Welcome to Super Saturday, a new ongoing weekly column that will pay tribute to the animated classics of yesterday, and will be offered on Saturday mornings, a period that many of us remember being the only time animated kids’ programming was offered. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback or personal remembrances in the comments!
Soaring onto television in 1966 was one of the great classic TV superheroes, (cue Gary Owens voice:) Spaaaaaaaaace Ghoooooooooost. Presented by Saturday morning powerhouse Hanna Barbera, Space Ghost was designed by legendary comic artist Alex Toth. The first ‘Space Ghost’ series aired as part of an anthology called ‘Space Ghost and Dino Boy in the Lost Valley of Time’ (usually simply referred to as ‘Space Ghost and Dino Boy’). The ‘Space Ghost’ and ‘Dino Boy’ shorts were completely separate and the two characters and concepts didn’t interact, except in a commercial bumper that aired during breaks.
Voiced by Gary Owens, Space Ghost was dressed in a full-body white suit that even covered his feet and hands. His identity was concealed under a black hood, and he wore a yellow cape. He could fly, survive and talk in space, and wore wristbands that allowed him to fire energy or freezing blasts, among others, and a belt that allows him to turn invisible. He can also erect a forcefield to protect himself.
He zips around the universe in an orange craft called the Phantom Cruiser, and is accompanied by teenage twins Jan and Jace, and their semi-anthropomorphic monkey, Blip. They can also fly via jetpacks and turn invisible, but they lack Space Ghost’s other abilities.
Space Ghost never had an alter ego, so it isn’t known why he, Jan, Jace, and even Blip wore masks. He also didn’t have a backstory on the original cartoons. Among the alien menaces that Space Ghost battled were the insectoid Zorak, the cat-like Brak, Creature King, the femme fatale Black Widow, and the armored Moltar.
Ginny Tyler voiced Jan and Black Widow. Tim Matheson (who later played Otter in ‘Animal House’ among other live-action roles), and Don Messick voice the chattering Blip, and various villains. ‘The Addam’s Family’s Ted Cassidy (Lurch) voiced villains Metallus and Tarko the Terrible.
Thanks to the sleek designs by Toth, lush alien landscapes, and dramatic music, the original ‘Space Ghost’ cartoons are still revered to this day, and its influence can definitely be seen in Bruce Timm’s minimalist designs for ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ etc.
Dino Boy’s cartoon was based on Earth. The lad, named Todd, parachuted from his crashing airplane, but his parents appeared to have died in the crash. Todd landed in a hidden valley somewhere in South America, that was populated with cavemen, dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. Dino Boy allied himself with a neanderthal named Ugh, and a baby brontosaurus named Bronty. Johnny Carson (NOT the talk show host) voiced Dino Boy. Gary Owens, the voice of Space Ghost, narrated the opening of ‘Dino Boy’, and Don Messick, the voice of Blip, also lent his pipes to Bronty. Mike Road voiced Ugh.
Each episode consisted of two ‘Space Ghost’ segments sandwiching a ‘Dino Boy’ short, except for the last two episodes, which consisted only of ‘Space Ghost’ shorts. Those episodes also featured cameos by other Hanna Barbera action heroes who were getting their own shows that fall, the 1967-68 season– The Herculoids, Moby Dick, Mighty Mightor, and Shazzan.
Both ‘Space Ghost’ and ‘Dino Boy’ were rerun in later seasons, but this was one of the shows that incurred the wrath of the parents watchdog group, Action for Children’s Television (ACT), which objected to the violence on such superheroic series, which resulted in them being taken off the air. Following this, there was a drought of superheroes in animated programs entirely until Hanna Barbera introduced the ‘Super Friends’ in 1973. And as viewers know, the first season of that show was extremely light on the action.
Regulations were relaxed quite a bit over the years and ‘Space Ghost’ and ‘The Herculoids’ were revived for the 1980 NBC Saturday morning cartoon ‘Space Stars’. For that series, Space Ghost was slightly modified in that his suit no longer covered his hands, and the orange Phantom Cruiser was replaced with a more modern white ship that slightly resembled a craft from ‘Star Wars’ which was all the rage at that time.
Over the years, ‘Space Ghost’ has achieved cult status as one of the great Saturday morning series and has aired in reruns (usually the 1980 ‘Space Stars’ episodes). ‘Dino Boy’ is more obscure and hasn’t been shown as frequently.
Of course, Space Ghost found an entirely new audience in 1994 when Cartoon Network recast the former superhero as a talk show host on the animation/live-action hybrid ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast. While Space Ghost acted as host, his former villains Zorak, Brak, and Moltar became his stage crew. This series would go on to last an amazing 11 seasons, and was even expanded into the hour-and-a-half show ‘Cartoon Planet’ for a while. Among other revelations, ‘Coast to Coast’ gave Space Ghost an alter ego, Thaddeus “Tad” Eustace Ghostal.
‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’ became the foundation for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of original programming. Following this show’s success, Cartoon Network took another old cartoon, ‘Sealab 2020’ and repurposed it as the comedic ‘Sealab 2021’. But even more similarly, the superhero Birdman became ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’ in a wacky comedic series that also included appearances by a wide variety of characters from Hanna Barbera’s history.
The entire season of ‘Space Ghost and Dino Boy’ was released on DVD in 2007. ‘Space Stars’ is also available through the Warner Brothers On Demand service, in which DVDs are manufactured when a customer buys one.
Back when ‘Space Ghost’ first aired, only a few bits of licensing were released, including comic and coloring books. The character has been turned into toys and other collectibles in more recent years.
In 1987, Comico published a one-off ‘Space Ghost’ graphic novel, which featured stunning art by Steve Rude. That book remains a fondly-remembered classic to this day, but unfortunately, a sequel, which would have included The Herculoids, was never published.
In 2005, DC Comics (which is owned by Warner Brothers, which also owns Hanna Barbera) published a ‘Space Ghost’ miniseries, which boasted gorgeous covers by painter Alex Ross, a massive ‘Space Ghost’ fan.
In 2016, DC published the miniseries ‘Future Quest’ which featured Space Ghost and his sidekicks, Jonny Quest, The Herculoids, and other Hanna Barbera superheroes from the same time period. Dino Boy had a small role and his real name was revealed be Todd Messick, with Messick being the last name of Don Messick, the voice of Bronty on this show, and many other Hanna Barbera characters.
Do you have any favorite memories of the original ‘Space Ghost’? (Or ‘Dino Boy’?)