Welcome back to my blog, and thank you for reading my trip down memory lane mixed with pulp culture and things that still fascinate me to this day. Last blog I mentioned that Marvel pulled the plug on Star Comics after only a four year run, and I then mentioned that during that time they missed lots of great stuff that could have made some some great comic adventures. What if they were still around to this day; what great stuff might have come from this? After thinking about this, I decided that this blog entry will be my top 10 properties that should have been turned into a Star Comic. Then Part 2 will show some friends and family’s top 5 picks, so sit back and enjoy!
They are spooky, kooky and an all around fun time for the young and young at heart. This off the wall family have been around for many years and have been in every kind of media from comic strip, TV, movies, games and books. In 1938, Charles Addams created The Addams Family (Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Puggsly, Fester, Gramama, Lurch & Thing), and the comic strip was published in the New York Times and was a popular read for the masses. In 1964 ABC aired The Addams Family in which live actors like John Astin, Coralyn Jones, Ted Cassidy and other actors played the parts of the family. The series ran until 1966 and had good solid ratings. Then in 1973, Hanna Barbara made an animated series that ran for a year and featured silly adventures of the family done in the style of Scooby-Doo.
In 1977, a new live action special was made called “Halloween with the New Addams Family,” and while John Astin and most of the original cast returned to play the characters they did many years before, the magic seemed to be gone and the special was only so-so. In 1992 they tried an animated series again that only lasted one year, “The Addams Family: Animated Series.” This series also inspired some action figures from Playmates. The kooky family’s next major break was the 1998 film starring Raul Julia, Angelica Houston, Christina Ricci and Christopher Lloyd. The film was a hit and made The Addams Family a household name once again. The film sparked two sequels, video games, novels, pinball game and lots more merchandise. While many other small Addams Family specials and such were made, the two most impactful were the 1964 ABC show and the 1998 Paramount film, but the 1992 cartoon series also holds a special place in my heart.
Now let’s talk the merchandise for a moment to show the popularity of the Addams Family. Many amazing products were made including a fun kiddie board game from Milton Bradley based on the 1973 Cartoon. In 1965, Ted Cassidy made a song and dance craze called The Lurch. The amazing NES Video Game System had several games including the very hard “Festers Quest”, and even a breakfast cereal was made to go along with the 1998 movie. All this was in addition to toys from Playmates, and many more fun and silly products. I used to eat the cereal and was always happy to get a box because they used to give away free mini flashlights as a prize! I still have my Lurch and Fester flashlights to this day. I also spent many hours along side my brother Bryan and friend Mike Cessna playing Festers Quest and never beating it. As for the Play Mates toys based on the 1992 Cartoon, the only one I ever owned was Lurch and he came with a old pair of sheers. It was a cool toy for the time.
But before I go into why Star Comics should have created a comic based on The Addams Family, I do need to touch up on the fact that a mini series was made by Gold Key Comics based on the 1973 cartoons. The 3 issue run came out in 1974, the year the toon was canceled, and featured silly very kid friendly stories. As always the people at Whitman comics always republished what Gold Key had released the same year. I’m not sure why the comics only lasted three issues, but it might have had to do with the fact the cartoon was canceled within a year, leading me into my pitch of what Star could have done.
If Star Comics were around in 1992, the issues would be based on the cartoon and would follow the family doing all types of silly stuff from going to the beach to having normal yet odd holidays such as Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. While the main stories would follow Wednesday and Puggsley to gain the kid crowd, it could also follow Lurch and make the silent and hulking butler a main focus. As an example, he goes to camp with the Addams kids, and they get lost in the spooky woods, While other kids are scared, The Addams kids and Lurch are having a blast. The rest of the family would be shown and highlighted as well. Say what you want about the Addams Family, but they are nice spooky kid-friendly characters that would been pleasing in a comic series from Star. I am guessing if this comic would have been made it would have run for at least 3-4 issues before the plug was pulled like so many before it, but I guarantee that those issues would have been a fun time for those who enjoyed the cartoon.
Hey Dude was a popular live action show on Nickelodeon in 1989 that followed workers at a dude ranch called the Bar None owned by a city slicker named Mr. Ernst and his young son Buddy. Workers included Ted, a smooth talking ladies man and Danny, a local Native American. They were joined by blonde cutie Melody and rich horse trainer Brad. All the staff are in their teens and are joined by Lucy who is the overseer of the workers and is in her late 30’s/early 40’s. The show revolved around the Ranch, and the silly wars the boys and the girls would get into over petty things. The show also built up sexual tension between Brad and Ted adding some teen drama to the mix. In my youth this was one of my favorite shows and was one of the best live action shows of the time on Nick. It also sparked my second major celebrity crush as I had the hots for Kelly Brown who played Brad. I also found Christine Taylor really hot! But my first major crush (that I still have to this day) is Danielle Harris, but that’s for another entry.
Hey Dude ran for five seasons and was canceled in 1991. During that time, the Ted character came and went and Jake was introduced who was Mr. Ernst’s nephew from L.A. who was also kind of after Brad. The show was a staple of my youth, and I can’t count the times I watched the same episodes over and over, having a blast doing so. I was so bummed when the show went off the air and was shocked by the little merchandise the series got. To this day besides the DVD season releases by Shout Factory, the only item I can think of was a novel called “Hey Dude: Show Down at the Bar None”.
Besides the stunning Brad, one of my favorite characters from the show was Danny Lightfoot, a Hopi Indian who was not only wise but also a total goofball who loved to fuel the fire of Ted’s numbskull ideas and bets. But during many episodes Danny would always explain that his people were the ones who created a custom or food item, and this sparked my brother to always walk around and make fun of the character by asking if “Danny and his people created that.” It was all in good fun, and just the other day on the phone he even referenced it again! I am sure that one of the reasons I really liked the character is because both my Grandfather and Grandmother are part Native American, as were my great-grandparents and so on before them.
If Star Comics was still active in 1989, they could have reached out to a teen audience and did some issues about the Bar None Ranch and its workers. The comics could have followed Ted and Danny (and maybe Jake depending on when the comic was made) as they got into trouble and adventures in and around the ranch. It could also have built up the flirting of Ted and Brad giving female readers some romance to keep them interested as well. Another fun aspect that they could have played up on in comics would be cowboy ghosts and Native American spirits and beliefs, giving it a little more action and adventure. But with this show airing a year after Star was shut down, we’ll never get to know if this show would have gotten the Star treatment. I will say in closing that it’s about damn time this show saw a DVD release, so a big thanks goes out to Shout Factory. And my guess it would have lasted at least 4-5 issues.
In 1950, EC Comics was making horror comics called “Tales from the Crypt,” “The Vault of Horror” and “The Haunt of Fear.” Each issue was hosted by a grim yet tongue in cheek host such as The Crypt Keeper, The Vault Keeper or The Old Witch. The comics were filled with ghouls, blood and grim stories and were crowd pleasers to young readers. But much like many things over the years, parents hit the roof when they found that their children had been reading comics about murder, death and ghouls. So like any good crazed, tightly-wound parent would do, they protested the company and the comics and had a massive bonfire in which hundreds of copies of the classic comic were burned making original copies highly collectible. EC also sparked the comic code, that tried to ban comics that found unsuitable for children and eventually causing the demise of EC in 1955 after dipping sales and the overly huge backlash of parents, teachers and the comic code.
But the Crypt Keeper came out of the ashes in 1972 when a live action movie starring horror legend Peter Cushing was made, taking many of the comics’ old stories and adapting them to film. The film’s plot had a group of strangers who were on a tour and get lost and end up in a tomb like area where the Crypt Keeper tells them strange and brutal stories with each person as the lead. Of course, this all has a twist ending. In 1973 a sequel was made called The Vault of Horror, and it followed the same formula as the first but this time the guests are trapped in an office building. In 1989, HBO made a hit TV series out of the comic that ran for 7 seasons and had the Crypt Keeper acting almost as a horror host, introducing each episode with a touch of comedy and skits. With the HBO series came films based on the show like Demon Knight, Bordello of Blood and Ritual, making this the most popular version of the comic to come alive. In 1993, a Saturday morning cartoon was made for ABC called Tales from The Crypt Keeper that featured kid-friendly horror stories hosted by an overly silly Crypt Keeper who still had a mean streak. In season two, the Keeper also found himself at war with old rivals the Old Witch and Vault Keeper, and this was the formula for that whole season. After season two ABC pulled the plug on the series, but it was only gone a short time as NBC picked up a third season in 1997 and changed the format and animation. This only lated one season.
Both the live action HBO show, and the cartoon sparked merchandise for kids and collectors. There was a pinball machine, talking dolls, action figures, shirts, Halloween masks and decorations and of course reprints of the old comic. My brother had one of the talking dolls, dressed in a tux who said a few hammy lines from the HBO show, and he of course got the reprint comics. I didn’t get any merch until many years later and own a few of the toys based on the animated series and also own a Halloween mask of the Crypt Keeper. Like all merchandise, these things helped keep the Crypt Keeper in the minds of the masses.
So again in order for Star Comics to make issues based on the 1993 cartoon, they would have had to hang on and been given a better chance by Marvel. But this would have been a no brainer and would have just followed the formula of the cartoon and the original comic series and could have had The Crypt Keeper telling cheesy kid friendly stories that all ended with a lesson learned, never really pushing the envelope to cross the line into making them too gruesome. I know as a kid I would have eaten this up. I grew up watching horror films and horror hosts, and this would have been a series that I would have bought like clock work. The animated version of the Crypt Keeper was green in color, and his attitude seemed to be that he was your friend telling you a spooky story to have fun alongside you. This would had transferred perfectly to comic. It’s a shame that Tales From The Crypt Keeper never did get a comic, and Star would have been the perfect company to do so.
On a side note, back in the days of Waynesville I owned one of those mini black and white portable TV’s, and FOX got the rights to rerun the HBO series. So I would turn off all the lights in my room and shut the door and would watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and then Tales From The Crypt. It was a fun time at night that allowed me to see the show. I am sure many of you readers remember this showing and have fun memories of watching. Oh yeah, and if Star were to have done comics for Tales from the CryptKeeper, I would have guessed a 5 issue run.
In 1932 Robert E. Howard created Conan The Barbarian and wrote his adventures for Weird Tales Magazine, and the character became a hit with the fantasy world. In 1950 his stories started to be turned into paperback novels and were taken not only from Howard’s writings but also other authors who wrote of his journeys. In 1970 Marvel Comics began the comic series “Conan The Barbarian” that spawned spin offs like Red Sonja, Kull and King Conan. The main series ran for 275 issues and stopped being made in 1993. For many years no comics came out based on the raven haired brute, then in 2003 Dark Horse Comics picked up the licenses and Conan is still coming out as of 2013. This is only the literature part of Conan’s vast history, and this is only a quick sampling. This part could have gone on and on!
Conan was such a hit that for years many other merchandise came out including video games, t-shirts, board game, toys and statues, all these making fans of Conan very happy. Some of the most popular ones are the Remco 5 ½” action figures that were just generic Masters of the Universe cash-in’s that came out in 1984. To this day, they fetch lots of money on Ebay and toy conventions. Of course the video games that have been made for systems such as Commodore 64, PC, NES, PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360. While none of the games did well critically, I found the PS3 game to be very fun and the NES game, while crappy, is still a fun goofy play. It’s a shame that the PS3/Xbox 360 game did not sell well because this caused THQ not to give it a sequel.
Now for Conan in film and TV, a fun journey for all! In 1982, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was released. The film was a blood bath that had Conan going after Tulsa Doom, the leader of Set worshipers who was responsible for his parents’ death and him being sold into slavery. The film follows Conan as he grows up and gets revenge. The film is amazing and is in my top 10 films for sure. In 1984, a sequel was made called Conan the Destroyer, and sadly this film took a PG-13 route and took out all the over the top blood shed of the original and tried to make it more kid-friendly and has Conan trying to protect a young princess from a wizard. While not called by name, Schwarzenegger once again played a Conan-like character in the 1985 film Red Sonja. In 1992 Conan The Adventurer,the animated adventures aired, early mornings and followed Conan and his friends as they try and stop the evil Wrath-Amon who was the priest of Set who needs the star metal to be free once more. It lasted 65 episodes and also spawned a second animated series that flopped called Conan and the Young Warriors that only lasted 13 episodes. Then with the success of Hercules and the Legendary Journeys TV producers thought why not try a show that’s hammy and base it around Conan, and thats what happened in 1997 with a show simply called Conan. German bodybuilder Ralf Moller played the title role, and the show followed him and his friends’ adventures through 22 episodes. Finally in 2011, the Conan movie franchise got rebooted with Jason Momoa as the Barbarian. Although some were not as good as others, Conan has had a good run in film and TV. The TV shows and the 2011 film were not well received, but still gave fans something new for the iconic character. In my younger days, I spent many hours watching the 1992 cartoon and watched the original 1982 more then any kid my age should have.
The 1992 cartoon is our focus and would be the best bet for Star to base a comic series around. But before we get into that, let’s talk the terrible toy line that went alongside the cartoon. These things were large clunky pieces of plastic with terrible sculpts and bad paint jobs! I felt that way now and I felt that way then. I was and will always be a Conan fan and when the cartoon and toys came out, I was super hyped to see both. The cartoon lived up to my expectations and was a fun adventure cartoon, while the toys just sucked. I only bought one, the Skeleton warrior Skulkur, and man what a disappointment. From the moment I took it out of the package, I knew I was in trouble as the figure was stiff and had this terrible spin around action. No one else I knew in school had one of these figures making this one a school yard dud. To this day I do not have any of these figures laying around Independent B Movie studios (the place all my old toys are) nor will I ever get one of these abominations again. Oh yeah and the main Conan figure looks like a generic toy you would find on the shelves of Odd Lots/Big Lots. In fact, I remember when these toys did flood those shelves.
Much like Tales From The Crypt Keeper, this would be a no brainer run of comics. The fact that Marvel was all ready putting out comics based on the Barbarian would have made this one an easy sale. The comic would have followed the same formula as the cartoon and would have Conan and his friends fighting bad guys like Skulkur and Wrath-Amon and trying to find hidden treasures, protect the star metal and such. Plus they could have used Needle, his Phoenixx sidekick more and made him just like Snarf in Thundercats or even Orko in Masters of the Universe. Many more of the side characters like African Warrior Zula and Jezmine the female circus performer could also be showcased, and the characters could be fleshed out and given time to really shine . While the main Marvel book was geared towards teens and adults, this series could have captured the younger crowed. The issues could also have an underlying meaning like don’t steal or be nice to others and do it so slyly that the readers wouldn’t pick up on the fact they have just been taught a lesson in manners. I could see this series running 10 issues for Star before they pulled the plug on the series. I think this one would have had a little life even after the cartoon was canceled.
#6 In 1980 a pizza chain was born that was the rival to McDonalds in getting kids hyped up to go out to eat. That place was Showbiz Pizza Palace. The restaurant had many gimmicks that were used to bring kids in such as arcade machines, ticket prizes, toys, and most famous was the animatronic band The Rock-A-Fire Explosion who would bring young and old there to see them perform. Showbiz became so big that they started to buy other pizza chains that were going under including Chuck E. Cheese. But the fun times came to an end in 1990, as Showbiz had some major changes in its business including a rebranding campaign. This led to The Rock-A-Fire Explosion getting the boot and Chuck E. Cheese becoming the star of the show. While Showbiz and The Rock-A-Fire are gone they are not forgotten. I have many fond memories of Showbiz and going to birthday parties there and watching The Rock-A-Fire show and only somewhat liking the pizza. I have never been a pizza fan, and I remember thinking that the pizza was mediocre at best. My younger cousin Steve, who I now work on many movies and TV shows with, was scared to death of the band and I think Fatz Geronimo was the one that terrified him the most.
The Rock-A-Fire Explosion had many members that included Billy-Bob, a hillbilly bear with a great heart and who played bass guitar for the group. He is the most popular of the members and was the pizza chains mascot. Fatz Geronimo was a gorilla who sang and played piano for the group; at one time he was to be the main man of the group. Beach Bear plays guitar and sings and is a surfing polar bear. Looney Bird lives in an oil can and offers vocals. Mitzi Mozzarella is a teenage mouse wearing a cheerleader outfit and sings. Dook LaRue is a dog who wants to go to space and plays drums. Lastly while not part of the band but acting as a warm up act was Rolfe deWolfe & Earl, a stand up comic wolf and his puppet. The band was huge and drew many people to the restaurant. While the stage show was animatronic, at times a man in a costume would walk around as Billy Bob and greet the guests in the arcade area. To this day people who grew up in the 80’s and have been to Showbiz Pizza have a special place in their hearts for The Rock-A-Fire.
The company made lots of merchandise based on the band in order to make that extra dollar off the guests that included glasses, mugs, vinyl records, dolls, small toys, posters and so much more. In 2008 a documentary about the band was also made and showed just how in love people still are with the band and the idea of Showbiz Pizza. All the classic vintage items are huge collectors’ items and go for high prices on Ebay and conventions. In 2011, I was lucky enough to find a classic mini Fatz figure for only a $1.00!
If Star Comics would have jumped on this popular kids attraction, they could have had a fun and silly comic on their hands and could have got major push by selling the comic at the pizza place. Showbiz could have used the comic as a tool to try and draw more guests in. The concept of the comic could have followed that band as they toured the world and got into many off the wall adventures, I mean could you imagine Billy Bob in Japan or Russia? Chuck E. Cheese also would be used and could have been written in as the bands manager giving that hat wearing rodent a push as well. Plus with all the band members all with different personalities, they could have had many funny moments just with the in-band fighting. But for some reason Star Comics just must not have seen how easy this comic would have been to make and how kids at the time would have eaten it up. Given Stars track record I would guess that this would have lasted 3 to 4 issues if it was made and would not have had a clear cut last issue. Here is to someone who I hope some day will make the comic based on these amazing characters that meant so much to so many kids of the time.
In 1983, Tonka Toys brought out a line of changing robot toys called The GoBots. The toys were simple and would change from robot to some sort a vehicle and were geared towards younger kids. At first, the toys sold really well and seemed to be building up steam even without the backing of a cartoon or comic to push it. But this ride at the top of changing robots came to a quick end when in 1984 Hasbro released The Transformers toy line in the United States. Fans flipped for Transformers and loved characters like Optimus Prime, Jazz and Bumblebee as well as the superior designs and tranforming abilities of the new figures. Gobots tried to fight back and in 1984; an animated TV mini series made by Hanna Barbera was released to compete with the Transformer cartoon called Challenge of the GoBots. While the cartoon did not do as well as its competitor, it did get full seasons starting in 1985 and ran for 65 episodes. In 1986 a theatrical film was made called GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords and released 3 months before Transformers The Movie. The GoBots film was a flop and performed poorly at the box office and with critics. The toy line came to an end in 1987, ending the legacy for a short amount of time, until Hasbro bought the rights from Tonka and turned them into toys for kids under 5.
Many people seemed to think that the GoBots toy line was the K-Mart version of the Transformers, and most think that they just followed the trend, but this is not the case. While the toys were very cheaply done, they were still out a whole year before Transformers. The main bad downside to the toys was the fact that the joints would become super loose and your figure would lose an arm here and there. I cannot count how many Cy-Kill toys I had that one of the arms would fall off. One of the other terrible aspects of the toys was the fact that most of their transforms were terrible and would be just a bend here or there, making them seem like bulky silly robots. Growing up I had many GoBots and used them when I played with Star Wars as other robots that would join in on battles or be at Jabba’s Palace. I think my two favorites in the toy line are the most popular characters, Cy-Kill and Leader One. While they were nothing special, I found them to be pretty bad ass toys at a cheap price. I still find loose GoBots at Mavericks Cards and Comics and get a chuckle at seeing them.
Besides the toys, cartoons and movie, many other merchandise was made based on the series that included a game for the Commodore 64, lunch boxes, Halloween costumes, magazines, coloring books, stickers and many more items. It’s odd that this property never did get a comic run from either Marvel or DC. It’s also odd much like the back lash of the toys many of the other items made based on the characters have negative vibes around them. The Commodore 64 game is always ripped apart and is considered a turkey of a game.
This is yet another easy one to make into a Star Comic and would have fit in with the rest of the properties that they all ready put out. Marvel Comics was already making Transformer comics for the older teen reader, and GoBots would have been a perfect way to get younger readers drawn into Marvel and to maybe push them towards books that were only a few years away. The plot of the comic would be the same as the cartoon and would have had Leader One and the good guys battling Cy-Kill and the evil robots. It could be a pretty cookie cutter format and could have relied on mindless robot battles with normal recycled plots. I know it’s sounding like I am saying that Star should have made a half ass comic series, but that’s not what I am really meaning at all. All I am saying is that this could have been a fun cheesy comic that was geared towards young readers. I am sure I would have eaten it up even with tame and generic story lines, as would many other kids of that time. I think this would have lasted for about 12 issues if Star was to put it out and would have gotten a clear cut last issue. It’s a sad world we live in when Leader One never made it to a comic book in his prime. What makes it worse is the ad below for the cartoon that is drawn in your typical Star art style, making me wonder if something was in the works and fell through when the film bombed and the toy line was on a decline making Star cancel the deal. I guess we will never really know.
When you were a kid in the 1980’s, lots of things came out that were related to horror and monsters. In 1987 Mattel released a toy line that claimed to be Too Gross! Mad Scientist allowed you to be your own Dr. Frankenstein or even a Egor, if you owned a bendable Mad Scientist figure, and would allow you to create, dissect and melt your own creations. The line of toys also had dress up kits to become a crazy doctor yourself. In 1988 as well a very short lived animated cartoon was made that lasted two episodes called “Mad Scientist: Experiment of Error” and was only released on VHS. Weirdly as fast as it came, the Mad Scientist toy line disappeared in less than two years, making it one of those toy lines that made you wonder what just happened. Many blame the NES for the death of this toy line that seemed to be gaining more attention than action figures. Some also blamed the price of the playsets claiming that they were too expensive for parents to get for their kids. All I can say is that it was a fun toy line that had some amazing animated/ live action commercials.
My first introduction to this toy line was of course the commercials that aired during Saturday Morning Cartoons. While they got my attention, I was not so hip to the whole chemistry set aspect of the toy line making me at first blow the whole line off as just another silly creepy toy. But then one day at school someone had a few of the figures on the playground. They had Dissect an Alien where you removed the guts of a monster alien with slime in his belly and a bendable Mad Scientist figure. I played with them both and really found the toys neat and offered to trade to get the Scientist figure. To my shock, he did not want to trade but instead sold the figure to me for a dollar! This made my day and for weeks at home I would do odd little science experiments alongside my new figure. Next at KB Toys, a now dead toy store that was in the Dayton Mall, I found gummi bear style molds of creatures from the lab of the Mad Scientist and bought those and made plaster molds from them and spent time painting them to give to my Mom. Sadly I never owned any of the major play sets, but what little I did have from the toy line I enjoyed a lot.
I know what you’re all thinking why, did he pick a toy line that for all accounts failed, had a cartoon that never even made it to TV, as his # 4. Let me tell you why. I think that one of the big reasons this toy line failed is the lack of real push from Mattel. I think they lost interest in it fast and never fully saw the potential in its appeal. If Star Comics would have made this into a comic, I think that it would have kept the line a little fresh in kids’ eyes and might have made it last a little longer. The comic could have followed The Mad Scientist and let’s say a every day normal boy who helps him in all his wacky experiments that of course go wrong! You could have issues where monsters escape and they must round them up, a potion that makes The Mad Scientist normal and his young friend must find a way to return him to his crazy self and many more plots like that. Not to mention think of all the monsters you could add. As far as bad guys, you could have the town mayor be the one who wants to lock up the Mad Scientist and throw away the key. But sadly Star Comics was all ready on the verge of closing up, and this series never did make it to the light or I should say was never even considered. If this was a Star Comic though, I could almost guarantee that much like its shelf life on toy shelves, its comic stand life would also be short. I see it only lasting for about 4 issues. It’s a shame this never happened I would have loved to read the adventures of a lunatic Mad Scientist!
I have always been a fan of Horror Hosts, being young and watching scary films alongside them always seemed to make the film less scary and you felt protected by the hosts’ silly antics. Saturdays were always a fun day for me. I would spend the mornings watching cartoons and eating cereal. Every other week we would go shopping at Big Bear & Hearts, and then we would get home in time to watch Commander USA’s Groovie Movies on the USA Network! After the Groovie Movie was over, I would go to my room and play with toys or go out side and play ball tag (where we would play tag with a soccer ball that we would throw at others in the game) or even possibly record my own radio show via a tape deck and then at night it was time for USA’s Saturday Nightmares! Commander USA was a retired super hero that rented space under a shopping mall in New Jersey and would host a movie or two and would have some sort of crazy thing going on in his Video Vault. He was joined by his best friend and sidekick Lefty who was really just Commander’s right hand with a cigar ash smiley face drawn on. The show started in 1985 and ran until 1989, switching from Saturday to Sundays and was a staple of my youth. The thing about Commander USA, who was played by a great stage actor Jim Hendricks, was that during the movie you felt as if he really was watching the film along side you. That’s something a really good host can do, is make you think he or she is watching whatever turkey they are showing this week. It’s odd looking back over my life and seeing just how many horror hosts motivated me to be the creative person I am today, hosts like the late great Dr. Creep, my “Dad” A. Ghastlee Ghoul, Joe Bob Briggs, Grandpa Munster, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Son of Ghoul, Sammy Terry and many more. So to all of you hosts out there, thank you for doing what you do and inspiring people like me with your antics.
Commander USA had very little merchandise, but what he did have was pretty cool as you could join his fan club that came complete with a membership card. Also an official fanzine was made called ” Commander USA’s World of Horror”. Over the years his show has shown up on sites that offer his show on DVD-R’s and are worth getting if you want a nice flashback to a great era of the USA Network. Also Jim Hendricks is talked to in an amazing documentary about horror hosts called American Scary. If you like horror hosts, this is a must-see.
A comic book based on the adventures of Commander USA still needs to happen! Star Comics could have drawn in the horror kid crowd like myself by making issues about the Commander’s super hero ways in and out of the Video Vault! This comic series could have been played two ways, and both would have been good, One could have followed him as he is retired and is forced back into action to save the day, like to find a purse snatcher that has been running wild in the mall above the Video Vault, or say stop an ice cream monster that has been made by a mad doctor who was mad when a store ran out of his wanted pair of gym shoes. The second route they could have taken was to follow the Commander in his prime and to show him doing amazing feats like fighting super villains or going up against famous monsters like Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster. This comic would have made me so happy and would be a series that I would have bought every issue back then and even to this day. But if I know Star Comics like I think I do, I would say that if they did take a chance and make this comic, it would run 3-4 issues before they got cold feet and ended it. That’s one thing I will say, more horror hosts need comic books based around them. At this time the only ones I can think of that have their own is Indiana’s icon Sammy Terry, Elvira and one about Wolfman Mac and his Chiller Theater . I think that a Baron Von Porkchop Comic will be coming your way soon, and I hope that these four books will trigger more comics about Hosts. With that to quote Commander, “Keep your nose in the wind… and your tail to yourself…”
In 1986 a plush doll that was aimed toward boys was released by American Greetings. This doll was named My Pet Monster and was a blue furred, devil horned, sharp teeth, big nosed creature who was bound by bright orange handcuffs, and if those handcuffs came off he was said to come alive. The toy was one of very few plush dolls that was geared toward boys and to many people’s, surprise it was a huge success! The doll was so popular that many more were made in the line that included such beasts as Gwonk, Rark and Wogster. My Pet Monster warmed his way into hearts up into the early 90’s before the line went silent. In 2001 he came back for a second run but went through some changes. While most of him looked the same, his nose and snarl looking teeth were way more tame, and this change was to please kids who found the original too scary. The rebirth was short lived but the doll now is a collectors item that kids of the 80’s will search for it to relive their youth. I never owned one of the original dolls but I do remember that a classmate had one, and he was a hit for the day on the playground when he came to school with his owner. I remember many of us going down the slide with him and spinning on the merry go round was a blast with our friend, My Pet Monster. The one I own is the 2001 rerelease that I found at a thrift store some years back. It was in perfect shape and now even as I write this, he sits in an old vintage chair in my apartment looking at the TV.
My Pet Monster was so popular that is spawned many other merchandise and came to life in films and cartoons. My Pet Monster was made into kids books, coloring books, puzzles and a lunch box. In 1986 My Pet Monster also was made into a live action direct to video film, and had a young boy who when he got hungry would turn into the monster and get into all kinds of silly messes. The film was only moderately successful and has never made it to DVD or Blu-Ray. In 1987 ABC picked up a cartoon based on the toy line that followed a young boy named Max who was the keeper and best friend to the My Pet Monster who was more silly than scary. The cartoon ran for one season and had 16 episodes that can be found on DVD.
If this were turned into a Star Comic, I would have skipped the film and cartoon and focused on the toy line itself. The charm of the My Pet Monster was that when the orange shackles came off, he was free to act wild and crazy making the comic being able to go above and beyond with him going crazy in all types of areas. Like say he wanders to a school where a young man is picked on and watches as bullies keep making fun and shoving the kid around. So My Pet Monster sees enough and talks the kid into un-shackling him and letting him show the bullies that it’s wrong to pick on others by pulling pranks and scaring them half to death. Each issue could be a new kid with new issues and each time My Pet Monster is the problem solver, and while he is doing good things, he could still have a mean streak. This would have made many kids happy to see My Pet Monster in comic forum, and I am sure would have made Star a lot of money. I give this an 11 issue run with Star and I think it would have gotten a real final issue. It’s odd that this was never looked at to become a comic, and I believe that not only did Star/Marvel drop the ball on this, I think DC and Archie did as well.
Now before you get all huffy and say that The Incredible Hulk is already a long running series with Marvel Comics, you should take another look as I am saying that one should have been made based on the 1978 live action TV show. So with that let’s look at the Hulk’s history
The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner were created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1962. Issue # 1 that shows how scientist Bruce Banner was hit with gamma rays trying to save a young hot shot Rick Jones. When the moon was full Banner would turn into a super strong brute called the Hulk and became wanted by General Thunderbolt Ross and the US army. Originally the Hulk was grey skinned, and as the series matured a few issues they changed him to green and instead of the moon triggering his transformation, it happened when he was angry . The comic series was and is Marvel’s top comic based on a monster type character out lasting the likes of Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing, Godzilla and Monster of Frankenstein. The Hulk has many great enemies that include the Leader, the Abomination, the Glob, Wendigo, the U-Foes, Absorbing Man, Dr. Samson and many more. In fact as I am all sure you know, Wolverine’s first appearance was in a Hulk issue (#181). The character became so popular that he even got his own comic Magazine called The Rampaging Hulk in 1977. The comic is still going strong to this day and doen’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. I could spend pages and pages talking about this because the Hulk is my all time favorite super hero and the series is just so rich with plots and characters. But I am here to get to the point of why Star should have made comics based on the TV show so let’s move on shall we.
The Hulk was a fan favorite of kids who read comic books. So they thought, hey why not make some cartoons based on the giant green monster and they did just that in 1966 as part of The Marvel Super Hero’s show that lasted 13 episodes. The 1966 series animation was based on the comic panels and was very crudely done, but still was a solid toon. Then in 1982, they gave it another go around this time the cartoon was just simple called The Incredible Hulk and was played along side Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The animation was better, and the plot’s were silly fun adventures but this one only lasted one season and 13 episodes as well. Many years would pass before they gave him another chance at the animation world, and 1996 marked his return to TV in animated form. This one was called The Incredible Hulk as well and lasted two seasons and 21 episodes making it the longest running cartoon and had Lou Ferrigno come back to voice the Hulk. While this one was more up to date, I think it lacked the charm of the 1982 show which is my favorite. Sadly, none of the cartoons are out in the USA on legit DVD’s, and the only way you can see them is on Netflix, PAL Region 2 DVD’s or on Bootleg DVD-R’s. But I hope in 2012 they will be released for US fans.
The Hulk has also had many action figures, and while some are based on his film appearances, other great old school ones have been made based on the comic and loosely on the live action show. My favorite one has to be the Mego Hulk. While he is way off scale compared to the rest of the Mego collection, he still has a simple charm to him. Plus fans of Wizard Magazine’s Toy Fair Issues will always remember him in their stop motion comics as a lunk head. Both small and large versions of the Mego dolls are worth tracking down and owning if you are a fan as well. I also really liked Mego’s Pocket Hero version of the Hulk because he was in scale with Star Wars and G.I. Joes. Lastly I have always had a soft spot for Toy Biz’s first Hulk toy that actions such as him bending a bar and smashing a soft rock. These four are just a drop in the hat of all the badass Hulk toys out there. One thing that always let me down is the fact Mattel never produced their Hulk figure for the Secret Wars line. Many rumors say that he and The Abomination would have made it to series 3, and it’s a shame the line folded before then.
The Incredible Hulk has also made his way into the video game world like in 1984 when “Questprode:Hulk” that was released for Commodore 64 and Atari Computers. It was a text adveture game and marked the first video game to be based on the character. In 1994, a side scrolling action game was made for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo called “The Incredible Hulk.” While the game is by no means a masterpiece, it still is a fun button masher, and let’s you face some of your biggest foes like Abomination, Rhino and The Leader. In 1997 “The Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga” came out for the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn and was a terrible action game plagued by bad controls. Next up was “Hulk” a 2003 game based on the movie by Ang Lee and was made for Sony Playstation 2, Xbox, PC and Nintendo GameCube. Then in 2005, a pretty badass game came out called “The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction” and was an open world mission based game that allowed you to go as rampaging as you wanted. It came out for Playstation 2, GameCube and Xbox. Last on this list for now is a 2008 game made by Sega and based on the film starring Edward Norton called “The Incredible Hulk.” It takes the same idea as Ultimate Destruction and just ties it into the move. On a side note an Atari 2600 game based on the Hulk was in the works but was never finished by Parker Brothers due in part to the video game crash of 83. The story goes that the game was almost done and this gives hope a ROM of it will be found soon because the cover box has been discovered. While none of the games above are groundbreaking, I did find each and every one of them a fun play through even if some of them made me want to scream.
Many more great merchandise items have been made that include coloring books, lunch boxes, stickers, Halloween masks and costumes, banks, Halloween pales, board games, Colorforms, candy, toy boxes, shirts, shoes, hats and so much more. One of my favorite things as a kid was my brother’s and my Hulk toy box that was a purple base and the lid was a giant Incredible Hulk Head! We use to even take it outside and play with it putting it over our heads and stumbling around like little fools. Sometimes we would fill it with water and drop the figures inside it and act if it was a deep dark abyss. I miss that damn thing! Oh and my mom still has pages of an old Hulk coloring book I colored for her when I was like 4-5, showing that I have always loved The Hulk.
We still have one more thing to cover about The Incredible Hulk and his impact on our culture and his popularity, and that’s Hulk at the box office. Hulk films have been made before the ones that made it to theaters but those will be separate from this due to the fact they tie into the TV show that I think should have been continued in Star Comics. The first film in theaters was Universal & Ang Lee’s 2003 film called HUL. This film had Eric Bana playing Bruce Banner who as a child was given Gamma radiation by his father who worked for the government, who also happened to be The Absorbing Man. The film’s Hulk was CGI and looked like a dated video game graphic. This film was more drama then action and while it made money at the box office, it left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. In 2008 Universal tried to reboot the film and made THE INCREDIBLE HULK. This time amazing actor Edward Norton played Bruce Banner, and while the Hulk was CGI, they got Lou Ferrigno to voice him. The film has Bruce on the run from the government and trying to learn to control The Hulk. Oh yeah, throw in The Abomination for fun, and you have this fun smash’em up movie. Again this one did well in the theaters but not well enough for them to do a sequel.The Hulk was also in 2012’s Avengers the movie and steals the show as he smashes his way throughout the film. While he only had two solo theater movies, many fan-made films have been made as well.
In 1977, a movie pilot was aired on CBS based on the Marvel Comic called The Incredible Hulk and followed David Banner (they thought Bruce didn’t sound manly enough) who during a test overdosed his body on Gama Radiation. When he becomes angry he grows into being a muscle bound green skinned monster know as The Hulk. David goes to his friend and fellow doctor Elaina, and together they try and find a cure, but when a snooping reporter named Jack McGee gets involved, an accident leaves Elaina dead. David is thought to be dead as well, and The Hulk is blamed. This was such a hit another made for TV movie was made, and in 1978 it became a full series that followed the same formula: David would go town to town changing his name to find work or to get one step closer to a cure, and Jack McGee would be on his heels looking for the big news story of The Hulk. Bad things would happen, and The Hulk would come out and save the day. Then David would be forced to leave in order to hide his secret. This show ran for 5 seasons and a total of 82 episodes. After the show was cancelled, made for TV movies were still being made. The show was one of my favorites, and I found myself glued to the TV whenever it was on. I remember coming home from school and skipping the after school Disney Shows (Duck Tales, Gummi Bears, ect.) and trying to tune in a fuzz station on the kitchen TV that would show reruns of The Incredible Hulk. To this day, the show remains my all time favorite! Lucky enough Universal, who owns the show, has released all seasons on DVD! I think the show was amazingly acted with Bill Bixby playing David Banner being one of the best portrayals ever in TV and film, and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno was perfect painted green and playing The Hulk. Growing up Ferrigno was one of my heroes because of this show.
A total of 5 made for TV films were made. The first was the pilot that kicked off the series, and the second film “Return of the Incredible Hulk” quickly followed and had David/The Hulk having to help a young woman who is crippled and getting bad medicine from the family doctor and her step-mother. The first film to follow the end of the series was the 1988 film, “The Incredible Hulk Returns” and has Hulk teaming up with Thor to stop organized crime. Then in 1989 came “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” in which David Banner is framed for a crime and becoming The Hulk, he and Daredevil must clear his name and stop The Kingpin. Then in 1990 came the final film “The Death of The Incredible Hulk,” and it involves spies and the Hulk falling to his death in the end. Another film was planned, but sadly Bill Bixby lost his battle to cancer in 1993. When these movies were coming on, I know I drove my Mother and Father crazy. That’s all I would talk about and when they would finally air the whole family would gather in the living room with a big bowl of popcorn and we would all watch the film. Times like that will always be an amazing memory of my youth and how great my family was. I remember also being so sad when in the final film The Hulk died. While the way he died was pretty lame, it was sad because I knew that this was the end.
Now let’s get down to it. This live action show was made for comic books and should have continued in comic books. Star Comics would have been the perfect home for it. The issues could have followed the style of the show and could have had David Banner going from town to town finding people in need and turning into The Hulk to save the day only to have to restart over again in the next issue. They could have picked kid-friendly issues and topics and tackled the “Just Say No To Drugs” attitude that was big at the time. The Hulk of the show was perfect for kid’s comics because he was never smacking animals or flying off the handle, he seemed to have a good childlike nature that showed him who was bad and who was good. Plus they could have had some of the better artists of Star work on the book and have the comic versions look just like the actors, making this truly fit in the same storyline of the TV Show. Plus they could have turned the planned yet never made film into a comic and gave us the fans young and old the real closer we needed for the series. While this doesn’t stand a chance I wish Marvel would even consider doing this now! This was a no brainer for Star Comics to do, but they really missed the boat on this one, due to the fact they owned the characters! I would say that if made this would have had a pretty long run for them something like 10-12 issues.
So there you have it from Commander USA to The Incredible Hulk, you see what comics I would have been lining up for if Star/Marvel would have made. In the next blog I’ll let some family and friends give you their top 5 choices! See you all next update.