We live in a time of epic super hero crossovers and comic book cinematic universes that are managing to tie dozens of movies together into singular huge stories. There are television commercials that are mashing-up tons of pop culture characters, books that name drop everything that was every cool from the 80s, and song covers that are so meta and self conscious that sometimes I think I’m living in an alternate reality. Even though my brain has been primed for amazing things these days, never in a million years did I ever dream there would have ever been a team up of the two most unlikely franchises from the 80s such as the Care Bears and the Madballs. But in 1987, in the pages of the Marvel/Star Care Bears comic book (issue #13, the October/November edition) this did in fact happen, and I can not believe that I didn’t discover this newsprint miracle until just a few years ago. I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at that issue so that we could revel in the insanity a bit.
Care Bears, like most Star comics at the time, was a bi-monthly title, so even though this is listed as the November issue, it was actually in stores back in October of 1987 and services as the Halloween edition for that year. The issue was written by Michael Gallagher, penciled by Howard Post, and inked by Roberta Edleman, with Gallagher pinch hitting in the writing duties for series regular Stan Kay (though Howard Post wrote his fair share of the Care Bears comics as well.) At the time The Madballs also had their own dedicated comic series written by Gallagher after a successful 3-issue mini series in 1986, and was already up to issue #7. In fact the creative team of Gallagher, Post and Edleman would see the entire series through its run with the exception of one issue that Gallagher didn’t write (issue number 3 of the original mini series.) Side note, though the Madballs were mega popular at the time, their comic would be cancelled after issue number 10 hit newsstands. Care Bears on the other hand would keep pumping out issues for the next year or so, eventually finding itself on the scrapheap after publishing issue number 20 in early 1989. I found it kind of fascinating that Howard “Howie” Post was pumping out issues of both Care Bears and Madballs throughout their respective runs, and it’s most likely why this cross over happened in the first place. I can imagine him pitching it to Gallagher as a weird oddity, and then I imagine that editor Sid Jacobson found it hilarious so they ran with it.
The issue’s story is called “Ball Bearings” and opens on a handful of Care Bears (Tenderheart, Grumpy and Funshine) lounging around Care-A-Lot desperately waiting on the weather report. We get our first Madballs shout out on the first page with a news report on the television mentioning their recent good deed of capturing an escaped convict. Though there is an obvious storm cloud in the sky, they’re relieved when they realize that it’s going to be a beautiful day. On closer inspection though it turns out that the solitary storm cloud is actually the evil castle hideout of No-Heart (called Thundercloud) who has been planning the demise of the Care Bears for years. He’s in the final stages of a plan that has separated the majority of the Bears and their Cousins, scattering them to the four corners of the world leaving Care-A-Lot guarded by only Tenderheart, Grumpy and Funshine bears. No-Heart casts a spell to attack a group of kids on Earth to lure the last three Care Bears away from their castle…
Of course No-Heart just so happens to send his evil shadows down to take out Tommy, Lynn and Tyrone, the best buds of the one and only Madballs! So before the shadows know what hit them Screamin’ Meemie, Touchdown Terror and Fistface come to the rescue of the kids. No-Heart is intrigued by the gross-out do-gooders, and the wheels start turning in his head as he devises a plan to use these Madballs against his mortal foes the Care Bears. Of course, even though the Madballs saved the day, the ruckus reached all the way to Care-A-Lot and Funshine, Tenderhear and Grump Bear haul ass down to Earth on a rainbow to see how they can help out.
The Madballs are all punch-first action and they’re ready to clobber the Care Bears before Lynn stops them to tell them what’s what. So, maybe I haven’t watched enough of the cartoon series (or since I haven’t seen the films since the 80s), but I do not remember the Care Bears bouncing all over the place like Disney’s Gummi-Bears. Was this a thing?! Also, the Madballs were supposed to meet up with the kids in an abandoned ball room in the story. What they hell were they going to do in there?
Phew, apparently they were just playing a mass game of checkers. But that place still looks pretty seedy. I mean check out the corner of the wall with the torn wallpaper and the exposed studs underneath?! That’s comic book shorthand for “crack den”. Just saying.
Anyway, back to the story. No-Heart has the brilliant idea to steal the entire abandoned ballroom with the kids and Madballs inside and he transports it up to his thunder cloud castle base. Lynn thinks it’s about to rain, so she runs outside to get her bike only to plummet through the cloud. She’s narrowly saved by Touchdown Terror at the order of Fist Face, and then the Madballs are confronted by No-Heart. He blackmails them (by threatening to murder all of the children by hurtling the building back down to Earth) and gives them no other option but to attack Care-A-Lot. Of course, No-Heart is way too trusting and the Madballs and Care Bears immediately team up in a flurry of bad puns and horrible jokes about beauty, tugboats and football.
So even though the Care Bears and Madballs team up against the nihilist No-Heart and seem to defeat him, at his behest his assistant Beastly pulls a switch that will straight up muder the children still in the abandoned ballroom by dropping it from the cloud down to Earth.
More horrible puns and jokes ensue with a metric ton of fist-tickling and cloud pulling, and before we know it the kids are safely back down on Earth with No-Heart defeated (for the moment.)
The best part of this whole adventure? Because of their immense caring and bravery Funshine Bear presents Fist Face, Touchdown Terror and Screamin’ Meemie with Courage to Care medallions which makes them an official part of the Care Bear family. They’re now known as Careballs! Of course this whole issue has been one giant plug for the Madballs comic, but did we expect anything less? Since the Care Bears comic featured a letters column I dug into some of the later issues to see if there was any response by fans to this insanely awesome crossover. Turns out there was as you can see from the Letters page in Issue 17 of Care Bears…
Folks were writing in about this issue all the way from New Zealand! Also, and I guess this stands to reason, most of the letters are actually addressed to the literal Care Bears. Dammit, that’s so freaking cute it makes my face hurt. But I think the best letter (about the crossover issue that is) comes from Ted Blaschuck from Burbank, IL who writes: “Care Bears #13 was Outrageous! I think the Care Bears and Madballs should have their own comic together, or limited series.” Amen Ted. A-Men.
So let’s finish out this issue’s deconstruction by taking a look at some of the ads. I love comic book ads and this issue has some great 80s staples like this ridiculously awesome one for Tang merchandise…
The first thing I want to know is, how in the hell did Tang manage to create such an accurate rendering of me in 1987?! I mean that had to be me because I was the only kid I knew in my area that loved Tang so much that I would have dressed in complete Tang gear from head to toe including wristbands, headbands, suspenders, sunglasses, not to mention carrying a Tang Sticker dispenser in my hip pocket. And yes, I know that I’d be the only kid with a Tang branded Laser Tag set. How sad was it that the Laser Challenge set only came with one vest and zapper gun? I can only imagine the intense sadness of being the only kid on the block with this set just waiting for another Tang super-fan to move in so there could be some epic laser battles in the streets.
Some of my other favorite ads in this issue include this rad advertisement for the Palladium Robotech role-playing game (one that I owned but never had the chance to really play.) There was also an ad for a cool Aurora Track racing set by Tomy. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there was an M&M’s ad that riffed on the infamous baseball-themed commercial from a couple years earlier. I’m guessing that Mr. Plain Orange there took a bite out of the Green umpire in order to get that hit.
Lastly, there was a pretty sweet Popples ad that featured a whole secondary line-up of stuffed animal figures including Baby Popples, Sports Popples, Rock Star Popples, and Puffling Popples. What in the hell is a Puffling Popple?!
As a final postscript to this piece, while researching and reading through a bunch of the available Madballs comics I was excited to learn that in issue #8 Gallagher and Post introduced us to Madball Babies (riffing on the super popular Muppet Babies of the time.) Why did this idea never get translated into actual Madballs toys?!?
So, where there any team-ups like this in comics that you adore that you can’t believe more people aren’t talking about? Share some in the comments…