My video collection is so big that I have videos on three racks and still need an additional shelf and the floor to hold it all. Even switching video tapes with DVD versions won’t clear up all the mess (especially the video tapes that may NEVER have a DVD release) so I should go through them as well. Already I can think of a few I’m willing to let go of. So is Action Man: Space Wars one of those videos?

Since media reviews can be crossed over with the “Scanning My Collection” article series over at BW Media Spotlight, my other blog, these reviews will be done in that format instead of the style I’ve used in the toy reviews.

Action Man: Space Wars
FORMAT: DVD/animated series
RUNNING TIME: 68 minutes
PRODUCER: DIC Entertainment, released by Sterling Entertainment
STARRING: Mark Griffin, Rolf Leenders, Joley Collins, Gary Chalk, Dale Wilson, and Richard Cox
STYLE: 4 collected episodes
RELEASE DATE: Unknown, only the copyright date for the show, 1995, is given.

Action Man was a syndicated animated series, at least here in the states, based on a toyline done in the style of the original G.I. Joe line. I never collected the toy but as a…well, kid wouldn’t be accurate…I enjoyed the show, so when I saw the video for $5 at Family Dollar, I decided to get it.

I wonder if it says "Action Man" on his driver's license, too.

The series follows the title character, who has amnesia and decides to take up a nickname instead of a real name. For reasons that probably only make sense on a kids cartoon show, Action Man is put in charge of an elite group charged with bringing down his nemesis, Dr. X (Leenders). The team includes Kunck (Dale Wilson), a tough as nails soldier who likes to get rough with the bad guys, Natalie (Collins), the obligatory kick-ass female that became a requirement in action shows starting in the 90’s while still making early teenage boys wonder why their pants were getting tight, and Jacques (Cox), the obligatory wheelchair-bound high-tech genius. For Transformers fans, think Chip Chase with a heavy French (possibly French-Canadian) accent.

Sent out each week by Security Director Norris (Chalk), Team Extreme operates out of Station Extreme in Jet Extreme (anybody notice a pattern?) to handle X and his “Skullmen” forces. Often aided by his mutated scientist, Gangreen (David Hay), Dr. X (himself a cyborg with a ridiculously large ponytail, eyepatch, and his guts showing) is your typical rule-the-world madman. This is why I miss syndicated cartoons.

The DVD itself contains four episodes from the series, all using the theme of outer space. Here is a brief rundown:

  • “We Came In Peace”: Dr X builds a fake spaceship, pretends to be a space alien, and attacks the important unnamed city Norris’ office is in. Why he would need to fake being an alien with a ship this powerful, who knows, but the scientist who invented the key component doesn’t like being betrayed by X and helps the team, thus showing how stupid X was in not simply killing him off (kids show, I know), kidnapping him, or somehow paying him off. It’s a cool spaceship design, and maybe one of the stronger episodes of the disk.
  • “Satellite Down”: A satellite containing codes for all the major defense systems of the world (how was that a good idea again?) crashes in the Arctic. Team Extreme and X’s forces race to retrieve the satellite, which land in the obligatory (there’s that word again) hidden tropical paradise that has never heard of the outside world. It’s cliche as heck, but still fun if all you want to see is action. (Which makes sense since the show IS called Action Man. Really, you get a lot of action and not a lot of story, except for the series subplot I’ll get to in a moment.)
  • “Skynap”: Dr X has been creating a war between two unnamed nations, but now they’re ready to sign a peace treaty. Dr X uses the opportunity to kidnap Director Norris (where’s his brother, Chuck, when you need him?) and then take control of Station Extreme. Action Man uses pseudo-Tron technology to trick X into abandoning the station, because even science and the laws of physics can’t handle the raw¬† power of Action Man! It’s one of those episodes you can only enjoy as a kid.
  • “Space Wars”: The final episode on the disk, and the one used for the DVD’s subtitle, has Dr X and Gangreen stealing the space shuttle and reaching an abandoned military space station called a “stealth satellite”. X has a cannon that he can use to bombard the Earth from Space and with Jet Extreme damaged (because X can apparently arm a space shuttle in operation within a couple hours tops) our heroes have to use Station Extreme to attack the military satellite. Again, more action that plot.

If this were my brother, I'd probably develop amnesia, too.

There is a series subplot, however, and one lost with this DVD. As I stated, Action Man has amnesia, but sometimes events can trigger memories of his past, usually his childhood, which us adults who have seen all the tropes can assume indicates that Dr. X and Action Man knew each other as kids, and that X could even be AM’s brother. These clues would be gathered together at the end of the episode, which leads to something missing on this disk…the live-action segments.

Mark Griffin, who voiced Action Man, would also portray the character in stunt-show style openings for the episode. UK readers have seen more of his acting career (although he has appeared on US shows such as NCIS and the soap opera Days of Our Lives) may also know him as “Trojan” from Gladiators, the British version of our American Gladiators (so we’ve seen him during the world team-up shows and probably made fun of his name being similar to a condom–just not to his face because most of our morons still realize the necessity of breathing to survive). The stunt segments were something out of a Universal Studios stunt performance (and I think were actually filmed there) and while offering nothing to the plot were cool to watch. (The live-action Skullmen costumes worked better than you’d think…well, for a kids show anyway.)

At the end of the episode, Action Man would again go live-action to hook himself into a virtual reality system and try to compare the memory flashbacks from the episode with other clues he picked up in earlier episodes. I can understand these being dropped because creating this kind of continuity link would interfere with the theme, but why lose the stunt segments in the beginning? It’s like the kids at home are going to try to jump a boat over henchmen and explosions. It was even exercised from the opening credits on the disk. I found the picture I used in this article by going to YouTube, where a posted episode had the credits part but still didn’t have the actual stunt segments. Is there a story I don’t know about? I went to Jaroo.com, the website owned by DIC and their recently acquired property Cookie Jar Entertainment, and they have all four of these episodes up. Again, no live-action.

Mark Griffin not only voiced Action Man, but played him in person.

As for the video itself, this was a cheap DVD (my theory is they were testing the waters for a full-series release, as other DIC shows have been released this way and ended up with a full-series release) so I don’t expect a lot of extras. This has interactive menus (most DVDs do outside of give-away promos or homemade stuff), “episode access”, and languages in English and Spanish. The audio and video quality are pretty good, although there’s no hint of being remastered. Still, the best prints appear to have been used.

At the very least it’s better than the Fox Kids computer animated series of 2000’s, which is hard for me to say since that series was produced by Mainframe (now Rainmaker) Entertainment, the Pixar of sci-fi kids Saturday Morning/syndicated TV. (Not in Pixar’s league, mind you, but the best computer animation studio producing kids TV.) If they release the full series, I probably wouldn’t get it unless the live-action segments returned and the video placed in order to follow the flashbacks. It’s not a bad show, but I wouldn’t have paid more than the $5 Family Dollar had it for. Unless your nostalgic for the show, or an internet reviewer, I can’t really recommend it unless you want a cheap babysitter for your action-loving child. I’ll probably hold on to my copy just for the heck of it.

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