Between the years 1987 and 1996 writer/illustrator Mark Schultz composed 14 issues of comic brilliance called Xenozoic Tales. I struggle not to sound trite when describing Mark’s visual art and storytelling. I find when rereading Xenozoic Tales, for instance, I get stuck on certain beautiful panels that leave me just shaking my head in awe. In the early 90′s Xenozoic Tales was adapted into an animated TV series. Between 1993-94 the rebranded Cadillacs and Dinosaurs cartoon ran for 13 episodes. Saturday morning cartoons mean toys and Tyco was the one to pick up the license (for better or for worse.)
In my opinion the cartoon did a reasonably good job sticking to the spirit of Xenozioc Tales in that most episodes brought home some valuable lessons regarding concern for our living world. Some episode plot points were pulled directly from the pages of the comic, ie – the issue "Foundling" directly influenced the episode "Wild Child" (written by Marv Wolfman.) Having memorized the visuals of much of Xenozoic Tales I would be tickled when the cartoon would mimic an iconic scene. For instance, Hanna Dundee writing in the boat:
Or the overhead shot of Jack Tenrec confronting the governors in their meeting room:
Unfortunately, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs only made it one season. CBS had scheduled it in a bad slot: 11 a.m. – the time when many local affiliates would switch over to local programming. CBS also had the Winter Olympics that year and often bumped Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. But it seems the real nail in the coffin had to do with something action figure collectors understand well – the toys were not on the shelves when the show debuted.
Although a couple months late Tyco did produce a decent initial offering: 6 figures, 4 dinosaurs (although most were kit bashed from the Dino Riders line,) 3 vehicles, and a playset. I remember Mark telling me once that the best thing to come from the toy line was Jack’s Cadillac. Because the car was a representation of an actual Cadillac Tyco had to have General Motor’s approval! The rest of the toys are average fare for the early 90′s. Each figure has plenty of muscle and a standard 5 points of articulation.
The cartoon itself did a much better job staying true to the characters as Mark Schultz drew them in Xenozioc Tales. Mustapha’s Pittsburgh Pirates hat is replaced with a yellow doo-rag and Jack goes sleeveless to show off a tattoo. Hanna, thank goodness, retains most of her striking style.
The toys stray somewhat further. Jack is pretty close to model, but Mustapha is given a mechanical leg for Pete’s sake! The Hanna Dundee figure is the biggest disappointment in the line. Apparently, Tyco (like many other toy companies) thought female figures were a bad investment and Mark had to fight just to have Hanna included in the line. Tyco included her but you could be forgiven for not realizing it. I don’t remember Hanna having her hair pulled back once throughout the entire cartoon, but the figure has her hair in some kooky French braid. This in itself ruins the figure. Her signature white pants with black stripe are a sickly pale blue. She’s given a huge black wrist band and an overall manly demeanor. What a travesty for one of comic’s sexiest ladies. I never got the "Jungle Fighting Jack" figure because I just can’t bear to see my hero wearing a yellow wife-beater and camo pants.
The bad guys stray more between the comic and cartoon but this is understandable (although Mark’s design of Hammer is downright awesome.) The Terhune brothers actually don’t last very long in Xenozoic Tales. Wrench suffers a particularly memorable death and Hammer only graces one issue. Unless I’m mistaken only these two show up in the comic. The cartoon includes a third brother: Vice. Tyco produced figures of him and Hammer. One would think that their cartoon get-ups are crazy enough but Tyco goes the extra mile by adding face tattoos/scars and funky designs on their pants.
Not to be overlooked are their accessories. To be fair, the massive, spring-loaded "guns" are reminiscent of those used by the characters in the cartoon. Hanna can be seen with her crossbow and Jack actually did cart around a weapon that looks like the silver thing below. The villains have the best stuff, though. I guess chainsaws and wrenches are pretty common but how many figures do you have that came with a bear trap?
I’ve seen a second wave hinted at but know of nothing definite. So I’ll go ahead and give you what I wish had come next. If we were to get 5 more figures this would have been a cool line up:
1) Governor Toulouse
2) Wilhelmina Scharnhorst
4) Gorvernor Dahlgren
and . . .
5) Hobb the Grith!
The influence of this small and perhaps obscure toy line is greater than meets the eye. I recall Mark telling me about a conversation he had with Todd McFarlane. Todd was interested in having action figures created based on the Spawn comic series and so consulted with Mark about his experiences with the Cadillacs and Dinosaurs toys. Seeing what happens when others are given reign with your creation Todd decided to launch McFarlane Toys and do it himself, so to speak.
The Cadillacs and Dinosaurs cartoon referred often to the philosophy Jack and other "old blood mechanics" adhered to called the "machinatio vitae" (machinery of life.) This is basically a respect for the fragile balance that needs to exist between Earth and its inhabitants. Package those important messages together with Dinosaurs and 50′s era cars and you’ve got a cartoon that is worth a damn. So for those who own the rights: why no DVD set yet?
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