• The Odinson Talks About some Heroes He'd Like to see Back in the Spotlight

    Greetings from the Odinson,

    Everybody knows names like Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and the Hulk.  These heroes are icons with decades of entertaining readers and viewers with their super heroic exploits.  Through comic strips, comic books, novels, cartoons, television shows, and movies, these heroes have kept the galaxy safe from all manner of threats.  Teams like the Justice League, Avengers, Legion of Super-Heroes, and X-Men represent the greatest assembly of heroes and powerful forces for truth and justice.  These are the best of the best.  When it comes to super hero icons nobody has bigger icons then Marvel and DC.  But they aren’t the only great super heroes that have been fighting the good fight.

    Through the decades there have been other heroes that have heeded the call, and for brief periods of time shined as bright as any of the biggest stars from the Big Two.  These are legends forged from the four corners of the universe, legends, for one reason or another that just did not have the staying power of their Marvel and DC contemporaries.  But this does not make their mighty exploits any less spectacular.  Nor does it make their creation anything less inspired. 

    1960s – In the ‘60s the Marvel Age exploded onto the scene and, much like Superman and Batman did in the Golden Age, inspired a slew of fantastic super hero creations to follow.  Next to the House of Ideas the best treasure trove of heroes at this time and the coolest playground in the super hero medium had to be at Hanna-Barbera.  And head and shoulders above them all had to be none other than Space Ghost.  Space Ghost is an intergalactic police officer with super human abilities that allow him to take on the deadliest alien villains in the galaxy.  He can fly, has super strength, can turn invisible, and has power bands that give him all sorts of energy-based powers.  Plus, he rides around in a super cool space ship with cloaking abilities.  Sadly, most of today’s youth probably only know him from his funny talk show spoof Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.  Back in the day, Space Ghost was the greatest super hero of his universe, but he wasn’t the only cool cat defending justice in the Hanna-Barbera U.

    This universe was full brave men and women with extraordinary powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary people.  Birdman is a winged crusader powered by the sun and accompanied by his ever faithful super eagle Avenger.  The Galaxy Trio, Vapor Man, Meteor Man and Gravity Girl, are a group of alien superheroes gathered together by Galactic Patrol to keep the peace in their sector of space.  There was Shazzan, a powerful genie that uses his vast magical abilities to help his mortal friends solve crimes and combat tyranny.  There was the super strong Neanderthal, Mightor, a brave hero that protects his fellow cavemen from the perils of a prehistoric world.  And then there were, next to Space Ghost, my personal favorites, the Herculoids.  On an alien world constantly being contested by threats from beyond the stars, the Herculoids were the first and last line of defense.  Led by their Ka-Zar-like leader Zandor, the Herculoids were comprised of Zandor’s wife Tara, his son Dorno, the powerful dragon Zok, the mighty rock ape Igoo, the many-legged dinosaur Tundro, and the gelatinous duo of Gloop and Gleep.  Together the Herculoids fought all manner of threats, from invading alien hordes to prehistoric monsters of enormous power, and they made quite a reputation for themselves across the galaxy.  The Herculoids have been known to team up with Space Ghost from time to time when the emergency called for it. 

    Space Ghost, Birdman, the Galaxy Trio, Shazzan, and the Herculoids are a group of mighty heroes that stack up against any other group in all of comicdom.  How these characters are not flourishing today or getting the revamp treatment is beyond me. 

    1970s – During the Bronze Age of Comics, Marvel’s Horror Comics were dominating the shelves, Jack Kirby was introducing the New Gods to the DCU, and the Star Wars phenomenon was born.  But on the small screen, viewers were introduced to one of the coolest sci-fi/super hero shows of all time – Battle of the Planets!  Adapted from a Japanese animated series called Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, BotP features the team of heroes known as G-Force.  Mark the leader, Jason the bad boy demolitionist, the beautiful Princess, the diminutive Keyop, and Tiny, the husky pilot, use their super human abilities and vehicles to defend planet Earth from the evil alien forces of Spectra.

    Each member of the team represents a member from the bird family – eagle, condor, swan, swallow and owl.  Their specially designed costumes give the ability to glide through the air.  And their superb martial arts skills allow them take on many adversaries at the same time.  Even though BotP was edited for American audiences (for violence and language) this show was still ahead of its time for an animated show for kids.  It had drama and pathos and powerful character driven stories.  There have been brief revisits, the most notable being the comic series featuring amazing covers by Alex Ross, but this franchise has not had the re-boot it so deservedly needs.  Like the Hanna-Barbera characters of the ‘60s, Battle of the Planets would make an outstanding addition to the modern comic racks.      

    1980s – The ‘80s overflowed with creative goodness.  At Marvel and DC we saw the birth of the Big Event with titles like Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths.  And from He-Man to GI Joe to Transformers and everything in-between, there were dozens and dozens of properties producing iconic heroes for the decade.  So I’ll just narrow it down to one, and that property is the Thundercats.  Among a sea of fantastic heroes the Thundercats stood out.  Perhaps it was the archetypal origin story of tragedy and triumph that lured us in.  Or perhaps it was the animation and artwork that was just a step above your average ‘80s cartoon.  Whatever the case may be, Thundercats was clearly an all time great.    

    When their homeworld of Thundera is destroyed, a small band of survivors make their way across the cosmos and crash-land on the seemingly paradise world of Third Earth.  But it isn’t long before they realize they are not alone.  A young Thundercat by the name of Lion-O would have to learn on the fly to become a leader if his people were to survive.  Armed with the powerful magic Sword of Omens and together with the super fast Cheetara, the super strong Panthro, the stealthy Tygra, the mischievous twins WilyKit and WilyKat, his diminutive friend Snarf, and under the guidance of the ghost of his deceased mentor Jagga, Lion-O sets out to make a new life for his people in this brave new world. 

    But many dangers lie in wait.  The evil Mutants of Plun-Darr, the Thundercats sworn enemies, have followed them to Third Earth.  Also the Thundercats would have to defend themselves against the malevolent machinations of the cyborg pirates Hammerhand and the Berserkers, the renegade Thundercat Grune, the glory seeking Demolisher, the subterranean villain the Mole Master, the fear demon Mongor, and many, many others.  But nobody posed as great a threat to the Thundercats as the mighty ogre-mage Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living.    

    These feline heroes have made several comebacks in the comics, but have yet to make the same impact they did in the late ‘80s.  Maybe with the debut of their new updated cartoon a Thundercats resurgence could be on the horizon.

    1990s – Without a doubt, the non Marvel/DC heavyweight champion of this decade has to be the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  This franchise spawned several movies, countless toys, magazines, and a television series that started in 1992 and in some form another has run to this very day.  Much like Battle of the Planets and Robotech before it, Power Rangers adapted a Japanese property for American audiences, using footage from the original show and editing it with scenes played by American actors. 

    From Lost Galaxy to Ninja Storm to Operation Overdrive, there are so many different incarnations of the Power Rangers, so I’ll just concentrate on the one I know best – the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Five teenagers are given super powers and super weapons of mass destruction to defend our world against the mutant and monster hordes of Rita Repulsa and her consort, Lord Zedd.  They fight these tyrants using martial arts and courage.  But when a challenge arises that is too big for them to handle they call on the Zords, massive robots in the shapes of dinosaurs.  The Zords can come together and transform into the Megazord, the most powerful force for good in the universe.  Take elements of Voltron, G-Force, The Mighty Or-Bots, and Ultraman, toss them all into a blender and what comes out is Power Rangers.  Though coated with plenty layers of cheese, it cannot be denied that the Power Rangers are thoroughly entertaining. 

    I for one can’t see how these properties, especially the Hanna-Barbera Heroes from the ‘60s and G-Force, are not top sellers to this day.  But then again, I don’t get the popularity of Deadpool either. 

    This is Odinson bidding thee farewell     

    3 comments so far:

    #1) Michael M. - 12:02 PM, Mar 6, 2012

    There are perfectly good reasons why these properties are not top sellers. Dumbed down plots and premises killed almost all of these series.
    The 60's shows suffered from the same problems that the dc comics of the time had. The only reason these shows have resurfaced in popular media is because they are campy to the point of no return thus making them funny. It doesn't help that they were written from the view point that kids are too dumb to follow an ongoing plot.
    Battle of the the planets like most of the Japanese imports (ie; Voltron, Robotech, and Power Rangers) was a butchered version of the original.
    And most the 80's and 90's shows were killed by over marketing.
    Ultra camp does not warrant a show to be taken seriously. I've tried going back and watching these shows and most of them are almost unwatchable. As a parent i would feel terrible trying to foist these shows on to them. Especially when there are better shows (Avatar, Batman, Gargoyles, and the Conan animated series just to name a few).

    #2) Jim M. - 12:54 PM, Mar 7, 2012

    Hail, Odinson!

    I loved the column this week (as I do every week). I, too, fondly remember the Hanna-Barbera heroes of the 60’s. Like you, the Herculoids top my list, followed by Space Ghost in a close second. I am regularly checking Amazon.com to see if the Herculoids series is finally being given the DVD treatment, but I am continually disappointed. I also loved Battle of the Planets. G-Force were so cool!

    Speaking of non-comic heroes of the past, do you happen to recall a Japanese movie released in America back in the mid to late 70’s? The title of the movie (I think) was either Atom Man or Atomic Man. It was your typical Japanese superhero/monster movie. I remember seeing it in the theater when I was a kid, but I have not been able to find a copy of it (or even any info about it) since then. I’m a huge fan of all the old Japanese monster movies and would love to find a copy of this one to see again and to show to my boys.

    Thanks again for the trip down memory lane this week!

    #3) Steven B. - 5:52 PM, Mar 7, 2012

    Hi Michael,

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your most recent column. I remain a huge fan of the Hanna-Barbera super-heroes programs from the 1960's and have bought the DVD sets for them as they've been released. Was thrilled last year when the Herculoids was finally released last summer. Now, if only they'd release Shazzan! I'd be a very happy camper.

    Thanks for the column.

    Cheers,

    -Steve

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