Over the weekend, Marvel's Unlimited digital comic service dropped quite a surprise: a new digital-first miniseries starring Brute Force, a team of cybernetically-enhanced animals who appeared in a single mini-series from 1990 and were then swiftly forgotten, (with the exception of a few recent novelty cameos). The uzi-toting dolphin and his companions have attained a bit of a cult status over the new years — not because that original mini-series was good, but simply because of the absurdity of it all.
Brute Force — the aforementioned uzi-toting dolphin Dr. Echo (formerly "Surfstreak" oof), along with a hip slang-speaking kangaroo named Hip-Hop, a stubborn bald eagle named Soar (formerly "Slipstream"), an idiot bear named Wreckless, and the ferocious lion named Lionheart — began as a desperate attempt to cash-in on the growing action figure trend. Back in the 80s, President Reagan had deregulated the advertising industry, suddenly opening up opportunities for companies to market directly to children. This led to an explosion of new action figures, along with cartoons and comic books designed specifically to sell those toys. (Consider for example: literally every single cartoon and action figure combo series you remember from the 80s. Yes, your nostalgia was actually just a cheap, quick cash grab by Republicans.) Marvel had found some success in working on some of these licensed toy tie-in properties, such as GI Joe and ROM: SpaceKnight. But eventually, someone had the idea: what if we created our own licensed toy tie-in property, that could start as a comic book and then become a hugely successful toy line? As Brute Force's creators explained in an interview with GamesRadar:
Simon Furman: I was approached by Marvel's Bob Budiansky [who] told me Marvel was taking the Transformers model in reverse and instead of basing comics on a toy line, we're creating a comic specifically designed to be turned into a range of toys owned or licensed by Marvel. I guess they were tired of creating all this great backstory and character/story stuff that they didn't own.
Bob Budiansky: I think the idea […] was to reverse-engineer the success Marvel had with developing toy company properties into successful storylines and comics, such as Transformers and G.I. Joe.
So, instead of waiting for a toy company to come to Marvel, license Marvel its newest toy and ask Marvel to develop its storyline, Marvel set out to originate an idea that it could then license for toys, animated TV series, etc. while maintaining ownership of it.
The four-issue Brute Force mini-series would basically serve as a printed sales pitch to prospective licensing partners.
Clearly, it … did not work out. There's a lot going on in that original Brute Force miniseries that definitely could be interesting. There's the sympathetic scientist mentor who creates the cybernetic super-animals, who realizes that the massive conglomerate he works for is actually behind all kinds of environmental destruction, and has wicked plans for his heroic creations. Cybernetic, gun-toting animals saving the environment from evil corporations? It should be a win, right?
The comic, unfortunately, is not very good. If anything, it feels like a poor first draft of We3, the critically-acclaimed comic book that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely would publish 14 years later. As a nod to this, Marvel eventually acknowledged Brute Force's place in the comic book canon by retcon'ing the team as a spin-off of the Morrison-created Weapon Plus Program (Brute Force became Weapon 2, a precursor to Wolverine's more well-known Weapon 10).
TV writers Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti brought back Brute Force for a cameo in a Deadpool comic, and now the pair have returned to write the team's new digital-first adventures. And I have to say, these new comics are exactly the kind of glorious pulp trash that the original series should have been, the kind of delightful, bombastic action figure mash-up that makes you want to fist-punch the air in childish excitement.
I never thought I'd be so excited to see Brute Force return.