Not so long ago I brought you the article "Those Heroic Idiots" wherein I discussed the trend in 1980's cartoons where hero's banded together to thwart the forces of evil.
Well as it turns out the group mentality of this decade was rather contagious as the villains of this era began traveling in packs as well. Yes, in the 1980s nary a dastardly evil-doer could be found without an entourage hangers-on who were willing take a daily dose of insults, belittlements and physical abuses all for the sake of getting a piece of the action when his dark master finally became the evil overlord of their respective world. So in our latest trip down memory lane we will re-explore some of these sinister secofants in:
Fools, Cretins and Bumblers
A Salute To My Favorite 1980s Evil Minions
I still remember the day I was first introduced to the wonderful toy line, "Masters of the Universe", I was sitting in my room watching cartoons as I so often did in those days when I saw a commercial featuring the barbarian warrior, He Man as he battled for the fate of the mystical Castle Greyskull against his arch-nemesis,
Beast Man (He Man and the Masters of the Universe)
WHAT?!! Wait a second, don't I mean his arch-nemesis SKELETOR? No, I mean Beast Man, or at least that's what I assumed at the time. I mean he was featured in the first MOTU commercial, it provided a nice symmetry with He MAN vs. Beast MAN. So why wouldn't I think that Beast Man was the main villain of this toy line? Well as it turns out I wasn't completely off base as Mattel's original intent had been just that, to have Beast Man fill the role of principal villain in their latest toy line. I can only assume that the following ad is a relic of that era
He Man saves the day with a little help from Dad
The evil master mind, Beast Man was to have several minions including the short tempered sorcerer, Demo Man
who would be renamed, Skeletor and ultimately usurp Beast Man's role as top baddie. Beast Man in turn would be relegated to the role of Skeletor's mangy minion
You gave my job to who?!!
In Filmation's animated adaptation of this toy line Skeletor commanded a wide array of bumbling minions
but I think none was quite so incompetent as his simian sidekick. So great was Beast Man's ineptitude that in the episode "Prince Adam No More" he is actually thrown out of Skeletor's villainous band and attempts to prove his worth by capturing King Randor and personally delivering him to Snake Mountain.
Beast Man almost succeeds in his endeavor as he actually does ensnare the reigning monarch and takes him to the gates of Snake Mountain where the King is, of course, rescued by He Man at the last second. Skeletor is begrudgingly impressed with Beast Man's efforts and readmits him into his cadre of evil. For his ultimate failure, however, Beast Man is not spared Skeletor's wrath and he is subjected to the cruel punishments that the osseous overlord is so famous for inflicting upon his underlings.
Oh how the mighty have fallen
Despite his shortcomings Beast Man did have some interesting tallents as he was able to take control of any animal on Eternia with the exceptions of Cringer/Battle Cat and Panthor.
His powers seemed to have limited effects on dragons as well.
Unlike many other members of He Man's rogue gallery who all but disappeared as new villains were introduced into the MTOU toy line Beast Man remained a constant presence at Skeletor's side throughout the entire run of the series, thus we see that his toadying excellence truly shines through.
It seems that among 1980's villains simian sidekicks must have been all the rage, particularly where undead sorcerers are concerned. Our next subject, the mutant ape
had a rather complex and sometimes confusing network of evil overlords. He was most directly the sidekick of the sad-sack Mutant leader Slythe and buy extension was the underling of Slythe's boss Rataro.
Wait a second, who's running this Mutant Operation?
But if I were composing Monkian's resume I'd emphasize his role as the minion of Third Earth's #1 bad ass, Mum-Ra The Ever Living!!!
"Transform this decayed form to....."
"Oh yeah, now that's what I'm talkin' about!"
Monkian was basically your typical muscle bound thug, who being an ape was known for his speed and agility. He most often served as scout for the Mutants and could be found spying on his feline foes
and reporting their plans one of his many masters.
Though Monkian was the leader of a sub-race of Mutants known as the Simians, he was most often paired with a sniveling Mutant Jackal, the very appropriately named Jackal Man
Despite his brutish appearance Monkian was ultimately a coward and was frequently seen running away from battle uttering his guttural grunt "Ah-ooh, ah-ooh, ah-oohâ€ Our monkey boy was not completely useless in battle, however, as he boasted one of the most interesting weapons I've ever seen, a shield that shot projectiles. I mean talk about the ultimate surprise attack
Ha! Betcha didn't see that coming!
When one has to share the spot light with one of the loudest, scariest and down right most awesome 80s villains it is easy to be overshadowed, and with Mum-ra on the scene that was the fate of most of the Mutants. Monkian, by contrast, actually managed to stand out to me. I'm not sure why exactly, perhaps it was that he was the most humorous of the Mutants, perhaps it was his unique shield-gun that got my attention. Whatever the case for some reason he will go down in history as the Mutant who was actually interesting.
To find my next subject we must travel back in time from the future world of 3rd Earth to the long ago days of medieval Europe where we will find the diminutive ogre
Toadwart (Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears)
Toadwart was the right-hand man of the evil despot, Duke Igthorn
"And don't call me Dukie!!"
a former knight who sought to overthrow King Greggor and take the quaint kingdom of Dunwin as his own. More commonly known as Toadie this pint sized pest could be found kissing Dukie kiester all across the dunwinian countryside. While Toadie was much smaller than his ogre brethren, what he lacked in size he made up in brains. His intelligence would not be considered much by human standards, but as ogres go he was a virtual genius possessing abilities that were rare among his race such as reading and writing. Toadie, along with all the ogres, was a rather sympathetic character as I always got the impression that they were not truly evil but were merely stupid and easily manipulated. In fact the ogres seemed to stongly value loyalty hence their undying devotion to Igthorn. I always suspected that in their own minds they believed what they were doing was right. Signs of this inner nobility could be seen through ogre's Gad and Zook
in the series finale, "King Igthon" wherein the pair were guarding some captive gummi bears. The two ogres were duped into believing the castle was on fire and responded by rushing into the room loudly proclaiming "We'll save you little gummies!!" For his own part Toadie was often portrayed and the wayward soul who frequently learned lessons on friendship, self respect and service to others from his supposed enemies, The Gummi Bears.
He was even know to form temporary friendships with certain gummies
in his own weird, awkward sort of way.
Unfortunately, none of these lessons ever seemed to carry over form one episode to the next, thus Toadie would start each episode anew as the bowing, scraping suck-up that he had always been. I guess when it comes to ogres you just can't expect much in the way of personal growth.
To me the mark of a truly bad ass sidekick is when said underling has minions of his own. That and when his skin changes color in the sun. And that is why
Zartan (GI Joe, A Real American Hero)
will always find a place among my favorite sinister second bananas. Zartan was a schizophrenic mercenary who was often employed by the terrorist organization, Cobra
As an accomplished master of disguise I must say the guy really did his homework as he could instantly pull a mask of any Joe out of his bag of tricks and make them fall for it every time. Sure in most cases his cover was eventually blown but he always kept them going for a good while.
Which one of these Joes is really Zartan?
Can't tell can you?
My point exactly.
Zartan's one weakness was his allergy to the sun which caused his skin to turn blue whenever he was exposed to its rays.
Zartan was the leader of the thickly accented band of Australian punks, The Dreadnocks
The Dreadnocks: Torch, Ripper and Buzzer
Zartan and the Dreadnocks are probably best remembered for the episode,
in which they posed as a heavy metal punk band. The band's music was loaded with subliminal messages that turned all listeners including three Joes, Shipwreck, Breaker and Footloose into instant slaves.
A band of vipers playin' our tune
Evil or not, you have to admit that these guys put on a great show!
Their plans were ultimately thwarted by the three ladies of GI Joe, Scarlet, Covergirl and Lady Jaye who infiltrated the band's ranks disguised as groupies
"Repeat after me, Shipwreck, Breaker and Footloose have KP duty for a month."
and took control of Cobra's subliminal equipment. This all culminated in one of the cheesiest endings ever when the Joes took the stage and sang a rock version of The GI Joe them song. None the less, it was still a solid episode featuring a solid rock song and to me one of the most memorable.
So here's a question, what do you do when you want to take over the world and have an entire army of robot ninjas at your disposal? Why you completely ignore them and instead take the two biggest morons you can possibly find on every mission!! At least that seemed to be the preferred strategy of one Oroku Saki as we see in his two most noted creations
Bebop and Rocksteady (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
So how do you best describe this dubious duo? Well, imagine taking two of the Dreadnocks add one part warthog and one part rhino. Mix in a canister of mutagen, whip briskly and you've got the recipe for Bebop and Rocksteady.
Saki, better know as The Shredder
actually had a decent rational behind creating these moronic mutants. Given that the biggest stumbling blocks to his plans for world domination were one mutant rat and four mutant turtles it only stood to reason the he should employ some mutant animals of his own. Shredder chose what he considered to be two of the strongest and most aggressive animals form which to make his mutants. However, he also needed human beings for his experiment, and since all his current underlings were robots he recruited two members of a local street gang who themselves had a beef with the turtles
I would say that the fatal flaw with this plan is that anyone who would actually volunteer for such an experiment couldn't have had much in the way of brains. As it turned out a distinct lack of intelligence was the downfall of Bebop and Rocksteady and while the Ninja Turtles were no match for the toxic twosome in brute strength they were always able to outwit them and ultimately win the day.
Bebop and Rocksteady were rarely on the same page with Shredder as illustrated in one of my favorite moments with the duo wherein Shredder wanted to steal a diamond to power his latest doomsday weapon. When he posed the question "Do you know what we could do with that diamond" the pinheaded pair responded saying Bebop: "Yeah, we could buy lots of comic books." Rocksteady: "And videogames." Honestly, to me that didn't sound like such a bad idea but unfortunately The Shredder had other ideas.
While Bebop and Rocksteady were featured neither in the original comic book series nor in any of the three feature length films, despite a prime opportunity for the producers to incorporate them into the second movie
Often imitated but never duplicated
the dimwitted duo made a great addition to the 1987 cartoon series providing both a challenge to the turtles as well a comic relief to young audiences worldwide.
I now invite all of you to join me on a roller coaster ride which with magically transport us to the Realm of my next subject, the mysterious
Shadow Demon (Dungeons and Dragons)
While Shadow Demon was never have prominently featured in the show, his menacing visage could always be found lurking in the shadows acting as spy for his dark master, Venger.
The thing that set Shadow Demon apart from other evil minions of the 1980s was his impeccable competence. While Shadow Demon never engaged his enemies directly in battle,
he preformed his espionage duties admirably and as best I can remember was never subjected to his masters wrath.
I believe the true appeal of Shadow Demon was his character design. As opposed to most villain sidekicks of the era who were drawn to be somewhat comical, this winged terror was the stuff form which nightmares are made. Unlike the boisterous and clumsy minions of other 80s villains he was all stealth and guile and we knew that he could easily be hiding under our beds or in our closets on any given night. I must admit that amidst all the comedic entertainment of Saturdays mornings it was nice to have a good scare to get the adrenalin flowing for the outdoor activates of Saturday afternoons and Shadow Demon was always there more that happy to oblige.
While most villain sidekicks of the 1980s were reasonably content in their position as evil minion, as I'm sure you're all aware some people are just never satisfied. Much like Ricky Bobby the arrogant and ambitions
Starscream (The Transformers)
firmly believed that if you weren't first place then you were last. Starscream was a member of the Decepticon subgroup "The Seekers" who were known for their great speed and in earth mode transformed into jets. This devious and conniving F-15 served as Deception air commander and as Megatron's de facto second in command. This, however, was not good enough for Starscream as he was constantly scheming to overthrow the incumbent Deception leader.
While greed and personal gain certainly were part of the equation Starscream did have deeper reasons for wanting to displace his master. He believed that Megatron's military strategies were antiquated and that the Decepticons should employ speed and guile as opposed to brute force in their battle against the Autobots. Never one to keep his desires to himself, Starsceam was not afraid to make his ambitions known to his fellow Decepticons and often pulled others into his schemes. Most notable among these compatriots were the Triple Changers, Blitzwing and Astrotrain
who once helped Starscream overthrow Megatron only to double crossed him in turn and temporarily take leadership of the Deceptions for themselves. As it turned out Blitzwing made a pretty decent commander while Astrotrain, as Thrust astutely observed "Couldn't lead rats to a garbage can."
"Astrotrain couldnt' lead rats to a garbage can."
Starscream's other notable allies were The Combaticons, a group of Cybertronian criminals whom Starscream freed and provided with new bodies.
Since combiners were the in thing among transforms at the time it only stood to reason that the Combaticons could merge to form a larger robot, Bruticus.
When Starscream lead the Combaticons into battle against Megatron's forces it cumulated in the ultimate Decepticon combiner throwdown. Bruticus thrashed Devastator but was ultimately defeated by Menasor.
Following this defeat Starscream blamed the Combaticons for his failure and abandoned his troops. The Combaticons then sought revenge against both Starscream and Megatron forcing the two into an uneasy alliance wherein Starscream revealed Bruticus' weakness to Megatron in exchange for his own life and re-admittance into the Decepticon ranks.
Despite many failed bids for Decepticon leadership, in the year 2005 Starscream finally achieved his life long ambition just moments before his death at the hands of Megatron's reformated form Galvatron.
Coronation Starscream? This is bad comedy.
So while his reign may have been a very brief one, it cannot be said that Starscream went to the grave without achieving his ultimate goal.
With both GI Joe and The Transformers gaining popularity as toy lines and cartoons in the 1980s it wasn't long before some genius got it in his head to combine the best elements of both franchises. The result was the awesome, if somewhat overlooked Military Armored Strike Komand. The TV series MASK chronicled the adventures of a crew of military secret agents who piloted vehicles that transformed form civilian means of conveyance to heavily armored military weaponry. As the theme song noted they were "always riding on VENOMs trail" and thus often found themselves trailing the leather clad social deviant
Sly Rax (MASK)
There was nothing at all far fetched about Sly Rax, in fact he looked like someone who might have wandered out of a trailer park in you own hometown. Sporting his sunglasses, leather jacket, jet black goatee and Jack Nicholson voice the guy just embodied the word, creepy. He was the sort of guy that when seen walking down the street causes men to guard their wallets and women to pull their children a little closer. Rax was an agent of the terrorist organization VENOM lead by former MASK ally Miles Mayhem
VENOM was an acronym for Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. Now what can you say about an organization that actually advertises the fact that they are evil? I mean most terrorist organizations operate under the claim that they are actually in the right or that they are rebelling against some corrupt system. But not VENOM. Oh no, they just said screw all that mambie pambie stuff, we're vicious, we're evil now deal with it!
Rax was a biker who piloted, Piranha, a motorcycle that's side car could sprout guns and could also detach to form a one man submarine.
"MASK will be right back, and so will VENOM"
Just a brief demonstration of Piranha's capabilities. And not the Nicholsonesque voice.
He wore the mask, Stiletto which fired razor sharp steel darts upon his command. This mask was unique in that is was initially the only one of its kind to shoot physical projectiles as opposed to energy based weapons and abilities.
As a VENOM agent Sly was generally competent but was often paired with the moronic Cliff Dagger
who usually botched the mission and ended up making Rax look bad.
Aside from engaging in basic cartoon villainy and creeping us all out, I'd say Rax's true claim to fame is that he was the only villain to be given voice in the show's commercial bridge with his famous line "Mask will be right back and so will VENOM. Far be it for us innocent children to hope that after the commercial break VENOM would go away and all would be well with the world. For Sly Rax was there to deprive us of our sense of security by assuring us that VENOM would indeed be back.
Hey Rax, if it wouldn't be too much trouble I'd like my freakin' voice back!!
This concludes my expose of the evil minions of the 1980's. While they did a decent job spreading chaos and despair within there respective cartoon worlds, it seems that there main purpose was very similar to that of the heroic dumb guys of my previous article in that they chiefly provided comic relief. And for that I suppose we can forgive them some of their lesser qualities and give them their due for all the entertainment they have provided over the years and for adding a bit of excitement to our Saturday morning experience.