The Dark Side of Eternia

It's nearly Halloween, so I thought I'd use this month's editorial to take a look at some of the spookier sides of the MOTUniverse.

The most obvious example, of course, is Skeletor, the Lord of Destruction. Skeletor, while often comic, also has a frightening side to him. With his skeletal face, his gleeful devotion to Evil, and his residence in a dark, cavernous mountain fortress on a sunless part of the planet, Skeletor has strong "horror" roots. He's ruthless, treacherous, sadistic, and has very few qualms about it all.

The two main origins for the Dark Lord also add to the horrific undertones of Skeletor. Earlier material presents him as an alien or demonic being (the word "demon" is even used in several places to refer to him), a creature from beyond Eternia and utterly hostile to it and its people. We can easily imagine this Skeletor taking no care for Eternia aside from the power he can strip from it. The minicomic "The Search for Keldor," though, hints at the possibility that Skeletor was once King Randor's brother, Keldor. In its own way, this idea makes Skeletor even more horrific as an example of how far mortal man can fall, and how one can come to hate that which he should love.

Closely related to Skeletor is Scare Glow, the "evil ghost of Skeletor" and one of the few ghostly figures to show up in the Masters of the Universe saga. Not only does Scare Glow literally radiate fear, but his nature and mysterious origin add an element of horror and the unexplained to him. Is he a sign that Skeletor will fail and die, but even then, never let go of his mad determination? Or is he some strange reflection of Eternia's most powerful nemesis?

There were some horror elements in the first two years of minicomics that are worth noting. The concept of demon-summoning and human sacrifice shows up in "The Menace of Man-E-Faces," where Teela was taken by Skeletor and Man-E-Faces as a sacrifice to a demon who would help Skeletor capture Castle Grayskull. Teela's origin received a sinister twist in "The Tale of Teela," where it was revealed that Skeletor had cloned her from the Goddess, reminiscent of many mad scientist schemes. (Thankfully, Filmation dropped this idea!)

The most horrific or spooky elements, though, came from the cartoon series. "The Sleepers Awake" is reminiscent of classic Gothic tales, while "House of Shokoti" involves the legacy of an ancient witch and a dark, unexplainable power that overwhelms even He-Man. Ancient horrors that are accidentally released or need to be contained show up in several episodes, such as "Song of Celice" and "Reign of the Monster."

I'm going to pay special attention to two episodes with horror themes that rank among my favorites.

The first is "To Save Skeletor," in which everybody's favorite archvillain summons Shagora, a monster from another dimension. Shagora's reminiscent of the alien creatures of H. P. Lovecraft, completely non-humanoid with a bloblike body, two tentacles, and a single eye. The monster is also noteworthy for his age and malevolence. He states that he has watched Eternia for eons, waiting for a chance to seize its power. What adds the final spice to Shagora's nature as a creature of "Cosmic Horror," though, is his incredible power. He's able to overpower Skeletor and Evil-Lyn at the same time, and simply laughs off the efforts of the combined forces of good and evil to defeat him. Once he leaves Snake Mountain for Castle Grayskull, he's able to pull open the jawbridge, hypnotize the Sorceress, and turn her into a harpy-like creature. Even at the end, Shagora cannot be defeated -- only banished. That leaves open the possibility that someday, some other foolish sorcerer will again unleash this creature, which considers mortals no more than minor annoyances, and has the power to back up that opinion.

An episode with a more classic horror flavor, as opposed to the Lovecraftian cosmic horror of "To Save Skeletor," is "Wizard of Stone Mountain." Instead of alien horrors, this classic MOTU story focuses on human weaknesses and diabolic temptations, reminiscient of the legend of Faust. Malik, the Wizard of Stone Mountain, fell in love with Teela in his youth. That innocent crush has become a twisted and consuming obsession, though, which leads Malik down the road to darkness. Making a pact with a impish creature named Lokus, Malik lets Lokus do evil and spread lies to give the young mage his chance at winning Teela's heart. He succeeds in capturing Teela, but even as he does, we can see him losing his humanity -- his former passion is gradually being replaced by a cold possessiveness and a belief that Teela must come to love him in time. The episode climaxes, though, when Malik's payment to Lokus comes due. Lokus is revealed as a servant of "Evil Himself," and Malik's bargain will cost him his soul. While He-Man is able to match Evil's darkness with his own goodness, the cost of Malik's unholy bargain is averted when Malik's apprentice, Kareen, offers her own soul in exchange for his. Evil accepts the agreement, but the pure, self-sacrificing love of Kareen places her soul beyond his grasp. Thus, like almost all MOTU episodes, "Wizard of Stone Mountain" ends happily. Even when the series hits its darkest themes, it still points out the strength of goodness, the importance of hope, honor, and justice, and the power of love.

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