The Short-Lived Story of AniMax

Hello all and welcome back. The next series of comics we are looking at is called Animax, based off a failed toy line and released by Star Comics, the kids’ branch of Marvel. This book is different from The A-Team and Smurfs as I had never heard of it in any shape or form when I was a kid. The first time I found this book was 2011 when I found issue one at Mavericks Cards and Comics for a whooping 25 cents! That’s the one good thing about living in Dayton, there are many great places to get comics. Besides Mavericks, we also have Bell, Book and Comic, Bookery Fantasy, Half Price Books, Superfly Comics, Dark Star, Fearless Reader, Game Swap Kettering and a few other places you can find issues.

Every store is different and each carries something that sets it apart from the others making them all worth checking out if you ever find yourself in the area and looking for comics, toys, books, movies, video games, card games, sports cards and everything else that will send your nerdom into overdrive. In fact this review is possible thanks to both Mavericks and Bell, Book and Comic where I found all four issues in this mini series. So thanks, guys!

Star Comics has always fascinated me and to this day I still find myself always looking for issues that escaped me when I was younger. Marvel Comics started Star back in 1984 and closed it in 1988. The four year run was enough time for them to gobble up properties like Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, Silver Hawks, Muppet Babies, Care Bears, Star Wars and many more popular toy and cartoon lines. Star gave the properties short comic runs to satisfy kids who craved all they could get of their favorite characters. But Star also gave us some great original characters like Planet Terry, Wally The Wizard, Top Dog, Spider-Ham and Royal Roy. While fans didn’t know these characters at first, we eventually learned to love and respect them. The best and most loved from the originals was Peter Porker (Spider-Ham), a pig man who turned into a Spider-Man like hero – great silly stuff. He was followed by Wally The Wizard. It’s a shame that Marvel didn’t give Star enough time to fully grow and become the next big thing in kids’ comics since Archie. I am sure that Star’s fall came with poor sales and high payouts to get licensed properties. But years after shutting them down, Marvel continued to put out books based on cartoons from Captain Planet to the Toxic Crusaders. I missed Star Comics when it was gone and would have loved to see the company put out some issues based on other toy lines of the day. Look for a followup blog soon about the toy and cartoon lines I wished they would have done.

AniMax made its first appearance at the 1986 Toy Fair and was the brain child of Mel Birnkrants and Schaper Toys (the folks who brought you Ants in the Pants, Cootie and Don’t Break the Ice). The toy line featured Max Action and his vehicle Jungle Max as they led the AniMax as the evil X-Tinctor and his vehicle Obliterator led the mutant Car-nivores in a future world where both sides clashed in order to see who would rule their world. The AniMax vehicles were alive, half animals and half automobile, controlled by helmets that the riders wear. The toy line was a hit at the Toy Fair, with its live actors and cool figures. The hype was in place for this to be the next big thing in action figures. Later in 1986, Schaper sold to Tyco toys, and this started the beginning of the end for AniMax.

The toy line was a second thought to Tyco who wanted other properties within Schaper, and so the toys were half assed with poor cheap paint jobs and no commercial push, making them flood the shelves at toy stores and quickly go straight to the markdown bin. A funny note: both main characters Max Action and X-Tinctor never actually made it out to stores. AniMax was also supposed to get a cartoon to fuel the fire. Much like the commercial support, the cartoon never happened making the name and toys fade away without so much as a whisper. But out of the grim future of the toyline came one glimmer of hope to help make kids care about the cheap looking toys: Star Comics issue # 1 of AniMax!

Star Comics decided to take a chance on AniMax and made some issues to try to draw some buzz. But sadly without a cartoon or a solid toy line, the comic lasted only four issues before it landed in the cancel bin. It’s odd that these pretty cool characters with a really great storyline never got the fair shot they deserved. My knowledge of this subject and amazing pictures are thanks to Mel Birnkrants and his website who had all the history of this failed toy/cartoon line.

Now it’s time to take a look at this short Star Comics Mini series and see just how well the idea of this series translated to comics. Remember, I grade these on a standard 1-4 star rating and am looking at how well the comic keeps to the source material, its entertainment value, and its art and story.

AniMax # 1 ***

Released in 1986    Cover Price .75    Star Comics   #1 of 4

This issue is “Days of Wrath” and has Max Action and his AniMax Jungle Max (Lion Machine) battered and dying at the feet of X-Tinctor and his evil band of mutants, who have set up the hero. Tiger Trakker and the rest of the AniMax swoop in and run off the mutants to find their weak leader who dies in Tiger’s arms. They take Max’s body and send Jungle to the junkyard. All hope looks lost for the people of Peoplopolis. Heater and her Mother own the Museum, and unbeknownst to Tiger and his men, they have a clone machine that they use to bring Max back to life! When some mutants sneak into the compound Tiger comes face to face with the clone who moves and acts like his fallen friend and leader. In the battle Mother is killed, and Max must prove that he is who he says by saving Jungle Max from death’s door. As more mutants come in for the attack, Tiger and Max flee the city to save Jungle Max and to get the proof that the savior is alive.

What a fun action packed first issue that pulls no punches and starts with the main hero dying, one of many deaths. When the mutants sneak into the compound, they shoot and kill two humans, and the panel shows the bullets passing through the bodies, making this the first Star Comic I can think of that features that much violence. This issue’s plot is the start of a war between the humans and the mutants and is the restart of the warrior known as Max Action. The death of Max Action is shocking to start the issue off with and his rebirth is true classic sci-fi/Frankenstein inspired stuff. On the downside, the issue don’t explain much of who, why and what the AniMax universe is all about and for the most part flings you in as if their history is common knowledge, or as if it was coming off a cartoon series. But even after being flung in, the storyline is pretty cool and for some reason drew me into wanting to see what was going to happen next. The issue is also packed with lots of action, making it very exciting. The art is well done and is very much that Marvel style of the late 80s. The cover is also great and very much eye catching, showing action and Max and X-Tinctor. Over all it’s a nice start to the series and made me want to see what is going to happen in issue 2. 

AniMax # 2  ***

Released in 1986    Cover Price .75    Star Comics   #2 of 4

“The Siege of Peoplopolis” is the second issue’s plot and has X-Tinctor and his mutants launching a full on attack to the walls of Peoplopolis, pushing the rest of the AniMax to fight harder to save the innocent people. Tiger Trakker takes Max to the living jungle and has mini-Animax help him track down Jungle Max who is on the highway of death, as he holds off the mutants that were tracking them. Max finds Jungle, and the two reconnect. While still injured Jungle and Max help Tiger out and head back to town. The walls of Peoplopolis have fallen, and X-Tinctor has entered the city and the remaining AniMax know they can not win, until Max and Tiger show back up and open a can of woop ass on the Mutants who flee…for now. The town and his fellow warriors are shocked to see Max as Heater shares her feeling for the hero. Tiger tells Max his secret of being a clone is safe with him as they take Jungle to get repaired. X-Tinctor meanwhile has a evil plan the he will execute in the next issue.

Issue two is good but not nearly as well done as the first though it’s still fun and action and drama packed. The plot has X-Tinctor trying to bring down the humans and kill or make the remaining AniMax join his side while Max is trying to come to grips with being a clone and trying to save his lion friend Jungle Max from the graveyard. This issue brings up lots of great emotions as Max must come to grips with the fact he is not the original but is the face of hope to many people and also touches up on his love for Heater. It then builds up the true friendship of Max and Tiger and gives it an almost Prince Adam and Man-At-Arms (Masters of the Universe) bond that has one keeping a major secret for the other. Plus the road of death sure does look a hell of a lot like the yellow brick road of Wizard of Oz fame. While drama-filled, this issues still packs in action as the mutants attack the city’s walls and Tiger Trakker fights a bunch of blood thirsty ones as well. This is a nice follow up issue, and let’s you a little more into the world of AniMax, fleshing out characters a little better. The art once more is well done as is the cover that again pops with action. Over all it’s a nice follow up to issue one.

AniMax # 3  **1/2

Released in 1986    Cover Price .75    Star Comics   #3 of 4

“The Retread Plot” is the third issue’s name and has the cloned Max Action wondering if he is as good as the original because of his lackluster shooting. Tiger is also concerned now and thinks the clone might not be able to handle being a leader. Max goes to visit Heater in Peoplopolis as X-Tinctor unleashes a giant rubber air man named Retread to find the hideout of the AniMax, following Max to the secret location. Retread, who can float when releasing air from his massive frame, sets off the hideout’s alarm, and the AniMax go after him. But X-Tinctor and the Mutants show up to save their man and to get the info he has tucked away before he deflates and forgets all his knowledge. All looks dim as the Mutants take Retread over the bridge of doom and into the dark side of Earth. But one well timed shot from Max hits the rubber man deflating him and saving the location of their secret hideout.

This issue is very cheesy and does not pack the drama of the action of the first two issues. The story has a few moments of drama as Max and Tiger both question his ability to lead the world’s only hope team, but the quickly follows Retread as he tries to get away with the knowledge of the AniMax base. I was not a fan of the cheesy comedy and wished they would have stayed closer to the style of the first two issues’ plots. However even with the terrible shift from action-drama to action-comedy, the reader is treated to more of what and who the AniMax are showing that they are the humans’ last hope in a world that was left in terrible shape after doomsday. Plus I like how they showed the Bridge of Doom, a gateway the separates the Light Side from the Dark Side. X-Tinctor also himself to be another bad guy who just can’t seem to get that win putting him alongside Skeletor, Moonstar and many other 80’s cartoon bad guys. Over all issue three is not as good as previous issues but was still a solid read. The art in this one is pretty good but a few panels seem rushed, not to mention the cover on this one smells of pure cheese. 

AniMax # 4  **

Released in 1986    Cover Price $1.00    Star Comics   #4 of 4

This is the fourth and final issue and starts off with Max and crew fighting X-Tinctor and crew on the Bridge of Doom over a human slave girl. In the fight Max is hit with a large dose of radiation and fellow AniMax Tarmac who controls the horse is kidnapped. X-Tinctor has a plan to learn about the bond that allows the humans to talk to their machine animals. If he can learn this power and take control over his machine animal to unleash its full power that would be able to bring the end of mankind. Meanwhile as Max lies dying once more in the hospital, the AniMax machines learn a way to take some of their riders’ pain unto themselves but if they take too much the bond between the two will be lost. In the end X-Tinctor and his mutants attack, and all looks grim as the riders and the machine animals are loosing their bond, but with the help of Tarmac and Max getting better from his illness, they are able to use the pain energy to rid the world of X-Tinctor once and for all…or so they think.

This last issue seems rushed and the storyline is a little over done. The plot has the riders and machine animals having such a tight bond that they would take each others pain in order to save their friend, and X-Tinctor wants to exploit this and gain that ability himself to use his machine to destroy the human population. Max Action is hardly in this issue and spends most the time in a hospital bed, making you wonder why they hardly used the main hero of the book in the final issue. The action also seems rushed and was a quick way to kill most of the mutants off to end the saga. X-Tinctor’s death is also very lame and is one weak way to get rid of a bad guy that issues back seemed to strike fear in the hearts of humans. This was not a fitting way to end the series and once more makes me wonder why AniMax had a curse that allowed it to be treated so poorly. The art in this one is well done, but as for the cover, it just seems very generic and not thought out. Also the price on final issue, as you can see, was raised by a quarter making it a dollar. Shame on you, Marvel, for not given this series a proper send off.

Going into this I did not know anything about the AniMax universe and after reading Star Comics’ four issue run and reading Birnkrant’s webpage, I found myself enjoying my journey into their world. I did notice that this series is very heavily influenced by Masters of the Universe and M.A.S.K – more so Masters. Let’s break it down real quick: look at Max Action and compare him to He-Man (Prince Adam). First, they both have a secret that only a few know; Max’s is that he is a clone, Adam’s is he is He-Man. Both have a main villain that has a skeleton face; Max with X-Tinctors and He-Man with Skeletor. They both have a giant cat they ride and are best friends with; Max with Jungle Max and Adam with Battlecat. Both in some ways are leaders to people who need their protection. Both had a limited comic run at Star Comics, and both have blonde hair. It’s very clear that this was inspired by Masters of the Universe and was just changed to fit in a more apocalyptic world. But I am ok with that. I am sorry I didn’t have any fun stories of me blowing up AniMax figures or having my Godzilla toy crush them, but like me, I hope you found this entry entertaining and insightful on a basically forgotten toy line and the mini series that it spawned. Next up: the giant monsters that live under us, The Inhumanoids! 

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