Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Skeletor's Secret Origin - The Search For Keldor

It's always nice to know how things begin. Why Optimus Prime doesn’t like Megatron. Where those freaky holograms from the Visionaries came from. Why I was in the ditch that morning wearing the chicken suit.

He-Man never got any sort of beginning or attempts at an explanation though. The audience was just thrown straight in to the crazy world of a big semi-naked man wrestling a blue skeleton. And to be fair the franchise was aimed at five-year-olds, so creating a complex back-story wasn’t really on anyone’s mind.

There was always that niggling question though – just who was Skeletor? Why was he so powerful, and what was his motivation besides ‘being a huge jerk’? There were no answers forthcoming in the classic series, though we did get close.

He-Man toys had the added value of a minicomic packaged with them, which helped advertise the toys and show how amazing they were. They really helped my little child-brain love He-Man, and I kept them all neat in my secret cupboard! (Ever kid needs a secret cupboard). The 1987 line of toys came with what is perhaps the most interesting minicomic produced – The Search For Keldor!

This was one of the few ones that I never owned as a kid. This was a shame since if I did, that would have meant I’d owned the accompanying figures and would be able to retire on the riches I’d receive from throwing them to eBay.

Straight away one of the most notable things is that this is drawn by the one and only Bruce Timm, of DC Animated Universe fame. It helps give a bit more respectability to the proceedings. Not that free comics that come with children’s toys aren’t respectable already of course!

The tale opens at midnight outside Eternia Tower. Obviously Mattel were pushing the super expensive Eternia play set as much as possible, mentioning it as much as they could. The play set was absolutely gigantic and so to afford it, parents would have to remortgage their houses. But it was okay, since then He-man could play in the magical towers of Eternia!
King Randor has gathered his most trusted friends together so that on this one day, as he does every year he may part the mystic veils and search for his lost brother Keldor who vanished after meddling with dark magic. A bit hokey, but there is something about the art and presentation that gives it the right sense of ‘epic.’. But who is entrusted to this task?

King Randor
Long term readers of my site may remember my dislike of this figure, and the nerd outrage that caused. I'd like to qualify that statement if I can. As a kid, the purpose of He-Man figures were to be gimmicky - the more gimmicky the figure, the more I liked it. Mattel knew this and made crazier and crazier toys, and I lapped them up. For Randor though, his only gimmick is that he looks like Randor from the cartoon, sans trousers. For many this is probably enough but I do wish they'd at least packaged him with some bizarre accessory like a catapult that shoots crowns.

Randor as many of you may know is the King of Eternia and Prince Adam's father (Prince Adam being, of course, He-Man's rather fey alter-ego). Despite the popularity of the cartoon and the use of characters such as Randor in the minicomics from early on, Mattel seemed very reluctant to make the cartoon-first characters such as Randor into actual figures. Perhaps then it is right that Randor be rather basic, more like the basic first year of toys than the gimmicky later run. Randor is a rather cool character, lets not forget that.

The same goes for the Sorceress. A cartoon character and a female? Mattel must have been forced into this at gunpoint. Looking back it does seem strange that they released these characters after the popular heyday of the cartoon but then I've never understood toy companies.

The first release of Teela came with a snake headdress and was generally used as the sorceress in the early minicomic, leading to lots of hilarious confusion down the line. In an attempt to follow the more popular cartoon continuity, one minicomic attempted to explain this by saying that Teela was a magic clone of the Sorceress and it was all the fault of magic. In later years Marvel would use this same technique to try to ruin their Spiderman line (see what I did there!)

Like all female He-Man figures, the Sorceress has gigantic thunder thighs. At least she wasn't yellow like they made Evil Lyn.

Prince Adam
Rather interestingly for this vital and dangerous task, Randor chooses Prince Adam to help him out. From a story point of view this is a touching character moment between father and son, as Randor shows the trust he puts in his only child, putting his life in his hands.

From a more cynical viewpoint, it is more likely that Mattel wanted to advertise the Prince Adam figure a bit more, since no-one really wanted a pink and mauve He-Man wearing stockings and with a real velvety feel.

Clamp Champ
Rounding out the team is Clamp Champ. As far as figures go he's probably one of the worst. It seems his main feature is that he is 'black'. That is pretty much it really. His ability is his clamp, which is a bit uninspired and more damningly any character could hold. He-Man was all about characters who were strange and wonderful, and there's not much about him that is unique.

Rather confusingly the minicomic calls him Klamp Champ (I assume that to be an earlier version of his name). Even more amusingly we never even see his clamp in use in the comic - instead he is made out to be Randor's bad-ass bodyguard who has super senses and can pluck arrows fired at him out of the air. He actually comes out the best in this comic which is impressive for what is arguably the worst toy.

Back to the plot, Skeletor has taken a special interest in the search for Randor’s brother. In fact, he announces that the very knowledge would be enough to destroy him! This is pretty much the fascinating crux of this issue – why is this so important to Skeletor? Skeletor doesn’t rely on his usual menagerie of useless henchmen for this mission – no, he uses his magical powers to search through time for the best evil warriors! It turns out that the best evil warriors are ghosts and ninjas, so there is nothing we didn’t know. Who is on team evil for this epic confrontation?

Most of the mini-comics used Skeletor’s latest outfit, this one uses his classic look. It may not be the most fun, but it is at least timeless and gives this piece a bigger ‘flare’ than it would have.

Of note, the first He-Man minicomic, He-Man And The Power Sword told us that Skeletor was from another dimension full of people who looked just like him. But it also had He-Man coming from a jungle tribe, a green Teela (who Skeletor wanted to marry) and Man-At-Arms living in a cave. So we can take that with a pinch of salt.

Ninjor is an inspiringly named ninja character. Imagine that. He is one of the few oriental He-Man figures, and with the amount of accessories can be very expensive to get complete. His excitement level really revolves around how much you like ninjas, to be blunt. He doesn’t have that much else going for him though at least he has an actual cloth costume which is pretty nifty.

Ah Scare-Glow! One of the hardest to find figures, Scare-Glow oozes class. He is a skeleton, he has a proper cloak and most importantly he can glow in the dark. I loved glow in the dark stuff – it seemed that in the eighties everything glowed in the dark. Which is odd since you barely see the gimmick used anymore. Perhaps it turned out the process was achieved using radon or crushed baby souls or something. Scare-Glow is also announced to be ‘The Evil Ghost Of Skeletor’. He’s a skeleton... could he be...? Nah...

Is Scare-Glow literally Skeletor’s ghost then? I can solve this conundrum here and now. Faker is also described as being the “Evil Robot Of Skeletor”. As you can see Faker really doesn’t look much like Skeletor unless you had really bad eyesight and were mashed off your head on White Lightning. So no, Scare-Glow is just a ghost that belongs to Skeletor.

Of course, Faker doesn’t really serve any useful purpose. His sole function is to be an evil robotic double of He-Man, so for some reason Skeletor made him blue with bright orange hair, and dressed him up in a bright orange version of his own armour. Even for a toyline aimed at really small children, the notion that Faker could pass himself off as He-Man was laughable. Rather than put all that effort into such an awful robot, Skeletor might as well have turned up at Castle Grayskull as himself and try to tell people he was He-Man. It would be just as convincing.
Then again, stranger things have happened, this was actually the second time Faker was released so obviously someone liked him.

Skeletor sends Ninjor and Scare-Glow after the good guys and sits back to watch through his magic orb. Part of me wonders why he didn’t send everyone out if it was so important, though knowing how much they usually bungle it was probably for the best.

Scare-Glow shows how badass he is. Luckily it is nighttime so he glows, and his scary glow makes Prince Adam too afraid to turn into He-Man. This is strange since if I were afraid, the very first thing I’d do would be to whip out my sword and strip to my loincloth. But the police say I’m not allowed to do that anymore.

Poor Ninjor gets no chance to shine however. His attempt at shooting an arrow at Clamp Champ is met by the hero snatching the arrow out of the air and punching Ninjor over a hill right into Scare-Glow. Scare-Glow is then promptly beaten up by He-Man. As I said, Clamp Champ comes across really well in this strip.

Skeletor watches in horror as once again his minions fail him, and what is worse, Randor is close to discovering the secret of Keldor’s fate! Skeletor is in such a rush to deal with this personally that he doesn’t have time to grab any decent henchmen and instead grudgingly takes Faker. Poor Faker, no-one thinks you’re any good!
I'm sure that wasn't Skeletor's plan you know...

Hilariously Randor is able to instantly see through Faker’s deception (he is of course bright blue and orange) and battle is joined – between Skeletor and Randor himself! Randor even uses his rubbish staff!
And then Randor murders Faker!

As Skeletor is about to finish off a weakened Randor, He-Man pops up and throws Skeletor into the mouth of the central tower of Eternia, where he then mysteriously vanishes. He-Man has a good laugh about Faker again (that poor robot!) and the heroes vow to return the next year to continue the search.
At the end, He-Man calls Randor ‘father’. Is that a mistake do we think?

So we have a nice comic with plenty of action and interesting characters for its short page count. The most interesting part of it of course is the implication is that Skeletor is in fact Keldor! It is never explicitly stated, but is implicit throughout. This was the thinking behind the comic, and had the He-Man line continued then we would have learnt more about Keldor’s back-story. Of course you could easily read it as Skeletor just being a jerk and be none the wiser. If you want any proof of that claim, check out the interviews with the writers over at where it is explicitly stated, here.

Keldor was then planned to be used as the villain in the aborted Powers of Grayskull line against the wizard He-Ro. That never panned out, but it is a tale for another time!

Skeletor as Randor’s brother (and thus He-Man’s uncle) makes a lot of sense, and has far more dramatic resonance than Skeletor being a random demon from another dimension. If he is Randor’s brother (albeit disfigured by black magic) then he may actually have a claim on the throne of Eternia so his constant bids for power make sense. And He-Man, who stops him at every turn is unbeknownst to him, his nephew!

I do really like this, and it works because there isn’t a firm explanation given. As it should be, the past is mysterious and can be interpreted. As we all know from the Star Wars prequels, questions are always more interesting than answers.

As a postscript, the link between Skeletor and Keldor was cemented in the new He-Man cartoon, where Keldor appeared as a blue-skinned villain who was transformed into Skeletor. Since he was blue there was no obvious relationship with Randor but the producers have since said that he was meant to be Randor’s half brother. So he was half-human, on his mother’s side.

The whole of the minicomic is available online, here.

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