It’s time for another Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story. The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server.
Like any good castle, the mystical Castle Grayskull from Masters of the Universe also has a dungeon and indeed the Castle Grayskull playset has always been equipped with a practical trapdoor that allows you to drop intruders from the throne room straight down into the dungeon.
However, beneath the regular dungeon of Castle Grayskull, there is also a second, deeper dungeon that extends steadily downwards, because Castle Grayskull sits on top of a bottomless abyss named the Dwell of Souls. This lower dungeon is populated by all sorts of monsters and represented in all versions of the Castle Grayskull playset by a sticker of a metal grate with all sorts of monsters trying to get out. In many ways, this is reminiscent of the portal to the underworld located underneath Castle Joiry in C.L. Moore’s stories “Black God’s Kiss” and “Black God’s Shadow” or the monster-infested dungeon underneath the Scarlet Citadel from the eponymous Conan story by Robert E. Howar. I doubt this is a coincidence, because Masters of the Universe draws a lot of inspiration from vintage sword and sorcery and pulp SFF in general
Unsurprisingly, people have been fascinated by the dungeon sticker and the monsters living underneath Castle Grayskull for forty years now. I mean, it’s monster-filled dungeon beneath a castle, so who wouldn’t be fascinated by what’s down there? However, little was known about the creatures that live beneath Castle Grayskull until very recently.
The first of the dungeon monsters to receive a name and a backstory was the one-eyed tentacled monstrosity known as the Orlax of Primeria, seen in the top left corner of the dungeon grate sticker. The Orlax appeared in part 2 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, where Duncan is locked up in the dungeons of Castle Grayskull by Skeletor. The Orlax is imprisoned in a hole undeneath Duncan’s cell and occasionally makes a grab for Duncan. Initially, the two prisoners are wary of each other, but when Duncan helps the Orlax after Skeletor needlessly hurts the creature, they team up to escape. The Orlax was last seen gobbling some of the lesser Evil Warriors (Clawful and Blade) before swimming off to live their best tentacled life. Furthermore, the Revelation prequel comics revealed that the Orlax was not evil at all, but a being from another dimension trying to warn Eternia of impending peril, only that their attempts to communicate via a psychic link caused those they touched to fall into a coma and accidentally killed the young son of King Grayskull, which is why the poor thing ended up in the dungeon underneath Castle Grayskull.
There actually was a toy made of the Orlax of Primeria – or rather part of them, a tentacle reaching out of the dungeon grate – but it was released as part of a convention exclusive Castle Grayskull expansion set and is very difficult, not to mention expensive, to find, so I’ll eventually crochet my own Orlax with flexible tentacles.
The next dungeon creature to receive a name, a backstory and a toy is the frog critter seen on the bottom left of the sticker. The creature is called Frog Monger and was sold as an exclusive action figure via Mattel‘s website. I was lucky enough to snag one and recently had him delivered. The mini-comic that came with the figure explains that Frog Monger was once a sorcerer who sold magical weapons to both sides of the conflict between the Snake People and the humanois Eternians. As a result, the Snake People cursed him and turned him into a frog. The human Eternians didn’t want anything to do with him either , because no one likes war profiteers and frog creatures, so the Frog Monger eventually exiled himself to the abyss beneath Castle Grayskull where he lived far from humans and Snake People. It’s basically the fairy tale of “The Frog Prince”, only without a princess and a golden ball.
I really like the Frog Monger figure, because he is so delightfully bizarre. With his jetpack and ray gun, he looks as if he stepped right out of a 1940s science fiction magazine. And indeed I spotted an ancestor of Frog Monger in the interior art for “Gambler’s Asteroid” by Manly Wade Wellman in the Spring 1944 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. The artwork is uncredited, but likely by Marco Marchioni, who did the interior art for the rest of this issue. Marco Marchioni was a fascinating guy BTW.
Inspired by this piece of artwork, I decided to stage my own recreation of the scene with my Masters of the Universe figures. Because the frog alien is a lot shorter than the humans in the picture, I decided to pair Frog Monger up with the larger Masterverse figures.
And since I had the figures set up already, I also made a story set during the time, when Duncan is locked up in the dungeons beneath Castle Grayskull in Masters of the Universe: Revelation, after Skeletor took over the Castle, murdered the original Sorceress and turned Evil-Lyn into the new Sorceress.
In the dungeons deep beneath Castle Grayskull:
“Let me loose and I’ll show you that I don’t need any weapons to deal with the likes of you!”
“Shall I blast him for his insolence, Mistress?”
“No need, Frog-Man. I can handle Duncan just fine. And now get lost. I want to be alone with the prisoner. I’m sure we’ll have much to talk about. And who knows, Duncan, if you cooperate, I might make your incarceration so more comfortable.”
“Forget it, Lyn!”
“Shall I blast him, Mistress?”
“Get lost, Frog Boy! I have everything in hand here. Quite literally.”
“Come, my amphibian friend. I know enough about the mating rituals of humans to know when we’re not wanted. Here in the dungeons of Castle Grayskull, I have often heard the mating songs of the humans above and I don’t like them.”
“If you’re going to kill me, Lyn, could you do it now, cause my throat is parched and these chains chafe?”
“Who said anything about killing? Quite the contrary, dear Duncan. We could have so much fun together.”
“I’d rather die.”
“You didn’t lift a finger to help either. And you wasted no time taking her place.”
“Do you think I wanted this? It’s Skeletor’s doing, all of it. He does what he wants and no one can stop him, certainly not me. Especially now that he has the Sword of Power.”
“He… he changed. It’s that damned Power Sword. It changed him.”
“The Sword of Power doesn’t turn you into a violent arsehole. Skeletor always was like that, even back when he was still Keldor.”
“You don’t know him.”
“I’ve known Keldor for thirty years now, Lyn. He’s always been a violent piece of shit and he’ll never ever change. The Sword of Power brought out the best in Adam and it brought out the worst in Keldor. You know that. We both do.”
“Well, I’m stuck with Skeletor and his delusions of godhood. We all are. Cause he’s not going to give up that sword without a fight and your He-Man has no chance of taking it back, not as puny little Prince Adam. That reveal really was a surprise, by the way. We always wondered why you let Randor’s cowardly son run around with your Heroic Warriors. Who could have guessed that the cowardly little Prince was really He-Man, the most powerful man in the Universe? Tell me, Duncan, did it bother you, to take orders from a puny little boy?”
“Adam is one of the strongest and bravest people I know.”
“He still has no chance against Skeletor, not without the sword. None of us do. We’re all hostages to his insanity now.”
“You could always leave him.”
“Leave Skeletor? Ha, that’s a good one. Have you forgotten that I’m the Sorceress of Grayskull now? That means I’m trapped in this cursed pile of rock. I can never leave. I’m as much a prisoner as you are, only that my quarters are nicer.”
“Of course you can leave, Lyn.”
“Not in human form. And I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life as a bat. Yes, that’s what I turn into. A bat. I don’t even get to be a soaring falcon like your sweet Sorceress.”
“That’s because she was the avatar of Zoar, while you’re the harbinger of Horokoth. And you can leave in human form. You just have to forego your magic.”
“Yeah right, give up the one thing that gives me some protection against Skeletor, that idiot Tri-Klops and his techno-cult, Mer-Man and – oh yes, your friend He-Man and his Masters of the Universe.”
“Adam would never hurt you. That’s not who he is.”
“No, he wouldn’t hurt me. He’d just lock me up in the royal dungeon, so I’d be exchanging one cell for another. At least here I have a comfortable bed. Which still smells like you, by the way. Musky and masculine.”
“If you help me get out of here, Lyn, I can vouch for you. Adam listens to me. So leave Skeletor and help me get out of here.”
“And then? You’ll go back to Randor, of course. The same Randor who threatened to execute you the next time he laid eyes on you.”
“He was upset. He didn’t mean it.”
“Of course he meant it. He meant every single word. And if Randor takes you back and doesn’t chop off your head the moment he sees you, it’s only because he’s finally realised that he can’t rule his way out of a paperbag without your help and your inventions. Come to think of it, Randor and Keldor are more alike than either of them would ever admit. They’re both arseholes who sit on their thrones and lord over everybody else, while people like you and me get the real work done.”
“Randor is not even remotely like Keldor.”
“No, he’s worse. You were his friend for thirty years. You kept his kingdom running, commanded his armies, raised his son for him and yet Randor turns on you the moment his idiotic son gets himself killed. As if you could have stopped him. As if anybody could have. At least, Skeletor has a place for me in his kingdom. At least, he occasionally remembers that I exist…”
“When he hits you, you mean?”
“Low blow, Duncan.”
“Just telling the truth, Lyn.”
“Well, here’s a truth for you. You don’t need Randor. I don’t need Skeletor. I could break you out of here and then you can help me kick Skeletor out of the castle and retake the sword. And then we can rule Eternia… together.”
“I can’t, Lyn. I’ll help you get rid of Skeletor, but I won’t help you rule Eternia. I swore an oath…”
“And isn’t that typical of you, Duncan? Always so noble, always so high and mighty, always putting Randor and the realm above yourself and your own needs. You know what? Rot down here and mourn you precious Sorceress! I don’t care. I’ll find my own way without you.”
“Lyn, wait! Could you at least give me some water from that pitcher over there, cause my throat is parched? No, I guess not.”
“Great, Duncan. Well, done. Your best chance of getting out of here just left, because… well, because I couldn’t pretend to accept her offer. Yeah, I probably should have sacrificed myself and my body to Lyn for the greater good. Not that it would be that much of a sacrifice. Lyn’s an attractive woman. Always has been. And I’m theoretically single again. Besides, I could always have pretended to accept her offer and then double-crossed her. Except… well, that’s not who I am. And Lyn knows it. She would have made me swear on my honour to aid her and then I would have been bound by my word to her. Damn, I just hope Teela is all right. And Adam, of course. And Andra and Cringer and Randor and Marlena and yes, even Malcolm. Cause it doesn’t matter if I die down here, as long as my family is safe.”
“You?! But you’re…”
“Dead, yes. But apparently I still have some business to conclude here before I can enjoy my eternal reward in Preternia.”
“Well, according to Adam, Preternia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and he should know. – Listen, my love, I’m sorry that I couldn’t protect you against Skeletor, couldn’t save you from him. If I could trade my life for yours, I would.”
“It’s all right, Duncan. My tale is done, but you’re still needed here. Watch over Teela and Adam, because they’ll need you. They’re still so young and they’ll need your strength, your wisdom, your guidance and your love.”
“I would do anything to protect our daughter – and Adam, of course – with my life, if necessary.”
“I know. And Duncan, I’m sorry for not being a better partner to you. You’re the best man I know and you deserved so much better than me…”
“But I never wanted anybody but you.”
“Farewell, my Duncan. Try to be happy, because you deserve it.”
“I don’t suppose you can break me out of this place?”
“I’m afraid not. I am but a ghost now and such feats of magic are beyond me. But have no fear. Help will come… from an unexpected quarter.”
“Do you mean Lyn?”
“Gone. As if she never was here. And maybe she wasn’t. Maybe I’m imagining things. Hallucinations are not uncommon with prisoners.”
“Oh, shut up, Orlax! Don’t you ever sleep?”
Later, in the Sorceress’ chambers:
“Alone at last. No Skeletor indulging in his delusions of godhood or gazing into the cosmos, no Duncan being all high and mighty and infuriating, no Beast-Man saying ‘Yes, my lady’ and ‘No, my lady’. Yet I’m stuck here, bound to this blasted castle and surrounded by Teela-Na’s stuff. As well as the things Duncan left behind. I don’t even have a room furnished according to my own taste. I mean, honestly why does everybody like Delftware so much?”
“You? Can’t you stay dead? And for the record, I do not agree with Skeletor stabbing you.”
“I know you don’t agree with Skeletor. And yet I see you wasted no time replacing me, Lyn. Nice outfit, by the way.”
“Oh please! I look like the Salesian streetwalker I swore I’d never be. Do you think I chose this? Any of it? This is Skeletor’s doing, not mine.”
“That’s not how it works, Lyn. The Sorceress is the one who grants the power to the champion, not the other way around. You’re in control. Skeletor only has the power as long as you give it to him.”
“So let me get this straight, Teela-Na. You chose the champion of Grayskull and you picked a snot-nosed kid? Even though Duncan was standing right there.”
“Adam is the chosen one. He was born to wield the Sword of Power.”
“If Prince Adam is the chosen one, then how come that Skeletor can wield the sword and call down the power?”
“Keldor is of the bloodline of Grayskull via King Miro. But many people in Eternia carry the bloodline of King Grayskull…”
“Because the kings of Eternia were busy sowing their wild oats all over the place for centuries. Yes, I know.”
“…but only Adam is the chosen one.”
“I guess that answers Skeletor’s question how Adam was able to call down the power without the sword and then proceeded to beat the holy shit out of Skeletor. Which, for the record, I wish I could have seen. Still, Skeletor can solve his own problems…”
“Adam has called down the power without the sword? That is not good.”
“He used it to beat the holy crap out of the Skeletor and that was very good indeed.”
“You don’t understand. The sword is a modulator to temper the power. Without it, Adam has no control.”
“Again, not my problem. Teela teleported Adam, her friends and herself to Zoar knows where. And unlike you, I’m not going to watch over little Prince Weakling, chosen one or not.”
“The Sorceress has a duty…”
“Yes, but I don’t care. Cause unlike you, I never wanted this job. Which brings me to my next question: So you and Duncan were a couple all those years and you have a kid. And don’t even try to deny it – Teela looks a lot like you and the name is a dead giveaway, too. So why didn’t you marry him?”
“The Sorceress must have no worldly attachments.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Duncan is a good man. He loves you and he would have moved into this accursed castle to be with you and he probably would’ve repaired and refurbished the place, too, while he was at it…”
“The Sorceress must not ever be distracted from her duties…”
“What duties? Sitting on that damned throne all day long or gazing into your magic mirrors? Not that I get to do even that, because Skeletor hogs the throne and the magic mirrors. No, Teela-Na, the truth is you’re an idiot. You had the choice of living in the Royal Palace as the wife of the royal Man-at-Arms or being stuck all alone in this rotting ruin, unable to ever leave, and you chose this? Talk about the mother of all bad decisions…”
“Says the woman who hooked up with Skeletor.”
“Let’s get this straight, Teela-Na. I did not hook up with Skeletor. I had a hot and passionate affair with Keldor, when that idiot managed to get his face burned off and his brain along with it. Or do you honestly think I would have chosen to be with Skeletor?”
“Actually yes. After all, you are fated to have a very complicated relationship with Skeletor in every universe out there.”
“In every universe out there? You mean, there’s more than one?”
“There’s an infinite number of universes out there. A whole multiverse of universes, in fact.”
“And I’m stuck with Skeletor in everyone of them? Now that is a terrifying thought. Anyway, Teela-Na, I came here to rest and inhale some of that musky Duncan smell that clings to your bedsheets, not to talk to a ghost or whatever you are. So why don’t you just scoot and go back to Preternia or Subternia or wherever you ended up?”
“Good night, Lyn. Remember, the Sorceress is the one who grants the power. Skeletor is nothing without you. And Lyn, would you do me a favour?”
“Depends. I’m not looking after little Prince Weakling, if that’s what you mean.”
“Adam will be fine. Teela will make sure of that. But Lyn, could you watch over my Duncan for me?”
“Are you honestly asking me to take care of your boyfriend?”
“And she’s gone. Typically Teela-Na, perpetually cryptic and infuriating.”
It’s strongly implied in Masters of the Universe: Revelation that Evil-Lyn has a liking for Duncan, which has been hinted at elsewhere as well. Most recently, the Masterverse comic mini-series by Tim Seeley and various artists has presented an alternate universe where Duncan and Evil-Lyn team up to fight crime.
What is more, these two have also known each other for years, long before either Adam or Teela were even born. The first episode of the 2002 Masters of the Universe cartoon shows us a young Randor as captain of the guard with Duncan as his lieutenant fighting the forces of Randor’s estranged half-brother Keldor, among them Keldor’s lover Evil-Lyn. We also know that Randor and Keldor fought side by side, before Keldor turned against his brother and became Skeletor, and that Duncan and Randor have been friends since they were teenagers. So all of these people have a lot of history with each other.
It’s also notable that while Skeletor is a terrible person and abuses both enemies and his own allies, he really, really hates Duncan. Of course, Skeletor is never nice to anybody (except maybe at Christmas), but he’s utterly vicious towards Duncan. This can be seen all the way back to the Filmation cartoons of the 1980s and becomes even more apparent in the 2002 cartoon – where Skeletor beats the crap out of Duncan in the season 1 finale, strips him of his armour, chains him up in his dungeon and abuses him – and in Revelation, where he murders the Sorceress in front of Duncan’s eyes and then strips him of his armour and locks him up in the dungeon again. A lot of characters get captured and locked up by Skeletor at one point or another, but only Duncan ever gets stripped down to his underwear. Of course, stripping Duncan off his armour makes sense, because he has all sorts of weaponry built into it, but there’s also a definite element of humiliation in there. Kevin Smith and writer Eric Carrasco even snuck a castration reference into the respective Revelation episode. As for why Skeletor hates Duncan so much, I suspect he blames Duncan for coming between him and his brother.
The murder of the Sorceress is probably the most heartbreaking moment in a show that’s not short of heartbreaking moments – to the surprise of me and everybody else who didn’t exactly expect heartberaking moments from Master of the Universe of all things. First of all, because there is absolutely no reason for it – the Sorceress has used up all her magic and is powerless at this moment. True, she has insulted Skeletor by calling him “nothing but bones”, but she’s not a threat, neither to Skeletor nor to anybody else. Yet Skeletor kills her anyway, because he feels like it and because he’s a vicious piece of shit.
The first time I watched the respective episode of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, my full attention (and everybody else’s, I bet) was on Duncan and his grief-filled howl of pain as the woman he has loved for twenty plus years dies in his arms. It’s an incredibly powerful moment – and an amazing performance by Liam Cunningham, who voices Duncan – probably made even more powerful by the fact that only minutes before, we had gotten definite confirmation that Duncan and the Sorceress were a committed couple. There had been plenty of hints before, of course, going all the way back to the Filmation cartoon of the 1980s and even the old mini-comics, but I personally missed them, probably because Duncan and the Sorceress were parent figures and as a kid you don’t want to think about parent figures doing that sort of thing.
That moment is such a gut punch, because we see Duncan – who is one of the bravest and most heroic people in Eternia – literally fall apart. He doesn’t even try to fight back – and Duncan had gone one on one with a powered-up Skeletor shortly before – but lets himself be arrested and taken away without any resistance. He’s completely broken at this moment. And Skeletor – as if to prove that he’s an even worse person than we already knew he was – finds the whole thing really, really funny.
But upon rewatching that episode, I realised that Evil-Lyn’s reaction is also extremely interesting. For starters, she’s clearly horrified that Skeletor just casually murders the Sorceress – remember Evil-Lyn and the Sorceress had worked together to restore magic to Eternia. But as she witnesses Duncan’s reaction, it’s clear that this is the moment where Lyn realises what true love looks like and that she never had anything like that in her life and never will, at least not with Skeletor. That fact that Skeletor not only cracks a joke about Duncan’s pain, but also completely fails to understand what grief even is and why people experience it makes things even worse, because it proves beyond a doubt that Skeletor is unable to feel any normal human emotions. I suspect he wasn’t always like this and that he probably did have feelings when he was still Keldor, but as Skeletor he’s unable to feel anything except hate, anger and pettiness. This is also the moment, where Lyn mentally and emotionally breaks up with Skeletor – though it takes her another two episodes to physically break up with him – and probably also the first sign of the utter despair and hopelessness that makes her try to snuff the entire universe out of existence later in the series.
Both Duncan and Lyn are alive and single by the end of Revelation and Lyn is theoretically reformed, so will the sparks between these two lead to something more? I guess we’ll see once Masters of the Universe Revolution comes out.
That’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story, because there will be more.
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.