More animated pilots this time and all from the glorious 1980’s. Well one is from 1992 and another aired in 1992 but it was made in the 1980’s.
Look, it’s more fun if you pretend they are all 1980’s okay?
Here we have a cartoon based on a comic book AND produced by the same Marvel Animation team just like last column’s Pryde of the X-Men pilot (in fact it was made to be the sister series to that X-Men show).
Despite Solarman being a comic character and this pilot being made by Marvel Animation Studios, oddly enough, Solarman is not a Marvel Comics character. It’s a cartoon based on a comic book that Marvel did not own and yet Marvel would make comic books for.
Created in 1979 by David Oliphant and Deborah Kalman for an indie studio (Pendulum Press) Solarman was only licensed to Marvel Comics in 1988 for this (potential) series and a short lived comic book.
After the pilot was made it was reported by Oliphant that he was offered $15 Million to make it a stripped (5 days a week) cartoon, but they then pulled their offer once it started to look like weekday and Saturday Morning cartoons were not as popular as they had been.
So the pilot (made in 1988) and released on VHS in 1989 and eventually aired on Fox Kids in 1992 as a companion to the Pryde of the X-Men pilot is interesting to say the least.
By the way, that VHS goes for a ton these days. A beat up copy can go for $40.
Anyway the show itself was standard stuff. An evil alien (Gormagga Kraal, now there is a bad guy name) wants to blow up our sun and kill our solar system. His minions betray him and give the CIRCLET OF POWER to a comic book artist in earth so he can become SOLARMAN and defend the planet.
The rest plays out like you think it does.
The villain is literally a mass murderer though which is interesting in a kids show. He blows up entire planets full of people and attempts to blow up the earth. There are even two characters that die in this pilot. This was highly unusual for a kids cartoon to actually deal with death.
There are problems with the hero though.
First off this is a hero that NEEDS the sun to be a hero so literally this is a hero that can be stopped by an eclipse… or CLOUDS (this happens in the pilot).
Didn’t the Nuclear Man from Superman IV tread this same territory?
Lets not even get into the fact that the main human character is a meek nobody that is scared of everything and can only become a “hero” when he pretends he is someone else.
That is a bad message for kids. “Hey kids, if you suck as a person, pretend you are someone else”.
Don’t forget the use of the stolen Star Wars sound effect, too.
There are references to Spider-Man and The Hulk as comic book characters so I wager this was not meant to crossover with the other Marvel Animation properties at any point.
Not sure how this would have done if it had been picked up but I have honestly watched way worse cartoons that did go to full series.
Defenders of Dynatron City
This is a weird one. In this case I am not sure if this was ever going to make it as a series as this was more of a tie-in to the video game out at the time and less of a pilot per se.
Also the behind the scenes nonsense that went on indicated they were not serious to bring the Defenders of Dynatron City to kids.
“Thinking is boring.” That quote sets the tone and I mean that in a good way.
They had Whoopi Goldberg and Tim Curry on the voice cast and originally Christopher freaking Walken voiced the villain Doctor Mayhem.
For some reason which no one can discern (even the producer dose not know), shortly before the special aired Walken was replaced by veteran voice actor Charlie Adler who re-recorded all of the dialog for the character.
No one on the production is sure why this happened as word has it that Walken was great in the role and had a lot of fun doing it.
The Walken version has never leaked out. Then again animation studio DIC (known in the industry by the unflattering moniker “Do It Cheaper”) was having severe financial issues at the time so perhaps they realized if this went to series they could not afford Walken.
This makes it odd when you hear Doctor Mayhem speak. You can see that Adler did not have the same cadence that Walken did and the voice does not match the lip movements while the other characters animation DO match their lips. The animation was clearly done to Walken and not Adler.
A mix of super bad early 90’s CG and traditional animation Defenders of Dynatron City is a curious specimen. First off it is very fun and the target audience seems to be teens rather than children and second with this being pretty much a tie-in for the game and the game failing to live up to promises you can easily see how this failed to gain an audience.
Lets not let that “not aimed at kids” thing go either. The writing here was well above that of the standard Fox Kids fare of the time. Hell the entire premise of the show is more or less “what if a 50’s SF novel was made today”. There is a sly subversive nature to this entire thing which I think might have been lost on 1992 kids.
The pilot/special aired in 1992 on Fox Kids and was released on VHS and unlike Solarman this VHS can be found quite cheap. Although it was put on a shit SLP dub so good luck tracking that.
Defenders of the Earth
This is really odd. In 1986 King Features (owners of many newspaper comic strip properties) had the idea of combining all of their adventure characters into one new property. The Defenders of the Earth.
The Defenders would consist of Flash Gordon, Mandrake The Magician, Lothar and the Phantom along with their respective children (it was an 80’s cartoon, of course it had teen characters in it). The main big bad guy was Ming from the Flash Gordon serial as he attempted to take over the Earth.
Biggest change one might notice is that Lothar is no longer Mandrake’s Man-Servant as he was in the comic strips (man it was a different time back then). Lothar now is (according to his action figure) a “Caribbean Ninja”. Nice step up from the comic strips of the 1940’s.
Lasting for 65 episodes from 1986-1987 the show was a modest success with comic books, an action figure line and a few video games (mostly in the UK).
With the animation being done by Marvel Productions you know it was well made for what it was but this test reel might not let you know that.
This was a test reel made to sell the show (being a first run syndication series it was sold to each station rather than a network). You will notice that this has a 1985 copyright on it allowing that quite a bit happened between this test reel and the final pilot.
This test reel is more of a trailer FOR the TV stations as the narrator is speaking directly to them but it’s still a pilot. You will notice that while the style of animation is the same the character models are all different, the voices are all different (Lothar is a borderline racist caricature here still) and the reuse of music from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. But since the show went on to be a success it worked.
Next time I will look a tale of the two Ghostbusters cartoons (yes, there are test pilots).