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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS "BATTLEGROUND" TEELA
By Thomas Wheeler

Despite the fact that, in the minds of most toy companies, female action figures within boys' toys lines are generally not especially popular, there is a distinct irony in the fact that any number of very popular pop-culture concepts based around action figures have as some of their most well-known characters the limited number of females within this line.

Doubtless this is due in large part to the emphasis those characters are likely to be given in media outside the basic action figure line. Wanting to present a good variety of personalities, the female characters will be given stronger roles and greater emphasis than they might have received as just part of a toy line.

Thus it comes to pass that within, for example, G.I. Joe, two of the best known and most popular characters are Scarlett and the Baroness. Transformers fans begged for years for a toy of Arcee, the most prominent female character in the entire concept. And within Masters of the Universe, three of the most prominent characters are the Sorceress, who granted He-Man his powers; Evil-Lyn, frequent ally to Skeletor when she's not trying to increase her own power; and Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard at the Palace of Eternos.

A new and very unusual figure of Teela, officially designated "Battleground Teela", has been added to the Masters of the Universe Classics line, offered monthly through MattyCollector.Com. And the question needs to be asked -- where did a version of Teela like this come from? And ultimately, the answer is that she's pretty much an extension of Teela's already convoluted backstory, although technically, Teela has appeared in this form once -- but only once. The backstory provided with the figure takes its cues from the history of the character, which is not an easy thing to sort out.

When Teela was first released into the action figure line, she was listed as a "Warrior Goddess", and although much of her outfit was as it would appear in the Filmation animated series, which is likely regarded as being as close to "canon" as any of the media forms over the years, Teela -- the figure -- also wore additional armor that had a snake-like motif to it. This was something that Teela never wore in the animated series, nor was she ever referred to as a "goddess". She was the Captain of the Royal Guard, and possessed no unusual abilities. The closest counterpart to a "goddess" like character in the animated series was doubtless the Sorceress, whose outfit was more bird-like in appearance, about as far removed from a snake as you're going to get.

There are several sources for background information on any given character in the Masters universe, but these sources do not always agree. Certainly they don't in the case of Teela.

Let us consider first of all the mini-comics that were packed in with the action figures early on. As many of these were written before the Filmation animated series, they tended to carry with them their own continuity -- such as it was at times.

Here, Teela is presented in the earliest mini-comics as a "warrior goddess", a capable female fighter, one "imbued with the spirits of the great warriors of the past", who roams the deserted landscapes of Eternia atop a unicorn. It should be noted that the Eternia presented in the early mini-comics was a far more primitive and harsher environment than that of the animated series.

The second wave of mini-comics featured "The Tale of Teela", which explains that twenty years earlier, Skeletor captured the Goddess -- also known as the Sorceress, and also named Teela (everybody confused yet?), and made a clone of her using some ancient artifact. His plan was to raise the child as an evil version of the Goddess. However, the clone was rescued by Man-At-Arms and grew up to become the warrior Teela.

Arguably, this separated Teela from the "goddess" aspect of her title, and also established the Sorceress as a separate character, while still maintaining a relationship between her and Teela. It also introduced the involvement of Man-At-Arms. Much of this would be carried over into the animated series, although here, the Sorceress would adopt her more familiar falcon-based costume (so she could transform into the falcon Zoar, an entirely separate toy with initially no connection to either the Sorceress or Teela), and as far as the animated series was concerned, Teela was the biological daughter of the Sorceress, and not a clone, although she was unaware of her relationship. Skeletor wasn't involved at all.

In the Filmation animated series, it was clearly portrayed, in a flashback story, that Teela is the Sorceress' biological daughter. Man-At-Arms discovers the Sorceress, in the form of Zoar, caring for the infant Teela in a large bird's nest on the side of a cliff (what, they don't have nurseries on Eternia?!) After a failed kidnap attempt by Mer-Man, the Sorceress willingly gives Teela to Man-At-Arms to be raised as his own daughter.

In the episode "Teela's Quest", Teela discovers the truth about her mother from Eternia's Oracle of the Crystal Sea, but an emotionally distraught Sorceress erases the revelation from Teela's memory, for her own protection, although the Sorceress desperately wishes she could tell Teela the truth.

Teela's biological father is never revealed; Man-At-Arms says he was one of Eternia's greatest men. However, he Oracle, the Sorceress, and Man-At-Arms all agree that he died in battle.

Teela's ties to Grayskull are revisited in the episode "Teela's Triumph", when Skeletor sends the Sorceress to another dimension, leaving Teela to take the Sorceress' place as the guardian of Grayskull.

The 2002 animated series maintains much of Teela's backstory, as it carried over quite a few of the concepts from the Filmation series, but it manages to muddy the waters a bit further. As with the previous version of the story, Teela was adopted by Man-At-Arms, or rather was entrusted to him by her mother the Sorceress, because her birth father, an amnesiac Eternian soldier whom the Sorceress had nursed back to health, had disappeared, and presumably had died in battle.

There are hints in the episode "Out of the Past" as well as the third season episode guide of the series DVD, that Man-At-Arms is actually Teela's biological father. Another possibility is Fisto, who in the series was Man-At-Arms' brother, and who was the person who was with the Sorceress at the time Teela's father went missing. It was intended that Teela would learn the truth of her heritage in the third season, but the series was canceled before the matter could be dealt with.

In both animated series, Teela is Captain of the Guard, although her personality, and for that matter age, differed slightly. In the Filmation series, despite her excellent fighting skills and generally being sensible and level-headed, Teela has a reckless streak and an occasional short temper, which can put her in dangerous situations, from which He-Man usually extracts her. Unaware of the dual identity of Prince Adam and Teela, she often reprimands Adam for being lazy, cowardly, and inattentive to his training. She generally comes across as slightly older than Adam.

In the 2002 series, she is portrayed as younger, more of a contemporary to Adam, and still teases or reprimands him about his apparent lack of courage, while harboring an unspoken crush on He-Man. In the comic book that accompanied the 2002 animated series, it was revealed that there was still an affection between Adam and Teela, as Teela once admitted that she would rather play with him, as they did as children within the palace, than be a soldier trained to expect war.

However, in both series, Teela looked pretty much the same -- a young woman with auburn hair, tied up against her head (the 2002 Teela had a long ponytail), wearing a somewhat armored uniform of white with gold detail, that left her arms and legs bare, with wrist gauntlets and boots. This, of course, was based on the original action figure, whose snake-like armor components could be removed.

So now we come around to Battleground Teela, who has long blonde hair, and is dressed decidedly minimally in what amounts to a bikini top with protective metallic gold -- and breastplates, held in place with leather-like straps, and a brown loincloth with a belt similar to that worn by a lot of the male characters in the line. She still has the armbands, wrist gauntlets, and boots.

The question must be asked -- where in the world did a blonde, and moderately underdressed Teela come from? The only notable time that Teela appeared as a blonde was in one episode of the New Adventures of He-Man series, which made a very rare reference to the Filmation continuity. Her costume also differed, and it's thought by some that she was redesigned to more closely resemble She-Ra. However, the costume did not resemble the one worn by this figure.

For that, we need to turn to a comic book. Masters of the Universe, unlike some of its contemporaries such as Transformers and G.I. Joe, had a tougher go of it in the comics world. Although a fair percentage of the toys had in-pack mini-comics, something G.I. Joe and Transformers lacked, in the standard comics world, Masters had a tougher time. There was an issue of DC Comics Presents, which regularly teamed Superman with other heroes of the DC Universe, that on one occasion introduced the Masters of the Universe. This was followed by a short mini-series published by DC. Later on, Marvel Comics, under its Star Comics imprint, a series of titles designed for younger readers, produced a run of Masters of the Universe comics. The results were capable enough, but generally nowhere near as well regarded as other toy-related comics of the time, although it is worth noting that He-Man and his crowd are the only major 80's concept to have comics published by both of the two major comics companies.

It is here that we can finally answer the question, because in the first issue of the DC mini-series, Teela appears as she does in this new figure form. The comic was prepared before the final look of some of the characters had been determined.

So, how's the figure? Very nicely done. The face is unquestionably that of Teela. I initially thought it might have been based on the same mold, but I don't think this would have been possible. The original Teela's head includes most of her hair, and is also a very different style that the separately molded hair of the new Teela would not completely conceal. I do suspect that the face of Battleground Teela was certainly derived from the sculpt of the original one, but not the same molds.

Facially, Battleground Teela obviously looks identical to her predecessor. And yet, she also looks a little harsher -- and it's not the outfit. The eyebrows are painted very slightly differently, a little more raised, and a little more arched. It's amazing the difference this makes between the two figures. Even setting aside the very different wardrobes, Battleground Teela looks a lot more ready to fight, or even pick a fight, than the original Teela. Sort of like she's almost daring someone to make a wisecrack about her outfit. She'll put him in the Eternian Hospital for a few days and that'll be the end of that sort of thing.

The figure uses the same arms and legs as the previous Teela, which have also seen use on Evil-Lyn and the Goddess figure. However, for Battleground Teela, they're painted differently. The original Teela's armbands are copper with gold highlights, and her wrist gauntlets are white with gold trim. Battleground Teela's armbands are brown with gold highlights, and so are her wrist gauntlets.

The boots are identical for both figures -- brown with white fur trim around the top. It's interesting that Battleground Teela maintained the white fur, since it's the only white trim on the entire figure.

Battleground Teela's bare midriff and loincloth required that entirely new torso sections be made. All of the previous females in the Masters of the Universe Classics line -- Teela, Evil-Lyn, Goddess, Adora, She-Ra, and Catra -- have covered midriffs. And none of them wear furry-looking loincloths.

Battleground Teela's new torso is very nicely designed. Interestingly, the neck is very slightly shorter than the original Teela's. Honestly, it's an improvement. As residents of Eternia seem to be somewhat more muscular than humans from Earth, Battleground Teela has a fairly well-defined abdominal region, without looking musclebound.

Additionally, the figure is articulated at the waist, something no female figure in the Masters of the Universe Classics line has had. They've all been pretty much solid torsos until now. Granted, most of them have had costumes that just wouldn't lend themselves well to an intrusive articulation point. I'm not going to complain about the articulation on these figures for a moment. Any of them are vastly more poseable than either the original or the 2002 line.

Battleground Teela's top has two metallic gold breastplates with concentric circles sculpted into it. If nothing else, this is probably a heck of a distraction in battle for whomever she's up against. It's held in place by a series of plastic straps that are designed to look like brown leather. Although it's clearly molded as a separate piece, it is NOT designed to be removable. Get your minds out of the gutters, people!

The loincloth and belt look like slightly smaller versions of the standard issue loincloths that seem to be some sort of Eternian fashion statement among many of the Masters. The loincloth looks furry, and is very well detailed, and the belt, with its large center circle buckle, raised border, and smaller circles around it, is definitely reminiscent of the basic belt design of He-Man and any number of other characters in the line. Battleground Teela's belt is, like the armbands and wrist gauntlets, brown with metallic gold trim.

Battleground Teela's hair is superbly well done, very nicely sculpted with a slight wave to one side in the back. It is a separate piece, secured to the head during assembly. It's been very well painted, a medium blonde with a bit of detail darkening on the underside, just to enhance it a bit, and it works very well. The hair does limit the head movement, but I don't regard this as that big of a deal. The head seems slightly loose, but not grievously so. The arms are slightly loose as well. I more or less attribute this to the new torso perhaps not being as perfect a fit as it needed to be, or it might just be the figure that I received. None of it is to a degree where I would make an issue out of it.

Paint details are, for the most part, excellent, especially on the face. Teela has deep blue eyes, nicely outlined, and even has gold-painted earrings, which are barely visible under the hair. This is a carryover from the original figure. The armbands could have been more neatly painted, and I suspect may have been done by hand, but they're not too bad. Everything else is well done.

Of course, Battleground Teela is superbly articulated, and is poseable at the head (sort of), arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, boot tops, and ankles. One other point of articulation that is absent is the upper leg swivel, which would mean that Teela's upper legs are also new. Again, I don't regard this to be that big of a deal, and it was probably done for appearance's sake.

Battleground Teela comes with two accessories, a very impressive sword, with a silver blade and a brown handle, and a futuristic-looking blaster pistol, in silver, looking more than a little incongruous with this particular Teela. But it's still well made.

So we are left with one question -- how does this Teela fit into the Masters universe? From an "in-universe" standpoint, she can't very well be explained by an early comic book appearance. Fortunately, the Masters of the Universe Classics figures, unlike any of their predecessors, have been providing full backstories on the backs of the package cards, on scroll-like "bio cards", much in the same way that G.I. Joe and Transformers did in the 80's, and still do to varying degrees today.

These scrolls have given Mattel the opportunity to expand the history of the Masters of the Universe, especially given that, at the moment, there is no other media outlet. There is no current comic book or animated series to work with. And certain things have needed to be explained, such as how the She-Ra-based character Bow made his way to Eternia, how Wun-Dar and Vikor fit into the history, and so forth.

Battleground Teela's is -- interesting, in that it finally opens up her history to herself, but also makes reference to an event that, honestly, has a number of Masters fans rather upset.

BATTLEGROUND TEELA
Heroic Heir to the Sorceress
Real Name: Teela

After being wounded by King Hssss' venom, the Sorceress of Grayskull knew her time was short. She quickly arranged a mission with Teela to the Elder's training citadel in the Polar Ice Cap. Here, the Sorceress revealed Teela's true heritage, that she was secretly her magically cloned daughter and destined to become the next guardian of the Castle Grayskull and its secrets! Although in a state of disbelief, Teela knew in her heart that her mother spoke the truth, and trained with the Sorceress until the venom at least overtook her. Returning to Grayskull as the new guardian, Teela uses her new magic to protect the Power of Grayskull, and guard the safety of all Eternians.

None of which really explains the new wardrobe or hair color, or whether she now knows that Prince Adam is also He-Man (and what she thinks about being kept in the dark about that for any number of years), but why quibble about that when there's a number of other eyebrow-raisers in this profile?

First of all, we go back to the concept that Teela is a clone of some sort, rather than the natural-born daughter of the Sorceress and (probably) Man-At-Arms. The bio card doesn't explain how she was cloned, whether it was Skeletor's doing or not, but that would've required even tinier print than the card already uses. I have to wonder how well the "clone" reference is going to go over among the fans, since it's a pretty obscure point that seemed to be superseded by both animated series. Unless, of course, the Sorceress was fibbing about that part of it in order to help Teela break from her past more readily. But that's speculation on my part, so let's not muddy things more than they already are.

The second thing that's raised more than a bit of ire among the fans is the reported death of the Sorceress here! I have determined that this comes from a planned plot point that would have been in the third season of the 2002 animated series, had it continued, that not only would have seen the death of the Sorceress, but Man-At-Arms permanently transformed into one of the Snake-Men. It looks as though the third season of the 2002 animated series would've been a rough one for the good guys, especially since Hordak's return was also planned.

Does this information preclude a future Sorceress figure? No, I can't imagine that it does. For one thing, there's a distinct "(R)" after the Sorceress' name. Mattel has registered it as a trademark. They wouldn't do that if they didn't have plans. And she's a popular character. And keep in mind that they've already done figures of characters from other time periods, including He-Ro, Vikor, Tytus, and King Grayskull, whose demises along the way are also a matter of record.

And there's the other loophole -- time. We don't really know when the events stated on Battleground Teela's scroll-card take place. So there's no reason in the world to think that there won't be a Sorceress figure at some point. Still, I can understand the distress of the fans.

So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. This is certainly an unusual entry into the Masters of the Universe collection. It represents an early notion of what some thought Teela might look like, and at the risk of sounding excessively old-fashioned or something like that, I tend to wonder whether or not there would've been an action figure or an animated series with a Teela who looked like this back in the 80's. Now, of course, as part of a mail-order line, and with the words "Adult Collector" clearly stated on the package, we can enjoy this unusual and somewhat obscure incarnation of one of the best-known female characters in the Masters universe. Mattel and the Four Horsemen have done a great job with this figure, as they customarily do, and I would certainly expect that she would be welcomed into any Masters of the Universe Classics Collection.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BATTLEGROUND TEELA definitely has my highest recommendation!