Six Exosquadders.


Original medium: Television animation
Produced by: Universal Animation Studios
First Appeared: 1993
Creator: Will Meugniot
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As animé grew popular in America during the 1990s, it was inevitable that domestic animation would be influenced by the Japanese imports. Exosquad, which debuted …

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… Sept. 11, 1993 on USA Network (Savage Dragon, Duckman), was made for the specific purpose of tapping into that market.

The genre of animé that Exosquad emulated is called "mecha". In it, a hero is encased in a mechanical shell, which can range in size from high-tech body armor to a giant robot controlled by a pilot located in the head. U.S. precursors of the genre include Iron Man, Bozo the Robot and a 1960 story in which The Beagle Boys used such giant robots in a scheme to rob Uncle Scrooge.

Exosquad was a production of Universal Animation Studios, indirect successor to Walter Lantz's studio as Universal Pictures' (Tailspin Tommy, Mike & Ike) in-house cartoon company.

It was created by animation veteran Will Meugniot , whose cartoon credits include Jem and Real Ghostbusters). He's also dabbled in comic books, where he co-created DNAgents with writer Mark Evanier (Crossfire, Blackhawk). Meugniot later opined that he considers this show his best work.

The setting was the third or fourth decade of the 22nd century, by which time people have spread out all over the Solar System, with both Mars and Venus having been terraformed (engineered to support Earth life). The human population of the three Earth-like planets (called "Homeworlds") have an uneasy relationship with the Pirate Clans of the outer planets, while rumblings of uprising among the Neosapiens (artificial people designed for extraterrestrial environments and formerly used as slaves) only adds to their discomfort. The Homeworlds government dispatches an "exofleet", or spacefaring military force, to meet the Pirate threat, and the action takes off from there.

Thus, "Exo" could refer to the Latin root meaning foreign, or outward — or it could refer to the exo- (or outer) skeletons, which made them far more powerful than ordinary people, that they wore into battle.

Exosquad had a large and shifting cast of characters, with many dying and/or being replaced throughout its two-year run. A few prominent ones were Squad Leader Lt. J.T. Marsh (voiced by Robby Benson, who was also the second title character in Disney's Beauty & the Beast), Field Lt. Nara Burns (Lisa Ann Beley, also heard in 21st century productions of X-Men and He-Man), Governor General Phaeton (Richard Newman, also Vector Prime in Transformers) and Field Sgt. Rita Torres (Janyse Jaud, also Pinkie Pie in My Little Pony).

The first season had only 13 episodes. But they were so well received, the second had three times as many, for a total of 52. It seemed headed for a bright future of video games, home video, merchandised products, etc. But then it ran afoul of what some of its fans suspect was sabotage for purposes of economic pressure. It was aired in out-of-the-way time slots, making it hard to see by anyone who kept normal hours. Many of its fans, who still retain their enthusiasm, call it the best cartoon that no-one ever saw.

Topps Comics (Mars Attacks) brought out a comic book version by Len Wein (Brother Voodoo) and Joe Staton (E-Man), but only one issue (dated January, 1994) was published. The first season was made into seven videotapes. They're out of print now, but copies aren't too hard to find in the collector market. A few action figures are still available.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Universal Animtion Studios.