When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers exploded in popularity during the early 90s, dominating children’s programming and toy sales, it was just a matter of time before Saban Entertainment tried to catch lightning in a bottle again. After all, using Japanese battle footage mixed with comedic scenes featuring American actors to create more kids action shows to air on FOX afternoon programming was like printing money.
First was VR Troopers, then another series called Masked Rider which spun-out of a 2-part episode on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Neither show hit as big as it’s predecessor, but a third attempt came in the form of the bizarrely titled Big Bad BeetleBorgs in 1996.
The basic premise involved 3 elementary school kids named Drew, Roland, and Jo who after finding themselves at a haunted house inhabited by a big-chinned ghost named Flabber are given the powers of their favorite comic book superhero team, the BeetleBorgs. An action that also released the clumsy villains known as Magnavores into the real world.
Rather than fighting evil mutants every week, the kids mostly spent their time dealing with goofy situations at the Haunted House inhabited by a good-natured vampire, wolfman, mummy and Frankenstein style monster or hanging around at the comic book store run by Roland’s Grandma “Nano” (who had amazing ninja fighting prowess for a sweet old granny). As a comic book obsessed kid of the ’90s, the Zoom Comics store was an absolute dream to imagine hanging out in.
Though I was a Freshman in high school when Big Bad BeetleBorgs premiered, I still flipped over to the show on occasion to take in the comic book scenery, which often featured actual comics from the era on the shelves. Recently I scanned through every episode of the series to revisit these familiar superhero images of my youth and was amazed by what I found. So join me as we hunt for real 90’s comics on Big Bad BeetleBorgs.
Known mostly as an animated program featured on the FOX Kids Network lineup of shows (and to a lesser extent the 2 live-action adaptations), The Tick actually began life as an independent comic book by Ben Edlund that poked fun at the whole concept of superheroes. Here we see an issue of The Tick mixed in next to the Bargain Bin section, but rest assured these comics are a hoot even today if you find an issue to read.
Most likely adding to the synergy of the FOX Kids Network, later on in the season our heroes to Comic-Con where they briefly glimpse a costumed character exiting a backstage dressing room dressed like The Tick. It’s actually a really fun cameo that kids of the time were surely thrilled with. Heck, I’m grinning right now!
The likely reason there are no books from Marvel or DC on the set is that licensing fees would surely have been high to feature an image of Wolverine on the show, but the selection of independent books is interesting to say the least. One choice shocked me, however, as there many shots of bins stocked with FemForce comics and even posters up on the walls.
For those not familiar, FemForce was known mainly as a “Cheescake” title for adults, made noteworthy for it’s buxom heroines in skintight outfits. The idea that Nano would be stocking that particular book next to the BeetleBorgs comics in the “Fantasy” section begs the question, who’s fantasy were they referring to? Either way, Drew looks happy about it.
In the early ’90s, many new comics companies popped up to cash in on the growing interest in illustrated storytelling and one of the more popular groups was Valiant. Starting out by publishing comics featuring characters from Nintendo and the World Wrestling Federation, they eventually released more mature, action-packed titles.
Books like X-O Manowar, Doctor Mirage were mildly successful, but Turok, Dinosaur Hunter gained acclaim with most people when it was turned into a popular video game for the N64 console. Valiant may actually become more relevant soon as Vin Diesel is about to star in a Bloodshot movie, which began as a Valiant Comics story.
Many people remember the animated science-fiction adventures of Bucky O’Hare that played in syndication on TV during the early ’90s, attempting to cash in on the anthropomorphic fighting animals craze ushered in by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But just as with those pizza-eating turtles, most kids who played with the action figures had no idea that Bucky O’Hare actually started out as a comic book. Nano must be a fan because she even displays the book behind the counter, which is a place of honor in any comic book store.
Created by Wendy and Richard Pini, ElfQuest is a high fantasy adventure book that moved around to different publishers throughout its history but always remained creator-owned. It’s actually surprising that it hasn’t been made into a movie during these past few decades where Hobbits and Elves have been raking in money at the box office. What’s not surprising is ElfQuest appearing on this show, as ElfQuest was never a highly collectible book, it just managed to survive for many years through a loyal fanbase.
More of a classic fairy tale fantasy, Bone by Jeff Smith was an ongoing saga with protagonists that looked straight out of the Sunday Funnies. While the Bone cousins were comic strip inspired the rest of their world was a fantasy realm of monsters and magic that led to journeys that won awards in the comic book industry and continue to sell gigantic volumes of collected stories you can probably find now at your local library. It looks like Flabber is a fan as he is reaching right toward that issue of Bone on the rack.
Probably the most high-profile book in the store is Todd McFarlane’s SPAWN. It was the release of multiple covers on McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 that made comics into big business for collectors during this decade and he took his hype with him along with a gang of Marvel’s other top artists to form Image Comics. They were the rock stars of the industry at the time, so of course, Nano would put up a SPAWN poster and have a few issues for sale.
I have to admit the most exciting image to spot on the wall during this experiment was the poster for Madman issue #10. Bear with me, I have a lot to say here. Mike Allred’s Madman is one of the most fun and philosophical comics you can read, with a pop art style that adds a “ginchy” feel to the tales of a reanimated corpse name Frank Einstein who is sent on weird quests by his mad scientist friends.
This is the first issue of Madman I ever purchased due to the beautifully painted cover by Alex Ross. I became a lifelong fan of the character collecting the entire Madman series and it’s spin-offs, even having a book signed by Mike Allred when I met him at a convention years back. The fact that Madman would be featured on Big Bad BeetleBorgs floored me. But what’s even more exciting is that I own that exact poster. It’s so massive that I’ve never been able to find a suitable frame or wall big enough to put it on display, so it remains carefully packed away. Still, this discovery endears me to Big Bad BeetleBorgs forever.
As I close out, I have to back peddle a bit on my statement that Marvel comics never appeared on the show. Actual comic books from Marvel never did, but in that same Comic-Con episode where the kids saw The Tick they also run into a costumed Spider-Man giving autographs. And later on, they pass by a booth for Marvel Online, which has a sign featuring the Spider-Clone, Ben Reilly who had taken over for Peter Parker at the time in a redesigned Spider-Suit. This is a sight that pleases me to no end as I was reading those Spider-Man issues at the time.
So there you have it, some of the real-world comic books of the 1990s found on Big Bad BeetleBorgs. There were actually more to be found like a poster of Grifter from WildC.A.T.S. and a standee of an obscure character called The Visitor, but I assume I lost most of you back at The Tick, so I’ll call it a day.
But if you got a little touch of nostalgia for your own 90’s comic book obsession, I invite you to check out my podcast WIZARDS! The Podcast Guide To Comics here on The Retro Network. Each episode, my co-host Michael and I revisit the comic book industry of the 1990s through the pages of Wizard magazine, which was the most widely read news source for comics collectors during the era. It’s a ton of fun and we hope you’ll join us!