When the world thinks of super hero teams, many come to mind like The Avengers, Justice League of America, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Teen Titans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and of course at the top of that list are the Defenders of the Earth, right? Okay, I know most of you have never heard of them or if you have, I am sure you have forgotten about them until now. So let me tell you who the Defenders of the Earth are, and I can guarantee that you will know most the names mentioned. King Features Syndicate made comic strips, and some of their most popular ones were Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake The Magician. In 1986 they decided that it would be a great time for them to put these characters together in a cartoon that would spin off into toys, video games and comics. Flash Gordon of course is the star football player who got lost in space and became a hero when he went up against the evil Ming The Merciless. He was so popular that the character had toys, film serials and films made about him. He was created in 1934. The Phantom was created in 1936 and is a costumed crime fighter in Africa. His costume is a purple skintight body suit that covers most of his skin besides his face, he also wears a small mask that covers his eyes making them seem solid white. His costume set a standard in super hero history. Mandrake The Magician was created in 1934 and is a crime fighting magician who used his tricks to bust gangsters and other forms of low life. Throw in Mandrake’s assistant Lothar and all or their kids, and you have The Defenders of the Earth! And guess what, Star Comics did a four issue run about this “amazing” team and in this blog entry we will be taking a look at them.
The 1986 cartoon was an action adventure series that ran for 1 season but had 65 episodes. The cartoon’s plot was that Ming The Merciless had used up his home planet of Mongo and has set his sight on Earth in the year 2015 with the help of ice robot Garax and his ice robot men. Flash Gordon’s wife Dale Arden has been kidnapped and killed leaving Gordon mad with his teenage son Rick Gordon goes to Earth to protect it from harm and along the way they team with The Phantom and his daughter Jebba Walker, Mandrake and his adopted son Kshin, Mandrake’s strong and loyal assistant Lothar and his son L.J and all come together to forum The Defenders of the Earth. The group’s headquarters also has a super computer that has the sprit of Flash’s dead wife inside called Dynak-X that helps them on the way. The cartoon was on when I was a youth, and while I watched it I never found it to be as exciting as other cartoons based on super heroes. The Phantom was the only one in the series that I was a fan of, and I am sure most of that came from his kick ass ways. Plus it’s funny how they changed the character to give him super powers when he chanted, this changed who and what the Phantom really is from a normal guy trying to do good in an area that’s plagued with crime. While I was a fan of Flash Gordon thanks mostly to the live action 1979 film that had the rocking music by Queen, he was just not a drawing power to get me to tune in every episode. As for Mandrake, I had no clue to who he was, and while a classic character, he just didn’t make a fan out of me. Plus adding a bunch of teenagers and kids is a sure way to lose me in any series. And to spice things up, Ming was not the only bad guy in the series but most of the others did not have the evil nature like him making them feel like filler, only there to fill up time and episodes. Again, the cartoon was not bad, it just did not, in my opinion, have that special something that made me want to catch every episode and draw me into buying the other products of the show. BCI and now Mill Creek has released the series on DVD so if you were a fan of the show, the characters or want to check it out, it is out there.
The show’s toy line was put out by Galoob in 1986, and the figures had a dial on their backs that when twisted made them perform fighting action and came with a weapon. The line consisted of Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician, Lothar, Ming The Merciless and Garax. Not only could fans get the figures but also vehicles were made such as Defenders’ Claw Copter, Phantom’s Skull Copter, Flash Sword Ship, Garax Sword Ship and Ming’s Serpent Monster Mongor. The figures were not bad, and while I only had two I found them to be fun and for the most part well made toys. My only issue with them is that the joints seemed to become very loose on one of the ones I owned. The first figure I ever got was The Phantom, and I got him at Odd Lots brand new for $3.00. A year later I got Flash Gordon at a garage sale for under a dollar. One summer when we were moving from Waynesville to Kettering, we stayed at my aunt’s house while she and her family went to Greece and we waited for our house to be cleared to move in. Behind their house was some small woods, and one day I went back there to check them out and found a lot of broken toys behind there. I was older at the time like 16 or 17 and laughed as I found many broken Power Rangers that were missing arms and legs, and found a few that seemed to have been set on fire and this brought back memories of The 4th of July. But one thing caught my eye as I saw a broken Flash Gordon who was missing his legs and arms and was faded from the sun. I took the torso and later made it into a wheel chair bound Captain Pike (Star Trek) style figure for the fun of it. Yeah, I had a sick sense of humor.
Like all cartoons of this time, more merchandise came out besides the action figures that included lunch boxes, VHS tapes. kids books and of course a game for Commodore 64. When all this came out in 1986, I could not think of one kid I knew who owned anything Defenders of the Earth, or if they did no one talked about it or brought it around the school yard. I think one of the things that worked against this cartoon and its products was the fact the heroes were too dated for many kids to get behind.
So now that you know who and what Defenders of the Earth is all about, are you ready to look at Star Comics 4 issue run? Oh and guess who helped write issue one, the one and only Stan Lee! While Lee has done a lot for the comic industry, I also feel that he takes credit for a lot of things he didn’t or had really very little to do with, but with that said ya still got to respect the guy for all he has done. So here is to you, Stan The Man Lee! Oh and after our look at Defenders I thought a cool little bonus review was due for all you great readers out there! I want to remind everyone that I grade these comics on a standard 1-4 Star scale and look for entertainment value, art, story and how true the comic is to its source material.
Defenders of the Earth # 1 ***
Released in 1987 Cover Price .75 Star Comics #1 of 4
Flash Gordon crashes on Earth at the home of Mandrake The Magician, his adopted asian son Kshin and strong as an ox assistant Lothar and his son L.J. Gordon is knocked out from the crash, and Mandrake uses his magical power to hide Flash from a race of ice robots lead by Garax who have been sent by the evil Ming The Merciless. When Flash comes to, he tells Mandrake that Ming has kidnapped his wife and son and is coming to Earth to take it over and that they must stop him! Flash, Mandrake and Lothar go to the jungles of Africa and meet The Phantom and his daughter Jebba Walker and they join the group to save Flash’s family and to stop Ming. The kids are left on Earth as the heroes head to Mongo. Dale Arden and son Rick Gordon are captive. Rick escapes with the help of a strange creature named Zuffy, but her son’s escape leads to Ming torturing and killing Dale. When the heroes get there they save Rick, and Flash learns of his wife’s death. Before they can capture Ming, he and his son Kro-Tan escape and land on Earth and make a base in the Arctic. Zuffy finds a crystal and gives it to Flash that holds his wife’s spirit. With Ming loose and on Earth and to avenge the death of Dale our heroes Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician and Lothar decide to stay as a team called The Defenders of the Earth!
I must say this is a great first issue and did a great job of keeping old heroes exciting for the younger reading crowd. I am sure that this was mostly thanks to Stan Lee who wrote this issue, and while I hate to say it, Lee does have a way to make characters interesting to kids. The plot is the set up of how the team Defenders of the Earth came together and was a way to add some major drama with the death of Dale Arden. I am sure that for long time Gordon fans it was shocking to see a beloved character killed off in a kids comic/cartoon. Mandrake The Magician is the only one that in the comic still comes off dated, and they try so hard to get him over in this issue, even with being dated I found myself liking him. The Phantom is clearly the star of the comic and it’s so obvious that Star Comics knew that he would be the one kids would flock to. The big change for The Phantom is the fact they gave him supernatural powers that he gets from the jungle. I am sure they did this in order to spice him up and make him appealing to kids who like heros with power like Spider-Man and Captain America. Lothar seems like a waste and really isn’t given anything to do in this issue besides be a body and an extra hero for the new team. The kids of the heroes are a waste and are very much not needed and seem to be thrown in just to make it so young readers can identify with them. If they have more time in the following issue it could be what takes me out of the series. Like any good 80’s cartoon/comic there is a little sidekick, that while annoying always seems to be there and fall ass backwards into saving the day, and in this series it’s Zuffy, a strange tiny purple alien with a mop top hair style who can’t speak but sure as hell get his message across via movements. This issue also does a good job of making Ming the Merciless come off as a complete and total evil S.O.B and does so as he murders Dale and then comes to Earth to kill us all! Good work on keeping this close to the cartoon and good work with the art that is clearly done by some of Marvel’s top artists. The cover is super eye catching. Can’t wait to see how issue 2 is!
Defenders of the Earth # 2 **1/2
Released in 1987 Cover Price .75 Star Comics #2 of 4
The Defenders of the Earth need a base, and Mandrake’s mansion just wont do. So Flash calls in an alien race called the Cryl lead by Morbius to help build a headquarters, and the crystal with Dale’s soul in it has been put into a super computer made by Rick called Dynak-X. Ming The Merciless has picked up on the area of the base and sends out Garax and his men to ambush the Cryl and kill all of the Defenders of the Earth. Flash goes up to meet his friends and takes his place in the battle as the ambush happens. Mandrake uses his magic to make an illusion to save his friends as Kshin and Zuffy find an opening in the side of a volcano near the mansion. After outsmarting Garax and his men, The Defenders of the Earth and the Cryl turn the volcano into their new base, and use the lava to power it. Ming is very upset and sends Garax and his men to bomb the Mansion and everything around it, and as they do so, the blasts trap the Defenders inside. With the help of Dynak-X and a well placed bomb by The Phantom, it appears as if they all die and Ming basks in his winning glory. But this of course just gives them more time to come up with a plan to bring down Ming once and for all.
This second issue is average and seems to be way more talkie than issue one. It doesn’t keep the total action pace up, giving moments that drag. The issue’s plot is just that The Defenders need a base and while trying to build it they come under attack. The Phantom in this issue is pushed more to the back, and Flash Gordon seems to be more of the focus. Once more Mandrake is used a lot and does the same tricks as he did in issue 1. Lothar again is wasted and just is filler, but this issue also has the teens and kids as more of a major part of the plot. While most are okay, Kshin is an annoying little turd who I can tell is going to be a character I will hate. One thing they did in this issue is play up on the hurt and sorrow that Flash and Rick are feeling about losing Dale. This aspect adds some deep drama that is pretty shocking for a kids comic. This issue also builds up that Kro-Tan is plotting to over throw his father and be the new ruler of Mongo and every other planet they conquer. I hope this subplot goes somewhere and is played out. The comic’s action is spaceship battles and not nearly as cool as hand to hand. The art and cover is great again and both very much eye catching. The plot is as stated before very average. Let’s see if issue 3 is any better.
Defenders of the Earth # 3 ***
Released in 1987 Cover Price .75 Star Comics #3 of 4
Everyone is trying to make the volcano hideout feel like home, and Jebba along with The Phantom have made their own little African jungle in one of the caves. But in Africa the Bandar tribe is under attack from Kurt Walker (The Phantom’s brother) and two of his goons. Kurt is trashing The Phantom and claims he should be their ruler, and when they refuse him and his men storm off. Kurt makes the mistake of telling the goons where the tribe hide their jewels and gold and is attacked and thrown from a bridge by those who now want to rob the tribe. The water carries him to a cave where he finds a strange suit and hood, and after putting them on he becomes a weather controlling wizard/demon named N’Dama! N’Dama returns to the tribe and freezes his two goon friends to death ushering in a huge snow storm with a threat to the tribe to take him as his ruler or die. The Phantom and Jebba rush to their jungle home, and The Phantom must come face to face with his brother who is now more demon than brother. In the end The Phantom watches as his brother is consumed in fire caused by his own new power, and Ming has created Frost Men who he is ready to unleash on Earth.
This is back to being a good solid issue and goes back to the meat and potato of an action comic. This issue’s main focus is The Phantom and his daughter Jebba returning home to take on a family member who is corrupted with extreme power. The action of the comic is when The Phantom goes toe to toe with N’Dama, and while not a slugfest like a Spider-Man vs. Kraven The Hunter fight it still makes for the most exciting part of the issue. This also makes for most the drama as it’s brother vs. brother and family issues come out. Another plot that seems to be starting up is the tension between Rick Gordon and Jebba Walker who both seem to be crushing on each other but neither making a move. It also surprises me that Rick, Jebba nor L.J. get on my nerves given my track record when it comes to unnecessary teens and kids being in media for no reason. I still do however dislike Kshin and thank God he gets very little panel time in this issue. It’s clear that with this issue Star Comics knew that doing a full issue around the most popular member of the team, The Phantom, would drive up sales with kids. I am not sure how well this plan worked but it did make this now 32 year old reader happy. Another nice thing to see is that Ming nor Garax are the main bad guys, and this gives a breath of fresh air to the series and makes it so the two main villains aren’t played out. This one also has it all: a good plot, great art and an eye catching cover, and this one is what action kids comics should be like! Let’s see how the 4th and final issue holds up.
Defenders of the Earth # 4 **1/2
Released in 1987 Cover Price $1.00 Star Comics #4 of 4
Mandrake thinks it’s time that he starts to teach Kshin the art of being a master magician and takes him to a special room in the now destroyed Mansion. Mandrake tells his young son of how he gained the magic that involved the death of his parents via an avalanche and being rescued by a group of magical monks. But in another dimension Dr. Dark, an evil magician, is deep in thought of revenge upon the one who trapped him there :Mandrake. Ming picks up on the evil power he has and frees him to Earth, Ming tells his new ally that Mandrake and all The Defenders of Earth are dead, and Dr. Dark busts his bubble with the fact they are not! Dr. Dark goes to the mansion and has a magic fight against Mandrake, as Rick and Jebba see some of Ming’s Frost Men at a rock concert, and it’s shown Jebba can read minds. Mandrake is whooping up on Dr. Dark until the evil one uses Kshin as bait and leads to Mandrake’s life ending when nearby candles burn out. Dr. Dark leaves to get his army to team with Ming’s to battle the Earth as Kshin uses all he has learned to save his dad. In the end The Defenders of Earth know that War is coming against both Ming’s Frost Men and Dr. Darks evil servants.
Star Comics has done it again, much like Inhumanoids this series ends in the middle of a storyline, making you wonder what was to happen during this major war. This makes me very annoyed with Marvel for pulling the plug on series from Star that should have played through. This issue’s main focus is Mandrake and his son Kshin as he teaches his son magic. Father and son must team to undo what their main nemesis Dr. Dark has set in motion. The magic battle reminded me a lot of Dr. Strange and for the most part I am okay with that. Again it was nice to see a new bad guy (Dr. Dark) who unlike N’Dama is teaming with Ming to rule the Earth. Plus Dark’s Phantom of the Opera face is pretty sweet. Flash Gordon and The Phantom take the backseat in this issue as Mandrake takes the wheel and Lothar has a little more panel time then normal. I also like the way this issue builds up that Ming will turn on Dr. Dark to gain his raw power. Over all this issue was an average romp that was a fun read but a terrible way to end a series. Worse, it leaves you hanging for an issue 5 that never came.
The Defenders of the Earth Star Comic series was a good fun adventure comic that despite flaws and some annoying characters still held entertainment value. As a youth I more then likely would have judged this comic a little harder for the lack of major action and way too much dialogue, but now I can see that the comic was trying to build up a story and flesh out the characters. I find this 4 issue run to be thus far some of Stars better written stuff, but the lack of respect that Marvel gave us the readers by just ending the series is very fitting for a company who tries to over charge for issues nowadays. Plus it’s nice to see that while it follows the source martial, this series also created its own, with the only major change coming from Ming’s daughter being MIA. If you like any of the characters on the team, loved the cartoon or love Star Comics then I would say check this series out.
As an add-on bonus, I am going to be looking at a comic that was a free give away on FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2010, and cost me a dollar at The Gem City Comic Con based on Michigan horror host Wolfman Mac and his Chiller Drive-In! Chiller Drive-In (formerly Nightmare Sinema) hit TV airwaves in 2007 on public access and became such a hit that by 2009 it had been shown on RTV, a national station. Wolfman Mac is a werewolf from the 1930’s who while being chased by angry villagers stumbled onto an abandoned drive-in theater, and being a lover of bad cheesy flicks, he decided that it would be a good idea to re-open the drive-in once more. Wolfman Mac is an all around good guy (or is that creature?) who seems to worry about the viewers and tries to stop others from bad ideas. He is a great classic style host who seems to be very much kid friendly. He is joined by Boney Bob, a 1920’s actor who died in order to avoid taxes. In the 30’s he spent time back in Hollywood as a skeleton extra on the set of horror films, but when work dried up he was downgraded to school room skeleton at a local college. He left the job and hid out at that same drive-in that Wolfman Mac stumbled on. Boney and Mac are business partners and now spend time rebuilding and running the drive-in. Boney, while a good skeleton, is a con man and will do anything to get money. The show also has many other characters that pop in that include Son of Froggy, Trog a robot, Professor M. Balmer, Undead 50’s Sex Kitten Rebulla, Scarlett LeFever Wolfman Mac’s dead girlfriend and many more great silly off the wall characters. Fans of horror hosts of the 70’s and 80’s will really dig the style and show of Wolfman Mac.
I have never gotten to meet Wolfman Mac in person but have spoken to him via Facebook, and he seems like a werewolf who loves his craft. While at Horrorhound Weekend in March 2011, Baron Von Porkchop and I were able to meet Trog and The Son of Froggy from Chiller Drive-In and that was a fun time to be had by all! And we then ran into Son of Froggy again at Cinema Wasteland in October 2011 during “A. Ghastlee Night at the Movies”. That’s one thing I will say about all my horror host friends is that they are more like family. They understand and get The Baron and I, who are both goofy horror freaks. Baron has it rougher then me being a ghoul from the early 1800’s who I dug up in late December 2010. He is way out of touch with most normal folks. But here are a few pictures I took of Baron along side cast members of Chiller Drive-In.
So now that you know a little about Wolfman Mac & Boney Bob, let’s take a look at this comic book version of the show. Remember I am going to grade this comic on a standard one to four star rating. I am going to be grading the story, the art, how true it was to the source martial it was based on and its entertainment value. So let’s see if this chills my blood!
Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In # 0 ***
Released in 2010 Cover Price Free Chiller Drive-In Comics #0
“Zombies Gone NAG” All the zombies that work for Wolfman Mac and Boney Bob at the Chiller Drive-In have gone on strike and have formed a Union called N.A.G. (The National Association of Ghouls) and have demands before they get back to work that include Brain Breaks and an extra half an hour for lunch. They use a Gravedigger to work on the deal that Wolfman Mac agrees to and rolls into the issue’s main story called “Return From The Grave.” At a funeral a vampire pops out of his coffin and attacks all who are attending and is about to feed but before he can T. Stone McAllister, Monster Hunter, comes and saves the day. Back at the Chiller Drive-In all the Zombies are on break and Wolfman Mac is down because no work is getting done. And so ends Issue 0 for now!
This is a nice free little comic that was a nice way to promote the show and the artist involved, and I would have loved to have had this comic to give out when I worked FREE COMIC DAY at Mavericks. The downside is that this is a very quick read and the main story seems very rushed and not as big of a build up as one would have wanted. The Chiller Drive-In parts are fun and really cartoonish and is clearly geared towards young readers as it even has an anti-smoking spot. The only two characters used in this issue is Mac and Boney Bob, and this gives it a nice feel, like part of the show’s universe. The art in both The Wolfman Mac and Return From The Grave is well done, and sticking close to the source material this is a nice fun very quick read that is worth a check out for fans of Wolfman Mac and Horror Hosts. This issue also teases a full issue # 1 in the summer of 2010, and it seems that this has not happened. That’s a bummer; I feel that this could have been a fun read for those of us that enjoy this type of book.
While we are on the subject of werewolves, this would be a perfect time for me to talk about the first no budget film I ever directed called Werewolf of Ohio. After high school I worked as a bagger for Kroger in the now shut down Van Buren Shopping Center and made lots of great friends like Sarah Boian, Jason Shivadecker and Jason Gilmore, not to mention I worked with already friends of mine Josh Weinberg and Garrison Kane. At my work is where the legend of The Wolf Man of Ohio began! While working at Kroger at Halloween time we got in a shipment of Universal Monsters Halloween masks, and I was drooling looking at them, in particular The Wolf Man one due to the fact that it is one of my favorite movies of all time. I went around all day talking about how I could make a movie based around that mask, and even spouted some nonsense about putting The Wolf Man in a “Suicide 3” movie if we made it. After hours of hearing me talk about the film ideas I had for that mask, the cashiers and baggers did something super cool when they bought me the mask and told me to make some movie magic. And that’s what I set out to do with Josh Weinberg who had left Kroger at this point and was working for Click Camera who loaned him a VHS Camcorder!
In late 1999 Josh and I, armed with our on loan camera from Click and our werewolf Halloween mask, set out in his beat up stick shift truck and hit the roads thinking of what my new Wolf Man film could be about, and while driving the story just popped into my head! Josh would play a young man who is on a quest to hunt down The Wolf Man (played by me), a werewolf who terrorizes Waynesville, Ohio and killed his parents and younger sister some years back. Now he, alongside a camera man (originally cast as Kevin Kinsley but turned out to be played by Brandon Womeldorff), sets out to get evidence that the beast is real and to document its death at the hands of Josh. We loved the idea and went out to film this twisted sad tale. We drove around during and after a huge rain storm and filmed moments after the rain stopped around Bellbrook and Kettering (State Farm Park again). It was just the two of us. I would act as the Camera Man and Josh would talk about his anger, sadness and need for revenge. When The Wolf Man was on screen, Josh would run camera. The Wolf Man wore a hood and robe and walked around in daylight and night, making this beast a bigger danger then most werewolf legends. We even drove to Waynesville to film the town’s sign just to add that “real” feel of this “found footage” film. We filmed the climax at State Farm Park and filmed at night as Josh spots The Wolf Man who in turn chases him and the camera cuts off ending the film, or so we thought. After looking at the film we found some scenes just didn’t fit like a talk show interview with Josh that just came off to goofy. Some just were shot bad like the ending were Josh didn’t get The Wolf Man chasing him in one frame making the film’s total runtime about six minutes. I was really disappointed in the film and knew we had to film more to save the film from being a total waste, but the film did fall onto the back burner for almost two full years. By the time I got back to the film I had worked on a few more films and was ready to “save” this film from the trash pile, so I sat down and watched the footage and wrote out a script to finish the film out, Josh was back on board, and Kevin Kinsley was going to step into the role of The Camera Man making it easier for The Wolf Man to interact with them. In 2001 we started the process of wrapping up the film. Things were going smoothly, and then Kevin was fired for over sleeping on the first day of shooting and Brandon Womeldorff stepped into the part and proved to be a better choice as he also offered ideas and angles. The second part of the film has Josh waking up after the attack covered with blood (yep more ketchup) and buying himself a gun and once more rants and tries to kill The Wolf Man who now wears a red flannel. After the last day of filming, it was rushed into editing at Fairmont High School and Brandon had it cut and ready in one sitting! It then was packaged and ready to be sold at our first horror convention called Fright Vision. While the film sold like hotcakes on VHS and has even gotten a cult following, I have always loved the film for being my own first film but also always find flaws in it after every viewing. I also found that The Wolf Man is my favorite character I have ever played, and one day hope to step into the mask for a new film. The film was followed by a sequel and has made it to DVD in a way but that’s for another update.
Here are some fun facts about Werewolf Of Ohio: Local filmmaker Andy Copp once wrote about Werewolf of Ohio in the local paper as low budget films/makers you should keep an eye on. Chris Seaver of Low Budget Pictures (LBP) put The Wolf Man in his film “Mulva 2: Kill Teen Ape”. The original title of the film was Wolf Man of Ohio. Werewolf of Ohio is the second best selling VHS release in Independent B Movie history. At a number of conventions horror host icon Dr. Creep of Shock Theatre and New Shock Theater helped push the product to buyers, Centerfold frontman Patrick Neeley did the end theme to the film, and its title was “An American Werewolf in Dayton. The film’s original release had random girls running and a number of other girls in the deleted scenes they were added as filler from stock footage found at Fairmont High School. My brother Bryan once said Ohio should use Werewolf Of Ohio as a travel video, due to all the scenery shots and drive scenes. I hope you enjoyed this look at my “classic” film! Below is the master tape with the original title.
Well, we have Defended the Earth for 4 issues along side Flash Gordon and friend,s and we took a quick pit stop at the Chiller Drive-In to visit Wolfman Mac and took a look back at some fun young moments of my life and told a tale of the Werewolf of Ohio. So what is next, you ask. Next update we will take a look at an epic action star who had a cartoon and toy line and lead a group of Karate fighters. This 4 issue series from Star Comics is CHUCK NORRIS AND THE KARATE COMMANDOS! So I will see you then.