There’s a dark connection between the “weirdest, meanest, most mother-unfriendly” cartoons of the 1980s and the classic GI Joe.
Welcome to the special Adventure(s) Time installment, take a look at past animated heroes. This week, we examine the forgotten franchise from the 1980s and its obscure (and dark) connection to a much more popular line from that era. Just contact me on Twitter.
Debuting in 1986, Inhumanoids is a 13-episode animated series by Sunbow Productions. Founded six years earlier by Griffin-Bacal Advertising, the studio was among the earliest animated commercials for Joe Hasbro’s GI toy line and the accompanying Marvel comic books. The ad was an instant success, leading partners Tom Griffin and Joe Bacal to form Sunbow.
Griffin and Bacal remained close to Hasbro which allowed Sunbow to produce multiple shows based on the toy giant’s properties. Critics accused the show of nothing more than a toy commercial, but Sunbow did have a legitimate desire to make quality material, and well-known writers such as Steve Gerber, Marty Pasko, and Len Wein contributed scripts, and artists such as Russ Heath and Bruce Timm provided character designs. Many of these series maintain a dedicated following to this day, and the two main Sunbow shows, GI Joe and Transformers, have become mainstays of the DVD and streaming era.
Fans of the era consider Inhumanoids to be the last major series of Sunbow’s “toy commercial” days. The plot focuses on a group of scientists called the Earth Corps, and a monstrous monster named D’Compose found encased in amber in Big Sur, California. When the Earth Corps investigates the creature, they inadvertently unleash a great evil into the world. Subsequent episodes reveal even weirder monsters, such as Tendril and Metlar, hidden around the world.
Inhumanoids was animated by Japan’s acclaimed Toei Animation and features many famous voice actors that fans will remember from this era. Chris Latta, the iconic voice behind Starscream and Cobra Commander, plays the monsters D’Compose and Tendril. Michael Bell, the voice of the heroic Duke GI Joe and even Cyclops in the X-Men pilot Pryde, plays Auger, a prominent archaeologist and Earth Corps resident mechanic.
The series did not begin as a conventional half-hour cartoon, but rather as a six- to seven-minute shortlist, aired as part of Sunbow’s Super Sunday half-hour block alongside Jem and the Hologram, Bigfoot, and the Muscle Machine, and Robotix.
A “film” collecting the early Inhumanoids arc was later released, and the Inhumanoids was expanded into its full-length series, shown in syndication. It’s nominally a kid’s show, but Inhumanoids has become famous for its adult content. Years before X-Men: The Animated Series, the Inhumanoids attempted a clear narrative line that linked the episodes in sequence, while also introducing a subplot that paid off later. The visuals use bold shadows, emphasizing the inspiration of the horror film series.
Since the Inhumanoids villains are true monsters and not armed terrorists, the show gets away with some brutal content. Gore, amputation, corrosive acid that eats monster flesh alive… these are areas rarely seen in Sunbow shows. Writer Flint Dille called it “the weirdest, meanest, most mother-unfriendly” of the Sunbow properties. Another author, Buzz Dixon, has indicated that Hasbro doesn’t care about Inhumanoid’s content after the sudden end of the toy line. As long as Sunbow doesn’t produce anything rated X, the studio is free to do as it pleases.
Hasbro’s Inhumanoids toys provide every member of the Earth Corps with action features and a “shine in the light” gimmick. However, the stars are meant to be villains. Metlar, Tendril, and D’Compose are 14-inch tall figures that are now expensive collectors’ items. At the time, however, parents were complaining about retail prices, and many kids didn’t see much game value in giant pieces of plastic. Huge Inhumanoid monsters also took up a lot of space on store shelves. All of those factors accelerated the end of the line after just one year.
The series’ lead author, Flint Dille, is frequently asked about Inhumanoids. One of the highlights that surfaced during an interview with the Excelsior Journeys podcast involved the Inhumanoids character Saber Jet, who was meant to be an action figure in the canceled second year.
Saber Jet was introduced in Episode 12, “The Masterson Team,” in which tabloid-TV journalist Hector Ramirez – a parody of Geraldo Rivera who appeared on several Sunbow shows – put to save the Statue of Liberty from Metlar.
The scene cuts to the hospital, where recovering Air Force pilot Brad Armbruster, apparently only his head encased in damaged metal, tells of how his plane was crashed over Cambodia by Metlar’s ancient rival, Slither.
That leads to the Earth Corps’ investigation into Sslither’s one-time rule over the Inhumanoids.
Many fans over the years have noticed the Saber Jet being given the real name Brad J. Armbruster, who is also the real name of Ace, the famous GI Joe fighter pilot (packed with the 1983 Skystriker XP-14F vehicle, and a mainstay in the animated series). Are they meant to be the same character? Some fans were against this, pointing out that Neil Ross voiced Saber Jet, while Pat Fraley played Ace in GI Joe. In the interview, however, Dille insists that Saber Jet is meant to be an Ace… with the addition of some pretty gruesome information.
Dille told Excelsior Journeys that, after the Ace plane crash, the robotic skeleton of the seriously injured pilot was built from the crashed Skystriker XP-14F jet. Presumably, there were more Skystrikers than Aces left after the crash. As Dille puts it, Ace “was so fucked up, they used his jet as body armor.” That’s the fate of Ace, following the original episode of GI Joe: He was mortally wounded by a monster and destined to live as a cyborg, in his beloved Skystriker jet. It’s a pretty cool cybernetic suit, but still, a shocking fate for the character.
This was the pinnacle of hardcore fan trivia, and this point of continuity was never recognized in the comic book or subsequent animated revival of GI Joe. link Ace, or the character GI Joe, to the Inhumanoids.
Seems like this trivia are too obscure for the current creators to realize — assuming there’s a huge fan base for Inhumanoids these days, given the short show and meager DVD releases. But it’s a clear relationship between traits that don’t exist.