It’s the second installment of a new series of posts which are basically me posing my Masters of the Universe Origins action figures to reenact scenes from the cartoons and my imagination. Part 1, where I discuss the secret identity of He-Man, is here.
However, in addition to the secret identity of He-Man, Masters of the Universe: Revelation also addressed another major secret, which has been a part of the series at least since the original Filmation cartoon from the early 1980s, namely the mystery of Teela’s origin.
As far as Teela knows, she is the adopted daughter of Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms. However, the original cartoon revealed that Teela’s biological mother is none other than the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull and all subsequent versions (except for the recent Netflix CGI cartoon, which has Duncan and Teela as good friends of the same age for reasons best known to the writers, though the Sorceress is still her mother) have stuck with this.
Once again, Teela’s true parentage is kept secret from her to keep her safe, because as the guardian of Castle Grayskull and the Orb of Power that rests underneath the castle, the Sorceress is also a prime target for Skeletor, Hordak, King Hiss and anybody else who wants to conquer Eternia. In many ways, this makes more sense than Adam keeping the fact that he is He-Man from his parents and Teela.
However, there is no real reason for the Sorceress not to tell Teela the truth, once Teela comes of age, especially since Teela has not only inherited her mother’s abilities but is also expected to eventually succeed her. As for why Duncan doesn’t tell her, the Sorceress swore him to silence and he is the sort of person to honour such a vow under any circumstance, which is probably why he winds up keeping every single secret on Eternia. Though in an episode of the 2002 cartoon, an uncommonly angry Duncan demands that the Sorceress tell Teela herself that she is her mother.
As with the secret identity of He-Man keeping the truth about her parentage from Teela actually causes more harm than good. For starters, Teela is terrified and confused by the powers she inherited from her mother and only embraces them, once she learns the truth.
Another issue, which is mostly only alluded to in the various cartoons, is the psychological effect that believing she is a foundling orphan has on Teela. Because in every version of the story, Teela is an absolute overarchiever. Whereas Adam is often seen napping, reading, fishing or otherwise relaxing with Cringer, Teela is always training or practicing. I don’t think we ever see her relaxing just once. And her constant training is rewarded with success, because she is promoted to Captain of the Royal Guard at a very young age and orders about soldiers a lot older than she is.
Now as a kid, I always liked Teela. And a large part of the reason is that Teela always was the best at everything, stronger, faster and more skilled than Adam in his untransformed form. However, as an adult I can see how annoying growing up with someone like Teela must have been for everybody else around her. There is a flashback in an episode of the original cartoon, where an approximately twelve-year-old Teela is seen bossing around a squad of teenaged boys and making them march around the palace courtyard. She also bosses Adam around, who lets her, because he loves her. Plus, Adam has figured out how to sneak away and avoid Teela, when he’s not in the mood for yet another combat training session.
In another episode of the Filmation cartoon, we see Teela furious, because she lost a Sky Sled tournament. Her father, Adam and even Queen Marlena try to comfort her and praise her performance, but Teela won’t have any of that and even lashes out at poor Adam, when he tells her that she did great. No matter how good her performance, she lost, so she is a failure. Honestly, rewatching those cartoons as an adult, I often want to tell Teela, “Please, girl, just slow down, relax and have a bit of fun.”
If you work with young people, you will have encountered overarchievers like Teela. Mostly, they tend to be girls, though there are boys like that as well. Maybe you’ve even been one yourself (I was). As for why kids are like that, they realised at some point that getting good grades and being the best at something gains them approval from parents and other adults, so some of them develop the idea that they always need to be the best to be loved and wanted and that not being the very best mean they are a failure.
With Teela, there is an additional layer here, because as far as she knows, she’s an abandoned child who was adopted and therefore she feels the constant need to prove herself worthy of being loved and cared for. Of course, Teela doesn’t need to prove anything – her father loves her and her friends love her – but she still feels that she does and that’s why she is the way she is. It explains why she is constantly exasperated at Adam’s more laid back attitude, probably because she assumes that Adam can afford to be something of a slacker, because his position is assured, unlike hers. Though Adam of course has problems of his own, since his father thinks he’s something of a failure.
None of the cartoons ever explicitly spelled this out, but it’s definitely there in the background. And I read somewhere that Filmation actually had a teacher (the teacher of one of the kids of Filmation founder Lou Scheimer) on staff as a pedagogic consultant to review the scripts and come up with the little moral messages tacked on at the end of every episode. And as a teacher, you encounter overarchieving kids very quickly – there’s usually at least one in every class – so that consultant would have known exactly what such kids are like and that “You know, your parents will still love you, even if you’re not always the best” was a message they needed to hear once in a while.
Revelation comes the closest to spelling all this out, when Teela, just as she is about to be named the new Man-at-Arms, tells Adam that she has finally proven to everybody that this little orphan girl is worthy and Adam replies that she never had to prove anything to him. Even Teela’s rebellion, complete with hairstyle, clothing and career change, fits in with this, because constant overarchievement is not sustainable and these kids eventually tend to rebel and reinvent themselves, usually sometime in their twenties.
Would telling Teela the truth about her parentage, once she was old enough, make her less of an overarchiever? Probably not, especially since most kids who are overarchievers are not adopted. However, knowing that her mother gave her away to protect her and not because she didn’t want or love her would still have helped.
Teela does come close to uncovering the secret of her parentage a few times and the Sorceress even has to wipe her memory at one point, but she only learns the truth when Adam (who found out in an episode of the original cartoon) tells her in Masters of the Universe: Revelation – after her mother has been murdered by Skeletor.
As for why Duncan wound up raising Teela, the various cartoons offer slightly different versions of the story. In the original Filmation cartoon ( You can watch the episode in question here), Duncan just happens to pass by, while the Sorceress is defending her baby from an attack by Mer-Man and his cronies. After Mer-Man has been defeated, the Sorceress realises that she cannot protect her daughter and gives her to Duncan.
Here is a recreation of that version of the story:
“Hah, this child will make a tasty morsel for our Lord Cthulhu, when he rises from the depths.”
“Over my dead body, fiend!”
“Duncan, protect our daughter!”
“Have no fear, my love. I shall protect our daughter – with my life if necessary.”
“Don’t cry, little Teela. The big bad stinky Mer-Man can’t hurt you anymore. Here, Daddy has a rattle for you.”
“Duncan, that’s no rattle.”
“I know. But do you have a better idea to calm her down? Here, little one, look at the pretty flashing lights on the mace – err – rattle.”
But if the Sorceress is Teela’s mother, then who is her biological father? The original cartoon mentions an unnamed husband of the Sorceress, a brave warrior who died in battle.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation ditches the mysterious dead husband and simply shows us Duncan and the Sorceress as two people who fell in love and had a baby together. But then the Sorceress had to fulfill her mythic destiny and abandon all attachments and Duncan was left holding the baby.
I like this version of the story much better, if only because every version of this story from the original cartoon onwards has hinted that Duncan is in love with the Sorceress. It’s fairly low-key and I for one never noticed until very recently (probably because you don’t pay much attention to the parent figures, when you’re a kid, and certainly don’t want to imagine them getting romantically entangled), but it’s definitely there all the way back to the Filmation cartoons of the early 1980s.
The 2002 cartoon series, meanwhile, goes for a mix of both versions described above. Once again, Duncan is handed a swaddled baby by the Sorceress and once again, he vows to protect the child and raise her as his own. But unlike the Filmation cartoon from the 1980s, this version of the story gives us some more information about the Sorceress’ mysterious husband (who is very much not dead in the 2002 cartoon), though we still don’t learn his identity, largely because the Sorceress herself doesn’t know for sure.
Basically, the Sorceress gets bored being all alone inside Castle Grayskull all day and decides that she wants to see more of Eternia. Her magical powers don’t work very well outside the Castle, but well enough for her to defend a village against some attackers. All this happens during something called “the Great Unrest” (basically a civil war, which makes me wonder how the Sorceress thought this would be a good time to leave her magical castle empty and undefended). One day, a grieveously wounded soldier is brought into the village. The Sorceress nurses him back to health and they fall in love, even though the Sorceress has never seen his face, since it’s completely covered in bandages, nor does she know his name, because the soldier has amnesia due to his injuries. In fact, I suspect that main reason these two fell in love or rather lust with each other is because they literally are the only compatible humans in the whole village, which is inhabited by white little Ewok type creatures. At any rate, they get married. Apparently, either US children’s TV in general or Mattel in particular had a policy that characters have to be married before having children, even if that wedding is literally officiated by a small fuzzy Ewok critter. Eventually, the soldier recovers his memories and leaves the village and his pregnant wife behind, promptly forgetting all about her. And yes, I know that’s not how amnesia works and in fact this whole story sounds like the plot of a bad Mills & Boon/Harlequin romance novel with a title like The Wounded Soldier’s Secret Baby.
But who was that mysterious soldier? The episode in which the Sorceress recounts that tale heavily implies that it was Duncan himself, especially since Duncan and the wounded soldier have the same square jawline. However, the writers were apparently planning to go into a different direction and reveal that Teela’s biological father was none other than Fisto.
What the fuck…?
That was my reaction, at any rate. True, he may be partly inspired by late medieval knight Götz von Berlichingen, who had an iron hand prosthesis to replace a hand lost in battle, with a bit of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane thrown in, but Fisto has always been a bit of a joke. He is the character who gave birth to a thousand memes and mainly seems to exist to allow the writers to sneak fisting jokes into a kids show. Even the Götz von Berlichingen connection is appropriate here, because nowadays, the historical Götz von Berlichingen is mainly remembered for the very rude quote that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe gave him in his eponymous play about Götz, much to the delight of every German schoolkid forced to read that play.
The strict standards of US children’s TV with regard to swearing prevent Fisto from quoting the other steel-fisted warrior Götz von Berlichingen, but he has always been something of a weird character.
When he was first introduced in the Filmation cartoon in 1984, Fisto was actually a villain of sorts, a grumpy loner who lives in the forest and harrasses Eternian peasants until the superior fists of He-Man and the power of kindess make him see the error of his ways and join the good guys.
As an origin story, it’s weird and I now wonder whether Fisto was initially intended to be a villain, until Mattel decided to make him one of the good guys or whether Filmation just told the story they wanted to tell, toy continuity be damned. And because Fisto had such a weird origin story, the 2002 cartoon retconned it somewhat. In this version, Fisto is still a grumpy loner who hangs out in seedy bars and gets into fights. However, this Fisto is also the estranged brother of Man-at-Arms. Duncan and Fisto a.k.a. Malcolm don’t get along with each other – which is unusal, because Duncan gets along with everybody – and nearly come to blows more than once, though Fisto also saves everybody’s lives and badly damages his hand in the process, which is why Duncan builds the iron fist for him. The reason why Duncan and Fisto don’t get along is that Duncan thinks Fisto is a coward and deserter, because he vanished in the middle of a battle. Fisto, however, insists that he was injured and had amnesia… just like the Sorceress’ wounded soldier.
Fisto only shows up in the last few episodes of the 2002 cartoon and so the mystery of who Teela’s father is remains unsolved on screen, though someone from Mattel later confirmed that Fisto was supposed to be revealed as Teela’s biological father eventually. However, personally I prefer Duncan to be both the biological father and the parent who actually raised Teela. For starters, because both Teela and the Sorceress deserve better than Fisto. Never mind that I have a hard time believing that a guy called Fisto is straight.
Still, since I had all the required figures, I made a little photo story about what happens when Duncan confronts Fisto about this:
“I was wounded and had amnesia.”
“Right, and isn’t that a convenient excuse?”
“So you’re calling me a liar?”
“He-Man, do you think we should intervene?”
“No, Teela, they need to sort this out between themselves.”
“What?! I’m pretty sure I’d remember that.”
“So you’re denying you slept with my girlfriend?”
“Duncan, you never even had a girlfriend. Always way too focussed on your duty to have a bit of fun.”
“At least I did my duty. Unlike you, deserter.”
“Eat steel knuckles, shithead!”
“That’s it. I’m stepping in.”
“Had enough yet, Duncan? Or do you want some more of my iron fist?”
“Anytime, deserter and girlfriend poacher.”
“Father, Uncle, stop it!”
“What’s the matter, Duncan? Hiding behind your daughter? So who’s the coward now?”
“That’s enough, Fisto. Stand down or you’ll feel my fist.”
“Father, come back!”
“Yeah, run off, Duncan, like the coward that you are.”
“Shut up, Fisto!”
“So, He-Man. do you have any idea what that was all about?”
“Uhm, Teela, you’d better ask your father about that.”
“No, Duncan, I did not sleep with your loser brother. What do you take me for?”
“He’s not a loser. Okay, he is, but… are you sure, my love? Cause he said…”
“Of course, I’m sure. I do remember who I sleep with.”
“My love, wait. I’m sorry. I…”
“Uhm, Duncan, if it helps, I’m actually gay and she’s so not my type.”
“Wait a minute, you’re gay? Why did you never tell me?”
“Because you’re… well, you’re you. You’re straight as an arrow and you always find fault in me, so I had no idea how you would react.”
“How do you think I would ract? You’re my brother and I love you.”
“Only that you forget that at times. But anyway, you and the Sorceress…?!”
“Got any problems with that?”
“No, I’m just surprised, that’s all. And Teela…?”
“Is our daughter, but don’t you dare tell her. So, Malcolm, do you… uhm … have anyone?”
“Yeah, but that’s private. So about the Sorceress, I’m curious. Are those wings part of her outfit or her body?”
“That’s private. But maybe I’ll tell you over a drink.”
“Yeah, let’s have a drink.”
I actually wanted to take a picture of Duncan and Fisto sharing a drink, but it turns out that I did not have any bottles or beer glasses in a remotely correct scale. The only thing I had was a Playmobil baby bottle, which isn’t really suitable. And even though I have decided that Fisto is gay in my head canon, I have no idea whom I’ll eventually fix him up with.
Anyway, the secret identity of He-Man and the origin of Teela are the two long-standing secrets that are revealed in Masters of the Universe Revelation. However, there are yet more dark secrets surrounding the royal family of Eternia.
“And this, He-Man, is the Orb of Power, from which all the power in the universe flows into your sword.”
“Why is it sitting in a tortoise shell?”
“Because the tortoise shell was useless as a baby crib, but makes a good orb holder.”
“What do you need a baby crib for?”
“Ahem, that’s private. Anyway, the Orb…”
“Wait a minute, why does your sword look like the twin of mine?”
“Not all secrets shall be revealed today, He-Man. Anyway, the Orb…”
So tune in again for the next installment of my Secrets of Eternia Photo Stories, where we tackle the mystery of He-Man’s long lost sister…
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.