Category Archives: Visionaries

ViSiONARiES: PREViEW iSSUE

A few days ago I introduced (or for some of you, reintroduced) you to the Visionaries, one of several attempts by toy companies in the 80s to bring back the hologram as the Next Big Thing. While they weren’t successful enough to last beyond one holiday season, the toys and in particular the cartoon remain among the best childhood memories I have. Now it’s time to check our their comic from Marvel UK.

Before the old Oink Blog and Beyond site crashed and went the way of the pig sty in the sky, I’d already covered the regular issues of this comic and was about to carry on with their annual and the merge into Transformers. For anyone who has already read them these will not be reprinted blog posts. Brand new scans and photos alongside completely rewritten reviews for this shiny new site will hopefully entice you back once again to the world of Prysmos.

We start with a look at the four-page mini-comic given away free with Transformers to promote the upcoming monthly back on this day, 19th March in 1988.

There was certainly a big push in the pages of this comic but from what I know that wasn’t the case in any other Marvel comic. It could be because they knew chances of it lasting weren’t great with what was happening with the franchise in America and it would most likely end up merging with this title. Or it could simply be because Transformers was by far their biggest selling comic at this point.

IPC/Fleetway would give away preview issues with several titles so by comparison it’s strange Marvel didn’t do the same thing. Maybe this was just the Marvel way, to target the one title with the audience most likely to read the new comic.

Either way, they took centre stage in #158 of The Transformers and Action Force, with an extra four pages of higher quality print in the middle of the comic and the main part of the Transformation editorial given over to the Knights of the Magical Light.

Unlike the previous Action Force (G.I. Joe) mini-comic there’s no new material here. Instead we get highlights of the origin story of the Visionaries to come in the first two issues, a look at the toys and a competition. But there is at least one thing I hadn’t seen before getting my hands on this preview and that’s the cover image.

Made of a thicker, glossier paper stock than the rest of the comic it really stands out and that cover is just glorious as a result. It must’ve been a real feast for the eyes for youngsters in the middle of their weekly dose of Cybertronian action, something so completely and utterly different and new compared to what they’d been reading.

The strange thing about that image though is I don’t recognise half of those characters. The two main figures in the middle, the ones on the bottom-left and that craft on the top-left aren’t featured in the cartoon or the toy line. Perhaps it’s an early concept piece.

Before The Real Ghostbusters cartoon was released a beautiful concept art poster did the rounds, with the team speeding along in Ecto-1 but all with the same coloured overalls like the movie and Egon’s hair was still brown and not as sausage roll-like. These things changed obviously but the image was still used in magazines and comics to publicise the series for a long time, even given away with some toys. The same thing could have happened with Visionaries.

So back to the strip itself, the thing that’s going to draw readers into the new ongoing comic coming less than a week later. As I said, it’s made up of little snippets from the end of the comic’s first story, The End… The Beginning. It’s a bit weird to show the story’s climax before readers had a chance to read it. It also doesn’t show their powers being used, surely a key ingredient of the comic which they could’ve shown off, given how that’s the whole point behind the intro to the cartoon.

If I’d been collecting Transformers at this point originally (I didn’t start until #192 as a child), none of these points would’ve mattered though and it’s probably just me being an old fuddy-duddy today. Having missed the first episode of the cartoon, the chance to see a little glimpse into their origins would’ve had me hyped for the complete story, so really I guess it did do its job after all. The bright yellow banners advertising the release date for their comic aren’t easily missed either.

No credits are given here but they are as follows: Flint Dille and Jim Salicrup (writers), Mark Bagley (pencils), Romeo Tanghai (inks), Janice Chiang (letters) and Julianna Ferriter (colours). Flint was the scriptwriter of Sunbow Productions‘ pilot episode and this was adapted by Jim for the comic.

There’s a very brief summing up of the story before the strip and then several pages are edited together to make up the two-and-a-half pages here. We see a couple of characters get their magical totems and a reference is made to becoming them, but I’m not sure how clear this all would’ve been to the uninitiated who hadn’t seen the cartoon. Perhaps a few panels showing them in action would’ve been a good idea.

With the “Read the further adventures of the Visionaries…” in the yellow bars it kind of gives the impression that the summary box is all we’re going to get about their origin and the monthly would carry on after this. Thankfully that wouldn’t be the case of course.

On the fourth page we get an image of the individual Hasbro figures available, with more to come packaged in with the vehicles. There’s also an offer for what looks like a brilliant poster and some fun holographic stickers. I’d definitely have been pestering my parents for this if I’d known about it.

Finally, a video of the first three episodes of the cartoon was the prize in a competition. These episodes were edited together to form an hour-long origin much like how the first Transformers VHS cassette merged together its first three episodes into a “Feature-Length” one-hour episode. For anyone already familiar with the franchise this would certainly have whetted the appetite for Marvel’s newest comic.

REAL TIME MAGIC

The first issue of Visionaries appeared on newsagents’ shelves only five days later. While our weekly comics were regular Saturday releases that wasn’t necessarily the case with Marvel’s monthlies. So the following Thursday would be the day this new epic tale would commence. (Now, 33 years later it falls on a Wednesday, just to keep you on your toes.)

It would ultimately be a curtailed epic but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading all over again.

Join me for the real time read through beginning Wednesday 24th March and we can enjoy an in-depth look at its beginnings, meet its characters, enjoy its world building and delve into its myths and magic and what could have been.

ViSiONARiES: iN REAL TiME

Surely the greatest cartoon intro of all time

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.

Vehicle photos from Toyark,
figures from Action Figures & Comics

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.

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, 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.