For such a short-lived toy line, Visionaries forms a huge part of my childhood memories. I stumbled across the fantastic cartoon on Sunday mornings on BBC Two and can even remember the children’s TV presenters exclaiming it had the best opening sequence of any cartoon ever. Who am I to argue? Hooked, I watched it every week and later that year gratefully received a large selection of toys for Christmas 1987. It was a very merry time indeed.
Of course what had actually happened was that Hasbro‘s new blockbuster toy line hadn’t busted the blocks, hence how my parents were able to get hold of so many of them that festive season, as they’d already been heavily discounted just months after their initial release. Not that I’m complaining, I ended up with almost the entire range that Christmas! In fact I had three of the four initial vehicles and I think all but one or two of the figures.
There was an advertisement for their comic in the first issue of The Real Ghostbusters the following March but by then I’d moved on to that cartoon as my new obsession. I forgot all about that advert and didn’t remember they’d had their own regular comic until I received their Marvel UK annual the following Christmas. Then a few months after that they merged into Transformers in April 1989, albeit with the exact same story I’d just read in my annual. This wasn’t the first time they’d appeared alongside the Robots in Disguise but I didn’t know this. A Spring Special with a brand new (for me) strip then appeared but that was it; the toys, the comics, even the cartoon just disappeared.
So for the uninitiated, what were the Visionaries? They were the latest attempt at resurrecting the hologram, with images on the characters’ chests, staffs and vehicles. Their planet, at the pinnacle of scientific advancement, was destroyed by the coming of the latest Age of Magic and two factions arose; The Spectral Knights wished to lead with compassion to save the newly destitute people, and the Darkling Lords wanted to rule with an iron fist to save the ravaged planet.
The three-dimensional holograms were a sight to behold, even if it meant playing next to a window or with a torch to see them. The chest images represented their inner powers and in the cartoon and comic they’d turn into the animals shown. I remember wishing the figures had come with little animal toys too but we just used our imaginations instead. The staffs and vehicle holograms gave the characters super powers for a limited time after reciting a magical incantation.
I loved them, but as with Super Naturals from Tonka Toys they were expensive to produce and needed to be a lot more successful than they ultimately were.
After the toys had been released in the US a new comic from Marvel (well, their imprint Star Comics) was released. Much like the US Transformers comic it was bi-monthly to begin with, however the first issue was double the normal size, containing a whopping 40+ page origin story. Unfortunately it was cancelled after just six issues, in the middle of its first multi-issue epic no less.
In order to print the American strips on a monthly basis with no gaps Marvel UK had to wait until its US counterpart was far enough ahead, but the US one was cancelled soon after, limiting the future of our version. It was wrapped up with #5 and merged into Transformers to print the last two stories.
The annual was released and then, when Transformers needed to take a break in the Action Force (G.I. Joe) back up strip, they reran the Visionaries origin story from the first two issues of their comic and the annual for seven weeks, marking the third time it saw print in just one year. Even that Spring Special, such an exciting release for me as a kid was actually a page-for-page reprint of #5 of the comic. Strangely enough, the annual was on sale again the following Christmas and I ended up with a second copy.
Now, decades later I own the complete UK comic series, all of which had to be bought again. As per the brief for the OiNK Blog I’ll be reliving the series in real time, beginning Friday 19th March with the special preview pull-out from #158 of The Transformers and Action Force.
The real world origins of the Visionaries may sound familiar to fans of that other Hasbro property. A new toy line is released and a bi-monthly American comic is produced to see how it fares, while 13 episodes of a cartoon are produced and Marvel UK eventually launch their own comic, beginning with the US strips. Unfortunately, unlike Transformers the American Visionaries comic didn’t turn monthly, the cartoon didn’t get a lengthy second season commissioned and the UK comic didn’t get to the stage of producing their own strips.
But what I would personally add is that the origin story of the Visionaries is more enjoyable and the cartoon was light years ahead of the robotic one. There was so much potential, but if the toys don’t sell everything else is going to fall apart. Why did they fail? Were holograms just not ‘cool’ enough? Was it a case of the cartoon and comic being overly ambitious in their depictions compared to what the toys could actually do?
One thing is certain and that’s just how much I’m looking forward to reading through these comics and becoming reacquainted with the world of Prysmos.