Some horrors lurk forever in the recesses of the human mind. There is an image that cannot be dislodge from my brain. It is of a woman who is touched by a skeletal creature. She covers her face in pain. Suddenly, her limbs elongate. Her eyes sink into the more skeletal features of her face. Her teeth grow crooked and jagged. Saliva drips from her now thin lips.
And it comes from the 1986 Sunday morning cartoon: Inhumanoids.
Watching the show again uncovered a host of psychological terror. Take the intro, for example. We see our three title characters, the villainous Inhumanoids, jump through a hole in the Earth. One monster has a terrified couple wrapped in his thick green tentacles. They’re menaced throughout the length of the intro, whipped from one hellish creature to another, as a devilish voice growls “Inhumanoids” over the song, which includes a chorus that sings “The evil that lies within!”
At the very end of the opening credits, our couple is seen hurled into a pit of lava. And then… cut to the title screen where the logo is held by a gnarled hand with multiple fingers. I suppose you can say that they’re hurled down with the heroes, so you can reasonably expect that they all survived. Still, this is just about the bleakest, most nightmarish imagery you could ever hope to find in a kid’s cartoon from the 80’s.
The show initially aired as six-to-seven minute episode on Sunbow/Marvel Production’s Super Sunday block. Nothing says Sunday like a visual reminder of Hell. It aired with other Sunbow shows: Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, Robotix, and the big breakout hit Jem and the Holograms. Jem would be promoted to full syndication status, getting the whole 65 episode package. Inhumanoids also would get some love. After airing on the Super Sunday block, the show was given a 13 episode run. Better than Bigfoot… but not as good as the Sunbow heavy hitters like Transformers, Jem, and GI Joe.
This is probably how I initially viewed the show. I remember never seeing how certain cliffhangers got resolved. In the absence of streaming, it was hard to sequentially view a show as serialized as this one. You had to record it on your VCR… and I don’t think my parents were to thrilled about wasting valuable tape space on show this weird and off-putting.
The original six-minute format also explains why the first few episodes feel so long. They had been stitched together from the fifteen shorts that initially aired on the Super Sunday block. That means that each episode contained three different self-contained plot arcs that don’t necessarily flow into each other. If you’ve ever seen a “film” that was created from stitched together movie serials, or a two-hour TV special that was meant to be split up into two episodes for when the show re-airs, you get a similar effect.
The disjointedness also makes it feel like some plot beats were completely missed. In one episode, our human villain named Blackthorne Shore has seized the assets of our heroes, the Earth Core. He monologues how he’s going to construct a suit of his own. In the next episode, he just shows up in the suit. And everyone just knows it’s him. Whoa, whoa, whoa. We don’t even get a vignette of him constructing the suit? I guess that’s the sort of detail that has to be omitted when you’re cramming an entire plot in a six-minute segment.
The heroes of the Inhumanoids are a team of scientists known as the Earth Core. They are a bit like DC Comic’s Challengers of the Unknown (Jack Kirby’s precursor to the Fantastic Four)… researchers of the strange and mysterious who are experts in their own fields. Each member is equipped with a specialized bulky armored suit to help them withstand the difficulties of below-earth operations. They had nice looking uniforms, by the way. Growing up, I had my very own Auger who had a removable, light-piped helmet and a drill hand.
They also came with some incredible specifications porn. Check out this description from Auger’s card:
Auger’s exploration suit is an electrically-powered, computer assisted exoskeleton that has been tested to withstand a concussive force of 150 pounds of TNT. Fully insulated and pressure-regulated, it can withstand external temperature variations of -50 to 6500 degrees Fahrenheit. Attached to the suit is a high speed, diamond-tipped drill that can penetrate virtually any substance. Auger’s environment suit is the most heavily armored and has been specially designed to protect him from flying debris caused by the drilling apparatus.
Yes! Hook it to my veins!
Anyway, Auger rules. He’s the resident hothead and the best character.
One day, the Earth Core make an incredible discovery: the entire body of a gigantic prehistoric creature preserved in amber. They exhibit the creature at a public event… only for the monster to break out and cause massive destruction! He goes by the name D’Compose, and he has one of the most familiar voices from my childhood: the snake-like screams of Chris Latta. Latta provides his talents to two of the creatures, as he is also the voice behind the tentacles behemoth named Tendril. These creatures are his most frightening performances, eschewing the comedic beats of Cobra Commander and Starscream.
It turns out our heroes were being used. The man who pays their salaries, Blackthorne Shore, wanted them to find these monsters. He believes he has the key to controlling them and turning them into his own personal weapons. As soon as he discovers that Phase 1 of his dastardly plan has been accomplished, he cuts off funding to the Earth Core.
Fortunately his sister, Sandra, discovers his plans. Rather than joining him to the dark side, she leaves and funds the Earth Core herself. She supplies them with all new playsets and toys — uh, I mean, vehicles and an all new home base. There’s a catch, though: she wants to be on the team. And thus the Inhumanoids get their only female member.
Unsurprisingly, she never got an action figure. Edward “Auger” Augutter, Dr. Derek Bright, Herc Armstrong, and Johnathon “Liquidator” Slattery all got some of the best action figurs ever created by Hasbro. They’ve got some fantastic exploration suits, but with their helmets off they look pretty interchangable. (Except for the bald glory named Auger, that is.) The stars of the line were the Inumanoids, gigantic 14″ figures.
Sandra Shore could’ve added some variety to the line-up. Females had little place in a toy line aimed for boys in the 90’s though. Then again, her brother didn’t get an action figure either, so they may have been eleventh hour additions to the cartoon.
That’s not the only indignity that Sandra suffers. Remember that Chris Latta-voiced monster, D’Compose? He has some of the grossest powers ever. His ribcage opens up, and he can stuff people in there near his lungs and his internal organs. His arm can get ripped off and re-attached. That’s not all, though. He can also turn people in undead, unimaginable horrors.
Sandra Shore is his first victim. Her transformation was mentioned at the top of this piece.
Seriously, D’Compose is the worst. He even reanimates a corpse in one episode, who becomes an undead villain named Nightcrawler. This was a Marvel Production. Surely they knew about the preexisting character, right? Then again, Marvel apparently didn’t care about kids confusing the Inhumanoids with the Inhumans, so whatever.
Fortunately, the Earth Core is not alone. They screwed up phenomenally when they freed the Inhumanoids. They had been imprisoned thousands of years past by elemental creatures named the Mutors. These are strange creatures that are made of wood, granite, and magnetic rock. They had lived in secret outside of human sight, some as tree stumps but most living in the vast expanse under the Earth’s surface. Humanity screwed up royally be freeing the Inhumanoids, and they’re hesitant to clean up after our mess. Eventually, though, they all come to a point where none have a choice.
If I didn’t tell you it was an American production, I think you would assume that these were all stills from an 80’s Japanese anime. Like Devilman or something. It turns out this show was animated by none other than Toei Animation, the company behind Mazinger Z, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and Digimon. (And yes… Devilman in 1972!) Maybe it should come as no surprise why anime received a warm welcome in the subsequent 90’s. Shows like Inhumanoids had already paved the way.
Besides… giant monsters rampaging all over the city? Was there ever a subject matter more fitting for Toei?
The Inhumanoids also feature something that I think was pretty rare in Western 80’s action cartoons: tight, serialized continuity. There were only thirteen episodes, but each one featured shifting relationships and plot developments that you could only get by watching all the developments of the previous ones, Episode 6 continues right after all the serialized elements. There are references to the Earth Core’s budget being cut, the attack on a Soviet military base two episodes prior, and Blackthorne’s new status as a pariah from the government. This has it’s downsides; back in the day it was harder to watch cartoons in order, and it was easy to get lost when pulling up an all new episode.
Featured a strong anti-authority streak. The Earth Core constantly find themselves at odds with politicians who don’t realize the danger the Earth is in. There are global threats like the Earth being broken in half, but no one can seem to figure out what to do. They’re not the only ones. They have counterparts in the Soviet Union who are constantly stymied by military leaders with their own agendas. Cult leaders begin to use the Inhumanoid’s powers for their own ends. Teenage debate teams start bullying hapless kids. OK… that last one was straight up just silliness from the writers.
Politics is so ingrained into Inhumanoids that, by the to me we get to the final episode, Auger runs for President. And wins.
The Inhumanoids themselves are often used by the humans with evil intent. There are times the Earth Core have to forge a shaky alliance with these monsters because, with the fate of the world in their hands, the Inhumanoids are the lesser evil. Shoot… maybe the Inhumanoids aren’t the real monsters!
It’s actually not hard to find some sympathy for these city wrecking behemoths. We learn that even they had once been slaves to another power, which puts their quest to be free from their earthly prisons in another light. It also turns out they’re pretty dang lonely, as they are the last of their kind. And, as we find in some episodes… they can be total goofballs.
The Earth Core ends up traveling around the world, protecting people from rampaging beast freed from their prisons by human villains. (The travels tend to look a little monotonous, though. They are always in the same underground caverns. Im assuming this show used up all of Toei’s budget for brown paint.) Metlar, D’Compose, and Tendril aren’t the only giant creatures imprisoned around the planet. Some have powers that are even grosser than the core three. Gagoyle (who looks a lot like a Jack Kirby creation) has a transparent stomach where he can slowly digest his victims in acid.
Among our Inhumanoids’ powers: the ability to raise their own armies. Cutting off any of Tendril’s tentacles, for example, creates an all new Tendril for the heroes to cope with. Metlar can also raise stone armies, which means that at one point in the series the Earth Core has to do battle with reanimated Confederate statues. Man… as if just dealing with a giant rampaging monster arisen from the depths of the Earth isn’t enough.
Speaking of reanimating statues… Metlar, in a stunning move, kidnaps the Statue of Liberty and brings her to life. Years before such a thing happened in Ghostbusters 2! Also a weird coincidence: one of the people on the rival Earth Core team from this ep is named Dusty Ackroyd… though really he looks more like Tom Selleck. (The other members of the crew are parodies of Geraldo Rivera, Evander Holyfield, John Landis, and Jacques Cousteau. This show is very weird.)
It turns out that Liberty Who Lights The World is an awful nag, though. She immediately gets on Metlar’s case for hanging out with losers like D’Compose. We see her lounging around and watching TV while pestering Metlar to install a hot tub. She also orders Metlar to lose his gut. Who knew that Metlar’s home life would be, basically, The Lockhorns?
It made me wonder about the home life of the show’s creator, Flint Dille.
Dille is the series’ creator, producer, and writer. He is the grandson of Frank Dille, who was the publisher of old school pulp sci-fi hit Buck Rogers. Dille has a long history in animation, having written for Transformers and GI Joe. He did extensive rewrites for Transformers: The Movie. He was also responsible for much of the Transformers turn to the Lovecraftian as the writer of the movie’s follow-up: “The Five Faces of Darkness” (a.k.a. The Transformers meet their creators, the Quintessons, who hate them).
Beyond that, he runs with an interesting circle. He is a friend of Frank Miller. (In the 300 graphic novel, there is a character named Dilios… named after Flint Dille.) This goes a long way to explaining the show’s anti-authority, “the government doesn’t know what it’s doing” bent.
He was also close with Gary Gygax, and was heavily involved in TSR. For a long time he was trying to get a Dungeons & Dragons movie made. (But as far as I can tell was not involved in the one that did get made.) Truly these are things that would inform the Lovecraftian sensibilities of the Inhumanoids.
You STILL are familiar with Dille’s work today. Thanks to his RPG knowhow, Dille is a creative lead at Niantic. That’s the company that scored a pop culture hit with Pokemon Go. You know… a game that also features giant rampaging creatures. More adorable though… mostly. (Looking at you, Giratina.)
Inhumanoids was doomed from the start, though. The show was always going to depend on toy sales. The figures had been out for a few months on toy store shelves. While they were quality figures, they didn’t move. The 13 episodes that got green lit were dead on arrival when toy sales reports came in. This may explain why the last few episodes were like Bob Haney unhinged. Wild ideas, zero cohesiveness. Anything goes when you know your show’s not getting renewed. A nagging Statue of Liberty? Auger becomes President?
Why the hell not.
The last episode is a little rare in that it does provide quite a bit of closure. One of our heroes gets married (and his wife becomes a new member of the team), several of the Earth Core become celebrities with new jobs, and a political foe that has been hassling the team has been vanquished. Sure… giant monsters that live at the Earth’s center are still out there. But life goes on.
Check out all the previous classic animation reviews under the tag #MADE ANIMATED!
Episodes watched: “The Evil That Lies Within (5 Parter)”, “The Surma Plan”, “Cult of Darkness”, “The Evil Eye”, “Primal Passions”, “The Masterson Team”, “Auger… For President?”
NOTES: One of the more major side characters on this show is that Geraldo stand-in, reporter Hector Ramirez. He also shows up in Jem and GI Joe, which means that he’s a crucial component in the Hasbro shared universe.