Battle for the 80s
Part 3 – The Impossible Choice
If you’ve been paying attention over the past two weeks (and I know that you haven’t) I’ve been pitting the top franchises of the greatest decade civilization has ever known, the 1980s, against each other to determine an overall champion. He-Man, The Smurfs, Voltron, and Thundercats proved themselves mere pretenders to the throne, and were summarily dismissed with relative ease by the true juggernauts of the time.
Now it’s left for me to make the impossible choice between Transformers, Ducktales, GI Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each is perfectly capable of being the top choice, but I dug myself this hole, and unless I want to bury myself, I’m going to have to find a way out of it.
Instead of doing two head-to-head matchups, I decided on a different format for this round two. I’ve come up with as many possible categories as I could muster (with the help of the Tano) and only one of the four contenders will be determined a winner per category. The top two franchises with the most “wins” will meet in a one final bloody matchup for dominance, and a crown will be hoisted.
May the argument begin.
Primary Heroic Character
The Turtles function best as a collective, so they’re not really in contention here. I love Uncle Scrooge, but this really comes down to Optimus Prime against Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes was largely irrelevant in the GI Joe cartoon, yet Optimus had a penchant for dying in both the cartoon and comic. Yet, by his absence, you truly learned the value of him as a character, and therefore I have to go . . .
Ducktales unfortunately is out, based on the inability to quantify poverty, or even the inability to say the Beagle Boys were Scrooge’s top nemesis. I love Cobra Commander so much, but mostly for the voice and the comedy factor. Megatron is a singular force of evil, but in most versions, you knew Optimus was more than capable of beating him down. Shredder is just as iconic as Megatron, and in most of the best versions of Ninja Turtles, is more than the Turtles can handle on their own. For that reason alone, I have to consider him the top villain.
Primary Female Hero
Scarlett is the clear choice here.
Winner: GI Joe
Primary Female Villain
GI Joe wins here easily again, thanks to the Baroness. She is easily one of the most interesting aspects of the cartoon and comic, and basically a main character in her own right. Her and Destro together are a lot of fun.
Winner: GI Joe
Supporting Heroic Cast
GI Joe is disqualified based on Flint and Shipwreck alone. I love Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Launchpad McQuack, but not as much as the other casts (Duy and I were remarking how kinda amazing it is that Disney approved an all duck cartoon without their most famous duck, Donald). It’s too hard to consider any of the turtles as a primary character or any of them as supporting characters, so Splinter alone can’t possibly match up with the deep bench that is the Autobots.
Supporting Villainous Cast
This may be the toughest call yet. While Starscream, Soundwave, or Krang might all individually rank among my favorites, they can’t really compete against Storm Shadow, Destro, Firefly, and Zartan.
|This is an awesome cover. -Cranky Editor Man|
Snake Eyes may be a ninja, but he’s pretty heroic, and Storm Shadow is more iconic as a villain, even though he eventually became a Joe. There’s no other Joes I can really think of as anti-heroes, unless you want to consider Sgt Slaughter, and if so, then they get negative points. Classic batshit crazy Casey Jones is hard to beat, and insanely popular, but Grimlock was pretty damn popular too, and extremely ruthless in the comic series. He was pretty great in his early cartoon appearances also, before he was turned into an idiot and a joke. Still, nothing beats giant robot dinosaur with an attitude to me, not even a psycho vigilante in a hockey mask.
GI Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were largely mediocre ‘80s cartoons in retrospect. At their peak, they were some of the best, but for my money, this comes down to Transformers vs Ducktales. Both are really strong and consistent in their first halves, but I think Transformers is much more watchable after their respective “jump the shark” moments (more on this later).
As much as the Transformers theme holds a special place in my heart, it’s literally impossible to get either the Ducktales or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme out of your head after hearing them. This is truly the impossible choice, but I’m going with Ducktales because it’s just a tiny bit easier to remember the lyrics.
Comic Book Series
I have a hard time including the Carl Barks Duck comics here, since they came out thirty years before the ‘80s. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was birthed into existence off the strength of those gritty independent comics, so it’s tough to discount them, but I also know the majority of turtles fans didn’t become so based on the comic. As hard as it is for me to put aside my personal attachment to the Transformers comics, I have to say that GI Joe did a much better job of consistently telling entertaining comic stories, thanks to Larry Hama. The origins and back stories he created were on full display in the comics in ways that never would have been possible in the cartoon.
Winner: GI Joe
Why would Disney, of all companies, never make Ducktales toys? Perplexing. I love the action figures and playsets for GI Joe and TMNT, but the Transformers are the pinnacle of human toy achievement.
Best Animated Movie
My irrational love for Cobra-La aside, there’s no way anything measures up to Transformers the Animated Movie. The deaths of Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Starscream. The epic conversation between Megatron and Unicron that I can still recite word for word to this very day. The CGI TMNT movie is pretty good, but nothing beyond the Raphael and Leonardo fight can even come close.
Best Single Issue Comic
GI Joe #21, the silent issue that introduced Storm Shadow, is a recognized classic across the entire medium, not just for licensed comics, but as a landmark comic book moment.
|Recently reissued and remastered.|
Winner: GI Joe
Best Cartoon Reboot
As much as I love the largely forgotten GI Joe Resolute (written by Warren Ellis) there’s really no competition for the Ninja Turtles in this category. Turtles Forever alone, the capper to the 2002 version of the turtles, would win it, but when you include the superb Nickelodeon cartoon that is currently running, it’s a landslide.
Most Enduring Legacy
Transformers and GI Joe have remained relevant, Transformers more so, but none of them have managed to reach the same fevered heights they reached in the ‘80s. Also, I think they largely remain popular due to nostalgic adult fans (such as myself). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a full-on phenomenon in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and is the only franchise to truly achieve that status again, with the current animated series. Not to mention the series that ran in the ‘00s, or the TMNT movies.
Best Comic Book Reboot
Transformers, GI Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had numerous iterations published at numerous different comic companies since their original series ended. TMNT have probably been consistently the best, but the only one that was a legit comics phenomenon (and incidentally got me back into comics) was the Transformers series published by Dreamwave in the early ‘00s. Pat Lee quickly became a comics superstar for a few years, before the company imploded in debt, and everyone decided they only wanted to see him draw giant robots.
Best Live-Action Movie
As much as I quickly soured on the Michael Bay Transformers movie, I absolutely loved the first one when I was watching it in the theater. It was a crowd pleaser, but upon subsequent viewings its really hard not to pick apart all the things you start to hate about it. The brand new 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is polarizing at best, but my family really enjoyed it, but may suffer from the same nitpicking that dooms the Transformers. GI Joe was garbage both times out. That really only leaves the original 1990 TMNT movie, by default.
Best Behind the Scenes Origin
As cool as it is that GI Joe evolved originally from a SHIELD vs Hydra pitch by Larry Hama, it cannot compare to two guys creating a worldwide phenomenon from their garage, largely as an inside joke. Let me say that again. Two guys, with really no comic book experience, created a franchise based off of silly pictures they drew for each other of turtles dressed as ninjas, and it became a franchise that has spawned at least three different toy lines, 5 major motion pictures in theaters, three successful cartoon series, and a never-ending stream of licensed products. That will never be replicated anywhere in the course of human history.
Best In-Story Origin
The stories of Uncle Scrooge obtaining his riches is a masterpiece (The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa) but its tough to consider that entire series as a traditional comic origin. Even so, it can’t really beat four turtles mutated by alien slime, and trained by their mutant rat master to be ninjas.
Least Offensive “Jump the Shark” Moment
For those that don’t know, “jump the shark” is a term used to single out the moment a franchise goes from good to bad, as popularized by the time Fonzie jumped a shark on water skis in Happy Days. You could argue that Serpentor was that moment for GI Joe, but I actually really liked the 5-part episode that served as his origin story, and there were some enjoyable episodes that followed that. The true franchise killer would probably be the animated movie, and Cobra-La, but that’s also a movie I unabashedly love. Rodimus Prime is probably the most egregious offender, but I can still watch a lot of those post movie episodes, and the cartoon closed out really well with the Return of Optimus Prime, and the Headmasters. I loved Bubba Duck and Gizmoduck as a kid, but they are unbearably stupid now, and they also marked a noticeable downturn in the quality of the animation, which had been a strength of the series. That leaves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the only thing I can come up with for their original cartoon is when they changed voice actors for Leonardo. It’s tough to reward a cartoon that was largely mediocre for successfully maintaining that mediocrity, but there you go.
Most Epic 5 Episode Storyline
TMNT started out really strong with their original 5 episode arc, but the “Teenagers of Dimension Z” drag it down, and it’s a little disjointed to be considered one long storyline. Similarly, Ducktales' opening series, detailing Scrooge taking in the boys and embarking on a quest to find Aztec Gold, would win if it weren’t for the abominable episode where Webby makes friends with some penguins that highly value “colors” in their drab winter world. Five Faces of Darkness would constitute an epic Transformers story, if it didn’t suffer from the absolute worst animation this side of Thundercats. GI Joe, however, has the (personal favorite) aforementioned creation of Serpentor, the original 5 episode mini-series with radioactive Snake Eyes and the MASS device, and the follow-up with the weather dominator. All three perfected the GI Joe staple of smaller teams of Joes and Cobras fighting in exotic locations around the world, for one piece of a larger goal. Something I replicated endlessly with all of my action figures, regardless of franchise.
Winner: GI Joe
I love “Transform and roll out!” but it’s not exactly pervasive. More than meets the eye was a great tagline, but it doesn’t count as a catchphrase. “Blathering blatherskites,” should automatically remove Ducktales from consideration for the top spot. “Cowabunga” is cute and all, but really kinda dumb. I really wanted to discount “Yo Joe” or “Cobraaaa” for extreme overuse, but if you consider “knowing is half the battle” also, it’s really hard to not give this category to the real American heroes.
Winner: GI Joe
The Cobra snake is pretty damn cool. The Ninja Turtles and the Foot Clan have had some decent logos over the years, respectively. But none of them can really match the Autobot or Decepticon symbols in sheer awesomeness.
Best Video Game
While the old Nintendo Ducktales game might have a legitimate claim for this category, the old arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game sucked up a lot of my quarters back in the day. The Transformers game that came out at the time of the first Bay movie gets a mention for how much fun it was just to drive around, transform, and break stuff.
Best Rap Song
TMNT should get points deducted for Vanilla Ice alone, but they come back up to even thanks to the extremely catchy recent release, Shell-Shocked by Juicy J. Wordburglar have a pretty entertaining GI Joe theme album, and the Transformers have gotten numerous references in rap songs, most noteably by the Wu-Tang Clan. But the winner is Ducktales, for never having a rap song.
That’s all I could come up with. That makes the final tally:
GI Joe: 7
That’s a surprising result for me, because Transformers and GI Joe tend to dominate my memories of the ‘80s, basically as a tandem, which is why you see so many comics where they team up or fight. (They’re also pretty different from the other contenders in that they both dominated at about the same time, and were both able to thrive as cartoons and toy properties together despite having basically the same target audience.) However, the heroes in a half shell could not be denied.
That sets up the epic final round, between The Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who will be crowned the champion of the ‘80s? I really have absolutely no idea. My head is already starting to hurt just thinking about it.
Next week, witness a brain explode via the written word for the first time in the history of human existence.