Tag Archives: Thundercats

Pop Culture Cartography

I was recently flipping through a few of my issues of ThunderCats magazine (as you do) and decided to finally remove and unfold some of the included posters that each issue contained.  Most of them are pretty bad, awkwardly painted versions of the characters in a sort of collage, but one of them kind of blew my mind.  It was a full on map of 3rd Earth!

Map of Third Earth

It looks like it’s pretty much strict to the season one stories as there’s no mention of the Lunataks, but it’s still pretty damn amazing.  I love knowing that the Ro-Bear Berbil village was right behind Cat’s Lair and that Castle Plun-Darr is out in a little peninsula.  I shared this scan on the Branded facebook page and on Instagram and when I was talking to folks about it, it reminded me that I had a couple other pop culture maps in my collection.  The first one that sprang to mind was another magazine centerfold, though this time it was from issue number four of Muppet Magazine from 1983…

Fraggle Map Muppet Magazine Issue 4 Fall 1983

The lands of Fraggle Rock!  Of course, this is just the immediate vicinity of the day to day Fraggle wanderings and doesn’t account for the vast lands of “Outer Space”, but I have to assume that Uncle Traveling Matt has this covered and is working on more maps…

Of course, my favorite map in my collection is a replica of One Eyed Willie’s treasure map from the Goonies.  I have it handing on my living room wall right next to a nifty portrait of the Fratellis by Matthew Luxich, a replica of the doubloon, and a print by Scott Fuller.

Goonies Art

goonies map

After wracking my brain I also realized that I had a map of Nockmaar from the film Willow that was in an old Sourcebook that I used to have….

Map of Nockmaar Willow

…as well as a pretty rad map of the Smurfs’ village that was an insert in the really cool World of the Smurfs book I reviewed a few years ago!  Though the Smurf book is out of print, it’s is still pretty easy to snag over at Amazon.

Smurf Village Map

Talking about these on Facebook, the super rad Douglas Bodine sent me scans of an amazing map of the world of The Dark Crystal!  The map was included in an old storybook called The Tale of the Dark Crystal

Dark Crystal Map

The last piece of pop culture cartography that I have is the map that was included in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (which I totally forgot about until my girlfriend Jaime pointed it out…)

princess bride

I bet these would look pretty awesome framed and on the wall (well, I know the Goonies map does for sure.)  It also has me wondering what other cool pop culture maps are hanging around out there.  I know that a series of maps for the lands in the Masters of the Universe were just released with the MOTU Classics figures including Eternia and Etheria.  I’d love to get my hands on those.  So, any other cool pieces of cartography that are 80s-centric?

Spotting some fun stuff in the new Robo Force comic!

So, as I mentioned last month the 1980′s era toyline Robo Force has made a triumphant return with new customizable figure sets from the fine folks over at Toyfinity.  Along with this relaunch of the toys, head honcho John Kent has tapped Jerzy Drozd to help him bring the story of the new Robo Force to life with a webcomic.  The first handful of pages have begun to update and the latest page is slap full of some fun, hidden, 80s cartoon and toy homages!  I thought it would be fun to break them down and see all the cool stuff Jerzy packed in the panels…

Robo Force Comic Page Six labeled

1). First and foremost there’s a little bit of foreshadowing on this page.  In the large middle monitor you can see the shoulder spikes, arm, and chest of Robo Force villain Hun-Dred!

Roboforce 3

2). Speaking of 80s Robot Evil Villains, there is a decimated Slaughter Steelgrave on the floor.  Arch nemesis of Hot Shot from the Starriors figures by Tomy.  I’ve talked about my love for these rad interchangeable wind-up figures before

Slaughter Steelgrave

3). Now I didn’t catch this at first (I needed a hint from Jerzy to figure it out), but up in insert panel you can see the avian hood ornament from the Masters of the Universe Wind Raider!

Wind Raider

4). Speaking of cool animal-themed 80s vehicles, jutting out from underneath that insert panel is none other than one of the arms from the ThunderCats Thunder Tank!

thunder tank

5). But not all of these references are from the far flung corners of the galaxy, off to the right in that above mentioned insert panel you can catch a glimpse at part of Cobra’s Weather Dominator from G.I. Joe!

Weather Dominator

6). If you’ve been following this Robo Force comic then so far we’ve seen a very wrecked looking Wrecker and the sad sight of Maxx Zero (Maxx Steele from the original toys) in pieces.  Looks like he could use this next item to light his darkest hour, the Autobot Matrix of Leadership from the Transformers!

Autobot Matrix

7 & 8). The next two hidden items get a little more obscure and are linked to the same character.  The helmet and power staff of the villainous Cravex from the Visionaries!

Visionaries_Cravex_Cut_Bubble

9). This last hidden item made me blush, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that… ;)

So, if you’re a fan of 80s toys and haven’t had a chance to pick up one of the rad new Robo Force figure sets, keep your eyes peeled on the Toyfinty site for an announcement on the next drop of new stock.  In the meantime head on over to their comic and keep up as the story of the new Robo Force unfolds with a new page each week!  I’ve known Jerzy for a number of years, have tabled with him at conventions, talked at length with him and other friends about 80s cartoons and have loved reading his comics work over the years so believe me when I say that he’s putting his all into this new Robo Force comic and it’s well worth your attention!

 

With a handle like Smurfwreck you’d think blue would be my favorite color…

…but it’s not, it’s hot pink.  Now that, that random bit of trivia is out of the way, I wanted to take a second and tackle this week’s League assignment where we’re charged with taking photos highlighting the color blue.  Last time we had an assignment like this (with Red), I totally didn’t notice the photo assignment and wrote and essay about blood and how it worked into my first and only fight as a kid.  This time I paid better attention and collected some of my favorite blue stuff from around Branded HQ.

First up, one of my two favorite blue t-shirts, and the classiest one I own for sure…

Top Hat Sas

Next up, some chilly and wet stickers from my favorite vintage collection, Garbage Pail Kids…

GPK Blue

I was surprised at how many blue robots I had within reaching distance…

blue robots

Posing my Soundwave statue it occurred to me that there were a hell of a lot of blue villains in the 80s cartoons and toy lines I loved.  Like Fakor, Skeletor and Trap Jaw!

blue fakor

Not to mention the supreme blue badass that is Mumm-Ra!

blue mummy

And who can forget the rad blue fashion sense of Cobra!

blue terrorist fashion

But by far, my favorite blue thing is the totally amazing birthday gift I received this year, my very own furry blue My Pet Monster!

mpm 1 mpm2

Oh, and there’s my other favorite blue t-shirt, DeLorean represent.

If you like all the blue-i-ness you see here, why not check out some of the other League members to see what blue caught their camera eye…

Jaime, Shezcrafti, shares 21 (not) boring blue things about her

Dex, AEIOU and Sometimes Why, opens a vintage pack of Blue Star Wars Topps trading cards

Miss M, Diary of a Dorkette, gets blue with her Dorky Snaps

Derek, Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks, shows off his very impressive blue toy collection

Laura, Boo Bobby, shows off her Boglins, Gonzos, Rad T-shirts, and Turtles, oh my

Todd, Neato Coolvile, has quite an impressive collection of vintage blue wonderful

Tommy, Top Hat Sasquatch, is feeling blue, so Batman made cookies!

Chris, Garage Sale of Awesome, shares their super rad blue M.A.S.K. bedsheets!

Taking a look at the first season of the ThunderCats!

So I recently caught the first couple episodes of the newly relaunched ThunderCats cartoon and it got me in the mood to break out the first season of the original show on DVD and watch a bunch of episodes.  Sort of like the Transformers posts last month, I figured I’d run through a bunch of scenes and aspects that I found interesting.  Before I get to that though, I wanted to say that I’m enjoying this new series even though I think it’s making some very weird choices story-wise.  For the most part I really like the changes the writers have made to the back-story, picking a relate-able age for Lion-O, ignoring the Superman origin of escaping the destruction of Thundera, and introducing some familial ties to the characters; heck, even tying in Mumm-Ra to the legend of the Eye of Thundera feels like a move in the right direction of making sense of the enormous amount of ideas presented in the original series. T here are some odd aspects to the story though, that I feel just don’t work.

First, the concept of treating “technology” like magic, as if it were some mystical unknown fairytale, is just weird and goes against the logic of what technology is.  With magic, which is heavily prevalent in the world of the ThunderCats in both series, there is no real basis for why it works or exists because it’s completely fictional and a product of fantasy.  There’s no science or reason to it, it just is.  Technology on the other hand has its roots in reality, in the simplest of tools (levers, wheels and inclined planes), and even though a graphing calculator might be light years ahead of an abacus, it’s a natural progression of the concept.  Granted the tech introduced in the show is of a more advanced and alien design than what we currently have in the world, but it’s not to say it’s stuff that out of the realm of possibility.  It’s the science fiction aspect of the series.  So to treat technology as if it were a fairy tale, a part of fantasy, though interesting, just seems like a plot device full that’s at odds with itself by the very nature of the difference between science fiction and fantasy.

The other weird plot point is that at the end of the first episode we’re left with a group of ThunderCats that are more less seeking vengeance for the destruction of their kingdom and the murder of their people and king.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good vengeance/revenge story, but I think it’s the wrong way to frame a story about heroes.  The Punisher, the Bride from Kill Bill, Lone Wolf and Cub; these characters aren’t heroes and are beyond redemption.  It’s a weird choice to frame the ThunderCats story with this sort of anger and intensity.  Not only does it possibly lead to unjustifiable actions by the “good” characters, it’s also hard to keep that intensity going over the course of an extended series.  Either every story has to tie into Mumm-Ra and the revolt of the Mutants, or there’s going to have to be a pretty darn good reason to stray from the path to have a stand alone story without it feeling like a waste of time.  The beauty of a lot of 80s era cartoons was that they were set up in such a way that you could go anywhere with the characters.

Well, anyway, that’s how the new show’s introduction came off to me.  Getting back to the original series and the point of this article though, first thing’s first, let’s get the naked cat out of the bag so to speak.  By that I mean…

Why were the ThunderCats freaking naked in the pilot episode!?!

I have absolutely no idea why Leonard Starr (the pilot’s writer) or the guys in charge of production on this series decided it would be a good idea to introduce the ThunderCats as a race of seriously naked cat people.  Not only are the characters naked, but they don’t even have any distinguishing genitalia.  They all have creepy Barbie Doll crotches and it’s just weird and disturbing.  I mean I know there is a history of anthropomorphized cartoon animals that aren’t wearing clothes (Porky Pig’s missing pants anyone), and I understand that there are plenty of mammals in nature that just have the fur on their backs, but this goes beyond that.  Way beyond that…

I mean there’s even a point where Jaga takes all the characters aside and gives them each magical clothing (and weapons) stating that “…on our planet you needed no protective clothing or special weaponry…”.  My question then is why is Jaga wearing clothes from the very beginning then?  I almost get the vibe that Jaga’s been traveling off-world or something, which he may very well have, but from a design standpoint it’s just really wonky.  Maybe it was the writer’s intent to showcase the characters getting fancy new uniforms, but then why not introduce them in some common bland tunics or something that they eventually change out of?

  

Honestly, it probably wouldn’t seem so weird if the character design on all the ThunderCats didn’t allude to the idea that their faces, chests and neither regions aren’t covered in fur. Or the fact that though naked, they’re all wearing boots.  It also doesn’t help seeing scenes with Kit and Kat, or a naked Cheetara waking up a very young, naked Lino-O.  Maybe it’s just me, but seeing naked women and adolescent young boys and girls in cartoons for kids is just wrong…

Speaking of weird decisions in the pilot episode, why did Lion-O grow to full adulthood while in the suspension capsule?

  

While preparing for the long journey to Third Earth the ThunderCats are ordered by Jaga to make the trip in a series of suspension capsules that will slow their aging and enable them to survive the trip.  He mentions offhand that some aging does occur, but when their ship crash lands on Third Earth Lion-O has grown to full adulthood and it’s treated like an anomaly.  What’s weird is that none of the other characters seem to have aged at all, including Wiley Kit and Kat who were roughly the same age as Lion-O.  Again, I have a feeling the writers and/or producers wanted the character to be like a child in a man’s body who has to learn to lead the ThunderCats, but their choice to age him up with no real reason was just weird.  How hard would it have been to write a quick segment that showed his capsule being damaged somehow?  I mentioned above that one of the cool aspects to 80s era cartoons was that they were usually set up in such a way that nothing was off the table.  The guys and gals who put this show together really took that to heart though, and these sorts of decisions, to age Lion-O, etc., really point to that freedom to try anything (even if it doesn’t make sense.)

I completely forgot that Wiley Kit and Kat were just as likely to shred some waves as the Autobots and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

One of the first things that Panthro creates for Wiley Kit & Kat are surf/hover boards to give them a little bit more mobility and something to do.  Growing up in Florida it was really hard to not be inundated with the surf and skate culture of the 80s, but I’m not sure how other areas of the country reacted to it.  After moving up to New Hampshire at the end of 1989 I was shocked by the lack of T&C, Billabong, and Maui surf and skate T-shirts at school, and I even ran into some kids that didn’t know what surfing was.  Watching these cartoons though, it’s really weird to see the surfing trend popping up so often.  It makes me wonder how many of the other series feature it?

Sometimes, life REQUIRES arm wrestling!

  

In Episode 15, The Time Capsule, Lion-O is getting a bit depressed and home sick for Thundera.  At the same time he doesn’t remember all that much about it and Jaga appears to him and mentions that part of their ship’s cargo was a Time Capsule that contained the collective knowledge of Thundera.  The ThunderCats go on a quest to seek out the capsule and Lion-O eventually finds it in a cave, though it’s now apparently been claimed by a caveman that isn’t going to give it up without a fight.  Actually, he won’t give it up unless Lion-O beats him in the most macho of all manly contests, the arm wrestling match!  It’s like watch an animated version of Over the Top, just with no estranged children in military academy, eating cigars and drinking motor oil, or big rig trucks.

The last thing I wanted to bring up today is an aspect of the series that’s very close to my heart, the amazing amount of branding in the cartoon!

Not that long ago I met a guy though my day job that used to play with the Misfits back when the band was still coming together for the first time.  I have a Misfits messenger bag, and he noticed the Crimson Ghost Skull logo and we got to talking about how amazing it is that over thirty years later there are still kids picking up stuff stamped with that image.  Heck, though Jerry Only has been trying his damnedest to keep the band going, most people really only dig the original stuff when Danzig was a part of the band, and that’s been over for about 25 years.  Yet still, that iconic skull has power.  If there’s one thing that came out of the commercial design of the 70s and 80s, this type of powerfully iconic branding was it.  The Autobot and Decpticon symbols, the Ghostbusters logo, Pac-Man, the Atari Logo, the Nike Swoosh, and the ThunderCats logo are just a few of the hundreds of popular logos that are still around to this day.  This show really took this banding to heart and you can see it in almost every aspect of the design from the vehicles…

   

…to the castles…

   

…and even the villains. Mumm-Ra’s logo, though almost as iconic as the cat’s head logo, is actually the one aspect of this sort of branding in the show that was really underused.  I’m surprised, seeing as how Mumm-Ra is basically the leader of the Mutants, that they weren’t all sporting the entwined snakes on their outfits, vehicles and gear.  This is actually something addressed in the new series that I really loved.

In particular I love how the ThunderCats logo is worked into the stories of the various episodes because of the Sword of Omens.  Whenever Lion-O is in trouble he can call upon the other ThunderCats by reciting a chant (“Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats HOOOOOOO!”) and then holding the sword aloft.  It then projects the ThunderCats logo into the sky so that any member of the team within sight of the symbol will feel the call and come running…

So not only is the logo plastered on every building, vehicle, article of clothing, etc, it’s even an integral part of the narrative.  In my opinion this is hands down the most brilliant use of branding in a cartoon during the 80s.

Well, come back next week for part 2 of this article where I’ll be talking a look at some of the ThunderCats characters, the crazy designs, and more.

Wanna win the first 33 episodes of the original Thundercats on DVD?

**UPDATE**  The winner of this set has been picked!  Congrats Mark H.  I’ve notified you via the Facebook messaging system.  Stay tuned next week for another DVD giveaway!

With the new Thundercats revamp set to launch on July 29th on the Cartoon Network I thought it would be a great time for a new contest!

I’m sort of psyched to see where new production team takes this new series even though I’m a pretty big fan of the Rankin/Bass original.  I’ve always been impressed by how insane the Rankin/Bass animation villains were in shows like the Thundercats and the Silverhawks, and it would be really cool to see if this new series can match that old intensity.

Anyway, back to the contest, I happen to have an extra copy of the Warner Bros. original season one, Volume one DVD set, which contains the first 33 episodes (including the episodes that form the pilot movie)…

So, to enter for a chance to win this copy of the Thundercats Season One, Volume One DVD set, head on over to the Branded in the 80s Facebook page (like it if you haven’t) and leave a comment/response on the discussion board under the Thundercats DVD Contest thread with the name of your favorite Thundercats character.  I’ll be picking a winner at random on Thursday, July 28th at 2:00pm est.  Remember, these are region 1 DVDs, so if you’re an international reader take note.  Good luck!

Silverhawks, Part 2: Soaring through the highway of the heavens in their flight…

As I mentioned in the first part of the discussion on the Silverhawks cartoon, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot going on in the first two-part origin story.  Peter Lawrence delivered a pretty bare-bones story that sets up all the main characters of the series, and some general plot points, but overall there’s noting all that interesting about this maiden voyage of the Silverhawks as they battle MonStar and his mob of intergalactic mercenaries.   I spent a good bit of part one talking about what is great about these first two episodes, which is showcasing the dynamic character designs and concepts of the villains.  Today I’m going to take a look at the heroes of the show, Commander Stargazer and the five core Silverhawks characters.

Before I get into the specific characters, I thought I’d mention some of the other design aesthetics in this series that really struck me.  First, from the get-go the artists and writers chose to work in an odd style that blends futuristic and antiquated elements in the design of the world.  With the villains for instance, you have a handful of characters, Pokerface, Buzz-Saw, and Mo-Lec-U-Lar, that seem right at home in an alien sci-fi environment, while some of the others (Windhammer and Mumbo Jumbo) seem more at home in classic Greek fables with their odd style of clothing, and their more mythical designs.  Then there’s a character like Melodia, which seems grounded in the 1980s, the time in which the cartoon was produced, yet not set in.  Also, we can look to the style with which MonStar’s mob is handled, flying through the galaxy in convertible speedsters that would seem more at home in a 40s era gangster flick that a sci-fi action adventure cartoon.

This odd mix of style is a bit more recognizable in the heroes of the series, in particular with Commander Stargazer.  Aside from some gold plated cybernetic enhancements to his face, chest and left arm, he’s basically a character that’s been ripped right out of a Raymond Chandler pulp novel.   The character is decked out in a private dick’s suit minus the trench coat and fedora, which are actually there, just hung up in his office.   Speaking of his office, it’s been retro-fitted to look and feel like something from the 40s or 50s complete with frosted windows, and wood paneling.  Though it’s completely out of place for the environment, it speaks volumes about the disposition and personality of the character.  One look at his design and there’s no question as to who runs Hawk Haven.

As for the actual team, we have Quicksilver (the mission leader), Bluegrass (the pilot and resident cowpoke), the Copper Kid (the only alien of the group), and Steelheart & Steelwill (the brother/sister duo.)   Their overall design is surprisingly un-avian, and more in the realm of clean-lined, organic cyborgs.  They share more in common with the character designs of Robocop or Boba Fett, than they do birds.  In fact, aside from the idea that they have (presumably) metal skin, the basic design of the characters could be considered quite simple and almost boring.  What saves the design, I think, is all the little details, in particular in the rendering where the artists have broken their outer armor into form fitting plates.  All these plates are outlined and have small embellishments, giving them a much more detailed and dynamic look to they’re less T-1000 (from Terminator 2), and more Robocop.   There are a couple of other design flourishes that I really dig which helps the characters keep a bit of their humanity while also making them a bit more dynamic at the same time.  The first is the single bare arm each character sports, an unrealistic but striking affectation in the armor that breaks up the symmetry of the design.   More important is the removable faceplates that each character has for combat/spaceflight.

If there was one gimmick to the designs that really suckered me visually as a kid, it was the faceplates.  First off, the design of the masks echos that of Boba Fett’s helmet, which are both futuristic with their thin visors that melt into very inorganic, alien mouth-pieces, yet they’re also antiquated, mimicking the design of medieval battle helmets.  Remove the lens in the visor/mouth-piece and you’re left with a helmet that wouldn’t look all that out-of-place on a knight.  But the appeal isn’t just in the visual design, as it’s in the functionality.  To put the mask in place, the Silverhawks just have to wave their hand in front of their face (again, mimicking the action of a knight bringing a hinged faceplate down into place before a battle/jousting) and it appears.  With a slight laser light flourish, it’s almost liquid or digital.

Also, there’s some other fun aspects about the simplicity of the characters, from the character names that work into the visual design, the lack of handheld weaponry (instead each character has lasers concealed in their shoulders, biceps and feet), and an interesting way of displaying faction iconography.  With the names, for example we have MonStar, which is really just a play on monster.  Thinking about it, his character design, especially the plotting and scheming organic form, hits on a lot of the basic monstrous iconography (wild hair, sharp teeth and claws, dark, etc.)  You get this with the heroes as well in that their names reflect both there color and aspects of their characters.  As far as the faction iconography goes, I didn’t remember that there was any when I first revisited the show.  There is a definite symbol for the heroes, an eagle head against a triangular background, but it’s mostly worked into the aesthetic of their home base, Hawk Haven.  Every one in a while though we see this symbol flash on the chest plates of the characters, so I’m not sure if it’s a weird hidden cybernetic detail or if it’s just the animators taking liberty with their artistic license…

Anyway, as far as the core team goes, first we have Quicksilver, who’s both covered in silver cybernetics and is arguably the first to head into danger. As the leader of the group there aren’’ that many really personalized traits to the character, probably to give kids a basic hero archetype to latch onto.   As a kid, Quicksilver was the only Silverhawks figure I had, and even though it was kind of cool that you could squeeze his legs together to get his arms to pop to the sides revealing his cybernetic wings, I was always bummed that he didn’t have his iconic faceplate.  I’d turn his head all the way around to mimic the mask with the chromed plastic silver of his “hair”…

Next up we have Bluegrass, the pilot of the Miraj, and all around jovial cutup of the team.   The character has both blue armor and is also a spirited country and western playing, guitar toting cowboy with a Stetson and a neckerchief.   For some reason the idea of space cowboys was common in 80s era syndicated animation.  Between Bravestarr, Silverhawks, the Galaxy Rangers, and Saber Rider and the Star Sherrifs, there was no shortage of intergalactic cowpokes.  Heck there was even a cowboy on C.O.P.S. (though not intergalactic, it is set in a cybernetic enhanced future.)  Anyway, I always thought it was weird that Bluegrass sported a steel mohawk under that Stetson.

The only alien of the team is the Copper Kid, who’s filling in the silent yet fun slot (think Harpo Marx or Teller from Penn and Teller.)  CK is sort of a weird character that’s all over the play in terms of design.  On the one hand he’s a kid from the planet of the mimes, so he comes off sort of as a novelty, or a mascot for the group.  Tiny, with his clashing blue skin against his copper/orange armor he really sticks out in the Silverhawks line-up.   Yet he also sort of painted as the Snake-Eyes/Panthro of the team with his ninja-like reflexes, and his built in boomerang disc weapons (the spherical discs on each hip); there’s never a shortage of action when the Copper Kid hits the screen.  If nothing else, he’s certainly the character that kids are supposed to map themselves onto as he’s typically the one being taught lessons in the stories, and literally at the end of each episode where he’s being trained to be the backup Miraj pilot in a series of PSA like quizzes about the universe.

You can hear one of the lessons here.

Rounding out the team members are the brother/sister combo of Steelheart and Steelwill.   These are the two that I remember the least from watching the show as a kid.  Like Quicksilver they don’t have a lot of obvious or physical character traits aside from the fact that Steelwill is athletic based on his silly looking football inspired faceplate.  The most notable aspect about the duo revealed during the two-part series opener is that their hearts didn’t take to the cybernetic implementation process and they needed to have artificial hearts surgically implanted.  Though this is played off as sort of a heart-warming joke (pun most certainly intended), I think it was more of a missed opportunity for some character development.  Considering the amount of cybernetic implants these characters have, it would be interesting to have a character with more than the rest who has a challenge in keeping their humanity.  Sort of like the trials and tribulations of the Data character from Star Trek the Next Generation, this idea of grasping onto a humanity that’s slipping through one’s fingers is a common theme in cyberpunk fiction and I’m surprised that they didn’t allude to this.  Maybe it’s in some of the later episodes, though I haven’t come across it yet.

Last, but not least, is the single coolest looking spacecraft known to mankind (in my opinion at least), the Miraj.  This star-fighter, consisting of four compartments and launch-able cockpit, has a super sleek design that I was always trying to replicate out of Lego blocks as a kid.   The Miraj is more of a launching pad than a true star-fighter though, carrying the team to a destination where they open their individual canopies and then shoot out into space.  Not only does it look cool, but it also has a cloaking device (which is where it get’s its name), and the exhaust is a multicolored rainbow of energy.  Sure, maybe that sounds a little too “gay”, but as a kid I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

The plot of the second half to this opening mini-movie is again, pretty basic.  After flying up to Hawk Haven and meeting Stargazer, the headquarters is immediately attacked by MonStar and his cronies.  The Silverhawks fly out and basically whip the pants off the villains, showing off most of their capabilities.  There a couple bits that I found pretty interesting including a musical laser battle between Melodia and Bluegrass that ends in a true cacophony of energy, and a showdown between Buzz-Saw and Bluegrass where he uses his guitar gun to blow up the saw-toothed android.  But it’s all pretty anticlimactic.   For all his bluster, MonStar packs it in pretty easily and we’re back to the status quo pretty quickly.

Again, these episodes are serviceable to showcase the characters, but they really are kind of boring at the end of the day.  I much prefer the intense backstroy of the Thundercats as a great example of a Rankin/Bass series kick-off…

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Silverhawks, Part 1: A Rainbow in the night…

I realized the other day that while I’ve been making a concerted effort to make my way through piles of magazines, books, and other vintage papers top share on Branded, I haven’t really made a dent in my cartoon collection either.  There are a lot of shows that I loved growing up, as well as a ton of others that I remember fondly, that are just sitting on my DVD shelves begging to be written about.  I think I’m going to try and correct that over the coming year.

Today I want to talk about one of the shows that I was so excited about as a kid, I’d speed home on my bike as fast as I could each day afraid I’d miss an episode.  As I careened home at light speed, I’d literally jump off the bike, letting it fall into a crumpled heap, and then I’d sprint into the house past my mom and any potential waiting snack to flip on the TV so that I wouldn’t miss the opening credit sequence of the Silverhawks.  No joke, as my mom wandered off to close the front door that I’d left wide open, I’d be almost screaming “Tally Hawk!” at the top of my lungs along with the Silverhawks theme song as it played out on the TV before me.

For some reason I have some very vivid memories of actually singing along to the Silverhawks theme song, much more so than any of the other cartoons I used to watch after school.   I’m not sure exactly what it was about the song, but it combined with the breathtakingly pretty animation must have been pure sugary eye-candy for me as a kid.  Though there were anime overtones to shows like G.I. Joe, Dungeons and Dragons, and Jem (which were all animated by the Japanese studio Toei), it was with the Rankin/Bass cartoons that I feel like I really got my first taste of Japanese influenced animation.  Aside from the well rendered illustration in the cels, these RB productions, Silverhawks and ThunderCats in particular, were also edited with a skilled eye towards action.   At the time I’d never seen characters that were so dynamic and fast.  The animation studio responsible for these Rankin/Bass productions was the Pacific Animation Company, which had alumni like Hayao Miyazaki and some of the animators at Studio Ghibli, so the talent pool was certainly high quality.

Much like its sister show, the ThunderCats, the Silverhawks series opens with a two part origin story titled, oddly enough, Origin Story & Journey to Limbo.  Honestly, there isn’t much to these first two Peter Lawrence scripted episodes aside from a lot of story setup where we’re introduced to practically every reoccurring character in the cast (good and evil) and their capabilities.  The first episode is framed as a status report filed by Commander Stargazer who keeps watch over the edge of the galaxy in the space station Hawk Haven (odd because the Silverhawks proper haven’t been introduced and there’s no explanation as to why there is an avian theme.)  His report centers on MonStar, the most unruly and probably the craziest mob boss in the galaxy, who has just broken out of an intergalactic prison and has started putting his gang of ruthless criminals back together.  Stargazer is requesting help in dealing with the menace when we switch perspective to Earth where a group of soldiers and an alien from the planet of the mimes are in the process of being retrofitted with cybernetic enhancements so they can both combat MonStar and survive the trip to Limbo where the series takes place.  Calling upon the tagline of the series, an alien scientist (in his best Bela Lugosi impression) states that to make the trip to Limbo the group must be “…partly metal and partly real…”  This is actually a phrase that’s used ad nauseam in these first couple of episodes, to a point where it’s almost comical.

As far as design and concepts go, I think these Rankin/Bass cartoons are the culmination of five years worth of industry expansion and benefit from the freedom animation studios were gifted with by first run syndication and the softer intervening hand of government “regulations”.  In the explosion of televised cartoon creativity, the Silverhawks and ThunderCats are in my opinion, the resulting mushroom cloud; big, beautiful, and airy.  The one aspect where I think Silverhawks really excels is in the iconic character design of the series, in particular with its villains.  Rankin/Bass used very similar templates with their shows, but the archetypes they chose, in particular those of the villains, were flat out insane and unlike any other cartoons.

MonStar is just crackling with energy and truly frightening aspects, from his mane of wild, flowing black and red hair, to the jagged edges of his twisted mouth and dangerously sharp teeth.   Add to this his black body suit, shiny red chest plating, imposing eye-patch, and his wicked sharp fingernails and you have the makings of a truly scary villain.   But that’s just one half of the character’s design as the Rankin/Bass villains tend to have two forms, one that plots and schemes and a second outfitted for battle.   Using the fiery rays of the Moonstar of Limbo, MonStar can transform into a formidable evil knight with organic red armor platting and spikes all over his body.   His original appearance is mimicked in the armor design with sharp spikes jutting out of his head like the character’s hair and beard, a row of interlocking spikes for teeth, and a black star over his left eye.   This secondary design also mimics the metal bodies of the Silverhawks, which seems to be outfitted for self-contained sojourns into space (even including rocket boosters in his elbows for propulsion.)

This process of transformation is so tangible and visceral.  You can almost feel how disturbingly painful it is as the skin and hair is literally ripped from MonStar’s body while it turns into his armor.   His screams of rage, pain and glee are truly insane, taking the typical megalomania of cartoon villains to another realm entirely.   As a kid, and even now as an adult, I found it completely and intoxicatingly riveting.   No other cartoon villains come even close to matching the ferocity and downright freakiness of MonStar (except Mum-Ra from the TunderCats, which again is also Rankin/Bass), though he’s certainly rooted in the same traditions.   Not only his he visually imposing just by himself, but he also has an indentured, intergalactic steed, a giant squid named Sky Runner who goes through a similar transformation process (initiated by MonStar firing a pink “Light Star” from his eye) that also seems to speak to the transformation of Cringer into Battle Cat on the Filmation He-Man cartoon.   Sure, Skeletor had Panthor, and Cobra Commander had Scrap Iron and Major Bludd, but none of these cartoon villains ever had to intimidate and force their henchmen into subservience.

MonStar runs his mob out of a gnarly castle located deep within a planetoid, which looks like a cross between a giant spiraling drill bit and a torture device.   The set design is wonderful and creepy, in particular MonStar’s throne, which is surrounded by the picking fingers of some rusty machinery that resembles an overturned spider.  When MonStar initiates his transformation sequence, the arms curl upwards creating a sort of star shaped filter for the Moonstar rays to shine through.  Also, on a side note, in another bit of crazy over the top design, to catch the rays of the Moonstar, MonStar’s planetoid needs to be repositioned. His henchman, Yes-Man, operates the controls of some ginormous booster lasers that shift the entire planetoid into the Moonstar’s beams which just seems crazily over the top…

Continuing along with the superb character designs are MonStar’s eight main henchmen.   First up there’s the sickeningly loyal afore-mentioned Yes-Man, a snake-like alien with a dour expression and a penchant for saying “Yes boss…” to every command.  With his curving spine and head drooping down below his shoulder line he comes off as a completely slimy character that will turn on you at a second’s notice.   Yes-Man, like most of the characters are one note, but there’s a purity to there simplistic design that makes them not come off as interchangeable.

Next we have the generically-named Buzz-Saw, who is a robot with launch-able circular saw blades for hands (he also has them on his shoulders, as well as one adorning his head like a Mohawk.)  Though I’ll get into it a little more when I discuss the second episode, Buzz-Saw, though sentient, is a weirdly disposable character who gets blown up more often than simply defeated.  I think it’s really odd to have this type of dynamic with a character, even if it is a robot.  On a separate note, we have Mumbo Jumbo, a fire-breathing robotic Minotaur.  Since his character design is much more organic with his animalistic features and body, I’d be willing to bet that he doesn’t fit into that same disposable camp as Buzz-Saw.  I wonder if this sort of nonchalance towards robotic destruction stems from the depiction of C3P0 in Star Wars, in particular the scenes in Empire where he’s blasted into pieces.   Though it should have come off as disturbing, it was more comedic because he not only survived, but goofily complained for the rest of the film.

There’s also Windhammer, a pale blue-skinned warrior with a giant tuning fork that he uses to control cosmic weather (meteors, wind, lightening, etc.)   I think it’s interesting that the artists and writers of the show chose an almost god-like theme for his design.  He’s decked out very simply in a raggedy tunic, which with his flowing hair and Thor-like tuning fork really evokes a the design of a Roman or Greek god.   Again, sort of like the general design of Mumbo Jumbo, Windhammer comes off very organic in a very inorganic futuristic setting.  On the other hand we have Mo-Lec-U-Lar who has the oddest looking design of the bunch.   He’s resembles an atom, with bulbous protons and electrons, and can shape-shift into other forms, but for all intents and purposes he looks like one of the Fruit of the Loom characters.  I’m not a huge fan of his design as it’s a bit too bulky and feels out of place with the rest of the series’ design elements.

Conceptually the strangest of the mob is Poker Face, a slick looking cyborg with slot machine eyes and a tuxedo.  I think it’s strange that his design is so much more comedic than the rest of his counterparts, in particular when compared to MonStar.  Stealing a bit of the character design of Slythe from ThunderCats is Hardware, a squat reptilian alien who is a master engineer and weapons maker.   Last, but not least and probably my favorite, is Melodia, the new-wave musician who can literally create havoc with her futuristic laser keytar.  Also as a quick aside, Maggie Wheeler provided the voice of Melodia.  She’s probably best known for portraying Janice, the woman with the single most annoying voice known to mankind on Friends.   Anyway, what really jumps out at me is that the artists and writers truly exhibited the idea that nothing was off the table when designing some of these characters.   For example, Melodia fires lasers from her keytar that resembles a long string of pink electric sheet music, complete with musical notes and a jamming soundtrack to boot.   Typically that’s the sort of thing that works well on a comic book page, but would be really difficult to pull of in animation, though I think they do it well.

I think I’ll end this here and pick up with the heroes, as well as more of the design and conceptual elements when I get into episode 2 later in the week.

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