November 10, 2011

Takin You Back... Way Back: Bionic Six



Greetings earthlings! So, since I suffered a nice neck and back injury at the gym a few days ago, I stayed home from work a few days and had some time to write! That’s right, I’ve now written two articles in less than a month! This will probably never happen again! I can probably retire now! Anyway, I’m back with another installment of Takin You Back… Way Back; the column where I highlight some of the awesome forgotten toy lines from the greatest decade in the history of the known universe, the 1980’s! Today’s topic is one I've been saving for awhile so I could give it the attention it deserved: The Bionic Six!


**Click after the jump to read more!**



The Bionic Six was a toy line released in 1986 by LJN. The storyline went something like this: Some undisclosed time in the future after 1999, Professor Amadeus Sharp, head of the Special Projects Labs (SPL), creates a new form of technology to augment humans using bionics. His first subject was Jack Bennett, a test pilot who secretly acted as Sharp’s field agent, codenamed Bionic-1. One day while taking his family on a ski vacation in the Himalayas, Bionic-1 encounters an alien spacecraft. The alien creatures attack the family, causing an avalanche that buries them. While buried, the family is also exposed to radiation from a mysterious buried object. The Bionic Six officially have the most convoluted origin story ever. Anyway, Jack frees himself but discovers his family in a comatose state. Realizing that Jack’s bionics protected him from the radiation, Professor Sharp implants bionic technology in the others, awakening them, and giving them all super powers. Afterward, the family does what every family does after discovering their dad is a super-powered secret agent, they become a team of adventuring superheroes, the Bionic Six. So the concept, in corporate douche speak, was the Six Million Dollar Man meets the Brady Bunch meets True Lies (even though True Lies didn't come out until 7 years later) 



As you can see, the family is a group of diverse overachievers, a fact which I found annoyingly PC, even as a 7 year old. Seriously, what is that a friggin Benneton ad? They had an adopted black son AND a Japanese foster kid. They live in a secluded oceanfront home in the fictional city of Cypress Cove, in northern California. Each member wears a special ring and a “wristcomp” (a mini-computer hardwired into the wrist), which they use to activate their bionic powers. In extreme situations, the team could also combine their powers by joining hands, creating a "Bionic Link" to amplify their abilities Each family member had a different super power, aside from the enhanced strength, speed, agility and reflexes they all got from their bionics, (and the nine different areas of expertise they all seemed to already possess before becoming superheroes... like I said, overachievers).



Jack Bennet (Bionic-1) is an engineer, expert test pilot, gourmet cook and secret agent. His powers included x-ray vision, telescopic sight, optic blasts, eye beams that temporarily cause electronic devices to malfunction, and enhanced hearing.

Helen Bennet (Mother-1) is an oceanographer AND marine biologist (because why not?). She possesses various mental powers that allow her to occasionally see the future, telepathically communicate with other sentient and non-sentient beings, determine the function and operation of mechanical devices and project optical illusions.

Erik Bennet (Sport-1) is the shortstop on his high school baseball team. He has magnetic powers - he can attract or repel metallic objects with tremendous force, meld metal objects together, or rip them apart. This force is directional and he can adjust the strength of attraction/repulsion. He also annoyingly talks in baseball jargon and will often use objects as he would a baseball bat, including steel beams and lampposts to redirect incoming objects and energy blasts; infused by the same field that comes from his arms, he can use those ordinarily fragile objects to hit and deflect things they normally could not (for instance, using steel beam to hit an incoming asteroid).

Meg Bennet (Rock-1) is a member of the debate team at high school and uses lots of annoying “futuristic” slang to drive home the point that she’s a ditzy teenager (SO-lar! instead of “awesome” for example). Rock-1 emits sonic blasts from the projectors on her shoulders and also can run at blinding speeds.

J.D. Bennet (IQ) is Jack and Helen's remarkably intelligent, adopted African-American son and an amateur boxer. As IQ, he has both super-strength (he is even stronger than the other, superhumanly-strong members of the team) and super-intelligence. For some reason his codename doesn’t have the number 1 after it.

Bunjiro "Bunji" Bennett, (Karate-1), is Jack and Helen's Japanese foster son. He was placed under their guardianship after his own father disappeared 10 years ago. Bunji is an avid karate enthusiast. As Karate-1, he has enhanced martial arts skills, made more formidable when applying his bionics. He definitely got the shitty end of the stick, power-wise. The others are punching meteors and running at the speed of light; he’s doing katas really well and is now the top student in his Tiger Schulman class.

Because the family wasn’t exceptional enough, they also have a robot gorilla named F.L.U.F.F.I. as a housekeeper, who of course also helps them on their adventures.

Professor Sharp rounds out the team, (but he never got a figure). All of his research is supported by the government, and his work fell under the supervision of the government agency Q10.  He lives alone in his own private museum (of course he has a private museum, who doesn't?), which houses his secret Special Projects Lab, the Bionic Six’s secret base. Naturally - because why limit yourself to just 2 or 3 super complex fields of expertise - Professor Sharp excels in the fields of aeronautics, animatronics,  archaeology,  bionics, and neurology.



The main villain of the series is a mad scientist known as Doctor Scarab who is really Professor Sharp’s fat ass brother, Wilmer. Dr. Scarab is obsessed with obtaining eternal life and also ruling the world (because even the bad guys in this series are ridiculous overachievers).



Along with his gang of henchmen and his legion of drone robots called Cyphrons, Scarab plots to steal his brothers bionic technology, believing it to be the key to both of his goals. His henchmen all seem to possess lesser forms of the same bionics as the Bionic Six have, but to also have been physically altered by their transformations. They activate their, powers by punching the green jewel embedded in their chest and saying “Hail Scarab” (except Scarab, who would actually say “Hail Me”).

Dr. Scarab’s right eye has been modified with a monocle that can scan for bionics, even when they are disguised, and a destructive, high-powered beam. He also has enhanced strength.

Glove is a purple-skinned villain named for his left-handed blaster glove which is capable of firing both beams and projectiles. He is Dr. Scarab’s field leader and (like the 2nd in command villain in every 80’s cartoon)  constantly seeks to replace Dr. Scarab as leader. Aside from his glove, Glove has super strength.

Madame-O is a blue-skinned female who wears a full face mask and uses a harp-like weapon to fire sonic blasts. She annoyingly ends many of her statements with the word "...dahling." She also has super strength, and appeared to be an elderly woman before Scarab modified her.

Mechanic is a dim-witted, childish brute who employs various mechanical tools as weapons nail guns, throwing circular saw blades, using a large wrench as a club, etc. Despite his a short-tempered nature, he has a soft spot for animals and cartoons.

Chopper is a pale green skinned, chain-wielding thug who makes sounds mimicking a revving motorcycle and rides a three-wheeled motorcycle vehicle.

Klunk is a monstrosity who appears to be made of living glue (or maybe Dr. Scarab’s jizz), who he rarely speaks a coherent sentence. Immediately after his creation, Scarab noted to himself to "use a little less power next time.” While relatively unintelligent, he is considered one of the most dangerous opponents to engage in battle due to his unparalleled strength (he is stronger than I.Q), high resistance to physical attacks and his gooey body's ability to engulf his opponent. Unlike the other minions of Dr. Scarab, he is horrified by his own transformation and longs to be human again.


The toy line consisted of 13 figures (Jack, Helen, J.D., Eric, Meg, Bunji, F.L.U.F.F.I., Doctor Scarab, Glove, Mechanic, Madame-O, Chopper, and Klunk), five vehicles and one playset. I HATED these figures as a kid. At first I thought they were cool since they were scaled at 3&3/4 inches like G.I. Joes, and made primarily of diecast metal, which meant they were heavy, sturdy, and could be used to defend yourself if you needed to. The bionics in the figures’ limbs were rendered in translucent colored plastic, which was a nice effect.  Now all of this sounds cool, but here’s why I hated them. To activate their bionics, the Six would insert their rings into their wrist comps, and the bad guys punch their chests, right? Yeah, well unfortunately, LJN didn’t bother to articulate the arms so that either motion could be mimicked by the toys! They (like pre “swivel-arm battle grip G.I. Joes) only bent at the elbow. No bicep swivel here. Hasbro had that shit all figured out back in 1982, so there was just no excuse for it in 1986! Plus I remember the case assortments were kind of wacky, so some figures warmed the pegs while others were super rare. Still, I’m pretty sure I had (and still have, in the same big box as all my Marvel Comics figures) every figure except Dr. Scarab and Klunk. 


The vehicles were all pretty cool, especially the MULES van, which could store and launch the Bionic 6's other mini vehicles; the Bionic Dirt Bike and the Quad Runner (note to action figure manufacturers: large vehicles that store smaller vehicles are really friggin cool). The other two vehicles, the laser chair and Dr. Scarab's laser throne, could shoot "laser beams" at each other and a sensor on the vehicle would make pieces explode off the toy, to mimick battle damage. Finally the playset, Professor Sharp's lab, was like most 80's action figure playsets, AMAZING. Look at that thing. That's prime action figure real estate! It had an elevator, a lookout tower, a rotating "experiment table" with electronic Bionic Beam Projector, ionizer cannon, force shields, a secret wall leading to the museum, a prison cell and an opening central control cylinder. Seriously, I wish my house had half this stuff! (thanks to Virtual Toychest, the only place on the net with any good pics of this thing).





The toy line was supported by a cartoon and some picture books. The cartoon was really good (for an 80’s toy cartoon, anyway) and lasted 2 seasons and 65 episodes. The show was really ahead of its time, it had a lot of continuity, a compelling storyline, and the style and animation were way more reminiscent of Japanese anime than that of a standard American cartoon.  A comic book was announced for 1988 by independent publisher New Comics Group, but it never materialized. Although the cartoon aired until November 1989, by late 88 the toy line had run its course, and by that time toy stores were increasingly reluctant to give shelf space to any toy not called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.



So what killed the Bionic Six? Was it the really horrible package art (above)? Nah, it really was Leo, Mike, Don and Raph. The Turtles were such a juggernaut at the tail end of the 80's that almost nothing else survived. I may also do a whole article on how the action figure industry changed by the end of the 80's if I ever break a bone or manage to cripple myself somehow (so I have the time to actually do the research) Also, I wonder if the series didn't limit itself artificially by calling itself the Bionic 6. You can't really add heroes to the team without changing the name of the whole toyline. Whatever the reason, despite the lack of articulation in the toys, the Bionic 6 really was a bright shining star in the galaxy of forgotten 80's toys.



 JoeyESQ can often be seen smashing himself in the chest and exclaiming "hail me!" When he's not nursing strained muscles and writing about toys here, you can find him ranting on his own blog Perpetual Dissatisfaction.

5 comments:

  1. Bionics, ON! ON! ON! ON!... this show rocked

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  2. Excellent read as usual, kid. I really get immersed in the toyline when you revisit them.

    When you said that Scarab used to say "Hail Me!" I completely heard his voice echoing in my head from the cartoon.

    A few things of note:

    Whattya think was with all the 1's? Were they so p.c. that they couldn't just say that the Mother was 2, and the sister was 3? They can't all be 1!! if they were having issues thinking of how to expand the toyline they should have just made 2's & 3's. Mother-2 could have just been a completely different person...Rock 2 & 3 could have been band members. C'mon LJN put your thinking caps on! (BTW Moter-1 is a cool fuckin' nickname)

    Maybe they didn't call IQ 'IQ-1' becaused it sounds like they were implying the onlu black character had the I.Q. of 1. Maybe it's best they strayed from that.

    I'm glad you mentioned the excitement about these being 3 3/4in. I remember feeling happy that there was finally another figureline that was the exact same size as G.I. Joe after so many others that were just a little off, one way or another, in size.

    I also remember thinking how the look of Meg's character was completely capitalizing on the success of America's sweetheart, at the time, Meg Ryan. And The father looked increasingly similar to Gil Gerard aka Buck Rogers.

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  3. Oh I definitely agree with both the Gil Gerard and Meg Ryan resemblances, because they're spot on. The Mother-1 codename is cool, but it always bothered me; Jack Bennett isn't "Father-1" after all. It just never made much sense to me.

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  4. I always liked these toys. Good read.

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  5. I had one of these, Jack, and he was heavy as shit. I rememeber my friends and I having battles with our toys. Like literal battles. We would just sit around and throw different things at each other. But the Bionic Six toys were off limits. We dubbed them "hurt toys."

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