Saturday, October 18, 2008
Today I'd like to talk about a cartoon I frequently watched, and was somewhat embarassed by, as a kid...that Hanna Barbera superhero-BIRDMAN! (not Charlie Parker!)
Birdman was a winged hero created by the same animation studio that brought the world The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, etc. Our hero (the aforementioned "Birdman") apparently lived and worked in a pretty cool secret base on the top of a mountain. Birdman never seemed to cook, clean or do laundry in his little hideaway, he never even seemed to change his clothes....all he did was sit and watch a screen mounted on the wall for the latest emergency message. These came at the start of every episode, when he would recieve a call from his boss, a suave joker wearing any eyepatch and smoking a pipe, by name of "Falcon 7" (it was never established what happened to Falcons 1 through 6, though I imagine the crime fighting business can be pretty perilous at times). Falcon 7 would grimly intone that one of Birdman's old nemeses had returned (a bit of perfunctory back-story), and Birdman needed to stop him. Always eager to help if he could, Birdman would turn to his assistant, a giant purple eagle named "Avenger". "Come Avenger", Birdman would command, "..."Aawk", Avenger would reply, and they'd be off. The roof of the mountain would open up, and Birdman and Avenger would soar up into the sky.
This is where I usually became a little embarassed as a kid. Birdman would always shout his name in an over-wrought baritone..."Biiiiiiiiird...MAN!" he would shout, usually several times an episode. I don't know why, but it always kind of bothered me, and I remember clearly dashing to the TV and turning the sound down whenever it looked like Birdman was about to announce himself. There must be some psychological root to dealing with a hero who occasionally embarasses you-probably the same one we deal with when coming to grips with our parents.
Anyway, Birdman's power came from the power of the sun, which was pretty cool..UNLESS..he entered some kind of shadowy domain...a cave, a basement, etc. wherein his powers would fade. Unfortunately for Birdman, ALL of his nemeses lived in basements, caves, grottos, etc. So there would be Birdman, shouting his name and swooping in to kick ass, when suddenly (in the same baritone) he would announce "my powers.....WEAKENING!" Uh oh...looks like it's lights out (literally) for Birdman. And it would have been too, if not for his purple pal, Avenger! "Bird" (if I can call him that) would have just enough juice to push a little button on the collar around his neck, and communicate with Avenger, who had a stylish matching collar (and maybe cufflinks, I don't know). "Avenger", "Bird" would gasp..."Operation RESCUE". Avenger, invariably would know what to do (as Birdman would get captured with greater regularity than Exlax). Freeing Birdman, the duo would fly into the sky to get "close to the sun" (Icarus, where are you?) to recharge his powers. With one more shout of his name (and me sliding towards the TV to turn down the sound), Birdman would hurtle towards his always-startled foe. Birdman had some pretty neat "solar" weapons, including a "solar sheild" he could generate, and a "solar ray". I still vividly remember one villian shouting "Don't use your solar ray...YOU MIGHT HIT ME!!" Anyway, Birdman would save the day, and once more, shout his own name to the heavens (sound down of course).
The Birdman show had a second feature with three alien superheros of the future called the Galaxy Trio. The Trio had some pretty hilarious powers-"Gravity Girl" could reverse and control the effects of gravity (was she Estee Lauder in disguise?), "Meteor Man" could make any part of his body grow to gigantic proportions at will (remember, this was a pre-peuberty show for me, so I though his giant fists made perfect sense). Finally there was "Vapor Man", could could create any kind of caustic vapor known to man. Considering the amount of time we spent amusing each other with our own caustic vapors, he was probably the closest adolescent boys could come to actually being a super hero.
A lot of times people say they watch their favorite childhood shows again after gowing up, and complain about being disappointed. I'm happy to say I'm not disappointed with Birdman. Sure it's cheezy and repetitive, but doggone it, it's cool. And I'm no longer embarassed when my hero shouts out his name.