Like many people, I'd long been under the impression that Captain Power was pretty much a J. Michael Straczynski show from beginning to end, and it's been interesting learning through this project just how much was already in place before he came on board. Those who have the dvd can see the full details of the show's creation, but to sum up, it's mostly the brain child of Gary Goddard and the folks at Mattel. I haven't mentioned Goddard much here, mostly because a number of charges against him in the last few years, while legally dismissed, left of bit of a sour taste with me, but before then, I had been quite fond of his Masters of the Universe movie (still am, admittedly). He came up with the initial characters, ideas, names, and designs, alongside Landmark Entertainment executive Tony Christopher and artist Luc Mayrand.
Brought in to flesh those concepts into a full series was Marc Scott Zicree, a writer of countless 80s toons and shows since debuting on Superfriends in 1981, and also noted at the time for his invaluable, if biased, 1982 book The Twilight Zone Companion. It's his bible, dated October 27, 1986, almost a full year before the series debuted, which I'll be covering here. Zicree was reluctant to supervise the day-to-day management of the writing staff, so that's when J. Michael Straczynski came in as showrunner, alongside frequent collaborator Larry DiTillio, who ultimately took over leading into the unmade season 2. They brought their own ideas to the mix, and elements were additionally altered due to production schedule shifts (it was initially planned to film the whole thing in a 65 episode full syndication block) and casting changes (Pilot). And by breaking the show into shorter seasons, that meant they also got to take more time stewing over future directions, meaning they may have departed further and further from what Zicree initially laid in place.
Let's take a look at Marc's bible.
It opens with a letter from Zicree, addressing some promo footage they shot, and ideas that were being bandied about. Apparently, there was a time where the heroes just wore their circuitry spandex when not in armor, but Marc rightly feels it looks too superhero-y and proposes the military fatigues we ultimately get. He then shoots down notions of making Pilot into "Gidget in the 21st century", as a joky, dancing, flirty teen girl. He reminds everyone she's a soldier, just like all the guys on the team, and while that doesn't mean she can't have fun or a personality, at the end of the day, she's on the same mission. We then get into Stingray, an ultimately cut aquatic member of the team, and a debate they've been having about whether he should be human or a genetic hybrid. While Zicree finds the Spock-like quality appealing, he's worried about how silly a fishman could be, eye-rollingly comparing him to Aquaman. Then there's a notion that cities should still be standing, housing humans who remained neutral, but he flatly says Dread wouldn't leave anything up and all societies need to remain hidden. Intriguingly, this bit reminded me of Spiral Zone, where only pockets of civilization have been corrupted while other cities continue with their day-to-day grind. Finally, there's "magno-grips", which are being portrayed as a weapon, and he's all "guys, they already have weapons, these are for other stuff."
This is mostly the plot of "A Sound of Thunder", but there are bits here that do explain the take on it from the Neal Adams comics, particularly that Biodreads were increasingly common drone fighters throughout the world which humans have started to rely on for fighting all the wars for them. Wars are almost a meaningless thing now, yet they're still being fought. Overmind was created with the intention of essentially hacking all drones at once and reprogramming them for peaceful purposes, but after the whole Overmind/Taggert fusion, they reminded humanity what war really is as people were forced to pick up arms once again. Things then play out largely the same, until the end of the story where Stuart Power is simply captured and never heard from again, with Dread saying he's dead, but no proof either way and Jonathan dedicated to uncovering his father's location or fate.
No major differences here as he lays out the world (albeit it's definitely world-wide instead of country-wide), the tactics of both the Machine and the resistance, Power's strategies, directly comparing it all to WWII resistance movements.
Captain Jonathan Power
Pretty much the character we have on screen, a noble, inspiring leader, who's also a bit stiff, awkward in personal moments, and pushes himself too much, but not without the occasional warmth. The big difference is his drive to find his father, as opposed to the burning loss of Stuart in the series. We then get a list of weapons and tools, with the blaster, staff, and throwing stars, as well as the above mentioned "magno grips" for climbing, force fields (both defensive in his wrists, as well as projectile versions used to trap people), a crystal knife, and a grappling line.
Major Matthew "Hawk" Masterson
Mostly the same, the reliable right-hand man who's also a trusted father-figure to Jon, and old friend of his fathers. While Hawk lost a wife, it's mentioned here he had no children. And it goes further into his love of mid-air dogfights to a past encounter where he almost single-handedly took Dread out, which Dread took very personally. His jet-pack and wrist rockets also have deflector shields, as well as larger missiles he guides with his mind.
Corporal Jennifer "Pilot" Chase
There's heavy shades of the final character here, but they haven't quite pinned her down yet. While time with the Dread Youth is still a thing, she was rescued from it at age 10, and has spent 12 years, over half her life, away from it, meaning the baggages is far less. She's a mechanical whiz who excels at not only operating any type of vehicle, but taking them apart and figuring out how they work. She's a full on mechanic and inventor for the team with her own garage/lab, and the power drill we always see on her belt is here called an "All-Purpose Proton Spanner". She's such a whiz that she's even learning how to repair and modify the Power Suits. She likes hearing stories from Mentor and Hawk about the world before the Metal Wars, and has built a collection of pop culture ephemera she's dug up over the years. She and Power are described as having feelings, but nothing overt, just a tension that's always there. Alongside her gun and throwing stars, she also has darts and Wolverine style wrist blades.
Sergeant Robert "Scout" Baker
Aside from having the same suit abilities and being a black man from Chicago, Scout here is a very different character, described as cool and quiet, secretive and mysterious, albeit with a dry wit and absolute dedication to his team. He's an expertly trained and seasoned soldier, and often hangs back while others hash things out. His covert tactics include speaking numerous languages and an ability to mimic voices. Along with his cloaking and spy gear, he also has a little drone robot he can pilot in and out of places he himself can't fit.
Lieutenant Michael "Tank" Ellis
The Little John lovable giant of the group. There's none of his Babylon 5 soldier program backstory, he's just a big bear of a dude, who also sees himself as irresistible to the ladies. His big secret is that he uses a pen knife to delicately whittle tiny wood carvings of animals. His tank of an outfit is additionally described as a MechanoSuit, and its armaments also include acid grenades.
Colonel Calvin "Stingray" Noritaki
The character dropped because it would have ultimately cost too much to regularly include underwater segments in the show. He's a laid-back, Hawaiian-born son of two oceanographers, who has such an affinity with animals that he can straight up communicate with dolphins. Though the second youngest of the group after Pilot, he's also one of their main scientists and a genius at biology. His outfit basically sounds like an aquatic version of Hawk's gear, with a LaserSpear, WaterNet, Concussion Torpedoes (not ConcussionTorpedos?), a SonicStinger (noise gun), a DivinerStaff (which can be waved around to find water or other chemicals [?!?]), and an Octacloak (squirts a cloud of ink so he can sneak away - seriously). He sounds like the loose, jokey member of the team, aspects of which would instead be folded into Scout.
A sibling computer to Overmind, with the appearance, voice, and personality of Jonathan's father. The few details that leap out are that it can de-Digitize people, and that its weakness is it could potentially be programmed against our team.
"Megalomaniacal and a very bad loser, he is totally evil, with no good points (except maybe a snappy dresser)." Ha!
Yeah, he's a full-on warped baddie here, with none of the complexity or pathos of the show. His InterLock throne (which here hovers about his chamber) is something he constantly plugs into because it allows him to directly control entire swaths of troopers at a time, as he's full of so much ego and paranoia he rarely trusts his forces to act on their own. He also has a love of clockwork trinkets and music boxes, and will gently play with them whilst doing despicable deeds. Dude's also got a lightsaber.
Its ultimate goal is to Digitize everyone so it can absorb the sum total of knowledge on this planet. When humans are Digitized, the canons spit out a microchip on which each is imprinted, and Overmind's walls have hundreds of thousands of these microchips plugged in. Dread is afraid of Overmind as he worries what'll happen should it ever reach a point where the man is no longer necessary.
The Bio-Dread Warlords
The only bearers of Digitizer beams, this makes a point to treat them as emotional, complex characters, not just cold machines.
Sauron - Air Warlord
He's compared to the WW I fighter ace The Red Baron, with an intellectual nobility and cold cunning, but he's also vain and egotistical, prone to overconfidence. He doesn't respect Dread, dreaming of ruling the Empire himself some day, finds his fellow Warlords vulgar and sniveling, and has such a sense of pride in the honor of battle that he'll gladly give an unarmed foe a weapon just to even the odds of battle. There's an intriguing throwaway line about how he needs to use a separate ship when he wants to fly between planets. As with the other three, his Digitizer is shoulder mounted here instead of being an arm canon.
Blastarr - Land Warlord
He's the Hulk, a roaring monster who loves to smash things, but thinks in a straight line and is easy to outsmart and trip up. His limbs can detach and fly around as battleweapons of their own (!?).
Tritor - Water Warlord
Starscream. Totally Starscream. A boastful braggart with aspirations of grandeur, but a total duplicitous coward who cruelly snickers every time he gets to stab someone in the back. He leads an army of robo-sharks (SharkRobs), has piranha teeth which can bite through anything, and is a Transformer in that he shifts into a fish form while underwater.
The Morganna-2 character they were going to introduce in Season 2. "Sultry, seductive, and beautiful" and seemingly made of silver, so I'm guessing something along of lines of Sorayama's gynoids (NSFW link), which were a big pop culture thing at the time since the release of his Sexy Robot art book in 1983.
Silvera was created by Dread as he longed for some form of female companionship, but he gave her free will and she often acts on her own initiative. The 65 episodes were going to split her dynamic, having her be an evil villain in the first half, then a double agent supporting the resistance in the second half. The changer is a mid-point episode where, on a mission where she's disguised as human, she finally meets Captain Power in person for the first time and falls madly in love with him. He doesn't reciprocate, but respects her, and so she becomes devoted to the cause while longing to one day be human. From our Season 2 post, it sounds like most of this was still planned to go through, albeit with Scout as the love interest instead of Power, and Scout possibly having feelings in return. There are some problematic issues with this character arc, but it's not a bad one, and it's a shame we never got to see what it would ultimately grow into.
Man, they just couldn't stop finding weird ways to spell this name. "Combine Mr. Bill, Rodney Dangerfield, Iago and your kitchen can opener into one package..." Just, wow.
He's a pure comic character here, the bungling sidekick who "gets no respect", though he's full of tools and can occasionally be of use... if you're willing to chance him screwing everything up. There's none of him being a duplicitous spy for Overmind, so it sounds like they ultimately fused a bit of Tritor into to him.
Because Dread needed yet another sidekick! Falcor is Soundwave's pet Razorbeak from Transformers, like completely that character, no difference. A stoic robot bird with guns on its wings, who doesn't talk, but often sneaks into enemy camps and spies on conversations, playing them back later for Dread.
No real difference from what we've seen over the course of the show. The suits disappear because they're "compressible matter", expanding only when charged with energy. The suits here have a computer voice that shouts "Power On!" instead of the activating user.
The Power Base
Again, pretty much what we got, down to having to keep it a secret from everyone else. The big difference is, instead of the larger Dropship, they have a Hypercraft, wherein the entire command center of the Base, including Mentor, becomes the heart of a large ship which forms around them and contains the other vehicles.
Within the Hypercraft, the Soldiers have two-person Powerjets and single person Saucers (?). They've also got a ground tank which can break into individually piloted components. Dread and his Warlords have their own Dreadjets, as well as a massive Doomship. "THIS... IS MY DOOMSHIP!" XD
Mentioned throughout the series as a fabled place people are trying to discover, it's only at the end of the 65 episode block that it will be revealed as a real place, an oasis of scientists, in either the Arctic or Himalayas, who retreated to a self-built utopia early in the Metal Wars. Should an additional season come beyond the 65, Eden II would be our heroes' new base of operations. Otherwise, no mention of the people there nor conflicting philosophies with the Soldiers.
Located at Washington DC instead of central United States, it's powered by a geothermal shaft bored all the way down to the molten core of the Earth. It's surrounded by hundreds of miles of Biodread factories and warehouses, and beneath it is the Labyrinth, where human slaves work production lines or are subjected to brutal experiments.
I've mentioned Zicree's take on the process above, but this adds the plot bunny that Digitized chips still need to be transported to Volcania, and with Mentor able to de-Digitize people, there's a window during which Digitized victims can still be easily recovered.
As mentioned, this all was planned for a single season of 65 episodes, with that intended to largely be self-contained, but additional seasons could extend beyond that should the show be popular enough. The majority of episodes are meant to themselves be done-in-one, but with some underlying threads through the season.
The main one is construction of the Matterlock, a massive weapon grid larger than the span of a city, which can target any point on Earth and rapidly bombard it into oblivion. Dread's forces keep pushing forward resources and production to get it made, Power's team keep blocking resources and sabotaging production. At the end of the 65 episode season would be a big, multi-episode storyline where the weapon is complete and Dread has uncovered the location of the Power Base. The Soldiers storm Volcania, finding Stuart Power integrated directly into Overmind (abandoned for now as he can only be saved by merging Overmind and Mentor), and sabotaging the Matterlock with the help of Silvera. The weapon is destroyed, but not before it wipes out the Power Base and cripples the resistance, and Power and his team end the season setting out for Eden II.
We get some loose ideas for future seasons. Season 2 would have Power and his team settle in at Eden II, using the new resources to rebuild the resistance. After killing one of the Warlords ("probably Blastarr"), the big ender would be our heroes capturing Volcania, along with the entire chamber of Overmind's Digitized human chips, but Dread and his remaining forces managed to escape and vow vengeance. In Season 3, Power and our heroes have made Volcania their new base, and have led a massive reclamation of land which has expanded to half the planet. They're still locked in a war, though, with Dread ruling the other half.
We then get a series of notes about which nicknames characters use for each other, a list of locations they'd like to focus on as much as possible to limit additional sets, and lists of other foes writers can consider beyond Dread (marauders, merchants, fallen soldiers, etc). There's then a great plea to keep the show intelligent and not condescend to younger viewers, holding up Star Trek as an example. One interesting note is that absolutely no stories are to use nuclear power as a threat, as nukes would have been abandoned by this time. I wonder if this is Zicree trying to ward off the over-used trope that this has become, or if he didn't want to propagate the fears which demonized nuclear energy.
A collection of ideas and plot nuggets to give a sense of the types of stories they were looking for.
"Demon of the Machine" - Power falls victim to a tribe of "savage" humans who declare all things mechanical to be demons, including his Power Armor. He has to convince them otherwise (including an arena battle against the tribe's most powerful warrior) while fending off Blastarr.
"Into the Labyrinth" - When Scout falls victim to a virus being spread by Dread, the others have to sneak into the Labyrinth beneath Volcania to rescue the enslaved scientist who created the disease. (Why wouldn't he be Digitized and part of Overmind's chip chamber?)
"The Lone Eagle" - Virgil Starkman, an old war buddy of Hawk's, has been waging a one-man war against Biodreads, and tries to get his way onto the team. He's a double-agent, of course, though it ends with him nobly sacrificing himself to save the day.
"Tanks But No Tanks" (yep) - Tank is captured by Blastarr and Dread creates an evil Tank android which can put on his Power Armor to infiltrate the Power Base from within. Meanwhile, the real Tank launches a one-man escape from Volcania. (I'll admit, that last part would be a blast to watch.)
"The Hermit" - On a distant island, the team finds a wild-eyed amnesiac who looks and sounds exactly like Jonathan's father. Hoping this is the real Stuart, they use an upload of Mentor's memories in the hopes of jumpstarting his brain, but he turns out to be another Dread android replica designed to drained Mentor. However, the memories of Stuart inspire the android to sacrifice himself.
"Captain Power to the... Rescue?" - Power teams up with a guerrilla leader in the Amazon to overthrow a Dread-controlled government, only to learn she's the real Dread-allied tyrant and Power just overthrew an innocent democracy. He sets about making things right.
"Dread Changes His Mind" - In the ruins of a laboratory, Dread discovers a magical Freaky Friday gizmo that lets him swap bodies with Captain Power in the hopes of uncovering the Power Base's location. Yep, this was a plot nugget, though I do like a bit about how Power has to use his position as Dread to coordinate the Warlords into successfully capturing himself.
"The Siege of Power" - Dread has hacked control of the Hovership, making it into an impregnable fortress attacking our heroes as they try to find a way to break in. They decide to thaw Stingray's terminally ill mother out of cryosleep (!?) as she helped build the ship with Stuart Power. Being a marine biologist and all that.
...... And that's the end of the Bible. It sets up a potentially good show, and the foundation of much of what we ultimately got. It's interesting to see what Straczynski and DiTillio changed and what they didn't, bringing some more depth to the characters and richer story arcs, and what was shifted or discarded in the compression from a 65 episode season to just 22. Ultimately, I think the finished version is the better of the shows, and while this certainly would have been enjoyable, Zicree largely lost me with his Story Springboards, which aren't all that interesting for the most part, and I'm not surprised none of them made it into the show aside from some elements of "The Lone Eagle".
I've mentioned Spiral Zone a few times, and for those unaware, it's another property developed by J. Michael Straczynski. I truly don't know which he worked on first as both shows debuted the same month in September of 1987. Straczynski left the show early in frustration, using a pseudonym for the pilot episode, but they did still use his bible, and had a good stable of writers including Michael Reaves, Steve Perry, Arthur Byron Cover, Paul Davids, Buzz Dixon, Gerry & Carla Conway, and a majority of the episodes are by Mark & Michael Edens, exploring many concepts they'd later perfect in Exo-Squad. I've only watched a handful of episodes so far, but it definitely is a very similar series about a corrupted villain launching cataclysmic assaults around the Earth which devastate populations (using manufactured viruses instead of machines), and a team of heroes, some of whom have lost loved ones, donning suits of powered armor and high-tech vehicles in an effort to fight back the spread of the threat. It's not as rich of a show, with much leaner arcs, but I think it's a good example of what Captain Power could have been like had they stuck to the 65 episode arcs laid out here. What I've seen of the show is pretty good, if a little dry, and I do recommend tracking it down for anyone looking for something else along the same lines.
But that's it for us. This is the last bit of Captain Power we had left to cover, and next week will finally bring us to our Final Thoughts. Thanks for sticking with us for this, our longest project to date here at the Showcase.