WORLD OF SUPER ADVENTURE – THE STORY OF THE HANNA BARBERA SUPERHEROES of the 60s [Stash Wednesday, Part 3]: Birdman and Mightor!

Birdman:

 

After the success of Space Ghost on CBS, NBC commissioned Alex Toth and Hanna-Barbera to provide them an equivalent series. The result: Birdman & The Galaxy Trio.

 

The inspiration for Birdman, DC’s HAWKMAN

An article for The Hollywood Reporter states that Birdman is very likely “inspired by DC Entertainment’s Hawkman in terms of both visuals — both characters sport enormous wings on their back — and origins (Both characters’ origins included Egyptian figures interacting with contemporary figures and giving them superpowers)” ( McMillan, 2015, The Secret Life of the Other Birdman, The Hollywood Reporter). While no official origin is given during the series, several sources state that Alex Toth wrote a backstory for Birdman. Here’s a summation written on the website Comicvine:

“Ray Randall was chosen by the high priest of Ra (Egyptian Sun God) to become an avatar of their deity and become Ra’s champion on Earth. He was to “shine the light of justice” on the world by doing heroic acts. His powers were activated when he shouted his own codename, ‘Birdman’”( 2018, ‘Birdman’, Comicvine).

Birdman’s voice is provided by actor Keith Andes, famous for films like Project X, Tora! Tora! Tora!  and  …And Justice for All.

 

Debut: September 9, 1967 on NBC:  Birdman is a winged crime fighter and the top special operative for a secret organization known as Inter-Nation Security.  Birdman operates out his home base, The Bird Lair, which is built within an inactive volcano. Through a specialized supercomputer, Birdman receives his missions from his boss, Falcon 7. Birdman and his pet eagle, Avenger, routinely fight mad scientists, super-villains and the occasional alien invader. Unlike Space Ghost, Birdman’s adventures were entirely earth-bound.

The formula for Birdman episodes:

  • The villain of each story starts out in their lair or in prison, working on a new device. The villain is shown to be quite demonstrative (he/she lays out their entire plan and shows the viewer how they will achieve it step-by-step). The villain then commits some elaborate crime.
  • Birdman is then alerted to said crime by Falcon 7. Birdman immediately goes on the mission to stop the villain.
  • After a brief battle, Birdman is incapacitated by either a significant concussive blast or he is lured into a trap that blocks him from the sun. Birdman weakens almost immediately and is only saved through either a mistake by the villain or with the help of his eagle, Avenger.
  • Birdman gets exposed to solar radiation and is almost immediately restored to full strength. Birdman goes after the villain one more time at full power and defeats him/her.
  • The villain either usually escapes or is destroyed. Birdman and Avenger fly off into the sunset.
“Biiiiirdman!!!”

NOTE: Birdman frequently screams out his own name as a battle cry (“Biiiiirdman!!!”). It can usually be heard at the beginning of a mission, during battle, and at the end of an adventure in victory.

Powers:

Birdman in flight
  • Solar Radiation Absorption: Birdman is a living solar battery, absorbing and storing the energy of the sun for many purposes. This is also Birdman’s greatest weakness: Birdman’s powers are completely dependent on the sun.  Birdman works best in constant contact with the sun. Without it, he weakens dramatically.  Most villains are aware of Birdman’s weakness and often exploit it. The recharging process only take a few seconds to get Birdman back to full power. Recharging is represented by a golden aura forming around his entire body.
  • Solar Energy Rays: Birdman can project rays of solar energy, either as concussive blasts or rays of heat that can melt most materials. The solar energy also augments his physical strength ( One adventure shows him being able to lift and toss a full grown elephant).
  • Solar Shield Creation: Birdman can create an orange tinted transparent solar force field that can stop most attacks. Birdman is shown to be able to manipulate the shape of the shield. The force field is usually in the form of a triangular heater shield on one of his arms (not unlike Captain America’s original shield).
  • Flight: Birdman has a pair of man-sized feathered wings that appear to be part of his anatomy. They allow him to glide, hover and fly at great speeds and across great distances. Many episodes show Birdman making cross country or transatlantic trips under his own power.

Allies:

Avenger, The Super Eagle!
  • Avenger: A large purple eagle that is Birdman’s pet/partner. Referred to several times as a ‘super eagle’, Avenger is intelligent enough to respond to verbal commands and can respond back in the form of loud squawks. Avenger is also shown to be strong enough to carry and /or knock out a full-grown man and can keep up with Birdman’s flight speed.
Falcon 7
  • Falcon 7: Birdman’s superior at Inter-Nation. A blond man with a pencil mustache and sporting an eye patch (like Nick Fury of SHIELD), Falcon 7 gives Birdman his assignments and updates him on the activities of his established foes.  Though most often seen on a television screen in the Bird Lair, Birdman and Falcon 7 meet in person on several occasions.
Birdman and Birdboy
  • Birdboy: During a patrol, Birdman finds a shipwreck, of which a young boy with partial amnesia was the only survivor. Since the boy was near death from exposure, Birdman transferred some of his own super energy to him, reviving him. Amazingly, this transfer gives the boy powers like Birdman’s.  Birdman takes on the boy as his new sidekick while helping him search for his missing father. Birdboy is given the ability to fly with the assistance of the mechanical wings strapped to his back.  The storyline with his father is never resolved.

Enemies:

Most of Birdman’s enemies are one-time menaces.  Here are Birdman’s most known villains:

Number One, Birdman’s ‘number one’ enemy
  • F.E.A.R: The main thorn in Birdman’s side is a terrorist organization known as F.E.A.R. (it is unknown what the acronym stands for).  Appearing throughout the series, the group’s main goal is to strike fear, terrorize the citizens of the world and destroy those who stand in their way (especially Birdman).  The standard F.E.A.R. uniform is a light blue bodysuit with the letters F.E.A.R. displayed vertically in the left breast. Their heads are covered in a black hood with large goggle-like lenses. Like HYDRA in Marvel Comics or SPECTRE in the James Bond flims, F.E.A.R. tended to work as brokers for most of Birdman’s enemies. F.E.A.R.’s leader, a bearded man known as Number One is the most frequent villain to appear on the show. Birdman has even referred to Number One as his “number one” enemy.  He has only directly fought Birdman twice (the last encounter ended in his own supposed death).
Morto The Marauder
  • Morto the Marauder: A criminal genius who is often called ‘a significant threat to the world’. He is captured by Birdman in a previous encounter. With his mechanical aptitude, Morto escapes from prison twice, using a suit of super armor fashioned from material in the prison workshop. Like a warped medieval knight, he soon makes a robot flying horse and a lance that fires lasers. Morto wreaked havoc in “Morto the Marauder” and “Morto Rides Again”.
Vulturo, The Anti-Birdman
  • Vulturo: An evil scientist named Dr. Vult creates a vulture-like costume to make himself a criminal counterpart to Birdman.  Vulturo is shown to be able to fly using a pair of mechanical wings and a jet pack. He is one of the many villains hired by F.E.A.R. to destroy Birdman. He appears in “Vulturo, Prince Of Darkness” and “Return Of Vulturo”.
Mentok The Mind Taker
  • Mentok the Mind-Taker: A green skinned villain with a hidden base right next door to Birdman’s Bird Lair( not kidding), Mentok has the ability to use cerebral messages to a person or animal to do his bidding ( ‘mind-taking’). He is successfully able to use this ability on both Birdman and Avenger.
The Galaxy Trio

Middle cartoon: The Galaxy Trio:  The cartoon Birdman shared his billing with is, in my opinion, the best of the Hanna-Barbera interstitial cartoons: The Galaxy Trio.  Like Space Ghost, this segment was set in outer space. Set in the future, this segment followed the adventures of a trio of alien heroes who were law enforcers working for an organization called The Galaxy Patrol. The three went on various missions and protected many alien cultures from numerous villains. The team travelled the space ways on their spaceship and mobile home base, Condor 1. Condor 1 could fly at interstellar speeds and was equipped with a “displacer” called a Lazon Tube (very similar to the transporter on Star Trek). The members of the Galaxy Trio were:

  • Vapor Man – The defacto leader of the team.  Coming from the planet Vaporus, Vapor Man could transform part or all his body into a gaseous form. He was able to propel himself in a built-up stream that enabled him to fly. He can also squeeze through very small spaces and produce different forms of “vapor” (heat vapor, freeze vapor, etc.) from his hands.
  • Meteor Man (Not to be confused with the Robert Townsend superhero movie) – A native of the planet Meteorus, Meteor Man was the strongman of the team. He had the ability to increase or decrease the size of any part of his body. He also gained superhuman strength in any limb that he chooses to enlarge. He could shrink to very small sizes or grow as tall as a skyscraper.
  • Gravity Girl – A princess of the planet Gravitas, Gravity Girl had the ability to bend the laws of gravity to her will, allowing her to fly and lift very heavy objects with her mind.

Mighty Mightor:

 

Next on the list for CBS was The Mighty Mightor. No official account of how Mightor was created can be found online. However, the common consensus from many sources is that the character was created out of an attempt at a cartoon starring an established Marvel Comics hero: The Mighty Thor.  

Mightor and his inspiration, The Mighty Thor

According to the Bowman Blog, “In 1967, Hanna Barbera had made an animated series based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic creation, The Fantastic Four. As a follow-up, Hanna-Barbera had a series in development based on another popular Marvel character, The Mighty Thor. For some unfathomable reason, Marvel decided instead to go with a deal with the bargain basement animation of production company known as Grantray Lawrence” (Bowman, 2012, ‘He had on a Hat’: Mighty Memories of Mightor).

As Thor was already headlining a segment of The Marvel Superheroes show by Grantray-Lawrence Animation,  Alex Toth created an all new character with Thor as a blueprint.  The first thing changed was the setting. Instead of a Norse Viking background, Toth went even further back in time to a caveman/ prehistoric time period.  Here are a number of Thor- inspired touches were modified for Mightor:

  • Thor’s red flowing cape is replaced with a cowl/cape that resembles an animal skin (like the legend of Hercules slaying the Nemean Lion and wearing its skin as a trophy).
  • Mightor has a horned mask instead of a winged helmet like Thor.
  • Mightor’s enchanted weapon is a wooden club, not unlike Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.
  • At the time, Thor had a transformation motif that would change him into a crippled surgeon named Donald Blake. Hanna-Barbera borrowed this motif but, instead of an adult, Mightor changed into a teenage boy (not unlike Billy Batson/Captain Marvel from the 40s’)
  • The name of Mightor’s alter ego, Tor, is another version of the word ‘Thor’.

Origin:

Debut: September 9, 1967 on CBS :  Mightor is actually given the one thing most of the Hanna-Barbera superheroes lacked: an origin story.  This origin was shown weekly as the intro narration to the MIghtor segment:

“While on a hunting trip, Tor and his faithful companion Tog rescue an ancient hermit from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Grateful, the old man gives Tor a club which possesses great powers. Tor raises the club and he becomes Mightor, and Tog is transferred into a fire-breathing dragon. Together they become champions of good and the nemesis of evil! “

Tor was a teenager who, with his pet dinosaur, Tog, belonged to a tribe known simply as “the Cave People”, ruled by the wise Chief Pondo. As Mightor, Tor battled the seemingly endless enemies of the Cave People.  Here’s a typical Mightor episode:

  • Some plot would be formed against The Cave People’s village or some attack would happen.
  • The seemingly mild-mannered Tor would then have to sneak away to transform into Mightor in order to defend the village.
  • Usually, the chieftain’s daughter, Sheera or her little brother Little Rock would be directly or indirectly threatened.
  • Mightor comes to the rescue and easily dispatches the villain, usually fighting some form of dinosaur in the process.
  • In the aftermath, Sheera asks where Tor was during all the danger, Tor makes a tongue-in-the-cheek joke and smirks at Tog (much like the classic Superman cartoons).

Powers:

  • Transformation: Whenever danger would befall his village, Tor (with his magic club in hand) and Tog find a secluded area, usually saying the line ‘It’s time for Mightor to appear’.  Tor then raises the club high and yells the name “Mightor”. The club vibrates and an explosion of energy occurs. When it clears, Tor is changed from a teenager into a full grown, heavily muscled man.  Tog the dinosaur is also changed into a larger fire breathing dragon with a large set of wings.
    He-Man, Hate to break this to you….

    …..but Mightor did it first

NOTE: The Mightor/Tog transformation is very similar to one performed by He-Man and Battlecat in He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe.  This change grants Tor some amazing powers:

  • Power Club: After the transformation, the club turns from an ordinary wooden one to an enchanted, seemingly invincible weapon. It can fire rays of concussive forces and bolt of flame. It can also operate on its own and can return to Mightor when heeded.
  • Superhuman Strength: Mightor is physically the most powerful of the Hanna-Barbera superheroes.  It is unknown what Mightor’s strength limit is. However, he is regularly seen lifting dinosaurs, monsters and giants that easily weigh tons.
  • Invulnerability: Mightor can withstand attacks that would destroy any ordinary human. Mightor has been thrown into volcanoes, stomped on by dinosaurs and tossed into bottom less pits only to return unscathed.
  • Flight: Mightor can fly at great speeds. It’s commonly thought that the club allows him to fly but several episodes show Mightor floating or flying without it.

Allies:

the lovely Sheera
  • Sheera: The daughter of Chief Pondo and the prettiest girl in their village. Sheera is the chosen damsel in distress for the series. With her red hair, she looks like what an adult Pebbles Flintstone would look. While not a vain person, she does have the classic Lois Lane/ Clark Kent relationship with Tor: she chastises Tor for cowardice while being enamored with Mightor.
the oh-so -pesky Little Rock
  • Little Rock: Sheera’s little brother and son of Chief Pondo. Little Rock is Mightor’s number one fan. He even wears a makeshift version of Mightor’s uniform (complete with a mini club). Little Rock tends to get himself in trouble by pretending to be Mightor.
Moby Dick , The Super Whale?

Middle cartoon: Moby Dick:  Named after Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, this version of Moby Dick is a friendly whale who routinely saves two boys named Tom and Tub and a seal named Scooby from the dangers of the high seas. That’s about it. It’s a very boring segment.

Later Works:

Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law:

Birdman gets the ‘Adult Swim’ treatment
  • Following the success of Space Ghost Coast To Coast, Birdman was also retooled as Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law. Birdman is now an ex-superhero working as an attorney  for a law firm and most of his clients are characters taken from Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the 60s and 70s.
Judge Hiram Mightor

Mightor also returned on Harvey Birdman as Judge Hiram Mightor and he presided over many of the cases.

  • All the major Hanna-Barbera superheroes returned in comic book form during the massive DC Comics crossover, Future Quest. This epic had the heroes working together against an interstellar monster called The series was continued as Future Quest Presents, which featured the origins and new adventures of heroes like Space Ghost, and others.
The NEW Mightor
  • One notable revision was Mightor with a new secret identity of a black child named Ty. Ty is now a secret operative for Inter-Nation Security and Birdman serves as his mentor.

Next Time:  The Herculoids and Shazzan!!!

-JaDarrel Belser

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