20 May 2020

Military Sci-Fi Toys: Mattel's Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

During the 1980's there was much change in filed of technology, television, the toy market. What had not changed was the excitement of science fiction, the after-effect of Star Wars, and the urge to make money. All of these elements came into play for many products that are iconic to the 1980's, especially to those of us that are were kids at the time. Several companies attempted to attack the wallets of the parents of 1980's kids with assaults on multiple fronts: toys, tie-in cartoons, and cool futuristic technology. FWS has profiled the two laser tag systems, Lazer Tag and Photon that attempted to use all of the tools of 1980's marketing to promote a high-technology toyline, but there were more...In this installment of Military Sci-Fi Toys, we will be examining the high-tech toyline of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

What is Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future?

Some toylines, like Kenner's Star Wars or Matchbox ROBOTECH, they are a tie-in to a film, TV show, cartoon that existed only to enhance and expand the market possibilities of the primary work that came before the toys. At times, it was hard to see if the toys helped get kids into the show, or it was the show that got kids into the toyline. That was the hope for all companies when they created original works or toylines during the 1980's: to develop another Star Wars or Masters of the Universe. That was the hope for Canadian Landmark Entertainment Group when Gary Goddard, Anthony Christopher, and Marc Scott Zicree gave birth to Captain Power and his merry band of shiny metal heroes in the 22nd century post-Metal Wars darkness around 1985.
There have been two different versions of the show's origin story told. One is that basic premise of the show was thought up due to a need by Mattel for another line of Boy’s toys and Mattel really wanted to include the interactive television they were already developing. The other origin story was told by Goddard in the documentary included with the Captain Power DVD set. He says that he came up the basics of the show, including the name and copyrighted it because he liked the way it sounded. The angle for Captain Power then in 1985 was to be an live-action show for kids with CGI enemy character...which was new for 1985. At some point, Mattel and Goddard were discussing the idea for Captain Power and the toy company wanted to incorporate their interactive technology into Landmark's idea for the Captain Power show. While on the surface, the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV show setting seems like a rip-off of The Terminator with the whole robot revolt trope, it was a little more complex than that. The show is set in 2147 (originally to be 2099) just after the human race lost the Metal Wars to the machine army of Lord Dread and Overmind.
Years before the Metal Wars around 2132, the nations of the world used machines to wage their wars thinking that it would make war more humane. Much like the Cotton-Gin, it actually made the situation worse, and humanity was locked in a cycle of repeated wars. Enter Dr. Stuart Power and his team of scientists with Project OVERMIND. The goal was to have a master control program to take control over the legions of advanced robotic soldiers, called Bio-Mechs, and to end the wars and created a real world peace. That did not happen. One of Dr. Power’s scientist, Dr. Lyman Taggart, merged with Overmind and became obsessed with machine perfection and turned the machines against humanity. With the machines doing most of the fighting, the human race did not have the forces to repeal the machines and the tide turned against the meat bags. Dr. Power developed a secret base, a teleportation system, and the Power-Suits. These Power-Suits allowed one human to be outfitted with a temporary advanced exo-armor and weapons…unfortunately, there were only six. Dr. Power’s son took over the new fighting force and waged the guerrilla war against the machines. This expensive show only lasted one season of 22 episodes and ended on a cliffhanger with a death of a major character.  Directly tied to the TV show was the Mattel toy that had some of the vehicles and playsets interacting with signals from the TV. Every episode contained at minimum one minute to a maximum of three minutes of interactive content as stated in the contract with Mattel.  This made the Captain Power toyline unique, but also the target of parenting groups.

Historical Context of the Toyline
At the time that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was being developed, it was during one of the greatest eras for toys, tie-in licensed merchandise, and programming directed at children. It was also a time of increased computerization, syndicated TV shows, economic downturn, and the Great Laser War. For the toy industry, it had been 10 years since the injection of the Kenner Star Wars toyline and it was showing. The strategy of tie-in cartoons and tie-in toylines had been working, but overall sales were slowing and those toylines without accompanying cartoons were disappearing for the toy store shelves by 1985-1986. This was due to several factors including the aging out factor of the kids that were buying the big toylines like Masters of the Universe, the exploding home video game market, and simply too much options.
With the more historical boy’s toylines not bring in the dollars, companies like Mattel, began to search for the next big thing to excite the market. One of those elements that was thought be able to excite buyers was interactivity.  During this time period, there were two “laser tag” systems battling it out to be the dominate form of laser tag during the Great Laser War along with several home consoles also battling for market share. This greater interactivity was thanks to the rapid progress of computer technology in the 1980’s and more homes were beginning to buy their first computers for work and play during the mid-1980’s. When it came to the mainstay of home entertainment, the TV, things had changed. As the 4th American network emerge, many of the smaller TV stations not tied to a major network made their ratings via unique programming that did come from syndicated programs. At the time that Captain Power swam into the waters of the 1987 airwaves, shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bravestarr, and Ducktales (one of the most popular syndicated TV shows of 1987). Another thing to remember about 1987, there was a major US Stock Market crash on October 19th, 1987.

The History of the Captain Power Toyline
The history of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV show is one that is not yet over due to the possibility of Phoenix Rising. However, for the toyline that ran from 1987-1988 it is done. While much entries on the internet are devoted to the live-action groundbreaking TV series, that lasted one season, the toyline also as a history and story that is both linked to and separate from the TV show. This is article will attempt to discuss the toyline for Captain Power. One of the first things to know about the story of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future toyline is that two different parties were working two elements of the eventual Captain Power interactive toyline separately.
One was Landmark Entertainment's Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher, whom developed the basic concepts of the futuristic live-action show instead of an cartoon when they learned that toy giant Mattel was looking for a new toyline aimed at boys. The other is a more unknown key player of the technology used in Captain Power was Mattel Toys' William Novak. He worked on the interactive technology that was at the heart of the toyline and would be later involved in Mattel's Power Glove for the NES. At the time, Mattel was developing this new technology due to the market projecting that the incorporation of interactivity technology into toys was the next big thing. However, Mattel did not yet have a vehicle for this developing technology. Mattel had attempted to enter the high-tech toy arena before with their Intellivision home video game console and they were looking at the up-and-coming field of "interactive television" as the next frontier for a high-tech toyline hit. When Landmark went to Mattel and proposed marrying the interactive television technology for a toyline that was based around their live-action military science fiction show, it seemed like a winner and the deal was inked. One sacrifice was that Gary Goddard had originally wanted to title the show "The Metal Wars", but was changed by Goddard and Mattel for the sake of the toyline. The name "Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future" was filed with the US Patent Office on November 4th, 1985 with the approval coming on November 18th, 1986. Mattel themselves were betting heavily that interactive television was future to the tune of a hoped for $200 million profit to a company that was suffering. Oddly, Gary Goddard would also later direct the live-action Masters of the Universe in 1987 that was very loosely based on one of Mattel's biggest toy successes.
The public's first look at the toys of Captain Power came during the New York Toy Fair on the 9th of February of 1987. There at the show, there were several other "toys activated by TV" as the South Florida Sun Sentinel called it in their 1987 piece such as Axlon's Tech-Force. It is believed that the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future promotional video was shown as well during these toy shows that were so critical for toy buyers and the toy companies. At some point in 1987, the Captain Power toyline was released prior to the premier of the show. There is no hard date for the release of the toys, but it standard operational procedure for the toys to be present on the shelves before the show or film.
When the television show aired on September 19th 1987, it aired on 96 TV stations in the US (20 overseas), reaching 81% of the TV audience in 1987 according to Entertainment for Mattel VP John Weems when he testified before Congress during the Commercialization of Children's Television hearing on September 15th, 1987, just four days before the show premiered on the airwaves. From September 1987 to March of 1988, Captain Power and his merry band battled on the television, in living rooms, and in meeting rooms for survival across 22 syndicated episodes. This was the critical time for the brand to establish itself and for the fans to be minted and cash spent. According to everyone involved in the production of the show and some of the actors, Mattel had contacted Landmark to include up to three minutes within every show aimed directly at the audience using their interactive toys. These interactive moments were meant to organically incorporated into the story and not a separate event. However, by January of 1988, the books were closed on 1987 and it had been a tough year for Mattel.
According to 1988 business articles, Mattel was holding layoffs and closing the last US-based toy production plant. All of this was to save $10 million after disappoint sales of their new and established toylines. Among these was Captain Power. While Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future had sales at around $42 million dollars, it was not enough. One of the bread-&-butter toylines of Mattel, Masters of the Universe, lost $200 million in sales in 1987 alone and Mattel needed the bleeding to stop. Besides the production plant and the jobs, Captain Power toyline was also another victim to Mattel hatchet. This would seem to be the end of the story, but then in 1988, there was a Series 2 of figures and vehicles released along with being featured in the Mattel 1988 catalog. Oddly, only four character action figures were released in America, with the Series 2 vehicles and playsets being released in Europe only. The majority of the European vehicles and playsets were only released in limited numbers and are some of the most sought after by collectors today with price tags to match. Despite these Series 2 toys, Mattel held to their decision to power down Captain Power and his soldiers of the future in their fight against Lord Dread.

Overview of the Mattel Captain Power Toyline
The American toy market that Captain Power toys entered into was like Thunderdome and would need something to stand out among the crowed field to attach the attention of kids and their parents' money. Like many other toylines in the post-Kenner Star Wars era, Mattel’s Captain Power 1987 toyline was constructed around 3 3/4th inch figures, a few playsets, and some ground and air vehicles. However, unlike many other toylines of this time, there was the much  talked about TV interactivity features built into some of the toys. The TV interaction was the pièce de résistance feature and it was hammered home in both comic book and TV advertisements by showing the XT-7 Power-Jet and the Dread-Jet blasting or being blasted by the TV signals. Both the live-action TV show and anime (yes, the animation was done in Japan!) VHS training tapes had the embedded TV signals to allow for interactive play with the toys. Adding to the toys was a line of roleplay pieces, birthday supplies, lunchboxes, and random other bits that were common in 1980’s toylines. Because the Mattel Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future toyline only lasted about one year, it has in total: 10 actions figures, 9 vehicles, and 5 playsets of various sizes were made. Then that brings us to the interesting geographic puzzle and confusing mess of the 1988 second series of toys.
The majority of the second series of Captain Power toys were sold in Europe According to some sites, the original Series 1 toys were sold by Mattel, and then for the limited Series 2 released in 1988, they were maybe sold by our old friends Arco Toys. I disagree with this. Arco Toys is mostly known for making branded cheap plastic role-play items like toy guns, toy binoculars, and walkie-talkies. Examining the entire line, it is amazing how many toys were sold only in Europe and those were in limited numbers as well. It was like Mattel just dumped what they had and moved on, like some bad breakup. Why did this happen, given that Mattel is an American company and Captain Power was made in Canada? I’ve been unable to locate the answer to this. It could be that the Captain Power TV show was aired later or longer in Europe or it was more popular. Perhaps, the Mattel Europa BV company was tasked with moving the limited number of Series 2 toys by the Mattel of America? 

The Action Figures
When compared to the other action figures available in 1987,the Captain Power action figures were very similar to many in terms of function and movement. What set the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future action figures apart was their chrome-like paintjobs that was only surpassed by the 1987 Kenner Silverhawks and the odd alignment with their on-screen characters.For example. while bulky on-screen, Lord Dread had a confusing lower section that had a very small wrist and big legs that made him unstable and he was outfitted with an bladed weapon not seen on-screen. For that matter, most of the hand weapons seen in the action figures were not accurate to the TV show weaponry. This was especially true of the two BioDreads that used body-mounted weaponry, but the figures had hand weapons. In addition, the BioDreads were larger than the average person in the series, and yet their toy copies are only  four inches tall. They could have been deluxe-sized figures to communicate their fearsome abilities. Most reviewers agree that Hawk and Soaron were the two best of the figure lineup. When it came to the Series 2 figures,two were main characters, Scout and Pilot, and  two of them not seen on-screen: Stingray and Tritor.

Series 1
  • Captain Power
  • Lt. Tank Ellis
  • Major Hawk Masterson
  • Blastarr Ground Guardian BioDread
  • Soaron Sky Sentry BioDread
  • Lord Dread (with pink cape)
Series 2:
  • Corporal Pilot Chase
  • Sergeant Scout Baker
  • Colonel Stingray Johnson (unseen in TV show)
  • Tritor Ocean Attack Warlord (unseen in TV show)
  • Dread Trooper (sales samples only?)
  • Dread Commander (sales samples only?)

Vehicles
The heart and soul of the Mattel Captain Power toyline was undoubtedly the XT-7 Power-Jet light gun. This futuristic attack jet was the star of the toyline and the most commonly seen vehicle of the line in the stores in 1987. It retailed around $32 in 1987 ($76 today). There were three versions of the Power-Jet toy: the standard that was just the light gun fighter, there was deluxe set Power-Jet with the Cpt. Power figure and one of the training VHS tape version, then there was the Gift Set version with the Power-Jet, the figure, and the “BlastPak-1200” attack long-range jet pack system. The oddball BlaskPak-1200 is a rare toy and was only sold in Europe in both the Light Gun fighter Gift Set and in its own individually package. Both sides of the conflict would have used the BlastPak-1200 
Due to the amount of vehicles and playsets that the BlaskPak interacts with, the Blastpak-1200 was likely going to be a major toy if the line had been supported by Mattel. The dark reflection of the XT-7 “Phoenix” Power-Jet was the “Dread-Jet”, the Lord Dread Phantom Striker attack jet. Both of these light-gun jets were able to be a play toy, light guns that could play an odd version of aerial combat laser tag, and they interacted with the TV show and training VHS tapes. Both kept scores, and if it reached zero, the jet ejected the pilot. Nothing else in the vehicle lineup for the toyline is has memorable or common as the XT-7 Power-Jet. For the vehicles like the Captain Power ATR Mobile Photon Cannon and the Magna Cycle are way too gaudy, overdue, and odd to be military vehicles. These were not featured in the TV series…mercifully and only sold in Europe. The oddness continued with the “Mobile Sky-Bike Launcher”, which was an armed manned ground-based mobile transport for two Sky-Bikes and one BlastPak-1200 and was a Europe only toy. There is suggested in some box-art that the Machines were going to get their own Mobile Launcher featuring the BlastPak-1200. This is one of the rarest toys in the entire Captain Power toyline, commanding some of the highest prices due to it being only released in Europe. The Dread Empire vehicles were odd as well with the remote-controlled four-legged mech “Dread Stalker”, the “Interlocker” TV interactive DEW turret, and the rarest Captain Power toyline vehicle, the TV interactive Dread “Anti-Personnel Patroller”. This was again part of the European only toys and likely released in the very limited Wave 2 and possibly only in Italy and/or France. How limited are some of the Series 2 toys? In terms of number for the Europe Series 2 release, here is the information collected by the Captain Power Lives tumbler based on sales on internet auction sites: 3 individually packaged BlastPak-1200 toys, 3 Dread Anti-Personnel Patrollers, 8 Captain Power Mobile Sky Bike Launchers,

The Playsets
Playsets are key foundational items for any toyline due to the fact that provide an anchor for the characters and adventures that kids come up with. From Castle Greyskull to the G.I. Joe Headquarters Command Center, it seems that most toyline had a playset base for their characters. For the limited run of Captain Power toyline, it produced an amazing five playsets. For the record, only two were released here in the States, the Power Base and the Power-On Energizer, the other three were released in Europe for the Series 2 in 1988. The center of the playsets in the Captain Power toyline was the skeleton Power Base that could be added on with the other smaller playsets in the lineup, like the Power-On Energizer, the trans-field communication station, and the Sauron Beam Deflector. Speaking of the Power-On Energizer, it was designed to mimic the power-on sequence in the show and interacted with only the Captain Power figure properly due to his clear chest symbol. One of the stranger playsets was the European only Eden-2 Trans-Field base station. It carries the name of the hidden human colony of "Eden II" for some reason that was never explained and that the playset was more like a froniter outpost. One wonders if the toyline had continued, would there have been more added to the Power Base playset?

The Rarity Guild from the Captain Power Toyline
This guild was made by the good people over at the “Captain Power Lives” tumbler which has been a wealth of important information on the toys during the research phase of this blogpost.


COMMON (US, Japan, and Europe)
  • Pilot, Scout, Cpt. Power, Blastaar, Tank, Hawk, Soaron, Lord Dread
  • Dread Interlocker, XT-7, Power-On Energizer, Dread Phantom Striker
  • UNCOMMON or RARE
  • Cpt. Power Trans-field Communication Station
  • Cpt. Power Magnacycle (Europe only)
  •  Eden-2 Trans-field Base Station (Europe only)
  • Stingray figure
  • Tritor figure
  •  Soaron Cpt. Power Beam Deflector (Europe only)
  • Dread Stalker
  • Cpt. Power ATR Proton Cannon (Europe only)
  • The Power Base Playset
  • Blastpak 1200 (packaged with the XT-7 or Phantom Striker is European exclusive)
EXTREMELY RARE (All sold only in Europe)
  • Cpt. Power Mobile Sky Bike Launcher
  • Dread Anti-Personnel Patroller (France or Italy only)
  • Blastpak 1200 {packaged individually}
  • Dread Trooper and Dread Commander (possibly sales examples form Taiwan)
Role-Play and other Items
For many watching the TV show, the desire to don their own power armor was met with some plastic-fantastic role play items that span everything from dart guns to even an laser tag golden gun. This is one of the most unique role play items in the lineup and one of the rare examples of an branded laser tag game for a major toyline during the Great Laser War. Based stylistically on the golden directed energy pistol used by Captain Power in the series, the Power Laser was designed to be used in three ways. One was to be a target game with several modes, another was to be used as an one-on-one laser tag system with the sensors being worn on the belts, and then in team laser tag games with the Red Team vs. the Green Team. The cost of the Power Laser in 1987 was $44 (or $102 in 2020 money). In comparison, the similar system sold by Entertech for their Photon line was about $39.  

The Comic book Series

Continuity Comics was a small press publisher that operated in a very hit-or-miss fashion from 1984-1994 and one of their titles was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. On the surface, the idea of a Captain Power comic book series seems like a great idea that could have communicated the world of 2147 in a way that the uneven TV series could not. If Continuity Comics had done something similar to NOW Comics did for their 1988 Terminator series for Captain Power, it could be worth a buy...but, that did not happen. Continuity Comics only published two issues for their Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future and these issues were separated by five months! Adding to the oddness, was that the fact that these comics were not published until after the TV series and the toyline were cancelled. The first issue was published in August of 1988 and then the second in January of 1989. Rubbing salt into the wound was the most of the story of these two comics were recycled from the excellent two-part episode "A Summoning of Thunder" with some new elements with okay art and even worse scripting. Nothing much came from it and the only other Captain Power comic book was published by Marvel UK in 1989 as an 60 page "annual". To sum up, it sucks horribly. Childish writing and coloring caused this to be much worst than the Continuity Comics "series".

The Computer Game
In 1988, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future computer game would be released for DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64 machine and it was...a game? Developed and published by Box Office, Inc, it was a typical 2D side-scroller with one real mission and a training simulation. Oddly, the training missions are from a first-person cockpit video and more difficult than the 2D section. If more of the game had been from the cockpit and had more variety, this would have been serviceable rather than a soulless cash grab that it is. Other similar 1987 properties got their own computer game back in the day, like Worlds of Wonder Lazer Tag and Photon.
   
The Prototypes and Rumored Toys
In the 1988 Mattel sales catalog, two new Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future action figures were pictured, but never produced and they were not released…or where they? There is some mystery surrounding the possibly unreleased Dread Trooper and the Dread Commander because according to most toy sites, these figures never produced, however, there are few collectors that have both sealed and loose copies of these very rare figures started showing up around 2007-2014. Some have suggested the Dread Trooper and Commander were either a very limited run, final prototypes/sales copies used by Mattel, or they were released only in Europe.
According to a post on the Captain Power Lives tumbler, they stated that around 12-24 of Dread trooper and commander were made, which means they were likely sales samples. Most of these figures have been found in Taiwan, which is where the figures were made originally. In addition, Captain Power Lives has concluded that more of Dread Troopers exist than the Commander figures.  At the moment, we known of 9 Dread Troopers total, and out of those, 7 are carded examples with two being loose examples. Only one sealed and carded Dread Commander is known to exist along with a loose example that was battered up with missing helmet and weapon. One odd feature of the Dread Trooper and Commander figures was they had these skull-like faces under the helmets...which was not seen on-screen. The other toys were all vehicles and unlike the Dread Trooper and Commander, they were not produced and nor have the prototypes been seen. 
 The Resistance Ambush Pod Station was ball-shaped one-figure pod with a large DE cannon designed to look like debris in the urban battlefield then surprise mother fucker! The odd toy of the bunch was the T.R.A.C 5000 Captain Power allied robot. Originally, I thought this was a mech-like suit for one of the figures, but it actually an interactive motion-sensing toy that “attacks” any incoming enemy with IR beams. Pew-Pew. The coolest toy was based on a Dread armored vehicle seen patrolling the ruins in the TV series, called the Bio-Dread Armored Destroyer, it would have been an interactive toy and awesome. We would have also gotten a larger SkyBike, in the SkyBike ST-300 toy that was also interactive with the TV show and VHS tapes.
Lastly, there would have been an add-on to the Power Jet XT-7 called the “missile lock indicator” that would have been interactive and allowed for plastic missiles to be fired? In terms of the rumor mill associated with the Mattel toyline, there was a vehicle and playset in development…according to rumor. The vehicle would have been the massive jumpship used by Power and Company as their mobile command center. Just like in the show, the Power-Jet would have locked on to the top of the JumpShip, there would have been seating for the whole group. This would have been a massive vehicle and if the rumor is true, than it was nothing more than an idea. There was also the rumor of a playset of Lord Dread’s homebase Volconia that would have been complete with an Overmind.  Of course, if there had been a season two with Mattel’s money, there would have been more toys based on the new season including the newest member of the team, the female commando "Ranger". Since Mattel pulled out prior any real planning sessions on how to market the further adventures of the Solders of the Future gang, we fans have no idea what could have been in the cards for more Captain Power toys. I do think that more toys that did not or would not exist on the TV shows would likely have continued given the setting of the planned second season.

Who the Hell are Stingray and Tritor? 
Despite Mattel cancelling their involvement with Landmark Entertainment's TV show in January of 1988, there actually was a small second release of Captain Power toys released in 1988 in America and Europe! Just four figures were released in Series 2 for America with no vehicles, two being series regulars in Scout and Pilot, but there where these two other characters: Stingray and Tritor. Just who the hell were these characters because they did not seem to be in the TV series?! Originally, there was going to be an aquatic operations character named Colonel Nathan "Stingray" Johnson added to Power's merry band of five, but the entire underwater environment for 2147 was cut due to budget reasons concerning the water tank. The yin to Stingray's yang would have been another BioDread warlord named Tritor, the Ocean Attack Warlord. While both of these characters were cut from season one and were not scheduled to return for a planned season two, these figures must have been in some state of final production to warrant release for the 1988 Series 2 in both European and American toy markets. It is odd to think of the inclusion of an underwater member of the Soldiers of the Future as well an CGI BioDread to combat and control the waters in the post-Metal Wars world.
Odd because none of the season one episodes contain anything related to the water and adding CGI to underwater shoots would have been a real bitch in 1987. However, we know that both aquatic operations characters were designed and in the case of Stingray, the full power suit costume was constructed due to the fact that they used him in the 1986 live-action promo video for the TV series for about three seconds of footage. When the show actually entered into production, the underwater elements were completely eliminated and both characters were cut. Despite my best efforts, I could not confirm if the CGI model of the Tritor BioDread had been mocked up. If these characters had been included in the series, it is likely that they would have only been in a few scenes/situations storylines due to the special effect budget limitations and the limited nature of their operational field. Much like other water-only characters in other media, it is likely that Stingray would have been like Aquaman or Zuma and condemned to filling out TPS reports back at the Power Base while the rest of the Power gang would have been out battling Dread and his tin-cans.

Why Did Captain Power Fail?
It would seem that the wind should have filled the sails of the little Captain Power enterprise and it would be one of the iconic 1980's sci-fi franchises. However, the ship sank for many reasons and Captain Power the show and toyline were dead by winter of 1988. Why? One of the reason came in the form of parenting and children's rights groups disliking the direction of children's television programs and its entanglement in the toy industry. They felt that most cartoons of the 1980's were thinly veiled 30 minute commercials and they contained too much violence. These groups really hated Captain Power and embarked on a tar-and-feather campaign that did result in directly harming the TV show's future along with the Mattel toyline. Peggy Charren, head of Action for Children's Television in 1987 also leveled this at the interactive nature of the toys and their high price tag:
 "It's remarkably unfair, the poor child couldn't participate,'' she says. ``But the problem isn't Captain Power ... it's that when this works, Mattel and Hasbro will do it with all their toys. It's going to take over, and when educational shows work the same way, then you really have a problem with the exclusion of poor kids.'' As we stated above, the VP of Mattel's entertainment division was asked to testify before Congress during their hearings into the commercialization of children's TV in September of 1987 because Captain Power was in the crosshairs of these parenting groups and lawmakers with an interest in children education. It should be noted that Ms. Charren was also at these hearings as well. Mr. Weems raised the point that owning the Power-Jet was not critical to watching and enjoying the show during these hearings.
The also brings up an issue of the price tag of these toys and that interactivity feature. Toys that were high-tech and used interactive features were becoming the hot trend for toys in 1986, 1987, and 1988. Toys like Lazer Tag, Photon, Teddy Ruxpin, and Mattel's own Bravstarr all had technology and interactivity at their electronic hearts with prices to match. Just one of the Captain Power 3 3/4th figures sold for $3.99 (about $9.28 in 2020 money) which is about standard for the time, but it was the Power Jet XT-7 that the show interactivity feature was directed aimed at, and that vehicle came with $32.99 price tag (or about $77 in 2020 money). This made for an expensive toy that was directly tied to a TV show or VHS tapes and it seemed that buyers were not convicted for spend that kind of money that was competing against laser tag systems.
More over, the toys were just okay and they much played up interactivity features was uneven. As someone that liked and watched Captain Power in 1987, I was completely not interested in the toys after seeing them in person and they reminded me of Silverhawks too much. Another element that worked against the show and toyline was that Captain Power was attempted to be all things to all viewers. Some shows span age groups, like Star Trek, Classic Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, or even ROBOTECH. Adult, teens, and kids watched these shows and it was hoped by Mattel and Landmark Entertainment Group that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future could be counted among those types of shows. The issue with this approach is that it often does not work, as Landmark Entertainment figured out too late. During the research phase for this article, I read repeated similar claims by those associated with the show that it was not aimed at kids. Gary Goddard, the developer of the show, said this to Starlog Magazine in March of 1988: "The show was definitely created with an older audience in mind. I'm not saying Captain Power is not for kids. What I am saying is that it's not just for kids." Take for example a show my 4 year old daughter watches: Paw Patrol. I have watched the show to see what my daughter is viewing and understand it when she wants or needs to talk about it. But, Paw Patrol is not a show I'm going to watch on my own and was mostly true was Captain Power for many adults. The show was stuck with a terrible title, which several involved with the show admitted to, it had a toyline, and it had the interactivity element. Moreover, the show was too short in runtime to flesh out the stories it was trying to tell, the writing was terribly uneven as all hell, and it ran in kiddy TV time-slots in most markets. These were all reasons that the show had the deck stacked against it.
We have to also remember that Captain Power was at its gold-armored heart a military science fiction show that took place in a post robot apocalypse that had its heroes in shiny metal armor and the main villain was in bad Borg cosplay with all around terrible writing/dialog. It was either too mature for the kid's or too lame for the adults. Adding insult to injury, the show was expensive to the tune of over a million dollars an episode (around $1.2 million on average), and Mattel was not having the sales of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future merchandise to cover this cost.
In total, the show came in at a total cost of $26 million. This all led to the decision by Mattel to pull their funding of the TV show in January of 1988, and thus, ending the adventures of Captain Power and company. Larry DiTillio, the story editor of the TV show, summed up to Starlog Magazine in January of 1989 the reasons why Mattel pulled out of Captain Power. He listed the backlash from parents groups about the violence, the added expense of having a live-action show instead of a cartoon in the form of residual payments to the Guilds, and lower sales of the toys than expected. Gary Goddard added that Mattel was unhappy about the direction of the show at the end of season one and the setup for season two.
The death of the character Pilot, the loss of the Power Base, and the mental toll on the group caused some major shifts for season two that would likely not be as geared for tie-in toy development as original planned when Mattel and Landmark made their deal. As I've said before, with the fate of one goes the other. When Mattel's toyline was not selling, they pulled the funding for the expensive show to stop the bleeding. According to articles I've uncovered, Mattel sold about $42 million dollars of Captain Power toys and merchandise, but Mattel had planned on around $60 million, leaving a good amount of Captain Power stock on the shelves, bound for the bargain bins.  If the toys had been a massive success, Mattel would have continued with funding the show, but that didn't happen. Despite more than a year of hunting for new partners to fund a second season of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future that did not tie into a toyline, none could be secured, thus ending the story of Captain Power and his merry band...for now

The Planned Second Season of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
In an Starlog Magazine interview from January of 1989 with Larry DiTillio and Gary Goddard, they laid out the planned 2nd season of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future without the involvement of Mattel and their demands for interactive laser battles.Without Mattel's requirements and toy, the show and setting would have been reshaped to focus more on the post-apocalypse/robot revolt elements with increased maturity. With the destruction of the Power Base and death of Jennifer "Pilot" Chase, Captain Power is a broken man and the remains of his team are playing a running battle with Dread forces with Hawk as their leader. The objectives of the machine empire would have changed, and they are now on a campaign to kill the remains of humanity. Lord Dread himself would have gone from cyborg to completely robotic, thus marking the end of the role for the actor. While looking for a new base, the team would interact with those in Eden II, the human resistance, and others in the post-Metal Wars societies, like Tech-Town. During the 2nd season, the character of Tank would have more of the certain and the new member of the Power team, the female commander "Ranger", would have been his love interest. Another female character would have been added for Dread, an android that would have been involved with the character of Scout. Then there was the hinted possibility for Sauron to leave the machine empire and join up with the human side of the war. Another hint was that Larry DiTillio, who called the show's title "the worst title for a TV show ever created", was thinking about changing the title of the show to appeal to more adults and get the "kid's show" label away from Captain Power.
How close was the production team to the 2nd season? There were 18 scripts finished, the series bible was updated when Mattel pulled out in the winter of 1988. This lead to Landmark Entertainment's now disgraced Gary Goddard to seek out new investors in the show as late as the winter of 1989 and it was a fruitless hunt. The planned 2nd season never materialized, but Landmark was able to re-acquire the rights to the first season of the show. Sadly, it would have extremely difficult to get Captain Power off of the ground again in 1989 due to the majority of the production crew and actors moving on to new jobs.

The Legacy and Impact of the Captain Power Toyline
In September of 1987, when Captain Power first started airing on TV stations, it had an immediate impact in both bad and good ways. The ratings and toy sales were actually quite good at the beginning and there were many fans of the Terminator like setting, but it had already drawn the attention of parenting groups. The flame quickly burned out and as we know, it was cancelled in the winter of 1988 to the tune of just 22 episodes. But, that did not lessen the fact that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was a groundbreaking show and toyline that attempted to break new ground with interaction and elevating kid's shows and their themes. One interesting side effect caused by failure and cancellation of Captain Power, was the hyped next frontier of toys being the interactive TV concept was halted by the companies working on their own take on interactive television products.
When we consider the show today, some 33 years later, we can see that the kids that grew up with Captain Power (like me) are still discussing it on the internet and asking for the adventures to be continued. That is impressive for a cancelled single season show. Sadly, these warm feelings of nostalgia do not extend as greatly to the Mattel toyline. While still discussed and traded on the internet and vintage toy stores, the prices for much of the toyline is reasonable and there seem to be alot of sealed & carded examples of the action figures, which is telling about the supply vs. demand for Captain Power toys at the time of their release. To me, I've always thought the story of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV and toyline was a sad one. A great deal of effort went into the TV series and the toyline and then Mattel pulls out ending the whole grand experiment.

Could Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future have been a Success?
Recently, I was discussing with a friend that I grew up and watched Captain Power back in the day about the article. He asked me if I thought Captain Power the show and toyline could have been a success. When rewatching the series, there were moments I could see a glimmer of hope and possibility with the series, especially in some of the later episodes...but it too late by then and its fate had been sealed. The Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV show and toyline could not have been success as we knew them in 1987. The basic concept of the show was sound and interesting to some degree, but the actual show was a mess and the tie-in toyline did not help matters. If the show had been titled something like "The Phoenix Project", been an hour long, dumped the shiny golden armor in favor for something more realistic, altered the designs of the robotic enemy, and not had a toyline tie-in than I could see that this show may have been a success in the syndication market of 1987. Where does that leave the Mattel interactive toys? If the toy company wanted an interactive program for their toyline than it should have been a cartoon and been something like Bravstarr, which was a Mattel property as well.  Oddly, I think the Captain Power the show, if animated, could have been a great vehicle for the toys.

Next Time on FWS...
Back in 1985 when ROBOTECH was airing on channel 41 in Tulsa, I was nine and completely obsessed with all things anime related. One day, I found this mecha toys with box-art that made me immediately think of ROBOTECH and seemed to think I had seen them somewhere before. I snapped up both of them despite not knowing what the hell "Orguss" was. For years, I could not find anything out on these odd robot toys I had...that was until I read Viz Media's Animerica #1in 1993. In the pages was a review of the VHS release of something called "The Super Dimension Century ORGUSS" and then I finally knew what those Orguss mecha toys were and why I had seemed to be familiar with them back in '85. Join us next time when FWS dives into the confusing world that is Super Dimension Century ORGUSS!




5 comments:

  1. Cool post buddy! Anyway hope u can talk about the world of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2019 in the future.

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  2. Damn,that is badass. Oh,I run a fan group on Facebook and we're hoping to reach 500 - 1k members. Even if Phoenix Rising doesn't come,that still doesn't stop the spirit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/captainpowerfangroup/

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  3. Nice write up, knew little about this show. It does have interesting elements but more or less still a expensive toy commercial, shiny costumes and all. Perhaps it was before it's time, I can easily imagine this show taking off during the Power Rangers craze of the 90's.

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  4. I caught the show on the Sci-Fi channel in the UK in the mid-to-late 90's. I vaguely remember the toys from catalogues as well, when they were first around, but like many toylines here in the UK, we never got the cartoon on network TV and it existed as an 'orphan' show unless you had satellite TV.
    I remember being really interested in the setting and the plot when I did see it, as it had a lot of things that hit the mark for me; powered armour heroes, a post-apocalyptic setting, and machine vs. man warfare, all things that have been parts of my own creative efforts.

    One thing you didn't note in the article that's of interest: J. Michael Straczynski was involved in writing 10 of the episodes and 'The Beginning' TV Movie as well.

    I could imagine this show being good with a re-write and a reboot, and aimed at an older audience with a more gritty tone, and more attention to detail and consistency, almost like the reboot Battlestar Galactica, with more personal drama. With modern effects as well, the future of the show could be realized very convincingly too.

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  5. I must admit, spending much of my early childhood out of the States, my interaction with iconic 80s franchises were severely limited to only the most lauded of franchises that survived (in one form or another) to the modern day. Everything else had to be something I scrounged about in the toy bin of the local thrift store. I do recall finding an XT-7 Power-Jet, but like all tings related to a thrift store, it was missing parts and its electronic operations suspect at best. However, I do recall a visit to one of my richer cousins who had one of those toys as well as a VHS. Anything more was limited to YouTube.

    But reading the premise and the technology behind the franchise, I can't help but think if it came just too early to be a real success with what it had to juggle with. Maybe incorporate some of the interactivity with some break-the-forth-wall elements to give the younger audience the illusion of actually effecting the plot of the episode. Then again, what decade would Captain Power really thrive if not the 80s?

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