As the He-Man craze was dying off, Mattel decided to take a chance on Captain Power to introduce a brand-new way to play. This toy line was intricately tied to the television series that helped to promote it. Using an emerging light-sensor technology, the two products could interact with each other in ways previously unheard of. So, the success of both relied on the success of the other.
Captain Power was dreamed up by Gary Goddard, who was helping Mattel bring Masters of the Universe to the silver screen. He came up with the name, believing that it was catchy, and became pleasantly surprised to discover that no prior creator had used the name. He worked alongside one of his partners from his days at Disney, Tony Christopher, to fully flesh out the series. Once they felt confident in the product, they turned to Mattel to help create the toys for this new science fiction story.
Meanwhile, Mattel had been developing a brand new light-sensor technology that they felt would herald in a new era for toys. Like laser tag toys that had also been recently developed, this laser interactivity would react to specific strobing lights to activate sounds and score counters. So, when they learned about Captain Power’s science fiction setting, they saw the perfect product to help usher in this new technology.
Working with Landmark Entertainment Group, Mattel helped fund a brand new television series that would incorporate these strobing lights. While they made certain that there would be short segments, around 30 seconds to 3 minutes long, with the specialized light effects, they did not force the production to focus on these segments. Thus, they were allowed to concentrate on presenting a compelling story.
With the assistance of writers like J. Michael Straczynski, who later developed Babolyn 5, Marc Scot Zicree developed the live-action series. While this series aired alongside Saturday Morning cartoons and other children’s entertainment, it featured a mature tone that was usually aimed at young adults. Its live-action mixed with computer-generated animation presentation made the conflicts feel even more visceral. Combined with the unique interactivity, the series quickly gained attention for better or worse.
The series was set in the 22nd century, in a dystopian future vision of America that had been ravaged by a war that humanity lost. Years before, wars had been fought using advanced machines, called Bio-Mechs. To prevent senseless war and destruction, two scientists had worked on creating the most sophisticated AI seen to date, Overlord, that would oversee and control all of the Bio-Mechs. Dissatisfied with the rate of progression, one of these scientists, Dr. Taggard, decided to directly connect himself with the machine network.
Not long after Dr. Taggart plugged himself into the network, he formed a sense of megalomania that led to his desire for machines to take over the world. His ambitions were supported by Overlord, which allowed them to kick off the devastating Machine Wars. While Dr. Taggart received life-altering injuries at the end of the war, leading to his rebirth as the cyborg leader of the Bio-Dread Empire, Lord Dread, the machines won the war as humanity went into hiding.
Meanwhile, his fellow scientist, Dr. Stuart Gordon Power, wanted nothing more than the safety of humanity and peace. So, he fought against Dr. Taggart until he died in a final assault that devastated his former colleague. Despite his failure to rid the world of Dr. Taggart’s evil, he left behind advanced technology that would give humanity hope.
Dr. Power’s gift to the resistance forces, named the “Soldiers of the Future”, was the development of advanced Power Suits that made the wearer akin to a one-man army. He also developed a benevolent AI, Mentor, that would help guide his son, Johnathan Power. Not only was this AI one of the few machines friendly to humanity, but it also used a projection of its creator, Dr. Power.
With these tools, Johnathan Power formed a specialized unit, the Power Team, to help combat the Bio-Dread Empire and their Bio-Mechs. From their Power Base, a former NORAD installation hidden within the Rocky Mountains, the team hoped to overthrow Lord Dread and thwart his “Project New Order”. While the team’s base was in the Rocky Mountains, they easily could travel across the nation with transit gates.
Each member of the Power Team had a specialized skill that made them a valuable asset. Major Matthew “Hawk” Masterson was the team’s aerial combat specialist. Then, there was Lieutenant Michael “Tank” Ellis, who was a ground-based fighter. Sergeant Robert “scout” Baker was the team’s espionage and communications expert. Finally, there was Corporal Jennifer “Pilot” Chase, the team’s tactical systems expert.
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future began airing on September 30, 1987. Its series easily became one of the most expensive endeavors of its time. Each episode cost around one million dollars to produce. Since Mattel was subsidizing the production costs, they poured around 22 million dollars into the production. Mattel had hoped that the expenses would help develop a highly successful toy line. Unfortunately, their hopes did not pan out.
Knowing that both the series and the toys depended on each other, Mattel made certain that the toys were ready in time for the series to air. This toy line featured multiple 3 ¾” action figures that could connect to light-sensor-enabled bases. However, the most interactive, and expensive part of the line was the vehicles. These $40 toys were the main parts of the line that featured the light sensor technology. With this technology, the toys could score players based on whether they hit targets or avoided obstacles on the screen
The first series featured action figures of Captain Power, Lt. Tank Ellis, Major Hawk Masterson, Lord Dread, Soaron Sky Sentry, and Blastarr Ground Guardian. In response to the strong early response to the series, Mattel quickly produced a small second series of toys for the line. The second series had action figures for Sergeant Scout Baker, Corporal Pilot Chase, Colonel Stingray Johnson, and Tritor.
Alongside the action figures was a strong selection of vehicles and playsets. The first series had these vehicles: Phantom Striker, Interlocker, Dread Stalker, Powerjet XT-7, Power-On Energizer, and the Magna Cycle. Meanwhile, the playsets were the Trans-Field Communication Station, Trans-Field Base Station, and Power Base. The second series only had a few vehicles and small playsets. They were the A.T.R. Mobile Proton Cannon, Wind-Up Sauron Beam Deflector, and the Mobile Skybike Launcher.
To herald in the franchise, Mattel released an XT-7 jet that was accompanied by a VHS tape. Eventually, the toy line had three video tapes that they could interact with: “Future Force Training”, “Bio-Dread Strike Mission”, and “Raid On Volcania”. Unlike the show, these cassettes featured animated sequences that were filmed to mimic a first-person perspective from a cockpit.
Unfortunately, both the toys and the series gained controversy not long after it became a hit. By the time the first 22-episode season came to an end, it became clear to Mattel that they were not receiving a return on their investment. Thus, the plans for the second 18-22 episode season of the series, which had drafted scripts, were scrapped. This cancelation also caused Continuity Comics to cancel their planned comic book series.
Before Captain Power completely vanished, Office Software produced two versions of a video game for the series. First, they released a PC version of the game in 1987. Then, they released the game on the Commodore 64 in 1988.
Captain Power had a brief moment of hope for a return in the 2010s. In 2012, Garry Goddard announced plans to revive the series, as reported by Ain’t It Cool News. He had planned to call the reboot Phoenix Rising. While a teaser trailer for Pheonix Rising appeared on YouTube and at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2016, it has remained in production limbo.
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