Vids I Dig 026: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Visionaries’: The Hologram Gimmick Didn’t Sell

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: On this episode we cover the history of the Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

Released by Hasbro in 1987 their play gimmick was holograms. With a comic book series from Marvel and an animated series what could go wrong? Plenty.

While Visionaries didn’t sell in 1987 the property has been sitting on the edge of resurrection for a number of years, including a new comic and maybe a new movie.

Vids I Dig 012: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Inhumanoids’: The Monsters Get Top Billing

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: Inhumanoids was a 1986 cartoon and toy line created by Hasbro that lasted only a single season.

Unique because the title characters were the bad guys, the Inhumanoids, and not the good guys, the Earth Corps (bunch of nerds).

There was a line of large action figures and the stories in the cartoon were serialized so it had a lot going for it but not enough for it to break through the glut of ’80s properties.

Talking Pulp: The Death of Optimus Prime and Why It Was Great

August 8th, 1986. That was the day where everything changed.

Transformers: The Movie hit theaters and little boys and little girls had their hearts broken when they witnessed, on the big screen, the death of the franchise’s biggest hero, Optimus Prime.

I was seven years-old when I saw the movie and it had a profound effect on me. I was crushed when the film got to that moment but unlike most of the kids in the theater, I got over it as the film rolled on. Because even though I was shocked, I knew that everything changed and nothing was safe. I mean, that was kind of cool. No one had any idea where the movie could even go after that moment, which was very early on in the story.

In that moment, I knew that even though all seemed lost, the stakes had never been higher and that the Autobots faced their greatest challenge. I knew that fresh, exciting and different days were still ahead. And I may have not actually understood this with great detail but I remember vividly what I felt: shock, awe, surprise and an overwhelming desire to see the Autobots overcome adversity, hardship and evil. It also made the villains darker, which I loved.

I guess that this had a huge cultural impact because parents were so upset that they made their feelings widely known. Hasbro responded by having G.I. Joe: The Movie altered so that Duke’s death, the G.I. Joe’s beloved field commander, was rewritten so that he just fell into a coma for the rest of the film. It doesn’t matter that you saw a venomous snake bite him through the heart with actual blood splatter, he lived to be okay.

Hasbro certainly didn’t want more backlash from angry parents with kids that had their hearts crushed like Duke’s in the snake’s mouth. But really, Duke’s “death” was more violent and shocking to see than Optimus Prime’s. I mean, Duke was human, there was blood and his human facial expression really sold the moment. But I’ll probably save this whole topic for an article at a later date. I just wanted to shed some light and add some context on the Optimus Prime death situation from a cultural perspective.

Anyway, Transformers: The Movie moved forward past that tragic scene. Optimus Prime’s Matrix of Leadership was first passed to Ultra Magnus but by the end of the movie, it found the one Autobot truly worthy of carrying it into the future: Hot Rod. Hot Rod unlocked the power of the Matrix and evolved into Rodimus Prime, a sort of hybrid between himself and Optimus, as he grew taller, broader and went from being a cool hot rod to a hot rod mixed with a semi truck.

Rodimus (with the Matrix) defeated the Decepticons and their new leader Galvatron (a suped up version of the former leader Megatron). Rodimus also helped destroy Unicron, who was basically the Transformers version of Marvel’s Galactus but actually cooler. By the end of the movie, Rodimus Prime rose to the occasion and the Autobots that survived this nearly apocalyptic event would go on to protect Earth from Galvatron and his minions in the future.

When the later seasons of the Transformers cartoon hit the airwaves, it took place after the movie and things were very different. Many episodes were dark and bleak and while this probably didn’t appeal to parents looking out for their kids’ best interest, as a kid, I really liked these episodes.

It was the first time that I experienced something I love in entertainment, going darker and getting grittier. As a kid, I thought it was cool as hell and it made this show about cartoon robots seem more real and more mature. In a way, the show was growing up and evolving with me. People look down on this era of the show but if I’m being completely honest, I preferred this era. Plus, the feeling that no one was truly safe, carried over from the movie.

I also preferred the characters and the toys that came out that tied into this post-Movie era. The toys got more elaborate and creative. You had Headmasters, Triggermasters, more creative and futuristic vehicles and Hot Rod was always f’n cool to me, even as Rodimus.

On the Decepticon side, as much as I loved Starscream and his Seekers, I really loved Cyclonus and the Swoops. Megatron is my favorite Transformer of all-time but Galvatron was less bumbling and seemed like he was a more capable madman. Also, Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe even shows up in an episode with the name “Snake”. It’s obvious that it’s Cobra Commander and he is there to assist the villainous Decepticons, years after Cobra has ceased to exist.

You also got really cool Combiners like Predaking and awesome battle stations that transformed into massive robots. I owned Fortress Maximus and it was probably my most beloved toy in the ’80s. It was also a sign of pride for me, as I saved up over $100 to buy it with my own money. I also bought Skorponok and Trypticon because they were two of the coolest f’n toys ever made.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love so many of the original Transformers, as well as the earliest episodes, but there was just something more grown up about the show after the death of Optimus Prime.

If Optimus Prime didn’t die and the show didn’t take a darker turn and get more mature, I probably would have lost interest in it. There were already 65 episodes before The Movie. The formula had run it’s course and change was needed to make things fresh and interesting again. Plus, Hasbro had all these new toys to sell and the old robots were just in the way of the new ones. This is the same reason why the G.I. Joe and Cobra teams changed so frequently on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

But then, like a beacon of light and hope at the end of the dark tunnel, Transformers did something really amazing. The show found a way to resurrect Optimus Prime.

I remember seeing the ad for the Return of Optimus Prime and it’s like the world stopped. After truly enjoying the post-Optimus era, absence made the heart grow fonder and it’s as if I didn’t realize how much I wanted him and needed him during his absence. Optimus Prime going away for awhile made the character stronger. Everyone I knew, back when I was in second grade, was glued to their television sets on February 24th and 25th, 1987 for that two-part story that closed out Season 3.

And what a story that was! Optimus Prime took the Matrix back, Rodimus stepped aside and everything was restored. Plus, the Autobots now had the edge over the more sinister Decepticons.

The point here, is that Optimus Prime dying created backlash and made children cry but it was necessary in making Transformers survive. It enriched the mythos, it paved the way for new characters, new toys and it opened the door for riskier and more interesting storytelling. It changed the tone of the franchise, which I feel was needed after the 65 episodes before The Movie.

I think Hasbro was smart in doing what they did. Without the death of Optimus Prime, we might not have Transformers today. The sacrifice of the franchise’s most popular hero gave that franchise meaning beyond just being some cartoon made to sell toys.

Also, no matter how much money they dump into these modern Transformers movies, they have yet to come up with a story that can even exist in the same orbit as the original animated film. Without the death of Optimus Prime, what was that film? It probably would’ve just felt like a normal multi-part episode like G.I. Joe: The Movie did because they didn’t commit to the bit and kill off Duke.

With Transformers: The Movie, Hasbro did everything right.

And now I leave you with Stan Bush’s “The Touch”. Drink it in, bathe in its glory.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

Also known as: Action Force: The Movie (UK)
Release Date: April 20th, 1987
Directed by: Don Jurwich
Written by: Buzz Dixon (uncredited)
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Don Johnson, Burgess Meredith, Sgt. Slaughter, Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I will stain my hands with your blood! No one defies Golobulus and lives… NO ONE! The last thing you will hear… is the cracking of your vertebrae… one… BY ONE!” – Golobulus

G.I. Joe: The Movie is where G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero jumped the shark. Granted, I don’t completely hate it and there are a few positives but at it’s core, this is not G.I. Joe.

This motion picture, which was originally intended to be a theatrical release but ended up being released on VHS instead, takes everything that was established in G.I. Joe and turns it on its head.

We find out that Cobra Commander is some snake dude and that he is from some secret Shangri-La like society called Cobra-La. The G.I. Joes and Cobra both get pulled into Cobra-La’s bizarre world and quickly discover a bunch of weird looking people who don’t use technology like humankind but instead have an organic type of technology. I guess it makes them similar to the alien Yuuzhan Vong from the polarizing New Jedi Order era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe continuity that Disney ignores now. Cobra-La is led by Golobulus, a creepy dude that sounds an awful lot like Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky movies.

The Cobra-La twist just really screwed G.I. Joe up. It didn’t feel right, at all. It just didn’t vibe with the great and rich mythos I had come to know before this movie hit video store shelves in 1987.

However, as I stated earlier in this review, there were some positives. So I’ll talk about those.

To start, I liked a lot of the new characters albeit not the Cobra-La ones. Lt. Falcon, who was voiced by Don Johnson, might not have had enough time to really have his story told properly, but he came a long way in this film and became a leader when it was all said and done. He started out as a womanizing, slacker douche but tragedy forced him to grow up and conquer insurmountable odds.

I also liked most of the new G.I. Joe recruits and it was cool seeing most of the old faces, as well. The scenes where Beachhead is annoyed at training the newbies makes for some good comedy.

Also, I like that the film scratched the surface with actual mortality. Duke dies in this. Well, they fixed it so that he was just in a “coma” and survived at the end (due to public backlash over Optimus Prime’s death in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie). Serpentor is also (presumably) killed when we see Lt. Falcon stuff his cape into a turbine engine, which sucks him in and grinds into his back as he screams in absolute agony and flies through the air to what should most definitely be his violent and gory death off screen. Although, he would be alive three years later in the Operation Dragonfire miniseries that kicked off the awful DiC Entertainment era.

The animation is consistent in style to the Marvel/Sunbow era of the cartoon. Although, the animation is also a bit better and a step up. That’s probably due to this having a bigger budget than the standard G.I. Joe television episodes. This would also be the last time we got the classic animation style, as DiC would take over after this film and they would turn out some really shitty looking art.

G.I. Joe: The Movie is better than the worst episodes of the Marvel/Sunbow era but it doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of the best episodes. Being that this was supposed to be the big theatrical film debut of G.I. Joe makes the end result a disappointment. It certainly isn’t unwatchable and was kind of fun in spite of its bizarre wackiness and major changes to the mythos. My mind doesn’t really consider this canon, even though it was made by the same people who gave us two great season of the show before it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 2 (1986)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – November 20th, 1986
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 30 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Know that I am the one you seek! I am the one born to rule, destined to conquer! Let those who fear me follow me. Let those who oppose me die! For I am Serpentor, and this I command!” – Serpentor

As I discussed in my review of Arise, Serpentor, Arise!, which was the start of this season of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, this was where a lot of new members of G.I. Joe and Cobra debuted, as well as a slew of new vehicles. The cartoon was a vehicle to sell toys; so with every new year, this 22 minute, daily advertisement had to evolve to reflect the new product that was hitting the shelves.

The fact that this was a glorified toy advertisement worked to the show’s advantage and also, in certain regards, worked against it. Season two isn’t as good as season one but I’ll explain.

For the most part, everything is the same from a style point of view. We have the same animation, the same voice actors, the same music and everything is right tonally. However, the inclusion of a bunch of new characters forces some of the beloved characters from season one to take a back seat. The show did really well in its first season developing characters and fleshing out backstories. In season two, you really wanted to see the continued adventures of many of those unique individuals but instead, they’re brushed aside. You can’t give us that great Shipwreck story that was the finale to season one and not properly check back in with him. In season two, he’s just a buffoon that shows up for comedic relief and is usually the butt of jokes for the newer recruits.

Additionally, there isn’t a whole lot of Duke, Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. But then again, even the newcomers sort of get shafted due to how many characters are now packed into the series and because season two was really only half the length of season one. There just wasn’t enough time to tackle it all.

Even Serpentor, who is created to be the new leader of Cobra, doesn’t get much screen time. At least, he doesn’t get nearly as much as Cobra Commander did in season one and really, Cobra Commander probably still has more screen time than Serpentor in season two, as he’s always got some scheme to try and overthrow the new Cobra emperor.

Most of the episodes, at least in the first half of the season, aren’t quite the same quality of the majority of the season one episodes. In the back half of the season, things really start to improve but by the time the season finds a good groove, it’s over.

Following season two was G.I. Joe: The Movie, which I will review at a later date. Then the show was given to DiC to produce after that and it really dropped in quality. This season was the last of the great Marvel/Sunbow era and despite my complaints about it, it was still a damn fine show.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: Arise, Serpentor, Arise! (1986)

Also known as: Action Force: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – September 19th, 1986 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Buzz Dixon, Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 108 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“There can be no negotiation, you insignificant microbe!” – Serpentor

Season two of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero started the same way as season one, with a five-part miniseries that was edited and re-released into a feature length movie. In fact, this is the fourth and final miniseries in this canon. Although, I do look at G.I. Joe: The Movie and DiC’s Operation: Dragonfire as parts 5 and 6 of the original series of feature length films.

Arise, Serpentor, Arise! was the introduction to a lot of changes in the television series and the G.I. Joe franchise as a whole. It introduced us to a plethora of new characters, new vehicles and came with a seemingly more powerful threat, as Cobra created a new leader, had android troops and seemed to be finally getting their shit together, even if there was infighting between Cobra Commander and just about everyone else in his organization.

The biggest additions to the series through this story were Serpentor – the new leader and “emperor” of Cobra, General Hawk – the real commander of G.I. Joe and ranked higher than Duke, as well as Sgt. Slaughter – played by the real professional wrestler of the same name. We also got to meet new members of the G.I. Joe team, as well as some new faces in Cobra, most notably mad scientist Dr. Mindbender, who sort of erased the need for Cobra to have a slew of generic, one-off mad scientists in every episode.

Like the other big miniseries events before this one, we see G.I. Joe and Cobra fight all over the world in exotic locations, as there are separate pieces being collected to create another MacGuffin. The MacGuffin in this story is Serpentor, a super soldier that is sort of like a mixture between Frankenstein’s monster and Captain America if he were made for evil purposes. Cobra goes to all of these exotic locations trying to collect DNA from the tombs of famous tyrants and warlords throughout history. With all the DNA, they can create Serpentor, who is a combination of all of these historical figures.

I love these G.I. Joe stories where we get to see the Joes and Cobra duke it out all over the globe. As a kid, these big miniseries events always felt like something incredibly epic and special. This story, while not as good as The Pyramids of Darkness or The Revenge of Cobra, does not disappoint. It may feel a bit rushed and crowded with characters because there is so much going on but it still works in the same way it did with the earlier miniseries tales.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.