Micronauts: The Coolest Toy Line Ever

In the dim, misty recesses of my youth, I encountered a toy line from Mego called “The Micronauts”.  Technically, the full title was: “The Interchangeable World of The Micronauts”.   “They Came From Inner Space” tagline accompanied it.  Simply put, these were the greatest toys of all time.  Even to the point that Marvel Comics had a successful comic book tie-in that outlived the toy line by several years.

Naturally, this line of toys originated–as most cool toys do–in Japan.  The original toy line came from the Japanese toy company Takara and was called “Microman”.  Mego distributed the bulk of these products under the Micronauts label in America.

I knew none of this as a kid.  All that mattered to me was the supreme coolness.  These toys rocked.  When it boasted ‘interchangeable’ it wasn’t kidding.  You could mix and match parts from pretty much every one of the figures and vehicles.  Plus, they looked rad.  Space Glider, Galactic Warrior, Pharoid, Time Traveler,  Acroyear, and Baron Karza were just a few of the neatest. 

Several of the figures were also vehicles as well.  Biotron turned into a big friggin’ tank and such.  Giant Acroyear turned into ships or other Acroyears. 

Baron Karza was probably the most unique figure, since most of his joints were magnetic ball joints.  You could move and pose the living shit out of him, as well as recombine him however you wanted.  The Baron had a horse he could combine with in a centaur-like fashion (named Andromeda, although I was too young to get the Greek Myth reference.)

The pride of my collection was the Battle Cruiser.  Never before had I seen something like this.  It was a massive ship that could separate into like a dozen ships or recombine into different ships.  (squeals in geekish delight)  Hornetroid closely followed in coolness–a giant, cybernetic mutant hornet you could put a pilot in.  How sweet is that?

While collecting the toys, I also read the comic.  I won’t get into too much detail, other than to say that the tragic genius Bill Mantlo wrote the series and it started off with Michael Golden doing the art chores.  Surprisingly, the story was quite a bit more adult than most comics at the time.  Yes, a toy tie-in was pretty advanced–and kinda dark (I won’t get started with Mantlo’s Rom.)

You may also be surprised that one of the characters from the comic is actually in the comic version of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  These toys have legs!

The bizarre thing is how few people outside of my age bracket have ever heard of the toys.  Sure, Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats, etc.  But Micronauts languish in obscurity.

Ain’t right.  Go check out the internet for Micronauts pictures and go dig up some of the comics.  Breathe some life back into them.

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Television that Needs More Love: The Middleman

You may be asking yourself: “What the hell is The Middleman and why should I care?”  A fair question.  Obliviousness to the series is forgivable.  The series appeared in 2008 and disappeared after a mere 12 episodes.  Until a friend showed up one evening wearing a “Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency” T-Shirt, I was equally in the dark.  Intrigued by the premise, I found copies of the series and watched them. 

The story goes thusly:  A secret agency trains and equips a Middleman to defend the planet against unknown threats. The present Middleman (Matt Keeslar) recruits a struggling artist named Wendy Watson (known alternatively as “Dub-Dub” and “Dubbie”).  Her calm behavior during a tentacle beast attack tells him that she has the right mindset.  Following a few tests, she starts her training.

The series follows her rise as a Middleman-in-training.  Wendy (Natalie Morales) incorporates her weird adventures into her artwork.  She lives with Lacy Thornfield (the incredibly sexy Brit Morgan) and the lyric-spouting Noser (Jake Smollett.)   Wendy and The Middleman are assisted by the caustic robot assistant Ida (Mary Pat Gleason.)

Recurring themes consist of comic-book threats with amusing twists.  Intergalactic despots disguised as a boy band (“The Boyband Superfan Interrogation”.)  Zombies which crave trout (“The Flying Fish Zombification”.)  A cursed tuba from the band of The Titanic (“The Cursed Tuba Contingency”.)  And so forth.  The names in each episode have pop-culture themes and names, such as the cover names of Dr. Stantz and Dr. Zeddemore (from Ghostbusters) in “The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation”.

To put it plainly, this series is a fanboy’s dream.  It never gets too serious, but doesn’t fall into slapstick, either.  Just amusing enough to get a chuckle, but no more.  The acting is good and the actors aim to please–in on the joke, but always in a nod-and-a-wink fashion. 

Also, even though ABC Family produced this series, it has enough edge that it doesn’t feel like a kid’s show in any way.  It approaches adult themes with enough seriousness that some reality intrudes, but blunts them with wry humor.  There are many running jokes such as Lacy calling The Middle man “Sexy Boss Man” or “Pillow Lips” or the villains always saying “My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity”.  Or Noser always greeting visitors to Wendy’s loft with random questions in the form of song lyrics.

Conceived as a comic book series for Viper Comics by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine, it was later adapted to television after some urging by Paul Dini.  Sadly, it suffered the ignoble death of a television series given insufficient chance to succeed, perishing after 12 episodes.  It has since developed a mild cult status and the cast did a reading of the unproduced 13th episode at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con.

It appears that all 12 episodes are available online on dailymotion.  I recommend you watch them.

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Quag Keep: The First D&D Novel

Lo, those many years ago (1981) when I read Andre Norton’s novel Quag Keep.  A copy presented itself in my Middle School library. A dragon appeared on the cover and fantasy had just fastened into my pubescent consciousness, leading to a reading.

Quag Keep is a queer duck of a novel.  Neither fish nor fowl, it slumbers in obscurity.  Set in the Greyhawk campaign world created by Gary Gygax, it is extremely referential to Dungeons & Dragons as a hobby, rather than game mechanics.  Literally.  Magic transforms a bunch of RPG nerds into their characters in Greyhawk via ‘cursed miniatures’.  No, really.

I know what you’re thinking.  This must be a stupid concept that breaks the fourth wall or just comes across as pretentious.  Surprisingly, it’s not.  Is it great?  No, but it’s not bad.  It moves quick, has enjoyable scenes and the characters (especially the main caracter, Milo Jagon) are interesting.  Moreover, because there is little to no attempt to shoehorn game mechanics, Andre manages to describe the world and situations without worrying about such trivia.  The game mechanics, ironically, are actually far less visible because they are literally part of the story.

Later books placed modern people into fantasy settings via games (such as the enjoyable Guardians of the Flame books) but this is the first.  Greyhawk wouldn’t be published for another two years.   This version of Greyhawk is misty and incomplete.  Andre takes that incompleteness and fills in the gaps with her own writing skills–not without success.  Unfazed by whether or not wizards are allowed to wear armor or wearboars cast spells, she does her level best to tell an interesting fantasy tale.  Quite honestly, I’d prefer the authors who presently crank out gaming novels to take a page from her playbook and do the same.

While researching this I noted that a sequel to Quag Keep, unimaginatively titled Return to Quag Keep, came out a couple of years after Andre Norton died.  I have zero desire to read this, since it smacks of pillaging a dead author’s stories for ideas.  I suspect Andre had little to nothing to do with this ‘sequel’.  I’ll pass.

If you like your gaming books bereft of gaming mechanics, would like to delve into the history of the hobby, or just read a fast, enjoyable fantasy romp, you could do far worse than Quag Keep.

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Television That Needs More Love: Brimstone

brimstone-01Brimstone came out in 1998, roughly the time another hellish series called GvsE (Good versus Evil) appeared.  Both series were similar in plot, and I don’t know if one copied another.  I do know I enjoyed Brimstone, whereas I found GvsE forgettable.

Basic plot goes like this: Ezekial “Zeke” Stone (played by Peter Horton) is a NYC cop whose wife is raped.  Zeke tracks down the rapist and murders him.  Shortly thereafter, Zeke is murdered and goes to Hell for the sin of murder.  Jump forward fifteen years and Zeke is sprung from hell by The Devil (played by a bombastic John Glover.)  Turns out there was a jailbreak from Hell.  113 damned souls are free and loose on Earth.  If Zeke uses his detective skills to find and return all of them to Hell, he gets a second chance at life.

brimstone-02Great hook.  Grabbed my interest from the start.

Any catches, you ask?  Several.  The damned souls are impossible to kill unless you destroy their eyes.  Also, it turns out the longer you’re in Hell, the more of Hell comes with you.  This translates into the longer souls are in Hell, the stronger they are on Earth.  Nearly all of the souls are older than Zeke, and some are hundreds or even thousands of years old.  Even worse, not only are they stronger, but many of them have hellish ‘magic tricks’.  Some can turn invisible, spread hellish diseases or cast magic brimstone-04spells.  Zeke relies on old-fashioned police work and his own immortality.

The sole reason I even know this series exists is because the Sci-fi Channel (before they called it “SyFy”,) had a marathon one Saturday afternoon.  Lasting a grand total of 13 episodes, it was a mid-season replacement that fizzled.  A pity, since it had great promise.

brimstone-03Lori Petty fills out an enjoyable minor role as a hotel clerk.  (Usually people either love or hate Lori–I am one of the former.)  John Glover as The Devil chews scenery like a teething beaver.  No joke, he’s a pleasure to watch.  My favorite episode (“It’s a Helluva Life”) has John playing both The Devil and an angel.  The two of them take Zeke through is life, alternately showing him every bad brimstone-05thing he ever did and the good he’s accomplished.  It’s surprisingly moving.

Is Brimstone great?  No.  Plot stumbles and misfires are in evidence.  The special effects are dated and clunky.  I will say that there was enough there that I wanted more.  It picked up steam as it went, and the writers and actors were hitting their strides–just in time to be cancelled. 

Should someone with a modicum of power in television get a chance, resurrecting this brimstone-06series wouldn’t be the worst idea. 

Go dig up the 13 episodes or watch them online somewhere.  You won’t regret it.

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