So with episode 5 of the D&D cartoon, In Search of the Dungeon Master, we finally start getting into the show a little deeper as Dungeon Master becomes a little more active, and we’re introduced to screenwriter Jeffrey Scott, who ended up penning a third of the series, with 9 episodes under his belt. Scott, the grandson of Moe Howard, actually wrote for a lot of cartoons over the years, but more importantly he wrote a lot of episodes for each cartoon he worked on, which so far from my research is pretty rare. Typically it seems like writers get credited with a few episodes on a series, or they’ll have one series where they contributed a lot, but practically every show Scott’s worked on has been for 8 or more episodes, and in some cases entire seasons (Super Friends, Spider-Woman, and according to IMDB the Trollkins, though it also credits Mark Evanier on that project as writer, so I’m not sure if this is trustworthy.) For most of Scott’s tenure on the show he managed to push the boundaries a little past the basic conventions of the series, providing more back story, putting characters actually in harm’s way, or looking outside of the realm for inspiration. Of course he also penned the questionable Teddy Bear episode (episode 17), which is probably influenced a bit too much by Star Wars and the Ewoks.
This episode begins a little different than normal as the imposing Warduke, as a means of bartering with Venger, kidnaps Dungeon Master. This leaves the gang directionless with only the odd ramblings of a fairy to hopefully lead them to DM. Along the way they end up seeing how evil some areas of the realm can be as they try and help a band of Dwarf slaves.
Actually the gang is sort of on a quest at the beginning of the episode, looking for a talking tree, which hopefully will have the wisdom to tell them the way home. This is sort of a red herring though, as this quest is abandoned pretty quickly.
At the beginning of the episode we also get a quick glimpse into the world of Dungeon Master when he isn’t dolling out his Yoda-esque cryptic witticisms to the kids. Apparently he likes to spend his afternoons on leisurely snail rides while having some good conversation time with high pitch voiced fairies. We also get a chance to see him facing off with a bunch of bumbling toad creatures before Warduke shows up to abduct him.
I was surprised to see Warduke in this episode, as I have a bunch of fond memories of the character from childhood. Though I haven’t played the tabletop game (I’m not even sure if Warduke is a character in it), I did have the toy which I loved to death because he was so gnarly and evil looking. I’m not sure exactly how I came about getting him as a kid, but there was something awesome about his beady read eyes sunken deep with his winged helmet that I used to love. He also reminded me a lot of the weird villain goons from the two Mad Max sequels.
Where the toad men bumbled ad failed at getting a handle on Dungeon Master, Warduke simply sweeps in, chucks his huge sword into a tree where DM is escaping, and freezes him in his tracks. Apparently Warduke’s sword acts as a sort of freeze ray (maybe it’s the evil icy cold touch of death or something.)
Like E.T., we can clearly see that DM is still alright as the gemstone on his tunic is still glowing red.
The slightly annoying fairy from the beginning of the episode (who is voiced by Frank Welker doing a precursor to his voice-work for Slimer from the Real Ghostbusters) runs to get the gangs help in aiding DM. By the time they get to the area where DM was abducted, all that’s left are the crazy toad men. There’s also a couple of animation errors right after the fairy comes to fetch the gang, one where Diana’s hair is discolored red (actually more of an orange, Sheila’s hair color) for a second (though I forget to get a screen grab), and a seond one where Bobby and Presto’s voices are switched.
In the ‘fight’ that ensues, there is some more crazy bow work from Hank where he manages to use his energy bolts as fireworks to make the toad men flee. It’s kind of funny, I have to keep asking myself why I am so anxious to see the kids use their weapons in a violent manner instead of being so weirdly creative with them. It’s not like I’m a really violent person, or that I want to see the kids actually harm someone, but there’s something I find disconcerting about having weapons like a bow or a club introduced and they are almost never used the way they are intended. I guess it’s a lot like watching the Star Wars flicks, except instead of seeing Luke cutting off phantom Vader heads he’d be constantly making his light saber into a sort of light lasso or light whip. What if Obi Wan, instead of cutting off Walrus Man’s arm, switched on his light saber, sliced into the floor in front of Walrus man and a series of fireworks popped up that made ‘ol Wally run like the dickens? It’d be weird wouldn’t it?
At Least Diana seems to be using her staff correctly in the scene, at least in terms of how one would use a bo in a fight.
There’s another instance in this episode where Eric reaches under his clothing to produce a real world item, in this case a wad of $100 bills. Again, I realize that this is used as a sort of one off gag, but it’s really distracting from an otherwise sort of serious show.
There’s a nice quick scene involving Warduke sending Shadow Demon off to fetch Venger so that he can barter Dungeon Master away. It’s kind of cool to know that there are independent forces of evil at work in the realm as Venger has been the main villain, or the boss of the main villain in every episode so far.
This episode also features some mysteriously helpful winged lions (now I know these have a name and I was thinking of either manticores, sphinxes, or griffins, though none of these really fit the bill.)
Much like the scene in the first episode where Sheila is jumping on a horse and you get a weird panty shot, we also get a confirmation on what type of underwear Presto prefers. For the record he’s a striped boxer sort of guy…
There are a couple of other paint errors in this episode as well, one small one (that wasn’t worth getting a screen grab of) on the cliffs where Sheila and Eric’s eyebrows aren’t filled in, and a second where Eric’s glove mysteriously disappears for a second.
Jeffrey Scott sure as heck wasn’t holding back on the amount of new monsters and creatures in this episode. In addition to the Toad Men, the Warduke, the giant snail, a fairy and the winged lions, we are also introduced to this huge rock creature (with cool gem eyes I might add.) Also, it’s kind of hard to see but those white blades on his hands aren’t his fingers (though they sure look like ‘em), they’re more like Wolverine claws extending from it’s knuckles.
With the introduction of a creature character like this, I guess Scott felt more comfortable having the kids fighting it directly, as for only the second time in the series Hank fires a few volleys of energy arrows directly at the rock creature. I’m wondering if the less humanoid the creature, or the more obviously it isn’t made of flesh and blood, the easier it is to do direct damage to it, sort of how Genndy Tartakovsky found himself replacing human villains with robots in Samurai Jack to appease the censors and parents groups, or how all of the gallons of blood in Evil Dead 2 were a variety of colors, except for red of course, so that they could avoid an X-rating.
If all of the creatures above weren’t already enough, than we also have a more starring role for the Orcs, which were introduced in episode three. Apparently they are the go to henchmen as they work for both Warduke, and later Venger. The thing that struck me the most about the Ocs was their likeness to the Gamorean Guards in Return of the Jedi, what with their build, their horns (even if they’re on the helmets), and their piggish snouts. Star Wars has a great deal of influence over this series as it was at the height of it’s popularity in the 80s, not to mention merchandised to the gills and back. Hooking kids in with similarities is a no brainer and more or less to be expected of cartoons of the time.
Scott wasn’t done though; he is apparently a lover of all things creature, as we also get a quick snippet of some sort of tentacled swamp creature…
…as well as the most awesome thing ever for a Saturday morning cartoon, ZOMBIES! The Zombies will feature more prominently in episode seven, but it was so cool to see a lone creature of the undead wandering around the swamps of the realm.
Scott also introduces another long running convention of the series in this episode, which is featuring an establishing shot of Venger’s castle. Almost every time it’s shown from here on out it looks completely different and I’m not sure if it’s because it wasn’t described on a model sheet, so it was left up to the animators, or if the producers and writers were trying to get across the idea that Venger held residence all over the realm in many different abodes. Of course, a lot of the forthcoming castles are also destroyed, so that’s another reason right there.
I really liked the design on this castle, sort of like a huge stalactite. You don’t seem to find to many castles that are built to hang, almost more like a hive or a mud dobber (what is the correct name for a wasp’s nest?)
Red haired dwarves are common slaves in the realm, as we’ll see in further episodes. In fact if it isn’t dwarves, it’s halflings. Short folk get the crap end of the stick in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.
What’s that? You say that Scott didn’t throw in enough new creatures in this episode? Well then here’s a giant swamp turtle to tide you over. Actually for all of the creatures showcased in this episode, I’m surprised that it also doubles as the first episode not to feature any sort of dragon.
In yet another scene where the gang uses their weapons like tools, it appears that Hank’s energy bolts can also be fashioned into a lasso. I suppose this means that he has some sort of psionic control over the bolts, as he seems to make them into whatever he pleases, not to mention as harmless as he pleases, as Bobby has ridden them before. Hank does have a cool moment a bit later when he shoot Warduke’s sword out of his grasp.
As the kids free Dungeon Master we get to really see him in action as he has a short fight with Venger in which he totally owns him, and yes, once again Venger is dissipated, though unfortunately not into some sort of cool towering visage. Makes you wonder Dungeon Master doesn’t just kill the guy off you know?
Anyway, this is the first instance where Dungeon Master and Venger are on screen together (well except for the opening credits, but does that really count?) If Scott can be credited with anything as far as the series goes, it’s breaking out of the confines of the normal story structure that was set up in both the series bible and in the first four episodes.
Right after he’s done with that and the kids free the dwarf slaves, DM makes quick work of Warduke and his cronies as he causes the mines where Warduke made his hideout to fill with lava (I guess it was a dormant volcano or something.) It was kind of cool to see DM really letting loose with the destruction, though on another hand it’s also inferred that he let himself get caught (for the benefit of the kids coming to rescue him I guess), so that takes away from it a little. Either way it was a pretty dynamic episode, and one that would set the tone for the rest of the series.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at episode six, Beauty and the Bogbeast.