17 February 2013

FWS Military Sci-Fi Oddities: The ROBOTECH DEFENDERS

Sometimes you never know what you might discover lurking in your old comic book boxes. During some deep cleaning, I moved out my long comic book boxes, and before I put them back, I decided to see what was in these dusty boxes. Towards the back was the two-shot 1985 ROBOTECH Defenders limited series by DC Comics. While I've covered other comic series that have become forgotten as a classic, ROBOTECH Defenders is firmly an military science fiction oddity and NOT a forgotten classic. This very much an odd-duck of the 1980's Anime/Manga/Mecha crazy that I was very much a part of. ROBOTECH Defenders was much more than a failed comic book, there was a complete Revell model kit Mecha line that culled mecha and vehicle from various Anime series, including Fang of the Sun Dougram, Macross, and Super Dimension Century Orguss. While short-lived, the ROBOTECH Defenders would go to become an influence of one of the greatest mecha-centered work: Battletech. So, here is the ROBOTECH Defenders, one of the military sci-fi oddities of the 1980's. See ya in ten days with a blogpost all about Space Pirates!

What is 'ROBOTECH Defenders' and is it Related to the ROBOTECH TV Series?
The name 'ROBOTECH Defenders' mainly refers to an Revell model military sci-fi mecha/vehicle kit series of the 1980's that was also paired with an attempt to create more fans with a limited DC Comics series by the same name that developed a story aspect ..which flopped. When it comes to relationship to the Harmony Gold ROBOTECH TV series...that greatly depends on the time frame. For a brief time, around 1985, the Revell model kit line and the TV series were in conflict. However, this was quickly settled by Harmony Gold with a co-licensing agreement. Some believe that in order for Harmony Gold to seal the deal with Matchbox Toys, the issue with Revell's line of ROBOTECH Defenders had to be settled.

The Confusing History of the ROBOTECH Defenders
The name 'Robotech' is a hallowed one among members of a certain generation, and often the introductory work of Anime that forged live-long fans of the genre. Around the time when the Harmony Gold re-dubbed Anime series was hitting American airwaves, the United States model company Revell had already bet them to the punch with their own line of ROBOTECH Defenders model kits and a DC comic book series. In 1982, the United States was in the grip of the 'Giant Robot Crazy' that was fueled by things like Gundum, Shotgun  Warriors, and of course, Transformers. Revell models figured they could import various plastic model kits of giant combat robots and vehicles, slap a new title on it, and rake in the dough. This was the thought of several other importers to the American market, some Macross model kits came into our shore as the oddball Testors R.O.B.O.T. line, and even a Mospeada cyclone became a Go-Bot model kit!
During the period of 1984-1985, the original FASA Battletech RPG, and Harmony Gold's ROBOTECH TV series, Revell's ROBOTECH Defenders and several other American model kit lines were all dipping from the same pool of plastic Japanese models!
To make matters worse for product identity and marketing, DC Comics would release their limited series based on the Revell model kit line in 1985, before the ROBOTECH TV show was in all markets. For some fans, the model ROBOTECH Defenders kits and comics were their first experience with the name 'Robotech'!. Instead of splitting hairs and market shares, Revell and Harmony Gold teamed up, FASA was told to stop using their lifted mecha designs, and the other model lines were starved under the new united ROBOTECH brand name. By 1986, the issue seemed settled, and until around 1989, Revell would crank out imported kits with very clear connections to the TV series. There were rumors that Revell was going to tapped for the model kits of ROBOTECH II: The Sentients.

The Model Kits of the ROBOTECH Defenders
Revell would import a number of model kits from 1984 through 1989, the majority of these were sourced from Takara and Arii. These two companies produced the bulk of the plastic model kits for Fang of the Sun Dougram, Macross, Crusher Joe, and Orguss. For the original 1984 initial line of model kits, most traditional mecha 'giant robot' warriors were taken from the mostly unknown Frang of the Sun Dougram Anime 1981-1983 TV series. With the success of the ROBOTECH TV show, Revell would import more of the Macross transforming Veritechs model kit types, but there were combat vehicles, helicopters, and even support vehicles packages with various mecha with new labels.
Most of these vehicles came from Fang of the Sun Dougram and Crusher Joe, but added a new favor to the mecha kits that were already out. One of the more interesting sets that came out, and one I personally drooled over in the catalog was the uber-cool Arii 1:100 Macross Factory. Another interesting mecha model kit released was from the 1983-1984 Super Dimension Century Orguss Japanese TV series that was same from the creators has Macross and Southern Cross.
Oddly, unlike Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada the Orguss TV series was never made available to the US market until the 1990's, long after the model kits and toys arrived on US shores. Hell, even I had a few of the Orguss mecha toys back in the day! Revell released at least one Orguss transforming mecha , under the ROBOTECH CHANGERS line and christened it 'Nebo' (Damn stupid name for a war mecha, if you ask me).

The 1985 DC Comics ROBOTECH Defenders Limited Series
Mecha was rare in mainstream comics of the early 1980's, especially with the Big Two, but in 1985, DC Comics attempted to marry the Revell Japanese import mecha and vehicle model kits to a military sci-fi story. They hoped for  a new franchise, that would generate into possibly a cartoon series. The proposed three issue limited series was cut-down into two issues, and became lost in the cheap comic bins and recycling of the world. The '85 comic told the story of a heavily populated star system with seven sentient races, on eight heavily populated worlds. Six of these worlds were united under the United Worlds Confederation, and attempted to 'uplift' the seventh primitive race called the Grelon, who look like Gollum. These Grelon resist the advances of the UWC, they wanted relocation, instead of technology because their world was dying. When the council ignores heir requests, the Grelon ambassador uses his mental powers and kills the bulk of the UWC council. This starts a war with the primitive beings that looks to be one sided until...they should up to the each battle with advanced warship well beyond their stone age era tech, and even the UWC.
It is not only before the UWC is on the run, with their worlds burning, and has the series opens up, one of the oldest and greatest cities in the UWC, Zoltek city, is destroyed by the massive Grelon warship. When all hope is lost, one of the pilots discovers that the still-standing ancient statue in the middle of the city is a giant Class-III mecha, and when she enters the robotic warriors, a mental link is established and she is informed that on every populated world in their solar system is a 'Robotech Defender'. The mixed race team of fighter pilots, breaks up and locates the mecha hidden in the various terrains of their native worlds.
When these new war machines go after the Grelon warship...and get their metal ass kicked and captured. But, using the magical red button, the pilots released the consciences of the mecha to fight back. Much like the old Robotix toy storyline, the conciseness of the mecha creators are transferred into their machines. The sentient mecha tell their biological pilots that they are actually at war with another older race called the S'Landrai, who feed off of the living energy of other races, and now they are awake and using the Grelon has a proxy force to weaken this solar system for a culling...maybe this is where Stargate: Atlantis got the idea for the Wrath? These sentient tin-cans were just waiting for the right time for the S'Landrai to make their move, and the time is now.
During this lovely chat, the S'Landrai agent drains the entire Grelon race of their energy and awakens a portion of the hibernating race. That sets the stage for the next big battle between the tin-cans and the space vampires. And guess what? The tin-cans win by overloading the S'Landraianing siphoning equipment, and kill the race before they have the chance to rise up and drain the living. At the end, there is a campfire, and the tin-cans tell the pilots that there are more Robotech Defenders spread through the galaxy and are ready in a time of need...and the last panel shows the planet Earth...so, be on the watch out for a talking 60 foot robot with laser blasters.

What Happened to the ROBOTECH Defenders?

Given the comic's rushed story-line and poor quality 'flex-o-graphic' art failed to impress buyers, causing the three-part series to be cut to two when sales were extremely low. Originally, the comic series was to testing of the waters for a continued endeavor between DC and Revell...but, it died right there, causing the 'story' portion of the ROBOTECH Defenders to never go beyond those two 1985 comics. However, the model kits were fairly successful, and Revell continued to push new kits onto the American market until the late 1980's. However, like all things, the giant robot crazy of the 1980's died out, and so did Revell's Japanese imported kits. Due to the limited time frame and the niche market it was aimed, ROBOTECH Defenders is one of those products that was of it's time. Some of the unopened model kits are sold on eBay, including the rare and highly cool 'Robotech Factory'. Today, the ROBOTECH Defenders exists only as a footnot on various hobby/mecha/ROBOTECH wiki and informational websites.

My Memories of the ROBOTECH Defenders
I was first introduced to the Revell ROBOTECH Defenders model toy line was via my brother's birthday party, when a friend of his gave him the 'Aqualo' ROBOTECH: Defenders model. Around the same time, I had come across the ROBOTECH: Defenders comic book at a grocery store, and bought both issues. Tucked into that 'Aqualo' model was a complete catalog of the rest of the line up and I coveted the 'Talos' urban combat mecha. For a period of several yeas, I would see these model kits at local toy and hobby stores around Bartlesville and Tulsa on a regular basis, along with imported Japanese model kits at Starbase 21 comic book store. In late 1985, my brother told me to come watch this cartoon show called 'Robotech'. I was excited, because I thought it was related to the Revell model kit line! As I watched episode 13: 'Blue Wind' of the Macross series, I kept wondering were the characters I knew from the comic where. Yeah...it wasn't long before I forgot all about that crappy comic and was under the spell of ROBOTECH.   

Read the original 1985 comic book...if you dare!

Here is the list of the vintage Arii Macross Model Kits


  1. Christopher PhoenixFebruary 17, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Space pirates? :) That will be fun- despite the fact that space travel probably isn't the best environment for piracy similar to what we had on the oceans. Atomic rockets has some interesting notes on space piracy.

    Don't forget to research E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Triplanetary" and the "Lensman" series- space pirates play a major role in those books. Actual pirates raid ships frequently (the Standish I told you about some time ago was being used to vaporize a space pirate), and many of the villains engage in space piracy even if they have goals beyond that. Even the aliens who raid Earth in Triplanetary are sort of pirates, since they have no compunctions about raiding us to obtain allotropic iron- and have no concern over the human lives they threaten.

    And, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some other, perhaps even earlier references to space pirates, but E.E. "Doc" Smith was pretty early. Piracy is such a natural theme for pulp stories, after all.

    I particularly recall the bindlestiffs in James Blish's "Cities in Flight" series- they were rare because spaceships' spindizzy drives were powered by atomic breeder reactors, and thus they had to land on civilized planets to refuel, where pirates may be arrested. But, at one point a "fuelless drive" is invented by an alien scientist, and the main characters are worried that space piracy will become much more common if this drive falls in the hands of pirates, because then they won't have to land to procure atomic fuel anymore. Space travel would be like the age of sail again, not the age of coal.

  2. Space Pirates are seemingly a very old concept in science fiction, E.E. "Doc" Smith may be one of the oldest, but I think it is even further back. I've already got smith's vast space opera locked in, and working on some others...Captain Harlock being a big one, of course.

  3. Revell came up with the title ROBOTECH. Period. Harmony Gold licensed the name because Revell's product was already on the toy store shelves and because there was no better to unify the three TV series that Harmony Gold was importing and translating. Revell might have made more in licensing fees from Harmony Gold's use than in profits from the model kits (and Robolinks toys) Revell sold. Harmony Gold finally bought the trademark from Revell and has kept it current to the present day.

  4. Interesting...I didn't know that Revell was the inventor of the name 'Robotech'. I honestly thought that Revell and Harmony Gold came up the title around the same, and Revell was quicker to the market that HG. Wow, the twisted history of ROBOTECH...
    Thanks for the information!