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The news that Hasbro is building a second cinematic universe alongside its Transformers is something sure to excite fans of 1980s toy lines and comic books, while making almost everyone else somewhat confused. Visionaries? Micronauts? Rom? What are these strange new properties, and how will they all fit together? Here’s a quick guide to get everyone up to speed.
The Concept: America’s top counter-terrorism unit, drawing in specialists from all branches of U.S. military and intelligence forces to, more often than not, deal with a terrorist organization called COBRA.
The Legacy: Originally the brand name for a series of figures of generic U.S. armed forces soldiers, the franchise was relaunched to great success in 1982 with the current counter-terrorism organization concept. Successful enough at its height to support a line of comic books and a Saturday morning cartoon series in addition to the core toy line. The line has been in almost constant production since the 1982 relaunch, and in recent years has been pushed more heavily as a result of the 2009 and 2013 live-action movies.
The Current Awareness: Thanks to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013), it could be argued that the Joes are currently at their most recognizable since their 1980s peak.
How Does It Fit Into A Shared Universe? To date, the Joes have co-starred with Hasbro’s big guns, the Transformers, on a number of occasions across animated series and comic books, and shares an unusual toyetic link with M.A.S.K. (Just wait.)
The Concept: Subtitled “Knights of the Magical Light,” Visionaries is an umbrella term for the heroes and villains of the alien planet Prysmos, where science has failed and replaced by magic. Each side’s warriors have animal avatars which represent their personalities, with each warrior able to shape change into their own animalistic totem.
The Legacy: A failed toy line from 1987, the selling point of the Visionaries was the hologram sticker each figure wore on their chest, showing the character’s animal totem. As was the norm at the time, the toy line’s launch was heralded by a comic book and Saturday morning cartoon, both of which were swiftly canceled in less than a year.
The Current Awareness: Arguably the lowest of any of the properties included in the new cinematic universe, with the Visionaries likely only remembered by those who owned one of the figures back in the day.
How Does It Fit Into A Shared Universe? Given that each of the different properties included relies on technology to some extent, having a group of aliens from a world where science has fallen from favor feels somewhat counterintuitive.
The Concept: A G.I. Joe-like counter-terrorist organization — M.A.S.K. stands for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand — fighting the forces of V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem; subtlety was not on the agenda during the brainstorming sessions to name these toys, apparently). In a twist, both M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M. had transforming vehicles and masks which gave them all super powers.
The Legacy: Originally created by Hasbro competitor Kenner in 1985, M.A.S.K. lasted four years on toy shelves, with a concurrent Saturday morning cartoon series lasting two years on air. (There were also two series of comic books, totaling 13 issues and two annuals across a two year span.) In recent years, a figure of Matt Trakker, M.A.S.K. head honcho, was added to the G.I. Joe line in 2008, and Hasbro teased a relaunch of the line in a summer 2015 presentation to shareholders.
The Current Awareness: File under “fondly, if distantly, remembered,” despite the derivativeness of the central idea. With Kenner’s parent company bought by Hasbro in 1991, there apparently wasn’t much need of a G.I. Joe/Transformers hybrid until recently, but we’ll see if audiences feel differently.
How Does It Fit Into A Shared Universe? Technically, M.A.S.K. is already part of G.I. Joe canon…
The Concept: Alien warriors from an alternate dimension that’s literally microscopic. Imagine Ant-Man meets Star Wars.
The Legacy: Licensed from Japanese manufacturer Takara in the mid-1970s,
Micronauts was a Mego toy line of miniature robots and vehicles that ran from 1976 through 1980. However, the larger legacy of the franchise comes from comic books, with Marvel’s original Micronauts comics running until 1986, with subsequent revivals from Image Comics and Devil’s Due Publishing in 2002 and 2004.
The Current Awareness: Thanks to complicated rights issues, Marvel’s Micronauts comics — which featured a core cast split between Mego property and original Marvel characters — have become something of a holy grail for a subset of collectors, having never been collected. While the property’s profile remains low outside of a certain demographic, inside that demographic, there are few more beloved titles. A new comic book revival was announced by current Transformers and G.I. Joe publisher IDW Publishing at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
How Does It Fit Into A Shared Universe? Part of the original comic book series’ appeal was watching the miniature heroes visit the “regular” world and fight oversized foes. That is something that could easily translate into a new shared existence with, for example, G.I. Joe.
Rom: The Space Knight
The Concept: A cyborg warrior from outer space, arrived on Earth to fight threats that humanity (literally) can’t see.
The Legacy: Parker Brothers’ first foray into action figures was ill-fated, to say the least; the toy, which featured electronic eyes and little ability to move, was a flop when released in 1979. The same wasn’t true of the character’s Marvel comic book, which — like Micronauts — far outstripped its inspiration in terms of longevity, running until 1986. The mythology Marvel created around the character continues to this day, with other Spaceknights appearing in the publisher’s recent Avengers’ storylines.
The Current Awareness: Like Micronauts, the Marvel Rom comics are much-desired by comic book fans, and similarly un-reprinted due to the rights for the material being shared between Marvel and Hasbro, which has owned Parker Brothers since 1991. Arguably, it’s this complicated rights issue that is what Rom is most famous for to most people today. A new comic book revival was announced by current Transformers and G.I. Joe publisher IDW Publishing at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and the character will star in IDW’s 2016 Free Comic Book Day issue.
How Does It Fit Into A Shared Universe? Rom’s entire gimmick is that he’s an unknowable alien who drops out of the skies and starts causing trouble; although he’s not shared a story with any of the other properties in the new cinematic universe yet, he’s perfectly primed to cause trouble as soon as he appears.
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