Category Archives: Cartoon Commentary

Demon Dogs!

I’ve been getting pretty excited about the impending release of Warner Bros. Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Vol. 1 as it’ll finally give me a chance to revisit one of the shows I never got a chance to see much of as a kid, Thundarr the Barbarian.   Granted, it’s only a taste with one episode on this two-disc set, but it’ll be better quality than the various youtube videos that have been satiating my hunger in the interim.  Besides, if this set is successful it might lead to more Thundarr on DVD.

Regardless, I’ve been thinking about the series lately and in a moment of kismet I stumbled upon a couple of Thundarr-centric articles while doing some magazine back-issue research on another project.  These articles are pretty cool considering they largely feature Jack Kirby’s production artwork, not to mention a few Alex Toth model sheets.  I thought it would be fun to share one of them today; written by Buzz Dixon (of Sunbow animation fame) this article was originally featured in issue number 9 of Fangoria magazine back in November of 1980 (when the horror magazine felt a whole heck of a lot more like its sister publication Starlog.)

Since I haven’t really seen a full episode of Thundarr since I was a kid, reading this article puts me right back into that mindset of speculation and hoping the cartoon will be as cool as it potentially can be based on this artwork and Dixon’s enthusiasm for the project…


Like Blackstar, Thundarr unfortunately debuted right before the landscape of network and syndicated television was drastically changed in 1982-83.   Because of strict regulations and pressure from parent activist groups there were some crucial missing ingredients that kept most cartoons from reaching their true potential in the 70s and very early 80s.  In particular there was a ban on fully merchandising cartoon series, in particular releasing toys of popular shows, and I think this lack of product awareness hurt that instant recognition a good toy line has on kids.  When He-Man and the Masters of the Universe came on the scene it shattered all expectations of just how popular the combination of a well-designed toy line and thought out cartoon series could be.  Had Thundarr gestated in the minds of Steve Gerber and Ruby Spears just a little longer I think it had the potential to depose He-Man from the throne it seized in the early 80s. 

Not only was it similar in style, design and tone, and thus obviously a successful to the audience, Thundarr pushed the envelope of action animation much further as it was coming from the likes of Gerber and Kirby who were well steeped in comics dynamic storytelling.  The unbridled power that Kirby is well known for can be felt in every second of the animation, even if it’s only a shadow of what he brought to the comics medium.  Add to that Steve Gerber’s wackiness and biting social commentary and you have a powder keg just waiting to explode.   Again, there was so much potential in this series, and I truly believe that a toy line, even a mediocre one, would have ignited it.


If I get a chance I’ll scan the second Thundarr article I found this past weekend, though I think it’s filled with the same production artwork.   Now to go back to waiting, though it’s just a couple more weeks before the DVD finally hits store shelves

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Cartoon Commentary, a look at the 1st episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

A quick note on the organization of the Cartoon Commentary! columns here at Branded in the 80s.  I’ve been slowly tweaking the tags and archiving of some of the sections on the site for awhile to try and make this beast a little easier to navigate (since the engine Branded is built on doesn’t support a lot of the nicer things like next page functionality, or multiple tags.)  Anyway, I wanted to take a second and point to a new portal page I set up for Cartoon Commentary! which divides the articles I’ve written by cartoon series as well as individual posts.  By clicking on the banner above, or the one in the sidebar to the left you can reach the portal page where you can choose to view all posts on a particular series or the specific episodes from that series.  It should make navigating the site easier so you wouldn’t have to load every single Commentary post on one page.  Next up, wrangling the best that is Peel Here, but that’s for another day…

Anyway, in honor of the release of episode 21 of the Saturday Supercast (where I and co-hosts Kevin Cross and Jerzy Drozd deconstruct the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series) I thought I’d take a closer look at the first broadcast episode of He-Man, the Robby London penned Diamond Ray of Disappearance which had its debut on September 5th, 1983.

As we mentioned in episode 21 of the Supercast, Diamond Ray of Disappearance does a pretty good job of setting the stage for the Masters of the Universe series.  Though it’s not an origin episode (not many 80s cartoons had the foresight to set up a continuity), it does spend some time introducing a lot of the main characters that populate the world of Eternia, as well as giving a pretty good overview of what He-Man is capable of.   One subtle aspect to this episode’s introductory nature is the opening title card screen that was chosen for this first episode, a shot from space of the planet and its main continents.  You can get a general gist of the main body of lush green jungle-like land, with the icy mountains to the north, a treacherous desert to the south and to the east, which separates the peaceful region with the fire and brimstone of the region that Skeletor overseas to the far east.

As far as the episode proper, it opens on a shot of the imposing Snake Mountain, which again is a subtle way of starting off the series by introducing the main struggle.  I mean, we’re already watching a show called He-Man, and in the opening credits we get the point by point on Adam and his quest, so it makes sense to get into the nitty gritty with Skeletor summoning his minions.  What I really dig about this sequence is that it does a fairly good job of setting the tone for some of the dark fantasy that makes up the periphery of the show.   Between Snake Mountain, and the various spikes and skeletal accoutrements that make up the décor, it sets a pretty creepy tone for a kids show.   Some of the imagery is downright Giger-esque in design, and Skeletor’s throne of bone is only slightly removed from the seriously f-ed up human and animal bone furniture in the Texas chainsaw Massacre flick (or for that matter TCM’s real world influences of Ed Gein and Ilse Koch.)  Granted skeletal imagery and evil in fantasy worlds sort of go hand in hand and could be viewed as pretty tame, but it does has some real world connotations that can get pretty heady, especially for kids.  I just think it was a brave move on Filmation’s part.

As Skeletor calls his henchmen to his side to explain his nefarious plot with the Diamond Ray, I always thought it was pretty hilarious that he calls Merman who just happens to be in the middle of wrestling a huge aquatic monster…

Another thing that jumped out at me in this opening sequence is some of the Filmation visual trademarks that really define the look and feel of the cartoon.  Because of the limited budget the studio had to produce 65 syndicated episodes of He-Man, there was a lot of limited animation and an extensive collection of stock sequences were devised, so that each episode’s new animation burden could be whittled away.  One of these stock sequences features Skeletor in a fit of megalomaniacal fist pumping.   It really is sort of a strange shot, as the edit sort of cuts to an aside soliloquy featuring a mimed or laughing punctuation from the evil leader.

I also thought it was interesting in the first battle sequence that both factions have their own Sky Sleds, though in slightly differing colors…

As a kid I never thought twice about this, but from the perspective of a grown man this seems very odd.   I mean I just always sort of thought that each side designed and constructed their own vehicles.  I know Man-At-Arms is always building and tinkering for the good guys.  Maybe Tri-Klops is doing the same for Skeletor? Anyway, because their both using the same sleds (well except that the evil ones have fangs and the good have molded ears on the gargoyle head that acts as a ram), it gives the impression that there is a third party out there designing vehicles and weaponry for the battle waging across Eternia.

Also, a quick note on Trap Jaw’s character design from toy to cartoon.   I thought it was cute that Filmation decided to keep his little hook/eyelet on the top of his helmet, a feature from the toy that let him slide down a zip-line, but in the show is just ornamental.  I’ve talked before about the differences in cartoon and toy design, and it’s always fun to see stuff that should be exclusive to the toys end up in either packaging art or the final cartoon versions.   I mean typically these little things don’t have to translate from toy design to other media, I mean not that many kids thought too hard about what happens to Optimus Prime’s trailer section when he transforms in the show…

It’s also fun to see a little bit of Star Wars influence on the cartoon.   I mean it came out right in the middle of the hype for Return of the Jedi, so it’s not surprising, but even so it’s fun to see Man-At-Arms wielding a makeshift lightsaber…

I also love the inclusion of Skeletor’s Battle Robots to the show’s list of villains.  Because Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland had such strong ideas on the virtual non-violence in the action of the He-Man cartoon, these robots become yet another in a very long line of violence-friendly punching bags…

There was also a scene with the Sorceress’ magic mirror that I thought was neat for a couple of reasons.   One, there is another Filmation visual, a shot framed by He-Man’s feet in the foreground which is just really dynamic.   You see this a lot in Filmation’s cartoon work, these interesting shot set-ups and uber weird camera angles (either extreme worm’s-eye-view or security camera, high up in a corner shots.)   Secondly we get to see the Filmation designer’s mind’s eye view of what it would look like inside this magical universe, which is apparently a world of Atari?!?

The last thing that really jumped out at me in this episode (that we don’t cover in episode 21 of the Saturday Supercast) is an early Orko sequence that has him getting in on the final battle a bit.  There are a lot of character match-ups in this series and this episode in particular.   In fact the set of evil and good characters is almost symmetrical.   He-Man offsets Skeletor, Evil-Lyn the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Tri-Klops, Ram-Man and Beastman, Stratos and Trap Jaw, Man-E-Faces and Merman, not to mention Cringer/Battle Cat and Panthor.  Orko though is sort of the odd man out.  There really isn’t a reoccurring character that fits Orko’s bill on the evil side, his bumbling ways are only sort of echoed in Merman and Beastman.  He’s more of an in for the children as viewers, giving them a character to latch onto, one who is a guide to the world of Eternia.

So it’s strange to see him step into the battle at the end of the episode and spin Tri-Klops’ head silly.   It’s sort of out-of-character for Orko, but fun none-the-less.

Again, to listen to Jerzy, Kevin and I wax nostalgic on this episode of He-Man you can download Episode 21 of the Saturday Supercast from the Sugary Serials site (or directly here), or you can subscribe to the show through iTunes.   We’re really proud of how the podcast is developing so far and we can’t wait to tackle more cartoons in future episodes.  We’ve got a lot of big plans…

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Cartoon Commentary! G.I. Joe Episode 5 A Stake in the Serpent’s Heart

Finally getting around to finishing off the Cartoon Commentary! series on the 1st G.I. Joe mini series (A Real American Hero).  This final episode, titled A Stake in the Serpent’s Heart, was first broadcast on September 16th, 1983, and it was the last taste kids would get of the cartoon series until the following year when the second mini debuted.  I’ve said this a number of times recently, but it bears repeating, these first five episodes go a long way in defining the series, and bowing only a week after the first syndicated episodes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, it also helped to define the next decade of television animation.   1983 really was a banner year for action in cartoons as we also saw the release of Dungeons and Dragons on Saturday mornings, and between these three shows TV animation, at least when it came to action, was free for the first time in over a decade.

Granted, there were shows that flirted with action premises, Super Friends, Blackstar, the Lone Ranger, Thundarr, and Spiderman & His Amazing Friends just to name a few, but all of these shows were just not quite there in terms of bravery.  Even He-Man, for its revolutionary first run syndication, and breaking the ice in terms of injecting action back into cartoons, was still taking a very moral stance on depicting violence.  But G.I. Joe burst onto the scene like Duke amid a group of Cobra Troopers, punching and kicking everything in sight.

So, getting back to the episode at hand, the story picks up from the cliffhanger where Destro and Scarlett are plummeting in an escape pod towards certain doom.  Of course, in the "coming next time on G.I. Joe" segment at the end of the previous episode we clearly see Scarlett running down a Cobra compound hallway, letting all the air out of the opening sequence of this episode…

Where this sequence fails as a cliffhanger, it succeeds in bookending the mini series as Destro leads Scarlett off of the escape pod at Cobra headquarters.  Just like Duke, and with an impassioned fit of feminism from the writers, Scarlett proves herself to be quite the "Woman of Action" as she breaks free and takes on a platoon of Troopers.  It’s another example of that never-say-die attitude exhibited by the Joes, and a more subversive example of imbedding a sense of morality into the show.   In He-Man for instance, this morality would be worn on the show’s sleeve so to speak, and we’d more than likely be treated to an insightful yet, borderline obvious quote from a character.  Here this sense of always doing the right thing and never giving up is written into the action.  It’s still a bit over the top, but much more natural.

One thing that I love about the Sunbow cartoons is their weird villain relationships.  You tend to get a lot of characterization out of these villain characters while watching them bounce off each other.   Like the Starscream/Megatron relationship in Transformers, there’s a weird back and forth between Cobra Commander and Destro.  Whereas Starscream always talks big, he usually backs down to Megatron (except when Megs is at his weakest in the 1986 Movie, but that’s a story for another time.)  On the one hand, Destro seems independent, the head of his own arms dealing organization, yet on the other he’s always vying for and temporarily taking control of Cobra.   Unlike Starscream though, Destro is the more physically imposing in his tête-

Cartoon Commentary! G.I. Joe Episode 4 Duel in the Devil’s Cauldron

One of the things that I find endlessly fascinating about cartoons in the 80s is the tonal shift that a lot of the shows took.  Throughout the 70s child advocacy groups like A.C.T. (Action for Children’s Television) were having a huge impact on the production of Saturday Morning cartoons, in particular pressuring studios to self-censor content.  So most action and adventure was stripped from new shows, and generally humor ruled the day.  In the 80s though, with a new president in the White House who had an eye on freeing up TV regulations, some studios took the opportunity to bring back action and adventure, while at the same time doing their level best to also make the shows a little more educational.  Some studios were more heavy handed than others (Filmation for instance based most episodes around a moral quandary), while others were sort of sneaky about the "good for you" content.

For the most part Sunbow was a bit sneakier about it.  Sure there were the "Knowing is half the battle…" PSAs, bust as far as the content in the actual episodes, it seemed like pretty straight forward storytelling.  This is sort of the genius of the writers, at least in terms of knocking down the wall between educational and exciting & fun television.  Instead of knocking kids over the head with a moral, they injected little subtle ideas here and there that didn’t draw all that much attention.   That was one of the first things that caught my eye while re-watching episode four of the original G.I. Joe mini series, Duel in the Devil’s Cauldron (which was originally broadcast back on September 15th, 1983.)

In the cliffhanger from the episode before, the Joes have been mostly knocked out by a noxious gas emitting from a Cobra canister that Snake Eyes used to bring back some of the eradiated crystals for the M.A.S.S. Device.   The canister was also set to explode, but with some quick thinking on Covergirl’s part, she manages to get the bomb out of the hanger they’re all in.  What caught my eye was when she breaks a beaker of water and then uses a hanky to soak up the liquid.  This makes an impromptu gas mask that she uses to keep from passing out.  Granted it’s not a huge deal, but it’s a little fact like this that’ll sit in the back of a kids brain and one day might come in handy.  I mean education doesn’t always have to be about algebra and world history.   This sort of stuff was peppered all throughout the series, and in my opinion is the way to go when educating kids with television.

Anyway, getting back to some of the visual tropes of the show, one of the main differences between the action figures and the cartoon were the weapons.  While all the toys were outfitted with a menagerie of different kinds of weapons, from handguns and shotguns, to Uzis and rocket launchers, the cartoon was a little more toned down.   Instead of realistic weaponry, most of the characters (good and evil) carry laser rifles and guns.   On the one hand it works toward the branding of the heroes (red laser fire) and villains (blue laser fire), but it also puts the show in that fantastical near-future with advanced technology.

While I don’t mind the laser fire in place of bullets, I always thought the standard issue Joe rifles were a little boring.  They didn’t have a ton of character like other weapons design, and they were typically beige with silver trim which isn’t all that visually exciting.  I always wondered why they didn’t vary the designs a little more…

So this episode has the Joes globetrotting on down to South America for their crack at the third catalytic element, the meteor chips that can only be found in the Devil’s Cauldron.  Like Kevin Cross mentions in the second half of the Saturday Supercast, this has got to be the one location that got all the child viewers excited.  What kid doesn’t love lava?  I mean seriously, what kid didn’t play the "The carpet is now lava and we have to only walk on the furniture…" game when we were young?

The other thing I dig about this sequence is that it’s another great example of backlit animation with the lava.  It’s such a great technique that’s lost in modern cartoons because most, if not all of them, are now drawn digitally.  God bless the popularity of Tron for ushering in 10 years of backlit techniques into cartoons is all I have to say…

I also love the next sequence in the cartoon, if only for its blatant commercialism.  I love G.I. Joe, and I’ll defend its merits to the death, but sometimes the product placement/30 minute commercial aspect to the show was insane.  When Stalker signals the surrender of the Joe army to Cobra via a super secret transmission, the whole thing is a ruse to buy time for the team to get to the meteor.  The gag transmission is being filmed using miniatures on a soundstage that are obviously the Hasbro toys.   I have to agree with Gung Ho, they are pretty darn cute and I for one was never a fan of electric train sets….

Talking about product placement, like the Cobra Moccasin in the second episode, I thought it was pretty interesting to see an early version of the Cobra Rattler, the jets that could take off vertically because the wings would pivot at the hinges.  It wasn’t part of the toy line yet in 1983, and they don’t quite have that nicely finished vehicle design look to them (a bit rough around the edges), but they’re certainly there in concept.  Again, I wonder if this was a case of something being developed for the show that Hasbro thought might make a cool toy.  I wonder how often that happens?

Too bad no one at Hasbro ever got a bug up their butt to design one of the awesome floating battle stations that Cobra used throughout the series…

I’m sure the logistics of creating something that would approximate that would be insane.  Even the 5-6 foot long U.S.S. Flagg was way out of proportion to the Sky Striker toy, and there was no way a kid was going to be able to pick-up a Flagg sized airship.  Still though, it was a cool vehicle reminiscent of the one S.H.E.I.L.D. used in the Marvel comics…

One thing I didn’t really care for in this episode was the retrieval of the meteor.  The sequence with the Joes using the Dragonfly helicopters and the huge magnets was kind of fun, but the idea of playing catch with a net strung between two Sky Strikers was kind of silly…

That’s alright though, because directly after we get a really fun fight scene involving a bunch of Joe strapping on their trust jetpacks and flying over to the deck of the Cobra floating battle station.  Weirdly enough, even though I didn’t care for the previous meteor catch scene, I thought the gag with Timber jumping out of a Dragonfly after Snake Eyes was kind of fun.  Silly fun, granted, but fun none-the-less.

One aspect of the advanced technology available to the Joe team that I never understood is the portable laser prison cells.   I get how it would be both visually fun, and an easy thing to write into the show when it comes to taking a bunch of Cobra Troopers captive during the show, but it seems kind of insane.   How exactly would it work?  Heck, maybe it’s just a regular portable prison that’s seriously electrified.

The last hing that sort of stuck out to me was both how well this episode ended with a riveting cliffhanger, yet at the same time it was totally ruined by the "Coming Next on…" segment.  There’s a bit where Scarlett, tied up and taken prisoner by Destro, manages to finagle her crossbow to fire with her feet, taking out the control panel of the escape ship that Destro is piloting…

The whole idea of them plummeting to their sure death was a great way to end the 4th episode…

But just as we cut to the coming attractions, there’s a scene of Scarlett running down a hallway.   How anticlimactic is that?

Tomorrow I’ll be back with some more G.I. Joe fun, a little surprise that will hopefully break-up all these Cartoon Commentary! posts.   Again, if you’re curious about listening to the Saturday Supercast where I talk about the original G.I. Joe mini series with co-hosts Jerzy Drod (of MLaT comics, the Art & Story podcast, and Sugary Serials) and Kevin Cross (of the Big Illustration Party Time podcast, not to mention a heck of an illustrator), then head on over to the podcast page at Sugary Serials.  The show spans over episodes 19 and 20, for a total of almost 3 hours of G.I. Joe conversation.


Cartoon Commentary! G.I. Joe Episode 3 the Worms of Death…

I don’t know how obvious it is, but I’m really excited to be podcasting again.  As some of the long time readers might remember, this site started at a platform for a podcast I was doing on my nostalgia memories, but what I discovered pretty quickly is that I had a difficult time getting across the type of info I wanted without having to basically write the whole thing out as a one man monologue show.  Though I talk to myself all the time, the act of sitting behind the mic to record it by myself feels pretty damn weird.   I’m no Spalding Gray, and I have absolutely no yearning to do stand-up, so finding that comfortable place to podcast from is hard.

At the same time though, I love listening to podcasts, and I really want to give a little back to the community, particularly when I see a niche that needs to be filled.  I really think the Saturday Supercast is going to go a long way in filling that whole, which is a deconstruction of cartoons (as well as some other similar fare, but that’s for later.)  There are a lot of fun shows out there that focus on a particular cartoon franchise, but most don’t stray too far past "OMG" and "It’s so cool when…".  Granted, it’s hard not to, with any interest in a subject, this is typically the first sort of gut reaction, but it’s only part of the equation.  Anyway, I just wanted to say again, that I’m having a lot of fun with the new show and I hope some of you take the time to download an episode or two and can get into it.

As I mentioned on this past post, we released the second half of the G.I. Joe discussion, so I thought I’d spend the rest of the week talking up G.I. Joe.  Though I was weaned on He-Man and Star Wars, G.I. Joe was the main franchise I grew up with.   I collected the toy line throughout most of the 80s, and it was the main cartoon that I ran home from school to watch.  There were a lot of other similar shows, and I’m pretty sure I watched most of them, but they were all second choice to G.I. Joe A Real American Hero.  This first mini series is a great example of what the show had to offer, in particular in the second half.  For this column I’m going to focus on episode 3, the Worms of Death which debuted on September 14th, 1983…

One of the things that G.I. Joe did very well was keeping the action and adventure thrilling in the episodes by ending each act break, and sometimes episodes, with a cliffhanger.  When we left off in the second episode, Snake Eyes had shut himself off in a chamber filled with radioactive crystals to save his teammates.  This episode picks up with a still breathing yet, glowing Snake Eyes plodding on.  Honestly, I have no clue what true radiation exposure might lead to (besides burns, sickness and death), but my guess is it doesn’t involve glowing pink (red if you get the new color corrected DVD set.)  Even so it makes for a great visual, and an interesting tête-

Cartoon Commentary! G.I. Joe Episode 2 Slave of the Cobra Master…

So the Saturday Supercast Jerzy Drozd, Kevin Cross and I recorded recently was pretty mammoth.  We ended up talking about the 1st G.I. Joe cartoon mini series for well over two hours and it was decided to break the show in half to make it easier to consume.  This worked out pretty well for me, at least in terms of spacing out these Cartoon Commentary! posts to coincide with the podcasts.   In the first episode we cover a lot of the basic stuff involved with the mini series as well as diving into the first two episodes.  For this column, I’m going to concentrate on that second episode which originally debuted on September 13th, 1983 and was titled Slave of the Cobra Master.

Again, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the massive amount of Cobra branding that was thrown in for this first mini series.  Above is a nice example of some of the background artwork used to illustrate the Cobra temple.  Not only does that snake make for an awesome temple topper, but it’s also a conduit helping to direct the energy bursts from the M.A.S.S. device.  Also, it’s kind of interesting how intertwined snake imagery was with action entertainment in the 80s.  The cold blooded reptile’s use in G.I. Joe is pretty obvious, but it also served as the design for the obviously named Snake Mountain, Skeletor’s castle in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  Then there are the intertwined snakes in Mumm-Ra’s headpiece on the Thundercats show, and of course I was a huge fan of both the first Conan movie and Clash of the titans, and the duo of James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom and Harryhausen’s version of Medusa terrified me.   Anyway, it’s just a thought…

One of the reoccurring themes in the Joe universe is Cobra Commander’s megalomaniacal Caesar complex (written into the Writer’s Guide), which is illustrated quite well in the first two cartoon mini series’ with the Cobra gladiatorial arena fights.  In the A Real American Hero mini, the fight takes place between two mind-controlled opponents, the captured Duke and the slave giant Ramar.   Again, this is interesting, at least to me, in that it works in fun action, a couple elements of the fantastical, and even a bit of world history, though that last one is a stretch.   Either way, it’s fun and again it works to define the character of Duke who never backs down, not even when the odds are stacked against him.

In fact Duke’s smarts and tenacity are even admired by Destro.  Cobra Commander and Destro are each controlling one of the combatants (Destro has Duke and CC has Ramar), and in mid battle Destro relinquishes control over Duke knowing that he’ll be able to handle Ramar better under his own control.  As a kid I was never all that fond of Duke’s character, though a lot of that could be contributed to his bland character design (and granted it’s only really bland in comparison to the outlandish Joes that would follow and what made up most of my collection.)  Now that I look back at him I think that his simple (in terms of not being flashy) design works perfect for the type of character.  Just goes to show the differences in the two mindsets…

What’s also kind of weird in the Joe universe is that Cobra’s infatuation with world domination and wealth often takes the form of an accumulation of gold.  When CC and Destro make a bet on the arena battle the spoils are pieces of gold (which is also what CC uses to pay off the Dreadnoks in the second Joe mini series.)  I wonder if this was a purposeful way to avoid talking about money in the cartoon, like maybe the producers or story editors (Steve Gerber and Buzz Dixon) wanted to avoid as much real world strife as possible.  We also see gold used as the ultimate coveted element (a very fairy tale like quality to the writing) in its use as a way to escape the mind control devices.  When we’re introduced to Selena, the save girl with a heart of gold (oh geez, bad turn of phrase I know), she gives Duke a thin stick (think bubble gum stick) of gold that will allow him to shirk the headband’s power.  I’m also reminded of an episode of Transformers where there is a pool of gold liquid that when bathed in makes robots invincible to laser fire (great Beachcomber episode to boot.)

When Duke decides it’s time to use the gold strip to break the mind control it unfolds in a very odd way.  I was expecting Duke to be free to do what he wants, which is essentially what happens, though it comes in the form of redirecting the energy used to control the headbands into laser like beams that knock the controllers out of Destro and CC’s hands.  It’s more visually interesting, but it’s also one of those weird leaps in logic that the show is famous for.  To be honest, even as an adult I don’t mind these leaps.

There’s another subtle moment (like in the previous episode where the Baroness in disguise fingers her earring) in the sequence where Selena is helping Duke to escape via the Cobra Viper Glider (one of the few times in this mini series where the writing feels like it’s pushing the toys.)  As they’re talking his Joe class ring glimmers a couple times.  He eventually gives the ring to her so that she can both remember him and so that he’ll remember to come back and save her and the rest of the slaves.  It’s also another sequence to show off his lady’s man side (by the end of the series he’ll have both Selena and Scarlett hanging off him.)

In a weird turn of events, the Joe team rescues the scientist (Dr. Vandemeer) that unwittingly helped Cobra build their M.A.S.S. device.  He helps them to build their own M.A.S.S. device, which is sort of a odd way to combat the original problem on a couple of different levels.  On the one hand it doesn’t seem like a likely answer unless the goal is to use their device to steal Cobra’s device.  I mean they’re matter transference machines, not weapons.   Also, as Jerzy brought up in the Saturday Supercast, it sort of breaks the unspoken rule of using the enemy’s weapons against them, a concept highlighted by the plight of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings series.   It points to the idea of corrupting one’s self to combat corruption, which is pretty self-defeating in terms of a winning end game strategy.   On the other hand, this conceit opens up the plot of this and the following two episodes as both teams race around the globe in search of the rare catalytic elements that power the M.A.S.S. devices.  It’s not just a matter of trying to stop the other side, but scoring these elements for your own team in the process.  It helps set the tone of the series as a whole and it makes the mini visually stunning for all its environments…

The first location explored is the dreaded Sea of Ice in the Arctic Circle where the pink radioactive crystals are located in a cave guarded by Cobra.   I love this sequence because it features some of my favorite Joe team members from the 1st two waves of figures from ’82 and ’83.  Putting myself back in the 1983-4 mindset, I wasn’t all that fond of the basic green fatigue-wearing Joes.   I hadn’t read the comics yet, and I wasn’t paying attention to the file cards yet (and I think at the time my parents were still giving me figures already out of the packages so I didn’t even realize there were file cards to clip), so the characters that stuck out to me were the ones that had interesting visual cues.   First and foremost there was Snake Eyes, who completely decked in black stood out the most of the early Joes.  Then there’s Tripwire and Flash, both of which had cool-looking helmets (with the coveted visors), and the grey and red highlights (respectively) to the basic green fatigues that made them aces in my book.  Scarlett has always been a cool character, and for me she fell into that group of figures I never managed to get my grubby hands on, so I wanted her all the more.  And last, but certainly not least, Snow Job, who was one of the first Joe action figures I distinctly remember receiving (right before meeting up with my Dad after he got off work at a local Florida Red Lobster.)  The sense memory of a mound of empty King Crab leg shells acting as a stand-in for a snowy peak that Snow Job could ski across is burned into my memory.

Anyway, it’s in this set of scenes that we’re first introduced to the Polar Battle Bear snowmobiles, and the evil Cobra Snake Robots

Animation-wise, the scene when the group of Joes enter the cave has some really nice choice camera angles, not to mention some nice shading and shadows (which always tend to make the art look so much richer.)  As a funny side note, it’s kind of odd that Snake Eyes carries a walkie talkie with him seeing that he’s practically mute and all.  I will admit that it’s been pointed out that walkie talkies do have Morse Code buttons on them, and I realize he can listen in, but it’s still kind of oxymoronic.

Something else that caught my eye while watching this episode is the dynamics of telecasting Cobra Commander to the world during one of his maniacal world domination rants.   There are a couple of shots which showcase some of Cobra’s finest troopers running the TV camera.  I guess either Cobra has one hell of a cross training media department, or they’ve spent some time recruiting out of the various A/V clubs in high schools around the country.  It leads to the obvious question, is there a brigade of sanitation troopers roaming the various temples and the Terror Drome in full gear?

Also, even though it isn’t really that much of a miraculous bit of precognition on the writer/designers parts, I thought it was kind of cool to see a quick shot of a suburban home with a flat screen the size of a coffee table on the living room wall.  We’re pretty much living in that age I guess.  Now where’s my personal jetpack and standard issue tan & silver laser rifle?

I’ve mentioned it a couple times in these past couple of columns already, but I thought it was really interesting that the story editors make it a very clear point in the writer’s guide to stay away from using real world U.S. antagonists as enemies in the cartoon.   Instead, the unspoken guideline (I haven’t seen it stressed in print) was to show other countries as allies against Cobra. In this first mini series Cobra’s second major target of their M.A.S.S. device attack is Russia.  Cobra burgles an entire battalion of their tanks and soldiers, teleporting them to the temple base.   I do have to stress that I thought it was odd that this army didn’t put up any fight when they arrived, unlike Duke who practically took on the entire Cobra army by himself twice by this point.

Ron Friedman is the man responsible for the heavy lifting on the writing duties in this mini series (as well as the other three Joe Minis and the G.I. Joe & Transformers movies), and if there is one reoccurring theme that I kind of dig, it’s his inhibition when it comes to potentially offing or downplaying beloved characters.  Granted I’m sure these were decissions that the entire writing staff disscussed, but they tend to occur in his contributed episodes.  Of course his most famous coup in this department is killing off Optimus Prime in the Transformers flick, but he also intended to kill of Duke in the Joe Movie (changed after the animation was finalized and the reactions were coming in to Prime buying the farm), he helped Buzz Dixon depose Cobra Commander in the Arise, Serpentor, Arise! mini, and in this episode basically left Snake Eyes for the soon to be eradiated dead.  Honestly, the show hadn’t been on long enough to really garner Snake Eyes the "beloved character" status, but it was still a gutsy cliffhanger in my eyes.  I mean, unless you’re James Bond or Ursula Andress in Dr. No, there really isn’t any coming back from radiation poisoning so bad your entire body beings to glow.  The "good bye" scene with Scarlett was pretty touching too, with nice shot of Snake Eyes slowly backing up into the radiation cloud.

If the show was every going to be accused of product placement, it’s probably in the scenes involving Duke’s crazy escape from the Cobra compound.  First Selena insists that the only way out is by stealing a Cobra Viper Glider, which Duke of course does, and then proceeds to go on a wacky trip with a bunch of Cobra troopers in tow.  I say wacky because not long after Duke is airborne, he crashes into a tree, and then falls directly into the waiting cockpit of an idling H.I.S.S. tank.  He then speeds away in the tank, through a nearby swamp where he again crashes into an embankment, and then ends up falling into a pit of quicksand.  It’s daring and exciting, but a little bit too Benny Hill for my tastes.

Something interesting I noticed during this chase sequence was another (almost) product placement in the form of the Cobra Water Moccasin.  For a brief second while in the water we see a white Moccasin speed by the frame…

…which is kind of interesting in that the toy hadn’t been released yet.   Most everything that ended up in this first mini series, from characters to vehicles, was already available in the 1982-1983 toy line (with some exceptions like the Baroness, the S.H.A.R.C. which will show up in the next episode, and Duke – who was only a mail-away at the time.)  There was also an appearance of a Rattler-like jet which shows up in the fourth part of the mini, but my guess is that wasn’t tied in with Hasbro.  So the Moccasin showing up, in a different color no less, seems to point to the idea that the writers/designers of the cartoon had access to upcoming vehicle designs.   Either that or their rendition of the water craft struck a nerve at Hasbro who then put it into production.

Anyway, like I mentioned above, the last we saw of Duke he was all but drowning in a pit of quicksand.  What I love about this sequence, and it’s something I never would have thought to watch out for if it hadn’t been for Mark Rudolph’s description of camera angles and blocking in the original Star Trek show (on an episode of the Art & Story podcast), is how interesting it is when a scene is framed by close-up objects in the foreground.   I love the shot of the two Cobra troopers with their legs framing either side of the screen and Duke breast-deep in quicksand.  Not only is it visually interesting, it gives the scene a menacing tone with the soldiers towering over duke and being so close to the "camera" that viewers get a feeling of being too close to the enemy.  It’s a little thing, but it’s a nice touch.

What’s really weird about this sequence though, and what makes me wonder if there is something missing in this segment of the episode is Dukes sudden memory loss and almost death.   Honestly he seems to be playing possum until the Cobra troopers leave, and in the next scene he’s on a gurney being attended by Doc and all of a sudden everything is tense.  If nothing else, why exactly does Duke forget about the whole affair in the Cobra fortress?  It seems like a very weird cliffhanger ending to me.

In the final episode of this mini series there is a segment where Doc is trying to help Duke remember in some sort of sensory deprivation chamber (that looks an awful lot like the bacta tank in the Empire Strikes Back), and his memories are projected onto a screen.  In this sequence we get a glimpse of Duke’s childhood and young adult years where he’s fighting off bullies and being a football hero.  When we talk about this in the Saturday Supercast Jerzy recalled the fact that this sequence of Duke’s younger years was cut on the copy of the official FHE VHS tape for the miniseries.   It points to the idea that there are different versions of the episodes floating around.  I’m pretty positive that there are differences in the original broadcast episodes and the later syndicated ones, if only because as the years go on the restrictions of cutting in commercial time get harsher.  So I’m sure there are a lot of episodes that are missing segments and I have to wonder is Rhino, when they were putting together this mini series DVD might have gotten an edited set of the masters that was missing something.  It’s just a thought.

Anyway, this commentary brings us up to date with what we end up talking about in episode 19 of the Saturday Supercast.  Also, we should be posting the follow-up show, episode 20, in which we discuss the next three episodes as well as touching on some of the more modern incarnations of the franchise, namely the new live action film set to debut in August, the Rise of Cobra, as well as the lead up cartoon even that debuted this past spring called G.I. Joe Resolute.  Also, and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me mention this, the season 1.1 DVD set of the original G.I. Joe cartoon (featuring this very episode) hit store shelves yesterday and is current available on Amazon for only $17.  Alright, pimp mode off.


Cartoon Commentary! Eyes of the Hawk, Ears of the Wolf, Strength of the Bear, Speed of the Puma!

What a week. I never realized just how insane an office move could be. Even though the physical aspect is over, the residual ripples are still keeping me swamped. I do have to say that the step up in quality in the new office is great. 20 inch flat screen monitors on adjustable arms, hidden PC towers under the desks, so much better than the ancient set up we had before. Now if I can just find the time to blog. BLARGH!

Anyway, the most exciting thing going on outside of crazy work moves is the coming Halloween season. I’m already seeing signs for the seasonal stores popping up, and Party City has already started rolling out its spread. I can’t wait to see what the Target displays look like this year, as well as beginning the hunt for interesting goodies. Can’t wait.

In the interim here’s the first of a handful of Bravestarr animation cels from around 1987. I figured I should begin with the show’s namesake, Marshall Bravestarr himself…

Bravestarr makes the end of the 80s cartoon era, at least in terms of shows that I remember fondly as a kid. For some reason it seemed like interesting shows dried up for a couple years as there didn’t seem to be that many shows that really entertained me. Of course this was also around the time that got into Metallica and started “acting more adult” as the ripe old age of 10. Anyway, Bravestarr also marks the end of an era for Filmation studios as it was their last big show before they closed their doors.

When I was hunting for cels I couldn’t find that many of Bravestarr that featured a nice shot of his face, or a full body shot. The above cel was about the best I could find. I wasn’t sure what he was holding in the scene, but I’ve since found the episode and realized that it was some sort of canister with a rope coming out of it.

One of the complaints I’ve heard about the quality of the Bravestarr cartoon is actually one of the aspects that I love the most, the sketchiness of the black line work. The cartoon feels very rough around the edges this way but I think it adds both character and enhances the western feel of the show.

Cartoon Commentary! A horde quickie!

Today’s Cartoon Commentary! is going to be a quick one as I’m so busy at work I feel like I need an extra set of legs so that I can run in two directions at once.  This cel is another from the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon (circa 1985-86) and features one of the Horde Troopers on his wonderous flying machine.  I originally picked up this cel to showcase an example of a more rigid technological item instead of the more common fluid character cels.

What I found really interesting about this is that even though vehicles like this come off very straight-edged and technically perfect, when you get close up to the image you can see that it’s not quite so.  Some of the line work looks like it was done by hand instead of with rulers and stuff, though I don’t have the pencil under drawing to see this for sure.  Because it looks like it was mostly drawn free hand I can only imagine how much of a headache this could be while animating, trying to match up all the little parallel lines and connections between the metal plates and stuff.  Maddening actually.

Next week, less stress at work (laugh) and some cels from Bravestarr!

Cartoon Commentary! Battle Cat in a play bow…

I feel like I’m so behind in keeping a regular posting schedule around here.  My day job is sapping so much of my time lately, and yeah, blah, blah, blah I know no one wants to read about my day job woes.  Anyway, there is a bright light on the horizon though as things are starting to fit into place and are getting back to normal (which means a regular schedule and routine), so hopefully I’ll be back to normal soon.

In the mean time, here is another edition of Cartoon Commentary!, and yet another piece from my 80s animation cel collection.  This week I’m going to take another look at a cel from the Filmation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, circa 1984-85.  This one features another one of my favorite characters, Battle Cat, the alter ego of Cringer and steed/side kick to the muscled man himself, He-Man.

I think when it comes to Masters of the Universe I tend to fall in love with characters based on their design more than their personality per-se.  So as far as design goes, I really dig Battle Cat, in particular his gnarly helmet/mask, which highlights his almost serpentine yellow eyes.  I also love that the toy and cartoon designers managed to use the red and green color scheme without evoking even a lick of Christmas, which I have to say seems almost an impossible feat.  As far as personality goes, I like that they managed to turn give the Scooby Doo archetype a bit of a twist with his transformation from the meek fraidy cat Cringer into the bold and gruff Battle Cat.

Also, I managed to get a more overall scan of the cel this time so the production notes are included at the bottom (like I’ve mentioned, my scanner isn’t all that big.)  I haven’t managed to decode all of the notes yet, but I do know that the MU-92 refers to Masters of the Universe episode #92.  I’m not positive but I think that this cel is part of a sequence in which Battle Cat is about to leap up, and not the play bow that it appears to be.  Here’s a closer view of the cropped image…

There isn’t a whole lot to learn from this cel and its pencil under drawing.  The one thing I did notice that is kind of interesting is in the pencil drawing.  The animator made sure to color in a couple areas in Battle Cat’s mouth, I’m assuming to show the final ink & paint artist where there would some color variation in that area.  You can see that whoever painted this cel could have misinterpreted the area to the right of Battle Cat’s teeth as another place to paint in a darker red as it appears to be colored in like the area to the left, but upon closer inspection this is just where some of the blue pencil lines came close together.  I can see where it would be easy to miss-color something in the painting process, and again where Filmation benefits from having it all done in house where the communication would be better.

I have one more cel, from She-Ra, to share next week before I move on to another Filmation cartoon that I loved growing up, Bravestarr.

Cartoon Commentary! Loo-Kee another animation cel!

I figured since I started sharing my animation cel collection last week with an Orko Cel from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (the 1st cel I broke down and purchased for the collection), I thought I’d stick with posting Filmation cels for a bit.  Also, I wanted to mention again that because my scanner is relatively small (8"x12") I can’t get a good scan of the entire cel and have decided instead of crop the image so that only the painted image is in frame.  I’m trying to include the production notes at the bottom of the cel when I can, but it doesn’t always work out.  What I need to do is also include a photo of the full cel, which I’m working on (my camera is on the fritz at the moment), but it might take a bit.

Anyway, this week I thought I’d share a cel from the sister show/spin-off of He-Man, She-Ra Princess of Power.  Though I never really watched it when it originally ran I’ve become a pretty big fan of the show in recent years as there are some interesting plot change-ups when compared to He-Man, a cartoon that I loved growing up.  I always figured that She-Ra was just a version of He-Man for girls, and though to an extent it’s exactly that, the premise isn’t quite the same.  The most marked difference is in the power struggle between She-Ra and her arch nemesis Hordak, and the fact that Hordak is in control of the fantastical land of Etheria with She-Ra leading a band of freedom fighters to try and liberate the populace.  Whereas on MOTU where King Randor was in control of Eternia and Skeletor was always attempting to usurp that power, constantly being derailed by He-Man and his friends.  The She-Ra cartoon comes off a lot darker and seems as if it takes more cues from the original Star Wars trilogy than any of the barbarian/sword & sorcery epics that informed He-Man.

Again, since I shared a cel featuring Orko last week I thought I’d share a character from the She-Ra cartoon that is sort of his counterpart, Loo-Kee, circa 1985.  Well, actually, the She-Ra ‘Orko’ would actually be Madame Razz, a bumbling witch who knows She-Ra/Adora’s secret much in the same way that Orko knows Prince Adam is really He-Man, but Loo-Kee also shares some similar characteristics to Orko…

Basically Loo-Kee was a character that was hidden in the background of each episode.  He’d appear before the end credits and ask the viewers if they managed to find him (in a very Where’s Waldo sort of way), and then he’d proceed to give the moral of the episode. I think this is sort of an interesting way to change up the moral-giving aspect of 80s cartoons as it’s now coming from an outside source and can be taken a little bit more as commentary instead of a direct lesson from one of the main characters.  I do believe he ends up mixing with the main cast in a couple of episodes, but for the most part he’s sort of outside the plot and it more of a figure head for the show, much like how Orko seems to figure in as a representative icon for the MOTU cartoon.  He’s also a smaller, almost comic relief type of character, again much like Orko, so I kind of consider him a partial counterpart.

Anyway, as far as the cel itself goes, I was really happy with this one. The painting is on the large size, taking up a good portion of the cell (about 6.5" square) and it’s really colorful.  See color is another draw, at least for me, with animation cels.  Since the cels tend to only have one character or item on them, and since they are typically mostly clear negative space for other cels to lay on top or show through, I find it really cool when the image is striking or vivid.  Loo-Kee was made to be just this as his desing works in practically ever color in the rainbow (except orange and purple, though orange is sort of implied in his skin tone.)  So having the image on the large side and colorful really makes this cel pop.

I even like the depressed, sort of scared expression on the character’s face as it’s an emotion you don’t typically get from him, sort of like an enraged He-Man cel would be.  There’s also very little paint damage, just a few specks of missing paint on his coveralls here and there.  The black linework can out mostly crisp as well in this cel, so it doesn’t end up looking too sketchy or like a bad photocopy.

Something I meant to point out in the last CC! is the quality of work Filmation did with it’s cartoons.  Now I’m pretty much talking out of my ass here as I really don’t know all the ins and outs of the animation process, but from what I can gather just by examining the cels in my collection, the Filmation cels all seem have a little bit more going on in the quality department.  For instance, when looking at the back of the cels where the paint was actually applied, you can see that almost none of the black line work shows through the paint.  Typically I wouldn’t claim a paint’s opaqueness as a mark of quality, but when I was thinking about some of the other cels I have and how you can very clearly see the line work through the paint on the back it occurred to me that you might have areas when paint overlaps that might be discolored because the last color applied might filter through the other layers of paint.  This certainly seems like a quality issue to me.  Also, all of the Filmation cels that I own are larger (11"x14") than most of the other cartoons I’ve seen so far (which range from 8.5"x11" to 9"x12".)  Again, not that size equals quality, but it does free up the artists to work in a little more detail or play around with layout a bit more.

I have to assume this is because Filmation was almost entirely animated in-house as opposed to outsourcing the cel production work.  From all of the special features I’ve watched included in the sets released by BCI: Ink & Paint, Filmation really does come off as a studio that cared a great deal about quality.  It"s funny, people tend to point fingers at Filmation for re-using animation sequences, but by doing so they could afford to keep the whole production together which meant that coordination and communication between departments putting a show together were always the best they could possibly be.  Not that this is something visible from the cel above, but you could also see this in the various series they worked on as there really weren’t that many obvious animation errors like miss-colored characters or unevenly photographed cels, again because of the fact that it was all done in-house.

As far as the pencil under drawing for this Loo-Kee cel goes, there isn’t all that much to comment on.  I thought it was interesting that the animator took the extra couple of seconds to fill in his eyebrows and pupils as it seems like an extra step that’s not needed considering the final cel will have to have these areas filling in or touched up in black paint.  Granted it’s not a large area of black fill in the pencils, but when you compare it to the Orko pencil drawing I shared last week, you can see that they didn’t bother to color in either the ‘O’ on his cloak or the shadow under his hat where his eyes peek out.

Next week I’ll have another CC! featuring yet another animation cel from Filmation…