“The Masters of the Universe” is a little curious franchise to talk about.
If you were to describe it, it sounds like every toyline meant to appeal to boys ever: Strong Heroes have to fight evil villains (Granted, there is more to it than that, but you get the idea)
Talking about Filmation’s animated series “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” from a modern perspective is… a little more interesting
Let’s just say that having a muscular Male Character that is constantly either wearing pink or nothing but his underwear is kinda amusing.
But no, I am not talking of the LGBT+ readings you can make of the show (for the record, Erika Scheimer, daughter of one of Filmation’s founders and who is herself homosexual once described the place as “one of the gayest places in town”). I am talking about the female characters in the show.
In this particular case I am refering to Queen Marlena, mother of Prince Adam/He-Man and Princess Adora/She-Ra.
At first glance there is not much to her. She is simply the queen of Eternia and wife of King Randor.
However, there is more to her than it seems.
She is not from planet Eternia but from Earth (this element of her character was first introduced in a comic published by DC, but the animated series would be the one to really expand on it). In the episode “Teela’s Quest” we are shown how she arrived in Eternia: She was an astronaut named Lieutenant Marlena Glenn who got caught in a Cosmic Storm that took her off course and left her with no communication to Earth.
When her ship’s sensors detected planet Eternia she decided to land there to escape the storm but her ship ended up crashing. The episode “Visitors from Earth” heavily implies she had a well renowned career as an Astronaut.
“Rainbow Warrior” shows she and King Randor met when he saw her ship crash and offered her aid until she was able to go back home (she decided to stay and marry Randor).
Same episode also has her in present time piloting her old ship and leading an army against the forces of Skeletor, showing herself as an outstanding pilot able to easily outmaneuver and overpower anything Skeletor’s army throws at her. Just like the episode title implies, she proves herself a mighty warrior indeed.
Let’s recap: Someone from a far-off land well renowned in their homeland for their skill meets and falls in love with a member of the royal family while also earning praise and respect in the battlefield.
Sounds a little familiar?
Here is the interesting thing about her and King Randor: They are an inversion of the Princess and Knight dynamic.
In fantasy stories, the “Knight” (or the Knight in the shining armor) is a character (almost always male) not necessarily of royal blood who prove themsleves worth of praise as well as the princess’ hand in marriage after acomplishing some sort of impossible task (usually saving the princess from distress).
And this dynamic can be best seen in the episode “Rainbow Warrior”.
While Randor is mentioned as having been a fighter in his youth in some episodes, it is interesting that said aspect of the character is never mentioned as one of the reasons Marlena fell in love with him. Their meeting doesn’t really involve him “rescuing” Marlena beyond reaching her crashed ship and offering her hospitality until she gets better. He even fills the role of the one in need of rescue in “Rainbow Warrior”, rather than the role of the protector (another of the elements common to the character of a Knight).
In the same episode, Marlena fills the role of the aged warrior who tries to give wisdom to the younger generation (in this case Teela) who chooses to refuse the offer only to be proven wrong when said warrior shows their skills to save the day as well as that of the protector, going to insane lenghts to rescue her family from Skeletor.
The reading of Queen Marlene as a Knight can also be seen by simply looking at her Space suit.
It’s big, bulky and gives a sense of protection. It feels like armor.
Granted, that’s probably due to the show trying to resemble actual space suits (even if still taking some liberties in it’s design), but she still decides to wear her space suit as she goes to confront skeletor with the army so I do think it serves the purpose of acting as her “armor”.
On a final note it should be noted that Marlene as the Knight doesn’t mean she isn’t a very feminine character. She still wears dresses and is a very motherly character. She still has the traits of the High Queen.
This are not contradictory elements. Her being a talented and skilled pilot able to lead an army to victory and her being a kind, gentle ruler alongside her husband are both equally important parts of her character.
Just as the knight in shining armor married into the royal family and, in time, became a gentle ruler. The Rainbow warrior married prince Randor and both grew to become the beloved leaders of the kingdom of Eternia.
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