It may not be tradition for you to get the day off work, but Oct. 8 marks an important, yet peculiar anniversary: Thirty years ago today, Marvel Action Universe debuted in syndication. Although the series didn’t receive the market penetration other cartoons of the era did, it’s still remembered if only for just how odd it was, and for introducing Pryde of the X-Men.
Decades before its heroes had a shot at starring in feature films, Marvel Comics’ parent company, Cadence Industries, in 1981 purchased what remained of animation production studio DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and renamed it Marvel Productions (fans of the era still remember the studio’s ID tag, a CGI Spider-Man leaping atop Marvel’s logo). Former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter has indicated the animation staff’s unhappiness with the change. After all, at the time comics were simply the dregs of the entertainment industry, not something the producers of Return to the Planet of the Apes would choose to associate themselves with.
That attitude shifted with the promotion of Margaret Loesch to president and chief executive officer of Marvel Productions. Recognizing the value of the Marvel brand, Loesch fought to bring accurate adaptations of the company’s characters to television. Broadcast networks weren’t quite ready in the late 1980s, but programmers were hungry for toy-centric action properties. So, in 1988, Marvel Action Universe premiered … with no original Marvel cartoons.
The Only Heroes Without Toylines? Marvel’s
However, the Dino-Riders, stars of a new Tyco toyline, were there, as was Robocop, the unlikely star of a kid-friendly adaptation of a movie so violent the MPAA initially rejected it. (He was also the star of a popular late-’80s toyline.) There was also Spider-Man — or at least reruns of the wall-crawler’s 1981 syndicated animated series. Properties that had nothing to do with Marvel received the bulk of the budget.
Marvel did finally open its wallet to produce one original comics property, however, with the budget for a final Robocop episode reportedly diverted toward a pilot. And, given the success of a certain comics franchise, Marvel had large hopes for this one.
But the look…
Pryde of the X-Men debuted in 1989, during the second season of Marvel Action Universe, with slick animation from Japanese studio Toei and character designs by the legendary Russ Heath. Marvel certainly banked heavily on this pilot.
Unfortunately, the care that went into the animation wasn’t present in the story. The plot has a young Kitty Pryde respond to a voice in her head, calling her to a mysterious school. There, she discovers a team of fellow mutants, the X-Men. Their chief rivals, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, launch an attack shortly after her arrival. Kitty, eventually, finds the courage to help her new friends defeat the Brotherhood’s leader, Magneto.
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