Thundercats #1 – Declan Shalvey & Drew Moss (Dynamite Entertainment)

The Thundercats always worked on at least a couple of levels at once.

If you were young when you first encountered them, the chances are you experienced them as a rough-and-tumble action-adventure cartoon series, largely built on the Masters of the Universe model (complete with creepy lead villain without much by the way of backstory or identifiable…body, as it were).

The young cubs, WileyKat and WileyKit, were the focus points for the young audience, while all the rest of the surviving Thundercats were different kinds of scolding adults just trying to stop their fun and keep them “safe.” Both from the creepy body-lite guy (Mumm-Ra, cos think about it – Cats, Egyptian iconography, so your big bad is a living mummy, natch), and from the inevitably cataclysmic consequences of their own actions. Again, cats – makes perfect sense if you give it a moment’s thought.

But in the middle of it all, there was Lion-O, their jock-archetype leader, despite being neither 

the oldest nor the wisest of them all. His authority and his power largely came through being the one who was entrusted with the Sword of Omens.

He-Man With Claws

Just like He-Man and his Power Sword (yes, really, they got away with this back in the Eighties), giving it a “By the Power of Greyskull – I have THE POWER!,” Lion-O unsheathing his magically growing sword and giving it a “Thunder-Thunder-Thundercats, Hooooo!” was the moment you wanted and largely watched for, back in the day (and relatively recently, too – there have been remakes).

It was the moment when all the fun and frolics of the storyline coalesced into unmissable stuff – the moment the Hulk begins to leave “mild-mannered scientist, David Banner” behind and go green. The moment things stopped being talky and got interesting.

That said, there are a couple of things to note about the new comic version from Dynamite, written by Declan Shalvey and drawn by Drew Moss.

Number 1 – the moment’s in here, because quite apart from anything else, it feels like it’s written into the contract with the audience. An issue of a Thundercats comic without a “Thunder-Thunder-Thundercats, Hooooo!” would be a demented and impoverished thing.

Number 2 – it looks freaking excellent. You’ll see it all in the space of two gloriously atmospheric pages, but you’ll be so caught up in both the evocative artwork and the pacing of the storytelling, you’ll actually read it with the pauses it deserves. Thunder. Pause. Thunder. Pause. THUNDERCATS-HOOOOOO! You may, just possibly, swing your own invisible sword around the place when the moment comes.

Happy Eyeballs

In fact, while we’re talking about the look of the thing, the whole issue walks an intriguing and energising line between Thundercats that have gone before and Thundercats that are modern and 2023. There’s richness in the colourwork (thank you, Chiara di Francia and Martina Pignedoli!) and a vibrancy about the whole thing that will have your eyes thanking your brain for its good decisions in buying the issue.

In terms of story, this is very much Thundercats OG as you may or may not know them. There’s the explanation of why this rag-tag bundle of royal or royal-adjacent cat people find themselves on a brand new planet, and there’s an army of orc-like baddies (the Mu’Tants of Plun-Darr – I’m so sorry, none of us here had a say in the names, and if you’re going to get on board with the Thundercats at all, you’re going to have to just get over it), who destroyed the Thundercat planet (take a guess? If you said Thundera, go to the top of the class), and are desperate to get their claws on the ancient treasure of the Thundercats.

The Thundercats land on Third Earth, but here’s where things take an interesting tonal turn in this version. Jaga, the greatest Thundercat of all, volunteered to sacrifice his life and pilot their escape ship from the smoking ruin of Thundera.

What follows here is classic canon too – Lion-O was still a cub when they all got in their stasis pods for the long journey to Third Earth, but his pod failed, so his body grew into the fine figure of a Thundercat who brings the adventure with his big omenic sword. His mind though is still very much that of what we would consider a teen.

The Teen Angst Angle

But where, in previous versions, that combination of young mind and grown body has tended towards the jock-archetype of strength and self-confidence, here, the story is delivered with a Lion-O much more consumed by relatable teenage emotion than has been usual.

That’s not only a canny idea based on the core audience for this comic-book (spoiler alert: it’s teenagers), but also brings the Thundercats firmly up to date in terms of genre fiction of the last gazillion franchises.

He’s a “special” young royal, who’s come to power far too soon, and wrestles between his own inner knowledge that he’s not yet ready, and that demanding sense of pressure and self-will of the teenager to take the reins of power for which they have to believe they’re ready.

It’s Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, or Paul Atreides in Dune, or Harry Potter by about book four. It’s Simba from halfway through The Lion King. It’s an awkward, messy, entirely relatable combination of emotions, responsibilities, rebellions and anger – put into a position of ultimate power and given a big (and expanding) sword, and lacking the emotional maturity, if never the support, to deal with the paw life has dealt him.

Hell, if you want to get classically cultural about the whole shebang, it’s Shakespeare’s Henry VI. The point about which is that we recognise the trope and its almost infinite variety of replication and potential. How will the powerful and unready become ready – and what might happen if they don’t?

It’s a question that comes significantly to the fore in this issue, as we hear the teenage angst of Lion-O, both inside his own head and expressing his doubts to us, the reader, but reacting with both hormonal anger to Panthro, his martial arts trainer, and appalling overconfidence and bluster when he comes face to face with the leader of the Mu’Tants who (spoiler alert) have followed the Thundercats to their new home.

Quickly within this issue, Shalvey sets up a dynamic at the heart of the Thundercats that throws in some real jeopardy, which has perhaps been lacking in some previous iterations of the tale. From fear and uncertainty, through rage, through fragile bravado, and ultimately through to the despair of being tested and failing.

That’s more than you might expect from the Thundercats origin stories, but it’s all delivered in a way that will feel intensely relatable to its core audience.

With the background of modern real-world events, it’s also possible to read Issue #1 of Thundercats with additional empathy and pathos. However royal and previously privileged they might have been, our Thundercats are traumatised refugees from a planet that’s been bombed to death, and are then pursued relentlessly by the people who’ve destroyed their way of life, their families, and their homes. Resonant, no?

Safe Paws

Annnnd Mum-Ra?

Oh yeah, he’s here, awakened by the presence of Lion-O’s big sword and the jewel at its heart, the fabled Eye of Thundera. But deliciously, this issue doesn’t overuse him – in fact, the Thundercats have yet to meet him, for all he delivers a last-panel gasp of storytelling drama.

Issue #1 of Thundercats delivers all the vibrancy and colour you might expect of the franchise, gives each of the main Thundercats enough space to establish their essential characters, and has all the core elements of the OG Thundercats story. But it also delivers a teen angst angle that makes Lion-O a more interesting character than the strutting, sword-wielding jock he’s been before.

That means this re-telling of the Thundercats story has a combination of everything you know you want when you buy the book, and something new and full of hooks to pull you in and drag you forward, too.

The Thundercats, it seems, are in very safe paws. Tony Fyler

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