Top 10: Brands Super7 Won’t License (But Should) by Jerry Whitworth
In recent years, Super7 has turned from a toy producer for a small niche market of collectors to having some of its wares being recognized by the big companies and put in major retail markets. If there’s a popular action figure line from the 1980s or ’90s, Super7 has either licensed it or has made a play for it. We did a top ten last year for brands Super7 should tap with the Simpsons already snapped up and Dungeons and Dragons revealed to be something the company is actively in the process of seeking. However, having already secured over three dozen licenses over the years, there’s some they simply won’t touch for a variety of reasons. Lets look at some of those options that they should license but likely will not.
The final production from Ruby-Spears before it shut down, Skysurfer Strike Force was an animated series co-produced with Japanese animation studio Ashi Productions that ran for two seasons from 1995 to 1996 for 26 episodes. When scientist Adam Hollister is murdered and the artificial brain he built was stolen to make the cyborg super-criminal Cybron, Adam’s son Jack used his father’s technology to become the hero Skysurfer 1 and formed a hero team with his friends to battle Cybron and bring the killer to justice. Airing as part of Bohbot Entertainment’s Amazin’ Adventures animation block in syndication, Skysurfer Strike Force borrowed elements of Toei’s various tokusatsu superhero shows (adapted at this point in the United States with Power Rangers, VR Troopers, and Masked Rider) with a toyline from Bandai of the five heroes. An interesting series with beautiful animation and good character designs, Skysurfer Strike Force is nonetheless a virtually unknown series in the modern consciousness. So while Super7 would undoubtedly produce a wicked interpretation of the show, they have more marketable brands to produce.
From the minds at DIC and Northern Lights Entertainment, 1997’s Mummies Alive! was another syndicated animated series inspired in part by the success of Power Rangers. Telling the story of Presley Carnovan, a twelve-year old boy from San Francisco who is the reincarnation of Egyptian prince Rapses XII, and his struggle with the ancient sorcerer Scarab who sought to sacrifice him to gain immortality, the series featured mummy guardians returned to life to protect the child. Ja-Kal, Rath, Armon, and Nefer-Tina were powerful warriors in their own right but by invoking the sun god Ra and their spirit animals, acquired magical armor and weapons. Airing for a single season with 42 episodes, Mummies Alive! had a toyline from Kenner with eight action figures and three vehicles (a second wave was planned with six of those figures released exclusively in Europe). Falling into a similar situation as Skysurfer Strike Force, Mummies Alive! had an interesting plot with good characters but isn’t terribly well known.
Another series inspired by Toei’s tokusatsu superhero shows, Ciro Nieli of Teen Titans (2003) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) fame produced Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! for Disney’s Jetix programming block in 2004. The first original series for Jetix, SRMTHFG centered around Chiro, a young boy living in Shuggazoom City that stumbled upon a giant robot and its five cyborg monkey pilots in stasis. Waking them from their slumber, the monkeys help turn Chiro into a superhero just as their nemesis Skeleton King returned to try and destroy the world. Running from 2004 to 2006 for four seasons and 52 episodes, the series itself was very popular but it’s believed the merchandise it relied upon for revenue didn’t perform well enough to finish the series. Speaking of which, Hasbro produced twelve action figures and two deluxe figures for the series in 2005. SRMTHFG was popular with a cult-like following and a myriad of characters to choose from for a Super7 line. The real issue is that it seems as though Disney, now home to the likes of Star Wars and Marvel Comics, doesn’t seem interested in many of its original properties lacking such marketable notoriety. Still, with NECA tackling Gargoyles and renewed interest in the Disney Afternoon properties, time will tell if the lax brand could re-emerge.
A live action syndicated television series from the 1980s, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future eerily bears some similarities to Toei’s Metal Hero series a decade before America saw VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. Therein, Jonathan Power formed a resistance unit in the future where machines have conquered Earth. The group is aided by technology developed by Power’s father in suits of advanced armor and weaponry. Airing for a single season of 22 episodes in 1987, Captain Power used cutting edge CGI and had an interactive toyline from Mattel. With ten figures, eleven vehicles, four accessories, and two playsets, the show’s selling point was that many of these toys reacted to the television program. However, decidedly mature in content, the show and the intended audience meant to interact with it didn’t align well. With a cult-like following today, Captain Power was ahead of its time as similar shows like it have become popular now. Attempts have been made in recent years to revive the show but such has stalled which would affect its likelihood of being tackled by Super7.
With Mister T having a popular animated series in 1983, the door was opened to celebrities getting their own cartoons. Produced by Ruby-Spears, it was followed up by the studio with Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos in syndication in 1986. A fictionalized version of Chuck Norris as a government operative leading the Karate Kommandos against the evil organization VULTURE, the show only received five episodes. Toy giant Kenner immortalized the brand in plastic with ten figures and one vehicle, Karate Kommandos had the unfortunate circumstance of emerging during the bubble burst of the action figure market. The show has lived on in an almost urban legendary status in that many vaguely remember a Chuck Norris cartoon and toys as well as the occasional airing of the show’s limited run on [adult swim]. But that hardly seems to be enough recognition to get a Super7 second life.
Another product of Amazin’ Adventures made from an association between DIC and Italian studio Reteitalia, S.p.A., Double Dragon was a 1993 cartoon based on the popular video game series of the same name. Loosely based on the first game of the franchise (while loosely using character designs from Super Double Dragon), the television adaptation followed brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee who were separated at birth and trained to be Kung Fu masters. While Billy was raised by his father John’s teacher Oldest Dragon of the Dragon Dojo, Jimmy grew up in the Shadow Dojo under his malevolent uncle Shadow Master. Jimmy ascended to the status of Shadow Boss just under his uncle and worked to take over Metro City by eliminating his brother. However, having a change of heart, Jimmy aligned with Billy against their uncle to form the Dragon Warriors. Like with several entries thus far, a transformation element like the Toei tokusatsu heroes was introduced as the brothers used magic swords to adopt mystic armor. The show was loosely adapted for the game Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls as Tyco released a toyline of seven figures and three vehicles. Running for two seasons with 26 episodes, the failure of the action figures on market sadly ended the series prematurely. Unlike many of the items on this list, Double Dragon’s brand has persisted over the years though contributions the show introduced have largely been forgotten.
When a giant robot travels backward through time into modern day New Jersey, gamer, mechanic, and all-around-slacker Coop turned it into the ultimate fighting machine Megas with him as its nigh-unstoppable pilot. As the thief that stole it in revolutionary Kiva Andru and the alien warmongering Glorft that built it emerge to reclaim the weapon, Coop and his best friend Jamie are dragged into an intergalactic, time hopping battle for the fate of all time and space. Megas XLR arrived on Cartoon Network in 2004 from the minds of George Krstic and Jody Schaeffer, an action/adventure comedy that proved to be popular and developed a cult-like following. Airing for two seasons with 26 episodes, the show ended in favor of newer programs that appealed to the same demographic in Teen Titans and Ben 10. Despite this, interest for the brand has persisted for decades only for Warner Bros to seemingly want to bury it now and forever. Thus, it’s a product people desperately want but whose owner has chosen to ignore it. As an aside, the closest the series ever came to toys is a promotional figure of Megas given away at the 2003 San Diego Comic-Con.
With a deep rooted concern for the future of planet Earth, media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner wanted to develop a brand that would raise awareness about issues troubling the world and get children invested into caring about the problem. A fellow environmental activist that Turner brought in as an executive into his media empire earlier in Barbara Pyle brainstormed with her boss into a concept for a superhero called Captain Planet. After a team of creatives hashed out the idea, Captain Planet and the Planeteers debuted on TBS in 1990. Therein, the physical embodiment of the spirit of Earth Gaia organized a teams of youths to combat the growing crisis to the planet’s health. Dubbed the Planeteers, the youths are provided with rings each with control over a different mythological element (i.e. earth, fire, wind, water, and heart/animals). However, in times when the rings were not enough, the Planeteers can combine the powers to form Captain Planet, a physical embodiment of those elements. The series proved massively successful, airing for six seasons with 113 episodes (the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Simpsons the only animated series to have longer runs in the ’90s). A myriad of products emerged including a line of toys from Tiger with some three dozen action figures, four vehicles, and three accessories as a portion of all revenue went toward environmental efforts where toys had to be made from recycled products or be recyclable. While ending in 1996, the brand has persisted for years. Likely, the primary issue that would prevent Super7 from tackling the series is undoubtedly the property owner would want a similar recyclable aspect of the toys that the company couldn’t feasibly accomplish.
Sometimes referred to as Japan’s Hanna-Barbera, animation studio Tatsunoko is best known in America for its 1972 series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (localized as Battle of the Planets and G-Force: Guardians of Space), its contributions to the gestalt 1982 series Robotech, and the original Speed Racer cartoon in 1967. Despite dozens of productions over the decades, the company is remembered for its superhero series which likely inspired many of the Toei tokusatsu superhero programs that followed. Neo Human Casshan, Hurricane Polymar, Space Knight Tekkaman, Yatterman, and Gyakuten! Ippatsuman are some of the more notable contributions they made to the genre. With Super7 being an American company, odds are its in the realm of possibility they could one day render Battle of the Planets but the other brands are relatively unknown in the United States.
At one time the premier animation studio for American television, Hanna-Barbera was to TV what Disney was to movie theaters. Best known for Scooby-Doo, Flintstones, and Yogi Bear, Hanna-Barbera produced programming for over four decades before being merged into the entity known today as WarnerMedia. Much like with Disney and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, the studio might have heavyweights like the aforementioned Scooby-Doo and Flintstones which persist today but in the face of the Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, DC Comics, Mortal Kombat, and ThunderCats, what use are Yogi Bear, Jonny Quest, and Space Ghost? So while it’s possible the world might eventually get Mystery, Inc. and the Flintstones from Super7, chances are not strong we’ll ever see the Herculoids or the Pirates of Dark Water.
Honorable mentions: Jackie Chan Adventures, Mighty Max, Skeleton Warriors, Biker Mice from Mars, Zen the Intergalactic Ninja, Bots Master, Secret Saturdays, Warriors of Virtue, Thundarr the Barbarian, Food Fighters, and Rambo: The Force of Freedom.