Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Ultraforce -- It Came From the Nineties!

A few years ago I talked at length about Fox's X-Men cartoon. Premiering in 1992, the series' out-of-the-gate popularity, the effects of which are still being felt today, had the trickle-down effect of prompting kidvid providers across TV land to scour for comic book properties that were still unspoken for, all in hopes of finding "their" X-Men. Some of the resultant offerings were pretty good, such as CBS's Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. Many weren't. And that's where this week's Nostalgia Theater comes in. First, however, a little background.

The early '90s saw a bumper crop of comic publishers attempting to jumpstart their own superhero "universes" (kind of the way we're seeing movie studios doing right now). The whys-and-wherefores behind all these new universes is beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice it to say, a brief rush of speculators hoping to strike it rich drove sales up to heights rarely seen before or since. That, coupled with the potential to farm out properties for media cross-pollination made for a difficult siren song for publishers to resist.

One result of this mad dash for new IP was the Ultraverse. First published in late 1993 by Malibu Comics, the selling point for this line was that it was writer-driven, and would push hard on the "shared continuity" angle. New characters like Prime and Hardcase and Prototype were front-and-center, and with strong initial sales and critical praise, Malibu hurriedly set about putting their new heroes into a team, which they could then turn around and sell for animation. And thus was Ultraforce born, beginning its syndicated run in September of 1995. Here's the intro:

Does that look the teensiest bit familiar to you? A little deja vu, perhaps? Here, watch this:

Yeah, they basically put tracing paper over the X-Men intro and figured no one would notice.

Now, the comics did alright in the beginning. At least, they did alright as long as the speculators were still in the market, jostling to pick up multiple copies of comics that (they assumed) would help put their kids through college. Things obviously didn't work out that way. With far too much supply and not enough demand, the bottom swiftly fell out for the Ultraverse, pretty much just in time for the truly terrible cartoon show to make its debut. (Click here for a great overview of the comics' rise-and-fall.)

Arriving amidst a glut of comic-related cartoons of varying quality, Ultraforce had the misfortune of being saddled with utterly generic animation (by DiC, natch), uninteresting stories, and characters who simply didn't command any loyalty with a target demo that grew up on Superman and Batman, grew to love Wolverine, but had no idea who the hell Prime and Hardcase were. As such, even with a Galoob action figure line ready to go, audiences just didn't turn out, and Ultraforce was gone by December of '95, with just thirteen episodes produced.

The Ultraverse itself was acquired, along with the rest of Malibu, by Marvel Comics in late '94, just a few months before the Ultraforce show premiered. Marvel made a token bid to keep the line afloat, but it eventually circled the drain with the other '90s flotsam. (But not before another Ultraverse hero made the jump to TV.) Now, given that the characters are owned by Disney, you'd think they'd benefit from the current Marvel renaissance, but nothing as of yet -- which is probably for the best. When it came to selling Ultraforce to the world, it all just came off as ultra-forced.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Hey Paisanos! It's The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Pretender Among Us

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: America's Brief, Torrid Love Affair With ALF

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