Character Issues: Lion-O (1985)

The Stats:

Name: Lion-O
Height: 6’4
Weight: 225
Powers: Enhanced Strength, Enhanced Agility
Type:  Generic Leader
Excels at: Requesting assistance
Fails at:  Nearly everything without help

The Character:

1985 was crucial.   Thundercats hit the scene in a major way.  By 1986, they were competing for shelf space with He-Man and Transformers in American playrooms.   The cartoon dominated schoolroom cafeteria conversations.  Everybody had their favorite character.  For many it was Panthro.  Other kids may have liked Lion-O or Tygra…we typically took their lunch money and picked them last in every playground sport.  Thundercats was about Panthro and Cheetara.  Lion-O was the Lord of the Thundercats.  He was the boy-king who was pushed into the position without much formal training.  He had the uncanny ability to stumble into a solution.  Lion-O approached many of the dilemmas he faced with a naivety that was supposed to be endearing.  But….

The Issues:

It wasn’t.  Many of the situations Lion-O landed in, had viewers questioning his mental functioning. Lion-O was the Bumblebee of the Thundercat crew.  He was fantastic at being ineffective.   He was a overpowered nincompoop. With the superhuman ability to call for help. His signature move was calling in backup.

“Thunder. Thunder! Thundercats hooooo!”  Is really just…

Lion-O was a revolutionary.  Never in the history of nerdom, has calling for help been treated as a superpower.  Lion-O was a virtuoso in calling for aid.  Lion-O was useless by default.  Snarf had had better track record of handling business without assistance.  Lion-O would call, the logo would deus ex machina, the rest of the crew shows up in the Thunder Tank and does the clean up duty…roll credits.  Watching the sequence was simultaneously one of most hyped and lame things in 80’s animation.  We knew that that battle-cry would bring in our favorite Thundercat, (typically anybody but Snarf and Lion-O) for some delicious screen time while Lion-O did nothing but shine the logo on what or whoever was troubling him.   His signature move was so incredible to witness, it was in the opening credits of every episode.  I defy you to identify another hero who is cherished for his heroic ability to say “Hellllllllp Meeeeeeeee!”.  

Listen.  For me, this show was about Panthro.  Panthro built the majority of the weapons and vehicles, he spoke in a silky baritone, he was the Thundercats chief martial artist and he, like so many of my crew, had a passion for the nunchaku.  In our world, Panthro we the most important Thundercat…end of story.

 

Thundercats in the Thundertank
Panthro: The REAL Lord of the Thundercats

 

Lion-O didn’t feel like he should have been the leader of the group.  I understand the trope of the unlikely leader but typically the character grows into his leadership position.  The issue is, Lion-O never grows into it.  He just sort of stumbles into problems and solutions, constantly needing the aid of the other Thundercats.  He isn’t clever or inventive or insightful, he’s just a dumb guy armed with a Plot Device level weapon. He never really grows from the man-child phase into anything resembling a competent leader.

The Fix:

If Lion-O is the leader of the Thundercats, he needs a legitimate character arc.  There needs to be some demonstrable growth into the role as a leader.  For all of its flaws, the 2011 series reboot attempted to put Lion-O on a path towards competency.  Improve Lion-O by establishing him as the team’s heavy hitter OR make Panthro the leader of the team until Lion-O is ready to take over.  Having Tigra, Cheetara and Panthro mentor Lion-O, deliberately grooming him for leadership, would’ve gone a long way towards excusing the boneheaded choices Lion-O made over the course of the series.  They tried to do this in a multi-part episode arc called “Lion-O’s Anointment” where Lion-O had to best the other Thundercats in specific trials, but these changes didn’t stick, he was back to his state of “Resting Dumbass”.  Since Lion-O didn’t have any real leadership traits inherent to his character, he wasn’t believable in the role as a leader. Developing some distinctive leadership qualities over the course of the show would have gone a long way towards establishing him as the Lord of the Thundercats.

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