Thundar the Barbarian (TtB) was a welcome breath of fresh air – read action packed – in an era of tamed – read beaten down by the PC police – Saturday morning fare. The lack of action forced on kids of that era by shows like The Smurfs repressed their verve. It may not have had its welcome release until the soon-to-follow animation boom of the 1980’s with shows like G.I.Joe and Transformers.
Even looked at through today’s eyes, we are amazed at the grim world depicted in TtB and the dire straights in which humanity found itself. Here is the Fortress one sentence synopsis: A runaway planet’s near miss devastates Earth’s civilization and over the course of the next two thousand years gives rise to wizards and warlords who enslave the now primitive populace hoping for freedom to come in the form of the wizard fighting barbarian Thundarr and his two companions.
Each week Thundarr would find himself in different devastated, ruins-filled cities in which the watching kids may actually have lived (Atlanta, San Francisco, etc.). There he would battle mutants and wizards preying on the still surprisingly defenseless and hapless locals.
The legendary comic artist Jack Kirby contributed greatly to the character designs. It is most evident in the wizards, especially our favorite Gemini – the only recurring wizard and arguably Thundarr’s arch enemy. Gemini was a lot of fun. He had two polar opposite faces on his head which would unmask and rotate to the front depending on Gemini’s mood.
Thundarr’s female companion was Princess Ariel (not the mermaid). She was an educated sorceress and often provided context to Thundarr (and the viewers) about locations and what a “train” or “movie” was (since these things were now mostly destroyed). She was also sarcastic and provided the high-brow one liners.
The other companion was Ookla the “mok”. He was an acknowledged wookie wanna-be playing off the popularity of Star Wars. He provided the slapstick humor. Alas he was not the only element inspired by Star Wars. Thundarr wielded a “sunsword”. It was a one-handed hilt he wore strapped to his forearm until needed, then it would extend a flaming energy blade. Where have I seen that before?
Still there was not a kid who watched that show that did not love the sunsword along with its distinctive swinging sound. Even though the kids waited every week for Thundarr to slice up a bad guy he usually ended up halving robot henchmen, vehicles, and the environment. It WAS Saturday morning.
The voice work was well done. It was not of the coming 1980’s voice talent stable, and provided a unique sound never duplicated. Some of the unusual contributors were Key Luke, Joan Van Ark and Stacy Keach Sr. If you ever hear Henry Corden’s voicing of Gemini -both his condescending evil side and his angry evil side – you will remember it.
In one surprisingly gruesome episode, “Stalker from the Stars” Thundarr battles an Alien  inspired creature who cocoons his prey and stores them for later feeding! How did that one fly under the era’s radar? In another episode Ariel gets the life sucked out of her and she is pruned to the point of death before restoration. That was shocking.
Thundarr had a memorable albeit somewhat limited soundtrack. It is a world of “savagery, super-science and sorcery” that is still quite watchable. The episodes misery to comeuppance ratio is pretty good. You will leave each episode believing that Thundarr is changing the Earth for the better, one city at a time.