In 1966 Hannah-Barbera ushered in a Golden Age of television cartoon super heroes. Birdman and Avenger, the genie Shazzan, Space Ghost, Jan, Jace and Blip, The Galaxy Trio: Vapor Man, Meteor Man and Gravity Girl, Mighty Mightor, The Impossibles: Fluid Man, Coil Man, and Multi-Man, The awesome Herculoids, Frankenstein Jr and Moby Dick.
While Hannah-Barbera had developed a solid reputation producing theatrical cartoons earning 12 Oscar nominations and winning 7 Best Short Subject Oscars, breaking into television was a tougher nut to crack. Cartoons were considered much too expensive for television which led the duo to utilize a limited animation process which simplified character designs and backgrounds. Additionally, they would break up the animation so a character would remain static and only the necessary parts would be animated (mouth, face, limbs).
In 1957 Hannah-Barbera produced their first TV project, Ruff and Reddy, about the misadventures of a dog and cat who were friends bucking the trope of shows like Tom and Jerry (which they also did) where dogs and cats, cats and mice, etc had to be enemies. Following the success of Ruff and Reddy came The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958 which aired just before prime time (which began at 7:30 pm in those days) and was the first animated series to win an Emmy. Pixie and Dixie the mice soon followed and then came Yogi Bear. In 1960, a cartoon loosely based on the CBS series The Honeymooners, The Flintstones debuted in prime time and ran for 6 seasons…a record unbroken until The Simpsons arrived 30 years later. Jonny Quest was another HB production that aired in prime time.
Then, in 1966-67, Hannah-Barbera unveiled a number of super hero shows including Birdman, Space Ghost, The Galaxy Trio, The Impossibles, Shazzan, Samson and Goliath, The Herculoids, Moby Dick, and Mighty Mightor. They also produced the first iteration of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Most of the series adhered to the same format: 2 episodes of the main character with a second cartoon series sandwiched between. So we got Birdman (2) and The Galaxy Trio (1), Space Ghost (2) and Dino-Boy In The Lost Valley (1), Frankenstein Jr. (1) and The Impossibles (2), Moby Dick (1) and Mighty Mightor (2).
Birdman was an ordinary human who was given power by the Sun God Ra. He could fire solar rays from his fists and project solar shields to protect himself from attacks. He worked for a secret government agency fighting crime but usually found himself warding off attacks from aliens and monsters. Birdman had an eagle named Avenger for a side kick.
Later, Birdman rescued a boy from a shipwreck and transferred some of his powers to the kid to save him. He became Birdboy and aided Birdman in several adventures. Birdboy didn’t have the same natural feather wings as Birdman and flew using mechanical wings. Birdman’s traditional battlecry was “Biiiirrrrrrdman!” and he needed to recharge his solar powers by exposure to the sun or a heat source or he would gradually grow weak.
Birdman’s villains included Dr. Millennium, X The Eliminator, The Ruthless Ringmaster, Morto The Maurader, Cumulus The Storm King, Nitron The Human Bomb, Mummer, Kiroff, Zardo, Constrictor, Reducto, Dr. Shark, Hannibal The Hunter, Mentok The Mind Taker, Dr. Freezoid, Deadly Duplicator, Professor Nightshade, Chameleon, Moray of the Deep, The Brain Thief, Medusa, Spyro, Dr. Claw, The Speed Demon, Vulturo, and Dr. Mentaur who turned a woman into Bird Girl through a serum and hypnosis and gave her metal wings.
Ultimately when his show was cancelled, Birdman tried to make it on the basis of his popularity. He made guest appearances on Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, shopping malls, grand openings, etc. He even lent his likeness to action figures and statues. But eventually it all dried up for him and he fell into a deep state of depression. His former side kick Birdboy, who had made it big in the Adult Entertainment Industry, returned and suggested Birdman go back to his first vocation of practicing law.
Birdman joined the law firm of Sebben and Sebben as a criminal defense attorney and civil litigator where other Hannah-Barbera toons had found work. Birdman was back on top and soon starring in his own series again, this one titled Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law. To up the excitement and nostalgia of the new show Producers brought in many of Birdman’s old nemesis to act as prosecutors on cases. Mentok the Mind Taker shared the judges bench with the Mighty Mightor.
Birdboy came back to work for Birdman as a page, going by his film name “Peanut”. The first episode of Birdman’s new TV series put him right in the thick of it as he represented Dr. Benton Quest in a custody battle for Jonny and Hadji against his longtime companion Race Bannon.
Dr. Quest argued that Bannon was a man slut who frequented the bars and “certain beaches” wearing an extra small speedo and often disappearing and leaving the boys by themselves. But by the end of the case the two made up and confessed their love and Race even proposed later which would be a case for another time.
Over the course of 5 seasons Harvey Birdman represented Yogi Bear’s buddy Boo Boo who was accused of terrorism as the “Uni-Boo-Boo”, Secret Squirrel on indecency accusations, Shazzan the genie, Magilla Gorilla, Huckleberry Hound, Inch High Private Eye, Augie Doggy and Doggy Daddy, Many former Hannah-Barbera characters flocked to Birdman to be represented by him for various violations of the law. In one episode Scooby Doo and Shaggy sought his council for misdemeanor drug violations. Captain Caveman attempted to sue his son’s school board over the lack of teaching evolution in school.and many others sought out his council.
Fan art by Alex Wright
Birdman wasn't the only Hannah-Barbera hero to find new life after he show was gone. Space Ghost, who became disgruntled being a crime fighter, took to the airwaves decades after his show in his very own talk show Space Ghost Coast-To-Coast. Word has it that Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble may be headed our way with their very own cooking show. Keep your eyes open for more coverage of Hannah-Barbera's super stars in the future.
Hannah-Barbera Age of Super-Heroes: Biiiirrrrrrrdman!
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Acting - 8/108/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Production - 7/107/10
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