UK London Editions Comics
Cover by: Joan Boix
As with previous She-Ra comic covers, the cover of this issue has no actual relation to the story inside, and features She-Ra seemingly overpowered in a perilous situation. The Trooper seems to be leaning over She-Ra in a rather, um, risque position, with his legs arched right over hers and his open palms placed suspiciously close to her breasts...
This issue's intro page.
Story 1: "The Siren Fish of Etheria, Part I"
Writer: James Hill
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: Beneath the waters of the Silver River, Mermista is playing underwater games with her friends, the Siren Fish of Etheria, who according to legend are the former rulers of Etheria who gave up their human forms after reaching an unparalleled level of peace. As they swim together, they find their way blocked by a solid wall of coral, but the Siren Fish use the sound of their collective song to shatter the wall and leave the path free. Mermista soon has to return to her royal duties, but the Siren Fish agree to meet with her again the next day. However, the next day, when Mermista arrives at the place she agreed to meet her friends, they are nowhere to be seen, and the river is darker, with a strange froth floating on the surface. She swims towards it to investigate, but is overcome by pollution, and barely manages to climb onto the river bank above, where she falls unconscious. She-Ra and Bow, on patrol, stumble upon Mermista’s unconscious form, and when investigating, She-Ra stumbles upon the polluted river and a huge Batmex Factory that has been built on its banks, clearly the cause of the pollution. Within the factory, Hordak is celebrating its completion, revealing that Shadow Weaver’s magic kept the factory invisible while under construction so the Rebels would not stop it from being built. The Batmex Factory is impregnable to outside attack and Hordak intends to use it to produce enough Batmex to launch an all-out assault on the Great Rebellion, obliterating the threat they pose to his rule.
Review: James Hill has contributed two stories to the MOTU comic by now – Issue #13’s “The Reality Shaper” and Issue #15’s “Taming the Dragons” – both huge standout stories notable for their dark, contemplative tone and usage of unusual narrative devices. He now makes his debut in the She-Ra comic, and his style proves to fit the She-Ra universe like a finely knitted glove. While in the space of only five issues we have already seen a huge variety of She-Ra stories, from serious to comedic, action-packed to fairytale-like, James Hill brings a new dimension to the comic with his distinctively poignant and sombre tone, focusing most heavily of all the writers on the tragedies of war and the fearful lives of the ordinary Etherians under the Horde regime. “The Siren Fish of Etheria” is a beautifully atmospheric and mysterious story that breaks new ground within the She-Ra comic.
The story begins with an introduction to its setting – the Silver River, which marks the boundary between the Fright Zone and the kingdom of Bright Moon. With its water-based setting, this story naturally places Mermista in the spotlight – and this is a more than welcome return to the spotlight for this character, who has already played a brilliantly memorable role in Issue #4’s “Operation Whirlpool” and has rendered herself by far one of the strongest members of the supporting cast.
Beneath the waters of the Silver River, Mermista is meeting with her friends, the Siren Fish of Etheria, who, legend has it, were the original rulers of Etheria who renounced their human forms after reaching an unparalleled level of peace and contentment, to live an eternally peaceful existence as the Siren Fish.
If the reader is curious as to their name, it is quickly explained in the following scene, which sees Mermista and her friends finding their path blocked by a solid wall of coral. Their ‘siren song’ is a sharp, intense sound, which as it builds to its peak, becomes powerful enough to shatter the wall of coral, leaving their path free.
After she has parted ways with the Siren Fish, Mermista’s thought bubble reminds us of just how much Mermista is truly at home in the depths of the seas and rivers, as she muses on how “It’s so good to have real friends… Adora and the other princesses mean well, but it’s just impossible for them to fully appreciate these waters...” Like Frosta, another particularly strong member of the supporting cast, Mermista is segregated somewhat from the regular princesses by being bound emotionally to her home territory, her affinity with and knowledge of which both allow for interesting depths and dimensions to her character. The next panel is a glorious illustration of Mermista leaping out of the water against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset, one of Joan Boix’s finest illustrations for the comic. Together with her previous appearance in Issue #4’s “Operation Whirlpool”, the readers have been given a vivid and inspiring sense of Mermista’s fun, playful and mysterious underwater life, affined with nature and the many wonderful creatures of the Etherian marine world.
The next scene sees Mermista returning the next day to the Coral Palace, where she had arranged to meet the Siren Fish, having apparently had a royal meeting with Glimmer the previous evening which unexpectedly carried through to the next morning. She is disappointed to find the Siren Fish are nowhere to be seen, but quickly notices the surface of the river appears darker and cloudier. It quickly becomes apparent that the river has somehow become polluted, and the pollution begins to overpower Mermista, poisoning her. Mustering all her remaining strength, she manages to change to her human form (transforming her fish tail to human legs) and reaches the river bank, where we get two powerful illustrations as she passes out on the bank from the effects of the pollution.
By convenient chance, She-Ra and Bow’s patrol has brought them to the Silver River, where they find the unconscious body of Mermista. She-Ra investigates to find what has harmed her friend, and sees that the river is polluted. At first she is unsure as to the cause of the pollution, before she witnesses a huge Batmex Factory on the opposite river bank that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere, a huge eyesore of an industrial building intruding upon the beautiful natural landscape of the river.
After a brief confrontation between She-Ra and a Horde Trooper, the scene switches to inside the factory, where Hordak is marvelling at his achievement of this “beautiful construction” to his ally Catra and her pet Clawdeen, his dialogue revealing that Shadow Weaver’s magic enabled the Horde to construct the building undetected, and the fully automated building is now impregnable to outside attack. Hordak is celebrating his achievement with a glass of what appears to be red wine – or perhaps more likely, is it blood? We regularly saw Skeletor unwind with some kind of red drink from goblets in the MOTU comics, and it is certainly interesting to muse on whether the evil leaders enjoy a good alcoholic beverage, or whether they are drinking something more gruesome! Hordak intends to use the building to produce enough Batmex to launch an all-out assault on the Great Rebellion, ending their threat to his rule once and for all. Part 1 of this story ends with a fantastic illustration of Hordak crushing the wine glass in his hand.
James Hill’s mystical, emotionally-driven tone is already very prevalent throughout this first half of the story and is being matched beautifully by Joan Boix’s dreamlike artwork.
This issue’s letters page features an interesting question about how old She-Ra was when she was given her sword – and the answer reveals that she was given the sword not long after her brother, Prince Adam, received his own sword, so like him, she was 21 when she got the sword. This contradicts most other canons, as most media indicated Adam had been fighting as He-Man for several years before his sister was located and given the powers of She-Ra. Later editions of the MOTU comic would contradict this by saying Adam was 18 when he was given his sword, though this error in continuity was later acknowledged by the comics themselves and corrected, to state he was indeed 21.
Story 2: “The Siren Fish of Etheria, part 2”
Writer: James Hill
Art: Joan Boix
Synopsis: She-Ra, Bow, Mermista and Peekablue are gathered in Mermista’s Coral Palace, trying to work out what to do about the new threat from Hordak’s Batmex Factory. Mermista is most worried about the pollution of the river and the possible fate of the Siren Fish, but the others are more concerned about the general threat the factory poses to Etheria and She-Ra explains they must destroy the factory itself before they can clear up the pollution. Peekablue uses her spying abilities to spy on the factory and work out a way to enter the building, and the Rebels travel to the factory aboard Butterflyer, undetected due to her magical aura. Unseen by the Troopers atop the factory roof, She-Ra fires a blast down at the factory from her sword, destroying the Troopers. She-Ra, Bow and Mermista descend to the factory roof and She-Ra instructs Peekablue to take Butterflyer and wait for them at a safe distance, and Bow will fire a flare arrow to signal to her when to return and pick them up. The trio enter the factory via the rooftop entrance, but they are spotted by Clawdeen, who rushes to tell Hordak. Catra opens a communication channel to the Trooper Barracks, and as the Rebels make their way down the corridor, they are ambushed by a squadron of Troopers. The Troopers chase them back to the factory rooftop, where Hordak and Catra join the troopers, instructing them to attack. The Rebels are greatly outnumbered, but at that moment, Mermista notices the Siren Fish in the river below, swimming towards the factory. Emerging from the water, the Siren Fish begin to sing, and knowing that the power of their song will shatter the factory, Mermista shouts to She-Ra and Bow that they must escape. She changes to her mermaid form and dives into the river, then Bow fires his flare arrow and Peekablue arrives on board Butterflyer to pick them up. Down below, the whole Batmex Factory is shattered by the song of the Siren Fish and crumbles to the ground. Hordak converts into rocket form and escapes, while Clawdeen pounces on Catra and the two of them land in the Silver River. Days later, the Rebels have used a combination of magic and science to clear the Silver River of pollution, and Mermista is overjoyed to have the river back to normal. She is looking forward to swimming with the Siren Fish again, but the fish tell her that they must leave her for now, for years ago they swore an oath against violence, which they have broken by aiding her and her friends. They explain they now need to be alone and consider whether to continue honouring their oath or join the Rebels in the war against Hordak. Over the following weeks, despite the urging of She-Ra and the Rebels, Mermista waits patiently for her friends to return, confident that the Siren Fish will eventually make the decision to join the Great Rebellion.
Review: Part 2 begins in Mermista’s Coral Palace, where Bow, She-Ra and Peekablue have joined the revived Mermista to discuss what to do about the threat of the Batmex Factory. There is an open tension between Mermista and Peekablue, who complains about Mermista having “done nothing but prattle on about the Siren Fish” when the Batmex Factory’s threat to Etheria is a far greater concern. Mermista’s homeworld and her friends remain her primary concern, nonetheless, for she fears that the Siren Fish could have been made ill, or worse, by the effect of the pollution.
Peekablue, a character who has only played minimal guest roles in the comic so far, uses her ‘peacock eyes’ and their power of remote viewing to spy on the factory and work out a way of entering the building. The Rebels travel to the factory on board Butterflyer, the mysterious warrior-vehicle with a sentience of its own. She-Ra, Bow and Mermista descend into the fortress, sneaking in via the rooftop entrance, but they are spotted by Clawdeen, Catra’s feline pet, who we have seen little of in the comic so far, but who other issues explained is actually the source of Catra’s powers, having taught her to shapeshift into a panther. Clawdeen, who is apparently capable of human speech, races down the stairwell to tell Hordak and Catra that She-Ra has entered the factory.
The Rebels, meanwhile, are racing towards Hordak’s control room. One panel here makes it look as though Mermista’s corset is hanging loose over her groinal area, making her appear to be wearing nothing underneath, one of numerous ‘sexually suggestive’ incidents involving the comic’s female characters, along with the infamous ‘blow job’ panel involving Frosta in Issue #5.
Ambushed by Troopers, who chase them back to the rooftop, it seems to be all over for the Rebels, and Hordak gets some amazing dialogue here: “I would like to say what a worthy adversary you’ve been… but I deplore lying!”
At this point, the story comes full circle as Mermista finally spots the Siren Fish in the river below, beginning to use their song to shatter the walls of the factory. Mermista quickly implores her friends to get away, before changing to her mermaid form and diving into the river.
Bow then uses his flare arrow to signal to Peekablue, who is waiting a distance away with Butterflyer, to come to their aid, and the factory begins to fall apart as She-Ra and Bow ascend the ladder onto Butterflyer. Hordak retreats in rocket form while Catra and Clawdeen suffer a watery fate, Clawdeen pouncing on Catra and knocking them both into the river, Clawdeen dragging Catra to safety “after much floundering” (later issues would explore in further detail Catra’s feline hatred of water).
The scene cuts to several days later, and the Rebels are shown to have succeeded in clearing the river of pollution, using a combination of magic and science – notably Castaspella has joined them here, her magic having apparently been significant in clearing the pollution. Mermista is particularly excited, feeling able to swim once again with the Siren Fish, but the fish’s mood has changed and something is bothering them. They explain that many moons ago, they swore an oath against violence, which they have now broken by coming to the aid of the Rebels. They now need time alone, to decide whether to resume honouring this oath, or to join the Rebels in their struggle against Hordak.
We thus get a poignant ending to the story, with Mermista, against the urges of She-Ra and the other princesses, patiently waiting for weeks for her friends to return, confident that the Siren Fish will eventually choose to aid the Great Rebellion – Mermista’s optimistic expression contrasting with a pessimistic look from She-Ra on the final panel.
This brings to a strong close the debut story from James Hill in the She-Ra comics. While James Hill made a mindblowing debut in the MOTU comic several months prior with the twisted and surreal “The Reality Shaper”, his She-Ra debut is similarly powerful and introduces him to the She-Ra comic as a writer who really means business. In this two-parter he encapsulates the more tragic side of the conflict on Etheria – devoid of humour or silliness, “The Siren Fish of Etheria” places a firm focus on Etheria as a would-be tranquil planet devastated and threatened by an evil regime, which is polluting the planet and destroying the lives of numerous innocent and peaceful creatures. In a similar manner to “Taming the Dragons” in Issue #15 of the MOTU comic, which dealt with the subject of animal cruelty, “The Siren Fish of Etheria” addresses a real-life issue with its focus on pollution and the destruction of nature and animal life by industry and factories. Undoubtedly one of the story’s strongest points is its development of the character Mermista. Already rendered a strong member of the supporting cast by her memorable appearance in Issue #4’s “Operation Whirlpool”, Mermista’s character is expanded brilliantly here, as we explore her true affinity with the undersea life of Etheria, and also her integrity and devotion to her watery homeworld, which sets her apart from the other Princesses so that she is somewhat isolated even in their company, with a touch of childlike naivety and playfulness, yet at the same time she possesses a powerful integrity and fearless devotion to protecting the marine world, her friends the Siren Fish possessing undoubtedly a great deal more wisdom and knowledge than the humans of Etheria. James Hill’s excellent exploration of her character showcases her as someone who, while she is slightly outcast among the other Princesses, sometimes coming to blows with them, is nevertheless someone we thoroughly respect, a kind of dark horse among the Rebels with a great deal more depth to her character than many of her comrades. Her naturally playful, almost childlike nature is balanced brilliantly by her integrity, intelligence and fearless devotion to her cause. She has all the hallmarks of a true heroine and stands out as one of the comic’s strongest cast members. In the story’s closure, She-Ra undoubtedly views Mermista as naïve, yet Mermista remains firmly confident that the Siren Fish will join the Rebels’ cause – and we cannot help but feel inclined to join in her optimism.
Ultimately, “The Siren Fish of Etheria” easily ranks among the comic’s strongest stories yet, and fortunately it would not be the last story to come from the imagination of James Hill, whose dreamlike, emotionally-driven approach to the stories was perfectly suited to the She-Ra franchise and took the comic to new depths.
Story 3: “Hordak’s Victory”
Art: Francisco Javier González Vilanova
Synopsis: She-Ra is sitting alone, troubled, thinking about her past when as Adora, she served Hordak as a captain in his army. She had never realized at the time how evil Hordak was, but cannot help wondering how things might have been had she realized the truth earlier. Meanwhile, Hordak is putting his latest plan into action. He has managed to find the hiding place of the legendary Enchanted Sisters, who he summons from their ageless slumber. It is written that whoever finds the Enchanted Sisters may ask them three questions, all of which they are obliged to answer truthfully. Hordak asks the sisters if he will ever defeat the Rebels, and the sisters show him a vision of the near future, which shows She-Ra kneeling at Hordak’s feet. Hordak asks the sisters when this will happen, and they tell him it will happen when they next battle. Hordak asks them if anybody will take his victory away from him at the last minute, and the sisters tell him his victory will not be lost unless he changes his mind. Hordak knows he would never throw away such a victory, so feels confident that She-Ra is doomed. The sisters give Hordak a glowing stone, which they tell him can be used to defeat the Rebels by turning them as evil as Hordak himself. Hordak returns to the Fright Zone with the stone, confident of his impending victory. Shortly afterwards, a small village is attacked by Hordak, who demands that the village summon She-Ra to their aid immediately, and to tell her he will destroy the village if she does not come. They send the word out, and soon She-Ra arrives at the village, with Bow and Castaspella. Hordak brandishes the stone given him by the Enchanted Sisters, and it immediately takes effect on the three Rebels, who each kneel at Hordak’s feet. The three of them desperately try to hold onto their own minds as they feel the stone’s effects, and She-Ra tells Castaspella there is only one thing that can save them – Castaspella’s powers of suggestion. She uses these powers on Hordak, and he begins to feel good thoughts entering his head. Thinking the stone must be turning him good as it turns his enemies evil, he drops the stone to the ground and crushes it with his boot. He then flees the scene, and the three Rebels feel their own minds returning as the stone’s effect dissipates. Castaspella’s magic seems to have worked, but she suspects the stone may have been having such an effect on Hordak for real. Back at the forest where the Enchanted Sisters dwell, the sisters laugh to themselves about Hordak’s defeat, proving their prophecy that only he could throw away his own victory.
Review: This story begins with a scene the likes of which we really should have seen much more of across the various media producing She-Ra stories. While throughout most versions of the mythos, She-Ra began as a Force Captain in Hordak’s army before receiving the powers of Grayskull and defecting to the forces of good, she was very rarely ever shown to feel the natural guilt or remorse one would expect of a heroine previously tricked into serving the forces of evil. Naturally we assumed she probably did feel such guilt, but never once did the Filmation cartoon series make this the focus of an episode or even touch upon it. Naturally, we would expect She-Ra to be heavily conflicted and full of remorse over her past life, and it is likely that this would plague her from time to time and prove to be potentially something that could be used against her. It seems a huge waste that so few media ever acknowledged this side to her character, so even though it may not be the focal point of this story, we can certainly applaud the London Editions Comics for touching on it more so than most media ever did.
After this brief but powerful opening scene, we switch our attentions to Hordak, who is here enacting a scheme of a more mystical nature perhaps more typical of Shadow Weaver, in contrast to his usual technology-driven schemes. He ventures into a dark woodland full of twisted, crooked trees against a grey sky, powerfully illustrated by Francisco Javier González Vilanova. He has found that this location is the hiding place of the Enchanted Sisters, three powerful female oracles believed by many to be a myth. The sisters appear upon Hordak’s summons, and it is interesting to note how strikingly similar to Shadow Weaver they are in appearance.
The sisters’ role is to truthfully answer three questions posed to them by whoever summons them. Speaking in rhyme, the sisters answer Hordak’s question of whether he will ever defeat the Rebels, and present to him a future vision of She-Ra kneeling before Hordak. His second question evokes the answer that this will happen when he and She-Ra next battle, and finally he asks whether anyone will take this victory away from him, to which the sisters respond that his victory will be secure unless he changes his own mind. Knowing that he would never throw away a victory, Hordak is now confident of his win. The sisters gift him with a glowing stone which has the power to make the Rebels as evil as Hordak himself. The exact nature of the Enchanted Sisters is purposefully unclear here – their giving Hordak the stone seems to indicate they are on his side and willing to aid him in defeating the Rebels, yet their line “Trouble us no more, you evil pest!” seems to imply otherwise, thus leaving their exact nature uncertain. Hordak leaves the scene certain that he will defeat the Rebels upon his next encounter with them, while his thought bubble “I’m glad to be leaving the Sisters. I don’t think I could have stood any more of that awful poetry” is a great touch of deadpan humour!
The scene cuts to a small village somewhere on Etheria, where two young girls are listening to an old man named Bay-Bur tell them a story – likely a tall tale – of how he, as a young man, apparently defeated Hordak with one arm tied behind his back, causing Hordak to beg for mercy! The story is interrupted by an invasion from Hordak himself, who grabs the old man by the neck and demands he summon She-Ra to the village. Although Bay-Bur doesn’t seem that afraid of Hordak, and his story shows us just what a dominant presence on Etheria the Horde has been for so many generations, it seems the opportunity was missed here for some great humour, had Hordak said something to contradict the old man’s story, or offered to settle the score.
Suspecting a trap, She-Ra travels to the village with Bow and Castaspella, remarking on how unusual it is for Hordak to do his own dirty work by coming to the village himself rather than sending his minions. Hordak has his cloak wrapped around the glowing stone, and unleashes it as She-Ra comes close to him, causing She-Ra and her friends to bow before Hordak. As the three Rebels find themselves thinking evil thoughts and being overcome by the temptation to join forces with Hordak, She-Ra quickly forms a plan and implores Castaspella – a character who has yet to play a focal role in any stories in the comic – to use her powers of suggestion on Hordak. Hordak suddenly finds himself questioning his evil ways and feeling he does not want to conquer Etheria after all. (The dialogue here is slightly clumsy as Hordak has already conquered Etheria, he’s ruled it for decades, his aim is to destroy the Rebellion rather than take control of the planet he already rules.) Hordak assumes the stone must be affecting him in the same manner that it does the Rebels, by changing him from evil to good, and he quickly drops the stone to the ground and crushes it with his boot before it can take any further effect.
The Rebels return to their senses as Hordak flees the scene in rocket form, followed by his Troopers. The Rebels have won the day and are being cheered by the villagers, although they are uncertain whether it really was Castaspella’s powers that worked on Hordak, or whether the stone really did have an effect on him. The final panel cuts back to the Enchanted Sisters, who treat us to some more ‘awful poetry’ about how their prophecy has come true – Hordak beat the Rebels, but threw away his own victory when only he could do so. While this proves a nice twist, indicating they conned Hordak into thinking they were helping him achieve victory when in fact they were setting him up for failure, there is still a degree of ambivalence as to what exactly happened – did the stone really affect Hordak, or did Hordak just imagine it was having such an effect on him? Most likely it was the former, though if Hordak did indeed just imagine its effects, this is certainly an intriguing idea as it would imply some remnants of good in Hordak’s soul that caused him to question his own evil when on the brink of total victory.
Either way, the Enchanted Sisters, as much as they may be no William Butler Yeats and could certainly benefit from a poetry class, are the true stars of this story, intriguing characters who despite initially seeming to willingly help Hordak, in fact had no desire to do so and essentially fobbed him off with a fake solution that set him up for failure. Like another ‘Oracle’ figure from an earlier issue – The Stone Imp in Issue #2's "The Tablet of Truth" – the Sisters had no desire to help the forces of evil (despite their frightening appearance), and in this sense exploited the villain’s own naivety and vanity to ensure his failure.
This story has interesting dimensions that could ideally have been explored in more depth – while She-Ra’s remorse over her evil past in the opening scene may seemingly have been forgotten about for the rest of the story and may strike some readers as being out of place, it actually sets the scene for the story by exploring the fragility of the human mind and how an individual, no matter their true nature, can potentially be swayed by psychological manipulation and suggestion to go to the opposite way, and perform either evil or good actions. She-Ra has in the past served evil and this story sees her tempted by the powers of the stone to return to such ways, while Hordak himself we see here entertain doubts about his malevolent ways and temptation to do good. The Enchanted Sisters, with their own powers of suggestion, can exploit this fragility for the greater good.
As such, “Hordak’s Victory” is a story with surprisingly deep themes for a story only 6 pages long, and stands as a fine example of the comic’s strength in covering the She-Ra mythos from a psychological angle, exploring the emotions and temptations that lie at the bottom of the battle between the Rebels and the Horde.
© Aidan Cross, 2021.