I’ve seen a lot of cartoons in my day. They generally fall into two camps: the cat-and-mouse, coyote-and-roadrunner variety that tend to devolve into one large pseudo-murder fest that’s good fun for the whole family; and the Duck Tales-Rescue Rangers-Scooby Doo version that tend offer the extended remix plot. In either case, at the end everyone went home or back to their respective caves or Mystery Machines or whatever. But everybody lived to see another day.
This is where Inspector Gadget is different. Or tried to be.
On Inspector Gadget, the villain tried to kill the hero. Repeatedly.
What’s that? You didn’t watch Inspector Gadget? Seriously? First, Gadget had the best theme song in cartoon history, until Duck Tales and Rescue Rangers (and you guys know I’m right). Second, Dr. Claw, Gadget’s only villain, was some combination of Ernst Blofeld and Boris Badinoff—part international spy with nearly limitless resources and a BAD-ASS CAR, part bumbling idiot who is upset by an robotic Inspector Clouseau. And third, he had the cat.
I loved Dr. Claw because he was thoroughly pissed off day in and day out. He HATED Gadget with a passion. And he sincerely TRIED to kill him every single episode. Now, I can’t comment on the efficacy of a criminal mastermind who helms an international crime syndicate but whose schemes are consistently thwarted by a 10-year-old girl and her dog, but his disgust was palpable. He’d watch with chagrin from his chair, only one arm visible, stroking Madcat, cursing at the screen as everything went awry. “I’ll get you next time, Gadget. GADGETTTTT!!” And then zoom off underwater, in the air, whatever in his Awesome-Mobile (it was actually called the MADmobile but it was awesome to me).
I know it’s stupid but Dr. Claw was the first villain that I really dug. I actually rooted for him. He kept getting these awesome schemes kicked to the curb by a Six Million Dollar Man knockoff. It was maddening to me (and to him—he pounded his console week after week with that big-ass metal hand). That’s what worked for me, I guess, I sympathized. I didn’t like Gadget: he was too stupid for me. Penny was a know-it-all; the only one I really dug was the dog, Brain, but he spent his days frustrated that he couldn’t talk and had save this electronic idiot again and again. I was privately hoping he’d win.
As a writer, Dr. Claw made me understand the seductive quality of a good villain: for all the heinous things they do, all the pain they inflict, they have to be likeable somewhere, somehow. They have to have something—a great voice, heavy breathing, a pesky kid with a lightning bolt scar who just gets under your skin—that makes them attractive to the reader. Something more than a maniacal laugh and lofty goals of world domination.
So…tomorrow is J day, J for JAWS. You’ll never go in the water again…