Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dark•Heritage as... Mongo?!

On a whim, I cast the dice with my nostalgia and got some old cartoons that I used to like as a kid.  Now, sure—I recognize that cartoons are kids' shows, and that was certainly 100% true in the late 70s and early 80s, which means probably trite dialogue, poor plotting, and cardboard characters for the most part.  It also means cheap animation, lots of repeated sequences, etc.  Even before I started this, I didn't have high expectations of the shows that I was planning on revisiting.  What I was hoping to find was that at least the high concept and some of the ideas were worthwhile to mine again... and maybe to find that what I used to like as a little kid wasn't quite as dumb as I was afraid it might turn out to be looking at it now as a grown man of 45 years.  My wife walked up and saw what I was doing, and certainly took a pessimistic approach—that I was certainly wasting my time and setting myself up for disappointment.  However...

I wasn't actually disappointed.  The expectations I had for the animation and plots and whatnot were mostly true.  Repeated sequences got old only five episodes in.  But the story and the setting, and the feel, behind what I was watching was still worth it.

Now granted; it's not like I was watching The Smurfs or something like that.  I'm talking about shows that are topical for this blog.  I identified four that I could potentially try out.  I may not watch all of them, and certainly not every episode for all of them, but I want to at least explore them a bit.

Three of the four shows I identified were by Filmation, and the fourth by Ruby-Spears.  The first one I dived into (five episodes last night) was Flash Gordon, often later retroactively titled The New Adventures of Flash Gordon to distinguish it from other efforts. Originally a season of sixteen episodes broadcast in 1979, this first season was well-received as remarkably faithful to the original Flash Gordon subject matter and the whole planetary romance genre overall, and one of Filmation's best shows.  It was hoped that it could capitalize on post-Star Wars space opera demand, which I think it did quite well.  The second season, on the other hand, was poorly received, as a number of structural and other elements were dictated by committee, who wanted more episodic rather than serial story-telling, and a cute pet side-kick.  I may skip this second season entirely... but I'll probably finish watching the first season before I stop.

Parts of it are really quite remarkable.  Not only is the story and setting very faithful to the whole original Barsoom-rip-off Flash Gordon and Mongo (curiously, when Flash Gordon was created, to compete with the very successful comic strip Buck Rogers, they wanted to buy the rights to John Carter of Mars first, but couldn't get Burroughs to cooperate.  Which explains why they got someone to basically "borrow" the entire concept.)  I've actually had quite a bit of fun just watching the interplay of sword-fighting with robots, dog-fighting in space-ships with giant hawk-riding warriors, slave pits full of degenerate beast-men, Ming's scantily clad harem that makes Leia's slave girl outfit look rather modest, and a band of bald Robin Hood lookalikes who shoot arrows that freeze whatever they hit, flying cities, and for that matter, an entire flying planet that is approaching Earth to screw it over with gravitational weirdness and then conquer it.

The men are quite masculine, and the women are extremely feminine.  In spite of the format and the short time frame, I wasn't rolling my eyes at the idea that Ming's saucy daughter Aura was immediately infatuated with Flash, or that she basically betrayed her father several times to rescue him.  I was amused to see Flash negging Dale Arden by joking that she seemed jealous around Aura, and Dale merely turning up her nose in faux offense, but mostly being mad at Aura, not Flash.

Thun the Lionman king is kind of like Flash's Chewbacca, except with a real Debbie Downer whiny attitude, that Flash counters with a plucky, American can-do saying and a bunch of good luck.  Dr. Hans Zartov is kind of hapless; he is immediately imprisoned and put to work my Ming as a scientist, although he seems to have the run of the palace when he needs to.  Dale is a pretty classic damsel in distress, and it really begs the question why she came along on this trip to begin with (in the classic planetary romance storyline, our hero falls for a local princess usually.)  Ming himself is quite the dastardly fellow, and true to his original incarnation, he has all of the appearances of a Yellow Peril despot, which rings much more true than the politically correct attempts since then to either make him more alien or worse: a white peril.

So... first attempt at exploring this stuff: success.  What's next?  Finish off the first season of Flash, then have a look at Filmation's Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (which aired before Star Wars even came out) and which is also considered one of the most faithful adaptations of its source material, including a lot of the real weirdness of Tarzan: lost cities of jungle Vikings, the Lost Cities of Ivory and Gold respectively, which have a very Opar-like feel, lost cities of knights, a robot duplicate of Tarzan, UFOs, yetis, woolly mammoths, Pellucidar, and more.  Then on to Thundarr the Barbarian, a post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery series that's famous as much as anything for highlighting locations that are obviously famous places that have fallen into disrepair and been occupied by mutants or weird sorcerers or something like that in the meantime.  Meanwhile, a guy who's pretty much Conan the Cimmerian but with a light-saber, a hot sorceress chick sidekick who has the hots for him (but who he friendzones hard) and a fake Chewbacca sidekick ride around on horses across fallen North America saving good old fashioned, melancholy and hapless salt of the earth peasants from the depredations of wizards, pirates, and monsters.  The last show I targeted was Filmation's Blackstar, but I might have a harder time getting my hands on episodes of that show, so it might not end up happening.

(As an aside, you can probably see that since I was eagerly devouring Flash Gordon, Tarzan, and Thundarr the Barbarian at ages 7-9 or so, it's hardly any surprise that I was just as eagerly devouring the actual works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard when I discovered them in the public library at about age 11-12 or so—when I moved pretty much permanently from the upstairs kids section of the library to the downstairs adult science fiction shelves.)

In the meantime, watching Flash Gordon and its intriguing storyline of Mongo approaching Earth (and Flash and Zarkov and Arden all flying in a rocket to somehow stop it from crashing into Earth—not quite sure what they thought they were going to do, but whatever) I think I may well have solved an ongoing problem with my DARK•HERITAGE Mk. V.  I was never completely happy with thinking that my British Dark Ages Crusader states or colonist kingdoms, or whatever you want to call them, transplanted to the New World from the historical Old World—except that the New World was a fantasy analog, not the real thing.  And I wasn't sure exactly how or why there couldn't be continued commerce back and forth from the Old and New Worlds.  But... what if instead of a new continent, they actually literally went to a new planet; one that came flying out of space, threw the moon out of whack and then replaced it and then sat there like a new double planet from then on out?  And what if some kind of bridge, a Bifrost of some kind, were established up in the north near Britain or Scandinavia that connected them?

The chaos, both social and otherwise that this would cause is sufficient reason, I think for the Pope to call a Crusade for any to cross and go deal with the New World and its interruption of their peace—and because of the location and the social events going on in the late 1060s and early 1070s, it explains why I would especially have displaced Anglo-Saxons and Celts and Vikings who made up the majority of this Crusade—and who therefore founded the colonist kingdoms with their own culture and peoples.

And then the Bifrost broke, or otherwise failed.  Two generations after the establishment of Crusader state colonies on the new world, they've emerged as independent (by necessity) since the only contact that they can have with the Old World is to look up at it in the sky and remember that their grandfathers came from there.

I won't get into the super-science of typical planetary romance stories here—if there are any flying ships or rayguns or anything like that, they'll be extremely rare and unique, but it does give me a great excuse for being a little bit more free to be gonzo in what I put out there in DARK•HERITAGE after all, rather than almost alternate history.  That said, my concept of this is that it's a kind of mirror-earth—it has similar geography, for instance, and is otherwise quite similar to the real earth, which explains why they're on the eastern seaboard of a pseudo-North America.

As an aside, my favorite #lolwut moment so far came when Flash Gordon defeated a robot trooper by throwing a big tub of water on it.  Not sure how good these robot troopers will be if a little water causes them to short, spark and basically catch on fire... and I'm also not sure where that tub of water came from—one moment it was nowhere to be seen, the next moment it was in his hands and he was dumping it on the robot to save hawkman king Vultan's life... but it did make me chuckle.


Simon J. Hogwood said...

This is another great idea. I've recently been pondering some ideas for using an alternate-history Middle Ages as a fantasy setting, and the appearance of Fantasy Counter-Earth would make for one heck of a Point of Divergence. My preferred method of travel between the two would be Stargate-style portals (I'm a big fan of Stargate-style portals), which among other things would be easy to hide and then reveal when you wanted to re-establish contact.

Another interesting thing to play with is how finely duplicated the Counter-Earth is. Is it just the shape of the continents, or are the cultures roughly similar, or is there a duplicate of William the Conquerer roaming around somewhere? I expect this won't matter much if you stick to the Eastern Seaboard (maybe if, like the moon, the Counter-Earth is tidally locked observers from Earth might not realize it's duplicate at all!), but I would be very tempted to write up a whole timeline based on, "What if history ran on D&D metaphysics?"

Gaiseric said...

Yeah, when I say Bifrost, I don't mean a literal bridge between worlds; I imagined it some kind of teleportation or wormhole or something. Maybe a Narnia like transportation, even. Given that I'm talking about Dark Age's people, they probably don't really understand it at all, and therefore call it Bifrost, because that's something that they're familiar with.

I don't mean my counter-earth to be literally a copy; just a very similar world with similar geography, similar flora and fauna, etc.

Given that Dark•Heritage has a kind of evil version of the Red Men of Barsoom on it already in the form of Kurushat, I'll play up the Barsoom-like angle more than a duplicate alternate world angle.

Gaiseric said...

Watched a couple more episodes. Undina, queen of the undersea kingdom falls for Flash based just on his reputation and he flirts with her shamelessly. In front of Dale.

Holy crap, they actually did game in kids shows when I was a kid!

Simon J. Hogwood said...

I can be a bit literal about things like this sometimes.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that this would be a great place to reintroduce some Middle-Earth to your setting, with the lost Straight Road to the home of the elves. You sail the right whale-road at the right time of night, and the sea falls away beneath you while the other world looms large . . .