Breaking the Prince’s Curse

A prince and princess kept apart, a suitor in the guise of the monstrous, a spell that must be broken so two opposing kingdoms can be united by compassion. You know the old fairy tale motifs. As Prince Lotor himself says, “Always they appear to keep me from her… I’m cursed! Even in my dreams, ogre guards protect her” (1). But in this case, the curse is cast by someone more than a wicked witch and the ogre guards aren’t just figments of the prince’s dreams. A refusal to innovate beyond 1984’s standard fare of tropes catered to boys and their fathers was enough of a spell to keep the prince monstrous for decades, as well as the iceberg that sank an entire final season, leaving only a ghost narrative to haunt the audience with a redemption that might have been.

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In 1984, Ted Koplar and Peter Keefe, who later had a falling out that led to a legal battle won by Koplar, created the original Voltron: Defender of the Universe (DotU) by editing Japanese animes Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairrugger XV (2). Prince Lotor’s introduction comes by way of a mission from his father Zarkon to capture Princess Allura’s homeworld, Arus. While there, he spots the princess and falls instantly in lust with her. At first he wants to make her part of his bevy of dancing girls, but upon rejection decides the princess is marriage material. Over the course of the series, Lotor conjures up various schemes to marry the elusive princess, gradually shifting from selfish fixation to moments of genuine selflessness. He even begins sharing dreams with the princess, and manages several times to put her safety above his own desires.

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In turn, although the relationship never progresses to something mutual, Allura comes to recognize her beastly enemy can behave in a more princely manner and, in a genuinely funny scene in which Merla claims he wears foam rubber shoulder pads (ah, the 80’s…) to make his muscles look as big as Allura has noted, the princess’s shocked reaction implies she finds her dark counterpart physically attractive.

In this series, Lotor and Zarkon begin with what seems to be a positive relationship, but as Lotor’s feelings for Allura progress toward something less beastly, he and his evil father’s relationship disintegrates. One can argue Lotor’s sudden turn back to pure evil at the tail end of the series resulted from the lack of further material to edit, but I suspect based on the series’ success, new animation could have been commissioned to continue a more sensical narrative flow. In any case, the series ends abruptly with Lotor making a 180 degree turn from gradual development of increasingly genuine care for Allura’s safety (standard fare for a positively developing Villainous Crush, irrespective of whether the fixation develops into something mutual) to the Drule prince deciding one morning, to hell with this; I may as well just blow her up.

Its animated sequel was 1998-2000’s Voltron: The Third Dimension (3), which ignored plot events from DotU Episodes 53-72, notably the narrative period in which Lotor undergoes the most positive character development. Instead, Prince Lotor, who is redesigned as a disfigured and monstrous looking one dimensional villain as a result of his last battle with Voltron Force, escapes Bastille prison and sends a series of monsters and ships to attack the team.

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He is still hell bent on marrying Allura, and in the episode “Bride of a Monster” (4) has Haggar cast a spell on him so that he appears handsome (but only to her). Neil Ross, Michael Bell and B.J. Ward once again voice Keith, Lance and Princess Allura, but Tim Curry replaces Lennie Weinrib as Lotor. Ted Koplar serves as one of the show’s Executive Producers.

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The next animated iteration, 2011-2012’s Voltron Force, was jointly Executive Produced by Bob and Ted Koplar (5). This series picks up several years after the events of DotU’s Season 1 and therefore prior to significant positive character development for Lotor, and revolves around the old Voltron members training a batch of new recruits. In this series, King Lotor is a one dimensional villain, especially monstrous and unattractive in appearance after being brought back to life by a mad scientist via the late Haggar’s dark essence. Par for the course, this incarnation’s fixation on Allura is a caricature of his DotU Villainous Crush.

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While cartoons tended toward flattening Lotor into a more monstrous version of Zarkon, comics preferred to return the prince closer to his more well rounded DotU origins. The Devil’s Due Voltron: Defender of the Universe comic (Dan Jolley with Marie Croall, 2003-2008), known fandom wide as simply Devil’s Due (6), begins with this backdrop: “Zarkon’s ruthless son Prince Lotor – once Allura’s childhood friend but now dangerously fixated on her – unleashed a dreaded Robeast on planet Arus.”

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In this story, Lotor, who is physically abused by Zarkon on screen, takes on a dark side space monk mystique and seems equally if not more fixated on the “right timing” for his villainous actions than on blunderingly pursuing Allura.

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The comic also, interestingly, often juxtaposes scenes from two love triangles. In the first, Allura vies for Keith’s attention while trying to gently let down a smitten Lance. The second features Merla pursuing a decidedly uninterested Lotor.

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The last issue before the 2008 Omnibus edition, which hurriedly attempted to wrap up loose ends left over from the series cancellation in 2005, ends with none other than Allura’s “childhood friend” finally appearing aboard her ship.

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Next came the 2011 Dynamite Comics Voltron by Brandon Thomas (7). In this series, which pushes ethical boundaries for a Teen rated comic with a sex scene between Keith and Allura, Lotor is depicted as a conflicted, morally gray politician who orders Merla to attack their own homeworld in order to gain Voltron’s alliance against a far greater threat in the universe. To bolster his unethical decision, this Lotor asks Haggar to shapeshift into the princess to talk him into giving the order. Instead, the scene not only depicts non-consensual exposure, but implies Haggar forces herself on Lotor in the form of Allura routinely. The series was discontinued after the last issue revealed Allura knew of Arus’s not so righteous involvement in a secret pact with the Third Sphere and, against her late father’s wishes, has decided to come clean about this to Keith and unite against them.

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2013’s Teen rated Robotech/Voltron crossover comic by Tommy Yune (8) depicts perhaps the most sympathetic of the Lotors, who is portrayed as youthful and comely. The premise is that Voltron has disappeared from the universe. This series returns Lotor’s backstory closer to its Beast King GoLion roots: His mother Lara, a blonde Arusian similar in appearance to Allura, is murdered onscreen by his father, Zarkon, in front of young Lotor.

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Before her murder his mother tells Lotor, who appears to be no more than five, the Arusian tale of the Love Bridge as first told by Allura in DotU. It is the story of two worlds, vastly different, but bridged by the love of two star-crossed lovers. As King, Lotor has it all: Voltron is no more, he reigns supreme in his father’s stead, and he has an abundance of wine, women, and wealth at his disposal. During his conquests, he happens upon a mural of Allura and determines, against Haggar’s warning, to find the sleeping princess. This effort returns the king to his former place as a prince under his tyrant father’s thumb, relentlessly pursuing a woman who loves another man. Rather than exist in a universe without Allura, Lotor ties this story’s conclusion to his mother’s story of the Love Bridge. However, the young prince – ever the survivor – takes a page from Scarlett O’Hara’s book and determines tomorrow is another day, implying he will continue his pursuit.

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Two brief Epilogue comics were posted to Robotech’s Facebook in 2015 (9). The first depicts two fans fighting over whether the comic should have ended by returning the world to the status quo or whether the arcs should have gone on. The second depicts Allura’s mice reading the comic, with one mouse imagining that Keith and Allura are kissing. A second mouse seems to think this idea is ridiculous, making fun of him, and the two fight. In both humorous Epilogue comics, two characters disagree about story direction and end up in a physical altercation.

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The next animated venture, 2014-2018’s Voltron: Legendary Defender (10), rated Y7-FV, returns Lotor to his complex roots for the first time in animated form since DotU. Bob Koplar serves on the team of Executive Producers for Seasons 1 and 2, prior to Lotor’s Season 3 arrival. Featuring a tonally serious treatment of child abuse, the story unfolds to reveal the seemingly monstrous Prince cum Emperor was neglected and abused by both parents, culminating in a morally gray decision to save his race (and the universe) from annihilation by his tyrannical parents through the still narratively unclear means at his disposal, sacrificing the few to preserve the many.

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The series also dynamically shifts the narrative by transferring Lotor’s standard Villainous Crush to Lance in the form of a Subverted Nice Guy trope while making itself the first and only iteration thus far to turn Prince Lotor and Princess Allura’s relationship into a mutual Dating Catwoman (an Enemies to Lovers arc between a hero and villain) trope. It is the only iteration to shift Allura from side heroine and token female to the main protagonist on a Heroine’s Journey, taking Keith’s usual place as the hero. It is also the only iteration to see the story through to narrative closure of a sort, although that closure seems at least partially due to upfront contracting of a set number of episodes. My prior meta Death of a Dark Youth and @leakinghate’s metas Chasing the Ghosts of Season 8 and Seek Truth in Darkness thoroughly explore what appears to have happened to Lotor’s arc in VLD’s final season based on narrative convention and editing errors so blatant as to detract from the show’s visual flow for even casual viewers. I suspect if 78 episodes had not already been contracted, the final season would have been cancelled rather than suffer the fate it did. Dos Santos and Montgomery even expressed during the March 4th ABTV interview (11) and on the March 28th Let’s Voltron podcast they considered leaving but stayed to ensure some semblance of their intended messaging got through.

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The various iterations of Voltron certainly do not constitute the first time a series’ narrative has been abruptly altered due to external factors and internal disagreement. Aaron Ehasz, head writer of Nickelodeon’s Avatar The Last Airbender (ATLA), recalled part of his team’s insistence on pursuing the live action film as the major factor resulting in a fourth season, complete with further writing plans for a secondary dark youth’s redemption arc, never coming to fruition.

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VLD fans will recall the comparison of Prince Lotor to Avatar’s Princess Azula in a Entertainment Weekly article dated June 15, 2018. The VLD showrunners said (12):

Montgomery: I think we knew all along that this was going to be the character everyone wanted to become the good guy of the Paladins, and we knew we weren’t going to let that play out. We would happily tease it and take it down that road, but ultimately, the worst side of him was going to be the thing that got the better of him.

Dos Santos: We kept saying in the room, because we all come from Avatar: The Last Airbender, “We’re going to get him right to Zuko, and then we’re going to pull it away.”

Montgomery: And then he’s going to go straight Azula.

However, let’s take a closer look at an April 1, 2019 Twitter thread by Ehasz (13):

I always intended for #Azula to have a redemption arc in the story of #AvatartheLastAirbender. Longer and far more complicated than Zuko’s. She had not bottomed in the end of Season 3, she had further to go. At the deepest moment in her own abyss she would have found: Zuko. Despite it all, her brother Zuko would be there for her. Believing in her, sticking by her, doing his best to understand and help her hold her pain that she can no longer hold alone. Zuko – patient, forgiving, and unconditionally loving – all strengths he gained from Uncle Iroh. That’s how she would have gotten out, and changed. With the faith and love of someone she had hurt, but who stuck by her anyway. Just as he had been saved by faith and love from someone he had hurt, but who stuck by him.

Ehasz goes on to say this in response to another Twitter user:

Yes I always believed there would be a 4th season… Truthfully, there was a moment in time when we all thought we would do a 4th season of #AvatartheLastAirbender. Then along came M. Night… Though to be clear, M Night wanted us to do a 4th season, but Mike and Bryan wanted to focus on the movie.

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To be fair, Azula’s Season 3 fate, while somewhat odd for a youth in a modern fairy tale, is not completely out of the norm. Classic fairy tales often depict the punishment of unrepentant siblings who skew toward evil. Still, Azula’s treatment is certainly no comparison to the little cinder girl’s wicked stepsisters, whose eyes are pecked out by birds. Showing Lotor, who in every iteration skews closer to the (Ro)beastly youth in the Bearskin narratives, as an abused Cinder Boy/Snow Purple then punishing him with a melted corpse that is then desecrated by the wicked witch-mother is so far out of fairy tale and children’s fantasy norms as to be nonsensical, especially given Dos Santos’s prior statement (14), “But ultimately, you have to be a bit sympathetic to all the things that [Lotor’s] gone through to arrive where he has arrived. So I don’t know that anybody, save a few, are really beyond redemption.”

As a richly dynamic antagonist standing opposite the franchise’s princess and heroine, Prince Lotor fills a unique position within Voltron’s framework. His place is such that he MUST evolve or the story suffers. In every iteration in which Lotor’s moral complexity and physical appeal is hacked away to recreate a one dimensional, cackling villain, Princess Allura is forced to become a paragon of purity, and the plot quickly fizzles to simplistic external conflict with monsters of the week until cancellation. Yet curiously, in every iteration in which Lotor is depicted as appealing, conflicted, and layered – with his heroic opposite afforded her own complexity – the series abruptly ends with seemingly more story to tell. The original VLD Season 8 came the closest to breaking that curse; so close to the sun, in fact, that the final product suffered third degree burns. As Montgomery and Dos Santos expressed in their March 28th Let’s Voltron episode (15), perhaps one day someone will be able to fix the mess. Somehow though, between an IP holder insistence on marketing the franchise toward six to eleven year old boys and their dads and a history of cancelled or abruptly finished plots, I doubt the prince’s curse was cast solely from their hands.

Thank you to everyone on #TeamPurpleLion for generously supporting me with research, beta reading, and camaraderie during the production of this meta. @crystal-rebellion @leakinghate @dragonofyang @voltronisruiningmylife

References:

1. Wikipedia (2019). Voltron (1984 TV Series). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltron_(1984_TV_series).

2. Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984). The Sleeping Princess. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/L3K-kbF0AIw.

3. Wikipedia (2019). Voltron: The Third Dimension. Retreived from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltron:_The_Third_Dimension.

4. Voltron: The Third Dimension (1998). Bride of the Monster. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/aNA5AroTQ0I.

5. Voltron Wiki (2019). Voltron Force (TV Series). Retrieved from https://voltron.fandom.com/wiki/Voltron_Force_(TV_series).

6. Jolley, Dan & Croall, Marie (2003). Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Devil’s Due Publishing. Comic. Retrieved from http://vlcomic.com/read/comic-voltron-defender-of-the-universe-eng/1.

7. Thomas, Brandon (2012). Voltron. Dynamite Entertainment: New Jersey. Retrieved from http://vlcomic.com/read/comic-voltron-eng/11.

8. Yune, Tommy (2013). Robotech Voltron. Dynamite Entertainment: New Jersey. Retrieved from http://vlcomic.com/read/comic-robotech-voltron-eng/1.

9. Robotech (2015). Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/robotech/photos/a.305749158284.148480.234880208284/10153570943943285/?hc_location=ufi.

10. Voltron Legendary Defender (2014-2018). Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/watch/80103554?trackId=3623124&tctx=0%2C0%2Ce3cc37b2-6bae-495e-9756-134499fa5180-22815958%2C%2C.

11. Afterbuzz TV Animation (2019). Voltron Full Series Review With Showrunners in Studio. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/om_t8A99WJo.

12. Agard, Chancellor (2018). Voltron bosses promise ‘a new energy’ after climactic season 6 finale. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from https://ew.com/tv/2018/06/15/voltron-season-6-postmortem/.

13. Ehasz, Aaron (2019). Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aaronehasz/status/1112814662393847808.

14. Lovett, Jamie (2018). ‘Voltron: Legendary Defender’: Is Lotor Redeemable? Retrieved from https://comicbook.com/anime/2018/06/24/voltron-legendary-defender-can-lotor-be-redeemed/.

15. Morrell, Marc and Tyler, Greg (2019). Let’s Voltron! Episode 175. Retrieved from http://www.letsvoltron.com/.

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