Tag Archives: Science Fiction TV Shows

Spotlight: Thundercats – Panthro

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Last year I did a post on one of my favorite television series, Thundercats. A fantasy/sci-fi series for children, Thundercats revolved around a handful of humanoid cats, some of the last survivors of their race. It had magic, science fiction (sort of), and cats. For me, it was irresistable.

One of the seven Thundercats in the series was Panthro, voiced in the ‘80s by the late Earle Hyman. The strongest of the Cats, he was almost unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat. Based on the panther, he had blue skin, was bald, and had ears that immediately put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan.

He quickly dispelled whatever illusions I might have had about his sharing the Vulcans’ stoic refusal to show emotion, however. Panthro was one of the most cheerful characters I have ever “met.” He loved to laugh, which I found contagious when I began watching the show. He was a happy warrior; in battle he liked to taunt his enemies, a wide smile on his face. In the first episode he jumped into a formation of Jackalmen, one of whom tried to hit him in the back with a mace.

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Quick as a cat, Panthro turned and caught the weapon’s head, chuckling as he did. “If you were as mean as you are ugly,” he said, “then maybe you’d be trouble!” After this, he promptly crushed the mace and started throwing punches.

The writers for the original Thundercats series stated that Panthro’s character was “based on strength.” This is why he was, physically, the strongest Thundercat in the series. But his might did not show just in his feats of physical power or fighting prowess. It showed in his hearty, barrel-chested laugh and firm commitment to his fellow Thundercats, along with his adherence to the moral Code of his home world, Thundera.

Panthro could be serious and he could be frightened. He could also be angered. But none of these emotions ever made him lose his head. He was strong enough to admit, at least to himself, that he was afraid or angry, and then focus on the task at hand.

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Panthro’s Nunchuck

Of all the Thundercats, Panthro was probably the best fighter, not only with his bare fists but with his signature weapon. This was a nunchuk with a red and blue baton attached at each end. A technological genius, Panthro hid different tricks in both batons that he could activate in certain situations.

His spiked suspenders could also be used offensively, though Panthro did not often activate them as weapons. The spikes could be fired from the suspenders so that they would plunge into a rock wall or some other surface. This would anchor Panthro and halt any tumbles he took, preventing him from falling splat to his doom. It was possible, too, for him to fire these spikes out and have them windmill around his torso, forcing opponents to back off fast.

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The weapon he loved most, though, was his Thundertank. Remember when I said Panthro was a tech genius? After the Thundercats crashed on Third Earth, he salvaged the machinery he could from their wrecked ship and put together the Thundertank. Though he later built other vehicles for the Thundercats, along with most of the machines in Cat’s Lair, the Thundertank was Panthro’s “baby.” Even Lion-O was not allowed to use it without his permission; the one time he did, he almost crashed it.

While he was not my favorite character in the series, I have to say, I loved Panthro a lot. In the 2011 series….I had a few issues with the way the writers re-presented him to modern audiences.

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Panthro 2011

Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson – an actor whose talent I greatly respect – the writers made the 2011 series’ Panthro a bigger, brawnier, and taller Cat than he had been previously. I think I could have accepted this change, but the fact that they also made him broody and angry upset me a great deal. Gone was the laughing warrior with the wit that cut like ice and the quicksilver smile. In his place stood a glowering sourpuss (pun intended), who was occasionally used for comic relief and made to look the fool.

By this I mean that Panthro had one crippling fear in the original series. It was never explained, but it really did not need to be. Some people are afraid of things for no conceivable reason; you ask them why this or that frightens them, and all they can say is it does.

What could scare the strongest Thundercat, you ask? Bats.

Yes, bats were Panthro’s biggest terror in the original show. He knew fear from other sources, of course, but he could and did master those fears. Bats were the one thing he could not get over. And that was okay; like I said, some people have irrational fears they cannot conquer no matter how hard they try. This one chink in Panthro’s armor did not lessen his strength. It just made him human. (Yes, I know he is technically a humanoid cat, not an actual human. It’s called poetic license. Live with it.)

For the 2011 series, the writers made Panthro afraid of heights. They also made him unable to swim. Previously, every member of the Thundercats could swim. They may not have enjoyed it all the time or to the same degree, but they all knew how to swim. Taking that away from Panthro, making him afraid of water and heights – it made him seem like a big baby who was frightened of anything he could not hit or blow up.

That was and remains a wrong choice on the part of the new show’s writers, since it directly interfered with Panthro’s role in the story. Instead of being the strongest Cat in mind and body, Panthro was reduced to being merely strong on a physical plane. The new show’s writers cut out his real heart and put a mechanism in its place, which upset me quite a bit.

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Another change I found less than pleasant was the scar they put over one of his eyes. Then the new show’s writers cut his arms off above the elbows. That was the last straw. Bad enough they disrespected his strength, to go so far as to make him a double amputee in need of mechanical arms was a bridge too far.

Laughing warriors are in short supply in current fiction, readers, as proved by the 2011 writers’ mistreatment of Panthro. Strong heroes are also going out of style. Nowadays a laughing warrior is portrayed as a bloodthirsty psychopath, while strength usually equals stupidity. Both these depictions are harmful stereotypes which must be abandoned if fiction is to continue to be a vehicle for truth.

Panthro is not the only strong, laughing warrior in literature, of course, but he was one of the best. New writers could learn a great deal about making tough, hearty heroes by studying him. And I mean studying him for love of their craft, not for love of money. We saw the results of the latter in 2011; the finished 1980s product is far superior to the one the new writers handed us.

So if you are a fiction writer, and you want to know more about Panthro, I recommend you look up the original series. The 2011 show did not do him justice; neither did the comics, in large part. And please remember that a happy warrior is not a psychopath or a maniac who likes killing, destroying, or maiming.

A happy warrior looks and acts like Panthro. So does a strong hero. We need more of both.

Thundercats – HO!

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Stargate SG-1, the TV Series


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All right, if there are any fans of the series Ancient Aliens who are following this blog, raise your hand.

I cannot see you, but I know you have probably just perked up right now and are paying attention. Personally, I cannot stand Ancient Aliens. I have been around when it is on the television, and sooner or later, I end up snarling at the screen because someone said something with which I disagree. And every time someone on Ancient Aliens or another show like it brings up Ancient Egypt, I immediately moan and groan, “Not them again!

You might think this means that I hate Ancient Egypt. I admit to having my fill of it – especially from people who do not know what they are talking about, but who act like they do. That drives me crazy anyway, but in relation to the Ancient World, it is a good way to get me mad. I like history, so I know a lot about it. For example, I happen to know that the Ancient Greeks wore thick bronze and linen armor when they went into battle, not fancy leather suspenders like you see in 300. Catching five minutes of that movie had me raving for two to three whole days with fury.

So I know my history. I am no Egyptologist, but I know my history. So why do I moan and wail whenever someone on the History Channel or Ancient Aliens turns to the subject of Ancient Egypt? I wondered about that and, with the help of El Rey just a little while ago, I finally figured out the problem: I have heard practically all of these people’s theories before. Specifically, I heard them when I was a child watching and enjoying Stargate SG-1.

Yes, I was a child when the show first came out. And I watched the show until its final season’s finale. I even watched two or three of the made-for-TV movies that came out with it. I watched the sequel series Stargate Atlantis to its conclusion, but I managed to miss Stargate Universe and Stargate Infinity. From the sounds of things, I dodged a couple of bullets when I missed those related shows.

After Star Trek, Star Wars, and probably the Marvel media I was exposed to, Stargate SG-1 was my go-to sci-fi fix. I already knew Richard Dean Anderson from the reruns of MacGyver, but I found I liked him a whole lot more as Colonel Jack O’Neill (with two L’s) in Stargate SG-1. I had never heard of Michael Shanks or Amanda Tapping before, but I found I liked them as well. I also think, rewatching the television series now, that Tapping’s character, Samantha Carter, grew as the seasons progressed. Some of her first appearances were waaay too stiff and full of “girl power” motifs, and the writers wisely stopped being so heavy-handed with this stuff as the series ran its course.

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Finally, we had Teal’c. Christopher Judge was the best possible choice for the character. It turns out that I heard him in X-Men: Evolution as the voice of Magneto without ever knowing who he was until years later, when I realized his voice was oddly familiar. Teal’c was the fish out of water before Thor, and Judge did a perfect job pulling off the confusion, shock, and outright clumsiness an alien in modern times would experience. It took the reruns on El Rey to remind me how much I liked him and the rest of the crew – and how much I missed them.

Of course, I cannot leave out the star attraction of the series. This was the alien Stargate for which the series, and the movie that spawned it, is named. But this Stargate is nothing like the Star Gate in Andre Norton’s novel of the same name. (You can find a post on that book here, too, readers.) This Stargate generates an artificial wormhole that connects two points in space together for up to thirty-eight minutes, less if you know how to shut the device down on your own.

To make the device work, you have to “dial out” by inputing some of the symbols inside the ring through a DHD or “dial home device” connected to the Stargate. Like an old dialing telephone, these symbols will rotate through the circular Stargate and stop beneath one of the red “Chevrons,” which will open and glow to lock in the coordinates as the gate “dials out.”

When the necessary seven “chevrons” are “locked,” you had better not be standing directly in front of the Gate. That watery substance may look pretty as it “flushes” out at you, but anything organic and most metals that touch that initial “flush” of liquid-like material will be incinerated by it. The same sort of thing will happen if your hand, arm, leg, or head is in the portal when the Gate is shut down; part of you stays on one planet while the other part comes back to Earth.

If you are thinking this was awfully gross for a kid to watch, no worries, my parents made sure I never saw the really disgusting stuff. This meant that I did not get to see much of the main alien antagonists for the series, either. These aliens were the snake like parasitic/symbiotic Gou’aould. They were intelligent and could not survive in their regular forms outside of water or some liquid like it. So to get aruond, they would highjack human bodies.

They did this often enough that they set themselves up as deities in Ancient Egypt – the deities all those Egyptologists and Ancient Aliens people like to rave about. According to the story, the Ancient Egyptians eventually rebelled against their Gou’aould controlled oppressors, who went off into the galaxy in search of greener pastures, continuing to play gods as they did.

Now, readers, we must fastforward to the time of the movie. In the film Kurt Russell plays Colonel Jack O’Neill and James Spader plays Daniel Jackson; these are the roles which Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks eventually took up. (And boy, in the early days, was Michael Shanks a ringer for young Spader!) I have never seen the film, but through the TV series I gather that Jack and Daniel, along with other Air Force soldiers, passed through Earth’s Stargate to a world called Abydos. On Abydos they found a civilization that was like a page out of an Egyptologist’s dream book – which is to say that Daniel loved it, because he was an Egyptologist.

While they were there, one of the Gou’aould, using a new host but the old name of Ra, dropped by to collect tribute from the Abydosians. Long story short, the SG team killed him, came back home minus a few members, and pretended that they had blown up Abydos and the gate before they came back. Daniel was supposed to have died in the conflagration with Ra, too, but this was a lie; he actually married one of the Abydosian girls and did not want to leave the planet, so the SG team left him behind to live happily ever after.

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Enter the TV series. In the first episode, a new Gou’aould, Apophis, visits Earth through the Stargate to see what can be seen. He picks up an Air Force officerette who was stupid enough to approach the device the Gou’aould threw through the Gate to see if Earth could support life. She did not last long, in case you were wondering, in Gou’aould land.

Well, Apophis’ arrival blows a big hole in the story Jack and his team told command about Abydos. So a new SG team, headed by Jack and including Samantha Carter, goes back to Abydos to ask Daniel’s help in figuring out Apophis’ identity – because who in the Air Force can tell one Ancient Egyptian inscription from another?

Well, Daniel’s been living happily with his wife, Sha’re, and the Abydosians for two years, but he has not been idle. He has deciphered a series of inscriptions in a place near the main Abydosian settlement, and he thinks there are a whole lot more Stargates out there. A whole galaxy full, to be exact.

But while Jack, Daniel, and Sam are out at this location, Apophis pops in to the main Abydosian camp and kidnaps several of the people there. This includes Sha’re and her younger brother Skaara, who is close to Jack. Our team Gates back to Earth, gets permission to go on a rescue mission, but arrives too late to save Sha’re from being made host to Apophis’ wife.

Daniel does not take this well, as you might imagine, and Jack does not take Skaara’s being turned into one of the “children of the gods” any better. But it looks like they may not have a choice about any of this when Apophis orders his guards, led by Teal’c, to do away with SG-1 and the other captives.

Only Teal’c has other ideas. Forced to serve the Gou’aould with all the other Jaffa, Teal’c is one of the few who knows the Gou’aould are false deities. But he and the others who know this are not in a prime position to do anything overt about it because the rest of their people are firmly under the Gou’aould’s thumbs. And since most of the other peoples in the galaxy that Teal’c has met are technologically inferior to the Guo’aould, he has not been able to defect to a stronger side to stop the false gods from doing what they are doing.

That is, he had not met anyone to whom he could defect until Jack, Daniel, and Sam showed up. Recognizing their technology to be superior to the other races’ – though not the Gou’aould’s – Teal’c decides the time is right to strike back at the slave masters who control his race. He frees SG-1 and the others in the room with them, but has nowhere to go after this until Jack tells him, “For this, you can stay at my place. Let’s go!”

Thus begin the epic adventures of Stargate One, SG-1 for short. This “army of four” manages to often single-handedly defeat the Gou’aould at every turn during the series, and it is a thrilling ride to run with them. They kind of lost me after Richard Dean Anderson left the show.   Seasons eight, nine, and ten also went a little weird…but it was still Stargate, and I could not find anything better that I liked at the time. I had to see the show through to the end, and I did, though I liked everything up to season seven or eight better than what I saw in season nine to ten.

One of the really appealing things about the series for me, early on, I think, was the fact that SG-1 was going up against false gods. Now, even at a young age, I loved history. I learned about Cortez and his march through Mexico, how he stopped the Aztecs’ bloody worship of stone idols and tore those stone statues down. I have since learned more details about the Aztecs’ sacrifices, and I can say with all certainty that the Spanish did us a favor by putting a stop to their murderous mayhem.

SG-1 reminded me of that a lot as a little child. Everyone around them believed that the Gou’aould were actual deities and, time after time, SG-1 would have to prove that the Gou’aould were anything but gods. It was a fun series with plenty of great sci-fi and character exploration, but one of the things I will never forget about the show is that it presented a group of modern “Conquistadors” who were not afraid to knock down idols others treated as divine and show them who the man behind the curtain really was.

If you are wondering if this is why I end up screaming at the History Channel and Ancient Aliens, you come close to the right answer. The fact is, all those theories the people on those shows have about Ancient Egypt have been thought of before – and I should know, because I saw them played out in Stargate SG-1. I do not need them repeated to me, and so when I hear someone waxing eloquent about these things, I cannot help getting a little…testy. That is why I usually avoid those shows. 😉

Well, readers, that is all I have for now. Other than to shamelessly plug the fact that El Rey is rerunning one of my favorite series, that is. If you have never seen Stargate SG-1, then this is your best chance to catch it on television. So what are you waiting for?! Dial up that Gate and go have an adventure!

Jaffa, kree!

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