Our first feature is the obscure (and underrated) Pirates of Dark Water, which was an adventure series that aired for one season in the early 90's. The show fell at the tail end of the toy commercial era, and feels like it would have been much more at home sharing a time slot with He-Man or Thundercats.
The series followed young Prince Ren, and his two crew mates the beautiful Tula (who is an "Ecowizard," so she has powers that can control the weather, make plants grow, and so on,) the scurvy pirate Ioz, and a "Monkeybird" named Niddler, on their quest to obtain the thirteen treasures of Rule, which is the only thing that can save the world from the "Dark Water," which is this weird, black, living sludge that is slowly covering the entire world. They are constantly chased by the pirate lord Bloth and his band of strange alien-mutant buccaneers. As with many cartoons of this era it was conceived from the beginning as a marketing tool to sell toys and merchandise. Most of the main characters were made into action figures which are still cheap and easy to find. Sadly there doesn't appear to be any monsters or creatures in the toy line. There was a comic book series put out by Marvel, a pen & paper RPG game, as well as video games on the Super Nintendo and Genesis.
The setting was a very well realized fantasy world called "Mer," in which there are no continents, but instead thousands of small islands inhabited by many different sentient species. Magic is commonplace, and while the sophistication of the sailing ships seemed to be comparable to the early Renaissance era, other technology is extremely limited. Most notably there's no gunpowder - no muskets, rifles, cannons, or anything of the sort. Many of the ranged weapons make use of living creatures, such as a pistol with a small lizard inside that shoots a poison gas. Bloth's ship itself is made out of the giant bones of some unknown sea creature, and is so huge there's an entire community of lost prisoners living in it's bowels.
The animation was of higher quality than your usual Saturday morning fare. Execution was kid friendly with lots of jokes (especially around Niddler and a midget pirate named Konk, who were the designated comic relief.) Most of the violence was of the almost-lethal type that one saw in say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman: the Animated series, where people were often tripped, thrown, knocked into water, etc. There are however several scenes that come to mind which show actual on-screen deaths of villains, including one where bad guy pirates are dragged beneath the waves by the dark water sludge, and another where a witch rapidly ages and wastes away into dust. Sadly the series only lasted one season, with a total of 21 episodes with no conclusion to the story. It has gained a cult following over the years and has a widespread DVD release which is not too hard to find.
But we're here to talk about the monsters which are of a wide variety in scope and design.
Comments: Usually I don't go much for the comic relief characters, but the design of the Monkey Birds appeals to me. They have these funny, "old man" faces which makes it look like they're frowning to me. They would make a good addition to any RPG campaign as a stand in for Hobbits or Halflings. If you can't get over the goofiness of the design, remember it's all in the way it's drawn. Check out this panel from one of the Pirates of Dark Water comic books:
That's much better.
Pirate Lord Bloth's go-to creature for executions of prisoners, kept in a dark pit aboard his huge ship The Malestrom. It's shown as a very large, eyeless, worm type creature with multiple clawed tentacles, sharp fangs, and a none too sunny disposition. Despite its' ferocity it doesn't seem to be too smart. On several occasions throughout the series our heroes are thrown to the Constrictus only to outwit it and escape every time.
Comments: A great design for a viscous looking monster. Nothing screams terror like a writhing, eyeless monstrosity snapping at you with a mouth of razor sharp teeth. The only thing that would make it better is if it had multiple heads, (which in the comics it did.)
These comics look pretty cool actually.
Also, let's not forget - let's not forget, Dude - that keeping wildlife, an amphibious rodent, for uh, domestic, you know, within the city - that aint legal either.
Comments: Not too hot on this one. The design overall isn't too imaginative in my opinion. It looks mainly like they took the monkey bird model, made it furry, colored it brown, and put a fox's head on it. Overall a pretty forgettable monster.
Classic doesn't have flying mounts, which is such b.s.
Dargons (yes, that is spelled right) are mid-sized reptilian dragon-like creatures, most often depicted as flying mounts for Bloth's pirate crew. They are viscous and ill tempered, but easily tamed. It is revealed in episode 16 "The Dargon Master" that dargons are actually extinct in the wild and that all new dargons which are captured and sold are actually magically transformed human beings - which lends gravity to the scene early in the episode of two of them drowning to death, pulled under by the dark water.
Comments: I'm always a fan of dragons, and even more so of one that you can fly upon. Such are the things that make my inner eleven year old squeal with delight. Eleven year old me also would have liked a more "serious" design to the creatures, especially the head and face. They remind me a lot of something you'd see in older Hanna Barbera animated series such as Godzilla or the Herculoids.
Long Sea Serpents with purple skin, sharp fangs, and eyes on flat protruding stalks, similar to a hammerhead shark. They are massive enough to be a threat to Bloth's huge pirate ship and have jaws that can swallow a human being whole. Infant leviathans are shown to be much smaller (around 15 feet) as well as much freindlier (and cuter!) The infants appear to be rather intelligent.
Comments: The eye stalks give the beast a more alien quality, and the gaping fangs definitely communicates that it is not your friend. All of this must develop during puberty because the baby leviathan we see looks almost nothing like it's parent. I realize they need to make it cute in order to give it some humanization and sympathy, but it looks like something from a different species.
From episode 8, "The Beast and the Bell." The Kiroptus is a large demon, about 15 feet tall. He has curved goat horns, red eyes, and membrane wings similar to a flying lizard, stretched between multiple limbs. The legs fork at the lower joint into two pairs of hoofed feet. He first appears trapped on a large golden bell, and is accidentally freed by our heroes.
Comments: One of the more imaginative creatures. The beast in the bell has a unique design, especially with it's forked limbs. It's also shown to be highly intelligent, and acts as a servant of the "Dark dweller."
The Beast Bush
Strange, animated, carnivorous plants. On their backs and sides are purple frills which give them a fish-like appearance. They attack with frog-like tongues that shoot forth and ensnare their prey.
These man-eating plants were never named in the show, but the Pirates of Dark Water RPG names them as "Beast Bushes." They have a very fearful, horrific look, with lots of teeth and drool dripping from a gaping maw, covered with a bumpy, wrinkled skin. Definitely one of the better creatures in the series. Unfortunately they only appear in one episode ( number 17, "The Game Players of Undaar") and only get a few seconds of screen time.
Large insect like minions of the "Game Players of Undaar," from the episode of the same name. They are a head taller than an average person (roughly 6-8 feet,) with slavering jaws and red eyes. The arms end in pincer-like claws, while the legs split at the ankle. They are also capable of shooting their hands out with a long tendon, so they can be used as grappling hooks.
Comments: With the split style foreams and feet it's easy to see the same artist that created the Kiroptus was also responsible for these creatures. Another solid winner. They would make great stand-ins for orcs or Bugbears.
Massive dangerous worms, with sharp teeth and large tusks. They are about the same size as the Leviathans, and are shown to be able to burrow through the earth at amazing speeds. They can launch their tusks as a weapon or deterrent, and are able to instantly regrow them.
Comments: The Gallquin is our resident sandworm stand-in. Like the Beast Bushes these are never given a name onscreen, but instead is listed as such in the RPG. Like most monsters in the show this one is only seen in one episode, and is only screen for a few seconds. I like the general overall look and feel of the creature but it is a bit generic.
The Dark Dweller
The Dark Dweller is a hideous creature of immense power which lives in the center of the planet of Mer, and is the source of the Dark Water. It's capable of changing it's size and shape, and taking on the appearance of human beings, as well as other indeterminate magical powers.
Comments: The Dark Dweller is a hideous, Lovecraftian deity, complete with mutated fishmen followers (more on them later.) Stuff like this is what made this show so great. How many other cartoon shows can you name that have their own version of Cthulhu?
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