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The UK London Editions Comics

The Backstory and the Legacy

Part 4

The German Ehapa Reprints

The next key turning point for the comics came in issue #50, as the comic celebrated its 50th edition and its two-year anniversary on the shelves. But although this landmark issue marked a new era for the UK comic, it was also arguably the beginning of its decline. By this point in time, the popularity of the MOTU toy line had declined, and it was finally brought to a close in 1988. So unsurprisingly, the decline of MOTU was also reflected in falling sales of the UK comics. To save costs, London Editions, rather than continue to produce brand new stories of their own, began to reprint stories from the German comics published by Ehapa, another subsidiary of the Egmont Group. The reprints from the German comics were now the main features in the UK comics, which meant a radical new look and style for the magazines with the new style of artwork and storytelling. The artwork was flashier, more colourful and in some senses closer to Filmation’s cartoon style than the original UK artwork, while Eternos City had a more futuristic look, in contrast to the Gothic medieval look used in the original UK stories. But despite the impressive artwork, the storytelling was undoubtedly far weaker. The Ehapa stories were more juvenile in tone, aimed at a younger audience as opposed to the all-ages-pleasing nature of the UK stories. The character of Orko, frequently sidelined in the UK originals, now had a far more prominent role and often played second fiddle only to He-Man himself in terms of saving the day. Gone were the complex plot twists, thinking-based solutions and experimental premises. These stories were straight action and adventure, focusing more on action than plot, and often resulting in a very predictable outcome. The Ehapa stories never came close to challenging the reader’s imagination in the way the UK originals had.

But Brian Clarke and his crew greatly valued their readers, and were not the types to let their readers down or disappoint them. So the switch to Ehapa reprints was executed in as smooth a manner as possible, to feel like a natural transition rather than simply changing the format of the stories out of the blue. Issue #50 itself, in the opening editorial, stated that between the stories in the previous issue and this one, a full year had elapsed on Eternia, and the Adventure Magazines- which continued to print original UK stories- told the story of what had happened on Eternia during this ‘missing year’. Issue #8 of the Adventure Magazine featured a super-epic story which explained Eternos City’s radical change of appearance. In this story, the city itself was destroyed, as Skeletor, Hordak and King Hiss teamed up, luring He-Man away from Eternia with a fake distress call from an alien world, before combining the full might of all their three armies to attack and destroy the entire Royal city. The power of the Heroic Warriors on its own was not enough to withstand the collective might of all three evil armies, and when He-Man finally made his way back to Eternia, he found Eternos City in ruins. To ensure the evil forces’ victory was to be in vein, the Heroic Warriors rebuilt the city as a splendid array of gleaming, elegant towers, thus heralding the new era of the city and the comics.

He-Man also chose to relocate the base of the Heroic Warriors to Viper Tower, the ancient fortress they had recently acquired from the Snake Men. This choice was made by the writers so they could continue to produce new stories in the Adventure Magazine separately from the Ehapa reprints without confusing continuity. The next few issues of the Adventure Magazine featured new epic stories set within Viper Tower, as the Heroic Warriors explored their new base and discovered its many secrets and hidden powers.

Meanwhile, in the fortnightly comic series, while the standard of storytelling had indeed dropped with the shift to Ehapa reprints, the writers took the best measures they could to ensure some level of consistency was established with the previous UK originals. Rather than simply translate the dialogue directly from the German, the writers pretty much rewrote the dialogue from scratch, sometimes to the extent of changing the story’s actual meaning. This allowed for consistency and continuity with the previous stories- weak plot points were modified to appear more interesting, the differing relationships between the characters were corrected to appear consistent with their previous portrayal, and stories from earlier UK issues were occasionally referenced- for instance, in issue #55’s story, in which Skeletor and Evil-Lyn shrink the heroes to the size of dolls via a shrinking serum, the opening dialogue between the two villains states that the serum is a replica of the one created in issue #5 by the heroic scientist Jodder.

And we had not seen the last of original UK stories in the fortnightly comic either. The Secret Files of Scrollos series continued to feature brand new original stories establishing the background of various characters; in these later stages showcasing intriguing origin stories for Teela, Grizzlor, Moss Man, Rio Blast, Modulok and Sy-Klone. So while the comics could easily have just shifted to Ehapa reprints without any thought for consistency or continuity, and alienated their readers, thanks to the collective efforts of the writers the opposite effect was achieved. The smooth transitioning, the rewriting of dialogue, and the continuation of original stories alongside the reprints enabled the new era of the comics to feel like a natural continuation of the saga instead of an abrupt and inexplicable change, and thus softened the blow of the weaker storylines of the Ehapa reprints.

The cover of the final issue of the fortnightly comic series

But by this stage, the popularity of MOTU was very much in its death throes, and as sales declined further, the fortnightly comic finally folded in late 1988 after 72 issues. Following its demise, the Adventure Magazine now became monthly, but this sadly meant we had seen the last of original material from the UK writers. From issue #13 onwards, the Adventure Magazine also switched to reprinting the German Ehapa comics, and the drop in story quality was very obvious.

The New Adventures

The next era of the comics was brought in by the transition to ‘New Adventures’ stories. In 1989, Mattel attempted to rejuvenate the MOTU brand with its brand new toy line, simply titled ‘He-Man’, which took on a futuristic, pure sci-fi setting, worlds away from the origins of He-Man in savage barbarian fantasy. The new toy line’s storyline explained that He-Man and Skeletor had now left Eternia for the future, where they continued their battles in deep space, both accompanied by a brand new cast of heroes and villains. The German Ehapa comics had switched to producing stories based on the new toy line, and these were reprinted by the UK Adventure Magazine as the ‘He-Man’ toy line replaced MOTU on the UK toy shelves in the fall of 1989.

As had been the case with the switch to Ehapa reprints, the UK writers did their bit to ensure the transition was smooth and consistent, easier for the readers to accept. This was done by giving the character of Scrollos a one-page comic strip of his own, beginning in issue #16 and opening the next three issues, to usher in the new era. It was this strip that finally revealed the face of Scrollos, showcasing the character in the surroundings of his intergalactic space station from which he monitored and recorded the adventures of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The strips featured Scrollos receiving a signal from the Triax Star System, following which he mobilized defence forces thinking his ship was under attack, only to find in the end that he had merely been in the path of a fellow space traveller, traversing the stars to do battle with evil in the depths of space. That space traveller was revealed to be He-Man, venturing out into space to enter the next phase of his struggles against evil. The final panel of the third and last ‘Scrollos’ strip showcased the cover of the new comic, which would chronicle He-Man’s new adventures.

Issue #19 saw the comic retitled ‘He-Man Adventure’ and featured the first of the ‘New Adventures’ stories, covering Skeletor’s departure from Eternia and He-Man’s pursuit of him into space. If anything, the most positive aspect of the UK comics’ shift to German Ehapa reprints was the Ehapa comics’ remarkable, and highly impressive, handling of the New Adventures saga. Surprisingly, its New Adventures stories were vastly superior in standard to its MOTU ones. The German writers seemed to take the NA saga more seriously than the MOTU one- the tone of the NA stories was subtly darker, and there were no cutesy ‘Orko’-like sidekicks, rather a very solid and engaging cast of heroes and villains and a sense of intrepidation at the new path He-Man and Skeletor’s conflict had trodden. While in theory it would have been much nicer to have seen what Brian Clarke and his crew would have come up with had they been able to produce their own original take on the NA mythos, the Ehapa comics had produced a mighty fine version of this controversial new era of He-Man, and one that was overwhelmingly different from the cartoon series ‘The New Adventures of He-Man’- produced by Jetlag Productions to accompany the new toy line- which was almost unrecognizable to UK fans introduced to the new line by the comics.

The New Adventures comics undoubtedly benefitted, as the MOTU Ehapa stories had, from the editing and rewriting of dialogue by Brian Clarke and the other writers. As well as ensuring continuity with the pre-established UK stories and sometimes strengthening plot points, this allowed for the occasional reference to the MOTU saga. The new comics also brought back the letters page, now titled ‘Dear Scrollos’ and following  a similar format to the old Master Mail, with Scrollos answering questions from readers about the new mythos. The reaction to the new stories from the readers seemed very positive (of course, they would not have printed letters from readers disgruntled about the change, of which I’m sure there would have been many!) and undoubtedly the reintroduction of intimacy and familiarity between the in-world mythos and the readers helped UK readers accept the NA saga better than may have been the case otherwise.

A dramatic end

However, the new toy line had failed to captivate youngsters in the way the original MOTU line had, and sold poorly in toy stores, mirrored in ever-decreasing sales of the Adventure Magazine. Issue #24 featured the last of the New Adventures stories, and the Ehapa comics had chosen to end the saga dramatically, with a powerful and gripping story with a more emotional edge than previous ones. This story featured Hydron, the tragic hero out to avenge the deaths of his entire family at the hands of the evil forces, being unexpectedly reunited with his daughter Hydrania, thought to have been killed in the Zone Wars. However, Hydrania was none other than the evil mutant Brakk in disguise, executing an extra-diabolical plot to invade Primus. While the original German story itself was significantly darker and more emotional than the preceding stories, the UK writers put their technique of rewriting the dialogue and narration to good use to ensure the end was extra-special for readers who had stayed with the comic since issue #1 of the regular series. The story was retitled ‘The End of He-Man’; a clear indication that this would be the last new story to feature in the comic. Dialogue was rewritten to push the boundaries, particularly Brakk’s line of “I haven’t killed anyone in years” when making an attack on the Galactic Guardian Vizar, while the closing dialogue in the final panels was rewritten to indicate that He-Man and his friends would now be taking a long holiday. The closing narration panel at the end enhanced the ending, describing He-Man spending some time alone looking out to sea, remembering his former life on Eternia, before turning around and walking away to begin his holiday. And it was here that the saga of MOTU, begun back in issue #1 of the fortnightly comic four years earlier with the “Legend of Grayskull” strip, effectively came to an end, on a powerful, dramatic and emotional note.

The Best of He-Man

This was not to be the end for the comics. Instead, we were given four more issues retitled “The Best of He-Man Adventure”, which reprinted old stories from the fortnightly comic in full colour, framed under the context of He-Man looking back from Primus on his old adventures on Eternia. After four of these issues, the UK Adventure Comic finally folded after issue #28 in March 1991, after an impressive five years on the comic shelves, and long after most He-Man-related media had ceased as MOTU faded increasingly from the UK public’s eye.

© Aidan Cross, 2017.