Week of Cartoons – Day 7: Animal-themed superhero team grab bag

March 28, 2008

thunderhobbit.pngFROM JASON’S BABYSITTER’S HOUSE — In a production studio basement somewhere in America, animators were throwing darts at a board covered with animal names.

ThunderCats was a smash hit. SilverHawks saw modest distribution. What kind of animals could they mutate into man-shapes next? THWACK! That dart stuck straight into fish, and TigerSharks hit the air. Rankin/Bass might as well have made LightningDogs, PlatinumPumas, or RhinoWolves.

The dying animation company needed a hit, and it didn’t really get one in TigerSharks — except that it strung along a legion of bratty fans like me, who curled up in a bean bag chair at the babysitter’s house in Salem, Oregon, every day after school to watch the epic tales Rankin/Bass churned out.

It turned out ThunderCats had the greatest staying power (I see the logo on the t-shirts of overweight, balding, middle-aged men all over the place today). TigerSharks, unfortunately, only had a one-season run and that marked the death knell for Rankin/Bass.

It’s too bad, because the company gave us some of the greatest Christmas and geek movies of all time, including those old stop-motion favorites: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Jack Frost.

Surprisingly, the very same production house that gave us Lion-O, Jaga, Tygra, Panthro, Cheetara, WilyKat, WilyKit, and Snarf also gave us the animated The Hobbit movie and its successor, The Return of the King. It also made The Wind In the Willows, the Jackson 5ive cartoon, and several Pinocchio and Oz incarnations.

But I’ll always love Rankin/Bass for those three legendary, formulaic, afternoon cartoons:

ThunderCats (1985)

Part 2 | Part 3

You know this one. Feline heroes tag-team to take on Mumm-Ra, the immortal Egyptian-ish sorcerer. At times, the animation is very darkly reminiscent of comic book panels, but at others it’s almost Hannah Barbara in quality. ThunderCats was more or less a He-Man clone — right down to the magic swords, mix of tech and magic, and demonic henchmen. There was also a huge roster of unique “manimals” populating Third Earth, some aiding and some attacking the ‘Cats.

The pilot/origin story are linked above, telling how the ThunderCats fled their home planet, Thundera, and crash-landed on Third Earth with the Mutants of Plun-Darr in pursuit. Lion-O starts as a young child, but after waking from a long cryogenic sleep discovers he’s aged and wards off his enemies with the Sword of Omens.


SilverHawks (1986)

I love Batman Beyond, but I think DC was stealing character designs and tech ideas straight out of SilverHawks. Super-powered costumes with armpit wings, inhuman strength, and a host of gadgets? Sounds the same. What set the two apart was that Terry McGinnis was wearing a suit while Quicksilver, Bluegrass, The Copper Kid, Steelheart, and Steelwill were actually bionic beings who sacrificed part of their humanity for their new machine bodies.

Okay, so Mon-Star is a bit of a transparent “yeah, this is the bad guy” name. But the show wasn’t going for subtlety — just pure 80s buddy cop adrenaline and explosions. It slapped you over the head with its police-in-space mentality, going so far as to make one character more or less a Texas ranger wannabe.

Do I need to point out the R2-D2 whistles and warbles that Copper Kid used to communicate? No, I don’t think I do.

TigerSharks (1987)

This one was really obscure.

TigerSharks aired as part of The Comic Strip, which I could swear aired on the USA Network, though I’m not positive. It was a long time ago. I could only watch it at the home of the lady who babysat me on Saturday mornings while my mother was at work, and it shared a tiny fraction of a half-hour slot with three other short ‘toons (Karate Kat, Mini-Monsters, and Street Frogs) in a strung-together-serials kind of way.

There’s not much to say about TigerSharks, for a few reasons: 1) It was so unabashedly a re-skinning of ThunderCats, 2) there were so few episodes produced before it was canned (like tuna), and 3) the only depth it had was under water.

Basically, a bunch of human crime fighters could jump in a special tank that temporarily mutated them into mer-fish-people-guys (a mako shark, a walrus, a dolphin, an octopus chick… A SEA HORSE?!). Their submarine could leave the planet of Lion-O Spaghetti-O Water-O and venture into space.

I’ll let it go at that.

Getting back to business… slowly

January 7, 2008

FROM JASON’S POST-HOLIDAY PLAYTIME — Sorry about that. There was a bit of a dead week on the ol’ blag there while Andrew and I played with our new toys. Waiting under the TV for me was Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons one and two, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Guitar Hero 1 and 2 (I already had GH3), and some other little distractions that have been keeping me occupied.

If you’re nerdy enough to be reading this blog, you’re probably familiar with all the above titles. There are reviews a-plenty out there on teh Intarwebs, so I’ll keep my thoughts short:

Three minutes on TNG

I thought briefly about blogging every single Trekisode here, but thought that was kind of pointless while Wil Wheaton — boy genius Wesley Crusher himself — does that with much keener insight over at TV Squad.

A few thoughts, though: This is the first time I’m watching many of the oldest TNG episodes since I was a small boy, and I’m finding the early seasons to be lovably fumbling. It’s clear that the producers initially wanted to stick to the old 1960s camp formula; you can see them stumbling along with bad costumes, overt musical cues ripped straight from the Shatner era, terrible wash planet horizons and foam landscapes, and… well, frankly… some of the gayest shiny 1980s clothing plastered on poor alien males.

It’s also pretty transparent how much they were playing up Tasha Yar as a sex symbol early on, throwing her into skimpy clothing and suggestive lines every chance the producers had. She also displays some jealousy over Riker that makes me wonder if there were some plans to couple the two that panned when Denise Crosby left the show. Troi would later get that vixen status with fans — though I never found her attractive in the least — once she donned that unitard. In season one, though, they have her decked out with an almost Persian look that I suppose is meant to be Betazoid.

legostarwars.jpgA brief word on Lego Star Wars

The Complete Saga for the Nintendo DS does what it promises — it brings the existing titles to a new platform — but little else. I’ll be blunt: If this weren’t Legos and if it weren’t Star Wars, I wouldn’t want to play. But since it is, and it is, respectively… I had an enormous amount of fun.

The game mechanics can be kind of sloppy and repetitive. There are some camera problems, save points are far, far too scarce (especially for a portable title), and it can be pretty tedious blasting every single thing in every single level.

That’s why I’m happy that this game isn’t about gameplay. It’s not really, admit it — it’s about nostalgia, collecting, and light comic relief. Lego Star Wars is about unlocking all of the playable characters — and there are dozens — so you can rush through levels with an unstoppable team of Darth Maul, Mace Windu, a snowtrooper, Wicket, Greedo, R2D2, and C3PO… and maybe a custom character cobbled together from spare Lego people parts.

This time around, some stylus mini-games make collecting studs (moneys) a little more convenient, so unlocking ghost Yoda only takes something on the order of two or three hours. (It’s totally worth it, by the way. Yoda hobbles around super-slowly until he draws his saber, and then he’s by far the fastest character in the game, zipping around acrobatically and bouncing off multiple enemies.)

Of course, I haven’t unlocked General Grievous yet, and he might well kick Yoda’s ass with his four lightsabers. We’ll see. I’m proud to report, though, that I have defeated Episodes I-VI all the way through. Now I must go back and get all the kit parts and mini-games.


A few notes on Guitar Hero

If you haven’t played it by now….

Know this, all ye novices: Guitar Hero 2 is by far the superior entry into the franchise. I have beaten all three on medium and have started working my way (painfully and slowly) through the songs on hard level. I’ve discovered that GH2 is built more solidly, has better song selection, loads faster (all three on PS2), has the best mix of just-for-fun songs to challenging songs, and does the best job of teaching complex chords and use of the dreaded orange button.

This is the party game right now, and nearly everyone I know made it the centerpiece of New Year’s Eve 2007-2008. I’ve been to some lame New Year’s parties where alcohol was the only thing going on, and I can attest to this: Mix that booze with some kickin’ tunes, sweet licks, a 60-inch TV, and a bunch of beginners and Guitar Hero will get your party moving.

Word on the street is that Rock Band is going to dethrone Guitar Hero pretty quickly. I’ve only played that one for a handful of minutes (on the drums) and I think it might be true. But for now, Guitar Hero’s as good as gold and has provided me with a couple hundred hours of entertainment. I’d gladly keep accepting new entries into the franchise. Guitar Hero 12, here I come.

It’s time to Grinch those lame Christmas gifts

November 20, 2007

FROM JASON’S UNDERWHELMING YULE TIDE SPIRIT — Black Friday is upon us, and American consumers are expected to haul their turkey and cranberry sauce-stuffed asses to the malls and departments stores. Retailers are predicting a $474 billion day.

That’s going to mean a lot of waste; each Christmas season, I seem to be wary of a growing selection of crappy, impersonal presents. There seems to be added pressure to buy token gifts for wider-ranging groups of acquaintances, co-workers, and business contacts. Extended families seem to extend just a little more each year, especially as I get older and relatives start dropping new children with reckless abandon.

So choosing appropriate, useful, relevant gifts — all within a reasonable budget — is getting trickier.

So as a man, I feel obliged to highlight some stupid man-gifts that you should avoid buying for the one you love:


woodpuzzle.pngWooden puzzles: Those brain-teasing 3D jigsaws are fun for about 13 minutes before they find a permanent grave in the confines of a closet, buried under dominos and Monopoly.

None but a savant has a chance in hell of solving them anyway. Inevitably, one or more of the pieces will get lost or, worse, end up in the dog’s belly.


trimmer.pngNose hair/mustache trimmers: A man needs one of these in his lifetime. I have four, thanks to well-meaning gift-givers.

Unfortunately, it is almost always more convenient and expedient to use a razor and/or scissors to trim those troublesome follicles. Unless the recipient is a lycanthrope, leave this one on the store shelf.


giftcard.gifGift cards: Here I have to rant. The whole point of Christmas is to express friendship and good will by selecting a present that is unique to the recipient’s tastes and interests.

Giving a gift card is essentially saying, “I don’t know you well enough or care enough about you to expend the effort to buy something personal.”

There’s another issue. It’s gotten to the point in my family where we merely exchange gift cards — of the same value! — with certain other family members. We’re basically spending postage to give ourselves permission to go shopping. When you reach that point, shouldn’t you just acknowledge that it’s all just a charade?


massager.gifMassage gadgets: These line the shelves of upscale department stores, purporting to be remedies for tired backs, hands, and feet. They’re really just vibrating ball bearings covered in cloth. They can be quite painful and will suck a pack of batteries dry in no time.

And are we really going to let people label these “shiatsu” massagers? Let’s face it: We know what they’re really being used for, ladies.


novelty.pngNovelty items: I don’t need a farting Santa statue. I don’t want a school bus key chain, a pen that can write underwater, a pocketknife with 132 widgets, a motorized fish that sings AC/DC songs, or Batman shot glasses.

Hot Topic is not punk rock.


crucifix.pngReligious items: Even if I believed in god, getting a crucifix for… I don’t know, just around the house?… would be kind of lame. As it is, I don’t want to be spoon-fed tracts. No attempts at conversion this holiday season, please.

If you think Christmas is about the birth of your lord, then you obviously are blind to history. It was originally a German pagan holiday, adopted by the Anglo-Saxons as Yule, a celebration of the winter solstice. It was a time to sacrifice human slaves and slaughter boars.


sudoku.pngSudoku: Just like MySpace, Paris Hilton, Coke Blak, and Al Gore, those annoying Sudoku puzzles are soooo 2006.

Last year’s Christmas market was flooded with electronic versions, CD-ROM versions, giant Sudoku puzzle books, and even Sudoku neckties. Now that the craze has subsided (and people have discovered that it was remarkably boring), stores will be trying to unload their overstock and trying to label Sudoku as “hip.” Don’t believe it. Not even your mom wants to do these puzzles again this year.