This may often look like a Batman blog, but if I could make it look more like a Bucky O’Hare blog then I totally would. The problem is, there just isn’t enough quantity to talk about when it comes to Bucky O’Hare. While Batman: The Animated Series produced 85 episodes in its original run, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars produced a mere 13. Batman was broadcast on Fox Kids, then Kids WB (with a new season too), with reruns airing for years when it was all said and done. The show had a comic tie-in, toys, three films, and then it went on to basically spawn Batman Beyond, not to mention all of the Justice League themed shows. As for Bucky, he got the toy treatment and a Nintendo game, but his 13 episode total meant there was really no home for him in syndication. After the episodes were broadcast a few times, they all but disappeared. A comic line was launched in the UK, but it never left that territory so if you wanted to continue enjoying the show in the US you had to seek out the VHS tapes.
And that is largely where things remain even today in 2019. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars has been practically forgotten, and if not for the contribution of toy maker Boss Fight Studio the property would be dormant. On this blog I’ve drawn attention to the various Bucky releases over the years and to the new toy line from BFS. In my last post, a wish list for the line, I theorized that in order for my new favorite toy line to continue as long as I want it to there would likely need to be more Bucky promotion. Well, I’m hardly a major vehicle for said promotion, but I am going to do my part by not only continuing to post about that very line, but starting tomorrow we’re going into a Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars deep dive. All 13 episodes over 13 weeks.
Today seemed like a good day to start this as it’s the day many people invite a large bunny into their homes to hide eggs and candy all over the place. Bucky isn’t as famous as the Easter Bunny, but he should be! Bucky O’Hare is the creation of Larry Hama with an assist given to artist Michael Golden. He was allegedly created sometime around 1977 or 78, probably after Hama saw Star Wars, and made his comic debut in Echo of Futurepast #1 in May of 1984. Likely due to the popularity of a certain group of ninja turtles, Bucky would get his shot at TV stardom not too long after despite only having a total of six comic book stories.
Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars was conceived during the time when it had already been established that in order to launch a cartoon aimed at boys you needed to attack the market from multiple angles. It wasn’t enough to just create a successful show, it needed to be very merchandiser friendly. Hama had already anticipated this when creating the characters and included pegs on their various outfits that a weapon could be affixed to should they become action figures. Due to the success of other toy line/cartoon properties, there was a strong appetite for anything that looked marketable and a lot of people wanted in on it.
The show ended up being a combination of several companies. First was Sunbow Entertainment and its new Sunbow Productions arm. Sunbow had made a name for itself primarily animating commercials for toys. Eventually, the company moved towards creating shows of its own and by 1990 it had several under its belt. It would initially partner with Toei Animation, the company responsible for Dragon Ball, and by the time Bucky arrived the company was partnered with South Korean animation studio AKOM (The Simpsons, X-Men). Abrams/Gentile Entertainment was involved as a producer and Continuity Comics obviously had a stake in the show as well as French company IDDH. Marvel Productions co-produced the show and Hasbro distributed it via Claster Television and it’s Hasbro Studios that holds the distribution rights today. That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen and a lot of arms with a share in the profits. It’s no wonder the show failed to satisfy and also less surprising to see it has struggled to get a Region 1 DVD release as there are a lot of people that would be owed money.
The show premiered on September 8, 1991 and would conclude its first run on December 1 of the same year. It aired on Saturday mornings in most markets on various local television affiliates. It didn’t air on any of the major networks in my market and I don’t know if it did in others. The show was quite similar to the comics, but since it had more stories to tell it expanded the roster of characters. The only character left out of the show was the Omnipotent Mouse. The first few episodes of the show are presented in a serialized nature and there is a running story through-out the first season concerning Bucky’s home planet of Warren. It’s a sophisticated form of story-telling for children, and it would be popularized by X-Men the following year, and it’s possible that this played a role in making it hard for new viewers to just jump in. I think such arguments are overblown, but it’s worth mentioning.
To coincide with the launch of the series, Hasbro released the first wave of action figures. Hasbro had ridden to prominence on the back of the Transformers line and had expanded to become the largest toy seller in the world. 1991 was an especially big year for the company because it purchased Tonka, Parker Brothers, and Kenner giving the company huge reach into almost every facet of the toy market. Still, Hasbro (and other toy makers) had passed on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a few years earlier after making the same mistake back in the 70s with Star Wars. Maybe that was part of the drive to go after Bucky O’Hare in hopes it would become a major action figure property for the company.
The initial wave of Bucky O’Hare figures based on the show included six heroes: Bucky, Dead-Eye Duck, Willy DuWitt, Commander Dogstar, A.F.C. Blinky, and Bruiser. Four villains joined them: Toad Air Marshall, Toadborg, Toad Storm Trooper, and Al Negator. The company also released a vehicle play set for the good guys and one for the bad guys, the Toad Croaker (which featured a whoopee cushion like device in it to squish the bad guys) and the Toad Double Bubble, essentially the toad version of a Tie Fighter. The toys were prominently placed in my local Toys R Us and Christmas of 91 was the year I got a lot of Bucky stuff. It ended up being the only Christmas for me and Bucky as the line was discontinued. Series 2 was famously shown in a Hasbro catalog, and a figure of Jenny was completed for the first series but held back. Carded figures of Jenny have become the most sought-after piece of Bucky merch there is even after she finally received an official figure release from Boss Fight Studio.
Blame for the demise of Bucky is largely placed on the toys and Hasbro for its case ratios. When a store would order more, Hasbro would send out a standard case which included two of each figure. Gradually, less popular figures like the Toad Air Marshall would start to take over the pegs while figures of Bucky and Dead-Eye would disappear quickly. Hasbro allegedly never adjusted the case ratios and stores stopped ordering when they had pegs full of Air Marshalls and Storm Troopers. It’s hard to say if that played the largest role, but I can personally recall going to the store and indeed seeing an entire section of Toad Air Marshall figures.
With Hasbro bowing out of the property because of the profitability of the toy line everyone else bailed as well. Obviously, since only 13 episodes were ordered initially there was some skepticism from the beginning for Bucky O’Hare. We don’t know how the show fared ratings-wise or how successful sales of other merchandise was. Like most cartoons, Bucky was on everything: party supplies, puzzles, costumes, lunch boxes, shoes, coloring books, etc. Family Home Entertainment had the distribution rights for the show on home video and released 3 VHS tapes of the show which totaled 7 episodes. The Konami video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System would be a late arrival in January of 1992, but likely still in before the consumer had a notion the show wouldn’t continue. A separate arcade game arrived in the fall of 1992 when it was likely obvious the property was dead. Not surprisingly, I don’t think many units were produced and I’ve actually never come across one in the wild. I mentioned the Hasbro Jenny as the most sought after of Bucky collectibles, but I bet if one of these arcade cabinets were to go up for sale it would fetch a pretty high price.
Whatever the reason, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars failed to catch on. Blame it on the toys if you wish, or maybe it just wasn’t promoted enough on television. I think a large part of the issue is simply that selling boys on a green space bunny was a bit of a hard sell. I think most who gave the show a chance probably liked it, but they might have needed convincing. Had Bucky been a weekday afternoon show, he might have stood a better shot as that’s easier for kids to get into. A week is a long time between episodes for a six-year-old.
Where I grew up in New Hampshire, Bucky O’Hare was pretty popular. My friends were all into the show and the toy line and eventually the NES game. It seemed popular to me, which is partly why I was so confused as a kid when Bucky simply went away. Now, I’m ready to engage this property once again as an adult. Like Batman, I’ve seen the episodes multiple times as both a kid and an adult, though overall I’ve seen these episodes less simply because the re-runs weren’t on TV for years. As I work my way through the series here, I’ll be re-watching the episodes again and approaching it from a critical standpoint as I walk the reader through the episode. My opinion going into it is that this show is not high art, but it has more depth than many of its peers. Bucky O’Hare aired in a more cynical time pre-Batman and pre-X-Men, and I’ll keep that in mind. This show was supposed to be a 23 minute commercial for toys and games, but it seemed to aim higher.
If you want to follow along with me it’s going to be a bit more difficult than it is with Batman. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars received an incomplete VHS release, but that’s likely not that important to readers in 2019 who likely don’t even own a VCR any longer. The show was released on Region 2 DVD in 2004 by Metrodome Distribution. It was a bare-bones release that contained just the episodes in a quality pretty typical of the era. The DVD is out of print. No official Region 1 DVD was ever released, though there was a popular bootleg put out by Exposure Entertainment in 2010. It just contained the episodes and was probably a rip of the Region 2 release as the quality is pretty much the same. The packaging though was pretty ugly. I covered both in the early days of this blog, though both are a lot harder to come by now than they were back then.
It is highly unlikely at this stage that Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars will get an official Region 1 release and that’s further heightened by its presence on the internet. The entire series can be streamed on YouTube and probably on other platforms as well for free. No one is protective of the property in 2019 and it’s hard to imagine that changing at this point. No matter, this should be a fun exploration of the old show and hopefully you enjoy going on this trip with me. We start tomorrow with the very first episode “War of the Warts.”