Monday, March 3, 2008

Revenge Of The 80's presents Thundarr The Barbarian

In October 1980, ABC premiered the cartoon “Thundarr The Barbarian”. It was produced by Ruby-Spears (Space Ghost, The Herculoids & Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?) and it was set in a post apocalyptic future where the world was overrun by magician overlords, mutated creatures and mad scientists.

The story goes that in 1994, a runaway planet zipped through our solar system and passed between the Earth and the moon. This phenomenon caused the moon to break in half and Earth went through huge climate changes and tidal waves based on the destruction of the moon. The radiation given off by the dying planet that passed so close to the Earth also depleted the ozone layer and caused much of the animal, human and plant life to die as well. The events that happened in “Thundarr The Barbarian” occurred 2000 years after this cataclysm.

The series starred Thundarr, a traveler/adventurer armed with a mystical weapon called the Sun Sword. It was simply a hilt that he kept fastened to a wristband, but when beef jumped off he’d pull it off and it became a sword with a blade made of fire and electricity (kinda like a lightsaber). He rolled with Ookla The Mok, a superstrong creature (that was clearly a fake version of Chewbacca) and a woman called Princess Ariel (which was nothing like Princess Leia) who was also a powerful sorceress who wouldn’t hesitate to let some fireballs fly when it was time to scrap.

While the characters were partly inspired by the popular Star Wars films, the actual premise of the cartoon went a lot deeper than the casual viewer would think. “Thundarr The Barbarian” was created by some of the most influential minds in the cartoon and comic book world. The series was the idea of Steve Gerber (Defenders, Man-Thing, Howard The Duck) and the characters were designed by comic book and animation legend Alex Toth (Superfriends, Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman) and comic book legend Jack Kirby (Captain America, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Avengers, X-Men).

It's creation was partly inspired by Conan The Barbarian, Kirby’s DC comic book “Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth”, and several post apocalyptic films that preceeded it like Planet Of The Apes, Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Wizards, Damnation Alley, Escape From New York and the burgeoning underground Cyberpunk movement. Another wellspring of inspiration for “Thundarr” was the imminent threat of a nuclear war.

The late 70’s and early 80’s were full of futurists and scientists trying to figure out exactly what would happen to the Earth in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Oddly enough, most of these theories made it into the world that Thundarr lived in, coincidence? It was always assumed that the folks at Ruby-Spears didn’t want to make a post nuclear war cartoon for kids, somehow but they still did anyways given the obvious subtext of the episodes.

For those of you that weren’t alive during the run of this show (1980-1983), you wouldn’t understand that it was pretty accepted that the world would be felled by a nuclear war and it was simply a matter of when. All you had to do was look at a Def Leppard album cover, read an issue of Heavy Metal magazine or take into account that the movie “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” was nothing more than Orson Welles trying to predict the exact date of the end of the world.

With the Cold War in full effect the arms race was nothing but MX missle after MX missle being created. The kids that watched this cartoon weren’t just thinking it was pure fantasy and entertainment. We were trying to see identify each destroyed city from each episode from the clues.

Thundarr, Ookla and Ariel would run into psycho wizards, ruthless overlords, deadly creatures and the like every settlement they trekked to and subsequently kicked their asses. Thundarr would jump down from somewhere screaming at the top of his lungs swinging the Sun Sword, Ookla would be growling and throwing boulders or some shit while Princess Ariel would be shooting some beams out of her hands. Kids all over the playground would be screaming while pouncing on fools and saying shit like “Demon dogs!” or “Lords of light!” as they wove around imaginary Sun Swords.

The funniest thing I can remember from Thundarr and his crew’s travels was waiting for them to reach a post apocalyptic Boston. The first episode happened in New York (big surprise!) so when they never reached Boston in the first season we thought they’d never go there. In the fourth episode of the second season they finally reached Boston, only it was infested with bad guys...the episode was called “The City Of Evil”, I never forgot that one. During the run of the show seminal flicks like Heavy Metal, War Games, Rock & Rule and Blade Runner came out and further cemented the cartoons themes.

The show ran for two seasons on ABC for a total of 21 episodes (13 the 1st season and 8 the 2nd) and the third year the show switched to NBC’s Saturday morning lineup and all 21 previous episodes were aired as reruns. The show came back via Cartoon Network in the late 90’s and in 2004 Thundarr, Ookla The Mok and Princess Ariel were made into action figures. Watching it now, it’s just another cartoon from the 80’s that I used to watch as a kid. Hopefully, no one tries to buy this property and turn it into another crappy movie.



DocZeus said...

The premise of Thundarr seems to be He-Man wielding a lightsaber. I'll take the original, thank-you-very-much!

thecorrector said...

Thundarr was before He-Man.
Thanks for the lesson, Dart.

Steve Gerber RIP

Machiventa said...

thundaar was my shit. nice write up man.