Evidence for character development within and between LEGO Themes.
In which I go in search of changes that occur to characters within LEGO themes, and in search of characters moving between themes – as we continue to look out for evidence that the central characters in the 6000 Ideas Book: Bill and Mary to some, Indigo and Polkadot to others, can be seen to continue their life in LEGO City today.
The LEGO Ideas Book 6000 was released in time for Christmas, 1979. As such, I am celebrating its 40th birthday throughout the year. I have been particularly curious to see whether the main characters of this delightful childhood memory could possibly exist in LEGO City today. I would expect to find them much older than they were 40 years ago, to say nothing of a possible variation in how they dressed. However, LEGO City is not quite the same as LEGO Town. SO: I have been looking for evidence of specific characters appearing over multiple years within a theme, or potentially changing themes. If a character has been around for years, I have been looking for evidence of development – physical, or chronological. Do they look older? Have they changed in any way – sporting evidence of long term injury and so forth.
In our previous instalment, we looked specifically for evidence of characters existing in both LEGO town and LEGO City, undergoing physical changes in line with their busy lives, as well as their reappearance over multiple waves of sets, and subsequent years.
Today, I would like to look at some specific LEGO Themes: I am not looking at Castle, Space, Town, or Pirates I will not look at licensed themes – based on a third party intellectual property -such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Super Heroes or indeed internal properties developed specifically in conjunction with an animated series such as Friends, Elves, Legends of Chima or Ninjago. I am going to look at some of the Action themes over the years, specifically to look at ways in which characters might change, both in physical appearance, as well as adapting their roles.
Adventurers: Johnny Thunder – Friends and Enemies.
Let’s travel back to a few years before the 21st century. Specifically 1998. We see the introduction of the Adventurer theme. Naming of the characters seems to be a little inconsistent between sources: Our hero was referred in the original catalogue as Sam Grant (an odd hybrid of Sam Neill and Alan Grant – the actor and character from Jurassic Park?) but seem to be universally referred to in all Minifigure lists as Johnny Thunder.
I shall refer to characters primarily using their Bricklink/Brickset names. Along with his friends – Gail Storm, Dr Charles Lightning and Harry Caine/Kane/Cane, they compete with Barron von Barron and Sam Sinister to find the four parts of the treasure map that will lead them to the ruby of Pharaoh Hotep.
In 1999, they took their adventure to the Jungle in South America. In addition to his original team, Johnny also engages the services of Gabarros, a boatman who knows the rivers of the Jungle like the Back Of His Hand. Together, they seek the treasures of the Ancient City, guarded by Chief Acho. Standing in the way of Team Thunder, with nefarious purposes known only to themselves, and Señor Palomar and Max Villano.
The following year, 2000, the Adventurers made their way to tame the Creatures of Dino Island. We seen some changes have occurred: far from the Jungle, Garborros has returned home. Gail Storm has been learning to fly, and as such Harry Kane has left the team. Cause or effect? I will let you be the judge. Mike joins the team as chief Dino Wrangler, and maintainer of vehicles. Meanwhile, Barron Von Barron returns: this time with the assistance of Alexis Sanister and the Ominously named Mr Cunningham. Alexis is also known as Alexia Sinister as well as Alexis Gluipstra (Netherlands) – and also appears in the LEGO Racers 2 video game. She is in fact Sam Sinister’s sister.
Adventurers then takes a break for a couple of year, and in 2003, returns the team take on Adventures in the Orient. Johnny has updated his look, Charles Lightning has been replaced by his lookalike Dr Kildare, and the name Gale storm vanishes from the guidebooks, to be replaced by Pippin Reed. And Lord Sam Sinister Returns. Looking more sinister and debonaire than he did back in 1998, and, in line with the dark gritty reboots that were common in the earlier days of the 21st Century, has a hook for a hand. Perhaps following a nasty run in with the crocodile at the Temple of Anubis.
Of course, there are more convoluted explanations used, compiling appearances in other media (comics, magazines and video games) over the years. Let us consider Baron Von Barron: Aided by Sam Sinister, also referred to as Old Slyboots in some sets, in series one, BvB returns in series three, but now referring to himself as Sam Sinister. After working with his sister Alexis/Alexia Sanister/Sinister in Dino Island, he subsequently returns in Orient Adventures, dressed as Old Sly Boots, sporting a more stylish goatee. I will let you determine which explanation appears to be the most plausible. Personally, I only really wanted to refer to the sets, as well as Bricklink/Brickset Minifigure catalog…
Adventurers: the Missing years.
But what happened between 2000 and 2003? Why did Johnny Thunder take a break? What happened to Gail Storm? Why do our heroes have an altered lineup in the Orient Adventures? I would suggest the answer lies in LEGO Studios.
In 2001, the LEGO Studios them released a number of sets tying in with Jurassic Park III. After his experience on Dino Island, Johnny Thunder is given the opportunity to work on this exciting cinematic project, tackling dinosaur related Challenges.
Now, I get a little confused here: The hairstyle of Johnny’s co-star in 1370 is plainly that of Gail Storm, but she is billed as Pippin Read in the Brickset character database.
So, we can read this in one of several ways: Gail move to the Studios with Johnny, proving herself to be more than up to the task of keeping up with the action. When Johnny returned to his travels, he engaged the services of the pilot Pippin Read, while Gale Storm, tired of the unpredictable hours of adventuring, stayed on in the Studio System, continuing to seek excitement, in a 9 to five sort of way.
Or was Johnny entranced by the daring young actress, Pippin Read, inviting her to join him after the film was complete, and continue travelling, as they headed towards the Himalayas? This is an example of the continuity and naming of mini figures in the various catalogs – both official LEGO and Brickset/ Bricklink becomes a bit confusing. Perhaps, at this stagenoone was expecting fans to actually buy into the lives and identities of our minifigures in such a way. Perhaps this explains why continuity seems to be given a bit more of a serious role as we move into the future.
Crossing the Themes: Doctor Brains
From Power Miners to Atlantis
Dr Brains made his debut appearance in the first drop of Power Miners sets in early 2009, piloting 8957: Mine Mech. With his wearable heads-up display, he was able to rapidly access information that would help both himself, and members of the team to achieve their goals.
Later in the year, he appeared as part of the team driving the 8964 Titanium Command Rig. One of a team on this vehicle, Doctor Brain’s technical skills were essential for the ongoing survival of the team in the face of the onslaught by the Rock Monsters.
In 2010, the Power Miners dug deeper, and as they approached the very magma of the planet, they needed to dress in a more protective way:
After the Lava and Rock monsters were subjugated in 2010, Doctor Brains felt the need to leave this environment: concerned about the implications of his actions on his home planet, he moved into another team that would take him below the planet’s surface. This time however, he was joining the team seeking to unlock the Secrets of Atlantis, in 7984: Deep Sea Raider.
And we never saw him again…
Crossing the Themes: Solomon Blaze
From Galaxy Squad to Ultra Agents
When Galaxy Squad appeared in 2013, it was hard not to admire the Starship Troopers inspired Man vs Invading Intergalactic Insect hordes. Appearing in 70703 Star Slicer, the Blue team featured hot-shot pilot Solomon Blaze, with his Azure robot sidekick. I was uncertain as to whether the heads up display/compluter screen over his eye was an implant or not until I saw UltraAgents appear in 2014.[Coincidence that his appearance seems to be a call back to Doctor Brains? I think not…]
Agent Solomon Blaze, head of the Ultra Agents, looks older than the character we saw in Galaxy Squad. His eyebrows, moustache and hair are now grey. But he has undergone other changes too: His right leg appears to have been replaced or enhanced with cybernetic implants. While neither of these series are specifically set in ‘contemporary’ LEGO City, but rather appearing to be set in a more futuristic era (and Ultra Agents in Astor City). As his official LEGO.com biography listed him as ‘…former pilot and wing commander…’ this appears to be a deliberate evolution of character, rather than merely a coincidental reuse of the name. He appeared in four sets of the Ultra Agents theme, both on his own mission and with other members of the team.
While on the subject of UltraAgents, let us consider the rise and fall of the brilliant Professor Brainstein. Appearing in the early 2015 wave of Ultra Agents, Professor Brainstein was targeted by ToxiKita, to be kidnapped and coerced into assisting AntiMatter with his research to corrupt the citizens of Astor City.
While Brainstein may have survived this initial attack (according to plot development in the Ultra Agents App), he was subsequently corrupted by Antimatter and found his brain in a jar, atop a mechanically enhanced body. Was he ultimately returned to good after the Ultra Agents final showdown with Antimatter, or did he remain an evil, aggressive ‘Brain in a Jar”
There is not doubt that for some themes, the Official Story line was easy to establish. In the case of Ultra Agents, details might have been missing from the set descriptions, but greater exposition was seen as you played through the missions in the Ultra Agents App.
So, over the last few months we have seen evidence of recurring characters; character development within LEGO City, as well as characters moving between themes.
This all bodes well for our ongoing quest for Bill and Mary, and whether or not we should be able to find them in LEGO City today. I have my theory. I might have even previously shared it. But I think I am coming closer to suggesting that it is valid.
I am pretty sure that I have missed some examples of contemporary characters recurring in LEGO themes. If you can think of others, why not comment below. I am trying to arrive at most of my conclusions merely by looking at the set inventories, as well as minifigure names seen in the Brickset and Bricklink databases. There seems to come a point in time where the storytelling and set descriptions become consistent between sources, but looking further back in history, it seems harder to be able to reliably demonstrate.
Next time, I hope to look at the legacy of Bill and Mary, post 6000 Ideas. Until then,