I love animation and going over the history of iconic animated series.
The Talented Alex Toth
The influence that comic book artist Alex Toth had on the Hanna-Barbera shows of 1966 and 1967 cannot be understated. Hired to work on Space Ghost & Dino Boy as a character designer and storyboard artist, he would go on to help develop a total of seven series during just those two years.
Altogether, the shows he worked on aired across all three major networks, in some cases airing directly opposite each other! During 1967, NBC got Birdman & the Galaxy Trio and Samson & Goliath, while ABC aired Fantastic Four (which, while based on the Marvel comics, Alex Toth did the designs for the show). Meanwhile CBS, having been the ones to air Space Ghost & Dino Boy in the first place, expanded their Saturday lineup to include three new Hanna-Barbera adventure shows, which would air alongside reruns of Space Ghost (which only had 2 new episodes), beginning at 9:30am.
The Herculoids took place on the faraway planet of Amzot and followed the adventures of a group known as the Herculoids, led by the human warrior Zandor. Alongside him were his wife Tara, their son Dorno, and five native creatures of the planet. Perhaps most recognizable was Igoo, an extremely powerful ape made of stone who would often be depicted with very heavy shadowing, which was iconic of Alex Toth’s work. There was also the prehistoric Tundro, a cross between a triceratops and a rhino that could shoot molten rocks from his horn, and Zork, a dragon who could shoot lasers from his eyes and fly through space. Rounding out the group were Gloop and Gleep, blob-like creatures made of protoplasm who often protected the other Herculoids by shielding them from energy blasts, as well as stretching their bodies in numerous ways.
September 9, 1967 - January 6, 1968
The show generally took on an pro-environmental/naturalistic tone appropriate for the hippie movement of the era. Usually, the conflicts would involve aliens who heavily relied on technology attempting to force their tech upon the planet, causing Zandor and the other Herculoids to fight back and keep Amzot natural. While Zandor and Tara were more than capable of using advanced technology and flying spaceships (which can be presumed is how they got to Amzot initially), the Herculoids almost always used their wits and their own natural abilities to take on the aliens and their technology.
Voice work on the series included Mike Road (who had previously voiced Race Bannon on Jonny Quest) as Zandor, Virginia Gregg as Tara, Teddy Eccles as Dorno, along with Paul Frees and Vic Perrin (voice of Jonny Quest’s main villain Dr. Zin) as a few of the villains. For the creatures on the Herculoids team, their voices were actually a small collection of noises done by Mike Road and Paul Frees, which were continually recycled and spliced together. The Jonny Quest connection goes one step further, as virtually all of the music used in the series (besides the main theme) was reused from Jonny Quest.
The Herculoids was, in essence, the successor series to Space Ghost. Besides featuring designs from Alex Toth, the majority of the scripts were written by the duo of Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who had also been the main writers for Space Ghost. Additionally, as Joe Barbera would go on to claim in his autobiography, the network was so impressed by what they saw of the show that they essentially took the funding for a full second season of Space Ghost and gave it to Herculoids.
While Herculoids never gained a second season by itself, it was revived in 1981’s “Super Stars” program alongside Space Ghost, where the two series occasionally crossed over. While it largely remained the same as the original series, Herculoids did see a few small changes, the biggest being the planet being renamed “Quasar” for unknown reasons. It also made more of an emphasis on Dorno being the child of Tara and Zandor, as he only referred to them as his parents in one episode in the original series, otherwise calling them by their first names in every other episode. In the new show, he only called them “mother” and “father”.
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Airing right after Herculoids was Shazzan, a series about a magic genie of the same name. The backstory, as told by the opening, was that Chuck and Nancy, two teenagers from Maine, found two halves of a ring while exploring a cave. Joining the rings together, they were transported to a world like that out of the tales of the Arabian Nights, where they met a large genie with a jolly personality named Shazzan, who gifted them a winged camel named Kaboobie as well as several magical items: an invisibility cloak, a magic rope that obeys any command, and a bag of “illusion dust” which can cause others to see illusions, all of which would be necessary on their coming journey.
September 9, 1967 - January 20, 1968
Each episode would focus on Chuck and Nancy traveling the magic land they were now trapped in, helping others along the way until they’re able to locate the ring’s “rightful owner” (who they never find). The villains they encountered would often find a way to separate the teens from each other, because when they join the ring together and shout “Shazzan!”, the genie would appear and easily take out the villains. This in itself was arguably the weakness of the show, as Shazzan could literally do anything, making conflict basically non-existent if Chuck and Nancy weren’t separated. As Alex Toth himself once said, lamenting on the narrative flaw, "The genie had no weaknesses; once you summoned him, the episode was over."
Voicing Shazzan was Barney Phillips, a popular TV actor of the time. Nancy was voiced by Janet Waldo (best known as Judy Jetson) and Chuck was voiced by Jerry Deter; This would be one of Dexter’s earliest roles as well as his first with Hanna-Barbera, who he would go on to voice numerous characters for the company throughout the 70s and 80s. Like Herculoids, it too reused nearly all of its music from Jonny Quest.
Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor
On the lineup after Shazzan, Space Ghost would run, and then it was time for Moby Dick & Mighty Mightor. While Herculoids and Shazzan were half-hour shows (with two 11 minute segments), Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor followed the format of both Space Ghost and Birdman, in that it featured two segments of a headlining series and a middle segment with a second show. Oddly enough, despite the title, Mighty Mightor is actually the headlining show and Moby Dick is the middle segment; This, however, did have precedent in the previous year’s “Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles”, which also gave its middle segment top billing.
September 9, 1967 - January 6, 1968
Mighty Mightor was a superhero series much in the same vein as the old Captain Marvel comics from the 40s, except set in the stone age. It told the story of a teenager named Tor who, while out hunting with his dinosaur friend Tog, came across an old man cornered by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Displaying great bravery, Tor was able to send the T-Rex off the side of a cliff, saving the old man.
The man then rewarded him with a magic club, which can transform Tor into the mighty Mightor, a powerful superhero strong enough to lift entire islands and able to shoot beams from the club. It would also transform his dinosaur Tog into a fire-breathing dragon. Tor used these newfound powers to defend his village, including the village chief Pondo, Sheera (Tor’s love interest) and Rok (a boy who idolizes Mightor), none of whom suspect Mightor’s secret identity as Tor. In some ways, it could be argued that Mighty Mightor may have inspired the He-Man franchise years later, even down to the name “Sheera”.
Mightor was voiced by actor Paul Stewart (well known at the time for his radio work), while Tor was voiced by former child actor (later turned attorney) Bobby Diamond. John Stephenson (who was rapidly becoming a frequent contributor to Hanna-Barbera) voiced Pondo, while this was the first Hanna-Barbera role for Sheera’s actress Patsy Garrett. Rounding out the cast was Rok’s voice actress Norma MacMillan, who animation fans may best know as the voice of Gumby.
The middle segment of the show was Moby Dick; While taking the name from Herman Melville’s 1851 novel and both whales being white, the similarities stop there. In this, Moby Dick is a friendly whale who saves two boys named Tom and Tub from a shipwreck. Also making friends with a seal named Scooby (not to be confused with H-B’s great dane two years later), the group goes on adventures across the high seas, usually resulting in Moby saving the boys from the dangers along the way.
Don Messick voiced Moby Dick and Scooby, while Tom was voiced by Robert Resnick (a very small time actor) and Tub was voiced by Barry Balkin (apparently his only role).
The End of the 60s Superhero
During the time these shows were airing, things were brewing in the public eye which spelled the end for the adventure cartoon boom that exploded thanks to the shows featured Alex Toth’s designs. Concerns over the amount of violence on television, especially in regards to programs aimed at kids, resulted in very vocal outcry from parental groups, media outlets, and elected officials. This only accelerated in the wake of Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968, and placed a target on (among other things) the superhero lineup CBS had made a central part of their promotion. Herculoids, Shazzan, and Moby Dick & Mighty Mightor didn’t receive additional episodes for the 1968 season, though they did continue to run as reruns until the fall of 1969. However, the tide was turning, as H-B’s 1968 offering for CBS (“Wacky Races”) demonstrated an abrupt switch back to pure comedy. By late 1969, all the networks were done with adventure/superhero shows and embracing comedic series.
With the adventure cartoon effectively killed by the networks, Alex Toth was let go by Hanna-Barbera, and went back to his old job at DC comics, working on horror and war comics. Several years later in 1972, he was hired to work on a new series, “Sealab 2020”. In 1973, once the heat had died down with regards to action shows, Toth returned to superheroes to do the character designs for a new cartoon series based on DC’s Justice League, “Super Friends”. Toth worked on the first season of the show at H-B’s Australian studio for only five months, but the series continued to use his character designs until 1984. This would be Alex Toth’s final credited contribution to Hanna-Barbera; He would continue to work in comics off and on for the rest of his life, being inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990. Alex Toth passed away at his drawing table in 2006 at the age of 77.
As for the Herculoids, Shazzan, Moby Dick, and Mighty Mightor, they would all live on in different ways. With regards to their initial run, characters from all four appeared in the final two episodes of Space Ghost in guest appearance roles, as Space Ghost traveled through time and space in his struggle against the Council of Doom. As mentioned before, the Herculoids would also go on to be revived as part of “Space Stars”, where they would also crossover with Space Ghost. Additionally, Moby Dick made an appearance in the 1972 TV movie “Yogi’s Ark Lark”, which served as the pilot to the “Yogi’s Gang” series a year later.
For the most part, the shows would be joined at the hip in reruns, most prominently in the 1978 syndicated block “Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super Adventure”. Afterwards, Herculoids would run a number of years on the USA Network’s “Cartoon Express” block until Cartoon Network launched in 1992, when all three joined as part of their “Super Adventures” block. They continued to air off and on throughout the decade, including on “Toonami”, before moving to the Boomerang network.
All the characters would also appear several times in comic books, starting with Gold Key’s “Hanna-Barbera Super TV Heroes” series, which prominently featured them alongside Space Ghost and Birdman. The Herculoids would also be in the Toonami-themed issues of DC’s “Cartoon Network Presents” series. Most recently, the Alex Toth cartoons (excluding Shazzan) were celebrated, along with Jonny Quest, in a DC comic series titled “Future Quest” which saw all the heroes team up against a new enemy.
In the end, the shows Alex Toth represented a unique era in 60s animation, one which would help lay the groundwork for many action series to come. While 1968 may have seemed like the end for adventure cartoons, it was only the beginning.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.