From the Archives: Deck Log Entry # 61 Saturday Morning Silver Age: Part Five--the Super-Hero Universe of Hanna-Barbera

In the 1966 season of Satuday-morning kid-vid, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had accomplished a remarkable feat.  In Space Ghost, they had created an original super-hero whose cartoon was running neck-and-neck in the ratings with Filmation’s powerhouse, The New Adventures of Superman.  Better yet, as far as Fred Silverman was concerned, both shows ran on CBS.  The Tiffany Network had recaptured the crown as King of Saturday Morning, following ABC’s brief reign at the top.  ABC’s animated Beatles, the cartoon ratings hit of 1965, couldn’t hold against Space Ghost.

 

Silverman, the head of CBS’s daytime programming, knew he had struck the mother lode.  He had gauged the overwhelming influence of Batmania correctly.  Kids couldn’t get enough super-heroes.  Even during the summer reruns---a time which, traditionally in those pre-VCR/DVD days, viewers changed the channel to watch the shows they had skipped during the regular season---repeats of Space Ghost and The New Adventures of Superman were clobbering everything that NBC and ABC had to offer.  Moreover, the economy of limited animation made the cartoons relatively inexpensive to produce.  A three- or four-hour block of super-hero cartoons made Saturday morning the best bang for the buck in the network’s entire weekly schedule.  For CBS, super-hero cartoons offered no down side.

 

During that summer, Silverman ordered more super-hero shows into development, for the upcoming fall 1967 season.  As I related in an earlier segment, the Superman cartoon was expanded to sixty minutes, with the Man of Steel sharing billing with Aquaman.  And room was made in that “Hour of Adventure” for almost every other major DC super-hero.  (The television rights to Batman and Robin and Wonder Woman were held by producer William Dozier, and thus, untouchable by CBS, at least in 1967.)  Space Ghost and Frankenstein, Jr., and the Impossibles were picked up for a second season, of course.  But that still left a couple of hours in the Saturday-morning schedule that needed filling.  For that, Fred Silverman turned to Hanna and Barbera, hoping that the veteran animators could come up with another Space Ghost-sized hit.

 

What Silverman wanted, Silverman got, and when CBS’s Saturday-morning fall season débuted on 09 September 1967, it was with four and a half solid hours of super-hero cartoons.  H-B animators had worn their pencils to the nub and were responsible for the lion’s share of that line-up.  Besides cranking out a second season of both Space Ghost and Frankenstein, Jr./Impossibles, Hanna-Barbera launched several new original super-heroes that had the youngsters bouncing excitedly on the davenport.

 

H-B’s first new offering of the fall ’67 season was The Herculoids.  After Space Ghost, it is probably the most fondly remembered of all of Hanna-Barbera’s super-hero output.  The protagonists were a nuclear family consisting of alpha male Zandor; his wife, Tara; and their son, Dorno.  They lived on (and seemed to be the only human residents of) a primitive planet named Amzot.  In every episode, Zandor and his family were called upon to defend their home from invaders.  Fortunately, they got considerable help in this from a quintet of bizarre pets.  There was Zok, a flying dragon that could emit laser beams from his eyes and tail; Igoo, a twenty-foot-tall ape made of stone; Tundra, a ten-legged, armour-plated triceratops who could discharge explosive “energy rocks” from his horn; and Gloop and Gleep, a pair of protoplasmic creatures.  All of them displayed exceptional animal intelligence and were well-trained by Zandor.  The beasts were unfailingly loyal to their human masters.

 

Most of the threats came from various marauding tribes of sub-humans that were native to the planet.  However, occasionally danger came from attacking aliens from outer space or even from nature, such as when a horde of giant army ants marched across Amzot.  While Zandor was indisputably the head of the family, neither his wife nor his son were hapless victims-in-waiting.  She may have been a fetching blonde in a skimpy animal-hide skirt, but Tara had balls.  She’d charge headlong into a band of space pirates and brain the lot of them with a broken tree branch.  And Dorno was every bit his father’s son, lacking only his old man’s battle savvy.  All of them spoke with voices that sounded pumped up on steroids.

 

Like many of H-B’s super-hero cartoon series, The Herculoids was shrouded in vagaries.  It was never established if Zandor and his family were native to the planet or if not, how they came to be there.  Nor was it explained how Zandor had adopted the five odd creatures.  And though their surroundings were of the general Tarzan-of-the-Apes level, with lodging, clothing and weaponry fashioned from hides and wood and vines, the family seemed readily familiar with any super-sophisticated technology it happened across.

 

 

 

While Space Ghost and The Herculoids were based in futuristic settings, Shazzan! went in the other direction.  A narration at the beginning of every show informed the viewer of the set-up:

 

"Inside a cave off the coast of Maine, Chuck and Nancy find a mysterious chest containing the halves of a strange ring.  When joined the rings form the word 'Shazzan', and with this magical command, they are transported back to the fabled land of the Arabian nights.  Here, they meet their genie, Shazzan.  Shazzan presents them with Kaboobie, a magical flying camel.  Shazzan will serve them, whenever they call, but he cannot return them home until they deliver the ring to its rightful owner.  And thus begins their incredible journey."

 

The premise made the show seem a lot more exciting that what it turned out to be.  Ostensibly a quest-type show, in which the heroes are required to achieve an end (such as, in Chuck and Nancy’s case, getting home to modern-day Maine), little emphasis was ever placed on actually accomplishing it.  Occasionally, one of the kids would say something about finding the ring’s true owner, but that was about as far as it ever went.  Most of the time, Chuck and Nancy would travel to yet another strange Arabian city, where they would blunder into hands of an evil despot.  The siblings would make an attempt to solve their troubles on their own, but fail and summon Shazzan to save their bacon.

 

The episodes quickly lapsed into that formula.  Now, formula is not necessarily boring, but in the case of Shazzan! it was.  The genie Shazzan had no weaknesses or limitations; he was omnipotent (except for that not-being-able-to-send-Chuck-and-Nancy-home thing).  Even though the villains almost always had some kind of magic gimmick of their own, it never gave Shazzan a moment’s pause.  He would simply utter a Jolly Green Giant-like “Ho ho ho!” and turn the evil caliph into a cockroach or something. 

 

The only lasting thing of interest about the episodes was the visuals.  Every week, Shazzan would duel against the villain’s magic and that would result in some Spectre-like transformations of objects or of Shazzan himself.  I have to give the writers credit for making those sequences distinctive.  Still, no matter what trick was employed against the genie, the outcome was never in doubt. 

 

Never was there any real drama, either.  Occasionally, Chuck and Nancy might get separated (without being able to join their respective ring halves, they could not summon Shazzan) or have their rings taken away.  That aroused some interest.  But, as soon as the writers figured out that the show’s only real draw were the duels of magic, the scripts stopped giving the kids anything to do but call for Shazzan at the first sign of trouble, then sit back and watch the fun.

 

 

Hanna-Barbera’s last new cartoon series for CBS’s 1967 season was Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor.  Despite the second billing, “the Mighty Mightor” was the lead feature.  Every show contained two episodes of Mightor.  For this, H-B went back even further into the past than Shazzan’s Arabian-night tales. 

 

A brief prologue every week provided Mightor’s origin.  Back in the prehistoric era, Cro-Magnon teen, Tor, and his pet dinosaur, Tog (separated at birth from the Flintstones’ Dino), rescued an old man before he could be eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  In gratitude, the old man gave Tor a magic club; when Tor activated the club’s powers, by raising it overhead, he was transformed into a super-powered adult, complete with animal-hide cape and antlered cowl.  And Tog changed into a flying, fire-breathing dragon.

 

The Mighty Mightor possessed super-strength and flew.  His club was multi-purpose; besides using it for general skull-bashing, Mightor could also cause it to emit a force beam.  He used his powers to protect his clan from danger.

 

To all intents, the Mighty Mightor was the answer to that burning question “What if baby Kal-El’s rocket had landed on Earth during the Stone Age?”  Tor (Clark Kent) acted meek and mild.  He had an over-inquisitive semi-girlfriend named Sheera, who was determined to find out who Mightor really was (Lois Lane).  Sheera’s father was Pondo, the chief of the clan (Perry White).  And Tor was followed around by Sheera's kid brother, Li’l Rok, who constantly got into trouble, requiring Mightor to fly to his rescue (Jimmy Olsen).

 

Sandwiched between the two Mightor cartoons of every show was an episode of “Moby Dick”.  The H-B Moby Dick was friendly great white whale who rescued two youths, Tom and Tub, cast adrift by a typhoon.  A friendship formed between the boys and the whale, and they went on to have adventures under the sea.

 

“Moby Dick” was the least inspired of all of Hanna-Barbera’s super-hero efforts.  In fact, it was downright ludicrous.  Tom and Tub were able to stay submerged under the ocean, at any depth, for an unlimited amount of time, wearing only simple scuba suits with tanks that never needed recharging.  And, granted, most super-hero-cartoon animals exhibited higher-than-normal intelligence, but Moby Dick was smarter than Tom or Tub or any of the other people he came across underwater.  Even the “trapped in a lost world” situation didn’t ring true, when all the boys had to do was climb on the whale’s back, have him surface, and then get dropped off at the nearest seaport.

 

(I always had a suspicion that, somewhere, there was a missing-children support group for the families of Dino Boy, Chuck and Nancy, and Tom and Tub.) 

 

 

 

Hanna-Barbera produced a much better product for NBC in that same ’67-8 fall season.  NBC had been a little slow off the mark in capitalising on the super-hero craze, but at least the Peacock Network was better off than ABC, which had only its two Marvel-based super-hero cartoons to offer up in 1967.  NBC had managed to fill its Saturday-morning line-up with super-heroes, by cadging them from a number of animation studios.  One of the two shows it commissioned from Hanna-Barbera would hit a high mark with the fans.

 

Birdman and the Galaxy Trio followed the now-familiar H-B format of book-ending two episodes of one super-hero series around a middle offering of a second.  The lead series, “Birdman”, showed much of the same kind of thought that H-B had given to Space Ghost.  “Birdman” was H-B's first serious super-hero cartoon that was clearly set on Earth in the present day.  The protagonist was Birdman, a winged crimebuster, whose headquarters was situated in the hollow of a dormant volcano.

 

Besides his obvious ability to fly, Birdman possessed a variety of solar-based powers.  According to a back story prepared by H-B, but never more than hinted at in the stories, Birdman had been an ordinary man who received his powers from the Egyptian sun-god, Ra.  The rays of the sun would charge Birdman’s body with incredible strength and enable him to project heat rays from his hands.  He could also convert his solar power to form shields or force fields.  The down side was that, if Birdman was cut off from exposure to the sun, his powers rapidly depleted.

 

Through a relationship never made clear, Birdman took crime-fighting assignments from Falcon-7, the head of Inter-Nation Security.  Falcon-7 was one of the most intriguing characters in the series, primarily from the mystery surrounding his involvement with Birdman.  Intelligent and urbane, the pipe-smoking, tuxedo-wearing government agent could have been mistaken for Tony Stark, except for his brown hair and eyepatch.  Primarily a plot device, Falcon-7 usually appeared on a televisor in the winged hero’s lair.  Only a couple of times was he ever seen in the main action.

 

Over the televisor, Falcon-7 would hand Birdman his assignments or alert him to the activities of a super-villain, after which the winged hero, accompanied by his pet eagle, Avenger, would launch himself into the sky, shouting his trademark battle-cry “BiiiiiiiirrrrrrrdMAN!!”

 

Birdman had a stronger sense of continuity than most Hanna-Barbera super-heroes, mainly in the history with his rogues’ gallery.  A few foes, such as Dr. Millennium and Vulturo, returned to square off against Birdman a second time, often making references to their earlier defeats at his hands.  A running sub-plot involved F.E.A.R., a cartel of international criminals that found its evil machinations constantly disrupted by the flying crime-fighter.

 

The only classic super-hero accoutrement that Birdman lacked was a sidekick, always useful for exposition (someone to explain things to) or dramatic device (someone to rescue).  This was remedied about halfway through the season by introducing Birdboy.

 

 

 

Birdman was a solid H-B offering, but it was often eclipsed by the series stuck in the middle---The Galaxy Trio.  Set in an indeterminate, but significantly distant future, The Galaxy Trio depicted the adventures of three space-bound law-enforcement officers for the Galactic Patrol.  They were Vapor Man, who had the ability to convert himself, fully or partially, into any gas of his choosing; Meteor Man, who could expand all or any part of his body, gaining super-strength in the process; and Gravity Girl, who could control the effects of gravity on herself or other things.  They patrolled the Milky Way galaxy in their space cruiser named Condor One.

 

The three space cops were clearly veterans, tackling every mission with the confidence of experience.  The threesome relied heavily on teamwork.  Obviously comfortable together and familiar with each others’ abilities, they worked together with unspoken efficiency.  They had the demeanour of cops as well, formal and all-business around others, relaxing (and then, just a tad) only when alone to themselves.

 

Next to nothing was known of the trio’s off-duty lives.  But over the course of the series, a case took place on each of their home worlds, providing tantalising glimpses into their backgrounds.  For example, on a mission to Gravitas, Gravity Girl’s native planet, it was revealed that she was the daughter of the world’s king, much to the surprise and amusement of her teammates.

 

 

Hanna-Barbera’s other effort for NBC was Samson and Goliath, which concerned the activities of a boy named Samson and his dog, Goliath.  When danger threatened, the boy would clamp his wristbands together and shout, “I need Samson power!”  Through some agency never explained, the youth was then transformed into a modern-day version of the Biblical Samson, complete with super-strength.  A second banging of his wrists turned Goliath the dog into Goliath the lion, and together, they fought evil.

 

While Birdman and The Galaxy Trio would go on to become cult favourites, Samson and Goliath dropped off the scope almost as soon as it debuted.  No doubt the major reason for this was that the show had the misfortune to be programmed against CBS’s monster H-B hit, Space Ghost.

 

 

 

Speaking of Space Ghost, Hanna-Barbera started the show’s sophomore year with a jolt:  the famous six-part “Council of Doom” storyline.  In an unheard-of (in those days) masterstroke, “The Council of Doom” featured a massive crossover between Space Ghost and all of H-B’s other 1967 super-heroes to appear on CBS.

 

According to the plot, six of Space Ghost’s greatest foes---Brak, Zorak, Metallus, Moltar, the Creature King, and the Spider-Woman---form the Council of Doom, armed with a plan to destroy the intergalactic lawman once and for all.  The Council launches a surprise attack which results in Space Ghost, Jan, and Jace being swept across time and space.  Landing in various eras and locales, they are beset by attacks of the individual villains.  However, the constant time-shifting brings Space Ghost and his aides into contact with the Herculoids, Shazzan, the Mighty Mightor, and Moby Dick, with whom they team-up to defeat the menaces.

 

The first two parts of “Council of Doom” arc aired on that first Saturday of the 1967 fall season; the next four parts appeared over the rest of September.

 

For the kids watching, this was thrilling stuff, indeed.  Seeing Space Ghost meet all of these other super-heroes was a treat---and something completely unexpected since, in those days, super-hero-cartoon continuity was rarely observed within a single series, let alone among six different shows.  To the young viewer, the idea that all these Hanna-Barbera heroes existed in a shared universe was neat as all get out.

 

CBS hoped that the guest appearances by the new H-B super-heroes on Space Ghost would hook the fans into watching the new heroes’ own shows.  But, curiously, it seemed to have lost interest in the galactic crimefighter himself.  The network didn't order any new Space Ghost episodes outside of the six "Council of Doom" shows. For the rest of the season, the series aired last year's reruns.

 

 

 

By the end of 1967, Hanna-Barbera was unquestionably the King of the Saturday-Morning Super-Heroes, both in numbers and in quality.  While a couple of clunkers slipped in, most of H-B’s original super-hero cartoons delivered in action and excitement.  Fred Silverman’s programming acumen had given CBS the inside track.  NBC and ABC were playing catch-up.

 

Beggars can’t be choosers.  Air-time wound up going to some super-hero cartoons that made Hanna-Barbera’s Moby Dick look like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  Next time, we’ll take a look at these third-stringers.   

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Well they did have Gomer Pyle exclaiming "Shazam!" all the time!

And the Beatles mentioned Captain Marvel in their song "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill!"

Ronald Morgan said:

Interesting they thought he was well enough remembered to use the name, since they wouldn't have suspected kids to have any idea who he was.

And thank goodness for the later or the lion would have had us instead of us getting him!

Hey Luke, here's your crossover to the Herculoids. Zandor, the leader of the Herculoids, had a different name to begin with. Whoever designed him thought that he should be named "Zantar."

Why?

Flip the syllables and you'll find out how uncreative some people can be.

As for Captain Marvel... first of all, I've got an arrow to the knee for whomever thought renaming him "Shazam" was a good idea.

But Captain Marvel didn't fit into the "modern" 70s stories, any more than Superman would fit in a gothic vampire story, or Batman would fit in a romance story. Sure, you could force it for a bit... but it wouldn't work for long.

Beck, obviously, got Captain Marvel - but DC didn't. I think that was part of the issue... they wrote it far too simplistically, apparently thinking Captain Marvel was for five and six year olds.

Expectations and execution have to match up, and they have to reach the right audience. Space Ghost had his share of adventures that concluded with him destroying his opponent. Not often, but when it happened, he knew it was justice. Yeah, that's a little outside the expectations for a little kid... but then, those cartoons WEREN'T for little kids. Huck and Yogi were for little kids.

I think it has been said that Bugs, Daffy and the rest weren't created or drawn for kids, they were just relegated to that category by adults.  Similar thing I guess for Captain Marvel.  

And if you REALLY want to see an adult cartoon masquerading as a kids cartoon... it's Rocky and Bullwinkle. I wish Ward and Scott were still around today, making cartoons. They knew their audience VERY well.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

I think it has been said that Bugs, Daffy and the rest weren't created or drawn for kids, they were just relegated to that category by adults.  Similar thing I guess for Captain Marvel. 

Much like the perception that all comic books are for kids.

And we're getting close to that here as 1969 approaches.

I spent all week last week trying to read this thread, but I was so busy! I kept getting interrupted, so eventually I copied it over to Word and read it in chunks.

Regarding the “Council of Doom” six-parter, as has already been mentioned, Space Ghost apparently takes place in the same era as Herculoids and Moby Dick, but whether that era is the present or the future is unclear. Interestingly, when Jan and Jace approach Earth (the western hemisphere is clearly visible) they do not recognize it, referring to it generically as “that planet.” It was mentioned that Space Ghost went back in time to meet Mightor, yet to a different dimension to meet Shazzan, which contradicts, I believe, the Shazzan show itself.

Eventually, after I watch Birdman and The Galaxy Trio, I intend to rank them, not including The Impossibles and Frankenstein, Jr. (which are too juvenile). Also not including Shazzan, which I have no interest in. I hadn’t seen any of these growing up with the exception of Shazzan, which was rerun for whatever reason in my market.

We don't really know exactly what Space Ghost is and isn't capable of doing.

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