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.
One of the many shocking moments in Masters of the Universe Revelation happened at the end of episode 1 after He-Man has gotten himself (as well as Skeletor) killed, while saving Eternia and the entire universe. Just before getting himself killed, he also reverts to Adam in front of Teela’s eyes, so she finally learns the secret of He-Man’s identity in the worst possible way.
Back at the royal palace, it falls to Duncan to inform the King and Queen that He-Man is dead, because everybody else (Teela, Orko and Cringer) is much too traumatised to even get a word out.
To make matters worse, King Randor still has no idea that his son was He-Man, until Marlena pretty much screams the truth into his face. Whereupon Randor decides to take out his frustration – and the realisation that he was a bad father and that the last thing he said to Adam before he went out to sacrifice himself to protect Eternia and all of the universe was that he’s never been proud of Adam – on Duncan of all people.
So Randor cuts loose, strips Duncan of his rank, banishes him from the palace and threatens to have him executed, should he ever see him again. To twist the knife even further, Randor then orders Duncan’s daughter Teela to personally kick her father out of the palace. This is the moment where Teela snaps, yells at everybody, tears off her headband and quits her post. Duncan, meanwhile, just passively accepts everything with a resigned, “Yes, Your Majesty.”
It’s a shocking moment – and it comes on the heels of another massive shock, since we just saw Adam/He-Man being disintegrated – because Revelation really wants to punch us in the gut. For starters, Duncan isn’t just Randor’s right-hand man and general of the Eternian army. No, Randor and Duncan are friends and have been friends since they were teenagers. They’ve fought side by side and back to back, they share meals and eat at the same table. They’re more than friends, they’re family, something which is even spelled out in the dialogue at the beginning of the episode. So for Randor to lash out at his best friend is shocking, even if he is grieving the loss of his only son.
But Randor doesn’t just lash out at Duncan – which might be understandable, given the circumstances – no, there’s also a nasty streak of cruelty in what he does to Duncan. For starters, no one in Eternia has ever been threatened with execution, neither Skeletor, who is a truly horrible person and kills a shitload of people in Revelation, nor any of his Evil Warriors nor King Hiss and his Snake People nor Hordak (though to be fair, he spends most of his time on Etheria) nor lesser villains like Count Marzo. In fact, Eternia does not appear to have the death penalty, probably because Masters of the Universe was intended for children, so death penalty references would have been unsuitable and disturbing, though that sure as hell did not stop whoever wrote the live-action Disney movie about a heroic dog in which a random kidnapper is threatened with the electric chair “because of the Lindberg baby”, which prompted my kid self to ask my parents some very uncomfortable questions regarding what an electric chair is. After they explained to me what an electric chair was, I said, “But that must hurt terribly.”
Interestingly, there is one death penalty reference in an episode of the Filmation cartoon of all things, where we learn that in darker chapters of Eternia’s past, criminals were executed by exposing them to a fast-growing black monster fungus called the Creeping Horak, which overgrows everything and eventually suffocates its victims. Evil-Lyn manages to get her hands on a sample and throws it into the Royal Palace, almost killing Duncan, Teela, Orko, King Randor and Queen Marlena (as well as a bunch of guards, servants, etc…), until He-Man finds a way to stop it. The idea is very disturbing, particularly for a kids’ cartoon, and I’m surprised that writer Marc Scott Zicree got away with it. That said, it is made very clear that the Creeping Horak is something that was used in Eternia’s past and that modern day Eternians find the practice abhorrent. Now I don’t believe that Randor would actually have made true of his threat and that he would have had his lifelong friend Duncan executed, whether by Creeping Horak or more conventional means. But the threat is bad enough, especially considering it is never once hurled at Skeletor (he’s usually threatened with spending the rest of his life in the royal dungeon). Yet Randor would do that to Duncan of all people.
To make matters even worse, Randor not only strips Duncan off his rank and kicks him out of the palace (and orders Duncan’s own daughter to kick him out, except that Teela refuses), but also forbids him from building any weapons or as much as welding two pieces of metal together on pain of death. Considering Duncan is both a soldier and an inventor and has never been anything else, Randor has not just banished him but also taken away any means of making a living. He’s basically condemned Duncan to either poverty and working illegally or both. And since it’s implied, though never stated outright (except in the Netflix CGI series, where the characters are quite different from their usual versions) that Duncan does not come from a privileged background, but rose through the ranks due to his courage and his skills, this makes Randor’s actions still worse, because he’s basically telling Duncan, “I picked you up from the gutter and I can throw you back any time I feel like it.” Interestingly, Skeletor says something very similar to Evil-Lyn (who is a street kid in this version). He reminds her that he picked her up from the gutter and strongly implies that he can throw her back at any time. Honestly, what Randor does to Duncan, the man who was his best friend for decades, is so staggeringly cruel that I wonder whether Keldor got his cruel streak solely from his mother or whether King Miro contributed some of it.
Now Randor is never a particularly likeable character, because he’s not meant to be. Randor’s purpose in any version of Masters of the Universe is to be the distant and cold parent who doesn’t understand or even see his children for who they are. The portrayal of Randor varies quite a bit over the years. The Randor from the Netflix CGI series is the best father, whereas the Randor from the 2002 series is the best king (and probably the best Randor over all, since he isn’t that terrible of a father either). Meanwhile, Revelation Randor is the worst of the bunch by far.
But one thing that has remained constant is that Randor is always in conflict with Adam, that he is perpetually disappointed and cannot or will not see his son for who he is. This is something that a lot of people can relate to – and indeed part of the reason why Masters of the Universe is so enduringly popular is that we can relate to the characterss and their conflicts, even if we do not have a magical sword that will turn us into a superhero. So Randor’s role is that of the parent who doesn’t see or understand (and who occasionally learns better). Meanwhile, the role of the supportive parent is fulfilled by Duncan in most versions of the story (and by Cringer in the CGI series).
This is also the true reason why Randor lashes out at Duncan. Not because Duncan failed to protect Adam, since no one could have stopped Adam from doing what needed to be done anyway, but because Randor realises that not only was he a complete failure as a father, but that Duncan was more of a father to Adam than Randor ever was. Indeed, it’s notable that Randor lashes out at all the people (in the widest sense of the word) that Adam loved, namely Duncan, Orko and Cringer (and he probably would have turned his anger on Teela eventually, too), which is one hell of a way to honour his son’s memory. It also shows that Randor still doesn’t understand Adam, if he even remotely believes that this is something Adam would have wanted.
It’s also very telling that the usual aggrieved fanboys (and they’re all male) complain about Teela’s actions in Revelation, that she is rude and angry and quits her post in a huff, but that absolutely no one seems to have any problems with Randor’s utterly terrible behaviour. Also, most people seem to forget that Duncan was dealing with a massive amount of guilt himself. After all, he deeply cared about Adam and clearly blames himself for failing to protect him.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation never delves into what happened to Duncan after he was kicked out of the palace. The next time we see him is in episode 3, set several years later, where he is living in exile in a little cottage in the country with Orko (another victim of Randor’s rage) and Roboto and occasionally teaches the local punks some manners. However, I find it hard to believe that Duncan would just sit around in his cottage and occasionally beat up lowlives for several years, cause that’s not who he is. And indeed he sports an impressive arsenal, once Teela enlists his help on her quest.
Issue 2 of the Masterverse comic miniseries by Dark Horse does offer us a glimpse at what Duncan was doing in between episodes 1 and 3 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation. The comic is an anthology series, featuring many different versions of He-Man and his supporting cast, tied to together by a framing story of the Sorceress and Zodac gazing into the multiverse. One of these segments is called “Man-at-Arms For Hire”, written Tim Seeley with art by Victor Santos, and features a disgraced and depressed Duncan working as a hardboiled private detective in a noir style story. And Duncan’s assistant is none other than Evil-Lyn, who we know has a soft spot for him.
The story is very short, only 15 pages, but a lot of fun and I would love to see more of Duncan and Lyn working together, solving crimes. And who knows, maybe I will eventually do a toy photo story inspired by that comic.
But for now, enjoy this story of Duncan and his little found family receiving an unexpected visitor…
In Duncan’s workshop in his cabin somewhere in the wilds of Eternia…
“Malcolm, please tell me you didn’t tell the King to kiss your arse?”
“Oh, I was very polite. I said butt.”
“Sigh. Malcolm, you’re unbelievable.”
“Why? What’s Randor going to do to me? Kick me out? He’s barely got any Heroic Warriors and Royal Guards left, since almost everybody quit.”
“The King could do much worse than that.”
“What? Chop off my head? I’d like to see him try. I could take Randor when he was just a snot-nosed cadet and I can still take him now.”
“You didn’t tell me you were expecting a visitor, brother.”
“Because I wasn’t.”
“Malcolm, would you mind doing whatever it is you’re doing when you’re not bothering your brother and leave us alone?”
“But Father said…”
“Roboto, sometimes grown-ups want to be left alone to do grown-up things, no matter what they say.”
“Malcolm, Roboto, wait!”
“What do you want, Lyn? And make it quick, cause I’m busy.”
“That’s so typical of you, Duncan. Always in a hurry, even though you no longer have a job. Won’t you at least offer a girl a drink? No? Then I’ll just take whatever Malcolm’s been having.”
“Come to the point, Lyn.”
“The point is Tri-Klops is up to something.”
“Tri-Klops is always up to something. He was trouble even before he joined up with Keldor.”
“This is different. Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw have taken over Snake Mountain and they’re assembling an army.”
“Not who I would have expected to come out on top in the power struggle to fill the vaccuum left by Skeletor’s… disappearance.”
“You can say ‘death’, you know? Skeletor is dead. Just like… well, you know who.”
“I’m actually surprised you didn’t take over Snake Mountain and what’s left of Skeletor’s army. Of all his lieutenants, you were always the most capable.”
“A compliment, Duncan? How sweet! But I never wanted Snake Mountain or Skeletor’s forces. Do you honestly think I liked being stuck in the dark hemisphere in that grisly old fortress with a bunch of idiots?”
“Then why do you care if Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw have taken it over?”
“If it were just Snake Mountain, I wouldn’t care. Tri-Klops is welcome to that old pile of rocks. But he and Trap Jaw are up to something. They’re gathering an army, they’re kidnapping peasants to bolster their ranks and Tri-Klops… well, I know it sounds weird, but he seems to have found religion and is now serving some kind of goddess called Motherboard. Also, he stole something that belongs to me”
“Again, Lyn, was does that have to do with me?”
“Ahem, Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw are kidnapping people and building up an army to do Horokoth knows what. Once upon a time, that would have been enough to spur you into action.”
“That time is past. Or have you forgotten that I’m banished by royal decree?”
“Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have stopped you. You would have gone out and done what needed to be done, Randor be damned.”
“I could be executed…”
“That never stopped you either. You’ve stared death in the face more times than I can count. And besides, we both know that Randor doesn’t have the guts.”
“Don’t worry, Duncan, your secret is safe with me. I won’t rat you out to Randor, if only because I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life in the royal dungeon. So what are you building?”
“That’s a very big gun.”
“Lyn, that’s not…”
“That’s the only big gun I’m interested in right now, Duncan.”
“Why not? I know you want it, too.”
“It… it’s not right.”
“Why not? Skeletor is dead. He-Man is dead. Randor kicked you out of the palace. Teela has run off to Horokoth knows where. Grayskull, Snake Mountain, none of that matters anymore. What’s stopping us?”
“Sigh. Saved at the last instant.”
“Uhm, am I interrupting anything?”
“What are you doing here, imbecile?”
“Ahem, I live here. What are you doing here? You weren’t attacking us, were you?”
“I was consulting Lyn on a matter of… ahem… magic.”
“And you didn’t ask me first? After all, I’m the royal court magician. Well, ex-royal court magician.”
“Well, if you’d rather spend your time with washed-up would-be mages than with me, then so be it. If you change your mind and want to experience some real magical fireworks, you know where to find me. Be seeing you, Duncan.”
“It’s all right, Orko. In fact, you just saved my life and my honour.”
“Yes, that Evil-Lyn is sure dangerous.”
“Trust me, Orko, you have no idea.”
“Father, the vegetable garden is flooded, even though there was no rain forecast.”
“Malcolm, never ever leave me alone with that woman again.”
“Why not, brother? Lyn likes you. She always has. And she has cut all ties with Snake Mountain. Yes, she’s still a thief, but then she’s never been anything else. And besides, what does it matter? You deserve some happiness.”
“Malcolm, just… shut up, please.”
“Blue balls are clearly making grumpy, brother. All the more reason to take up Lyn on her offer.”
“Yes, I’ll shut up.”
“Uhm, Roboto, about the garden…”
That’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story, because there will be more. Especially since I not only got a bunch of new toys, but we also have the new Masters of the Universe: Revolution cartoon coming up (trailer here) soon with Lyn fighting on the side of the good guys and quite possibly more sparks flying between her and Duncan.
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.