"The Price of Pride"
Lion-O and Panthro have been working hard under the hot sun to build a rampart wall. A tired Panthro asks why they even need a wall along the edge of this plateau, and Lion-O tells him it is for protection – the young lord reminds Panthro that the pass of the Rockmen lies only a few miles north of the wall's location, and that from what the Ro-Bear Berbils have told him the Rockmen have never forgiven Panthro for trespassing into their territory. Lion-O fears that they may be planning an attack, little knowing that a small party of Rockmen are scaling the side of the plateau. Suddenly, a landslide ensues, causing the Thundertank to become suspended on a high rock, and causing a rockfall that lands on the Rockmen spies, injuring one of their number. Panthro is in a perilous position, but Lion-O instructs him to wrap his nun-chuck around the Sword of Omens, and the young lord pulls him free. Panthro thanks Lion-O, and says that now all they have to do is rescue the Thundertank. Lion-O confidently states that it shouldn't be too hard, and both ThunderCats simultaneously ask if the other has any ideas. Surprised, both ThunderCats roar with laughter – a sound that is heard by the party of Rockmen who are tending to their injured comrade. Believing the ThunderCats to be laughing at them, the enraged Rockmen return to their own territory to tell their King Tork of what they see as an act of war on the ThunderCats' part.
At the Rockmen's kingdom, it is revealed that the injured Rockman is none other than Pek, the son of King Tork! Pek is close to death, and so Tork decides to attack the ThunderCats. An elderly advisor asks Tork to wait, speculating as to whether his son was injured deliberately, reasoning that they had been spying on the ThunderCats, and so perhaps Pek's injuries were an accident. Tork appears to consider this, but his thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of the spirit form of Mumm-Ra, who tells Tork that the Rockmen's pride demands the ThunderCats pay the price for their trespass, and urges the Rockman to defend his people's honour. Tork is convinced, and leads his people into battle, leaving the saddened advisor behind to care for Pek.
Later on, in the Forest of Silence, Cheetara is bathing in a waterfall when she is attacked by two Rockmen who attempt to drown her. Cheetara breaks free and makes to retaliate, only to discover that the two Rockmen have disappeared. Cheetara resolves to follow their footprints. Meanwhile, in a field on the Plain of Fertility, Snarf, WilyKit and WilyKat are picking berries, when WilyKit is grabbed by a pack of Rockmen. Using sneeze dust, WilyKat frees her sister, and Snarf attacks one of the Rockmen by jumping on his back. However, the Rockman straightens up and Snarf falls heavily onto his back, just as Cheetara races to the scene. Cheetara is enraged to see Snarf hurt, but the Rockman retorts that it is no worse than the injuries their prince sustained at the hands of the ThunderCats' leader, and declares that the Rockmen will be avenged. Cheetara meets out her own vengeance by delivering a crushing blow to the Rockman with her staff, and the Rockmen flee. Tending to Snarf, Cheetara fears that he may be dying...
At Cats Lair, Tygra says that Snarf is not dying, but has been badly injured. He asks why the Rockmen attacked, but an angry Lion-O states that the Rockmen started the fight, now the ThunderCats shall finish it. The ThunderCats set out to attack the Rockmen's kingdom. As the young lord goes to leave, Jaga appears before him, telling Lion-O that he should seek understanding instead of vengeance. Lion-O tells Jaga that he, Jaga, was their leader once, and that a leader must defend his people. Jaga tells Lion-O that there is a difference between defence and attack, but Lion-O insists that the Rockmen must be punished for what they have done, that it's a matter of honour. Jaga tells Lion-O that the greatest honour belongs to those who pursue peace, but Lion-O refuses to listen and angrily stalks away. Meanwhile, a groggy Snarf awakens, and looks out the window of Cats Lair to see the ThunderCats leaving without him. Convinced in his befuddled state that the others are going on a picnic without him, Snarf resolves to follow them.
Meanwhile, the ThunderCats position themselves atop a cliff overlooking the pass of the Rockmen. The ThunderKittens use spark powder to set fire to dry bush, which they use to smoke out the Rockmen, and the ThunderCats launch into their attack...little knowing that the conflict is being watched from his Onyx Pyramid by Mumm-Ra. The devil priest is delighted to see the battle unfold, crowing that, whatever the outcome, the final victory shall belong to he when all who have opposed him lie in ruin.
Back on the cliffs overlooking the pass of the Rockmen, a still-dazed Snarf has caught up with the other ThunderCats. Missing his footing, Snarf falls off the edge of the cliff, and lands atop Pek and the elderly advisor. The advisor believes that this means the ThunderCats must indeed be coming to destroy them, but Snarf explains that his fall was an accident, and that at least the shock of his fall has brought him back to his senses! Snarf tells the two Rockmen that the ThunderCats didn’t start the conflict, the Rockmen did, but Pek accuses him of lying, recounting how Lion-O "knocked a mountain on his head". Snarf assures Pek that this must have been an accident, and the advisor states that this confirms his suspicions.
With the ThunderCats still locked in deadly combat with the Rockmen, King Tork tears a rock out of the cliff-face and challenges Lion-O to battle him one-on-one in a fight to the finish. The other ThunderCats are shocked by the ferocity of the conflict they find themselves in, and watch as an enraged Lion-O battles Tork, the Sword of Omens emitting a thunderous roar. Hell-bent on vengeful fury, Lion-O disarms Tork, knocks him down and prepares to deliver a finishing blow, when Snarf, accompanied by Pek and the advisor, runs up to him and stops him. Snarf explains how the situation arose, by accident, and Lion-O's fury is quelled. Tork, however, believes them to be lying. Lion-O urges the Rockman to let their conflict end, insisting that he had been wrong in fighting him. Tork states that the ThunderCats have insulted his honour, and that that is reason enough for war, a war that can only end with Lion-O's destruction. Sheathing the Sword of Omens, Lion-O says that he will not fight Tork anymore, and if that's not proof enough of his sincerity then the Rockman must do what he must. Tork picks up a giant boulder and prepares to crush the young lord, but Pek pleads with his father to forget honour and pride and listen with his heart. Tork wavers...and finally sets aside the boulder, leaving Lion-O unharmed. Relieved, the others run over to join Lion-O. WilyKit asks Lion-O how he knew Tork wouldn't kill him, and Lion-O states that he didn’t, but explains that after listening to Snarf he felt he had to take the risk, as a matter of honour...
In his Onyx Pyramid, Mumm-Ra watches the scene with displeasure, but vows that next time will see a different outcome.
* This story is an almost direct continuation of #3, where Panthro inadvertently trespassed on the Rockmen's kingdom, and develops the Rockmen characters still further, showing them to be a paranoid, almost xenophobic race.
* When Lion-O battles King Tork, Snarf thinks to himself that he hasn't heard the Sword of Omens make a noise that ferocious "since the days of chaos back on Thundera, more than a hundred years ago." If the "days of chaos" refers to the destruction of Thundera, this gives us a timeframe for how many years have transpired since the ThunderCats fled their home planet (at least in Marvel's continuity). It also tells us that Snarf had seen (and heard) the Sword of Omens and the Eye of Thundera prior to Jaga revealing them to the other ThunderCats in #1!
* In the letters page of this issue, a reader asks why Lion-O aged during the ThunderCats' voyage to Third Earth whilst WilyKat & WilyKit did not. The answer given is that all the ThunderCats aged during the ship's voyage, but that it was only obvious in Lion-O because he actually grew – whereas, the ThunderKittens were naturally small cats and so couldn't grow any more. This is very interesting (if somewhat implausible), not least of all because it means that the ThunderKittens' more childlike behaviour is not so much because of their age but to do with their genetic makeup.
This story is an instant classic, showcasing Marvel's storytelling at its best. I think probably the most refreshing thing about this tale is that, whilst we're used to seeing the ThunderCats in straightforward "good vs. evil" conflict, here we see Mumm-Ra preying on the paranoid, suspicious natures of the Rockmen to create conflict between two essentially good races. Whilst the Rockmen are clearly highly aggressive and territorial, they are not "evil" in the strictest sense, and this again is what a large part of this story is about – a look at intolerance and lack of understanding of other races, and the conflicts that can arise from that lack of understanding and communication.
There are a couple of minor details with this story that don't ring true for me, the most notable one being that, at least if cartoon continuity is observed, the Sword of Omens shouldn't allow Lion-O to attack King Tork because Tork is not technically evil. Whether the Sword will allow Lion-O to defend himself against an opponent who is not strictly evil but either harbouring evil thoughts or, indeed, murderous intent towards Lion-O is a matter for debate, but this is still something that has always bothered me about this story.
That minor quibble aside, this is still a beautifully crafted story with a good moral lesson – in other words, ThunderCats as it was truly intended to be!