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Action Figure Comics Review - Visionaries

There was a very conscious synergy between cartoons and toys in the 80’s. He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even My Little Pony made sure to influence our visits to the toy store with their daily animated adventures. But there was also quite a bit of crossover to the printed page in comic book form. In the absence of a cartoon series, these multi-paneled illustrated tales were often our only explanation for how the toys were supposed to interact aside from the back of the box. Today I’d like to share with you the first part of a series I’m calling the Action Figure Comics Review.

As a kid, all I knew about Visionaries was that they were bigger than G.I. Joes and had hologram stickers attached to them. When I got my Leoric figure back in 1987, it was based solely on the fact that a 3-D Lion was threatening to pounce out of his chest at any moment, but I had no frame of reference for the world he came from or why he was carrying a staff with a holographic Owl on it.

It turns out there was a 13 episode cartoon series that inspired the Hasbro toy line (which apparently didn’t get much play on my local TV stations growing up) so when I came across the first issue of the Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light comic book from Star Comics/Marvel a few years ago, I jumped at the chance to finally solve the mystery. It was a pretty wild ride with some unexpected turns.

The story opens in a futuristic planet called Prysmos where robots serve every need of man (I was really not expecting that). Suddenly a kooky old Wizard named Merklynn shows up to announce the end of the Age of Technology and a return to the Age of Magic as a storm decimates the landscape. Flash forward a few years and the world is back in the middle ages with Knights, castles and not much else.

Basically Merklynn invites all the Knights to come to his Iron Mountain to be bestowed with magical powers. It’s at this point that a million people in multi-colored armor start running around fighting their way to the inner-sanctum of the mountain and it’s kind of hard to tell who’s who. Near as I can tell, the good guys from New Valarak wear open-faced helmets and the bad guys from the Dark Domain go all man in the iron mask to conceal their identities.

The interesting inclusion here is the introduction of 2 female knights named Galadria and Virulina. These 2 never had figures, likely due to the bias that boys don’t play with girl toys, but do get a few panels devoted to their battle anyway. Eventually 14 knights (geez, that is a lot of characters) make it to the chamber and are greeted by a giant title wave of spirits with creepy faces.

Soon Merklynn dubs them all Visionaries and imbues them each with totem spirit animals that embed themselves within the conveniently blank plates on the front of their armor. Some get Eagles, some get Gorillas, there’s Dolphins, Cheetahs and even a Mollusk. It’s not arbitrary either, the assigned animals were based on the Wizard’s assessment of the knights during their quest and he seems just as impressed by the more villainous characters as the heroic ones.

These now Spectral Knights and Darkling Lords are told they will be able to transform into these animals, but then Merklynn also has them dip their overly cumbersome staffs into a magic pool of water that will embed them with another set of different animals, which really seems like overkill to me. At this point they are told they can use their power to re-build the planet or destroy it, so this wizard is seemingly on nobody’s side, which is rare for the all-wise, all powerful character in these kind of kid’s properties.

After reading this comic, Visionaries definitely has a different dimension than I expected, with the apocalyptic world where magic rules and amoral wizards give armored people special powers. But ultimately there are just too many characters to keep track of without any easily distinguishable characteristics. I would have been hard pressed to pick a favorite when I was kid based on anything other than a combination of favorite color and coolest totem animal.

Being that this is an old comic, it would be hard for me not to mention an awesome ad that I found while flipping pages. In this case, a promotional image for the Choose Your Own Adventure book series really caught my eye. To me these little paperbacks were omnipresent in my life and I figured everybody had a few on their shelves. My brother left behind a stack of CYOA for me when he went off to college and our school library had a whole shelf full of various titles, so the fact that they were actually advertised was cool, if unnecessary.

Well, that’s my look at the Visionaries comic book. One more fun fact I’ll throw out there for you comic book fans is that Mark Bagley, who made a name providing art for the long-running Ultimate Spider-man series, was the penciler on Visionaries that actually ran for 6 issues, so there are some pretty great poses and action sequences found within.

Now tell me, did you ever play with Visionaries? Was the backstory clear to you or did you just make up your own? Did you see the cartoon or the toys first?

Keep an eye out for part 2 of Action Figure Comics Review. Coming Soon.

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Apr 11, 2016 at 10:45 PM

There actually seemed to be quite a bit of consistency between this comics interpretation, the cartoon pilot and the toy makers on this one, which was pretty impressive. The toys themselves were just too similar, unlike MOTU that had such varied character designs.

Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 11, 2016 at 06:03 AM

Great review of the comic series, Hoju. I think my problem with most comic book series spawned from a toy line that ALSO had a cartoon series, was that I didn't like being confused with all the different character and story elements. Many times you would have pretty big differences in the cartoon and the comics. Origin stories would differ, character attributes would differ, and character personalities might not always be consistent between them.

This was really an issue with the He-Man and the MOTU line. The mini-comic world greatly differed from the cartoon world. There were so many differences that you just had to decide which it was that you were going to base your playtime off of.

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