Diabolik: Track Of The Panther (1997)

(1997) TV series

Country: Italy / France / Japan / United States
Director: Jean Luc Ayach
Voices: Claudio Moneta, Sonia Mazza, Marco Balbi, Marco Balzarotti
Music: Michael Day

Diabolik: Track Of The Panther is an animated series produced by Saban International for FOX Kids. Once the series was completed, the American distributor deemed that the show was inappropriate for younger viewers and chose not to air it. It was still released in Europe though, and apparently was quite successful, particularly in France.

The first thing you should know, however, is that this series is very different to the Diabolik portrayed by John Phillip Law in Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. In this series, Diabolik is essentially a good guy. He is still a criminal and wanted by the police, but they have concocted an overblown back-story which explains the change in Diabolik’s character. It goes something like this – Diabolik and his brother, Dane worked for a criminal organisation known as the Brotherhood. The head of the brotherhood is Diabolik and Dane’s father, King. Dane frames Diabolik for a crime he didn’t commit, and Diabolik is sent to jail. Years later, King dies, and Dane takes over as the leader of the Brotherhood. Dane also hatches a plan to free Diabolik from jail – but in reality, it is just a small part in a larger scheme to kill Diabolik. Diabolik survives the attempt on his life, but vows that he will bring down the brotherhood and destroy his brother. As I said, Diabolik is still a criminal, but he uses his skills for revenge against the Brotherhood. Essentially it’s just a tool so they can show Diabolik fighting crime – rather than committing it!

Here’s a snippet of an interview (with an un-named insider) which appeared on the Comics2Film website which highlights how Diabolik changed:

One of the first problems was trying to recast the character as a hero. “He’s a bad person. He’s not a super-hero,” our source said of Diabolik. Fox Kids may have jumped to the hero conclusion given it was a comic book character in tights.
Our source said, that attempts to change Diabolik for a young, American audience were met with staunch resistance from the Italian handlers of the character. Understandably, they had much invested in Diabolik and didn’t want the concept harmed for the sake of the show.

Trying to fit the character into the Saturday morning cartoon mold and keep the rights holders satisfied proved a difficult task. Our source told us that pre-production on most animated shows lasts about two weeks. Diabolik was in pre-production for a year.
Eventually they found a format for the show that seemed workable. “They did touch on the fact that [Diabolik] had been a bad person, without actually having to show anything, and he was making up for his crimes by basically going back and setting things straight,” our source said.

However, the show quickly strayed from this premise. “That’s in the story but it’s touched on so lightly that they never really went back to it. So it ends up being these adventures where Diabolik is constantly being chased by the police, but actually saving the day. He’s stealing things that would cause harm in the hands of his brother who is this crime lord named Dane and has the various henchmen working for him and doing his bidding.

Another change, is that of the character of Eva Kant. Previously she had been painted as Diabolik’s accomplice and lover, but here she is an equal. She even dresses in a similar black suit to Diabolik. She too has a personal vendetta against the Brotherhood. So here Diabolik and Eva are united, not because they love each other, but because they both share a desire to destroy the Brotherhood.

Here’s a quick overview of one of the episodes.

As most of you are aware, I do not speak Italian – it has been suggested that my grasp of the English language is pretty shakey – but when it comes to a character like Diabolik, language barriers don’t mean too much. Diabolik is a man of action and very few words. But having said that, I can’t really be too sure of what is going on – but here’s the basic premise.

Furto Corazzo

The story concerns a nasty South American revolutionary, who looks like Che Guevara, and is after a shipment of rocket launchers. To get the weapons he goes to an arms dealer, who I guess is a member of the Brotherhood. This dealer lives in a palatial mansion which just happens to be situated on the top of a mountain. When the story opens, Diabolik has just scaled a sheer rock cliff and planted a videobug in the arms dealer’s home.

Later Eva and Diabolik, in their swanky apartment lair, which is nowhere near as cool as the cavernous underground lair, tune in, via computer to the bug. The dealer is discussing the theft of the rocket launchers from an army convoy with his number one henchman, who is a hard-ass military type with a buzz cut hairstyle. Mr. Buzzcut says he cannot complete the theft without the help of a buddy who is currently in prison.

The story cuts to a prison chain gang who are removing some boulders that have fallen from the cliffs and blocked a mountain road. A helicopter gunship swoops down and shoots up the place killing the guards. Mr. Buzzcut lowers a rope ladder and a burly crim from the chain gang, who looks like Stone Cold Steve Austin, latches on to it and is lifted to safety. But at that moment, who should fly by in their chopper? It’s Eva and Diabolik. Next an aerial gun battle takes place, with both parties firing batteries of rockets at each other. It looks like Diabolik has the upper hand when he fires a cargo net over the rotor of the opposing chopper. His victory is shortlived, however, when a rocket takes out his tail rotor. As Diabolik and Eva spin out of control and plummet towards the earth, Diabolik jettisons the top rotor and suddenly the helicopter becomes a speedboat. Naturally their ‘boat’ lands on the river and our adventurous couple speed away to safety.

Meanwhile our villains are up to no good. The army’s convoy of rocket launchers is winding its way around a mountain road (they are all mountain roads – no stretches of smooth, straight asphalt in this show) – when a group of purple cars pull out in front of the convoy. From the exhaust pipes of the cars, a knockout gas is released, and the drivers of the trucks following behind are affected by the gas. The villains take control of the rocket launcher shipment and attempt to make their getaway. But once again, who should turn up? Yep, it’s Diabolik and Eva, this time on a tricked-up motorbike with a sidecar. Enough of the story – I am sure you can work out where it goes from here.

As I have already mentioned, this animated series is very different to the Bava movie. This version of Diabolik is more akin to Batman. He is the Dark Knight. And the similarities don’t end there. This Diabolik has at his disposal a seemingly endless supply of vehicles and gadgets that could be found in the Batcave (or would be the envy of Q-Branch).

At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember this is a series made for kids, and if I was a seven to ten year old boy, I think I’d find a lot to enjoy in this series. It is fast paced and colourful, with plenty of explosions. As an adult, and already having a connection with Diabolik through Bava’s film, I find this series pretty annoying. It is not faithful to the character. I get the impression that the people who originally commissioned this series did very little homework. They just saw a cool looking guy in a black suit. Possibly Diabolik was not the ideal character to bring to a children’s series, and in doing so, they have had to chop and change the character so much, that apart from his appearance, there is very little of the original character left. Still it’s an interesting curio – and I’d love to see a few episodes in English.

C.O.B.R.A.S DISCUSS COSTUMES ALL THIS MONTH!

The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

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