Wednesday, February 23, 2011


When I was a little kid in 1985 I had a hard time liking the cartoon genre I call "bitchy Japanese space princess superspaceship war stories". These were sci-fi cartoons from Japan that usually took place in highly advanced civilizations where robotic war technology was light years beyond what we had in the 1980s. The most common of these settings were a) outer space future, b) post-apocalyptic earth future, or c) Japan 1999. The stories focused on heroes with crazy hair that flew around in superspaceships and other fantastic fighting vehicles (that may or may not have been robots) while they fought some sort of alien menace. Those might sound like the makings of a mega awesome sci-fi franchise, but even all of that awesomeness would get negated by the presence of every show's bitchy space princess character! They all had one! If she wasn't actually a spoiled space princess she'd act like one and ruin everything! The last thing I wanted to watch when I was a kid was some icky space girl crying a lot and kissing people (which is what they did when they weren't being bitchy). Battle of the Planets, Star Blazers, Robotech and even Voltron are all bitchy Japanese space princess superspaceship war stories. Voltron was probably the most unbearable of all because of that bratty Princess Allura and all her drama and crying and cutesy pet mice, but the lesson here is that if you put a giant robot made of space lions in it I'll put up with anything.


Pre-adolescent me just couldn't appreciate the added dimensions of intrigue and romance that are unique to a bitchy space princess story and it killed my enjoyment of what were otherwise great sci-fi cartoons. Star Blazers I loved but I found Robotech boring, Voltron barely watchable and didn't even give Battle of the Planets a try. I always thought it would be awesome if someone would do a bitchy Japanese space princess superspaceship war story but just cut out the bitchy Japanese space princess and concentrate on the superspaceship and the war and the fantastic vehicles (that may or may not have been robots). Then in 1993 a cartoon came out that did just that-ExoSquad. ExoSquad had all the elements that I loved in an outer space alien war cartoon but without the bitchy space princesses. It was the superspaceship war story done exactly as I always wanted. I loved it immediately, which of course is the kiss of death and it got canceled after the second season. Suddenly I knew for whom the bitchy space princess cries.


In 1993 I was 19 and at the end of my comic book collecting phase but I still have a lot of comics catalogs and order forms from that time. What's weird about me when I was a comics fan was how the amount of comic book related material I accumulated outweighs the amounts of comics I collected. I guess I have always liked marketing hype more than product. This is fortunate because it was in late '93 that there was supposed to have been an ExoSquad comic book mini series released by Topps comics. They made an issue 0 but nothing else and sifting through my collected rubble of comic catalogs that chronicled ExoSquad's demise and digging on the internet revealed no real answers as to why the book got canceled. This is on my mind because this weekend at WizardWorld Miami I'll have a chance to meet Renee Witterstaeter, who was the ExoSquad comic's editor. Just for fun I dug out my old issues of Previews and I found the solicitations for ExoSquad #0 through 3 so hopefully I can have a somewhat informed conversation with her about the comic and ask her some questions. Because when it comes to this book there are quite a few questions to ask.

The earliest solicitation for the comic was issue #0 from November 1993, which means it would have shipped January 1994. ExoSquad's first cartoon season ran from September to December of '93 and it would return in fall '94 so the series wasn't dead by this point. Strangely enough, #0 was the only issue ever produced and it was a lot different from what was written here. This ad describes the story as a prologue to the cartoon, but the actual issue zero is almost a direct retelling of the events from the first one and a half episodes of season 1. So in reality there was no prequel ever published and the only place it's talked about is in these promo blurbs. It's interesting to imagine what the prologue story would have been and luckily the ads for the next few issues describe where it would have gone.

With the solicitation for issue one in December '93 it became clear that the book was going to be a 3 issue limited series not including the zero issue. Len Wein (the writer who created Wolverine along with artist Herb Trimpe) was credited with scripting the ExoSquad prequel and he did write issue 0 even if it was almost a direct translation of the cartoon narrative at times. A truly original story scripted by Wein would really have been great. It looks like the ExoSquad comic was going to focus on the formation of Able Squad, J.T. Marsh's band of fighters from the cartoon. I'd never heard the name Mace Corbitt before so that was a bit of a mystery. At first I thought he may have been a team leader who was replaced by J.T. Marsh later on in the story but I'm thinking Corbitt was just an early name for the J.T. Marsh character until they decided to change it. I believe this would have been the cover to issue #1. There is a little uncertainty as to whether issue 1 got published or not. Online comic shop Mile High Comics lists it on order forms (but I have never seen one in stock there) and other stores don't know for sure if it came out but leave it a possibility on their lists.

Issue two sounds like it would have been a lot of fun with Nara betraying the team and going over to the pirates, which feels out of character based on her cartoon characterization. I wonder if that was just going to be a fake out and she was playing double agent all along? J.T./Mace gets taken captive by the Neosapiens, who shouldn't be waging war on humanity yet since this is a prequel to the cartoon set after the first Neosapien uprising. That the Neos have space battalions actively attacking members of Exofleet confuses me since the Neo's military capabilities were supposed to have been a surprise they unleashed at the beginning of the war. At any rate, the promo for issue two mentions that Michael Golden's association with the book as cover artist doing special blue line covers. The blue line process was a way artists in the 80s and 90s would be able to create covers that looked like they were painted waaay before photoshop came along. I believe this would have been the cover to issue #2.

Issue three's description indicates that all out war is being waged between the Neosapiens and humans at this point despite my doubts that that's possible in a prequel to the cartoon timeline. Maybe it could be taking place during the first Neosapien uprising which occurred 50 years before the cartoon story but that would make many of the characters way too old for how they look. The artwork in this ad did make it to the cover of issue zero and the awesome cover of Phaeton in his exo suit crushing the Earth intended for issue three can usually be found at this page (but it hasn't been working as of late). The ad mentions 52 new episodes of the show were in production and that makes the demise of the comic all the more mysterious. Later issues of Previews would report the cancellation of books 2 and 3 so I'm fairly certain those did not get published but I'm looking forward to asking Renee what the real story behind the demise of this comic mini series was.

Everything kind of came full circle near the end of ExoSquad when the toyline began releasing old Matchbox Robotech toys under the ExoSquad banner. It was these rereleases that got me interested in those old Japanamations I used to cringe at when I was a kid. I will always remember ExoSquad fondly because it was the last new sci-fi series I liked before I went back in my twenties and gave those bitchy Japanese space princess superspaceship war stories a try. Being older I was a little more mature and better able to survive cartoons about going on dates with Lynn Minmei that filled the lonely minutes between the robotical action I was really interested in. But just barely. I always kind of wished somebody would make another ExoSquad. Or just go ahead and do Robotech again but please, hold off on all the icky kissing!


Shawn Robare said...

Yeah, I kept hoping Rick Hunter would have just dropped Minmei by "accident" and step on her with his Veritech. Oops! Don't even get me started on her weird relationship with Lynn Kyle.

It's weird, I've never seen an episode of Exo Squad, but I did buy a bunch of the later toys (mainly the rereleased Robotech stuff,, in particular the Invid Shocktrooper and the Drone.) That was a weird time for me toy and cartoon-wise. Though I was overdosing on Robotech, my cartoon watching almost completely consisted of sketch comedy fare like tiny Tunes and Animaniacs. As for toys, this was a time when I was heavily disillusioned as all the lines I grew up collecting were dead or dying and there were barely any toys that reflected my new love of comics.

The early 90s just feel like one big awkward school dance that I have a hard time revisiting...

Evil King Macrocranios said...

My favorite terrible Robotech episode is one where Rick is supposed to meet Lisa for a lunch date and he gets in some robot fight and he stands her up. Well I should remember the awesome robot fight but the only impression I have of that episode was Lisa waiting around on the patio of some coffee shop for an eternity. It's almost hilarious how they'd keep cutting back to her and she's doing nothing at all. Then she finally gets up an leaves and the show ends. Oh god it was awful.

My only complaint about ExoSquad is that it's animated in that early 90s X-Men cartoon style, which makes it look like a moving comic book animated by really lazy cartoonists. At the time I loved it exactly because it looked like a comic but I've come to not like that style.

The 90s were when I abandoned collecting toys and comics in favor of European heavy metal and I don't regret it at all.


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