Alex Toth was one of the most influential comic book artists in the business. He started out working on Justice Society of America superheroes back in the 1940s, and never completely stayed away from that field.
In the 1960s, he was hired by Hanna-Barbera Studios – the animation kings of Saturday morning cartoons at the time – to work on cartoon television shows and create characters and strips. While there, he created Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, Space Ghost, Super Friends, and The Herculoids.
In the 1960s, cartoons took huge budget cuts. Hanna-Barbera Studios struggled to find ways to meet the budget restrictions and still deliver exciting, fun-filled cartoons for the Saturday morning crowd. One of the ways they did this was to have similar scenes throughout a series. For example, a hero always went into action the same way, that way the establishing shot could be used over and over again.
There were also several “talking head” shots that allowed writers to establish plot and character through dialogue (which was still done quite cheaply compared to the animation) instead of action. Most kids at the time didn’t really notice the changes, but if you compare the cartoons of this time period with the ones Max Fleischer and others did back in the 1930s, you’ll see huge differences.
Birdman was a superhero who lived inside a cave and waited for calls to action from his contact, Falcon 7 (a one-eyed man that reminded me a lot of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Birdman had wings that allowed him to fly. His powers were solar-based, which required him to fly toward the sun several times during nearly every episode. He fired solar blasts and could create solar shields to protect himself.
He was accompanied on his missions by a large eagle he called Avenger. Later, he created his own sidekick (something that most superhero strips had back in those days – young teammates were all the rage because Adam West had Burt Ward). Birdman’s sidekick was a boy he rescued from a shipwreck. He called him Birdboy, which – although not terribly inventive – got the point across. Birdboy had essentially the same powers, but his wings were metal, not feathers. Most of the missions that Birdman undertook involved threats from aliens and highly organized criminals with superweapons.
Usually in a half-hour show, there were three short cartoons. Two of them were Birdman episodes that book-ended a Galaxy Trio episode.
The Galaxy Trio was a three-man team from an intergalactic law enforcement agency. Actually, the team consisted of two men and one woman. They were Vapor Man (who could turn his body into vapor), Meteor Man (who could change the size of any part of his body and become super-strong), and Gravity Girl (who could change the gravity in an area or on a person). They usually targeted powerful criminals or criminal organizations on different planets of the space sector they patrolled.
All the Birdman and Galaxy Trio episodes are gathered here in this DVD. When I first heard that this was going to happen, I was excited. I grew up on these cartoons. I can remember wanting to be Birdman and Meteor Man. Sadly, the cartoons don’t stand up to my memories and my nine-year-old son was not impressed. He can watch an anime for hours, but he was giving up quickly on Birdman.
He actually prefers the new Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law episodes that still air on Adult Swim. In his new reincarnation, Birdman has retired from the superhero business and become a lawyer. The episodes often feature other cartoon characters in suggestive plotlines that lampoons them as well as the naive nature of the series back when they first aired.
Although the cartoons won’t occupy the middle grade kids, they’re still good enough to hypnotize the younger ones. I mean, after all, this is a hero who has wings and can shoot beams. Not only that, but Birdman utters his distinctive cry several times in one episode: “Biiiiirrrrrddddddmmmmmaaaaannnnnnnn!”