February 15, 2014

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion - Final Thoughts


(art by Damon Batt, colored by Brandy Dixon)



Tony

Trying to summarize my final thoughts on Sectaurs reminded me of when I was in school, and a kid who I never really talked to would hand me their yearbook and ask me to sign it. I would stand there wracking my brain, searching for something substantive to write while they looked on in anticipation. Ultimately, I would end up writing something generic like "Have a great Summer!" As I sit here now, with Dargon and Co. looking on, I'm fighting the urge to just write "Enjoy your banishment!" and head for the bus.

There was definitely some potential here, but not so much that it feels squandered. Had some truly good ideas been ruined by poor execution, maybe I would've been inspired to explore "What if?" scenarios. On the other side of the coin, it was dull and clunky at times, but I never found myself hurtling insults at the screen. Perhaps if it had been worse, I would've felt compelled to pepper this final thoughts piece with snarky comments. Unfortunately, the entirety of this property is just one big shrug to me. Forgettable cartoon, nondescript comic, adequate toy line. Absolutely nothing here moves the needle. It's all very workman-like. The latter is an admirable trait in the workaday world, but art is fueled by passion, and there's precious little of that on display here.

Sectaurs is a reminder of just how few of these toy-toon hybrids actually succeeded. For every Masters of the Universe there are ten, Sectaurs, Visionaries, or Inhumanoids banished to the pop culture clearance rack for eternity. Some deserved a better fate. Sectaurs isn't one of them.



Noel

The sad thing about Sectaurs is that it started with a good idea.

When playing with toys, kids use their hands. As vehicles, as monsters, sometimes as the very hand of the god of their playworld, swooping in to take on or assist the plasticine characters of their stories. Kids also like puppets. Somewhere in the world, the light bulb clicked to give kids a hand puppet specifically themed to go with those action figures. That place was Mattel, who gave their Masters of the Universe "Fright Zone" playset a rubber snake hand-puppet monster.

Somewhere in Coleco, an executive or designer saw this and decided to rip it off, and then proceeded to do so as thoughtlessly, haphazardly, and blandly as they could. Last week, in our post on the toyline, Uldihaa left us a comment saying, among other thing: "The winged mounts were HEAVY, due to the hard plastic of the the body and wings. Add in the electric motor for the wings and the impact of those wings flapping, and you had a bit of a workout going!"

You can see people sitting around the art department, sliding the glove from hand to hand, flipping it around for a few seconds, then passing it along with their okay. But they have the hands and arms of a fully developed adult. Stick those bulky, He-Man-sized figures on a kid's arm, it'll tire pretty quick, and they'll likely not return to the activity. And then motors, yikes. Toy motors were nasty about overheating at the time, so lets stick one right on the kids skin!

If they'd taken 10 minutes to product test this and give it two thoughts, they probably would have done something smart, like make the figures smaller, G.I. Joe size, or even shrunken down to a M.A.S.K. level. And instead of a motor, have the wing flaps tied into some finger holds that'll move them with each clench of the fist. Yeah, that's tiring, too, but the kids will rarely actually want to flap the wings, and the finger holds add stability to whatever hunk of plastic the figures are mounted on.

Additionally, they have a neat idea in this being a world where humans and bugs have been genetically fused. The chitinous exoskeleton makes for a neat variant on medieval armor, so go wild, doing different designs based on different bugs. There's your spider, your stag beetle, your mantis, your cockroach, your ladybug, your ant, your dragonfly. But nope, they put just as little thought into this one, keeping the armor as basic outfits on knockoffs of the generic hero/heavy molds, and with the exception of a couple villain heads, keeping the insect features exclusive to bug eyes that look like sunglasses, and antennae.

There's almost nothing there, no personality to the figures, nothing exciting to their designs or the implementation of their hand-puppet gimmick. They're just generic hunks of plastic with stupid names and very little world to be built on. So bring in the two adaptations that had to bring this world to life.

The makers of the Ruby-Spears TV show cared just as little about the property as the people at Coleco did, shoving the characters in generic fantasy action plots that do nothing to develop the property beyond giving it some voice actors already famous for voicing more popular tie-in shows. The animation was sub-par, the action drowsy, the writing silly.

The comics, I'll argue they actually gave it some thought and made an admirable attempt to dig into the material. They added some complexity to the characters, left the world hanging on a difficult thread of politics and religious condemnation. It was rich, intriguing, well-drawn, and dammit, I still like Bill Mantlo's writing (and argue his corny dialogue fit the medieval setting). Sadly, it just didn't work. Not just because an editorial shake-up happened a few issues in, causing it to suddenly yank down a different direction, but because they decided to pad out what should have been a mini-series plot, leaving themselves with gaping holes in the story which needed to be filled by a deadline. This left the story slipping away from its points as it meandered down paths that had nothing to do with anything, with the end goal of the Hyve dangled further and further away each issue. And with this being released on a bi-monthly schedule, that means it took a painful stretch of 15 months for those 8 issues to take us anywhere, so you can fully understand why readers bailed instead of seeing it through to the more focused climax. Tony and I were struggling to maintain our interested over a matter of weeks, just imagine if we had to take more than a year.

And it's still stuck with the same silly names, bland character designs, and lack of world-building they were handed with the toyline. You see Mantlo trying to break out of this in his version, renaming the obviously coined Mantor into Mantys, and avoiding silly descriptors like Sea of Acid Rain or Lake Blood, but with the editorial shakeup must have come a mandate to be more faithful to the toys, because suddenly Mantys is revealing his "true" name, and they're fighting on the shore of the Sea of Acid Rain.

Ultimately, this property sucks. The tie-ins suck and the original toyline sucks. Not in an enraging way, but in a "Well, that was a waste of my time. What else is on?" fashion. It's such a bland, uninventive knockoff that even honed storytellers couldn't figure out a way to fix it and make it work. Mantlo scored big with ROM and Micronauts, tie-in books that were so popular they kept running for years beyond the point where their failed toylines were shelved. Sadly, he couldn't catch that lightning in a bottle again, as he floundered with a property he didn't have enough freedom to retool, and so I can't blame him for his interest visibly waning on the page. And as for the animated series, they didn't even try, leaving it nothing more than the 30-minute toy commercial such shows were fairly or unfairly branded as back in the day.



We'll be back next weekend with a special One-and-Done Showcase.

4 comments:

uldihaa said...

Here's a few more problems with those hand-puppet mounts. One, they were hand-puppets. Meaning that unless your hand was in the puppet, their legs just kinda flopped limply around. So to avoid that, you had to constantly put your hand in the puppet, then take it back out, then put it back in. It was frustrating and annoying.

Then there was the issue of the puppet material. It was faux fur and polyester or nylon (it was definitely a synthetic fiber) with no way to easily remove the puppet glove from the plastic toy. You couldn't wash the puppet part, so you didn't want it to get too dirty. That made playing with it outside in the dirt and grass and mud and snow impossible; unless you wanted to get scolded by your mom.

The best part of these toys was actually the companion bugs. They were surprisingly well made (if not all of them a good concept). They where sturdy, and those with mechanical parts (like the biting dog-bug) lasted. Some were kinda of pathetic, like the glow-in-the-dark one. That's the one you tried to force your little brother to use while you got the biter until he told Mom and she demanded you share or she'd take them away and send you to your room and not let you play with them for a WEEK even though you were older and should get first pick and it just wasn't fair and ~ahem~ Uh, not like that ever happened to ME, you understand.

It was a good concept that just fell flat on it's face in just about every way.

I do need to say thank you for the trip down memory lane though. I'm still so shocked how easily I remember these toys now.

Strannik said...

In one of the early posts, i commented that Sectaurs could become something good if somebody creative got their hands on it. Now, I'm not so sure. I mean, there are some slithers of good ideas here and there, but ultimately, as both Noel and Tony point out, it's just so generic. And it seemed like, whether it was a cartoon, or a comic, or a toy, it all fell short. Almost like the entire property is cursed.

But the art that served as this post's image is pretty cool.

NoelCT said...

uldihaa:

Gah, they sound even worse than I imagined, and it's even more proof that they just slapped something together without putting an ounce of actual thought into it. Though I'm glad at least the companion bugs were fun.

Glad you enjoyed the nostalgia trip, and thanks for sharing your memories with us. :)

cartoonfan959:

All of those are on our potential "to do" list, it just depends on availability. I believe Tony snatched up that Black Star set while it was in print, but I missed that window.

Strannik:

It truly was the Star Hunter of toyline tie-ins. ;)

Tony Williams said...

uldihaa:

Pictures really only tell a small part of the story, so thank you for taking the time to drop some knowledge on the toys.

cartoonfan959:

All great suggestions, and as Noel said, ones we've discussed doing.

Noel:

I meant to pick up 'Blackstar', but I kept putting it off, and now that it's out of print the price has shot waaaay up. I actually checked on it a few weeks ago and it was going for almost $40.00 used on Amazon.

Strannik:

I'm with you. I thought there was something potentially interesting here when we began, but as we peeled back the layers I saw that this whole property is really about as generic as it gets.