You know, very few cartoons that we loved as kids hold up when we try to watch them as adults. Sure, there’s still charm to shows like G.I. Joe and Transformers, but even then, the animation is so dated, you feel a little ashamed for liking them in the first place. Especially when it comes to lame slapstick characters and public service announcements – ugh.
I remember next to nothing about Defenders of the Earth, save for its catchy theme song (for which Stan Lee wrote the lyrics!), and a Flash Gordon and Phantom action figures that seemed to pop up in different places in my house (I’m sure they’re in the attic now) for years.
For those who don’t remember (or know), Defenders of the Earth was an animated television series that was produced in 1986, and featured characters from three comic strips distributed by King Features Syndicate—Flash Gordon, the Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician—battling the Flash Gordon villain Ming the Merciless in the year 2015. The show also included Rick Gordon (son of Flash Gordon), Jedda Walker (daughter of the Phantom), Kshin (adopted son of Mandrake), Mandrake’s assistant Lothar, and Lothar’s son L.J. The show lasted for 65 episodes, which is shocking to me considering how little of them I remember.
The show is really not remembered fondly by fans. I don’t know if it’s the writing or the quality of animation, but I can’t find anyone who really remembers the show that fondly. But man, I love the King Features Syndicate characters, and even though Flash Gordon and the Phantom have lived on in other shows and media, Mandrake has kind of been in limbo since this cartoon (save for some comic work – wasn’t there a movie with Hayden Christensen in the works?).
Recently, at Target, I came across a box set of a couple of episode of Defenders of the Earth for a measly five bucks. I remembered my Phantom action figure (he had a dial on his back that, when turned, would flail his arms like he was insane…or punching…or whatever) and quickly snatched it up.
…shee-it. It’s hard to believe I ever really liked this. I watched the first five episodes of the series and, save for one episode that focused on the Phantom, the story is borderline incomprehensible. I mean, seriously … there’s no effort made to develop the characters, or even come up with justifiable motivations or reasons for characters to involve themselves in these stories.
Right after the death of his wife, Flash Gordon’s main focus (even though Ming the Merciless is trying to kill him) is enrolling his son Rick in school. The Phantom, from Africa, enrolls his daughter in the same school and she brings her panther to school with her, and happens to start on the same day. Not only that, the school isn’t mentioned again in any of the episodes that I saw. In fact, that episode, “A House Divided,” was the best of the bunch that I saw.
The animation is classic 80’s animation – similar in style and feel to G.I. Joe and the others. That is to say, it’s not horrible, but it’s definitely outdated. The movements are jerky at times, but it’s not unwatchable.
The problems with Defenders of the Earth ultimately amount to poor scripting. The show feels forced – characters are in the show that, literally, do nothing. It’s almost as if they were created with the sole intention of just selling some more action figures. Not only that, there isn’t any fun to it – there’s no charisma between characters or attempts to watch them grow, much less show valid family interactions between the children and their superhero parents.
As harsh as I’m being, I didn’t hate the show, but I didn’t really enjoy it either. Right now, I literally just finished watching and I’m already having a hard time remembering what the hell happened in any of the episodes I watched. They’re that forgettable.
This is one trip down memory lane that I didn’t need to take.