In response to other companies like Remco with their Karate Kid and Coleco with their Rambo toys, Kenner decided that they needed a line that would roundhouse kick the competition. So, they turned to the then-rising action star, Chuck Norris. This American karate master had made a name for himself when he battled against the incomparable Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon. By the time the 80s were in full swing, he had starred in R-rated films like Missing in Action and The Delta Force.
Even though Kenner decided that Chuck Norris would be the perfect centerpiece for their new toy line, they needed to dress him up so he would become a hit with the kids. So, they invented a brand new take on the man, Chuck Norris would star as himself in Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos.
To help sell their toy line, Kenner turned to Ruby-Spears Enterprises which would produce a 5-part mini-series in 1986. The series centered around a fictionalized version of Chuck Norris who acted as a government operative. To help him accomplish his missions, he assembled a specialized team, the Karate Kommandos.
The team was filled with a diverse cast, each of which brought in a unique skill. There was Pepper who acted as the team’s mechanic and technology expert. Then there was Kimo, a samurai warrior that specialized in bushido. Next, there was a sumo wrestler on the team, Two younger members rounded up the team: Chuck Norris’s apprentice, Reed, and his young ward, Too Much.
Their main foes came from the VULTURE organization, which followed the lead of Claw. Standing at his side was the fearsome warrior, Super Ninja.
The team took on missions that sent them to all corners of the earth, including the ocean. They even fought off VULTURE in outer space. For the final episode, the Karate Kommandos traveled to Vodoo Island and had to contend against zombies.
The episodes began with live-action segments that starred Chuck Norris, who introduced the plot for the episode. He then returned at the end of the episodes to expound on the moral lesson. Aside from appearing in these live-action segments, Chuck Norris also provided the voice for his animated incarnation.
The series also appeared in comic book form. Star Comics, a subsidiary of Marvel, began publishing the series drawn by Steve Ditko in July 1987. Like the cartoon series, this run was short-lived and lasted only 4 issues. On the other hand, this comic series depicted Chuck Norris with blonde hair instead of the brown hair he had in the cartoon.
Meanwhile, Kenner hit the toy aisle with the karate-powered toy line for Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. Unlike the toys that put Kenner on the map, the 3 ¾” scale Star Wars, Kenner decided to make these new toys at a 5” scale. These toys were small enough to still fit on card backs. However, they were more expensive than some of their greatest competition, like G.I. Joe.
The toy line was successful enough to garner two series. The first series of action figures included three different Chuck Norris action figures. One wore battle armor, the other had a kung fu training gi, and the final one was an undercover agent. There were also action figures of Kimo, Reed Smith, Tabe, Super Ninja, and a Ninja Warrior.
Meanwhile, the second series only had two different action figures: a Ninja Serpent and a Ninja Master. Not only were there few figures in the second series, but they were both recolors of prior toys. Ninja Serpent was a repaint of Super Ninja while Ninja Master was a repaint of Ninja Warrior.
To help bring the action of the cartoon series home, each of these action figures had an action feature. Some would kick while others swung their weapons. No matter which figure, they all were ready to show off their karate moves. These toys also came with weapons, like katana blades and spears that broke into two smaller weapons.
Kenner also created a vehicle for Chuck Norris and his gang to ride in. This was the Karate Corvette. This vehicle featured an Onokamo fender blade, a trampoline spoiler, and shinobi slicers.
While Chuck Norris continued to grow in popularity over the decades, the Karate Kommandos did not follow him. Instead, this toy line remained in the 1980s. There have been no signs of any company planning to revive either the cartoon series or the toys.
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