Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Mighty Mouse They belonged to the kids. At least it started that way. And as older kids demanded that their heroes grow with them, the comics became more mature, tackling near adult themes and exploring relationships that were almost complex. This left a void though for the little ones, and so a new generation of kids meant a new generation of superheroes were born--cartoon animals with superpowers. I'm talking about Mighty Mouse, Atom Ant, Underdog, and Hong Kong Phooey. What they lacked in creativity, they made up for with mediocrity. I know, some of you are cringing at these words. You're feeling it heretical for me to question these critters. But let's take a look back at this super-powered animal menagerie and see if they deserve such respect. Mighty Mouse, a project from Terrytunes, was the invention of Izzy Klein and Paul Terry. Originally the little feller was meant to be a parody of Superman, complete with a blue costume and a red cape. Appearing in 1942, the rodent made a debut and his success earned him a place as an icon of popular culture in America. Eventually making his way to television, with Pearl Pureheart at his side, he defeated armies of cats and his archenemy, Oil Can Harry (not to be confused with baseball hurler Oil Can Boyd, whose name was given him for a fondness for beer). I'll give this little guy credit. At the time, his presence was unique. For cartoon fare, he could hold his own with Popeye and Felix any day of the week. Although he stayed too long and had far too many incarnations, the original deserves a place in our hall of fame. I give you Mighty Mouse here to have a standard by which to compare later fare. And we can start looking at that later fare with an introduction to.... Atom Ant. Atom Ant represents to me what happens when commercialism collides with lack of imagination. I am not a fan of Hanna Barbera cartoons, although I will occasional give a nod to the likes of Yogi, Quickdraw, and Huck, but overall, I have found their product to be overly pedestrian (I will not include Johnny Quest or the Flintstones in this criticism). Atom Ant, created in 1965, was a science fiction wonder. This walking advertisment for the need for "Black Flag" operated out of an ant hill and would receive assignments from the police. It must have made the residents all comfy cozy to know they were paying taxes so that an a vigilante insect could look to their Homesland Security needs. His superpowers? Flight and being able to lift fifty times his weight. Not real inspiring, is it? Considering the weight of an ordinary red ant.Want another example of poorly developed ideas? Hong Kong Phooey. What this inept superhero really needed was a few sessions with The Dog Whisperer. According to his legend, a mild mannered janitor and his faithful sidekick, acting on tips from the police department, would emerge from the closet (I meant janitorial closet) and use their martial arts skills to save the day. Although he had no super-powers, Hong Kong Phooey had excellent taste in street machines. His Kung Fu Car (not making this up), with the sounding of a gong, had the ability to turn into just about any vehicle imaginable. Chances are you never saw this wretched show. He only made a brief appearance in the early seventies. If you want though, his entire run can be caught on DVD. Let's look at one more example of taking an idea and crushing it. The late seventies were a low point for Hanna Barbera. Besides Josie and the Pussycatts, The Harlem Globetrotters, Jabberjaws, The Hair Bear Bunch, and Scooby's All Star Laff-A-Lympics, the animal superhero among that emerged from this group was... Dynamutt? The name was an attempt to cash in on the phrase "Dy-no-mite!!!", made popular by that superstar J.J. Walker from the successful TV show "Good Times". A mechanical dog with little coordination and less intelligence, Dynamutt was basically one of the many incarnations of Scooby Doo, who himself was predated by the much funnier Precious Pupp (Wait, I didn't mean to use Scooby Doo and funny in the same sentence. Sorry) Dynamutt with his owner BlueFalcon, a tribute to Batman, fought all manner of spy and super villian from 1976-1978. I know I've stepped on some fans' favorite memories, but sometimes life means moving on. Is there really anyone out there who wants to defend Atom Aunt? Hong Kong Phooey? or Dynamutt? And if they did, do we really want to hear that defense? Especially if we're sober on a weeknight? At least I didn't step on the foot of Underdog. A character voiced by Wally Cox and with such magnificent theme song deserves some respect. So I do have some sensitivity.