October 31, 2015

SKELETON WARRIORS

SKELETON WARRIORS
(CBS, September 17-December 10, 1994)


Landmark Entertainment Group, Graz Entertainment, Inc., Westinghouse Broadcasting International


MAIN CAST:
Jeff Bennett – Lightstar/Prince Justin, King Luminicity, Skeleton Lancer
Jennifer Hale – Talyn/Princess Jennifer
Kevin Schon – Grimskull/Prince Joshua
Danny Mann – Guardian/Uncle Ursak, Dagger
Nathan Carlson – Dr. Cyborn
Philip L. Clarke – Baron Dark
Michael Corbett – Aracula
Valery Pappas – Shriek
Tony Jay – Golden Skull

            Skeleton Warriors came to creator Gary Goddard when he was spending time with his godson at the closing of the stage show The Adventures of Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular. When he had a reaction to the skeletons featured in the show, Goddard realized how powerful the image of a skeleton could be and how universal it was. From there, an idea came to mind. (Although, it should be noted in an article about the series’ debut Goddard had stated that his godson’s reaction came from a book he would read him, and that his ideas also stemmed from a childhood interest in skeletons being an avid reader of The Phantom).

Drew Struzan promotional poster.

            Goddard envisioned a legion of skeleton warriors, representing death, and a group of heroes fueled by the abilities of animals, representing life, in the usual good versus evil conflict. Goddard drew heavily on his love of comic books as he drafted his concept, even going so far as to have comic book artist Neal Adams draw up the original concept designs. Ian McCaig rendered the initial character designs that were used as the basis for character statutes for his presentation to either a toy company, television network, or both.



            Goddard brought the concept to Richard Sallis at Playmates who loved the concept and bought it. Goddard also brought it to the attention of CBS television’s vice president of children’s programs, Judy Price, having already lined up an animation studio in Graz Entertainment. Price, at the time, was already considering picking up two comic-based properties, WildC.A.T.S. and Savage Dragon, and needed a pilot episode to determine if Skeleton Warriors could fit the bill. Writers Steve Cuden, Eric and Julia Lane Lewald, and Len Uhley were contracted to write the pilot episode in four days. The Lewalds became the head writers for the series.

Dagger, Cyborn, Baron Dark, Aracula, and Shriek action figures.

            Meanwhile, Playmates planned to debut the action figures at the 1994 American International Toy Fair in New York City. Playmates’ sculptors managed to maintain the high level of detail Goddard had on his models, making them highly praised by industry publications and fellow toy designers. They even had a seven-foot puppet of the principal villain made to go along with their display. It was during the Toy Fair when the producers received word that CBS decided to pick up the series, and with it numerous merchandising deals.

Baron Dark.

            The show focused on the planet Luminaire, which was a futuristic place with medieval overtones. The capital city of Luminicity held a powerful crystal called The Lightstar Crystal. Baron Dark (Phillip L. Clarke), the king’s advisor, wanted it for himself in order to obtain absolute power. and used Prince Joshua’s (Kevin Schon) jealousy towards his brother, Justin (Jeff Bennett), and his rule in the absence of their father to trick Joshua into helping him steal the Crystal. Justin tried to prevent the theft, resulting in the crystal splitting and changing Dark and the Lightstars.

Grimskull, Lightstar and Talyn.

Dark became a skeleton with the ability to transform others into one, which was how he created his entire army starting with his generals. He recruited the once-lovely Amazon Shriek (originally named Banshee, voiced by Valery Pappas); his servant Dagger (Danny Mann), who had a massive spy network around the kingdom; and the half-cyborg Dr. Cyborn (Nathan Carlson), who had designed most of Luminicity’s technology and became mentally twisted in the accident that took half his body. Dark also recruited the multi-armed Aracula (Michael Corbett) and the wolf-like bounty hunter Claw to his cause.

The skeleton legion.

It also bestowed fantastic powers on the Lightstar family: Justin could project beams of light energy; Joshua became zombie-like with the ability to traverse through shadows and who often walked the line between good and evil; and their sister Jennifer (Jennifr Hale) gained the ability to fly. With the help of their Uncle Ursak (Danny Mann), the Lightstars gathered the Legion of Light to oppose Dark’s skeleton warriors, reclaim their kingdom, and protect the other half of the crystal. The Lightstars’ codenames were given to them by Ursak, who was dubbed Guardian by Justin.

CBS Action Zone promo comic.

            The series debuted on CBS on September 17, 1994 as part of their Action Zone block, placed alongside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and WildC.A.T.S. Each episode featured a Golden Skull (Tony Jay) rendered by computer animation. The Skull was Goddard’s attempt to catch the attention of viewers and encourage them to watch the show. As such, the Skull was seen before the intro played over Gary Guttman’s theme. Inspired by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, the Skull served to set up the moral conflict within each episode’s story as well as drop subtle clues about the development the story would have taken had the series gone to term. Had CBS greenlit the series sooner, Goddard and his team would have had sufficient production time to make the entire series CGI, as Goddard felt the technology had advanced enough to do so. If that happened, it would have become the second computer animated cartoon after Jay’s other series, ReBoot. The CGI effects were handled by Foundation Imaging.

The cancelled Talyn figure prototype.

            Unfortunately, the series failed to find a sustainable audience as CBS continually shifted it around in its schedule. The action figure line didn’t perform much better, although the series wasn’t to blame for that. Playmates opted to just release the villains for the first wave, and parents were as hesitant to buy skeletons as kids were to play without any heroic characters. By the time Lightstar and Grimskull’s figures were released, the show and the line were effectively dead. Future waves would have featured Talyn, a skeleton dragon for Dark to ride, and a playset.

Skeleton Warriors the comic.

            Besides the action figures, Skeleton Warriors was placed on everything from party supplies, to hats, shoes and lunchboxes by Thermos. Milton Bradley released a board game based on the show the same year it debuted. Tiger Electronics acquired the license for one of their handheld games, while Neversoft Entertainment developed a video game for the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, released by Playmates Interactive. Fleer released a set of 100 trading cards which gave brief background on all the primary characters and summarized the episodes and events within them. In 1994, CBS Publishing produced a promotional comic centered around their Action Zone block featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, WildC.A.T.S. and Skeleton Warriors. Marvel Comics published a four-issue mini-series in 1995.

VHS cover.

            1995 saw the release of several VHS tapes in the United Kingdom by Abbey Home Media. In 2011, Music Video Dist released the complete series on DVD which featured the Drew Struzan poster Goddard commissioned for the series’ world premiere. The series also went live on Hulu in 2015. For the 20th anniversary of the series, October Toys in association with the Goddard Group launched a Kickstarter to fund the production of a Baron Dark figure and several variants. In 2015, October Toys launched a Kickstarter to produce a Grimskull figure. 

EPISODE GUIDE:
“Flesh and Bone” (9/17/94) – Baron Dark convinces Justin to take the Lightstar Crystal, which Dark breaks into two transforming the Steeles and creating his own skeleton army.

“Trust and Betrayal” (9/24/94) – Lightstar and Talyn try to recruit soldiers amidst talk Grimskull is in collusion with Dark, but both end up captured by the skeletons.

“Heart and Soul” (10/1/94) – The lone survivor of a settlement only lived because he allowed Dark to transform him into a skeleton.

“Bones of Contention” (10/8/94) – A data crystal reveals Grimskull’s involvement in the skeleton epidemic, and Lightstar takes his punishment while Grimskull tries to redeem himself.

“Zara” (10/15/94) – An old friend of the Steeles sells them out to Dark in the town of Romney.

“Mind Games” (10/22/94) – Dark attempts to penetrate Grimskull’s mind through his dreams.

“Harmonic Divergence” (10/29/94) – Guardian goes undercover in Dark’s bomb factory as a loyalist.

“Past Perfect, Future Tense” (11/5/94) – Dr. Jenna’s machine allows Guardian to see a grim future for Lightstar.

“Brawl and Chain” (11/12/94) – Lightstar and Talyn attempt to get ahead of Dark’s new Gorgon battleship but end up imprisoned by a town with his minions.

“Overload” (11/19/94) – Dark seeks to supercharge his half of the crystal while the Legion of Light searches for a lost Talyn.

“Long Live the King” (11/26/94) – Baron Dark finally ascends to the throne.

“Conflict and Consequences-Part 1” (12/3/94) – The Legion of Light launches an attack on Dark’s forces while Grimskull tries to steal his half of the crystal, only to be caught by Dark.

“Conflict and Consequences-Part 2” (12/10/94) – Dark manages to unite the two halves of the crystal and engages in a final battle with Lightstar.

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