ViSiONARiES: iN REAL TiME

Surely the greatest cartoon intro of all time

For such a short-lived toy line, in both the world as a whole and in my own timeline, memories of the Visionaries remain particularly strong in my mind. I’d stumbled upon the video of their origin story, the first three episodes of their series edited together into one 60 minute adventure. I’d been renting the Transformers videos regularly and noticed this new cartoon by the same people so thought I’d give it a go. I loved it and must’ve rented it a lot because that Christmas (1987) I very gratefully received nearly all the toys.

It was a very merry time indeed, but what I didn’t know was that by then it had all come to an end already; the toys were heavily discounted in bargain bins, hence how my parents were able to get a hold of so many. Hasbro‘s new blockbuster toy line hadn’t busted the blocks. Not that I was complaining at the time because that was the reason I had three of the four vehicles and I think all but one or two of the figures. I have many happy memories of that Christmas surrounded by them all and playing with them all day, every day!

However, come January 1988 and it was a different franchise that caught my eye when UTV began broadcasting The Real Ghostbusters. In the first issue of their comic was an advert for Marvel UK‘s Visionaries but I’d already moved on, such is the fickle nature of youngsters. I received their annual that Christmas alongside my Ghostbusters toys and the next Spring I found their Spring Special on the shelves. Forgetting there’d been a regular comic I thought it was a one-off or perhaps one of a series of seasonal specials.

It wasn’t until nearly a year-and-a-half later, two years after I’d rented the cartoon pilot that BBC Two finally showed the series on Sunday mornings, long after the toys had disappeared from the bargain bins. It was fantastic. I remember the TV presenters exclaiming it had the best opening sequence and music of any cartoon ever. Hooked, I watched it every week. This didn’t go unnoticed by my parents, who again bought me the annual (which was on sale again) probably thinking it was a new one. By now I was collecting Transformers and the annual’s strip story was reprinted in it a few months later, then they disappeared.

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.

So for the uninitiated, who were the Visionaries? They were the latest attempt at resurrecting the hologram, with images on the characters’ chests, staffs and vehicles. Their planet went through a startling transformation with 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 but we just used our imaginations instead. The staffs and vehicle holograms also 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) had been 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 bi-monthly American strips on a monthly schedule with no gaps Marvel UK had to wait until its US counterpart was far enough ahead. Not long into the UK’s comic the original was cancelled and ours was wrapped up with #5 and merged into Transformers. The annual was released but the strip was a reprint and that Spring Special, such an exciting release for me as a kid, was actually a page-for-page reprint of #5 of their comic.

Now, decades later I own the complete UK comic series, all of which had to be bought again, my original annual and special lost long ago. 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 than the Transformers one 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 figures could actually do, leading to disappointment in the toys?

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.

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