So you’ve stumbled on the fourth article in a series showcasing the best cartoon franchises of the 1980s! A generation of children who grew up in the ’80s were bombarded with a number of cartoon series and their accompanying toy lines in an effort to rob them of hard earned pocket money. Every year new franchises were created in an effort to supplant the existing trends and fads. Some succeeded. Some failed. Others sparked franchises that have lasted for over thirty years and are still going strong to this day. This article is dedicated to Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors!
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors follows the eponymous hero, Jayce, on his quest to find his father, Audric. Audric was a galactically renowned scientist who conducted botanical experiments. While working on a plant that would end starvation, a nearby star went supernova. The resulting radiation mutated the plant and created the Monster Minds, a new alien species bent on conquering the universe. The Monster Minds, led by Saw Boss, attacked Audric’s laboratory and took control of it. Audric had developed a Magic Root (seriously) that could defeat the Monster Minds but was forced to escape before he could deploy it. Keeping half of the Root himself, he entrusted the other half to his Eternal Squire, Oon, to give to his son, Jayce.
As the Monster Minds conquered the galaxy, ensnaring whole planets in vines and tendrils without any regard for distance or orbital patterns, Jayce and a small band of companions called the Lightning League journeyed across the stars searching for Audric and the means to defeat the Monster Minds.
Jayce is the leader of the Lightning League, and holds one half of the Magic Root and wields the legendary Ring of Light. In his late teens, Jayce is brash and impulsive, but also brave and a skilled leader and fighter.
Gillian is a potentially centuries-old wizard who helped to co-create both Flora and the vehicles of the Lightning League. He is wise and smart, and while he generally has an aversion to fighting he knows that it is necessary sometimes.
Herc Stormsailor is the Han Solo-esqe mercenary and pilot of the Pride of the Skies II. Over the course of his life he has been a trader, a soldier, a pirate, and a smuggler.
Flora is a young girl who originated from a plant. She was co-created by Audric and Gillian and is both telepathic and empathic. Flora is linked to her large pet fish (who can fly because reasons) known as Brock.
Oon is a small robotic knight, known as an Eternal Squire. He serves Jayce, but previously served Audric. While cowardly for a squire, Oon is immensely loyal. He believes his lance is imbued with magic.
The Lightning League fought the Monster Minds with special vehicles designed by Audric and Gillian. These vehicles included Armed Force which was armed with a large grappling arm; Drill Sergeant which was armed with a front mounted drill; Quickdraw with a concealed gun and spiked digging wheel; Spike Trike, a three-wheeled buggy with spiked wheels; and Trailblazer, which is no way was designed to resemble a AT-AT. Other vehicles created during the show’s run included Flingshot (catapult), Spray Gunner (able to fire various fluids), and Motor Module (tow/cargo vehicle).
The Monster Minds were led by Saw Boss, and several other sub-bosses who were able to create multiple clones of themselves to battle the Lightning League. These included Gun Grinner (leader of the Gun Troopers), Terror Tank (commander of the Terror Troopers), K.O. Kruiser (leader of the KO Troopers), and Beast Walker Commander (commander of the Beast Walkers).
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors debuted in 1985 and was distributed by DiC Entertainment. The original toy line, known simply as Wheeled Warriors, had no established storyline or background allowing the writers a free hand in world-building. Most episodes were written by Jean Chalopin and Haskell Barkin, but noted sci-fi writers such as Larry DiTillio, Barbara Hambly, and J. Michael Straczynski contributed to the show. Straczynski was responsible for around a quarter of the show’s episodes, attempting to “hijack a dopey concept and make it into something more.”
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors not only had a rocking intro, but also had a rocking closing credits. Two awesome music tracks for the price of one.
The series ran for a total of 65 episodes, and although the storyline had an ongoing plot, it was not resolved by series end. However, a movie was proposed if the series had the effect of increasing toy sales and was even written by Straczynski. It was never produced, but would have seen Jayce reunite with Audric and eventually use the Magic Root to destroy Saw Boss.
Before the cartoon series, Mattel produced the Wheeled Warriors toy line. However, the toy line had no accompanying storyline and the toys were produced with generic human pilots for the Lightning League and green brains for the Monster Minds. The main gimmick of the toy line was a feature called “stack & attack” which allowed the wheels and weapons of the vehicles to be mixed and matched across the toy line. Extra packs of weapons and wheels were sold which allowed children to create their own vehicle combinations.
Mattel ordered the animated series to help sales of the toy line, which had underperformed, and the blank slate gave the producers of the cartoon free hand. The animated series did generate interest in the toy line, and Mattel ordered a second wave of toys to be developed with drivers that matched their animated counterparts to take advantage of the cartoon’s popularity. However, the toy line was cancelled due to overall poor sales and the second wave was never released.
The Future of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors is one of those eighties franchises that, while being remembered fondly by its fans, seems destined to never be revisited. Presumably, Mattel still owns the rights to the franchise, but has never seen fit to reboot or continue the series in any form. In this current age of reboots, re-imaginings, and revisiting of franchises from previous generations, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors has been overlooked.