As a kid, I loved monsters and horror movies and any variety of scary shit. And I also loved cartoons. So naturally I gravitated toward shows like The Real Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice because of their focus on monsters and spooky what-have-yous. One show that completely flew under my radar, though, was Inhumanoids. And man, having just watched it for the first time at age 29, I am dead certain that my childhood would have been radically improved had I known this show existed back then.
The basic premise is that an evil industrialist named Blackthorne Shore (Michael Bell) has awakened a trio of subterranean monsters called the Inhumanoids, intending to control them for world domination. The ancient evils can’t be controlled, however, and immediately wage a campaign to wipe all of humanity off the face of the Earth. Responding to this emergency is the Earth Corps, a group of armored spelunking experts who take the battle to the Inhumanoids deep within the bowels of the Earth.
Inhumanoids was a co-production between Hasbro and Marvel/Sunbow, the same team-up that produced shows like The Transformers, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Jem & the Holograms. It featured the same writers, producers, directors, animators, music and voice actors as all those other shows. If you’re acquainted with any of those Hasbro cartoons from the ‘80s (and let’s face it: you are), then you’ll find this series extremely familiar.
But what I immediately noticed about Inhumanoids, something that set it apart from the more popular Hasbro shows of the decade, was just how much BITE it had. This cartoon was dark, violent and absolutely shocking… yet completely aimed at kids that were awake way too early on a Saturday morning.
If you grew up more in the ‘90s than in the ‘80s, then you probably recall how neutered action cartoons were. Magneto couldn’t say “die”, he had to say “destroy”. Spider-Man was forbidden by Broadcast Standards and Practices to punch anybody. If Vegeta and Nappa slaughtered a main character, they didn’t “kill” them but rather sent them to “the next dimension”.
Inhumanoids, though? Aw man, this show had absolutely NO filter when it came to the amount of violence and “intense language” that gave soccer moms the country over a head of grey hair. Villains used those objectionable words “die”, “death” and “kill” without a second thought. Everybody punched the shit out of everybody else. Characters, HUMAN characters, fucking died on screen and we saw their corpses! I mean, holy crap! There was no other kid’s cartoon like this at the time and there probably wouldn’t be another for another decade or more.
To get to the point, the show was named after and defined by its trio of lead villains: The Inhumanoids.
Their leader was Metlar (Ed Gilbert), a lava creature who ruled over a domain called Infernac. He was the most powerful of the Inhumanoids and commanded an army of statue warriors (who humorously took on the identities of their likenesses when given life). He abused the shit out of the other Inhumanoids and never gave a second thought to sacrificing them if it meant victory. In one episode, his lackeys question his plan which involves their untimely end. Metlar immediately poses the question, “Do you fear DEATH more than you fear ME!?” The other Inhumanoids mull it over and promptly agree that death would be preferable.
Tendril (Chris Latta) was a plant-monster that looked like Cthulhu and lurked within the Earth’s mantle. He never had a domain of his own, but he did command an army of subterranean creatures called the Langastoids (kinda like barbarian mollusk-men) whom he kept under control by feeding their addiction to human junk food. Tendril was the comedy-relief Inhumanoid and played as a hulking, grunting imbecile.
Also, his toy made a cameo in The Monster Squad:
And regardless of what you think, that is an HONOR.
The coolest Inhumanoid had to be D’Compose (Latta) who was succinctly described as “The Undead Horror”. He lurked in a place called Skelweb which was a labyrinth built from stolen cemeteries, mausoleums and tombs. D’Compose commanded an army of the dead and could transform the living into 50-foot zombies with just a touch. He could also trap people behind his ribcage because oh god, this guy. With Chris Latta providing his voice, he basically sounded like Zombie Dinosaur Cobra Commander and there’s nothing better than that.
Other guest Inhumanoids appeared infrequently throughout the series. Gagoyle was a mindless monster with an endless appetite who trapped people in its see-through stomach and slowly digested them with its acidic juices. Ssslither showed up near the end of the series, having been the former ruler of the Inhumanoids until he was deposed and imprisoned by Metlar. Unfortunately, the series ended before he could be further developed.
The Earth Corps played the heroes, but they were a bit different from the likes of G.I. Joe or the Autobots. They were a very small, tight-knit cast of personalities, unlike the legions of Joes or Autobots whom we barely got to know, and they all played off each other differently.
Herc Armstrong (Neil Ross) was the leader of the group, but stood out by not being a dull stick-in-the-mud like Cyclops or Leonardo or whatever. He was rough around the edges and manly as shit.
Auger (Michael Bell) was the stand-out character in the show, a former Golden Gloves boxer and even rougher around the edges than Armstrong. He got all the best lines and was generally the most violent and fun protagonist. One of Bell’s best characters in his career, too, right alongside Ezekiel Rage from The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (another show that was ridiculously violent in an era of pillowy crap, but that’s a review for another day).
Bright (Richard Sanders) was the tech guy and soft-spoken on the surface, but a total blow-hard of a genius, which made him more interesting than you’d expect. He conflicted with Auger a lot and their banter could get pretty funny. In one episode, when Auger is lost and presume dead, Bright is left to make his funeral arrangements. Auger returns from the grave to find Bright cutting corners to save money on his casket… because even in death, Bright genuinely didn’t like the guy. Bright also developed a romance with a side-character in the show and the two got married in a later episode.
Rounding out the primary heroes was Liquidator (William Callaway), the chemist of the team. He starts a relationship with the main female character of the show and the two actually develop their romance beyond cock-teasing flirting over the course of the series (something that was uncommon in cartoons of the era which were comfortable prolonging will-they-won’t-they romances with no consummations to speak of).
Throughout the series, new characters join Earth Corps to inflate their ranks. Sandra Shore (Susan Silo), sister of recurring villain Blackthorne, becomes a member early on. Tank (Neil Ross) takes a few episodes to defect from the Soviet Union and join the Earth Corps as a part-time member (he pursues his own personal missions but helps out when their plots intersect). Sabre Jet (also Ross) gets paralyzed from the waist down by Ssslither and becomes a member of the team in the final minutes of the series finale.
Funny thing about Sabre Jet: He’s a military pilot whose real name is Brad J. Armbruster. The G.I. Joe pilot, Ace, had a real name that was also Brad J. Armbruster. With Inhumanoids and LG.I. Joe having been made by the same people and corporations, there’s a pretty good chance they’re the same guy, crossing over.
In fact, Hector Ramirez, a character who originated in G.I. Joe and went on to appear in Jem and Transformers, shows up in nearly every episode of this series.
And just to seal the deal, D’Compose makes a cameo in a Jem episode (“Broadway Magic”) on a television screen. Funny how all those Hasbro cartoons from the ‘80s were connected.
For a 13-episode series, Inhumanoids had a pretty sprawling mythology of differently aligned characters; much more than just “the good guys” and “the bad guys”. The Mutores consisted of several races of weird creatures who didn’t care much for humanity, but liked the Inhumanoids even less.
The Redwoods were naturally foes of Tendril because they were a race of plant-creatures. They were headlined by Redlen (Stanley Ralph Ross), the wise old tree, and a less wise hotshot named Redsun (also Ross).
The Granites were rock-men who came into conflict with D’Compose pretty often. They were the most interesting of the Mutores, as they had their own political landscape that often got in the way of their ability to help the Earth Corps. Granok and General Granitary (both John Stephenson) were usually all about opposing the Inhumanoids, but a more self-interested politician named Granahue (Latta) would often use his influence to sway the Granite masses in a pacifistic direction. It was strange.
Magnokor rounded out the last of the Mutores: a creature made up of two polar-opposite personalities, Crygen and Pyre, who could control magnetic fields. His fate was to keep Metlar imprisoned for all eternity and was the only force capable of doing so (though of course he was always interrupted by the other Inhumanoids or Blackthorne).
There were also a separate pair of human enemies with their own machinations. The aforementioned Blackthorne Shore (who stole Earth Corps tech to create his own suit of black armor) is the most frequent sideways antagonist whose whole shtick involves trying to make alliances with various villains, only to be quickly betrayed. He teams up and falls out with all five of the Inhumanoids on separate occasions, uses and gets used by a crooked politician named Senator Masterson, and is even usurped by his own lackey, Nightcrawler. It’s actually really funny, because you can’t keep track of this guy from episode-to-episode; he’s all over the place.
The origin of Nightcrawler was probably the most gratuitously violent thing in the whole series. Partway through the show, Blackthorne gets arrested for awakening the Inhumanoids and sent to a prison that’s surrounded by a moat of toxic waste (because that’s legal). His cellmate is Dr. Herman Mangler, a bio-engineer who was given life behind bars for ill-defined and better left unexplained “crimes against nature”. He and Blackthorne escape from prison but while trying to cross the moat, Mangler takes a dive. As he’s slowly dissolving to death, Blackthorne hilariously yells, “I’ll come back for you” and keeps on sprinting.
True to his word, he DOES come back in a later episode, tunneling underneath the prison. He breaches the underside of the moat and down spills all of Mangler’s half-dissolved body parts. Holding his former ally’s skull, Blackthorne begins to hallucinate Mangler talking to him and promptly brings the remains to D’Compose, who resurrects him as a hideous zombie named Nightcrawler.
It’s amazing that something like this was in a kid’s cartoon, sharing timeslots with Pound Puppies and Monchichis. It’s all as vulgar and dark as I described; they spare the audience NOTHING.
Perhaps to offset all the violence, the show was loaded with a really snappy sense of humor. The jokes were pretty dark (the aforementioned bit where Bright tries to shortchange Auger’s funeral), but sometimes they just got freakin’ crazy. In one episode, Metlar decides to take the Statue of Liberty as his bride and bring her to life. However, since the statues always take on the personalities of their subjects when brought to life, Lady Liberty has the personality of a stereotypical New Yorker (rude, selfish and always complaining). In the next episode, Senator Masterson assembles a team of celebrities to venture to Infernac in a publicity stunt to rescue the Statue of Liberty. Metlar gets so fed up with Lady Liberty’s nagging that he willingly gives her back.
Inhumanoids also boasted something most of its contemporaries lacked: serialized continuity. While the plots beyond the opening five-part miniseries were generally episodic, each story led directly into the next and the series had to be watched in order. Something that happened in one episode would have consequences two or three episodes later. Characters and their relationships grew and changed from episode to episode with actual forward momentum and progress. It may not sound like much now, but this sort of thing was pretty rare in the landscape of ‘80s action cartoons.
I’d say the only thing that really brings Inhumanoids down is that it lacks a conclusion. There’s a series finale, yes, but there isn’t a *conclusion*. It’s open-ended, with the Inhumanoids still out there making trouble and the Earth Corps vowing to defeat them… someday.
The series finale isn’t bad, though. All the satellite members of the Earth Corps unite for the first time to wage an all-out assault on the Inhumanoids. The Inhumanoids fight back with all of their various armies (statues, skeletons and the Langasoids) and it does feel suitably “big” for a final episode. Alas, there is no closure.
At just 13 episodes, Inhumanoids feels like a missed opportunity of the era. It has way more guts than most other shows that were on at the time and took not only chances in terms of content (it has CHURCHES! With CROSSES and everything!), but with the storytelling, too. The continuity and growing character relationships showed that it respected the viewers enough to presume they could follow serialized plots from week to week. Hell, hardly any of the episodes have lessons or morals to them, either. None of that “what I learned today” crap. Inhumanoids was pure entertainment in a world of public service announcements.
With such a short length, it’s a breeze to watch through and I’d highly recommend it. If you’ve written off ‘80s action cartoons because they’re too episodic or because the morality tales are corny or because the action is too soft, then Inhumanoids is a show you ought to give a chance. It’s kind of like an antithesis to all the other children’s programming that was going on around it.