Skeleton villains (the heroes weren't as visual).


Original medium: Television animation
Produced by: Landmark Entertainment
First Appeared: 1995
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Starting as early as the 1960s, toondom has been littered with coordinated media/merchandise promotions, where a cartoon series exists less for its own sake than to provide a storyline to go with a set of action figures. One of the more successful was He-Man. One of the less …

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… successful, quickly discounted and cleared out as toys, while failing to find an audience as cartoons, was Skeleton Warriors.

The story was derived from a typical template for these things — a clearly defined set of good guys fought an ongoing battle with a clearly defined set of bad guys. Each hero and villain had a few individual characteristics, so they could be sold separately; but tended to have a unifying theme, to distinguish the line from its competitors. Also sold separately were their vehicles, weapons etc. Examples include Silverhawks and Thundarr the Barbarian. In more popular cases, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the characters came first and the toys were almost an afterthought.

The Skeleton Warriors were the villains of this piece, consisting of Baron Dark, usurper of the far-distant planet Luminaire, and his minions. They were turned into living skeletons by the baron's attempted theft of The Lightstar Crystal that powered the city of Luminicity. He succeeded only in getting the dark half, which was okay in terms of acquiring power, but also had the effect of skeletonizing Dark and whoever he chose, provided they had evil in their hearts. The baron himself was distinguished from other skeletons by having a dozen more additional skulls hanging in various places.

The heroes, most of whom were members of the ousted royal family, retained the light half, which conferred upon them powers of their own. They included Joshua Steele (aka Grimskull, partly transformed like the baron because, being an envious younger son, he used to work there; but also able to teleport through shadows), Justin Steele (Prince Lightstar himself, who could shoot energy out of his hands or sword, a more parent-friendly way of bashing than physical striking) and Jennifer Steele (aka Talyn, who specialized in the stereotypical female strengths and virtues, but could also fly). They were gathered together by their uncle, Ursak, as The Legion of Light. Not surprisingly, Light and Dark clashed over possession of the complete crystal.

The voice of Baron Dark was provided by Jeff Bennett (who also did villains in Batman and Duck Dodgers). Justin was Philip L. Clarke (various voices in Pirates of Darkwater and Transformers) and Jennifer was Jennifer Hale (Billy's mom in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy). Others heard included Gary Owens (Roger Ramjet), Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck) and Tony Jay (Shere Khan in Talespin).

The show was originally contracted to appear on CBS for one season of 13 episodes, beginning March 1, 1995. Production was done by Landmark Entertainment, which also did some work on a Spider-Man series in the late '90s. It wasn't renewed. Promotion also included placing it at Marvel Comics for six issues, beginning April, 1995. It, too, wasn't renewed. The action figure line started with the visually interesting villains, but they were already being shoved out the door in clearance sales a few months later, when the heroes finally joined them.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Playmates Toys.