Friday, March 19, 2010

Saturday Morning Pulp: Demon Dogs!

Mangus suggested this week's post as part of the title for this blog deals with my love of Saturday morning goodness. I have always loved cartoons. For those that want to sound more mature we can call it animation. Cartoons are for the kid in all of us, some just never lose enjoyment them. From Looney Toons to Snow White Disney’s first animated feature in 1937 to Ralph Baksi’s Wizards in 1977. The last is a lot more adult then the other two though. Animation has been a way to tell stories in motion that really could not be done in live action, as an artistic expression, or just make us laugh; from Marvin the Martian to Vampire Hunter D, cartoons are for the kid in each of us. It has been a great medium for pulp fiction.

The list of cartoons, or animation if one prefers, that deals with the pulp style of adventures and space opera would take up blog space for years to come. From the Max Fleischer's Superman, Johnny Quest, Zorro, Planet of the Apes, even Popeye, the list stretches on. But my favorite cartoon that screams pulp action is Thundarr the Barbarian.

Thundarr the Barbarian, created by Joe Ruby ran from 1980-1982 on Saturday mornings. A post-apocalyptic world summed up with the introductory voice over: The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruin!

Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn...

A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.

He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

Okay, tell me anyone who loves sword and planet or pulp sci-fi would not be all over this? I loved this show before I even knew about the definitions of various styles of fantasy or sci-fi. I just knew there was this kick-ass barbarian tearing through a world of mutants and wizards! I was there ever Saturday, and to prove my original statement about the kid in all of us, my dad was on the couch right beside me! This show is classic sword and planet style of fiction with the mix of science, magic, and primitive weapons. The hero Thundarr is of the typical barbarian mold, he is tough, strong, and straight forward. He fights for those too weak to fight back for themselves. Princess Ariel provides beauty, smarts, and sophistication to the group, along with her sorcery. Then there is Ookla the Mok, a bestial warrior that tosses half ton trucks and uses tree trunks as spears. He is Thundarr's best friend and provides over powering muscle and savagery when needed. He has also seemed to work himself into pop lexicon with the phrase: "What the **** is a Mok?!?!"

The main plot of the show has Thundarr and company traveling across the blasted waste of the world fighting to free humans from the oppression of wizards, mutants, and pretty much anyone else that wants to attack the weak and defenseless. He is a hero for younger kids, straight forward fighting for what is right for right's sake alone. The plots are simple and jump right into the action. This is Saturday morning cartoons though; it is aimed at the 7-12 crowd. That does not take away from the series in any way, but rather it makes the other aspects more important and appreciated by me now as an adult.

For example the background painting of the setting shots; just the imaginative way that such an apocalyptic future was visualized. The city-scapes that were buried almost intact, to amusement parks and old ocean liners used as homes, to establishing shots of the cataclysmic destruction. The wizards were each unique in their powers and the technologies they sought or possessed. The mix of old world tech and magic makes this a great setting for pulp fantasy geeks like me.

The stories were simplistic but not dumb, some of the ideas for Thundarr's adventures were very good, and could have been developed along more adult oriented themes if they were written for such an audience. For example the idea of the wizards themselves ruling over their own little fiefdoms and Thundarr seeking to destroy them would make for a good series of more adult oriented adventures. The deeper intrigues of warring wizards could be explored with Thundarr and his companions caught in the middle. But I digress into speculation and the realm of fan-fiction.

Needless to say Thundarr the Barbarian was a fun pulp fantasy for a younger audience with enough to hold an adult's interest too. The series is supposed to be released in DVD later this year in a bundle with several other Saturday morning cartoons and I will be in line on release day!

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