Sunday, September 13, 2009

The X-Men's Karaoke Cousins

It’s hard to imagine now, but in the early ‘70’s Marvel actually canceled the X-Men comic book. Apart from a series of reprints and occasional guest appearances in other characters’ books, the marvelous mutants were history and seemed destined to join Dr. Druid and Marvel Boy in comic book limbo.
Then it happened.

For the first time since the superhero craze of the mid-sixties, Marvel was enjoying some success in the licensing of its superheroes for non-comic book product. In an attempt to crack the global toy markets, Marvel’s merchandising mavens suggested the immediate development of a team of international characters. The result in the States: Giant-Size X-Men #1, featuring a group of multi-national mutants and with it came a new superhero renaissance.

The same development demand for an international superhero team was also delivered to the Marvel offices in Tokyo, where it yielded a vastly different project than the X-Men but one no less historically significant. Because working with Toei, the tiny Marvel Japan office created Battle Fever J!

Battle Fever J was originally planned to star Captain America teamed with a group of newly created Captain characters from other nations, like Captain France and Captain Japan. However, in 1978, Captain America’s live action film rights were tied up with Universal Television, which was making a pair of Reb Brown-starring TV movies. This put Captain America off limits for the Japanese super hero team’s roster, so the golden-age Marvel heroine Miss America was drafted as his replacement.

By the time it was broadcast, Battle Fever J’s heroes were Battle Japan, Battle Kenya, Battle Cossack, Battle France, and Miss America. Every week for 52 thrilling episodes, the team battled the evil machinations of Satan Egos and his Egos Cult as they sought to destroy Japan with an army of giant monsters. In addition to costumes which amplified their natural martial arts skills, the Battle Fever J team had their mystic penta-force weapon and a giant robot: Battle Fever Robo.

And in the end, that, not its connection with X-Men is the true significance of Battle Fever J. Think of the elements: five heroes in similar, but differently colored costumes, each with
amplified martial arts skills, battling giant monsters, and piloting a giant robot.

You see, while Toei had done other super hero team series in the past, Battle Fever J was the first TV series to have all of these features in one show. With the format now firmly in place, these five-member, color-coded, latex monster fighting, robot piloting television series have run continuously on Japanese television from 1978 to today. The Japanese call these five hero shows “sentai”, but you probably know them better in their American form, as the Power Rangers.
So, there you have it, how one simple business initiative re-wrote the history of comics and children’s television both here and abroad!

Miss America is copyrighted by Marvel. Battle Fever J is copyrighted Marvel and Toei. Masked Mayhem's text is copyright 2009 by Will Meugniot

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