Does anything illustrate just how convoluted pop culture can be more than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What started out as a comic book parody of Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil turned into a children’s cartoon that itself inspired a legion of imitators and parodies. I even have a theory that the deluge of anthropomorphic animal warriors hitting ’90s televisions has led to one of the most notorious cultural phenomena of the twenty-first century so far, but we’ll get to that in the moment.
I have three case studies to go through, but let’s begin with one of the better examples.
It’s a show about mice, who are bikers, from Mars. They end up in Chicago to protect the city from an evil capitalist alien going by the name Lawrence Limburger, who is part of a broader plan by his species to eventually strip mine the planet. So basically it’s what it says on the tin, although “Biker Mice from Mars Battle Laissez-Faire Capitalism” might be more apt – and awesome.
I actually don’t have too many nostalgic memories of Biker Mice From Mars. It started airing at about the exact same time I was losing interest in cartoons that weren’t Simpsons-esque or weren’t based off of comics, and even though I wouldn’t say it was unpopular it was enough of a cult item it flew under a lot of kids’ radars. Watching a few episodes now on YouTube (and, on a side note, apparently the Finnish of all people really love this show, judging from the massive number of Fins posting episodes), I now wish I had.
Like its “inspiration,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this wasn’t a show that ever even wore the pretext of trying to reach an all-age audience. Nostalgia goggles or no, I do think it would help if I had more perspective. Plus it does have most of the cliches you’d expect from an action cartoon of the time: bungling henchmen, largely episodic storytelling, and occasionally blurring the line between TV show and toy ad. Plus since the heroes’ antics unfold in a decaying urban hellscape created solely by unrestrained greed and that later episodes flesh out the Mices’ backstory, which involves fighting in a hopeless guerrilla war to save their own race which is on the brink of total extinction, it does seem as if maybe the concept was originally darker. Certainly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the first seven seasons, anyway – skirted away from that kind of tonal dissonance by pretty quickly turning its core villains into a dysfunctional sitcom family. For Biker Mice from Mars, the cheesy jokes and macho adolescent feel don’t quite jibe with the fact that we have a premise all about brutal exploitation and genocide. It’s the equivalent of doing G.I. Joe with a Saving Private Ryan premise, or having a series about Stalin and his zany henchmen.
Still, there are things about the show that, even as an alleged adult, I would call pretty damn great. First off is the villain Lawrence Limburger, voiced to perfection by the prolific William Morgan Sheppard. Existing somewhere between a fabulously gay Lex Luthor and a cartoon Donald Trump, Lawrence Limburger steals every episode with his haughty voice and verbose lexicon. Also, unlike other cartoon alien invaders, Limburger’s plan doesn’t involve military force, but just buying up and strip mining resources. Basically it’s alien invasion through capitalism. I’m kind of surprised this show didn’t end up getting condemned by real-life overweight, motormouth alien Rush Limbaugh.
There’s also the obligatory April O’Neil analogue, Charlie, who unfortunately shows up as a damsel in distress during the opening credits. She pretty much has the standard “plucky heroine” personality, but they made her a mechanic at least, which kind of saves her from being a total Lois Lane clone like everyone’s favorite banana raincoat wearing, possible bestiality offender.
Oh, and there’s also a gender ambiguous mad scientist who has a sadomasochistic Frankenstein’s monster. They should have had their own spin-off.
Now as for the heroes themselves, well…in my opinion, this is one of those shows where the villains and some of the supporting cast are way more interesting than the protagonists. Except there’s that one little thing I mentioned in the beginning.
Notice how the Mice are ridiculously buff?
Does it bring to mind a certain fetish?
So, if we assume that the people who helped create furries as a sub-culture came of age in the ’90s, then is it that far-fetched to hypothesize that they were deeply influenced by shows like Biker Mice from Mars?
Well, you might say I’m going too far with my own perverted speculations and I’d probably agree, but then there’s the fact that in the 2006 revival of the series they “debuffed” the Mice.
Did somebody put their foot down and say, “Yeah, we want to do a revival, but this show ain’t going to create any more furries!”? I have no idea, but there’s a PhD thesis in there somewhere.