Comic Review: Masters of the Universe Revolution Prequel #1 by Ted Biaselli, Rob David, Tim Sheridan and Daniel HDR

Earlier this year, I reviewed Masters of the Universe: Forge of Destiny, a four issue mini-series by Dark Horse Comics, who currently hold the Masters of the Universe license and have been putting out several comic mini-series. First, there was the Masters of the Universe Revelation prequel comic by Tim Sheridan and Mindy Lee, next there was Masterverse, an anthology type series showing us different iterations of Masters of the Universe throughout the Multiverse, by Tim Seeley and various artists (I never got around to reviewing that one, though I did read it), and finaly there was Forge of Destiny by Tim Seeley and Eddie Nunez. There’s also an upcoming Masters of the Universe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover comic mini-series.

And now there is a new Masters of the Universe comic mini-series, the first issue of which just dropped last week. This one is a prequel to Masters of the Universe Revolution and that’s also the title. The story is by Ted Biaselli and Rob David, who are two of the executive producers and masterminds behind Masters of the Universe Revelation and Revolution (Ted Biaselli is also the voice of Gwildor). The script is by Tim Sheridan, one of the writers of Masters of the Universe Revelation and Revolution as well as the voice of King Miro. He’s also the writer of the very good Alan Scott: Green Lantern series from DC. The art is by Daniel HDR with inks by Keith Champagne.

When they announced that the Masters of the Universe Revolution comic would be a prequel, they certainly weren’t kidding, because issue one literally starts with the creation of the universe and Eternia or at least one version of that creation story. In this version of the Eternian creation myth, at the beginning of the universe, all magic is one, floating in a dark void. Then two types of magical deities emerge – Zoar, the deity of nurturing and protection whose avatar is the falcon, and Ka, the deity of passion and carnal desire whose avatar is a snake. Together, these two magical forces beget Eternia and the rest of the universe and then become locked in an endless battle that threatens to tear the newborn universe apart. Until a third power arises, Ha’vok, the deity of mayhem and change whose avatar is a ram or a fuzzy goat. Ha’vok brings balance to the two opposing forces and the three types of magic were at a stalemate, while Eternia and the universe thrived and grew. But, so the unseen voice who tells that story says, over time this stability became stagnation and time is ripe for a change. All that’s needed is the champion of Ha’vok to wield its power. Note that this is clearly the creation of Eternia and the universe according to Ha’vok. We already saw the creation of Eternia according to Zoar in Teela’s and Lyn’s visions in Masters of the Universe Revelation.

Like much of Masters of the Universe worldbuilding, the theology of Eternia was literally made up by several generations of writers, artists and toy designers as they went along, largely because no one ever expected that a fantasy world created for a kids’ toyline would ever need such a thing as a consistent theology and creation myth. Indeed for a long time, there was preciously little in the way of Eternian religion and theology. The early mini-comics introduced us to a character known as “the Goddess”, who is at this point is a female figure portrayed initially with green skin who walks Eternia and hands magical weapons and a harness to a passing wandering Barbarian warrior. This goddess shows up a few more times, though later appearances portray her with white skin, and eventually morphs into the Sorceress by the time the Filmation cartoon came around.

As for the Filmation cartoon, there are several times where characters exclaim, “By the ancients”, hinting at some kind of ancestor worship. And in the moral segments, He-Man, She-Ra, Orko, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Loo-Kee or whoever delivers the moral this week occasionally advises to “talk to your minister or rabbi”, which baffled me even as kid, because a) there are religions other than Christianity and Judaism on Earth, so why isn’t their clergy mentioned, and b) Eternia is an alien planet, so how do these characters even know what a minister or rabbi is? The Filmation cartoon even had a He-Man and She-Ra crossover Christmas special, which at least tries to address that most of these characters have probably never heard of Christmas. Indeed, there is scenes where two adorable Earth kids explain the meaning of Christmas to Orko, a moral segment where Prince Adam and Orko explain that not everybody celebrates Christmas, but that the Christmas spirit is for everybody and that no, Christmas is not just about presents. Finally, there is a scene where Queen Marlena remarks to King Randor that the preparations for Adam and Adora’s birthday party remind her of Christmas back home, whereupon Randor asks her what this Christmas thing is, which prompted me to yell at the screen, “You’ve been married for twenty years or so and yet you never even thought to ask your wife about her religious and cultural traditions before?” That said, it makes sense that Adam and likely Randor and Adora at least have some idea about earthly, specifically Christian religious traditions, via Marlena. Especially since Marlena gave her son a very meaningful name.

But while the Filmation cartoons occasionally refers to real world religions, particularly Christianity and to a lesser degree Judaism, we learn almost nothing about Eternian religion. Occasionally, we see ruined temples and sometimes we see more or less sinister priests. Often these temples house ancient monsters and Lovecraftian horrors which will run amok only to be finally subdued by He-Man. Sometimes, there is a magical artefact in that temple which Skeletor or some other lowlife will try to steal. Meanwhile, Zoar is not a deity, but just the name the Sorceress uses when she transforms into a falcon. Just as the Havoc Staff is simply the name of Skeletor’s weapon at this point.

In the 2002 cartoon, Zoar is still just the name of the falcon form of the Sorceress, but we learn that Skeletor’s Havoc Staff is but one ram-themed magical artefact originating in the desert city of Zalesia, which is full ramskull imagery and guarded by a powerful sorcerer known as the Faceless One. If the name Zalesia seems familiar, that’s because it’s Evil-Lyn’s hometown and at least in the 2002 cartoon, she is actually the daughter of the Faceless One and has a complicated relationship with her father. The 2002 cartoon also introduced Serpos, a deity worshipped by the Snake People who appears in the form of a giant three-headed snake. Sometime in the past, Serpos was turned to stone and is now known as the snake wrapped around Snake Mountain.

However, the idea of the three Eternian deities – or rather the three different aspects of the same deity – did not appear until the “Eternity War” comics published by DC Comics from 2012 onwards. The three deities here are Serpos the snake deity, worshipped by the Snake People, Zoar the falcon, worshipped by the humans of Eternia, and finally Horokoth the bat deity, worshipped by the Horde as well as Evil-Lyn and Skeletor. Hereby, Serpos represents birth, Zoar life and Horokoth death and destruction. One of the writers of the “Eternity War” comics was none other than Rob David, who’s also one of the producers of Masters of the Universe Revelation and Revolution and one of the writers of the Revolution prequel comic.

Both Zoar and Horokoth also appear in the CGI He-Man series, as a falcon and a bat avatar summoned by Teela and Evil-Lyn respectively. The CGI series also established Havoc as a form of dark and evil magic that corrupts everybody who tries to use it, including King Grayskull and even He-Man at one point, and which turns Keldor into Skeletor.

Masters of the Universe Revelation then gave us a look at the Eternian afterlife and their versions of Heaven and Hell or rather Valhalla and the Underworld. Though both Preternia and Subternia go back much further than Revelation. Preternia first appeared in the late 1980s in the vintage mini-comics and the planned Powers of Grayskull expansion of the Masters of the Universe toyline that was abandoned with only very few toys actually being produced. Though the Preternia of the 1980s was just a prehistoric Eternia, hence the name, and not Valhalla. Though several aspects of the prehistoric Preternia like bionic dinosaurs, the Three Towers and He-Ro do show up in the afterlife version. As for Subternia, it first appeared in the 2002 cartoon. Though again, Subternia was not the lands of the dead, but an underworld realm of lava and caves inhabited by two warring races, the alligator-like Caligars and the bat-like Speleans. Meanwhile, Scare Glow, the ruler of Subternia, goes back to the vintage toyline, though here he was just an evil ghost from another dimension (a lot of villains from the 1980s Masters of the Universe toyline and cartoon were evil beings from other dimensions) and not the lord of the underworld.

Of course, Zoar appears in Masters of the Universe Revelation as does the destructive bat deity Horokoth – when Skeletor makes Evil-Lyn the Sorceress of Grayskull, she wears a bat-themed outfit. We also see the snake and ram deities in visions experienced by Teela and Evil-lyn respectively. Masters of the Universe Revolution finally explicitly mentions three deities and three types of magic: Zoar the falcon, Ka the snake (which is clearly another name for the snake deity Serpos) and Ha’vok the ram or goat whatever he is. There is no mention of Horokoth this time around, but that doesn’t mean that this force isn’t out there somewhere. Especially since Masters of the Universe Revolution does have several bat-themed villains in the Evil Horde.

But while the religion and theology of Eternia are fairly recent retcons, they are based on motifs which have appeared in the Masters of the Universe toyline since the very beginning. Because the original Masters of the Universe toyline is full of animal imagery which pops up in costumes and armour, weapons and vehicles. The ram horn imagery as well as the weapon eventually known as the Havoc Staff shows up in early sketches of Skeletor by Masters of the Universe designer Mark Taylor, who seemed to have a thing for horns and skulls in general, since they show up a lot in his drawings.

The snake imagery was first associated with the Goddess character who had the snake armour and the snake staff known as the Staff of Ka. Alas, the Goddess was never produced as a separate figure in the vintage toyline, so her snake armour and the Staff of Ka ended up with Teela. The original idea was that the Teela action figure would represent both female characters – Goddess with the snake armour, Teela without – but most kids didn’t really understand this, so toy Teela just wore snake-themed armour and had a snake-themed weapon. Teela didn’t have any snake-themed armour or weapons in the Filmation cartoon. She does wield the Staff of Ka in the 2002 cartoon, but it’s just a weapon here, not a magical object. Snake imagery also shows up elsewhere in Masters of the Universe. Skeletor’s fortresss not only sports a giant snake wrapped around it, but it even called Snake Mountain. Viper Tower, one of the three towers of the Eternia playset, is also snake-themed. Finally, an entire fraction of villains known as the Snake Men was introduced towards the end of the original toyline. They are still going strong and gaining new members almost forty years later.

Zoar the falcon has probably the strangest backstory, because Zoar and her evil counterpart Screech only ended up in Masters of the Universe, because Mattel reused an existing mold for an eagle toy with flapping wings that had originally appeared in the Big Jim action figure line, which also was where the mold for Battle Cat and Panthor originated. The name Zoar, meanwhile, stems from a larger flapping wing eagle toy that Mattel produced in the early 1970s. Initially, Zoar was just another animal companion of He-Man’s (and male), but the Filmation cartoon gave the snake-themed Goddess character a bird-themed makeover and turned her into the Sorceress of Grayskull. Zoar was her bird-form, which allowed her to leave the castle. She was not a deity or an aspect of one originally, that only came in with the “Eternity War” comics. Bird of prey imagery also shows up elsewhere in Masters of the Universe, particularly in vehicles like the Talon Fighter, Blasterhawk, Road Ripper or Laser Bolt.

Bat imagery, finally, has also a long history in Masters of the Universe. Skeletor’s armour features a bat motif from very early sketches on. The Filmation cartoon introduced a bat-themed one-of villain named Batros, a thief who raids the royal library. The 1987 movie added Karg, another bat-like villain, and the 2002 introduced an entire race of Eternian bat people, the Speleans. Finally, the Evil Horde literally made the bat the symbol of their entire Empire, sported by every member of the Horde in some form. That’s also why it makes sense to retcon Skeletor into a member of the Evil Horde, because he wears the bat symbol on his armour as well.

So in short, animal motifs which kept recurring in the original toyline because some designers back in the 1980s thought that snake imagery, ram skulls and horns and birds of prey were cool – and in the case of Zoar was only there, because Mattel still had the mold for a bird toy from a completely different toyline – were eventually combined into a semi-coherent theology by later writers, which is personally find quite funny. It also shows how a lot of the worldbuilding in Masters of the Universe was just made up by the writers as they went along.

Now I’m on record that I don’t like religion in my SFF or only like it in small doses. And I have seen some people complain that Masters of the Universe: Revelation and Revolution delve too much into Eternia’s religion(s). Most commenters seem to blame Kevin Smith, who is a practicing Catholic and has introduced his beliefs into several of his works, for the religious content in Masters of the Universe: Revelation and Revolution. Though personally, I suspect that Rob David is actually responsible at least for the three gods or three aspects of the same god, since he did something similar in the “Eternity War” comics. What is more, the religious content in Masters of the Universe: Revelation and Revolution (and other incarnations of Masters of the Universe) doesn’t bother me, because a) it’s relevant to the plot and doesn’t overwhelm the story, and b) it makes sense here, because magic is actually real on Eternia and works, the afterlife realms of Preternia and Subternia are actual places that we see on screen (ditto for the creations myth according to Zoar and Ha’voc) and the avatars of the Eternian gods are actual characters in the story. It’s also notable that not everybody believes in the Eternian gods – Gwildor, for example, explicitly doesn’t. All this is very different from that endless Luminist subplot in season 1 of Foundation, which basically consisted of priestesses of some religion we’d never heard of before delivering sermons about goddesses we have no reasons to care about and that have no real bearing on the plot. That said, turning Zoar from a bird the Sorceress transforms into when she leaves Castle Grayskull to an actual deity means that Duncan – and Adam or that matter – are literally having sex with the deity their people worship, which is a little weird.

But enough about Eternian theology, because after giving us the creation of the universe according to Ha’vok, the Masters of the Universe: Revolution prequel comic jumps forward to events in the much more recent past – roughly twenty-five to thirty years before the main timeline – and gives us an amazing splash page of the Horde invading Anwat Gar. We do see brief flashbacks of the Horde invasion of Anwat Gar in the Revolution series, but we see a lot more here, including several familiar Horde members engaged in battle with the Gar forces. The Horde members we see invading Anwat Gar are Grizzlor, Mantenna, Leech, Modulok, Dragstor (who isn’t seen in comics and cartoons very often for a character dating back to the vintage toyline), Tung Lasher (who’s actually a Snake Man, but has been shown to work for Hordak on occasion) and Squeeze. This surprised me a little, for while his fellow Snake Men Tung Lasher and Rattlor have been associated with the Horde in the past, mostly notably in the Filmation She-Ra cartoon, Squeeze never worked for the Horde as far as I know. That said, he is sure having fun throwing around Gar warriors.

Finally, we also meet two brand-new Horde members, Tarangela, a spider woman, and Succubug, a chubby tick lady. They’re cousins and were created by Tim Sheridan and Axel Gimenez (see an early concept sketch here) as stand-ins for the female Horde members tied up due to the She-Ra rights mess. And of course, the usual suspects immediately complained about Succubug being chubby, though they oddly enough had no problem with the much more alien and less traditionally feminine looking but skinny Tarangela. It’s stunning how certain people will only rate female characters by how fuckable they are. Dudes, trust me, you don’t want to fuck with Succubug, because she’ll suck you dry and leave a withered husk and infected with lyme disease or meningitis, too, cause she is a tick after all. And she’ll go off with Mosquitor or Scorpia or Modulok or whatever her preference is.

Anyway, I like Tarangela and Succubug. They fit right in with the Horde, because not only does the Horde have the highest number of female characters of all villainous fractions in Masters of the Universe, the Horde also features a lot of insectoid and/or vampiric characters. Coincidentally, a glimpse of those two new Horde ladies in a preview for the comic also inspired my Evil Horde recruitment ad. I hope they’ll get figures eventually.

One Horde member, however, is notable by his absence and that is their leader, Hordak. Indeed, the Horde warriors wonder where he is and why Hordak has ordered them to invade Anwat Gar anyway, since Gar technology isn’t any more advanced than Horde technology and the Gar are also putting up a pretty good fight against the Horde.

As for where Hordak is, we see him shortly thereafter in a very familiar location, namely the Fright Zone in its toy look. Many characters and locations looked quite different from their toy counterparts in the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, but none more so than the Fright Zone, Hordak’s base of operations. The Fright Zone as seen in the original She-Ra cartoon as well as the 2018 reboot is an H.R. Giger inspired spider-like techno-industrial fortress that literally seems to burrow itself into the surface of Etheria, leaving pollution and a dying devastated land in its wake (and indeed, the “Eternity War” comics explained that the Fright Zone literally corrupts and poisons the land). The toy Fright Zone, on the other hand, was a rocky outcropping with a lone withered tree and two caves, one of which housed a monster and the other a prison cell. The toy Fright Zone also perfectly fits the horror movie monster theme of the original Horde members. I was sorely tempted to buy one during my recent trip to the Los Amigos Masters of the Universe convention in Neuss.

As for why the Fright Zone looks so different in the cartoon and as a toy, the in universe explanation is that there are actually two Fright Zones. The Fright Zone seen in the cartoon is located in Etheria, whereas the toy Fright Zone is located on Eternia. Both are linked by an interdimensional portal.

We did get a glimpse of the toy Fright Zone in Masters of the Universe Revolution in the flashback scenes which show Hordak and Keldor training together. The comic, however, not just shows us more of this version of the Fright Zone, it also shows us where on Eternia is is located, namely on Anwat Gar, specifically on the dark side of the island. This is interesting, because this suggests that Anwat Gar is located on the border between the light and dark hemisphere of Eternia (Eternia is tidally locked and probably directly inspired by Roger Zelazny’s 1971 science fantasy novel Jack of Shadows, which also has the science versus magic theme), whereas the various maps of Eternia floating around usually show Anwat Gar as an island off the coast of the main continent on the light hemisphere. In the 2002 cartoon, Anwat Gar is definitely in the light hemisphere, but also deserted. Though come to think of it, the Anwat Gar scenes in Revolution and the Forge of Destiny comic mini-series all seem to take place at night, so maybe Anwat Gar is in the dark hemisphere after all or right on the dividing line.

Two Masters of the Universe themed YouTube channels, Dad-at-Arms and For Eternia, both interviewed the three writers of this comic and in one of those interviews (I forgot which one), Tim Sheridan said that the Fright Zone isn’t necessarily always on Anwat Gar, but that it is a sort of interdimensional gateways, which appears wherever it needs to be. And right now, it needs to be on Anwat Gar, because that’s where Hordak is. Sheridan likened the Fright Zone to the Dark Side tree on Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back, though I immediately thought of the infamous “pub with a tree inside”, which is located somewhere in the backstreets of Soho in London (and yes, it’s striking that all three – the Fright Zone, the Dark Side tree and the pub with a tree inside – all feature twisted trees). Many, many people have been there and variations of this pub show up in various novels. However, for some reason it’s difficult to find it again, even if you’ve been there once. At any rate, I never found the pub again, after someone invited me there for a drink in 1996. And yes, the three pints of Guinness I had may have had something to do with that. However, I later talked to other people and while lots of them knew the pub, no one seemed to know where exactly it was beyond “somewhere in Soho”, which made me wonder whether the pub was actually in another dimension and the location of the entrance shifted around Soho. Luckily, Google not only knows the pub – even if all you have to go by is “pub with a tree london soho”, but also where exactly it is. It’s this place and yes, it still exists 28 years later.

Hordak enters the caves of the Fright Zone and encounters – no, not a latex handpuppet monster which falls apart after not quite forty years – but three women in rather familiar purple cloaks surrounding a pool. The women introduced themselves as “fortune’s sisters, the guardians of Aries, weavers of shadows, keepers of power untold”. “Guardians of Aries” is clearly a reference to Ha’vok, the Eternian ram god, since aries is the zodiac sign of the ram. And indeed, we later see that these three guardians of Aries are guarding the Havoc staff. Presumably, these ladies are priestesses of Ha’vok.

“Weavers of shadows” is of course a reference to another purple robed woman from Masters of the Universe lore, namely Shadow Weaver, the sorceress who is Hordak’s chief magic wielder and second-in-command in both versions of the She-Ra cartoon. And yes, the comic strongly hints that one of these women is indeed Shadow Weaver, which is interesting, since I wouldn’t have expected to see Shadow Weaver on Eternia at all. For in both versions of the She-Ra cartoon, Shadow Weaver was a renegade Etherian sorceress who betrayed the Etherian rebellion to the Horde and stole a magical gem, whose power left her withered and disfigured. But if Shadow Weaver is on Eternia, does this mean that she is Eternian in this versions of the story and maybe even that she is a Gar? Or did the interdimensional nature of the Fright Zone allow her to appear on Eternia, even though she is Etherian?

Hordak, however, is far more interested in something else, for according to legend, these three women can see and foretell the future. And Hordak is very interested in what the future holds for him. The parallels to the Weird Sisters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well as to the Moirai of Greek mythology, the Parcae of Roman mythology and the Norns of Norse mythology are very obvious. And anybody who has any familiarity with any of these examples at all will immediately know that asking three hooded women gathered around a scrying pool or cauldron to foretell the future is a very bad idea indeed. And since Hordak knows very little about Earth mythology or classic literature, the sisters even spell out the catch for him. Cause now Hordak’s future is still wide open with an infinite number of possibilities. But once the sisters have foretold his future, there is no going back and that future is now set in stone. It’s the classic self-fulfilling prophecy, as found in Macbeth, Appointment in Samarra and many, many others. The protagonist has their fate foretold and by trying to avoid it, they manage to bring about just that fate.

But once again, Hordak’s knowledge of classic literature and mythology is sorely lacking. He is, however, ambitious. At this point, Hordak is already Supreme Commander of the Horde Fleet and second in line to the throne of the Horde Empire. The first in line is of course Horde Prime, who in most versions of the story is Hordak’s older brother. However, Hordak isn’t content to be second. He wants to be first and he wants the throne of the Horde Empire for himself and he’s willing to take any advantage he can to get what he wants, including consulting fortune-telling women in creepy caves – and note that Hordak doesn’t like magic. It’s fascinating how the two main villains of Masters of the Universe, Skeletor and Hordak, are both motivated by an extremely toxic case of sibling rivalry, which proves again that at its heart, Masters of the Universe is a story about family, both good and bad, found and biological.

So Hordak gets his prophecy and is told that is destiny is entwined with that of another, a young half-Gar man named Keldor. What is more, Hordak is also told that Grayskull’s heir, yet unborn, will ground the ascendant bat, i.e. the Horde Empire, and ultimately destroy Hordak. This is of course not at all what Hordak wanted to hear, so he asks how he can ensure that the heir of Grayskull remains unborn. Two of the sisters tell Hordak that there’s no way to avoid that future now and point out that they did warn him. The third sister, however, tells Hordak that there is a way to cheat fate, namely by using ha’vok. She also levitates the Havoc Staff out of the mystic pool – against the objections of the other two. Hordak wants to grab the staff, but the third sister – who is strongly implied to be the sorceress we know as Shadow Weaver – tells him that contact with the Havoc Staff is corruptive to a sorcerer not trained to use it and absolutely lethal to someone without any magical abilities like Hordak. No, in order use the Havoc Staff Hordak needs to place it in the hands of another, one born in the fires of ha’vok who can wield the staff on his behalf. And we all know who that someone is…

This is an absolute textbook case of a self-fulfilling prophecy, for Hordak’s attempts to avoid the fate he has been foretold will obviously bring that very fate about. For starters, by recruiting and manipulating Keldor, Hordak creates his greatest rival and most dangerous enemy Skeletor. And of course, Keldor is also an heir of Grayskull, though already born at this point (and illegitimate), and he does stab Hordak in Masters of the Universe: Revolution, though the post-credits stinger reveals that Hordak survived. But the “heir of Grayskull yet unborn” clearly refers to the Eternian wonder twins Adam and Adora and is also likely what inspired a certain infamous baby snatching operation, of which we see a glimpse in a flashback scene in Masters of the Universe Revolution. Now in most versions of the story, both He-Man and She-Ra fight the Horde, but Adora is usually the one who ultimately brings down the Horde Empire and takes out Hordak and/or Horde Prime. Because Adora is the more ruthless of the twins. He-Man doesn’t kill, not even a villain like Skeletor or Hordak, but Adora has killed before, when she was Force Captain of the Horde, and is absolutely willing to kill again, if necessary. And the very reason Adora is a lot more ruthless than her brother is because Hordak kidnapped her and raised her in his own image. So yes, he absolutely brings his own fate about and highly deserved it is to.

As for Keldor, he is a young man at this point. We first see him as a cloaked and hooded figure, cutting loose with his magic to fight off the Horde, throwing around Horde Troopers and zapping Leech. The Horde members are stunned, because the Gar are not supposed to have magic. And as we know, the Horde has no real defence against magic – especially since Hordak doesn’t have a magic wielding acolyte at this point – so Keldor is definitely evening the odds for Anwat Gar. Though the Gar aren’t exactly grateful, but seem to be more horrified to see one of their own use magic than they are bothered by hostile aliens invading their island and setting their city on fire. I’m beginning to suspect that the Gar are their own worst enemy due to their fanatic isolationism.

While Keldor is fighting the Horde, we get a few flashbacks to his life on Anwat Gar. We see him as a young boy shortly after he was kicked out of the royal palace and shipped back to Anwat Gar, wide-eyed and marvelling at his mother Saryn using magic, in a scene that mirrors Adam being dazzled by Keldor showing him holograms of Anwat Gar’s technological marvels in Masters of the Universe: Revolution. Young Keldor points out that the teacher on Anwat Gar say that magic is bad, but Saryn replies that magic can be good or bad, depending on the intent. She also tells young Keldor that teachers don’t know everything and that young people should eventually grow beyond their teachers. Saryn also insists that Keldor’s father King Miro should have told him that. Keldor replies that his father believes in magic, though he cannot do it himself. “And so, as I said, you will exceed him”, Saryn says and tells Keldor to try again.

We learn quite a few things in this brief scene. For starters, it is confirmed that Keldor’s mother is indeed Saryn, since he did have a different mother in the Classics continuity,  who was actually married to King Miro and then died, because Mattel required that characters had to be married before having children. It doesn’t matter if you’re begetting the Lord of Destruction, you have to be married first. We also learn that Keldor got his magical abilities from his mother, which makes sense because neither Miro nor Randor nor Adam and Adora have ever shown any magical abilities. Saryn also flaunts the laws of Anwat Gar and clearly wants more than what the island has to offer. We also learn that Saryn is ambitious and wants her son to exceed his parents.

This does match her first appearance in the DC “Eternity War” comics, where Saryn was introduced as a young Gar handmaiden at King Grayskull’s court. Saryn clearly harbours an unrequited crush on Grayskull and is also desperate to have a baby and not just any baby either, but a special baby with a special destiny. However, Adi, the Gar member of the Council of Elders, conspires against Grayskull and enlists Saryn in his conspiracy by telling her that Grayskull must be stopped or Eternia will be doomed. And since Saryn has access to King Grayskull via her work at the palace, she is the one who firsts poisons and then stabs him and also steals the Sword of Protection for her special baby with its special destiny. Then she runs off into the forest and hides in a cave on Anwat Gar for centuries – she’s been cursed with immortality due to her crime – until King Miro is shipwrecked on the shores of Anwat Gar. Saryn finds him and nurses him back to health. She also has sex with Miro, which results in Keldor, so Saryn finally has her special baby. She gives the baby to Miro, so he’ll have a better and brighter future in Eternos, though she makes Miro promise to send the boy back, once he comes of age (which Miro never gets around to doing in that continuity). Then retreats back to her cave on Anwat Gar and turns into a withered old hag, until She-Ra finally puts her out of her misery. The writers of those comics were Dan Abnett and Rob David, who’s also a producer for Masters of the Universe Revelation/Revolution and co-writer of this comic.

So Saryn was not exactly a positive character in the “Eternity War” comics. Of course, we don’t know if any of her backstory of murdering King Grayskull (which was a retcon anyway, since we see King Grayskull perishing in battle with Hordak in the 2002 cartoon) applies in the Revelation/Revolution continuity. The whole thing always seemed rather far-fetched to me anyway. However, this version of Saryn is clearly ambitious as well and believes that Keldor has a special destiny and is meant to exceed his parents. She’s also clearly someone who doesn’t fit in on Anwat Gar, since she is a sorceress on an island where magic is banned. We don’t get any hints of how Miro and Saryn got together. Was it true love, only that Miro chickened out and didn’t marry Saryn? Or was there some degree of calculation involved in that Saryn deliberately seduced Miro to either get out of Anwat Gar (and who could blame her?) or to produce a kid with some Grayskull genes? Because once Keldor is introduced as Skeletor’s alter-ego, you quickly run into the problem that Keldor’s existence makes Miro – who was an unambigiously good and sympathetic character in the Filmation cartoon – look like a womanising arsehole, who had no problem sleeping with a hot blue chick, but then wouldn’t marry her and also wouldn’t fully acknowledge the kid he fathered. The alternative is to make Saryn an ambigious or downright villainous character who seduced Miro because she wanted some of that sweet Grayskull sperm.

The brief glimpse we get of Saryn in this comic does not make her seem villainous – even though she does violate the laws of Anwat Gar. She also clearly cares for her son, though she’s also ambitious and wants her kid to be more. But while both Miro and Amelia as well as Saryn clearly played a role in setting Keldor on the path to villainy, the jury is still out to which degree each of them is ultimately responsible.

We get another flashback to a young adult Keldor practicing his magic, while having a telepathic communication with his absent mother. Keldor asks when his mother is coming home, but Saryn or rather her voice merely replies that the expedition is taking longer than they thought. She also cautions Keldor that he needs to be patient and that it has been foretold that he is destined for greatness, that he is the champion destined to wield and unify the ancient magics suppressed by Grayskull and that soon he will be handed the power that is his birthright and that Grayskull and the universe will then belong to him.

If there were a child-raising manual entitled “How to raise your kid, so they will become a supervillain”, Saryn clearly studied it and took its lessons to heart, because in this scene she is doing her damndest to set Keldor on the path to supervillainy.

Though it should be noted that we have no idea if the person Keldor is talking to really is Saryn. For starters, Keldor is clearly mentally unstable and spends most of Masters of the Universe: Revolution having a conversation with himself. So it’s possible that he is hallucinating the voice of his absent mother, especially since Keldor probably already has abandonment issues due to being kicked out of the palace and shipped off to Anwat Gar by his own father.

And even if the voice is real, someone else might be posing as Saryn to manipulate Keldor. Hordak is obviously a suspect, though the three sisters of havoc from the Fright Zone are much likelier suspects. In fact, it’s possible that the woman eventually known as Shadow Weaver is manipulating everybody, including Hordak.

Another question that arises is: Where on Eternia is Saryn, since she’s apparently been absent for a while? And did she really embark on some expedition or is her absence involuntary, since she’s imprisoned or maybe even dead? After all, magic is banned on Anwat Gar and the Gar are clearly terrified of magic, as seen by their reaction to Keldor trying to defend the island against the Horde? So what would the Gar do to someone who repeatedly violates their laws and uses magic? Coincidentally, if Saryn is dead, it would give Keldor another reason to snap.

But for now, Keldor is still using his magic to fight off the Horde invasion, until he stumbles and falls on his face and finds himself lying at the feet of Hordak, who has finally deigned to join his forces. Hordak not only knows who Keldor is, but also stretches out his hand – a scene which we also see in one of the flashbacks in Masters of the Universe Revolution.

Keldor understandably wants to know how Hordak knows who he is and why the Horde are invading Anwat Gar anyway? Hordak replies that the whole thing was never an invasion at all – which I’m sure will be a great comfort to the Gar soldiers and civilians killed and to all the Gar who lost their homes, because the Horde burned the city. Keldor is the reason the Horde came to Anwat Gar, because Hordak knows that Keldor has been denied the power and the life he should have. And now Hordak offers Keldor the chance to seize control of his own fate.

The voice inside of Keldor’s head – whether it’s Saryn or someone else’s – rejoices that this is the moment they’d been waiting for. Destiny is calling. So Keldor accepts and the finale page shows him kneeling before Hordak, who is surrounded by his troops, while Anwat Gar burns around them. And above it all looms the havoc staff.

I found the Masters of the Universe: Revelation prequel comic mini-series somewhat hit and miss, though two of the four issues were very good (and one of those stories has since been retconned). I enjoyed the first issue of the Revolution prequel comic a lot more, even though it is a) a prequel, and b) a Masters of the Universe stories without He-Man.

For starters, the franchise is called Masters of the Universe, not He-Man. And while He-Man is the main character, he doesn’t have to be the focus of every story. I’ve always enjoyed it when other characters get to have the spotlight for a while. The cartoons usually don’t have that much room to focus on characters other than He-Man, though the 2002 cartoon was pretty good about letting secondary characters take the spotlight for an episode – one of the most memorable episodes is a prequel featuring King Grayskull – and gave origin stories to characters who never had any before like Stinkor or Two-Bad. And both the 2002 tie-in comics and the 2012 – 2016 DC Comics run had issues that focussed on characters other than He-Man and their backstory. There was a geat issue focussing on Cringer and telling us what happened to him before Adam found him and just why Cringer is always terrified and there was another great issue focussing on a young Randor being forced to make a terrible decision. There’s even a pretty good issue focussed on Sir Laser-Lot, a much disliked character created for the Classics toyline.

Regarding a), prequels tend to get a bad rap – probably due to the Star Wars prequels being rather underwhelming, though those are currently undergoing a reappreciation – but prequels don’t need to be bad or superfluous. Masters of the Universe has had some very memorable prequels over the year, such as the Filmation episode “The Origin of the Sorceress” or the episode “The Power of the Grayskull” of the 2002 cartoon, which introduced King Grayskull, or a great issue of the DC Comics run which showed us a twelve-year-old Prince Adam accidentally tapping into the power of Grayskull to save his father’s life.

The story of how Hordak met Keldor and how Keldor became Skeletor has been told several times before, most notably in the 2002 cartoon and the Classics mini-comics, which devoted a whole issue to Keldor’s journey to becoming Skeletor. The DC Comics also retold the story of how Keldor became Skeletor in a slightly different way, because in those comics, Keldor didn’t betray his brother and turn evil until Adam was already about twelve, i.e. that version of Adam had known Keldor as an uncle and mentor he admired, which means the betrayal must have hurt him even more. The Revelation/Revolution continuity is different from any of the above, so it makes sense to tell that story again.

Seeing more of Hordak and the Evil Horde is always welcome, specially since we didn’t see very much of them in Masters of the Universe Revolution due to time constraints. As for Keldor, the reason writers keep delving into his backstory – beyond the fact that he becomes Skeletor, arguably the second most important character in all of Masters of the Universe – is that Keldor also adds a lot more complexity and ambiguity to Skeletor. Because when Skeletor was still a demon from another dimension, he was a very one-note villain, who wanted to conquer Castle Grayskull and Eternia, because that’s just what demons from another dimension do apparently.

Oddly enough, the Masters of the Universe Revelation prequel comics, written by Tim Sheridan who also wrote this comic, were the only time the demon version of Skeletor was given a more compelling backstory than “He’s evil, because he’s a demon and that’s just what demons do.” That story introduced Skeletor as the leader of an uprising of enslaved skeleton people agains their enslavers, who helped to free his people, only to have his wife and daughter (who also had skull faces) murdered by his former enslavers, whereupon he turned to Hordak for help to gain his revenge.  It’s a pity that story was retconned away as a false memory implanted by Hordak, though I still like to think that it’s someone’s backstory (maybe that of the character known as Demo-Man), even if it’s not Skeletor’s.

But once you add Keldor into the mix, Skeletor suddenly becomes a lot more complex, because now he actually has a very good reason for wanting to conquer Eternia beyond “It exists”, namely the fact that he should have been King of Eternia, but was passed over in favour of his younger brother. Furthermore, the story of Keldor asks the question how could sibling rivalry and parental favouritism turn so toxic that they literally turned Keldor from a sweet little boy into a monster. Because the blue-skinned little boy we see in a flashback in Masters of the Universe Revolution and also in this issue clearly is not evil. He’s just a boy who loves his little brother and wants to be loved by his father. Never mind that Orko actually spelled out in Masters of the Unvierse Revelation (to Lyn) that no one is born evil.

So the question is what turned the sweet boy who loved his little brother into the skull-faced monster who tries to kill his brother and helps to kidnap his own baby niece? We’ve seen a few versions of that story over the years and this comic will give us yet another one.

 

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