Finding Filmation: 'The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure'
“The New Adventures of Superman”, as part of CBS and Fred Silverman’s initiative for Saturday morning cartoons, was a big hit for the Filmation studio. After struggling to find their footing early on, they were finally receiving work on network television and steady income. However, despite this income, Filmation was still struggling to make ends meet.
Several pilots were produced during the same timeframe as the first season of Superman, including a James Bond parody and a cartoon based on the Marx Bros, but neither were released to the public. One pilot of note was “Dick Digit”, Filmation’s attempt to create their own superhero character. It sees the Jester, a circus clown with an act involving a puppet he’s named Dick Digit, who’s suddenly interrupted mid-performance by a rocket containing a tiny man no taller than a ruler. When the man wakes up, he explains that his planet is being shrunk down with a shrink ray (which also affected him) by a hostile group of aliens made of energy. The Jester offers his help, and ultimately while they’re able to defeat the aliens, the tiny man’s planet is destroyed, so he joins the Jester’s act as the new Dick Digit. It never made it to television, but it showed their commitment to getting new superheroes on the screen.
The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure
September 9, 1967 - 1968
During this round of pilots, Filmation was also already looking to make more shows based on DC comics characters. Their first choice was actually Green Lantern, but DC persuaded them to consider giving Aquaman a chance, so they produced a pilot titled “The Great Sea Robbery” in order to get the attention of Fred Silverman at CBS (who had been the one to order Superman the previous year). Filmation put a solid amount of effort into getting the look down, as a series taking place entirely underwater hadn’t really been attempted up to that point. Ervin Kaplan, a background designer for Filmation, developed most of the look, and the underwater effects seen frequently in the series were made by smearing baby oil on acetate. Silverman loved the pilot, and Aquaman was greenlit for the fall of 1967.
Aquaman would feature the first on-screen appearance of the character, who had made his debut in “More Fun Comics #73”, published November 1941. DC’s effort to persuade Filmation to use Aquaman as the primary hero of this new series may have been in recognition of the longevity of the character up to that point. After all, whereas many superheroes of the “Golden Age” of comics were retired not long after World War II in response to declining sales of superheroes, four characters were uninterrupted in publication all the way through the dawn of the Silver Age in the late 50s: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. As Superman and Batman were already on television at the time, it perhaps made sense then for Aquaman to be the next to headline his own show.
Just like Superman, an effort was made by DC (who did all the non-animation work) to keep the Aquaman cartoon as close to the tone of the then-current tone of the comics as possible. Bob Haney, the head writer for the Aquaman comics from 1966 to 1968, wrote most of the scripts for the Aquaman cartoon as well. He was the co-creator of several iconic Aquaman characters during his run, and one of these, Black Manta, actually made his debut near-simultaneously in both the cartoon and comics, first appearing in Aquaman #35, cover dated September 1967. Black Manta would be one of the more frequent of Aquaman’s villains in the show, alongside The Brain (an original character unrelated to the Doom Patrol villain of the same name) and The Fisherman.
Aquaman would be joined by his sidekick Aqualad and Mera (who wasn’t his wife in this series), and even Imp the Seahorse. Imp was primarily a part of Haney’s run in the comics and didn’t appear much outside of the comics he wrote, but was featured as a prominent role in the show alongside Tusky the Walrus, an obscure side-character from the 40s who would soon reappear in the comics. Aquaman himself still had his ability to talk to fish, but the writers also gave him Mera’s comic book ability to create projectile spheres of hard water.
For voices, Aquaman was voiced by Marvin Miller, best known for his role as Robbie the Robot in “Forbidden Planet”, as well as in the 50s anthology series “The Millionaire”. Aqualad would be voiced by Jerry Dexter in one of his first roles (alongside starring in Shazzan that same season), and would go on to be primarily a Hanna-Barbera voice actor. Mera was voiced by British actress Diana Maddox, while virtually all other roles (narrator, villains, side-characters, seahorse) would be provided by Ted Knight.
The Guest Hero Segments
Aquaman would air alongside the second season of “New Adventures of Superman” as part of the “Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure”, with two Aquaman segments each week, and Ted Knight even replaced Jackson Beck as the narrator in the Superman shorts to provide consistency. To fill in the remaining time, a 6 minute segment would air each week showcasing the adventures of other DC heroes. Filmation had their pick of a number of superheroes, and many different ideas for who would be featured were thrown around: Metamorpho, Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol, and Wonder Woman were all considered, but were passed on.
In the end, six DC guest hero segments were chosen, each receiving three episodes: The Atom, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Teen Titans, and the Justice League of America. The underlying reason for these segments, besides padding the timeslot and promoting other DC comics, was to test out other superheroes for their own full series, though this wouldn’t come to pass for a few reasons.
The Teen Titans, the comic of which was co-created by Bob Haney, featured the very first lineup of Aqualad, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Speedy; Though, notably Robin (who was also part of the first lineup) was omitted, as the 60s Batman TV series was still running. Likewise, the Justice League of America shorts didn’t include Batman, but did have the heroes of all the other segments (including Superman and Aquaman) team-up to take on world-ending threats.
These shorts would see the voice talents of Cliff Owens (voice of Braniac) as The Flash, comedian Pat Harrington Jr. as The Atom and Speedy, Gerald Mohr as Green Lantern, Vic Perrin as Hawkman, Tommy Cook as Kid Flash, and Julie Bennett as Wonder Girl.
“The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure” lasted only one season, though that’s not to say it was a failure. It actually did very well for the network, and was done in by one hero mentioned just a few sentences ago: Batman. In the midst of production of Aquaman and the DC guest heroes, Filmation had also been trying to negotiate the possibility of making a Batman cartoon. The rights were tied up with ABC, but when ABC suddenly canceled the show in the spring of 1968 (and destroyed the sets preventing anyone else from reviving it), the path opened up for Filmation to produce an animated Batman for CBS. Fred Silverman felt that having Superman, Aquaman, *and* Batman all together was a bit of overkill, so in the fall of 1968, the Aquaman (and DC guest heroes) were split off into a 30 minute rerun slot on Sundays (simply titled “Aquaman”), and Batman would be paired up with Superman on Saturdays for its third season.
While short-lived, “Aquaman” (both the main segment and the guest heroes) was important in giving all of these heroes their first on-screen appearances. Aquaman would eventually go on to be a key member of Hanna-Barbera’s “Super Friends” (their version of the Justice League) during the 70s, with Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Atom joining later on. The Teen Titans would take a few decades to reappear on screens (following a few failed attempts in the 80s and 90s), but are now most familiar to modern audiences thanks to their 2003 animated series. Green Lantern also finally received his own full-length animated series in 2012, which ran for one season on Cartoon Network's DC Nation block.
As for Filmation entering 1968, murky waters were ahead on the sea of Saturday mornings, as parental sharks circled, demanding a change to the violence on television. Filmation’s DC phase would soon be nearing its end...