Blackstar, from a video box.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Filmation
First Appeared: 1981
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Blackstar, a Saturday morning cartoon by Filmation Associates, came along in 1981 — near the end of the time when cartoon characters with predominantly African ancestry tended to have "black" as part of their names, and vice versa (e.g., Black Lightning, Black Panther). And that seems to have been the producer's original intent. That Blackstar's skin color indicated he was of mostly European extraction was due to a decision on the part of the network that …

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… aired it, CBS, apparently that this practice, going back to the 1960s, was a cliché by that time, and had gone on long enough. Or maybe they thought a black hero was just too avant garde for their audience to handle.

Of course, the "star" part of his name was also a cliché. It indicated the series was science fiction, or at least had enough of a sci-fi look to pass for it. John Blackstar was an astronaut who had the misfortune to fall into a black hole. In most science fiction (and in real life, if one were able to get close enough to one) there would be no coming out. However, according to some of the more far-out modern physics theories, it might be possible to emerge in another universe. But it would only be as a stream of sub-atomic particles, any structure having been torn apart by extreme gravitational forces. But in this story, John came out in good enough shape to land on the nearby planet Sagar, and have wonderful adventures there with his local love interest, Mara.

But since those adventures involved wizards, an elf-like shape shifter, sorceresses, dragons, and other elements of heroic fantasy, the show's credentials as science fiction are marginal at best. Even the species John allied himself with, the Trobbits, not only sound like one found in perhaps the greatest English-language fantasy epic of all — their name is even said to be based on the fact that they're tree-dwelling Hobbits. Many critics say Blackstar was no more science fiction than was the later series Galaxy Rangers, a thinly-disguised western in sci-fi drag.

Whatever genre it properly belonged to, Blackstar debuted on Saturday, September 12, 1981. The hero quickly acquired a wondrous weapon, The Starsword, whose counterpart, The Powersword, was wielded by The Overlord, ruler of the planet, reminiscent of Ming the Merciless. Together, the two would become The Powerstar, a weapon more wondrous yet, but viewers never got to see what it could do, because the two never were brought together. Only 13 episodes, a scant season, were made. It was said to have been "inspired" by the previous season's Thundarr the Barbarian, also heroic fantasy laden with science fiction trappings, but the connection isn't entirely convincing. It's more plausibly seen by some as practice for Filmation's later adaptation of He-Man & the Masters of the Universe.

John Blackstar's voice was provided by George DiCenzo (Captain America in 1980s Spider-Man animation). Mara was Linda Gary (several voices in Skeleton Warriors and Pirates of Darkwater). Overlord was Alan Oppenheimer (Mighty Mouse, Big D in Drak Pack). Other voices include Frank Welker (Jabberjaw) and Patrick Pinney (various voices in 1990s and 21st century Disney features).

Blackstarr wasn't a merchandising bonanza, but did generate its share of toys. There were also video releases later on. Other than those, however, it's rarely been seen in recent decades.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Filmation.