UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: July 1986
Riddle of the Sanns
He-Man the Powerless
The Forgotten Army, Part One
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This issue’s cover depicts a scene from the story “He-Man the Powerless”.
This issue’s editorial marks the comics’ first multi-part story, which begins in this edition. Scrollos also provides further hints of the upcoming She-Ra comic. This issue’s Strange Universe section is also notable for being perhaps the only instance where the facts listed actually relate to one of the stories in the issue – three of the facts are about eclipses, and this issue’s second story “He-Man the Powerless” is built around that very subject!
Story 1: “Riddle of the Sanns”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Summary: Inside Snake Mountain, Skeletor is hard at work on a diabolical spell to summon the evil demon Kallu, the Lost Magician of the Sanns. The Sanns were a demonic race that terrorized Eternia in ancient times but were banished by the Elders to another dimension. Skeletor seeks to summon Kallu from the Netherworld into which his race was banished, and command him. The spell is completed, and Kallu materializes in Snake Mountain. But he immediately proves more powerful than Skeletor and refuses to do his bidding, instead casting his own spell to place a force field around Eternia, preventing anyone from leaving the planet, which Kallu intends to destroy by himself. Evil-Lyn protests, pointing out that the Evil Warriors have helped Kallu by releasing him from the Netherworld, so they should be entitled to leave Eternia before it is destroyed. Kallu says he will allow them a chance to escape if they answer a specific riddle for him. If they provide him with the answer to the riddle before nightfall, he will teleport them away from Eternia before he destroys it. The Evil Warriors are clueless as to the answer to Kallu’s riddle, but believing He-Man will know the answer, Skeletor, Evil-Lyn and Jitsu travel to Castle Grayskull, which is being guarded by He-Man and Man-At-Arms. They explain to the heroes what has happened, but Skeletor lies and tells them that the answer to the riddle will save all Eternia, rather than just the Evil Warriors. The heroes tell them that before they give them the answer to the riddle, they must verify their story is true, and they ask the villains to wait while they investigate the story in the Grayskull library. Inside Grayskull, He-Man and Man-At-Arms use one of the space portals to verify Skeletor’s story about the force field around Eternia. They throw a small tankard into the portal, and it immediately explodes upon entering it, indicating Skeletor was telling the truth. They proceed to go to the Grayskull library to read up on the legend of Kallu. He-Man and Man-At-Arms return to the Evil Warriors outside Grayskull, saying they have verified the story and agree to help them. Skeletor speaks Kallu’s riddle, and the heroes give him the apparent answer. By nightfall, Skeletor and his accomplices have returned to Snake Mountain, where Kallu soon materializes in Skeletor’s chamber. But when Skeletor gives Kallu the answer provided by He-Man, Kallu reveals he has tricked them – he himself was unaware of the answer to the riddle, and sought it because it is the one thing that will allow the Sanns to attack Castle Grayskull. Kallu teleports himself and the three Evil Warriors to Grayskull, where he speaks the answer to the riddle to bring about the castle’s destruction. But nothing happens, and He-Man and Man-At-Arms emerge from the castle, telling Kallu he has been given the wrong answer, before He-Man uses his sword to banish Kallu back to the Netherworld. He and Man-At-Arms then explain to Skeletor that upon researching the legend of Kallu in the library, they found out the truth behind his intentions, that he really sought the answer to the riddle so he could attack Grayskull and bring his race back to Eternia to conquer the planet. So they told Skeletor the wrong answer to prevent this happening, and refuse to give him the correct answer, with which only a true warrior can be trusted. (Scrollos’ narration here encourages the reader to work out the correct answer.)
Review: This story provides us with some fascinating insight into Eternia’s history, brilliantly expanding the UK Comics’ depiction of the MOTU mythos in the process. Centring around the character of Kallu, the Lost Magician of the Sanns, a demonic creature even more powerful than Skeletor himself, it gives us a real feeling for just how vast and fascinating Eternia’s history is, and how Skeletor and Hordak are just two of many great evils that have threatened the planet since the beginning of time.
The opening scene, with Skeletor conducting a magic ritual in his chamber to summon a powerful demon from another dimension, has obvious touches of H. P. Lovecraft about it, with its Satanic undertones, and indeed Kallu is almost Satanic in appearance, with his fiery breath and devilish horns. (The title actually comes from Erskine Childers' 1903 novel "The Riddle of the Sands", filmed in 1979, although the plot has no connection.) This scene brings to mind the Filmation episode “To Save Skeletor”, a particularly dark episode of the cartoon series that pushed the regular boundaries of the show by incorporating Lovecraftian elements, showing the villains conducting a similar ritual to summon a demon, which turned out to be too powerful for them to control. Although there were only a few times the cartoon series touched such ground, the plot of Skeletor summoning demons from other realms would recur on several other occasions during the run of the London Editions comics, as the writers paid homage to the grand masters of horror fiction.
As in the aforementioned Filmation episode, the demon turns out to be far too powerful for Skeletor to control, and we are faced for the first time with an evil entity more powerful than Skeletor himself. The backstory behind Kallu and his race, the Sanns, is also particularly intriguing. Although we are not given that much detail, only that the Sanns terrorized Eternia in ancient times before being banished by the Elders, it is clear this ancient race has a rich and complex history, and it makes the reader all the more intrigued to learn about the history of Eternia and the countless threats the Elders faced. Skeletor’s naivety and vanity is brought to the forefront in this story – over-confident and arrogant as ever, he non-hesitantly believes he will control Kallu without effort, whereas Evil-Lyn is more cautious, fearing Kallu may be too powerful for them. This would be a recurring situation in subsequent stories of a similar nature, as Evil-Lyn was shown to display much more caution and foresight when Skeletor was at his most maniacal. It is also Evil-Lyn who here takes the initiative to point out to Kallu that the Evil Warriors have helped him by unleashing him from the Netherworld, so they should therefore be entitled to leave Eternia before he destroys it.
As we switch to a scene of He-Man and Man-At-Arms atop the battlements of Grayskull as they guard the castle in The Sorceress’ absence, the story incorporates a feature from the Castle Grayskull playset, as Man-At-Arms is seen repairing the lasers atop the castle. When Skeletor arrives on the scene, the mention of Kallu’s name immediately shocks the two heroes as they both simultaneously exclaim “The Lost Magician!”, indicating the Sanns are a particularly dark part of Eternian history.
He-Man and Man-At-Arms make an effective heroic team in this particular story through their capacity for intellectual depth and methodical investigation. The two heroes do not engage in any combat in this story, instead using methodical research and experiments and mental logic to save the day. This has by now been established as a distinct trait that sets the UK comics apart from other MOTU media, by depicting He-Man and Man-At-Arms as thinking persons’ superheroes, and this story is one of the strongest examples of this. By experimenting to test whether Skeletor is telling the truth about the force field around Eternia, and then researching the legend of the Sanns in the Grayskull library, they formulate the plan necessary to save Eternia from Kallu’s evil.
Skeletor is at his most naïve in this story, believing he has tricked the heroes into giving him the answer that will seal their own destruction, and we get a good illustration showing Evil-Lyn mischievously sniggering to Jitsu about their deception. (It is worth noting here that the character of Jitsu appears throughout this story as part of the trio of villains, yet he does not actually do anything significant nor speak a single line of dialogue. He has been seen in the background of several stories so far during the comics’ run, but has not spoken any dialogue nor even been referred to by name. Jitsu was a very little-used character across all MOTU media in the 80s mainly due to fears he would be perceived as a racial stereotype, and the UK comics were no exception – although he would eventually be given some dialogue, he never played a focal role in a story nor received any development.)
The riddle given by Kallu is “What has a shape but no sides, heat but no flame, is there all the time but only seen half”, to which the heroes give the villains a false answer, claiming the answer is a phantom animal called the Night Walker. This is the answer Skeletor gives Kallu, only to find he has been tricked, for Kallu has no intention of allowing the three villains to escape Eternia before he destroys it – in fact, he and his race have sought the answer to this riddle throughout the centuries as it is the only thing that will enable them to attack Castle Grayskull. Skeletor has been portrayed throughout the comics so far as a very convincingly dark and maniacal villain, deranged beyond all common logic and hell-bent on destruction. In this story, however, he is written in a more comedic fashion, and it seems his own incompetence and naivety are brought entirely to the forefront in the presence of a far more powerful villain such as Kallu. He has been helpless from the moment he unleashed Kallu on Eternia and found himself unable to control him, and commanded to do Kallu’s bidding rather than vice versa. Now, as he sees Kallu about to bring about Eternia’s destruction – and the demise of Skeletor and his evil crew themselves – Skeletor for the first time in the comics’ run blames himself, declaring meekly “And it’s all my fault…!” Given that he has non-hesitantly blamed his henchmen for the slightest of mistakes in previous stories, even when they are blatantly his own fault, it says quite a lot for Kallu’s sheer power and menace that he is actually able to bring Skeletor to the level of admitting his own incompetence.
As it turns out, the heroes have intentionally given the wrong answer, and Kallu’s attempt to attack Grayskull has no effect – and we see that although Kallu may be far more powerful than Skeletor, he is still no match for the power of Grayskull, for He-Man is able to send him back to the Netherworld with one simple blast from his sword. We are then treated to one of the UK comics’ trademark twist endings as He-Man and Man-At-Arms reveal they used their research in the Grayskull library to find out Kallu’s true reason for wanting the answer to this riddle, and were thus able to foil his scheme by intentionally giving Skeletor the wrong answer to pass to Kallu. Scrollos then stirs some major reader participation by inviting the readers to guess the true answer to Kallu’s riddle, and thus prove themselves a ‘true warrior’. It is a question that invites the reader’s knowledge of science as well as common logic to deduce that the one thing that has ‘a shape but no sides, heat but no flame, is there all the time but only seen half’ is the sun. Whether the reader has been able to guess the answer or not, this story has definitely served its purpose for the educational side of the comics.
Overall, “Riddle of the Sanns” is a brilliant story that covers new ground for the comics – we get a foray into darker, Lovecraftian territory with the excellent guest villain Kallu, one of the most demonic and conniving villains to be seen in the comics yet. This story also gives us possibly the best example yet of the heroes using their brains over brawn to save the day, Skeletor rendered truly helpless for the first time in the shadow of a far more powerful evildoer, and some great reader participation as they are invited themselves to solve the riddle of the title. A great opening story that showcases many of the London Editions comics’ distinctive traits at their very best.
This issue’s Master Mail page. I can’t help but think Scrollos is deliberately attempting a subtle risqué joke with his answer to the first letter, in which he confuses the initials of the reader, ‘D. Vick’, by addressing them as ‘V.’… since if the initials are swapped round, the reader’s surname will be something rather dirty-sounding! The writer of the second letter had clearly not seen the movie The Secret of the Sword yet, under the impression that Hordak was not Skeletor’s ex-tutor in the Filmation cartoon… meanwhile, the answer to the third letter contains another hint at the impending She-Ra comic.
Story 2: “He-Man the Powerless”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Summary: Eternia is in the midst of a rare and wondrous astronomical occurrence – the Twin Moons, the sun, and Eternia itself are all brought into line, causing a total eclipse of the sun. Prince Adam and Man-At-Arms are watching the eclipse through their Tele-Scope. According to legend, whenever such an eclipse occurs, Eternia is affected in an unusual manner – but there is never any way of knowing what the effects will be. Realizing the forces of evil will take advantage of whatever happens, Adam transforms into He-Man and he and Man-At-Arms head for Snake Mountain to monitor Skeletor’s activities. Meanwhile, in Snake Mountain, Skeletor is already feeling the effects of the eclipse, as it is increasing his dark power by the minute. He intends to use his enhanced power to destroy He-Man upon their next encounter. As He-Man and Man-At-Arms travel through the Mountains of Mourne, they are attacked by a tribe of Mountain Elves, a usually peaceful race who have been turned savage by the eclipse. A battle ensues, and He-Man uses his sword to cause a rock avalanche to slow them down, but as he does so he finds his sword blast feels weaker than normal, as if his power is fading. Back at Snake Mountain, Skeletor’s evil power has increased even more and he uses his magic to summon the Demon of Desos, one of the most powerful creatures of the Netherworld. The demon manifests just as He-Man and Man-At-Arms arrive on the scene, and He-Man attempts to counter the demon with a blast from his sword, but nothing happens and both he and Man-At-Arms feel physically weak. As the eclipse saps their power, the Demon of Desos and the Evil Warriors have their way with the two heroes, helpless against their evil might. The Evil Warriors are close to finishing the heroes off, when the Twin Moons gradually begin to move out of alignment with the sun, and a small amount of sunlight beams through. As it does so, He-Man finds his strength returning, and attacks the Demon of Desos, felling it in one blow. He then frees Man-At-Arms from the Evil Warriors, and the demon starts to fade away as the effects of the eclipse pass. Skeletor realizes that his own greed has foiled his scheme, for he had wanted to see He-Man destroyed slowly and painfully, and has therefore missed his chance to defeat him once and for all by waiting before finishing him off. He teleports himself and his warriors back to Snake Mountain, but reminds the heroes first that the odds are on his side – for he only needs to win one battle in order to defeat them once and for all.
Review: The idea of an eclipse weakening He-Man’s powers to the extent that Skeletor may actually be able to defeat him is a very intriguing story premise, and it is executed here to great effect. Eclipses are a fascinating event to witness in real life, and have spawned many legends and superstitions about the kind of effects they may have. On a fantastic and mythical world such as Eternia, it only makes sense that an eclipse would affect the planet in bizarre and supernatural ways, and this story shows the situation tipping the scales in the villains’ favour as Skeletor’s power is increased while He-Man is rendered powerless.
As Eternia has two moons, the rare occurrence of both moons and Eternia itself aligning perfectly with the sun, causing a total eclipse, is a particularly wondrous feat of nature to observe, and Man-At-Arms states at the beginning that eclipses always affect Eternia in an unusual manner – but the effects are different every time, meaning the Heroic Warriors never have any way of knowing what they should prepare for. This is a great idea with lots of story potential. Skeletor is feeling the effects of the eclipse before the heroes do, and demonstrates his increased power to his warriors by using them to smash apart a marble statue of He-Man, intending to do the same to the real He-Man.
As yet unaware of Skeletor’s increased power, He-Man and Man-At-Arms are passing through the Mountains of Mourne – a rare example of an Eternian location named after a real-life Earth location, the Mourne Mountains being located in County Down in Northern Ireland. We get a good action sequence as the heroes are attacked by the Mountain Elves, a peaceful race who have been turned evil by the eclipse, and as He-Man fires a blast from his sword to slow them down with a rockfall, he feels his power starting to fade. He-Man’s ability to shoot blasts of power from his sword was not a common feature in most MOTU canons and he was only shown to do this in a small handful of episodes of the Filmation cartoon, however in the London Editions comics it was to be an ability he would use regularly, with the sword frequently serving as a projectile-firing weapon.
As the scene switches to Snake Mountain, we see the mountain is drawn with its regular appearance once again – the appearance of the toy playset – as opposed to the rather unusual castle-like appearance it was given in Issue #7’s “Double Split”. Whiplash incurs Skeletor’s wrath by stating the obvious – “An all out attack on Eternos should win the day for us” to which Skeletor responds “Do you think I haven’t thought of that, Whiplash?” The panel of the Evil Warriors all looking very disapprovingly at Whiplash after he says this is hilarious, as he really hasn’t done anything particularly wrong – and given that Skeletor does not actually execute such an attack, I think Whiplash actually deserves a little more credit here!
The panel showing Skeletor outside Snake Mountain, looking to the stars as he pulsates with energy, ready to call forth the Demon of Desos, is a very striking one. When the Demon of Desos (not to be confused with the Demon of Demos from Issue #4’s “The Carpet of Chaos”) appears, readers will immediately notice that it looks very similar to Kallu from “Riddle of the Sanns”, the first story in this issue. Indeed the demon has been summoned from the ‘Netherworld’ – possibly the same one in which Kallu dwells. A reader on a Master Mail page in one of the following issues soon pointed out the resemblance between the two demons, though Scrollos said they were not related.
He-Man and Man-At-Arms, in total contrast to the usual situation, are completely helpless against the demon, and Man-At-Arms finds himself trapped in Evil-Lyn’s magical energy rings while He-Man is close to getting crushed by the demon. Fortunately, the eclipse starts to pass as the moons move out of alignment with the sun, and we get a good dramatic moment as He-Man regains his strength and punches the demon hard, felling it in one blow. Skeletor and Evil-Lyn are given very amusing expressions in this panel, both appearing to panic with desperation as they realize He-Man has recovered his strength.
Skeletor is slow to realize what has happened, but ultimately finds he has been defeated by his own greed – he had intended to inflict a slow and painful destruction upon his greatest enemy, but by choosing to wait before finishing He-Man once and for all, he has waited too long and thus missed his chance, for the eclipse has ended and its effects have faded away before he could have finished off He-Man. Although the heroes are safe, the atmosphere at the close of this story is not exactly one of celebration – for as with certain stories in previous issues, Skeletor has actually come very close to winning here, and it is only Skeletor’s own shortcomings and errors of judgement that have allowed He-Man to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. There will be more eclipses on Eternia and there will be more opportunities for Skeletor to defeat He-Man (and indeed, the strange effects of astronomical occurrences on Eternia was explored further, to far more surreal effect, in Issue #33’s brilliant “Hordak the Mystic”). So Skeletor’s parting statement, that the odds are on his side for “I need only to win once, you need to win every battle” rings very true, and reminds us just how great the risk to Eternia actually is and why the Heroic Warriors must be hyper-vigilant at all times.
Ultimately, “He-Man the Powerless” is a great story that shows He-Man in one of his most drastic situations yet, as the odds are tipped strongly by the forces of nature in the favour of evil.
Story 3: “The Forgotten Army, Part One”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Summary: Many centuries ago, Eternia was caught in a great war between two rival tribes. The two tribes finally clashed in a great battle on Amerios Island. In present times, an evil sorcerer named Polk uses his magical Time-Bomb to rip through the fabric of space and time, and snatches the entire two armies from their time period, transporting them to his own dimension, where he reveals his intention to use both armies to conquer the entire universe in his name. Meanwhile on Eternia, Skeletor is about to use a Book of Powers that Mer-Man has found in the ruins of Amerios Island to unlock the secrets of the cosmos. Evil-Lyn uses her magic to command the book to take the Evil Warriors to the source of its power. In the meantime, at Eternos City, He-Man and the Heroic Warriors have just managed to foil an attempt by Hordak and the Evil Horde to attack Eternos from underground with a drilling machine. As they battle the Horde, the heroes suddenly find themselves fading from sight, materializing on an alien landscape. They find Skeletor and his Evil Warriors there as well, and the sorcerer Polk appears before both armies and reveals he has transported them to his own dimension to serve his evil purposes. He intends to use his Power-Drainer machine, a mechanical pyramid hovering above them, to transfer the collective powers of both Heroic and Evil Warriors to his own army, the soldiers of Amerios Island. He sets his army on the Heroic and Evil Warriors, and a great battle ensues. Both Heroic and Evil armies feel their powers slowly fading, but Roboto, being a machine rather than a living organism, is not affected by the Power-Drainer and realizes he is the universe’s last hope. He climbs on board the Power-Drainer and uses his sensors to locate the main power room. He enters the power room but is attacked by a Were-Beast guarding the chamber. Fortunately, his super-hard metal body allows him to resist the creature’s bites, and it is exhausted by the mere attempt to attack him as he works to reverse the Power-Drainer. Outside the Power-Drainer, Polk finds that the Eternian warriors are managing to gain the upper hand over his own army even with their powers being weakened. So he uses his Time-Bomb to dispose of both armies. The Heroic and Evil Warriors both find themselves on what appears to be an alien world. Refusing to work with the heroes, Skeletor leads his Evil Warriors away, and as they set up camp on the mysterious planet, Evil-Lyn notices that the stars in the sky look identical to how they always look from Eternia. Skeletor realizes that Polk must have transported them to Eternia’s past, to a period before the Elders built Castle Grayskull. He decides to use this to his advantage, and work to stop the Elders from ever building Castle Grayskull, so that he may destroy the Heroic Warriors and rule the universe.
Review: With the UK Comic having found its feet very nicely by this stage and secured a loyal following of readers, Brian Clarke was free to venture into more adventurous territory and expand the comic’s horizons, and does so here with the comic’s first true multi-part story, spread over three issues. “The Forgotten Army” is a true epic that not only expands the comic’s horizon, but delves ever deeper into the MOTU mythology by exploring Eternia’s ancient past and allowing the reader to meet the Elders of Eternia themselves, the very founders of Castle Grayskull. (As a point of interest, the teaser in the previous issue stated “Eternia’s Queen of Stone” which matches not this story but “The Unwanted Gift” in Issue #9, indicating that story was originally intended to be story number 3 in this particular issue.)
We begin with a scene from Eternia’s rich and vast history, showing two mighty warrior tribes engaging in their final battle on Amerios Island. Out of nowhere, they are snatched from their time zone by a magic spell, and we are introduced to the lead villain for this three-part epic – the wizard Polk, a cruel tyrant who has been searching time and space for the ultimate army to do his bidding and enable him to conquer the entire universe.
The following scene, in Snake Mountain, is actually rather confusing given the wider context of the story. It seems that Mer-Man has found the Book of Powers in the ruins of Amerios Island and Skeletor intends to use the book to unlock the secrets of the cosmos. Evil-Lyn uses her magic to command the book to take the Evil Warriors to the source of its power, which is presumably how the warriors wind up in Polk’s dimension – yet it is clear by this point that it is Polk who has teleported the Evil Warriors to his dimension, rather than their own magic, and nothing more is made of the book, leaving the reader confused as to what exactly the book’s background, powers and purpose were supposed to be. It seems to be pure coincidence that Mer-Man happened to present the book to Skeletor at the exact moment that Polk used his magic to transport the Eternians to his dimension, and in hindsight seems like a rather odd narrative device to begin the Evil Warriors’ role in the story.
The Heroic Warriors’ first scene in this story shows them at the end of a battle, having just foiled a scheme by Hordak and the Evil Horde to tunnel under Eternos using a mechanical drill machine. It is the first time in the comics we have seen Hordak attempt to attack the Royal City, and it has been an unsuccessful attempt. The heroes are shocked to find themselves suddenly vanishing from sight just as the battle seems to be over, and emerge on an alien landscape where Polk reveals his reason for bringing them – and the Evil Warriors – there. Polk’s Power-Drainer machine is intended to suck the life force from both the Heroic and Evil Warriors of Eternia as they battle Polk’s own soldiers, though the Eternian warriors maintain the upper hand in the battle even after they have been weakened. Although this does beg the question of why Polk, if he was searching all of time and space to find a powerful army to command, did not just choose the present-day Eternian armies themselves, the likely answer is because he knew they would have refused to do his bidding, whereas the warriors of Amerios, confused at being extracted from their own time zone, have little choice but to willingly follow his orders.
Roboto is given a strong role in this story, being unaffected by the Power-Drainer due to being made of metal rather than flesh. This would be a recurring trait of Roboto during the comics’ run that really set him apart from the other Heroic Warriors; his fully machinic nature giving him many advantages over his comrades that allowed him to save the day on numerous occasions. The battle between Roboto and the Were-Beast is a nice touch with some deadpan humour, the beast becoming comically exhausted as its attempts to attack Roboto by biting and clawing at him fail hopelessly due to him being immune to physical pain.
Just when it seems the story may have a relatively easy resolution, Polk complicates matters for both heroes and villains by using his Time-Bomb to dispose of them both, realizing they will beat his army if he does not get rid of them. He banishes both armies to Eternia’s ancient past, to a time before Castle Grayskull was built, which Skeletor immediately chooses to take advantage of by plotting to change the course of history in his favour and prevent Grayskull from being built at all, thus rendering the heroes powerless. Thus part 1 of this story ends on multiple cliffhangers, with Polk about to attack the universe with his own army, Hordak free to attack present-day Eternos with his Drilling Machine, and Skeletor set to destroy the Elders in Eternia’s past. Thus we have a complex plot unfolding that excites us to read the continuation of this story in the next issue.
Although it does suffer from one or two narrative flaws, overall “The Forgotten Army, Part One” is an effective opening to the comic’s first multi-part epic that breaks new ground for the London Editions comics – and also a highly effective closer to what has been a very exciting issue.
This issue's "Brains, Not Brawn" feature.
© Aidan Cross, 2018.