Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hey, Remember How The Herculoids Were FUCKING AWESOME!?!

On a recent episode of my podcast, The Dirty Sons Of Pitches, we talked about old school cartoons that we'd like to see made into movies. One of the movies I pitched was for a live action adaptation of the classic Hanna Barbara series The Herculoids, as a big budget summer blockbuster. Inspired by, well, myself I guess, I decided to go back and watch some of those old episodes to rekindle some much needed nostalgia in my otherwise emotionally empty life, and lo and behold, I was surprised, nay, gobsmacked, by just how much I'd forgotten about the dick exploding awesomeness of this show.

If you've never seen it or don't really remember it all that well, The Herculoids were a 60's era series of shorts produced by Hanna Barbara in their pulp superhero phase alongside shows like Space Ghost and Bird Man before Cartoon Network's Adult Swim turned out that animation library like so many cheap whores. Thankfully, this is one of the few shows not cannibalized upon the alter of absurdist anti-humor, and while it means fewer people are aware of it, in the end we're all better for it. Based upon the stark Kirby-esque work of Alex Toth, who apparently was such an artist's artist that he literally died at his drawing table, The Herculoids were a family of human-like aliens and their very alien like friends who live to protect their peaceful planet Amzot from various interlopers, mostly by giving roughly no fucks about the sanctity of life.

That's the thing about older cartoons like this, people didn't necessarily pay as much attention to the content as long as kids watched and everything went out on time, resulting in some trippy and in some cases exceedingly violent imagery directed at a very young audience. I just re-watched the first episode, and I was both surprised and delighted by just how often the Herculoids just straight up murder people. It's okay though, because they're targets are monsters, called the Mutoids in the first episode anyway, able to shape shift, and you know they're evil because when they aren't trying to scam you by looking like this -

They actually look like this -

Scary Face = Evil!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's look at just who and what these Herculoids are.

The Humans (I Guess)

The Herculoids are basically split into two groups, the humans and the non-humans. Now, whether the humans are actually humans, or whether native Amzotians just happen to look like humans, is never really explained, but given the patriarch Zandor's apparent Ludditism, I'm inclined to believe they settled there specifically to enjoy a peaceful tranquility they couldn't find on future Earth. Oh yeah, there's that. Apparently, according to Wikipedia anyway, the Herculoids are motivated by a desire to keep technology off of their planet at all costs. I didn't really remember this element of the show, but I like the idea that their violence is as much ideological as it is defensive, especially given their son's penchant for calling his parents by their first names, giving the whole relationship a subtly creepy Waco vibe.

The Non-Humans

Here's where the show gets interesting. For some reason that also isn't explained (something you have to get used to with 60's cartoons), the human(ish) Herculoids are united with a disparate group of alien creatures each from a different species, and each with different powers all centered around murder. The coolest of these is Igoo, a giant rock ape who throws giant rocks at his enemies. Its never stated, but I kind of hope that the rocks he throws are actually the dismembered pieces of his race, which is why you only ever see one of him, kind of like when you realize that the Rock Biter from The Never-ending Story is by definition a cannibal, and probably only started the family in the second and third movies to eventually eat them.

Next there's Zok, a laser breathing dragon, because fire just doesn't kick quite as much ass as lasers. Or maybe it's both. He shoots stuff out of his eyes and his tail, and sometimes it looks like fire and sometimes it looks like lasers. Wikipedia also notes something called a Nega-beam, but it all seems to do the same thing, namely wipe out his enemies indiscriminately and without mercy. Arguably most famous are Gloop and Gleep, the gelatinous (i think) mother and son team of shape changing blobs reminiscent of the NES game A Boy And His Blob, without the boy. They're cute in a schmoo sort of way, but much less deadly than the others so not quite as interesting to me personally. And then there's Tundro. Seriously, fuck Tundro.

I'm sorry, but if there was ever a weak link in an otherwise amazing show, it’s this motherfucker. Just look at him. He's a giant Rhinoceratops/Pill Bug thing with ten legs and horns that shoot little tiny rocks. Now, I'm all for the Rhino-Triceratops hybridization thing, and I'll even go with the shooting stuff out of his horn premise, but really it’s the rolly polly bug part that throws me. I get that the human family needs a beast of burden to ride in on, because Igoo is too much of a boss to let anyone ride him and you can't ride a gelatinous creature without getting goo up in your junk, but did they forget that they also have a fucking dragon? And why does he have to shoot little tiny pebbles at people? Was an ill-defined destructo-ray out of the question? Yes, I know they're kind of hot pebbles, but still. Fuck this guy.

So anyway, they’re fighting these Mutoids, and just killing the fuck out of them. Like, right here, see this mountain with these guys standing under it?

Boom, mountain becomes their tomb!

And then later on, the last remaining troops see that they've bitten off more than they can chew and use their shape shifting ability to turn back into rocks (a disguise they used to ambush the Herculoids a few moments ago). Now, clearly, they do this in full view of the attacking Herculoids, so its not like they’re hiding. They’re clearly surrendering, nay, supplicating themselves before their conquerors.

Fuck that noise. In the many and varied languages of the Amzotian people, there is yet no word for surrender.

Finally, Mutak, the leader of the Mutoids (much like our President Humy), jumps back into his space ship to retreat, ready to fire off his last missiles, only to find his cannons plugged by a rock dropped by the dragon Zot (and not shot out of Tundro’s horn, because once again, he’s fucking useless). When he fires, his ship explodes as the Herculoids watch triumphantly. Almost to the end, but as with all old cartoons, the hero has to sum up the events of the episode, this time gravely asking what shape the Mutoids might take next. What shape will they take next? They’re all fucking dead! The last transformation they ever underwent was from living Mutoids to dead Mutoids!

But that’s just how big Zandor’s balls are and how fucking awesome this show is.

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