The cartoons of the 1980s produced some of the most iconic villains of all time: Skeletor. Cobra Commander. Megatron. Shredder. How could a less-intriguing ‘90s cartoon like Captain Planet and the Planeteers ever hope to create bad guys so memorable, so significant as to compare with these pillars of animated evil? Turns out it couldn’t… so it just brought in Hitler.
Full disclosure: Captain Planet and the Planeteers was after my time, nestled in that sweet spot between me putting away my childish things and later returning at top speed to buy expensive reproductions of the childish things I used to own. That said, I’m well aware the Captain Planet cartoon had its own litany of regular villains, united mainly in how passionate they were about doing evil in general and defiling the planet in particular.
To be fair, these bonkers goals admittedly set them apart from their villainous cartoon counterparts. Skeletor, Megatron and the like were almost exclusively into conquering their worlds, but Captain Planet bad guys—like Verminous Scumm and Hoggish Greedly—wanted to do shit like cutting down rainforests, trying to convince kids littering is cool (“Who’s Running the Show?”), or straight-up murdering manatees, seemingly for kicks (“Greed Is the Word”). They didn’t want to conquer the planet, they wanted to render it completely uninhabitable to all life (including themselves, apparently). Despite this weirdness, they still never reached animated bad guy star status.
Having watched “A Good Bomb Is Hard to Find,” I’m struggling a little to figure out why this is. Because it features one of the series’ uncharismatic foes, Dr. Blight, enacting the most reprehensible, mind-blogging villain plan I have ever seen in any cartoon, and that’s going back in time to sell nuclear bombs to Hitler.
Just writing that sentence makes me dizzy. It’s incomprehensibly evil—far, far beyond the limits of an American ‘90s cartoon for kids. It’s beyond the pale that no one making, producing, or airing the show raised any qualms about this particular plotline. I can’t think of a single cartoon bad guy scheme that comes even close to something this heinous. And the fact that there’s no ideological reason behind this monstrous idea—it’s done solely to score some cash—makes it even more depraved. But we’ll discuss this more shortly.
The sixth (and final) season episode begins with the evil scientist Dr. Blight creating a time machine, out of which pops another Dr. Blight, one from 20 years in the future. Future-Blight has two goals in mind: escaping the disgusting, more peaceful world of 2015, and helping her younger self’s new plot, which is to build a nuclear bomb and sell it to the highest bidder. This is all a very standard supervillain plot, although kicking it off with the existence of a time machine seems weird—all well and good. Present-day Blight (who I will only be referring to as Dr. Blight from here on) has a recipe book for refining nuclear material into plutonium and explains some countries don’t keep good track of their stockpiles, meaning it’s far easier to steal than to make. As it turns out, Dr. Blight is not wrong, as the two easily find a bunch of canisters of nuclear material just sitting in the bed of a practically unattended Russian truck. I’d love to say this is too dumb to be real, but I honestly don’t think it’s completely implausible.
At Planeteer HQ (whatever and wherever that is), Gaia summons the five ring-toting Planeteers. Gaia, you may not recall, is the living personification of the Earth who originally sent out the five Captain Planet-summoning rings, and a character I didn’t know existed before seeing this episode. She explains to the team that plutonium getting into the wrong hands is bad for both people and the environment—an important lesson for the kids—so the Planeteers head to Russia. They are immediately arrested by the Russian police until the kids summon Captain Planet, who zaps the ground by the feet of all the officers, which somehow lets everyone get away without further incident.
Meanwhile, the two Drs. Blight are shocked to discover bringing aboard all those canisters of plutonium has maxed out the ship’s weight capacity, and they’ll need to be jettisoned. Their solution is simply to exit their jet with the plutonium via the time machine, then head to an undisclosed place and time that they’re certain they’ll net some big bucks. Their ship, suddenly unburdened of all that weight, crashes anyway.
Since the Russians let slip two Dr. Blights were responsible for the theft, the Planeteers track down the scientists’ ship. The very well-informed Gaia also informs them that the Blights are now in the past, trying to sell nuclear bombs, get rich, and increase warfare throughout the timeline. What Gaia doesn’t tell them is that the villains specifically went back to World War II and that they’re planning on selling bombs to the real world’s paragon of evil, Adolf Hitler. Who, to be fair, looks like this:
Yes, that is a horseshoe mustache instead of Hitler’s iconic “toothbrush,” and no, no character in the episode ever calls him by name. Of course, he looks like Hitler in practically every other way and speaks with a German accent (albeit a cartoonish one, which is reasonably appropriate). If that were all, you could squint your eyes and say he’s just a Hitler-esque character, but that’s not all.
The Blights confirm they’ve specifically arrived during World War II and the soldiers fighting to protect the castle that man is using as an HQ are all wearing the Germans’ distinctive WWII-style helmets. When the Blights ask Horseshoe what he’ll pay for a nuclear bomb, he screams, “75 million Deutschmarks!” This is unquestionably supposed to be Hitler, just trying out new upper lip options. If you’re unconvinced, how’s this: When “Hitler” makes his offer, Future Blight replies, “Heil, Fuhrer baby!” I am not making this up.
Back in the present, the Planeteers track Dr. Blight’s crashed ship to an unspecified location in Southeast Asia, and park at a neighboring village. As they explore the jungle, Gi (South Korean bearer of the water ring) is tackled by a local girl named Ty Lee just before Gi steps onto a landmine. It’s a lazy cartoon coincidence that Dr. Blight’s ship both took off from and crash-landed into separate minefields, but it hammers home what seems to be the episode’s main thesis regarding the horrors of landmines. However, the episode does this far more effectively when Ty Lee reveals a mine took her right leg and killed one of her friends. It’s rough stuff, but well in keeping with Captain Planet’s ethos of teaching kids about real-world problems. At any rate, after the ‘Teers explain what’s at stake, Ty Lee leads them on a safe, mine-free path through the jungle to Blight’s ship.
Back in Nazi Germany, the Blights are holding an auction for their nuclear bombs in Hitler’s castle HQ as the Allies are bombing the fortifications right outside. It seems like this would be a bad time for foreign superpowers to come for an auction, but a bunch of stock military leaders/dictators are in attendance hoping to get their hands on this mysterious weapon. When the Blights bring out the bomb, the despots are still mainly confused until Dr. Bright pulls off a Tony Stark demonstration as per the beginning of the first Iron Man. To show off the goods, the Blights built two bombs—one to sell, and one to demonstrate the weapon’s effectiveness. Which they do. In an extremely perplexingly dumb way.
Here’s how this goes down: The Blights drop the bomb on a nearby village within eyesight of the castle—one close enough that everyone at the auction can view the entirety of the explosion, mushroom cloud and all. I tried to do some basic research here to figure out if Dr. Blight had inadvertently killed them all by detonating it within the fallout range, but 1) I don’t know how tall Hitler’s castle was, how flat the terrain was and thus how far people could see, and 2) what area of the bomb the castle and its inhabitants would be in. The math and science needed to figure out the answer were far beyond my ability. I will say, however, as a viewer of many pop culture nukes, this seemed incredibly close.
Either way, the Blights definitely annihilated and irradiated a significant portion of what was essentially Hitler’s front lawn, rendering it uninhabitable for god knows how long. As product demonstrations go, this one has a few flaws. Still, Hitler is pretty jazzed about buying this bomb, and intimates and/or directly threatens the other bidders to keep them from further bidding. This is when the Planeteers show up, and immediately get arrested… along with the two Blights who are shocked, just shocked I say, to learn that Hitler doesn’t have a strong code of ethics that would prevent such him from committing such a betrayal.
To an insult to injury, Hitler declares he was always going to take the bomb without paying for it, which makes the auction a supreme waste of everyone’s time, especially during an active Allied attack. There’s a scuffle, and Dr. Blight trips Future-Blight into the bomb’s controls, which will detonate in one minute. The Planeteers, correctly understanding this is far beyond their paygrade, summon Captain Planet, who grabs the bomb and gets ready to fly it into space. But then he sees Hitler.
He freezes in shock, and then his knees buckle. Hilter just glares at Captain Planet with more authentic hatred than I have ever seen conveyed via animation.
When Wheeler (America, fire ring) asks what’s wrong, the straining Captain Planet replies, “I wasn’t prepared for the level of hatred radiating from that monster.” Then he slowly stands up. “Prejudice and hatred are toxic as any other pollutant.” And with that, he flies off and tosses the bomb into space, where it detonates safely.
The Allies immediately capture Hitler and his castle because, despite his glaring power, Hitler sucks shit. Ty Lee gives a random soldier a note to give to her grandparents and Dr. Blight accidentally drops her previously mentioned nuclear bomb instruction manual which another random soldier picks up, thus giving America the ability to make and drop two atomic bombs on Japan. Once the Planeteers return to the present, they make the two Blights de-mine the minefield, and Ty Lee has her leg back after changing the timestream with her letter. The end. Yadda yadda.
I just want to talk about the Captain Planet/Hitler scene, because it’s actually kind of awesome? It’s the only moment in the episode that acknowledges (if obliquely) that Hitler wasn’t just some cartoon villain, but an inhuman monster who committed the most despicable and incalculably terrible acts ever performed on this planet. Hitler’s evil is so great, so all-encompassing that it nearly brings the super-heroic protector of Earth to his knees, just by proximity. And while I hardly think Captain Planet is the first show to ever express the philosophy that prejudice and hatred injure and corrupt those around it, it was so salient and relevant to today (and many, many yesterdays) that it hit me pretty hard.
At first, I honestly thought I should try to find a different Captain Planet episode to get the Worst Episode Ever treatment, but then I figured out a large part of the reason I was so impressed by this scene is because all the scenes before and after it were, well, bad. Then I remembered my other favorite thing about the episode—the only other good thing—was that it addressed the very real dangers that abandoned military mines pose to civilians. But that made me realize how much better and effectively it could have presented if the episode hadn’t been devoted to Dr. Blight’s dumb scheme. And then I started getting mad that Captain Planet and the Planeteers would stick this great moment in such an otherwise shitty episode because it might have been good if the people making the show gave a damn. Or, at the very least, the episode could have been mediocre if they cared enough to half-ass it, which they very much did not.
What was the point of including a time machine and a second Dr. Blight at all? Why not just let Dr. Blight’s ship crash-land at the second minefield, and skip the first one entirely? Why waste so much time with a bomb auction that was never going to be important to the story? Why bother to soften the blow by pointing out that the Blights nuked an empty German village when you’ve already brought up how children are murdered by minefields? And since young Ty Lee had already been warned about playing in the minefield-filled jungle many times by her grandparents, what does she expect to achieve by sending them a letter informing them she will be injured by a mine? Does she expect her grandparents to tell the young version of her not to play in the minefield harder?
But most of all, why obliquely hint at Hitler’s atrocities or America’s use of atomic bombs in World War II, but give them the same amount of screen time as the more upfront discussion of minefields? By cramming all three together, the show did a massive disservice to them all, and thus the audience. Captain Planet, you should have picked a lane and stuck to it. You could have traveled down those other roads later. Now, all you’re left with is a wrecked Yaris stuck in a ditch to the side of the road, with a suspiciously authentic Hitler impersonator(?) unconscious in the passenger seat. Let me know how that works out for you.
- I did not know Captain Planet and the Planeteers had two opening songs, nor did I know the second one was a rap until I watched this episode. It is an audible Lovecraftian horror, so awful your brain cannot process what’s even happening for its duration, eroding your sanity with every second until you are a mindless husk in a permanent state of gibbering terror. You can listen to it above.
- Is a minefield a really good place to land your airship? I have to imagine it isn’t.
- Gaia sounded exactly like Helen Hunt to me, so I was surprised to discover it was Margot Kidder, Lois Lane herself, doing the voice work. After learning that fact, Gaia still sounded exactly like Helen Hunt to me.
- Meanwhile, Future-Blight’s AI pal GAL looked like the severed head of Betty Boop and spoke with a cartoonishly sexy Marilyn Monroe accent. It made everything real, real creepy.
- And while we’re on the topic, the two Blights race to see who can build their nuke the fastest. Future-Blight wins, but Dr. Blight’s bomb is bigger and thus, she argues, better. In fact, Dr. Blight is so proud over her bomb she suggestively rubs herself on it. I guess it’s true what they say, when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life!
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