During the late 80’s and much of the 90’s many anthropomorphic characters came along to ride the wave of popularity launched by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were many imitators, most of them failures, but Bucky O’Hare was different.
Bucky could at least boast that he was conceived before the famed heroes in a half-shell. Created in the late 70’s by comic artist Larry Hama, Bucky pre-dates the turtles by almost a decade though he never saw print until the mid 80’s so who knows how much he changed in between. Like the turtles, Bucky was green and the hero of his own book. Unlike the turtles, Bucky’s world existed in a parallel universe and his adventure was a space opera, not unlike a certain movie created by George Lucas.
The Star Wars parallels are actually quite numerous. A small and perhaps arrogant government is overthrown by an evil empire. Here that empire is composed entirely of toads. Instead of a Death Star, their main source of offense is the bulbous toad mother ship (which also gets destroyed after the series’ first major story arch before being re-built) which houses an army of storm troopers and Tie fighter-like toad double bubbles.
Humans do not exist in this “Aniverse,” but unlikely hero Willy DuWitt finds himself accidentally transported to the Aniverse when his home-made photon accelerator malfunctions. Willy is the stereotypical nerd. He’s picked on by bullies and mostly an outcast even though he’s a smart and good kid. Smart would be an understatement as his IQ passes the line of absurd on more than one occasion during the course of the animated series as he’s able to repair pretty much anything.
The animated series is where most of my Bucky acumen lies. I do have a copy of the original trade paperback that spawned the series. The two mediums are pretty similar to one another. There are a few character differences here and there, most notably the characters of Bruiser and Toadborg (the series’ Darth Vader) who were added for television. The cartoon also caters more to its target demographic, children, to the detriment of older viewers.
That approach may be what doomed the series to only one season of 13 episodes.
The plot lines were fairly mature for a cartoon with a dose of politics thrown in that must have been boring for most kids. At the same time, the short running time of each episode forced the writers to cram a lot into each episode, in effect, dumbing things down in the process. Even the opening story line which occurs over the series’ first three episodes feels rushed at many points. In episode 4, “Home, Swampy, Home,” Bucky journeys to see his mentor with the visit culminating in one not so subtle line and no on screen appearance.
Perhaps this was a case of the writers and directors making do with what they had. They tried to cut out the superfluous stuff to keep things moving and to give each episode its own beginning, middle, and end. At the same time, it would be interesting to see how someone else would tackle the source material if given the chance.
At any rate, Bucky O’Hare really appealed to me as a kid and I was devastated when the series was quietly cancelled. I had every action figure and vehicle put out by Hasbro, as well as other assorted pieces of merchandise. Bucky even had a fairly popular NES game that was affectionately referred to as the Konami Mega Man. Though like most games of its era, it was brutally difficult.
The series made use of what I always considered a great gimmick to hook new viewers, and that is to kill off a character in the first episode. That sacrificial lamb here is the ship’s engineer, Bruce, the Beetlejuician Beserker Baboon. The berserker baboons are a race of ape-men that strike fear into the hearts of toads everywhere. One of the series’ better episodes has an amusing and clever plot device where the toads develop special goggles that make all baboons look pathetic to help them overcome their crippling fear. Anyway, Bruce’s death is a Saturday morning kind of death in that no one ever says he’s dead and the circumstances were vague. Here he gets sucked into the ship’s photon accelerator (its engine) which partially exists in another dimension. Bruce makes an appearance in a later episode as a pseudo ghost existing between two worlds. Either way, the gimmick works to attract new viewers because it creates a sense of danger that doesn’t exist in most cartoons. X-Men also did this extremely well with the death of Morph in its second episode.
The cast of characters is standard fare. There’s first mate Jenny, the telekinetic cat,who’s a pseudo romantic interest for Bucky though there isn’t much chemistry between the two. She, along with Deadeye, are really the only characters given fully fleshed out back stories in their own episodes. Her powers are also a secret to everyone except Willy. Deadeye is the ship’s gunner and a former pirate. He also has four arms, which I guess makes him twice as cool. He’s a typical shoot first and ask questions later character which gives him a rough persona, an easy one for young boys to gravitate towards. Blinky is the ship’s robot (actually, android first class, or AFC for short) distinguished by his large, lone eye that takes up most of his “face.” Bruiser is a space marine and younger brother to Bruce who joins the crew to avenge him by squishing some toads. I already talked about Willy, but he takes over as the crew’s engineer after Bruce’s departure. He is able to travel between worlds at will, though in the comic he was trapped in the Aniverse. The creators also don’t let him wield a real gun, he has to make do with a squirt gun. It’s a tough life.
Bucky is the captain of the Righteous Indignation, one of only two ships in the United Animal Front’s underfunded fleet, though a third is added in one episode. Bucky is the hero of his people, the hares of Warren, who is well known for his incredible jumping ability. One of my favorite moments in the series occurs in episode 4, where after masquerading as a broken down old man to gain entry to a toad slave camp, Bucky outs himself to make a daring leap to a control tower to the shock and delight of his peers.
What’s a hero without a colorful cast of villains? The Toad Air Marshall is the bumbling commander of the toad forces who’s schemes seem to always be thwarted by O’Hare and his crew. He answers to Komplex, a toad computer program gone rogue who exists almost exclusively on a computer monitor. Toadborg is a cyborg and the favored servant of Komplex. Once a normal toad he was converted to machine. He towers over the rest and is seemingly indestructible. He may not be as brainless as the Air Marshall, but he consistently under-estimates Bucky and Co. which ultimately dooms him to failure just like his peer. The twins Frix and Frax are the Air Marshall’s incompetent subordinates. Instead of doing their boss’s bidding they spend most of their time watching Toad TV and drooling over the girls of “Warts Illustrated.” Lastly, there’s Al Negator the sleazasaur (a purple bi-pedal crocodile-like race) who’s a mercenary for hire, though seemingly only the toads are interested (he does briefly get hired by Bucky to be the ship’s new engineer, but he quickly betrays them).
Bucky O’Hare has mostly vanished since his show was axed. There was a limited
comic run in Europe but nothing in the US. Some of the episodes from the series, formally titled Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars, were released on VHS but the entire series was missing in action for a long time. The series was released several years ago on DVD for those in the Region 2 market, but the rights for Region 1 distribution were tied up in disinterest until last year when a 2-disc set was very quietly released by Exposure Entertainment. And by quiet I mean as quiet as possible. Good luck finding the set in stores or even online. There’s a few sellers on amazon.com selling copies for jacked-up prices. I was able to score one on eBay for twenty bucks, which is probably an over-pay but I’m a sucker.
I am so bitten by the nostalgia bug when it comes to Bucky O’Hare that I actually own both versions of the DVD. I bought a cheap DVD player a few years ago with an easy to bypass region code for the sole purpose of watching Bucky O’Hare. In terms of packaging, the European release is by far the more attractive of the two. It contains artwork from the TPB on the front and back covers and is all together more professional looking. The American release looks like something created in clip art. When I first saw it I thought it was a bootleg. Bucky adorns the cover and is squished to fit inside its borders. There’s a very plain and unattractive yellow bar at the top of the cover that reads “The Complete Series” in green block font. The discs of the American release feature the show’s logo amongst a star burst with the Righteous Indignation at 2 o’clock. The Euro release is a much simpler, but more professional looking, logo on a space background. Neither one contains the subtitle. “and the Toad Wars,” which I found kind of odd. The menus are not very interesting looking on either, but again, the Region 2 release comes across as being a bit more professional looking. Neither one contains any bonus features or even an insert. It’s just the episodes. The menus also make liberal use of the show’s catchy theme song, probably the part of the show most people remember the best, almost to the point of ruining it.
Ultimately, this is a show only worth pursuing by those that have fond memories of it. In re-watching them I’m able to see why I liked the show as a kid, and for me, that’s enough to make it enjoyable. If I had not seen it and remembered it so fondly I’d probably be bored. It’s not very intellectually stimulating, though it is smarter than a lot of its peers but not enough to hold the attention of an adult. There is a heart to the show that does give it some charm. I’d like to think that makes it the kind of show you can tolerate if your kid loves it and would consider it one of the better shows you have to endure for the sake of your children. There is a definite drop-off in quality on disc two. Not literally as all the episodes are pretty drab looking, just in writing. The first few episodes flow together nicely while the remainder are more of the stand-alone variety.
The show did not get a proper final episode as it was cancelled before getting that chance. An arcade beat-em-up was released following the show’s demise which served as an end for the series though it was hardly satisfying for those willing to spend the quarters to see it through. The final episode did however wrap-up the lone season’s main plot line of Bucky’s quest to save his home planet of Warren, so there is a pay-off for those willing to see it through.
I would love to see Bucky get a shot at a comeback but he represents one of the longest of long shots. Shocker Toys tried to put out a line of Bucky Shockini-styled action figures a few years ago. They acquired the license and even released some promising prototypes but then quietly scrapped the whole thing. Neal Adams, one of Bucky’s co-creators, has tried in vane to stir-up interest in either a new cartoon series or for a film. He even self-financed a CGI short to use as an advertisement. It was not well received. And it certainly can’t be a good sign if Bucky’s DVD is nearly impossible to get a hold of. In an era where even the most obscure and forgotten cartoons of yesterday are easy to come by Bucky is still forgotten. No matter, Bucky’s popularity (or lack there of) won’t ruin my good memories of the show. I’m glad I have these DVD’s, suspect quality and all, so I can revisit the season anytime I wish.