Animation Block: Thundarr the Barbarian
Going back to the well of the 1980’s, we find today a rare gem in the animated world. Jack “King” Kirby blessed the world with many characters, yet his foray into animation is often downplayed. Hired by Ruby-Spears in the early portion of the decade, Jack did the layouts for what would become Thundarr the Barbarian.
In the year 1994, a runaway planet hurtles between the Earth and the Moon, causing global upheaval. Mankind is cast into darkness. Our narrative begins two thousand years later. Earth is reborn as a world filled with sorcery and super science. Thundarr, a barbarian, escapes from his life as a slave alongside the Princess Ariel and Ookla the Mok. With his Sunsword, a gift from Ariel, Thundarr and his companions ride the strange worlds under a broken sky.
Looking back at the show, I am amazed and disappointed it didn’t last longer. Airing in 1980 and before the FCC loosened all the rules meant the children of the era were spared Thundarr action figures, comics, and general merchandise. With Steve Gerber and Mark Evanier doing scripts, I am utterly dismayed that the show lasted as short as it did, finally ending production in 1982 with reruns on various networks after that. Violence was never shied away from but it was never glamourized. The entire show had a fairly grim look at things to be yet there was also some degree of optimism. Princess Ariel deserves special mention as well. She was sassy but never obnoxious and her magic powers were consistent; or at least not used as a deus ex machina as much as other shows of the time period. She actually did stuff on the show rather than simply be the token female.
What went wrong? Typical of the time the show was formulaic; Thundarr and company enter a ruined city or former landmark and encounter a wizard or other type of ne’er-do-well. A battle is fought, hostages sometime taken and Thundarr and company leave much the same as they entered. But other shows were structured just the same and still lasted longer. Cost and ratings were given as the chief reason for the show’s cancellation, but unlike every other bit of 1980’s nostalgia, Thundarr the Barbarian seems to have been skipped by the retro toy companies and comic books companies, save for a few action figures made a couple of years ago.
The entire series was finally released onto DVD and is well worth the time to re-watch.