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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1967 – PART 4

Written By:

Alan Boon
Spider-Man, 1967

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

1967-68

Is it 1967 or 1867, because cowboy dramas still have a big hold on US TV this year, with Bonanza and Gunsmoke joined by The High Chapparal, as well as a slew of lesser successful, rightfully-forgotten shows. Andy Griffith and Lucille Ball, of course, were still riding high at the top of the TV charts, with this being The Andy Griffith Show‘s swansong season, but there were sitcoms and variety hours galore to make America laugh while its sons died in a foreign war fought purely over political ideology.

It wasn’t just a dark time for anyone with a relative in Vietnam, there was also tragedy for superhero and sci-fi fans as Batman, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Man from UNCLE, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea also reached the end of their runs, along with The Monkees (although Head was still waiting, tantalisingly, in November 1968). Never mind, Gentle Ben and Ironside arrived to alleviate the gloom, as well as a whole load of other shows that didn’t stick around in the popular memory. What about cartoons, though? Surely there was gold in 1967’s animated hills..?

Fantastic Four (ABC) / Spider-Man (ABC): The bombastic superpowered adventurers of Marvel Comics made their TV debut in September 1966 with a series of barely animated serials under the banner The Marvel Superheroes in first-run syndication. Essentially taking art from the comic books and adapting it for action, the shows were a poor spectacle and an especially risible translation of the entertainment found between the covers of works by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others.

A year later, and seemingly having learned the lesson of The Marvel Superheroes, the company partnered with two experienced animation studios to properly bring their characters to life in a pair of shows debuting on ABC on September 9th 1967. Hanna-Barbera – who also had six other shows premiering in the Fall 1967 Saturday morning line-up – were behind The Fantastic Four, using their considerable skill to adapt stories from the first few years of the comic’s run, along with original stories featuring characters from the wider Marvel universe, while Grantray-Lawrence were given a second chance to get things right with Spider-Man.

Fantastic Four, 1967

The FF enjoyed a nineteen-episode run that saw them tangle with Dr Doom, the Mole Man, Magneto, and more, but were not brought back for the 1968 season, despite fans of the comics generally being appreciative of the effort. Spider-Man, however, was given a second and third season, but only after production moved to Canadian studio Krantz Films, where Ralph Bakshi made the most of a reduced budget to bring weekly thrills to cereal munchers everywhere.

Under Bakshi, spider fans got to see how Peter Parker became an irradiated superhero in the first place, saw him tussle with the Kingpin, the Rhino, and Mysterio, and fight a whole heap of villains invented especially for the show (and often reusing footage from another Krantz show, Rocket Robin Hood). Bakshi left Krantz in 1969 and there was nobody left at the studio willing – or able – to take the job on afterwards. As the 1970s came around, Marvel switched their attentions to live-action adaptations of their heroes and there wouldn’t be another Saturday morning show until 1978’s The New Fantastic Four.

Birdman and the Galaxy Trio (NBC): It wasn’t just Marvel superheroes that Hanna-Barbera were bringing to screen in the late 1960s and Birdman and the Galaxy Trio was a follow-up to the previous year’s Space Ghost hit. Two shows in one, each episode featured two Birdman stories with a Galaxy Trio adventure sandwiched between them, all presented in a style that brought designer (and comic book veteran) Alex Toth’s vision to life.

Birdman is secretly Raymond Randall, a man given strange powers by the Sun god Ra and recruited by top secret organisation Inter-Nation Security to keep the peace worldwide. In addition to the power to summon energy shields and the ability to shoot blasts from his hands, Birdman can also fly thanks to wings that sprout from his back, and is constantly accompanied by his faithful eagle, Avenger. He later acquires a sidekick in the shape of Birdboy and takes orders from INS leader Falcon-7, directing him to thwart the evil schemes of Dr Millennium and the agents of FEAR.

 

Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, 1967

The Galaxy Trio, on the other hand, were three space-bound adventurers – Gravity Girl, Meteor Man, and Vapor Man – who patrol the stars in their spacecruiser Condor One, receiving missions from a man known only as Chief, and facing villains such as Computron, space pirate Kragg, and Titan the Titanium Man.

Birdman and the Galaxy Trio lasted for a single season of twenty episodes on NBC and was popular enough that Birdman got his own comic book from Dell Comics, issue two of which featured all four heroes teaming up for the first (and only) time. Much later, of course, Birdman returned as Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law (with the Galaxy Trio making guest appearances alongside just about every other Hanna-Barbera character) and the lore continues to this day with Birdgirl, the semi-comedic adventures of the winged avenger’s successor.

Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor (CBS): Needing to produce so many shows to satisfy demand can’t have been easy for Hanna-Barbera but luckily they had an ace team of imagineers with a boundless capacity for thinking up the wackiest premise. That can be the only explanation for Moby Dick, one half of the Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor half-hour, which starred the literary Cetacean in adventures beyond those which drove Captain Ahab insane.

The titular whale was paired with two young boys, Tom and Tubb, who he rescues from a shipwreck. Together (and along with the boys’ pet seal Scooby – two years before Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!), the pals face the perils of the two-thirds of Earth’s surface that are covered by the sea, including the shoctopus, the aqua-bats, the Eel Queen, and more.

Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor, 1967

Taking equal billing with the ninety-foot albino was Tor, a teenage caveman who rescues an ancient hermit and is rewarded with a magical club that enables him to transform into Mightor, a prehistoric superhero with super strength, the power of flight, and the ability to shoot energy blasts from his club. Mightor is accompanied by flying dinosaur pal Tog and encounters threats such as the Cave Creatures, the Serpent Queen, and an imposter Mightor who claims control of Tor’s village.

As with many of their shows, H-B produced just a single season of eighteen episodes of Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor – although there were two Mightor stories to one Moby Dick story each week – before their brains trust came up with yet another idea for their Saturday morning offering. Characters from the show appeared in episode seventeen of Space Ghost, aired the same week they debuted, and have continued to make guest appearances in comic books and comedy shows featuring the Hanna-Barbera adventure characters over the years.

Super President (NBC): Borrowing liberally from the origin of the Fantastic Four and the powers of the DC superhero Metamorpho, US President James Norcross is bathed in cosmic rays on a mission to space, gaining the ability to alter himself on a molecular level to any substance, including electricity. Becoming Super President, Norcross must live a double life as a superhero and the leader of the western world, his identity known only to his closest advisor…

Look, put to one side the fact that – despite wanting to hide the fact that he’s the President of the United States – he chose the name Super President, and appreciate this new twist on superheroes from the DePatie-Freleng studio, with Paul Frees doing double duty as both Norcross and the show’s narrator. The main show was paired with Spy Shadow, a Ted Cassidy-voiced secret agent with the ability to control his own shadow, debuting on NBC on September 16th 1967.

Super President and Spy Shadow, 1967

From the off, Super President attracted the attention of the Action for Children’s Television pressure group, who usually concerned themselves with the amount of violence found in Saturday morning cartoons. On this occasion, however, their contention was with the fact that the superhuman on show was the President himself, something they said was tantamount to NBC supporting totalitarianism.

It’s a shame that the controversy diverted attention from a show that, while silly, had its merits, an unusually original idea in a sea of cookie cutter superhero concepts. Thirty episodes were made, shown through to December 1968, and although there’s never been an official release, a thriving grey market kept the show alive during the 1970s and 1980s, until the advent of the internet meant that episodes are available to view on popular video sharing sites.

The Herculoids (CBS): Appreciating the creative freedom afforded by TV animation, and the lucrative financial rewards compared to comic book work, Alex Toth seemed to enjoy his time working for Hanna-Barbera. Although he continued to do comics work for the horror magazines published by Warren, it is creations such as Space Ghost and Birdman that continue to resonate, years after his death.

Created by Toth for the Fall 1967 season, The Herculoids mixed two popular tropes – dinosaurs and aliens – into a tale of a family of space barbarians fighting alongside their monstrous pets to keep their planet safe from invading forces of every conceivable type. The Herculoids of the title, the titanic defenders included Igoo the great rock ape, the rhinoceros-like Tundro, laser-breathing dragon Zok, and the blob monster Gloop. Gloop’s child Gleep was on hand to provide comic relief, interacting with barbarian child Dorno.

The Herculoids, 1967

Threats such as the Beaked People, space pirates, Andropon and his robot army, and the High Priest of Trax, all repelled successfully by our intrepid heroes across eighteen episodes (with two stories per episode). Hanna-Barbera – or really any – Saturday morning shows rarely got more than one season at the time and The Herculoids was no exception, finishing its run in January 1968 but enjoying syndicated re-runs alongside other H-B shows over the next decade.

In 1981, it was added to a Space Stars block that also included Space Ghost, Teen Force, and Astro and the Space Mutts, with eleven new episodes created for the run. The characters have returned periodically in other Hanna-Barbera productions, most notably the tongue-in-cheek Harvey Birdman series, and also made their comic book return in 2016 as part of DC Comics’ Future Quest series, uniting with other Toth-created heroes to save the universe once more.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: 1998 awaits, a very Strange World indeed!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (part 1, 2, 3)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1989 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2006 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

 

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