bladders back, to which He-Man responds “Lucky? Don’t you think this was planned by Prince Adam?”
And so, like its predecessor “Menace of the Magnetron”, “The Sleep of Skeletor” ends nicely with a cheesy pun and Teela outsmarted by the expertise of Prince Adam, whose skills she just does not want to recognize. While it doesn’t quite reach the same standards as its predecessor, “The Sleep of Skeletor” definitely does it justice and proves a worthy successor, ranking among the stories that are much stronger in the way of character development and relationship dynamics. The same themes are put to effect – Adam leading a counter-attack against the villains as himself instead of as He-Man, ordinary Eternians mobilized by Adam to themselves fight directly back against Skeletor, a combat involving basic natural resources as opposed to futuristic technology and sword-and-sorcery, and most importantly of all, the relationship dynamic between Adam and Teela, with Teela’s outright refusal to recognize any positive qualities in Adam, and his swift outsmarting of her, resulting in him being able to exasperate her further by singing his own praises in the form of He-Man, thrusting Teela’s unfair treatment of the prince right back in her face. In both stories, this central relationship dynamic allows for both character development and excellent comedy, and as such they both rank among the comic’s best moments.
Many readers will be finding Teela’s character particularly unlikeable by now – she is outright unfair to Adam by berating him constantly for his laziness and complaining about his inability to help out the Royal Palace’s defence line, only to criticize him even further when he actually demonstrates his capability and heroism by rising successfully to the challenge, refusing to even acknowledge Adam’s skills. And not only that, but she even demonstrates class snobbery here, seemingly happy to leave the villagers to starve while putting the warriors’ defences first. It is only the wider context of the comic series that saves Teela from being a completely unlikeable character, for she is acting this way more from youthful naivety and reluctance to display any kind of emotion or compassion, and the full complexity of her relationship to Prince Adam (contrasting of course with her infinite admiration for He-Man without realizing the two are the same person) was explored brilliantly in the Secret Files of Scrollos’ “Story of Teela” two-parter in Issues #57-#58. Adam is clearly having fun playing games with her perception and outsmarting her, and we learn in the later story just how deeply he wishes he could tell Teela his secret identity, and is thus cleverly conveying his true abilities to her in more subtle ways.
And like its predecessor, this story also does a fine job of showing just what a great leader Adam is as both himself and He-Man, and what a fine ruler he will make when he inherits that position – just as he did with the miners in “Menace of the Magnetron”, Adam here empowers ordinary people – the residents of the fishing village – to fight back themselves against Skeletor’s assault, undoubtedly inspiring the ordinary Eternians by bringing out their inner heroism. This is a great story for the development of the comics’ central figure of Prince Adam/He-Man, and puts the theme of his double identity to very effective use.
“The Sleep of Skeletor” is a brilliant opener for this issue and makes a mighty fine start to 1987 for the comics, giving us the type of story there just wasn’t enough of in the comics, exploring Adam/He-Man’s relationship with Teela amidst an innovative backdrop of distinct action and adventure, and excellent deadpan humour. Another mighty fine story from the London Editions comics!
This issue’s letters page contains some particularly interesting questions from readers, and answers from Scrollos. One letter asks if the character of Granita (mis-spelled here as Granatar) – the female member of the Rock People who appeared in the She-Ra cartoon series – is going to be made as an action figure. Scrollos responds that there are no such plans but she may well feature in a future issue of MOTU or She-Ra. An appearance by her in either the MOTU or She-Ra comic would definitely have been welcome, and a crossover in She-Ra featuring the Rock People would definitely have been interesting, but sadly this was never forthcoming. (Although part of the MOTU toy line, the Rock People only appeared in the She-Ra cartoon series as the MOTU cartoon had been discontinued by this point, meaning new MOTU toy releases were included in the She-Ra cartoon instead. Aside Stonedar and Rokkon the She-Ra series featured Granita, who had been designed by Mattel as a possible third Rock Person, but was never released due to Mattel’s caution about releasing female figures in a toy line oriented towards boys.)
Another letter complains that the characters of Moss Man and Sy-Klone are being featured too heavily in the comics, at the expense of other warriors. The reason for this prominence was of course to please Mattel, who wanted to see the newest toy releases pushed as much as possible, hence why earlier releases were often consigned to background roles. Scrollos responds that they have been trying to feature as many warriors as possible in recent issues, and asks the reader if he still feels these characters are overused.
Story 2: “Deadly Duo”
Writer: Tom Sweetman
Art: Amador García
Synopsis: In a small village on Eternia, an old man sits begging on the street. A charitable villager gives him a coin for his ‘collection’ and the word ‘collection’ triggers the old man’s memory. He jumps to his feet, pushing the villager aside, and runs to a nearby lake, where he looks in the water at his reflection and regains his memory, recognizing himself as the intergalactic villain The Collector. He recalls that he was beaten in a fight with He-Man but managed to escape in his shuttle pod at the last minute, however he crash-landed on Eternia and lost his memory in the crash. As He-Man had ruined his collection of mighty warriors from throughout the cosmos, The Collector decides to wreak revenge on He-Man by making him the first exhibit in his rebuilt collection. Days later, The Collector visits Skeletor at Snake Mountain, offering him his services in return for permission to take He-Man with him when he leaves Eternia, and to use Skeletor’s resources to build a spacecraft in which to fly out back to his home among the stars. Skeletor agrees to the deal, and permits The Collector to use the workshop in Snake Mountain to build his new spacecraft. Later on, outside Castle Grayskull, He-Man and Rokkon are repairing the Road Ripper when He-Man suddenly hears an ear-piercing sound that Rokkon is oblivious to, followed by the voice of The Collector demanding he come to Snake Mountain. He-Man heads to Snake Mountain alone, where he sees that Skeletor and The Collector have joined forces. Before he can do anything, The Collector freezes He-Man with a freeze gun he has built, similar to the one he used on his original captives. He-Man is still able to speak despite being frozen, and decides to take advantage of The Collector’s vanity, by complimenting him on how he has succeeded where Skeletor constantly failed and must be the most powerful being on Eternia. Skeletor is furious at this and fears being a laughing stock when the Eternians find out someone else defeated He-Man, so he tricks The Collector himself by asking to study his Freeze Gun while The Collector admires his prize. The Collector hands Skeletor the gun, and Skeletor instantly turns on him, using the gun to freeze The Collector himself, and this sets He-Man free, as the gun only has enough power to hold one captive at a time. He-Man attacks Skeletor and destroys the Freeze Gun, setting The Collector free, and The Collector runs to his spacecraft to escape. As The Collector blasts off, the smoke from his spacecraft clouds He-Man’s vision, giving Skeletor time to teleport away. Weakened by the gun, He-Man begins to head back to Grayskull, wondering if he has seen the last of The Collector, and above Eternia, The Collector vows to someday return and finally succeed in his desire to collect He-Man.
Review: While this issue’s first story was in some ways a sequel to Issue #16’s “Menace of the Magnetron”, its second story is also a sequel to one of the most memorable stories in recent issues, following on directly from Issue #15’s “The Mightiest Warrior”. The latter story, written by Tom Sweetman, introduced a guest villain in the form of The Collector, the intergalactic space criminal who travelled the cosmos capturing the mightiest warrior from each world he visited, intending to eventually force them all to compete in the Galactic Games on his homeworld. (The idea of collecting trophies from other worlds came from the backstory to the Silver Age Brainiac stories.) In “Deadly Duo” Tom Sweetman gives us a return appearance for The Collector, who this time teams up with He-Man’s regular adversary Skeletor in enacting his revenge on He-Man after his previous defeat at his hands.
The story opens in a small Eternian village, appropriately medieval in style. A poor old man sits begging on the street, charitable passers-by lending him coins, until one such man says “Here’s a small token for your collection” and the word ‘collection’ strikes the old man as strangely meaningful. He leaps to his feet and thrusts the villager aside, completely ungrateful for the generous man’s charity, and retreats to a nearby lake, where he stops to think why the word ‘collection’ strikes him as being so important. We see here that the beggar is amnesia-ridden, unable to even remember who he is, but on the next panel, he looks into the waters of the lake at his reflection, and recognizes himself as The Collector.
What will strike regular readers of the comic as interesting here is that while he may recognize himself as The Collector, we won’t – for he is drawn looking completely different from his appearance in his debut, in Issue #15’s “The Mightiest Warrior”. That story depicted him with an alien-like appearance, with orange skin, futuristic clothing and a strange appendage over his left eye. Here he is drawn with a far more mundane appearance, looking completely human, indistinguishable from ordinary Eternians. Although there are loose similarities, with his bald head and white beard, these are but superficial, for his full beard is completely different from his simple long chin-whiskers in his previous story, and no reader would identify him as the same character. The difference in his appearance is clearly because this story is illustrated by Amador García, whereas his debut story was illustrated by José Tafalla, so it is likely that García was not given the preceding story as a reference, or had only loose instructions about the character’s appearance. (This was not the first time that recurring characters were illustrated differently in their second appearance, the Cat-Niks in Issue #16’s “Blind Terror” appearing significantly different from their debut in Issue #4’s “Raiders From the Sky”, again due to the stories being illustrated by different artists.) If we want to be pedantic and explain things an in-universe way we can speculate that The Collector had the ability to change his appearance to match the natives of whichever world he visited, hence appearing as an ordinary Eternian on this occasion – but either way, it’s best put down to artists’ licence!
On the subsequent panels we learn that following his escape at the end of his previous story, forced to flee his large spacecraft after having his captives all freed by He-Man, The Collector crash-landed on Eternia and lost his memory in the crash. As He-Man ruined his previous collection, The Collector decides it is only fitting that He-Man should be the first exhibit in his new collection, which he plans to rebuild from scratch as he had vowed at the end of his debut story.
And so, we get to see this guest villain team up with Skeletor, whom he visits at Snake Mountain and offers his services. Skeletor’s description of The Collector’s work as ‘weird science’ is possibly a reference to the movie Weird Science, the cult teen sci-fi comedy that hit the box offices in 1985.
Reaching a deal with Skeletor, who agrees to allow him to take He-Man with him as part of his new collection once he has captured him, The Collector sets to work on a new spacecraft to transport himself back to his homeworld (although it is not mentioned in this story, “The Mightiest Warrior” named The Collector’s homeworld as Torgo). Much in the style of the regular MOTU vehicles, the simple spacecraft he builds is drawn with a pair of eyes to give it an animalistic appearance!
We switch to Castle Grayskull, where He-Man and Rokkon are busy repairing the Road Ripper. He-Man’s dialogue is interesting: “There are few things that I enjoy as much as repairing our vehicles”; it’s not quite clear whether he’s being serious or sarcastic! An interesting addition to this panel is what looks like the outline of a third warrior – possibly Man-At-Arms – stood within the entrance of Castle Grayskull. This is also the third story appearance by Rokkon, who together with Stonedar is the newest addition to the cast of heroes in the comic; following their debut in Issue #12’s “Hordak’s Satellite” the two of them have only made a brief cameo in Issue #13’s “Orko and the Genie”.
He-Man suddenly hears an ear-piercing sound and covers his ears, but Rokkon is unable to hear anything. He-Man then hears the voice of The Collector in his head, telling him to come to Snake Mountain immediately, otherwise he will turn up his noise machine further and blast him with this dreadful sound. Feeling The Collector is too deadly a foe to risk letting Rokkon accompany him, He-Man reluctantly lies and tells Rokkon he is just suffering a headache and needs to go for a run in the woods to relax, heading to Snake Mountain alone to face the combined forces of The Collector and Skeletor. It transpires that The Collector lured He-Man there with a device called an Ultra-Sonic Projector, and he employs another device – a freeze gun, with similar abilities to the device he used on board his ship in his previous story – to freeze He-Man in the manner he froze his previous captives. Notice the lightened language on the following panel when Skeletor asks if The Collector has ‘destroyed’ He-Man and The Collector assures him he is not ‘destroyed’ but merely frozen; the word ‘destroy’ in the comics being essentially a light version of the forbidden words ‘die’, ‘dead’ and ‘kill’!
As it turns out, He-Man is still conscious and capable of speech when frozen, and The Collector explains it amuses him to leave his victims with the power of speech, so he has somebody to talk to when he is alone in space! But as it turns out, this seals his downfall on this occasion, for when The Collector boasts of how his captives occasionally congratulate him on his genius, He-Man takes advantage of his vanity, congratulating The Collector on being the first person ever to beat him, succeeding where Skeletor constantly failed, and that he must be “the most powerful being on all Eternia!”
This angers Skeletor, whose own vanity will not permit him to see someone else defeat He-Man, and so he decides it is time to double cross The Collector, himself preying on the latter’s ego by congratulating him and asking to study his freeze gun so he can take a proper look at the weapon that defeated He-Man. When The Collector gives him the gun, Skeletor immediately breaks the alliance and uses it on The Collector himself. As Skeletor admires his two frozen captives, he asks He-Man “now who would you say was the most powerful being on Eternia?” He-Man’s response is brilliant, as he shocks Skeletor by proving capable of moving again, and declares “Well actually Skeletor… I’d say… that I am!” as he punches Skeletor to the wall (the punch is not shown connecting, in accordance with Mattel rules against violence), seizes the freeze gun and crushes it in his hand.
As it turns out, the freeze gun only had enough power to hold one captive at a time, so Skeletor using it on The Collector freed He-Man, and now that the gun is destroyed, both are free. The Collector takes the opportunity to beat a hasty retreat, and runs to the small spacecraft he has built. Although Skeletor implores He-Man to follow him, saying “Surely you can’t let him escape” He-Man declares that he would rather The Collector was away from Eternia than loose on their world, “and besides, you and I have a few old scores to settle”. This seems rather unusual on He-Man’s part, for it seems unlikely that he would willingly allow The Collector to escape when he has seen the damage The Collector is capable of wreaking throughout the cosmos, and potentially leave the way open for him to return to Eternia – all in favour of ‘settling a few old scores’ with Skeletor? This does seem a little out-of-character for He-Man, but as we learn on the following panels that he has been left weak by the effects of The Collector’s ray, we can surmise that his judgement has possibly been impaired slightly as well. Indeed, He-Man would have done better to have pursued The Collector, as the smoke from The Collector’s ship blinds He-Man as he blasts off, thus preventing him from apprehending Skeletor, who takes the opportunity to teleport away.
He-Man is left alone outside Snake Mountain as The Collector’s ship flies into the distance. As in previous stories illustrated by Amador García, he draws Snake Mountain very differently from its regular appearance, here appearing as it did in Issue #16’s “Blind Terror” as simply the main bird-like head and a drawbridge, like an evil version of Castle Grayskull, although it appears particularly tiny here.
He-Man walks back to Castle Grayskull wondering if he has seen the last of The Collector, and the final panel sees The Collector, now flying out into space, vowing to someday return and collect He-Man, the only warrior to date who he has been unable to collect.
This is a very enjoyable return appearance for The Collector following his debut six issues previous, and it was unfortunate that this was to be the last we readers would see of him, for he was not to return in any subsequent issues. As a new and original villain created for the London Editions Comics, independent from Skeletor and Hordak, he makes an intriguing and memorable foe for He-Man, with his ‘weird science’ and his obsession with collecting as many heroes as possible from throughout the universe, apparently for participation in the Galactic Games on his homeworld, but his exact reasons and motivation for this remain a mystery to us. There was definitely potential for further appearances by the character, perhaps with He-Man forced to make a visit to The Collector’s own homeworld to rescue other Heroic Warriors who may have fallen victim to The Collector’s grand scheme.
As a story starring one of the comic’s best guest villains and featuring He-Man again using his brains rather than his muscles to win the day, “Deadly Duo” is a very effective story and it is certainly good to see The Collector and Skeletor teaming up to live up to the story’s title. And with The Collector having been mentioned in some of the more recent bios for Mattel’s Masters of the Universe Classics toy line and being recognized by fans worldwide, Tom Sweetman’s creation can definitely be said to have earned his place in the wider MOTU mythology!
Story 3: “The Perfect Trap”
Writer: Tom Sweetman
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: At Snake Mountain, Two Bad has created a puzzle for Webstor, the master of escape, to solve. Despite Two Bad’s confidence that Webstor would not solve it, the puzzle is no match for Webstor’s brilliant mind, and he solves it quickly. Skeletor, watching the scene, commends Webstor on his amazing skills, but posits that he would not be able to use his brilliant mind to design a trap that could hold He-Man prisoner. Webstor, intrigued by the idea, does not hesitate in rising to the challenge and agrees to devise the perfect trap that will keep He-Man imprisoned. In the workshop, Webstor labours day and night until he finally completes his trap. His next step is to trick He-Man into entering it, and he ventures to Eternos City, where he lurks outside the Royal Palace, working out a way to enter. When the guard on patrol atop the ramparts turns his back, Webstor uses his grappling hook to scale the palace walls, entering through a window. Suspecting the security system the palace likely has in place, Webstor dons a pair of Ultra-Sensitive Light Glasses, which enable him to see the alarm beams that protect the door, invisible to the naked eye. He crawls underneath the beams and converts his glasses to ray power, enabling him to see through the wall, and he spots Man-At-Arms asleep. Webstor enters the bedroom and drugs Man-At-Arms with a potion that will cause him to stay asleep for a long time, and Webstor hauls Man-At-Arms onto his back, escaping the palace with his captive. Next morning, He-Man finds a message left by Webstor in Man-At-Arms’ room, challenging him to go to Snake Mountain to rescue his friend. Back at Snake Mountain, Webstor has imprisoned Man-At-Arms hanging upside down from the ceiling, and explains his trap to Skeletor, presenting a machine connected to the rope that holds Man-At-Arms over a bottomless pit. The machine reacts to sound waves in the air, and if a loud noise occurs, this will trigger the machine to release the rope, causing Man-At-Arms to fall to his doom. He-Man will be imprisoned inside a glass tube, which he will not be able to escape from without making a loud noise that will cause his friend’s doom, and the floor is covered with a metal grating that is powered by an electrical current, that will cause He-Man to scream and trigger the machine if he attempts to remove it. As there appears to be no way He-Man could possibly escape, Skeletor is satisfied and congratulates Webstor on the perfect trap. Just then, He-Man arrives and Skeletor explains the trap to him, threatening to shout and trigger Man-At-Arms’ doom unless He-Man willingly enters the trap. He-Man has no choice but to comply, and with He-Man out of the way, Skeletor leaves to prepare his warriors for an attack on Castle Grayskull. He leaves Webstor to re-ensure there is no way out of the trap before joining him, and Webstor boasts to He-Man of his brilliance. He-Man takes advantage of Webstor’s vanity by dismissing him as a fraud, claiming that if he really is the master of traps, he would be able to find a way out of this one. Angered, Webstor admits there is a way out of the trap, for any trap can be escaped from, and he allows He-Man a few moments to work out the way to escape, agreeing to let him go free if he is able to do so, for he would have earned his freedom. He-Man spends several moments deciphering the way to escape from the trap, and realizes all he needs to do is open the door of the glass tube and walk to freedom, for Webstor has left the door unlocked, needing to know there is a way out of the trap to satisfy himself. Although he is angered that He-Man has managed to work out the escape solution, Webstor stays true to his word and allows He-Man to release Man-At-Arms and escape. When Skeletor finds the heroes have escaped he will call off his attack on Grayskull, and Webstor is content to rise to the challenge of explaining to Skeletor how He-Man managed to escape. He-Man and Man-At-Arms head back to Eternos, realizing they must rethink the palace’s defence system to prevent Webstor from breaking in again.
Review: Up until this point, we have seen very little in the comic of the character of Webstor, the ‘Evil Master of Escape’. Scrollos’ editorial on the opening page of this issue reveals that a lot of readers have demanded a story featuring Webstor, and so here they are finally getting their wish, with this story written by Tom Sweetman that places the character centre stage.
In truth, we have seen very little not only of Webstor, but all of the villains released in the 1984 wave of toys – Kobra Khan, Clawful, Whiplash and Jitsu have likewise played only background roles in the comic up to this point, in favour of greater roles for newer toy releases like Two Bad and Stinkor, to satisfy Mattel’s preference for emphasis on the newer toys. “The Perfect Trap”, therefore, is the first story to take on the task of bringing one of these underdeveloped characters to the forefront, and in doing so it brilliantly develops the character of Webstor to the point it gives us possibly the strongest portrayal of the character in any MOTU media, even to the present date.
Webstor’s only notable role in a story prior to now was way back in Issue #3’s “Undersea Attack”, the end of which saw all Skeletor’s minions captured in a Nutro-Web by the heroes, and while he had no major role in the story nor any dialogue, Webstor was noted by the story as being the only one of the Evil Warriors who was able to escape the trap and join his master as he retreated. So early on Webstor was established, however briefly, as being somewhat set apart from the other villains in that his special ability gave him certain advantages over them. It is about time he had a story in the spotlight, and to say Tom Sweetman does a good job with his development would be an understatement.
In rising to the task of writing a story showcasing the Evil Master of Escape, Tom Sweetman chose naturally to explore this ability in great detail, and drew on inspiration from a classic Batman comic – Issue #166 of DC’s Batman comic from 1964 – which featured a story titled “Two-Way Death Trap” in which Batman was imprisoned in a deadly trap by two criminals who had placed a bet that they would be able to catch Batman in a trap he could not escape from. The opening scene of “The Perfect Trap” establishes a similar scenario. It begins in Snake Mountain, where Two Bad has created a puzzle that he has challenged Webstor to solve, which appears to be three metal squares entwined together, and Webstor has to work out how to separate them. (While it is a very different puzzle, it is likely that this opening scene was inspired by the Rubik’s Cube, which was one of the most popular toys throughout the 80s, many great minds finding themselves challenged by the difficulty of solving the puzzle.) It is good to see Two Bad, one of the comic’s best developed villains, in this cameo appearance, showing that he is adept not only at creating technological devices but also puzzles requiring advanced mathematical mind skills to solve; likewise it is refreshing to see a rare scene of the Snake Mountain villains socializing together, giving us an insight of exactly what they get up to when they’re not fighting He-Man and the Heroic Warriors.
Despite Two Bad’s bragging that his puzzle will prove too difficult for Webstor, Webstor has no trouble in solving it and astounds Two Bad with his brilliant mind, declaring that “There is no puzzle or trap that I can’t master”. Skeletor, who has been watching the scenario, interjects and challenges Webstor to prove the full extent of his brilliance, by designing a trap that will actually be able to hold He-Man prisoner. Webstor does not hesitate in rising to the challenge, and vows to design the perfect trap for his master.
Skeletor provides Webstor with the materials he will need to build such a trap, and Webstor toils away in the workshop, labouring day and night to complete the trap. Webstor’s relative modesty in comparison to the other Evil Warriors is showcased here when he remarks “Skeletor will reward me well for my work… and yet no reward could give me the same thrill as creating traps!” This is a warrior whose main interest is in logic and puzzles, to the point that he gains better satisfaction from this than he would from whatever material power or riches Skeletor may reward him with.
After declaring to Skeletor that his trap is complete, Webstor is himself tasked with luring He-Man into the trap, and this enables him to put his skills of logic and deduction to use once again in accomplishing this. He ventures at night to the Royal Palace of Eternos, where he watches the movements of the guard carefully, so that when the guard turns away, he is able to use his grappling hook (a showcase for the Webstor toy’s action feature) to hook onto the palace’s ramparts and scale the wall, sneaking in through a window.
Next Webstor considers what he would himself do if he were tasked with defending the palace, to work out the security system the palace likely has in place. He dons a pair of Ultra-Sensitive Light Glasses to confirm his suspicions, and sure enough he is right – the internal entrances within the palace are protected by alarm beams invisible to the naked eye, which will trigger an alarm if someone steps between them. Now he can see them, Webstor is able to use his spider-like crawling abilities to crawl beneath them, following which he converts his glasses to ray power, enabling him to see through the walls. He spots Man-At-Arms asleep in his bedroom, and sets about capturing him to use him as bait for He-Man.
What will strike the readers as interesting and perhaps amusing is that Man-At-Arms is sleeping fully-suited in his entire battle uniform – helmet, armour and all, which looks far from comfortable! One way we could make sense of this is by assuming Man-At-Arms may actually have been on guard duty for some of the night and merely resting in between shifts, rather than his uniform being his usual bedtime attire. Webstor drugs Man-At-Arms with a potion to ensure he stays asleep (perhaps imbued with similar properties to the sleeping gas in this very issue’s opening story?) and hauls the sleeping warrior onto his back, sneaking out of the palace grounds unseen and undetected. As he escapes, Webstor is quick to proclaim his own genius (remember, I only said earlier that he was relatively modest!) by saying to himself “Who else but I could have broken into Eternos and kidnapped Man-At-Arms? Who else but Webstor, master of escape?” Indeed, he probably has good reason to brag, as for a single Evil Warrior to sneak into the palace unseen and capture one of its residents without being detected is a considerable accomplishment that probably not even Skeletor could manage. Webstor is no ordinary henchman of Skeletor’s, he is a real force to be reckoned with.
In the morning, presumably following a panic at the realization that Man-At-Arms is missing, He-Man, exploring Man-At-Arms’ quarters, finds a note left by Webstor challenging him to come to Snake Mountain to rescue his friend. As He-Man ventures out alone, at Snake Mountain Webstor explains to Skeletor the workings of the trap, in which Man-At-Arms is imprisoned, hanging upside down by a rope over a bottomless pit. Webstor explains that the rope is connected to a machine that reacts to sound waves in the air, so if a loud noise occurs, the machine will be triggered into releasing the rope, causing Man-At-Arms to fall to his doom. The chamber in which he intends to imprison He-Man is made of glass, which He-Man will be unable to break without making a noise that will result in his friend’s doom. When Skeletor points out Webstor has left a metal grating in the chamber floor, which will be easy to remove and escape through, Webstor explains the grating has a powerful electric current flowing through it, which will cause He-Man to scream in pain if he touches it, likewise triggering the machine. Observing that there is no way out through the ceiling either, which is covered by sharp metal spikes, Skeletor is finally satisfied that Webstor has created the perfect trap, and He-Man will not be able to escape.
At that point He-Man himself arrives, and Skeletor takes delight in explaining the trap to him, threatening to shout and trigger it unless He-Man complies by walking into the glass chamber that will contain him. He-Man feels he has no choice but to go along with this, and stands within the glass chamber, the door of which Webstor shuts, containing He-Man entirely. Skeletor leaves to prepare his warriors for an attack on Grayskull, and leaves Webstor to re-ensure there is no way He-Man could possibly escape. Webstor takes the opportunity to brag about how he has created the perfect trap, by using He-Man’s own strength against him, and in a similar manner to how he exploited The Collector and Skeletor’s egos for his gain in this issue’s “Deadly Duo” story, He-Man chooses to take advantage of Webstor’s vanity, by dismissing him as a fraud, and that “If you are master of all traps then you would be able to find a way out of this one and you could not!”
This pushes Webstor’s buttons, and tricks him into admitting that there is indeed a way out of the trap. He is certain, however, that He-Man will not be able to find it, and chooses to wait a few moments before joining Skeletor, to see if He-Man has the mental agility to work out the way to escape the trap. If He-Man can succeed in this, Webstor says he will let him escape, for “I would then respect you and though I serve the evil Skeletor, you would have earned your freedom”. He-Man agrees to the deal, and begins setting about deciphering how to escape.
He-Man takes the time to work out the escape route, and as he does so, Man-At-Arms’ thought bubble reveals that Man-At-Arms, brave as ever, intends to shout if He-Man is unable to figure it out, for although this will mean his own destruction it will allow He-Man to break free and stop Skeletor. As He-Man works out the solution, the narration panel implores the reader to see if they can work out how He-Man can escape.
He-Man realizes that all he needs to do to escape the trap is open the door of the chamber, and walk to freedom. Webstor had left the door unlocked to satisfy his own vanity – for himself being the master of escape, he needed to know there was a way out so that he would himself be able to escape the trap in He-Man’s predicament. Webstor stays true to his word and allows He-Man to release Man-At-Arms and escape Snake Mountain, imploring them to go before Skeletor returns. Although Skeletor will be angry that He-Man has escaped, Webstor is nonetheless content to rise to the challenge of figuring out the puzzle of how to explain to Skeletor how He-Man escaped the perfect trap!
As He-Man and Man-At-Arms head back to Eternos, He-Man explains they now need to rethink Eternos’ defences to ensure Webstor cannot break in again, and Man-At-Arms remarks “Well I for one would sleep easier!”
And so ends a mighty fine story to end a near-flawless issue. In the true spirit of the London Editions Comics, this story places the skills of logic, foresight, deduction and mathematical reasoning at the forefront, allowing the day to be won without any actual fighting or violence. We have regularly seen He-Man use his brains rather than his muscles to save the day, so here we see how he fares when he comes up against a villain with just as much brain power and thinking skills as He-Man himself. If He-Man is the thinking person’s superhero, Webstor is the thinking person’s villain, and when the two come up against one another it is a true battle of brains and logic as opposed to brawn and muscles.
What the reader will most remember this story for is undoubtedly its brilliant portrayal of Webstor. A common trait in almost all MOTU media’s portrayal of this character is that he is never just another of Skeletor’s henchmen, he is always different in some sense and often independent of the others. In no canon is that more so the case than the London Editions comics. He is not just another bumbling henchman of Skeletor’s; this character has a brilliant mind that undoubtedly enables him to surpass Skeletor himself in many ways, and if one single member of the Evil Warriors is capable of defeating He-Man, it is very likely Webstor. His moment in the spotlight is long overdue in the comics, and his character would be built on brilliantly in the following issue, Issue #22’s “Puzzles of Peril” – also written by Tom Sweetman – which sees Webstor, rather than being pitted against He-Man, having to team up with him, and we see what an impressive duo the two of them make when they combine their thinking skills rather than opposing one another. The question has also been raised as to whether Webstor is quite as evil as some of his comrades, for we see that he is motivated not so much by power and riches but the thrill of putting his mental agility to work – and he has enough dignity that he will willingly allow He-Man to escape after foiling his trap rather than attack him as Skeletor undoubtedly would, for he will commend He-Man for having the skills and intelligence to foil the trap and grant him his earned freedom. This side of the character was also explored further in “Puzzles of Peril” with Webstor actually teaming up with He-Man, raising the question that with Webstor’s skills of logic and reason, could he eventually be logically persuaded to use his abilities for good rather than evil.
The strength of the London Editions comics has always lain in their ability to mentally challenge the reader, and “The Perfect Trap” is one of the finest examples of this, while it can also be commended brilliantly for its spectacular portrayal of Webstor; probably the strongest portrayal of the character in all MOTU media to date. An excellent contribution from writer Tom Sweetman!
© Aidan Cross, 2021.