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

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.

Last month, I posted an Evil Horde recruitment ad. It clearly worked, since I have gotten a few more Horde members since then, including a new version of Hordak as he appeared in Masters of the Universe Revolution as well as Leech, one of the core Horde members from the vintage toyline and the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon. Eventually, I will have to retake that epic Horde group shot. But for now, I’ve been having some fun with the new Horde recruits.

Masters of the Universe Masterverse Revolution Emperor Hordak

Hordak in his robe of office, as he appeared in Masters of the Universe: Revolution.

One Horde member who’s not a new recruit is Entrapta. Entrapta was one of only two Horde members who was released in the vintage Princess of Power toyline, the other being Catra. All the male Horde members were actually released in the He-Man toyline, since the gender essentialist idiots in charge at Mattel didn’t think that girls would want monster characters. They clearly never met little Cora who loved her King Kong and Godzilla figures. I really should get some of the new King Kong and Godzilla figures that have come out in the wake of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire and Godzilla Minus One, since my originals from the late 1970s/early 1980s are long gone.

In the vintage Princess of Power toyline, Entrapta had a gleaming golden armour and long pink and purple hair that was twisted into braids. She used her golden armour to mesmerise enemies and her prehensile hair to capture them. Yes, that was her special power. She looked gorgeous and captured enemies with her hair. Entrapta was also (platonic) friends with Catra and they were seen hanging out together in a tree house in one of the Princess of Power mini-comics. Yes, the She-Ra mini-comics were utterly assinine with nothing in the way of conflict or suspense. I think the worst thing that happened was that Catra blasted someone with her shower power water blast. And then Mattel was surprised that girls didn’t like those comics and blamed it on girls not liking comics period.

Entrapta also appeared in the Filmation She-Ra cartoon. She still had her long hair and she still used it to capture enemies, but in an inspired move, Filmation also made Entrapta the Horde’s tech genius, their counterpart to Man-at-Arms for the Heroic Warriors and Tri-Klops and Trap-Jaw for Skeletor. She’s also the most intelligent Horde member. I guess the idea was to show that girls can be pretty and have long hair and wear glittery clothing and can still be smart and good at technology.

The 2018 She-Ra reboot decided to run with the techie part of Entrapta’s character and portrayed her as an autistic tech genius who prefers robots to people. Entrapta still has long prehensile hair, but ditched the glittery outfit for a more practical overall and shirt combo. Entrapta starts out as a member of the Princess Alliance, which is the 2018 She-Ra equivalent of the Great Rebellion, but winds up joining the Horde after she is accidentally left behind in the Fright Zone during a rescue mission gone wrong. Entrapta befriends Scorpia and Catra and also strikes up an oddly endearing friendship/romance with Hordak of all people. Entrapta completely fails to be terrified by Hordak, but views him as her lab partner, while Hordak is impressed by her technical and scientific skills. In fact, Entrapta is probably the only person aside from Imp that 2018 Hordak truly cares for.

Come to think of it, Hordak certainly gets around and has (implied) relationships with Shadow Weaver (they co-parent Adora), Motherboard (I’m not sure how that would work physically, but there’s clearly something between those two) and Entrapta and attractive female Horde members like Octavia and again Entrapta tend to end up draped over Hordak’s lap in the Filmation She-Ra cartoon.

The Horde does have another scientist member, namely Modulok. Though Modulok didn’t start out as a scientist. Instead, he was a kind of construction toy consisting of 22 separate components, including six legs, four arms, two heads, two tails and several connector pieces. The pieces could be assembled however you wanted to and Modulok was known as the “Evil Beast of a Thousand Bodies”.  In fact, Modulok perfectly illustrates how very weird Masters of the Universe could get in its heyday.

Because Modulok came out in 1985, the same year the Evil Horde was introduced, he was billed as a Horde member. As for how he became a scientist, that’s due to the Filmation He-Man cartoon, which introduces Modulok as Galen Nycroft, a humanoid mad scientist languishing in the dungeon of Eternos Palace for conducting unethical experiments and unwilling subjects. He builds a machine that’s supposed to help him escape, but which has the side effect of turning him into a weird monster with multiple reconfigurable body parts. In some versions of the story, he literally mails himself out of the prison bit by bit. Modulok initially joins Skeletor’s Evil Warriors, but later defects and joins the Evil Horde, since he feels underappreciated by Skeletor, and shows up in several She-Ra episodes as well. This backstory of Modulok was created by J. Michael Straczynski, who would go on to create Babylon 5 among many other things.

Because he has so many unique parts, Modulok is expensive to make, which is why he hasn’t yet appeared in either the Masters of the Universe Origins or Masterverse toyline. However, Modulok was made in the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline and I recently got that version of the character for a good price. And since I now had the two Horde technicians/scientists, I decided to have some fun and see what happens, when these two meet.

There are also two other Horde members in the story. The first is Imp, Hordak’s shapeshifting pet/spy and probably the only being in the universe he truly loves. The second is Dragstor, who had a figure in the vintage He-Man toyline, but never appeared in any of the cartoons. The result of Horde science experimentation, Dragstor is a cyborg who has a wheel integrated into his abdomen and exhaust pipes on his back. When he lays down on his belly, he becomes a vehicle that chases after enemies of the Horde and knocks them down. As I said, Masters of the Universe could get very weird indeed and the Horde had some of the weirdest characters of all (plus a good dose of body horror). The vintage toy actually did race across the floor, if you laid him down flat and pulled a rip-cord. The Masters of the Universe Classics figure, the only other version of this character ever made, just looks cool, but the wheel doesn’t actually work.

I should maybe say a few words about the set. In both the original Filmation She-Ra cartoon and the 2018 reboot, Hordak’s base, the Fright Zone is a Gigeresque technological nightmare, a maze of pipes and cables. I wanted to recreate the look of the Fright Zone, so I raided Dad’s workshop for suitable props and came across a box full of some kind of valves. They’re brand new and I’m not entirely sure what they were supposed to be for – I assume it has something to do with the heating system, since the radiator control valves were replaced last year – but they look great as a background for the Fright Zone.

But enough of the preliminaries. Let’s see what happens when Entrapta meets Modulok in

Puzzle

The Fright Zone, Entrapta’s personal workshop:

Entrapta gives Dragstor a tune-up, while Imp looks on, sitting on her tool box“I replaced your spark plugs and adjusted our carburetor, Dragstor. Now your engines should run much more smoothly. I fixed the firing mechanism on your crossbow, too.”

“Thanks for the tune-up, Entrapta. You’re a doll.”

“Wait till I tell Hordak you’re flirting with his girlfriend.”

“Shut up, Imp.”

Hordak shows up in Entrapta's workshop, while Entrapta is tuning up Dragstor“Hordak!”

“Lord Hordak, sir.”

“Don’t you have something to do, Dragstor? Such as hunting down those accursed rebels?”

“Y… yes, sir, Lord Hordak. En… Entrapta was just giving my engine a tune-up. I mean, not like that. She was fixing my… ahem…”

“Snicker.”

“I replaced his spark plugs and adjusted his carburetor, Hordak. He should run much more smoothly now.”

“You’re dismissed, Dragstor. I would like to speak with Entrapta. Alone.”

“Yes, Lord Hordak.”

Hordak strokes Entrapta's cheek, while Imp looks on.

“Alone” onviously does not apply to Imp.

“Sigh, I see you still show flagrant disregard for the official Horde dress code. Oh, Entrapta, what shall I do with you?”

“But I like soarkly and glittery outfits. And pink and purple match my hair so much better than red and black. And besides, Scorpia said I look pretty.”

“Scorpia has a crush on you and would say anything.”

“So you don’t think I look pretty, Hordak?”

“I didn’t say that. But there are rules and regulations about appropriate wear for Horde members, such as the requirement to wear a Horde symbol on your person all the time.”

“But I do wear a Horde symbol. I wear your face, Hordak, right here on my chest where my heart is.”

“Oh my Entrapta, you’re lucky that I happen to like you very much. And talking of which, I have a present for you.”

“A present? For me?”

“Hmph, I never get presents.”

“Quit sulking, Imp. Troopers, bring in the deliveries we received.”

Later:

Hordak shows Entrapta the Modulok parts.“Wow, it’s body parts. Lots of body parts.”

“You really know how to romance a lady, Hordak.”

“Shut up, Imp.”

“So what’s all this about, Hordak?”

“Three weeks ago, we started receiving parcels, all delivered from the Prison Star. Every parcel contained a different body part, twenty-two altogether. The final parcel also included a note. ‘Assemble me’, it said.”

“It’s like a puzzle. A giant puzzle. That’s so cool.”

Entrapte holds one of the Modulok heads in her hand, while Hordak looks on.“Look, Hordak, it’s got two heads.”

“Of course, I have two heads. Cause two heads means twice the brain power.”

“It can speak.”

“Of course, I can speak. What do you take me for? And besides, I’m not an it. My name is Galen Nycroft, Professor Galen Nycroft to be exact, and my pronouns are he/him.”

“What exactly do you want, Nycroft?”

“Beyond being addressed by my name and correct pronouns, you mean? Well, I want to join the Horde, conquer the universe, subjugate countless worlds and carry out unspeakable experiments on enslaved beings.”

“So you are responding to our recruitment ad? Excellent. But then why did you arrive in this disassembled form?”

“Because those jerks in the Tri-Solar system did not appreciate my genius and locked me up on the Prison Star for life for ‘unethical experiments’. As if it’s my fault that fifty-six percent of my test subjects died. You can’t do science without breaking a few eggs or a few test subjects. And besides, my success rate is up from seventy-three percent of test subjects not surviving the experiments.”

“All right, so that’s why the packages were all shipped from the Prison Star. But why did you ship yourself out in separate pieces.?”

“Because this was the only way I could escape. I built a machine from components found in the prison workshop, divided myself into twenty-two parts and shipped myself out one by one.”

“That’s so cool! Don’t you think that’s cool, Hordak?”

“It’s certainly… ingenious. Nycroft, I can use a man like you.”

“Then what are you waiting for? Put me back together!”

“Oh, I never dirty my own hands, Nycroft. I hire well. So Entrapta, if you would do the honours…”

“Put him back together again, you mean? Of course, Hordak. This is so cool.”

“You mean, the girl with the pink hair and the sparkly dress is your technician?”

“The very best.”

“No wonder you have recruitment problems.”

Entrapta has assembled Modulok into two separate beings, while Hordak and Imp look on“Look, Hordak, we’ve got enough parts to make two of them.”

“I’m not two people, you silly girl, I’m one person with two heads.”

“Well, maybe you could have said that beforehand…”

“Maybe you could have asked, nitwit. And now put me together correctly.”

Entrapta has stuck Modulok's second head to his butt, while Imp and Hordak look on.“There. Now you’ve got one body with two heads.”

“What have you done, you imbecile?”

“Put both heads on one body. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“My head is stuck on my butt, you idiot!”

“Snicker.”

“Well, there was nowhere else to put it.”

“Both heads go on my neck, idiot. And now fix me!”

“Snicker. Giggle.”

“And what are you laughing at, you little flying pest?”

“I’m laughing cause your head is stuck on your butt. Snicker.”

“This is not funny. Hordak, reign in your underlings!”

“I don’t know – snort. Personally, I think this is very funny. But Entrapta, could you please fix Professor Nycroft, before his second head passes out from his own farts.”

“Passes out from his own farts. Ha, that’s so funny! Snicker.”

“Idiots. I’m surrounded by idiots. I should have joined Skeletor’s Evil Warrior instead. Or the Denebrian Space Mutants.”

Entrapta has assembled Modulok into monster with two heads, four arms and six legs, while Hordak and Imp look on.“At last. I am complete at last. Your sorry excuse for a technician finally got it right.”

“Nycroft, I’m warning you. Don’t insult Entrapta!”

“Nycroft? I am no longer Galen Nycroft. In this form, I shall be known as MODULOK!”

“Uhm, actually I was still working on those guns. But you can try them out, if you want.”

“I am Modulok, the Evil Beast of a Thousand Bodies.”

“Yeah, we heard you the first time.”

“The mere sight of me shall strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of the Horde.”

“If they don’t die of laughter first.”

“Imp, be nice to our newest recruit.”

Entrapta hold Modulok's second tail in her hand, while Hordak and Imp look on.“Oh look, Hordak, there’s a part left over. He’s got a second tail.”

“That’s no tail. That’s… Put it down, you stupid girl! Ahhhh!”

“Snicker.”

“Nycroft, final warning. Don’t insult Entrapta, my best and most brilliant recruit. Entrapta, put that thing down. It’s disgusting.”

“You’re right, Hordak. It is kind of sticky.”

“Snicker.”

***

Later:

Loo-Kee emerges from a vat, when the workshop is empty.“Hi folks, I’m Loo-Kee. I hide everywhere, even in scary places like the Fright Zone. That’s my thing, you know. I hide and watch and I see everything. And then, I will tell you what the moral of the story you just witnessed is. Because every story has to have a moral and a lesson. That’s a universal cosmic law, established by the all-powerful council of the Federal Communications Commission. Not that I’ve ever met them, but I guess they’re like the Trollan Council of Mages or the Cosmic Enforcer Corps.”

Loo-Kee emerges into full view, while Imp looks on.“In today’s story, Modulok thought that Entrapta couldn’t possibly by smart and know about science and technology, because she’s a girl and has pink hair and wears glittery clothes. That was very short-sighted of him, because many girls are interested in science and technology. Besides, girls can be both smart and pretty. Hordak knows this and that’s why he appreciates Entrapta. Even though Hordak is a bad guy…”

“Hey, you there! What are you doing here, rebel?”

Imp chases Loo-Kee“Oops, I was spotted. Gotta go. Bye. Be seeing you.”

“Wait, you rainbow-coloured nuissance. Come back here. Or I’ll call the Troopers and then you’re in real trouble.”

The End

***

We’ve got another new character here, namely the ainbow-coloured Etherian woodland creature known as Loo-Kee. In the Filmation She-Ra cartoon, Loo-Kee is always hiding in the background somewhere, Where’s Wally? style. At the end of the episode, he emerges and delivers the moral of the story.

I recently acquired a Masters of the Universe Classics Loo-Kee figure (and trust me, you don’t want to know what I paid for two figures – Loo-Kee comes packaged with Kowl, another diminuitive Etherian creature – of the approximate size and articulation level of a Smurf). And since I have Loo-Kee now, he can do his thing and hide and then deliver a moral lesson.

And yes, if you assemble Modulok into the classic two heads, four arms, six legs configuration, there always is a tail piece left over. And no, I’m not the first person to make a joke about what the second tail really is, since it’s pretty obvious.

Finally, because I can, here’s a photo of Hordak with all the male Horde members (except Multibot) who appeared in the vintage He-Man line.

Masters of the Universe Evil Horde group shot

The Evil Horde. From left to right, we have Modulok, Mosquitor, Mantenna, Hordak, Grizzlor, Leech and Dragstor

And here is one of Hordak’s private family photos:

Hordak, Shadow Weaver and Despara

Proud parents Hordak and Shadow Weaver pose with their adopted (and abducted) daughter Despara. You know her better as Princess Adora of Eternia a.k.a. She-Ra.

***

That’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story, because there will be more.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

 

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Some Thoughts on the 2023 Nebula Award Winners – and Hamburg Traffic Hell

The winners of the 2023 Nebula Awards were announced this morning at 5 AM my time, which is why I did not follow them live. Normally, I would have already posted my Nebula winner commentary post by now. But I had an appointment north of Hamburg this afternoon, which normally means a one and a half to two hour drive, i.e. I expected to be back by six PM.

However, it turned out that Autobahn A7, one of the main North-South routes for Germany and all of Europe was closed today because a highway bridge in Hamburg was being demolished. Unfortunately, this closure also affected the Elbtunnel, which is the best and fastest way to get to the other side of the river Elbe (and my appointment was north of Hamburg, i.e. on the other side). I heard about the closure, but didn’t cancel the appointment, because it was Sunday, so traffic wouldn’t be too bad and besides, I could still take Autobahn A1 and/or make my way to through the city of Hamburg via the Elbe bridges. I also left half an hour early, so everything should have been fine.

However, what I did not know until I was already on the way is that Hamburg also hosted a biker meeting and religious service today, which meant that the city was full of bikers. Even worse, there was also a massive bicycle protest as well as the women’s run street race, which meant that much of the inner city and several of the bridges were closed down for those events – on a weekend where the Elbtunnel was also closed, which is fucking terrible planning. Oh yes, and there was a European parliament and local council election, too.

As a result, there was a twenty kilometer traffic jam on Autobahn A1, the alternate route past the city. The Elbe ferry from Glücksstadt to Wischhafen, which many people use as a way to bypass Hamburg (not suitable for my route and besides, I hate ferries) had a four hour waiting time. I eventually got fed up with the traffic jam on the A1 and left the Autobahn, but because half the city was shut down for the various events, traffic was hell everywhere. It took me two and half hours to make my way through Hamburg, while my GPS kept trying to redirect me to the closed A7 and the Elbtunnel. It also doesn’t help that I don’t know my way around Hamburg all that well – unlike Dad who commuted from Bremen to Hamburg for almost twenty years and knew every obscure shortcut. Though Dad hated driving through Hamburg or at least driving to anywhere on the far side of the Elbe, because the traffic was often so terrible. Once, he even paid for a pricier plane ticket, so I could fly from Bremen rather than Hamburg, because he didn’t want to take me to Hamburg airport (which is on the far side of the Elbe and which I actually passed today).

BTW, I crossed the Elbe at the so-called Neue Elbbrücke (New Elbe Bridge), which isn’t actually new, but was built in 1887, though the turrets which made the bridge special were removed in 1959 in a postwar urban planning crime against architecture.  Here is a before and after photo of this architectural crime.

Unsurprisingly, I was late for my appointment and then I still had a long way back ahead of me. This time, I didn’t drive through Hamburg again – which was still full of bicycles, motorbikes and running women – but made my way through the sleepy commuter towns and villages north of Hamburg back to Autobahn A1, where the monster traffic jam had mostly dissipated by that time.

Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of explaining why the Nebula commentary post is later than usual. But back to the main event, that is the 2023 Nebula Award winners. The full list of winners may be found here and my commentary on the 2023 Nebula finalists may be found here.

So let’s take a look at the 2023 Nebula winners:

The 2023 Nebula Award for Best Novel goes to The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera. I have to admit that this was my least favourite novel on the Nebula ballot and that it doesn’t work for me. Some of the author’s comments on social media also don’t make my inclined to voter for him. Still, others clearly feel differently. And at the very least, this win will pacify the usual suspects who complain that men cannot win Hugos and Nebulas anymore. Okay, who am I kidding here? It obviously won’t pacify them, because the winner is a man of colour from Sri Lanka and for the usual suspects, only white American men count.

The winner of the 2023 Nebula Award for Best Novella is “Linghun” by Ai Jiang. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m very happy for Ai Jiang who only burst onto the scene in the past two years and has already made a big impression.

The 2023 Nebula Award for Best Novelette goes to “The Year Without Sunshine“ by Naomi Kritzer. I enjoyed this novelette and Naomi Kritzer’s work in general a lot, so I’m happy that it won.

The winner of the 2023 Nebula Award for Best Short Story is “Tantie Merle and the Farmhand 4200“ by R.S.A Garcia. I enjoyed this story quite a bit, when I read it last summer, and it was on my personal Hugo longlist, though in the end it didn’t make my ballot. Nonetheless, I’m glad that it won.

The 2023 Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and YA Fiction goes to To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose. This is another book I haven’t read yet, even though it’s also a Hugo finalist, because I usually leave the Lodestar finalists for last. However, it did get a lot of buzz last year.

It’s also notable that three of the four winners in the fiction categories are writers of colour, two of them international writers. What is more, three of the four winners in the fiction categories (plus three of the four recipients of the special and lifetime achievement awards) are women. Do I hear the heads of the usual suspects exploding?

The winner of the 2023 Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation is Barbie. Now I have to admit that this win surprised me a little. Not because Barbie isn’t a good movie – it is – and besides, it was the highest grossing film of 2023. However, the ballot for the Ray Bradbury Award was very strong this year and personally, I thought that either the amazing The Last of Us episode “Long, Long Time” or Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, which is shaping up to be a dark horse favourite for this year’s SFF awards, would win.

The 2023 Nebula Award for Game Writing goes to Baldur’s Gate 3. Once again, I can’t say much about this category, since I’m not a gamer. But Baldur’s Gate 3 is a huge and popular game in a huge and popular franchise, so popular that even I had heard about it, before it was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula.

Several special and lifetime achievement awards were awarded along with the Nebulas as well.

The recipient of the 2024 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is Susan Cooper. Now I have to admit that I have never read her famous The Dark Is Rising YA fantasy quartet nor anything else by her. The reason is that children’s and YA books were extremely regional before the 1990s and so I never read many English language children’s and YA classics, because they simply weren’t available in (West) Germany. The intense prejudice against fantasy fiction for children and teenagers in 1980s (West) Germany didn’t help either. But even though I’ve never read anything by Susan Cooper, I have no doubt that she is a most worthy Grand Master.

The Infinity Award, basically a posthumous Grand Master Award for authors who did not receive a Grand Master during their lifetimes, mostly because they died too young, was awarded for the second time this year and the recipient is Tanith Lee. Now Tanith Lee won plenty of awards during her lifetime, including a Stoker and World Fantasy lifetime achievement award, but nonetheless this win made me very happy, because publishing didn’t treat Tanith Lee very well in the last twenty years of her life, because her work was simply a little too weird and too queer for an industry which increasingly demanded that writers write the same kind of book over and over again, preferably in a long series. What is more, I wrote a profile of Tanith Lee for an upcoming issue of New Edge Sword and Sorcery, so the Infinity Award win was a nice note to end on.

The Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award goes to game designer Jennell Jaquays this year, also posthumously, because Jennell Jaquays died in January, much too early. Not only is this award highly deserved, but it also demonstrates that game writing is now an integral part of SFWA.

Finally, the recipient of the 2024 Kevin O’Donnell Jr Service to SFWA Award is James Hosek. This is another posthumous award, because James Hosek died in December 2023.  I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with his work and had to look him up. Turns out that he’s better known as a mystery writer, though he also wrote science fiction and – more importantly – was SFWA’s Nebula Awards commissioner. Here’s a nice tribute on the SFWA website.

All in all, this is another good year for the Nebulas and associated awards. There’s only one winner I don’t care for and plenty of other people obviously felt differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cora’s Adventures at the Los Amigos Masters of the Universe Convention in Neuss or the Six Hundred Kilometer Roundtrip, Part 3: The Road Home… and Tecklenburg

Last Saturday, I attended the 2024 Los Amigos Masters of the Universe fan convention in Neuss. For the three hour trip to get there, see part 1 and for my impressions of the con itself, see part 2.

The Quest for a Place to Eat

Once I’d had my fun at the con and spent quite a bit of money – luckily, I’d headed for the ATM to get cash on Friday evening and some of the bigger shops also took cards – it was time to embark on the long drive home. So I carried my haul to the car, paid for the parking (4 Euros, which is a reasonable price, considering how ridiculously expensive parking is in Bremen and Oldenburg these days) and realised I’d made a mistake.

Because as I mentioned in the previous post, I hadn’t eaten at the con due to a lack of food options other than currywurst or crepe and indeed hadn’t eaten since the night before, because the apple cake that was meant to be my breakfast turned out to be not edible due to being covered in some gloopy glaze which would trigger an allergy. So I was hungry and since there was still time for a late lunch, I’d meant to find a restaurant somewhere. However, I was in a city where I’d never been before and that I didn’t know at all. Now my phone would give me restaurant options in the wider area and my GPS navigation system also has an option to look up restaurants (you can even specify the cuisine) and direct me there. However, both options require a bit of time to look up a restaurant, check if they’re actually open – like I said before, many German restaurants no longer open for lunch hours – and program the GPS. However, I’d already paid for parking, which meant that I had to get the hell out of the parking lot, lest I need to pay extra.

So I programmed the GPS for home, drove out of the parking lot and decided to just stop en route and find a place to eat. Maybe I’d pass an open restaurant on my way back to the highway or I’d just stop somewhere and use my phone and the handy restaurant list in my GPS system to locate a suitable restaurant.

There was just one problem. My GPS directed me onto a major road almost immediately and there was nowhere to stop nor was there a restaurant, open or otherwise. I eventually passed the Rheinpark Center mall, a 1970s Brutalist slab of concrete. The mall had a parking lot where I could have stopped and likely food options as well. However, it was Saturday just after midday and the parking lot and likely the mall as well were packed with shoppers. So I drove on and crossed the bridge over the river Rhine into Düsseldorf.

Now Düsseldorf has a great restaurant selection, particularly lots of Japanese and Asian restaurants in general, since Düsseldorf has Germany’s largest Japanese expat population. However, I no more knew my way around Düsseldorf than I knew my way around Neuss, so I had no idea where those great Japanese and Asian restaurants were to be found. Also, I was still on a major road with nowhere to stop. So I drove on and found myself back on highway A46.

So I thought, “Okay, I’ll just drive onto the nearest highway parking lot and then check if there is a place to eat nearby.” Normally, along German Autobahnen, there are service stations every 50 to 60 kilometers, which have a large parking lot, a gas station and some kind of restaurant. There also are Autohöfe – basically truck stops – just off the Autobahn, which also offer a large parking lot, a gas station and some kind of restaurant. Autohöfe cater to truckers and are somewhat basic, but the food is generally better and cheaper than at the service stations. Finally, there are parking lots, i.e. just a parking area with a few picnic tables and maybe a toilet, along the Autobahn every twenty kilometres or so.

In short, parking lots are quite common and a good place to stop and get your bearings, should you need to.  However, I was in the Ruhrgebiet, where there are more highway junctions and interchanges than exits. So I passed several junctions, but not parking lot or other place to stop. I also passed a few exits, but pulling into a random highway exit is always a gamble, because you have no idea where you’ll end up. It might be in the middle of an industrial zone or a residential neighbourhood and there might not even be a good place to stop your car.

Rastplatz Höfgen

After twenty minutes of driving, I finally spotted a parking lot, Rastplatz Höfgen, so I pulled off the highway. I parked the car, pulled out my phone and perused the restaurant search function of the GPS system as well as the map function to check if there were any restaurants in reasonable distance. However, Rastplatz Höfgen is situated in one of the few parts of the Ruhrgebiet, where you don’t have one city bleeding into another (which is probably why they found the space to put a parking lot here. The nearest town is Haan, which is quite small. Neither my phone nor the GPS in my car showed many restaurants nearby. There was an Italian restaurant and a German country inn, both closed, as well as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, neither of which I was in the mood for. Also, it was already half past two PM and those restaurants which are open for lunch hours normally close at three PM, so even if I found a restaurant, I might arrive just before closing time and probably wouldn’t get anything to eat anyway.

So I decided to scratch lunch and stop at a bakery café for afternoon coffee and cake further along the way. If I was still on the road around six PM or so, I would stop somewhere for dinner. It was a good plan, but there was only one problem. I was really hungry. Luckily, I’d packed a bar of chocolate as a quick sugar rush and pick-me-up, should I need one. So I opened up my bar of chocolate and ate a few pieces, which somewhat soothed the hunger.

At around this point, someone suddenly knocked on the window of my car, half scaring me to death. However, it was only a Polish truck driver who asked if I happened to have a cigarette lighter. Alas, I don’t smoke, so the poor guy had to find someone else.

My hunger satisfied for now, I drove onwards. I passed Wuppertal, which surely has plenty of bakeries. However, I’d decided that I wouldn’t stop until I’d left the unpleasantly narrow A46 behind and was back on the nice and broad highway A1. Not that there were a lot of exits anyway, most of them were junctions.

Once I’d made it back onto the A1, I wasn’t feeling overly hungry anymore. I briefly considered leaving the highway in Hagen with its five monuments and two ruined castles on hilltops over the Ruhr valley. But it was a hot day, too hot to go hiking up a hill to see a monument. So I drove on.

Kamener Kreuz

I finally left the highway at Kamener Kreuz or rather at the exit just before Kamener Kreuz that goes to Kamen proper. Because on the way out, I had spotted a large shopping park right next to the highway and a shopping park would surely have a bakery café or coffee shop. And if not, no problem. I’d just drive back onto the highway and find another exit.

However, no sooner had I pulled onto the big parking lot of the shopping park that I spotted a bakery café operated by Bäckerei Grobe, a Dortmund based bakery chain active all over the Ruhrgebiet. So I went inside and ordered a latte macchiato and a slice of spelt rhubarb cake. The coffee was much better than the sorry and soapy excuse for latte I’d had at service station Dammer Berge on the way out. The cake was delicious as well and the slice was nice and big, so hunger shouldn’t be an issue for the next few hours.

Latte macchiato and spelt rhubarb cake

Latte macchiato and spelt rhubarb cake, courtesy of Bakery Grobe at Kamener Kreuz

After I’d finished my coffee and cake and perused the toilet, I made a brief detour to the Smyths Toys superstore (Smyths Toys is an Irish chain which took over the European Toys R Us stores) right around the corner from the bakery café. Of course, I’d just been at a con, which had all the toys you could ever wish for, so a trip to Smyths Toys was somewhat superfluous. However, I’d promised a friend to check Smyths for a rare He-Man variant (which uses a torso type it shouldn’t use) that had been spotted in some European shops, so that’s what I did. Alas, the Smyths Toys superstore at Kamener Kreuz did not have this particular He-Man variant, so I returned to my car and drove onwards.

I left the Ruhrgebiet behind and passed Münster. When I approached Osnabrück, I started to feel a little tired and achy again. Time for another stop and a cup of coffee and some leg stretching. But where to stop? I knew that service station Tecklenburger Land was not far, but after my underwhelming experience at Dammer Berge that morning, more overpriced and soapy service station coffee was the last thing I wanted. Especially since service station Tecklenburger Land doesn’t even have the benefit of a cool bridge restaurant.

But then I spotted a sign pointing to the next exit ahead. The exit is called Lengerich, but the sign listed a bunch of towns including Tecklenburg and Bad Iburg. It was the latter that prompted me to drive off the highway. Because my Mom was at a physical therapy clinic in Bad Iburg (which in retrospect did fuck all to help her) in the summer of 2022, so I knew the town and knew that there were lots of cafés and bakeries there. I also knew where I could park my car.

Alas, once I actually left the highway, I realised that Bad Iburg was twenty kilometers away. Which I should have realised, since we never took the highway to get there when visiting Mom. The nearest towns were Lengerich and Tecklenburg. Tecklenburg was the closest, only 4 kilometers away, so that’s where I went. And I’m really glad that I did.

Tecklenburg

Even though Tecklenburg was only 4 kilometers from the highway, the road there led through a forest and up a mountain – Tecklenburg is situated on the northern edge of the Teutoburg Forest. Since North Germany is super flat, I’m not used to driving in the mountains, even fairly small mountains like those of the Teutoburg Forest. The road twisted and turned and the forest was dense to the point that I wondered whether there actually was a town nearby or whether I had taken a wrong turn and would just drive ever deeper into the Teutoburg Forest.

However, I eventually did reach the outskirts of a small town. There were business and a hospital here, but no sign of a bakery or café. So I drove further into Tecklenburg and spotted a public parking lot next the townhall, a disappointingly modernist slab of concrete. I pulled onto the parking lot and checked my phone for bakeries or cafés nearby. There were two in easy walking distance. In order to get to the closer one, I’d have to cross a busy road, while the other café was a little further away, but in a pedestrian zone. Since I wanted to stretch my legs anyway and didn’t fancy getting run over, I opted for the further café.

This choice was absolutely the right one, because the pedestrian zone led into the medieval city center of Tecklenburg. Now I knew the name Tecklenburg, because there is both a highway exit and a service station named after the town (and it’s remarkable how many towns I only know because their name is on a highway exit sign). However, I’d never actually been there and knew nothing about the town itself.

Turns out Tecklenburg is beautiful, a medieval town of winding streets and timbered houses on top of a mountain in the Teutoburg Forest. Okay, the mountain is only 200 meters, but by North German standards that is a mountain.

Timbered houses and church in Tcklenburg

The spire of the city church looms above timbered houses in the town of Tecklenburg.

The café I’d been looking for, Kaffeehaus Louise, was located in one of the timbered houses. It was delightfully cozy and filled with antiques, the sort of café which looks like your grandma’s parlour. I’ve always preferred these cozy and slightly old-fashioned cafés to the minimalist hipster look that unfortunately fashionable right now.

I ordered a latte macchiato and decided that yes, damn it, I wanted another slice of cake. I picked chocolate cake and the waitress asked me if I wanted ice cream and warm fruit with that. Oh boy, did I ever want that.

Latte macchiato and chcolate cake with ice cream and hot fruit

Latte macchiato and chcolate cake with ice cream and hot fruit, courtesy of Kaffeehaus Louise in Tecklenburg.

The cake tasted just as good as it looks, by the way. I also chatted a bit with the owner of the café (at least, I think she was the owner) and another guest who turned out to be a local handyman and remarked on my He-Man t-shirt. I told him that I’d been at a HeMan con in Neuss and was on my way home, which led to some commiserating about long drives and particularly the thirty kilometer road construction zone on the A1 between exits Lohne/Dinklage and Neuenkirchen/Vörden.

I also learned a bit more about Tecklenburg. It’s the northernmost mountain town in Germany – from here it’s all downhill until the North Sea. “I know”, I laughed, “Where I live, the highest elevation is 80 meters above sea level and we call it “Hoher Berg” (high mountain).

Since I commented on how pretty the town was, I was told that the people of Tecklenburg were very glad to have been spared both WWII bombings and postwar modernisation efforts aside from “that ugly silver cube” that houses the townhall and city administration. “Yup, I saw that one”, I said, “That’s where I parked my car.” Someone than pointed at a photo of a beautiful turn of the century Art Noveau villa on the wall and told me that building stood where the ugly townhall now stands until the 1960s. It was a hotel, the best in town, and even the Kaiser stayed there once. They didn’t specify which Kaiser, though it must have been Wilhelm II, since the hotel was built in 1904, when Wilhelm I and Friedrich III were both long dead.

I also learned that Tecklenburg has a castle ruin, as the name implies, and that bits and pieces of the castle have been integrated into buildings all over town. The ruined castle now houses an open air theater – the largest in all of Germany. The open air theater opened in 1924 and is hugely important for the town, since it’s a major tourist draw. The local handyman frequently builds sets and backdrops for them. The theatre used to stage everything from boulevard comedies to operas, but nowadays they most do musicals and children’s plays, because those are the most popular. They also host pop concerts on occasion. This summer, the open air theater Tecklenburg is staging Mamma Mia!, Madagascar (based on the eponymous CGI animated kids film) and a musical version of The Three Musketeers. Personally, I’d prefer operas and operettas or regular plays (Shakespeare should be great on an open air stage in the middle of a ruined castle), but money talks and musicals are popular with people who’d otherwise never watch musical theater or otherwise set foot inside a theater.

The fascinating thing is that Tecklenburg is only a one and a half hour drive away from where I live and yet I never had any idea that all of this existed. And it’s not as if my parents never took me to all sorts of touristy places – when Mom was still well, we went on a day trip almost every public holiday. As for why we never went to Tecklenburg, I guess my Dad had no idea that the town was so pretty either. Though considering how motorbike friendly the winding roads leading to the town are, I’m surprised he never discovered it. Anyway, I’ll definitely return to Tecklenburg for a day trip in the future to explore more of the town.

After I finished my coffee and cake, I decided to walk around the town a bit more rather than go straight back to my car. Below, you’ll find some impressions of Tecklenburg:

Timbered houses in Tecklenburg

Two timbered houses in Tecklenburg. The one on the left houses an inn and was built in 1550. Between the houses there is a staircase leading up to the church. Since Tecklenburg sits on a mountain top, there are several staircases around town.

Tecklenburg Granny

This plastic granny welcomes visitors to “Granny’s Preserves”, a shop offering homemade cookies, preserves and gifts.

Timbered houses in Tecklenburg

Timbered houses in Tecklenburg. The one in the middle was built in 1655. Once again, you can see how hilly the town is.

Timbered house in Tecklenburg

This timbered house in Tecklenburg was built in 1587 and now houses a gift shop. The proliferation of gift shops shows that this town very much caters to tourists.

Tecklenburg market place

The market place of Tecklenburg with yet more cafés, a maypole and a fountain.

The fountain is a lot more modern than the rest of the town. It dates from 1971 and was designed by Josef Baron. The fountain is apparently somewhat controversial and was almost demolished in 2015 for supposedly not fitting the surroundings. Luckily, it was saved and became a listed landmark, much to the annoyance of those local politicians who wanted to see it gone.

Personally, I don’t get it. Yes, the fountain obviously dates from the 1960s/70s, but it is based on the style of old town fountains, it does fit the surroundings and it’s not ugly at all. One of the articles above explicitly mentions that it’s a popular spot for photos, so visitors obviously don’t think it’s ugly either. I guess this was a case of some local politician wanting to leave his mark on the town.

Once I’d reached the market place, I originally wanted to go back to my car. But then I spotted an archway and decided to explore further.

Legge archway in Tecklenburg

The so-called Legga archway in Tecklenburg is a former city gate with a timbered house on top. Built in 1577, it originally was a place to inspect the quality of linen, linen weaving being a major industry in Tecklenburg. Now it’s an art center.

Legge archway in Tecklenburg

A look through the Legge archway in Tecklenburg back at the market place.

Legge archway in Tecklenburg

The so-called Legge archway viewed from the other side.

Behind the archway, there was a terrace with an open air café/beer garden and a beautiful view across the town.

View across Tecklenburg

View across Tecklenburg from the terrace that leads up to the castle ruins.

The path spiraled further up the mountain and if I’d followed it, I’d eventually have gotten to the castle ruins and the open air theater (which is still closed, since the season doesn’t start until July). But though the sun was still fairly high in the sky, it was getting late and I still had a one and a half hour drive ahead of me. So I decided to make my way back to the car, this time taking a steep staircase rather than going back via the archway and the market place.

Staircase leading down into the town from the castle terrace.

This rather steep staircase leads back down into the town from the terrace behind the archway.

All in all, I spent about two hours in Tecklenburg. I’m definitely coming back to explore the town further, since this was a delightful and completely unexpected discovery.

Once I got back into my car, I drove back onto the highway and continued home without any further stops along the way. It was theoretically dinner time by now, but I was still full from the cake, so I decided to just have a quick dinner at home. That said, I did stop one more time, when I passed a gas station some six kilometers home and saw that the price was low, so I stopped to refuel my car, since the 600 kilometer drive had depleted the fuel tank.

Once I got home, I unpacked my haul and the overnight bag I’d packed and put the rose, which had miraculously survived the con and the trip home, into a vase. I also had a cup of instant noodles for dinner and went to bed, since I was really tired.

All in all, I’m really glad I went on this trip. Not just because I got to visit a great con and picked up some wonderful things, but also because it gave me the opportunity to test my limits and see how far I could get by car on my own. So now my travel radius by car has expanded to roughly three hundred kilometers both ways or roughly six hundred kilometers one way. Three hundred kilometers gets me north to the Danish border and somewhat beyond (which I actually knew, because I have driven to Rendsburg near the Danish border on my own), eastwards as far as Berlin and Leipzig (not that I would ever go to Berlin by car), westwards quite deep into the Netherlands and southwards to the Rhine Ruhr metropolitan region and almost to Frankfurt. That means a lot of places I could theoretically visit, if I want to. Since I don’t like train travel very much – bad German, I know, but I never liked trains and find train travel extremely stressful, though it’s not supposed to be – this is a good thing.

What is more, I’ve also figured out how long road trips work for me. I’m not my Dad. And while I appreciate his strategies for long trips, mine are a little different. For starters, Dad always said that music made him tired, but talking on the radio (or from fellow passengers kept him awake). I’m the opposite. Music keeps me awake and alert, while too much talking makes me tune out and literally sends me to sleep – a combination of a what I think are mild audio processing issues (which is also why audio dramas on cassette tape never had the same meaning for me as for other Germans my age, because they literally sent me to sleep) and a response to Dad listening to people talking on the radio on long trips, which led me to just tune out the talking, which annoyed me.

Dad also liked to drive onto a parking lot or service station for what we would now call a power nap, though he did it long before power naps were a thing. I have done this is in the past and would have done it during this trip, if necessary, but I much prefer stopping for a coffee and walking around a little. I also learned not to bother with the highway service stations, unless I need a toilet or it’s a time where nothing else is open, because the offerings there are overpriced and the quality isn’t great. Which I actually knew, but the lure of Dammer Berge and its bridge restaurant was just too great.

So in short, this was a great trip and I’m really glad I did it. So expect more roadtrips and also more con visits in the future.

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Cora’s Adventures at the Los Amigos Masters of the Universe Convention in Neuss or the Six Hundred Kilometer Roundtrip, Part 2: The Con

Last Saturday, I attended the 2024 Los Amigos Masters of the Universe fan convention in Neuss. For the three hour trip to get there, see part 1 and for the trip back home, see this post.

I also realise that I completely forgot to link to my write-up of a controversy in the toy collecting world about toy photos used without attribution or permission at File 770. The controversy involves Masters of the Universe, since the person who used other people’s photos without permission or attribution in his videos is the former Masters of the Universe brand manager Scott Neitlich, who now works as an independent consultant. The controversy has since resolved itself with Neitlich conceding and removing most of his videos. I tried to be as even-handed as possible, but nonetheless the article infuriated – no, not Neitlich, who at least would have had a reason to be angry – but the owners of a culture war YouTube channel that’s tangentially mentioned, because they interviewed Scott Neitlich while the controversy was raging and their interview was pretty much the only remaining place to hear Neitlich’s take on the controversy, since he deleted everything else. Still, a 131 word paragraph in a 1500 word article is apparently a “hit piece” now.

Anyway, back to more exicting things like the con. Like so many cons, the 2024 Los Amigos Masters of the Universe con started with a long queue. The queue meandered from the entrance to the con venue, Stadthalle Neuss, across the driveway and parking lot and spilled out onto the sidewalk outside. In fact, the many people lined up along the sidewalk prompted several passers-by to ask what we were queueing up for. One guy assumed there was a rock concert going on – Stadthalle Neuss is a multi-purpose venue for concerts, conventions, exhibitions, etc… –  probably because the crowd looked like the sort of people you’d expect to see at a rock concert. Pretty much every He-Man or She-Ra t-shirt ever made was present. I think I saw three people wearing the same t-shirt (Filmation Masters of the Universe) I elected to wear. In retrospect, I should have worn my Revelation Teela t-shirt, since I didn’t see anybody wearing that one.

Queue outside Stadthalle Neuss for Los Amigos convention

Queuing outside Stadthalle Neuss

Once the doors opened at 10 AM, the queue moved quite briskly, since lots of people (including me) had pre-booked their tickets, though you could also buy day tickets. Once inside the doors, I had my ticket scanned and received an armband. Next, a volunteer handed me a free nylon tote bag/backpack with a picture of Hordak printed onto the front. Now I always have two foldable shopping bags in my handbag, but it was a nice gesture and the bag is really cool. Inside was the program booklet, a few flyers and a Masters of the Universe advertising magazine. Some people also has a mini-figure in their tote bag, but I didn’t. All female visitors were also given a pink rose, which was another nice gesture. However, handing out roses at the entrance to a con means that you carry around the rose all day. I eventually took mine back to the car, but a hot car on a warm day isn’t really the greatest place for a rose. Though the rose miraculously survived the con and the trip back home and now stands on my dining room table in a Castle Grayskull coloured vase.

Pink Rose with New Adventures She-Ra

The rose with bonus Galactic Protector She-Ra

This is as good a moment as any to talk about crowd. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the con visitors and exhibitors were somewhere between their mid thirties and early fifties, i.e. the people who were kids when Masters of the Universe came out originally. Equally unsurprising, a lot of the visitors were men, but there were also a lot of women – and not just wives and girlfriends accompanying their menfolk either (though there were several of those), but female fans. In fact, the gender distribution at the con roughly matched Mattel‘s stats about Masters of the Universe buyers from the 1980s of approx. 60 percent men and 40 percent women. So much for “Masters of the Universe is a boy brand and has always been for boys.” No, Masters of the Universe is not and never was just for boys. It has always been for everybody.

Finally – and this made me very happy – there were also quite a lot of kids ranging from babies in prams and slings to kids in their early teens. These kids were the children of fans – I didn’t notice any kids with non-fan parents. Nonetheless, considering how often people say that kids these days don’t care for toys in general and Masters of the Universe in particular, it was heartening to see so many kids around. Because if we want Masters of the Universe to survive, we need new young fans. The con also had kid programming.

In the lobby of the Stadthalle, there was a large map of Germany with a box of pins, inviting visitors to mark where they came from. I forgot to take a picture of that map and you probably wouldn’t have been able to make it out anyway, but the map did give a nice overview of geographic distribution of the visitors, though of course not everybody put in a pin. Unsurprisingly, there was a big cluster of pins in the Ruhrgebiet and the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area. But then, there are some ten million people living in the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area and this was a local con for them. There was another cluster of pins further south in Baden-Württemberg around Stuttgart, a couple of pins in Bavaria and yet another cluster in Hessen around Frankfurt on Main (which makes sense, considering that the con used to be in Hanau near Frankfurt). North of the Ruhrgebiet, the pins grew scarce. My pin was actually the second furthest north. The only pin that was even further north was somewhere between Hamburg and Cuxhaven (and I think I know who this one belonged to). There were no pins at all in former East Germany, which makes sense, because East Germans wouldn’t have had access to Masters of the Universe in the 1980s due to being stuck behind the Iron Curtain. And by the time the Wall fell, Masters of the Universe had mostly run its course. However, it wasn’t just German fans at the con. Other language heard were Dutch, Italian, Spanish (there were several Spanish-speaking special guests) and English.  So in short, it was an international crowd.

Once I’d gotten my armband, my Hordak tote bag and my rose, I grabbed some very nice freebie art prints of Esteban Maroto’s cover art for the German Ehapa Masters of the Universe comics of the 1980s. Unfortunately, someone else snagged the last “Adam and Teela share a romantic boat ride” print just in front of my nose, but I got a nice “Prince Adam, Man-at-Arms and Teela” print and a “He-Man runs over Skeletor and Tri-Klops” print. I also ended up with a beautiful freebie Teela poster.

Then came more queueing, this time for the convention exclusives. There were quite a lot of different exclusives, ranging from t-shirts via a colouring book and shopping card coins to limited edition toys. I bought a t-shirt – I always buy a t-shirt at every con I attend – and a mini-figure of Imp, Hordak’s little pet/minion. They also had a plushie Imp, which was very cute, but I still went for the mini-figure, because I don’t have an Imp (there only was one proper Imp figure in the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline and it came packaged with a Hordak figure which routinely goes for 200 Euros or so) and my Hordak is lonely. The t-shirts were printed on site, so I probably could just have gone up to the counter and bought one later. On the other hand, the Imp might have sold out.

While we were queuing, a fellow came up to the queue, visibly upset, because he’d lost his bag with some figures he’d just bought in the dealers room. I saw him again a bit later, still searching for his lost figures. No idea, if he eventually found his bag with the missing figures.

Luckily, there were several exhibits on display around the lobby of the Stadthalle, which you could admire while queueing, including a life-size He-Man and a stunning diorama of the Castle Grayskull throne room from the 1987 live action Masters of the Universe movie (I should really review that one some time).

Life-size He-Man figure on display at Los Amigos in Neuss

He-Man himself welcomes visitors to the Los Amigos convention in Neuss.

Castle Grayskull throne room diorama at the Los Amigos convention in Neuss

This stunning diorama of the Castle Grayskull throne room and the live-size cosmic key model from the 1987 live action Masters of the Universe movie was on display at the 2024 Los Amigos convention. The great eye behind the throne can open and close. while the cosmic key has blinking lights. The gentleman standing next to the diorama is the one who built it.

As mentioned above, Stadthalle Neuss is a multi-purpose venue which hosts concerts, theatre performances, indoor sports events, exhibitions, trade fairs, conferences, banquets, political rallys, etc… Almost every bigger German city has such a venue. Usually, it’s called Stadthalle (literally “city hall”, though it’s not a city hall in the American sense – that would be the Rathaus – but a convention center), though some of them are named after prominent citizens, locations or corporate sponsors. For example, Oldenburg’s Stadthalle is called Weser-Ems-Halle. Bremen’s is officially called ÖVB Arena after the insurance company that purchased a sponsorship, though everybody still calls it Stadthalle.

Stadthalle Neuss grand piano

Because Stadthalle Neuss is a multi-purpose venue that also hosts concerts, theatre performances, etc…, there was a large coat check area underneath the auditorium and lobby, where I spotted this deserted grand piano.

In general, the various exhibits and stands of the artist guests (there were several very well known Masters of the Universe artists at the con) were set up in the lobby, where there was natural light streaming in through the big windows, while the dealers room and the stage were in the auditorium, where there is no natural light. Stadthalle Neuss is not a new building – it opened in 1961 (here is a photo from the opening year) – and while the auditorium is air-conditioned, the glass-enclosed lobby is not. And since Saturday was a warm day, that meant that the lobby became quite hot. It was tolerable for the visitors, but I felt sorry for the artists and exhibitors who were stuck in the hot lobby all day long.

The special guests were pretty much a who is who of Masters of the Universe artists and included Simon Eckert, who does a lot of packaging artwork for the Masterverse toyline, Raúl Barrero, who does the amazing toy photos for the 12 inch Mondo action figures, Irish artist Ken Coleman, with whom I chatted a bit, since we have a friend in common, and Axel Giménez, who does the packaging artwork for the Masters of the Universe Origins, Cartoon Collection and Turtles of Grayskull lines and who also designed several characters, including many of the newer Snake People. There was also a thick hardcover art book of Axel Giménez’ Masters of the Universe character designs for sale. I didn’t buy it, but here is a review on YouTube.

Of course, there was also a display of official Masters of the Universe toys. Mostly, these were the same figures of the current Masterverse, Origins and Turtles of Grayskull waves you could have bought at any Smyths Toys store, but there also were a few oddities on display such as a giant He-Man and Skeletor figures from Brazil (you can see them in this tweet). Unfortunately, these were just for display – you couldn’t buy anything. Licensees such as RetroFabrik, a German company which reprints the Ehapa Masters of the Universe comics of the 1980s in beautiful hardcover editions and also produced the new Masters of the Universe audio dramas, was also present.

One collector exhibited original props from the 1987 movie, including several blasters, the blue orb that Sorceress gives Courtney Cox at the end of the movie as well as Teela’s and Evil-Lyn’s headdresses.

Another very interesting display was a wall of original animation cels and character model sheets from the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons of the 1980s. After Filmation closed, their entire archive was sold off and so animation cels pop up on eBay regularly, but I’d never actually seen any Filmation animation cels in person.

Filmation animation cels on display at Los Amigos con in Neuss

A wall of animation cels and character model sheets from the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons on display at the 2024 Los Amigos con in Neuss. Among others, you can see Orko, his Uncle Montork, Man-at-Arms, the Sorceress, Teela, Stratos, Man-e-Faces and of course, He-Man himself.

Filmation He-Man and She-Ra animation cels on display at Los Amigos 2024 in Neuss

A close look at some of the Filmation He-Man and She-Ra animation cels on display. This display is rather villain heavy, since we have Beast-Man (in disguise), Mer-Man, Evil-Lyn, Panthor, Trap Jaw, Evil Seed and Tung Lashor harassing Adora.

Another thing I know exists but have never actually seen in person are the Masters of the Universe figurines in the look of the Filmation cartoon produced by Altaya, a French company specialising in selling model cars, figurines and other collectibles via subscriptions. Some of their products are available in Germany, but the Masters of the Universe figures are only sold in France, Italy and Spain. Which is a pity, because Altaya has made a lot of deep cut characters from the cartoon that no other toyline has ever made. At the con there was a massive display wall of all the Altaya figures offered to date.

Masters of the Universe Altaya figures display wall.

Altaya Masters of the Universe display at Los Amigos. Heroes on the left, villains on the right with inserts for She-Ra characters.

I’d liked what I’d seen of the Altaya figures online, but in person I liked them even more. The detail is great and they’re bigger than expected. The whole amazing display wall was for sale BTW, though I have no idea how much it would have cost. Never mind that even with a house at my disposal, I don’t really have space for something like this. I also have no idea how to transport this thing home. My car is big, but not that big.

Another big draw was a stall by someone who made 3-D printed custom Masters of the Universe figures and vehicles. Among other things, they had a life-size Horde Trooper and Granamyr, the dragon, as he appeared in the Filmation cartoon. This one was really tempting, but I hope Mattel will eventually release another Granamyr figure.

3-D printed Granamyr figures at Los Amigos

3-D printed Granamyr figures for sale at Los Amigos. Also note the life-size Horde Trooper in the background.

In fact, there were quite a few customisers were displaying their creations, sometimes for sale, sometimes not.  One stall offered a regular Origins Battle Cat customised to look like Battle Cat might have looked, if he had appeared in the 1987 live action movie (he didn’t, because the production team couldn’t make him work with 1980s tech). That Battle Cat looked great, but he was also quite expensive – 130 Euros – and there was so much to buy, so I passed on him. Besides, the Battle Cat was in Origins scale, but the movie figures Mattel is currently making are the bigger Masterverse figures, so the movie style Battle Cat wouldn’t fit in with my movie figure.

Below, you can see the amazing 7-inch scale custom figures by Daniel Schmelzeisen, which include many characters that Mattel never got around to making such as King Miro (and why don’t we have a King Miro figure anyway, considering he is the father of Keldor a.k.a. Skeletor and grandfather of He-Man and She-Ra?), He-Ro’s girlfriend Sharella, Elder Keclar (whom we almost got in Origins as a stretch goal for the Eternia playset), Lady Slither (who was made, but only in Origins, not Masterverse), Melakta, the royal archaeologist from the Filmation cartoon and one of the comparatively few characters of colour from the 1980s era, Hunga the Harpy from the She-Ra cartoon, Detective Lubic from the 1987 movie as well as several New Adventures characters that the Classics line never got to.

Masters of the Universe custom figures on display at Los Amigos.

Daniel Schmelzeisen’s amazing Masters of the Universe custom figures on display at Los Amigos. Among others, you can see Red Beast, Reptilax, Melakta, King Miro, the Great Black Wizard, Detective Lubic, Hunga the Harpy and Vizar from New Adventures, another character of colour from the 1980s who hasn’t had a toy in more than thirty years.

Daniel Schmelzeisen's Masters of the Universe custom figures on display at Los Amigos.

More of Daniel Schmelzeisen’s gorgeous custom figures, including Sharella, Elder Keclar, Lady Slither, High Priest Pythonas, Rattlehood, Baddrah, the purple half of Two-Bad, Kol-Dar, a bunch of Skelecons, Master Sebrian and Nocturna from New Adventures.

Other custom products on display and for sale include custom skateboards with artwork featuring all sorts of pop culture characters. There was also guy who customises Barbies. There also were several vendors who offered custom cases, stands, blister card reproductions and all sorts of ways to display your collection. If you wanted to get your collectibles graded, there was also a service which offered this.

Formo Toys, an indie company that produces the Legends of Dragonore toyline inspired by the vintage Masters of the Universe toys of the 1980s, also had a booth at the con with wave 1 of Legends of Dragonore for sale and a diorama type display of the upcoming wave 2. Once again, I knew that Legends of Dragonore existed and had seen photos online, but I’d never seen the figures in person before. They look great, the quality is excellent and they fit in perfectly with my Masters of the Universe Origins display at home, since they’re in the same 5.5 inch scale. I wound up buying two figures and I suspect they won’t remain the only ones.

Even better, one of the artists who designed the Legends of Dragonore figures, Peer Brauner, was also on site to show off the toys and we ended up having a nice chat. Turns out he’s a local and hails from nearby Oberhausen in the heart of the Ruhrgebiet.

Formo Toys Legends of Dragonore display at Los Amigos 2024

A look at the Formo Toys Legends of Dragonore booth at the 2024 Los Amigos con. The gentleman on the left is Peer Brauner, one of the designers. The young lady on the right is his niece who accompanied her uncle to help watch over the booth.

Formo Toys Legends of Dragonore display

A closer look at the Legends of Dragonore diorama, featuring the figures of wave 2 plus two Galaxy Warriors. These are still prototypes, the series models are expected to ship later this year.

Formo Toys is also planning to remake the Galaxy Warriors, one of the many Masters of the Universe knock-off toylines of the 1980s, though they will be called Warriors of the Galaxy now. They also had two prototype figures on display. I said that though I knew that Galaxy Warriors existed, I had very few memories of seeing the actual toys in stores, whereupon Peer Brauner pointed out that they were more popular in Italy. This led to reminiscing how Italian shops often had an amazing selection of action figures back in the 1980s and early 1990s, including lines you never saw in Germany. But actually buying any of them or even getting sufficient opportunity to explore the stores was often a problem, because our parents usually wanted to do something other than explore toy and department stores while on holiday. That said, there are holidays where I have clearer memories of some obscure shop which had an amazing selection of toys or books or comics that I’ve never seen before or since than of the actual touristy sights.

Legends of Dragonore Yondara and Pantera with Masters of the Universe Imp

And here are the two Legends of Dragonore figures I bought, namely the two ladies Yondara and Pantera. Also pictured is the exclusive Imp mini-figure.

The main auditorium of the Stadthalle housed both the stage as well as the dealers room. The stage was where the programming was going on in the form of interviews with the various guests hosted by YouTuber Chriss Tainment as well as a cosplay and custom contest and a Roadripper race. I only saw bits of pieces of this and several programming items happened well after I was already on my way home, but there’s a livestream of the complete programming here. The Planet Eternia YouTube channel also has a video about the winner of the custom contest, a translucent crystal Webstor.

Chriss Tainment interview Ken Coleman at Los Amigos 2024

YouTuber Chriss Tainment interviews Masters of the Universe artist Ken Coleman on stage at the 2024 Los Amigos con in Stadthalle Neuss.

Panel of several ToyTubers at Los Amigos 2024 in Neuss

Panel of several ToyTubers at the 2024 Los Amigos con in Stadthalle Neuss.

The dealers room finally offered a great selection of new and vintage toys and collectibles. There was of course the entire spectrum of Masters of the Universe toys available ranging from the vintage line via the vintage Princess of Power line, New Adventures, 200X and Classics to the current Origins, Masterverse and CGI toylines. The condition ranged from bins of battered flea market figures and spare parts to beautifully preserved forty-year-old mint on card figures.

But there weren’t just Masters of the Universe toys available either, but a large range of other male-targeted (I didn’t spot any female-targeted lines like My Little Pony or Strawberry Shortcake or Jem) toylines from the 1980s and 1990s and beyond. There were a lot of Star Wars figures and vehicles as well as The Real Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, Thundercats, Silverhawks as well as nigh forgotten lines like Con-Nec-tables, a line of die-cast cars that could be assembled into bigger vehicles.

There were also DVDs and original cassette tapes of the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power audio dramas by Europa (which gave the world Anti-Eternia He-Man and are still the Masters of the Universe touchstone for many German fans, though for me that Filmation cartoon is more important) on offer. These cassettes tapes with original case and inlay went for 60 to 80 Euros a piece, which is stunning, since I remember when they cost a few bucks. Zoar only knows what those cassette tapes sound like after forty years, though thankfully the Masters of the Universe audio dramas are all available on YouTube. There also were cassettes of other audio drama series (there were a lot of audio dramas aimed at children in 1970s and 1980s West Germany) on offer.

One stall also sold reproductions of the famous promotional two-pack with cassette, consisting of a He-Man figure, a Skeletor figure and an audio tape, that was sold in West Germany in the early 1980s and was the entry point for many German fans. Hence, this two-pack is a holy grail for many German collectors and so even the reproductions are going for a pretty penny. Personally, I never had this set, so it doesn’t have the same meaning for me.

Los Amigos 2024 dealers room

A look across the dealers room at the 2024 Los Amigos con in Stadthalle Neuss.

Dealers room at the 2024 Los Amigos in Neuss

Another look across the dealers room at the 2024 Los Amigos con in Stadthalle Neuss.

Now I’m not an in-box/on-card collector – I like to play with my toys and pose them – but nonetheless I felt a nostalgic thrill at seeing toys mint on card that I hadn’t seen since admiring them in a store forty years ago or in some cases that I’d never seen before like the Big Jim Tiger Trail set from the 1970s, where the feline figure that eventually became both Battle Cat and Panthor originated. On the other hand, I may well have seen that Big Jim set in a store as a young kid, since I definitely remember seeing the Big Jim toys around (and my collection of vintage craft magazines for making doll clothes include patterns for making Big Jim clothes).

I didn’t buy any of the vintage Masters of the Universe or Princess of Power figures and toys on offer, though I was sorely tempted a few times. For starters, most of the figures have or will eventually have an Origins counterpart, which looks very much like the original, but is actually a superior product. Because let’s face it, forty-year-old toys almost always show signs of age, the plastic getting sticky or brittle or discoloured, paint chips and flakes, etc… She-Ra figures also have an extra issue with badly tangled hair. And while I’m pretty good at disentangling the hair of e.g. vintage Barbies, the quality of the hair used on the vintage She-Ra dolls was worse than Barbie‘s, even though they were both made by the same company.

That said, I was tempted when I saw a nigh complete (except for the puppet monster which tends to disintegrate due to age) vintage Fight Zone and two different nigh complete vintage Slime Pits for sale. The price was okay, too, but I passed because there is a pretty decent chance that the Fright Zone and the Slime Pit will be made again and forty-year-old plastic tends to get brittle (and the Slime Pits also looked quite brittle). I was also briefly tempted by spotting not one but two Mantisaurs, since Hordak is really missing his ride compared to the other fraction leaders. But I didn’t buy either of them because they looked battered. There is some chance of the Mantisaur being made again, though it tends to get less love than some of the other creatures and mounts.

I also spotted my all-time favourite Masters of the Universe vehicle, the Dragon Walker, but again I passed because the two loose Dragon Walkers were not complete. And with a vintage Dragon Walker, you really want a functional version, because the insane movement pattern is a large of the fun. Honestly, Duncan must have been drunk, when he came up with this thing. There also was a beautifully preserved mint in box Dragon Walker on display, but I want to see the Dragon Walker do its thing and you’d have to be insane to open up a vintage mint in box toy.

In fact, I saw most of the vintage Masters of the Universe vehicles like the Battle Ram, Spydor, Monstroid, Bashasaurus, Attack Trak, Battle Bones, Blasterhawk, Mantisaur, etc… I also spotted the rare Princess of Power figures Netossa and Spinerella in beautiful condition and the 200X so-called Disco Skeletor variant, which is notable for its off-beat colour scheme of dark blue and gold. Plus, lots of New Adventures figures – more than I ever recall seeing in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

I also saw one of the rarest Masters of the Universe figures of the entire vintage line – Laser Light Skeletor – for sale. For the low price of 1600 Euros he could be yours, if you’re willing to put up with his broken arm. I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever seen a Laser Light Skeletor in person before. Unlike some other rare late period vintage figures, he does seem faintly familiar, so maybe I did see him in a store once. Though at the time, I would have had no idea how rare and valuable this figure would one day become.

Laser Light Skeletor, Silverhawks and Horde Trooper set for sale at Los Amigos For 1300 Euros, you could purchase two beautifully shiny mint in box Silverhawks figures. Super 7 is re-releasing the Silverhawks and the modern versions will only set you back around 50 or 60 US-dollars per figure. As for that Horde Trooper set, I’ve never seen that one before at all and had no idea that Horde Troopers even came in colours other than grey in the vintage era.

The same shop that offered the vintage Laser Light Skeletor also had a case full of loose Masters of the Universe Classics figures in zip-lock bags for much more affordable prices. The Classics figures fit in wonderfully with the Masterverse figures and the Classics line had wide range of characters, including some that never had a figure before or since.  The prices were good and there were several figures that were highly tempting.

In the end, I settled for two, both of them characters from the She-Ra cartoon. One was Scorpia, probably the second most prominent female member of the Evil Horde after Catra. The other was Madame Razz, the delightfully scatter-brained witch, and her faithful companion Broom. Madame Razz and Broom are not only crucial members of the Great Rebellion of Etheria, but also among the very few people (in the widest sense of the word) who know that Adora is She-Ra. She’s basically the Princess of Power equivalent of Orko, the magic user whose spells backfire more often than they go right. As for why these two, they’re hard to find and quite expensive and not all that likely to be made again anytime soon. And I got them for a really good price.

Masters of the Universe Classics Scorpia and Madame Razz and Broom

“You are under arrest, witch, for acts of terror against the Horde Empire.” – “Oh, dearie my, I think not. Drizzle, drazzle, rizzle, razzle.” – “Stop! I order you to stop using magic.” – “I’m afraid I can’t do that, my dear.”

So the Evil Horde recruitment ad paid off and brought me another recruit for Hordak’s forces. Of course, this also means that I’ll eventually have to redo the Evil Horde group photo, since Scorpia, Imp and another Horde member, General Sundar (whom I forgot to put into the photo, because he was on a different shelf), are missing. But then, Leech is coming out soon in Masterverse, so I’m going to wait until I have him.

Of course, there’ll also be a Great Rebellion group shot eventually, once I have them all. Madame Razz and Broom are actually the hardest to find and most expensive next to Swift Wind. But in general, the She-Ra characters are quite affordable by Classics standards, even though for several of them, the Classics version is the only figure they ever had.

Finally, just look at that gorgeous Scorpia figure. Honestly, she was never straight, even though the 1980s She-Ra cartoon didn’t spell it out like the 2018 version did. Ditto for Netossa and Spinerella, who are strongly hinted to be a couple in the 1980s cartoon, while the 2018 She-Ra cartoon confirmed them as one. So yup, this stuff was always “woke”. Deal with it.

Including queueing, I probably wandered around the con for three or four hours. It was noon by now and lunchtime. There were a few food trucks stationed outside, between the Stadthalle and an adjacent park. But unlike the other big con that took place in Germany last weekend, the FedCon Star Trek convention in Bonn not all that far from Neuss (food offerings reviewed by my cousin Tim a.k.a. Star Smutje),  the food selection at Los Amigos was somewhat underwhelming. There was a drink truck, a truck offering crepes and one offering currywurst and fries. Since I don’t eat currywurst or sausage in general, my options were basically fries or crepes. Not that I don’t like crepes, but it’s not what I want for lunch. Paying 4.50 Euros for a platter of fries also didn’t seem particularly enticing. So I checked my phone whether there were any restaurants nearby. Alas, since the Stadthalle is located outside the city center and next to a park, there really wasn’t anything nearby. Also, one thing I’ve noticed in recent times is that a lot of restaurants no longer open during lunch hours, which I find very frustrating.

So I took stock and asked myself, “Is there still anything you really want to do or buy here?” The answer was, “Not really.” And I still had a three hour and three hundred kilometer trip home ahead of me. So I decided to call it a day and embark on the way home and stop to eat somewhere along the way. Since this post is already very long, I’ll cover the trip home in my next post.

But first, I want to link to some other coverage of the 2024 Los Amigos con, cause there’s actually quite a bit. For starters, here is an article about the con by Simon Janßen from the local newspaper, the Neuß-Grevenbroicher Zeitung. The article itself is behind a paywall, unfortunately, but the photo gallery is accessible.

There also are several YouTube videos with interviews and general impressions of the con by VTS Experience, Goreminister (I’m pretty sure I saw this guy filming – ETA: He also has a video where he shares his haul) and bumo tv. Meanwhile, YouTubers Der Movie Picker, Masterölli and PokingJoe (I definitely saw one of these guys at the con – I recognise his distinctive t-shirt), Chriss Tainment (who also moderated the panels) and Tales From the Fright Zone share their overall impressions of the con as well as their hauls. Hereby, I find it fascinating what different fans and collectors go for. There are people who are super-excited over things which I saw at the con, but walked right past, thinking, “Nope, I don’t need this”, while these folks probably walked right past the things which got me excited.

ETA: I just found two more YouTube videos about the 2024 Los Amigos con by Stamm der SABINErinnen, a YouTube channel run bei a female Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle collector. “But… but… but…” the usual suspects sputter, “Girls were never into Turtles. That’s a boys’ brand.” Sorry, dudes, we were always here. Anyway, here she shares a video of her toyhunt and here are some general impressions of the con as well as her haul, which unsurprisingly is rather Turtles heavy.

ETA 2: And here is another con haul video by Der Sitti. It’s amazing how many German Masters of the Universe and general toy collector YouTube channels I found via this con.

ETA: Here’s yet another video with impressions of the con as well as a con haul, courtesy of Der Bürgermeister.

And while we’re talking about hauls, here is mine:

Los Amigos convention haul

Los Amigos con haul

Three of the posters/prints were freebies, the fourth with Sorceress by Ken Coleman I purchased. They’ll eventually go on my wall along with the poster that came with the Eternia playset, but I need to get them framed first as well as get over some lingering feelings of guilt about removing some of my parents’ wall decorations and replace them with things which are more to my taste.

I’ve already shown off the figures above, plus there’s a t-shirt, the program booklet and a promotional magazine which is an updated take on the promotional magazines that were distributed for free in West German shops in the 1980s.

And that’s it for me adventures at the 2024 Los Amigos Masters of the Universe convention in Neuss. Stay tuned for the next post about my trip home – with bonus stopover at the beautiful historic town of Tecklenburg.

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Cora’s Adventures at the Los Amigos Masters of the Universe Convention in Neuss or the Six Hundred Kilometer Roundtrip, Part 1: The Trip Out

Last Saturday, I attended the 2024 Los Amigos Masters of the Universe fan convention. There are two big Masters of the Universe conventions in Germany, Grayskull Con and Los Amigos, plus at least two general toy cons which attract a lot of Masters of Universe fans and collectors.

Last year, I considered going to one or more of those cons. However, there was one problem or rather two, a)  I live in North Germany and most German cons, whether general SFF or specialty cons, are much further south and quite far away, and b) I had sick parents at home and/or in hospital and didn’t really want to leave them alone. Since point b) is no longer an issue, there was only point a) to consider.

Until last year, the Los Amigos convention used to take place in Hanau near Frankfurt, which is a four and a half hour drive away (or a one hour flight to Frankfurt and then a train ride to Hanau). However, for 2024 the convention relocated to Neuss, a city in the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, which is somewhat closer, though still roughly three hundred kilometers away, which means a three to three and a half hour drive, depending on traffic conditions.

Now I have done long road trips before, but for those trips I’ve always had a co-driver, my Dad, my Mom, when she was still driving, or a friend. However, I’ve never done a road trip this long on my own. And while I was confident that I could handle three hundred kilometers – I think the maximum I have driven on my own in a day was four hundred kilometers – I wasn’t sure whether I could handle driving three hundred kilometres back on the same day. And since the con was in Neuss, that meant braving the traffic nightmare that is the Ruhrgebiet (even though Neuss isn’t officially part of the Ruhrgebiet, but just south of it).

So I was dithering whether to go or not until the weekened before the con. Then I decided to go and promised myself to take a break whenever I felt like it, even if that meant stopping at every service station along the way for a coffee. I also decided to pack an overnight bag and just check in at a hotel somewhere, if I was too tired to make it back home.

Highway A1

The con was set to open at ten AM. So on Saturday morning, I got up at half past five and drove off at six AM. The sun was already up – sunrise is at 5:30 AM currently – but it was very foggy outside. Much of the route followed highway A1, which is practical, because highway A1 passes by my home with the two nearest exits, Brinkum and Groß Mackenstedt a.k.a. Delmenhorst Ost, both roughly five or six kilometres away.

There are other highways nearby like the A27 or the A28 and A281, both of which were added/expanded in the 1990s. But growing up where I did, A1 was usually what people meant when we talked about “the Autobahn”. Highway A1 was also a gateway to adventure, because this was where every longer distance trip started, by driving onto the A1.

When I was a teenager, my best friend Dagmar and I would sometimes take our bikes to the highway bridge at Groß Mackenstedt, where an agricultural service road crosses the A1. Only locals know this road and this bridge and there’s never a lot of traffic there, so we would just hang out on the bridge and watch the cars rush by below. And we’d talk about how once we got our driver’s licences and could acquire or borrow a car, we’d just drive down highway A1 as far south (north wasn’t that exciting) as it would go. Though we weren’t entirely sure where highway A1 actually went.

“Osnabrück”, I said, because that’s what the sign on the southbound entry ramp said (the northbound direction is Hamburg).

“And then?”

“Münster.”

“And then?”

“I’m not sure. I think Cologne. There’s a sign.”

Highway A1 does indeed go to Cologne, though it passes by Dortmund first, which my teen self must have missed, even though Dortmund as a major city is listed on the distance signs by the roadside. As teenagers we assumed that highway A1 would eventually go to Bavaria and then cross into Austria and finally Italy all the way to the Mediterranean Sea (and yes, Dagmar and I were totally planning to drive all the way), but where highway A1 really goes is Saarbrücken, where is peters out just before the French border (The northern terminus is Heiligenhafen on the Baltic Sea). And yes, I have done the whole trip.

That said, while I know all the exits and service stations until a little after Osnabrück, I get somewhat fuzzy about what comes afterwards and no longer recognise the names of many exits and service stations.

On Saturday morning, by the time I got to Wildeshausen service station, my body felt a little stiff and some tiredness from last night was still lingering. And Wildeshausen isn’t very far away at all, only about thirty kilometers, so I started feeling doubtful about the whole adventure. If I felt creaky and a little tired after thirty kilometers, how could I possibly handle three hundred? Nonetheless, I decided to drive on to service station Dammer Berge, about a hundred kilometers from home, since I’d planned to stop there for breakfast anyway. Then I would reassess if I felt up for the rest of the trip. If not, I’d just turn around and go home.

Dammer Berge

As for why I wanted to stop for breakfast at Dammer Berge, service station Dammer Berge is special, because it is a bridge restaurant, which spans highway A1. Bridge restaurants aren’t that uncommon in Europe – Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands have several – but in Germany, there are only are two bridge restaurants, both built in the late 1960s. The building costs were too high, so they just returned to building two unremarkable service stations on each side of the highway instead. Here is some more background information about the unique structure of service station Dammer Berge and that it is much beloved by those who drive past it.

Service station Dammer Berge

A look at the Dammer Berge bridge restaurant from the parking lot. The fence is intended to prevent people from wandering or tumbling onto the highway below.

Since Dammer Berge is fairly close to home, you pass it pretty much every time you drive along the A1 in southbound direction. Therefore, it’s very much a landmark for many people in the region. But even though I’d driven underneath the striking bridge restaurant of Dammer Berge lots of times, I’d never actually been inside, because it’s so close to home that there was never any need to pee or refuel the car or stop for food here. However, I always wanted to see what the bridge restaurant actually looks like inside.

Service station Dammer Berge interior

And this is what the Dammer Berge bridge restaurant looks like on the inside. Sadly, next to nothing of the late 1960s interior remains except possibly the iconic artichoke lamp, having been replaced by bland modern furnishings with all the charme of a McDonald’s.

To be fair, my parents would have stopped and let me take a look, if I’d ever told them that I wanted to see what Dammer Berge looks like inside. However, I never did until a few years ago, when I chanced to mention to Dad that I always wanted to visit the bridge restaurant. Dad immediately offered to stop and let me take a look, but I said, “It’s almost 8 PM and we still have an hour to drive, so let’s do it some other time.” Alas, some other time never happened until Saturday.

That said, the actual Dammer Berge experience was rather underwhelming. Because it was still very early, around 7 AM, much of the restaurant area, including the coffee bar, wasn’t open yet. And even though I paid at the counter, I had to get my coffee from a machine, which had been cleaned very shortly before, so my latte tasted of soap. The slice of apple pie I planned to have for breakfast was covered in gloopy glaze, to which I’m allergic, so I couldn’t even eat most of it. At least the view was as good as expected.

Highway A1 seen from service station Dammer Berge

The view from service station Dammer Berge down on highway A1. Since it was 7 AM on a Saturday morning, the highway wasn’t very busy yet. Also note the massive construction work going on to expand the highway from four to six lanes to accomodate the high amount of traffic.

In addition to its landmark bridge restaurant and the usual gas station, service station Dammer Berge also has an highway chapel. Highway chapels are a German oddity. Inspired by the roadside shrines and chapels found in Catholic parts of Germany from the Middle Ages until today, the churches started setting up chapels and churches at service stations along the Autobahnen from the 1950s on. Some of these were existing village churches which were incorporated into the Autobahn network, others were newly built.  For more about Autobahn churches and chapels, see here and here.

The Dammer Berge Autobahn chapel is one of those that were newly built for this purpose. It was constructed in 1970, a year after the bridge restaurant was finished, and is an interesting Brutalist building. In fact, the most interesting Brutalist buildings are often churches.

Dammer Berge highway chapel

Autobahn chapel Dammer Berge. This was apparently the first ecumenic Autobahn chapel. Previous chapels were either Catholic or Lutheran.

Onwards through the Ruhrgebiet

In spite of the underwhelming culinary experience, my stop at Dammer Berge had revigorated me, since even soapy coffee still contains caffeine. So I got back into my car and drove onwards towards Neuss.

At around this point, the landscape gradually gets more hilly. It’s not as pronounced at at Porta Westfalica, where you suddenly have mountains (well, by North German standards they are) jutting out from flat land, but it’s definitely notable. In fact, Dammer Berge literally means “Damme Mountains” (though they’re more hills, since the highest peak of the Damme mountains only reaches 146 m above sea level). Shortly thereafter, you get the Wiehen Mountains (again, they’re more like hills) and the Teutoburg Forest. You also pass Osnabrück.

This is also the point where my knowledge of the route gets a little fuzzy and where I no longer necessarily recognise the names of the exits and towns. Once I passed Münster, I was no longer familiar with the route at all. The highway continues to pass through fields, hills and forests, until you reach Kamener Kreuz, a cloverleaf junction which is one of the oldest highway junctions in Germany (construction began in 1937) and also one of the most famous. Kamener Kreuz also marks the beginning of the Ruhrgebiet.

Kamener Kreuz also offers one of the more interesting sights along the route, namely the ADAC monument dedicated to the German road rescue and aid service ADAC. The monument stands on top of a hill and consists of six angel figures (the ADAC aid vehicles and tow trucks are often called “yellow angels” due to their bright yellow colour) holding aloft a genuine decommissioned ADAC rescue helicopter. It’s a striking monument, but also a weird one, because it looks as if the angels captured a wild helicopter and are about to sacrifice it to some eldritch god.

Interchanges and junctions become a lot more frequent after Kamener Kreuz until seemingly every second or third exit is actually a junction. The Ruhrgebiet may long have lost its industral powerhouse status (and in fact the old coal and steel industry was already dying, when I was a kid), but it’s still one of the most densely populated areas in Germany and western Europe in general. Ten million people live in the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region – that’s roughly one eighth of the total German population.

Because there are so many people crammed into a fairly small area, the Ruhrgebiet and the wider Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region is characterised by cities bleeding into each other to form what’s actually one megacity, even though all the cities are nominally independent entities. Indeed, there are proposals to combine all the different cities of the Ruhrgebiet into one megacity named Ruhrstadt. And because the Ruhrgebiet has so many people and cities, it also has a lot of highways and junctions and a lot of traffic, particularly at rush hour.

The highways network here is very confusing. Driving through the Ruhrgebiet was always an unpleasant experience, especially in the pre-GPS era, because the chances of accidentally taking the wrong exit or junction were so high. Even today, it’s still confusing to some degree. One of the many highways through the Ruhrgebiet was closed over the weekend for construction work, which sometimes happens, e.g. when they want to tear down a bridge or something. My route never even touched upon that highway, yet I passed plenty of signs announcing in scary flashing red letters “Vollsperrung” (full closure). When I saw the first of those signs, I thought that it was actually the A1 which was closed and not some other highway.

Shortly after Kamener Kreuz, the A1 passes Dortmund, one of the biggest cities along the route (and one of the biggest in the Ruhrgebiet). Though you wouldn’t know it from the highway, because the A1 passes Dortmund in a wide arc. Around this time, I felt pressure in my bladder, so I stopped once more for a toilet break at Lichtendorf service station. That’s another thing I like about solo drives, that I can stop for a toilet break whenever I want to. When I was a kid, my parents would always yell at me, when I needed to go to the toilet, so I suppressed the urge for as long as I could, which generally isn’t a great idea. Ironically, as my parents aged, they were the ones who needed toilet breaks a lot more often than I did.

Next came the city of Hagen, which is more interesting, because you can see the ruins of Volmarstein Castle, the ruins of Hohensyburg Castle as well as a massive monument to Emperor Wilhelm I looming on top of mountains (because by this point, you are driving through actual mountains) above the Ruhr valley. I wouldn’t mind further exploring this area at all, though I’ll probably visit the Emperor Wilhelm I monument in Porta Westfalica first, because that’s closer to home. The Second German Empire may not have lasted all that long (from 1871 to 1918), but it had a thing for putting massive monuments on top of mountains. The mountains around Hagen have a whopping five massive 19th century monuments, respectively dedicated to Emperor Wilhelm I, Emperor Friedrich III (who ruled for a whopping ninety days before succumbing to cancer, but generated a surprising number of monuments for someone whose barely outlasted the proverbial lettuce), Freiherr von Stein (a nobleman best remembered because Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had an affair with his wife), Otto von Bismarck and Eugen Richter, a local politician who was a vehement opponent of Bismarck.

Highway A46

Then I reached Wuppertal, another city I’d love to explore in detail one day because of its unique steampunky suspension railway, and it was time to leave the broad and comfortable highway A1 for the much narrower and less pleasant highway A46. Everything about highway A46 felt old to the point that I wondered whether it was one of the original Weimar era/Third Reich highways (no, Hitler did not invent the Autobahnen. They were a Weimar Republic era project he took over). It’s not – turns out that this part of A46 was built in the 1960s. Ironically, the A1 or at least parts of it were among the original Weimer/Third Reich era highways, though no trace of that time remains. Indeed, all of Germany’s highways have been expanded, rebuilt and expanded so often by now that almost no traces of the original 1920s/1930s highways remains. When I was a kid, some of the old highways and bridges (as well as Börde service station near Magdeburg) still existed in near original condition. They’re all gone now – the last surviving bit of original 1930s highway near the Polish border was decommissioned and rebuilt in 2019.

The A46 cuts through Wuppertal, though again you don’t see much of the city, at least not much that’s actually interesting. At this point, the name “Neuss” actually starts showing up on signage. The highway passes Solingen, a city famed for the manufacture of knives and blades, and reaches Düsseldorf, state capital of North-Rhine-Westfalia and one of the three big D-cities in the Ruhrgebiet (the others are Dortmund, which I passed earlier in the day, and Duisburg).

The signs on the highway announced that Neuss would be the next city after Düsseldorf. However, then my GPS instructed me to take the exit Düsseldorf-Bilk. I was a little confused – after all, I was almost in Neuss, so why leave the highway one exit early? But I decided to trust the GPS, especially since I didn’t know the area at all. Besides, cities do tend to blend into each other in the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.

After leaving the highway, I finally crossed the river Rhine and got a nice view of Düsseldorf’s skyline with the Rhine Tower telecommunications tower and observation deck and the distinctive buildings of the Media Harbour (Düsseldorf’s old inland harbour was turned into a hipster neighbourhood plus hub for the media industry in the 1990s). Turns out that Neuss is on the other side of the Rhine opposite Düsseldorf, so my GPS was right.

Neuss is actually quite an interesting city – one of the oldest in Germany, founded by the Romans in 26 BC, i.e. Neuss is celebrating its 2040th anniversary this year. Not that I saw anything of that aside from a glimpse of what appeared to be a medieval watchtower or city gate. Because the con venue, Stadthalle Neuss, was on the outskirts of the city. Though I also passed a large and not very enticing 1970s shopping mall called Rheinpark Center and the German headquarters of 3M along the way.

Then, a little over three hours after I departed, I swung onto the parking lot of Stadthalle Neuss. I was happy to have made it, not remotely tired anymore and eager to go to the con. But that’s a topic for the next post.

ETA: Part 2 with my adventures at the con itself is now up and can be seen here and part 3 about the trip back home is here.

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Join the Horde! Conquer the Universe! Sign Up Now!

Join the Horde! Conquer the Universe! Sign Up Now!

The Evil Horde in Masterverse and Classics

The Horde truly is the most diverse group of bad guys. From left to right: Mantenna, Grizzlor, Mosquitor, Skeletor (yes, he was a member of the Horde once before striking out on his own), Horde Prime, Hordak, Imp (in treasure chest form, regular Imp is hugely expensive), Despara (a.k.a. Princess Adora of Eternia a.k.a. She-Ra), Shadow Weaver, Catra and her panther, Horde Wraith, Entrapta, Octavia. Towering above them all is Motherboard.

Are you dissatisfied with harassing peasants and raiding space tramp freighters? Are looking for a new challenge? Do want to see the galaxy and help to subjugate it? Do you want to become part of something greater? Then join the Mighty, All-Conquering Horde.

The Horde Empire is seeking, at the earliest possible date, a:

Force Captain
(m, f, n-b*)

We are a growth-focussed intergalactic empire intent on universal domination. With more than ten thousand worlds under our heel and counting, the Horde Empire is a multiverse-wide leader in the crowded market of galactic empires.

However, we cannot conquer the universe all alone. We need you to help us subjugate the cosmos and bring those rebel worlds into the smothering embrace of the Horde Empire.

Your responsibilities:

  • Command the troops of the Horde and lead them into battle.
  • Conquer planets for the glory of the Horde.
  • Slaughter the enemies of the Horde.
  • Enslave the local population.
  • Crush all resistance.
  • Strike fear into the hearts and minds of our foes
  • Report directly to Horde Commander Despara, Lord Hordak or Horde Prime, the Great Exalted Leader, himself
  • Failure and insubordination are swiftly and severely punished

Your qualifications:

  • Must be utterly ruthless and devoid of empathy
  • Willing to follow orders without hesitation or questions
  • At least three years of military experience
  • Skilled in handling energy weapons, blasters and crossbows
  • Hand to hand combat skills
  • Swordsmanship skills
  • Pilot licence for suborbital and space vehicles
  • Ground vehicle licence
  • Tactical and strategic knowledge
  • Technological knowledge
  • Special abilities such as superstrength, vampirism (both blood and energy extraction), venom secretion, all-seeing eyes, shapeshifting, cybernetic implants, scientific genius, fabulous secret powers, etc… welcome

The benefits that await you:

  • A supportive and inclusive work environment
  • Excellent pay
  • State of the art medical care and cybernetic enhancements
  • In house training and apprenticeships under the watchful eye of Lord Hordak himself
  • Free board and lodging at Horde bases and aboard Horde ships
  • Branded uniforms and armour supplied by the Horde
  • Excellent on-site childcare facilities in Horde breeding centers
  • Great opportunities for career advancement
  • Free mandatory therapy using patented Horde mind-wiping and memory editing technology

Also seeking, at the earliest possible date, a:

Magic Wielder
(m, f, n-b)

Unfortunately, in our quest to bring the entire universe under the heel of the Horde, we occasionally encounter that ancient superstition known as magic. Of course, the Horde Empire does not endorse the use of magic and considers it an abomination. However, our enemies have no such scruples and therefore, we are reluctantly required to employ some magic of our own.

Your responsibilities:

  • Employ magic on behalf of the Horde
  • Wield magical weapons or objects
  • Break into magical strongholds and acquire ancient objects of power
  • Fight and defeat other magic users
  • Report directly to Lord Hordak or Horde Prime, the Great Exalted Leader, himself
  • Failure and insubordination are swiftly and severely punished

Your qualifications:

  • High level magical abilities
  • Knowledge of spells and potions
  • Skills in deciphering ancient languages and manuscripts
  • Demon summoning skills
  • Skills in handling magical weapons or objects
  • Ability to open interdimensional portals
  • Telepathy, teleportation and telekinesis
  • Memory altering and mind-wiping abilities
  • Physical combat skills
  • In house training and apprenticeships under the watchful eye of Lord Hordak himself
  • Utterly ruthless and devoid of empathy
  • Willing to follow orders without hesitation or questions

The benefits that await you:

  • See above.

The Horde is an equal opportunity employer. We are committed to diversity and inclusion and welcome members of any species, race, gender, body type and sexual orientation. The Horde forces have by far the highest percentage of female and LGBTQ members of all villain factions and galactic empires in the universe.

Are you an outcast? Do your fellow beings think that you are scary or weird or terrifying? Then join us, because no one is ever too weird or too scary for the Horde. The Horde embraces everybody in its all-encompassing grasp.

So what are you waiting for? Apply today and become part of the great and glorious, all-encompassing Horde Empire.

For questions and applications, please contact:

Lord Hordak, the Mighty and All-Powerful
c/o Horde Commander Despara
The Fright Zone
Etheria
Dark Dimension of Despondos

***

Inspired by this news item about two new members of the Evil Horde, who are about to debut in the upcoming Masters of the Universe: Revolution prequel comic. Both of these new Horde members are women and one of them is chubby lady of a body type rarely seen in comics and cartoons. Of course, the usual suspects complained a lot more about the chubby lady than about the spider woman, which tells you everything you need to know.

This led to a discussion on Twitter about how the Horde is actually the most diverse of all the villainous (and heroic, for that matter) factions in Masters of the Universe and has a lot of women, LGBTQ characters and some of the weirdest creatures in Masters of the Universe history. There is a historical reason for this – the original Horde figures came out at the height of the popularity of Masters of the Universe, when the toys were selling like hotcakes and all sorts of weird but expensive to design and produce figures were possible. And since the Evil Horde were the primary villains in the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon, which was aimed at girls, they also had a lot of female members.

In Masters of the Universe: Revolution, Hordak also tells Stonedar (shortly before the poor guy is utterly demolished and turned into a pile of pebbles) that he never fights his own battles, but that he hires well. Which made me wonder, “What exactly would a Horde job ad look like?” So I wrote one.

The photo of the assembled Horde (well, the members I have, since I’m still missing a few) was actually quite difficult to take, partly because Motherboard is so big and partly because there are a lot of Horde members. The figures are a mix of Masterverse and Classics figures, since both lines are roughly in the same scale.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took a photo of them and wrote a parody of a job ad. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

*(m, f, n-b) stand for “male, female, non-binary”, which is standard in German job ads. And yes, the non-binary part started showing mere weeks after the act recognising non-binary people as a third gender was passed.

 

Posted in First Monday Free Fiction, Toy Photo Stories, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Obligatory Birthday Post 2024 – with Bonus Skeletor

April 18 was my birthday. And it was a somewhat weird birthday this year, because last year for my birthday I had lunch with my Dad at a local restaurant and then visited my Mom at the care home where she lived. At the time, there was no indication that neither of them wouldn’t be around the next year. So this was a rather sombre birthday for me.

I initially considered whether I should just get in the car and drive somewhere for the day and have a nice lunch at a restaurant somewhere. However, I had to scrap that plan, when my furnace decided to fail on Tuesday evening, since the repair technician came in early on Thursday morning, so I had to be at home to let him in. So my birthday started with a furnace repair, though thankfully one that was fairly uncomplicated and only took a little over an hour.

As I was at home anyway, I decided to have sailor’s curry, since I always have it around the time of my birthday.  I didn’t make the curry from scratch, since I still had some in the fridge from Christmas, so I only to make the side dishes and rice.

I didn’t get any birthday cards in the mail, but then the physical greeting card is an endangered species anyway. However, I got a notification in the mail that the deed to the house has been transferred to me and that I have been legally entered as the owner in the land register, which was actually better than a birthday card. I also got well wishes and birthday greetings via e-mail, WhatsApp and social media as well as phone calls from relatives and friends.

In the afternoon, I also got an actual visitor (aside from the furnace technician), namely my neighbour Marina who brought me a bouquet of flowers. Marina’s birthday was actually the day before, so I gave her some chocolates in return.

Flower bouquetBut even though the flowers are the only “proper” birthday present I got, I did get some nice things for myself. This is actually how it’s been for several years now. My parents didn’t really know what to give me, so they just told me to get something nice for myself.

Last weekend, a German specialty online collector toy shop had a time fifty percent off sale, so I splurged on some Masters of the Universe Classics figures which happened to arrive just in time for my birthday. Plus, a friend hooked me up with a Masters of the Universe Origins Thunderpunch He-Man, which was never regularly available in Europe. I also got a cool t-shirt as well as Bitterthorn by Kat Dunn at the mall earlier this week. Plus, the paperback edition of the John the Balladeer stories by Manly Wade Wellman I’d pre-ordered a while ago arrived, as did the massive Masters of the Universe character guide. So I just declared those things birthday presents:

Birthday presentsTen-year-old Cora would think this was the best birthday ever (now I’m trying to remember what I got for my birthday, when I was ten. I remember that Christmas, but not my birthday). Meanwhile, adult Cora doesn’t particularly care what anybody thinks about buying toys for myself or wearing a Skeletor t-shirt.

You’ll notice a couple of Princess of Power figures, precisely Bow, Mermista and Perfuma, there. Now I have always enjoyed the adventures of She-Ra as much as those of her twin brother He-Man. But while we got She-Ra and Hordak in the Masters of the Universe Origins and Masterverse toyline pretty quickly, it’s also obvious that Mattel isn’t particularly interested in making the rest of She-Ra’s supporting cast in either line. In Origins, there’s only She-Ra and the male Horde members (and some of those are still missing as well). In Masterverse, we at least have Catra, Frosta and Shadow Weaver (plus Hordak and Grizzlor) to keep She-Ra company, but there’s not even a sign of core characters like Bow or Glimmer, let alone the more off-beat ones like Netossa or Spinerella or Flutterina. Hell, we don’t even have an Adora in either line yet.

2024 is She-Ra’s fortieth anniversary, which means that this would be the perfect time to re-release some of the She-Ra characters in Masterverse and/or Origins. Yet so far Mattel shows no sign that they even remember She-Ra anniversary, let alone plan to do anything to celebrate. I have no idea why – whether it’s due to the tangled rights issues with She-Ra and her supporting cast or whether there’s still some lingering prejudice that She-Ra injected girl cooties into Masters of the Universe and killed off the franchise the first time around, which is apparently a common belief, though it’s a lot more complicated than that. Come to think of it, there hardly were any toys at all for the 2018 She-Ra and the Princesses of Power reboot, even though the cartoon itself was successful and has a dedicated fanbase.

At any rate, I’ve decided to pick up the Masters of the Universe Classics versions of the Princess of Power characters, since that line actually made all of She-Ra’s supporting cast and many of the New Adventures characters and other obscure characters that never had a figure in any other line as well. So in many cases, Classics figures are the only way to ever get these characters. Besides, most of the Princess of Power characters are actually quite affordable by Classics standards and they fit in well with the Masterverse figures. So I hope to eventually assemble the whole Great Rebellion of Etheria in all their glittery pastel-coloured glory.

There’s also Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms turned into a snake person, which is based on a storyline from the 2002 Masters of the Universe cartoon, where King Hiss transforms several of our heroes into snake people. The episode in question can be watched here. Everybody is returned to normal by the end of that episode, but there were plans to turn Duncan back into a snake person for a couple of episodes, causing the heroes to lose their strategist and weapons master and Adam and Teela to lose their father figure. But those plans never came to be, since the cartoon was cancelled before they could get to that part.

Another toy I picked up at that fifty percent off sale was a loose Masters of the Universe Classics Panthor, shown here lounging on the Skeletor t-shirt, which is remarkably fitting. Because for reasons best known to themselves, Mattel still hasn’t made Panthor in the Masterverse line, even though they did make Battle Cat. So when I had the chance to get the Classics Panthor for a really good price (he’s normally very expensive), I snapped him up. So Skeletor is finally reunited with his best friend/ride.

Because it’s obvious that Panthor is probably the only being in the whole universe that Skeletor truly loves. Note that when Evil-Lyn kills turns Panthor into stone and apparently kills him in Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Skeletor is absolutely furious. This is even more notable because only a few episodes before, when faced with Duncan’s heart-rending scream, after Skeletor kills the Sorceress, it becomes very obvious that Skeletor doesn’t understand love. He literally has no idea why Duncan reacts the way he does, why he stops fighting to cradle the body of his beloved, why he doesn’t even resist when Skeletor has him thrown into the dungeon. Because Skeletor cannot love and doesn’t even understand it. Yet he does love Panthor.

In this Skeletor is similar to his former mentor Hordak. Like Skeletor, Hordak is also a terrible person who repeatedly abuses and brainwashes his own followers. However, Hordak also has one being in the whole universe he loved, namely his pet/companion Imp. Though it does seem as if Hordak feels some attachment to Adora as well, considering how eager he always is to bring her back into the fold, though he would probably deny it. And in the 2018 She-Ra series, Hordak befriends Entrapta of all people or rather Entrapta befriends Hordak.

The bio on the back of the box of the Classics Panthor (mine didn’t come with a box, but the bio is online) explains that Skeletor, when he was still Keldor, rescued Panthor from a hunter’s trap as a cub and raised him as his loyal pet, which is remarkably similar to how Adam found Cringer.

Anyway, Skeletor was thrilled to finally be reunited with his best and only true friend in the whole universe, so let’s have some pictures of their reunion:

Skeletor hugs Panthor“Panthor! I missed you so much, my buddy.”

ROAR!

“Come here, come to Daddy. Trust me, I’ll never ever let that nasty Lyn hurt you again.”

PURR.

Skeletor pets Panthor“Who’s a good kitty? Panthor is a good kitty. Skelly loves his Panthor.”

PURR.

Skeletor on Panthor

The Masterverse Skeletor fits on the Classics Panthor well enough.

“And now forward into battle, my loyal steed.”

ROAR!

Skeletor on Panthor“Onward to Grayskull, Panthor. Let’s whoop He-Man’s and Battle Cat’s collective arse!”

ROOAARRR!

Skeletor poses with Panthor.“But first, we need a portrait of the once and future King of Eternia, currently temporarily parted from the throne that should be mine, and his most loyal steed.”

ROAR!

***

Anyway, that was it for my birthday this year. I have some more toy photo stories coming up as well as other posts planned.

Posted in Books, Personal, Toy Photo Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Exploring the Hude Solar System (with Bonus Gothic Abbey Ruins)

The Easter weekend was rather gray and rainy (and marred by Sahara dust in the upper atmosphere), but Palm Sunday was a lovely sunny day, just perfect for a trip to the countryside. So I decided to use the opportunity to explore the Hude solar system.

You probably wonder, “What in the universe is the Hude solar system?”

Hude is a town of a little more than 16000 people halfway between Bremen and Oldenburg. It was first mentioned in 1232 AD as the site of a Cistercian Abbey, the ruins of which are still visible today and something of a local tourist attraction. You can see some pictures of the very spooky and gothic ruined abbey below the cut:
Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on the 2024 Hugo Finalists

The 2024 Hugo finalists were announced today – on Good Friday, which is a really terrible time to do this. I thought that John Scalzi had persuaded the powers that be that announcing Hugo finalists on a long holiday weekend is a terrible idea, but apparently that lesson has been forgotten. The fact that it’s also the end of the month and the quarter, which is again a super-busy time, and that the EU is switching to daylight savings time this weekend doesn’t help either.

Last year, we got an early preview of the Hugo finalists due to one of the many screw-ups of the Chengdu Worldcon. This year, everybody who’s in the Hugo finalist Discord server got an early preview due to an e-mail with an invite link to the server going out a day before the official announcement, which made me excited for what looked like a most excellent Hugo ballot.

So – since this is a busy weekend for me – let’s delve right into the individual categories:

Best Novel

Translation State by Ann Leckie and Witch King by Martha Wells were the latest novels by two very popular writers and also made the Nebula ballot, so I’m not at all surprised to see them here. Both novels were also on my personal Hugo ballot.

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh was another of my personal nominees and I’m very glad to see it made the ballot.

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty was on my personal longlist, but didn’t make my ballot in the end. Nonetheless, I’m glad to see it nominated.

The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera got a lot of buzz last year and is also a Nebula finalist. I haven’t yet read it, but I’m looking forward to checking it out.

John Scalzi is a hugely popular author with multiple Hugo nominations and wins under his belt. Nonetheless, I’m a little surprised to see Starter Villain make the ballot, because the critical response to that novel was somewhat mixed with many folks thinking it was a weaker work by Scalzi.

Martha Wells also would have made the ballot with System Collapse, the latest Murderbot novel, but as with the Nebulas, she chose to withdraw, which is a classy move IMO.

A Chinese novel, Cosmo Wings by Jiang Bo, also received enough nominations to make the ballot, but was disqualified due to having been published in 2024. Coincidentally, this means that Cosmo Wings will actually be eligible next year. And since this novel was clearly popular enough to receive enough nominations to make the Hugo ballot, maybe a US or UK publishers will pick it up and have it translated – hint, hint.

Indeed, the influx of Chinese fans from last year did leave an impact on the ballot in several categories. Of course, every member of the Chengdu Worldcon still had nominating rights, so this shouldn’t be too unexpected. It will be interesting to see if Chinese fans will continue to participate and if we will continue to see more Chinese works on the ballot going forward.

All in all, this is a very good list. Three of my personal nominees made the ballot. I suspect one of the other two will be further down the longlist, while the final one was a longshot.

Publisherwise, one finalist was published by Tor, three by Tordotcom (which is not the same as Tor, though they are part of the same publishing conglomerate), the remaining two were published by Orbit and Harper Voyager respectively.

Will this stop the “But only Tor gets nominated” conspiracy theories?  Probably not, since those are no more rooted in reality than conspiracy theories usually are. I also suspect that the folks who complain about not enough men getting nominated for Hugos these days will not be happy with the nominations for John Scalzi and Vajra Chandrasekera.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 author of colour, 2 international authors*.

Best Novella

In this category, we have an interesting mix of returning favourites and new finalists.

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher and The Mimmicking of Known Successes by Malka Older definitely fall under returning favourites. They’re both very good stories, too.

Nghi Vo is another returning favourite in this category, though I haven’t yet read Mammoths at the Gates. And while Arkady Martine has never been nominated in the novella category before, she won Best Novel twice in the past four years, so she definitely counts as a returning favourite. Rose/House was also on my ballot BTW.

We also have two Chinese finalists in this category, “Life Does Not Allow Us to Meet” by He Xi and “Seeds of Mercury” by Wang Jinkang, both translated by Alex Woodend. I’m not familiar with either of these novellas, but I’m looking forward to checking them out.

With regard to publishers, one finalist was published by Tor, two by Tordotcom, one by Subterranean and two appeared in the anthology Adventures in Space: New Short stories by Chinese & English Science Fiction Writers. So the Tor/Tordotcom dominance in this category appears to be broken.

Diversity count: 4 women, 3 men (including the translator), 4 authors of colour, 2 international authors.

Best Novelette

In this category, we have yet another mix of returning favourites and new finalists.

I really enjoyed “The Year Without Sunshine” by Naomi Kritzer, which was on my personal ballot and is also a Nebula finalist in this category.

“Ivy, Angelica, Bay” by C.L. Polk is another story I enjoyed and am glad to see nominated. It was on my personal longlist, but did not make my ballot in the end.

Sarah Pinsker has been nominated several times in the various short fiction categories and her stories are always worth reading. I don’t think I read her nominated novelette “One Man’s Treasure”, though I look forward to checking it out.

Nghi Vo puts in a second appearance on the ballot with “On the Fox Roads”, which I haven’t yet read either.

I AM AI by Ai Jiang got a lot of buzz last year and is also a Nebula finalist. Again, I haven’t read it yet.

Finally, we’ve got another Chinese finalist with “Introduction to 2181 Overture, Second Edition” by Gu Shi, translated by Emily Jin. Once again, I haven’t read this story yet.

There also was a withdrawal in this category, because Chinese author Hai Ya, who won this category in a landslide last year with “The Space Time Painter” withdrew his novelette “The Far North”.

Regarding publishers, we have two stories published in Uncanny, two at Tor.com, one in Clarkesworld and one is a standalone novelette, so there’s a nice mix.

Diversity count: 6 women (including the translator), 1 non-binary, 5 authors/translators of colour, 2 international authors.

Best Short Story

This category is yet another mix of familiar and new names. There also is zero overlap with my personal ballot.

Naomi Kritzer makes her second appearance on the ballot with “Better Living Through Algorithms”, a story I enjoyed and which was on my personal longlist, but didn’t make my ballot in the end

“How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” by P. Djèlí Clark is another story I enjoyed, but didn’t nominate.

“The Mausoleum’s Children” by Aliette de Bodard completely passed me by for some reason, though I usually enjoy her work, so I look forward to reading it.

“The Sound of Children Screaming” by Rachael K. Jones is another story I haven’t read, though I look forward to checking it out.

Finally, we have two more Chinese finalists, “Answerless Journey” by Han Song, translated by Alex Woodend, and “Tasting the Future Delicacy Three Times” by Baoshu, which does not appear to have an English translation at this time. Again, I haven’t read either of these, though I look forward to checking them out.

With regard to publishers, two stories hail from Uncanny, one each from Clarkesworld and Nightmare Magazine, one is from the Chinese Galaxy’s Edge magazine (not to be confused with the English language magazine of the same name) and one from the anthology Adventures in Space: New Short stories by Chinese & English Science Fiction Writers.

Diversity count: 3 women, 4 men (including the translator), 4 authors of colour, 3 international authors

Best Series

The Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie came out just before the Best Series Hugo was introduced and so never got a chance at a category it would likely have won. However, Translation State is set in the same universe, starring a secondary character from the first trilogy, so Imperial Radch gets another shot.

Seanan McGuire has been a steady presence in this category since its inception due to being extremely prolific. Of her various series, October Daye is probably my favourite, so I’m happy to see it on the ballot.

The Universe of Xuya by Aliette de Bodard has been nominated in this category before as well. I usually enjoy the Xuya stories as well, though they’re only a series if you squint really hard.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross is another series we’ve seen in this category before. I’m afraid this series didn’t work for me the last time around, but I’ll give it another try.

Adrian Tchaikovsky actually won in this category last year with Children of Time, but has since disavowed his Hugo win due to the shenangigans of Dave McCarty and the Chengdu Hugo team. This year, he’s back with another series, The Final Architecture trilogy and I’m glad he’s getting another shot at Hugo glory.

I haven’t read The Last Binding by Freya Marske, though I look forward to checking it out.

With regard to publishers, we have a wild mix with Tordotcom (who actually dominate more than Tor prime), Orbit, DAW, Gollancz and a bunch of short fiction publishers.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 author of colour, 4 international authors

Best Graphic Story or Comic

This category has the tendency to get a little stale with the same long-running series getting nominated over and over again.

This year, however, we have only one returning favourite, Volume 11 of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. This one was also on my ballot.

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Phil Jimenez, Gene Ha and Nicola Scott comes closest to holding up the flag for American superhero comics. It’s also a very good book.

As for the remaining four finalists, I’m afraid I’ve never heard of any of them, though I’m excited to check them out.

That said, of course I have heard of The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, though I’m not familiar with the comic adaptation.

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet completely passed me by. According to the blurb, it’s a middle grade graphic novel retelling of Beowulf, which sounds really cool actually. Zach Weinersmith also shows further down the ballot in Best Related.

I’ve enjoyed several works by Paul Cornell in various media, but I hadn’t heard of  his graphic novel The Witches of World War II with art by Valeria Burzo before. It appears to be an alternate history about a coven of witches trying to use their magic to stop the Nazis and World War II, though apparently it’s based an real events, because a British coven really did try to do something like this in 1940. Anyway, this sounds like a fascinating story.

Only two of the six finalists in this category were published by traditional comic publishers, Image and DC respectively. The others were published by graphic novel imprints, but then graphic storytelling is increasingly moving away towards that format.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make comics.

Best Related

I guess everybody knows my strong preference for well-researched non-fiction in this category by now, so I’m pleased that five of six finalists in this category are actually books.

The late Maureen Kincaid Speller was an always insightful critic, so I’m glad to see the collection  A Traveller in Time: The Critical Practice of Maureen Kincaid Speller by Maureen Kincaid Speller, edited by Nina Allan, on the ballot.

Volumes 2 and 3 of Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History, edited by Yang Feng, are the sequels to the first volume which was nominated in this category last year and most worthy they are, too.

All These Worlds: Reviews & Essays by Niall Harrison does exactly what it says on the tin. I haven’t this collection yet, but it’s exactly the sort of thing I like to see in this category.

A City on Mars by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith is an illustrated popular science book about how feasible it is to colonise Mars. I wasn’t familiar with this book at all, though again it absolutely fits into this category.

The Culture: The Drawings by Iain M. Banks is an art book collecting drawings that the late Iain M. Banks did of spacecraft, locations, etc… of his Culture series. Again, I had no idea that this book existed, but it’s most fitting finalist.

Finally, we have a podcast or rather videocast named Discover X nominated in this category. Discover X appears to be a collection of interviews with various SMOFs and SFF professionaly done by Tina Wong at last year’s Chengdu Worldcon.

Discover X was initially nominated in Best Fancast, but since it is a professional project, it was moved into Best Related. This isn’t the first time a professional podcast was nominated in Best Related. Writing Excuses was nominated in this category several times approx. 10 years ago.  I’m not very happy with podcasts nominated in Best Related, but since there is no professional podcast (procast?) category, there really is no other place to put them. And podcasts are among the less edgy of the many edge finalists we’ve seen in this category in recent years.

There also was a withdrawl is this category, because Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood was nominated for a viral tweet promoting the Hugo-winning novella This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, which pushed the book up various bestseller lists due to Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood’s many Twitter followers. Now the Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood affair is a perfect example of how word of mouth works and can catapult a work into the stratosphere. Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood also appears to be a great person and it was very classy of them to decline a nomination. However, this nomination also illustrates why the Best Related Work needs to be reformed and the definition tightened. Because how on Earth can you compare a single tweet, even one which sold thousands of books, with a 400 page non-fiction book?

And even if we limited Best Related to non-fiction books and long essays, we’d still get a wide range of potential finalists as this year’s ballot shows.

Diversity count: 4 women, 4 men, 2 writers/podcasters of colour, a whopping 6 international writers/podcasters.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long

Not a lot of surprises in this category, but many popular movies.

Barbie was the most popular film of 2023 and also actually good, so I’m not surprised at all to see it nominated.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was a lot of fun and was also very positively received in the SFF community, though it’s apparently considered a commercial flop due to being steamrolled the Super Mario Bros Movie, which came out around the same time. Nonetheless, it’s not surprise to see this film nominated. Barbie and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves were also both on my personal ballot.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the sequel to the 2019 Hugo winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and was also an Oscar nominee. It’s also a very good film, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated.

Nimona is an adaption of a popular graphic novel, which just missed the ballot the year it was eligible. It also was an Oscar nominee and critical success and therefore isn’t a surprising finalist.

Now I really, really dislike Poor Things and will no award it, but it was an Oscar nominee in multiple categories and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, so its nomination was probably inevitable. Though I’m glad we dodged the bullet of having Oppenheimer on the ballot as well, which wasn’t that unlikely, since we have had several science fact movies (Hidden Figures, Apollo 13, The Right Stuff) nominated in this category before.

Finally, we have The Wandering Earth II, a highly popular Chinese film based on the eponymous novel by Liu Cixin. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s not an unexpected finalist at all.

ETA: The team behind The Wandering Earth II are also clearly happy about the nomination and posted this celebratory tweet on Weibo, China’s Twitter/BlueSky/Threads equivalent.

Conspicuous by their absence are Godzilla Minus One and The Boy and the Heron. Both came out around new year in the US, so people may have been confused about their eligibility. Indeed, these two might need an eligibility extension.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short

The episode “Long, Long Time” from The Last of Us is a sweet and heartbreaking unlikely gay love story between a steroetypical prepper living his best post-apocalyptic life and a cultured urbane man who stumbled into one of his traps. “Long, Long Time” was probably the most outstanding 45 minutes of TV that aired last year and also appeared on the ballots of various mainstream awards like the Emmys or the Golden Globes. In short, this is an absolutely worthy finalist and likely winner. This episode was also on my ballot.

“Glorious Purpose”, the series finale of Loki, provided the perfect ending to Loki’s journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one was also on my ballot.

After two years of absence, Doctor Who is back on the Hugo ballot with the specials “The Giggle” and “Wild Blue Yonder”. “The Giggle” was indeed a very good episode with some great performances by David Tennant, Neil Patrick Harris, Catherine Tate and Ncuti Gatwa. I haven’t watched “Wild Blue Yonder” yet.

The various incarnations of Star Trek used to be a constant presence on the Hugo ballot, but since its return in 2017, Star Trek hasn’t gotten as much Hugo love as it once did.  This year now, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is represented twice on the ballot with what are possibly its most gimmicky episodes, the musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody” and “These Old Scientists”, which was a crossover with the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. I actually did have an episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on my ballot, though it wasn’t either of these.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make TV shows.

Best Game or Interactive Work

This is a brand-new category and one I can’t say much about, because I’m not a gamer. That said, even I have heard of Baldur’s Gate 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Star Wars: Jedi Survivor. Chants of Semnaar is also a Nebula finalist in this category and supposedly very good. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Alan Wake 2 and DREDGE at all, though one of the DREDGE developers joined the Hugo finalist Discord and seems to be a very nice person.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make games.

Best Editor Long

This is another category with the tendency to get stale, because there are only so many editors working in SFF. However, this year we have some new names on the ballot.

Lindsay Hall, who also won last year, Ruoxi Chen, Lee Harris of Tordotcom and Yao Haijun of Science Fiction World have all been on the ballot before. David Thomas Moore of Rebellion Publishing and Kelly Lonesome of Tor Nightfire are both new to this category. There also was a withdrawal by Natasha Bardon of Harper Voyager UK and Magpie Books.

ETA: Natasha Bardon has given her reasons for withdrawing at Instagram. Basically, she feels unable to accept a nomination because she fears a repetition of last year’s shenanigans. Natasha Bardon was also the editor of Babel by R.F. Kuang, the most high profile random disqualification of last year, which may well have influenced her decision.

Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 2 editors of colour, 2 international editors.

Best Editor Short

Scott H. Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld, Jonathan Strahan of Lightspeed and Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas of Uncanny have all been on the ballot in this category before.

Yang Feng of Eight Light Minutes Culture was a finalist in this category last year and return this year. Liu Weijia of Science Fiction World is a first time finalist in this category.

Diversity count: 2 women, 5 men, 2 editors of colour, 3 international editors

Best Professional Artist

We have a great mix of artists in this category, including a few new names.

For starters, I’m happy to see my friend Alyssa Winans on the ballot again. Rovina Cai is another artist who has been nominated in this category before and also won in 2021 and 2022. Galen Dara and Dan Dos Santos have also been on the ballot before, though it’s been a few years. Micaela Alcaino, a UK based artist, was a new name for me, though I’ve definitely admired her work before. Tristan Elwell is another artist I wasn’t familiar with before now, though I like his work.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 4 artists of colour, 2 international artists

Best Semiprozine

This category often consists of “the usual suspects”, which is why it’s pleasant when there has been some shake-up.

Uncanny has been on the ballot every year since its inception and has won most of them and is clearly the eight hundred pound gorilla in this category. However, they do excellent work, to.

Strange Horizons has also been nominated countless times (well, not really, but I’m not going to count how many times they’ve been on the ballot), but have yet to win. Maybe this is their year at last.

Escape Pod has been on a ballot a few times as well and is holding up the flag for audio fiction. Like Strange Horizons, they have yet to win.

FIYAH Literary Magazine is one of the most exciting new genre magazines to burst onto the scene in recent years and highly deserving 2021 winner in this category.

khoréo (apologies that WordPress butchered the title again) is another exciting newish magazine focussed on SFF from South East Asia. This is their second year on the ballot.

Finally, GigaNotoSaurus has been around for more than ten years and has been doing great work all that time, but they don’t get a lot of Hugo love, probably because they only publish a single longer story per issue. I’m really happy to see them recognised.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make magazines.

ETA 04-12-2024: Andy Rose interviews LaShawn Wanak, editor of GigaNotoSaurus, for the radio station 89.9 FM in Madison, Wisconsin.

Best Fanzine

We have several returning favourites in this category. Like all of the fan categories, it’s also a category that’s full of people I consider friends.

nerds of a feather and Journey Planet both have several nominations and one win each under their belt. I’m also happy to see my friends Olav and Amanda on the ballot again with the Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog. After a year of absence, my good pal Alasdair Stuart is also back on the ballot with The Full Lid.

Black Nerd Problems made the Hugo longlist, but just missed the shortlist several times in recent years. They do great work and I’m glad they finally made the ballot.

Idea by Geri Sullivan was completely new to me. It seems to be a PDF zine with a print edition and thus a more traditional type of fanzine than what we normally see in this category. It’s always nice to see more traditional zines make the Hugo ballot and I’m looking forward to checking them out.

Sadly, my good friends of Galactic Journey did not make the ballot this year. But then there are a lot of great fanzines out there and new blood on the ballot is always welcome. Besides, there’s always next year.

And speaking of Galactic Journey, here is my latest article for them where I look at the non-Conan works of Robert E. Howard that came back into print in the late 1960s following the runaway success of the Lancer Conan reprints.

Earlier this month, I also reviewed The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs, a delightful fantasy novel from 1969, which nowadays is mostly remembered for being one of the more obscure works in Appendix N of the original Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Handbook, as well as Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a stonecold classic, which I review from the POV of someone who knew survivors of the firebombing of Dresden on February 14, 1945.

So check out what we do at Galactic Journey and maybe consider nominating us next year.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make fanzines.

Best Fancast

Again, we have a nice mix of returning favourites and newcomers in the category.

For starters, I’m happy to see my good friends of Octothorpe, my other good friends of Worldbuilding for Masochists and yet another good friend of Hugos There on the ballot again.

The Coode Street Podcast, meanwhile, is the elder statesman in this category and has been on the ballot almost every year since its inception. Coincidentally, I was on a different podcast with Gary K. Wolfe, one half of the Coode Street team, on the day after the nominations were announced.

Publishing Rodeo is a new entry in this category and I’m excited to check them out.

Finally, we have a Chinese fancast on the ballot with Science Fiction Fans Buma. We almost would have had two more Chinese podcasts on the ballot, but Discover X and Diu Diu Sci Fi Radio were both found to be ineligible due to being professional productions. And before any conspiracy theories arise, this is perfectly normal and within the rules, because the fancast category is only for fan productions, not professional productions. Discover X was moved into Best Related, where professional non-fiction podcasts usually. Diu Diu Sci Fi Radio apparently did not have sufficient nominations to be moved into Best Related.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to produce podcasts.

ETA: Dirk Knudsen wrote a lovely profile of Seath Heasley of Hugos There for The Hillsboro Herald. That’s Hillsboro in Oregon, since there are several in the US and beyond.

Best Fan Writer

This is another category that’s close to my heart for obvious reasons and also one that’s full of friends.

After last year’s shenanigans, I’m really, really glad to see my friend Paul Weimer back on the Hugo ballot. I’m also glad to see my friends Jason Sanford, Alasdair Stuart and James Davis Nicoll nominated, since they all do great work.

All of the four above are reviewers, interviewers and non-fiction writers. However, Best Fan Writer is not limited to non-fiction writers, but also open to fiction. And hence we have two stalwarts of Twitter micro-fiction on the ballot, Bitter Karella of The Midnight Society and Örjan Westin of Micro-SFF. Coincidentally, Örjan Westin is likely also the first Swedish Hugo finalist ever.

Another good friend of mine, Camestros Felapton, received enough nominations to make the ballot but declined for reasons he explains here.

Diversity count: 1 woman, 5 men, 3 international writers

Personally, I think this is an excellent ballot and it will be very hard to rank the finalists. However, there have been some complaints that the Fan Writer category is also very male and entirely white this year. This is not wrong and indeed there are some excellent fan writers of colour out there whom I’d love to see on the ballot one day, such as Arturo Serrano, Ann Michelle Harris, Wendy Browne, Arthur Liu, RiverFlow, Juan Sanmiguel, Aigner Loren Wilson, etc…

That said, we still have a great Fan Writer ballot this year.

Best Fan Artist

This year’s Best Fan Artist ballot is very similar to last year’s. Iain J. Clark, Laya Rose, Alison Scott and España Sheriff are all back from last year. Sara Felix wasn’t on the ballot last year, but has had several previous nominations. Dante Luiz has been nominated as part of the Strange Horizons editorial collective before, but this is his first solo nomination. They’re all fine artists who do good work.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 artist of colour, 5 international artists

Lodestar

I’m not the target demographic for YA and freely admit that this is a category I often have issues with – such as the year when three books on the ballot had the exact same character set-up and plot, only set in different worlds, and it wasn’t even that exciting the first time around. Or the year (may have been the same year) where my late Mom had a Worldcon membership and exclaimed in exasperation after trying to make her way through the Lodestar finalists, “I pity the poor kids who have to read this stuff.” My answer was, “Mom, the kids enjoy those books. You’re over seventy and obviously not the target audience.”

That said, I’m actually pleased with this year’s Lodestar ballot, since the books appear to be an interesting and also diverse bunch. Plus, I have enjoyed previous works by several of the authors.

Promises Stronger than Darkness by Charlie Jane Anders is the third book in her Unstoppable series. The first two books in the series were also nominated for the Lodestar and enjoyed them both.

Frances Hardinge is one of the comparatively few YA authors whose books I unreservedly enjoy, so I’m glad to see Unraveller nominated, especially after it was disqualified last year due to confusion about the publication date. This was also on my personal ballot.

Naomi Kritzer makes her third appearance on this year’s Hugo and not-technically-a-Hugo ballot with Liberty’s Daughter. I haven’t read this book yet, but I enjoyed Naomi Kritzer’s previous CatNet YA novels.

Garth Nix is a big name in YA and middle grade fiction, but The Sinister Booksellers of Bath is his first appearance on the Hugo/Lodestar ballot. It sounds interesting and has a great title, so I look forward to checking it out.

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose got a lot of buzz last year. I haven’t read, but again I look forward to checking it out.

Abeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark completely escaped my notice, though I have enjoyed much of Clark’s adult fiction and look forward to reading it.

There are some complaints that several books on the Lodestar ballot are not technically YA. Abeni’s Song is apparently considered middle grade, while two others are not explicitly marketed as YA.

However, the ethos behind the Hugos and also the not-technically-a-Hugo awards has always been that the nominators determine what goes into which category and that the administrator honours this decision, unless it directly clashes with the rules. However, the WSFS constitution does not actually define what counts as YA. So books that feel like YA due to the content and the age and behaviour of the characters may be nominated for the Lodestar, even if they are not explicitly marketed as YA. This is what happened with Naomi Novik’s Scholomance books. They may not be marketed as YA, but they sure as hell feel like it. And since the Hugos have no middle grade category, middle grade books go into the Lodestar as well.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 2 authors of colour, 2 international authors

Astounding

Ai Jiang burst onto the scene in the past years and is also a finalist for Best Novelette this year, so it’s no surprise to see her on the ballot.

I really enjoyed Hannah Kaner’s debut novel Godkiller, so I’m glad to see her nominated for the Astounding Award.

Sunyi Dean’s debut novel The Book Eaters certainly made a splash in 2022 and I’m happy to see her on the ballot. Sunyi Dean is also a finalist for Best Fancast with her co-host.

The Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu is part of the mini-trend of science fiction mysteries as well as a Hamlet adaptation and got a lot of buzz last year. I enjoyed the novel a lot.

Moniquill Blackgoose is a Lodestar finalist this year and reappears in the other not-technically-a-Hugo category, the Astounding Award. There were some questions regarding her eligibility, since Moniquill Blackgoose had a quite prolific career writing SFF erotica under another name going back several years. However, the Astounding rules specify a certain payment and print run/sales threshold, otherwise even a poem or a short story printed in a high school paper would count towards Astounding eligibility. Moniquill Blackgoose’s previous publications did not meet that threshold according to this comment by the Glasgow Hugo team at File 770.  The Compton Crook apparently has different rules and decided that Moniquill Blackgoose was not eligible.

Finally, another one of last year’s random disqualified nominees Xiran Jay Zhao makes an appearance on the ballot, even though 2023 was theoretically their second and last of Astounding eligibility. However, Dell Magazines, who sponsors the award, have decided to extend their eligiblity by one year due to Xiran Jay Zhao being unfairly denied their deserved spot on the ballot last year.

This is one time where the fact that the Astounding Award (and the Lodestar) are not technically Hugo Awards has a positive effect. For while Hugo eligiblity can and has been extended, e.g. for movies which played at a few festivals but did not get a wide theatrical release until the following year, this decision would have to be made at last year’s WSFS Business Meeting in Chengdu, when we did not yet know about the random disqualifications Dell Magazines, however, could unilaterally decide to extend Zhao’s eligibility, because the Astounding is their award and not beholden to WSFS rules.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 non-binary, 5 authors of colour, 4 international authors

***

And that’s it for the 2024 Hugo finalists. Personally, I think it’s a very good ballot with comparatively few finalists which are not to my taste. And every year, there are finalists which are not to my taste.

I’m also pleased to see several Chinese works make the ballot, though it remains to be seen whether this is a transitory phenomenon or whether we will see more Chinese participation and more international participation in the Hugos in general going forward. Because there is a whole world of wonderful SFF out there that’s not currently available in English.

So far, I haven’t seen a lot of Hugo finalist commentary around the web. Camestros Felapton has a few comments on the Hugo finalists and there’s also some discussion going on in the comments.

An SFF writer named A.P. Howell also comments on the 2024 Hugo finalists and is pleased that Xiran Jay Zhao had their Astounding eligibility extended by another year.  Nonetheless, Howell still doesn’t trust the Hugos very much after last year’s scandal, which is of course her good right.

That said, no one who was part of last year’s Hugo team is involved with this year’s Hugos and they will very likely never be involved with the Hugos again. And, as I’ve said before, the reason this scandal came to light at all is because the Hugos are one of the most transparent awards in existence.

Meanwhile, e.g. the administrators of the Dragon Awards, administrators whose identities are unknown, have the right to determine finalists without paying any heed to the actual nominations according to the rules of their award. I’m not saying that they do this, but they absolutely have the right. The Dragon Awards have also never released exact voting and participation numbers. And this is just one example. Very few awards are as transparent as the Hugo and yet you have people screaming that the Hugos are finished and that they will never trust them again (including one person who was happy enough to accept a Hugo nomination barely a month after they declared the Hugos tainted forever), when other awards could be doing similar shenanigans behind the scenes (again, I’m not saying that they are – most likely they’re not) and no one would ever know.

ETA 04-01-2024: Best Fan Writer finalist Jason Sanford weighs in on the 2024 Hugo finalist announcement as well as the lingering effects of last year’s scandal in his latest Genre Grapevine column.

ETA 04-07-2024: 2023 Hugo winner for Best Fan Writer Chris M. Barkley shares his thoughts on the 2024 Hugo finalists at File 770.

ETA 04-01-2024: Best Novel finalist John Scalzi comments on finding himself a Hugo finalist again for Starter Villain and also comments on Natasha Bardon’s reasons for declining a Best Editor nomination. John Scalzi also points out that even though he was the one who criticised announcing the Hugo finalists over the Easter weekend, he can understand why it was done on Good Friday this year.

ETA 04-01-2024: Best Fanzine finalist nerds of a feather have also released a statement about their Hugo nomination in the light of what happened last year.

ETA 04-02-2024: At Women Write About Comics (which would be a great Best Fanzine finalist – hint, hint), Doris V. Sutherland weighs in on the 2024 Hugo finalist announcement and also recaps the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal for those who missed it.

Talking of the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal, a certain person named Dave has been refused a membership to Levitation, the 2024 Eastercon in Telford, UK, and was escorted off the premises by security after they refused to honour this decision con committee. A second person of controversial interest was allowed to remain under certain conditions. We do not know who this person is, but we suspect their first name may be Ben. I should not feel Schadenfreude at this, but I do.

I’ll keep the comments open for now, but if things get rude or people start fighting each other, I reserve the right to close them.

*I define “international” as a writer/creator living outside the US. If we include writers who are first or second generation immigrants, there would be several more. I’ve also stopped counting LGBTQ+ finalists for the diversity count, because it’s very difficult to determine, since not everybody is out. Apologies if I’ve accidentally misgendered anybody.

 

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