Saturday, November 20, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*


Much as I liked these old interstitial cartoons from the 1960s Filmation Studios AQUAMAN teleseries when I was a kid, I never expected that they’d be given their own DVD. I would have thought that if they showed up anywhere, it would’ve been on a multi-disc DVD for AQUAMAN. For whatever reason, though, there’s now a separate DVD set just for the King of the Seven Seas. Thus, what we have here are six “micro-serials” devoted to popular DC comics-franchises—Flash, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Teen Titans and Justice League— wherein each franchise got three seven-minute cartoons apiece. Originally each individual cartoon would be broadcast in between two Aquaman cartoons. This program provided the first animated adaptation for all of these features, but the exposure didn’t lead to any spin-offs, though they may have given Saturday morning programming execs a little more familiarity with the DC characters, which MIGHT have abetted the 1970s launch of the long-lived SUPER RIENDS program. That said, whoever produced the packaging of this 2-disc set was apparently confused about who lived in the DC universe, given that the images for the discs’ “main menu” screens include the character Birdman, who originally appeared in his own 1960s show from the Hanna-Barbera Studios.


The three ATOM cartoons are among the weakest offerings, since the extremely limited Filmation animation couldn’t really put across the athletic appeal of the Tiny Titan. The one episode of any interest pits the hero against a rogue scientist with control over mutated plants. This villain may have been loosely modeled upon the Plant Master character from the ATOM feature. The other episodes, concerning alien beetle-men and a standard mad scientist, are forgettable.


The FLASH cartoons—two of which co-star the hero’s juvenile sidekick Kid Flash—aren’t much better, since the animation couldn’t convey the excitement of running really fast. The biggest trick in the bags of these two Flashes is being able to vibrate through walls, and that trick isn’t enough to give much oomph to episodes about a giant mutated ant and a robot-making mad scientist. Slightly better is a story about an alien criminal speedster named Blue Bolt, who for some reason obtains speed-powers when he touches down on Planet Earth, and who creates havoc on the planet until he’s tossed back into space.


The GREEN LANTERN episodes, though, are the best of the offerings, and that may be because the titular hero, in place of fast physical action, employs a lot of fancy rays and energy-constructs in battling other SF-themed foes. It’s the only interstitial cartoon that’s totally faithful to adapting a DC Comics villain, a fellow named Evil Star who has a nice “dueling energy constructs” battle with the hero. The SF-theme also gives this micro-series access to more outre material, such as an evildoer seeking to release space-criminals from a dimensional rift while imprisoning Green Lantern and his friend Cairo in that otherverse. Cairo, incidentally, is a blue-skinned Venusian teenager who works for the Lantern’s other ID Hal Jordan. I assume Cairo was loosely based on "Pieface" Kalmaku, the (fully adult) Eskimo sidekick of the comic-book Green Lantern, though this blue-skinned youth talks hip-talk along the lines of the Justice League mascot Snapper Carr. Cairo provides a small dollop of comedy relief, which is more than Tusky the Walrus ever did for Aquaman.  


It was inevitable that a character like Hawkman, with an extremely complicated comics-backstory, would get simplified as much as possible. Thus, this version of the Winged Wonder is an alien scientist who, for no particular reason, lives on Earth masquerading as a Terran scientist while dressing up in hero-gear to fight alien invaders. Filmation rather logically dispenses with the original character’s penchant for archaic weapons and gives him talon-gauntlets that can fire various rays, much like the power bands of Hanna-Barbera’s Space Ghost. (I confess as a kid I quite liked the gauntlets, but I don’t think the comics-character ever used anything comparable.) Hawkman also has an eagle mascot, Skreel, who’s surprisingly not played for any comedy relief. All three episodes deal with routine alien menaces, though one tale boasts an interesting archaic name. Hawkman journeys to an alien world to rescue some Earth-astronauts from the denizens there, who worship a graven image by the name “Pythorex.” This sounds like faux-Greek for “King Python,” so I assume the writer knew of the tradition in which Greek oracles communed with a spirit, sometimes called “Python,” in order to make their predictions. To be sure, neither the statue nor its worshipers predict anything; instead the graven image boasts a forehead-gem that can mesmerize people, which is slightly reminiscent of the three-eyed statue in the 1940 THIEF OF BAGDAD.


The Justice League cartoons offer some pleasure in seeing how the scripts juggle the various powers of the heroes—Superman, Flash, Atom, Green Lantern, and Hawkman (but not Aquaman!)—as they ward off more alien threats. The only villain worth mentioning is an extraterrestrial villain named Mastermind, who nearly kills Superman in a kryptonite trap.


Sadly, the Teen Titans cartoons boast the dullest scripts, and there’s not as much colorful use of the respective powers of Aqualad, Kid Flash, Speedy and Wonder Girl. These three cartoons’ only distinction is that they’re the first cartoons to adapt a comic-book superheroine, so that Wonder Girl arrived on the adaptation scene before her “sire” Wonder Woman. Not that the Amazon Princess gets much to do, since in one episode, she appears to faint when a huge monster roars in her face!


The DVD set also includes a short documentary on the life of Filmation exec Lou Scheimer. However, the set egregiously omits the best thing about the interstitial cartoons: a rousing, albeit extremely corny, theme song, to wit:

All the super-duper heroes,
They always fight for what is right!
Live with danger and adventure,
They are Men of Might!

Superman, the Man of Steel
Performs super deeds with ease!
Aquaman's the bold and daring
King of the Seven Seas!

Hawkman, from another planet
Swoops down on the foe!
Nothing stops the Teen Titans
Anywhere they go!

Flash defies the eye to follow
With his super speed!
Against the force of evil
The Atom will succeed!

Green Lantern's power ring
Can accomplish anything!

Superman! Aquaman!
All the super superheroes
Are the Justice League of America,
Men of Might!

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