Saturday, 30 August 2014

Thundarr The Barbarian

Thundarr The Barbarian was the world's first Post-Apocalypse / Sword & Sorcery Saturday Morning Cartoon, and though it's not quite as great as you might remember, it's still worth looking at for a whole bunch of reasons. Principally, that it was co-created by Steve Gerber, with scripts by him, Marty Pasko & Mark Evanier, and was designed by Jack Kirby & Alex Toth.

The basic set-up of Thundarr is, well here, let's see the opening of the show, with suitably breathless narration:


Gerber took the idea of a barbarian series to Joe Ruby ( Ruby/ Spears ) a couple of years after leaving the comics biz. The two put Thundarr together and pitched it to ABC, who at the time were considering both Spider-Man and Daredevil series'. Thundarr won out basically because kids weren't particularly interested in seeing another Spidey cartoon, and the relatively unknown DD was as much of a risk as the slightly more original barbarian hero.
Not that TV executives really knew what they were being offered. In a 1981 interview for Comics Feature, Gerber remembered: ' We had a lot of problems at first, because no one at the network really knew what sword and sorcery was. We kept hearing things like, ' Yes we want it to be sword and sorcery-just like Tarzan!' And you just sort of stare blankly and ask them, 'Where are the swords and where is the sorcery in Tarzan?' They saw the superficial resemblance of the half naked hero and the savage setting and that was it. '

And there were other problems. Regarding characterisation: ' Ariel ( for instance ) was supposed to be more sophisticated, and a little bit bitchier, more colloquial and sardonic, than she's currently portrayed. The new TV rule of thumb is that all characters in a series must be likeable - all the time. This seems to apply to prime time as well as Saturday morning, and perhaps more than any other factor, it probably accounts for most network programming being very nearly unwatchable. You're being presented with mannequins, not characters. '

So Thundarr is a one note hero, whose defining characteristic is that he's ANGRY! ALL! THE! TIME! while Ariel seems ridiculously willing to put up with his, at times, outrageous sexism, and the animation is unfortunately a bit cheap and bland looking, as most cartoons were at the time.
But what Thundarr does have going for it is that the episodes are nicely fast paced adventures, with none of the, to quote Gerber again, ' kind of cloying preachy mealy-mouthed social consciousness crap that hobbled shows like Shazam, Isis and for a time Super Friends. We wanted to do adventure, suspense and in so far as it was allowed, horror- in other words to remain true to the spirit of the sword and sorcery genre. '

Thundarr also has a musical score that goes for broke every time, being massively exciting and epic even if nothing is happening, plus you get the fun stylistic push-me pull-you of Gerber and Kirby on the same screen. Like the first episode, where wizard Gemini ( an obvious Kirby creation ): 

Brings to life the surprisingly well-preserved Statue of Liberty ( an equally obvious Gerber schtick ):

Then there's gags like this one, where Ariel tries to explain to Thundarr what a ' Moo Vee' was:

Or dialogue exchanges like my favourite from the episode Raiders Of The Abyss:
Ariel: Don't be silly, Thundarr. The wizard was a nice old man.
Thundarr: Wizards are never nice! And Barbarian's are NEVER silly!!!

Or from the same episode, where the gang have rescued some humans from being strung up like beef:
Thundarr: Now you can live in peace! And the right side up!

And of course there's the guy with the lampshade on his head...

So fun, fast paced and gently subvervise. All Thundarr needs is a big-budget remake now.
" Ariel! Ookla! RiiiIIDE!!!!! "

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