© Aidan Cross, 2019.

UK London Editions Comics

Issue #1

Release Date: September 7, 1986

Stories:

The Legend of Etheria
The Stolen Smiles, Part I

The Stolen Smiles, Part II

Cover by: Unknown Artist, supplied by Selecciones Illustradas (SI)

The first issue’s intro page, beginning, like the Preview Issue, with an editorial from She-Ra. It is worth addressing why the comic was titled ‘She-Ra’ and not ‘Princess of Power’ like the toy line – the answer is, Brian Clarke actually fought to persuade Mattel to allow him to call the comic ‘She-Ra’, believing that using the name of the toy line could actually be detrimental to the comic’s sales – he wanted the comic to remain accessible to male readers of the MOTU comic, and felt young boys were less likely to purchase a comic with a word like ‘Princess’ in the title. Although Mattel had been insistent that the comic be titled after the toy line, they understood Brian’s reasoning and eventually compromised, allowing him to call the comic ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’ – but upon its publication, London Editions got away with shortening the title to simply ‘She-Ra’. (See the Interview With Brian Clarke for more details)

****

Story 1: “The Legend of Etheria”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Synopsis: Many years ago on the world of Eternia, twin babies were born to Queen Marlena, who she named Adam and Adora. There was much celebration throughout Eternia before Hordak, a tyrant from an alien world, kidnapped baby Adora. In the years that passed, Prince Adam grew to manhood and became He-Man, the defender of Eternia. In the meantime, as Adora grew to womanhood, she became a captain in Hordak’s army, unaware of Hordak’s true evil nature or her true heritage. She was tricked by Hordak into fighting against Queen Angella of Bright Moon and her Great Rebellion, under the belief that Angella and the Rebellion were evil. Back on Eternia, when The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull discovered Adora’s whereabouts, she sent He-Man on a mission to Etheria to find his sister and reveal the truth to her. When He-Man found Adora, he gave her a mystical sword provided by The Sorceress – The Sword of Protection, forged for Adora to use to defend Etheria from the evil forces that dominated the planet. The sword transformed Adora into She-Ra, Princess of Power, and a voice from within the sword called her and He-Man to a mountain top where they discovered a beautiful castle called the Crystal Castle. She-Ra used her sword to unlock the castle door, and within the fortress, they met its guardian, Light Hope, a being made of pure light who would act as her guide as she defended Etheria from Hordak. She-Ra then journeyed to Castle Bright Moon to pledge her services to Queen Angella, then transformed back to Adora and returned to the castle in her mortal form, revealing that she had been tricked by Hordak into serving him and now wished to fight for the Rebellion. In order to protect her new friends from harm, Adora was obliged to keep her double identity a secret. As she fought for Etheria’s defence, She-Ra gained many close friends and allies and built a powerful resistance force to the evil of Hordak and the Horde – but the Horde retained control over the planet, and currently the two sides are evenly matched.

Review: The first regular issue of the fortnightly She-Ra comic begins naturally with an origins story detailing the background to She-Ra’s world and its characters. “The Legend of Etheria” does for the She-Ra comic what “The Legend of Grayskull”, back in Issue #1 of MOTU, did for the MOTU world – and like that story, it takes the form of an overall summation of the mythos’ backstory rather than a detailed origin story. Most readers are of course already well familiar with She-Ra’s world via the TV series, while this strip also does a swift job of establishing the connection between her world and He-Man’s for any readers of the MOTU comic who may be less familiar with She-Ra.

The strip follows the same basic story outline as that established in Filmation’s feature film The Secret of the Sword, which introduced the character of She-Ra and served as introduction to the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon series. Adam and Adora are born as twins to Queen Marlena of Eternia, and Adora is abducted by the tyrant Hordak, who raised her to become a captain in his army. Although everything is nicely consistent for fans of the TV series, keen-eyed readers of the MOTU comic will notice a slight discrepancy in the established continuity regarding Hordak’s character. Hordak and the Horde made their emergence on Eternia in Issue #1 of the MOTU comic in the story “Skeletor’s Surprise”, and the subsequent story “Pact of Evil” in Issue #6 revealed more of Hordak’s backstory, telling of how Skeletor stranded his former mentor, Hordak, many years ago on a lifeless moon, and Hordak worked for years to build the teleportation machine necessary to transport himself to Eternia to follow Skeletor and wreak his revenge. Yet “The Legend of Etheria” establishes that Hordak had already been to Eternia approximately two decades before the current point in time, where he abducted the baby princess. If Hordak had already been to Eternia all that time ago, it seems to contradict the established continuity of the MOTU comic – how could he have spent so many years struggling to build a space portal to Eternia whilst stranded on a lifeless moon, and yet somehow managed to get to Eternia – and leave again – within that time? Thankfully, the continuity of the MOTU comic is not completely contradicted – Etheria has been referenced repeatedly in the MOTU stories and it has been well-established that Hordak has a base on Etheria, so our natural assumption is that Hordak’s abduction of Adora must have taken place before Skeletor’s betrayal of his master on the lifeless moon, and Etheria must have been within easy reach of that location whereas Eternia was not, thus allowing Hordak to conquer Etheria at some point in the time between Skeletor’s betrayal of him and his re-emergence on Eternia. Although the linking of Hordak to the backstory of She-Ra in the context of what we know about him from the MOTU comics does seem somewhat awkward, it is thankfully not irreconcilable.

It is great to see Adora wearing a Horde uniform in this strip, while commanding Hordak’s army, especially since in the cartoon series she already wore her regular Royal-looking outfit while in the service of the Horde, a rather unlikely scenario.

In the panels showing He-Man presenting Adora with her sword for the first time, we see that the scenario differs significantly from how the story was presented to us in The Secret of the Sword movie. The MOTU comics have operated very much within their own independent universe and have already deviated heavily from the cartoon series, so there is no reason we should expect the She-Ra comic to entirely follow Filmation’s canon with regard to She-Ra’s origins. We are also shown She-Ra’s first visit, together with He-Man, to the Crystal Castle and her first meeting with Light Hope. It is mentioned that She-Ra’s sword is the key to opening the Crystal Castle, much as had been Mattel’s original intentions for He-Man’s Power Sword with Castle Grayskull, a concept quickly forgotten after the toy line’s launch by most story media.

She-Ra is shown to have visited Queen Angella on two separate occasions in the forms of both She-Ra and Adora to pledge her services to the Rebellion in either form. A big problem with the Filmation series’ version of the story had been how quick the Rebellion were to accept Adora’s defection to their side, immediately trusting her without for a moment suspecting it could be a scheme by the Horde. That theme is not really covered here either, but the Rebellion’s acceptance of Adora is made slightly more believable by the manner in which She-Ra tells Angella she is going to send another new ally her way, thus giving Adora’s story some credibility. Adora’s reason for keeping her double identity secret is not entirely convincing – “If Hordak was to know that I am She-Ra he might try and hurt me by attacking my new friends” – surely these friends are already under threat of attack from the Horde as they are the Rebellion fighters leading the planet’s only source of resistance? Of course, many fans have speculated over time whether there is really any logical need for Adora to keep her double identity secret, thus it is easily understandable why the recent Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has done away with the ‘secret identity’ theme.

The text on the next panel is slightly unusual in the wider context – “Etheria is divided into many kingdoms and ruled by many beautiful queens, all of whom are loyal to Queen Angella and the Great Rebellion” – this would seem disputable since the subsequent text indicates clearly that Hordak and the Horde rule most of Etheria.

“The Legend of Grayskull” strip concludes with a memorable double-page spread depicting all the characters of the She-Ra mythos; the good and evil characters on either side. The majority of the Horde characters shown are already familiar to readers of the MOTU comic. Interestingly Mantenna is drawn here with his appearance resembling his Filmation counterpart, although Leech appears identical to his Mattel action figure. It is also interesting to see what looks like the character of Double Trouble from the toy line among the Horde villains, since this character is not generally portrayed as a Horde member by most media – rather she is usually seen as a ‘secret agent’, a member of the Rebellion who goes undercover with her alternate ‘evil face’ to pose as a Horde member and report back to the Rebels on the Horde’s schemes. Double Trouble was never to appear in any of the regular She-Ra stories in the comic, so it was never established what exactly her role was in the London Editions mythos. However, the character of Entrapta (an evil character in the She-Ra toy line and cartoon series) did appear in later issues, and her portrayal greatly differed from other media in that she was shown to be a neutral character confused about her allegiance who allied herself with both She-Ra and the Horde, rather than a full-time villain as in other media – and even more curiously, Entrapta was drawn with Double Trouble’s toy appearance (albeit differently coloured) in one such later issue, indicating some kind of mix-up between these two characters on London Editions’ part, and so it is possible the character shown on this page spread is actually meant to be Entrapta rather than Double Trouble. Whether this confusion goes back to Mattel (it is not inconceivable that both characters may have evolved from the same character concept at Mattel, as was occasionally the case in the toy line’s development) or purely down to confusion on the part of the London Editions writers and artists is uncertain.

In general, “The Legend of Etheria” does a nice job of establishing the world of Etheria and its characters for readers of the She-Ra comic, and allows us to spring nicely forward into the regular stories.

****

This issue’s letters page. At this early stage in the comic’s run, the letters are ones that have been sent to the MOTU comic on the subject of She-Ra, and thus they are addressed to Scrollos – however, this would quickly change in subsequent issues as ‘She-Ra’ (actually Brian Clarke!) answered readers’ letters addressed directly to her comic.

****

Story 2: “The Stolen Smiles, part I”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Synopsis: Although the Rebellion has been growing much stronger of late, a wave of depression is sweeping over Queen Angella’s kingdom, and Kowl, Sweet Bee and Angella herself are all feeling extremely sad for no obvious reason. Suspecting the depression may be Hordak’s work, She-Ra transforms Spirit into Swift Wind and the two of them set off to investigate. As he carries She-Ra through the air, Swift Wind reveals that he felt very sad himself before She-Ra transformed him, and She-Ra suspects that the power of her sword may be an antidote to the sadness. Flying over the village of the Koala People, they see the villagers have started a bonfire onto which they are throwing all their possessions. She-Ra lands and asks them why they are doing this, and the villagers explain they all feel so sad they see no point in holding on to their belongings. She-Ra collects all the mirrors in the village and joins them together with vines, attaching them to Swift Wind’s reins so he can fly into the air, enabling the mirrors to hover over the village. She-Ra fires a blast from her sword at the mirrors, and they reflect the blast back down at the village, causing the sword’s positive energy to heal the villagers of their sadness. Now that they are feeling happy again, one of the Koala People tells She-Ra that they have sensed an evil presence emanating from the nearby Blue Mountains for several days. They sent four of their mightiest warriors to the mountains to investigate, but they never returned. She-Ra flies Swift Wind over the Blue Mountains, and they land to follow the path taken by the Koala People’s warriors. As they venture down the path, a fierce growling sound emanates from nearby, and She-Ra and Swift Wind find themselves faced with a huge dragon…

Review: The first regular story of the fortnightly comic series (if you do not count the stories from the Preview Issue), “The Stolen Smiles” is a fun and magical She-Ra adventure with lots of entertaining scenes.

The text box on the opening panel contains an error, referring to the ‘Crystal Palace’, yet the scene clearly takes place in Castle Bright Moon rather than the Crystal Castle, with the previous story having established that only She-Ra is aware of the latter’s whereabouts. This confusion between the two locations (as well as the incorrect naming of the latter) can be put down to confusion in these early stages as the writers and artists adjusted to working on the She-Ra stories.

As Kowl complains of feeling inexplicably sad, Angella is quick to namedrop two of the latest toy releases; Peekablue and Sweet Bee. Much as the MOTU comic has focused strongly on the newer action figures from the line such as Sy-Klone and Moss Man, the She-Ra comic is quick to showcase these newer releases from the Princess of Power line. We get a brief appearance of Sweet Bee before She-Ra sets off to investigate the problem.

We see the first appearance of Spirit in the She-Ra comic as She-Ra transforms him into Swift Wind. Notably he is coloured white, like his cartoon counterpart, whereas Swift Wind is coloured pink like his toy counterpart.

She-Ra and Swift Wind fly over the village of the Koala People, who were introduced in the Preview Issue the previous week. Interestingly the text does not at any point identify the villagers as the Koala People, and it could be that the script simply called for generic human villagers and the decision to illustrate them as the Koala People was made on the artists’ part. Either way it is a very welcome return and makes for good continuity, as the Preview Issue featured the Koala People moving their village away from Hordak’s expanding Fright Zone, so the village we see here is presumably their new location following the move.

In a similar vein to the MOTU comics, She-Ra uses a scientific solution to reverse the villagers’ sadness, by tying a series of mirrors together with vines and instructing Swift Wind to fly into the air with these attached to his reins, so a blast from She-Ra’s sword can be fired at the mirrors and reflected back on the village to cancel out the spell.

The final panel of Part I sees She-Ra faced with what looks like a fearsome dragon as she ventures into the Blue Mountains to find the source of the sadness.

****

Story 3: “The Stolen Smiles, part II”
Writer: Brian Clarke

Synopsis: She-Ra and Swift Wind are attacked by the fearsome dragon, and Swift Wind is knocked to the ground by a blow from the creature. She-Ra demands the dragon let them past, but to her surprise, the dragon begins to cry. The dragon explains that he did not want to hurt them, but has been overwhelmed by a tremendous sadness and just does not want to see anyone again. He then tells She-Ra that he is the source of the sadness that is overwhelming Etheria, but it is all Hordak’s work. Hordak and Shadow Weaver invaded the dragon’s cave when he was asleep, and Shadow Weaver cast a spell to steal the dragon’s flame so Hordak could use its magical properties to power his new weapon. Afterwards, the dragon became sad at losing his flame, and the dragon’s own magic tried to cheer him up by stealing all the happiness in Etheria. The dragon explains that the Koala People’s warriors became unhappy once they reached him and wandered down the Trail of the Forgotten, causing the dragon to become sad again. She-Ra vows to pay Hordak a visit, and asks the dragon to come along with her. She-Ra and the dragon reach the nearby mountain where Hordak is building his new weapon, and they spy on Hordak’s camp, noticing the missing villagers imprisoned in glass booths. She-Ra and the dragon put their plan into action. The dragon reveals himself to Hordak and Shadow Weaver, claiming that he tricked them into thinking they had stolen his flame when he still has it – and to prove this, he breathes a jet of flame at them. Shadow Weaver insists she could not have been tricked and indicates the chest where she has concealed the dragon’s flame. Realizing the dragon must be trying to fool them, Hordak challenges the dragon to prove his current ‘flame’ is really magic, and as Hordak is distracted, She-Ra runs towards the chest and opens it, unleashing the dragon’s real flame, which immediately returns to him. The ‘flame’ the dragon had showed off to Hordak was in fact She-Ra’s sword, transformed to flame – and She-Ra now transforms the sword back, using it to free the villagers. Realizing his plan has been foiled, Hordak turns to rocket form and retreats from the scene, while Shadow Weaver teleports away. Now that happiness has been restored to Etheria, She-Ra returns to Bright Moon atop Swift Wind, while the Koala People praise the magic dragon as a hero for helping She-Ra foil Hordak’s scheme.

Review: The second part of this story begins with Swift Wind being struck by the dragon and knocked down. In-keeping with the non-violence rules, we do not see how exactly the dragon strikes Swift Wind, but it is indicated that he is clearly hurt, showing that like the MOTU comic, the She-Ra comic is not afraid to push the boundaries from time to time.

It transpires that the dragon is actually friendly and timid, and we see that the creature is just as affected by the sadness as the rest of Etheria. The dragon then reveals how his own magic, of which he has lost control, has been the cause of the wave of depression. But the dragon is no coward and non-hesitantly accompanies She-Ra to recover his flame from Hordak, the two of them travelling to the camp Hordak has set up nearby. The panel here features a mistake as She-Ra’s speech bubble is completely empty, whited out by mistake.

As is often the case in the MOTU comic, the problem is solved with a thinking-based solution, and the reader is kept in the dark as to what exactly She-Ra’s plan is, encouraged to guess for themselves. The solution makes very creative use of She-Ra’s ability to transform her sword, revealing that the ‘flame’ the dragon has been breathing to trick Hordak into thinking he has failed to obtain his flame is in fact She-Ra’s sword, transformed to flame. This is a particularly imaginative use of the sword’s ability – while the sword’s transforming powers were frequently shown in the TV show, it was typically transformed into another weapon of some kind, so transforming the sword into flame is less typical and it is unlikely many of the readers will have foreseen this solution.

Shadow Weaver is coloured incorrectly on the first panel of the last page – she is given Hordak’s colours, with a purple cowl and blue skin. Although this is probably an error on the colourist’s part, it actually looks really good and this would have made for a striking look had it been the character’s regular colour scheme.

The story ends on a high note with happiness restored to Etheria and the dragon hailed as a hero by the villagers for aiding in saving the day. In the spirit of the cartoon series, the final panel even features She-Ra pretty much stating a moral for the story – “If you are willing to think about a problem, you will usually find a peaceful solution”. This brings a fun and entertaining story to an effective close. As the first regular story of the comic series, “The Stolen Smiles” is a great read and has got the She-Ra comic off to a good start. She-Ra’s world is very different from He-Man’s – there is a much greater emphasis on a mystical, fairytale-like feel as opposed to the sci-fi emphasis in the MOTU comics, so her world feels significantly different from her brother’s, yet the stories share the core elements that make the MOTU comic entertaining – creative plots and strategy-based solutions, making the She-Ra comic a more than worthy ‘sister comic’ to the MOTU one. And it is notable that a lot of key elements of the TV series have yet to feature in the comics, such as the characters of Madame Razz, Broom, Kowl and Glimmer, so the fans are likely to eagerly anticipate the expansion of the London Editions take on She-Ra’s mythology. A very effective first issue!

****

This issue's "Ask Kowl" feature.

****

© Aidan Cross, 2019.

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