Review: Defenders of the Earth – The Complete Series / Cert: U / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Adam Carl, Ron Feinberg, Buster Jones / Release Date February 18th
The '80s have come to be regarded as a golden age of cartoons. It was the decade of He-Man, She-Ra, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, The Real Ghostbusters, Thundercats, TMNT and The Transformers. But as superhero team-ups are currently box office gold, with their animated counterparts soaring high in the ratings, there has never been a better time to revisit Defenders of the Earth.
DC Comics has the Justice League, Marvel has the Avengers, and in response, King Features Syndicate brought together their most successful newspaper comic strip characters in a group for this 1986 series.
The Defenders are comprised as follows: Flash Gordon, saviour of the universe – need we say more? The Phantom – 'the ghost who walks', hero of the African jungle, able to summon the power of the jungle animals (though someone should tell him that tigers are indigenous to India, not Africa). (This is the 27th Phantom, by the way, as the title has been handed down from father to son for over 400 years – although you wonder what's going to happen next, since the present incumbent has a daughter). The dapper Mandrake the Magician, resplendent in top hat, tails and opera cape is a master illusionist able somehow to hypnotise robots and establish a mental contact with computers. Rounding off the roster is Mandrake’s assistant, super-strong African American Lothar, along with their respective children who don’t really contribute much, except to get into trouble – often.
The gang come together in the opening episode where Flash, in the near future of 2015, escapes from the planet Mongo (in a departure from previous established continuity, now a frozen planet), but has to return to free his wife and son who are Ming the Merciless’ prisoners. Flash mounts a rescue mission with his new allies. Alas, Gordon’s wife is killed. However, her essence lives on in a crystal and is incorporated into the Defenders’ supercomputer, Dynak-X.
Plotting to conquer Earth for its resources, Ming builds a secret base in the Arctic, but as the episodes unfold, his master-plan soon take second place to his schemes to create global mischief and vanquish the Defenders – particularly his arch-nemisis, Flash Gordon. To this end, he enlists the help of all manner of villains, demons, monsters and aliens over 65 entertaining episodes.
Though aimed firmly at a juvenile audience in its day, there’s no doubt that this 7-disc set will attract the attention of nostalgic older viewers, the more observant of whom will notice names like The Big Bang Theory co-creator Chuck Lorre among the show’s writers. Speaking of writers - the theme song lyrics are credited to the supervising story editor, Stan Lee. For the sheer audacity of the maddeningly catchy lyrics, Stan should’ve won a Grammy that year.
All in all, wonderfully addictive - you can never watch just one episode.