Rememberin’ Amazin’ Adventures by Jerry Whitworth
Considering the success of USA Cartoon Express, Disney Afternoon, and Fox Kids, other companies in the early 1990s wanted to capitalize on the popularity of animated programming blocks for children. One such corporation was Bohbot Communications which founded subsidiary Bohbot Entertainment to package programming for syndication. Forming a partnership with DiC Entertainment and Saban Entertainment, Bohbot developed the Amazin’ Adventures programming block in 1992 premiering with Double Dragon, Mighty Max, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, and Gulliver’s Travels. Arguably the biggest hit of Amazin’ Adventures, Double Dragon was loosely based on the video game series of the same name from Technos Japan.
Likely Technos Japan’s biggest hit in the United States, the Double Dragon video game series featured brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee who battled the Black Warriors to save Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend Marian (only to reveal the gang was actually led by Jimmy). As the Shadow Boss, Jimmy desired Marian for himself and set up the ruse to defeat his brother. Billy would end up winning out over his sibling and saved Marian. In the sequel, the Black Warriors return and kill Marian drawing the Lee brothers together again on a quest for revenge against the evil Shadow Master (though, defeating him seemingly resurrects Marian). In the animated series, Marian is police officer Marian Martin whose life is saved by Billy Lee. As the Shadow Warriors gang takes over Metro City, Marian deputizes Billy leading the martial arts master to meet his long lost brother Jimmy, better known as Shadow Boss. When Shadow Master (who kidnapped Jimmy as a baby and raised him as his protege) betrays his student, Jimmy switches alliances to Billy and the two take up magical swords to transform into the Double Dragons. Forming the Dragon Warriors with other heroes, the Lee brothers combat Shadow Master and later Shadow Khan. The series would run for two seasons and inspired a video game adaptation in Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls and a toyline from Tyco. The animated series that followed Double Dragon would be one based on a toyline.
In the early 1990s, Mattel would license the lucrative Polly Pocket toyline from UK-based Bluebird Toys to be distributed in the United States. Originally, the toys were playsets that folded up and could fit in your pocket with miniature figurines you would play with in these little portable worlds. Marketed to girls, there was a desire to make an equivalent for boys. Bluebird developed Mighty Max which featured the eponymous character in action-themed sets with monsters for him to battle. Mattel would also license this line and an animated series was developed to help promote the toys. For the show, Max is chosen to bear a magical baseball cap that opens up portals across the Earth and on occasion through time and to the astral plane. Joined by birdlike Lemurian Virgil and massive viking swordsman Norman, Max is chased by the evil Skullmaster whose followers seek the cap to free the villain from his subterranean prison. Featuring the voice talents of Tim Curry and Richard Moll, the series was unusually dark for its time (or even today). It was common for monsters in the series to kill its victims and the series finale featured the demise of Virgil and Norman. Marvel UK would produce a comic adaptation of the series as the toyline changed to reflect the cartoon’s storyline. The series ended after two seasons. The next show in the line-up was also one of sword and sorcery.
King Arthur and the Knights of Justice would be an intriguing series in that while being based on the Arthurian myth, it featured a team of football players transported back in time by Merlin in order to replace the actual knights of the round table who had been captured by their nemesis Morgana. Sort of combining elements of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the Flash Gordon film, and Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, the show was very much a mixed bag. The series’ star, Arthur King, is in fact such a perfect stand-in for King Arthur, he’s able to masquerade as the king even in the presence of wife Guinevere (which adds a bit of a quasi-superhero element to the series as Arthur in a manner is a hero with a secret identity with a bit of a metal hero element to it). The first season featured the stand-in Knights of Justice trying to free the real knights by locating the Keys of Truth while protecting Camelot from Morgana’s Warlords led by Lord Viper (the only human among his knights, his subordinates made magically from stone). The second season added a rather significant wrinkle to the show by introducing the Purple Horde, a clan of Asian warriors which seemed to include samurai and ninja whom employed gunpowder in a bid to conquer England. An enemy of both Arthur and the Warlords, the Horde held its own against both and at times would help one side or the other (the desire to conquer aligning with Morgana, bound by honor at times to stand with Arthur). The show would last two seasons and spawned a Marvel comic series, toyline from Mattel, and video game from Enix (the game actually featuring the football team return home). Gulliver’s Travels from Saban lasted one season and adapted the famous novel by Jonathan Swift. Series like The Hurricanes, Around the World in Eighty Dreams, and The Wizard of Oz would also come along before Amazin’ Adventures II premiered.
Other channels began dipping their toes in action-based children programming blocks around this time. CBS developed the Action Zone in 1994 with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wild C.A.T.s, and Skeleton Warriors (with a comic book one-shot produced) which, sadly, didn’t last long. In 1995, Warner Bros. premiered its wildly popular Kids’ WB block. That same year, Bohbot would incorporate series from Ruby-Spears Productions and New Frontier Entertainment in its new package which would be dubbed Amazin’ Adventures II. This revised block featured Gadget Boy & Heather (based on Inspector Gadget), Ultraforce, Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, Street Sharks, and Mega Man. Based on the Malibu Comics’ flagship title and originally airing on the USA Network, Ultraforce featured Prime, Hardcase, Prototype, Topaz, Ghoul, and Contrary as they teamed to face threats like Rune, Lord Pumpkin, Primevil, and Sludge. Thirteen episodes were made for what ended up almost a universally panned series. Galoob would make a toyline before it came to an end. Bohbot would again go back into Arthurian myth again following King Arthur and the Knights of Justice with Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders.
From the mind behind The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Robert Mandell had developed an animated adaptation of the popular series Dragonriders of Pern only for the rights to fall through. Re-purposing work done and calling in some of the staff from Galaxy Rangers, the concept would become Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders. With some elements reminiscent of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld and the magical girl genre in Japan, Princess Gwenevere tells the story of Gwenevere and her friends Fallon and Tamara who became the Jewel Riders and must defend Avalon from Lady Kale, Gwen’s aunt, and save their mentor Merlin. In its second season, Merlin’s nemesis Morgana returns to form an alliance with Kale and troubles the Jewel Riders who still seek to save Merlin. Co-produced with Hasbro, the series would have a toyline from that company and despite only lasting two seasons, the series has an ongoing legacy in the Avalon: Web of Magic book series by Rachel Roberts which itself was adapted into the manga series Avalon: The Warlock Diaries and will be made into a film in the future.
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a phenomenon in pop culture, several brands emerged either purposefully or by coincidence to capitalize on its success. One such notable brand was David Siegel and Joe Galliani’s Street Sharks. For this series, a pair of scientists create a machine able to combine the DNA of aquatic life with other species intended to help humanity (such as with water rescue or deep sea exploration, concepts reminiscent of TigerSharks and Mega Man). Called the Gene-Slammer, Dr. Luther Paradigm betrayed his partner Dr. Robert Bolton turning him into some unseen monstrosity that escapes. For good measure, Paradigm decides to test the device on Bolton’s four sons, combining each with the DNA of a different shark. Transformed into the Street Sharks, the brothers save their friend Bends from becoming Paradigm’s next victim (with the scientist instead having his DNA melded with that of a piranha). The experience changes Paradigm’s focus from using the technology toward creating living weapons for the highest bidder to seeking revenge against the Sharks, making various monsters to battle them and concocting schemes to discredit them in the public eye of Fission City. Along the way, several of the creatures Paradigm spawned ended up becoming allies of the heroes. The end of the series would set-up a spin-off in Extreme Dinosaurs. Street Sharks would begin as a three-part mini-series before becoming two full seasons before ending. Archie Comics, who produced a comic book series loosely based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, published a mini-series based on the first three episodes of Street Sharks before becoming an ongoing series that lasted three issues. Mattel produced six waves of action figures over the span of two years based on the series.
One of the most recognizable characters of Capcom’s library, Mega Man has starred in over one hundred games. Some of the earliest exposure children in America may have had with the character was his role in the animated series Captain N: The Game Master. In 1994, Mega Man would get to star in his own animated series thanks to Ruby-Spears Productions, Ashi Productions, and Ocean Productions. A Japanese franchise produced to be an American cartoon animated by a Japanese studio, Mega Man featured scientists Dr. Light and Dr. Wily developing robots to help humanity only for their initial prototype to destroy their lab after activation. Light blamed the malfunction on Wily leading the latter to leave with the prototype in tow (later known as Proto Man). Light went on to build two robots based on the prototype’s design in Rock and Roll which, in essence, became like the scientist’s children. The design now perfected, Light built Cut Man, Guts Man, and Ice Man only for Wily and Proto to steal these latest models which were reprogrammed as weapons. Light would remodel Rock into the warrior Mega Man to battle this new threat who had the ability to copy the abilities of defeated robots. Wily would build many new robots but Mega Man would rise to the challenge. The show was a hit with viewers and was the number one weekly syndicated children’s show on television. Characters from the first five Mega Man games as well as Mega Man X made it into the series. Mega Man spawned two waves of action figures from Bandai before the series ended after two seasons. Rumor has it, the show ended due to the toyline. Reportedly, Capcom pulled the series despite its success under pressure from Bandai whose sales expectations ran short on several of its other toylines.
By 1996, the USA Network would add a new programming block called USA Action Extreme Team which included Exosquad, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, Savage Dragon, Wing Commander Academy, and, in time, would largely rerun series from Amazin’ Adventures. The while, new series would emerge on Amazin’ Adventures in Captain Simian & the Space Monkeys, Eagle Riders (Gatchaman II and Gatchaman Fighter, part of the franchise better known in America as Battle of the Planets), and Skysurfer Strike Force. Founded in 1993, Epoch Ink Animation was the brainchild of animation creator and producer Joe Pearson which was given its big break in 1995 with Captain Simian & the Space Monkeys. Ordered by Hallmark Entertainment, the show featured a monkey test fired into outer space and discovered by a highly advanced race. In order to combat the threat of a black hole/humanoid-hybrid named Lord Nebula, the monkey is evolved and educated becoming the series star Captain Simian. To assist in his quest, other primates from Earth are recruited and evolved to form the Space Monkeys. Combining humor and action, the series paid homage to numerous science fiction films and series like Planet of the Apes, Alien, Plan 9 from Outer Space, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Lawnmower Man, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Blade Runner, as well as featuring voice actors like Jerry Doyle (Babylon 5), Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), and David Warner (Time Bandits, Tron). The series would last one season and spawn a toyline designed by Bluebird Toys and released by Mattel. Epoch Ink would go on to produce design and consultation work on the Gen¹³ animated feature and Crash Bandicoot game.
Previously working together on Mega Man, Ruby-Spears Productions and Ashi Productions collaborated again to create Skysurfer Strike Force. When scientist Adam Hollister is killed in an explosion at a lab developing artificial intelligence, he’s blamed for the event as the computer brain he developed was stolen by his killer who fused with the apparatus to become the criminal Cybron. Adam’s son Jack uses his father’s technology to prove his innocence and battle Cybron and his evil Bio-Borgs as Skysurfer One, leader of the Skysurfer Strike Force. Some amalgamation of Super Sentai and Metal Hero (maybe with a little Bionic Six mixed in), the heroes use wrist watch devices to transform as their cars turn into large air boards. Like Mega Man, the series is a bit of an odd bird in that the animation was clearly in the Japanese vein that rather obviously was based on something from Japan (as mentioned, Super Sentai and Metal Hero, which in America at that time meant Power Rangers and VR Troopers, while even Bionic Six was animated by Japanese studio TMS Entertainment). And yet, the quality of the writing was fairly atrocious which to a degree was on the way out in animation around this time in the United States (that seems to be on the rise again today). The series lasted two seasons and spawned a toyline from Bandai (another parallel from Mega Man).
Bohbot would retire Amazin’ Adventures in 1997, replacing it with Bohbot Kids Network (better known as BKN). That same year, Cartoon Network would adopt its wildly popular Toonami animation block. Bohbot would abandon the weekend format for a weekly schedule. Lasting for three more years, BKN would air series like Extreme Dinosaurs, Extreme Ghostbusters, Sonic Underground, and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles as well as various reruns of previously aired series. Mentioned earlier, Extreme Dinosaurs was a spin-off of Street Sharks that also had a toyline from Mattel. Extreme Ghostbusters was a sequel to The Real Ghostbusters based on a toyline from Trendmasters that had three video games based on it. Character Kylie Griffin would prove so notable that she would be adapted for IDW Publishing’s comic series based on the Ghostbusters franchise. Sonic Underground was the third animated series based on the Sonic the Hedgehog video game franchise that was completely unrelated to the previous cartoon adaptations. Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles was based on the novel and film Starship Troopers. The series would develop a cult-like following that managed to get the series released out on DVD. As mentioned, many of the shows syndicated by Bohbot would have a lasting legacy airing in reruns on the USA Network. Roughnecks was fortunate in getting a complete release as many of the series noted either never officially made it to DVD or were released cheaply for chain markets (where a handful of seemingly random episodes were put on a single DVD). Cookie Jar Media has started taking certain lesser known series and collecting them in sets on DVD at low prices, including Street Sharks and Gadget Boy’s Adventures in History (a spin-off of Gadget Boy & Heather).