UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: July 1986
The Forgotten Army, Part Two
The Planet of Plants
The Unwanted Gift
Cover by: José María Ortiz Tafalla
This issue’s cover depicts a scene from the story “The Planet of Plants”.
In this issue’s editorial, Scrollos finally confirms what has been hinted at in many previous issues of the comic – the impending introduction of She-Ra.
Story 1: “The Forgotten Army, Part Two”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: José María Ortiz Tafalla
Synopsis: Upon realizing they have been transported back in time to ancient Eternia, Skeletor and the Evil Warriors plot to venture to the location where Castle Grayskull will eventually be built, and destroy the Elders when they arrive to build the fortress so they can change the course of history in their favour. Meanwhile, He-Man, Moss Man and Sy-Klone are working out how to set about returning to their own time period, and themselves choose to venture to the spot where Grayskull will eventually stand, to use the power of good concentrated there to their advantage. Once they reach the location, they are attacked by Skeletor and his warriors, but the heroes find their strength bolstered by the power of good, and quickly gain the upper hand. Skeletor orders his warriors to retreat, heading to the location of Snake Mountain, where their own abilities will be boosted by the power of evil. Shortly afterwards, the Elders of Eternia begin to set about the construction of Castle Grayskull, using the Gem-Stone of Power. At that moment, they are attacked by Skeletor and the Evil Warriors, and Skeletor uses his evil magic to teleport the Elders to the location of what will one day be Snake Mountain. He then sends Spikor to find He-Man and tell him that he will destroy the Elders unless He-Man comes to Snake Mountain, where Skeletor will have the power to defeat him. He-Man and his comrades reluctantly follow Spikor to Skeletor’s camp, but Skeletor refuses to keep his part of the bargain and uses the magic of his Havoc Staff to create an explosion to destroy the Elders. The spell works, but the explosion apparently causes the Elders to disappear completely, and Skeletor assumes he is more powerful in this location than even he thought. Angered at what Skeletor has done to the Elders, He-Man leads his comrades into battle against Skeletor and his minions, vowing to give Skeletor the greatest fight of his life. But Skeletor knows that in this location he is more powerful than He-Man and will be able to defeat him, and enters willingly into battle, swearing this will be He-Man’s last fight.
Review: This story picks up where the final story in Issue #8 left off, and breaks new ground for the comic by being the first story to feature the Elders of Eternia in its narrative. The Elders were introduced to the reader way back in Issue #1’s first strip “The Legend of Grayskull”, and we have heard lots about their legacy in previous issues, but here the comic finally begins delving deeper into Eternia’s past and the earliest origins of the MOTU saga by exploring the Elders in detail and introducing them to us in the flesh.
Skeletor leads his Evil Warriors to the location where Grayskull will eventually be built, with some amusing dialogue here from Two Bad’s heads as they both try to suck up to their master. The powers of good are heavily concentrated in the location where Grayskull will stand, and likewise the powers of evil are strongest in the area of Snake Mountain, thus enhancing the power of the relevant warriors when they enter the locale. Knowing that he will be able to beat He-Man at the location of Snake Mountain, Skeletor intends to lure He-Man there, using the Elders as bait.
Finally, in a single, dramatic panel, we are shown the Elders, appearing just as they did in the single panel of Issue #1 that depicted them. They are introduced here at the very moment that they gather to construct the fortress needed to defend Eternia from the impending evil threat. The story would be slightly retconned in later issues after the Snake Men had been introduced and were established to have ruled ancient Eternia, and it was implied the Elders had constructed Grayskull with the purpose of freeing Eternia from the Snake Men. At this early stage of the comics, the Snake Men had yet to be introduced to the toy line, but fortunately very few specifics are established about the exact nature of Eternian culture at this point in history, so there was no outright contradiction of continuity in the later issues. (It also appears in this story that Snake Mountain does not yet exist, although if as later issues imply, the Snake Men exist on Eternia at this point, then surely their old base of Snake Mountain should as well – but again, the story text alludes to “what will, one day, be Snake Mountain”, and since later issues established that Snake Mountain was heavily modified from its original appearance, continuity is fortunately not altogether violated.) The Elders are revealed to possess the Gem-Stone of Power, the mystical artefact providing them with the power to build Grayskull, and the nature of the Gem-Stone would be greatly elaborated on in later comics, particularly in the Twins of Power special.
Skeletor attacks the Elders at the exact moment that they are ready to construct Grayskull, and takes them prisoner. The Elders are drawn with particularly striking appearances, each heavily distinct from one another, and you can envision each of them having a particularly interesting identity and backstory of their own. Only two of them were specifically named during the comics’ run – the leader Keclar (a reversal of Brian Clarke's surname, Clar Ke), and the rogue Elder Tyn-Mah (from a pub poet friend of Brian's named Martin), but in their own right they make a memorable team who could easily carry an entire story themselves.
Spikor lures He-Man and his comrades to the location where the Elders are being held, Skeletor having promised to release them if He-Man comes to face him in combat. But being Skeletor, he does not keep his part of the bargain, and casts a spell to destroy the Elders by causing an explosion. The spell seems to have been even more effective than he intended, since it apparently makes the Elders disappear altogether, leading Skeletor to assume he must be more powerful than even he thought – though of course, we will find out the true reason for the Elders’ disappearance in the next issue.
He-Man becomes uncharacteristically angry at the apparent destruction of the Elders, condemning Skeletor for having “destroyed everything that is important to me” and vowing to give him the greatest fight of his life. It is rare that we see He-Man become so angry, and we realize just how closely he identifies himself with the legacy of Castle Grayskull and its mission to protect Eternia; he is clearly emotionally bound to his role as the castle’s defender. Thus we get a very dramatic conclusion to the second instalment of this 3-part saga, as the Heroic Warriors enter into a fight to the finish with Skeletor and the Evil Warriors – knowing full well that the odds are against them in this particular location. With the course of Eternia’s very history under threat – and Polk set to attack Eternia in the future – the threat to Eternia is seriously transcending the barriers of time, and thus rounds off this excellent second installation of the 3-part saga to a gripping cliffhanger that leaves us eager to see what happens next.
This issue’s Master Mail page.
Story 2: “The Planet of Plants”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: Battle Cat is strolling through the Eternian woods, travelling to the Pool of Shadows, a place he regularly visits after a workout to take a long drink of water and a short snooze. He is unaware that he is being watched from a distance by Hordak and Mantenna. As Battle Cat approaches the pool, Hordak pours a poisonous fluid into its waters. Unknowingly, Battle Cat drinks from the pool, and quickly falls victim to the poison’s effects. He staggers back to the Royal Palace, feeling seriously ill, and is examined by one of the best doctors on Eternia. The doctor says that only a rare type of plant can heal the effects of the poison, and that plant is only found on the planet Teekay. At that moment, a Royal guard bursts in and tells the Heroic Warriors that Mantenna has delivered a note from Hordak, offering a cure for Battle Cat’s illness in return for the keys to Castle Grayskull. He-Man knows that no matter what the circumstances, they can not give the keys of Grayskull to Hordak, so he leads Moss Man and Buzz-Off to the space portals of Grayskull to travel to Teekay. The three heroes arrive on Teekay, a world populated entirely by plants. Suddenly, they are attacked by the plants, which quickly prove too strong for them, and even Moss Man’s power over plants is weakened on this world. One of the plants makes telepathic contact with He-Man, assuring him they are in no danger, and the plants carry him and his friends to a giant tree that rules over the plant world. The ruler explains that the plants of Teekay have a history of being harmed by animals, and this is why they attacked He-Man and his comrades to prevent them trying to hurt them. The ruler explains that many years ago, Teekay was ruled by a human civilization, but war broke out among the humans and resulted in the destruction of all human and animal life on Teekay. Only the plants survived, and over the centuries they evolved to become more intelligent, swearing that animals would never again rule their world. Although He-Man explains that he and his friends mean no harm and merely want to use one of the plants to cure Battle Cat’s illness, the ruler refuses to help them, explaining that to give them the plants they need would be murder and they must therefore be imprisoned. A deep pit opens in the ground beneath the three heroes, and a sticky gum sucks them in. As the heroes ponder over how to escape, a plant reaches its tentacle into their prison and tells them it has come to help them, inviting them to follow its tentacle to the surface. Back on the surface, the plant explains that it would have been impossible to take the amount of fluid the heroes require from a single plant without killing it, so instead each of the plants has made a small donation of their juice to collectively provide the necessary amount. Just then, Matmos Mount, Teekay’s largest volcano, suddenly erupts, starting a fire that looks certain to destroy all the plants. He-Man, Buzz-Off and Moss Man ascend to the volcano, and He-Man and Buzz-Off work together to pour the water from a mountain top lake onto the flames, extinguishing the fire. With the plants saved, the heroes prepare to return to Eternia, but they are stopped by the tree ruler of Teekay, who thanks them for saving the plants’ lives and showing them that not all animals are cruel or dangerous. He allows them to leave Teekay in peace, and the heroes travel through the portal back to Eternia. They return to the palace just in time to save Battle Cat with the juice from the plants, and Battle Cat gradually recovers, vowing to settle the score with Hordak when he next sees him.
Review: Throughout the London Editions comics so far, the action has remained confined solely to Eternia. This story gives us our first off-world adventure as He-Man visits the alien world of Teekay, the ‘planet of plants’ of the title – and with the very life of his faithful comrade Battle Cat hanging in the balance, this story is certainly high on drama and suspense. But what stands out the most about this story is the vast and colourful planet of Teekay, a strange world populated entirely by intelligent plants. This surreal alien world is one of the most memorable additions yet by the London Editions comics to the MOTU mythos, and indeed this story was not to be our last visit to Teekay, for it would go on to play a major role in one of the most important stories of the UK comics’ canon in the later Adventure Magazine Issue #8.
The concept of Teekay (which takes its name from the initials of future MOTU UK Comics writer Tom Sweetman - middle initial 'K.') is very much the stuff that classic cult sci-fi and horror movies are made of – a world of intelligent plants that pose a deadly threat to humans, but themselves are not evil, merely cautious of the corrupt and greedy ways of humankind, raising ethical questions about the need for harmony between humankind and nature. Brian Clarke’s love of classic b-movies and cult sci-fi really shows through in this story.
It makes a refreshing change to have Battle Cat in the spotlight in this story, with the heroes out to save his life. Battle Cat has been put only to fairly minimal use in the comics so far, which is perhaps unfortunate as his characterization is actually very strong, full of feistiness and deadpan wisecracks in line with his portrayal in the Filmation cartoon series. Although he only appears at the beginning and end of the story, his scenes bookending the adventure, his presence is strongly felt. This is also Hordak’s most subtle and crafty scheme yet – so far stories with Hordak as the villain generally revolve around some new technological creation of his that he is using against He-Man. Having Hordak poisoning the forest waters unseen and operating from behind the scenes is a significant change of style for him, and enhances his development as the ‘new’ villain on Eternia.
Buzz-Off, and particularly Moss Man, are the most natural choices of comrade for He-Man to take with him on an expedition to a world populated by plants, and as soon as they arrive on Teekay we see the heavy contrast to Eternia – the vibrant colours and surreal, often intimidating designs of the plants really give the look of an alien world. The plants’ faces, with their drooping mouths, give them a convincingly sinister appearance, and they make for a highly believable threat, for they seem quite capable of easily overpowering the Eternians. But they are anything but evil in nature; rather they are peaceful organisms who resent humans and animals for the violence and destruction they cause, making them naturally suspicious of the Eternians.
The plants communicate with the Eternians by telepathy, and we get some nice deadpan humour in the panel where the plants’ ruler picks up Buzz-Off’s thoughts. The ruler non-hesitantly refuses He-Man’s request for help and instead imprisons the heroes, raising the ethical concern of the way that humans generally treat plants as inanimate objects rather than living organisms. Despite the dilemma that the heroes find themselves in, they refuse to treat the plants as enemies, abiding by their oath to never harm any intelligent creature.
Fortunately, the plants are of an equally understanding nature, and collectively provide a donation of their juice so that the heroes have the supply they need to save Battle Cat. At that point, they get their chance to repay their debt to the plants by saving them, when Matmos Mount erupts. After they save the plants, in their rush to leave Teekay they appear to come under attack from the ruler once again – but as it turns out, he is merely offering them his peace, having learned from them that not all animals are cruel or dangerous.
The closing panels, with the heroes feeding the serum to the unarmoured Battle Cat, who returns to normal, end the story on a high and showcase the loving bond between He-Man and Battle Cat, seen prominently in the Filmation cartoon but only sporadically in the UK Comics.
All in all, “The Planet of Plants” is the highlight of this issue and ranks among the comic’s best stories so far – the heroes’ first off-world adventure into a surreal and colourful world with all the hallmarks of classic cult sci-fi.
Story 3: “The Unwanted Gift”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Amador Garcia
Synopsis: In the Royal Palace of Eternos, Queen Marlena is being honoured with a gift from an old woman who claims to be from the Forest of Rocks. The woman thanks Marlena for her gifts of food that saved her people from starvation the previous year, and gives her a box containing a gift of thanks. Prince Adam is confused, for he has no recollection of a famine in the Forest of Rocks – but at that moment he notices the old woman is wearing the ring of Skeletor, and urges his mother not to open the box. But it is too late – the queen has already opened the box, and a mystic crystal within turns the queen to stone as she looks upon it. The old woman reverts to her true form of Skeletor, who demands that the Royal Family turn the throne of Eternia over to him, otherwise the queen will be doomed. After Skeletor teleports away, the court physicians examine Marlena and explain that the only way to reverse the spell is to obtain a serum from the underwater city of Merlantis. Prince Adam transforms into He-Man, and he and Man-At-Arms travel to Merlantis. After battling their way through a strange ghostly mist, they reach the coast and wade into the Eternian Ocean, swimming to the watery realm of Merlantis. When they reach the huge domed underwater city, they are surprised to find it completely quiet and apparently deserted. As they walk through its streets, the ground suddenly opens up beneath them, and they fall into a trap set by Mer-Man, who reveals that he has used his power over sea creatures to enslave the people of Merlantis, who have cooperated with him in setting the trap. The walls of the trap begin to close in on the two heroes, and Mer-Man watches with pleasure as the ground closes up before him to crush He-Man and Man-At-Arms. But as the walls automatically reopen, Mer-Man is shocked to see the pit is empty. He ventures to the bottom to find how the heroes could have escaped, and He-Man and Man-At-Arms emerge from a trench in the soil that He-Man has dug with his sword, enabling their escape. He-Man demands that Mer-Man free the Merlanteans, but at that moment Skeletor arrives on the scene, and the walls of the trap begin to close again, threatening to destroy the two heroes as well as Mer-Man. With no time to dig another trench, the heroes seem doomed, but at that moment, the Merlanteans regain their own free will and rebel against Skeletor. Several of the Merlanteans engage Skeletor in combat while some of the others free He-Man and Man-At-Arms. Realizing that he is outnumbered and stands no chance of victory, Skeletor retreats, using his Havoc Staff to topple a nearby building, which falls towards a Merlantean family as he and Mer-Man escape. He-Man and Man-At-Arms save the Merlanteans, who reward them by providing the serum they need to save Queen Marlena. He-Man and Man-At-Arms return to the surface and journey back to Eternos, where Man-At-Arms pours the serum through the stone cold lips of the queen. As it spreads throughout her stone body, she returns to normal, and King Randor thanks He-Man and Man-At-Arms for saving the queen and Eternia.
Review: It was very rare that the London Editions comics ever took any direct influence from the Filmation cartoon series, yet fans of the show will immediately notice the strong resemblance of this story to two particular season 1 episodes of the series – “The Dragon’s Gift” and “City Beneath the Sea” (interestingly both written by Larry DiTillio). The opening scene, in which Queen Marlena is turned to stone by a mystic crystal given her by a disguised Skeletor, strongly resembles the opening scene of “The Dragon’s Gift” in which Man-At-Arms is turned to crystal by a gift that a disguised Skeletor is attempting to give the King and Queen. Likewise, the subsequent plot of the heroes venturing to the domed underwater city of Merlantis, which has been enslaved by Mer-Man, strongly parallels the plot of “City Beneath the Sea” which saw He-Man and Man-At-Arms stumble upon the domed undersea city of Aquatica, the denizens of whom were likewise enslaved by Mer-Man.
One could easily be forgiven here for assuming that Brian Clarke was paying homage to the Filmation series with this story. However, “The Unwanted Gift”’s resemblance to these two Filmation episodes is purely coincidental – Brian Clarke was not familiar with either of these episodes. (I spoke to him recently about this story and Brian said he was totally unaware of both these Filmation episodes.) These two parallel themes – the deadly gift presented by a disguised stranger, and the undersea domed kingdom – are common staples of fantasy fiction; Brian Clarke having obtained the former from Snow White and the latter from 1960s sci-fi comics. So the two themes from separate Filmation episodes are here melded together purely by pleasant coincidence.
Readers will also notice that the basic plot of this story is also very much like the preceding story “The Planet of Plants” with He-Man having to venture to a remote and dangerous location to obtain a life-or-death cure for another of the main cast. It was not often that the UK Comics would feature two stories with such similar themes in a single issue – and in this case it was done due to the artwork for the intended third story for this issue having been delayed, so “The Unwanted Gift” – itself having been originally intended for Issue #8 – was used instead as a back-up story, from Brian Clarke's supply of emergency inventory stories for use in such situations.
The similarity with the previous story can easily be forgiven, as “The Unwanted Gift” is a great story with some suspenseful action scenes, that expands the London Editions comics’ depiction of Eternia by introducing us to the Merlanteans and their undersea kingdom. The scene of He-Man and Man-At-Arms stumbling into a trap set by Mer-Man, only for them to use their own quick-thinking abilities to enable them to escape, is a great sequence, and we get a striking panel showing He-Man gripping Mer-Man by the throat as he demands that Mer-Man release the Merlanteans from his spell. Once again, the LE comics subtly push the boundaries against Mattel’s rules of no violence.
The following action sequence sees the heroes save their own enemy by rescuing Mer-Man himself from the trap, and a narrow escape for Skeletor as he uses his staff to topple a nearby structure, threatening the Merlanteans.
The story goes on to reach its natural resolution as the serum is fed to Queen Marlena, who returns to normal. The final panels see a shared joke between He-Man and Man-At-Arms as they account for Prince Adam’s absence this whole time, and He-Man promises to ‘find’ where the Prince is.
All in all, despite its similarity in basic premise to the previous story, “The Unwanted Gift” is a very entertaining and gripping story, introducing us to another fascinating region of Eternia in the city of Merlantis, as well as showcasing the bond between the Royal Family of Eternos. The emotive end to the story brings a great issue to an effective close.
This issue’s “Brains, Not Brawn” feature.
© Aidan Cross, 2018.