Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Crash Course In Second-Tier 80's Cartoons Fueled By Equal Parts Nostalgia And NyQuil

Oops. It appears I've fallen down another rabbit hole. Hopefully, like me, you're sick as Hell and laid up on your couch, because this is going to take awhile. It started with me looking for a few old cartoons on YouTube. Hours later, eyeballs dry and carpal tunnel setting in, I realized it would be a criminal act if I didn't share.
I honestly couldn't keep this list any shorter than 20 shows, running the entire gamut of my cartoon-watching career. You can get most of these on DVD now, which I highly recommend doing if you're a cynical old codger like me. All of these shows are still better than just about anything you can find on television these days, what a shame that the majority of them ran for only one season or less...
Oh well, kick back and enjoy a healthy dose of nostalgia with 'ol Uncle Cobras, and, as always, feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section...

ULYSSES 31 (1981-82)

"The plot line of the series, (made by the French Jean Chalopin), describes the struggles of Ulysses and his crew against the divine entities that rule the universe, the ancient gods from Greek mythology. The Gods of Olympus are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant spaceship, Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to save a group of enslaved children, including his son. Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. Along the way they encounter numerous other famous figures from Greek mythology given a futuristic twist."

I was a little too young for Saturday morning cartoons when Ulysses 31 first came out (only 2 or 3), but I remember thinking it was pretty badass when I discovered it at an older age. Probably one of the finest sci-fi interpretations of Greek mythology ever created outside of Dan Simmons' Ilium/Olympos...


"The general premise of the show is that a group of children are pulled into the "Realm of Dungeons & Dragons" by taking a magical dark ride on an amusement park roller coaster. Invariably, the children try to return home, but often take detours to help people, or find that their fates are intertwined with the fate of others. Upon arriving in the Realm, the children are a little out of place, but the Dungeon Master, named for the referee in the role-playing game, assuming the role of their mentor, appears and gives them each clothing and magical paraphernalia to suit their abilities."

Some of my earliest cartoon-related memories are of this epic D&D tie-in, so old and foggy were my recollections that watching episodes recently nearly brought a tear to my eye. And how rad is it that the Yoda-esque wizard dude is literally named The Dungeon Master?


"The 23rd Century, the future is a time of robots and aliens. The people of Earth have banded together along with several other peaceful alien races to promote peace throughout the galaxy, forming the United Planets. As part of the United Planets, the Galactic Patrol — a body of law-enforcers — works to maintain order, under the leadership of Commander Rondu. However, a powerful criminal organization called SHADOW is out to destroy both the Galactic Patrol and the U.P. Led by Umbra, a massive cyborg-computer, SHADOW employs sinister agents and incredible schemes to attack and someday rule over all corners of the known-galaxy. There is one thing that helps to fight against SHADOW: ingenious inventor Rob Simmons — secretly a member of the Galactic Patrol — creates six special robots who can use their unique powers to battle against the forces of Umbra. Together, these robots can unite to form a giant robot called Mighty Orbot, to fight for truth, justice and peace for all."

Pretty much just a Voltron rip-off, but still pretty spectacular in its own right...


"The show featured three young sibling crime fighters, two of whom were stunt drivers and part of a secret government operation under the guise of the "Pole Position Stunt Show" that was run by their uncle. The youths inherited the role after their parents died in an unfortunate car accident. The team is equipped with two high-tech talking vehicles named "Roadie" and "Wheels". The vehicles featured numerous hidden gadgets like water skis and hover jets. The vehicles' computers themselves are portable and can be removed from the dashboards and carried around using handles (thus they are often referred to as "the modules"). They are characters that appeared as computer-drawn faces displayed on video screens."

Again, many early cartoon memories swirl around this show as well, vivid scenes of Saturday mornings armed with naught but pajamas and a bowl of Cheerios...

JAYCE And The Wheeled Warriors (1985, syndicated 1989-91)

"The show featured two duelling forces. The "good guys" are humans, called the Lightning League. They drive white and silver vehicles with assorted weaponry, and are led by Jayce. The "bad guys" are organic green vegetable-based creatures called the Monster Minds, who tend to take the shape of black and green vehicles. They travel via large green organic vines which can grow in and across interstellar space, and sprout seeds that rapidly grow into further Monster Minds. They are led by Saw Boss."

This show just plain rules, always has and always will. The vehicles were awesome, the villains were awesome, the toy line was fucking kick-ass. How long until we see a Hollywood Jayce "re-imagining", you think?

GALTAR And The Golden Lance (1985)

"The series is about the mythical adventures of three companions: Galtar, Princess Goleeta, and her younger mind controlling brother, Zorn. Galtar, with the help of his Golden Lance, is fighting with Tormack, the tyrannical usurper of the kingdom of Bandisar who is conquering their entire world. Tormack is responsible for the death of both Galtar's parents and assassinating the rest of Goleeta and Zorn's family. Tormack, among others like him, covets the power of Galtar's supernatural weapon, the Golden Lance, in order to combine it with the stolen ancient and indestructible Sacred Shield, which rightfully belongs to Goleeta and Zorn. For whoever holds both cannot be brought down in any form of combat. Also aiding Galtar and his friends are his loyal horse, Thork and the powerful red dragon known as Raven's Claw. Further hindrances (plus comic relief) to this trio comes from inept father and son mercenaries Rak & Tuk, who have a history of double crossing others at every turn, claiming that it is the only work they know."

Kind of a weird and obscure one, Galtar bit He-Man pretty hard, but the plain and honest truth is that this show was better drawn and had way cooler story lines. And no Orko.

M.A.S.K. (1985-86)

"A total of 75 syndicated episodes of 'M.A.S.K.' were broadcast from 1985 to 1986. One of many cartoons produced during the 1980s as a vehicle for toy merchandising, 'M.A.S.K.' (which is an acronym for the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand), was a hybrid of popular era cartoons 'G.I. Joe' and 'The Transformers'. It featured a special task force featuring an array of characters, led by Matt Trakker, with transforming vehicles engaged in an ongoing battle against the criminal organization V.E.N.O.M. (an acronym for the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem), with an emphasis on super-powered helmets called masks worn by the characters on the show."

All about the toy line and comic book on this one. Sure, the cartoon was pretty great too, but the little tools, helmets, and weapons that the action figures came with? Forget about it.

CHUCK NORRIS: Karate Kommandos (1986)

(Seriously, try to count how many times the announcer says "Chuck Norris" in this intro.)

"This fictionalized version of Norris is a United States government operative with a team of "radically diverse" warriors known as the Karate Kommandos. Together, they fight against the organization VULTURE led by The Claw and his right-hand man Super Ninja."

As far as I'm concerned, this was the high point of Mr. Norris' career. Well, this and Sidekicks , with Jonathan Brandis.


"Two earth teenagers who are accepted into the interstellar high school, Galaxy High School on the asteroid Flutor. The teenage boy, Doyle, was a skilled athlete and popular, while the teenage girl Aimee was shy and as the theme song states, "the smartest girl in school, not very popular, not very cool." But once in space their roles are somewhat reversed. The alien teenagers seem to accept the not so popular Aimee, while Doyle tends to rub the aliens the wrong way. Although Doyle finds himself an outcast and having difficulties adjusting, Aimee does not abandon him, and suggests he can make friends and bring glory to Galaxy High through his excellent sporting abilities, which he does by winning a championship in "psych-hockey", which Galaxy High always lost. The show drops many hints of a budding romance between Doyle and Aimee but was never given time to grow due to the show not being renewed for a second season."

I had totally forgotten about this one for several years, but Galaxy High was actually pretty cool. More on the 'comedy' side than the 'action-adventure' fare I usually enjoyed, but enough sci-fi was thrown in that it remained relevant to my interests.

SilverHawks (1986)

"Bionic policeman Commander Stargazer recruited the SilverHawks, heroes who are "partly metal, partly real," to fight the evil Mon*Star, an escaped alien mob boss who transforms into an enormous armor-plated creature with the aid of Limbo’s Moonstar. Joining Mon*Star in his villainy is an intergalactic mob: the snakelike Yessman, the blade-armed Buzz-Saw, the "bull"-headed Mumbo-Jumbo, weather controller Windhammer, shapeshifter Mo-Lec-U-Lar, robotic card shark Pokerface, weapons-heavy Hardware, and "the musical madness of" Melodia (uses a "keytar" that fires musical notes)."

How this amazing series only ran one season I'll never understand, especially since it came from the same creators as the hugely successful ThunderCats. The action figures were excellent as well.

The Adventures of The GALAXY RANGERS (1986-89)

"The show is set in the future, some time after the year 2086, when two aliens from the planets Andor and Kirwin travel to Earth to search for allies against the expansionist Crown Empire led by the Queen of the Crown. In return for the help, the two aliens gave mankind construction plans for a hyperdrive device. After this key event in human history, interstellar travel flourished and a huge number of colonies emerged in distant star-systems. Alongside the growth of human activities in space, criminal activities also grew, and the new colonies required defense against various threats, including the Crown Empire. A group known as "BETA" (Bureau for Extra-Terrestrial Affairs) was founded to cope with these tasks, with a "Ranger" division being a part of it."

The "animated space western" always seemed like a woefully under-explored sub-subgenre, but the fact that this lesser-known series actually stuck it out for three whole seasons lends it a little credence. This was quite simply a really creative, awesome show.

VISIONARIES: Knights of The Magical Light (1987)

"Set on the planet Prysmos, the Visionaries consist of two groups of knights — the Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords. They are both called to for a competition by the wizard Merklynn. After surviving traps, dangerous creatures, and each other, the survivors on both sides are rewarded. Everyone of them is given a different animal totem which appears on the front of their armor, which they can turn into. The animals are selected by Merklynn based on their personalities."

I had a bunch of the action figures, but if memory serves, the vehicles were where it's at. The show was good too, I still have several episodes tucked away on VHS somewhere...


"On June 18, 2007 renegade military scientist Dr. James Bent uses a hijacked space shuttle to drop his deadly Zone Generators across half of the Earth, a region called the Spiral Zone (due to its shape). Millions of people are trapped in the dark mists of the Spiral Zone and transformed into Zoners with lifeless yellow eyes and strange red patches on their faces. Because they have no will to resist, Bent - now known as Overlord - makes them his slave army and controls them from the Chrysler Building in New York City...
... With major cities Zoned, the nations of the world put aside their own differences in order to fight off the Black Widows. However, only five soldiers using special suits to protect themselves from the Zone could do it. While easy to destroy, Zone Generators were impossible to capture because of booby traps. Overlord would drop more generators on remaining military and civilian centers and force the Zone Riders into a standoff."

Dude. Epic post-apocalyptic zombie warfare. This was a cartoon that would give you fucking nightmares. I actually wouldn't mind seeing a movie version of this one. Christopher Walken as Overlord?

BraveStarr (1987)

"BraveStarr is an American space Western animated television series. The original episodes aired from September 1987 to February 1988 in syndication. It was created simultaneously with a collection of action figures. BraveStarr was the last animated series produced by Filmation and Group W Productions that was broadcast. "Bravo!", a spin-off series (originally called "Quest of the Prairie People") was in production along with "Bugzburg" when the studio closed down...
... Like many of Filmation's TV series (including 'He-Man and the Masters of the Universe', 'She-Ra: Princess of Power', 'Shazam', 'The Secret of Isis', and the animated 'Ghostbusters'), a moral lesson is told at the end of each episode. One particularly notable episode is "The Price," in which a boy buys a drug called "spin," a hallucinogen similar to LSD, becomes addicted to it, and dies from an overdose."

I remember the toys for this show being really awesome as well, although I don't recollect ever owning any. That bipedal, anthropomorphic horse always freaked me out, though...


"The show follows the Dinosaucers and their battles against the evil Tyrannos. Each group is composed of intelligent anthropomorphic dinosaurs or other prehistoric reptilian species. The Dinosaucers are also allied with four humans known as the Secret Scouts. The two groups originally come from a planet in a counter-Earth orbit known as Reptilon. Most of the characters are named after the type of prehistoric animal they are based on, or some pun of the name."

Great show, but I never really got a handle on the name. DinoSAUCERS? Really?


"The series focuses on the battle between the good Valorians and evil Rulons on prehistoric Earth. The Valorians were a super human race, whilst the Rulons were a mixture of humanoid creatures — both of which came from the future, however ended up transported back in time to the age of Dinosaurs. Once on Earth, the Valorians befriended dinosaurs whilst the Rulons brain-washed them."

Hands down, BEST ALSO-RAN 80'S CARTOON EVER. The concept alone sold me, but the episodes themselves live up to the hype. Mechanized warrior dinosaurs? Where do I sign up?

C.O.P.S. (1988-89)

"The year: 2020. The place: Empire City. The situation: Brandon “Big Boss” Babel (along with his gang of crooks) is holding the entire city under the palm of his iron hand and the Empire City Police Department can do nothing to stop him. As a last resort, Mayor Davis sends in Special Agent Baldwin P. Vess (Codename: Bulletproof) to take him down. However, Bulletproof suffered very serious injuries in a car wreck during a fight with Big Boss' criminal henchmen and had to be taken to the hospital, where he is given a cybernetic bullet-resistant torso to save his life as it would take years for his torso to recover."

Better than the other COPS and killer action figures to boot!

VYTOR: The Starfire Champion (1989)

"Armed with the magic shield Vytor, along with the beautiful Skyla and his friends, battle Myzor Sarcophogus for the Starfire Ring and try to recover the Saturn Orb."

Probably the most obscure cartoon on this list, Vytor was nonetheless amazing, and can be found on DVD in modern times. The video up there just captures such a sense of wonder, of all-encompassing nostalgia... Man, I miss you, Vytor.

CAPTAIN N: The Game Master (1989-91)

"At the outset of the first episode the hero of the series, Kevin Keene, a teenager from the Northridge, Los Angeles, California, and his dog, Duke, are taken to another universe known as Videoland when they are sucked into a vortex, called the Ultimate Warp Zone, that formed in his television. In order to fulfill an ancient prophecy Kevin is destined to become the hero "Captain N: The Game Master" and save Videoland from evil forces, led by Mother Brain from the floating world/fortress called Metroid. By the time Kevin arrives on the scene, Mother Brain has almost succeeded in capturing the Palace of Power and conquering all Videoland."

It was like playing Nintendo without the hassle of actually using your hand muscles! Or brain! Genius!


(No embeddable versions of the intro on YouTube, enjoy a "fan trailer" instead.)

"The Pirates of Dark Water is a fantasy animated series produced by Hanna-Barbera in 1991. The series followed a group of adventurers on a quest to collect the Thirteen Treasures of Rule, which possessed the combined power to stop an evil substance known as "Dark Water" from consuming the alien world of Mer."

By the time Pirates of Dark Water came out, I was just about grown out of my cartoon phase, moving on to other useless pursuits like girls and sports. But it was still an excellent show, a guilty pleasure for a young teenager unable to abandon his childhood outright. Plus, the female protagonist? BABE CENTRAL.


Nekromantis said...

Long-time fan Pole Position's theme song which is the most awsome and gay cartoon opening ever.

Nekromantis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JGD said...

I was a Thundercats fan, myself.

Nekromantis said...

Thundercats and Silver Hawks openings are great too. Not hilarious like Pole Position's but seriously great :D

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

Ulysses 31 outclsses everything here by miles. Anyway, no mention of Centurions?

Ambassador MAGMA said...

I've never heard of most of these let alone seen them... except for Dungeons and Dragons which if fucking awesome! Such a sad show though, I remember it really bumming me out as a kid, these kids stuck in dungeons and dragons world, always crying and trying to find food. Then they end up like Tom Hanks freaking out at the twin towers, victims of their own twisted minds...

Anonymous said...

i wonder what david icke would say about dino riders

Adam said...

starcom! Starcom! STARCOM!! The space ships with the magnets? Those were some of the raddest toys I remember from when I was a kid.

Also, Sectaurs - that show with the dudes who rode insect?

I don't remember a goddamned thing about the show for either (I don't think they ran for that long), but the toys were siiiiick.

mikeTM said...

Dino Riders & Starcom hands down!

Cory said...

Pole Position song is one of the best songs of the 90s. Surprised you left The Lost Cities of Gold off this list.

Shelby Cobras said...

90s? I always found Cities of Gold vaguely drab and depressing in a weird way, sort of like how M*A*S*H makes me feel. Even as a little kid, that show was a downer--even the theme song...

Anonymous said...

Best post ever. EVER.

Stargraves said...

I used to like Battle of the Planets.

And though not a cartoon - I thought Star Fleet rocked! (X-Bomber I think it was called internationally)

And if you are a fan of Queen - then Brian May actually made this - The music to Star Fleet:

I like Brian May - but for his work in Astrophysics and as a Vice Chancellor of John Moores University in Liverpool, when he was technically my boss for a short time.

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