If you’re over 30 but have been living in a cave, you might have missed the news that Hasbro is bringing M.A.S.K. back.
Also known as Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, Mask was a seminal cartoon series from the 1980s that ran for two seasons in 1985 and 1986, with a toy line that lasted up until 1988. The premise of the series had two groups of folks (the bad guys were V.E.N.O.M. aka Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem) using normal looking vehicles that could morph into advanced combat vehicles. Each of the lads in both groups also had special masks that had a unique function to aid in their fight.
Mask came across like a love child between Transformers and G.I. Joe, and spawned not just a cartoon, but also a series of comic books and video games. It was also one of the few children’s properties from that decade that hasn’t been molested by Hollywood. Yet.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hollywood has done wonders for some licensed properties but the general trend tends to lead to disasters. The return of Mask isn’t a huge surprise though, since this year is the brand’s 30th anniversary. Alas, there is no indicator as to what form Hasbro wants to bring the franchise back. Toys are a given, but there’s no word of a comic book revival, TV series, or a big screen adaptation.
It also got us to thinking about other toys and cartoons from the 1980s that are due for their long awaited comeback. Now, this list will only contain the ones that have yet to make a return, so we are leaving out the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, He-Man, ThunderCats and Transformers, as they have been revisited before.
We will also leave out properties that are already being worked on for an upcoming reboot or adaptation, such as Robotech, Jem and the Holograms, Ghostbusters and Inspector Gadget.
So here are the Top Nine Cartoons/Toys that Geek Culture would like to see return. We’ll take toys, a TV series, movie, comic books, or a combination of it.
1. Saber Riders and the Star Sheriffs
Ramrod will now take navigational control.
American broadcasters have been known to sign up the rights for many a Japanese anime series, but instead of merely translating the show for an English audience, they rewrite the series and make it into something new. Harmony Gold’s adaptation (or destruction, depending on who you ask) of three non-related animes to create Robotech is a famous example, and Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs is another.
This cartoon is a rework of the Japanese anime, Star Musketeer Bismarck, but World Event Products not only rewrote the episodes, it also commissioned six new ones and turned it into something new. The show sees three heroes, an American, a Scot and a Japanese team up with a French woman and her Ramrod ship/robot hybird, to take on alien Outriders in the frontier planets. Yes, welcome to a space western, one of the many in this list.
The biggest change is towards the end, when the French girl, April Eagle, starts a romantic relationship with Fireball Hikari, the Japanese, instead of the title hero, Saber Rider, the Scot. Why? Because in the original Japanese anime, it was the Japanese hero who got the girl. Duh!
The attraction of the show is Ramrod, an advanced ship that can transform into a giant robot. Each of his functions, namely navigation, weapons, pilot and tactical, are controlled by a member of the Star Sheriffs. In each episode, Ramrod goes through a transformation change that sees the ship transform into a giant robot.
This robot is voiced by the great voice actor, Peter Cullen, who is no stranger when it comes to voicing heroic, transformable robots. If there is a reboot or adaptation of this cartoon, I recommend that Mr Cullen be asked back to voice Ramrod again.
Does anyone know if Peter Cullen is open to returning to a cartoon role he originated in the 1980s, and doing the voiceover for the same giant robot role in a modern remake? Anyone?
Partly metal, partly real.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before – A group of anthropomorphic human/animal hybrids battle an evil alien who can transform into a larger, scarier creature. If you were thinking ThunderCats vs Mumm-Ra, you are close, and that’s because Rankin/Bass Productions, who developed the ThunderCats, also came up with the SilverHawks.
The SilverHawks also use many of the same voice actors from ThunderCats, which explains the close association between both shows. The SilverHawks aren’t really birds though, but humans outfitted with bionics that mimic the looks of birds, though a few of them have metal bird companions well.
The SilverHawks operated as a bunch of intergalactic police tasked to take down Mon*Star, an alien mob boss. The premise was unique, and what made the show stand-out were the sci-fi elements, especially the designs of the bionic suits/parts that also came with a great pull-down mask that allowed the SilverHawks to fly in space.
A series of toys followed the animated series, though it was Kenner, and not LJN, the makers of the ThunderCats toys, who released the toy line.
3. The Centurions
I played with dolls as a kid, and the first one I had was Ace McCloud of The Centurions. The Centurions are normal humans who are the best at what they do, and have the best hardware to help with the job. Each of the original three – Max Ray, Jake Rockwell and Ace McCloud, wear specially created exo-frames that allow them to call down powerful weapons assault systems, to form a man/machine hybrid.
The suits come from their orbiting space station, Sky Vault, where the lovely Crystal Kane would beam down the items. She wasn’t just a pretty face (though she was beautiful) though, as she would recommend ideas and offer solutions to fight off the evil Doc Terror.
The Centurions also had elemental based associations, though their weapons were based on science and not magic. Max, the de facto leader, wore green and dealt with water missions. Jake wore a yellow/brown suit and excelled in land based missions, while Ace donned the blue suit and was best equipped for air and space battles.
Two additional Centurions, Rex Charger and John Thunder were added later in the series. I don’t remember the toys for the later two folks, but I loved the original toys, which were basically components you could attach to the male figures. You could also mix up the pieces, and use the weapons systems for one Centurion on another.
Eyes of the hawk, ears of the wolf. Strength of the bear, speed of the puma.
One year before the launch of the cartoon series, Mattel released an action figure line based on the Filmation animated series. But these weren’t the small G.I. Joe toys, or even the larger He-Man ones. Marshal BraveStarr was a massive 8-inch figure, but what made him, together with arch nemesis Tex Hex, and the other members of their posse special, was that each figure had a backpack that shot infra-red beams. This allowed it to “interact” with other toys.
They also had life-size BraveStarr Neutra Laser toy guns that shot electronics that can disable your opponent’s weapon. The space western itself saw BraveStarr protect the planet of New Texas against Tex Hex and his group of outlaws. What drew me to the series was the steampunk setting that came long before Joss Whedon made Firefly.
5. Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears
Magic and mystery, are part of their history
Many folks have a soft spot for Disney TV classics such as Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers and DuckTales, and while I love those two shows, my favourite Disney TV series from the eighties were Gummi Bears. The 95 episode series (some were 11 minutes long and others ran for 22 minutes) explored the rich history of the bears and their human friends, dealing with the evil Duke Sigmund Igthorn, as well as their attempt to find the Great Gummis.
Now, this was an era where Disney tanked at the theatrical box office, but their animated TV shows displayed a level of writing and plotting that were not seen much anywhere else. The current Gummi Bears, of the Gummi-Glen Gummis, are believed to be the last of their kind in the land.
These anthropomorphic bears are believed to be the product of legends and fairy tales, though those who know of their existence want the secret of the gummiberry juice, a secret concoction that grants them the ability to bounce high and fast.
6. The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
No Guts, No Glory
Space westerns look to be a thing for children of that generation. The Galaxy Rangers follows a group of lawmen (and one woman), as they police the numerous space colonies in the galaxy. This is years after two aliens furnish mankind with the secrets of hyperdrive travel, which has allowed human to colonise the galaxy.
Each of the rangers wore a Series-5 implant that boost their unique, innate abilities. But what won audiences over was the mature writing, and ongoing plots that carried over across the season. Some episodes focused on the supporting cast and there were episodes where the primary rangers didn’t even appear, which meant that the show was never created to sell toys. In fact, some toys were made, but they were never launched in the US.
7. StarCom: The US Space Force
No batteries needed!
I applaud anyone who remembers this cartoon. It ran for one short season, with only 13 episodes made, but the toys were amazing. The motorised vehicles made use of magnets, and this allowed the figures to remain attached to the StarCom space vehicles.
A simple power deploy feature allowed the planes to unwind, such as having the wings of a plane unfold, or having parts of the plane extend or move around.
The cartoon had the American Astronaut Brigade fight off an invasion by the Shadow Force but to be honest, this was one case in the 1980s where the cartoon failed to live up to the awesome reputation of the toys. But the toys were great.
8. Bionic Six
A super future family
Folks who grew up with The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman saw something different in the Bionic Six. This was a family who met with an accident, and had their bodies augmented by bionics. Each family member had one primary bionic ability, and the toys were made with a mixture of plastic and metal parts.
Although the series had a rather straight forward premise, it can easily be adopted to a new audience.
9. Defenders of the Earth
Four become eight, defending the Earth!
Most studios can only dream about the cinematic universe that Disney’s Marvel Comics has created, but the Defenders of the Earth already has that built in. King Feature Syndicate owns the rights to Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar, and this premise works in a mini Wold Newton concept, that assumes that these characters all inhabit the same universe, and have banded together to fight off Ming the Merciless.
And joining them in defending the planet are their children. For those of you who are not familiar with these characters, Flash Gordon is a human who ends up in Mongo, thanks to a mad scientist, and has to defend the population from the evil Ming the Merciless.
The Phantom is a masked hero who the legend says cannot be killed. In reality, the the eldest son always takes on the role of The Phantom, should something happen to the previous one. Here, The Phantom is Kit Walker, the most famous scion to hold the mantle of The Phantom.
Don’t think of Mandrake as a magician but more of a master illusionist who fights crime, alongside his good friend Lothar. All four fathers now have kids who join them in saving the planet. Imagine a series of standalone movies, starring each of these pulp heroes, who will then band together to form the Defenders of the Earth, the first comic book crossover for the large screen.
Now, that seems familiar… as if some other comic book heroes have gone on and done the same.