Easter Monday was my birthday. There wasn’t much of a celebration, because my Mom is in hospital for hip replacement surgery, so it was just me and my Dad. Though I did get a nice haul of books, which you can see below:
Meanwhile, I also got some gifts for myself, because what’s the point of being an adult, if you can’t do that? And those gifts were something my ten-year-old self would have loved as well. Because I’ve been buying some of the Masters of the Universe Origins action figures Mattel has been putting out, inspired by enjoying Masters of the Universe: Revelation so much more than I expected to (see this and this post, now also collectd in a Hugo voter packet near you) and also by seeing Matt John of the excellent Rogues in the House sword and sorcery podcast post pictures of his collection.
Now except for Teela and Flutterina from She-Ra: Princess of Power, both fleamarket finds, I never had any of the vintage Masters of the Universe toys, even though I liked both cartoons and toys a whole lot. It’s not that my parents wouldn’t have bought them for me – they had no problems buying Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bear toys – it’s just that I was terrible at articulating “I want this. Please buy this for my birthday/Christmas/Easter.” By the early 1980s, I was very self-conscious both of the fact that things like Star Wars and Masters of the Universe were considered for boys (which again never bothered my parents – I had a huge collection of Hot Wheels cars as a kid, sadly lost to my stupid cousins) and also that they were violent and war-glorifying American trash and not appropriate for good children (which is hilarious, given the wholesome moral messages of these cartoons). So I adopted the strategy of standing in the toy aisle and gazing longingly at the Masters of the Universe or She-Ra or Star Wars or M.A.S.K. toys and hoping my parents would buy them for me. This worked about as well as you can imagine, namely not at all. My parents were mostly irritated, when I spent ages in the toy aisle, and never really paid attention to what precisely I was spending ages looking at.
In fact, both my parents have zero memory of either He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or She-Ra: Princess of Power, neither of the cartoons nor the toys. They did notice the colourful figures showing up in the house and occupying what’s supposed to be a coffee table and asked about them and when I tried to explain what they were, I just got a blank look. Re-enacting the whole “By the Power of Grayskull…” bit and showing them the intro of the old Filmation cartoon on YouTube did not spark any recollections either, even though they were right there in the room with me, when I was watching those cartoons. I also tried to explain the rather complicated family and friendship relations between the different characters and finally gave up and said, “You know, it was just like Dynasty, only with swords and magic and monsters and for kids.” Which is not only a pretty good description, but is also one of the things which sparked this post.
The other thing, which sparked this post, are the figures themselves. They’re highly posable, a lot more posable than the vontage 1980s figures, and it’s so much fun posing them and making them re-enact moments from the various cartoons or just from my imagination. So I had way too much fun posing the figures and taking photos of them and using whatever props I could find.
I posted some of the photos on Twitter, but a blogpost is less ephemeral. In fact, I had so much fun setting up action figures and taking photos of them, that this will be a multi-part post. I’m planning to give them a more suitable environment eventually and may even get a Castle Grayskull, when I can find one for a good price. But for now, I used whatever props I had at hand to create their surroundings.
So enjoy photos of Masters of the Universe action figures as well as some thoughts about the stories themselves and how much the He-Man/She-Ra universe is driven by secrets and people withholding information, usually for the best of reasons, but often with disastrous consequences.
In fact, Masters of the Universe: Revelation not only has “revelation” right there in the title, the entire first half is also about the central secret of the entire franchise being revealed in the worst possible way and the fallout from that.
That central secret is of course the fact that Prince Adam is also He-Man. Interestingly, this was not the case from the beginning on – the very first mini-comics packed in with the early figures introduced He-Man as a wandering barbarian in the Conan mold. Prince Adam showed up in a DC comic a bit later – DC knowing a thing or two about dual identity heroes – and was then adopted by the Filmation cartoon and has been a central part of the lore ever since. There’s an interesting video about this here.
In fact, the intro to the 1980s Filmation cartoon spells out the whole premise for everybody watching, especially since I don’t recall that He-Man ever got an origin story in the original cartoon, though She-Ra did and both the 2002 cartoon as well as the current Netflix CGI cartoon both show Adam transforming for the very first time.
“Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, ‘By the Power of Grayskull’…”
“Cringer became the mighty Battlecat and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe…”
“Only three others share the secret…”
“Our friends the Sorceress, Man-at-Arms and Orko. Together, we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.”
Of the three who share He-Man’s secret, the Sorceress is an obvious choice, because she is the guardian of Castle Greyskull and the power that rests within its walls. She’s also the one who gives Adam the Sword of Power in most versions of the story. Man-at-Arms is another obvious choice, because he is Adam’s mentor, friend and surrogate father figure in pretty much every version of this story. As for Orko, I always assumed that he accidentally stumbled upon Adam transforming and had to be told, because much as I love Orko, he’s not the sort of person to whom anybody in their right mind would entrust an important secret.
However, there are also people who are very important to Adam, but don’t know that he is He-Man, namely his parents King Randor and Queen Marlena (though Marlena figures out the truth on her own) and his best friend/comrade-in-arms/love interest Teela.
Now the reasons given for Adam keeping the truth from his parents and Teela is to protect them, because knowing He-Man’s true identity would make them targets. But no matter how noble that intention, I’ve never quite bought that reasoning, because as King and Queen of Eternia, Randor and Marlena already are prime targets anyway for Skeletor, Hordak, King Hiss and any other lowlife who wants to conquer Eternia. And there are several episodes in the original cartoon and the 2002 version where King Randor and/or Queen Marlena are attacked, kidnapped or otherwise threatened. Besides, Randor and Marlena can take care of themselves. Marlena used to be an astronaut and we have seen her putting her piloting and shooting skills to good use from the original cartoon to Revelation. And while the Filmation cartoon of the 1980s mostly portrays Randor as an “Old King Cole was a Merry Old Soul” type, Revelation and particularly the 2002 cartoon show him as a warrior leading his troops into battle. The 2002 cartoon even shows a young Randor charging into battle as Captain of the Royal Guard before he became king.
As for Teela, she, too, is already a prime target as Captain of the Royal Guard and adopted daughter of Man-at-Arms. Never mind that Teela is usually right there at the forefront of the battle, fighting alongside He-Man, her father and the other heroes of Eternia. In fact, the only way to keep her away from danger would be by locking her up. Finally, Teela can take care of herself, too, and doesn’t need to be protected.
In fact, Adam not telling his parents and Teela that he is He-Man does more harm than good. For starters, there are plenty of times where Adam has to run off and find a quiet place to transform rather than just transforming right there in the throne room or the palace courtyard. There also are times where Adam waits longer than he should to transform, because – and this is something that every version of the story stresses – Adam is very eager to prove that he doesn’t need to become He-Man to be a hero.
And indeed, there are plenty of moments in every single cartoon series where Adam does get to be incredibly heroic and brave as himself, because he cannot transform for some reason, usually because he lost his sword. Revelation has the best example, where Adam faces up to Skeletor, while literally bleeding to death, and distracts him long enough so Cringer can free the good guys, but there are similar scenes across all the cartoons. The 2002 series has a scene where all the other heroes have been captured and Adam – sans sword – and Cringer are all that stands between Skeletor and Castle Grayskull. This Adam is younger than most versions, only sixteen, and yet he manages to steal Skeletor’s havoc staff and hold him off long enough for the wounded Sorceress to recover and protect the castle. Yes, Adam can be damn heroic, only that most of the time no one is there to see it except maybe Skeletor.
Futhermore, telling Randor that Adam is He-Man would also improve Adam’s relationship with his father a whole lot. Because something else that is remarkably consistent in any version of this story in the past forty years is that Randor thinks that Adam is something of a failure and is not particularly shy about letting Adam know how disappointed he is in his son. Now Adam clearly loves his parents and Randor loves his son, but their relationship is often strained and anything that improves it would be good for both of them.
As for Teela, she spends much of the various cartoons either wondering where Adam is, being angry at him for missing a training session or worried that Adam might be in danger. Worrying whether Adam is safe obviously distracts Teela in battle and therefore puts her at risk. There is also at least one episode where Teela drags Adam off on a half-cocked mission without giving him the chance to “find” He-Man first and puts both of them in danger.
The entire first half of Masters of the Universe Revelation deals with what happens when Adam’s secret is revealed in the worst way possible. He-Man manages to get himself killed, while saving Eternia and the rest of the universe from total destruction, and reverts back to Adam just before he is disintegrated – all in front of Teela’s eyes.
The impact is devastating – not only on Eternia, which is not only not saved, since the destruction of the universe has only been slowed down, but also loses pretty much everybody who kept the planet relatively safe and stable – but also on Adam’s loved ones. King Randor responds by lashing out at everybody around him – Duncan, Orko, Cringer and even his wife Marlena.
Duncan gets the brunt of it and is stripped off his rank, banished and threatened with execution, if he ever comes back, which is a hugely excessive reaction considering that not even archvillains like Skeletor or Hordak or King Hiss have ever been threatened with execution. Instead, Skeletor’s cronies are just locked up in prison (from which they inevitably escape), whenever one of them is captured. But Randor threatens to execute Duncan, who’s not only his most staunchly loyal supporter and commander of his troops but also his best friend? Sorry, but that’s a very extreme response and very likely due to the fact that Randor realises that he was a pretty shitty father to Adam (there is a reason he almost earned himself a Darth Vader Parenthood Award) and also that Duncan was the one who was there for Adam, when his own father was too busy ruling Eternia, and the one Adam trusted with his secret, when he didn’t trust his own father. This is particularly notable in the 2002 cartoon, where Adam always looks to Duncan for advice, even when his father is standing right there.
Meanwhile, Teela has not only lost her best friend, but is also furious that everybody she ever cared for lied to her, so she walks away from it all, cuts her hair, may or may not engage in some same sex experimentation and spends a few years working as a mercenary, determined that she is through with being a hero.
Of course, Adam gets better and he and Teela are reunited. In Revelation, their reunion is overshadowed by the fact that Eternia is in grave danger – again. But here is how it might have gone if there hadn’t been another huge crisis going on at the moment:
“Why didn’t you tell me you’re He-Man?”
“Teela, I’m sorry, I… ouch!”
“But you did.”
“I don’t know. I’m just glad you’re not dead.”
Revelation ends with Adam and Teela holding hands and declaring that they are a team and that there will be no more secrets between them. There is no kiss – and in fact, Adam/He-Man and Teela have never kissed in forty years of cartoons, though apparently a comic does show them getting together and introduces their son – and whether this ending means that they are a couple now or just good friends remains open, especially since Revelation also gave Teela a shippable relationship with her new friend Andra (who sadly only has an action figure in the wrong scale).
However, I have been shipping Adam and Teela since I was ten, so they get together in my head canon. Nothing against Andra, who’s awesome, and I hope she finds someone eventually.
And that’s it for part 1. There will be more action figure photo stories coming soon and in part 2 I’ll tackle the other big secret revealed in Revelations, namely the origin and parentage of Teela. And yes, I will also do the overdue reviews of the first two episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.