When I was 8, Saturday morning was dedicated to cartoons. I woke up early to be pulled into fantastic worlds filled with mutants, knights, super heroes, and space battles. During the week, my imagination ran wild with daydreams of being some of these characters. This is a list of 8 cartoon characters I wanted to be when I was 8 and it provides a brief glimpse into those daydreams.
1. Wolverine. When the X-Men Saturday morning cartoon series debuted in ’92, I instantly became a fan. Among the show’s characters, Wolverine stood out immediately. The obvious thing to like was his abilities: rapid regeneration, adamantium skeleton (which combined with his rapid regeneration made him virtually indestructible), and retractable claws. But his general badass demeanor put him over the top. The quintessential anti-hero, he introduced me to words like “bub”, “punk”, and “rookie”, as he talked down to his friends and foes alike, all while wearing yellow and blue tights. Wolverine also had a softer side to him, demonstrated by his tragic attraction to women that end up dying or breaking his heart (Jean Grey, Silver Fox, Lady Deathstrike to name a few). But he never allowed this to affect him when it counted. A side note, Wolverine’s super-move in the X-Men Arcade game was one of the strongest. He’s still one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe.
2. Donatello. The only non-human on the list, Donatello, at his core, was a nerdy ninja. Although he didn’t have a domineering personality like Raphael, the popular catch phrases like Michelangelo (the closeted stoner), or the leadership of Leonardo, Donnie was always the one solving the more complex problems. He built the Turtle Van, the Turtle Blimp, and the Turtle Com, and was basically the Lucius Fox of the TMNT. I also appreciated that his weapon was essentially non-lethal (although in the first NES game, he had the longest range and did the most damage), akin to his introspective personality. He gets the nod over all the ninja turtles.
3. A Ghostbuster. When I was a kid, vampires, werewolves, and zombies never really bothered me. They all had weaknesses, and so long as I had silver, garlic, a wooden stake, or some blunt instrument around, I could conceivably survive and defend myself. Ghosts, however, were a completely different story. It was the intangibility that freaked me out. I couldn’t battle a ghost. So when the Ghostbusters introduced me to the concept of proton pack-powered energy beams with another device capable of trapping ghosts and sending them into another dimension, I readily embraced it. But these guys weren’t superheroes. They were just a group of paranormal investigators who stumbled onto some hostile apparitions, and decided to fight back, and help others who had the same problem. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that ghosts could be on your side! Slimer was the annoying pet that helped the Ghostbusters from time to time. Plus, he had his own drink.
4. Bart Simpson. I didn’t want Homer for a dad, but I sure wanted to be Bart Simpson. He was always getting into and out of trouble relatively unscathed. Bart was adept with the skateboard, proficient with prank calls, and had a casual disrespect for authority that was cool. Plus he had a tree house! I know I wasn’t supposed to like this rebellious, frustrated, and borderline nihilistic kid, but I didn’t care. Bart Simpson was cool.
5. Batman. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my favorite cartoons of all time. Not only did it acquaint me with the Batman mythology, but it presented a darker side of cartoons that I hadn’t seen before. The thing I like about Batman is the fact that he operates in the shadows. He’s not a typical hero in the sense that he avoids the limelight. Batman isn’t embraced by the public in the same way that say, Superman is. He thrives on the enigma surrounding him, which is enough to give pause to criminals in Gotham City. He has a tenuous relationship with the authorities, relying only on the personal trust he has with Commissioner Gordon. Most distinctive of all, Batman is a regular human being (though being a billionaire helps). His “powers” are all self-taught, mastered, and even created (e.g. Batwing, Batmobile, Bat-a-rang). However, his greatest asset is his mind. Even Ra’s al Ghul calls him “Detective”, giving homage Batman’s intellect and crime-solving abilities.
6. King Arthur. For those of you who didn’t watch this series, “King Arthur and the Knights of Justice”, it’s probably in my top five cartoons of all-time list. It’s about a high school football team that gets transported back in time to replace the real King Arthur and his knights, who are trapped in the Cave of Glass by the evil enchantress, Queen Morgana. Arthur, the quarterback of the team, takes up King Arthur’s helm, and is imbued with the powers of Excalibur and obtains the Dragon of Justice that he is able summon from his shield. When I was 8, a world of magic and dragons and swords and feasts seemed pretty appealing, and King Arthur was the man to be. Also, how can you deny this intro song with its heavy metal riffs?!
7. Dennis the Menace. Before Calvin and Hobbes, there was Dennis the Menace. Dennis was a well-meaning, day-dreaming, troublemaker that seemed to always get in trouble with his neighbor, Mr. Wilson. He had all kinds of fantastic adventures, mainly with his dog Ruff and best friend Joey, and managed to save the day when his imagination got him into a bind. There were plenty of times when I mimicked his adventures, particularly ones of espionage, and I made sure never to miss an episode when it was on TV. Dennis’s parents always seemed to be missing, and since both my parents worked until 5pm, I had plenty of time to get myself into trouble. I didn’t just want to be Dennis, I made sure to emulate a lot of his antics in real life.
8. Lieutenant J.T. Marsh. Exo Squad has to be one of the most underrated cartoons of all time. The show was set in 2119 A.D. Earth and is about a war between humans (Terrans) and Neosapiens, artificial beings created to serve the Terrans. Exo Squad followed the Able Squad, which was commanded by Lieutenant J.T. Marsh, who is respected by nearly everyone in the Exo Fleet. Marsh not only had the coolest exo frame, a mechanical combat exo-skeleton, but he was the model military commander. He knew how to command his squad and inspired loyalty in his troops.Exo Squad presented a range of themes including death, betrayal, and revenge that allowed for characters like J.T. Marsh to really shine. Also, military realities like recon and casualties were all part of the series, which also made the characters more human.