What Could Have Been: Secret Wars the Animated Series by Jerry Whitworth
The success of the Star Wars toyline from Kenner almost single-handedly jump started the collectible action figure market that helped give rise to Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers and Mattel’s Masters of the Universe. DC Comics wanted to capitalize upon the growing phenomenon and courted toy companies to develop a line adapting its properties. Previously, the Mego Corporation produced the World’s Greatest Superheroes line which incorporated characters from both DC and Marvel (which later evolved into Pocket Super Heroes following Kenner’s success with Star Wars). By 1983, Mego had gone out of business and Kenner snagged DC’s license. On the chance that superheroes might be the next big fad (as Tonka rushed production of GoBots to set the stage for Transformers to dominate toy aisles the following year), Mattel sought Marvel to have its properties competing for space against Kenner’s Super Powers toys. Previously, Marvel had worked closely with Hasbro to develop its G.I. Joe and Transformers brands including comics and cartoons to promote the lines. With Mattel, Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter envisioned a limited series bringing together the company’s most prominent heroes and villains. The toy company’s test groups demonstrated the words “secret” and “war” were popular with boys providing the name Secret Wars for the comic and toyline. Sadly, the series only spawned two waves of figures (with three figures dropped exclusively in Europe to dump them), ending a year before the action figure market bubble burst in 1986. However, could the line have performed better had it been accompanied by an animated series?
In 1981, Marvel Comics founded Marvel Productions which over time helped produce Dungeons & Dragons for TSR (as LJN made a largely unrelated toyline for the brand), a myriad of series for Hasbro including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and My Little Pony, and Muppet Babies for Jim Henson Productions (based off a sequence in the 1984 film The Muppets Take Manhattan). Of course, Marvel also brought to the small screen many of its own properties including Spider-Man, Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, and the Incredible Hulk in 1981 and 1982 (the former two running popularly in syndication into the late ’80s, even accompanying an X-Men pilot in 1989). Daredevil, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Howard the Duck (as well as new characters the Monstress, Teen Hulk, Hulk Hound, and the Aliens) were also in development for their own individual series, Daredevil so far as ordered to series by ABC, but sadly never materialized. Prior to being Marvel Productions, the company was named DFE (DePatie–Freleng Enterprises) Films which was acquired by Marvel’s parent company Cadence Industries and produced The New Fantastic Four and Spider-Woman in the late ’70s. Across these five produced series, a multitude of superheroes and villains made it to television. In addition to the Fantastic Four (minus Human Torch who was replaced by a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E.), Spider-Woman, Spider-Friends, and the Hulk, heroes such as Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, She-Hulk, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Inhumans, and more emerged in these shows. Villains like Dr. Doom, Magneto, Red Skull, Loki, Green Goblin, Dormammu, Leader, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Frightful Four, Dracula, Blastaar, and the members of the Sinister Six appeared to combat them. So, certainly, the character models and voice actors were in place to match the gravity of what the comic book series and toyline had to offer.
Within the Secret Wars comic, some three dozen heroes and villains made up the cast of combatants of its narrative. Despite this, the toyline featured about half a dozen characters that didn’t even appear in its published counterpart (which is impressive when considering only 16 figures were produced). The alleged unreleased figures proposed only furthered this bizarre phenomenon as the likes of Abomination, Annihilus, Dazzler, and Mystique were also planned. One could only wonder what would have made it into a proposed Secret Wars animated series, but given the relationship between Hanna-Barbera and Kenner for Super Powers, it’s likely such a cartoon would’ve followed closer to the comic book in cast along with some aforementioned characters already modeled and voice cast (perhaps even original characters such as Lightwave or the Great Magini could have made the cut). Also, around this time Marvel leaned heavily on Toei Animation and AKOM Productions for its animated projects who likely would’ve been their go-to to bring the series to life. Sadly, the closest we’ll ever come to having ever seen this series realized happened in 1997 for the three-part “Secret Wars” storyline of Spider-Man which brought together characters from across four different animated series (X-Men, Iron Man: The Animated Series, and Fantastic Four).