The Power of Grayskull – Some Reflections on Part 2 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation

The second half of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Kevin Smith’s continuation of the original cartoon from the 1980s, just became available and I opted to watch that over the new Hawkeye show (which I will watch eventually) and Star Trek Discovery (which is apparently available in Europe now, though I still haven’t figured out how), because I enjoyed the first half a lot more than I expected. Besides, part 1 ended on one hell of a cliffhanger, so of course I wanted to know how Teela, Andra, Duncan and the rest of gang are going to get out of that one.

You can read my take on part 1 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation here, by the way.

He-Man, Teela and Battlecat

Reunited at last: He-Man, Teela and Battlecat

Warning: Spoilers under the cut!

When we last saw our intrepid heroes, they had managed to reforge the Sword of Power – costing the lives of Orko and Roboto – and restore magic to Eternia, but Adam got stabbed and possibly killed for the second time in five episodes, while Skeletor got hold of the Sword of Power and is now Super-Skeletor or Skelegod, as he now calls himself. Like I said, that’s a one hell of a cliffhanger.

Instead of immediately picking up where part 1 left of, part 2 starts with a domestic idyll of sorts featuring a young Duncan, the soon-to-be Sorceress and baby Teela. And yes, Duncan and the Sorceress are absolutely a couple. Indeed, part 1 (which I rewatched before digging into part 2) hinted at this and makes it very clear that Duncan is in love with the Sorceress. It’s not entirely clear if Duncan is Teela’s biological father, but I would bet that he is. The idyll of this little family is shortlived, however, for the soon-to-be Sorceress draws a magical symbol on the forehead of Baby Teela, which – as she explains – will help her when she needs it most. Then she hugs Duncan and descends into the mythical waters underneath Castle Greyskull to become the Sorceress (who is tethered to the Castle and can never leave it in human form), leaving Duncan literally holding the baby.

This is a little different from the way the story was depicted in the original cartoon, where the Sorceress was already the Sorceress when she had Teela and wound up leaving her baby with Duncan after Duncan helped her save Baby Teela from some villain (I think Mer-Man). Though this version of a woman leaving her partner and newborn baby to fulfill a mythic duty that she believes requires her to abandon all her previous attachments makes a lot more sense than what the original cartoon served up, where the Sorceress thinks that a falcon’s nest on a mountain top is a really great place to raise a human baby rather than the impregnable magical fortress where she lives in her human form. Just as it makes more sense to leave your baby with your partner than with a random soldier who just happens to drop by on the day the Mer-people decide that they want some roasted baby for lunch.

The story then jumps into the present where we see the aged and partially repowered Sorceress doing her best to hold off Skeletor who has just gained the ultimate power, captured Teela, Andra and Duncan and stabbed Adam through the chest. However, the Sorceress is not yet fully repowered and not strong enough to hold off Skeletor for long. And everybody else is out of commission.

In the end, it is the mortally wounded Adam who gets up and manages to distract Skeletor long enough by reciting the famous opening narration of the original cartoon. “I am Adam, Prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull…” That opening narration was always faintly absurd – whom exactly is Adam talking to? – but also did a really good job in summing up the premise of the show and telling us everything we need to know. But those words have rarely meant as much as here, where a powerless and mortally wounded young man hurls them into the face of his mortal enemy (who has just acquired godlike powers) in pure defiance.

By the time Adam gets to “…and this is Cringer, my fearless friend…”, who jumps into the fray but Cringer. Yes, the perpetually scared green and orange tiger gets to save the day and this isn’t even the only time this happens in part 2. Cringer did have his occasional moments of reluctant heroism in the original series, but he really gets to be a hero in his own right here and I for one loved it.

For obvious reasons – i.e. being dead – Adam and Cringer didn’t get a lot to do in the first half, but part 2 really gives both of them a chance to shine without being overshadowed by their alter-egos He-Man and Battlecat. Because let’s face it, the original cartoon always gave short shrift Adam, who – with a few exceptions where he was separated from his sword and could not transform – was only ever around to turn into He-Man. Cringer got more screentime, though he was mostly used as comic relief.

This is unfair, because while Adam may not be physically strong, he is incredibly brave and a good person in his own right, only that he is perpetually underestimated by everyone around him, particularly his own father. And yes, Masters of the Universe Revelation goes into this conflict, which always simmered under the surface in the original cartoon and occasionally broke out into the open. For example, I recall one episode where Adam doesn’t transform into He-Man in time, because he wants to show his father that he can be a hero as Adam, too. But of course it all goes wrong and Randor gets kidnapped. As for Cringer, he may be always terrified, but he’s also the most loyal friend anybody can ask for. And unlike Adam, who freely decides to become He-Man, poor Cringer is drafted into this war against his will.

Masters of the Universe Revelation gives both Adam and Cringer the chance to show who they are without the power of Grayskull. Especially since the show also repeatedly makes it clear that Adam sees himself as Adam first and not as He-Man. For example, when Adam is dead and briefly in Preternia – Eternia’s version of Paradise/Valhalla, where all the great heroes go – he is the only one who chooses to be in his original skinny body rather than in his musclebound form. He also tells Skeletor that he is Adam, not He-Man. Plus, he always turns back into Adam once the crisis du jour is over, while the others who will wield the sword in the course of part 2 just permanently remain in their overpowered form.

Cringer’s heroic distraction gives everybody the chance to free themselves, though they’re still outnumbered. So Duncan tells Teela, Andra, Cringer and Adam to get the hell out of there, while he holds off Skeletor. Skeletor, however, snaps Duncan’s sword in half and also telekinetically locks the doors, trapping everybody inside the castle. So the Sorceress uses the last of her power to teleport Teela, Andra, Cringer and Adam to safety. She tries to teleport Duncan out as well, but Evil-Lyn grabs him, so he remains behind to watch helplessly as Skeletor stabs the now completely powerless Sorceress through the chest. All Duncan can do is to hold the woman he loves – and the woman he never got to be with – in his arms as she dies. Skeletor, being the total jerk that he is, makes a stupid quip and has Duncan thrown in the dungeon, though Evil-Lyn doesn’t seem to be happy with all of this, especially since the murder of the Sorceress was utterly unnecessary, because she wasn’t a threat at this point. Evil-Lyn also seems to be struck by the tenderness and obvious love between Duncan and the Sorceress, especially since her own relationship with Skeletor is far from loving and actually abusive. And yes, the show goes into this as well.

Duncan is another character who finally gets his due in Masters of the Universe Revelation. Of course, Duncan got plenty of screentime in the original cartoon. He was in almost every episode and always fought by He-Man’s side and his inventions and gadgets saved the day more than once. But we – or at least I – never really appreciated Duncan. This was probably because he was a parent figure and parent figures just aren’t very interesting, when you’re a kid. Though US cartoons of the 1980s in general actually featured a lot of positive portrayals of parenthood – complete disasters and Darth Vader Parenthood Award candidates are rare.

And Duncan is one hell of a parent figure. He’s a single Dad who still manages to raise Teela while working not one but two very demanding jobs (military commander and weapons master/tech whiz) and basically keeping Eternia running (cause we all know that Randor couldn’t rule his way out of a paperbag), while his partner the Sorceress literally chose career over family. But Duncan isn’t just Teela’s Dad – and he’s a very good father – he’s a parent figure for everybody around him.

Duncan is more of a father to Adam than Randor ever was, which the original cartoon makes pretty clear. Because Adam is always hanging out with Duncan and Teela, either in Duncan’s workshop or testing Duncan’s latest inventions. When there’s a problem, Duncan is the one Adam turns to, not his parents. Duncan is also the person who occasionally has a word of praise or a pat on the shoulder for Adam, something he never gets from his father. And the few flashbacks we get of Adam’s childhood and youth before he was He-Man in the original cartoon show him with Duncan, too, rather than with his parents. Plus, Duncan is one of the very few people who know that Adam is He-Man, probably because he was the first person Adam turned to after he transformed for the first time. This may be part of the reason why Randor lashes out at Duncan in particular after Adam’s death. Because Adam confided in Duncan and not in his own father.

Cringer comes as part and parcel with Adam and there is an episode of the original cartoon where little Adam finds an orphaned and injured tiger cub, rescues him and immediately takes him to Duncan to nurse him back to health, so Duncan was a parent stand-in for Cringer, too. And while Orko may not be a child, he is very much like one and Duncan adopts him as well. Plus, Duncan builds Roboto and winds up basically adopting Andra in the course of the series. Duncan even tries to help a Cthulhu-type tentacle creature he meets when he’s locked up in the dungeons of Castle Grayskull (likely a reference to the original playset from the 1980s, which had a sticker of tentacled monsters trying to escape the dungeon), even though that creature initially wants to eat him. Furthermore, Duncan spends decades protecting the woman who left him for her mystical destiny and keeps Eternia running, while Randor sits on his throne looking regal. So what if he is occasionally grumpy, when Adam, Teela or Orko don’t listen to him and get themselves into trouble again? Duncan is not just a hero, the man is a damned saint.

The Sorceress managed to use the bit of power she had left to teleport Teela, Andra, Cringer and Adam to the relative safety of the royal palace. But Adam is still dying, so Teela uses the powers she inherited from her mother – the powers she usually denies – to heal Adam. They find the palace and the city largely empty. Randor, Marlena and most of the inhabitants wisely evacuated, once they realised that there was trouble at Castle Grayskull again, leaving only Fisto and Clamp-Champ to hold the fort. The reunion is only shortlived, however, because Skeletor appears and uses a corrosive mist to turn the remaining inhabitants of the city into skeletal zombie monsters. Our heroes flee into the palace, but Fisto and Clamp-Champ are both affected by the mist – while protecting Adam, who simply can’t run as fast as Teela or Andra, especially not after almost dying for the second time in six episodes – and turn into skeletal zombies who attack our heroes, so they’re forced to kill Fisto and Clamp-Champ. Adam tries to find solace in the fact that since Fisto and Clamp-Champ were both great heroes in life, they will go to Preternia. But then Skeletor shows up, tells Adam that he ripped Fisto’s and Clamp-Champ’s souls from their bodies – represented by two small flames in Skeletor’s hand – and then just snuffs them out.

That’s three characters important enough to get action figures – the Sorceress, Fisto and Clamp-Champ – killed in a single episode. And unlike some others who die, they don’t come back. And even though I rarely cry at movies or TV shows, I got misty-eyed over every single one of those deaths. Getting misty-eyed over the Sorceress makes sense – her death is set up to punch you in the feels. But crying over Fisto and Clamp-Champ, two flat out absurd characters I never really cared about (and I’m pretty sure Fisto’s main raison d’etre is to allow the writers to sneak fisting jokes in a kids’ show)? That surprised the hell out of me.

In my reviews of Foundation, I have complained a lot about the screentime that show spends on debating whether clones and robots have souls, something which is never even addressed in the original books and honestly doesn’t matter. However, the fact that people (and human animal hybrids) definitely have souls in Masters of the Universe: Revelation doesn’t bother me, because unlike Foundation, Eternia is a fantasy world with its own rules. And in Eternia, there is an afterlife in Preternia (for great heroes) and Subternia (for everybody else), both of which are concrete realms that our heroes visited during the course of the series. And Skeletor casually snuffing out the souls and denying Fisto and Clamp-Champ their culture’s version of Valhalla is just cruel and hits you in the feels, even if it doesn’t make the characters any less absurd. Besides, Skeletor not only zombified Fisto and Clamp-Champ, he did the same to every inhabitant of the city of Eternos who did not evacuate in time. In short, Skeletor just murdered a shitload of people and ripped out their souls.

In my discussion of part 1, I mentioned that the Masters of the Universe – both the original and Revelation – borrows a lot of characters, tropes, creatures, locations and even plots from the sword and sorcery genre and waters them down a bit to make them more kid-friendly. And so a lot of the Masters of the Universe characters seenm to be modelled on classic sword and sorcery characters. However, I forgot to mention Fisto, who with his red beard and red hair and mighty first would be a deadringer for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd or Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane. And considering Fisto starts out as a villain and loner before he is reformed, I’d almost say that he is a kid-friendly take on the very much not kid-friendly Kane. As for Skeletor ripping out their souls, the Seers on Mount Yimsha do the same to the King of Vendya in the Conan story “People of the Black Circle”. As a fate, it’s so horrible that the King begs his sister to kill him, before his soul can be stolen again.

Teela, Andra, Adam and Cringer try their best to fight Skeletor, but they have no chance and so Skeletor knocks them all out and proceeds to give one of his patented villain monologues, complete with crackling laughter. Mark Hamill makes a great Skeletor, by the way – another supervillain role that would make Darth Vader misty-eyed with fatherly pride.

And once again it’s Adam who gets up and laughs in Skeletor’s face, interrupting his crazed supervillain monologue. Did I mention that Adam gets to be incredibly brave in part 2? Adam tells Skeletor that it’s not the sword that turned him into He-Man – and it should be noted that Skeletor is more than just a little obsessed with He-Man. The sword is just a conduit, but the spark is in Adam and has always been. To prove his point, Adam holds up his hand and calls the power without the sword as a modulator.

The results are spectacular, because Adam turns into an even more muscular, grunting and non-verbal version of He-Man. The character is called Savage He-Man in the closing credits, though he’s basically a white and blond version of the Hulk. Savage He-Man now proceeds to literally beat the shit out of Skeletor and it’s glorious, because Skeletor – who has just flat out murdered the Sorceress, Fisto and Clamp-Champ and countless Eternian citizens and snuffed out their souls, too – so has it coming.

However, Savage He-Man quickly turns out to be more problem than solution. For starters, he doesn’t have an off-switch. Adam always transformed back, when He-Man was no longer needed. Savage He-Man doesn’t. He just keeps pummelling Skeletor, destroying the city in the process. And when Teela uses her newfound powers to teleport Andra, Cringer, Adam and herself to a place called the Mystic Forest, Savage He-Man just keeps on going, smashing through trees, rocks and an unfortunate manticore at one point.

Now He-Man doesn’t kill. Partly, that’s due to the fact that the good guys in US kids’ cartoons don’t kill – period. In the 1960s and before, you occasionally see the good guys in American cartoons killing someone in self-defence, e.g. Race Bannon shoots a couple of people in the original Jonny Quest, but US broadcast TV regulation changes in the late 1960s made that sort of thing anathema. I’ve read somewhere that those regulation changes were a response to the murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968, which would be a typical case of media scapegoating and blind actionism, because the killers of Kennedy and King were very obviously not inspired by a Jonny Quest cartoon of all things.

So yes, He-Man never killed anybody in the original cartoons, because the guidelines wouldn’t let him. And in fact that’s part of the reason why the deaths of the Sorceress, Fisto and Clamp-Champ are so shocking – because that sort of thing simply isn’t supposed to happen in a US kids’ cartoon, where no one is ever really dead. However, He-Man is also philosophically opposed to killing and says so in the dialogue several times. He saves monsters he just fought and even rescues Skeletor on occasion. And when Skeletor tricks He-Man into believing that he’s accidentally killed someone, Adam promptly vows never to become He-Man again.

Therefore, seeing Savage He-Man with blood dripping from his hands is highly disturbing, because again this is something that’s not supposed to happen. Teela refuses to believe that Adam is just gone and this mindless raging being is all that’s left of her friend, so – taking a cue from Black Widow in the Avengers – she tries to calm Savage He-Man down and get him to turn back into Adam. This seems to go well, until Teela tells Adam that she always believed in him, even if his father didn’t. This is a big mistake, because Savage He-Man hurts Teela – something we know Adam would never do – and then takes off. Savage He-Man is pure anger and rage, untempered by the sword or morality, and he’s just found a new outlet for his anger: King Randor.

As I’ve said above, the conflict between Adam and his father was always simmering under the surface in the original cartoons, since whenever we saw Randor, he inevitably found something to criticise about Adam, even though there’s really nothing wrong with Adam. He’s a good person and will make a good king one day. And in Revelation, the last thing Randor said to Adam before Adam heroically sacrificed himself to save Eternia – apart from “Close the door” – is that Adam has never made him proud, which is just a terrible thing to say to your kid. The relationship between Adam and his father is also distant in other ways. The original cartoon shows Duncan and Teela hugging several times – and they also hug several times in Revelation – but Randor never hugs Adam. The only one who hugs Adam is Cringer and most of the time, that’s just because he’s terrified.

The original cartoon rarely goes into how Adam feels about all this, though we get occasional glimpses that Adam wants to make his father proud and is frustrated that he can’t. Revelation finally brings the conflict between Adam and his father into the open and shows that Adam is furious that his father just won’t see him for who he is. I think a lot of viewers can sympathise with this, because many of us will have parents who are disappointed that we are not the people they want us to be while failing to recognise the people that we are. This frustration is even more poignant here, because Randor constantly complains that Adam is not brave and accomplished and princely enough, when he’s really the biggest damn hero on Eternia. Compare that to Duncan who tells Evil-Lyn that Adam – yes, Adam, not He-Man – is the bravest man he knows. So yes, Adam has every reason to be angry at his father. However, as Savage He-Man anger is all that propells him.

And so Savage He-Man bursts into a camp near a mountain fortress protected by mythical energy, whence Randor, Marlena and the Eternian army fled. This hideout in the mountains reminded me of the Golamira Mountains, where many an Aquilonian King has made their last stand and where Conan fights the forces of Valerius, Amalric and Tarascus in The Hour of the Dragon. The Eternian guards of course have no idea what is happening, when a blonde, half-naked mountain of muscle bursts into their camp and proceeds to beat them up. However, there are a lot of Eternian guards, so they manage to restrain Savage He-Man with ropes and chains, while Teela, Cringer and Andra race down the mountain to explain that everything is a terrible mistake. This is when Randor steps out of his tent and does something which redeems him for his flat-out shitty behaviour in part 1 of Revelation.

He tells his guards to stand down, looks Savage He-Man in the eyes and recognises that his son is somewhere in there, which is remarkable, considering he never recognised He-Man as Adam, even though He-Man looks a lot more like Adam than the Savage version does. And then Randor tells Adam everything he should have told him years ago, that he loves him and misses him and is proud of him. Yes, Randor actually acknowledges that he was pretty crap as a father, which is not something you see a lot of, neither in cartoons nor elsewhere. It works, too, because Savage He-Man turns back into Adam who finally gets the hug from his father that he’s waited for for so long. And because Randor is in the mood, he hugs Teela, too, and makes Andra a lieutenant in the royal guard.

Luke Y. Thompson, who reviewed Part 2 of Masters of the Universe: Revelations for a site called SuperHeroHype, complains about too much character monologuing and declares that we really don’t need to hear Randor going on about his failures as a father. He’s right that the viewers don’t need to hear it, but Adam does.

But even though Adam is reunited with his family, everything is not fine. The grief over losing their son has driven a wedge between Randor and Marlena and they’re on the verge of breaking up. This rings true emotionally, since couples often break up over losing a child. And if Adora exists in this timeline (we know Hordak exists), then Randor and Marlena have lost not one but two children.

Adam is understadably horrified. After all, he only kept his double life a secret to keep the people he loved safe and instead he managed to wreck his parents’ marriage, drove Teela and Duncan apart and broke up his family in general. So Adam vows that there will be no more secrets and does what someone should have done a long time ago, tell Teela that the Sorceress is her mother. However, Teela has already figured that out for herself. She also forgives Adam, though he did hurt her.

Meanwhile, Skeletor is not at all happy that He-Man has escaped and beaten the everloving shit out of him. He’s also so obsessed with finding out just how Adam can transform without the Sword of Power that he not only forgets to actually rule Eternia and do something with the power he’s finally won after all those years, but also takes out his frustrations on his henchpeople, as usual. Once more, Evil-Lyn – who is now the new Sorceress, complete with bat headdress and a sexy goth outfit – gets the brunt of it.

In part one, Evil-Lyn worked with Teela, Andra and Orko to save Eternia and was well on the path to redemption. She had no idea that Skeletor had hitched a ride in her staff and was feeding on her lifeforce to restore himself. And now Skeletor is back and finally got everything he ever wanted and still treats everyone around him, including Evil-Lyn, like crap. Both Beast-Man (who loves her) and Duncan tell Evil-Lyn that Skeletor is an abuser, that she should leave him and that as the new Sorceress, she is the one who has the power, not Skeletor. They’re absolutely right, because Skeletor is a bully and an abuser. In the original cartoons, his male henchmen usually got the brunt of it – and it’s notable that none of them like Skeletor – but here Evil-Lyn is Skeletor’s primary victim. However, she also feels indebted to him, because long ago Skeletor saved her from a life of poverty and abuse. I don’t think Evil-Lyn ever got any backstory in the original series, but she gets one here. Turns out she was a street urchin, who ran away from home, when her starving parents wanted to eat her – and how disturbing is it that there are people in Eternia who are so poor that they eat their own children – and became a pickpocket, when Skeletor found her. In part 1, Orko told Evil-Lyn that no one is born evil and indeed her life could have gone quite differently, if someone else rather than Skeletor had found her.

Hands up, who expected a discussion of the dynamics of domestic abuse from a He-Man cartoon of all things? Nope, me neither. However, shocked awake by Duncan and Beast-Man, Evil-Lyn decides to deal with Skeletor before a rare cosmic alignment occurs that will make him even more powerful. So Evil-Lyn seduces Skeletor, at one point straddling him on the throne of Castle Greyskull, and persuades him to power down, because in his overpowered form he might accidentally kill her. Yes, there is a hinted at sex scene, complete with boner jokes (!), in a He-Man cartoon of all things. And no, I have no idea how Skeletor can even have sex, considering that he is a skeleton and none of the relevant equipment has bones. We don’t find out either, because once Evil-Lyn has Skeletor powered down and distracted, she grabs hold of the Sword of Power, holds it aloft and says the magic words.

Now at first glance, a super-powered (and super-muscular) Evil-Lyn seems infinitely preferable to a super-powered Skeletor, because Evil-Lyn is actually intelligent and also redeemable, as Part 1 has shown. In practice, however, super-powered Evil-Lyn turns out to be a much bigger problem than Skeletor. Because even in his godlike form, Skeletor was still way too petty and obsessed with He-Man to do as much harm as he could have done otherwise (and Skeletor did a lot of harm).

Evil-Lyn, however, is much more focussed. She’s also barking mad, ever since Skeletor showed her the universe coming into alignment and Evil-Lyn realised how insignificant and alone she is in the face of the sheer scale of the cosmos. She also got a vision of Zoar – the falcon that was the avatar of the Sorceress in the original cartoon and is apparently the deity of the Eternians – getting killed by a snake in prehistoric times. So in short, as far as Evil-Lyn is concerned, God is dead and the universe doesn’t care. Evil-Lyn’s experience is very much the plot of a Lovecraft story: the protagonist realises how small and insignificant they are and how vast and uncaring the cosmos is and promptly goes mad. But while Lovecraft’s protagonists curl up sobbing in the fetal position, Evil-Lyn decides to do something about the vast uncaring cosmos. If God is dead, the universe doesn’t care, nothing matters and everybody is alone anyway, then Evil-Lyn will simply destroy the universe and put everybody out of their misery. And just to show everybody that she means business, she destroys Preternia, the paradise/Valhalla equivalent.

In many ways, Evil-Lyn reminds me here of a certain kind of very angry atheist who feels the need to kill off the God they claim not to believe in. When these angry atheists happen to be writers, artists or filmmakers, you get stories about killing God, Jesus or at the very least an angel. Preacher – of which showrunner Kevin Smith is a big fan – is the most famous example, but there are many others. Unfortunately, Evil-Lyn happens to be an all powerful being, so she not only destroys the equivalent of Valhalla/Paradise, taking away the Eternians’ hope for an afterlife, but wants to destroy the whole universe as well. “There, take that, deity I don’t believe in.”

ETA: io9 reviewer Rob Bricken complains about the inconsistency of the relative power levels of He-Man compared to Skelegod and Evil-Lyn in her superpowered form (the credits call her God-Lyn), but I don’t think that’s fair. For starters, it’s quite possible that Adam would have the same power at his disposal as Skeletor and Evil-Lyn, but just chooses not to use it. After all, I cannot imagine a scenario where Adam would want to rip out someone’s soul or destroy the universe. It’s also possible that Skeletor and Evil-Lyn are more powerful because of the approaching universal conjunction. Besides, He-Man is way more powerful than a normal superhero at times. In the original cartoon, we’ve seen him punch a moon at one point. He can also fly in space without a spacesuit.

Absolutely everybody agrees that Evil-Lyn must be stopped. He-Man would be the obvious choice to stop her, but Adam doesn’t dare to transform without the sword, because the last time he tried that, he almost killed his father. No, the only way to stop Evil-Lyn is if all Eternians fight together. So Teela uses her newfound powers to send out a psychic call to arms, though she has no idea, if anybody heard her.

Meanwhile, the last person anybody expected shows up at the camp to offer their help, namely Skeletor. And so we get a temporary alliance between He-Man (as Adam) and Skeletor that we never thought we’d ever see. But even Skeletor allying with the good guys is not enough, because Evil-Lyn doesn’t just have the power of the sword, she also has the power of the Sorceress. And the only way to stop one Sorceress is with another.

So Adam, Skeletor, Cringer and Skeletor’s pet panther Panthor head for Castle Grayskull to distract Evil-Lyn, while Andra and Teela sneak in through the sewers, so Teela can find the magical well and become the Sorceress, even though it means giving up her past life.

Adam, Skeletor and their respective pets’ confrontation with Evil-Lyn quickly turns into a free-for-all with Evil-Lyn and the faithful Beast-Man (who gets turned into the equivalent of Battlecat at one point) versus Skeletor, Adam, Cringer and Panthor. And though they all fight valiantly, Cringer taking on Beast-Man, while a depowered Adam fences with Evil-Lyn, they are no match for her.

Meanwhile, outside the castle, the Eternian army is gathering, joined by all the citizens of Eternia who responded to Teela’s call. The winged people, the bee people and even Mer-Man’s fish people, who normally are hostile, show up as well. Evil-Lyn, meanwhile, calls forth all the shadow monsters from Subternia along with their leader Scareglow, which leads to a huge fight outside the Castle as well.

While all this is going on, Teela and Andra find themselves faced with some of the more offbeat Masters of the Universe characters like Clawful, the lobster man, Goat-Man and Pig-Boy. Duncan, who has broken out of his dungeon to join the fight, explicitly says they’re the bottom of the barrel and he’s right. Because Masters of the Universe came up with a lot of very strange characters towards the end, particularly among Skeletor’s henchpeople. And I love the fact that we get to see even those flat-out absurd characters – Stinkor, the skunk creature which smells of patchouli (what was it with smelly toys in the 1980s?) also shows up in part 1. Whatever your favourite Master of the Universe character was, they probably appear in Revelation.  Even if you happened to be the only fan of Goat-Man and Pig Boy or Stinkor in the universe.

Teela and Duncan share one last big hug, then Duncan and Andra escape to join the battle going on outside, while Teela goes to meet her destiny. At the magical well, she meets the ghost of her mother who tells Teela that she loves her and that she was with her in spirit every moment of her life, but also warns her that once she steps into the water to become the Sorceress, she will have to give up everything and everybody she loves. Teela, however, isn’t having any of that. Yes, she is willing to embrace the abilities she has suppressed all her life, but she’s not giving up her friends and family, because they are what give her strength.

The usual suspects who already hate the fact that Masters of the Universe: Revelation focusses more on other characters, including Teela, than on He-Man will of course cry that Teela is a Mary Sue, since she gets to have her cake and eat it, too. However, the different ways in which the Sorceress and Teela balance their powers and the ones they love are also a commentary on different types of feminism. The Sorceress decides to forsake love and family for her career like many second wave feminists did (and remember that the original cartoon came out in the early 1980s, when the second wave feminists were finally hitting and sometimes breaking through the glass ceiling). Meanwhile, her daughter Teela is the contemporary feminist who tries to combine career and family and have it all. And for Teela, it works out.

As for those who complain that Teela getting to be the Sorceress, while also being able to leave Castle Grayskull violates “the rules”, those rules were always very fuzzy and the original cartoons contradicted themselves several times. Besides, while I’m sure the Sorceress believes that she had to give up her partner and child to gain her powers, that’s not necessarily true. We have only the word of the Sorceress that she can’t leave the Castle in human form. Besides, I think that the Sorceress could have made balancing her duties with having a family work. There was absolutely nothing stopping her from keeping her daughter with her – and an impregnable magical fortress is as safe a place for a kid as the royal palace which is attacked every other episode.  As for Duncan, I’m pretty sure he would have given up his career to stay with her. And besides, he probably dropped by a lot for some quality time anyway.

So Teela becomes the new Sorceress and gets a new costume that is a mix of her classic costume and her mother’s outfit. And for those who didn’t like her new haircut, the transformation also instantly makes her hair grow long again.

And then we get the final battle of Teela versus Evil-Lyn, law versus chaos, love versus anger and loneliness, faith versus atheism, Sorceress versus Sorceress. The law versus chaos angle, which is actually spelled out in the dialogue , comes of course from Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, though Moorcock claims he borrowed it, minus the religion, from Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions. Just as the idea of a series of champions wielding the sword of power and defending Eternia is borrowed from Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. And of course, the conflict of barbarism versus civilisation that shows up in Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Kull and Bran Mal Morn stories lies at the heart of it all.

In part 1, Teela spent several episodes working with Evil-Lyn to save Eternia, so she knows that Evil-Lyn is capable of good and tries to bring that part out in her again. She also shows Evil-Lyn that to Teela, who has friends, family and people she loves, the universe is not lonely and uncaring. And finally, she shows her how the prehistoric “death of the falcon god” scenario went on, namely that the dead god was reborn from the waters and empowered the first Sorceress. God is not dead, after all, but just transformed.

This finally convinces Evil-Lyn to power down, so Adam finally gets his sword back and transforms into He-Man. He also transforms Cringer into Battlecat (and for once Cringer does not complain) and – to everybody’s surprise – Skeletor into Skelegod. Because unlike Skeletor, Adam is not a petty arsehole and perfectly willing to share the power and the glory.

Then He-Man proceeds to mop up the battlefield and generally be awesome. Though the rest of Eternia doesn’t do too badly either. Randor and Duncan wind up fighting back to back in spite of their differences. Marlena, who used to be a NASA astronaut before she crashlanded on Eternia and wound up marrying Randor, leads the air assault. Talking of Marlena, her story is actually a classic sword and planet tale, only that in classic sword and planet stories, the Earthperson who wound up on a strange planet, had great adventures and finally married the local royalty is usually male. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter is the best example.

Evil-Lyn conjuring up every soul Subternia also brings back Orko – who gave his life letting his friends escape Subternia. Only that this version of Orko has finally managed to get his magic to work and takes out Scareglow. And yes, I was damned happy to see Orko back and with functional magic, too. Orko also sticks around, because Evil-Lyn rescues him, when all the other dead souls are sucked back to Subternia. When we last see her, she is in Orko’s homeworld Trolla with a new hairstyle (which symbolises “I’m starting a new life” in this series) and buries her old staff. And while we can’t be sure, I think she’s going to be okay.

Only Skeletor is still the same old petty jerk he ever was and challenges He-Man to a duel. He-Man doesn’t want to fight him and when forced to fight anyway, just punches Skeletor across the horizon. When we next see him, he finally returns to Snake Mountain and comes face to face with Tri-Klops and his technocult, who have sat out the war, waiting to see who wins. Skeletor is very much not impressed by Tri-Klops and his cult and their idol, the Mighty Motherboard (I bet Kevin Smith was proud of that one), a feminine bird figure (gods shaped like bird figures are clearly an Eternian thing), until the bird figure injects Skeletor with nanites and turns him into a cyborg. Meawhile, the symbol of Hordak flashes above the head of the Mighty Motherboard, setting up a potential second season right there. This even makes sense, because Hordak is the only villain in Eternia who has been more successful than Skeletor (not that that is a high bar). And if we’re going to see Hordak, does this mean we’re going to see Adora? And if so, how much of the recent She-Ra cartoon will they borrow?

But before we get to that, season 1 ends as it began, with a celebration in the palace. Andra, who has now been fully adopted into the family, is named the new Man-at-Arms, so Duncan, who has a neat new dress uniform and several new medals (and he deserves every single one of them), can finally retire. Everybody is happy, Adam no longer has to hide who he is, and Castle Grayskull has a new Sorceress and that Sorceress has her champion, Adam a.k.a. He-Man. The family is back together and stronger for it, because there are no more secrets among them. If you hoped for a kiss between Adam and Teela (or Teela and Andra), sorry, no such luck. But Adam and Teela hold hands, while Teela and Andra  hug. So does Teela prefer Adam or Andra or both? It could go either way at this point and that’s perfectly fine. However, every one of our heroes who’s still or again alive at the end is in a better place emotionally. They’ve all been through hell – sometimes literally – but they’re stronger now and ready for everything the universe can throw at them.

ETA: Michi Trota points out on Twitter that the show contrasts the toxic relationship between Skeletor and Evil-Lyn, where he believes that he owns her, even though the Sorceress is the one by whom the power is granted, and supportive relationship between Adam and Teela, who are true partners, even though Adam knows that she doesn’t really need him. But they’re better together. Early on, we also got the contrast between Skeletor and Evil-Lyn’s abusive relationship and the loving relationship between the Sorceress and Duncan, who may never have been the Champion, since he never wielded the sword, but he clearly always was her champion.

For many people of my generation, the original Masters of the Universe was our first exposure to the sword and sorcery and sword and planet subgenres. And for several of us, it was the beginning of a lifelong love. So is Masters of the Universe: Revelation sword and sorcery or sword and planet? The original cartoon definitely was and Revelation leans heavily into the sword and sorcery aesthetics and inspirations of the original, even though the scale of the story itself – where the fate of all of Eternia and the whole universe hangs in the balance – is a lot bigger than sword and sorcery usually gets. But then, sword and sorcery has its share of large scale conflicts, too. See Strombringer by Michael Moorcock or The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard. Is this show a sign of a sword and sorcery revival? I don’t know, though I certainly see signs that a sword and sorcery revival is underway.

My generation, Generation X, are the ones who are currently controlling the media, so almost everything I enjoyed as a kid has been remade or rebooted by now. My teenaged self would be utterly thrilled, if you told her that all of her favourite books, TV shows and cartoons are now back and look better than they ever did before. She would be equally horrified if you told her that a lot of it misses the point and simply isn’t very good. Cause unfortunately, a lot of those remakes or reboots have had their share of issues. Either they completely violated the spirit of the original – see the new Battlestar Galactica – or they became slavish nostalgia exercises which still manage to miss the point – see Ghostbusters: Afterlife – or they turn into hollow spectacle and punch-ups – see the Transformers movies.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation probably manages the tricky balance between nostalgia and modernity as well as anything I’ve ever seen. It’s very much rooted in the original stories and yet manages to expand upon them and address questions the originals never could or would address. For a moment, the Star Wars sequels came close, when The Last Jedi attempted to blow up the whole dark side versus light side of the Force narrative, but then they pulled back and became a retread of what came before.

Meanwhile, Masters of the Universe – which is certainly not the franchise I would have bet upon – manages to pull it off. It’s still the same story and characters we fell in love with as children, but it also manages to be so much more. It’s a story that addresses the big questions about love, family, friendship, grief and trauma that the originals never dared to ask, while also embracing the stories that inspired the original. What I expected from Masters of the Universe: Revelation was a nostalgic good time. What I got was a story that did a lot more. It made me laugh and cry, it made me think and it brought a big wide smile onto my face. This whole show made me happy and what more can you ask for?

Masters of the Universe: Revelations is definitely going on my 2022 Hugo ballot and no, I don’t care that it’s a cartoon based on a 38-year-old TV show that was basically a glorified toy commecial. We had She-Ra on the Hugo ballot this year, so why not her big brother He-Man?

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11 Responses to The Power of Grayskull – Some Reflections on Part 2 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation

  1. I think you a bit hard on Randor in the king department. In the old show he seems to make good decisions. It is not clear if there is any legislative organ than he has to answer to. In one episode He-Man save a building which housed something that sounded like a Parliament.

    In the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series in 2002, we do see the origin of He-Man. Adam got the sword from the Sorceress and this was seen by Duncan and Orko (who followed Duncan, Adam, and Cringer to Greyskull). Adam was going to reveal his identity to Teela and the other Masters (what that series called He-Man’s allies Ram Man, Stratos, etc) but Duncan told him not to. We never saw an origin episode for He Man in the original show (though Dorothy Fontana co-wrote Battlecat’s origin story), but I assume something similar happened. The idea of heroes keeping their identity secret from their close family and friends always seemed odd to me.

    Are you sure Lyn landed in Trolla? I thought she went to another part of Eternia. I like she got a redemption arc like Catra in She Ra and the Princess of Power.

    If they continue to follow the continuity from the old show, with the magic gone there would have been no way to form a bridge from Eternia to Etheria. No they could re-establish communications with Etheria and She Ra. I hope they would use a modified version of the character designs from She Ra and Princesses of Power.

    I will probably put the whole show on my Hugo ballot. I listen and watch Kevin Smith’s podcast Fatman Beyond. Maybe he like Straczynski and GRRM can recommend what they would like to see nominated.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, come to think of it, we see Randor promoting the arts and sciences in the original cartoon. There’s also one episode where he is inviting the citizens into the palace to share their grievances, an event which Skeletor and co promptly abuse for their evil plans. I also faintly recall that Randor became King at a fairly young age, because his father vanished and later turned out to have been kidnapped and imprisoned for years. This may also be why he drives Adam so hard, because he wants him to be ready. Which doesn’t change that he’s not very good as a father. And I certainly don’t ever recall Randor hugging his son or any other kind of physical affection in the original cartoon, though Duncan and Teela hug quite a lot.

      I’ve never seen the 2002 series, though I faintly recall there was one in the late 1980s/early 1990s which was not very good. It clearly makes sense that Adam got the sword from the Sorceress. As for how he first transformed, I suspect that he was goofing around with the sword and somehow managed to say the correct words and transform. And because Adam was confused and probably also a little scared, he went to Duncan for advice, because Duncan is the person he turns to when he has a problem. As for who told Adam that he must not share his secret even with his closest friends and family, I always assumed that was the Sorceress rather than Duncan, cause she is big on secrets. And the Sorceress is very clearly the one who made Duncan swear not to reveal her true parentage to Teela.

      I definitely recall the origin of Battlecat episode. That’s also the one where we see kid Adam rescuing the wounded and orphaned tiger cub that will become Cringer.

      I assumed that the place where Lyn went was Trolla because of the distinctive pink grass. Though it’s possible that there’s a part of Eternia with pink grass.

      And yes, I also hope that if there’s a season 2, we will get to see some version of Adora/She-Ra and her friends, especially if we’re getting Hordak.

      I’m currently leaning towards nominating the whole series in long form, since the episodes don’t really stand alone all that well. But if Kevin Smith prefers something else, I will certainly take that into consideration.

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