Saturday, March 30, 2013

Snakes Alive !

Has there always been, lurking in the back of your mind, questions regarding specific facets of comic, cartoon or television mythology - such as 'why is the Hulk green?' or 'what is the Joker's real name?' or even 'who's hotter - Jessica Rabbit or Starfire?'. Comic book fans and retro geeks are always plagued with such uncertainties in life, which usually result in sleepless nights, loss of appetite and chronic blogging.

While catching up on an episode of one of my favorite shows, AMC's 'Comic Book Men' (which I re-watch religiously), a customer had brought in a vintage G. I. Joe play-set for sale. It was mentioned by this person that the inspiration for Cobra was Marvel's Hydra. So began the sleepless nights and rapid weight loss (not really). 

As my spider-sense got to tingling, a little info-engineering began !

The long and short origin that most of us are aware of is that the Joes began as 12" military figures. However, it wasn't until 1982 that Larry Hama (writer for Marvel), under advise from Jim Shooter (then editor-in-chief for Marvel) began developing an idea for a new on-going comic book called Fury Force. 

The original back story was that S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury had had a son whom was assembling a team of elite commandos to battle neo-Nazi terrorists HYDRA. The wiki version goes that Shooter had suggested to Hasbro that "G.I. Joe" should be the team name and that they should fight terrorists, while Archie Goodwin (another Marvel writer) invented Cobra and the Cobra Commander. Hama was largely responsible for the rest of the Joe universe. This is a view that is subscribe to by a number of fans out there.

(Larry Hama)

A second opinion that is maintained in Joe mythology is that Fury Force and the original wave of GI Joe characters were as totally disparate lines. It is purported (as opposed to the above) that Hama's proposal for a Fury Force comic book series, which was supposed to be a spin-off of the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD comic book, was shot down by Marvel. The designs for the 3.75" Joe figures were actually from the imagination of Ron Rudat of Hasbro Toy Company. 

In 1982, Hasbro approached Marvel Comics proposing to do a licensed comic book based on the G I Joe toys. Forum gossip claims the only person up to the task was combat engineer-turned-comic book artist/writer/editor Larry Hama, who accepted the assignment.

Various interviews between Larry Hama and Ron Rudat show that: Hasbro had sent the original character designs and prototype figures, made by Rudat, to Hama, who then had the job of coming up with code names and filecards for the characters. This is where the Fury Force and G I Joe connection comes from. 

Ultimately the rejected Fury Force proposal was the basis for the famous Joe filecards. For example, Sgt. Fury/Nick Fury, Jr. character was re-purposed to serve as 'Hawk', GI Joe's commanding officer. Fury Force mystery man Spook became the inspiration for 'Snake-Eyes'. 

Therefore, while similarities between the Cobra Command and SHIELD's arch-nemesis, Hydra, there was not meant to be any direct parallels between the two organizations. Any design similarities that Cobra Command and Hydra share is most likely due to the fact that they were both based on the same World War II villains such as the German Nazis or Italian Fascists.

It makes sense that if the Joes were not based on SHIELD, there is little reason for Hydra to be the inspiration for Cobra. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Times A-Changin'

7-year old me thinks: 
"Man ! Gung Ho and Shipwreck are so bad-ass and the Joes smack the crap out of Cobra each and every week. The characters are great and some of 'em even dress like what their code-names imply ! I wanna be a Joe and have a bad-ass code-name too - then I'd be more respected than another kid in the world !"

2013 me reacts:
Those nigga's gay !

Battle Purr-fect

One of the biggest advantages of travelling, for a collector, is the off chance that you might stumble on a unique find that - while you might have been necessarily hunting for it - you instantaneously knew you wanted. 

Lucky me: I managed a trip to Singapore in the first quarter of this year to get away and recharge my internal batteries over a week. Singapore still remains one of my most favorite destinations for hunting; from its (very) simple and relatively cheap public transportation to its variety of places for figures and collectibles. 

Whilst wandering around Singapore and digging through a number of bargain bins, I happened on the below:

While the above pic is a net rip of the Battlecat that I managed to discover (that and the fact that I have yet to snap photos of my own figure), there is no denying that its form, colors and value remain the same wherever you spotted. Needless to say that it has been years since I've gotten my hands on one or managed to physically touch one. Sadly enough that it didn't come with a He-Man or else this retro set could be considered complete !

Now: here's where you, dear reader, jumps in and screams loudly, "I had that !". Well, I'm happy to say that I did too and I do now too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Here There Be Dragons

I am honestly thankful that the person/s in charge at Radio Television Brunei back in the 80s managed to bring in some of the most memorable American cartoons to air. Those re-runs (and sometimes broken episode lines) were the matches that fueled the the boyish imagination-flame in me - that helped me grow into the man-geek that you see today. Respect goes to some of the more landmark cartoons, such as He-Man, Thundercats and TMNT. Honorable mention must also be made on those more obscure cartoons that sometimes slip our minds when we talked of great classic cartoons; greats like Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons aired in 1983 for 27 episodes and was produced by Marvel Productions. The show focused on a group of friends who are sucked into the "Realm of Dungeons & Dragons" by taking a magical amusement park roller coaster ride. While such a premise for story origins could not necessarily happen in real life - I want to believe it. Upon arriving in the realm they meet Dungeon Master who gives each teen a weapon  and a character persona with which to survive the dangerous realm.

Hank, assigned as the Ranger, is the oldest with a magical bow that shoots arrows of glowing energy. These arrows have been shown to be used in many ways from binding enemies to creating light. Eric, the Cavalier wields magical shield, which can project a force field. Diana, the Acrobat is an acrobat (I know right?!) who carries a magic staff which can shift in length from short to long. Presto, the Magician, is able to pull an endless number of various tools from his magic hat - items that are sometime useless or precisely adept to the situation. Sheila, the Thief,  has a magical cloak which, when the hood is raised over her head, makes her invisible. Bobby, the Barbarian, is the child of the group, wielding a magic wooden club that can smash objects when called for.

Throughout the cartoon, Dungeon Master (last name: Master) provides important advice and help, but usually in such a cryptic way that it does not make sense until the team has completed the quest of each episode. Think: Yoda with proper sentence structure.

While the main objective is to find a way home, the group often take detours to into sideline stories. Also, while the group venture and run into different enemies, but their primary archenemy is the dastardly Venger.

Venger is a powerful wizard who wishes to rule the realm and believes the power from the teenagers' weapons will contribute to his succes. Another recurring villain is the fearsome Tiamat, who is a five headed dragon and the only creature Venger fears.

The show ran for 27 episodes and was split into three seasons of thirteen, eight and six episodes respectively. Most of the episodes served as 'stand alone' stories. Additionally, a final un-produced episode was planned which would have served as a conclusion - however, the show was cancelled before the episode was made.

A Dungeons & Dragons toy line was produced by LJN in 1983, which included original characters such as Warduke, Strongheart the Paladin, and the evil Wizard Kelek. Funnily enough, none of the main characters from the TV series was included in the toy line.

Retro Cartoons Love Me

Say what you want about the 80's and early 90's - cartoons were better. In this Ben 10, CGI'ed animation world, kids and kid-like adults are starved for good cartoons. While I would agree that being action packed with colorful graphics and superpowers is important, those things are just a little bit about what's lacking in animated series' today.

Growing up in Brunei; we were up to date with shows and cartoons never featured continuity one episode to the next - by right, we didn't care. We got on our addiction where ever and whenever we could get it. And it was usually found on cassette tapes without digital, high-definition glory - just straight up VHS.

It was those VHS tapes filled with broken single episodes of a variety of cartoon that got me through my childhood. Bless my mother for recording them for me. I hope I'm right to assume that a lot adults today were raised the same way. It was because of this probably why myself and my circle of close geek retro buddies never could reminisce about just one single show; we could always burst into conversation about a varied number of cartoons we remember.

Thinking of those conversations about reminiscing is what drove me to write today's blog.

My own personal list of well-loved cartoons could probably be related to by a large number of retro loving Bruneians out there too. We all watched the same shows and loved the same characters and remember the same plot lines. In no particular order:

i) He-Man and The Masters of The Universe
Always did right, no matter what. Lived in an Eternia with no fatties. Always won no matter what. Couldn't tell you who the hell the Masters of the Universe were because if he could, you know he could probably kick their asses too.

ii) Thundercats
Unforgettable logo. Coolest villains that almost all were represented in action figures. Coolest power chant - just as cool as above. Made you want to be lithe like a cat and wish your girlfriend was Cheetara.

iii) Silverhawks
Thundercats but in space. Awesome theme song with the coolest outfits. Coolest motto - "partly metal, partly real". No household pet could beat a full sized plastic Tallyhawk. The Mirage plane could rival the Thunder-Tank on pure bad-assness.

iv) Transformers
Coolest theme song coupled with the largest number of characters of any universe. Coolest leader ever, who had the saddest death scene. Best cartoon to translate into a movie. Made you wish you could transform into anything (even a Kijang even) just to roll with the Autobots.

My personal favourite opening theme song. Made you wish your car could fly. Ass-kicking toys and play-sets.

vi) The Real Ghostbusters
'Who you gonna call?' is no longer just a meaningless question, thanks to this cartoon. Made ghost funny and seemingly manageable, as opposed to those ones that know...kill you.

v) Centurions
Master the elements with gadgets. Coolest premise with the most awesome toys ever. I always wanted to be Max Ray.

These are just a few the come to mind. Granted that there were so many more that I just loved, and I'm sure retro fan-boys out there could think of many that I may have missed. Either way, it was a celebrated time for characters, story-lines and the action figure market.

Doesn't it just take you back?

Monday, April 30, 2012

TMNT Factlets

Who didn't love the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon from back in the day? First airing on television in 1987, the popularity of the show remained throughout it's long show run and also remains to this day among fans of classic t.v. It would probably be pretty difficult to find anyone who wouldn't include the original TMNT in their list of best animated television shows.

The Huffington Post has a great, insightful article with cool factlets about the show. Check it out here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Geek Speak

Props to Kevin Smith for introducing a new show (that has just completed its first season on television) that speaks to the inner geek / child in all of us - especially if that inner geek or child had comics, toys, play-sets or just all around loved and still loves pop culture. 

I don't usually plug shows, but this one is just hilarious and an inspiration. Check it out at AMC.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Road To El Dorado

My first encounter with the DC family of heroes was through two mediums (both television based); the Superman series of feature films and the Super Friends cartoons. Both were worthy in their portrayal of the DC mythology and represented well the super heroes we know and love today. There were so many things to love about the shows I mentioned that can never be replicated. For example, there will never be another real-life Superman like the one acted out by (Mr. Christopher Reeves). For another, Batman (of the Super Friends series) was actually voiced by Adam West, at one point in time.

Like I was saying, the Super Friends series of cartoons of the 1980s was one of the starting points towards my love of action figures, super heroes, and DC Comics in general - great story line complimented by great characters. However, it was unfortunate to note that some of the characters showcased in this cartoon series never really made it out alive (for lack of a better word). El Dorado is one example.

In 1981, before the release of the well-loved Disney animated movie of the same name, there was an ethic, obviously mocha-toned superhero named El Dorado.

El Dorado was created only for the Super Friends cartoons and has never appeared in a single DC Comic. The starring role that he played in was for Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show as a full-time member. El Dorado, a Latino, was added to the roster of characters in the cartoon for the sole purpose of injecting diversity into the show's overall theme. To say that his character appeared rather stereotypical was like saying you didn't realize we was different from the rest of the Super Friends. El Dorado spoke English with an accent, and was prone to replacing the word "yes" with "si".

It was later revealed through episodes that El Dorado was, in fact, Mexican. No official origin story was ever created to explain El Dorado's past or how he got his super powers, but it has been assumed that they're empowered by ancient magic and his people's warrior-spirit, from being the descendant of Ancient Aztec Sorcerers.

His most frequently used ability was teleportation, which he accomplished by wrapping his cape over his body and vanishing. Anyone or anything he wrapped his cape around could also be teleported with him and there appeared to be no limit to the distance he could travel. Another of his frequently used powers was the ability to generate illusions. These  illusions were also capable of  generating noise and could be touched. He also exhibited some degree of mental powers, including telepathy. Later episodes expanded to include super strength, flight, and the ability to make objects appear and disappear.

El Dorado was also know for his academic prowess in all things Pre-Columbian history and has assisted the Super Friends whenever they were forced to enter unfamiliar ruins or areas in Latin America

While many non-believers may have assumed that characters such as El Dorado may have faded into the recess of time and memory, some of us fan-boys never seem to truly forget or let go of the need to re-promote such images / icons of the classic past. 

While El Dorado was scheduled to be one of the few Hanna-Barbara original heroes (along with Black Vulcan and the Wonder Twins) to receive an action figure after Samurai, the Super Powers Collection line was unfortunately canceled before the figures could be made. However, El Dorado was released in Series 18 of Mattel's DC Universe Classics along with several other Super-Friends/Super-Powers themed figures. 

You can imagine my delight that knowing that the creative directors at Mattel and DC still see it fit to cast El Dorado in this, my most favorite line of action figures.

I guess we will never know what happened to El Dorado, whether he was taken back to be among his ancestors in the Aztec heavens or managing some Beverly Hills gardening-slash-pool cleaning company. The next time you open up a bag of Doritos, spare a second and a thought for the mighty El Dorado.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spotted In Brunei

Found on a casual walk around and noticed the revived 80s look immediately. Step two: notified Kal-el. Step three: smile in satisfaction of being a geek. Step four: tuck empty wallet into in between ass cheeks and walk away without purchasing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hummer vs Thunder Tank

Few vehicles (real or fictional) kick ass. Let's take the over-bearing Hummer, for example; its about the size of teenage African elephant, wheels the width of tree trunks, and a back seat that you could film a hip-hop music video in. That's a big car. But sadly, it doesn't kick ass. The ThunderTank (or Thunder Tank) does.

The Thunder Tank was the kind of vehicle that you could run over people with and then blow up their dead carcasses with. Using missiles. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Thunder Tank could eat a Hummer for breakfast and shit out little Toyota Echoes for good measure.

This menacing machine was built by the well-loved ThunderCats mechanic and all-round handyman, Panthro, by utilizing salvaged parts of the wrecked spaceship used to transport our band of heroes to Third Earth (referring to the second episode of the original 80s cartoon series). Throughout the cartoon's mythology, we saw the Thunder Tank maintain and use a range of ass-kicking arsenal to tackle each situation that befell the ThunderCats. The Tank's gadgetry ranged from a drill, working claws for scaling walls, a crushing mouth, missiles, underwater capabilities and further defense systems. A Gatling laser gun has also been included into the cabin of the Tank's rear compartment (against flying machines).

Scanning back through episodes of the original 80s show, the Thunder Tank can be seen as transporting all the ThunderCats in its rear cabin, with Cheetara running alongside. Predicaments have also occurred in instances where the Tank has run out of precious Thundrillium. And yet, the Tank (and Panthro) was always there to save the day.

Great 80s cartoons were almost always followed by great lines of toys. The ThunderCats line, produced by LJN, released 3 main series of figures, with many side action figure with a total of 37 different figures. To accompany this range of memorable character figures were vehicles to match, which included 2 playsets, 6 vehicles, 6 accessories & 2 monsters. Of these, the most famous pieces were the Thunder Tank and the Cat's Lair.

The Thunder Tank play-vehicle featured front seating enough for one figure (usually Panthro) with the ability to accommodate one more character in the Gatling gun during the Tank's attack mode. Attack mode was amazingly cartoon-like (meaning to say, it was true to the show's depiction) with the pounce-ready pose known and seen from the series - gaping mouth and raise claws revealing guns underneath. 

It is unfortunate that we rarely see the detail and the sheer thought that went into this play-vehicle in today's sets. A true shame. 

The Thunder Tank has now become a real collectible only for the dearest of fans with the perfect balance of Thunder-craziness and money to obtain. It is probably wrong to say few vehicles kick more ass than the Thunder Tank; in fact, it may be more correct to say few things even kick more ass than the goddamn Thunder Tank.