UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: January 1987
Glass of Fire
Puzzles of Peril
Secret Files of Scrollos, part 3
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This cover, as well as noticeably showcasing the Rock People, is notable for being the first time ordinary Eternians have made the cover, assisting the Masters with their defences. The scene is from the story “Glass of Fire”. The tag line "The Day Eternia Caught Fire" comes from the 1961 apocalyptic sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Caught Fire.
In this issue’s editorial, Scrollos reveals that this issue contains a story starring the Rock People, Stonedar and Rokkon, in response to reader letters expressing a liking for these two characters, who have appeared only minimally since their introduction in Issue #12.
Story 1: “Glass of Fire”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: Hordak has completed work on his new invention, the Sun-Caller, a machine he is launching via a rocket into orbit above Eternia. He explains to Grizzlor that the magnifying glass at the top of the ship will, at the mere touch of a button, magnify the sun’s rays a thousand fold, causing them to incinerate whatever is directly beneath the glass on Eternia’s surface. He demonstrates its power by using the machine to destroy a large mountain. Later that day, He-Man and his comrades are called to the village of War-Lee, where the residents have received a message from Hordak threatening to use his new machine to destroy the village unless He-Man agrees to surrender and become Hordak’s slave. As Hordak’s machine is stationed in space, Stonedar and Rokkon volunteer to travel out to space in comet form and smash the machine with their might. They convert to comet form and fly out into space, but as they near the Sun-Caller, its rays prove too hot for them and they have no choice but to return to Eternia’s surface. They tell He-Man what happened and he tells them he has a plan. He explains that if they can stall Hordak until night time, there will be no sun and this should allow them to get close enough to the glass – but as it turns out, Mantenna is spying on them from a distance and has heard everything He-Man has said. Spotting him, Stonedar and Rokkon try to go after Mantenna, but He-Man stops them and allows the spy to escape – and explains he knew Mantenna was listening, and misled him because he has a better plan. Mantenna reaches the Fright Zone and reports to Hordak the plan he heard He-Man describe, so Hordak decides that as He-Man will not surrender, he will increase the Sun-Caller’s power and destroy the village – including He-Man himself. He activates the Sun-Caller and the temperature of the sun’s rays on Eternia’s surface begins to increase. The villagers are feeling the heat, but He-Man explains his plan and has armed the villagers with a series of mirrors, which he tells them to raise as soon as Hordak fires a blast of sunlight from the machine. They do so, and the reflected heat warps the magnifying lens, causing the heat to be spread and allowing Stonedar and Rokkon to fly out again and get close enough to destroy the machine. Flying out into space in comet form, Stonedar and Rokkon find the temperature much cooler than before, and they get close enough to the Sun-Caller to smash it apart. Back on Eternia, the villagers thank the Masters for saving them, and back in the Fright Zone, Hordak stamps up and down on a mirror, smashing it apart, angry at his defeat.
Review: From the opening panels, it is immediately very apparent that this story has been written for the purpose of showcasing the Rock People, Stonedar and Rokkon. As the newest toy releases to have featured in the comic so far, these characters have only been used minimally since their dramatic introduction back in Issue #12, with no story appearances other than a brief cameo in Issue #13’s “Orko and the Genie” and a short appearance for Rokkon in Issue #21’s “Deadly Duo”. “Glass of Fire” sees them finally given another role in the spotlight, apparently in response to reader requests although it was undoubtedly also done to satisfy Mattel, who were naturally pushing for inclusion of the latest toy releases.
The opening scene featuring the characters serves little story purpose other than to re-establish these two characters in the reader’s mind and set the scene for them being the likely heroes of the story. It simply features them remarking on how much they miss their homeworld as they walk through the scenic landscapes of Eternia, but remembering that Eternia is now their home as they have pledged to defend it against Hordak.
The scene switches to the Fright Zone, where once again Hordak is unveiling his latest invention to his henchman Grizzlor. This time round he has invented a machine called a Sun-Caller, which is to be launched by a rocket into orbit above Eternia. Grizzlor responds with his usual comedic misunderstandings, asking “Sun-Caller? What’s that? Does it call the sun names???” giving us the by-now trademark comedic play-off between the stern, maniacal Hordak and the dim-witted, childlike Grizzlor. Also very notable about this panel is that Hordak’s face has been miscoloured the same purple shade as his armour. (Also worth noting that the MOTU logo at the top of the page has not been coloured in!)
The shout of “And marvel!” on the following panel as the rocket blasts off, and Grizzlor’s confused response of “Mar-Vel?” is possibly an allusion to the Marvel Comics. The rocket is then shown on a monitor within the Fright Zone as it flies out into space, and Hordak explains how it works by demonstrating how at the mere touch of a button on his console, Hordak can use the Sun-Caller to magnify the sun’s rays to the point that the heat is so intense it can destroy anything on Eternia’s surface – and he demonstrates its power by using it to incinerate a large mountain.
The scene switches to later on, with He-Man and his comrades having been summoned to a small village called War-Lee following a message from Hordak received by the villagers. The village was named after The Whalley pub in Moss Side, Manchester, where writer Brian Clarke and his co-writer Tom Sweetman would often discuss story ideas over a pint. (The building still stands today although the pub has been permanently closed.) The panel shows Buzz-Off and Moss Man accompanying He-Man together with Stonedar and Rokkon, but this panel is all we see of the former two, for as the story pans out, Stonedar and Rokkon are the heroes and there is no further sign of Buzz-Off or Moss Man even being present. So it is not entirely clear why they have been drawn in here, whether it is purely for decorative purposes or whether it was an attempt to appease Mattel by featuring as many toy characters as possible.
He-Man reads the message from Hordak, which vows to destroy the village with his new machine unless He-Man surrenders and becomes his slave. As Hordak’s device is stationed in space, Stonedar and Rokkon immediately volunteer to fly out to space in meteor form and destroy it. They execute the plan, their thought bubbles providing exposition to the reader by revealing they are unable to withstand the tremendous heat once they fly too close to the machine, and have no choice but to turn back. In some other media the Rock People were able to communicate telepathically with one another in meteor form using the weapons plugged into their chests that came with the toy, but they do not appear able to do so here.
Rokkon and Stonedar return to Eternia, feeling bad about having failed, but He-Man says he has a plan and they listen as he explains it to them. He tells them that if they can stall Hordak until night, there will be no sun and they will be able to get close enough to the glass to destroy it. But Mantenna is spying on them as He-Man explains his plan, his presence indicated by his pop-out eyes drawn at the side of the pane. Stonedar and Rokkon rush to stop him when they overhear Mantenna behind the rock and see him running away, but He-Man holds them back, telling them he knew Mantenna was spying and wanted him to overhear and tell Hordak his plan – because he has a better one! This is a textbook moment of He-Man using strategical planning to mislead the villains, ultimately tricking Hordak into attacking at the wrong moment.
Mantenna returns to the Fright Zone and tells Hordak what he has heard He-Man say. When we last saw Mantenna, in Issue #9 of the She-Ra comic, in the special Christmas story, he seemed rather out-of-character, portrayed as particularly innocent, comedic and childlike, but here he is back to his usual conniving and sinister self, imploring “I trust that you will reward me well for this interesting information?”, in-keeping with his usual eagerness for rewards from Hordak and lust for riches and power. Another very amusing touch to this panel is Grizzlor’s thought bubble, containing the text “Man-tenna, Man-tenna, Bug-head, Bug-head…”, a theme that would be continued in later issues with Grizzlor’s childlike mockery of his insectoid collague.
Hordak decides that as He-Man will not surrender, he will increase the Sun-Caller’s power while it is still daylight so the whole village will be destroyed, including He-Man himself. But as we see in the next panel, He-Man has anticipated this move and has taken precautions to save himself and the villagers from this grisly fate, as well as destroy Hordak’s machine. The villagers are feeling the intense heat, but He-Man tells them not to panic and to “keep watching the sky” – a line taken from the classic 1950s sci-fi movie The Thing. Once a blast of sunlight is fired down from the Sun-Caller, He-Man commands the villagers to raise a series of mirrors he has armed them with, to catch the light. One of the villagers asks what good this will do, as surely the heat will still be as intense at the ray, and He-Man explains the reflected heat should warp the magnifying lens and cause the heat to be spread, allowing Stonedar and Rokkon a temperature cool enough to enable them to get close enough to the machine to destroy it.
He-Man’s plan works – Stonedar and Rokkon fly out into space to find the temperature much cooler, and they fly right through the magnifying lens smashing it apart. Back on Eternia, the villagers thank the Masters for saving them, He-Man declaring Stonedar and Rokkon the true saviours of the day.
The end panel switches back to the Fright Zone, where we get a good comedic ending as Hordak, enraged at his defeat, stamps on a mirror, smashing it apart while yelling about how much he hates mirrors – evoking the confused Grizzlor to wonder “Maybe he looked in it and didn’t like what he saw! If it’s that ugly hairy thing that was there when I last looked I don’t blame him!” Also notable are the unusual sound effects, which according to writer Brian Clarke, were not part of the script and were added by the artists -"They gave the stories a sense of strangeness that added to the fantasy world setting."
Like many of the opening stories in the comics, “Glass of Fire” follows a pretty basic format, of Hordak putting into practice a new invention, and He-Man using strategic thinking to defeat the weapon with as little violent conflict as possible – only this story is embellished with a lot of detail that renders it somewhat more memorable than many other stories of this format. While it makes use of the comic’s regular allusions to real-life science, with He-Man using his scientific knowledge to inform his plan and enable him to defeat Hordak’s scheme, it echoes Issue #17’s “Menace of the Magnetron” and Issue #21’s “The Sleep of Skeletor” by having He-Man mobilize the ordinary citizens of Eternia to help him out in saving the day – and like the cooking fires that foiled Skeletor’s scheme in “The Sleep of Skeletor”, this story sees mundane everyday objects – this time mirrors – being used to thwart the villains’ scheme and win the day. And it brings two of He-Man’s comrades, this time Stonedar and Rokkon, to the forefront by having them play an active role in the heroes’ victory, while bringing us some classic comedy moments from the interplay between Hordak and the dim-witted Grizzlor.
Altogether, this makes “Glass of Fire” a solid opening story for Issue #22, with many distinctive and entertaining moments.
This issue’s Master Mail contains some interesting reader questions, and answers from Scrollos. The first letter asks the common question of why Castle Grayskull is green and not grey, the answer being it was grey when it was build but has turned green with age. The second letter, in which a reader asks if Zoar the falcon is also The Sorceress – “My mum says it isn’t” – indicates confusion between different media, since in the earliest MOTU media such as the Mattel minicomics, Zoar and The Sorceress were indeed two separate beings, before Filmation’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series made them one and the same. But even post-Filmation, certain media, notably the Ladybird storybooks, still depicted the two of them as separate entities, so it is likely the reader’s mother had read some of this other media. Another question concerns Mer-Man’s colour, since he was coloured blue in one issue but green in another. The answer is that Mer-Man’s colour depends on the light you see him in, since he is naturally a shade of greenish-blue – again, this was another factor that varied between media, with Mer-Man depicted in more of a blueish shade in the cartoon series though the toy was green.
The final letter asks for Orko to be given longer stories instead of just one short strip at the start of each issue. As we’ve covered in previous reviews, Orko was mostly sidelined in the comics and confined to the short “Orko the Magician” comedy strip so as to avoid potential awkwardness from having his magic save the day too easily were he to appear in the longer stories, as well as out of caution to avoid skewing the tones of the stories too young. With longer stories starring Orko generally tending to occur once in every five issues or so, Scrollos answers “I hope you’ve enjoyed the main stories in which he has played a big part” and tells the reader that a story is being planned in which Orko visits his home world of Trollah. Surprisingly, although we were given numerous stories down the line in which Orko played a bigger role, this particular story of him visiting his homeworld never materialized. With Trollah (spelt Trolla in the cartoon) featuring in several episodes of the Filmation cartoon series, it is certainly interesting to imagine what the London Editions comics’ take on Orko’s homeworld would have been like. Scrollos answers the reader's question of “Does [Orko] have any brothers and sisters?” with “you’ll just have to wait until then to see” but as the promised story never materialized, this question was never answered either – again, it would certainly have been interesting to see if the LE comics would have given Orko a family, and whether they would have made use of the characters of Dree Elle (Orko’s girlfriend) and Uncle Montork (his uncle) who appeared in several episodes of the cartoon series.
Story 2: “Puzzles of Peril”
Writer: Tom Sweetman
Art: Amador García
Synopsis: A mysterious alien spacecraft lands on Eternia. Sensing danger, Zoar flies to alert He-Man so he may investigate. At the same time, the presence of the spacecraft has aroused Skeletor’s curiosity, and he sends Webstor to investigate, feeling he has the intelligence and skills necessary to explore the craft and obtain any secret weapons it may contain that can be used against the Masters. Skeletor teleports Webstor to where the craft has landed, and Webstor notices some strange markings on its side, which he begins to study. Shortly afterwards, He-Man arrives at the site in the Road Ripper, and spotting Webstor, he draws his sword to fight him, but Webstor calls a truce, explaining that he believes he has deciphered the way to enter the craft and that it is in their best interests to work together until they have identified the purpose of the craft’s landing. Webstor shows He-Man the strange markings on the side, and realizing that it is some kind of puzzle code, He-Man and Webstor manipulate some of the symbols to complete the puzzle – and the ship opens up, allowing them inside. They enter the ship and hear a voice emanating from a speaker in the wall, congratulating them on solving the first puzzle and requesting they now solve the second – a number sequence on the wall. He-Man and Webstor work out the missing number in the sequence and draw it in, which causes a door to open into another chamber. They pass through the door and the voice, now coming from another speaker in the new room, issues a riddle for them to solve. He-Man and Webstor are at first perplexed, but when He-Man says they will need to use their imagination to solve it, the next door opens automatically, and He-Man realizes that ‘imagination’ was the answer to the riddle. Passing through the final door, He-Man and Webstor reach the ship’s control centre, where they encounter a large robot, who explains his name is Clartu and he serves Karn the Conquerer, an alien warlord looking for new worlds to invade. He explains the ship is one of thousands of scout ships that Karn sends across the universe to explore different worlds and find if each world is worth invading. The puzzles have been set to determine the strength of the resistance Karn would encounter were he to invade Eternia, and by solving them successfully, He-Man and Webstor have proven they possess skills of teamwork, logic and imagination – three skills that indicate the opposition on Eternia is too strong for Karn to risk invading their world. The invasion therefore will not take place, and Clartu allows He-Man and Webstor to leave the ship, which blasts off back into the cosmos. Impressed by Webstor’s skill, intelligence and bravery, He-Man invites him to leave Skeletor’s evil ways behind and use his abilities to help the Masters instead, but Webstor swears that the two of them will remain enemies and vows to destroy He-Man when they next meet.
Review: The story “The Perfect Trap” in Issue #21 gave us an excellent development of the previously underused character of Webstor, showcasing his abilities of logic and foresight and pitting these skills against those of He-Man himself. Within the space of that one story, Webstor went from being a mere background character to one of the best-developed and most intriguing villains in the comics, and writer Tom Sweetman follows that story up with this brilliant successor, which sees Webstor actually forming an unlikely team-up with He-Man himself to combine their thinking skills as opposed to pitting them against one another.
The story begins with a strange alien spacecraft making planet-fall on Eternia. The next scene firmly echoes a scene from “Deadly Duo”, another Tom Sweetman story from Issue #21, in that it features He-Man and Ram-Man repairing the Road Ripper outside Castle Grayskull – just like the scene in the latter story that showed He-Man and Rokkon fixing that very same vehicle outside the castle. Interestingly, this brings to mind He-Man’s line from “Deadly Duo” that “There are few things that I enjoy as much as repairing our vehicles” – seems he’s engaging in his favourite pastime again, though we might be inclined to wonder if, with the Road Ripper having been damaged again, He-Man is deliberately crashing it to engage in his favourite pastime!
The two heroes receive a visit from Zoar, the falcon form of The Sorceress, presumably flying down from within Grayskull to warn them of the danger. Zoar has sensed the presence of the alien craft on Eternia, and He-Man vows to investigate to find if it poses any danger.
The next panel, switching the scene to Snake Mountain, is somewhat confusing, as the dialogue implies Skeletor may have also managed to mystically sense the presence of the spacecraft, with Webstor enquiring as to how Skeletor knows a spacecraft has landed when their spies have sent no reports, to which Skeletor responds “I see all, I hear all… I know all!” While this is some great dialogue, it is somewhat invalidated by the fact the panel shows Skeletor and Webstor looking straight at a viewscreen that shows the spacecraft, which makes no sense given the dialogue and seems to be some kind of major confusion between the dialogue and the illustrator. It is possible the panel was intended to show that Skeletor has seen the spacecraft land on his viewscreen but is not letting this on to Webstor so as to create the impression he simply ‘knows all’, but since the panel shows the viewscreen straight in Webstor’s line of sight, if this is the intention it is clumsily depicted.
Skeletor sends Webstor to investigate the spacecraft, in the hope it may contain secret weapons that will enable Skeletor to defeat the Masters. He emphasizes that this is a mission he would not trust any other Evil Warrior with - only Webstor has the “intelligence and judgement to carry it out”. Teleporting Webstor to the desert land where the craft has landed, Skeletor muses on how Webstor is “the only one of my Evil Warriors that I can never fully trust. I suspect that one day his brilliant mind may consider challenging my rule.” It’s rather an understatement to say Webstor is the only one of Skeletor’s Evil Warriors that he cannot trust, as we’ve seen in previous issues that Evil-Lyn and Two Bad also aspire to someday overthrow Skeletor; nonetheless this enhances the comic’s portrayal of Webstor, in that rather than being a regular minion of Skeletor’s, Webstor’s intelligence and skill are powerful enough that he poses a threat to Skeletor’s leadership.
Webstor arrives at the spacecraft and begins to investigate the strange markings on its side. Shortly He-Man himself arrives, and seeing he has been beaten to the ship by Webstor, is about to rise to combat with him, but unexpectedly, Webstor calls a halt and explains why he feels it would be in their best interests to call a truce until they have uncovered the mysteries of the ship. Thus setting into motion the story’s main plot, as He-Man and Webstor form an unlikely team in their attempt to decipher the ship’s mysteries and challenge any danger it may pose.
This story is very notable for its reader interaction, and the fact it serves the dual role of being both a story and, in a sense, a puzzle feature. The comic regularly encourages its readers to participate and use their minds, by challenging them to “guess what He-Man’s plan is” when their hero must use his mind to work his way out of a predicament; this story takes this regular trait of the London Editions MOTU comics to the next level by challenging the reader to solve each of the puzzles that He-Man and Webstor are faced with as they explore the ship. This is an excellent way to expand the educational side of the comic, by encouraging the readers to exercise their mental agility and mathematical skills.
He-Man and Webstor complete the first challenge, by filling in the missing pattern on the side of the ship and using their teamwork to do so. The ship’s entrance opens and they enter the craft, where a voice addresses them from a speaker in the wall, congratulating them on solving the first puzzle and challenging them to solve the second.
The second puzzle is the type that many young readers will have encountered in maths lessons – a number sequence from which one number is missing, and the reader is challenged to decipher what the missing number is. He-Man and Webstor simultaneously come up with the correct answer and fill in the missing number on the panel in front of them, which causes the second door to open.
The third puzzle is a riddle – “What doesn’t exist, except in your mind? What must you use to answer my rhyme?” Not the first time the readers of this comic have been challenged with a riddle (see “Riddle of the Sanns” back in Issue #7), they are challenged to answer this one, which may be a little more difficult for the youngest readers. Sure enough, it is difficult enough that He-Man stumbles on the answer completely by accident, remarking that “We’ll need to use our imagination to solve it!”, which causes the next door to open – He-Man realizes that ‘imagination’ was the answer to the riddle, for it exists only in their minds, but must be used to answer the riddle itself. The narration panel asks if the reader managed to solve all three of the puzzles, for if they did, they would have been able to reach the centre of the saucer like He-Man and Webstor – the young readers here sent the message that it is brains, not brawn, that makes them a true hero.
Finally reaching the centre of the spacecraft, He-Man and Webstor are faced with a large robot in the ship’s control centre. The robot explains that his name is Clartu and he serves Karn the Conqueror, who sent him to Eternia in this scout ship. (The name Clartu is a reference to Klaatu, the humanoid alien in the classic 1951 sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still who uttered the famous phrase “Klaatu barada nikto”, the spelling changed to ‘Clartu’ to reflect the name of the comics’ editor Brian Clarke. Karn the Conqueror, likewise, is a homage to Kang the Conqueror from the Marvel Comics.) The ship is one of thousands of scout ships dispatched by Karn to different planets throughout the universe to see if a planet is worth invading – and the puzzles have been set to determine the strength of the resistance Karn would face were he to invade the planet. By solving the three puzzles, He-Man and Webstor have proven they can use teamwork, logic and imagination, as well as having demonstrated courage by entering the ship in the first place – and Karn will not invade any world where the inhabitants possess these qualities. Clartu thus declares that “The invasion will not take place” and opens the doors so that He-Man and Webstor may leave the ship.
The ship blasts off, leaving He-Man and Webstor alone, and He-Man commends Webstor on the intelligence and bravery he has shown, asking him “why don’t you join the Masters and leave Skeletor’s evil ways behind?” Indeed, we are so used to Skeletor’s minions being bumbling and cowardly that Webstor’s role in the comics comes as a refreshing change. He possesses intelligence and courage way beyond Skeletor’s regular minions, and with his skills of foresight, logic and strategical thought, he comes across as a more formidable opponent than even Skeletor himself, since Skeletor is frequently lacking in these very skills, allowing his mania and ego to override any abilities of logic he may otherwise possess. Webstor’s thought bubble here tells us “I could never hope to beat you, He-Man. But one day I may be able to take the leadership of the Evil Warriors away from Skeletor!” Indeed, if there’s one of Skeletor’s minions who we could imagine taking over the leadership of the Evil Warriors – and proving a more effective leader than Skeletor – it would be Webstor. We saw in the previous issue’s “The Perfect Trap” that Webstor is capable of achieving feats that would not be possible for Skeletor, and it follows quite naturally that Webstor aspires to succeed his master as leader of the Evil Warriors.
He thus breaks the alliance he has formed with He-Man throughout this story, declaring that “…the next time we meet we will be bitter enemies… and I will destroy you!” He-Man remarks on this, “That is a great pity! I will remember your courage for a long time!” While this story is set apart from most others by its dual role as a story and a puzzle feature, it is undoubtedly the characterization of Webstor for which it most stands out, and for which the readers will remember it. He is the only villain in the comics to have proven capable of putting aside his differences with He-Man for the greater good and working together with He-Man as a successful team, and as was indicated in the previous issue’s “The Perfect Trap”, he shows a great degree of respect for He-Man, for when it comes to brains and mental agility, the two of them are very much evenly matched. We share He-Man’s disappointment at the end of this story that Webstor is not willing to use his abilities for honourable purposes, for he possesses a great deal more dignity than the other Evil Warriors. And yet Webstor’s resentment and bitterness towards He-Man make perfect sense as well – Webstor knows that He-Man is one of the few people who can prove a match for him when it comes to intelligence, while undoubtedly surpassing him in the area of brawn, and so is determined to eventually use his mind power to overcome Eternia’s hero and bring about He-Man’s downfall. While we have met He-Man’s equal among the Evil Warriors in terms of strength – Faker, in Issue #10’s “When Strikes the Faker” and Issue #18’s “Return of the Faker” – Webstor is his equal in brain power, and is thus one of the few Evil Warriors we could actually imagine defeating He-Man. Given that He-Man used his brains to outwit and defeat Faker in the latter story, you can just imagine what would happen if Webstor and Faker were to team up and use their combined brains and brawn to oppose He-Man – not only would the two of them easily be able to take command of the Evil Warriors, but they could prove more than a match for He-Man. And even in his own right, Webstor could easily bring about He-Man’s downfall, and prove a stronger leader for the Evil Warriors than Skeletor. And yet despite the great threat he potentially poses to He-Man, this story will unquestionably leave the reader wondering if Webstor may eventually be capable of seeing the error of his ways, using his abilities of logic and reasoning to realize that his skills would be put to better use serving the forces of good than evil. Somehow, if one villain were ever capable of acknowledging the error of his ways and having enough dignity to admit when he has been wrong, we can easily imagine it would be Webstor. Given the vast story potential for this character, it is particularly disappointing that following this story, Webstor was to vanish into the background of the comics once again, featuring only in small cameos from hereon without his abilities being brought to the forefront. His ability to escape any trap was briefly showcased again a few issues later, in Issue #25’s “The Hole Thing” by Pat Kelleher, but as far as stories giving Webstor a focal role went, Tom Sweetman’s two stories in Issues #21 and #22 were all we got.
While the character may have remained generally underused by the comics, nonetheless we can certainly commend Tom Sweetman for the incredible job he did at fleshing out this particular character, giving us the strongest portrayal of Webstor across any MOTU medium to this very date. As a story that foregrounds mental agility and gives us an unlikely but powerful and thought-provoking team-up between hero and villain, as well as one of the comics’ most intriguing and well-written villains ever in the character of Webstor, “Puzzles of Peril” is a true classic of the MOTU London Editions Comics and one of the finest contributions from writer Tom Sweetman.
Story 3: “Secret Files of Scrollos, part 3”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: Scrollos provides the readers with a series of profiles about the various Evil Warriors of Eternia. Features profiles of Skeletor – including information about his origins, his Dragon Blaster pet and his Battle Armour, Snake Mountain, Panthor, Evil-Lyn, Webstor, Stinkor, Two Bad, Kobra Khan, Beast Man, and the three vehicles the Land Shark, the Roton and the Spydor.
Review: Following the first two installments of the Secret Files of Scrollos series in Issues #18 and #20, which profiled the members of the Heroic Warriors, this third installment covers Skeletor’s Evil Warriors.
The first panel shows us Scrollos himself, seen from behind with his face remaining unseen. He is drawn with blonde hair here the same colour as that of He-Man himself, in contrast to later issues which would establish the character with brown hair.
Naturally, the first warrior profiled by this strip is Skeletor himself, detailing the fact he was once a student of Hordak, before double-crossing his mentor. As previous reviews have covered in depth, there is a fair amount of uncertain continuity in the comics regarding Skeletor and Hordak’s collective backstory, particularly when we take into account the She-Ra comic series, which verged on outright contradicting the MOTU comic’s version of Hordak’s backstory. This profile here sadly adds to the continuity problems in that it states how Skeletor “disappeared through a dimensional gate from Hordak’s world of Etheria”. This seems to openly contradict the backstory we were shown in flashback in Issue #6’s “Pact of Evil”, which showed how Skeletor teleported himself away from a lifeless moon on which he and Hordak were stationed while mounting an attack on a nearby planet. We can assume that the unnamed planet they were attempting to conquer in the latter story may have been Etheria, and can just about reconcile the continuity, but it is clear that the overall backstory between Hordak and Skeletor in the comics is rather muddy.
The next panel shows Skeletor in front of the Mystical Wall that separated the good and evil areas of Eternia, the narration panel explaining how he spent several years refining his magical skills with the aim of finally breaking through the Mystical Wall to conquer the good regions of Eternia. The idea of the Mystical Wall (most commonly referred to as the 'Mystic Wall') came from the Series Bible for Filmation’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series, written by Michael Halperin, and was used in certain early MOTU media although it was never referenced in the cartoon series itself. The cartoon series established that Eternia has a light side and a dark side (referred to as the Light and Dark Hemispheres in most post-millennium MOTU media) and while we have seen no clear indication of this in previous issues of the London Editions comics, this profile indicates something similar is the case in the comics’ continuity, at least by acknowledging the existence of "the good and evil areas of Eternia" which the wall separated. The story of how Skeletor broke through the Mystical Wall would be expanded on in later Secret Files of Scrollos in Issues #35 and #52.
Two panels on the following page showcase two of the variant Skeletor figures released by Mattel – Dragon Blaster Skeletor and Battle Armour Skeletor. The comics generally did not feature variant figures in its stories, alluding to He-Man’s ‘thunder punch’ power without him donning the attire of the Thunder Punch He-Man action figure, but the Secret Files allocates some space to two of the Skeletor variants, detailing Skeletor’s pet dragon from the Dragon Blaster Skeletor figure, and his Battle Armour. In his Issue #15 story “Taming the Dragons”, writer James Hill intended the desert dragon captured by Skeletor in that story and placed under his power to be the dragon from the Dragon Blaster Skeletor figure, though it was not made explicitly clear and this profile makes no reference to that story.
Next, Snake Mountain itself is profiled, the narration panel telling us that “Skeletor has built a base on Eternia in the weird-looking Snake Mountain”. The comic links the toy version of Snake Mountain as seen in the comics to the version of Snake Mountain seen in the Filmation cartoon series - which looks radically different from the toy - by explaining that the toy version is the second shape Skeletor has given his headquarters after deciding the original design did not offer him enough protection, needing to modify the mountain after he found himself fighting the forces of Hordak as well as He-Man and the Heroic Warriors. While we have only seen the toy version of Snake Mountain in the comics before (taking into account two rather different designs for the mountain drawn by Amador Garcia in certain stories, which are more simple but resemble the toy version in basic essence), continuity is not violated, for Snake Mountain was seen only from the interior in Issue #1, when Hordak made his first appearance on Eternia in the story “Skeletor’s Surprise”.
The narration panel promises further details on Snake Mountain’s history in future Secret Files, and it would deliver on this promise in Issue #52, which showed us Skeletor uncovering the original Snake Mountain from its encasing in rock – while this would slightly contradict the claim in this issue that Skeletor built Snake Mountain, since it was clearly on Eternia long before Skeletor himself (and presumably built and used by the Snake Men, who would make their comic debut in Issue #27), given that Skeletor is established to have made significant modifications to the mountain we can technically say that Skeletor ‘built’ it in its current form.
Next we are shown a character who we have so far seen very little of in the comics – Panthor, Skeletor’s feline steed and the evil counterpart to Battle Cat. The narration here tells us that Panthor has the ability to speak, which is different from most media, for even in the Filmation cartoon series Panthor was not capable of speech. Sure enough, we would later see Panthor speak in Issue #34’s “Battle of the Cats”, his only significant story role in any of the UK Comics. Interestingly, the background shows generic warriors instead of taking the opportunity to showcase the familiar heroes from the MOTU toy line.
Next up is Evil-Lyn, and we are given a glimpse of an intriguing origin for her, explaining that she was formerly a servant of Queen Marlena in the Royal Palace, who possessed “amazing magical powers and a total hatred for the queen”. After Skeletor broke though the Mystical Wall, this young woman used her magical powers to transform herself into Evil-Lyn and offered her services to Skeletor on the condition he would allow her to destroy the queen. This is an interesting backstory for the character of Evil-Lyn and definitely deserved a full Secret Files feature in its own right, detailing who exactly Evil-Lyn was before she transformed herself and what her reasons were for hating Queen Marlena so much, but sadly this brief summary here was all we would ever get of Evil-Lyn’s backstory. It is at least very interesting to see her previous form before she became the villainess we all know.
Next up is Webstor, who we have certainly seen given some very strong development in recent stories, with Tom Sweetman’s excellent portrayal of the character in Issue #21’s “The Perfect Trap” and this very issue’s “Puzzles of Peril”. He is described here as “an ugly-looking beast with a brilliant mind and tremendous strength” who is capable of using his hook and winch to crawl into spaces other warriors could not go, and being able to escape any trap he has “so far proved impossible to imprison”. The next panel shows a frustrated He-Man and Man-At-Arms stumbling into a jail cell from which Webstor has apparently escaped. Nothing is mentioned of Webstor's spider-like nature; indeed while the character was intended by Mattel to be a half-man-half-spider creature, his final design bore very little resemblance to a spider.
Next character showcased is Stinkor, who we are told “literally reeks of evil”, and is unable to stand even his own stench, hence why he wears a gas mask apparently of his own making. The next panel explains that Stinkor’s greatest weakness is the fresh smell given off by his arch-enemy Moss Man – “the Heroic Warrior that Stinkor hates the most”! While Stinkor and Moss Man were marketed as arch enemies by Mattel, other than this description here their rivalry was never really gone into in the London Editions comics, in which they rarely came into direct contact.
Next warrior showcased is Two Bad, described as “two people trapped inside one body” and it is emphasized that when the two heads work together, they are nearly as clever as Webstor, and Two Bad uses his scientific genius to create weapons for Skeletor. Two Bad is certainly a character who has been showcased heavily and very effectively in previous issues, often to great humorous effect, his scientific inventions having been the subject of many stories. The comparison here with Webstor’s intellect definitely makes sense in light of the scene the two shared in Issue #21’s “The Perfect Trap” in which Two Bad created a complex puzzle that only Webstor was able to solve. It would certainly have been nice to have seen more stories in the comic in which these two Evil Warriors worked together and combined their abilities. The following panel alludes to how Two Bad’s two heads rarely get along and frequently bicker at the wrong moment, but Skeletor fears Two Bad could use his twin brains to gain too much evil power, and therefore does not trust him. Indeed, Issue #19’s “Buzz-Wheel of Destruction” showed us that Two Bad does indeed aspire to eventually overthrow Skeletor, and it would certainly have been good to have seen this angle built on further.
Next up is a character we have seen very little of in the comics so far – Kobra Khan. The panel describes him as “one of the snake people” who “feels very much at home with his reptilian friends”. Indeed, while we have seen little of Khan in the comics so far (his only significant role having been in Issue #3’s “Jewel of Fire”) his role was about to be greatly built upon with the arrival in Issue #27 of the Snake Men, the third evil faction in the comics, led by King Hiss. While this panel alludes to him being from a race of ‘Snake People’ – presumably descendants of the historic Snake Men led by King Hiss – he would work together with the Snake Men in many later issues, apparently spying on them under the orders of his true master Skeletor, though really only serving his own evil purposes. The next panel states that Khan “believes that he is the best of the Evil Warriors and his pride often means that Skeletor has to take him down a peg or two”; this would be built upon greatly in subsequent issues as Khan was finally given his belated focal roles and development, becoming, like Webstor, one of the better-written Evil Warriors who came across as much more intelligent and cunning than most of his peers.
Naturally, this strip has concentrated on the more recent toy releases as opposed to the earlier characters, but next up is Beast Man, part of the first wave of MOTU toys and Skeletor’s quintessential right-hand man. The narration tells us that when Skeletor is away from Snake Mountain, he leaves Beast Man in charge, for Beast Man is “very devoted to Skeletor and his evil lord knows that he can depend on him to carry out his orders”. The illustration here is quite curious as it shows Beast Man seemingly about to order, or possibly attack, the characters of Webstor and Leech, and this would seem to be a small error on the artist’s part since Leech is a member of Hordak’s Evil Horde, not Skeletor’s Evil Warriors. The next panel covers Beast Man’s telepathic control over all evil animals on Eternia, all of who he can summon to his command.
The next few panels showcase the Evil Warriors’ vehicles – the Land Shark, the Roton and the Spydor, the latter described as “Perhaps Skeletor’s most terrible weapon”. The final panel shows Scrollos’ hand inputting a run stop command into his computer system, the narration telling us we must keep the information in the files secret – “If you have a friend who wants to know the secrets of Eternia tell them to correct MOTU” – a useful marketing tool!
Thus the Secret Files feature brings to a close a very effective and memorable issue of the comics that has showcased numerous underused characters of the MOTU mythos and given us some challenging story material.
The back page of this issue features this puzzle taken from one of the MOTU activity books published by World International. Editor Brian Clarke recalls that this was used as a last minute replacement for a lost advertisement intended for the back page.
© Aidan Cross, 2021.