UK London Editions Comics
Release Date: September 1986
A Journey Across Etheria
The Tablet of Truth
Trapped By Hordak
Cover by: Joan Boix
This issue's intro page.
Story 1: “A Journey Across Etheria”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: Continuing from “The Legend of Etheria” in Issue #1, we are given an introduction to She-Ra’s friends, Mermista and Frosta, the magical creatures Butterflyer and Enchanta that transport She-Ra and her friends around Etheria, and the magical locations of Crystal Falls and Whispering Woods, the latter inhabited by the Twiggets. We are told how Etheria is ruled by the cruel dictatorship known as the Evil Horde, led by the tyrannical Hordak, his rule aided by his accomplices Shadow Weaver and Scorpia from his base in the Fright Zone. We are also introduced to Catra, who is allied with neither the Rebels nor the Horde – she is not evil, rather she is a jealous person who just wants to see She-Ra unhappy, but despite this the Rebels still allow her to keep company with them. One of the most majestic sights on Etheria is the sight of She-Ra, Bow and Catra flying through the air atop their respective horses, Swift Wind, Arrow and Storm. Etheria is populated by many dangerous creatures – not all of them evil, but the Rebels have to be careful whenever they venture into strange lands.
Review: Rather than being a story, this is a continuation of “The Legend of Etheria” introductory strip from Issue #1 to summarize and introduce the world of She-Ra and her supporting cast to the readers. We are introduced to a few of She-Ra’s allies and vehicles, with a focus on the newer toy releases such as Mermista and Perfuma, as well as flying creatures Butterflyer and Enchanta. The emphasis is clearly on promoting the newest toy releases, especially since the latter two were rarely used in any subsequent stories – which is perhaps a shame, as Butterflyer is particularly intriguing since it is apparently both a living creature and a vehicle, and Enchanta was put to very effective use in Issue #12.
The strip presents Shadow Weaver and Scorpia as Hordak’s closest assistants. While the MOTU comics up until this point had only featured the male Horde villains from the MOTU toy line, the She-Ra comics are placing more emphasis on the female villains from the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon series. Placing Scorpia in such a high-ranking position within the Horde is a nice touch, especially since her character was more bumbling and incompetent in the cartoon – the London Editions comics were to treat her a lot more respectfully, often commanding missions on her own, and indeed the panel here states that both Shadow Weaver and Scorpia “often set traps of their own to try and defeat the Rebellion”.
The introduction to Catra is intriguing since it states that she is allied with neither the Horde nor the Rebellion, rather she is just “a jealous person who only wants to see She-Ra and Adora made unhappy”. More interestingly still, the next panel states “Although the other Rebels don’t really trust Catra, they still allow her to keep company with them” and shows Catra seemingly flying alongside She-Ra and Bow on their respective horses (Storm, Swift Wind and Arrow). This was actually more in-keeping with Mattel’s original vision for Catra – marketed in the Princess of Power toy line as She-Ra’s lead adversary (It was Filmation’s decision to make the Horde, the new villains in the MOTU toy line, the villains for the She-Ra cartoon series and thus integrate Catra into the Horde), she was marketed as a ‘jealous beauty’ and the minicomics that accompanied the dolls often portrayed her as not so much an evil character as someone who simply let jealousy and spite get the better of her. Despite this introduction, the UK Comics would go on to portray Catra mostly as a full-time villain, more in-keeping with her cartoon portrayal – albeit not a particularly dangerous or malevolent one, nor officially allied with the Horde.
The illustration of the ‘dangerous creatures’ is fantastic – the Spanish artists at Selecciones Illustradas have really gone to town here and shown us a collection of truly gruesome creatures, some of which are surefire horror movie material. This shows that while the She-Ra comics so far may have a lighter, more fairytale-like tone than the MOTU ones, they are certainly not shying away from the darker side of the mythos.
While it is a summary rather than a story, “A Journey Across Etheria” does a great job of furthering the establishment of She-Ra’s world in the eyes of the readers and setting the scene for the great stories that are to follow in the London Editions She-Ra comics.
Story 2: “Twiggets”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: The Twiggets are looking for a place to sleep in the Whispering Woods. They find a hollow in a tree trunk and settle down in there, but then there is a crash outside the three and the Twiggets suspect they are under attack by Hordak. But when they look outside they see it was just Madame Razz, who has crashed into the tree atop Broom.
Review: As a simple one-page comedy strip, this story more or less serves the same purpose as the regular three-panel “Orko the Magician” strips in the MOTU comics. The Twiggets were introduced into the mythos by the Filmation She-Ra cartoon series as a source of light relief. In a similar manner to how Orko was handled in the early MOTU comics, the Twiggets were mostly sidelined by the stories in the She-Ra comic, so this short strip gives them a brief moment in the spotlight. It is in-keeping with the portrayal of the Twiggets in the Preview Issue of She-Ra, which portrayed them as lazy but lovable creatures who loved nothing more than finding a place to nap in the woods. (This was never a trait of their animated counterparts, who were actually more action-ready and often liked to assist She-Ra in the fight against the Horde.)
It is interesting to note that the Twigget Sprocker, on the fourth panel, addresses the other Twiggets as “girls”, indicating both Spragg and Spritina are female – although in the cartoon series, Spritina was the only female Twigget and both Sprocker and Spragg were male. When the Twiggets are awakened by a crash outside the tree Sprocker states “I bet it’s Hordak attacking us again” which is a reference to the story “Twiggets in Trouble” in the Preview Issue, in which Hordak attacked the Twiggets as they slept in a tree trunk hollow.
The final panel introduces the character of Madame Razz, in her first appearance in a story within the comics. The Twiggets see that they are not under attack after all; rather Madame Razz has just crashed into the tree on Broom – Madame Razz’s crash-landings were a common joke in the cartoon series. This gives an introduction to one of the comic relief characters of the She-Ra mythos.
As a brief comedy interlude, this one-page story serves to spotlight some of the smaller, magical characters of She-Ra’s world and introduce Madame Razz, a character who would be put to much more detailed use in later stories.
This issue’s letters page. The letters are still addressed to Scrollos rather than She-Ra, having been sent to the MOTU comic, though gradually more were received addressed to She-Ra, allowing editor Brian Clarke to answer them in character as She-Ra in future issues. Notice also how all the letters are from male readers - this was a conscious choice by Brian Clarke to allow boys to feel comfortable reading the She-Ra comic. The last letter on this page expresses confusion over Shadow Weaver’s gender. (Well, the page is called She-Mail I suppose…)
Story 3: “The Tablet of Truth”
Writer: Brian Clarke
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: Shadow Weaver invades the lair of the Zundar Goblins, keepers of the magical Stone of Secrets, and steals the stone from them. She then steals the Tablet of Truth from its place at the top of a remote mountain. Bringing both artefacts to a woodland clearing, Shadow Weaver calls forth the imp of the stone, and commands him to tell her She-Ra’s biggest secret, so she can use the knowledge to destroy She-Ra. The imp has no wish to help Shadow Weaver, but is bound by ancient magic to do her bidding, and tells her that She-Ra’s biggest secret is that she has another identity – one in which Shadow Weaver could easily defeat her. Shadow Weaver assumes that one of She-Ra’s closest friends must know, or indeed be, her other identity, so she captures Kowl, Madame Razz, Adora and Bow, intent on using the Tablet of Truth to find out which of them knows She-Ra’s secret identity. She traps each of them in energy prisons, and commands the Tablet of Truth to tell her which of the four friends knows She-Ra’s secret identity. The tablet surrounds all four of the friends with energy rings, then the ring around Bow disappears, while the ones around the other three remain. Shadow Weaver believes this means that Bow knows She-Ra’s secret identity, and so she uses a spell to teleport the other three away so she can concentrate on forcing the truth out of Bow. Adora, Kowl and Madame Razz materialize in a location next to the Jamie River, and Adora uses her sword to become She-Ra, so she can lead the others to rescue Bow. Back in the woodland clearing, Shadow Weaver is attempting to coerce Bow into telling her She-Ra’s secret identity, but just then She-Ra arrives on the scene with Madame Razz and Kowl, to rescue Bow. Before She-Ra can save her friend, Shadow Weaver uses a Mind Probe spell to read Bow’s mind so she can learn She-Ra’s secret identity for herself. However, the spell shows her that Bow knows of no other identity for She-Ra. Assuming that this means the Stone Imp lied, Shadow Weaver angrily teleports away. Shadow Weaver had misread what the Tablet was telling her, for in fact all her captives except Bow knew She-Ra’s secret identity. Now that Shadow Weaver believes the Stone Imp was lying, She-Ra’s secret remains safe.
Review: This story is the first in either the MOTU or She-Ra comic to cover the subject of a villain suspecting the hero of having a secret identity. It is also the first of several stories to depict Shadow Weaver as a lead, independent villain as opposed to just Hordak’s sidekick. Shadow Weaver was regularly portrayed in the UK Comics as a character intimidating enough to strike fear into anyone who saw her, and the first panel is a fantastic, dramatic illustration of this, showing her materializing in the lair of the Zundar Goblins, who cower in terror from her.
Shadow Weaver gives a great display of her power and authority in this scene, especially when one of the Goblins attempts to fight her, and she responds by directing a blast of magic at him and turning him into a tree!
There follows a good scene of deadpan humour as we switch to the location atop a remote mountain where the Tablet of Truth is being guarded by a trio of musclebound warriors, who are bored with guarding the tablet and have been keeping themselves amused by playing ‘I-Spy’. Shadow Weaver puts them out of their boredom by casting a sleep spell and stealing the tablet, and puts her plan into action.
Shadow Weaver calls forth the imp within the Stone of Secrets, who has no desire to help her but is bound by ancient magic to do the bidding of whoever calls him forth. He tells her She-Ra’s greatest secret – that she has a secret identity – but as he is only obliged to tell her one secret, he withholds the information of who She-Ra’s other identity is. Throughout the MOTU mythos, there are very few stories – in either the UK Comics or any other media – in which a villain suspects either He-Man or She-Ra of having another identity, and so it is always refreshing on those rare occasions that they appear, especially since to the fans the double identity appears so obvious that we wonder why no-one ever seems to work it out.
Suspecting that one of She-Ra’s close friends must know of – or indeed be – She-Ra’s secret identity, Shadow Weaver captures Kowl, Madame Razz, Adora and Bow to use the Tablet of Truth to find which of them knows this secret. Naturally, as readers we wonder here why she has not already put two and two together and sussed that it is Adora – she is the only one of these four who has never been seen together with She-Ra, and She-Ra appeared out of nowhere just after Adora defected from the Horde – not to mention that they look identical other than a change of costume. But we suspend disbelief here, as this is after all the norm for most superhero comics, in the “Why does no-one realize Clark Kent is Superman” mode.
Since Shadow Weaver has unknowingly captured She-Ra herself, along with two (or three, counting Broom) of the beings with whom she shares her secret – Madame Razz and Kowl – Bow is the only person here who is genuinely confused as to what is going on, having no knowledge of She-Ra’s double identity. This factor winds up working in She-Ra’s favour, for when Shadow Weaver uses the tablet to surround the four captives with energy rings, and commands it to reveal which of them knows She-Ra’s other identity, the energy ring around Bow dissipates, while the rings around the other three remain. Shadow Weaver completely misinterprets what the tablet is telling her, thinking it is telling her that Bow is the one person who knows She-Ra’s secret, when in fact it is telling her it is the other three captives who know! Not at any point in the story does Shadow Weaver entertain the idea that the stone might have been telling her the opposite of what she thought – perhaps her own conservative judgement plays a role here, unable to believe that small, scatty and harmless creatures such as Madame Razz and Kowl could possibly be entrusted with such a secret!
Shadow Weaver uses her magic to cause the other three to disappear, intent on coercing Bow into telling the truth – which the reader, of course, knows will be doomed to failure since Bow has no knowledge of the secret. Alas, Shadow Weaver has teleported the other captives to a location not at all far from the woodland clearing, which means Adora is able to transform to She-Ra and come back with the other two to rescue Bow in no time. There is a very interesting panel where the off-panel dialogue of She-Ra’s friends – presumably spoken by both Madame Razz and Kowl – is depicted as large floating letters instead of in a word bubble. It becomes rather amusing at this stage how the truth still does not occur to Shadow Weaver – does it not at least strike her as interesting how all her captives have returned to rescue Bow except Adora, who has been replaced by She-Ra?
Although Shadow Weaver had hoped to force the truth out of Bow, now that She-Ra is on the verge of rescuing him she is forced instead to use a Mind Probe spell to read his mind and thus reveal the truth. But when this spell tells her that Bow knows of no other identity for She-Ra, rather than realize her own mistake, Shadow Weaver assumes the Stone Imp lied, and teleports away, accepting defeat. This is an amusing departure for her in light of the fact that the truth really should be glaringly obvious to her, but Shadow Weaver’s own errors of judgement, and inability to admit her mistakes, have sealed her failure in this scheme. On the final panel, She-Ra concludes that “Without knowing it, Bow has saved the day” when really it is Shadow Weaver’s own incompetence that has been her downfall here.
Overall, this is a very entertaining and memorable story with some good touches of deadpan humour. Shadow Weaver has been nicely established as an independent and powerful villain in her own right, albeit let down by her own short-sightedness and vanity. And the artwork is excellent here, particularly on the illustrations of Shadow Weaver, making her appear striking and intimidating. As a rare instance of a villain coming close to finding out the hero’s secret identity, “The Tablet of Truth” is a definite winner!
Story 3: “Trapped by Hordak”
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: Hordak has invaded the kingdom of Bright Moon with his new invention – the Nuller Device, which nulls the gravity around a person or object, making them weightless. He instructs his henchman Modulok to capture Queen Angella so he can use her as bait to lure She-Ra into his clutches. Shortly afterwards, Queen Angella is enjoying a walk in the woods with Bow, when suddenly she is attacked by Modulok, who springs a net on her made from the webbing of the Night Spiders and teleports her away. Bow goes to tell Adora, who sneaks away and becomes She-Ra, then joins Bow to go in search of Angella. Together, the two of them find a trail of footprints made by Modulok, and following these, they are ambushed by Modulok, Leech and Grizzlor. She-Ra uses her sword to send a jet of water splashing over the three villains while Bow fires an arrow at them, which forms an energy prison around them. Modulok calls for help, and Hordak appears, with his Nuller Device. He activates the Nuller Beam and it causes She-Ra’s sword to be lifted from her grasp, then he frees his henchmen, who force She-Ra and Bow into a cage. Unable to use her strength to escape, She-Ra slips a hairclip into the lock of the cage, unlocking it and allowing herself and Bow to escape. She recovers her sword, and rescues Angella, then the heroes rush to Castle Bright Moon, springing an attack on Hordak and his henchmen as they prepare to attack the castle. Leech tries to use his suction power to suck the sword from She-Ra's grip – but She-Ra dodges to the ground, and Hordak’s control box is sucked towards Leech instead, severing Hordak’s control of the Nuller Device. Hordak himself falls victim to the Nuller Device and begins to float helplessly in mid-air, while his henchmen flee, too afraid to face She-Ra themselves. Angrily, Hordak teleports away from the scene.
Review: The UK London Editions Comics were always notable for their intellectual approach to the MOTU and She-Ra mythos. Whether the stories were action and sci-fi-based as was usually the case with the MOTU comics, or fairytale-like as could often be the case with She-Ra, we would usually be guaranteed intriguing plots, strong characterization and clever plot twists. Sadly, “Trapped by Hordak” is not an example of the London Editions Comics’ usual standards. This rather basic story skews the tone much younger than most, and while it may well satisfy many of the youngest readers of the comic, will leave the more discerning readers feeling rather empty.
The story opens in a typical manner for one with Hordak as the lead villain, with him showing off his latest invention to his henchmen; a plot device we have seen in many of the MOTU comics prior to this. Right from this first panel we can see that something feels 'off' about this story - the dialogue is absurdly simplistic and childlike, and creates the impression of having been written in a rush. In this instance his new invention is the Nuller Device, which nulls the gravity around a person or object and makes them weightless. He demonstrates the device’s power on his henchman Modulok, in a comedic scene in which Modulok is made to feel its effects.
Although he has served only a background role in the MOTU comics so far and has been given little characterization, the general sense the reader has had of Modulok is that he is smarter than the other Horde members, coming across as rather calculating in his limited dialogue – and also more than capable in combat, evidenced by his having the ability to injure a warrior as strong as Fisto back in Issue #5 of the MOTU comic. However, it is immediately noticeable in this story – his first appearance in the She-Ra comic – that he seems to be being portrayed as just as incompetent, cowardly and lacking in intelligence as most of Hordak’s henchmen, in stark contrast to the general impression the MOTU comics have given of him so far.
We then switch to Bow and Angella enjoying a walk in the woods. Angella’s remark that “Adora is my closest friend” comes across as rather odd and naïve, for if this were really the case, would Adora really be withholding her double identity as She-Ra from Angella?
The two are attacked by Modulok, who imprisons Angella in a net made from the webbing of the Night Spiders, which is impossible to break. Bow quickly runs off and finds Adora, who transforms into She-Ra and goes on the trail of the captured Angella, following Modulok’s distinctive footprints left by his two pairs of feet.
After the heroes foil the villains’ ambush, there follows another highly illogical line when Hordak uses the Nuller Device to snatch She-Ra’s sword from her, and declares, “Without your enchanted sword you are helpless”. From what we have seen so far in the She-Ra comics, She-Ra is most certainly not helpless without her sword, for she has more than enough brain power and physical strength on her side, and it seems a bit unbelievable in this scene how Leech is able to use his suction power to force her into the cage so easily. Insult is added to injury on the next page, when She-Ra openly states “Without my sword I am too weak”. This seriously undermines the tremendous power of the comics’ lead heroine, and indeed her very status, by stating outright that She-Ra is weak and helpless without her sword – as well as contrasting hugely with what we have seen so far. How easy would it be for the Horde to defeat She-Ra, if all they need to do is take her sword off her? Many readers, including the youngest ones, will question the logic here, but sadly this story does not credit its readers with the intelligence that the other stories generally do.
She-Ra is able to use strategic thinking to enable herself and Bow to escape, by picking a hairclip from her hair and slipping it into the cage lock, but this seems nevertheless a rather silly method, also making the Horde appear extra incompetent if their traps can be escaped this easily. Bow’s dialogue is likewise unintentionally laughable – “No wonder you were entrusted with the safekeeping of all Etheria”. Um, yes, Etheria’s mightiest defender, armed with… a hairclip at her command. Next, please…
She-Ra proceeds to escape the cage and rescues Angella very easily from the web with a single swipe of her sword - despite us having been told before that the webbing of the Night Spiders was "impossible to break". The heroes then make their way to Castle Bright Moon to avert the Horde's attack, leading to the villains' defeat, which again is hopelessly easy and simply makes the Horde look incompetent and feeble. While incompetence on the villains’ part may well be very much expected in a children’s comic, both the She-Ra and MOTU comics aimed generally at an all-ages audience, and the villains’ incompetence was usually shown to be down to their egos and vanity getting the better of them, rather than just being downright useless. This story, however, portrays them as exactly that – downright useless, and all it takes for them to be defeated is for She-Ra to duck beneath Leech’s attempt to suck the sword from her hand (indeed, so she will be "powerless again"), causing him to suck the Nuller Device itself towards him and resulting in Hordak losing control over it, getting a taste of his own medicine as he becomes weightless and floats in empty air.
Hordak simply teleports away as his henchmen desert him, and we get a completely uninspiring closing panel, bringing the story to a generic and unremarkable close.
So far, both the She-Ra and MOTU UK comics have thrilled us, inspired us, awed us, even slightly disturbed us at times, and most importantly, challenged us intellectually with their plot twists and thinking-based solutions. So what went wrong here? “Trapped by Hordak” is the complete opposite of the London Editions comics’ normal fare – a simple, uninspiring and poorly-constructed story which, through its lack of logic and its simplistic dialogue, makes both heroes and villains appear completely useless, and not only fails to challenge its reader but actually appears to patronize them and underestimate their intelligence. And while continuity has generally been very strong throughout the MOTU and She-Ra comics so far, this story actually comes on the verge of violating continuity in respect of its character portrayal, and one could be forgiven for mistaking this for a story from a different medium altogether.
To be fair on the writer, they may well have thought in this instance that it was better to play things safe, and abide strictly by Mattel’s non-violence restrictions to appease them and give them a straightforward kids’ story that would keep the bosses satisfied. But other stories managed to work around Mattel’s restrictions by placing the focus on brains and mental logic rather than on violence, and were never afraid to push the boundaries. For a comic series that has constantly inspired us so far with its unconventional approach, it is extremely disappointing to get such a substandard story at this stage that just plays things far too safe, and at an early stage in the She-Ra comics’ run, readers would have been justified in fearing that this may become the norm for She-Ra and that the quality of this comic’s stories could become significantly lower than that of the MOTU ones. Thankfully this was not to be the case and the comic quickly returned to its usual high standards – but in the context of this particular issue, “Trapped by Hordak” is nothing more than a huge let-down.
© Aidan Cross, 2019.