Tag Archives: innocence

Spotlight: Avengers – The Incredible Hulk

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“Hulk SMASH!!!”

I am not Big Green’s biggest fan. I like him, but he has never been my favorite superhero. Most everyone who likes the Hulk recognizes the words I have used to open this post. Hulk is best known for his smashing, after all.

For some time now a friend and I have been catching reruns of Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s The Incredible Hulk television series. While I have read about the series before, I have never seen it. My friend had even less exposure to the series than I did – until recently, of course.

After watching a few of these episodes, my friend commented that the stories within each show were good, and I agreed. Though the special effects are hardly that special today, that was not what my friend and I meant when we concurred that the series was good.

What we meant was that the stories themselves were good. Usually, The Incredible Hulk could be counted on to turn out a good story. There have been a few episodes that I would say fell flat, but that has more to do with the story itself than with the actors or the special effects. On the whole, however, The Incredible Hulk was reliable entertainment for its time and, I daresay, for ours.

This conversation with my friend led me to mention what I had always found likable about the Hulk while I was growing up. It was never his size, strength, or unparalleled ability to “smash” that made me an appreciator of the Hulk. I liked the Hulk because, despite his rage and general tendency to break stuff, he was still a gentle giant to the innocent and/or the helpless.

This is something that later stories in the comics have largely abandoned. In the original comics, The Incredible Hulk television series, and the 1990’s Hulk cartoon, Big Green would never hurt an innocent person. Not on purpose, at least. Someone may have been standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Hulk got into a fight and was therefore hurt, but Big Green never deliberately injured someone who was not a threat to him or who was a good person.

For instance, the Hulk always had a soft spot for kids in the shows I saw and in The Incredible Hulk. I can remember a cartoon episode or two where Bruce Banner befriended a young child, only for the Hulk to later manifest himself in order to protect said child. Hulk would also avoid hurting someone who had befriended Banner or who had demonstrated that they were a nice, good, and kind person.

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And in the Bixby/Ferrigno series the Hulk had a knack, as he did in the comics and cartoons, for ending up in the right place at the right time to help people in bad situations. Cursed with a power and alternate personality he did not want, forced to wander the world as an outcast, Banner would lament that he could not have a “normal” life. I sympathized – and still do – with that, but I also think his focus on the negative meant that he did not often see what a great gift he had also been given.

Originally weak and unable to help others, the emergence of the Hulk gave Banner the ability to play the knight errant. No, he could never have a so-called “normal” life, and that could be annoying and sad. But how many people would have been harmed or might even have died if Bruce Banner did not have the Hulk residing within him?

This is a plot and character device which the comic book writers have gravitated away from since the House of M storyline. Those earlier stories hinted at a provident Will behind the Hulk’s appearance and his subsequent, well-placed position in the lives of others where he invariably helped make those he encountered safer, happier people.

As a young viewer I sensed this about the Hulk. Misunderstood by Thunderbolt Ross, the general public, and even Banner, the Hulk was nevertheless a force for good in the world and not a monster of destruction, as he has often been described. Yes, he broke a lot of stuff more often than not. But he never did it just for the heck of it; he did it to protect others or stop the bad guys. I can accept destruction when its main aim is to protect good people and stop bad people. Buildings can be replaced and the land is always shifting. Individual humans are utterly irreplaceable.

Though the comic book writers have fallen away from this understanding of the Hulk, the cartoon and film writers seem to have begun to re-explore this side of the character. Oddly enough it was Joss Whedon, the proclaimed atheist, who led the charge for this change. This is made plainest in The Avengers, where the famous director/writer has Tony Stark point out that the Hulk may have saved Banner’s life in the Gamma explosion for a purpose.

Marvel’s writers have subsequently shifted their portrayal of the Hulk in the cartoons to show him as a thinking and usually coherent character, instead of a rage monster with the vocabulary and intellect of a four year old child having a righteous temper tantrum. This is a nice change but it takes away, for me, a little of the gentle prodding we had in earlier stories about the Hulk. The idea that Providence intervened to save Banner’s life and granted him the power to back up his will to help others is what made me fond of the Hulk. I think this is one of the reasons why I drifted away from the character as I grew up – my own inclination toward precision in place of wholesale attack notwithstanding.

This providential element in stories about Big Green is the reason why I enjoy watching the reruns of The Incredible Hulk on El Rey when I can. These stories, as Bill Bixby said, were made for adults but “children can watch them, too.” He was reportedly very upset when the show was described as mere children’s entertainment.

I have to agree with him on that. The Incredible Hulk and other, older Marvel fare was made for adults and children alike. Both could read it and learn lessons about life from the stories the company told. This is one of many things that Marvel lost after House of M, sadly, and one of the things I wish they would work to rediscover. They will tell better stories if they are only ready to relearn what will make a great story.

If you can, readers, try to catch a few episodes of The Incredible Hulk on El Rey. They are “retro” and dated, and this is not a television series which modern special effects fans will take very seriously. But if you like a good story, The Incredible Hulk can be counted on to deliver nine times out of ten. That is all any of us can and should ask of a storyteller; a good story, well-told, and appreciable to a wide audience.

Have fun smashing with the Incredible Hulk, readers!

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Thundercats – HO!!

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I have been meaning to write a post about this subject for a while.  For those of you who have no idea what in the world I am talking about, no worries.  This blogger does not expect everyone to know everything about the things I enjoy, just as I hope no one expects me to know a thing about rocket science or the life span of a great white shark.  So hold on tight as I try to explain the subject of today’s post.   It might take a while.

Thundercats was a cartoon series which debuted back in the 1980s.  It focused on a species of humanoid cats.  The nobility among this race were called Thundercats, while the common folk were known as Thunderians.

I have always been a sucker for cats.  So when the series reran at odd hours during my childhood, I would scramble to watch the episodes.  To recap the general plot:  Thundera, the home of Thundercats and Thunderians alike, was a planet which somehow died.  Think Superman and Krypton; the core was unstable or something like that, and the planet went ka-blooey as a result.

A number of Thundercats and Thunderians escaped the planet’s destruction.  One such group of Thundercats included Cheetara, a character based on the cheetah; she could run 120 mph on a morning jog – and faster in combat.  There was also Tygra, based on the tiger, whose bolo whip could make him invisible to the naked eye.  He and Cheetara were hinted to be a couple.

Then there was Panthro, the strongest cat of the group; he was based on the panther.  There were the Thunderkittens, Wilykit and Wilykat, fraternal twins, sister and brother.  They were based on wildcats, but you could not be sure which kind from the look of them.

Jaga was the wise, Obi-Wan Kenobi magician/mentor in the group.  No one has any idea what kind of cat inspired his appearance.  And, last but most important, there was the young heir to the royal throne of Thundera – Lion-O, the future Lord of the Thundercats.  Yes, he was based on the lion.

Oh, yeah, and then there was Lion-O’s nanny, Snarf.  No idea what Snarf was based on; he was the only cat who walked on all fours most of the time.  The Thundercats walked like humans do, unless they had to climb or run up a steep mountain as fast as they possibly could.

Anyway, Lion-O and his escort, along with the convoy of ships following them, ended up under attack from a group called the Mutants.  The Mutants were humanoid animals, mainly resembling Lizards, Jackals, Vultures, and apes (these were known as Monkians).

The entire convoy except for Lion-O’s ship was destroyed.  The Mutants boarded their ship in the hope of recovering an ancient Thunderian weapon and the heirloom of Lion-O’s house:  the magic Sword of Omens.

Naturally enough, the Mutants were repelled.  But the ship was heavily damaged in the battle and would never make it to the Thundercats’ planned new world.  The best it could do was the third planet in a small solar system in a dinky galaxy.  (There was, apparently, intergalactic travel in the original Thundercats series.)

The trip was too long for the group to survive outside of suspension capsules.  Because he was the oldest, Jaga did not enter a suspension capsule, which could retard but not stop the aging process.  He piloted the ship to the Cats’ new home but died before the ship crash landed on Third Earth, a wild world with ancient secrets.

Lion-O was the second Thundercat to awaken from suspension, the first being Snarf.  Once he was awake, Lion-O realized he had grown to a full adult during his years of suspension.  The pod seemingly malfunctioned and did not slow his aging as much as it should have, since the Thunderkittens remained the same age as when they entered the pods – they were older than Lion-O.  He looks to be about thirty, if not slightly younger…

But his mind is all twelve year old boy.  Add a big dash of leonine pride to that, and you get the general recipe for the Thundercats series.

Third Earth at first seems hospitable enough.  But on an adventure out of camp, Lion-O runs into an ancient evil that has slept on Third Earth undisturbed for centuries:  Mumm-Ra, the ever-living mummy and self-proclaimed ruler of Third Earth.

Yes, this is kind of corny.  But there is a bonus point about this villain which I always liked.  Mumm-Ra could never stand the sight of his own reflection.  If soundly beaten in a fair fight by the Thundercats, he would retreat with dire warnings about how bad their next encounter would be.  If the Cats were hard-pressed, they would use any reflective surface that they could find to show him his own face.  The sight of how ugly he was would drive Mumm-Ra back to his black pyramid and into his sarcophagus, so he could regenerate and keep being “ever-living” – especially after the fright of seeing the evil etched into his own skeletal face.

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Three new Thundercats were later added to the roster.  Lynx-O, a blind Thunderian based on the lynx, became the team’s living voice of wisdom; Ben-Gali, based on the Bengal tiger, became the team’s new weapons expert.  Lastly we had Pumyra, based on the North American puma or cougar.  She and Ben-Gali looked to be about as perfect a couple as Cheetara and Tygra.

To a child, the world of the Thundercats, even if it is odd, is wonderful.  I never needed any explanation for anything when I watched the series re-air as a small viewer.  When I was older and looked up the series, I left the incongruities of the stories alone.  What mattered to me were the characters and the morals they imparted during every episode – because in the eighties, every cartoon series had a moral in each episode.  Or very nearly every series had a moral in every show.  Such contemporaries of the Thundercats as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or Transformers, for instance, had a moral to each story.

Characters in He-Man would lecture the audience directly at the end of every show, whilst Transformers let the moral lie in the story.  Thundercats followed Transformers in that regard, being only a bit preachier in the way the characters spoke to each other.  ‘Course, they were trying to teach a twelve year old future king who had grown to adulthood in his sleep how to be mature.   They had a pretty good excuse.

Even after Thundercats was canceled, there was still a fan base to appease.  I have no idea how many older children watched and enjoyed the series when it came out first, but there must have been enough.  After a while comic books were made to show the ongoing adventures of the Thundercats.

And, as the saying goes, it all went downhill from there.

I looked up the comics when I was trying to find out more about my favorite childhood series.  What I discovered in this search was utterly appalling.  Thundercats had begun life as an innocent children’s show, and I was not the only one naïve enough to have expected the comics to maintain that tone.  What I and other fans of the show found was that the innocence of the series had been ravaged and destroyed by the comic book writers.

After a few glances through the descriptions, I stopped reading, since I wanted to be able to sleep at night.  So I only know of a few things which I can say against the comics.  But it is enough.  If you are a child or have a child with you, stop reading here and/or send the child away NOW.

The writers for the comics had Cheetara captured at some point in their stories and raped by Mutants.  This was bad enough for me; Cheetara had been my favorite Thundercat growing up.  It got worse, I quickly found:  somehow, the two Thunderkittens had also been captured by Mumm-Ra in the comics.  The Ever-living Mummy then decided to use them as sex slaves – both sister and brother – for his personal amusement.

Reading this the first time, I nearly threw up on the keyboard.  Thanks to the reviewers on Amazon who had not been so fortunate, I knew that I never wanted to pick up a Thundercats comic book in my life.  But the knowledge has never really changed my opinion of these “stories” and the writers who created them.

And the thing is, these awful incidents in the comics were not only disgusting, they were illogical.  Throughout the TV series the Thundercats always made sure to keep tabs on each other.  They always came to the rescue if one of them ended up in trouble.  The idea that Cheetara could be captured, let alone raped, without the Thundercats making sure that the perpetrators suffered the consequences is more than slightly unbelievable.

This also makes the capture and corruption of the Thunderkittens impossible to consider.  The Cats made sure to take care of the Kittens; if ever they went missing, the adults would tear off after them.  That they somehow allowed the Kittens to be captured by Mumm-Ra and never tore the planet apart in at least an attempt to find them is totally out of character.

From left to right: Tygra, Wilykit, Lion-O, Wilykat, Panthro, Snarf, and Cheetara

From left to right: Tygra, Wilykit, Lion-O, Wilykat, Panthro, Snarf, and Cheetara

This was one of the reasons why I became worried about the new series which aired in 2011.  The new Thundercats TV show drew a great deal from the comics.  It added species which had never been in the original series, gladiatorial combat, and made the entire storyline far less sunny and happy-go-lucky.  It also subtracted Mumm-Ra’s vulnerability to his own reflection, replacing it with the vampiric weakness to sunlight.  Previously, Mumm-Ra had never had a problem moving around in the day time.  He is, after all, an ancient mummy, not a vampire!

I did enjoy some of the additions to the new series, readers.  But always in the back of my mind was the worry of just what the writers might pull from the comics for the series.  The darker tone of the show did not ease my fears.

Pumyra 2011

Pumyra 2011

The last straw came at the end of the first and only season of the new series.  This episode saw Pumyra turn on the Thundercats and join with Mumm-Ra, who apparently had taken her as his paramour in the bargain.  The fact that the writers would turn the originally sweet, innocent Pumyra into this was absolutely infuriating.  I was more than glad that the series died quietly after this episode.

Nevertheless, that does not mean that the writers are off the hook for what they did to this character – and that goes double for the comic book authors!  The original Thundercats series, the writers for the new TV show reportedly said, was “too much like a Sunday morning cartoon,” to be appealing to modern day audiences.

Well, duh!  That was the point!!!  That was what it was!!!!  No one in the 1980s had a problem with Sunday morning cartoons.  They especially did not mind if they had kids!!!!!

As for no modern audience being interested in the original series or “Sunday morning cartoons,” what are I and other fans like me – cat food?  We enjoyed the original series just fine the way it was!

And that is just the point.  These new writers did not want to reboot the series from its original foundation.  They wanted to change the premise of the story entirely.  Doubtless, the comic book authors felt the same way when they began crafting the comics for the Thundercats.

This really stuck in my craw, for one reason and one reason only:  the new writers felt the original show was too guileless – too innocent – to attract audiences today.  And I believe they are flat-out wrong in this indictment of the earlier TV series and others like it.  If you follow the in-crowd, you never try anything new.  So how will you know whether audiences today do or do not like and want “Sunday morning cartoons”?

But it is what this attitude highlights that I find most upsetting.  What is it with the urge in our “modern” age to destroy innocence?  From abortion to kindergarten programs which teach children about sex, it is horrifying to see just how far we have fallen in so short a span of time.  The world will rip apart the innocence of childhood and children as they grow up.  Why do we have to help it with comics like the ones about the Thundercats?  Why do we have to have television shows which do the same thing?

The answer is:  we do not need these things.  We really, truly, do not.  The fact that too many of us want to make them in order to be “hip,” “cool,” and to impress the people in the “right circles” is not a need.  It is following the crowd and supporting, ironically enough, the status quo which these mainstream moguls claim they want destroyed.

Marvel, DC, and most other “children’s entertainment” venues are doing this as we speak.  Even Disney is engaged in this disgusting game.  Disney has more than a few live action television shows which degrade boys and girls, making caricatures of the players in the stories and thereby the actors who portray the characters.  They are supposed to be funny, but I can tell you that I have never found even one thing comedic in the advertisements for these shows, let alone the actual episodes.

I do not know about anybody else, but I am absolutely fed up with all of this.  I am tired of the implication that I am backward, out of touch, and a rube because I like innocent pleasures and naïve kids’ shows.  As if any of the writers who have turned the art of professions meant to entertain children into lewd pap has the moral authority to tell me or anyone else that!

This has to end.  It has to stop.  Too many children have already been hurt by this.  They have grown into hurting adults who hurt their own children, either on purpose or in a search to find what they have been told is “ultimate freedom.”  These writers and others like them have sold children into slavery to ideas and misconceptions which have landed them in prison, in poverty, in disease, or in addiction.  And they have sold those children’s children into the same situations.  It has to stop!

How do we stop it?

How was Sauron defeated in The Lord of the Rings?  Aragorn’s army did not stop him.  Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring, which betrayed itself when Gollum bit off his finger, did the trick.  This demonstrates that, eventually, every tempest of horrors imaginable will end in its own defeat.

And just like Frodo, we can help it along.  We can show our children what innocent shows like the original Thundercats look like.  We can make sure they read good books, see good movies, and hear good music.  We can keep them innocent for as long as possible by making damn sure they are exposed to as little of that other stuff as possible.  The battle started when the Enemy went after our children, readers…

It is past time we fought back the same way.

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