Do you remember waaaaaay back when having a day off meant Saturday, and Saturday meant waking up at the crack of dawn to plop yourself in front of the television set with a bowl of sugar based cereal substitute to watch Saturday morning cartoons? Yeah, me neither. But that’s okay. Let’s get NOSTALGIC!
Come with me now, through time and space, but mostly time, to October 4, 1980. I’m not quite 1 year old at this point in history, and as such, I won’t have a lot to say to you. No flash photography, please. If I go for your ankles, then you really shouldn’t have gotten so close to my cage. Crib. Did I say cage? I meant crib. It’s a Saturday and, on the television, you can find Thundarr the Barbarian.
Thundarr, an escaped slave with a laser sword, Ookla, the whatever a Mok is, and the Princess Ariel, a sorceress, travel the world of 3394 A.D. Earth, fighting against evil sorcerers, scientists, monsters, and robots. Thundarr combines the sword and sorcery tropes of the fantasy genre with the robots and rayguns of the science-fiction genre through setting the story in a post-apocalyptic Earth where those things are commonplace. The 21 episode series was “[c]reated by Steve Gerber, the creator of Howard the Duck, and designed by Alex Toth, the designer of Space Ghost,” with the assistance of Jack Kirby, a massively influential individual in both Marvel and DC comics. Thundarr was short-lived, not because it lacked popularity, but because network executives wanted to promote cartoon versions of their live action programs, Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley, in its time slot. *waves fist angrily at 1980s network executives*
What I remember
I would have been all of… almost 2… when this show ended. My earliest memories start around age 3 (sneaking out to the living room where two of my older siblings were watching Poltergeist on tv, just in time to catch a glimpse of the scene where Carol Ann is sucked into the closet, soon followed by my being scarred for life) so this one was a bit ahead of my time. The first time I’d ever heard of Thundarr the Barbarian was as the inspiration for a role-playing game being crowdfunded on Kickstarter called Barbarians of the Ruined Earth. (Which I’ve been running for “Old School Gamers of Florence” since July of 2020.)
“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.” Thundarr has one of the best opening sequences in all cartoon history. Not because it’s especially well animated (it’s not), but because of all the story possibilities it opens up. The first episode, “The Secret of the Black Pearl” begins with Thundarr, Ariel, and Ookla traveling through the woods at night to avoid being spotted by wizards. Their journey is cut short when Thundarr hears the cry of a human in peril. After freeing the captive of the Groundlings (rat people?), the group is tasked with the safe return of “the black pearl,” an artifact stolen from the wizard Gemini, to Manhattan. More Groundlings are fought (“There can’t be more than fifty of them!”), the wizard Gemini is thwarted, and the fate of the human race under sorcerer rule is revealed.
We actually carry Thundarr in our system! Check it out now. Right now. Stop reading and go put it on reserve. I can wait. I can also check to see if you did it. (I won’t. But I could. I’m not. But go reserve it just in case I did.) Definitely keep in mind when this series first aired because one thing you’re not going to see in Thundarr is any hint of diversity or inclusion, and the female lead character tends to get captured a lot, and even when she isn’t in danger, her spells are largely sparkly bubbles.
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More to come (live from what I remember about the 80’s!) as this story continues.
Kevin Wadlow is 100% a real human being and definitely not a murder of crows wearing a person suit. He is an avid reader of horror, tabletop gamer, and drinker of coffee who enjoys drawing things of strangeness along the way. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he will probably be eaten first after saying something about how he fully expected to go out like this.