Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Spiral Zone -- The Zombie Apocalypse For Kids

Spiral Zone was, for all intents and purposes, a way to do do a cartoon about zombies without actually doing a cartoon about zombies. Airing in syndication in fall of '87, the show used a military-themed action figure line by Japanese toymaker Bandai as a jump-off point, but pretty much did its own thing with it, positing a 2007 (the world of tomorrow!) where an evil scientist has used a virus to all turn all those in specific affected zones (spiral zones, if you will) into zombified slaves, distinguished by red blotches on their faces and sunken yellow eyes. Here's the creepy intro with the catchy theme song:

Man, I miss the days when shows had theme tunes like that.

In case you didn't catch it, as it's not made clear in the intro, the leader of "Earth's most powerful soldiers," is named Dirk Courage. (Rejected names included "Alvin Outstanding" and "Dave Goodguy.") He and his team of hardy "Zone Riders" from all over the world work to disable the Zone Generators that have turned much of the planet's populace into non-zombie zombies. Not a bad premise, though a fairly dark one for the weekday afternoon set, given that it's basically The Walking Dead with laser guns.

Of course, given that this was the '80s, you know there was an action figure line ready to go, this one from Tonka (as opposed to Bandai, who made the Japanese line). I actually remember seeing these figures hanging on pegs at a local Chicago-area store called Service Merchandise, and I thought they were pretty sweet. A far cry from the G.I. Joe-sized figures that had become the norm at the time, they had cloth outfits and a whole host of accessories. Here's a TV spot for the Tonka toyline:

Either because the premise was too disturbing, or because the toys were too expensive, the show never really took off (DC Comics even tried a short-lived monthly book), and it ended after running through its standard sixty-five episode first season. I actually only saw it when it aired in Saudi Arabia in the early '90s, a few years after it had already been cancelled stateside. Although I never got into Spiral Zone the same as G.I. Joe or Transformers it still has something of a rabid fanbase today, as I really became aware of when I perused this comprehensive fansite. Nonetheless, it's yet to get an official home vid release, which is a bit baffling given everything else that has.

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