Saturday, October 26, 2013

1977 - Wizards

Weehawk, Elinore, Avatar and "Peace", Wizards (1977)

Once upon a time, millions of years ago, the world was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust brought about by a small group of terrorists with a bomb in a backpack. It takes the Earth millions of years to recover and over that time, Fairies, Elves and other magic folk reemerged from their ancient sleep, while what was left of the human race devolves into mutated monsters.

Blackwolf's mutant troops, Wizards (1977)

In the land of Montagar, during a celebration of 3000 years of peace, Delia the queen of the faeries gives birth to twin sons, the strong and gentle Avatar and the deformed, mutated Blackwolf. Avatar grows into a mighty Wizard working toward the betterment of all, while his brother Blackwolf also grows as a Wizard, but still spends most of his time torturing small animals.

Blackwolf is a really a piece of work.

One of artist Mike Ploogs illustrations from Wizards (1977)

After the death of their mother, the brothers face off in a battle of power, with Avatar defeating his brother, sending him into exile in the radioactive wasteland of Scortch, home of the mutant races.

Blackwolf and his bride, Wizards (1977)

A few thousand years pass and Blackwolf has risen to absolute power as the ruler of Scortch building a vast army of mutants and demons all based on the ideas of the Nazi's, whose propaganda films are one of the few surviving items from the ancient nuclear war millions of years before. Hungry for power and revenge, Blackwolf and his troops begin the march towards Montagar, with the mutated wizard sending out ahead of his army, a crew of assassins, including the deadly robot Necron 99

Necron 99 Wizards (1977)

Murdering his way across the land, Necron 99 and his fellow assassins kill leaders of the faeries and the elves, placing the land in political disarray just as Blackwolf's troops invade.

Blackwolfs troops, Wizards (1977)

Two elves and their mounts race toward Montagar's capital to warn Avatar about the invasion, when Necron 99 attacks them killing one instantly. The other elf, the warrior Weehawk on the back of his mount Westwind race to escape the gunfire of the dreaded robot, with Weehawk surviving only at the cost of the life of his beloved steed.

The Elven troops put up a defense, Wizards (1977)

While this is going on, Avatar, much older, and rather irascible, is enjoying himself in his task of training Elinore, the Presidents daughter in the art of magic. The three are together when Necron 99 appears killing the President before Avatar or the just arriving Weehawk can stop him.

Mr President and Avatar, Wizards (1977)

Freed by Avatar's magic, and renamed Peace, the now contrite robot joins Avatar, Elinore and Weehawk as they make their way to the land of Scortch and a confrontation with avatar's power mad brother.

Alternate poster for Wizards (1977)

Animator Ralph Bakshi's 1977 film Wizards, the story of the latest ultimate battle between good and evil, taking place in the shattered remains of a world that had faced that ultimate battle between good and evil a thousand years before, and yet another ultimate battle between good and evil two million years before that, is a masterpiece of American animation that stepped beyond the Disney paradigm and moved American animation into more adult forms of storytelling.

Weehawk and Elinore. Wizards (1977)

Shot on a budget of just over a million dollars, Wizards was a commercial hit that went on to a rather extended life on the Midnight Movie circuit where it played steadily for years.

Blackwolf's secret weapon, a movie projector, Wizards (1977)

Bakshi, director of the majority of the original 1960's Spider-Man cartoon had already seen great success with his adaptation of Robert Crumb's Fritz the Cat, as well as his other counter culture cartoons Coonskin and Heavy Traffic. Shot on low budgets, Bakshi's movies managed to be profitable while running the gambit from excellent to mundane. Bakshi's early works, especially, Heavy Traffic are all worth watching, but do suffer from being just a bit too locked into their counter culture roots and honestly they haven't aged that well.

Elinore, Queen of Montagar, Wizards (1977)

Wizards on the other hand is a much more straight forward fantasy tale that pays homage to the work of artists Wally Wood and Vaughn Bode, and by paying homage, I mean directly plagiarizing the work of Wally Wood and Vaughn Bode. Necron 99 is a pretty clear theft of Bode's design for his futuristic assassin, Cobalt 60, as the photo below makes pretty clear.

Vaughn Bode's Cobalt 60 and Wizard's Necron 99

On top of that elements of the story and some of the basic designs owe quite a bit to Wally Woods Wizard King saga from his self-published 1960's magazine Witzend including the name Weehawk who in Woods strip is the elf warrior father of the hero.

Wally Woods elf town from Witzend

Finally the wizard Avatar while personality wise very different from Bode's magic hat, Cheech Wizard, there are a few stylistic similarities, but there are enough differences, for me to say that Avatar is more influenced by Bode then a direct steal.

Bode's Cheech Wizard is an influence on Avatar as opposed to a direct steal

Still it's hard to get past Cobalt 60 and Necron 99.

Vaughn Bode's Cobalt 60

Wizards art ranges from some beautiful still pieces by noted comic artist Mike Ploog to endlessly repeating rotoscoped stock footage of Nazi's done up as mutants and wizards. Of course coming from television animation as any fan of Bakshi's Spider-Man cartoons can tell you, Ralph never hesitated to reuse a good piece of animation.

Opening credits to Spider-Man produced by Ralph Bakshi

Still despite the somewhat shady ethics behind the creation of the characters, and a bit too much reliance on rotoscoping, a format that Bakshi would use to even further excess with American Pop as well as his adaptation of Lord of the Rings, Wizards holds up well almost 40 years later.

Avatar, Wizards (1977)

Good animation, a strong story, strong musical score and first rate narration by Forbidden Zone star Susan Tyrrell make Wizards one of those films that all these decades later that I can still sit down and enjoy almost as much as I did all those years ago.

Teaser trailer to Wizards (1977)


  1. No. Saying Necron 99 is a theft of Cobalt 60 is like saying that the whole storytelling is clearly stolen from the storytelling plot and structure of Ancient Greek theater and literature. Necron 99 is called that: AN INFLUENCE. It's a direct detailed influence, but it's still an influence NOT a stealing. Stealing is a criminal act where you took someone's original possession without someone's permission. Bashki didn't do that.

    1. I am quite certain that Bode might not have agreed with you.Theft of intellectual property is still theft.

    2. Bakshi and Bode were good friends, and after he died I think Ralph wanted to carry on his legacy, rather than plagiarize. Glad to see other people liking Bakshi and knowing who Bode was as well!!

  2. This jerk writer accuses Ralph Bakshi's Wizards of "plagiarizing" from Vaughn Bode's work - what about Star Wars? So what's this? - high and mighty Star Wars can get away with plaigiarism but Ralph Bakshi can't ?