14 April 2019

FWS Topics: What Happened to 1986 YOUNG ASTRONAUTS Cartoon?

There are some mysteries that compel a global audience to seek out answers like if there really is a Bigfoot roaming around the darkforests of the world, or what lives in the murky depths of Loch Ness, or are there pyramids on Mars, or what really crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947? Mysteries like these have fueled countless TV programs, books, and internet entries. But, not all mysteries are as grandiose as the quest for proof of aliens visiting Earth. Some are small and personal, but no less compelling. In this latest installment of FWS, we will be attempt to explore and explain a mystery of my childhood...just what happened to the teased The Young Astronauts cartoon from 1985/1986?

The Mystery that is The Young Astronauts Cartoon
How I learned of this enigma of Saturday morning cartoons called The Young Astronauts back in 1985 was adverts in the pages of Marvel Comic books. These were blanketed through the comic book ad pages of the time and I was curious about what this new show coming on the CBS Saturday morning lineup was going to be about. The advertisement, along with other TV related publications, promised that the new lineup would be starting on September 14th, 1985. While some of these cartoons aired indeed on CBS in September of 1985, The Young Astronauts did not...and that was seemingly that. Given the time period, there was no internet, as we understand it today, to ask just what the frak happened to this space-themed Saturday morning cartoon series on internet forums. This question was not just limited to the cartoon. Marvel also had plans to roll out a complimentary young-orientated comic under the same title under their "Star Comics" kiddie comic imprint much as they had done with Droids, Inhumanoids, and Silverhawks. Once again, there was press about this incoming title via official Marvel Comics News Magazine called Marvel Age. In issue number 37 that was printed in April of 1986, there was a two page spread, from pages 13-14; we got the most detailed information on The Young Astronauts comic and cartoon. There was much smoke about The Young Astronauts brand, but as 1986 dragged on, no fire caught...and then it all ended with seemingly nothing said about these cancellations. So, what the hell was The Young Astronauts cartoon and what the hell happened to it?

The Plot and Setting of The Young Astronauts
The Young Astronauts name represents several entities all housed under a single banner to promote young people of the mid-1980's to seek out a future in science, space exploration, and science-related fields of study that had been established by the Reagan Administration in 1984. According to court documents, there were two arms to the Young Astronauts organization: the Council and the Young Astronaut Management Corporation. The Council or “YAC” was a non-profit charged with the “objective of encouraging American children to study math and science by using the United States space program as a catalyst.” The other, the YAMC, was a for-profit organization that was charged with providing funding streams for YAC, like the business deal with Marvel Productions. With the aim of getting kids excited about the newly invigorated manned space program via the NASA Space Shuttles, the newly established Young Astronaut Council attempted to reach 1980's youth via the then-current means: comics, Saturday morning cartoons, and models. The spearhead was to be the Toei Animation Saturday morning cartoon and the accompanying Star Comics series that was under the direction of Marvel Production with the YAC having input. Yes, you read correctly. None other than the hallowed Toei Animation studio of Japan was going to be the animators for The Young Astronauts cartoon. 
 While nothing survives of the cartoon, save for one single cel of animation, we do have some press on the Star Comics series that informs on the TV cartoon as well. In the Marvel Age article from 1986, we learned that The Young Astronauts is set in the 21st century onboard the Terran transport starship Courageous captained by Kelly Hampton with her husband Jason, three kids (Wendy, Mikey, and Rick), a robot named Retro, and the cat Rascal being the main characters.  At some point during each episode of The Young Astronauts, there would have an “Astro Minute” in which some element of real science would have been explained by possibility an former or current astronaut in live-action format. In the Marvel Age article, series head, Danny O'Neil describes the first issue showing the kids living on the Courageous and getting into trouble when the cat, Rascal, takes off an one of the shuttle craft of the Courageous. The kids decide to rescue the cat while avoiding their parents...and the misadventure starts there. One interesting note about the comic series was June Brigman was going to draw the comic. Back at this time, June Brigman had helped establish the look of the youth-aimed Marvel superhero comic of Power Pack. This was one my favorite comics of that time and the only "superhero" comic I collected. That this is only part of the storyline that we have and nothing else has come to light since for either the comic series of the CBS cartoon.  

The Historical Context of The Young Astronauts
Space exploration has been used by governments to excite and propel students to reach for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It was this way after the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and while the trend died during the lackluster NASA manned space program in the 1970's, it roared back to life in the 1980's. With the Cold War at another apex and the computer revolution underway, the Reagan Administrative used this public engagement to create the Young Astronauts Council in 1984. If you were a kid like me in the 1980's that was excited about the prospect of becoming an astronaut, you were living in a great time. It seemed that everyone was jumping on the train of space exploration and advanced technology....hell, even Tom Swift had a space-centered sci-fi series of books that I read back in the 1980's! My school library had all manner of books on space exploration, the Space Shuttle, and the incoming technological revolution. Every where you seemed to turn at this point, and you would see high-tech items like robots at Radio Shack, Photon centers, personal computers. Hell, I was ready for the future to get here!
Also keeping the flames burning were publications like Odyssey magazine for kids about space exploration, technology, astronomy and the adventures of the Ulysses 4-11 robot along with the TV program Beyond 2000. Not to mention the real-life Space Camp founded in 1982 in Alabama along with the completely misguided SpaceCamp movie from 1986. Everything at the time appeared to be pointing to the success of the Marvel Productions venture into generating excitement about outer space via the Young Astronauts emerging franchise…then came January 28th, 1986. 

The Marvel Productions and the Young Astronauts Council Connection
When it comes to the motive for the cartoon never airing and the Star Comics series being shelved, it lays with the complex and tense relationship between Marvel Productions and the YAC/YAMC. Marvel Productions and the YAC entered into two contracts in 1984 for Marvel Productions to be the exclusive representative for deals concerning licensing of the YAC brand and mission along with Marvel to create a cartoon and comic based around the YAC mission statement. Proof of this relationship could be seen early on when Marvel created these wonderful in-comic full page ads for the Young Astronauts Council featuring Captain America and were widely seen in comic books in 1985 through 1986. It was also around this time that the ads for the incoming cartoon series on CBS started to run, promising a fall of 1985 premier. In addition, Marvel was teasing the Star Comics title in comic ads, comic publishing schedules, and interviews in Marvel Age. By March of 1986, YAC wanted to terminate the contract with Marvel Productions and this was made official on June 30th, 1986. This was not the end of the story; Marvel Productions filed a lawsuit against YAC in July of 1988 that ended in a judgement on August 1st, 1990 by the US District Court of New York.

What Happened to The Young Astronauts?
The majority of online articles concerning the fate of the stillborn Young Astronauts CBS cartoon and the Star Comics series rest it solely on the 1986 Challenger Disaster. While it is true that part of the reasons does indeed rest with the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger some 73 seconds after liftoff and the loss of the ship & crew, it is only part of the story. Marvel Productions and YAC did not see eye-to-eye on the aim of the cartoon/comic series. YAC wanted it to be scientifically accurate as possible, while CBS/Marvel wanted an exciting space kiddie show with the backing of NASA. While the show was slated for the fall of 1985 for its premier and the beginning run of the original 13 episodes on order, the conflict between YAC and CBS/Marvel differing points-of-view delayed the development of the show itself for the reminder of 1985. 
This caused CBS to postpone The Young Astronauts until a meeting could be held to refocus with CBS who had stating that a scientifically accurate show would be dull for the intended audience. Given the loss of inertia and the market campaign that had promised the cartoon incoming by Fall of ’85, YAC decided to grant CBS the freedom to make the show they wanted and get the ball rolling. That meeting between Marvel, the YAC, and CBS was held on January 27th, 1986. The next morning, the Challenger spacecraft explodes, killing all seven heroes onboard and calls into question the future of NASA’s manned space flight mission. The next day, according to court documents, CBS called the YAC and Marvel, and formally canceled the cartoon project. But was that the fate of the Star Comics series as well? 
During the FWS investigation, the dates simply did not match up. In the Marvel vs. Young Astronauts Council lawsuit documents from the summer of 1990, the dates are crystal clear. The article in issue#37 of Marvel Age that came out in April of 1986, the project was still moving forward with the Star Comics series. Some of the adverts for the comic series tied it to the “hit television series”, and one of these adverts ran in the 38th issue of Marvel Age that came out in May of 1986! 
This was after YAC had asked to end their relationship with Marvel some two prior and one month before it became official in June of ’86. Given the historical context of the time period, it is likely that we are talking a month delay between when the Marvel Age magazine was in production and when it was seen on the newsstands. Still, you think that Marvel would have pulled the ads for the Young Astronauts comics give that YAC had asked to end the contract. Maybe Marvel leadership had hopes that they could move forward with the comic book project? Even after the contract was terminated in June 30th of 1986 that was not the end of the story…Marvel would sue YAC to recover payments in July of 1988. Marvel would learn that YAMC may have been double dealing behind the backs of Marvel and their contract. 
In the court papers, Marvel wanted their share of deals that YAMC had made with Pepsi, Coleco, and McDonald’s. Hundreds of Thousands of dollars have been generated via the “deals” made with these three companies during the time that Marvel Productions still had their contract in place. All three of the deals bore fruit in one way or another. Pepsi via their deal that was signed on July 9th, 1985 got a can of their inferior cola on a Challenger shuttle launch, McDonald’s had Young Astronauts branded Happy Meals in October of 1986, and Coleco had signed a contract with YAMC on July 1st, 1986 that included $275,000 advance. This is one day after the end of the Marvel contract. This contract smelled to the legal department of Marvel and it was likely that YAMC had been talks with Coleco prior to the end of the Marvel contract. 
That contract between the YAC and Coleco in summer of 1986 was realized with the STARCOM: The US Space Force cartoon and toyline that featured the YAC logos and mission. This is the only piece of a Young Astronaut cartoon that ever aired. Finally, the court case was settled by District Judge of New York Robert L. Carter on August 1st, 1990 with the ruling in favor of Marvel for YAC to pay the comic book company $185,547.40 in back licensing fees for the YAC deals with Pepsi, Coleco, and McDonald’s.     

The Surviving Pieces of the Young Astronauts/Marvel Project
For many of us that were alive and aware of the Young Astronauts cartoon and comic book, we’ve wondered if anything survived from the failed project. For most of us, the only thing we saw of the proposed show was that little advertisement image of the boy in a spacesuit drifting out near Luna with a robot companion. Some read the Marvel Age article from April of 1986, and it is believed that some may have even seen a pilot for the show...if the rumors are true. We know that art and possible a full first issue of The Young Astronauts comic was mocked up, but never released. The open page of the comic was released in the Marvel Age #37 article along with draws of several of the characters. This is the most complete picture of the show that we have to date. In addition to that, there was a one-page announcement in some Marvel comics of the Star Comics (version or adaptation?) of the Young Astronauts cartoon series that is the only released image of the Courageous transport starship, and the main characters. It should be noted that the art for the Star Comics ad does not seem to match the art style of June Brigman. These comics and scan of them survive to this day. A signed full page splash of the first page of Young Astronauts #1 is currently up for sale on comicartfans.com for $50. This is only piece of the comic that features the characters' dialog and the full credits. In the court papers from the 1990 judgement allowed us to determine the progress of the cartoon. It seems that the lawyers for Marvel Productions informed the court hat Marvel had paid $1.2 million towards the production of the cartoon in which included scripts, the series “bible”, storyboards, and some production (which included animation) had begun on the first episode prior to the January of 1986 CBS termination of the cartoon.
The only surviving element of Toei Animation studios work on the series was a single animation cel that is in the hands of private animation collector who presumed that it came from the aborted series. At present, it is the only piece of the work that Toei Animation did on the cartoon that has come to light. Oddly, the spacesuit equipped lad in the cel does not resemble any of the main characters seen in the Star Comics teaser or article. One unconfirmed piece of information came from a comment on a blogpost about the cartoon, who stated that the pilot episode was indeed finished and was screened. The most outlandish claim of this person is that the pilot episode was actually air on CBS. I doubt this person honestly. They gave an outline of the basic plot which was not similar at all to the outline given in Marvel Age#37 and while I could believe that some portion of the pilot was finished and put onto VHS and screened to CBS/Marvel personnel, there is simply no way it was completely finished and aired on TV in 1986. There is no proof or evidence of this. Thinking there maybe something to this, I dug into some archives and found nothing to it.
Another surviving piece of the Young Astronauts franchise was the model kits issued by Monogram along with adverts in noted publications of the day, like Boys' Life of a 1986 contest associated with NASA/YAC. Anyone familiar with modelling knows about Monogram and they had partnered up with YAC and presumably, Marvel Productions, to put an extensive line of space-themed model kits that may have numbered greater than a dozen. The vast majority were centered on actual historical space vehicles. However, Monogram did import a few space-themed kits from Japanese model kit marker Hasegawa's space war theme "Operation Omega" series. One that came to my attention was a Lunar hopper vehicle with an Space Shuttle mounted to its back. This very kit was sold under the Young Astronauts brand being called the "Eagle Lunar Lander". It seems that Hasegawa will be reissuing this kit very soon.      

The Young Astronauts Today
With Generation X taking to the internet to locate and rediscover historical elements of their rich childhood of the 1980’s, the mystery of The Young Astronauts made it into various sites over the years.  Most of the articles are only a few lines or a brief mention. While all of the information is there on the internet, few sites have put the entire narrative together, but what greatly helped the investigation of The Young Astronauts was the scanning of old comic books. Some also remember the YAC for its iconic ads in those mid-80's comics, its connection to STARCOM: The US Space Force, and possibly the Monogram model kits.  

20 March 2019

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol. 4)

 On of the missions of Future War Stories to be a place where not just the popular elements of the genre are given a seat  at the table, but also the forgotten and the lost. Military science fiction is packed with manner of lost stories that are not confided to just one type of media. Over the course of the last nearly two years, FWS has been hard at work cataloging a range of forgotten military science fiction video games. Some are lost classics, some "meh", and some are best left in the past...but nevertheless, they deserve a place and here they will be. This is the 4th installment and they will be a total of 10.

1. Power Slave (Lobotomy 1996)
You could be forgiven if you thought we were talking about the Iron Maiden album, but Power Slave (Exhumed in Europe) is at first glance a DOOM clone…but it is much more. Appearing on MS-DOS machines and the failed Sega Saturn console in 1996, it would be ported over to the original PlayStation in 1997. This is a solid shooter with you going up against all manner of ancient Egyptian themed enemies in the ruins of Karnak. Some believe that Lobotomy Software was inspirited by the 1994 film Stargate.
In this first person shooter, you use human and Kilmaat ET weaponry to battle for control of King Ramese’s mummy that could be used by the aliens to take control over Earth. While some may write this game off as a simple DOOM clone, but Power Slave was something better than that like Strife. Interestingly enough, the Saturn, PSOne, and MS-DOS all had difference versions with different gaming mechanics and endings. What was this shooter forgotten? It is better remembered in Europe than the US, but it poor sales performance in the States is partly it is due to the crowed DOOM clone shooter market at the time. Given the current culture of resurrecting old games for review and/or modern graphical upgrades; Power Slave been dug up and reviewed allowing for many of us to discover a DOOM clone that is anything but typical and was a unique title during this era.

2. Krazy Ivan (Psygnosis 1996)
Back in the early days of the original PlayStation, all manner of titles were unleashed on us and it was good times for we were spoiled by choice. One game I saw often at my local Dallas BlockBuster was this title and I avoided it. For some reason, despite being a mech combat game, I just never was into this game. This game is a mecha-based shooter with you, a Russian soldier, taking the helm of a mech to defend the Earth from invading alien robots. Tongue-in-cheek, FMV sequences, and not bad overall, Krazy Ivan was lost in the sea of much better game at the time. It was only released on the original PlayStation here in the States, and the announced SEGA Saturn port was not imported to the US. It was a good thing, too. The reviews of the Saturn were terrible.

3. Knife Edge Nose Gunner (KEMCO 1998)
First Person POV futuristic flight simulators are not uncommon in the history of video games, even on home consoles. One of the core consoles of the 5th generation, the N64, was the only system to receive a very interesting flight shooter that allowed you to be the gunner on a endoatmospheric gunship vehicle called “the Knife Edge” while doing battle on a colonized Mars against aliens. Developed by Japanese game company Kemco (which is still around) in 1998 and takes some influence likely from Star Fox and Descent. Unlike many other spacecraft shooters, Nose Gunner has the player only controlling the weaponry of the gunship and according the game, the gunship is controlled via a computer. Odd. While interesting and one of the bestselling systems of the 5th generation, it not garner good reviews and was largely forgotten to other much better N64 spacecraft shooters.

4. Iron Storm (4x Studios 2002)
In 2002, the French 4X Studios would release a PC game that attempted to show an alternate history where World War One never ended and dragged on for fifty years. The game picked up in 1964 when one faction in the world war was developing nuclear weapons and it is up to the player to locate and sabotage the weapons program. The combat was a marriage of familiar WWI concepts and tactics with mixing in 1960’s technology as well. It was a basic shooter that received some good reviews and garnered fans, but it never achieved liftoff when compared to other shooters at the time despite the cool setting. I was never that impressed with the actual mechanics and it quickly bored me. The game has an interesting release history. It would release for Windows machines in 2002 with later releases coming onto the PS2 console as an updated game called Iron Storm: World War Zero in 2004 and 2005 by Rebellion Developments. There was to be a sequel, but it never materialized and portions of the work and some of the same staff were thrown into the spiritual sequel called “Bet on Soldier: Blood Sport”.

5. Battlestar Galactica (VU Games 2003)
There has been talk of resurrecting the 1978 TV series Glen A. Larson Battlestar Galactica for some time with Richard Hatch leading the charge with his own money. In the late 1990s, there was seriously talk of reviving the series via either Richard Hatch’s second coming project or the Battlestar Pegasus project with Glen A. Larson and Todd Moyer. In 2000, the most serious attempt was helmed by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto for new mini-series set in the classic universe some 25 years after the original series. This attempt was serious and pre-production was undertaken…then the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened and Singer dropped out.
Then in 2002, the leadership at Universal/Sci-Fi Channel ordered a rebooted mini-series rather than a continuation of the original 1978 universe with the new project under the leadership Star Trek alum Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. On December 8th, 2003 the first episode of the four-part mini-series aired to massive numbers and praise…and the rest is TV history. Just before the mini-series came an oddball space shooter game on the PS2 and Xbox under the name “Battlestar Galactica”. While basically forgotten today by the larger gaming public, the 2003 BSG game was developed by UK developer Warthog Games and Universal Interactive as their swan song, and it is sort of a mash-up between several BSG projects.
According to the game itself, the game is set during the Cylon War and as William Adama as a Viper pilot onboard the Galactica. While some sources claim that this game takes place before the 2003 rebooted series that is untrue. Elements from the classic 1978 series, the abandoned Singer project (seen in the design of the Cylon Centurions), along with the new mini-series were all blended into this game. This makes the 2003 game only related onto itself. I can remember this game being reviewed in a gaming magazine I got back in the day and the review was very meh…and that is one reason why it is now largely forgotten. Another reason could be that the game came out a month before the new mini-series and the audience for BSG was limited. This game was eclipsed by later strategy games that are set in the proper rebooted BSG universe.

6. Ghen Wars (Jumpin' Jack Studios 1995)
SEGA always seemed to be in the shadow of Nintendo when it came to home console gaming systems. That was the case for the majority of SEGA’s existence with the balance in power altering with the release of Genesis/Mega-Drive gaming system.  For that generation alone, SEGA beat the mighty Nintendo…but it would not last. On the heels of the aging Genesis was SEGA next system, the 32 bit Saturn. This was to battle with the PlayStation, the 3DO, the “64 bit” ATARI Jaguer, and the SNES. While we all know that the Sony PlayStation was the dominate console in the 5th generation wars, it was really it was the battle that SEGA had to win…but lost. The inertia of the popularity of the Genesis/Mega-Drive had to be maintained via a new console, but the Saturn was not the system to accomplish that mission.  It lacked 3rd party support, it was overpriced, and too complex, along with the marketing campaign was not able to compete with the Sony PlayStation. While the Saturn was launched in 1994, it would not last has long as the home system it replaced. By 1997, SEGA America was laying off employees and the path was being prepared for the last gasp of the SEGA console market: the Dreamcast. During the NEXUS-6 like lifespan of Saturn, it is amazing that 600 games were released for the system, including this forgotten military SF game: Ghen Wars. Descent, Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, and Tunnel B1 were similar was that were also on the much more successful PlayStation.   
Originally published in summer of 1995, Ghen Wars is one of the earlier games in the Saturn library and is a first-person mecha combat game. Developed by Jumpin’ Jack Studios that folded shortly after Ghen Wars was released, this FPS game was centered on off-world warfare on the planets within the solar system with the hero using an exo-suit to defeat the Ghen alien race. At the time, the game was praised for somewhat destructible environments, upgradeable weapons, many locations, and multi-path endings. However, the game was generally accepts as just okay and similar to other games at the time that also included FMV scenes. Why this game became forgotten was its inclusion on the SEGA Saturn and being similar to other games at the time, like Descent, but it was not as good as that vehicle-FPS. The difference for games like

7. Zero Tolerance (TechnoPop 1994)

Throughout the 1990’s, the video game industry and its fandom were dominated by the aftermath of the release of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D. For years, there was a bumper crop of FPS games for us fans of shooters across all consoles and computer systems. On the very successful SEGA Genesis/Mega-Drive, there were three exclusive shooters, and one of them was Zero Tolerance. Developed by Technopop and released in 1994, it was military sci-fi corridor shooter taking place on three separate environments. The game was set in the future when humanity was establishing off-world colonies in other star systems when aliens attack the Terran flagship, causing the elite space commando force, Zero Tolerance, to board the flagship and investigate the situations.
Praised at the time and gained enough success to have a sequel in development, it was still on a console that had much success then faded along with the game company that developed it by the time of the PlayStation invasion. After watching some videos on the gameplay, it is a rather pretty shooter that appears to be a hard game with lackluster weaponry and players that stay dead once they are killed in the game. It is after the release of the original game that the story becomes much more interesting. There was a planned sequel called Beyond Zero Tolerance by the same studio and its story was to have the Terran space commandos travel to the alien homeworld to end the threat once and for all, but it was not released despite being nearly finished. According the information I found, the game was quite similar and was being worked on by Technopop in 1995 and the game was slated to be released on the Genesis/Mega-Drive and the 32X maybe in 1996(?). However, it was ended due to the winding down of the hardware in favor of the Saturn. Today, the ROM is available for download in its still unfinished state. Much later on in 2005, Tomb Raider publisher Eidos was eyeballing resurrecting the Zero Tolerance franchise for the PS2 and original Xbox. Eidos was going remaster the original 1994 game for the PSP system and put out a new game called “Zero Tolerance: City under Fire”. However, after legal trouble, the Zero Tolerance connection was dropped and the work on the game later came out on as the rather middle-of-the-road 2006 Urban Chaos: Riot Response.

8. Star Trek: Shattered Universe (TDK 2004)
Many Trekkies know that the Mirror Universe episodes and storylines are some of the finest in the Trek…and it seems a no-brainer for a video game to be set in the Mirror Universe. That seems like a solid concept until you experience a game like TDK’s Shattered Universe from 2004. The story has the Excelsior under the command of Sulu traveling into the Mirror Universe could have really worked, given the power and advanced nature of the Excelsior class battlecruiser. However, Starsphere Interactive screwed it up by included an ISS Excelsior as well.
This concept was somewhat explored in the original DC Comics Mirror Universe storyline in issue #09-16. While you may think that this game would be about you taking control of the USS Excelsior battling the forces of the Empire, but you actually take control of a Federation fighter and do battle with the forces of the alternative universe while trying to protect the Excelsior and find a way home. With poor reviews and having a space fighter-based game in the Trek universe all added up to this one being quickly forgotten.

9. Renegade Legion (SSI 1990)
With the popularity of Star Wars and D&D, the 1980’s were a fertile time period for table simulation games and RPGs, with all manner of companies spring up to fill any void they could with a vast array of games. A majority of these games were some form of military science fiction and some went on to become long remembered…and some did not. One of those companies that arose to popularity in the 1980’s was Chicago-based FASA. Having the license for Star Trek and Doctor Who made them a force on the RPG scene; however, it was Battletech that made them unique. In that inventory of games and licenses was Renegade Legion, a military sci-fi hex-based wargame about a war in the Milky Way in the 69th century. Starting off as a space fighter combat game called Interceptor, Renegade Legion took a different than FASA titan title Battletech. That premier title started off with a hex-based ground combat with Mecha and then expand into fighter and ship combat games, books, an RPG, then computer games. Renegade Legion would follow a similar path with ever expanding titles, books, an RPG, and then two computer games at the end of its lifespan. Again, very similar to the path of FASA’s Battletech. And why not?
The formula for Battletech had been extremely successful, why could it not happen with Renegade Legion? FWS will cover this forgotten classic of 1980;s MSF RPGs at a later date (hint!), but for now we need to examine the two computer games associated with RL. Given that RL started in the realm of space fighter combat with Interceptor, it seemed like a good place to start with the computer games. One of the features of Interceptor was a system to catalog the damage done to your space fighter that this pen-and-paper feature as carried over to the first computer game from and developed by Strategic Simulations and released in 1990 for DOS machines.Let us be honest here, Interceptor is a difficult game that has more in common with the tabletop warfare game than a space-sim.
Given it is complex and plotting nature caused Interceptor to be less engaging and ultimate forgotten when such classic space combat simulation games like X-Wing and Wing Commander came out. SSI sensed the way the wind was blowing and in 1995, Midnight Software would created an very similar MS-DOS space combat sim for the FASA created for the 67th century Renegade Legion universe: Renegade: The Battle for Jacob's Star. Unlike other games at the time, there was no FMV sequences. While this was a step in the right direction, it was no Wing Commander. However, it sold well enough to earn work on a sequel: Renegade II: Return to Jacob's Star. This was never completed and by this time, the franchise was sold off from FASA.  

10. Bethesda Softworks Terminator Series (Bethesda 1990-1996)
The Terminator franchise has seemingly always had good relationship with the video game industry, and many of us know the arcade games and the based-on-the-film titles. However, there video game titles that explored the war against the machines in the dark future…something the film franchise seems to be adverse about. In 1990, Bethesda Softworks released a first-person shooter called Terminator: 2029 (not related to the Dark Horse Comics series). The plot centers the results of a daring Special Operations mission undertaken by John Connor’s SOG unit, during the mission, the SOG Resistance unit captures an experimental (and abandoned) CLASS-I powered armor called A.C.E. (Advanced Cybernetic Exoskeleton).
Seemingly developed before the humanoid Terminator units, the Resistance recognized that this ACE APS could allow one specially trained human resistance fighter to transform into a one man slaughterhouse for the machines of Skynet. Originally sold on a 3.5 disks (how I had it) for DOS machines, it was later repacked on CD-ROM with the expansion pack “Operation Scour” that could be bought with a “Deluxe CD Version” that had voice actors and music. I had this game on my original HP computer on 3.5 disks, and it was a solid game that quickly became boring due a recycled format and some bullshit gaming mechanics.
While a solid game, it was older when placed onto the new medium of CD-ROM and given the rapid progress of computer games at the time, Terminator 2029 was lost, especially as the glow of T2 faded.  What followed is one of the weakest Terminator games of all time: 1993’s Rampage. This has Skynet send a pieces of its core back to 1984 to the HQ of Cyberdyne Systems, allowing it to survive, make Terminators and plot taking over the world (of course!). Again, Conner sends a Resistance fighter to do battle with the Skynet and hunt down pieces of a plasma weapon. Boring, buggy, and not well done. Easy to see why this one is forgotten. In 1995 and 1996 Bethesda would release two more FPS Terminator games set around the war against the machines: Future Shock and Skynet. Both are very similar and are a standard FPS game set in the dark future with you shooting Skynet’s metal minions with all manner weaponry and even taking control of various vehicles. Well received back in the day, but lost in the flood of CD-ROM FPS games of the time. 

03 March 2019

FWS Forgotten Classics: The ROBOTECH Graphic Novel (Comico 1986)

Every saga has a beginning that is in the background, hinting at events that echo in the characters and setting we know. We have seen this with the Clone Wars, the Bulterian Jihad, the Silmarillion, and the 1st Cylon War. If done properly, prequel stories allows to get to know a familiar world and character in a new light, adding to the richness of the original work…and then other times, not so much. One of the key landmark anime series in the United States is Harmony Gold’s ROBOTECH and it too, had echoes of a grand previous story. Many fans of ROBOTECH, like me, wanted to know about whom the original Zor was and the origin story of his super dimensional fortress that crashed landed on an unpopulated island called Macross in 1999. We original fans of ROBOTECH did not have to wait long because in August of 1986, Comico Comics published that very story in their ROBOTECH Graphic Novel. In this installment of Forgotten Classics, we will be opening the pages of this lost chapter of ROBOTECH history. 
 
What is the ROBOTECH: Graphic Novel?
Published in the late summer of 1986 by Comico Comics, holder of the ROBOTECH comic license, this 48 page oversized 10x8inch softcover book sold for a cover price of $5.95 ($13.63 today) and was a prequel to the ROBOTECH TV series, but not to its progenitor Super Dimension Macross. Ten years prior to the first episode of ROBOTECH “Booby Trap”, two worlds collided when an alien battle fortress crashed on a unpopulated island in the South Pacific. This came at a terrible time in the history of the human race. Across the face of Earth, various factions and nations fought in the so-called “Global Civil War” and with the outbreak of tactical nuclear weapons in the Middle East and poison gas in Asia, some of the leaders of the Western Alliance of the old United States were growing deeply considered that things were about to get grimmer. Thousands of lightyears away, another war was waging that would soon engulf Terra that was caused by a flower…the Invid Flower of Life. This powerful plant was a “gift” from the Invid Regis to a young Tirolian explorer/scientist named Zor after a romantic Captain Kirk style cultural exchange.
Within that plant was the science of Robotechology and power generation, causing a technological and society wide revolution on Tirol. Zor would become the First Robotech Master…but his “gift” soon caused a bitter between Tirol and the Invid. In the open of the graphic novel, Zor is at odds with his Zentraedi guards over Zor ignoring the orders of the Masters and the requests of the Zentraedi about seeding other worlds with the Flower of Life. He considered the Flower of Life a gift that could liberate new civilizations from the quest of energy. During on these seeding operations, Zor waits too long and his heavily armed vessel is attacked by the Invid.
It is here that Zor sends the battle fortress to a world that could use the power of the Invid flower: Terra. For much of the graphic novel, we are introduced to Roy Fokker, Captain Gloval, Rick Hunter, and Dr. Lang. It is here that we see some of the Global Civil War and Roy Fokker, based on the aircraft carrier Kenosha, battling mercenary pilot T.R. Edwards over the skies of the Western Alliance. After the crash, that briefly halted the Global Civil War, the Western Alliance Carrier Kenosha is sent to investigate the crashed massive alien vehicle. It is here that the graphic novel via some familiar characters, explores the SDF-1 in its original Tirolian state. Some very cool moments during that exploration and the graphic novel would led us up to the ever beginning of the first episode of ROBOTECH, beautifully tying it all together in a neat pretty bow.     

Why is the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel considered a “Forgotten Classic?”
While I’ll firmly believe that the 1986 ROBOTECH Graphic Novel is a great original ROBOTECH story that fulfilled the promise of showing the origins of the SDF-1 and Zor. For me, that deems it a classic due to the business of prequels are a tricky game to get right…just ask George Lucas. That being said, I felt at the time and even now, that the Comico 1986 graphic novel was the true (canon) story of how Zor’s battlefortress came to Terra and altered the history of the entire galaxy. But why was it forgotten if it was just a proper story that blended with the TV series?
Some graphic novels have endurance like the Dark Knight, the Watchmen, Maus,and Persepolis…then there are other titles that have their moment and fade away.  As I said above, Harmony Gold was attempting to forge an empire with the Sentients and "the movie", but those did not happen, and Harmony Gold could not extend the success of ROBOTECH much beyond 1988-1989. While it reran on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 1993 and there were comic books, ROBOTECH was on life support for over a decade. While ROBOTECH itself is legendary, the comic books are not given that status due to the fact they adaptations of the original series or just mostly terrible as we saw with Malibu/Eternity titles. It also did not help that Eternity comics came out with a ROBOTECH genesis limited-series in 1992 around how Zor sweet-talked the Flower of Life away from the Invid Regis. These were nowhere near as good as the Comico graphic novel, but confused and deluded the original “Genesis” title. Today, a first edition ROBOTECH Graphic Novel is sold online for about $12.     

The Historical Context of the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel

FWS discusses the 1980’s quite a bit due to the 80’s being totally awesome and because it was a key time-period in sci-fi history. Normally, when FWS covers the historical context of a certain work and why things did not work out, it’s because of bad timing…but that is not the case with the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel in 1986. When Comico released the impressive graphic novel, it was at the apex of the popularity of ROBOTECH given that it was liberally running across the nation in most TV markets. Not only was a hit in most TV markets with the intended audience, like ten-year old me, but Harmony Gold was attempting to expand the ROBOTECH band with various  related products as seen with the DEL REY books, the Art books, the Comico comics, Matchbox toys, model kits, and the RPG by Palladium Books.
In addition to various merchandising lines, Harmony Gold was attempting to establish an empire with ROBOTECH with a sequel that featured original animation and a re-dubbed of Megazone 23 as the “ROBOTECH Movie”. These failed ventures stand today as the remnants of the aborted Harmony Gold imperial dream. But, at the time of the graphic novel’s release, the sun still had not set on ROBOTECH or Harmony Gold’s dreams. Besides the world of animation, the 1980’s were a time of great change in the realm of comic books. During this time, newer smaller press comic book companies like Dark Horse, First Comics, Comico, and Now Comics were battling for a place in the sun alongside the Big Two. It was during this time as well that the graphic novel became a popular form of comic that had special meaning to us collectors. Graphic novels represented something special, something outside of the normal comic book titles and/or storylines. Established titles and companies dove into the graphic novel trend with Batman: Dark Knight, Batman: Digital Justice, Ironman Crash, and Alien Legion: A Grey Day to Die. These smaller press published would use the more mature format of the graphic novel to release some great titles and ideas along with creating buzz. That is why when Comico began teasing the graphic novel that we fans of ROBOTECH began to wonder what Comico had up their sleeves.     

The ROBOTECH Graphic Novel and Sentients Connection
When it was clear that ROBOTECH was going to be a big hit on the airwaves and with merchandising deals, Harmony Gold decided to move forward with two projects envisioned by Carl Macek: a feature length film and the TV series sequel. Much like the original saga, the ROBOTECH movie was cobbled from Megazone 23 and aired in the DFW Metroplex theaters around July 23rd 1986 . It would bomb and Harmony Gold put the rest of their eggs into the basket of the Sentients TV series sequel that would be original animation. These plans were in high gear in 1986 and these projects were mentioned in the first page of the Comico graphic novel.
Given the masterplan under the helm of Carl Macek, he was able to insert the seeds of the Sentients into the ROBOTECH Genesis graphic novel with Colonel TR Edwards. While the characters was altered during the Sentients initial development, he was presented in the pages of the 1986 graphic novel as TR Edwards. This skilled mercenary pilot was a key character in the graphic novel and would also be in the incoming Sentients TV shows as a real scumbag of the REF. For us original ROBOTECH fans, this was our introduction to TR Edwards. It was a pity that the character was just terribly done in the released Sentients episodes.


Where Else Have We Seen this Concept of the ROBOTECH Backstory?
There are two other titles that also mined the same subject
of the backstory to the SDF-1 crashing onto Macross Island during the Global Civil War: Eternity Comics’ “Robotech Genesis: The Legend of Zor” from 1992 and the DEL REY book “Robotech Genesis” by Jack McKinney published in 1987.  Due to the planned connection between the Jack McKinney books and the TV series by Harmony Gold, they align more closely than did the later telling of the backstory to the science of robotechnology presented in the Genesis graphic novel due to the 1986 Comico graphic novel being serialized into the pages of McKinny’s 1987 nvoel of the same name. However that fateful alignment does not apply to the Eternity Comics title. I am not a big fan of Eternity Comics’ handling of the ROBOTECH license and I think that they published real shit that degraded the remains of the collapsing ROBOTECH empire.     

What was the Impact and Legacy of the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel?
It is often difficult to track down the success or failure of an old comic during the Dark Ages prior to the internet. I firmly believe that the ROBOTECH graphic novel sold well given that there were two prints issued by Comico. The first printing was in August of 1986 (when I bought it) and the second in December of 1986. At the time, I had to preorder the graphic novel to be on a “guaranteed list” that my brother and I would be getting a copy and I remember how popular the guys at Starbase 21 in Tulsa thought of the ROBOTECH graphic novel was going to be. That or they just could have been after my hard earned allowance. Everyone I knew that was into ROBOTECH, had a copy of the graphic novel, but like many comic book fads and tie-ins…it fell into obscurity. For better or worse, the ROBOTECH graphic novel was still a product of its time and while ROBOTECH comic titles were continuously pumped out by other published until this very day, the graphic novel was largely forgotten. Partly this is due to Eternity Comics published a very similar storyline in 1992 with their ROBOTECH Genesis: The Legend of Zor limited series.
Falling into obscurity is true of a great number of comic titles and does not reflected how good or how bad a comic title is. Few comic titles endure like the comic titans of X-Men, Superman, or even Archie. They have their time in the sun and then lights fade out. However, the darkness ended for the ROBOTECH comics came on March of 2003, when DC Comics reprinted the classic Comico ROBOTECH comics. along with the graphic novel. In the first volume, which included #1-6 in a trade paperback volume, the 1986 graphic novel was included. This was done again in May of 2018 by the current holder of the license, Titan Comics, with the “ROBOTECH Archives”. The first volume of ROBOTECH Archives: Macross Saga included the first 11 issues of the Comico comic series as well as the graphic novel. Reading comments about these reprints, many commentators mention the inclusion of the ROBOTECH Genesis graphic novel being a big positive. This shows us some of the legacy of the graphic novel. 



My Experience with the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel
Many of you know that started watching anime during the 2nd Wave of Anime into America during the 1970’s with Battle of the Planets and Starblazers that aired on a local Dallas TV station when I was three. While as a fan of Starblazers, everything was transformed when ROBOTECH aired on a local Tulsa TV station in 1985. After seeing my first episode “Blue Wind”, the 13th episode of the Macross Saga, my life was altered in a profound way. I was singularly obsessed by ROBOTECH, Mecha, and Military SF for the next several years and forever would it dominate my path. During this time, my allowance was committed to buying everything and anything ROBOTECH/anime related.
At some point in 1985, I was made aware of an incoming graphic novel from Comico…likely from the Comico ROBOTECH comic series, and my brother and I reserved our copies from Starbase 21(at their old location next to Casa Bonita).  I read this over and over again when we picked up and it shaped how I view the larger ROBOTECH story. For me, the Comico ROBOTECH Genesis Graphic Novel was gossip and it was the canonized backstory to the events of the entire ROBOTECH saga. I still regard this as the backstory and I think it is one of the best original ROBOTECH stories.