March 23, 2019

MAX STEEL (2000)

MAX STEEL (2000)
(WB, February 26, 2000-January 15, 2002)

Columbia TriStar Television (season 1-3), Netter Digital Animation (season 1), Foundation Imaging (season 2), Mainframe Entertainment (season 3 & films), Adelaide Productions

Christian Campbell & Matthew Kaminsky (2 episodes) – Max Steel/Josh McGrath
Chi McBride – Jefferson Smith
Scott McNeil (movies) – Jefferson Smith, Elementor, various
Jacob Vargas & Alessandro Juliani (movies) – Dr. Roberto Martinez
Shannon Kenny – Rachel Leeds (season 1-2), Female L’Etranger Goon
Debi Mae West (season 2-3) & Meghan Black (1st two movies) – Kat Ryan
Lisa Ann Beley – Kat Ryan (movies), N-TEK Computer voice (movies)
Lauren Tom – Laura Chen (season 1-2)
Thomas F. Wilson – Pete Costas (season 1-2)
Keith Szarabajka – Jean Mariot (season 1), Psycho, Luke DeMarco
Brian Drummond (movies) – Psycho, Psycho-Bots, various
Ed Asner – Charles “Chuck” Marshak (season 1)
Martin Jarvis – John Dread (season 1-2)

            In the late 90s, Mattel was looking to create a new action figure line inspired by the adventures of James Bond, but aimed towards young kids. Ultimately, the new figure line ended up being a retooled version of Mattel’s Big Jim action figure from the 1970s. Big Jim was inspired by the original G.I. Joe action figure, standing a full two inches shorter in comparison and featuring a karate chop action and a variety of outfits and vehicles for sports, space exploration, hunting and other situations. Big Jim was marketed in Latin America as Kid Acero (or “Kid Steel”) and in Europe as Mark Strong. In the 1980s, Big Jim was converted to James Bond, Agent 007 until the line ultimately ended.

            Mattel’s new line was called Max Steel, which centered around teenaged Josh McGrath whose body was infused with super Nano-Technology, or N-TEK, which gave him superhuman physical attributes and turned him into the super-agent Max Steel. He worked for a secret global security force and protected the world from a variety of threats. As with Big Jim, Max was released with a variety of outfits and vehicles inspired by extreme sports, such as mountain climbing, surfing or skiing, but also came with various military or combat-related attire. Amongst the line’s villains were Psycho, a fiend with a dangerous bionic arm and face that could be hidden by a flesh-like mask; the snake-man Bio-Constrictor; and Vitriol, who had light-up energy attack arms. The toys launched in 1999 with a 16-page introductory mini-comic published by Mattel that discussed Max’s abilities from the perspective of both the good guys and the villains.

Max in Turbo mode.

            To help promote the toys, Mattel partnered with Sony/TriStar television’s Adelaide Productions to produce an animated series featuring the characters. The series was developed by Greg Weisman and Jeff Kline, which centered on 19-year-old extreme sports star Josh McGrath (Christian Campbell, Matthew Kaminsky for two episodes). Josh was an orphan who was adopted by his father’s best friend and partner, Jefferson Smith (Chi McBride), who secretly worked for a counter-intelligence agency known as N-Tek. N-Tek created sports equipment as a public front. When Psycho (Keith Szarabaika) attacked the facility while Josh was visiting, Josh was injured and exposed to a swarm of microscopic nanomachines called Nano-Tech Max. The nanites began breaking down and killing Josh, until he was given a dose of transphasic energy, or T-Juice, which the nanites needed to function. The nanites bonded with Josh, making him able to turn invisible or alter his appearance, and allowed him to “Go Turbo” with the aid of a wrist device giving him super strength, speed and agility. With these new abilities, Josh joined N-Tek and adopted the code name Max Steel.

Jefferson addressing Max and Roberto.

            Along with Jefferson, Max’s team was composed of Dr. Roberto Martinez (Jacob Vargas), a teenaged genius who provided equipment and technical support from the base; Rachel Leeds (Shannon Kenny), Max’s partner who worked with him in the field while also training him to be an N-Tek agent; Jean Mariot (Szarabajka using a French accent), second-in-command under Jefferson who was the head of operations and showed faith in Max’s abilities even when Max didn’t; and Charles Marshak (Ed Asner), a division chief who was in charge of the flying fortress Behemoth that served as Max’s mobile base. Outside of N-Tek, Josh had his girlfriend, Laura Chen (Lauren Tom), and his best friend, Pete Costas (Thomas F. Wilson). Josh’s relationship with both of them became strained as Max’s exploits gradually began taking over more of his life, although Pete was eventually let in on the secret and joined in on several missions.

Max vs. Psycho.

            N-Tek’s primary enemy was DREAD, an evil organization led by the calculating and brilliant John Dread (Martin Jarvis). Along with Psycho and Vitriol (August Paro), DREAD employed the likes of L’Etranger (John de Lancie), a mercenary terrorist who was essentially an electrical weapon, and Dragonelle (Mia Korf), who could mimic the actions and appearance of anyone she encountered. Other foes included Woody Barkowski (Jeff Bennett), who believed N-Tek sold him a faulty bike that caused him to break his leg and end his sports career, and considered himself Max’s arch-nemesis (Max disagreed); his sister, Annabelle (Susan Eisenberg), who was mutated by a lab accident into the energy vampire Elextrix; Bio-Constrictor (RenĂ© Auberjonois), a scientist who was injected with electrified snake venom that turned him into a half-reptile mutant; Lance Breamer, the self-proclaimed “King of the sky” who became an air pirate; and several jilted inventors and people with connections to the sports world who turned to illegal activities for various selfish reasons.

            Max Steel debuted on the Kids’ WB! programming block on February 26, 2000, becoming the first fully computer animated program on the block and lasting three seasons. The series was written by Weisman with Lydia Marano, Jon Weisman, Michael Reaves, Kevin Hopps, Mike Ryan, Katherine Fugate, Cary Bates, Gary Sperling, Tom Pugsley, Greg Klein, Steven Melching, Tony Schillaci, David Slack, Dan Perry, Marsha F. Griffin and Andrew Robinson. The music was composed by Jim Latham and Nathan Furst, with Latham also composing the theme. Initially, the series was animated by Netter Digital Animation utilizing motion capture actors. After producing the first season, Netter went bankrupt and production moved over to Foundation Imaging for the second season. However, Foundation also went bankrupt and production was moved once again to Mainframe Entertainment, makers of the first fully computer animated program, ReBoot

Roberto, Jefferson, Max and Kat.

            Because of the similarities to the Big Jim line, it was worked into the show that Jim was actually Max’s father, and that Jefferson was based on the Big Jeff variant. After the first season, Charles Marshak and Jean Mariot no longer appeared. Mariot was revealed to have been an agent of DREAD and was seemingly killed in an explosion in the season finale. Weisman planned to bring Mariot back as a triple agent, but those plans were abandoned with his departure from the show. Rachel was promoted at the start of season 2 and replaced by Kat Ryan (Debi Mae West) as Max’s new partner. The cast was further streamlined in season 3 with Laura and Pete being written out and Vitriol replacing Dread as the main villain. The third season also saw N-Tek shut down after events of the prior season and the characters becoming extreme sports stars. In keeping with the theme, several real-life sports stars had guest appearances on the show: pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, BMX rider Mat Hoffman, hockey player Luc Robitaille, basketball player-turned-actor Rick Fox, and Motocross/Supercross champion Jeremy McGrath. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word “terrorist” was filtered out of some episodes and figure packaging in the “Urban Siege” series were revamped to remove “Secret Mission” Cards that contained stories about terrorist attacks on American soil.

Max vs. the four Elementors.

            Despite the initial success of the toyline, sales in the North American market slumped while Latin America continued to thrive. Mattel decided to end the show and focus their efforts on those markets with a series of direct-to-video movies. Mattel and Mainframe began producing them in 2004 and they were available as bonus gifts with the purchase of other products, as well as a showcase of the products themselves. The first, Endangered Species, was the only one to maintain continuity with the show. While each additional film built on the first’s story, facts established about Max’s creation and N-Tek differed; such as the inclusion of an isotope called Elementium being embedded in Max to help his survival of the nanites. Elementium would become a driving force behind the films’ new primary foe, Elementor (Scott McNeil). Max’s alter ego was also phased out, leaving him as Max 24/7. To help keep Max in the public consciousness and to provide background to the new continuity, a series of 1-minute mini clips called Max Steel’s Turbo Missions ran from 2008-11. While Campbell continued on as Max, McBride was replaced by McNeil, Vargas by Alessandro Juliani, and West by first Meghan Black and then Leisa Ann Beley.

            The episodes “Strangers”, “Snowblind”, “Sphinxes” and “Old Friend, New Enemy” were released onto VHS tapes that were included with various action figures. The complete first season was released to DVD across two volumes and a collected edition by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. In 2001, Treyarch developed a Max Steel video game released by Mattel Interactive for the Sega Dreamcast. Max Steel: Covert Missions saw Max having to stop DREAD’s new bio-weapon from ravaging the world. The game utilized the series’ opening titles, however only Campbell returned to voice his character. A version for the Game Boy Advance was planned, but ultimately cancelled. While there was originally a visual disparity between the toys and the show due to both being developed at the same time, the toys gradually fell more in line to the style featured in the program. However, outside of variations of Max and the main male villains, no other character was ever released; most notably none of the very prominent female characters, as it was a toyline marketed towards boys.

            The movies and toyline wrapped-up in 2012 to make way for a reboot of the franchise. Mattel partnered with Playground Productions, Nerd Corps Entertainment, and FreemantleMedia Kids & Entertainment to create a new Max Steel cartoon to usher in the new toyline. Airing on Cartoon Network and Disney XD, the series saw Maxwell “Max” McGrath (Andrew Francis), a Tachyon-Human Hybrid able to generate TURBO energy, join N-Tek and merge with a friendly technology-based alien named Steel (Sam Vincent) that helped him control his powers. A live-action film version of the reboot written by Christopher L. Yost and directed by Stewart Hendler was released by Open Road Films on October 14, 2016, and was a critical and commercial failure.

Season 1:
“Strangers” (2/26/00) – Team Steel is meant to protect a Peace Conference in Berlin, but L’Etranger manages to kidnap everyone at the conference including Rachel.

“Shadows” (3/11/00) – A missile nearly blows Team Steel out of the sky and they’re led to believe it’s part of an attack on the UN Secretary General.

“Sacrifices” (3/4/00) – Psycho and Dread holds Paris hostage with an EMP device that can shut Max down.

“Sportsmen” (3/25/00) – Feeling his powers are an unfair advantage, Josh quits the Del-Oro Extreme but mysterious circumstances forces him to compete as Max.

“Seraphim” (5/13/00) – Team Steel has to retrieve a stolen computer disk in Shanghai while Max is concerned about getting back in time to escort Laura to her brother’s wedding.

“Spear-Carriers” (9/23/00) – Team Steel uses their new mobile base as bait to find out who’s stealing experimental aircraft out of the sky.

“Snowblind” (5/20/00) – Dread impersonates Roberto to lure Max into a trap in a snowy ice cave.

“Sharks” (4/8/00) – Team Steel is sent to rescue plutonium for a freighter sunk by Woody Barkowski’s hurricane machine.

“Sabres” (4/1/00) – Psycho and Vitriol try to stop Max and Jake Nez from keeping N-TEK’s SABRE space station from falling out of orbit.

“Sphinxes” (4/22/00) – Team Steel investigates strange energy readings from the Great Pyramid.

“Swashbucklers” (9/16/00) – Josh and Laura’s spring break is interrupted by a mystery involving pirates.

“Scions” (9/30/00) – With his personal life falling apart, Josh decides to become Max full-time just in time to investigate a strange volcano eruption.

“Shattered” (10/14/00) – The UN building is threatened to be crushed by a strange fungus as Vitriol escapes from N-TEK and Mariot turns out to be a Dread spy.

Season 2:
“The Return” (10/28/00) – A string of accidents on campus lead Josh to believe someone knows his identity.

“Fun in the Sun” (11/4/00) – Josh brings Roberto to Honolulu to enjoy life just as a tidal wave strikes the city.

“Amazon” (11/11/00) – Max and Roberto meet and team-up with Kat to stop Psycho from creating poison gas from tree sap.

“When Lighting Strikes Twice” (11/18/00) – Annabelle Barkowski returns after a lab accident transformed her into the power-feeding Electrix.

“Fire and Ice” (12/2/00) – Max investigates Vitriol’s kidnapping of N-TEK scientists in Alaska, but things are complicated when he learns Pete stowed away to participate in the mission.

“Trapped” (12/9/00) – A high-tech R&D company in D.C. is taken over by a former employee who wants the powerful weapon he designed.

“Steel vs. Steel” (12/16/00) – Team Steel heads to an N-TEK training facility to test Roberto’s new Tek-Bots.

“Space Opera (AKA Shooting Stars)” (1/20/01) – Roberto is selected to fly on the launch of NASA’s next Space Cruiser.

“Old Friend, New Enemy” (2/10/01) – Former N-TEK scientist Jerry Klemow was researching biological weapons made from snake DNA when an accident turns him into Bio-Constrictor.

“Extreme” (2/17/01) – Max goes undercover to stop tech thieves at the annual Del Oro Extreme.

“Best Friend” (3/3/01) – Josh’s new friend has been brainwashed to kill Dr. Mark Montgomery.

“The Race” 93/10/01) – Max convinces Jefferson to let Team Steel test N-TEK’s newest vehicle in an extreme off-road race.

“Breakout” (6/23/01) – Max and Kat have to transport Dread to a new prison while the recently escaped Bio-Constrictor is recruited by Psycho to break Dread out.

Season 3:
“Deep Cover” (11/12/01) – Taking down Dread’s empire exposes N-TEK to the world.

“Survival Instinct” (11/19/01) – Team Steel meets deadly opposition on a snowboarding trip to the Alps.

“Cold Sweat” (12/5/01) – Team Steel attends a hockey game that’s interrupted by Vitriol attempting to kidnap the son of a wealthy media mogul.

“Fan Appreciation” (12/6/01) – Team Steel attends the opening of a new Extreme Sports Park created by a millionaire sports fanatic that happens to be a big fan of Kat.

“Rough Seats” (12/12/01) – Team Steel heads out on a sports fantasy cruise for a free vacation of promoting N-TEK products.

“Prey” (12/17/01) – Josh ends up stranded in the South African jungle where someone appears to be watching him.

“Special Delivery” (12/21/01) – Team Steel protects bike stunt legend Matt Hoffman after he was almost kidnapped.

“Turbulence” (1/5/02) – Psycho steals a prison transport plane to recruit the convicts inside to help him rob the Federal Reserve.

“Truth Be Told” (1/15/02) – Team Steel seemingly ends up in an inescapable Psycho death trap with sports star Jeremy McGrath, and await their doom with stories of past exploits.

“Endangered Species” (2004) – Psycho and Bio-Constrictor team-up to turn the world into mutants that would be ruled over by them.


Toys said...

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