Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thundercats #1

Thundercats #1, October 2002, Wildstorm Productions
writer: Ford Lytle Gilmore
penciller: Ed McGuinness
inker: Jason Martin
colorist: Chris Walker with Wildstorm
letterer: John Layman with Sergio Garcia
editor: Jeff Mariotte

Yes, I watched Thundercats, but I was no means an avid follower. I’m a Masters of the Universe guy. That said, I was curious how the Gilmore/McGuinness/Martin team (since publications rarely mention the letterer or colorist) would handle this precious property, this proverbial time capsule of nostalgic lore. This miniseries was released in the midst of an ‘80s renaissance, and at that time, the hype for these titles was tremendous. “See your favorite childhood heroes handled with the respect and maturity they deserve!” was the unspoken pitch. “The original fans of Thundercats, He-Man, G.I. Joe, etc. are older and more sophisticated now! We plan on publishing stories that speak to them on that level!” I remember, I was excited.

Until the issues were released.

Don’t get me wrong. These comics are beautifully packaged. The Masters of the Universe title (which I collected for a few months) was very well illustrated. Unfortunately, the story stank. I’d read better fan fiction. Apparently, based on my impression of this issue, Thundercats suffered from the same fate.

In this first chapter, Thundera is restored to its original splendor, from before the evils of Mumm-Ra and his minions. Of course, the governing powers of the dark arts are not pleased with this, so as Lion-O and his friends make plans to broadcast a subspace all-is-well message to their brethren across the galaxy, the Shadowmaster is summoned to finish off the Thundercats once and for all. His shadow beasts hold the ‘Cats at bay for a few moments but are predictably defeated by the light from the eye of Thundera. In the end, despite their earlier complaints about his futile efforts, the dark mystics resurrect Mumm-Ra, after which I assume the real action will begin.

As I implied, this story was a quick read, action-packed and too shallow to, ironically, pack a real punch. So, since I usually elaborate on the plot, today I will offer some thoughts about the art. McGuinness is a love-him-or-hate-him artist. Some fans thoroughly enjoyed his run on Superman; others found his style too cartoony to be taken seriously. I understand their perspective, but I like his style, especially in the context of a cartoon adaptation comic. So what if all of his characters look alike? Those old cartoonists understood the importance of a visually distinctive character, a trick that helped with the frequent recycling of animation cells and sequences. In the Thundercats’ case, each character has a specific color scheme about them, and as simple as that sounds, it actually helps. (For example, if Lion-O wasn’t orange and touched up with cat-like features, his face would be a dead ringer’s for a certain Man of Steel, through the skills of McGuinness.) McGuinness respects the lore, too; when Lion-O summons the ‘Cats, the panel sequence is a veritable storyboard from the cartoon’s defining sword-sprouting sequence. He-Man artists never got his transformation right.

So, the where-are-they-nows have become where-are-they-nows. Thundercats, He-Man, and the others went as quickly as they came. The blitz to market these books shortchanged their ability to stick. These franchises deserve more than that. In another five years or so, maybe we’ll see them again. Until then, they will stand as nothing more than puff pieces for up and coming artists. Putting the ho back in Thundercats, HO!

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