Leader of the Pack

A look at the best leaders in 80's cartoon history.
August 26, 2008
Nobody likes taking orders, we like giving orders and cartoon people are no different. The animated adventure shows of the 80's were always comprised of teams, if for no other reason than to not watch a guy talk to himself for 30 minutes. Someone had to step up and lead the team into battle, but why did their teammates follow THEM? What was it about these leaders that made them so special? That's what were going to explore today.


When you are the most iconic super hero of all time, it's pretty easy to gather up a team of other comic book legends and rally them to your cause. Superman was the leader of the Superfriends because he had the most marketable name, both in the retail world and in the business of striking fear into the hearts of those dastardly villains.

If they had tried "Batfriends" (pronounced BOT-friends) people would have thought they were a bunch of 13 year old Jewish girls looking to party. The "Wonderfriends" would have prompted the question, "I WONDER why they chose that name". "Flashfriends" brings to mind visions of perverts in trench coats, while "Aquafriends" sounds too close to Aquafresh and a team of toothpaste heroes just doesn't cut it.

Plus, Superman has like every power rolled into one, so I don't think he was going to let someone like Green Lantern tell him what to do when he could just crush his power ring to dust.


Marvel's answer to the Superfriends was a show titled "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends", even though in the origin episode the trio actually decided to call themselves the "Spiderfriends". So basically the show should have been called "Spiderfriends", which is just as the lame as the name they chose. Spider-Man was the leader, but only because he was paired up two characters that nobody had ever heard of.

Firestar was created for the show having never appeared in a single comic book and Iceman was a forgotten member of the original X-Men, so using their names wouldn't have worked. But couldn't they have come up with a new name like "Trio of Titans" or "Defenders of New York"? Oh well, at least Spider-Man was at the helm so they met up with top level baddies like Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin on a regular basis.

Duke/G.I. Joe
One mystery that my young mind could never solve was who the leader of G.I. Joe. was supposed to be.

Sometimes it seemed like the main man was Duke, since he was on all the official merchandise like cereal and lunchboxes. But Flint had that fancy pants beret that seemed pretty authoritarian. I mean, I'll pay attention to a man wearing a beret, if for nothing more than wondering which side it will lean to next.

After G.I. Joe: The Movie it seemed like Lt. Falcon had moved into the position a la' Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime in the Transformers movie. When they re-started the series and added a new theme song ("Got-to-get-tough, Yo Joe!") Sgt. Slaughter appeared to have taken control of the Joe forces.

After some careful research I've finally learned the truth: Duke was the original leader of G.I. Joe, with Flint as his 2nd in command. Then General Hawk (who I vaguely remember) became the head of the Joes with Duke as his 2nd and Flint as 3rd in command. Lt. Falcon is Duke's brother and although a big focus of the movie, never officially led the G.I. Joe forces as his rank suggests. Finally, Sgt. Slaughter was a commander, but acted as Drill Instructor and eventually became 3rd in command. So that's the true history, but I'm pretty sure for most of you "The Leader" of G.I. Joe was usually whichever character had the coolest toy.

He-Man/Masters of the Universe

To the people of Eternia, He-Man may not have been king, but he was definitely top dog. He didn't really LEAD anybody, he just got followed around during the adventures by lame-o's like Stratos or Buzz-Off who weren't likely to get much action on their own. Think about it, Skeletor is attacking Castle Grayskull again are you going to call: the guy who rides an armored tiger or the flying insect who wears a bee-themed safety helmet (do remember that weird helmet that came with the toy)?

Cool guys always have the hangers on, He-Man was no different. His wanna-be crew wasn't any smarter than Skeletor's evil moron-men either, it's just that He-Man didn't make it point to berate them as often as Skeletor did to his guys. While he didn't verbally abuse his lackies, I'm pretty sure He-Man was hooking up with every one of their girlfriends on a regular basis. That's right, He-Man's a Play-yah!


The claiming of the leadership role often comes down to the tools in that person's arsenal and in the case of Lion-O, the sword made the man. The Sword of Omens could have fallen to anyone on the series, but I guess Lion-O got there first. With the power of that mighty blade, not only could he see with "sight beyond sight", but no one could successfully challenge his leadership.

Not Panthro with his Nunchaku, Not Cheetarah with her Bo staff (and feminine charms), not Tygra with his Bola Balls, nor Snarf with his obviously rank body odor. Keeping in mind that Lion-O also had that awesome Claw Shield that could shoot out grappling claws and it's pretty clear to see that he was pretty much unstoppable and thus, the leader.

"It's crime fighting time!" There's a catch phrase for ya' and a cybernetic, bullet-proof torso to back it up with. Bulletproof was the leader of the C.O.P.S., the super federal force that battled Big Boy and his gang of Crooks. Some characters just have presence and when Bulletproof walked into a room everyone knew he was in command.

Maybe it was the fact that he was always wearing sunglasses or just his unwavering faith in the law, but he was a leader you could count on when Buttons McBoomBoom or Miss Demeanor started wreaking havoc on the city. I always thought he and Buttons McBoomBoom would be great arch enemies since Buttons had guns that came out of his chest and Bulletproof had an impenetrable chest. While the ability to get shot and walk away is not all that interesting, the B-man backed it up with solid crime fighting prowess and left the cool powers to guys like Longarm.

Longarm was the one with the handcuff grappling hook that always reminded me of Bionic Commando on the NES-that game rocked!

Riff Raff/The Catillac Cats

He may have looked like a furry Dom Deloise, but Riff Raff made the decisions for that gang and he didn't take any guff, even if it was free guff: NO DICE! If you're going to lead a gang of jive talking junkyard cats, you've got to be tough and one step ahead of the game. Riff Raff was the leader of The Catillac Cats which played second fiddle to the big orange goombah himself, Heathcliff.

Plus, Riff Raff had his fine feline girlfriend, Cleo, thus making him the dominant male and I'm pretty sure the car was his too. He was like a little, fuzzy Napoleon ordering Hector, Wordsworth and Mungo around from 2 feet off the ground.

Max/Fantastic Max
For the few folks out there who remember this show, you already know the gimmick here. Not only was Max, brave and heroic, he was also a BABY!

This red-mohawked rugrat was always leading the charge on some outer space adventure. Max's team consisted of building block Nanny, SB and trumpet nosed, pull string alien FX. I guess the kid had a limited knowledge of the alphabet seeing as he had just learned not spit up on himself.

These creatures had no choice but to go along with the kid, no matter how dangerous it got because they belonged to him. So the Diaper Dictator known as Fantastic Max would drag his living toys wherever his tiny mind desired and then when all else failed pulled FX's string to save the day. See not all leaders are good people.

Leonardo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Some people make it to the top by being the best of the best and some people make it there by kissing butt, in this case: hairy-rat-butt.

Leo was good with a sword, but what he was really, extra good at was doing whatever Splinter said and making the other brothers look bad. Hey, it's a dog eat turtle(?) world out there and if you want to have the word leader in the bio on back of your action figures, sometimes you have to let other people take the fall.

I will say this for the Blue Bandana But Kisser, he always kept the team on track and provided a great straight man for Michelangelo to play off of for a laugh.

Since they were basically a cartoon brought to life, I'm going to add a rant about:
Jason/Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

Inexplicably the Red Ranger was always the leader in the old days of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and Jason somehow drew the red straw. That meathead Jason even got the coolest Dinozord, the T-Rex. Sure he could throw a kick, but Austin St. John couldn't act to save his life.

The guy was a dud and it wasn't until a touch of Green, name Tommy was brought into the mix that the producers realized the error of their ways. Soon Jason was off to a "Peace Conference" and Tommy as the White Ranger was bringing some charisma to the leadership role.

The only up side of Jason as the leader was the conviction he brought to the rallying cry of the Power Rangers, "It's Morphin' Time!", that line will always belong to Jason as far as I'm concerned.

Honorable mention goes to:

-Quicksilver/Silverhawks: His bird, Tallyhawk had more personality than he did.
-Cyclops/X-Men: One agonizing scream says it all, "JEAN!!!!!"
-Egon/The Real Ghostbusters: I guess Egon was the leader, but everyone prefers Venkman.
-Papa Smurf/The Smurfs: Obey the beard, 'nuff said.
-Mako/Tigersharks: Another Lion-O clone, who didn't even have a pet. He was the pet!
-Jem/Jem and the Holograms: She led the group and probably hogged all the hairspray.
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