Thundarr The Barbarian is one of my favorite Saturday Morning Shows, and my friend’s favorite as I’m sure Sean will tell you in the comments. At the very least it’s his current nostalgic obsession besides Robotech. I don’t know if it was actually a failed Kamandi adaptation (the internet is not always what you’d call reliable) but the idea of a post-apocalyptic society that embraced magic was a lot more enjoyable than the majority of story in the post-apocalypse sub-genre because it didn’t focus on the doom and gloom. It wasn’t afraid to have a little fun with the idea even though the focus was on the serious action and adventure.
I also love Darkwing Duck. Created by Tad Stones and a group of his friends and colleagues, it’s a superhero parody done right. It’s still a crimefighting story where the superhero battles villains, but takes loving shots at superhero tropes and the idea of superheroes and supervillains. It’s a great parody but it’s a great superhero show first. So what happens when the man behind Darkwing Duck takes on Thundarr The Barbarian?
Not what I would have hoped, but maybe what I should have expected. I read the whole four-page pitch over at Tad Stone’s blog, The only reason I don’t think this would have been as bad as something like Thundercats Roar is that I know Stones is a great creator and knows how to balance action and comedy, which I’m not seeing from that other show. (We still don’t have a final release date for that, do we?) That doesn’t mean that this would be a good idea mind you. Look how it starts.
Can a person have fun in a post apocalypse world? Surprisingly, yes.
Please remember that I’m not saying the concept itself is bad. It’s Tad Stones. As an original concept it might have worked. As a reboot of the classic show however, it misses so many marks.
It’s been a couple of thousand years since the Great Catastrophe; the world has had time to settle, albeit into a form we barely recognize. But it’s not all grim red skies, evil factory smoke and people in chains. Instead there are fancifully weird societies, cults and kingdoms based on technological relics and mistaken beliefs about our present. The crumbled cityscapes have mostly been overgrown or flooded leaving beautiful landscapes with anachronistic icons and monuments rising from the forests.
This part actually does sound like the show, minus the “evil factory smoke”. These kinds of things happened on the original, so ramping that up a bit to flesh out the lore of world isn’t necessarily a bad idea adaptation-wise. Then we get to this part:
To the west there is a small kingdom where 80’s boy bands are idolized resulting in a parliament where debates are staged as N’Sync dance videos and wars are waged against the Hip Hop Nation. In the City of Fog, there are constant turf battles between the skateboarders and BMX bikers who skirmish over the smooth concrete of a multi-level freeway interchange. To the east, there is a giant gladiatorial arena where great furnaces heat behemoth grills where the real Iron Chefs battle, attempting to prepare each other as a special entrée.
And now you lost me. Again, it sounds like a funny concept but that’s not how the world of Thundarr goes. Yes, the relics that somehow survived intact for 2000 years were part of the story, and sometimes even part of the humor. This however, is a bit over the top. As social commentary it might be interesting, especially in Stones’ hands, but NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE SOCIAL COMMENTARY…sorry, I mean that’s not what was good about the original.
But it’s not just society that has changed. People have too. Increased radiation levels have mutated both men and animals resulting in every genetic aberration possible from undersea dwellers to Poodle People and the Knights of the Flying Squirrels. Giant. Flying. Squirrels.
This actually works better. Mutant creatures and humanoids were very much a part of Thundarr’s world.
Fire-spouting whales. There’s one Tad didn’t bring up. That’s kind of the problem with this pitch. He gets half of it right and then doesn’t know when to stop. For example we get into our three heroes, and part of Thundarr’s update could work. PART of Thundarr’s update.
Raised in a Norse-like settlement chiseled out of the land of glaciers, Thundarr followed the sacred rituals of the Vikings – the Minnesota Vikings. The “rituals” are actually copied from the ancient team’s playbook. THUNDARR now travels the world seeking the raiders that destroyed his village and sold him into slavery. He has the sort of moral compass comic fans would normally associate with Superman or Captain America, a sympathy for the underdog and an undeniable sense of justice. But this does not mean that he is straight-laced or a boring do-gooder.
Vikings I could get behind. The football team not so much. That’s just getting silly. Otherwise we get a lot right. Going by the intro we know Thundarr “burst his bonds to fight for justice”, so having him seeking the ones who sold him into slavery is actually an interesting angle and would explain Thundarr’s travels. Put a wizard in charge of the raiders and you also explain why most of the enemies he went after were evil wizards. Tad even equipped Thundarr with his signature weapon, the lightsaber-esque Sunsword, a hilt that summons a blade of pure magic in Thundarr’s hands. But again he doesn’t stop there.
Thundarr has two weapons: a light saberish SUNSWORD and an enchanted football that always returns to him after hitting an adversary.
An…enchanted…football. Seriously? I’m not even sure that would work AS an original concept but for Thundarr that’s just lame. Then there’s his personality, where again for what he gets right…
Thundarr is of average intelligence but has taken many a hit to his head so that’s only an approximation. However he is extremely ignorant of the wider world and asks many of the questions a viewer would. Unlike the viewer, hopefully, he speaks of himself in the third person and does all things to the extreme. Combine this with his penchant for greeting people with head butts and pounding their shoulder pads (whether they’re wearing any or not) and you get a hint of why people are slow to warm to his boisterous personality. He also has a healthy ego and every victory, no matter how marginal, is boasted about as if the stuff of legends.
He gets something wrong, and I don’t just mean that silly greeting.
He is quite smitten with Princess Asphodel but is too shy and awkward to admit it, although his clumsy attempts at impressing her provide a lot of comedy while invariably increasing the jeopardy of their situation.
That’s not where the comedy came from…but I suppose I should introduce you to Asphodel first. Who is she? Take everything that made Princess Ariel great (I could have easily added her to that list of strong women from my childhood shows) and toss it out the window because almost everything is wrong here.
As for the “princess,” every time she speaks of the kingdom-of-which-she-is-a-princess the story changes depending upon the point she’s trying to make. Thundarr notices the inconsistencies but accepts her clumsy explanations. Ookla is just amused.
In truth, PRINCESS ASPHODEL is a con artist –surviving the harsh world by her wits. The princess story gets her softer pillows and preferential treatment from the gullible or those desperate for a sense of order from some unseen kingdom. She never had to struggle with a guilty conscience before she met Thundarr and Ookla, now she’s finding compassion inside herself… and that irritates the heck out of her.
I’m glad he changed her name because that is the polar opposite of Ariel. Does Asphodel even do magic?
Asphodel is a minor sorceress whose handiest powers are telekinesis and magical shields. She never studied magick seriously but has a natural penchant for it. She can weave more powerful spells if given time to work on them but the results never provide an easy solution to their predicaments. In fact, such short cuts often makes things worse.
So he basically depowered her. It’s not like she was a Sonic Screwdriver that could almost anything. Wait, that still isn’t so bad. She can do stronger spells but it takes time. I guess that could actually work and increase the tension. But taking short cuts? Being a con artist who isn’t a good and caring person? Again, I’m glad he changed her name because he changed everything else. Ariel was someone who knew what Earth was like before the comet ruined the planet and damaged the moon. It was never explained how she knew, which could be something to explore but given this pitch she would have been lying about it all. Apparently she can understand Ookla and unlike the show she had to translate for Thundarr, but since he has her pegged she would have “mistranslated” to keep her secret from Thundarr.
Although she won’t tell the barbarian the truth about her “royal heritage,” Ookla knows the real story. Strangely, Asphodel is a bit smitten with Thundarr and fears that if she admits she’s been lying to him he’ll think less of her. This sets up the comedic tension of a guy who doesn’t think he has a chance with a woman from a higher class and the woman who won’t reveal her common background because she’s afraid he’ll think less of her. This is rarely, if ever, a major plot point but just a little bit of story seasoning.
As an original series this actually might have worked, and some writers of the original did play with the notion that there was at least some attraction between them, but stop short of saying if it was romantic or just a pseudo-sibling situation. I guess Stones would have gone for the romantic angle and this is the least offensive change between Ariel and Asphodel. As for Ookla the Mok, I think he saw the Sunsword/lightsaber connection and went a step too far, because he’s clearly more Chewbacca than Ookla.
Ookla doesn’t know his own backstory. His first memories are awakening in the bottom of a thirty-foot pit filled with bones and metal parts. He was smart enough to use what was there to create climbing tools to free himself. He’s very smart and Asphodel thinks that’s what landed him in the bottom of the pit, “Too smart for your own good.” He doesn’t obsess over it, but bits of his unremembered past can return to haunt Ookla and give us interesting stories.
Again, interesting in an original concept but clearly not Ookla. Ookla isn’t a moron or anything but he does have an overwhelming curiosity that gets him into minor trouble, especially when trying to figure out some old relic from 1994 and totally not something from the 1980s pretending to still be around. Ookla is the comic relief (I refer you back to headbutting the fire whale earlier) but only when the story needs one. Otherwise, he’s a strong fighter who cares for his friends. And we do see his people in one episode. I don’t think he watched the show, and just took the surface ideas to create something new rather than reboot a classic idea. As his profile goes on, he seems to be the smartest of the trio rather than the dumbest but yet he goes into a “berserker rage” pro-wrestling style during a fight. So he’s smart until he’s dumb. The book ends with some potential story ideas, but just vague ones since it’s only a sales pitch. It shows he was thinking of what could be done with his heavily altered concept.
Although our trio may meet communities based on misunderstood relics of our society, the excitement and humor never depends on those references. The action sequences are over the top, one predicament leading to another. To escape cannibals they dive off a cliff but land in the midst of crocodiles which would quickly eat them if they weren’t being swept over a towering waterfall. The goal is to mix the intensity of the Bourne movies with the big concept set ups and light heartedness of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft adventures. The comedy is character and relationship based rather than quippy while the action lends itself to some slapstick, especially when Thundarr and Ookla are tossing bodies around.
I don’t know. This would work for something like Darkwing Duck but the core of that series is comedy and action. The core of Thundarr The Barbarian however is action and adventure. I’m not saying it can’t be rebooted, and I wouldn’t want it to go the way of the Masters Of The Universe reboot but this doesn’t sound like the show I grew up with.
There will be some repeating villains such as the Jack Kirby designed Gemini, the ruler with two faces but one head, but most of the adventures bring them to new territories and new cultures to emphasize the strangeness of the world. But no matter where they are or who they meet, our trio of heroes are always in over their heads, and barely manage to save the day.
I get the feeling he only knows Gemini because he was in the intro and is the type of wizard that would fit into his vision but it’s not a vision that feels like a reboot of the show. It feels like something that would work great as its own series, and maybe Tad Stones should consider reworking it into an original IP than in trying to make it a Thundarr series. Call it something like End Of The World, with the adventures of Quartarr The Back and his magic football, false Princess Asphodel, and Chumba the amnesiac Jungle Beast, and you might have the makings of a good show, or one of the graphic novels he works on nowadays. Otherwise he could calm down the wacky and make a proper update of the show with some of these ideas, but it wouldn’t feel like a Tad Stones production. There are some great ideas but lousy adaptations, and the worst adaptations are the ones with good ideas that would stand better on their own. Instead of not-stalgia you have a cool show that would attract new fans and some of us Thundarr The Barbarian fans as well, especially if we love Darkwing Duck. I love both shows but sometimes two great things don’t combine well together.
Although it would still be better than what Thundercats Roar is promising.