December 31, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 8: "The Unsinkable 453"

Eric Gault (Mayf Nutter) loses an appeal for a new trial. On his way back to prison, the transport bus is attacked by men launching teargas grenades through the windshield. Norman picks up an emergency signal and alerts Street Hawk. The guards get the prisoners off of the bus as another tear gas grenade lands amongst them. In the confusion, Gault rolls under the bus. On the other side is a look-alike who rolls back under the bus and takes Gault’s place while Gault gets into a waiting van. Street Hawk shows up in time to see Gault flee and pursues the van down an alley. He's halted by a fire bomb until Norman reassures Jesse both his suit and the motorcycle are fireproof. Street Hawk rides through the flames, but the van has vanished.

The press grill Altobelli about Street Hawk, then ask about the prison transport assault. He assures the press that all prisoners are accounted for. When the conference is over, Altobelli assigns Jesse and Rachel to crack the identity of Street Hawk. Instead, Jesse leaves the task to a frustrated Rachel while he calls Norman and asks him to pull the tape. Norman identifies Gault as a mercenary and Jesse goes to the prison to investigate, only to be told that Gault died that day in a kitchen fire.

December 24, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 7: "Chinatown Memories"

In Chinatown, a young man named Joe Ching (Jame Saitos) steals an imperial ivory statue from the criminal Tong organization, bringing the full power of the Five Families down on him in their attempts to recover it, mostly lead by Mr. Ming (Keye Luke). The next day, Jesse returns home from his morning jog and is shocked to find Lile (Shelagh McLeod) waiting for him. Lile (pronounced Lih-lay, though Jesse calls her Lillie) was Jesse's girlfriend back in the day, but left him when he joined the police force because she couldn't stand being with someone who put their lives in danger. She's here now to ask Jesse for help in getting Joe Ching, her friend, out of trouble.

The first place Jessie goes is the home of another old friend, Auntie Pearl (Beaulah Quo). Lile was the daughter of English photographers who often left the girl at their home in China where Pearl worked as her nanny and caretaker. Lile was never able to fully acclimate to either China or England, and is still struggling to find a place here in America. Pearl reveals to Jesse that Joe and Lile are a couple, and that Joe's been shunned by his family for the dishonor of getting engaged to a white woman. When Joe and Lile secretly meet, we learn he stole the statue because the Tong originally stole it from Joe's family, and he's hoping to regain his family's support by returning it to shanghai.

December 17, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 6: "Fire on the Wing"

In the dead of night, Jesse and Street Hawk stand poised above the city. A nearby factory explodes. Jesse races to the scene, but is unable to do anything and flees as fire trucks arrive. It seems this is the latest in a recent rash of warehouse arsons that have erupted across the city, and with no suspects or leads, both Street Hawk and the authorities are left spinning their collective wheels.

At Police HQ, Altobelli has arranged to meet with the victims of the fires. First up is Will Gassner (Clu Gulager) and his daughter and business partner, Diana (Kristen Meadows). Like the rest of the victimized Businessman’s Association, Gassner isn’t interested in cooperating with the police. Jesse and Diana try to calm their respective parties down as Altobelli lays it on the table, suggesting the victims are being extorted for protection money. Gassner mockingly feigns ignorance and leaves. Gassner spots Rachel on her way out and it's revealed to Jesse that Gassner has offered her a job. Outside police HQ, Gassner and Diana run into Nick (Hank Brandt) and Morgan Harkness (Tige Andrews), two other members of the Businessman’s Association. Gassner reminds them that the police can’t offer any protection and implores them to stand firm.

December 10, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 5: "Dog Eat Dog"

At Rachel's insisting, Jesse heads down to a studio to meet with pop sensation Deborah Shain (Daphne Ashbrook) and ask if she's willing to appear in a promotional ad for the department's anti-drug campaign. Deborah, unfortunately, has a nasty history with cops who she deeply distrusts for interfering every time she tried to run away from her abusive father, so she turns Jesse down. Jesse persists, but Deborah is dragged away by her manager/boyfriend Virgil (rocker Lee Ving). Virgil is currently in the middle of using a video tape to blackmail record producer Neil Jacobs (James Whitmore Jr.). Neil rounds up a couple thugs to retrieve it.

Jesse hits the road for some new Street Hawk tests, but diverts to the home of Virgil and Deborah to check up on her. He arrives just as Neil's goons kill Virgil and Deborah takes off with the tape. Street Hawk stops one of the goons for the police to catch, but the other gets away and Altobelli is fuming because, with Deborah missing, they have nothing to connect the goon they have to the crime.

December 3, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 4: "Vegas Run"

After talking down her furious stage director, aging Vegas showgirl Linda Martin (Sybil Danning) is met in her dressing room by a pair of goons. Seems they caught wind that she's going to testify against mob boss Jimmy Pinard (Christopher Thomas), her ex-boyfriend, and they have orders to keep her under wraps until the trial is through. When a stagehand walks in, Linda uses the distraction to take off. She jumps in the nearest taxi and tells the driver to head for Los Angles. Pinard gets word of Linda’s escape and makes arrangements for his goons to continue their pursuit in L.A. Despite the prodding of his ruthless attorney, Pinard doesn’t want Linda to be harmed.

In L.A., Street Hawk wraps up his night patrol by taking out a mugger. Jesse bums a ride off of Norman for an early morning date the cop has scheduled, with Norman arguing with him about the unhealthiness of his sloppy lifestyle and how there's no way he can have the energy he does by burning the candle at both ends. All plans go out the window when Linda jumps in front of their car and flags them down. Seems her cab safely made it to her sister's apartment, only to discover Pinard's goons ready and waiting.

November 26, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 3: "The Adjuster"

Mitchel Elkins is a small time bookie who ran off with his boss's money and is looking to launder it in exchange for jewels freshly obtained by the Kurksey Brothers in a series of violent robberies. The three meet in an abandoned factory for the deal, unaware that Jesse spotted them while on a routine patrol as Street Hawk. He bursts into the scene, keeping the crooks busy until the cops show up, then takes off.

While lunching out with Norman, Jesse gets an earful from the engineer about bullet holes Street Hawk sustained. Jesse quickly ducks the issue by pointing out a gorgeous waitress that's been flashing Norman a come hither smile. Norman is stunned at the idea of a woman being attracted to him and, of course, freezes up before any kind of move can be made.

November 19, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 2: "A Second Self"

Jesse and Street Hawk are out on a little late night test run when Norman picks up a call on the police band. An officer is in pursuit of two men in a stolen Ferrari and its “blocker”, a driver in another car who acts as a lookout and plays interference. Jesse intercepts the Ferrari and begins a high speed chase through a series of winding back alleys. As the Ferrari exits one of the alleys, the blocker suddenly appears, forcing Jesse to make a dead stop. The Ferrari escapes, but the blocker careens out of control, killing the driver as the car crashes and bursts into flames. Unable to do anything else, Jesse flees the scene before the police arrive.

The drivers deliver the Ferrari to a chop shop and make a nervous trek into the office of the operation’s head man, Burton Levine (Robert Lipton). They break the news that Nicky, the blocker and Levine's kid brother, is dead. Clearly fearful that Levine will hold them responsible, the two embellish the story to make it seem as if Street Hawk killed Nicky on purpose. Levine vows to kill Street Hawk.

November 12, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 1 - The Alternate Cut and Novelization

Tony - The Alternate Cut
Included as a bonus on the DVD set is the unaired, but not unseen (more on that below), alternate version of the Street Hawk pilot. I was hoping for something entirely new, but it’s basically the same as the broadcast pilot with a few f/x and musical changes and some incidental additional footage.

Let me just note that I didn’t have the time or inclination to re-watch the original broadcast pilot again, so I watched the unaired pilot, noted what struck me as different from memory, and then re-watched those scenes again to confirm. If any of you Street Hawk aficionados out there - and you know who you are - know of anything I missed, please let us know.

November 5, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 1

We open on an armored police van transporting a load of confiscated cocaine to a storage facility. The drivers notice a strange custom black SUV pulling up behind them, but don't catch the two off-road dirtbikes and riders that exit the back of the menacing vehicle. The riders quickly take the police van out and crack it open with C4, riding off with the drugs. Other police pursue, but the bikers seemingly vanish into a sealed drainage pool.

In the police vehicle lot, we meet Jesse Mach (Rex Smith) - yes, whose name is pronounced like the measurement of speed - a former teen dirtbike racing champ turned motorcycle cop, and his partner Marty (Rebert Beltran). Marty is taking bets while Jesse, in stars-and-stripes helmet and cape, pulls an Evel Knievel as he jumps his bike over four squad cars. Just as they collect their winnings, they're busted by no-nonsense Lieutenant Commander Leo Altobelli (Richard Venture), who suspends the duo for two weeks.

November 2, 2011

Hey, kids! It's our next Short-Lived Showcase! Street Hawk!


If the shows of the Super Saturday Short-Lived Showcase were like old classmates of mine, Automan would be the kid who sat next to me in second grade, moved to Wisconsin over the summer, and I never saw again. Visionaries would be the underclassman I occasionally passed in the hall or saw in the lunchroom, but never talked to. But our next show was a good friend. Maybe not my best friend, but we hung out together when my best friend wasn’t home. I’m talking, of course, about Street Hawk.

Street Hawk came along at the tail end of what is sometimes referred to as the “super vehicle craze”. Most would credit Knight Rider for starting it, but I would actually go back a few more years to The Dukes of Hazzard. As you’re probably aware, the Duke boys perpetrated most of their redneck shenanigans behind the wheel of a supped-up ’69 Dodge Charger called The General Lee. It didn’t take long for the car to become the star of the show - well, that and Catherine Bach’s cut-off denim shorts - and a phenomenon was born.

By the Year of our Lord nineteen and eighty five, several such vehicles were stars or co-stars in 80s prime time. You had K.I.T.T. (from the aforementioned Knight Rider), the Airwolf helicopter from the show of the same name, Mr. T’s jet black van from The A-Team, Magnum’s red Ferrari 308, the Manta Montage from Hardcastle and McCormick, and the Screaming Mimi from Riptide, just to name a few. Even films weren’t immune to the phenomenon, with Blue Thunder (later a short-lived TV series of its own) and Firefox getting in on the action. And bringing up the rear was Street Hawk, a show cut from the same cloth as Knight Rider, where a well coiffed hero worked in secret for a vaguely defined agency to fight crime with the help of a super vehicle. Lasting only thirteen episodes, Street Hawk is nonetheless fondly remembered as one of the best the genre had to offer. Noel and I will be the judge of that.

And this being the 80s, Street Hawk needed a kick-ass theme. It got one, courtesy of German electro-pop group Tangerine Dream. The track, titled "Le Parc", wasn’t specifically written for the series, but it fits hand in glove and if people remember nothing else about the show beyond the motorcycle, they remember the theme.

With only thirteen episodes on its resume, Street Hawk has only seen the occasional run in syndication over the years and I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched an episode. That means this is going to be almost completely fresh to me, especially the finer details.

I’ve got the first episode cued up and ready to go and I’m really looking forward to watching it with Noel, and hopefully with you, too.

But before we begin, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about our new partnership with the Made of Fail family. Noel's been with them for some time now, first as fan and then as co-host of his own podcast (which you really need to go listen to now). Let me just say that it’s an honor to be a part of the growing MoF empire and I promise not to embarrass the brand. Well, at least not any more than Noel.


I've never seen Street Hawk. I've never read about Street Hawk. I didn't even know the series existed until 80s guru Tony filled me in on it with a single sentence: "It's Knight Rider with a motorcycle." I thought, "Hey, that could be cool," until I remembered the last time I saw an episode of Knight Rider and figured I was in for some awesome car shots, a few quippy lines, and a dull story with guest stars who never quite graduated to the "character" level of actor.

Imagine my surprise when I learned Glen Larson had nothing to do with this series. Surely, if anyone was going to knock off Knight Rider, it would be the king of the knockoffs himself. As we established with Automan, Larson knew how to leap on a trend and try to cash in on it for all it's worth, even trends of his own creation. Then he'd get bored three episodes in, pass the reigns to a shifting creative team, and try to find the next hot ticket to bet on.

Instead, this show was made by people I've never heard of. Not to brag, but I've picked up on so many names over the years that it's a rare feat for me to not know someone on a creative team. Looking at the credits of creators Paul M. Belous and Bob Wolterstorff, Street Hawk is definitely their most prominent work in a list of sporadic freelance tv writing, and it seems the show must have impressed the right people because it won them the roles of supervising producers on the second season of Quantom Leap (a series by Glen Larson protege Don Bellissario, weaving our web tighter). Beyond that, Belous seems to have gone his own way, leaving Wolterstorff to write solo for another decade before he, too, went quiet.

As for the intro, it looks gorgeous. The sleek black rider on the bike, backlit by blue, gives it an alien quality that's both gripping and menacing. The stories look to be exactly what I'd expect, which means I fear many an episode involving rich white men and their money laundering schemes, but it doesn't look to have the same level of camp as Larson's shows. The intro mentions the character is recovering from debilitating injuries, so I'm hoping they keep that as a strong thematic layer as the character keeps pushing himself, maybe even farther than he should.

I'm not overly familiar with the cast. The only thing I've seen lead Rex Smith in was the lead in the 1983 filmed version of Pirates of Penzance, which is certainly a different role than we're getting here. But, hey, if Chuck Wagner can make that Broadway swagger work on screen, here's hoping the same is true for Rex. Jeannie Wilson looks lovely, but I can't place her. I'm curious to see if they let her do anything of substance or if she's just the pretty lady rolling her eyes at the hero when he's not rescuing her from peril. Richard Venture and Joe Regalbuto are familiar character actors, of course, but I have to admit I've never been a big fan of Regalbuto, who I've always found to be a poor man's Matt Frewer. Which, when you look back on Frewer's career, must make for a really poor man. I'll push that aside and give him a shot.

The theme is pretty catchy with its beats of hope and atmosphere of imagination. I'm a little surprised to see it's from the synth masters Tangerine Dream. Slightly less surprised to see they didn't do it for the show, it rather being a remix of a title track from one of their hit albums.

I'm curious. As with Automan, this is the type of 80s formula show I don't usually go for, but I'm looking forward to see what the untested creators had in store for the audiences of 1985. Is it a hidden gem, lost before its time, or something that didn't catch on because it was really no different from everything around it? Follow along as we find out!

Tune in this Saturday Morning for the pilot episode of Street Hawk.

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire series is available in a DVD set which can be purchased through Amazon US, Amazon CA, or Amazon UK.

October 29, 2011

Our final thoughts on Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light


Let's get this out the way right up front: Visionaries didn't go away because of low toy sales or low ratings of the show, it disappeared because Hasbro became increasingly dissatisfied with their contract with Marvel/Sunbow and decided not to renew said contract when it expired. I honestly don't know what the numbers were for Visionaries, if it was a bomb, a modest blip, or a potential smash, but it had the pure dumb luck to take its first lap in the race just as the arena cleared its seats and the building was torn down. The ending of the contract caught Marvel/Sunbow completely off guard and is the reason My Little Pony and Jem went away, why new episodes of Transformers stopped appearing anywhere outside of Japan, why G.I. Joe suddenly leapt to being a DiC production, and why a little note announcing the cancellation of Visionaries was stuck on the last page of part two of a four part comic book story. It apparently took a bit of doing for Marvel to hold onto the licenses for the popular Transformers and G.I. Joe comic books, but even those left the studio several years later.

The other reason we never saw Visionaries resurface again like the more prominent Hasbro properties is because, while they were creations owned by Hasbro that had been licensed to Marvel/Sunbow, Visionaries was a co-production. Both the toyline and animated series were created in conjunction with one another under the supervision of Flint Dille so as to create a new level of cohesion between the two instead of show writers being forced to make due with whatever new toys were dropped on their desk. Why this didn't extend to the comic, which was kind of its own spin on the material, is beyond me, but with the two companies divided, there's no way the series could have made a comeback unless either both sides paired up once again or one bought out the other's share. And this may be where sales numbers came in. Again, I can't see those numbers, but I can't imagine Visionaries was a show that blew minds and stuck with a mass audience straight out of the gate. Not because I don't love it, but because the designs and concepts don't have that iconic hook, and it's mostly the eccentric execution of the show that made me love it and guaranteed it could have built a cult following had it been given the chance.

So let's talk about this show, this crazy, post-apocalyptic tribute to cheesy ballads of clashing knights, smiting monsters, and wandering on quests for an ambiguous wizard that plays both sides. This is a land where a mustachioed King will charge headfirst into battle, only bringing backup when they think to follow his path of daring do. This is a culture where both heroes and villains have to suddenly adapt to the crash of an age of technology and the resurfacing of a now forgotten era of magic and monsters. This is a world where grown men will combat a miniature furball menace with oversized shaving implements and birthday cakes. This is a really wild show. Sometimes too wild, but often nailing a satirical smirk that actually adds realism and humanity to the harsh world these people find themselves in.

The big problem, as we often pointed out, is that Leoric and the Spectral Knights, the heroes of the tale, are stiff. There are a few points where disagreements arise, but they're always such upstanding pillars of moral do-goodery that there's no real depth to make them compelling. I mean, sure, we eventually get charmed by Leoric's ridiculous bravery, or Feryll's youthful impulsiveness, or the tender romance between Cryotek and Galadria, but they're all just so bland. There's no comic relief, leaving everyone looking silly in their medieval forms of knightly logic, and no Shipwreck style rebellious jackass who shouldn't be in such a position of honor but has earned a place because, despite his shiftiness and whining, rises to the occasion when the cards fall.

Instead, all our heroes are vastly overshadowed by the villains, the Darkling Lords. Darkstorm, basking in silly displays of his own ego like forcing his citizens into trapdoor games of human chess. Reekon, the sly thief who's always working an angle and only fights for the side he does because they pay him to do so. Cindarr, the lovable slab of muscle with a gentle heart for whom it hasn't yet sunk in that he pledged his loyalties to the wrong side. Cravex, the berserker barbarian whose every line is delivered as a shrieking roar. Lexor, the coward who only fights where there's other people between him and his foes and runs like hell or hides in his armadillo form when he becomes the center of attention. Virulina, who's so badass she once turned into a shark and swallowed her leader whole. And then there's Mortdredd, bootlicking Mortdredd, who desperately tries at every occasion to makes his beloved leader Darkstorm proud, no matter the humiliation and sacrifice he himself must endure.

The big problem with this show is you don't want to watch the heroes, you want to watch the villains. Case in point is "The Overthrow of Merklynn", where the villains conquer the world, then have to outrun a massive armageddon scenario they accidentally triggered. It's hilarious, it's epic, it's wildly entertaining, and it leaves the following episode, "The Power of the Wise", where the Knights find themselves playing out a similar story formula, left completely in the dust as the Knights show again how boring they are in the face of their charismatic foes.

But this is not something that couldn't have been fixed. I know there was a new batch of characters set to debut the following year, but they could also have shaken up the team a bit, have some people flip sides. What would happen if Cindarr finally got it through his skull that he was on the wrong side and took his uncontrollable power of Destruction to that of the Knights? What if someone like Witterquick, who has a bit of a temper and often finds himself on the opposing side of ethical arguments, gets into such a heated disagreement with the other Knights that he falls into the lure of Darkstorm? I don't know if either of these would make the show better, but anything that spices up the Knights can't be a bad thing.

All that aside, let me conclude by saying I really enjoyed this show. The lead characters are a little bland, there's the occasional fumble of an episode, and sometimes Flint Dille's trademark sense of humor can fly a little too free, but they don't detract from the overall experience. It's a very intelligent and sly show that both parodies and nails the ballads of ancient heroes and villains, all overseen by an ambiguous wizard that plays both sides to his own ultimate advantage. The post-apocalyptic world where technology collapsed and magic arose is strikingly designed and there's a few episodes that are among the most beautifully animated of that era. There's so much fun to be had and so many genuine dangers to be fought that I absolutely have to recommend tracking it down. The comics you can skip - there's some good moments, but it's ultimately dry and gets cut off before it can really make its own statement - but definitely hunt down the animated series Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. You'll laugh, you'll be swept up in adventure, and you'll fall head over heels for the wildest batch of unforgettable villains you've ever seen.


When Noel and I landed here on the planet Prysmos some 13 episodes, 6 issues, and a brief sidetrack into the realm of Dragon Strike ago, I thought I knew what we were in for. After all, Visionaries came with a certain pedigree. 80s? Yes. Hasbro? Mm-hmm. Sunbow? Naturally. But, to my surprise, this was a series that refused to play by the rules.

Visionaries is what I would describe as being “morally complicated” - relatively speaking. In an age of righteous heroes, dastardly villains, and cookie-cutter plots, it was striving to be something a bit deeper. Good was good, but Good wasn’t always right. Evil was evil at times, but they were also human and their actions were sometimes justifiable from their point of view. Trying to tell a nuanced, sophisticated story in an 80s cartoon must’ve been a bit like trying to do jumping jacks while wearing a straight jacket.

But it wasn’t all naval gazing and moral relativism. Thankfully, series creator Flint Dille was smart enough to infuse Visionaries with a sense of humor, too. Near the end of the series’ run, it began to get a bit broad, but at its best, it was sharp, winking, and tongue-in-cheek. Well, at least for the bad guys. Our heroes were about as colorful as an Ansel Adams photograph.

So now to (try and) answer the question that was on our minds when we began: Why did Visionaries fail to catch on and become a phenomenon like other Hasbro/Sunbow collaborations? Quite inadvertently, I answered that in my review of the fifth issue of the comic book series. I was reading "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1", it dawned on me why Visionaries failed. Its media isn’t “toyetic” enough. While this is artistically commendable, it’s business suicide. I’m not suggesting that the material is above kids’ heads, but it doesn’t capture that sense of simple fun and wonder that makes little Tommy throw a temper tantrum in the toy aisle of his local K-Mart until his Mom gives in and buys him a Witterquick figure.
In the end, Visionaries was a good animated series, a pretty good comic book series, and a good toy line. But the media often seemed to be at cross purposes with the toy line, a sure recipe for disaster because, in the world of 80s cartoon/toy line hybrids, as go one, so go all.

Having now completed our final quest with the Knights of the Magical Light known as the Visionaries, it’s time for us to depart the world of Prysmos. And as we leave, I take one last look back and see Witterquick waving goodbye. Or is it Arzon? Or Feryl? Maybe... maybe it’s Ectar. I don’t know, I never really did learn to tell them apart.

Goodbye, brave knight. We may not remember your name, but your deeds will never be forgotten.

Tune in next week when we announce the subject of our next Showcase!

October 22, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 6 - "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 2: Wings"

In issue six, the quest for the Four Talismans continues...

Arzon and Feryl, riding in their Capture Chariot, follow a Spirit Guide (a glowing ball of light) provided by Merklynn that will lead them to the next Talisman. As always, the Darkling Lords are not far behind. Following their own Spirit Guide (a green lizard-bat) Cindarr and Virulina waylay the Knights in a treacherous mountain pass by causing an avalanche that damages the Chariot.

When the dust settles, Arzon sees something bird-like streak past overhead. The mysterious figure attracts the attention of the Knight's Spirit Guide, which begins to follow. Leaving Feryl behind to repair the Chariot, Arzon assumes his eagle persona and sets off in pursuit. Nearly getting lost in his animal persona, Arzon isn't aware of the ambush awaiting him. He's caught in a net and transforms back to his human form, much to the chagrin and confusion of his mysterious captors.

Merklynn watches the troubling events in his magical pool. The old wizard is fading and the recovery of the Four Talismans is the only chance he and Prysmos have for survival.

The Spirit Guide returns to Feryl just as he finishes the repairs on the Chariot. Realizing that Arzon still hasn't returned, he commands the Guide to lead him to his friend.

Arzon awakens in the mountain top "nest" of Icara, a female member of the High-Flyers of Avitrix, a people with large man-made wings who can soar through the heavens like birds. Arzon soon learns the source of their flight has nothing to do with their wings, but rather the second Talisman, The Crystal of Flight. He tries to explain to Icara that evil forces will soon attempt to steal the crystal, and if the High-Flyers will make a deal, the Spectral Knights will offer them help. The offer is rejected by the Icara, who feels that so-called "Mud-Crawlers" like Arzon are beneath them.

The Guide of the Darkling Lords, which had been following Arzon, returns to Cindarr and Virulina and tells them the Knight has been captured by the High-Flyers. Feeling now is their time to strike, they make plans to head for the mountain and steal the crystal. But Virulina isn't so sure about taking the Talisman to Darkstorm once they have it. She proposes that she and Cindarr keep it and begin their own dynasty. Cindarr lashes out at the traitorous notion and knocks Virulina to the ground. Using her newly granted Spell of Disease, Virulina causes Cindarr to become deathly ill, only reversing the effects after he begs for mercy.

Back at the mountain, Arzon awakens to find that the High-Flyers have been afflicted with disease. He begs for his staff so he can cast the Spell of Knowledge and find the cause of the sickness as well as the cure. The arrogant Icara initially refuses but, fading fast, she eventually relents. The Staff reveals the cause, Cindarr and Virulina, as well as the cure, a nearby vale filled with blossoms. The two set off to gather the blossoms in the hope they're not too late.

Cindarr and Virulina march toward the city and victory only to be cut off by Feryl. Virulina, confident in her new powers, also strikes him with her spell, causing him to become wracked by the same sickness.

Arzon and Icara gather the blossoms, but Icara can barely stand, let alone fly. Arzon prods her pride, "If you don't help, your people will die! It's up to you! Are you a High-Flyer or a mud-crawler?" This spurs Icara on, giving her the strength to take flight and spread the blossoms over the mountain. Their healing power is almost instantaneous, curing her people, as well as Feryl.

Their plans foiled, Cindarr and Virulina flee. The High-Flyers meet and, though it means they may never fly again, agree to give the Knights the Crystal.

"Without your help, we wouldn't even be alive. Besides, we've been above the world for far too long. It's time we were simply... human."
The last panel shows Arzon and Feryl with the Talisman.

"You know, Arzon - By now the other Knights and Lords will have collected the remaining jewels. When we get back to Iron Mountain, we'll finally learn the truth of why Merklynn wants these Talismans so badly."

"I hope so, Feryl. And whatever that truth may be, I have a suspicion we may not like it."
And in the bottom right hand corner a small box reads:

But that truth must remain un-revealed, for sadly, dear readers, this is the final issue of VISIONARIES.
That tingling sensation you feel in your groin region are your balls turning blue.

Just as in Part 1, the focus here is the effect a Talisman has on the society which posses it. The arrogance the High-Flyers gain as a result of their power of flight is fascinating and I wish there had been more time to explore it. I really love how writer Gerry Conway doesn't pull any punches here, at one point having Icara refer to Arzon as a "wingless cripple". Conversely, their change of heart feels a little too easy and convenient . I can understand and believe that they would have been humbled by the experience and grateful for the Knight's help, but to hand over the source of their flight powers, a trait that has shaped and defined their whole society... I call B.S.

Another aspect I like is Virulina's growing confidence thanks to her new found powers. Having sidelined the females for most of the series, it appeared the creators were finally serious about letting them be involved.

The last panel is certainly awkward, both hastily wrapping up the search for the Talismans and setting up the meeting with Merklynn that would never come. In their defense, there's no good way to give closure to your story when the rug is pulled out from under you like this. All you can do is sew up what you can and leave the rest to the imagination of your readers.


I think the biggest flaw of this issue is that Conway is essentially writing the same story as he did in the last. The Knights encounter a society with a deep religious belief surrounding the power of a Talisman, something that zealously makes them feel superior and special and chosen as they look down on all outsiders. The Lords are always at our heroes' heels, ambushing them whenever possible and launching a huge attack that brings us into the climax. And instead of the Knights having to make the difficult choice of stealing a relic that's so important to this community, the choice is ultimately forced by the action of the Lords, saving our heroes from an ethical grey zone.

It's a good plot, but it's way too redundant to tell it twice in a row, even if the specific details are changed, and there's a wave of nitpicks I have. If the Talisman gives them flight, why do they need the artificial wings? Why doesn't it give them real wings that disappear when the stone is gone? Why doesn't Arzon get the same power when he's within range of the stone? If the ability to fly fades with distance, why do we not see such an affect on the abilities of Icara (I see what you did there with her name) on the two occasions where she flies beyond the mountains? How is Virulina able to cast her Spell of Disease three times within the course of an hour or so with no time to recharge in between? Does sickening an entire village not sap her own life energy like when Galadria used her powers in the last issue to cure an entire village? Speaking of last issue, why is Virulina's power suddenly Disease instead of Poison? And why are a random patch of flowers a cure for a disease created by Merklynn's magic? And if they are a cure, why don't they cure Icara while she's picking them instead of after she lugs them all the way back to the village and rains them from the sky?

Most disappointing of all is, as Tony pointed out, the villagers just randomly deciding to hand the source of their powers over to the Knights, even though it will force them into sweeping societal changes, given that they have no houses or farming skills and, hey, how are they going to get down from that spiny mountain peak now that they can't fly?

I'm sorry to constantly tear at this issue, but they did drop the ball with this one. The art is still great, it is a decent setup for a story, and I absolutely love finally seeing the female Visionaries so strongly featured - Virulina in this issue, Galadria in the last - but there's so many details that the story stumbles over that it just doesn't hold up for me.

And why was there so little exploration of Arzon wanting to just cut loose and fly when talking him down could have actually *gasp* given Feryl something to do in the story instead of hanging out off screen and fixing a broken engine.

And what the hell is up with Merklynn? If he's getting weaker, then why is his shiny bald dome suddenly covered with a thick head of hair? That's an odd beneficial side effect to fading out of existence.

And how the hell does Icara keep from constantly flashing people when her top is essentially a plate-mail flap attached at the neck and dangling in front of her boobs? You can see the colorist caught on to this part way through because, on later pages, she's trying to make it look like Icara has a halter top under there, but she's full on hanging out sideboob the first few times we see her. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

And what about -- ?

Tune in next Saturday Morning as we share our final thoughts on Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

October 15, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 5 - "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1"


Nearly a year after he first gave the Visionaries their powers, Merklynn once again summons the Spectral Knights and Darkling Lords to Iron Mountain and appears to them in his giant stone face form. He tells them the world is in danger and that they have to recover the Four Talismans - Earth, Air, Water, and Fire - and bring the jewels to him before the hour of the Summer Solstice. When Galadria and Virulina point out that they've been overlooked in that, unlike the men, they have no special powers in the form of a Staff or vehicle, Merklynn gives each a magical shield, one with a spell of Healing, the other with Poison.

Merklynn creates magical guides in the form of glowing spheres and animals to lead the Visionaries on their separate quests for the Talismans. Leoric proposes a truce between his Knights and the Lords, but Darkstorm quickly shoots it down, seeing this as yet another sign of the king's weakness as a leader. They all split up.

Galadria and Cryotek head off in search of the Earth Talisman and share a bit of flirting when they camp around a pot of Cryotek's delicious stew. That night, they're ambushed by Cravex and Reekon who open fire on the Knights with their Dagger Assault. Things look pretty dire for our heroes until a tribe appears and defends them. Cravex unleashes his Fear spell, but it also catches Reekon, causing the Lord at the wheel to race the Dagger Assault off into the night.

The tribe, led by a man named Trakk, loathe the machinists they feel represent the old ways and prosper in the nearby fields due to a magical God Tree that makes all of their crops grow fast and full. The God Tree, of course, bears the Earth Talisman that our heroes are after. Galadria tries to talk to Trakk, to convince him that people in the world beyond are suffering and could desperately use such prosperous crops, but Trakk believes his people were chosen by the God Tree and what happens to the outside world is of no concern to them.

Before the Knights can better convince the man, Reekon and Cravex once again show up, now claiming that the Knights are lying thieves being hunted as traitors. Suspicions flare among Trakk's people, which Cravex fully ignites by once again activating his Fear spell. The people go nuts, attacking the Knights. Cryotek is forced to assume his Bear Persona and creates just enough chaos for Galadria to slip away. She encounters the Lords just as they pry the Talisman loose, but they take her down, set the Tree on fire, and make their escape.

Cryotek gets lost in the rage of his Bear Persona, until Merklynn's spirit guide catches his attention and draws it to Galadria and the growing flames. He once again resumes human form and uses his Strength spell to smother the flames. Galadria comes to in his arms and they look to Trakk and his people, who wander in injury and despair at the situation and the loss of their deity. Galadria uses her Heal spell to repair wounds and bring the now powerless Tree back to life. She tells Trakk that his people now have to live as others do and learn to share as she shared her magic with him. And while they weren't able to save this Talisman from the hands of the Darkling Lords, Cryotek vows that the remaining three will be saved for the cause of good.

Say, how many of you expected this tie-in to a tv series that's a tie-in of a toy line to feature a story about religious philosophy just five episodes in? None of you? Same here! But, wow, what a doozy of a tale as the limited worldview and now past desperation makes a compelling case for why Trakk's people would come to believe what they did, as well as their hesitation to believe outsiders that bring with them strange magic, unusual armor, and dreaded machines. This is something the television series touched on in the mildest, most family-friendly of ways, but Gerry Conway doesn't have the same limitations as Flint Dille, so he refuses to sugarcoat it. What we have here is the reality represented by the Knights conflicting with the religious faith as represented by Trakk's people, and there's no way the two can ultimately survive when one needs to take the stone and the other needs to keep it. I'm not saying Conway expresses everything in the best of ways - the worst example being the heavy handed "Now that's being a Visionary!" lesson about sharing - but I don't feel he's trying to preach so much as he's representing a genuine conflict of viewpoints.

All that heavy stuff aside, we still have a damn solid issue. The romance between Cryotek and Galadria finally makes it to the page. There's more exploration of how Visionaries can get lost in their animal Personas. There's great use of spells and how they can sometimes backfire if you aren't careful. We get some hints that all isn't well with Merklynn as we see a bit of his desperation for this mission's success. Galadria and Virulina finally get some kickass special magic, even though I did sigh a bit that the boys get offensive weapons and cars, and the girls get shields to hide behind. If there's anything wrong with the issue, it's that Dave Simons' inking isn't as strong as Romeo Tanghal's has been on past issues, leaving the art a little looser. But that's it.

Bring on the next three Talismans, says I!

(looks as single remaining issue)

Bring on the next.... one Talisman.... says.... says.... aw, damn, I'm missing this series already.


The ugly little not-so-secret of Visionaries, just as with Masters of the Universe or My little Pony, is that the cartoon and the comic books were designed to help sell toys. The goal is to get kids hooked on the media first and then they would want the toys they promoted. If it all goes to plan, media and toy line form a symbiotic relationship, one feeding the other and both milking the wallet of parents and grandparents everywhere. I mention this because, as I was reading "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1", it dawned on me why Visionaries failed. Its media isn’t “toyetic” enough. While this is artistically commendable, it’s business suicide. I’m not suggesting that the material is above kids’ heads, but it doesn’t capture that sense of simple fun and wonder that makes little Tommy throw a temper tantrum in the toy aisle of his local K-Mart until his Mom gives in and buys him a Witterquick figure.

Now, to the issue itself.

I’m going to surprise you, or at least maybe Noel, by saying that I believe they should’ve pushed things a bit further. On one side, you have the tribe who own the talisman and worship it as a gift from their God. On the other side, you have the Knights who need it to help the cause of the “greater good”. That conflict should’ve driven the story. Having failed to convince Trakk and his people to share the talisman, what choice do the Knights make? Do they take the talisman by force, justified by “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”? Or do they respect that, whatever the cost, they shouldn’t take what isn’t theirs? Our own history is filled with these kinds of choices, from Manifest Destiny to the exploration and destruction of tropical rainforests. Having the Darkling Lords come in and snatch the talisman amongst a lot of magical hocus pocus feels like a copout to me. I wanted to see the Spectral Knights have to make the tough choice, not deliver some simplistic lesson on sharing. That’s not to say this isn’t a good issue, I just think it could’ve been so much more.

Knowing as we do that the end is nigh, it’s sad to see so many interesting plot and character threads beginning to un-spool. The budding romance of Galadria and Cryotek, the emergence of the female knights as actual characters, the mystery of Merklynn. We’ll never see these fully flower, nor find the answers to key mysteries. It’s like reading a book only to find that the pages are all blank after the sixth chapter.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for the final Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 2: Wings".

October 8, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 4 - "Dream Maker"


A siren of dreams. A desperate quest. Witterquick naked. It's all here in Visionaries, issue four: "Dream Maker"!

On the planet Prysmos, two very different men have the same dream. A beautiful woman, Sirena, held captive by a demon inside a double-horned peak, implores each warrior to recover the Star of Tisandra. The gem, embedded in the forehead of a large statue many leagues away, will free her from her prison and the man who recovers it first will be her champion. Each awakens with a start. Convinced their dreams were real, Spectral Knight Witterquick and Darkling Lord Cindarr set off in search of the gem.

The two men converge on a small village, home to the statue bearing the Star of Tisandra... and a tyrannical warlord who rules his people through intimidation and fear. Witterquick witnesses the warlord's brutality, but he can't get the image of Sirena out of his mind. Vowing to return later, he presses on, only to discover that Cindarr has arrived first. The Darkling Lord nearly has the gem when Witterquick uses his speed to catch up, tackling the Darkling Lord and sending both of them toppling to the ground. The two foes get to their feet and are about to engage when Cindarr tackles Witterquick, saving him from an arrow. The warlord and his men are closing in and the two agree - reluctantly, on Witterquick's part - to join forces. Cindarr uses his poem of Destruction, which creates enough of a diversion for both to flee. Witterquick escapes to the mountains and ponders his next move. Exhausted, he falls into a dream... and out of his clothes. Standing stark naked before Sirena for reasons I can't fathom, the weary Knight is emboldened by Sirena's plea, as well as her kiss. Before he wakes, she tells him about a secret cave below the statue that will allow him to climb to it undetected. However, there is a beast lurking within.

With renewed vigor and purpose, Witterquick navigates the dark cave until he arrives at a set of steps leading up towards the statue. Just as he starts to ascend, the beast emerges from the shadows and attacks. Turning into his cheetah persona, he bites the arm of the beast and escapes. He sprints up the stairs and arrives at the top of the statue, only to find Cindarr there with the gem in his hand. But how did Cindarr know about the cave? Before the question can be answered, the gem is knocked from Cindarr's hand by an arrow. The warlord and his men have again arrived. Witterquick uses this moment to recover the gem, using his Speed poem to catch it before it hits the ground. He then cuts the legs of the statue and flees. The statue topples to the ground, nearly taking out the warlord and his men. Cindarr survives the fall by turning into his gorilla persona. The warlord begs the raging Cindarr not to kill him and the Darkling Lord obliges, knowing that by humiliating the warlord in front of his people, he has effectively ended the man's reign.

Cindarr sets off in pursuit of Witterquick, but he's unable to keep pace with the faster Knight. Sirena again comes to him in a vision, but now her form is more cruel. She tells Cindarr that Witterquick will free her and that the Lord is no longer needed. He's just "a complication". Just as she's about to strike, Cindarr begins his poem of Destruction. There's a massive explosion, and then only silence.

Witterquick arrives at the peak and is met by the demon. He tells the young Knight that Sirena is a witch and that he has stood guard over her prison for a thousand years. Witterquick, deep in Sirena's spell, doesn't believe the guardian and uses his speed to get the upper hand. Just as Witterquick is about to free Sirena, he's tackled once again by Cindarr in gorilla form. The gem goes flying from Witterquick's hand into the gate. The stone slab beings to glow and, inside, Sirena smiles.

Cindarr reverts back to human form and tells Witterquick that Sirena is evil and was only using them, that once she's free, they'll be nothing to her. Witterquick doesn't believe him until he sees Sirena begin to emerge from her cell, an evil gleam in her eyes. Shaken from her spell, he agrees with Cindarr to use their Staffs together. With their combined power, they destroy the peak that was her prison, and Sirena along with it.

Both men survive and share a brief moment of unspoken respect and understanding.

Witterquick: "In the end, we fought as allies. Imagine if our leaders could find a way to do the same..."

Cindarr: "A pretty dream."
The demon, really the Guardian of Dreams, tells both men that the world is fortunate that two bold friends such as them stood firm against Sirena's wiles. Both men scoff and go their separate ways.

This was a fantastic issue. Easily the best of the run so far and one of the best comics I've read in some time. There's so much to love here that I don't know where to begin.

First off it's just a good, clear, hard-hitting story and I was surprised to see it was written by Gerry Conway, the same writer as the last two issues. The prose he uses here is so much more artful and sophisticated that I thought surely it must've been someone new. And the artwork, again by Mark Bagley and Romeo Tanghal, is cleaner, bolder, and more striking than previous issues.

The shifting of focus from the two larger groups of warriors to just the two knights really helps to develop that characters that had previously blended together into a bit of a blurry watercolor, and the complex moral shading that was hinted at, but never really developed, in the cartoon blossoms well here. It's Witterquick who sees the brutality of the warlord and yet ignores it to continue on with his quest. And it's Cindarr who saves Witterquick's life, not once, but twice, and then, for reasons he can't later articulate, humiliates the warlord knowing this will end the man's reign of terror.

While the previous three issues had their moments, they were uneven, cluttered, and, at times, uninspired. But from start to finish, "Dream Maker" fires on all cylinders. If this is a harbinger of what the final two issues will bring, it makes the short run of this series all the more tragic.


Tony, remember when I said we were in good hands with Gerry Conway? The man was one of the top writers of his day. He's the dude who wrote the death of Gwen Stacy. It took him a couple issues to find his footing with Visionaries, but I agree that he's now sprinting for all its worth. Some of the best stories of the animated series came when we got to break away from the pack and follow some of the lesser known knights. In comic form, it's even stronger as Conway's vivid prose lets us into their heads.

I love how Witterquick, the noble Knight, is willing to pass the opportunity to take on a tyrant because he's so obsessed with his dream quest, but Cindarr, the brutish Lord, doesn't hesitate before saving Witterquick from a lethal swarm of arrows. I don't agree with Tony that the ethical gray zone was under-developed on the show, but it is great to see it survive the transition to the comic. Especially when the two work together in the end, share a moment of respect, then scoff at the idea of them being friends as they head their separate ways.

That said, this isn't without a few problems. How did their combined Staffs do what they did? If they joined, I could understand a fast earthquake, but not such a massive explosion that it wakes people miles away. There's some handwavium there that cheapens the climax a little. And the giant monster demon revealed as The Guardian of Dreams? Wouldn't he exist within dreams as opposed to being a physical thing located in a single spot on this whole world? And they drop a line about how he didn't do a very good job and that he was overpowered, and that makes him a pretty damn lousy Guardian of Dreams. He's a monster guarding a witch. That's all you need. Guardian of Dreams just overly complicates it and makes no sense.

None of that makes this a bad issue, though. Far from it. Siren is strikingly designed and makes a great lure and foil for our leads, and I like that they did stop and think about how her imprisonment was affected by the planet's Magic/Technology shifts. The fight on the statue and battle with the monster were exciting. The background story of tyrannical Master Kravor gives things a nice extra layer. I love how Leoric is fully supporting of Witterquick's quest, whereas Cindarr has to kick himself loose from the Lords. The Bagley/Tanghal art is as great as ever.

It's a solid comic. I won't go as far as Tony and say it's one of the best I've read in years, but it's certainly of a much higher quality than one would expect from such a short-lived tie in as this.

I also noticed that, beginning with the last issue, the book is published under Marvel instead of the kid-friendly Star imprint of the first two strikingly dark issues. That would explain the Witterquick ass shot.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "Quest of the Four Talismans, Part 1".

October 1, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 3 - "The Star Stone"


Two months after our last story, Harkon, the smith who created the Sky Claw, is running for his life. Soon after completing construction of the Dagger Assault for the Darkling Lords, Harkon discovered a scroll that holds a secret which could bring an end to the Age of Magic. Naturally, he'd much rather see this info in the hands of the Spectral Knights. And naturally, the Lords don't take too kindly to this as they violently pursue him. The Sky Claw swoops into the fray with Spectral Knight Arzon at the controls. He fights the Lords off and makes for New Valarak with an injured Harkon and the scroll.

Harkon is unconscious, leaving Arzon and Leoric to make what they can of the scroll. They can't decipher the ancient writing, but recognize the coastline indicated by a map. Unfortunately, the coastline is also recognized by Reekon and Mortdredd, who snuck into the palace in their mystic forms (the comic's term for their animal totems) to steal back the Sky Claw and once again give the Darkling Lords vehicle dominance. Which they do.

Leoric sends the Knights to the coastline on the map (quietly pursued by the Lords, of course), while Arzon and he go to Merklynn to see if the wizard can translate the rest of the scroll. He's cranky and calls them out as idiots because Arzon could have easily read it himself by using his Staff of Knowledge. Arzon does so, and learns of a meteorite that hit the ground a thousand years ago during the dawn of the Age of Technology. The meteorite contained minerals that could affect the energy fields of Prysmos, so it was constructed into a doomsday bomb that could fill the atmosphere with particles and instantly cut off all technology. Arzon speculates that, with the energy fields already switched to magic, the bomb could be used to flick things back in technology's favor. He celebrates this idea as he feels it could end all the pain and suffering caused by the sudden dark age. Leoric is less certain and worried that doing so would tamper too deeply with fate.

Merklynn teleports the two Knights to Meteor Peak, where they meet up with the others and realize the hill overgrown with weeds is the ancient bunker housing the bomb. While they're still debating what to do with the weapon, the Darkling Lords attack. Darkstorm first wants to destroy the weapon to keep the Knights from getting an advantage over him, but when Leoric decides the bomb is ultimately too risky to use, Darkstorm changes his mind too and decides to take it. The battle is heavy and fierce, especially when Galadria throws herself in front of Darkstorm's Decay spell and is nearly killed. The tide turns when the Knights Feryl and Ectar discover their magic can activate the Lancer Cycle and Capture Chariot vehicles which are also housed in the bunker.

By the end of the battle, the whole building is coming down and both the Knights and the Lords flee. The weapon is destroyed.

There's a few stumbles with this story. While I like the philosophical debate between Leoric and Arzon, I got a little tired of the argument that the Age of Magic shouldn't be undone because you'd then be undoing destiny itself. Who is Leoric to determine what is and isn't destined? Isn't it possible that destiny wants them to use the bomb so that Technology can be reborn? Would the map have fallen so easily into their hands if destiny didn't want them to pursue its destination? I like the added argument that you can't end all pain and that pain is a necessary part of life that can never be easily escaped, but the destiny angle is hammed on far too much.

A few of my other issues are more technical. I like that we got a little more exploration of the animal totems, especially in a great bit where Leoric ponders what effect such shifts could have on people after long term use, but the Power Staffs are severely overused to the point where the climactic battle is a clutter of people reciting poem after poem after poem. And what's with the scene where they go to Merklynn for a translation only for him to say they could have done it themselves? It's a wasted scene there for no reason but to slip Merklynn in. You can already see Gerry Conway struggling to keep the wizard involved in the story after the choice was made to remove the constant quests to his castle for a recharge. And the Knights just happen to find vehicles randomly left behind in the bunker? They just happen to be in perfect working order after a thousand years? You couldn't save them another issue and have them be yet more creations from Harkon, who is now in New Valarak?

Other than these complaints, I like the book. There's some great ancient backstory (the weapon was never used because it was forgotten after a sudden coup), it's built around an interesting attempt to explore the shifting nature of this planet's energy, there's a lot of great action as it opens with a bang, there's some wonderful interplay between the characters (great background bit of Lexor sheepishly hitting on Virulina), the art by Mark Bagley and Romeo Tanghal is as great as always, and I wish all the Knights had the capes Leoric and Arzon wore during their visit to Merklynn because they looked pretty damn badass.


When you're only into the third issue of a comic book series and the plot revolves around a McGuffin that will essentially undo the entire premise, you know before you read the first page that, in the end, they won't use it. As a writer, all you can do is build the tension and hope to cause a smidge of doubt in the reader's mind. To that end, I think that "The Star Stone" would've been much more effective had it been Leoric who wanted to use the doomsday weapon, with opinion amongst the other Knights divided. We all know that Leoric is the leader and that, in the end, he makes the call. If he begins the story as the opposition, you have nowhere to go dramatically. It would also make more character sense for the leader to feel the weight of the struggles and pain of his people and want to use this potentially terrible weapon for good. To up the ante, have Darkstorm and the Lords fighting to stop Leoric from using the bomb because they don't want to surrender their new powers. Right there you have the good guy doing the "wrong" thing for the right reason and the villains doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Noel mentioned the incessant use of "destiny" in this issue and I agree with him one hundred percent. Leoric throws it around like a philosophical "Get out of jail free" card. One of the aspects I appreciate about this series so far is that the heroes are often conflicted about the best course of action, or the "right" thing. But for it to really work, you have to have two or more clearly articulated ideas that are in conflict with one another. We don't get that with all this destiny mumbo jumbo. It's lazy writing. It works better within the context of something like Star Wars, which is built upon the spiritual elements of The Force.

Another lazy aspect to this story is having the Knights find fully functioning vehicles buried with the bomb. It made me to do the rare simultaneous face-palm/sigh, which caused me to knock the air back into my lungs. The Knights have Harkon now. Why do they need to find vehicles when he could've simply built them? What's he going to do now, change the oil in the Sky Claw?

One of the elements I did like, though it wasn't explored very deeply (maybe a set-up for another issue?), was the idea of the effect the animal transformations might have on our characters long-term. It's one of a few smart little nuggets inside this otherwise stale cookie and something that could be used to help pull Merklynn into the story in a more organic and less forced way. Did he know the magic had this effect? And if so, why didn't he tell them? It adds further shading to his already murky character motivations.

"The Star Stone" is a broadly interesting concept held together by a weak sinew.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "Dream Maker".

September 24, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 2 - "The Balance of Power"


"The Balance of Power" picks up right where "The End... The Beginning!" leaves off, but unlike the first issue, the second deviates almost completely from the cartoon.

The wizard Merklynn sends the successful Knights of his quest back to the foot of Iron Mountain and leaves them with this...

"One final word brave knights! With the powers you now possess, you can either rebuild this wondrous world - or DESTROY IT ALL! The fate of Prysmos is in your hands!"
The warriors are confused. What are these "powers" that they possess? And what of those warriors without staffs? Confusion leads to anger which inevitably spills over into a battle between the two loosely affiliated groups. As the fight rages, something strange begins to happen. The warriors who posses staffs begin to hear a voice, like a whisper, in their head. The words it speaks are a spell that unleashes a power within them. One by one, they begin to discover just what it is Merklynn has given them.

The battle escalates. It's a free-for-all of destruction and chaos. And then a voice rises above the calamity. It's Leoric. He makes a plea for the warriors to unite and use their new powers to rebuild their world. Some of them scoff at this and Darkstorm seizes this opportunity to rally them to his cause. In the end, the knights choose their sides with neither group having a clear-cut tactical advantage. Both agree to go their separate ways. For now.

Leoric takes his knights to his stronghold in New Valarak, where they thoughtfully debate a plan of action. In the end, they agree on one thing: to unite as one against the forces of evil. Meanwhile, back at Darkstorm's lair, he and his newly minted Darkling Lords have a less... civil discussion.

A caste system quickly develops between those who posses a staff of power and those who don't. The sniveling Mortdred and the bitter Reekon are made errand boys, sent to a local community to have Darkstorm's armor repaired. There they meet Harkon, a renowned blacksmith who had been a brilliant engineer and scientist during the Age of Technology. While Harkon repairs Darkstorm's armor, Reekon discovers something hidden under a tarp. It's a project of Harkon's from before the Age of Magic rendered all technology useless: a flying vehicle with immense firepower that he calls a Sky Claw. Mortdred muses about getting back into Darkstorm's good graces by presenting him with this flying machine, a secret weapon that he can use to crush Leoric and his meddlesome knights. And then...

The Sky Claw whirs to life! Reekon feels the transfer of energy from his hand to the machine, and when Mortdred touches it, the symbol on his chest plate instantly appears on the wing. They have discovered their power. They have the ability to power this vehicle and, presumably, any electronic device from days gone by. They present this to Darkstorm and a feast is held to celebrate their new advantage. This naturally leads to a discussion on how best to use this new power and that leads to a mêlée amongst the Lords. When the dust settles, Darkstorm blames Mortdred for the scuffle and sends him from his sight. Mortdred, seeking to once again regain his master's favor, steals the Sky Claw and sets off for New Valarak. Initially intending only to spy on the enemy, Mortdred is overcome with a desire to do more, to prove his worth by destroying Leoric and his knights.

Leoric's men are roused from their sleep and a battle ensues. The Knights are horrified by this terrible new weapon, but fight back bravely. Eventually, a new power is roused, this time inside the knight Arzon. It is the power of Knowledge and with it he is able to deduce that there is a weakness to the Sky Claw. He tells his fellow Knight, Feryl, to hit the underside of the craft dead center. This causes it to spin out of control and crash. But then the Darkling Lords arrive.

Having found Mortdred and the Sky Claw missing, Darkstorm and his warriors knew they'd find him in New Valarak. The two forces battle. Meanwhile, the Sky Claw begins to repair - no, to heal itself, almost as if it's alive. Mortdred rejoins the battle and is about to blast Leoric, only to be waylaid by Arzon. The Sky Claw is sent spinning and the blast destroys Darkstorm's chariot instead, injuring the Lord in the process. The tide has turned and the Darkling Lords are forced to beat a hasty retreat, leaving the Sky Claw in the hands of Leoric and his Knights. Back at Darkstorm's lair, Mortdred is thrown into the dungeon until his master can decide what to do with him.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this issue doesn't follow the storyline of the cartoon. The only thing(s) the second issue and the second episode have in common is that Mortdred and Reekon's ability to power electronic devices is revealed and the Sky Claw is introduced.

As a consequence of this original take, one of the first things I noticed is that Flint Dille's trademark humor, more or less retained in the first issue, is largely gone here. The second issue has a more serious, straightforward tone to it. It's very well written, but the tonal change is a bit jarring at first.

One thing that hasn't changed is that it still embraces a more complex morality than most other properties of the era, such as when the still unnamed Spectral Knights have a genuine debate on how best to use their powers and deal with Darkstorm.

"Don't get carried away by anger, Ectar. Remember what Merklynn said - We're supposed to use our magic to rebuild the world, not fight a war."

"Maybe we'll have to fight the war first, Arzon."
Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, mind, but again, considering the era, it's refreshing to see two good guys disagree on a course of action without some coda reprimanding the one who was "wrong". In the real world, good people disagree. It happens every day. In fact, I'd say they disagree far more often than evildoers.

Overall, "The Balance of Power" is a less generically entertaining but more intelligent second chapter than its corresponding episode in the cartoon series. I'm looking forward to the next issue.


We're at the point where the comics and the cartoon are two fully separate continuities with different takes on the same idea that will likely continue to divide as they go on. Any fan of Transformers and G.I. Joe will already be prepared for this, but for those of you who have been following along with us: forget the tv series. From here on out, the comic will be its own universe with the characters and world and magical rules working in their own way.

Let's take the power staffs. In the cartoon, they unleashed a magical being for one shot before they needed to be dragged up to Iron Mountain and dipped in Merklynn's pool for a recharge. Here, they not only recharge themselves after a short time, but there is no magical being, the powers they represent instead being cast through the knight wielding them. Lexor's Invulnerability spell coats his armor with an unbreakable skin. Arzon's Knowledge spell instantly fills his head with perfect recollection of everything he's ever known throughout his life. Cindarr's Destruction spell tears the ground with an earthquake. I kinda miss the kooky figures that would pop out of the Staffs when summoned, but I like this shorthand of simply having the powers channelled through the wielder. And while having to trek up to Merklynn's place for a recharge was a clever twist, it's not essential.

As Tony pointed out, I love how the Darkling Lords are quick to look down on those who don't wield staffs, and the motivation this gives to Reekon and Mortdredd to prove themselves. The Sky Claw is nicely used here, going from a piece of junk in the back of a smith's shop to a wondrous sight as it takes to the air and reminds everyone of the era they've lost. I like that we get an explanation of how the holograms on the craft are tied to the user and how the Spectral Knights are still able to take it down through skill and strategy. But I do have one issue: how is Darkstorm able to pilot it? Unlocking the vehicle is Mortdredd's magical skill and it's imbued with his power, so how is Darkstorm able to take the controls and go off for a fly on his own? It's kind of pointless to give someone a special ability that anyone else can use.

I also love the conflicted ethics and motives Tony mentioned. The Knights arguing about waiting for Darkstorm to attack or making the first move. The Lords pulling together even as they break into fights and plot behind each other's backs. And I love the recurring theme of "That's not fair!", first expressed by the smith who built the Sky Claw when he's stunned to learn he's not able to fly his own creation, then again by Mortdredd when he's tossed in a dungeon for a week for trying to impress his master. It's good stuff.

And, yeah, the tone is definitely different. The tv series was almost as much a parody of medieval knight ballads as they were a modern tribute to them, but the comic is becoming much more of a straight-forward high fantasy. There's nothing wrong with that different approach, though. The characters are rich and (mostly) distinct. The central clash between freedom and dominance is played to the hilt. The magic adds to the characters and world instead of overwhelming it or making it silly. It's with this issue that Jim Salicrup handed the scripting reigns over to Gerry Conway, who's a legendary writer in the industry for a good reason. Trust me, we're in great hands with him.

A few small notes:
  • I'm impressed they didn't fall back on the ages old cliche of having the two female knights always squaring off against one another. Here, they hold their own against the males.
  • I'm surprise how little use they've made of the animal totems. I know there's only so many pages to play in, but I only counted for shifts, and each ended rather quickly.
  • In the show, Leoric would be blundering head-first into whatever fray he could find. I love the calmer, wiser version we have here. There's a great bit where the Knights and Lords break out into their free-for-all brawl in the opening scene, and he's just standing on a hill top, scowling down as the senseless conflict.
  • Mortdredd continues to be the most entertaining character in this franchise.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "The Star Stone".

September 17, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 1 - "The End... The Beginning!"


We open on the flourishing, technological utopian city of New Valarak on the alien world of Prysmos, where the people are soft and pampered due to their robot servants doing all the heavy lifting. Into a posh restaurant, overlooking the city from the cliffside on which it hangs, walks the wizard Merklynn, who knows of the approaching conjunction of the three suns and wants to witness the effects it will have. Sure enough, in a flash of light, all electronics go dead and Merklynn declares a new era of magic has begun as people scream and die and New Valarak is awash in flames.

As was common for many comic tie ins of the era, this debut issue is a loose adaptation of the pilot episode penned by Flint Dille. Writer Jim Salicrup plays a bit loose with his adaptation, but it follows the major plot beats as they originally played out. After several years (it's unspecified how many, but presumably a decade or less), the world has entered a new medieval dark age. Leoric, once Mayor of New Valarak, is now its King and has done his best to guide the city to peace and prosperity. But the outer lands are run by Darkstorm, who rules through the "tough decisions" of enslavement and pillagery. To both, and every other person in the region decked in the armor of a knight, appears the glowing face of Merklynn, inviting all who desire magical powers to enter his citadel on Iron Mountain where their worth will be tested.

Let's pause for a moment and go over our characters. Leoric and Darkstorm are largely unchanged, and I like the focus on their opposing views on how best to manage a struggling world. Leoric's main lieutenants Ectar and Feryll also don't stray from the pilot episode, where they were equally indistinct. Mortdredd is as big a kissass as always. Witterquick, Galadria, Arzon, and Virulina are also the same, though I like the addition of the fact that Virulina stinks from bad hygiene (though, realistically, who in this dark age wouldn't?).

Reekon and Cravex seem to have swapped places. Reekon still only works for money, but he's more a hired warrior than a thief and Cravex has lost his berserker rage as he sneaks around corners and takes people out when they aren't looking. Cryotek isn't all that different, but he apparently now has an old rivalry with Cindarr, who's lost his dim-witted innocence and is now a common thug. Lexor is still a coward, but I love that he's unaffiliated with either side and just manages to bungle into getting powers because he keeps running away in the right direction.

The traps and tests in Merklynn's shrine are a little different, but largely play out as they did on the show. Witterquick runs fast. Ectar uses a leaf as a hang glider. There's a giant scary gargoyle that's frightened off when Leoric charges it because it isn't used to being attacked. Galadria and Virulina have their fight in the water, complete with octopus. Darkstorm recruits his evil knights by trapping them. And there's a free-for-all brawl before Merklynn shows up and gives his magic to everyone who's left.

It's a good adaptation, and I applaud Marvel for the extended 38-page length because nothing feels compressed or rushed. In fact, with scenes like Merklynn in the opening, they actually get to expand on the material in little ways. I can't say most of the characters are particularly distinct, especially since most of them are hidden behind those clunky helmets, so I'm not sure how well it would work for a newcomer unfamiliar with the tv show. Even I got a little lost at times when dozens of knights are running around before they're thinned down to the lead 14. It's not bad, though, giving each character their moment to shine. There's even a great bit with a trio of knights concocting a plan to form a League of Justice, combining "my knowledge of weapons with your detective skills", before Cravex drops a beehive on them and they run away, never to be seen again.

I am impressed that the writing didn't forget to include the humor of the tv show. It's a little clunky and doesn't have the sharp satirical edge of Dille's writing, but it still works. The knights bicker, traps are often as comical as they are threatening (a cave literally swallows knights up, then spits them out with a burp), and there's the occasional great line like "What's your problem[, Mortdredd]? Did Darkstorm get mad at you for rusting his boots with your tongue?"

The art by Mark Bagley and Romeo Tanghall is also a delight. There were some moments where I was lost on who was behind what suit of armor or a face got a little wonky, but their work is very rich and flowing. The armor always has weight and keeps to the design, the action is dynamic and the humor playful, and they're just as good with moments of a dozen knights rolling around in a scuffle as they are grandiose uses of cosmic magical forces. There's two moments in this issue that are absolutely stunning: the two page spread of New Valarak in flames, and our Knights entering Merklynn's chamber and encounter a swirling cloud of the animal spirits destined to become their totems.

This book is a solid piece of work. It's not perfect, with an overly large cast still struggling to give everyone distinction, and a few rough bits here and there, but it's rousing, it's exciting, it's filled with big ideas and personal conflicts. I was instantly captivated by the first episode of the tv series, and the first issue of the comic thankfully doesn't fail to do the same.


Noel has done such an excellent job of outlining the issue that I feel an urge to take you through the various ads instead - like the one with a little boy who is basking in the admiration of a group of girls because of his model car building skills - but I won't. Instead, I'll give you a little context.

Our first issue is dated November of 1987, a year that was a defining moment in my life. It wasn't the year I kissed my first girl (that was 1986). It wasn't the year I got my first pubes (I'm still waiting on those). It was the year I turned thirteen and the last year I got toys for Christmas. I say this because it represented the end of my childhood as defined by toys, cartoons, and comic books, and the start of my adolescence. It was a year when things began to get complicated. Old friends became former friends, replaced by former strangers who became constant companions. The homework got harder, the social pressures increased, and hard choices loomed ahead. Look, it wasn't all gloom and doom and I can truthfully say that I enjoyed my teen years, but life is never quite as pure as those days of imagination when you're twelve years old. Damn, I miss them sometimes. But that's the great thing about an old comic book: it's like a portal to that moment in time. And speaking of which... Sherman? Set the WABAC machine for 1987.

"Go now! Return to your city! Your only hope for survival is to create a brave new world out of the old! I have other matters to attend... Fear not! For Merklynn shall return!"


"Anyone know a good restaurant near here?"
The thing I enjoyed most about this first issue was how it went beyond what the first episode - or even the series as a whole - was able to show us. You expect that from a novelization, but not necessarily from a comic adaptation. The Age of Science was only briefly touched on in the cartoon and never anything more than a set-up for the premise. Here, we get to see that it was really a reflection of the state of humanity in the late 20th century. Were technology and convenience making us soft? Were we losing our primal edge? I couldn't help but think of these lyrics from the song Mr. Roboto as I was reading:

The problem's plain to see:
Too much technology.
Machines to save our lives.
Machines dehumanize.
Yes, I know the song is corny, but it hits upon the kinds of questions we were asking and the doubts we had as the New Millennium loomed.

The other aspect that made reading this so worthwhile was that it strengthened the bonds formed between the Knights on both sides. I don't know that there was more focus on it, but there's something inherently more intimate about reading than simply watching. I could feel the growing camaraderie between the as yet unnamed Spectral Knights and the tangled yet tenuous bonds of the Darkling Lords. I felt a connection to the journey that was missing in the first episode.

As Noel said, it does get hard to keep track of characters at times. Even as the roster of would-be Knights gets whittled down, I still had difficulty keeping track of who was who. For instance, both female Knights are inexplicably clad in purple and silver, and in one scene, Cindarr and Cryotek square off, each wielding an identical sword and both clad in blue and red armor. That's like having a movie where Michael Madsen fights Tom Sizemore. Granted, these are more a problem of concept than the execution of the artists, but the Knights should've been designed to each have bold, distinct armor. And maybe throw in a black guy or two while you're at it. Just don't match them against one another or you get that whole Michael Clarke Duncan/Ving Rhames thing and we're right back where we started.

And, as in the cartoon, the character's personalities are still just as interchangeable. Especially the good guys. While each villain has his or her own little section of character turf to occupy, the good guys, for the most part, are all pretty much the same. When faced with conflict, the villains stop to ponder how it will affect them. They scheme. They plot. They double-cross. When the good guys face a challenge, they draw swords and charge headlong, yelling "Justice! Honor! Courage! Eat your vegetables!"

Issue one gets us off to a good start. It's fast paced without ever feeling rushed and it takes big themes and boils them down without losing the nutrients.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light adventure in "The Balance of Power".

September 10, 2011

Bonus Review: The Dragon Strike Video

There's been a slight delay in us getting our hands on every issue of the Visionaries comic, so we're taking a break this week and are instead treating you to a tasty little gem written and directed by none other than Flint Dille, the mad genius behind our Knights of the Magical Light.


"Now, don't forget, a great Dragon Master isn't afraid to ham it up. Sure, the monsters just want to beat the heroes up, but it's a lot more fun when they do it with style."

In the late 80s, Flint Dille found himself canned from Transformers and at the head of the quickly cancelled Visionaries and Inhumanoids (the latter of which we'll be covering next year), he started to back out of tv animation and put more focus into his work at TSR, where he'd been writing interactive game books and the occasional novel. As the 80s came to a close, the company best known for Dungeons & Dragons tried branching out into new realms, including a wide attempt to relaunch Buck Rogers, or their interactive audio adventure, Terror T.R.A.X.. Dille was involved with both, but the grand poobah of his time there was 1993's Dragon Strike, a board game designed as an easy way in for those new to table-top role playing. I've never played the game and can't attest to its success or failure, nor do I know what his level of involvement was with the game itself, but I have seen the half-hour introductory video Dille put together, and boy is it something.

The main thrust of the story is that the dark lord Teraptus has gotten his hands on a Sunstone, which he uses to coat the land in eternal night. This information is delivered to the spoiled King Halvor II by a dying Wizard, and the King half-heartedly assembles a fellowship of adventurers who just happen to already be present when his throne room comes under attack by Teraptus' undead legion. You've got the boasting knuckleheaded giant of a Warrior played by Malibu from American Gladiator, a skimpily clad Thief who's after treasure whenever she isn't cracking things with her whip, an overly dramatic Elf who's shown to be ancient by his powdered grey wig (and he's an archer, no surprise), and the Wizard, who was healed by a Cleric, who won't be tagging along with the crew should they be near death again.

They head off to Teraptus' castle, battling trees and their own internal bickering. Once they reach their destination, they have to fend off against a really bad CGI dragon before scaling the walls. Inside, they encounter an Owl-Bear (literally a talking bear with a giant owl head) who's griping to an Owl-Owl about how much his job sucks, a pair of Orcs that bellow with laughter as they give each other noogies, a blind minotaur, and a surprisingly badass Man-Scorpion. They eventually free the captured Dwarf who built the Sunstone and, with his help, take on Teraptus and his dreaded Fire Elemental (a ballet dancer rotoscoped to look like fire).

The most distinctive aspect of this short is the way in which it's shot, using live actors against green screen in front of fully digital background. It sorta works and sorta doesn't, looking like a middle ground between the old Chroma Key effects of Land of the Lost and more modern efforts like Sanctuary and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It looks crude, but it's consistent, and thus really works for me in terms of capturing an exaggerated fantasy world. Mixed with the overly clean costumes, it actually looks like figurines coming to life and wandering around a three dimensional board game. On the other hand, you get some really cheap looking rubber masks, flatly animated splashes of gore, CGI that was probably dated even for the time, and the ridiculous coyote pelt on the Wizard's head. But then there's the Man-Scorpion, which was a surprisingly effective mix of techniques. From the waist up, he's a snarling live actor in red body paint with little horns around his face. From the waist down, he's the CGI body of a scorpion. It blends together beautifully.

The feature I loved even more was the same tongue-in-cheek sense of humor Dille used to give Visionaries it's warmth and distinction. Our fellowship is constantly at each other's throats throughout their trek, only coming together at the last minute. The Warrior praises the King because the King is King and keeps everyone marching forward with a sword thwacked across their bottoms. The Thief is told to distract a guard by flattering him, so she shouts "Hey, handsome!", then lashes her whip around his neck and yanks him off a tower wall to his death. The Elf is constantly crouched in overly dramatic battle poses and always senses danger on the air just before it pops up behind him and still catches him by surprise. The Wizard... well, I've already mentioned the Coyote pelt on his head, but we also get his spells constantly misfiring and a great bit where he devises a plan to split up, only to turn around and realize the others have already gone their separate ways.

Now, as with the occasional episode of Visionaries, there are times where the humor hops over that line of going too far, to the point where it becomes forced camp. The pompous King and Queen gloating over their riches and opulent feast, even after most of their court has been slaughtered (though I do like his speedy trap door exit). The Dwarf's entire shtick is to shout a constant stream of insults at the top of his lungs until the others get around to doing what he wants them to do. Then there's the goofball creatures of Teraptus' castle, yuk yukking their way along with a level of ineptitude that calls their master's evil power into question, the worst of which is the Owl-Bear. Seriously, the Owl-Bear.

Oh, and we haven't even gotten to the Dragon Master yet. This short is introduced, narrated, and occasionally annotated by voice actor John Boyle, who, in his black turtleneck against a dark background, is essentially a floating head and hands guiding unseen players through the rules and mechanics of the game. At times, he captures the ethereal power of fantasy storytelling. At others, he's glaring and barking at us in ridiculous speeches about imagination, teamwork, and doing things at perilous risks.

In the end, this is definitely one of the strangest viewing experiences you'll ever witness. There's some bits where they admirably rise above their limited means through sincere innovation and imagination, and others where they come crashing down, either through budgetary restrictions or bad choices in terms of writing, acting, and visualizations.

Seriously, the Owl-Bear.


"Congratulations. You've just infiltrated your first castle."

Friends, I don't have to read about the 80s and early 90s in some history book. I was there. I lived it. I drank New Coke. Saw Howard the Duck at the theater. I actually owned a Milli Vanilli cassette tape. And I was a witness and participant to the unholy marriage of board game and VCR.

There were VCR board games like the Clue VCR Mystery Game that ditched that outdated notion of using your imagination and let hammy actors do the heavy lifting for you. And game systems like Action Max and the toy line Captain Power that tried to turn your TV and VCR into a first person shooter with mixed results. The video for Dragon Strike is more of a how-to for a board game that seems designed primarily as D&D for beginners. They were all attempts to capitalize on the home video boom that happened when nearly every household in America - and, likely, the Western world - owned at least one VCR.

Having played some D&D in my time, I can say with some authority that the campaign presented in Dragon Strike is the worst ever. Worse than any episode of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series. Worse than that time you let your Uncle Ned DM for you. Worse even than one of those churchified versions of AD&D that popped up in the early 80s as an evangelical counter to the "Satanic" influences of the original.

"Okay, Tommy. Do a saving roll against your impure thoughts for the minotaur."

No real D&D player would be caught dead playing Dragon Strike, but I can see how it could've been a gateway to the real thing for 12-14 year olds. In theory, anyway.

As for the video, Noel did an excellent job describing what it is. The disembodied head. The crude effects (except for the aforementioned Man-Scorpion, which is actually rendered better than the similar Rock/Scorpion in The Mummy Returns). The cheesy keyboard music. Dragon Strike is well intended, but ambitious beyond its means. What holds it all together is Dille's trademark humor and the conviction of the actors, shitty though they may be.

Owl-Bear says "It's a hoot! Grrr!"