The late seventies and early eighties, the years of my early childhood, were crackling with bad vibes. Heavy metal, the shadow-side of sixties rock, had just crawled out from whatever cave it had been slumbering in. Theater screens flickered with aberrant images of killer sharks, chainsaw maniacs and insectoid aliens. Cold War images of Soviet soldiers and tin-pot dictators competed with apocalyptic evangelical ministers. Maybe it was the dying screams of the hippy dream: Pop culture tainted by the psychic toxin of disappointment as young men and women cut their hair and traded the tie-dye and love beads for neckties and sensible shoes…just like their parents before them. Whatever it, was it was heavy.
Even cartoons didn’t escape the cold, dark shadow of the dystopian disco decade. Adults had the acid-splashed psychedelia of Ralph Bakshi, and their children had Thundarr the Barbarian: a science fiction/fantasy mashup of mutants, magicians, barbarians and mad scientists. In the lead was the eponymous Thundarr, a dim-witted but fierce blonde barbarian with a magic sword, and his two companions: a pseudo wookiee named Ookla the Mok and a powerful sorceress named Princess Ariel.
The trio rode about on mutant horseback, fighting their way across a ruined but quasi-recognizable America landscape dotted with crashed 747s, crumbling tenement buildings and rusted-out automobiles. Nuclear war, the dominant bogeyman of the era, had not created Thundarr’s world, although it may have well. Rather, the moon had been shattered in some kind of cosmic freak accident, destroying the natural rhythm of the tides. The lunar disaster served to end the Earth of logic and reason, replacing it with magic.
Sorcery had come back in a big way, and with it a wild assortment of supernatural monsters: rat-men, vampires, werewolves and ogres. Evil wizards plumbed the ruins of Earth in search of ancient artifacts to use toward world domination. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t so much their questionable use of magic that made them “evil” to Thundarr’s crew, but their insistence on digging up the past. In any case, every Saturday morning Thundarr, Ookla and Ariel brought their savage, blood and thunder justice to wizards and beasts in a world both silly and terrifying; a child’s own apocalypse.
At the time, I had never seen anything like Thundarr the Barbarian. At seven years-old I wasn’t familiar with Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance or Jack Kirby, although all three were clearly part of Thundarr’s DNA. With that being the case, Thundarr the Barbarian became part of my DNA.
Between the Revelatory preachings of my local fundamentalist church on Sunday and the burning wreckage of Thundarr’s world on Saturday, I developed quite an appetite for all things about the end of the world. I was a weird kid, I guess, but I have Thundarr and similarly cosmic cartoon fare (The Herculoids, Space Ghost) to blame – or thank – for it.