The UK London Editions Comics
The Backstory and the Legacy
Classic cult sci-fi
The UK MOTU comics were notable for focusing more on the science fiction elements of the MOTU story, as opposed to the sword and sorcery prominent in the cartoon series and early minicomics. A far cry from He-Man’s savage barbarian origins in the earliest media, the UK comics increasingly focused on science and technology, in-keeping with the Mattel toy line’s gradual swing throughout its run from pure fantasy to pure sci-fi concepts, with the introduction of cyborg characters such as Sy-Klone, Extendar and Rio Blast. While magic was prominent in the world of Eternia, and much of the planet was medieval in nature, the UK comics’ incarnation of Eternia had plenty of advanced technological resources, and He-Man would frequently find himself up against all manner of malevolent machinations. The elements of magic and science were nicely balanced out with the equal focus on both Skeletor and Hordak as villains- while Skeletor was prominently a sorcerer, Hordak was an out-and-out scientist who despised magic and spent most of his time toiling away at new inventions with the aim of He-Man’s destruction. But Skeletor also used his fair share of technological weapons to carry out his schemes, many of which were the creations of Two Bad, presented in the comics as Skeletor’s chief technician and inventor.
With the heavy focus on the science fiction angle, and Brian Clarke’s love of sci-fi as a genre, the comics would often pay homage to classic cult sci-fi movies, TV and comics. Subtle references and in-jokes would often be placed alluding to other sci-fi franchises, and certain plot ideas and elements would be borrowed in homage to classic science fiction. Likewise, the cover designs would often pay homage to classic comic covers, with issue #5 replicating the design of a classic Conan cover while issue #19 replicated the cover of an old Blackhawk comic from the 1950s.
Unique character development
In-keeping with the comic’s 1986 debut, in the later stages of the toy line’s run, the stories featured a lot more of the later action figures from the line, such as Sy-Klone, Moss Man, Two Bad, Stinkor, Extendar, Snout Spout etc., whereas the appearances of earlier characters such as Stratos, Ram-Man, Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops were far more sparse and brief, without as much development. Yet Brian Clarke and the other writers went to great lengths to ensure the stories never felt like mere toy commercials. Very rarely did the appearances of new characters or even vehicles feel like product placement- all characters and vehicles had their own distinctive role to play in the stories. The supporting cast were given great development, with strong and distinct personalities very different from other media. Webstor, for instance, was portrayed as a mathematical genius who was able to escape any trap and solve complex equations. He also showed a touch more compassion and dignity than other villains, even willingly teaming up with He-Man in issue #22’s “Puzzles of Peril”. Sy-Klone was portrayed as youthful, brash and energetic, often boastful and over-confident but heroic, noble and brave regardless. Two Bad, in a role very different from other media, was Skeletor’s lead inventor, operating from his own workshop near Snake Mountain where he would come up with new devices to aid Skeletor.
Two Bad toils away at a new invention in his workshop.
And the characters of Snout Spout, Extendar and Dragstor were given particularly tragic origins far more emotionally heavy than Filmation would have risked. Snout Spout was formerly an ordinary human peasant subjected to horrific experimentations by Hordak, which turned him into an elephantine cyborg. He despised his own appearance and felt like an outcast among the other Heroic Warriors, determined to avenge what Hordak had done to him. Extendar and Dragstor, meanwhile, were former best friends who also owed their cyborg warrior forms to Hordak. Extendar, who had resisted Hordak’s brainwashing, frequently grieved over what Hordak had done to Dragstor, against whom he had trouble fighting due to their former friendship. Following their memorable introduction stories, these characters would frequently be depicted suffering anguish and resentment over their tragic fates.
Hordak conducts dastardly experiments on the innocent peasant who will become Snout Spout
The comics also gave us a good range of brand new characters, including recurring guest villains. One such villain was The Collector, a space-travelling criminal who abducted the strongest warrior from each planet he visited, intending to bring the warriors all together in a gigantic games tournament on his homeworld to find the mightiest warrior in the universe. After his captives were all freed by He-Man and Man-At-Arms, The Collector later returned for revenge on He-Man, teaming up with Skeletor in the process.
Another memorable guest villain was the evil sorcerer Wraithbinder, whose appearance was distinctive among MOTU villains, his attire reminiscent of 17th century Puritans. Wraithbinder was also distinct in that he never actually attacked nor even set foot on Eternia in either of his two appearances. Rather, in both cases a series of strange disturbances on Eternia were traced by He-Man to other worlds as he ventured out into the cosmos to investigate them, finding that Wraithbinder was the source. That’s quite some villain, if his powers can impact on Eternia without him even having to venture near the planet!
And it wasn’t only guest villains who recurred throughout the comics- the heroes gained a few memorable allies as well. A particularly memorable guest character was Jodder the scientist, who debuted in issue #5’s story “It’s A Small World” when his shrinking serum was stolen by Skeletor and used to shrink He-Man to near-nothingness. Jodder later returned in issue #23’s “The Giant of Eternia” when a growth serum of his own creation was also stolen and used to dastardly effect by Skeletor, and again in issue #49’s “Insect Invasion” when he was able to reproduce his shrinking serum to shrink a swarm of gigantic insects under the control of Hordak.
A very prominent original character was Keclar, the leader of the Elders of Eternia, who forged the Sword of Power and built Castle Grayskull before freeing Eternia from evil in ancient times. Keclar was portrayed as the main hero of Eternia’s past, the master wizard who led the Elders to victory and ensured peace across Eternia for the next few millennia, whilst forging the Sword of Power so the Elders’ magic could be wielded by a selected champion many years down the line. Keclar and his team of Elders made many recurring appearances, both in flashbacks to Eternia’s history and in present times, where their spirits inhabited Castle Grayskull and would occasionally appear to advise He-Man.
Deadpan British comedy
While never overtly dark in tone due to restrictions at the time, the comics nevertheless had a subtly darker and more serious tone to them than the cartoon series. Whereas Filmation increasingly played the conflict for laughs as the series progressed and concentrated more on the comedy angle, the UK comics portrayed the conflict more seriously- we got a real sense that Skeletor and Hordak posed a drastic threat to the heroes on Eternia, and the conflict was a tough struggle for the heroes, which occupied their full time. While the stories still had their fair share of comedy moments, the humour was far more deadpan- perhaps, you could say, more British - in style, rather than being wacky or cartoony. Sardonic and witty lines would be delivered by both heroes and villains with straight faces, providing the perfect balance of humour and action. It was also very notable how the character of Orko- who in Filmation’s show was pretty much the second lead character after He-Man- was here shafted off to the sidelines. Orko had his own separate comic strip titled ‘Orko the Magician’ which would appear on the opening page of each issue. A short and humorous strip, usually consisting of only three panels, sometimes even just two, the Orko the Magician strips would feature Orko getting into some comical mishap, or casting a spell which would backfire with amusing consequences. Orko’s strip ran through all 72 issues of the comic, while his appearances in the regular stories were rather minimal by comparison, usually confined to brief cameos.
Further into the comics’ run, Orko had a few more starring roles in the regular stories, but his character was handled cleverly to ensure he did not lower the age group of the target audience too heavily. Whilst retaining his trademark giddy and childlike personality, he was shown to be a far more competent magician than readers had previously believed him to be, and was clearly smarter in personality than he usually let on. He was shown to have an advanced knowledge of the magical forces that existed throughout the universe, and maintained multiple magical contacts on alien worlds, whom he would often travel away from Eternia to visit. This portrayal helped make Orko a believable hero in his own right, and he frequently proved a valuable aid to the Heroic Warriors rather than just a kid who tagged along for the ride. An origin story in issue #35 even revealed that Orko had been summoned to Eternia intentionally by The Sorceress, who felt his wisdom was necessary for him to act as an advisor to Prince Adam once the Prince had received the powers of He-Man.
The characters’ origins were told in the “Secret Files of Scrollos” strips. Scrollos was a character created by Brian Clarke to provide the editorial voice for the comics as well as answering readers’ questions on the letters page, titled ‘Master Mail’. Established early on as the ‘Keeper of the Scrolls’, Scrollos was an all-knowing watcher of the universe, who observed all the adventures of the Masters of the Universe from his hidden space station, and recorded them for preservation, revealing them to the readers in the form of the comics. As well as providing the readers with a friendly in-universe voice to guide them into the world of the Masters, the character of Scrollos proved an effective narrator of the adventures, revealing the origins of the characters and the background to the saga in his “Secret Files of Scrollos” strips. Although initially unseen in physical form, the Secret Files strips began to depict brief glimpses of the character, from behind or in shadow, without ever showing his face. Much, much later, when Scrollos was eventually given a strip of his own in MOTU Adventure issue #16 to introduce the impending shift to New Adventures stories, his face was finally revealed, and he was given an almost ‘glam rock’ appearance with more than a passing resemblance to David Bowie’s own alter ego of Ziggy Stardust!
© Aidan Cross, 2017.