As the popularity of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe began to wane in the mid 1980s, legendary animation studio Filmation turned their attention to a new, original series. A reportedly 65 million dollar venture, BraveStarr chronicles the adventures of the aforementioned Space Marshal, as he seeks to uphold law and order in the 23rd century.
Guided and granted animal spirit powers by his Sharman, BraveStarr protects the planet of New Texas from the machinations of an evil, demonic broncosaur named Stampede, and his similarly supernaturally enhanced crony, Tex Hex. Aided by a talking equestroid – the gun-toting Thirty-Thirty, and potential love interest Judge J.B. McBride, BraveStarr unlocks his superhuman powers by way of four thrill-inducing commands – Strength of the Bear, Eyes of the Hawk, Ears of the Wolf, and Speed of the Puma. Susceptible to stubborness and impulsiveness, though blessed with extraordinary abilities, BraveStarr is a much more fallible Filmation hero – often calling upon Sharman for assistance before resolving the predicament of the week.
Made for syndication in the U.S., this left producers free of network guidelines and able to touch upon far more serious subject matter – tackling the horrors of drug addiction in one shockingly graphic episode – and providing a poignant back story for its main protagonist, Tex Hex. Commonplace in any Filmation production, the scenery on display is beautiful, and though some may argue the animation is nothing more than functional at best, the show is lovingly produced and never less than entertaining.
The studio held high hopes for BraveStarr, aiming to recapture the imagination of children and adults alike, yet the series could only finish a disappointing seventh in its time slot. With the benefit of hindsight, launching a Western-themed space saga in an era of Transformers and Go-Bots seemed doomed to failure.
Sadly, BraveStarr‘s lack of success cost Filmation dearly, with the famous animation studio ceasing new productions within a year of its broadcast. While the masses may not remember the series as fondly as its predecessors (and it does suffer from Filmation’s more juvenile tendencies at times – most notably the dreadful Ewok-esque Prairie People), the series has many devotees. Not for the first time, the famous studio proved willing to deliver a more diverse set of heroes to the Saturday Morning cartoon line up, and here I present a selection of the best and most surprising instalments the series ever produced…
You don’t expect to witness the death of a young, identifiable character in any animated production, let alone view the hero hold a wreath by the child’s gravestone, but in a quite astonishing 22 minutes of children’s programming, this is exactly how “The Price” plays out. With BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty kept busy by a spate of traumatic reactions to the latest designer drug, a slick suited dingo – by the not so subtle name of Dealer – strides into Fort Kerium. Intent on peddling the narcotic to the town’s younger inhabitants, Dealer successfully dupes one young lad by the name of Jay into sampling a free high. Though the boy’s friends – Brad and Daisy – refuse Dealer’s offer, they do promise not to rat on the impressionable Jay. However, as Jay’s behavior becomes more erratic and eventually violent, Brad seeks BraveStarr’s help in the hope of saving his sick friend.
While naysayers may sneer at its attempt to warn youngsters of the dangers of drug abuse, it is a highly commendable and brave piece of Saturday morning TV. The sad denouement to the episode – BraveStarr lifting the lifeless wrist of the unfortunate Jay while his mother wails uncontrollably – simply took my breath away. I doubt you ever have, or are likely to see anything quite like it ever again.
Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century Parts 1 & 2
Produced as a potential pilot for a Sherlock Holmes spin-off series, as the Baker Street detective tumbles to his apparent doom at the Reichenbach Falls, a time portal conveniently transports him to a steampunk inspired London of the 23rd century. Once there, Holmes quickly acquires an alien Dr. Watson-like sidekick, before discovering the female descendants of his brother Mycroft and Inspector Lestrade. The likeable group inevitably cross paths with BraveStarr, who, on the trail of a missing alien child, has recently arrived in London. As Moriarty reappears from suspended animation, the team must thwart his dastardly plot – to conquer the Earth with the aid of said hypnotic alien child and punk rock music!
As bonkers and as brilliant as it sounds, the sheer audacity of the piece is to be applauded. A cracking romp, confidently directed and performed throughout – the faithfulness to Holmes history is admirable, and I really can’t recommend it enough – if only for the inspired lunacy.
BraveStarr and the Law
When two lucky prospectors discover an abundance of Kerium under Star Peak, Tex Hex sees this as the perfect opportunity to not only hijack a king’s ransom in Kerium, but evict BraveStarr’s Sharman from his home. When Tex wins his dubious claim through a combination of forgery and coercion, a furious BraveStarr turns in his badge and vows to protect his mentor no matter what. After initially turning his back on the law, BraveStarr is urged to reconsider his decision by Sharman, and when J.B. uncovers Tex’s plot – BraveStarr is relieved he longer has to go through with his plan. Though he reclaims his badge, the Marshal has been placed in a unique position, where the difference between right and wrong is not so black and white. Struggling with his duty as a law man, and as a friend to his Sharman – BraveStarr contemplates a decision he may have lived to regret.
All the more interesting when portrayed as a flawed hero, and as he concludes at the end of the episode, BraveStarr is a just man who has had a very bad day.
Moral of the story: We may not always agree with it, but the law is the law.
BraveStarr and the Medallion
BraveStarr learns appearances aren’t always what they seem, as a stranger by the name of Parluke arrives on New Texas, carrying the emblem of the Sharman’s people around his neck. BraveStarr, desperate to believe the visitor is a descendant of the Sharman’s tribe, leads Parluke to the sacred lands of Star Peak and the mystic man himself. The Marshal’s eagerness proves costly, as the man is revealed to be an impostor employed by Tex Hex on behalf of Stampede. Sharman soon sees through Parluke’s deception, but not before the bounty hunter is able to snuff out a scared flame which fuels his mystic power.
Setting BraveStarr apart once again, the episode does not shy away from exposing the Marshal’s faults, before finally allowing him to atone for the error while expressing gratitude to those who came to his aid.
Moral of the story: Appearances aren’t always what they seem.
Eye of the Beholder
Witness a softer side to Tex Hex, as a young blind woman – Ally Kingston – reminds the outlaw of a loved one he left behind long ago before pursuing his thirst for wealth and power. Intending to harness the restorative powers of her extensive Kerium shipment to cure children of blindness, Tex Hex’s initial plan is to rob Kingston of her expensive haul is doomed to failure. As a result of his attempt to storm Fort Kerium, an injured Tex is discovered by Ally – who unaware of his true identity, takes pity on her would-be thief. As Ally’s enthusiasm for helping others begins to rub off on him, Tex finds himself warming to the girl, before rescuing the young woman from an avalanche.
Fleeing once BraveStarr finally tracks the missing Ally down, Tex Hex returns to Fort Kerium at the dead of the night to steal the shipment once and for all, but is left horrified when Ally uncovers his true nature during the raid. Tex bolts, leaving his gang to take the fall for the raid, before returning to speak to Ally just as she prepares to leave New Texas. Kingston refutes Tex’s claim that he has to be evil, and argues he can choose to be whoever he wants to be. As Tex offers to return a scarf she left behind, Ally implores him to keep it as a reminder of someone who once saw the good in him.
Moral of the story: You will find goodness in the most unlikely of places.
As an alien slave ship lands on New Texas to mine for Kerium, Angus McBride – J.B.’s investigative father – finds himself unwittingly caught up in the gang’s haul. Seeking BraveStarr’s help in an attempt to free her father from the slavers, J.B. and the Marshal team up with another forthright, female law enforcer trailing the alien slavers herself. Horrified to learn this woman is an old flame of her father’s, J.B. takes an instant dislike to the woman. Once Angus is rescued, and as love blossoms between the pair, J.B. learns to put aside her own fears for the sake of her father’s happiness.
Concluding with the pair’s wedding, this is far more engaging a love story than anything you’ll see this side of Attack of the Clones.
Moral of the story: Being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of and elderly people can find love too.
An interesting play on the genre’s format and the opinions of its young viewers, BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty come to the aid of a peaceful pod farmer terrorized by a gang of hungry dingos. As the Farmer’s young son thrills to BraveStarr’s heroism, he is exasperated by his father’s apparent cowardice when facing the dingos. Seeking to alter the boy’s perception, BraveStarr feigns ignorance of the local territory to encourage the lad’s father to step up and track down Thirty-Thirty, who has been taken captive by the dingos.
A very neat scene follows, perhaps mirroring the audience at home, where BraveStarr takes a seat next to the boy as they watch his father’s progress via the farm’s video monitor. Needless to say, the boy’s father does indeed prove his worth, but not before a few neat twists and turns.
Standout moment: BraveStarr chastises Thirty-Thirty for his prejudice after declaring all no-good dingos act the same.
The Disappearance of Thirty-Thirty
After a disagreement over the need to exert more gun control, Thirty-Thirty is stung by BraveStarr’s criticism and travels back to his home, the mysterious Hall of the Equestroids. Feeling unappreciated, once home Thirty-Thirty is mysteriously transported back in time and soon forgets he knew BraveStarr at all. Realizing he has perhaps been too harsh on his friend, BraveStarr seeks Sharman’s assistance and follows Thirty-Thirty back in time to rekindle their friendship.
BraveStarr relives his first meeting with Thirty-Thirty on the instructions of Sharman, and he attempts to remove a powerful weapon from within the Hall of the Equestroids. Unbeknown to BraveStarr at the time, the powerful weapon of which the Sharman speaks is Thirty-Thirty himself. Although there is a sense the producers knew the show’s time was up, hence the use of footage from the yet to be released prequel movie, the time travel aspect ensures it is employed nicely.
Standout moment: Once again, BraveStarr berates the trigger happy Thirty-Thirty for failing to exert much gun control.
BraveStarr and the Empress
A fun runaround which bravely explores some weighty issues – BraveStarr tackles prejudice and brings peace to two warring races in just under twenty-three minutes. On route to an intergalactic peace conference, the snooty Empress Nadia takes exception to “aliens” such as Deputy Fuzz and BraveStarr being deployed as her protectors. Yet thanks to an effort to disrupt the peace talks, once her crew turn on her, Princess Nadia soon learns to trust her alien escorts and see past her own bigotry. An episode strangely reminiscent of The Phantom Menace, I believe this instalment’s closing moral should be read word for word:
“In today’s story, Empress Nadia learned that prejudice can be very damaging. She felt that Fuzz and I were nothing more than aliens, until she discovered when someone helps you, it doesn’t matter what color his or her skin is. People may look different on the surface, they can even dress or talk differently. But underneath all those surface things, people are more alike than different. So remember: the best way to make good friends is to find the ways in which you are alike.”
Who Am I
A throughly amiable episode, employing an enjoyable variation on the standard hero loses his memory plot device. When an intergalactic explorer uncovers the most powerful book of spells in the universe, he naturally heads straight to the badlands of New Texas to deliver it to Sharman. The book promptly falls into the hands of Tex Hex’s female mercenary, Vipra, who on intercepting the delivery intents to overthrow Tex and claim Fort Kerium for herself. Robbing BraveStarr of his memories, Vipra proceeds to enslave Thirty-Thirty and J.B. with the book’s magic, before leading a successful attack on the town of Fort Kerium.
Demanding the key to the city before declaring herself Mayor, Vipra makes the fatal mistake of relieving BraveStarr of the sacred medallion. BraveStarr’s deep attachment to the ancient relic helps him break through the book’s magic, before putting an end to Vipra’s wicked wizardry.
Moral of the story: Love and friendship are more powerful than any kind of magic.
BraveStarr and the Treaty
When the Galactic Council selects New Texas as the sight for a new Space Station, Tex Hex orchestrates an ambush so he can play hero and win the trust of the visiting officials. Encouraging the officials to have Marshal BraveStarr supervise the construction, and then escort the first freighter to leave New Texas, Tex signs a treaty to declare his peaceful intentions in the Marshal’s absence. Blinded by the riches such a prestigious honor could bring, the towns folk side with Tex Hex as BraveStarr refuses to leave for the freighter. Arrested and bound, BraveStarr could easily escape his captors, but decides to wait for Tex to reveal his true colors.
The exciting conclusion sees BraveStarr break free of bonds, and with the Speed of the Puma, thwart Tex’s nefarious plot to seize control of the first spaceship to land for his own ends.
Awesome moment: Once Tex is defeated, and before riding off into the moral high ground, BraveStarr aims a neat parting shot at the Mayor of Fort Kerium – it’s okay to want something, just not so much that you become greedy and thoughtless.
To Walk a Mile
Worth a viewing if only for the incorporation of the famous western line, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges! BraveStarr encounters a former Intergalactic Space Marshal traumatized by the events of his past. Turning in badge and gun after crippling his own deputy during a daring escapade, and much to the dismay of his son, the once gung-ho Lucas Conway now seeks nothing but the quiet life. Once an adversary, the dual-headed robot Two Face discovers his whereabouts, and Conway turns to BraveStarr for assistance in rescuing his son. Despite vowing never to pick up a gun ever again, Lucas, with the aid of BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty, manages to free young Mark from the clutches of Two Face – with the boy in turn realizing what a true hero his father is.
Awesome moment: Ambushed alongside his father by two of Tex Hex’s cronies, young Mark warns them he’ll call for a Marshal by radio if they don’t back off. Pan up to BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty strolling onto the ridge behind them: “You won’t need the radio, son.”
BraveStarr faces his own High Noon against a former teacher and idol, Jingles Morgan, as his academy trainer arrives on New Texas with a price on his head. Once considered the bravest of all Space Marshals, Jingles succumbed via embarrassment to rage after he failed to defeat an opponent in a friendly competition. Humiliated in front of hundreds, and unaccustomed to losing, Jingles turned a gun on his victor before murdering him in cold blood. Having arrived on New Texas, Jingles offers his services to Tex Hex, but in order to procure employment – Tex instructs Jingles to take care of BraveStarr once and for all.
Despite BraveStarr’s pleas, and to the episode’s credit, Jingles remains unrepentant to the last and, though defeated, his lingering resentment for anyone but himself makes for an interesting villain.
Standout moment: Bravely ending on a downer, there is no emotional reconciliation for BraveStarr and his fallen idol, as the incarcerated Jingles sneers: “I never asked to be your hero.”
Strength of the Bear
Unable to rescue a trapped miner from a recent avalanche, BraveStarr is shocked to discover he no longer possesses Strength of the Bear. Luckily, Thirty-Thirty is on hand to assist, and once the worker is freed, the friends visit Sharman to uncover the root of our hero’s problem. Word soon spreads of his lack of powers, and while Stampede plots to ambush the Marshal, Sharman informs BraveStarr he must reconnect with the spirit animals in order to rediscover his mojo.
Facing this task alone in the badlands of New Texas, and with his enemies closing in, BraveStarr befriends a frail blind man by the name of Ursian and risks everything to save the mysterious inhabitant from Stampede’s henchmen. After BraveStarr’s display of bravery, Ursian reveals his true identify as the human embodiment of the animal spirits, before restoring the Marshal’s abilities. As the final episode to be broadcast, “Strength of the Bear” is a fitting end to series, reaffirming its mythos and declaring, despite all his super human powers, BraveStarr’s real strengths lie within.
BraveStarr: The Legend
Serving as a rousing pilot for the show, had the prequel movie preceded the TV series in cinemas as originally intended, the show’s final fate may not have been sealed so quickly. Introducing all the main players and elaborating upon their backgrounds, the movie explains first hand how our favorite characters came to visit New Texas, with both Tex Hex and Stampede in particular given substantial backstories.
Benefiting from a healthy budget, in comparison to the TV series, the animation on display is all the more stylized and carried out with aplomb. While the impact of some scenes may be lessened following their inclusion in the TV series, this remains a highly polished and entertaining affair. Witness not only the granting of BraveStarr’s fantastical animal spirit powers, but his surprisingly direct approach to romancing J.B. McBride, while protecting and upgrading the town of Fort Kerium – thus explaining the origin of its battle ready, Transformer-like capabilities in the show. Ultimately, and despite favorable reviews, the movie failed to make any real impact at the box office and thus sadly, the legend of Marshal BraveStarr came to an abrupt end.
Given the fate of Joss Whedon’s Firefly decades later, perhaps Western-themed space sagas are destined to allude mass audiences, and fate certainly seems to have conspired against both shows. Filmation’s final cartoon series may not hold the same iconic status as its contemporaries, yet the show exudes a distinctive style and charm of all of its own. For the benefit of a new generation, I hope Marshal BraveStarr rides his way onto online viewing platforms in the very near future.