Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “Family”

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. You can check out all the Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Stories here.

I have had some new arrivals recently, including at long last King Randor, which opens up a lot of possibilities for stories involving the royal family of Eternia.

One thing that is remarkably consistent over all versions of Masters of the Universe from the early mini-comics via the Filmation cartoon of the 1980s, the 2002 cartoon, the various comics, Masters of the Universe: Revelation all the way to the Netflix CGI show is that Prince Adam has a strained relationship with his father King Randor. Cause Randor always finds something to criticise about his son and heir. Adam is too lazy, too irresponsible, not princely enough, not interested enough in affairs of state, not heroic enough, too foolhardy and he also missed dinner or an official reception, because he was off saving Eternia.

Revelation really brings this conflict to the fore, because literally the last thing Randor says to Adam before Adam gets himself killed trying to save not just Eternia but the entire universe is that he has never been proud of his son. And Revelation is also the only time where Randor apologises to Adam for the way he treated his son all his life.

However, the conflict simmers under the surface throughout the many versions of Masters of the Universe. Randor and Adam are at odds in many episodes of the Filmation cartoon – here is a particularly notable example, complete with moral that sometimes parents have problems saying “I love you”, but that this doesn’t mean that they don’t love their children.

Meanwhile, in one of the comics, Randor responds to the desire of an approximately twelve-year-old Adam to become a hero and join the Masters of the Universe (which originally was just the name of the toyline, but the 2002 cartoon made it the official name of the heroic warriors) by telling young Adam that the Masters are the best of the best and what makes Adam think that riding hoverboards and chasing after Teela qualifies him to be one of them. Of course, Adam is only about twelve at this point and really way too young to become one of Eternia’s protectors, but the way Randor shoots him down is still cruel, especially since you’d think that Adam wanting to become a hero is exactly what Randor wants.

The Netflix CGI show, which departs from the established version of events the most, also probably features the best relationship between Adam and Randor (though the 2002 cartoon has the overall best Randor). In that version, Randor spends ten years believing that his son is dead, while an amnesiac Adam grows up raised by Cringer (who has the responsible adult, parent figure and mentor role that normally goes to Duncan in this version) and his clan of tigers. Once Adam and Randor are reunited, this version of Randor is a lot more affectionate then other versions. He hugs his son a lot and clearly loves him (and note that in spite of being not very good fathers, all versions of Randor love their son) and also tries to bond with him. I guess this reflects different parenting styles and the fact that fathers these days tend to have a closer emotional bond to their children. The distant fathers that many children in the 1980s and beyond grew up with, who are very much epitomised by Randor and his problems expressing emotions (hell, Orko even says as much in the moral message at the end of the Filmation episode linked above) are thankfully much rarer these days. The fact that CGI Randor knows that Adam is He-Man from the get-go doesn’t hurt either. That said, even CGI Randor can be a jerk on occasion. Once he learns that Adam is He-Man, he demands that Adam surrender the Sword of Power and the Power of Grayskull, because it is too strong for any one person to handle. Adam tries to explain that he only uses the power to help others, but Randor orders his soldiers to forcibly take the sword from his young son. Adam of course will have none of that, transforms into He-Man and departs, telling his father that he is not coming home. They eventually reconcile and Randor not only gets his son back, but gets three extra kids and a tiger as well.

What makes Randor’s (any version of Randor) treatment of Adam even worse is that it’s unjustified. Because there really is nothing wrong with Adam. On the contrary, he has plenty of positive qualities. There are lots of examples of Adam being kind towards humans and animals, of Adam trying to resolve conflicts, of Adam offering a sympathetic ear to anybody who’s feeling lonely and excluded, of Adam being brave and standing up to bullies and villains without transforming into He-Man. And once he turns into He-Man, he never once abuses his power (except when he is briefly infected by the evil power in the CGI cartoon). And indeed, it’s very obvious that Adam will be a good leader and good king one day. So what if he misses combat training to take a nap or go fishing on occasion?

Luckily, Adam has a good relationship with his mother and he also has a supportive father figure in Duncan. Indeed, Adam is shown constantly hanging out in Duncan’s workshop. Of course, Duncan is one of the few people who know that Adam is He-Man – and the 2002 cartoon strongly implies that Duncan knew that Adam was destined to become He-Man well before it happened, probably because the Sorceress told him –  which explains why Adam confides in him. But flashbacks in the Filmation cartoon show that Adam already turned to Duncan for help, support and a sympathetic ear long as a kid, long before he ever became He-Man. And in the 2002 cartoon, Adam – who is only sixteen at this point – always goes to Duncan for advice to the point that Adam waits for Duncan’s nod of approval, even though Randor is standing right next to him. Randor may be Adam’s father, but Duncan is the one who always was there for Adam.  And a large part of the reason why Randor goes ballistic on poor Duncan after Adam’s death (don’t worry, he gets better) in Revelation is that he realises that Duncan was not just the person Adam confided in, but also more of a father to Adam than Randor ever was.

The reason why the conflict between Randor and Adam persists across the many different versions of Masters of the Universe is because it’s a conflict that many of us can identify with. None of us are secretly He-Man, but way too many of us get criticised by our parents for not being the people they want us to be, while they completely fail to recognise the people that we are. That’s also why Randor finally apologising to Adam in part 2 of Revelation was such a powerful moment, because Adam – and we – have been waiting for it for almost forty years.

But you’re not here to hear me blathering, you’re here for the story. By the way, Randor still has no idea that Adam is He-Man in this story, because otherwise it wouldn’t work.

At the Eye of Zarcane in the Mystic Mountains:

Prince Adam on the Sky Sled

I took this photo a while ago, so there’s no backdrop and you’ll have to imagine the Eye of Zarcane.

“Stratos and Buzz-Off both listen to me – well, to He-Man – so let’s hope I can resolve the tensions between the Avionians and Andreenids before they escalate to all-out war… again. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be home in time for dinner and can bring Dad the good news. And then maybe he’ll be proud of me. Yeah, like that would ever happen. Still, I live in hope. What’s that?”

CRASH!

“Oh shit!”

***

Later, in the throne room of Eternos Palace:

King Randor is on his throne, flanked by a guardsman and Clamp Champ

Unfortunately, I only have one Royal Guard, but then I remembered that Clamp Champ is actually King Randor’s personal bodyguard, so he certainly fits here.

“Summon Prince Adam, provided someone can find him.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Adam stands before the throne of King Randor.“You wanted to see me, Father?”

“It has come to my attention that you have crashed your Sky Sled… again. This reckless flying has to stop, son.”

“Well… ahem… I was on route to Avion to mediate in the latest dispute between the Avionians and Andreenids, when a sudden wind gust in the Eye of Zarcane smashed my Sky Sled against a cliff and…”

“I’ve had enough of your excuses, Adam. You are lazy, reckless and irresponsible and show zero interest in affairs of state.”

“How can I show zero interest in affairs of state, when I was trying to resolve the conflict between the Avionians and Andreenids?”

“I did not authorise such a mission.”

“No, I… uhm… authorised myself. Stratos and Buzz-Off are both friends of mine, so I thought that maybe they would listen to me.”

“Resolving the tensions between the Avionians and Andreenids is not your job, Adam. It’s mine.”

“Yeah, and you’re doing such a great job that they’re at each other’s throats for the fifth time in as many years.”

“You haven’t earned the right to criticise my decisions as king, young man.”

“I wasn’t criticising you, Father. Damn it, I was just trying to help.”

A sad Adam leaves the throne room.“Trying isn’t enough, Adam. You’re utterly useless, a disgrace to the throne and a disappointment to your father. And now get out of my sight!”

“Why does he keep doing that? All I wanted was to… sniff… help.”

***

Meanwhile, in Man-at-Arms’ workshop:

Duncan, Fisto and Teela are in Man-at-Arms' workshop.“So what marvelous invention are you tinkering with today, oh brother of mine?”

“I’m forging a techno-magical axe.”

“That looks very impressive. I’m sure Krass would love an axe like that. Especially since his old one has acquired a few notches and scratches over the years.”

“This axe is intended for He-Man.”

“What does He-Man even need an axe for? He has a magical sword, after all, and mighty muscles and the power of Grayskull.”

A dejected Adam enters Duncan's workshop.“And speak of the devil…”

“Adam, what’s the matter? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’s just… sniff… my father.”

“Oh no, lad. Did you quarrel with the King again? Is it about that Sky Sled you crashed?”

“It… Father just doesn’t take me seriously. Whatever I do, it’s always wrong. And I was just trying to help.”

Teela and Duncan comfort Adam, while Fisto looks on.“Oh Adam, I’m so sorry.”

“Father, he… he said I was utterly useless, a disappointment and a disgrace to the throne… sniff…”

“Oh Adam, that’s not true. You’re not useless, not a disappointment and certainly not a disgrace. We believe in you, Adam. I believe in you.”

“Your father was speaking in anger, lad. I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

“Sounds like King Randor was just being an arsehole to his family… again. And we all know what happened the last time with you know who.”

“Shut up, Malcolm!”

Duncan and Teela comfort Adam, while Fisto looks on.“But don’t people say what they really mean when they’re angry? So maybe my father really thinks I’m a failure.”

“You’re not a failure, Adam. You’re kindest and bravest person I know. And if the King can’t see that, then maybe someone needs to open his eyes. Maybe someone should…”

“Sigh. Yes, someone needs to talk to the King. But not you, Teela, especially not in the mood you’re in. I’ll go and talk to him.”

“You don’t have to do this, Duncan.”

“No, I don’t have to, lad, but I want to. Teela, take care of Adam, while I talk to the King.”

“Oh, I’m sure Teela will be only too happy to take care of Adam.”

“Shut up, Malcolm.”

Teela comforts Adam, while Fisto tries not to watch.“I know that he’s the King, but I hate the way your father is treating you, Adam. Especially since you don’t deserve it. You’re the bravest, kindest and best person I know.”

“Thanks, Teela. I… I don’t know what I’d do without you and Duncan.”

“I’m here for you, Adam. I’ll always be here for you.”

Smooch!

“You do know that I’m still in the room, don’t you? Except that I’m getting a stiff neck from trying very hard not to watch you making out. I mean, isn’t there a perimeter that needs patrolling or an outpost you can inspect? Or maybe check on the Talon Fighter, since Adam hasn’t managed to crash that one yet?”

***

In the throne room:

Duncan stands before the throne to talk to Randor.“Sire, if I may have a word?”

“Of course. Is Skeletor up to his usual tricks again?”

“It’s not about Skeletor, Sire. It’s… well, it’s private.”

“Sigh. Is this about Adam? Did he come crying to you again, as usual?”

“Prince Adam did not send me here. In fact, he explicitly asked me not to come.”

“I’m sorry that Adam keeps adding to your workload, Duncan. After all, it’s not as if you don’t have enough to do without my son dumping extra work on you.”

“It’s all right. I don’t mind. Besides, you yourself ordered me to watch over the Prince, Sire.”

“Yes, in the sense of making sure that he’s always guarded, especially after what happened to Adora. But that doesn’t mean that you have to indulge my son’s every whim. If Adam bothers you, just throw him out of your workshop. You have my full support.”

“Sigh. As I said, I don’t mind, Your Majesty. On the contrary, Prince Adam is a lot of help in the workshop and when testing my inventions.”

“When he’s not crashing them, you mean?”

“The Sky Sled was an accident, Sire.”

“One of many., considering how many vehicles my son has managed to crash over the years.”

“I know, Your Majesty. After all, I’m the one who has to repair them. But Adam is a much better pilot these days and there is something strange about this accident.  But then the winds can be tricky in the Eye of Zarcane.”

“Adam shouldn’t have been at the Eye of Zarcane at all. That ‘mission’ to Avion was unauthorised and he completely failed to inform me where he was going.”

“Would you have authorised the mission, if Adam had asked for your approval first, Sire?”

“Well, of course not. Adam is young, brash and not a diplomat.”

“But Stratos and Buzz-Off both respect him.”

“More than they respect their King, you mean?”

“With all due respect, that’s not what I meant, Your Majesty. But Adam is not you. He’s a good listener and a friend to everybody who needs one. The people like and respect him. Maybe he could have succeeded where you could not.”

Clamp Champ addresses King Randor.“Excuse me, but if I may say something, Sire?”

“Of course, Raenius. What is it?”

“About Prince Adam, what Man-at-Arms said is true. Prince Adam is a friend to anybody who needs one. He certainly was my friend, when I most needed one.”

“Go on, Raenius.”

“When I first came to live with my grandpa here at the palace after my parents died, I was lonely and sad a lot. And the other kids… well, they weren’t very nice to me. I didn’t have any friends and I was bullied… a lot. But Adam, he was my friend. I didn’t even know he was the Prince, since he certainly never said so. To me, he was just a kid my age, who hung out with me, shared his cinnamon buns with me and defended me against those bullies. And then Teela showed up and the bullies ran away, because it turns out they were all scared of her. We’ve been friends ever since. I respect Adam deeply and am proud to call your son my friend, Sire.”

“Huh? I had no idea. What about you, Duncan?”

“Actually, I know that story or at least part of it. Adam got a bloody nose and Teela managed to knock out the tooth of one of those bullies, so I was called in to sort it out. So I patched everybody up and made sure those boys never bullied Raenius again. For while they may have been scared of Teela, they were terrified of me.”

“I’d love to have seen you chew out those bullies, Sir.”

“Anyway, Sire, that’s who Adam is. Someone who’s always willing to help and stand up for those in need, regardless of any risk to himself. Those are very good qualities for a leader and future king.”

“Well, maybe I was a bit too harsh to Adam. Though he still shouldn’t have gone on some half-cocked diplomatic mission without authorisation. That was utterly irresponsible.”

“Maybe, Sire, if you would have more confidence in Adam’s diplomatic skills and would give him more responsibility, he wouldn’t behave as irresponsibly.”

“Hmph, I’ll have to think about this.”

“And I have a Sky Sled to repair, Sire.”

“Make sure to keep Adam bzsy. And don’t coddle the boy.”

“Of course, Sire.”

Duncan walks away from the throne.“Sigh. Adam is a good man, a brave man and he will make a very good king one day. And all he really wants, all he’s ever wanted, is his father’s approval. Everybody can see that. So why can’t you, Randor?”

***

A bit later:

Skeletor and his Evil Warriors invade the throne room.BOOM!

“What is this outrage? Adam? Orko? What have you done now?”

“Neither of them, I’m afraid. Just me, come to take back what you stole from me, Randor.”

“Keldor! By the ancients! Guards, guards, arrest the intruders.”

Randor fights Skeletor, a guard fights Whiplash and Clamp-Champ fights Clawful.
“Crying for your royal guards. How typical! Are you so afraid to face me, Randy?”

“The day I’m afraid of you, Keldor, is the day I’m no longer fit to rule Eternia. And now begone or I swear you’ll spend the rest of your misbegotten life in the palace dungeons.”

“You first, brother. And it’s Skeletor now. Keldor is dead. Destroyed by your hand.”

“Whatever happened to you, brother, you brought it on yourself.”

“In the name of the King, stand down, monster!”

“Who you calling ‘monster’?”

WHOOSH! SLAM!

“Oh, you’ve got a claw. But mine’s bigger.”

“That’s a clamp, you overgrown lobster, not a claw.”

“For the last time, I’m not a lobster.”

***

Meanwhile, in Man-at-Arms’ workshop:

Teela still comforts Adam, when Duncan returns.
“Brother, you’re back, praised be the ancients. Cause I was getting a stiff neck here, trying not to watch those two lovebirds make out.”

“Duncan, what did my father say?”

WEEE-OOO, WEEE-OOO, WEEE-OOO!

“Alarm. What now?”

“Intruder alert. The throne room…”

“Father!”

Adam runs off with his sword.“Teela, muster the guards! Adam, find He-Man.”

“Luckily, he won’t have to search too far. Round the next corner should do it.”

“Malcolm…”

“Yes, I know. I’ll shut up.”

“…with me!”

Adam bursts into the throne room, as Skeletor has disarmed King Randor.
“End of the line, Randor. And this time, it’s you who will…”

“Father! No!”

“Run, Adam! Run and save yourself!”

Adam fughts Skeletor, as Randor, Evil-Lyn, Whiplash and Clawful look on.
“Leave my father alone, Skeletor!”

“Adam, no! He’s too dangerous.”

“Oh, so the cowardly prince wants to fight, eh? Well, this shouldn’t take long.”

“If you harm my son, Keldor, I swear I will…”

“Lyn, chain him up and shut him up!”

Adam fights Skeletor, Lyn chains up Randor and Whiplash sneaks up behind Adam.“You know, boy, everybody think you’re lazy, a coward and an underachiever. But you’re not, are you? You’re actually a very skilled swordsman. Remarkably brave, too. Duncan taught you well.”

“Shut up, Skeletor, and leave my father alone.”

“Yes, you’re good, boy. But not good enough to best me. Bwahaha.”

“Adam, watch out!”

TWAP!

King Randor is in chain, Prince Adam is down and Skeletor is cackling.“Adam, no! If you hurt my boy, Keldor, I swear I will…”

“Blah, blah, blah. Lyn, shut him up. Whiplash, Clawful, chain them both up and take them away.”

“But boss, aren’t we going to kill them?”

“Whiplash is right. This is your chance to get rid of the king and the crown prince in one fell swoop and have your vengeance, too. So why don’t you kill them both now?”

“Because, my dear Lyn, they may still be useful. They probably know the secrets of Castle Grayskull, the whereabouts of those accursed Elders and how to find He-Man. And I shall torture all that juicy information out of them. And wouldn’t it be much better if I could force Randor to abdicate in my favour, because if he doesn’t, I will personally chop off the head of his only son in front of his very eyes? Bwahaha.”

Fisto, Duncan and Teela find the unconscious Clamp Champ and an equally unconsicous guard in the throne room.“Your Majesty, we… – What!”

“Father, what happened here? Where’s He-Man? Where’s the King?”

“Adam’s sword. This is not good.”

“Uuuh, my head…”

“Take it easy, lad. You took a nasty bump on the head.”

“Raenius, what happened? Where’s the King? Where’s He-Man?”

Fisto, Duncan and Teela ask Clamp Champ what happened.“Man-at-Arms, Fisto, Teela, praised be the ancients!”

“Raenius, what happened here?”

“Skeletor happened. He and his Evil Warriors suddenly burst into the throne room.”

“Skeletor?”

“How on Eternia could Skeletor get into the throne room without triggering any alarms?”

“I have no idea, Sir. They just suddenly appeared. I engaged Clawful, Lieutenant Daegar fought Whiplash and the King himself engaged Skeletor. And then, just before I got knocked out, Adam showed up and jumped into the fray.”

“Adam…?!”

“Are you sure it was Adam and not He-Man? Think, Raenius.”

“It was definitely Adam. I can tell the difference between Adam and He-Man, you know? Though come to think of it, they do look a little similar, except that He-Man is taller and has more muscles and…”

“Adam. Oh no, Adam… Sob.”

“Stupid boy.”

“Shut up, Malcolm. You’re not helping.”

“I’m right, though. Adam was stupid to engage Skeletor himself rather than ‘fetch’ He-Man.”

“What if Skeletor hurts Adam? What if he kills him? And the King, of course.”

“Calm down, Teela. If Skeletor wanted to kill Adam and King Randor, he would have done it here. Which means that he still needs them alive… for now.”

Duncan, Fisto, Clamp Champ and Teela go off to rescue Adam and King Randor.“Then what are we waiting for, Dad? We must go and rescue them.”

“I agree. But first we need a solid plan. After all, rushing in half-cocked and without a plan is what got Adam in trouble.”

“That and the fact that King Randor is an idiot.”

“Malcolm…”

“Yes, I know. I’ll shut up.”

“Actually, I was going to ask you if you’re coming with us.”

“Of course. King Randor may be an idiot, but he’s still my King.”

“Raenius?”

“Are you kidding? I’m the King’s bodyguard and he was kidnapped on my watch. And Adam is my friend. So of course I’m coming.”

“I guess I don’t even have to ask, Teela.”

“There’s no way you could stop me from coming along, Father. And I’ll take the sword as well. Adam’s going to need it.”

“Let’s go! For the King! For Eternia!”

“For Adam!”

***

Meanwhile, in the dungeon of Snake Mountain:

Adam and King Randor are chained up in the dungeon.“Uh, my head. Where…? Oh no, not again…”

“I guess you’ve been here before, son?”

“A few times. Didn’t much care for it. Those chains chafe.”

“Why on Eternia didn’t you run and save yourself, when I told you to?”

“Because in spite of what everybody thinks, I’m not a coward, Dad, and I wasn’t going to leave you at the mercy of Skeletor.”

“You may not be a coward, but you’re certainly an idiot.”

“Oh right, I forgot. I can never do anything right in your eyes, even when I’m trying to save your life.”

“Skeletor is dangerous, boy.”

“You think I don’t know that, Dad?”

“You certainly don’t act like it. Skeletor is a master swordsman and a powerful mage. You’re no match for him, Adam.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad.”

“This is not the time for flippancy, boy.”

“So what should I do instead? Wallow in despair? Cause I’m pretty sure that’s not going to get us out of here.”

“You’re just as irresponsible as ever, Adam. If Skeletor kills us both, what will become of Eternia then?”

“I think Adora would make a pretty good ruler. A better one than me, probably. Or maybe we can give this democracy thing that Mom has been going on about a try? Cause cousin Edwina on the throne, now that is a scary thought.”

“This is no laughing matter, boy. What if Skeletor takes over Eternia? Would you abandon our people to a monster like him?”

“Now who’s wallowing in despair? Do you really think Duncan and Teela and Adora and Orko and the rest of the Masters would ever let Skeletor take over? I know you have no confidence in me, but at least have confidence in them. They’d fight him with everything they’ve got. Also, who says that we’re not going to break out of here?”

“And how? These chains are solid steel.”

“You haven’t by any chance seen my sword anywhere, Dad?”

“Sigh. I know you’re irrationally attached to that blade, Adam, but a sword is not going to break those chains.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised, Dad.”

Skeletor and his Evil Warriors threaten Adam and King Randor.“Ah, Randy, I trust that you find my dungeons comfortable. Cause you will be spending a long time down here… if you’re lucky. Bwahaha.”

“Let my boy go, Keldor. This is between you and me. Adam has nothing to do with this.”

“Oh, but your idiotic son has everything to do with this. After all, this is all about family and how the family treated me.”

“Dad, what’s he talking about?”

“Not now, Adam. Listen, Keldor. We both know it’s me you want, not Adam.  So do what you will with me, but let my boy go”

“And give away my best leverage against you? Do you really think I’m that stupid, Randy? Especially since killing your son at the Eye of Zarcane didn’t work out.”

“That was you?”

“Lyn, actually. But yes, it was me. Only that the gust of wind Lyn conjured up should have smashed your bones against the cliff rather than just your Sky Sled.”

“Damn you, Keldor, what do you want?”

“Isn’t that obvious, Randy? I want my birthright. I want the throne that should have been mine. I want what you stole from me.”

“I didn’t steal anything from you, Keldor. Whatever claim you may have had, you forfeited it the day you turned renegade.”

“Oh, so I was banished and locked away behind the mystic wall, while you took the throne. How very convenient for you.”

“Damn you, Keldor, I never even wanted to be king. But after Father vanished, someone had to take over.”

“And that someone was you, naturally. Of course, you were always Daddy’s favourite, always the good son. Unlike me, the blueskin, the screw-up, the black sheep.”

Prince Adam looks questioningly at his father, while Skeletor and his Evil Warriors threaten them both“Ahem, excuse me, Dad, but what exactly is Skeletor talking about? And why are you calling him Keldor?”

“Quiet, Adam. This is not the time and place.”

“Oh, but this is exactly the time and place, Randy. You never told him, didn’t you? Never told him who I really am. Never told him why I look the way I do and whose fault it is.”

“We both know whose fault it is that you burned off your face. You brought it on yourself, Keldor, just like everything else.”

“Dad, what’s going on here? What exactly are you not telling me?”

Skeletor threatens Prince Adam, while Evil-Lyn threatens King Randor.“He really never told you, did he, boy? He never told you what he did and how he took what should have been mine.”

“Don’t you dare, Keldor! Don’t… mumble, mumble, mumble…”

“And that’s quite enough out of you, Randy. By the ancients, how many times have I wanted to shut you up, when you held one of your interminably dull speeches.”

“Do you really not remember me, boy? But then, you were just a baby, when your father took my birthright and banished me to the Dark Hemisphere…”

“Just get on with it, Skeletor.”

“I may be known as Skeletor now, little Prince, but once I had another name and another face. Once, I was Keldor of the House of Miro, Prince of Eternia and your uncle.”

“What?!?”

“Mumble, mumble, mumble…”

“Yes, it’s true, my little Prince. I’m your dear Uncle Keldor. What did they tell you happened to me? Or did Randor never mention me at all and just pretended I never existed? After all, there is no portrait or statue of me in the Royal Gallery.”

“Mumble, mumble, mum…”

“Fa… Father said that Uncle Keldor was lost in the Great Unrest.”

“Oh yes, lost I was, but not in the way you think, boy. Instead, your father, yes your oh-so-noble father, stole the throne that should have been mine and banished me from the royal palace. And as a final blow, he took my face and locked me and mine away behind the Mystic Wall.”

“Mumble, mum, mum, MUM…”

“I have to admit, making Lyn shut him up was one of my better ideas. Tell me, dear nephew, is Randy as insufferable as a father as he was as a brother? Always knows best, never satisfied and you can never ever do anything right, as far as he is concerned?”

“Just shut up! You don’t know my Dad at all.”

Skeletor is gloating , while his Evil Warriors threaten Adam and King Randor“Have you listened to me at all, dear nephew? Of course, I know your father. I’ve known him since the day he was born. For years, I’ve stood in his shadow, the forgotten prince, the unwanted son, the one who was never good enough. And all because his mother was the queen and mine just a Gar woman, just a fling, discarded and forgotten as soon as King Miro had his fun. But not anymore. Now, I shall finally take back what’s mine. I shall finally rule Eternia, because you, dear brother, will abdicate in my favour.”

“Mum, mum, mum…”

“Oh yes, I forgot. Lyn…”

“Forget it, Keldor. I will never surrender Eternia and her people to a monster like you.”

“Oh, but you will, dear brother. Because otherwise, I will torture your only son to death – slowly – and you will watch.”

“Don’t listen to him, Dad.”

“So what’s it going to be, brother? I know you never cared about me, but do you at least care about your son or are you going to sacrifice him for the sake of your throne as well, just as you sacrificed me?”

“Leave my boy alone, Keldor. Kill me, if you must, but leave him alone.”

“Oh, rest assured, I will kill you. Just not yet, cause I still need you to officially abdicate in my favour. Regicide always looks so bad in the history books. So what’s it going to be, Randy? The throne or your son?”

BOOM!

Duncan, Fisto, Teela and Clamp Champ storm the dungeon of Snake Mountain“Who dares interrupt me on the eve of my triumph? Oh, shit!”

“Free the King and the Prince! For Eternia!”

“What are you waiting for, my Evil Warriors? Get them! Kill them! Kill them all!”

“Teela!”

Clamp Champ fights Clawful, Teela fights Evil-Lyn, Skeletor fights Duncan and Whiplash fights Fisto.“Ah, Duncan. Still my brother’s lapdog, I see. Always subservient, always content to follow, when you could have taken the throne for yourself, if you wanted.”

“That’s the difference between us, Keldor. Unlike you, I’m loyal.”

“And that’s why you’ll soon be dead. Unlike me. Bwahaha.”

“Feel the power of my iron fist, lizard face!”

“Do you really think your stupid fist can beat my mighty tail?”

“So we meet again, lobster face.”

“For the last time, I’m NOT a lobster.”

“Captain Teela, always so eager to defend your puny Prince. Do you honestly think that he’ll ever marry you? Because he won’t. You’ll never be good enough, just like me. And I wasn’t dating the crown prince, just the royal by-blow.”

“Get out of my way, Lyn! I don’t want to hurt you, but I will, if I must.”

SMACK!

Evil-Lyn has been knocked out and Teela frees Adam and Randor, while everybody else fights on.“Adam, Your Majesty, hang in there. I’ll have you free in a second.”

“Teela, it’s so good to see you.”

SLASH!

CLATTER.

Teela has freed Adam and Randor and gives Adam his sword back.“Ah, that’s much better. Those chains really chafe.”

“Here. You’ll need this.”

“My sword! Praised be the ancients!”

“Got one for me as well, Captain?”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

Randor fights Skeletor, while Duncan fights Evil-Lyn and Teela tries to get Adam to safety.“All right, Keldor, let’s see how you fare against me, when I’m not chained up.”

“Not the way I’d planned it, but slicing you up will be a pleasure, brother.”

“Oh, Duncan, we really have to stop meeting this way, especially when there are much more fun things we could do instead of fighting.”

“Back off, witch!”

“Adam, quick, let’s get you out of here.”

“Dad, no!”

“Adam, we must get away. Now.”

“I won’t leave my father.”

Randor fights Skeletor, Clawful is down, Evil-Lyn fights Duncan, Clamp Champ and Fisto fight Whiplash and Teela finally ushers Adam out of the dungeon.“Adam, come on!”

“No, Dad is in danger.”

“Get out of here, son. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Save yourself!”

“Adam, get out of here now! There’s nothing you can do here. Teela, make sure he’s safe.”

Adam and Teela are running through Snake Mountain.“All right, this should be far enough. Why didn’t you transform back at the palace?”

“Because I… well, I guess I wanted to prove to my Dad that I don’t need to become He-Man to be a hero.”

“Yeah, that went well. And now do your thing. But first…”

Adam and Teela kiss in Snake Mountain“Don’t you ever do that to me again.”

“Yes, Captain.”

SMOOCH.

Adam raises his sword, while Teela looks on.“By the Power of Grayskull…”

Adam transforms into He-Man with lightshow and sparkles, while Teela looks on

Adam transforms into He-Man with lightshow and sparkles, while Teela looks on.

He-Man holds up his sword, fully transformed.“…I have the Power.”

“I love watching you do that. And now let’s go and kick some Skeletor arse!”

“Ahem, Teela, there’s something else I need to tell you. Because it turns out that… well, that Skeletor might be my uncle.”

“Skeletor is your uncle? How on Eternia did that happen?”

“I don’t understand it either and Dad has got some explaining to do once we get back. But I… well, I just wanted you to know, just in case it changes your feelings for me.”

“Adam, nothing will ever change my feelings for you. Though I hope that the fact that you might be related does not change your feelings about kicking Skeletor’s arse.”

“Not at all. So let’s go!”

Randor fights Skeletor, Duncan fights Evil-Lyn and Fisto and Clamp Champ fight Whiplash“He-Man! Praised be the ancients!”

“No, not that accursed He-Man! Not again.”

“Oh look, it’s He-Man, who just happened to be wandering around Snake Mountain. By the ancients, what a marvelous coincidence!”

“Shut up and fight, Malcolm.”

“What fight?”

PUNCH!

He-Man fights Skeletor and Teela fights Evil-Lyn, while Randor, Duncan, Fisto and Clamp Champ make their escape.“Get to safety, Your Majesty! I’ll handle this.”

“Adam, my son, is he…?”

“Adam is safe. And now get out of here! I’ll deal with Skeletor.”

“He-Man is right, Your Majesty. Let’s get out of here.”

“Accursed He-Man! Why can’t you just mind your own business, but have to stick your nose into mine?”

“Everything that happens on Eternia is my business. And now leave the royal family alone or face the consequences.”

“You’re a fool, He-Man. Why serve this sorry excuse for a king, when with the power of Grayskull at your fingertips, you could rule yourself?”

“Because I have no desire to rule anything, Skeletor. Not that I’d expect you to understand.”

“Leave my Dad alone, Lyn, or I swear I’ll whop your arse so hard it’ll hurt for a month.”

“Oh child, why don’t you leave adult matters to adults?”

Skeletor and Evil-Lyn fight He-Man and Teela back to back, while Randor, Duncan, Fisto and Clamp Champ flee.“Yield, Skeletor.  It’s over. I’d arrest you and take you to the palace dungeons, but getting the King to safety is more important right now.”

“Game over, Lyn. And leave your dirty fingers of my Dad.”

Skeletor and Evil-Lyn rant, while He-Man, Teela, Randor, Duncan, Fisto and Clamp Champ make a getaway.“Don’t think this is over, Randy. I shall have what is mine, one way or another. And if you won’t surrender the throne to me voluntarily, I’ll just take it from you and throw your body into the moat.”

“Bye, Duncan. Until we meet again. Hopefully under more pleasant circumstances.”

***

Later, at the royal palace:

Adam and King Randor talk, while Duncan, Teela, Fisto and Clamp Champ look on.“Adam, my son, I’m so glad that you’re safe. I… I don’t know what I would have done if he’d hurt you.”

“Father, what Skeletor said, is it true? Is he really my uncle?”

“Sigh. Yes, Adam, the man you know as Skeletor was once my brother Keldor.”

“And you never thought that this might have been an important thing to tell Adam? Or me as Captain of the Guard, for that matter?”

“Not now, Teela.”

“And why not? The King should have told Adam and… – Wait a minute, you knew, didn’t you? You knew and you never told Adam. And isn’t that just typical? You and your damned secrets!”

“Uh-oh, brother, you’re in trouble now. Yes, I know, I’ll shut up.”

“Teela is right, Father. We’ve all been fighting Skeletor for years now, so it would have been useful to know that he’s my uncle and that he actually does have a point.”

“Keldor never had a point.”

“Uhm, if he’s the older brother and should have inherited the throne, then he kind of does.”

“Keldor was never going to inherit the throne. He always knew that. We both did.”

“Skeletor obviously sees that a little differently.”

“Sigh, I guess it’s time you knew the whole story, Adam. A few years before I was born, my father, your grandfather was shipwrecked on the shores of Anwat Gar. A local woman found him and nursed him back to health. One thing led to another and she had a child, Keldor. According to Father, they were happy. But then he had to return to his duties in Eternos. She asked him to take the baby with him, to raise him and give him a good life. Which he did. Keldor and I grew up together at the palace as brothers. We played together, trained together, fought side by side. We were never treated any differently.”

“Except for the bit where you became king and he did not.”

“So let me get this straight: All this happened just because King Miro decided to have a fling with a random woman from Anwat Gar, got her pregnant and then abandoned her.”

“Teela…!”

“No, Teela is right. If Grandfather really fell in love with that woman from Anwat Gar, why didn’t he marry her and take her back to Eternos?”

“Because it would have been impossible. She was Gar.”

“You know Dad, nothing you’ve said so far convinces me that Skeletor does not have a point.”

“Sigh, you have a good heart, Adam, and prejudice is foreign to you. But you have no idea what things were like in those days. The people would never have accepted a Gar queen, let alone a Gar king.”

“Then maybe the people are wrong.”

“And maybe in time, we could have convinced them, Keldor and I, together. Because Keldor would always have had a place in the palace, by my side, as my brother, my friend and most trusted advisor. But Keldor decided to betray that trust. He always was a talented sorcerer and he dabbled in the dark arts and fell under the spell of Hordak. He turned renegade, murdered the Council, helped Hordak kidnap your sister, attacked the Hall of Wisdom and tried to kill me.  The terrible injuries that destroyed his face… that was the fate he had intended for me. That was the moment I realised that there was no way to save my brother. Keldor was gone and the monster Skeletor was all that remained.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. Losing your brother must have been hard. But you still should have told me.”

“And how? How should I have told you that my own brother turned into a monster and that there was nothing I could do to save him? You think I don’t blame myself for what happened to Keldor? Because I do, every single day. Cause maybe if I’d been a better brother, none of this would ever have happened.”

Randor hugs Adam and Duncan hugs Teela, while Fisto and Clamp-Champ look on.“That’s not true, Dad. I’m sure you were a good brother.”

“You know, when you and Adora were born, I swore to myself that I’d be a better father than I’d been a brother. But I failed at that, too. Your sister was lost to me and you… I wasn’t always a good father to you either. I’m sorry for yelling at you, Adam. I know that you meant well and wanted to help. And I know that Stratos and Buzz-Off respect you, so maybe they will listen to you, when they won’t listen to me. But next time you do something like that, you don’t go off alone, but take along Teela and an escort of guards.”

“Trust me, Your Majesty, I’m not letting Adam out of my sight ever again.”

“I lost my brother and I lost your sister, but I couldn’t bear losing you, too. Because I love you, son.”

“I love you, too, Dad.”

“Dad, I’m sorry for going off on you and the King like that. But I hate secrets. No matter how good the intentions, they only bring hurt and pain.”

“Believe me, Teela, the last thing I ever wanted was to hurt you. Or Adam”

“I know, Dad.”

“Don’t even think about it, Raenius. I’m not going to hug you.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Malcolm. After all, I wouldn’t want to piss off Krass.”

***

Later, in Duncan’s workshop:

Duncan talks to Adam and Teela, while Malcolm looks on.“Adam, lad, there’s something I… ahem… want to talk to you about.”

“Actually, Duncan, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about, too.”

“And that’s my cue to leave. Krass is expecting me for dinner anyway.”

Duncan talks to Adam and Teela, while Malcolm leaves.“Adam, when the alarm sounded, why didn’t you transform into He-Man at once?”

“Because… well, I wanted to show Dad that Adam can be a hero, too. And yes, I know that was a bad idea.”

“You’re damn right, it was. What if Skeletor had tortured or killed the King or worse, you?”

“You don’t have to tell me, Teela. I know I royally screwed up and got my Dad and myself captured.”

“I know it’s hard to keep your secret from your parents, lad. And I wish I could make it easier on you. But it’s just too dangerous.

“I know. It’s just… I just wish that Dad could see me for who I really am for once.”

Teela hugs Adam, while Duncan pats his back.“Oh Adam, if your father can’t see that you’re a hero than he’s blinder than a Spelean in bright daylight.”

“I know, lad, I know. But it’s just too dangerous. I trust you now understand why.”

“About that, I trusted you with my secret, Duncan. So why didn’t you tell me about Skeletor and who he really was?”

“Yes, Dad, why didn’t you tell Adam?”

“I wanted to tell you, lad. Believe me, I did. But I gave my word to your father not to tell you and I cannot just break it.”

“That’s always your excuse, isn’t it, Dad? That you gave your word to someone. Maybe not give your word then.”

“He’s my King, Teela.”

“Who else knows that Skeletor is really my Uncle Keldor? I presume Fisto knows, but who else?”

“Malcolm, Krass, Stratos, Meckaneck, Dekker. All the Masters who were already fighting by your father’s side during the Great Unrest.”

“So in short, everybody knew. And no one ever said anything. Just great.”

“We all gave the King our word…”

“Yeah, since when has that ever stopped Uncle Malcolm?”

“Adam, I know you’re angry and you have every right to be. But losing first his brother and then Adora was incredibly painful for your father. And if he’s sometimes hard to you, that’s because he’s terrified of losing you, too.”

“Duncan, you knew my uncle before he became Skeletor. What was he like? Was he already…?”

“Evil? When I met Prince Keldor, he was renown as a skilled sorcerer, great warrior and hero of the realm. Your father adored his brother and it broke his heart when Keldor turned against him. But in retrospect… the signs were already there. There was always a certain darkness in Keldor… and so much anger. He resented his position, that he would only ever be the number two, that he would never rule. Your uncle and I… well, we never got along, even before he turned renegade.”

“But he had reason to be angry, didn’t he?”

“I guess he had. Some of the people at court really did not treat Keldor well. But your father never, ever made Keldor feel unwanted and unwelcome and stood against those who did. Your father supported Keldor all the way… until Keldor turned against him.”

“Father said he fell under Hordak’s spell, just like Adora. But we got Adora back…”

“I know what you’re think, lad, but NO. Adora was but an innocent baby who had no chance to resist Hordak. Keldor sought Hordak out, sought his help, pledged his soul to him. What he did, he did of his own free will. And trust me, lad, Keldor did terrible things in his quest for the throne. I was there, after all. I watched him murder the Council, watched as he stole your sister and tried to steal you, watched as he tried to kill your father, more than once. You have a good heart, Adam, and always try to see the best in everyone. But whatever good there may once have been in Keldor is long gone. There is no saving Skeletor.”

“We’ll see about that.”

***

Even later, still in Duncan’s workshop:

Fisto and Duncan are having tea, when King Randor enters.“And then Krass said…”

“Your Majesty!”

“Nope, he didn’t – Oh!”

“If you’re looking for Prince Adam, Your Majesty, I’m afraid he’s not here. He went on patrol with Teela.”

“Really? I know I sometimes berate Adam for his laziness, but such dedication to the safety of Eternia is admirable, especially in the face of our ordeal of today.”

“Snicker.”

“But no, Duncan, actually I wanted to have a word with you. Alone.”

King Randor and Duncan talk and a grumpy Fisto leaves.“Yeah right, I know when I’m not wanted. Be seeing you, brother. Your Majesty.”

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty. There really is no excuse for my brother.”

“Trust me, Duncan, I know a thing or two about difficult brothers. And Malcolm, for all his faults, is much preferable to Keldor.”

“I’m sorry Adam had to find out like this, Your Majesty. Maybe you should have told him before.”

“Sigh. Yes, I probably should have. But how do you tell your only son that your own brother turned into a monster, because you failed?”

“What happened to Keldor wasn’t your fault, Sire. He made his own choices.”

“I know. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”

Randor and Duncan are sharing a cup of tea and having a heart to heart.“Would you like some tea, Your Majesty? It’s still warm. We have cinnamon rolls, too.”

“That would be lovely, Duncan. Thank you. You still have that old tea set? Amazing.”

“It was my mother’s – the only nice thing she ever had in her life. I’m saving it for Teela, for when she gets married. Though I don’t think she really wants it.”

“I’m amazed that the tea set survived Teela, Adam and Orko. The ancients know they managed to break enough of the palace’s china and crystal between the three of them… About Adam, how is he?”

“Angry and hurt. It’s probably for the best that he went on patrol with Teela, so he can clear his head. And Skeletor is still licking his wounds and won’t try something again so soon. The danger should be minimal.”

“I wouldn’t underestimate how devious and determined my brother can be. After all, he somehow managed to break into the palace in spite of all our security.”

“It won’t happen again, Sire. I’ll make sure of that. As for Adam, as soon as we heard the alarm, I sent him to get help. But he didn’t. Instead he headed straight to the throne room to take on Skeletor himself.”

“Sigh, why can’t my son listen just once?”

“Adam was worried about you, Sire. Also, he wanted to prove himself, to show you that he can be a hero. All Adam wants is your approval, Sire.”

“And I don’t give it?”

“If I may speak openly, Sire…”

“Go ahead, Duncan.”

“Not enough. Adam has grown into a remarkable young man, but he’s not a soldier like you and me.”

“These are troubled times, Duncan, times which call for warriors rather than young layabouts.”

“Sigh. Adam is not lazy. He’s very brave and absolutely willing to fight, if necessary. You’ve seen that yourself in the throne room. But even though Adam will fight, if he must, he’ll try to find a peaceful solution first. It’s his greatest strength.”

“You know, Duncan, whenever Adam and I had a quarrel, you always took his side. Every single time.”

“Because someone had to, Sire.”

“And whenever we went looking for Adam and he was not napping in the palace gardens or the stables for once, we always found him here, in your workshop. Sometimes, Duncan, it seems as if he’s more your son than he ever was mine.”

“I would never dream of coming between you and Adam, Sire. He’s your son and always will be.”

“Yet you’re the one he always turns to.”

“You yourself asked me to watch over Adam, Sire, and that’s what I’m doing. Watching over him and offering him a place to turn to as well as encouragement and support when needed. Just as Dekker did for me.”

“Sigh, we both had children around the same time, but you turned out to be so much better at this parenthood thing than me.”

“Believe me, Sire, I had no idea what I was doing, when I had Teela. I had no idea what a father was supposed to be like, considering I never knew mine. I just did the best I could. Just like you, Sire”

“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Teela excels at everything and is much less trouble than Adam.”

“Only because you were never called away from your duties, when Teela managed to get a bloody nose or a skinned knee, because she’d gotten into a fight with two boys twice her size. No idea where she gets it from. Or maybe I do. Except that I always assumed that the only reason I constantly got into fights as a boy was because I grew up in the slums of the undercity and had no choice but to fight. But Teela managed to get into fights even in the safety of the royal palace, maybe I really was that way all along.”

“What you are, Duncan, is a good man and good father. I’m glad Adam has you as a mentor and friend. I’m also glad that I have you as a friend. Also, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for stripping you of your rank, banishing you from the palace and threatening you with execution, after… well, after we thought we’d lost Adam.”

“That all right, Sire. We were all grieving.”

“I wouldn’t really have had you executed, you know?”

“I know, Sire. After all, your great- grandfather abolished the death penalty a hundred years ago.”

***

Meanwhile, at the outer perimeter:

Adam and Teela leaning against a Wind Raider and kissing

Patrolling the outer perimeter.

“You were right, Teela. Getting away from it all really does help me clear my head.”

“I’m always right. And besides, running away and hiding is what you always do, whenever you’re upset.”

“I don’t…”

“Of course you do. Back when we were kids, whenever you were angry or upset or had a quarrel with your Dad, you always ran away and hid somewhere on the palace grounds and usually feel asleep. And it always took the guards hours to find you. But not me, because I know all your hiding places.”

“You didn’t tell the guards, though.”

“Of course not. You’re my friend. And besides, the exercise did the guards good.”

“So… uhm… about what my Dad said about Skeletor being my uncle, does… does that change anything between us?

“What? No, of course not. I love you, Adam, and I don’t care if you’re related to Skeletor, Hordak, King Hiss or whoever. And besides, this means that I no longer have the most embarrassing uncle. But what about you? How do you feel about all this?”

“I honestly don’t know. Angry, mostly. Angry that Dad never told me and that no one else ever told me either, though everybody knew, and that I had to find out from Skeletor of all people. Though I guess I’ll have to call him Keldor now. I’m also disappointed. Not about my Dad, because I didn’t expect anything else from him. But I’m disappointed in your Dad. After all, he was always there for me and I thought I could trust him. Only that it turns out that he was lying to me, too.”

“Trust me, I know how you feel. I’m so fed up with Dad and his damned secrets. I mean, he never even told me that the Sorceress was my mother until she was dead.”

“I’m sorry. Your parents should’ve told you a long time ago. Or maybe I should’ve told you, except that it wasn’t my story to tell… – Oh no, I’m going to have to tell Adora about our uncle, do I? Since I’m pretty sure Dad won’t.”

“We can tell her together. You don’t have to go through this alone, Adam. Honestly, I’m so sick of all these secrets and lies. When we have kids, I swear I will always tell them the truth… – hypothetically speaking, of course. I’m not… well, you know?”

“I know. Not that it would be a bad thing. I mean, having a kid would be scary, but also kind of wonderful.”

“Adam, you promised me you wouldn’t pressure me.”

“I’m not pressuring you. I’m just talking hypothetically. Like you.”

“So we’re both clear that we’re just hypothetically talking about something that might happen in five years or ten or…”

“Or maybe one or two. But anyway, there’s something else. From what my Dad and yours said, Skeletor – Keldor – was angry a lot and felt unappreciated and unwanted. And I feel unappreciated and unwanted a lot of the time, too, at least as Adam. And yes, sometimes I get angry. So what if I turn out like him one day? What if I turn into a monster? After all, Keldor wasn’t always evil either.”

“Stop it, Adam. You’re not like Skeletor or Keldor or whatever he’s calling himself these days. You’re a good man, a hero. My hero.”

***

This story turned out quite a bit longer than initially planned. And a big part of the reason is the elephant in the room or rather the skeleton in King Randor’s closet, namely the fact that Skeletor is really Prince Keldor, Randor’s brother and Adam’s uncle.

Now Skeletor wasn’t always Keldor. Like most Masters of the Universe characters, he went through several incarnations. A very early proposal actually had He-Man and Skeletor as half-brothers (and it’s notable how close that version is to the later Keldor storyline), but in the mini-comics that came with the original action figures, Skeletor was introduced as a demon from another dimension who wanted to conquer Eternia. Meanwhile, the Filmation cartoon never gave Skeletor any origin at all, probably because it was assumed he didn’t need one. After all, most of the villains in 1980s cartoons never had origin stories, but just were. And so the only backstory we ever get for Skeletor in the Filmation cartoons is that he was once a member of the Evil Horde and Hordak’s right-hand man, before he turned against his erstwhile mentor.

The name “Keldor” first appears in the 1986 mini-comic “The Search for Keldor” by Steven Grant and Bruce Timm – yes, the Bruce Timm who co-created Batman: The Animated Series. In that comic, King Randor reveals that he has a long-lost brother named Keldor, who meddled with dark magic and was sucked into another dimension many years ago. However, the veil between dimensions is growing thin, so Randor decides to search for his long-lost brother and recruits his son Prince Adam (Randor still has no idea that Adam is He-Man at this point), the Sorceress and Clamp Champ (who had just been introduced and needed to be promoted) to help him with his quest. However, Skeletor learns of Randor’s plans and is very eager to stop him, because Randor finding out what became of Keldor could destroy Skeletor. So Skeletor sends some of his minions (conveniently all characters who had just been introduced) to stop Randor at all costs. Of course, the Heroic Warriors manage to beat Skeletor’s minions, but the moment of the dimensional alignment has passed by then and Randor never finds Keldor nor do we ever see what he looks like.

But why is Skeletor so very eager to prevent Randor from finding out what became of Keldor? The implication is that the reason is that Skeletor is what Keldor became in whatever dimension he ended up in. Alas, the original Masters of the Universe toyline ended shortly after “The Search for Keldor” mini-comic was released and the New Adventures of He-Man cartoon never discussed Skeletor’s origin either, so the mystery of Keldor and his link to Skeletor remained unexplained for fifteen years, until the 2002 cartoon picked up the Keldor thread again.

This time around, we actually see Keldor, portrayed as a handsome blue-skinned man. He already is a renegade at this point as well as in league with Hordak. The 2002 series starts off with Keldor and his forces attacking the Hall of Wisdom and the Council of Elders. The Council are defended by the Royal Guard, commanded by a young Randor who at this point is not yet King but Captain of the Guard. It is never explicitly stated, but strongly implied that Randor and Keldor are half-brothers.

This confrontation does not go well for Keldor. During the fight, Keldor hurls a vial of acid at his brother, but Randor raises his shield, deflecting the acid, which hits Keldor in the face instead, eats away the flesh and leaves him as the skull-faced villain we all know and love. And yes, I’m going to do a recreation of that story eventually, because I have most of the figures I need.

Almost all subsequent versions of Masters of the Universe kept the Keldor origin story for Skeletor. The lone exception is – oddly enough – Masters of the Universe: Revelation, which does not address Skeletor’s origin at all beyond the fact that he was once a member of the Evil Horde. But even the Netflix CGI series, which changed pretty much everything else, including bits which have been established almost since the very beginning, kept Keldor as Randor’s treacherous brother and Adam’s evil uncle. And in fact, the CGI series gives Keldor more screentime than pretty much any other version of the story, since it takes a few episodes until he turns into Skeletor, once again due to dabbling with dark forces that should not be dabbled with.

It’s easy to see why pretty much all post-2002 versions of Masters of the Universe kept the Keldor origin story. Not only does it raise the emotional stakes, but it also makes Skeletor, who can be a very one-note villain, a more nuanced character. For this backstory gives Skeletor a very good reason for wanting to conquer Eternia. Because in most versions of the story, Keldor is the older brother and should have become king, except that prejudice, either because Keldor is illegitimate or because he’s half-Gar or both, got in the way. Keldor has every reason to be bitter about the way he was treated, though that does not justify the many atrocities he commits to gain the throne he feels should be his.

When I decided to do a Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story, in which Skeletor captures both King Randor and Adam, I initially just wanted to give Adam the chance to show his father that he can be brave and heroic as himself rather than He-Man. However, it quickly became clear that once I put Randor and Skeletor in direct confrontation, their relationship and the deep grudge they hold for each other would quickly come up. And indeed, this is exactly what happens the few times that Randor and Skeletor clash directly in the 2002 cartoon. Though the cartoon manages to avoid addressing the exact nature of the relationship between Randor and Keldor by either having Adam not ask the obvious questions at all or accept Duncan’s vague explanation that Randor and Keldor are old enemies who have a score to settle.

This always struck me as unlikely, because Adam would ask questions. And even if Randor and Duncan would be reluctant to answer, Skeletor definitely wouldn’t miss the opportunity to tell Adam all about how Randor stole the throne that should have been his.

Furthermore, it was also quite obvious to me that Adam wouldn’t just accept that Keldor was always evil and always wrong and never had a claim to the throne. Because Adam is not the sort of person who believes that anybody, not even Skeletor, is irredeemably evil. And in fact, there are several examples – in the Filmation cartoon, Revelation, the CGI cartoon and the various comics – where He-Man is forced to work with Skeletor and tells him, “You know, we don’t have to keep fighting.” So Adam would try to save Keldor, because that’s who he is. And in fact, he does save Keldor and restores him to his regular non-bony form in the CGI show.

As for Teela, she would mainly be angry that the people she trusted lied to her… again. She also wouldn’t be shy about letting everybody know just how she feels about that, because that’s who Teela is, even if some toxic fanboys can’t accept that. Teela would also absolutely support Adam.

When doing a story about the troubled relationship between Adam and his father, another issue that comes up is the much more positive relationship between Adam and Duncan and that Duncan was more of a father figure to Adam than Randor ever was. Oddly enough, this is never really addressed in any of the various cartoons, though the CGI show, which gives the father figure role to Cringer rather than Duncan, has a nice bit of dialogue where Randor and Cringer talk about raising Adam.

And since I had Randor and Duncan talking over a cup of tea, another issue that really needs to be addressed is how Randor lashed out at Duncan after Adam got himself killed in Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Because no matter how understandable Randor’s grief at losing his son was, there was absolutely no justification for taking out his anger on Duncan and stripping him off his rank, banishing him from the palace, forbidding him to make a living in the only way he can and threatening him with execution. Randor doesn’t even threaten Skeletor with execution after all the terrible things Skeletor has done (and indeed the Filmation cartoon explicitly notes that Eternia abolished the death penalty a long time ago), yet he would do that do Duncan, his long-time friend, comrade-in-arms and right-hand man? This is not only shocking, it’s also never really addressed in Revelation. Randor does apologise to Adam and Cringer on screen and there is a brief scene where he makes up with Marlena, but we never see him apologise to Duncan, since Duncan is locked up in the dungeon of Castle Grayskull at this time. Later, during the big battle outside Castle Grayskull, Duncan hands his big gun to Andra, grabs his mace and rushes to Randor’s side without a second of hesitation. The next time we see Randor and Duncan together in the palace at Andra’s promotion ceremony, they’ve clearly reconciled, but we never see Randor apologising to Duncan, not even a brief “I’m sorry” in the heat of the battle. It’s a glaring oversight in a show that otherwise did so much right.

So in short, these people all have a lot to talk about, so this story turned into a novelette.

***

And that’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story. There will be more stories coming in the future, because I’m having a lot of fun doing these as well as plenty of ideas. And yes, I’m definitely going to do my take on how Prince Keldor became Skeletor.

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.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for November 2022

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some October books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, epic fantasy, YA fantasy, fantasy mystery, paranormal mystery, paranormal romance, science fiction romance, space opera, military science fiction, YA science fiction, dystopian fiction, LitRPG, horror, demons, dwarves, ghosts, exorcists, Norse gods, aliens, cyborgs, space marines, climate change, haunted roads, haunted prisons, magical schools, Pandora’s box, crime-busting witches, arsekicking grandmothers, veterinarians in space, and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Pandora's Demon by Odette C. BellPandora’s Demon by Odette C. Bell:

Oh dear. Ruby Whittle’s already down on her luck. Soon, she’ll descend much further into something far worse. When she inherits Pandora’s box and finds out Hell’s real – and coming for her – she needs help. And only one demon can save her.
Blake is the Sixth Son of Satan, a man just as arrogant as he is handsome. When he spies Ruby, the half-breed, he plans to kill her. But when Ruby contracts him with one of his father’s rings, she binds them. Blake must now protect her. Through Heaven, through Hell, and through one of the greatest plots the universe has ever seen.

A dark force is rising, and though Blake really doesn’t like it, Ruby is the only half-breed who can help him defeat it. To do that, she’ll make him discover the beating organ between the junction of his fourth and fifth ribs. And by the end of this demonic tale, she’ll rip his heart right out and lay it as his feet. For when a demon falls in love, things get sticky.

Pandora’s Demon follows a prince and a half-breed battling to save the universe. If you crave your contemporary fantasies with action, humor, romance, and fun, grab Pandora’s Demon Book One today and soar free with an Odette C. Bell series.
Pandora’s Demon is the 2nd Sons of Satan series. A witty, action-packed, light romance world where Satan’s sons must find love, but only after it sticks a ring on their finger. If you like your urban fantasies packed full of charming smiles, arrogant demons, and sprinkles of romance, dive in today.

The Master of Puppets by Molly J. BraggThe Master of Puppets by Molly J. Bragg:

Jakari, an alien assassin, receives orders taking her to a primitive alien world. She expects the mission to be like any other. Get in, eliminate the target and get out again. Instead, when she arrives, she finds out that one of the leaders of the fascist Char Oram is there, seeking to turn the inhabitants into mindless soldiers that could tip the war in favor of the Char.

Hayami Takahashi follows a strange woman down a dark street and all she wants is to make sure the woman didn’t wind up as the next victim of a kidnapping ring working the streets of Dallas. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a civil war between two factions of shape shifting cyborg aliens.

After Jakari saves Hayami from becoming a test subject in a Char lab, the two of them are working together to stop a war that’s been raging for nine thousand years.

Smoke and Hellfire by Kristen BrandSmoke and Hellfire by Kristen Brand:

Keep calm and call an exorcist.

Most people don’t believe in the supernatural—at least until a ghost starts making the walls in their house bleed. That’s when they call Bea Romo Reyes. She’s my best friend and roommate, and she works as a freelance exorcist and paranormal consultant. Meeting her plunged me into a supernatural world both wonderful and terrifying, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But there’s something Bea’s not telling me, and her secret might be more dangerous than the demons she’s hired to exorcise.

Smoke and Hellfire contains four episodic, novelette-length stories:

The Scent of Brimstone
When my friend dies mysteriously and her house stinks of brimstone, I know a demon is to blame. And when it threatens my friend’s family, I do the only thing I can think of: I call a professional exorcist.

An Unfair Bargain
Bea and I investigate a missing woman who wandered into the forest at night like she was possessed. But the truth of what happened is—if possible—even worse than demonic possession, and we might not make it out of the forest alive.

Drowning, Drowning
A ghost tour in St. Augustine accidentally raises a vengeful spirit who starts picking off the tour group one by one. Can Bea banish the ghost in time to save the young tour guides from a watery grave?

The Corporate Job
I always knew corporations were evil, but this one takes it a step further when they summon a demon to increase their profit margins. With a possessed CFO chained up in the basement and Bea’s exorcism failing, the demon reveals a sinister secret that could change everything.

Marines Never Die by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. ChaneyMarines Never Die by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. Chaney:

The war continues…and the body count rises.

With humanity joining the alliance to fight the Naxli invaders, the war should be turning in their favor.

Unfortunately, the enemy must not have gotten that memo.

Across the galaxy, the Naxli strive for total domination. To create a stronger resistance, Gunny Pelletier is sent to work with the various races, but he and his team soon discover that reaching common ground and coordinating military action is far more difficult than they’d imagined.

But the Naxli aren’t pausing to give the allied races time to work out the kinks, which means it’s time for humanity to go at it alone once again. Bureaucracy must wait while Marines do what Marines do best.

Besides, humanity owes the Naxli a few paybacks, even if the rest of the allied races are not willing to join the mission.

Roadside Horrors by Cora BuhlertRoadside Horrors by Cora Buhlert:

Roads are interstitial spaces, their only purpose to take you from one place to another.

In most cases, roads only connect two places in the real world. But occasionally, a road crosses the borderline into the unknown. That’s when things can come through, terrible things that lurk by the side of the road for the unwary traveller.

A car full of drunk teenagers on their way home from a festival encounter something terrible in the woods of Northwest Germany…

Nina delivers newspapers in the wee hours of the night and pays no attention to the pets that go missing in the neighbourhood… or the strange sounds echoing from the sewer grilles…

On a lonely country road in northern Spain, a truck driver encounters the ghosts of a terrible past…

So buckle up and get ready to meet the horrors that lurk by the side of the road. But be careful, because every encounter with them might be your last…

This is a collection of three tales of roadside horror of 9500 words altogether by Hugo winner Cora Buhlert.

Hammered by Lindsay BurokerHammered by Lindsay Buroker:

Seattle native Matti Puletasi has the strength of a bear, the stamina of an ox, and a magical hammer inherited from her dwarven mother.

She’s happy renovating homes and occasionally thumping bad guys until she learns of a mysterious artifact hidden under the house she’s working on. Everybody from humans to orcs to werewolves wants it, and they’re willing to kill to get it. Things go from bad to worse when someone frames her for murder.

The only person interested in helping her is a haughty elf assassin from another realm. He’s handsome, powerful, and deadly, but he’s got an agenda of his own. She dare not trust him—or be attracted to him.

But if she can’t clear her name, the assassin will be the least of her worries.

Kill Spree by M.R. ForbesKill Spree by M.R. Forbes:

Ben used to dream about being famous. He didn’t expect to wind up infamous instead.

Now he’s stuck in the middle of the most grotesque contest in the galaxy, racing against time and some of the most dangerous and deranged psychopaths in the Spiral to rescue his crew from a bloody battle royale.

The clock is ticking. The leaderboard is reset. Millions are watching. There can be only one winner, and if he ever wants to see his best friend again…

It had better be him.

Digital Divinity by Rachel FordDigital Divinity by Rachel Ford:

A shadow hangs over Midgard. Malevolent forces stir in Asgard. Out of the chaos will rise… a grandmother?
Barbara Callaghan assumed she’d spend her retirement peacefully, playing bingo and babysitting her grandson. Not fighting giants and wrangling unruly gods.

But when she finds herself the victim of a digital scam, trapped as a barbarian brawler in a game world generated from old Earth mythologies, she knows she will either adapt or perish. And Barbara has never been a quitter.

To survive this harsh rendering of Midgard, Barbara must win the patronage of one of the Asgardian gods. With the help of her disloyal companion Carwyn, an elven NPC with more warrants out on him than coins in his purse, she seeks out Asgard.

She discovers a world in turmoil, with powerful gods at each other’s throats, rogue giants causing chaos at every turn, and dwarven craftsmen at war with one another.

A world that needs the practical, no-nonsense touch of a grandmother—and the occasional brute strength of a barbarian.

Eat, Drink and Be Witchy by Lily Harper HartEat, Drink and Be Witchy by Lily Harper Hart:

Life is going well for Hali Waverly. She owns her own tiki bar at one of St. Pete Beach’s premiere resorts and her life is settled for the first time in…well, a really long time. On top of that, a local private investigator she keeps crossing paths has decided it’s time to date, something that both thrills and terrifies her.

All of that changes when a body turns up on one of the resort’s balconies and the owner of the resort is passed out inside with no recollection of what happened. Police think Franklin Craven could’ve killed her. The only problem is the marks on her body could also be attributed to an animal…and maybe one of a supernatural variety.

Worried about his freedom, Franklin hires Gray to solve the case. That means Hali and Gray are going to be investigating together…again.
St. Pete is full of paranormals, but Gray and Hali are looking for one specific one, a murderer who has a clear goal, even if it’s one they can’t quite ascertain.

Sparks are about to fly, in more ways than one, and death is on the cocktail menu. Hali and Gray want a chance at a future. They have to get through the present to make it happen.

A Swift Kick to the Thorax by Mara Lynn JohnstoneA Swift Kick to the Thorax by Mara Lynn Johnstone:

When space poachers release Earth animals on an alien world, threatening a fragile new alliance, they anger the wrong people. A veterinarian, an accountant, and a furious sign-language-fluent gorilla are coming for them.

Robin enjoys being one of the only humans around: an exotic outsider, strange and tall, with no shell and only two arms. Consulting for locals who want to keep Earth pets is a fine job. But when a swarm of rabbits invade town and humanity is blamed, everything unravels.

If Robin wants to save the alliance between two planets – and keep from getting sent home in disgrace – she has to prove that a powerful crime ring is behind the crisis. Luckily for her, she makes friends who are eager to help: from planetside, from the nearby space station, and recently escaped from the poacher’s ship.

Those poachers may be bug aliens with an excellent range of vision, but they won’t see this coming.

Lights, Cameras, Witches by Amanda M. LeeLights, Camera, Witches by Amanda M. Lee:

Bay Winchester isn’t in the mood for trouble. It seems to continually find her, however, and this time it’s coming in the form of a television production crew.

Haunted Traditions has made a name for itself as the premiere reality television show catering to paranormal enthusiasts. Of course Hemlock Cove pops up on their radar. What they want most of all is an interview with Bay, the local newspaper owner and expert on all things Hemlock Cove, and a shot of magic happening in real time wouldn’t hurt either.

The woman in question is not having it.

When a body drops in an alley, it’s bad enough that the production crew is on site. What makes it worse is that the body is glowing … and there’s no hiding it. There’s no telling why it’s glowing either. It’s a mystery.

Bay and her husband Landon are convinced the body has something to do with a new meth gang that has taken over a chain of lake cabins on the outskirts of town. They just have to prove it.

Between dodging the television crew—who have taken up residence in The Overlook—and chasing a monster, the Winchesters have their hands full … and that’s not counting the family members who have decided they want to become television stars.

Bay is used to fighting evil. What she’s not used to is having to dodge potential exposure in the process.

The Winchesters are facing a battle. Now they just have to figure what side it’s coming from.

It’s a fight to the finish … and if the television crew catches them, it’s all over.

It’s lights, cameras, action in Hemlock Cove … and death may soon follow.

The Quarrygate Gambit by Marshall Ryan MarescaThe Quarrygate Gambit by Marshall Ryan Maresca:

Mixing urban and high fantasy, the fourth Streets of Maradaine novel follows the crew of outlaws led by the Rynax brothers as they struggle to protect the city they love.

After having thwarted some of the forces responsible for ruining their lives, reformed thieves Asti and Verci Rynax and the rest of the Holver Alley Crew had mostly settled back into sedate lives as upright citizens of Maradaine. But when they are suddenly arrested in mysterious circumstances, they find themselves in Quarrygate Prison, which tests the limits of their cunning and skill. While Verci struggles to keep their friends alive and safe in the prison, Asti gets pulled into a mysterious scheme in the underbelly of the prison, teaming him up with some of the most dangerous people in Maradaine. The cracks in Asti’s tenuous sanity get torn open as he is thrown into a cat-and-mouse game with one of the city’s most infamous killers.

Meanwhile back in their neighborhood, Verci’s wife Raych is desperate to help him and Asti and get them home. When her attempts to go through proper channels fail, she accepts a ludicrous deal from the local crime boss: Verci and Asti’s freedom in exchange for her pulling off a daring, nigh-impossible heist that would challenge even seasoned thieves. Raych doesn’t know how a simple baker like her could hope to succeed at such a task, but she will use every trick and wild idea she has to help her family. None of the Rynaxes will rest until they are free from Quarrygate and together at home again, no matter the risk, no matter the cost.

Planetfall by Emily McCoshPlanetfall by Emily McCosh:

A rogue cyborg. A talking badger. A bounty job that goes incredibly wrong.

Aaron is perfectly content to chase bounties in his run-down little space ship, avoid human interaction at all cost, and lay low from the cyborg planet that created him. But when he and Bat—his half-robotic badger companion (who talks just a little too much)—chase their largest bounty ever, they run head-first into not only some dangerous criminals, but other cyborgs much stronger than them, and worst of all, a handful of humans who aren’t going anywhere.

Their job leads them first to Yayth, a backwater planet nearly as inhospitable as it is frigid. On a planet this abandoned, their target should be an easy find. Until a storm rolls in that freezes even the engines of starships. Aaron and Bat find themselves trapped not only with their bounty, but with some bystanders determined to get in the way, and something monstrous wanting to crack its way out of the ice.

Dream of Death City by P.J. NwosuDream of Death City by P.J. Nwosu:

Chilling, dark fantasy with a heavy dose of Sherlock Holmes in this new series of twisty mysteries in fantasy worlds.

Pale moths haunt an icy frontier. Beneath the shadow of a drowned death god, a frozen body is unearthed from the snow.

Investigators arrive to a superstitious island to solve a brutal crime. Among them is a lowly slave desperate to prove her worth and a soldier with dark dreams. Neither are prepared for what they find.

Death City is a strange and violent frontier, and no one who survives comes back clean.
First though, Thora and Diem must survive.

Welcome to the Red Kingdom.

Severed Ties by Kris RuhlerSevered Ties by Kris Ruhler:

A scientist filled with doubts. A four-year-old facing death. A momentous journey to save her.

For Belor, life in Cerulis City provides a myriad of comforts: endless food, a nice and warm home, and his dream job. He has life all planned out.

But when four-year-old Saya is about to be executed, Belor makes an irreversible decision that upheaves his entire life.
Soon, the pair find themselves on the run, fighting for survival. Saya is no ordinary four-year-old. She is a half-Aeterna, a race of beings banned from Cerulis City.

Will Belor be able to keep Saya alive?

Eldsprak Academy by Oskar SoderbergEldsprak Academy by Oskar Soderberg:

What do you get when you take a geomancer with a bone to pick, a secret aeromancer, and a healing hydromancer, and put them in a practice yard with a commoner ranger and a bunch of noble sons of Eldsprak Kingdom?

A group of individuals who all need to win The Academy Tournament for reasons of their own!

It’s up to Goslin to make them work together. If they’re to have any sort of chance at coming out on top, they’ll need to adapt and change. Can they start to pull in the same direction, or are they doomed to fall over each other in their eagerness to prove themselves on the field of battle?

How will they conquer The Tournament when one of their many opponents is Goslin’s own brother, the champion from last year’s tournament, and his hireling pyromancer who can send blasts of fire from the palm of his hand?

All the tyrannical gods may have been killed by The Heroes of old, but who cares about things like that when sword strikes sword and bursts of magic erupt in the streets of Fyrie, Eldsprak’s capital, where The Tournament is just starting?

Orphans of Canland by Daniel Vitale Orphans of Canland by Daniel Vitale:

It’s 2088, and the dust has settled on America, decades after an environmental collapse. The eco-totalitarian organization, WORLD, has reconfigured society with the intention of restoring nature. Twelve-year-old eternal optimist Tristan Weekes lives in what he believes must be paradise: Canland, an agrarian California desert-greening project. However, Tristan’s life-defining medical condition, analgesia, prevents him from feeling physical pain, leaving his brain’s stress centers unresponsive to everything from ego-blows to heatwaves.

Well-intended, curious, and wielding a stunning vocabulary, Tristan loves to listen to the subversive theories spouted by his older brother, Dylan, a drug-addicted satellite hacker. He also wants to prove his independence to his mother, Helena, a powerful population control-extremist. Meanwhile, all around him, the survivors of the environmental collapse are just working toward a better tomorrow. But when a slew of violent acts befalls Canland, Tristan must confront certain truths about the community he loves-including his family’s secrets, his own involvement in the horrors enacted by WORLD, and the debts that are owed to the orphans of Canland.

In this work of literary fiction, set against the backdrop of a frighteningly plausible dystopia, Daniel Vitale explores the fate of our planet, the nature of family, and the duty of science, as Orphans of Canland asks: What does it mean to belong on Earth?

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for November 2022


Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some October books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have hardboiled mysteries, cozy mysteries, holiday mysteries, historical mysteries, Victorian mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, WWII mysteries, paranormal mysteries, fantasy mysteries, crime thrillers, legal thrillers, psychological thrillers, police officers, FBI agents, lawyers, private investigators, amateur sleuths, serial killers, gangsters, drug dealers, missing persons, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting butlers, crime-busting realtors, murderous movie sets, murderous cruises, creepy hotels, haunted prisons, murder and mayhem in London, Brighton, Paris, San Francisco, Chicago, Florida, Nevada and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Death Among Fitful Shadows by Blythe BakerDeath Among Fitful Shadows by Blythe Baker:

Victoria Sedgewick’s acceptance of a private case for a wealthy lady leads her into deeper danger than she ever imagined. But it isn’t only her own life at peril…

When her infant son is drawn into the dangerous game, Victoria enlists the help of Branwell Keats. Together, the pair must risk everything to win at all costs.

 

 

Murder and Mistletoe by Beth ByersMurder and Mistletoe by Beth Byers:

Holiday, Murder, Mayhem…what else could be expected when Vi and friends gather for Christmas?

The friends have gathered for a major holiday in the country. They’ve brought in those they love. Excessive gifts have been purchased and feasts have been planned.

Once again, a body is discovered. This time under the mistletoe. Will Vi, Jack, and the rest discover the murderer before St. Nick arrives? Or will the holidays be ruined?

 

Death's Approach by Beth ByersDeath’s Approach by Beth Byers:

It has been quite some time since Smith’s quarry has eluded him so fully. A woman was murdered in his home, he’s removed his family to Jack and Vi’s house, he’s pulled in all his friends to help, and he still can not find the engineer of his friend’s death.

Only, the noose has been tightening. The traps have been laid, and now Smith will have to win against one of the cleverest villains he’s had to track down. All while ensuring he doesn’t lose anyone else. Join Smith on his most fraught journey yet and discover the person who has thwarted him thus far.

The Father's Secret by Stacy ClaflinThe Father’s Secret by Stacy Claflin:

If you can’t trust family, who can you trust?

After a body is unearthed near Chris and Vanessa’s newly-acquired hotel, all eyes are on them. They may be the owners, but they’re also the newest residents. Everyone suspects them.

Not only that, but Chris is hiding multiple secrets from his new wife and rather than opening up her, he buries himself deeper in his troubles.

Meanwhile the oldest daughter is secretly dating one of the hotel staff — and only Chris knows how dangerous the boy is. By the time he finds out about their relationship, it might be too late to save his stepdaughter…

In Cases of Murder by Jan EdwardsIn Cases of Murder by Jan Edwards:

When the body of Laura Jarman is discovered crammed inside a steamer trunk and dumped on a Brighton railway station platform, her wealthy industrialist family is shouting for answers, but their reluctance to co-operate with the investigation arouses suspicion. Shortly after, a second body – Laura’s flatmate Kitty – is discovered in similar circumstances. What links Laura and Kitty to the private gentlemen’s parties held in a country house on the edge of sleepy Wyncombe village, and what is Laura’s family so desperate to conceal? Bunch Courtney and DCI William Wright find themselves racing along a convoluted trail through munitions factories and London clubs to a final shocking end.

Suspect Santa by Mike FaricySuspect Santa by Mike Faricy:

Private Investigator Dev Haskell gets a call from Tubby Gustafson. There’s a car waiting for Dev just outside his office. If he doesn’t want to take the ride, he’ll have to drive himself to the Emergency room. Dev decides whatever he was involved in can wait and is driven to Tubby’s mansion.

Turns out Tubby wants any and all information on east coat mobster Alex Chillcot who’s rumored to be moving into town. The more Dev uncovers, the worse Chillcot looks. Almost immediately the bodies begin to pile up.

In case that isn’t bad enough, Dev’s latest squeeze, Layla, works every year as a sexy elf at Santa’s Workshop. There’s only one problem, Santa turns out to be an obnoxious drunk who frightens children and tells them he won’t come to their house. Dev gets more involved than he planned.

Better get your copy now and see if Dev can save Christmas…

Thistlewood Manor: Murder at Hedgerow by Fiona GraceThistlewood Manor: Murder at Hedgerow by Fiona Grace:

For centuries, Thistlewood Manor has stood as home to the Montagu family, a beacon to British aristocracy in rural England. But it’s 1928, and in this new age of women’s rights, Eliza Montagu, 27, a free spirit, has turned her back on her family to live an artist’s life in London.

But when an unexpected family crisis arrives, Eliza has no choice but to return home to the demands of her family, to help her father, and to meet the Lord they hope she’ll marry.

When a dead body appears in the midst of the reunion, Eliza quickly realizes that if she doesn’t solve the mystery, the crime may just be pinned on her, and dash her hopes for a life as a free woman.

A charming historical cozy mystery series that transports readers back in time, THISTLEWOOD MANOR is mystery at its finest: spellbinding, atmospheric and impossible to put down. A page-turner packed with shocking twists, turns and a mystery that’s hard to solve, it will leave you reading late into the night, all while you fall in love with its unforgettable heroine.

Eat, Drink and Be Witchy by Lily Harper HartEat, Drink and Be Witchy by Lily Harper Hart:

Life is going well for Hali Waverly. She owns her own tiki bar at one of St. Pete Beach’s premiere resorts and her life is settled for the first time in…well, a really long time. On top of that, a local private investigator she keeps crossing paths has decided it’s time to date, something that both thrills and terrifies her.

All of that changes when a body turns up on one of the resort’s balconies and the owner of the resort is passed out inside with no recollection of what happened. Police think Franklin Craven could’ve killed her. The only problem is the marks on her body could also be attributed to an animal…and maybe one of a supernatural variety.

Worried about his freedom, Franklin hires Gray to solve the case. That means Hali and Gray are going to be investigating together…again.
St. Pete is full of paranormals, but Gray and Hali are looking for one specific one, a murderer who has a clear goal, even if it’s one they can’t quite ascertain.

Sparks are about to fly, in more ways than one, and death is on the cocktail menu. Hali and Gray want a chance at a future. They have to get through the present to make it happen.

That Last Ghost Dance by L.C. HaydenThat Last Ghost Dance by L.C. Hayden:

Unraveling Secrets

Kuyuidokado, Nevada’s Paiute’s chief councilman, is murdered while performing the Ghost Dance, a dance created by the Native Americans to bring peace and restore their land to the way it used to be.

Nevada reporter Aimee Brent is granted an exclusive to investigate the crime and report to the world what Kuyuidokado was really like. Aimee is eager to travel to Nixon to investigate the murder. She needs to be away from her editor/fiancé with whom she has just broken up with.

Upon arriving at Nixon, Aimee finds that not everyone or everything is as should be. She stumbles upon secrets—secrets that could lead to her death. It’s up to Aimee to unravel them before more people fall victim to the grand scheme of That Last Ghost Dance.

Moving Day Malice by CeeCee JamesMoving Day Malice by CeeCee James:

Stella O’Neil can hardly believe her luck…her favorite romance writer is moving to town and wants Stella to be her agent! Stella’s fantasy of becoming bff’s and getting to read advance copies is cut brutally short when Alicia BeeWater is murdered before she can even move in to her new home. Suspects abound in this all new edition to the Flamingo Realty series.

The police focus on Alicia’s stalker, who is the author’s #1 fan, Stella isn’t so sure. Then she covers some clues that send her down a different path… is it the truth or a trap?

Lights, Cameras, Witches by Amanda M. LeeLights, Camera, Witches by Amanda M. Lee:

Bay Winchester isn’t in the mood for trouble. It seems to continually find her, however, and this time it’s coming in the form of a television production crew.

Haunted Traditions has made a name for itself as the premiere reality television show catering to paranormal enthusiasts. Of course Hemlock Cove pops up on their radar. What they want most of all is an interview with Bay, the local newspaper owner and expert on all things Hemlock Cove, and a shot of magic happening in real time wouldn’t hurt either.

The woman in question is not having it.

When a body drops in an alley, it’s bad enough that the production crew is on site. What makes it worse is that the body is glowing … and there’s no hiding it. There’s no telling why it’s glowing either. It’s a mystery.

Bay and her husband Landon are convinced the body has something to do with a new meth gang that has taken over a chain of lake cabins on the outskirts of town. They just have to prove it.

Between dodging the television crew—who have taken up residence in The Overlook—and chasing a monster, the Winchesters have their hands full … and that’s not counting the family members who have decided they want to become television stars.

Bay is used to fighting evil. What she’s not used to is having to dodge potential exposure in the process.

The Winchesters are facing a battle. Now they just have to figure what side it’s coming from.

It’s a fight to the finish … and if the television crew catches them, it’s all over.

It’s lights, cameras, action in Hemlock Cove … and death may soon follow.

Failing Justice by Peter O'MahoneyFailing Justice by Peter O’Mahoney:

Fighting for justice in Chicago is a deadly game…

On Chicago’s South Side, the death of a five-year-old girl in a drive-by shooting captures the city’s attention. At the request of a desperate mother, defense attorney Tex Hunter agrees to defend the accused against a murder charge. With an entire city against them, Hunter struggles to find the truth about the incident.

To uncover the facts, to expose the truth, Hunter must battle against ruthless gangs, corrupt officers, and a culture of silence. Probing deep into the violent past of the disadvantaged neighborhood, Hunter uncovers information that will shock everyone.
If Hunter can’t expose the facts in court, an innocent man might be convicted… while the real killer stalks his every move.

Can Hunter reveal the truth in court? Or will silence continue to rule the streets?

The Quarrygate Gambit by Marshall Ryan MarescaThe Quarrygate Gambit by Marshall Ryan Maresca:

Mixing urban and high fantasy, the fourth Streets of Maradaine novel follows the crew of outlaws led by the Rynax brothers as they struggle to protect the city they love.

After having thwarted some of the forces responsible for ruining their lives, reformed thieves Asti and Verci Rynax and the rest of the Holver Alley Crew had mostly settled back into sedate lives as upright citizens of Maradaine. But when they are suddenly arrested in mysterious circumstances, they find themselves in Quarrygate Prison, which tests the limits of their cunning and skill. While Verci struggles to keep their friends alive and safe in the prison, Asti gets pulled into a mysterious scheme in the underbelly of the prison, teaming him up with some of the most dangerous people in Maradaine. The cracks in Asti’s tenuous sanity get torn open as he is thrown into a cat-and-mouse game with one of the city’s most infamous killers.

Meanwhile back in their neighborhood, Verci’s wife Raych is desperate to help him and Asti and get them home. When her attempts to go through proper channels fail, she accepts a ludicrous deal from the local crime boss: Verci and Asti’s freedom in exchange for her pulling off a daring, nigh-impossible heist that would challenge even seasoned thieves. Raych doesn’t know how a simple baker like her could hope to succeed at such a task, but she will use every trick and wild idea she has to help her family. None of the Rynaxes will rest until they are free from Quarrygate and together at home again, no matter the risk, no matter the cost.

Dream of Death City by P.J. NwosuDream of Death City by P.J. Nwosu:

Chilling, dark fantasy with a heavy dose of Sherlock Holmes in this new series of twisty mysteries in fantasy worlds.

Pale moths haunt an icy frontier. Beneath the shadow of a drowned death god, a frozen body is unearthed from the snow.

Investigators arrive to a superstitious island to solve a brutal crime. Among them is a lowly slave desperate to prove her worth and a soldier with dark dreams. Neither are prepared for what they find.

Death City is a strange and violent frontier, and no one who survives comes back clean.
First though, Thora and Diem must survive.

Welcome to the Red Kingdom.

All His by Blake PierceAll His by Blake Pierce:

Nicky Lyons, 28, a missing-persons specialist in in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, is an expert at tracking down abductees and bringing them home. The connection is personal: after Nicky’s twin sister was abducted at 16, Nicky made stopping kidnappers her life’s work.

But when Nicky is assigned to a new task force in south Florida dedicated to finding the recently missing, she soon realizes she’s up against a serial killer more diabolical than she imagined. Her only hope at finding these girls is entering his mind and outwitting him at his own game.

Nicky and her new partner, both headstrong, don’t see eye to eye, and the case opens decade-old wounds related to her sister’s disappearance. Can Nicky keep her demons at bay in time to save the victims?

Nicky, haunted by the demons of her own missing sister, knows that time will be of the essence in bringing these girls home—if it is not already too late.

Say It Isn't Sp by Willow RoseSay It Isn’t So by Willow Rose:

It is a dream come true for ten-year-old Becky when her parents take her and her younger sister on a cruise to the Bahamas.

But nothing is how it is supposed to be when her parents can’t stop fighting, and soon the trip turns out to be a true nightmare.

It becomes a puzzling mystery when she and her sister disappear as the ship is about to dock in Coco Cay.

How do you disappear on a cruise ship?

Why can’t they be found?

Could they have fallen overboard?

FBI profiler Eva Rae Thomas is flown in to assist on this bizarre but very time-sensitive case.

The parents both claim to know what happened to their children. Each of them blames the other for kidnapping them.

Who is telling the truth?

Meanwhile, the passengers are not allowed to leave the ship as the search continues, causing the tension to rise onboard. It becomes a race against time as a frustrated Eva Rae Thomas tries to find out what happened in the hours up until the disappearance of the two children.

When one of the children is found dead, she realizes this is more than a simple case of a parental dispute.

There’s a killer onboard.

Double Jeopardy by Sheldon SiegelDouble Jeopardy by Sheldon Siegel:

He was just trying to help a friend.
After three tours in Afghanistan, homeless and hooked on painkillers, Lenny was working to pull his life together. He gave Annie the last of his oxy pills to ease the pain from her shoulder injury. But when she was found dead in her tent the next morning, Lenny wound up in jail accused of killing her with fentanyl.

After a year behind bars, Lenny was finally about to get his day in court. But the uncertainty of the coronavirus threatened to delay his justice further.

The evidence is compelling: a pill bottle with Lenny’s name, fingerprints, and DNA is found in the tent of the decedent, Annie Parker. There are six pills laced with fentanyl inside the bottle. Lenny insists he’s innocent. He claims he gave Annie three of his legitimate OxyContin pills that he got from the V.A. When Lenny’s public defender is called away to help a family member sick with COVID, Mike Daley steps in to take over his case. Contrary to Mike’s advice, Lenny rejects a continuance leaving Mike little time to prepare for trial.

With the City on the verge of closing down, Mike must fly solo at trial as he desperately searches for witnesses in the homeless encampments and the drug-infested hotels in the Tenderloin.

Murder in France by Lee StraussMurder in France by Lee Strauss:

Murder is so sang-froid!

When the Reed family—temporarily exiled to France—is once again safe, Ginger decides to turn the event into a much needed holiday. And the absolute cake is Ginger’s reunion with her American friend Haley Higgins, who is working in France on a practicum to become a lady doctor.

Ginger celebrates the happy reunion by throwing a party at their villa in Paris, but the joyous activities are halted when a body is discovered. Like old times, Ginger puts her detective skills to work while Haley provides her forensic knowledge. As party guests continue to become more suspicious and worthy suspects, Ginger’s own past is soon on trial.

Has a long-ago, war-time “error” resurfaced to steal more than Ginger’s joie de vivre?

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Retro Review: “The Hanging of Alfred Wadham” by E.F. Benson

Weird Tales August 1929
“The Hanging of Alfred Wadham” is a short story by E.F. Benson, which was first published in the December 1928 issue of the magazine Britannia and reprinted in the August 1929 issue of Weird Tales. The story may be found online here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

This story is another one which caught my eye via Hugh Rankin’s striking interior art under his Doak pseudonym (Doak was Rankin’s middle name). For some reason, Rankin did several drawings of hangings and executions under the Doak name, such as the interior art for “In a Dead Man’s Shoes”, which I reviewed recently. As before, Rankin also supplied to striking Art Deco cover art for this issue, illustrating the The Inn of Terror by Gaston LeRoux.

Hugh Rankin's interior art for "The Hanging of Alfred Wadham"

Though the standout story in this issue is not the cover story, but “The Shadow Kingdom” by Robert E. Howard, the story which introduced Kull of Atlantis as well as the Serpent Men to the world and is widely considered to be the first sword and sorcery story. I should probably do a Retro Review of that story eventually, especially since it’s also a very good story.

Many authors who published in the pulps are completely forgotten these days and we know little to nothing about them. I feared this might be the case with E.F. Benson, but on the contrary, Benson was actually a very well-known British writer from a family of well-known people. His father was the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of his brothers wrote the words to “Land of Hope and Glory”, another brother was also a writer as well as a priest and his sister was a writer and Egyptologist. To make matters even more impressive, E.F. Benson was a member of the Order of the British Empire. He was also gay and by necessity, given the time during which he lived, closeted.

E.F. BensonBenson’s most famous work is the Mapp and Lucia series, a series of satirical novels about upper class people in a small town and their petty rivalries. I have to admit that I have never heard of those books, even though they spawned several sequels by other authors, two TV-adaptations, including one as late as 2014, and a lobster dish.

In addition to satirical novels about upper class people being jerks, Benson also wrote a lot of ghost stories and this is what brought him to the attention of H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote admiringly about Benson’s work in “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, and finally to Weird Tales.

But enough about the man. Let’s talk about the story.

Warning! Spoilers beyond this point! Continue reading

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Non-Fiction Spotlight: A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

One of the greatest things about this project has been discovering the huge range of SFF-related non-fiction that is out there, which belies claims that there is not enough SFF-related non-fiction published in a year to fill a Hugo category. Over the course of this project I have featured books on cosplay, manga, videogames, movies and TV shows, cartoons, speculative fiction in translation, speculative fiction from Africa, interview and essay collections, biographies, etc… And today, I have a book about ghosts, hauntings and gender for you.

Therefore, I am pleased to welcome Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes, authors of A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts, to my blog today.

A Haunted History of Invisible Women - True Stories of America's Ghosts by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea JanesTell us a little bit about yourself.

Leanna: I’ve been writing since I was a kid and didn’t consider pursuing it professionally until my first job out of college. I had gotten a BFA in theatre performance with a focus study in the Victorian Era. I worked in the professional regional theatre circuit for a few years before moving to New York City and ended up at a Broadway callback where all I could think about was the book that would end up becoming my debut Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy series, Strangely Beautiful. I stopped auditioning and solely focused on my novel about a girl who sees, talks with, and helps ghosts. Spectral subjects have been part of my creative process since childhood. I got my NYC tour guide’s license my first years in New York as I knew I wanted to incorporate real history into my fiction and eventually write non-fiction. Being a tour guide is a great way to make history second-nature. I feel like A Haunted History of Invisible Women is the culmination of everything that’s ever been important to me.

Andrea: I’m a writer and a New York City tour guide. I founded my own walking tour company, Boroughs of the Dead, in 2013.

What prompted you to write/edit this book?

Leanna: I was giving a ghost tour when an editor familiar with my fiction suggested I write a non-fiction book about ghosts. I knew from that first moment that I wanted to bring my colleague into the process, as I was Andrea’s first hire at Boroughs of the Dead, and the way she built the company informs so much of how I give a ghost tour, so there was never a moment’s hesitation about involving her, and it’s been an incredible process of discovery. Our interests, combined with our editor Liz May’s interests, hit upon the importance of discussing the ways in which we talk about women, alive or dead.

Andrea: I’ve long had an interest in both women’s history and ghost stories, and this book was the perfect intersection of them both.

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

Leanna: We do deep dives on trope; which are some of the building blocks of fiction analysis. We discuss the ways in which Gothic fiction and the long history of telling fictional ghost stories inform how we tell ghost stories about real people. We involve important literary figures in our process; whether it’s discussing how Poe was one of the first true crime writers to including a piece from the great poet, speculative and horror fiction author Linda D. Addison as our Afterword. Because we are both also genre fiction writers, talking about storytelling from the perspective of tour guides committed to real history is a shift in perspective I’m sure any genre writer can appreciate.

Andrea: Anyone with an interest in the ways the speculative and otherworldly collide with our lived realities will have an interest in this book.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

Leanna: There’s a wonderful statue of Mary Becker Greene, “Ma” Greene, that I didn’t get a chance to photograph or present to the art department before the book came out. Mary was the first woman to obtain her Steamboat Pilot’s License in this country in 1892, opening doors for other women pilots to follow. Her chapter is one of my favorites in the book! Mary’s statue and plaque stand just across the bank from Cincinnati, in a Covington, KY park along the riverside, situated along the Ohio river she traveled and navigated so expertly.

Leanna Renee Hieber with a statue of Ma Greene.

Leanna Renee Hieber with the statue of steamboat pilot Ma Greene in Covington, KY

Andrea: We tried to put the best stuff in the book! But I did enjoy researching the story of the ghost of Melrose Hall in Brooklyn, as well as several ghost stories featuring women who lived in wild places such as caves, who still haunt those locales. These will (hopefully) go in volume 2!

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

Leanna: It’s really all about discussion; one has to be able to analyze the elements of story regardless of genre. Non-fiction can truly deconstruct all the elements that go into fiction and so much of fiction needs to be researched via non-fiction. So much of my inspiration and underpinnings as a historical fantasy author has come from discussions of fantastical and supernatural history as explained in non-fiction works.

Andrea: I think it’s important because fiction writers are obviously inspired by real life and well – researched non-fiction on speculative topics is a treasure trove for information as well as a way to reflect deeply on these matters.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?

Leanna: Tiya Miles’ Tales from the Haunted South was a particularly vital resource for our book, as was Colin Dickey’s Ghostland, and I think Leila Taylor’s Darkly is a profoundly important work. I’ve been really thrilled to be a part of Amanda Woomer’s great journal of The Feminine Macabre which seeks to lift up women’s voices in paranormal related fields.

Andrea: I’ve enjoyed the non-fiction books of Lisa Morton, who writes about ghosts, seances, and Halloween.

Where can people buy your book?

Anywhere fine books are sold! https://linktr.ee/ahauntedhistory

Where can people find you?

Across most social media and via

http://leannareneehieber.com

https://linktr.ee/leannareneehieber

https://boroughsofthedead.com/

https://andreajanes.com/

Thank you, Leanna and Andrea, for stopping and answering my questions. Do check out A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts, if you’re interested in true life ghost stories, gender and spooky fiction.

About A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts:

From the notorious Lizzie Borden to the innumerable, haunted rooms of Sarah Winchester’s mysterious mansion, this offbeat, insightful, first-ever book of its kind explores the history behind America’s female ghosts, the stereotypes, myths, and paranormal tales that swirl around them, what their stories reveal about us—and why they haunt us…

Sorrowful widows, vengeful jezebels, innocent maidens, wronged lovers, former slaves, even the occasional axe-murderess—America’s female ghosts differ widely in background, class, and circumstance. Yet one thing unites them: their ability to instill fascination and fear, long after their deaths. Here are the full stories behind some of the best-known among them, as well as the lesser-known—though no less powerful.

Tales whispered in darkness often divulge more about the teller than the subject. America’s most famous female ghosts, from from ‘Mrs. Spencer’ who haunted Joan Rivers’ New York apartment to Bridget Bishop, the first person executed during the Salem witchcraft trials, mirror each era’s fears and prejudices. Yet through urban legends and campfire stories, even ghosts like the nameless hard-working women lost in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire —achieve a measure of power and agency in death, in ways unavailable to them as living women.

Riveting for skeptics and believers alike, with humor, curiosity, and expertise, A Haunted History of Invisible Women offers a unique lens on the significant role these ghostly legends play both within the spook-seeking corners of our minds and in the consciousness of a nation.

About Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes:

Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling writer of gothic Victorian fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her novels such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, and the Eterna Files series have garnered numerous regional genre awards, including four Prism awards, and have been selected as “Indie Next” and national book club picks. She lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television shows like Boardwalk Empire. Follow her on Twitter@leannarenee, or visit www.leannareneehieber.com.

Andrea Janes is the Founder and owner of Boroughs of the Dead, New York City’s premier ghost tour company, which has been featured on NPR.org, The New York Times, Jezebel, TODAY, The Huffington Post, Gothamist,The Travel Channel, CondeNast Traveler, Mashable, among others. Andrea is also the author of the YA novel Glamour, and several short horror stories, and a fiction horror novel Boroughs of the Dead, the inspiration for her company. More at www.boroughsofthedead.com.

***

Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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Fancast Spotlight: Tales from the Trunk

After the Hugos is before the Hugos, so here is another Fancast Spotlight for your consideration. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here.

Today’s featured fancast is Tales from the Trunk, a podcast where SFF writers talks about their trunk stories, i.e. stories that failed to sell. And trust me, we all have some of those.

So I’m very pleased to welcome Hilary B. Bisenieks of Tales from the Trunk to my blog today:

Tales from the Trunk logo

Tell us about your podcast or channel.

Tales from the Trunk is a podcast about the stories that we, as writers, have had to give up on for one reason or another. Every episode, an author comes on to read a story out of their trunk, or in the case of book tour episodes to read an excerpt from a new or forthcoming release, and chat about the writing life, the reasons that some stories just don’t make it, and why every word you write is its own victory. Episodes come out on the first and third Friday of every month.

Who are the people behind your podcast or channel?

Tales from the Trunk is hosted and produced by author Hilary B. Bisenieks (that’s me). I’m joined each episode by a guest author who works in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and beyond.

Why did you decide to start your podcast or channel?

Originally, I’d been thinking about a somewhat different show—one where authors would come on and read their juvenalia—but Sarah Gailey pointed out that, especially as someone not really known in the podcasting space, that would probably be a hard pitch for me. They did say, though, that if I had a show where I invited folks on to read stories out of their trunks, they’d be very interested in being a guest. That was probably mid-January of 2019, and by that March, I had the first three episodes of the show recorded, talking with Sarahs Gailey and Hollowell and my childhood friend, author R.K. Duncan. Ultimately, I decided to start this podcast, even after changing the format from what I’d initially envisioned, because it was the sort of show that I would have really liked to listen to back in the mid-to-late aughts, when I first became a Podcast Fan™ and thought that it would probably resonate with other folks.

What format do you use for your podcast or channel and why did you choose this format?

Trunkcast is an interview show, and ultimately it’s a cozy chat between friends. I’ve been listening to podcasts for more than 15 years at this point, and public radio interview shows like Fresh Air and The World Cafe for quite a while before that, which really influenced how I think about radio and radio-like things. I knew that the centerpiece of the show, in some ways, would be the reading, but also that the reading was a jumping-off point into the real meat of the show. I have a basic format: introduction, reading, conversation, and the “time machine,” that I’ve been using for all my main-line episodes since the show began, and when I started doing book tour episodes around the start of 2021, I came up with an abbreviated format for those shows that I’ve hewed to pretty closely, too, so I have an idea of the shape of each episode from the jump, but I never really plan on what we’ll talk about beyond that outline.

Hilary B. Bisenieks

The fan categories at the Hugos were there at the very beginning, but they are also the categories which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines, fancasts and other fan projects are important?

I grew up in fandom, and some of my earliest memories are of being a child-in-tow at Worldcons. My dad has written for various fanzines since he was in his twenties and maintains subscriptions to a few of the remaining print zines to this day. All of this is to say that I can’t picture fandom without fan-works. The barrier to entry is so low, and the output is so vital to the field as a whole. I don’t think anything exemplifies how important fan-works are more than the fact that AO3 won a Hugo. For me, making a podcast is a way that I can contribute something to the massive conversation that is fandom and bring a lot of warmth, encouragement, and camaraderie to all the writers out there with us in the trenches of the submission grind.

In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online and fancasts have sprung up. What do you think the future of fan media looks like?

I work in technology and have watched science fiction try and mostly fail to predict the future for decades, so I’m not even going to pretend to guess at what kind of new media fandom might move the conversation into. I will say, though, that video is probably going to occupy a larger role in fan media. We’re already seeing that a little bit with the first booktube channel being nominated for best fancast a few years back, and the only reason I can see for that to slow down is if the platforms that we rely on push further and further away from archival discoverability and more and more towards ephemeral content. I’ve been on TikTok since a couple months into the pandemic, and while I do see booktok content in my feed on the regular, that platform isn’t really conducive to sustained conversation or long-term discoverability of older content.

I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a renaissance in print zines, or variations on the theme for people who don’t want to bother with printers and postage. We’re seeing this in the indie tabletop roleplaying space right now, with some creators offering printings of their games or making it easy for players to print out zines of the games themselves. There’s something very pleasing about a tactile artefact, and I would certainly love to see the fanzine space move back towards that even a little bit.

The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?

Almost all of my fancast faves are on some level of hiatus, but I can’t not give a shout-out to the excellent Be The Serpent. Likewise, We Make Books is a lovely show that I think deserves more attention. The Hugos tend to favor SFF to the detriment of the H, but for folks who like horror films, Rank and Vile is well worth your time. Finally, in the fancast space, A More Civilized Age: A Star Wars Podcast is one of my favorite shows around, and their current (as of this writing) series of companion episodes to season one of Andor provides a ton of additional material to chew on long after the end credits of the show have finished rolling.

For fan writing, Elsa Sjunneson, Sarah Gailey, and Jason Sanford are doing amazing work, and on the fan artist side, a lot of people are sleeping on the amazing work being done by Miri Baker, who created Fran Wilde’s Hugo dress this year and previously created a capelet for Amal El-Mohtar inspired by This is How You Lose the Time War that is just stunning.

Where can people find you?

For as long as it’s still standing, I’m easiest to find on Twitter at @HBBisenieks, and Tales from the Trunk is at @Trunkcast. Failing that, I can be found, utterly unhinged, on Tumblr, also as HBBisenieks (and as trunkcast, hinges still firmly intact). You can find links to all my work at hilarybisenieks.com, and you can listen to every episode of Tales from the Trunk at talesfromthetrunk.com or wherever fine podcasts are sold.

Thank you, Hilary, for stopping by and answering my questions.

Do check out Tales from the Trunk, cause it’s an excellent podcast.

***

Do you have a Hugo eligible fanzine/-site or fancast or a semiprozine and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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Retro Review: “In a Dead Man’s Shoes” by Harold Markham

Weird Tales April 1929“In a Dead Man’s Shoes” is a historical short story by Harold Markham, which was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales. The story may be found online here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

I came across this story via the striking interior artwork (see below) of an eighteenth century hanging by prolific Weird Tales interior and cover artist Hugh Rankin under his pseudonym Doak (Doak was Rankin’s middle name), which intrigued me enough to read the story itself. Rankin also supplied the striking Art Deco cover, illustrating a Seabury Quinn Jules de Grandin story, for this issue of Weird Tales, by the way.

Harold Markham is one of the many pulp era authors about whom we know next to nothing. ISFDB lists only six stories by him, published between 1928 and 1936. Three of those stories were published in British horror anthologies, which leads me to believe that Markham may have been British. The remaining three appeared in Weird Tales.

The Fiction Mags Index lists a few non-fiction pieces by Markham that appeared in Boys’ Life and Boy’s Own Paper. Several of these non-fiction articles are about amateur theatre and indeed Harold Markham published a manual for staging amateur theatre productions in 1931. There also is a Harold Markham who ran a coconut plantation in the Solomon Islands from the 1930s into the 1960s and was a prolific letter writer and diarist, though it’s not clear whether he is the Harold Markham who wrote “In a Dead Man’s Shoes”.

Warning: There will be spoilers in the following. Continue reading

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Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “Pig Invasion”

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. You can check out all the Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Stories here.

I have had some new arrivals today. The first is a second Eternian Royal Guard, so King Randor now has two soldiers to guard him. I would have preferred even more Royal Guards, but since they were exclusive to some US-only store, they’re quite pricey in Germany, so two will have to suffice.

The other new arrival is Pig-Head, archenemy of Sun-Man. Now Sun-Man and his supporting cast were not part of the Masters of the Universe line originally, but part of the toyline Rulers of the Sun, which was created to offer Masters of the Universe type figures with some much needed diversity added, since Masters of the Universe was almost all-white in the 1980s with only one black character each in the He-Man and She-Ra lines as well as two Asian characters, both villains. So a black mother, who was frustrated that her young son couldn’t find any Masters of the Universe figures that looked like him (Clamp-Champ, the lone black Masters of the Universe character, only came out in 1987, towards the end of the line), took matters in her own hand and created Sun-Man and the Rulers of the Sun. There’s a lot more background on Sun-Man, the Rulers of the Sun line and its creation here and here.

The Rulers of the Sun toys were never sold in Germany, so I am entirely unfamiliar with these characters and their backstory and have no nostalgic attachment to them. Therefore, I buy them on a case by case basis, depending on whether I like the figure and whether I can get it for a good price. Now I have a soft spot for pigs in general and the villain Pig-Head is a delightfully goofy character, a pig with a Samurai-style helmet in the most mid 1980s colour scheme ever. So once I spotted him for a good price, I bought him.

Since I like taking photos of new arrivals, I made a short photo story to post on Twitter before Twitter goes belly-up altogether, something which is looking increasingly likely.

So let’s see what happens when Pig-Head invades Eternia.

In the throne room in Eternos palace:

Teela reports to King Randor.

Though I now have two Royal Guards, there’s only one guard in the picture, because the second guard is currently on another shelf and forgot to fetch him.

“Your report, Captain Teela?”

“The Royal Guards are currently practicing aerial manoeuvres on their Sky Sleds, Sire. And the outer perimeter is secure. Prince Adam and I made sure of that ourselves.”

“Ah, so that’s why Adam was late for lunch… again. Still, my son’s recent dedication to duty is certainly admirable. You’re a good influence on him, Captain”

“Thank you, Sire. Adam is… ahem… very enthusiastic. About protecting the realm, I mean.”

“Snicker.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Captain.”

BOOM!

Pig-Head invades the throne room.

I didn’t kid about the very mid-1980s colour scheme of blue, pink and neon green.

“By Zoar, what now? Is Skeletor attacking again!”

“Surrender, King Randor, and give up the throne to Pig-Head, Lord of the Swine.”

“Sigh, Skeletor is really scraping the bottom of the barrel with regard to henchmen these days, is he? What’s the matter? Were Stinkor and Clawful too busy that he had to send you?”

“Skeletor? Pig-Head works for neither man nor skeleton. Pig-Head only works for himself. And you will surrender to Pig-Head or face the consequences.”

Teela fights Pig-Head, while King Randor and a Guard look on.

Those boots look like something I might have worn in appoximately 1984.

“Whoever you work for, it doesn’t matter. Captain Teela, would you please remove this overgrown porkchop from my throne room?”

“With pleasure, Sire.”

“A girl? You truly think a girl can beat the Lord of the Swine? Don’t insult Pig-Head and summon your champion, He-Man.”

“Not a girl, but the Captain of the Guard. And I don’t need He-Man to deal with the likes of you, Pig-Man.”

“Pig-Head, insolent female. The name is Pig-Head.”

TWACK!

Teela has knocked down Pig-Head.

“And now you’re just pulled pork. What? Adam isn’t the only one who makes silly puns.”

“Thank you for dealing with this porcine nuissance, Captain.”

“My pleasure, Sire.”

“Pig-Head shall not forget this. Pig-Head shall contemplate his revenge.”

“Well, you’ll have all the time in the world to contemplate… in the palace dungeons. Corporal, take this joint of ham away and lock him up.”

“Of course, Captain.”

***

And that’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story. There will be more stories coming in the future, because I’m having a lot of fun doing these as well as plenty of ideas. Besides, finally having a King Randor figure makes a lot of stories possible that I couldn’t do before, including the secret origin of Skeletor.

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.

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Small Press – Big Stories: Some of Cora’s Favourite Small Press SFF Books of 2022

So what is “Small Press – Big Stories”?

It’s an initiative started by the excellent SFF blog Runalong the Shelves to celebrate great SFF books (and great books period) published by small presses. Because small presses don’t have the clout and marketing budget of the Big 5, their offerings are often overlooked by readers and during awards season. So Womble of Runalong the Shelves had the idea to highlight great small press books that might otherwise be overlooked during the month of November and invited a bunch of friends and fellow bloggers to join in. You can read more about the project here.

So here is an overview of some of my favourite small press SFF books of 2022 and why you should check them out. The books are listed by author/editor in alphabetical order. Links go to the respective publisher page.

This is only a snap shot of all the great small press SFF books out there, so I encourage you to check out the other blogs participating for more recommendations.

Mage of Fools by Eugen Bacon

African-Australian writer Eugen Bacon is clearly a rising star in our genre. Yet the first time I heard of her was, when I was asked to feature her novel Claiming T-Mo, published by Meerkat Press, at the Speculative Fiction Showcase back in 2019.

Eugen Bacon’s latest release is Mage of Fools, also published by the good folks of Meerkat Press. Mage of Fools is a unique science fantasy tale set in the dystopian world of Mafinga, a polluted hellhole where books, reading and imagination are forbidden by law. Protagonist Jasmin is a widowed mother of two young children as well as the owner of a forbidden story machine. Possessing such a machine is punishable by death and when Jasmin’s story machine is discovered, she faces execution. However, she gets a temporary reprieve… for a terrible price. Because the queen of Mafinga, who cannot have children of her own, wants Jasmin’s children…

Mage of Fools is a great SFF novel, that manages to be both grim and hopeful at the same time. And since Eugen Bacon is also a poet, the novel is beautifully written as well.

***

From future dystopias to the distant past:

Arminius: Bane of Eagles by Adrian ColeArminius: Bane of Eagles by Adrian Cole

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy. British author Adrian Cole is one of the writers who have been holding up the sword and sorcery flag, even when the subgenre was considered hopelessly outdated and dead.

I enjoyed Adrian Cole’s continuation of Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis series. So when I saw that DMR Books, a small press specialising in reprints of classic sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy as well as new works in the spirit of the old, was publishing a new historical fantasy/alternate history novel by Adrian Cole featuring Arminius, chieftain of the Cherusci and the man who drove the Romans back beyond the Limes, I of course had to snap it up.

Now I grew up with the story of Arminius – or Hermann, as he is still known around here – and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, because it happened in my backyard… quite literally.  The Hermann Monument near Detmold was a popular destination for outings and school trips during my childhood. This was also when I first learned a simplified and idealised version of Arminus/Hermann’s story.

As a kid, I was always happy to visit Hermann, because how can you not love a 25-meter-tall bronze statue of a barbarian chieftain with a horned helme and a seven meter long sword who stands around on his pedestal on top of a mountain in the Teutoburg Forest holding his sword aloft in the classic He-Man “I have the power” pose (a fact that was not lost on little Cora). And I still love the Hermann Monument, even though it tells us more about the time during which it was built than it tells us about Arminius and his fight against the Romans.

For as I grew older, I learned that pretty much everything I thought I knew about Hermann was wrong, starting with the fact that he wasn’t actually called Hermann but Arminius, that he had Roman military training and used their own tactics against them. Poor Hermann was even in the wrong place, because the actual Varus battle, as it’s now known, took place not in the Teutoburg Forest but roughly 100 kilometres to the North in Kalkriese near Osnabrück. The Kalkriese site was discovered in 1987, when I was in high school, and caused a lot of excitement. Because by this point, it was clear that the battle had not happened in the Teutoburg Forest, but until a farmer unearthed several Roman artefacts in Kalkriese, no one quite knew where it was. I clearly remember the excitement when the Kalkriese finds became known, because might this really be it?

So given my geographic connection to Arminius, I of course had to buy Adrian Cole’s take on the story of Arminius. Now Arminius: Bane of Eagles is alternate history, so Cole’s Arminius is not the Arminius of history, though he is still closer to him than Hermann, the bronze barbarian in the forest. Plus, there are plenty of battles, intrigues and even elder gods. Whether you like sword and sorcery or alternate history about Imperial Rome or just want a suitable read for a trip to the Kalkriese museum and/or the Hermann Monument, check out Arminius: Bane of Eagles by Adrian Cole.

***

From Rome and Kalkriese in 9 AD to contemporary Minneapolis:

Last Car to Annwn Station by Michael MerriamLast Car to Annwn Station by Michael Merriam 

Last Car to Annwn Station by Michael Merriam, published by Queen of Swords Press, is another of those books where the description alone makes you take note. Child protective services attorney Maeve is trying to save a little girl from her abusive but powerful family. The legal system won’t help, but luckily Maeve gets help from her librarian love interest Jill, a bunch of fae and the ghosts of the defunct streetcar network of Minneapolis.

Urban fantasy is another subgenre I’ve always enjoyed. Just as with sword and sorcery, the Big 5 publishers near killed off the subgenre due to overproduction approx. ten to fifteen years ago. Except for a few big name authors with ongoing series, urban fantasy is now the province of small presses and indie authors. Hereby, particularly the small presses have published interesting books that go beyond the clichés associated with the subgenre.

One aspect of urban fantasy that was very common in the early days of the subgenre in the 1930s and 1940s, long before it had a name, is haunted machinery. Weird Tales, Unknown and other SFF mags of the 1940s are chock-ful of stories about haunted, possessed or self-aware radios, typewriters, printing presses, bulldozers and yes, trains and streetcars. Yet somehow, this side of the subgenre completely vanished (Christine by Stephen King, published in 1983, was probably the last hurray of the haunted machinery trope), when urban fantasy was revived in the 1980s and 1990s and went into overdrive in the early 2000s.

Last Car to Annwn Station brings this aspect of urban fantasy back, because ghostly remnants of Minneapolis’ defunct streetcar system (taken out of service in 1954 according to Wikipedia) play an important role in the novel. And honestly, the haunted streetcars were what originally sold me on the novel, though I’m also always game for a good lesbian love story. Because in Germany, a lot of cities retained their tram and streetcar networks, even as they went away elsewhere, including my hometown of Bremen. As a result, trams and streetcars are an integral part of urbanity for me – to the point that cities not having them feel somehow weird to me. So of course I was going to read an urban fantasy novel featuring ghostly streetcars, a lesbian love story and a kid in danger. And so should you, because Last Car to Annwn Station is a great novel.

***

From urban to secondary world fantasy:

The Gods Awoke by Marie VibbertThe Gods Awoke by Marie Vibbert

Marie Vibbert has long made a name for herself with short fiction published in Analog, F&SF, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction and other places. Her three novels to date, Galactic Hell Cats, MegaDeath (co-authored with Tony Quinn) and The Gods Awoke, have all been published by small presses

Marie Vibbert is better known for science fiction, but The Gods Awoke, published by Journey Press in August 2022, is fantasy. The novel tells the story of Hitra, high priestess of Revestre, who in addition to the usual political and theological problems she has to deal with, suddenly finds herself faced with the god she serves suddenly manifesting and throwing the city into chaos.

Now I have never been a huge fan of religion in SFF. Religion is a necessary element of worldbuilding, but when a story focusses too much on a fictional or real world religion, my eyes tend to glaze over and the book tends to hit the wall. See my rants about the many scenes in the Foundation TV series that focus on a fictional religion that doesn’t even appear in the books.

So while I like Marie Vibbert’s work, I normally wouldn’t have picked up a novel about a fictional religion. However, Gideon Marcus, publisher of Journey Press, is a friend of mine and also does not much care for religion in SFF. Indeed, we must be the only two people in the universe who intensely dislike Roger Zelazny’s 1963 religion-focussed story “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”.  And if Gideon liked a novel about a fantasy religion enough to publish it, then I was pretty sure I would enjoy it, too.

This brings me to another thing that’s great about small presses. Because small presses tend to focus on a specific niche or subgenre, you often know what to expect. Of the five small press SFF books featured in this post, I personally know four of the publishers and trust them to deliver great books in their specific niche.

So check out The Gods Awoke by Marie Vibbert, if you want to see what would happen when believers suddenly find themselves faced with the actual deity they worship, especially if that deity is angry…

***

From fantasy gods to the zealous Puritanism of 17th century New England:

Seven Dead Sisters by Jen WilliamsSeven Dead Sisters by Jen Williams

Even though she has won the British Fantasy Award, Jen Williams is one of those authors who don’t get nearly enough attention, especially outside the UK. Her name never comes up, when discussing contemporary sword and sorcery authors, even though her Copper Cat trilogy and her Winnowing Flame trilogy are series that sword and sorcery fans would absolutely enjoy.

The novella Seven Dead Sisters, published by PS Publishing‘s Absinthe Books imprint, is not sword and sorcery but horror. However, sword and sorcery and cosmic horror are siblings separated at birth (I wrote a whole essay about that for the 2022 Necronomicon souvenir book) and I could absolutely see Seven Dead Sisters appearing in an issue of Weird Tales next to a Conan, Kull or Jirel of Joiry story.

Seven Dead Sisters is the story of Alizon Grey, a young woman sentenced to death for witchcraft and for murdering her abusive father. She also is absolutely guilty of the latter, because she did murder her father before he could kill her.

We first meet Alizon, as she is driven to her execution in the back of a cart. The cart is attacked by something unseen and monstrous, the guards are killed and Alizon can escape. Now she must flee through horror infested woods before either the men who want to burn her at the stake or the monster can get her. And during her flight, the reader experiences the story of Alizon and her family via flashbacks.

Seven Dead Sisters by Jen Williams will almost certainly be on my Hugo ballot next year and it might be on yours, too. So check it out.

***

As I said above, this is only a snapshot of the many great SFF books published by small presses. All links go to the publisher website, which will lead you to the rest of the respective small press’ catalogue and even more great books to check out.

Also check out the other participating blogs and the hashtag #SmallPressBigStories on Twitter for even more recommendation.

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Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “New Look”

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. You can check out all the Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Stories here.

I have had some new arrivals recently, including the Teela and Zoar two-pack. I mainly bought the two-pack, because I wanted Zoar the Falcon, but I also got a Teela figure with a nice new headsculpt, which is loosely based on the way she looked in the 2002 cartoon, where Teela had a long ponytail instead of her customary upswept hairstyle. And since Teela is my favourite Masters of the Universe character, I’m always happy to have another version of her. Plus, this Teela has a sword, which is the weapon she actually uses most of the time in the various cartoons. The toys mostly only have the snake staff, even though the snake staff only prominently features in the 2002 cartoon – in every other version she uses a sword.

The fact that Teela got a makeover for the two-pack also inspired the following story. Furthermore, I also get to explore the friendship between Teela and Adora that the cartoons never really gave us (so far) some more.

In Teela’s room in Eternos Palace:

She-Ra gives Teela a makeover.“Are you really sure about this,  Adora? Isn’t the gold a bit too bright and too yellow? And won’t my hair get caught somewhere, if I wear it that loose in battle?”

“Oh please. I wear my hair much longer and looser and it never gets caught anywhere.”

“Yes, but you’re She-Ra and have superpowers. I’m just Captain Teela of the Royal Guard.”

“Relax and trust me, Teela. You look gorgeous.”

She-Ra shows Teela her new look in the mirror“There, see. You look stunning.”

“D…do you think Adam will like my new look?”

“Like it? Trust me, Teela, he’ll love it.”

Zoar arrives, as She-Ra gives Teela a makeover.“Squawk.”

“Oh, it’s you. Hello, Zoar. Or mother, I guess…”

“Squawk.”

“Is that falcon really your mother?”

“It’s her… spirit, I guess. Honestly, it’s all very weird.”

“Believe me, I know a thing or two about weird family relationships.”

She-Ra and Teela show off Teela's new look to Zoar.“So, Zoar, what do you think of your daughter’s new look? Stunning, isn’t it?”

“Squawk.”

“Does that mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’?”

“I have no idea. She never says anything else.”

Teela shows off her new sword to She-Ra and Zoar.“Well, time to do my rounds and make sure all my guards are at their assigned positions.”

“Even better, you can show off your new look and… hey, is that a new sword? It looks fabulous.”

“Thank you. My Dad made it for me for my birthday. Those are the perks of being the daughter of Eternia’s greatest weapon smith, I guess. Which reminds me that I should probably drop by Dad’s workshop first to show him my new look.”

“Knock ’em out, girlfriend. Only metaphorically, of course.”

“Squawk.”

***

In Duncan’s workshop:

Duncan is tinkering with his mace while Fisto looks on.“And why exactly are you adding yet more flashing lights to your mace, brother? You’re supposed to conk the bad guys on the head with that mace, not dazzle them with flashing lights.”

“Because I like the lights, okay? They look pretty. And besides, they soothe babies. Teela always loved those flashing lights, when she was a baby, and so did Adam.”

“I don’t see any babies that need soothing around here.”

“Just shut up, Malcolm.”

Teela enters Duncan's workshop.“Hi Dad, Uncle Malcolm.”

“Oh, Teela, just the person I was looking for. Could you help me with soldering these wires? Cause Malcolm’s big paws are way too clumsy for such delicate work.”

“Hey, who you calling clumsy?”

“Uhm, Dad, Uncle Malcolm, don’t you notice anything different about me? Anything new?”

“Oh yes, you’re carrying the new sword I forged for you? How is it? Well balanced, I trust.”

“Yes, the new sword is great. Adora thinks so, too. But that’s not what I mean. Do you really notice nothing different about me?”

“Other than that your mood is particularly foul today, my dearest niece?”

Teela stalks off, angry.“Oh, just shut up, Uncle Malcolm! After all, it’s not as if you ever notice anything other than weapons and machinery anyway. Both of you!”

SLAM!

“Okay, that was… weird. Weirder than usual I mean.”

“Sigh. I wonder what’s wrong with her today. I hope she didn’t quarrel with Adam… again. It always puts both of them in a terrible mood.”

Duncan and Fisto talk and Zoar appears.“You don’t think she’s pregnant, do you? Cause in that case, you might need those soothing lights after all.”

“By the ancients, I hope not. I mean, I hope Adam and Teela would have more sense than that and be careful.”

“Like you were careful, you mean?”

“Shut up, Malcolm!”

Flutter.

“Squawk.”

Duncan and Fisto talk to Zoar.“Oh, what do you want?”

“Squawk.”

“If you know what’s wrong with Teela, why don’t you just say something?”

“Squawk.”

“And no, you don’t get to criticise my parenting. At least, I was there. You weren’t.”

“Squawk.”

“You know, brother, that’s really freaky. Talking to a bird, I mean. But I guess that’s what you get for sleeping with the bird lady.”

“Says the man who sleeps with a human battering ram.”

“At least Krass is human.”

***

In the throne room:

Teela enters the throne room, while King Randor is on his throne, flanked by Clamp Champ and a royal guard.

Unfortunately, I have only one royal guardsman so far. But Clamp Champ is supposed to be King Randor’s personal bodyguard (as well as a childhood friend of Adam’s and Teela’s), so he fits in nicely.

“Your Majesty…”

“Ah, Captain Teela. How go the repair works on the Eastern perimeter wall?”

“Well, Your Majesty. At least, I think so. I was just on my way to oversee the progress.”

“I won’t keep you from your duties then, Captain.”

“Ahem, actually…”

“Is there anything else, Captain? A security issue? Rumours of an attack? Or has Duncan completed a new invention?”

“Your Majesty, don’t you notice anything different about me?”

“Of course, you’ve got a new sword. A a most fine blade it is, too. It seems Duncan has done excellent work, as usual.”

“Cool sword, Teela. Tell your Dad I’ll drop by at his workshop later, because my clamp has been acting up of late.”

Teela stalks off, while King Randor, Clamp Champ and a palace guard look after her in confusion.“So that’s all I am to you. A soldier, a uniform and a sword. But I’m a person, too. Not that I’d expect any of you to understand that. So with your permission, I’ll take my leave, Your Majesty, and find someone who appreciates me as I am.”

“Oh dear, is she quitting again?”

King Randor, Clamp Champ and the guard wonder what's up with Teela.“Captain Teela is a remarkable young woman and she’ll probably be my daughter-in-law one day, provided Adam actually makes a move. But by the ancients, she can be so very irritating. Or do any of you know what’s wrong with her now?”

“Oh, the Captain’s having one of her moods again. Must be that time of the month.”

“I know I wouldn’t even have this job without Teela, but word of advice, Your Majesty, when she’s in that sort of mood, it’s best just to get out of her way, until she snaps out of it. Adam is the only one who can get through to her, when she’s like that, and he’s not here.”

“Where is my son anyway? Probably taking a nap and skipping combat training… again.”

“Considering Captain Teela’s mood, I can’t even blame him.”

***

In the kitchen of Eternos Palace:

Orko is demonstrating a magic trick to Roboto.“And now watch, Roboto, and I shall show you my latest juggling trick. Five eggs, no hands.”

“Are you certain about this, friend Orko? Because Chef Alan said – I quote – ‘Don’t you dare to touch any of the eggs, you clumsy little imp.”

“I’m not clumsy. Also, I’m not touching the eggs, I’m juggling with them. And my magic actually works now…”

CRASH. SPLATTER.

“…well, most of the time.”

Teela enters the palace kitchen.“Orko, Roboto, just the people I was looking for.”

“Hello Sister, how can we be of service?”

“Hi, Teela. Stay and watch my latest magic trick!”

Teela shows off her new look to Orko and Roboto.“I’m sorry, Orko, but I don’t have any time for magic tricks right now. I have to check on the progress of the repair work on the Eastern perimeter wall. But first…”

“You wanted to grab one of Chef Alan’s amazing cinnamon buns.”

“That, too. But Orko, Roboto, do you notice anything different about me?”

“Well… ahem… if you’re wondering who turned your favourite perfume into vinegar, that wasn’t me, honest.”

“I see that you are carrying the new blade Father made for your birthday. I trust you find it well tailored to your specific requirements. I helped Father to make the sword, you know?”

An angry Teela leaves the kitchen.“Sniff, why can’t none of you ever see me as a person? A soldier, a warrior, that’s all I am to you, all I’ve ever been. But I’m a woman, too.”

“Sister, what’s wrong? Is the sword not to your satisfaction?”

“You wouldn’t understand anyway, Roboto. You’re just a machine.”

SLAM!

Orko and Robot look after Teela.“Teela, wait. Maybe one of my tricks will make you feel better.”

“I have to confess that sometimes I do not understand my sister. Uncle Malcolm says that Teela’s hormone levels are to blame, when she is having what he calls one of her moods. But I scanned her hormone levels and though her cortisol and adrenaline levels are elevated, I do not detect any unusual let alone dangerour levels.”

“I just don’t understand why Teela wouldn’t watch one of my magic tricks. Cause normally, my tricks always make her feel better.”

“I shall talk to Father or Prince Adam about this. Maybe they know what is wrong with my sister and how to help her.”

“And who’ll watch my tricks now?”

***

At the Eastern perimeter wall:

Man-e-Faces and Ram-Man are cleaning up rocks.“Say, Manny, why do we always get stuck with clean-up duty, whenever Skeletor trashes the royal palace?”

“Grr, don’t ask me. I’m just an actor who got roped into all this saving Eternia stuff. I’d much rather be on stage playing Hamlet. You know, doing my real job.”

“Maybe it’s because we are the strongest of the Masters. Though come to think of it, He-Man is stronger than you or me.”

“He-Man isn’t here, grrrr. As usual.”

“Right, He-Man never sticks around for clean-up.”

Teela arrives to show off her new look to Man-e-Faces and Ram-Man.“Oh, hi Teela. Cool sword.”

“Hi Krass, hi Manny. How is the clean-up going?”

“Going fine. We cleared up most of the rubble. Once it’s all gone, we can repair the wall.”

“Until Skeletor knocks it down again, you mean?”

“Never mind Manny, Teela. He’s just grumpy, cause we got stuck with clean-up duty… again. Talking of which, you wouldn’t happen to know where He-Man is, would you?”

“Actually, I’m looking for him myself.”

“Sigh, another crisis? Is Skeletor attacking again?”

“No, I just want to show He-Man something. Something special.”

“Oh, I bet. Snicker.”

“Talking of which, do you notice anything different about me?”

“Except for the sword, you mean? Nope, just plain old Teela.”

Teela stalks off angry, while Ram-Man and Man-e-Faces look after her.“Oh, why do I even bother? None of you will ever truly see me, the real me?”

“Uhm, any idea what that was all about?”

“No. Not even my robot brain can analyse what is the matter with Teela.”

“Sigh, I love that girl and she’s practically my niece, but she can be so very frustrating.”

***

In the palace garden:

Teela meets He-Man in the palace garden.“He-Man, oh…”

“Teela! You’re just the person I’m looking for?”

“Really? You were looking for me?”

“Yes, Beast-Man has enslaved the Rock People and is attacking the Widget Fortress. Quick, we must hurry to free them, before they destroy the Fortress and…”

“Is that all?”

“Isn’t Beast-Man enslaving an entire sentient species to attack another sentient species enough of a crisis for you? After all, the fate of the universe can’t hang in the balance every single day.”

“That’s not what I meant. Of course, we must help the Widgets and the Rock People. But don’t you notice anything about me? Anything different?”

“Of course, you’re carrying the new sword Duncan made for you. I told him you’d love it and…”

“Not you, too!”

Teela stalks off, angry, while He-Man looks after her in confusion.“Teela, what’s wrong…?”

“I thought you were different. I thought you cared about me as a person and not just as a warrior. I thought that you of all people would see me, truly see me. But you’re just like the rest of them! Sniff.”

“Teela, wait!”

He-Man goes after Teela and bumps into She-Ra.“Was that Teela I just saw running past me in tears? What did you do to her, Brother?”

“I… I have no idea. She just said that I don’t care about her, that I don’t even see her, and ran off.”

“So what do you think of the makeover I gave her?”

“Makeover?”

“You know, new hairstyle, new uniform… Oh please, don’t tell me you didn’t even notice.”

“Uhm, actually…”

“Sigh, of course you didn’t notice. No wonder Teela’s angry and hurt. You should count yourself lucky that she didn’t deck you.”

“I’m not even sure what I was supposed to notice. I mean, I’d just heard that there was a crisis at the Widget Fortress and I was so glad to see Teela, because there’s no one else I’d rather fight alongside, and then she just went ballistic on me and started crying and I don’t even know why.”

“In short, you did not notice the new hairstyle or the new uniform.”

“Come to think of it, Teela’s hair did look different than usual. And she was carrying the new sword that Duncan made for her birthday.”

“Sigh, of course you did notice the sword.”

“Because I helped. I mean, not really, I’m crap as a smith. But I helped with advice, because we all wanted to make something really special for Teela for her birthday. Anyway, what do I do now?”

“Now you find Teela and apologise to her. And then you’ll admire her new hairstyle and uniform and the sword, too, if you must.”

“But what about Beast-Man and the Rock People and the Widgets?”

“I’ll deal with Beast-Man and you talk to Teela.”

“But Beast-Man is dangerous and he has enslaved a whole tribe of Rock People.”

“And I’m She-Ra, Princess of Power. I have fought Grizzlor and Beast-Man is nothing against him. And if I need help, I’ll simply take one of the other Masters along. After all, the palace is teeming with heroic warriors.”

“Do you even know where the Widget Fortress is?”

“Not really, but there are maps, you know?”

Roboto arrives in the palace garden to look for He-Man and She-Ra.“He-Man, She-Ra. Excuse me, but I am very glad to find you here.”

“Ah, Roboto. Just the man – ahem, robot – I was looking for.”

“As a matter of fact, I was looking for Prince Adam. Something is wrong with my sister. She is upset and I do not understand why. Orko suggested that Prince Adam could help.”

“Yes, we know about Teela.”

“You do? That is a relief.”

“He-Man will talk to Teela. And you’ll come with me to save to Twidgets…”

“Widgets”

“…whatever from Beast-Man.”

She-Ra goes off with Roboto to save the Widgets, while He-Man goes looking for Teela.“But what about Prince Adam? Everybody says that only Prince Adam can calm down Teela when she is having what Uncle Malcolm calls ‘one of her moods’.”

“He-Man will find Prince Adam, if necessary. And now come on, Roboto. The Twidgets…”

“Widgets”

“…need our help.”

***

In the Widget Woods, near the Widget Fortress:

She-Ra and Roboto arrive to free the Rock People from Beast-Man's control.

I probably should have used some random gnome or dwarf figures to stand in for the Widgets.

“So the reason my sister is upset is because I did not comment on changes in her appearance. Is that correct?”

“Exactly, Roboto.”

“I still do not understand. My sister’s appearance changes all the time. Minor changes such as a bruise, a cut, a pimple, a tan, weight fluctuations, hormonal fluctuations, etcetera. Am I supposed to comment on all of them or just certain changes?”

“Changes in hairstyle, clothing, make-up. Best ignore the rest and by all that’s holy, don’t ever comment on pimples, weight or hormone fluctations.”

“Humans can be very strange. Oh, there are Beast-Man and his thralls.”

“Beast-Man, release these Rock People at once and leave the Twidgets…”

“Actually, they are called Widgets.”

“…alone.”

“Get lost, She-Ra! This doesn’t concern you. The Rock People will force the Widgets to mine Corodite for Skeletor and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Rabar, Togar, attack!”

“Uhh, uhhh…”

Robots fights the Rock People while She-Ra fights Beast-Man.“You take the Rock People and I’ll take Beast-Man.”

“Excuse me. I do not wish to harm you, but I am programmed to defend myself and my friends. But if you would just stand down…”

“Uhh, uhh, guhhh!”

“I guess the answer is ‘no’. I am very sorry about this.”

HACK! SLAM!

“Wuuhhh! Oowww!”

“All right, Beast-Man. End of the line. Release the Rock People!”

“Never, She-Ra. Maybe I’ll capture you and take you to Skeletor. Then he’ll reward me and maybe we can have some fun together.”

“Forget it!”

TWACK!

Beast-Man is down and the Rock-People are free.“What… what happened?”

“Don’t worry, Rock People. You’re free now. That mangy Beast-Man can’t hurt you anymore.”

“Free. We are free. Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. Just doing my job here or rather my brother’s. Come on, Roboto. Let’s get back to the palace and see, if He-Man has managed to make up with Teela.”

“And this time, I shall offer compliments on my sister’s change in appearance.”

  ***

He-Man tries to talk to Teela who is still angry.“Hey, Teela…”

“Go away! I want to be alone.”

“Listen, I… I’m sorry. I…”

“Don’t you have to save the Widgets or something?”

“She-Ra went to save the Widgets and the Rock People from Beast-Man.”

“Sigh, she told you to talk to me, didn’t she?”

“Uh-uhm.”

“And she also told you what to say?”

“Yes, sort of. Look, Teela, I’m really sorry that I didn’t say anything about your new hairstyle and outfit earlier. I think you look great.”

“That’s not good enough, Adam. You’re just paroting what Adora told you to say. Without her prompting, would you even have noticed that I wear my hair differently now?”

“Well, I’m noticing the differences now. Your hair is kind of loose – well, looser than before – and your uniform looks somehow brighter.”

Adam tries to comfort Teela.“You’re terrible at this, you know?”

“I know I’m not very good at this, making compliments and saying nice things. Probably something I inherited from my Dad who never had a single nice thing to say about me.”

“Oh, Adam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… You’re not like your father. Who also completely failed to notice my new look, for that matter.”

“No surprise there. Dad only ever notices something to criticise it. But I don’t want to be like him and I’m trying to do better. And if there’s one thing I know it’s that I love you, no matter what you look like.”

He-Man and Teela hold hands.“I loved you when you fell into the Tar Swamp, when we were kids, and were covered in tar all over. I loved you when you flat out refused to wear that nice gown Mom got you for the royal reception for Chief Carnivus and just showed up in your regular uniform. I loved you when I came back from the dead and you had that really terrible haircut…”

“But you said you liked the haircut.”

“I never said that. I said that I missed you and that you looked more beautiful than I remembered. Even with the terrible haircut.”

“It was practical, okay. Easy to wash, easy to care for, never got caught anywhere. After all, Andra and I were sleeping rough a lot of the time.”

“I noticed. But you were still beautiful to me. Because you’ll always be beautiful to me.”

“Aww, you really know how to make a girl feel wanted. But what about this new look? Do you like it? Better than the short mercenary haircut, I mean.”

“Of course, I like it. I like what Adora has done with your hair and I like the brighter colours on your uniform and how they bring out your eyes. Like I said, you’ll always be beautiful to me, but you look particularly beautiful today.”

He-Man and Teela kiss in the palace garden.“I’m sorry for going all ballistic on you… and everybody else, I guess.”

“Roboto was really worried about you, you know?”

“It’s just that everybody only commented on the new sword and no one noticed my new hairstyle or outfit. Almost as if they all see me only as a soldier and not as a woman.”

“That’s not true, Teela. We see you as a soldier, because you’re a damned good one. As for the sword, your Dad wanted to make something really special for you for your birthday and we all helped. Well, I mean, I only helped with advice, because I’m crap as a smith, but Roboto actually did help with the forging. And that’s why we were all so happy to see you carrying that sword, because it means that you like it.”

“Of course, I like it. It’s a great blade, beautiful and perfectly balanced. Though maybe I didn’t tell Dad – and you and Roboto, of course – enough how much I liked it.”

“You can tell him later.”

“Why not now?”

“Because now I want to kiss you.”

Smooch.

He-Man and Teela kissing in close-up.

***

And that’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story. There will be more stories coming in the future, because I’m having a lot of fun doing these. Besides, finally having a King Randor figure makes a lot of stories possible that I couldn’t do before, including the secret origin of Skeletor.

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.

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