Animation Block: Defenders of the Earth


By the mid-1980’s, Marvel Productions was on a roll. The success of G.I Joe and Transformers had spurred the company into attempting to do their own projects without the Sunbow brand. Instead, they were approached by the Hearst Corporation, which was interested in developing a series based on several King Features characters.

The top names were picked, but then again, how could someone conceivably work space adventurer Flash Gordon, Africa-based hero the Phantom, and American magician Mandrake into a solid narrative?

Getting together the same staff that helped make other Marvel shows hits, the team fashioned together a premise. By putting the action in the future, they managed to work out Gordon having his spaceship and not stand out. They also upgraded Mandrake’s bodyguard Lothar into a hero in his own right.

The biggest change, however, was the other members of the cast. Each Defender now had a child, presumably to draw in the younger crowd, as well as a supposedly cute alien sidekick named Zuffy.

Each week, the viewers at home could tune in and watch our heroes take on the evil Ming the Merciless, as well as a few other obscure King Features villains such as the Sky Band. The series did manage to address mature subject matter, such as a character death, in a somewhat realistic fashion, but sometimes went overboard in the ‘very special episode’ department. There were at least three episodes devoted drinking and drugs (and not any specific drugs either), handled with all the subtlety of a meth-crazed raccoon tossed at crying child.

Like most shows from the 1980’s, there were few overarching storylines and the show had no definite ending. The animation was decent, although some characters tended to veer wildly off model sometimes. Jetta Walker (the Phantom’s daughter) suffered the most, with her hair and face changing wildly between episodes and sometimes between scenes.

It wasn’t an awful show by any means, yet its lack of impact is telling. Lasting a total of 65 episodes, it was a failure by 80’s standards, barely having a brief comic series and a handful of action figures. The show has been released onto DVD, both in separate editions and one bound volume. It is worth watching for nostalgia but not much else.