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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Justice League of Animation, Part 2

The proposition:  Why not have the classic Hanna Barbera cartoon characters, specifically the more super-heroic ones, for a team as an ongoing comic book series?  Some of the initial hesitance melts away quickly under a little fannish scrutiny.  'They were just too cheesy.'  Not without merit, this observation.  But consider the wonderful comic book work done in the earlier part of the 2000's with the Justice Society of America.  They started in WWII-era America as a 'quaint' idea of having superhero characters without their own titles become a team and gain fan exposure until such time as they were deemed popular enough to get their own books.  Read some of those stories.  You know what 'quaint' often meant in WWII-era America? Cheesy.  But also, these characters were very much beloved to generations who discovered, re-discovered, and re-re-discovered them through virtually every Comic Era...Gold, Silver, Bronze, Platinum, Plutonium, Vibranium, Kryptonite, etc.  In the same way, these HB characters are beloved and have sturdy enough characterizations to be expanded upon in a fun but serious comic book.  To prove this point, probably the most popular of these characters, Space Ghost (thank you, Alex Toth, for one of the coolest animated heroes ever), was the subject of a well-received six issue DC Comics Limited Series written by Joe Kelly, interior art by Ariel Olivetti, and covers by Alex Ross.  It was published in 2005, after Space Ghost had been held up as an object of comedy with the Cartoon Network 'Coast-To-Coast' talk show for many years and around the time that Birdman got the first name 'Harvey' and started practicing 'Toon Law on the same network.  Cheesy animated cartoon hero, did a popular turn as a ridiculous host for a send-up of modern talk shows, and then...a serious comic series.  Not just serious, but in the first issues, downright dark.  It's very fine comic book story of murder, revenge and, eventually, of redemption.  And oh, those covers (see above).  Nothing silly here.

'Who has the copyrights to do this kind of project?'  A very valid point, given that no comic book company is going to fork over vast sums to use most of these characters.  All they have to do is bend or break Comic Book Rule for Characters #1 in the first post, and create 'similar' characters.  But the Space Ghost series was a step forward in this respect; it proved DC either owned the rights through Time-Warner, or could get them.  Yes, the Space Ghost series story seemed to take place in an alternate future 'verse...no mention of other DC Comics heroes, icons, institutions.  Still...DC had the ability to do projects with Hanna-Barbera characters.  'Okay, they could do it.  They might do it.  But as part of the regular DC Universe?  Never happen.'  Well, such seemed the case.  But then, in a 2011 episode of 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold' animated TV series, and without even the use of a cosmic treadmill, the final veil between these disparate universes was pierced!
It was a moment of geekgasmic triumph, this team-up, and long overdue.  In recent years, DC has also become very fond of their Earths.  They have 52 of 'em, and not all yet assigned a designation I don't believe.  So if they -insisted- on keeping the stables separated until, say, some sort of Universe-Sundering Crisis required that the heroes of several realities combine forces (and I'm just spit-balling here...this sort of thing would be a once-, twice-...no more than thrice-in-a-decade kind of threat!), well they have Earths a-plenty to do it with.  'Come on.  Is there -really- an audience out there for this kind of book?'  Oh, yes.  Also professional and near-pro talent primed for it.  How else could I find stuff like these cover/illos floating in the ether of cyberspace?  Fandom and Pro-dom have obviously transcended the Hanna-Barbera Laff-Olympics teamups of the past in considering this possibility.

'But these characters transcend time periods, pre-historic to far-flung future.' Correct.  Makes the story of how they gathered together all the more exciting and fantastic, doesn't it???  If set in the DC shared universes/s, Mightor would be right at home on Dinosaur Island.  'Serious comic book story, huh?  Two words...erm, one hyphenated word...whatever:  Dyno-Mutt.'  A silly character, the android canine, and one played strictly for laughs so far.  But no reason it has to remain so.  As a four-legged, high tech and free-acting/AI weapons platform alone, he could be formidable as, say, Blue Beetle's Bug.  And still add some humor if the story needed it.  Never said this needed to be Watchmen...just more serious than previous incarnations of these 'toons, and fun.  I especially like the right illo for the take on DM.

'So who would be members of this new super-team?'  Of all the questions, this would be the toughest to answer.  Each fan has characters they would like to see in such a group, and each fan could give you reasons why they should be included.  Someone else would reject that lineup in favor of someone else and give equally valid, thoughtful reasons.  I can only address what I think might work as a team book.  Even if the lineup I toss out here leaves out a favored character(s), there's no reason they could not be part of a story or make an appearance.  Not every powered or masked individual to grace the pages of the Justice League ever got a membership card!  The biggest difference between my lineup and the illustrations I've seen would be inclusion of The Herculoids.  I loved watching them as a kid.  They would not be an easy fit in a team, though, because they already -are- a team.  It would be kind of like making the Legion of Super Pets members of the JLA, or for the Marvel set, making all the Inhumans members of the Avengers. No reason, however, why the teams could not meet and interact for a story arc, though.  Maybe King Zandor and one of the Herculoid animals could be incorporated on a more permanent basis if the series continued and changes in team members became desirable.  This would certainly keep things from becoming stale.  The same could apply to some of the younger sidekicks...associate members who sometimes take part.  Or their own team of Teen-Aged Titanic....hmmmm, well that's been done before.  Here are the characters I do think could contribute well to a team effort as at least a beginning Roll Call:   Space Ghost - Especially if DC used anything from the limited comic book series they produced, SG could offer headquarters, support and transportation.  Plus he's a good, solid character with defined but not unbeatable superpowers/gadgets. He's a natural spy and infiltrator using his Inviso Belt.  He has the abilities of flight, can become insubstantial like his namesake, and his Power Bands provide a nearly limitless amount and variety of offensive blasts/effects  Birdman - A solar-powered, high-flying hero who taps into the power of Ra to dispense justice and has ties with an organization with the resources of the FBI/CIA/Interpol could be handy.  If they keep the lawyer angle, his secret ID (hopefully not 'Harvey', but no other ID has ever been given) he could act on behalf of any litigation the team might face.  Mighty Mightor - A magical club transforms young caveman Tor into Mightor, imbued with super strength, flight and energy blasts from the club.  Think pre-historic Thor (HB did, and after Marvel pulled the plug on the Thor project, HB came up with this guy) who would not only add pure power to the lineup, but also embody a cool 'man out of his era' angle regarding the modern world.  Blue Falcon & D.Y.N.O. - Art dealer Radley Crown has deep pockets...and every team needs someone to help foot the bills.  His Falconcar, decel line, grapples, & utility belt are all the stuff comic gadgeteers dream of, and while he has no super powers, Blue Falcon is a world-class master of martial arts and either a genius inventor, or someone who employs a genius inventor.  The canine-formed android D.Y.N.O. is the pinnacle of his, or their, achievement.  Free-willed, human-level AI, the four-footed weapons platform could stand for Droidic Yttrium Nanotech Operating system.  What can the dog do?  What can't he do? Except for calling the harder shots, human decision making being desirable over pure machine logic, Falcon could well be the dog's sidekick.  Vapor Man - OK, I know I said no teams on a team...but the Galaxy Trio, let's face it, initially teamed because individually they would not be powerhouses in the fight against evil.  But in a larger force, they could offer excellent support.  Vapor Man is an alien life form with the ability to fly, to escape physical bonds, and squeeze through all but air-tight spaces by turning his body into a gaseous state.  He also can produce various forms of vaporous compounds with his hands, such as 'freeze vapor'.  Maybe that would be liquid nitrogen to you and me?   Meteor Man - Can alter the size and mass of any part of his alien body.  OK, get your mind out of the gutter and instead think Super Skrull...somewhat the form manipulation of Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man, combined with strength like The Thing or Martian Manhunter.  Gravity Girl - Alien female princess with the power to bend the forces of gravity to her will, enabling her to fly and lift very heavy objects with her mind.  Just the gravity-influencing powers alone are rife with possibilities for those writers wanting to delve into the myriad physics effects achievable using this ability.  Depending on the level of her power and the range, she could actually be the Biggest Gun in a team of pretty Big Guns.  Young Samson & Goliath - Magic wrist bands transform a young human male named Samson into a youthful (read; non-blind) version of his Biblical counterpart with superhuman strength, agility and endurance. He leaps with such titanic effect that he appears to be flying, a la a certain early Man of Steel. The bands also can be slammed together to cast shock waves against opponents, and when twisted, the bands deploy much greater levels of power to Samson and his dog, Goliath.  Goliath, a terrier, is the recipient of the band effect (when Samson changes) of becoming a giant, super-powerful lion with power beam eye blasts.  Given the Biblical exploits of Samson, this previously rendered clean-cut character could well be the Bad Boy of the team.   Shazzan - A wise and extremely powerful djinn, Shazzan's prime material plane form is tied to 2 rings, each bearing half of a round sigil.  When the rings are combined by their wearers, in this case older teens Chuck and his sister Nancy, they can call on the genie who, in true classic fashion, is bound to follow their directions.  Shazzan seems a jolly air spirit, and never minded the commands of his 'little masters' probably because they usually made their requests from a selfless standpoint.  Naturally, all commands are open to some degree of interpretation...possibly a humorous or sometimes a bit frightening element when dealing with this giant genie. In the cartoon, Chuck and Nancy are kids...here they should be 18 - 20 year olds.  That should make their 'wishes' and commands a bit more controversial. And there is much development possibility in them and their origin.  They found a chest of treasure in a Maine cave near their home, took out these odd rings, and found themselves transported to ancient Persia?  Gotta be a major pirate story in there somewhere.  Shazzan is a definite Big Gun, but his masters are mere humans though they do have use of a flying camel named Kaboobie, Dust of Illusion, and a Rope of Climbing.  The cartoon offered up several limits on Shazzan's powers (cannot travel to the Underworld, cannot break mystic barriers and is vulnerable to some mystic effects), and when he takes enough damage, the genie disappears...apparently allowing his magic to regenerate him.  He always returns later, which is cold comfort if the world is about to crash down around the team's ears.  Ownership of the rings, and the vulnerability of the rings (if destroyed, Shazzan is no longer bound to this plane of reality), is a definite weakness.  The Wonder Twins -  Zan & Jayna, alien brother and sister, could be all grown up for this series.  Her power to turn into any animal form always had advantages.  Some alien creatures would be allowable, as the twins are aliens...but I would probably nix any Kryptonian critters.  Too easy.  And who says water-based powers, if expanded a bit, couldn't be viable for Zan?   Ability to take on a water form is fine, but use a page from the new Aqualad and from Hydroman at Marvel and give the Zan Man some projectile and water-control abilities he fine tuned with maturity.  Others - Some characters are fine and fun and part of nostalgia, but I don't see them being regular members of the team...though quite possibly guest stars.   Jonny Quest, Mystery Inc., Dino Boy, Herculoids, Frankenstein Jr., Moby Dick, The Impossibles, Josie & the Pussycats, Thundarr (if the rights are inclusive to HB) are all good possibilities.  The same applies for any sidekicks, associates or animal companions not mentioned above.   Jan, Jace, the Teen Force, Blip, Gleek, Birdgirl & Birdboy, Drak Pack, ...all good co-stars.  This lineup is, I feel, solid for a Big Team form of storytelling.  Each character has ample villains to draw from for an opposite numbers squad.  Space Spectre, Dr. Zin, and a host of bad guys and gals could be researched and assembled in short order.  Many of the villains from these shows could mount a singular effort against the group and provide a worthy challenge as well.  Creature King comes to mind as one of these sorts.

Team Mechanics - If there are any doubts that the lineup would work, one can with effort compare each member to somewhat of an equivalent hero type in an existing team.  These are not perfect fits, which is a good thing.  Shows some uniqueness.   But I can visualize the characters being similar either based on their powers & abilities, or by the handling each might be given by a good writer in charge of the group dynamic.  Space Ghost - Martian Manhunter, Birdman - Hawkman, Mightor - Thor/Captain Marvel, Blue Falcon & D.Y.N.O. - Blue Beetle, Vapor Man - Metamorpho, Meteor Man - Super Skrull/Martian Manhunter/Plastic Man, Gravity Girl - Jean Grey, Young Samson - Captain Marvel/Mighty Adam, Shazzan & Chuck/Nancy - Johnny Thunder & His Thunderbolt, Wonder Twins - Themselves...or Beast Boy & Hydroman.  

Big home run, out of the park comic title and sales titan?  Not certain.  But I do know one thing:  I'd buy it.  


  1. The comic series Kirby: Genesis proves characters from completely different times and eras throughout the galaxy can be put together, although it takes the writing power of Kurt Busiek to do it. Okay, when was Space Ghost on B&B - how did I miss it?

    1. Oh, Mike...of all the things they have done on B&B animated, this one was the best. So well done and all on the perils of having young wards (even before they write tell-all books or get their fates put to a Fan Survival Vote) ;) Here you go:


      The writing chores for this kind of project could be botched, no doubt about it. But for so many pros it could also be a labor of love and I'm thinking that will make all the differences. I truly foresee the eventual realization of this project if readers of our generation have any impact on the modern comic book market at all.


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