A syndicated 65-Episode Cartoon from 1987, Spiral Zone has an unusually dark storyline for an 80s Merchandise-Driven action cartoon, complete with nods to the After the End and Zombie Apocalypse genres.Exty Years from Now (specifically, the far-flung future of 2007), a Diabolical Mastermind code-named Overlord covers much of the planet with his Spiral Zone, a dense, fog-like atmosphere which envelops about half the Earth in a spiral pattern. Inside the Zone, any unprotected person becomes a yellow-eyed, disfigured "Zoner" with no free will. Overlord and his enforcers, a motley crew of hardened criminals called the Black Widows, effectively control the minds of millions of Zoners, and they won't stop until they've enslaved the entire world.The heroes of this bleak future are the Zone Riders, an elite team of "Earth's most powerful soldiers" led by Colonel Dirk Courage. The Zone Riders travel the world, engaging Overlord and the Black Widows in battle, destroying their existing Zone Generators (thus automatically freeing every Zoner in the vicinity), and trying to prevent them from conquering any more territory. However, both sides are waging a desperate war of attrition, with no end in sight.Most notable nowadays for having a theme song that freakin' kicks.
A-Team Firing: Partially justified since the Zoners (the zombies produced by the Zone Generators) are mainly civilians armed with military-grade weapons by the Black Widows, who regard them as Cannon Fodder.
Occasionally Zoners who are trained combatants appear, usually displaying competent fighting abilities. Particularly, in "The Best Fighting Men in the World", Overlord zones a Green Berets base, forcing the Zone Riders to fight on his own terms.
Crazy Cultural Comparison: One of the Black Widows is captured but appears to be organizing his fellow inmates. The Zone Riders plan to send someone undercover to learn what he's up to, and Katarina volunteers. Dirk appreciates her enthusiasm but has to gently explain to her that American prisons aren't coed.
Darker and Edgier: This show wasn't afraid to be scary. A couple episodes mentioned that some people would rather enter the zone and lose their free will rather than starve or some such.
Dragon Lady: The title gangster in "Lair of the Jade Scorpion".
EMP: The Black Widows use one to disable the Zone Riders' equipment in "Back to the Stone Age."
Rock Beats Laser: The Zone Riders still save the day, thanks to a group of Australian aborigines who teach them how to use primitive weaponry.
Although they ended up doing so with a fresh allotment of working weapons and vehicles.
Expository Theme Tune: The series begins In Medias Res with no proper introduction to the setting, so the entire premise is laid out in the show's theme song; the terrorist attack which resulted in the creation of the titular "Spiral Zone" and led to the events of the cartoon isn't depicted until 54 episodes into the series, shortly before the end.
Humble Hero: In the Clip Show episode "Profiles in Courage", a reporter tries to get each of the Zone Riders to describe his/her own heroism. Instead, they praise their teammates and the brave civilians who have helped them out. Lampshaded when the frustrated reporter asks Dirk "Don't you people ever talk about yourselves?"; Dirk's response is a Little "No".
It's Personal: Two of the Zone Riders, Max and Tank, have family trapped in the Zone. Also, several episodes feature friends and relatives of both the Zone Riders and the Black Widows getting caught up in the conflict.
J. Michael Straczynski: He wrote the pilot episode, "Mission Into Evil", then left the show after a dispute with the producers. "Mission Into Evil" was credited to the pseudonym "Fettes Gray".
Land Down Under: The Australian outback is the setting of "Back to the Stone Age", and homeland of Ned Tucker of the Zone Riders.
Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Promotional material strongly implies that the Black Widow "Bandit" is actually notorious terrorist Carlosthe Jackal. In 1987, Carlos was believed to be a criminal mastermind; when he was finally arrested in 1994, he turned out to be just a poser.
Limited Animation: The majority of the series falls into this. Largely due to poor outsourcing.
Sixth Ranger: Ned Tucker and Ben Davis for the Zone Riders, Crook and Rawmeat for the Black Widows.
The Smurfette Principle: The Zone Riders and the Black Widows have one female member each. Naturally, the heroic Zone Rider, Katerina Anastasia, is a Russian hottie (with a science degree to boot) because Beauty Equals Goodness. Meanwhile, evil Black Widow Duchess Dire is grotesquely disfigured by a patch of red chitinous carapace covering half her skull (and sports an ominous "zoner" yellow eye as well), although her male teammates are equally ugly.
Unobtainium: Neutron-90, the rare material that the Zone Riders' uniforms are made from; it protects the soldiers from the Spiral Zone's Mind Control effect.
Villain Protagonist: The show occasionally attempts to depict Overlord as a sympathetic villain who only wants to rule the world so he can bring peace and order to it, but he's such a horrible villain that this isn't pulled off very well.