Space Ghost’s awakening in the 1980s predicted the future
Welcome to the 149th installment of Adventure (s) Time, a look at the animated heroes of the past. This week, a hero of the Baby Boom generation who received a nostalgic ’80s tribute comic book that was strangely ahead of its time. And if you have any suggestions for the future, let me hear them. Just contact me on Twitter.
Debut in September 1966 in the Saturday morning cartoon series Space Ghost and Dino Boy, Space Ghost has joined the superhero trend of television as an intergalactic crime fighter, originally from the mysterious ghost planet. Space Ghost isn’t literally a ghost, as far as we know, but he does have a belt that makes him invisible, which is apparently close enough to earn him the name. (As for Dino Boy, it’s an independent creation of Alex Toth – a modern day kid who lands in a South American valley where dinosaurs still roam.)
Space Ghost is helped by teenage sidekicks Jan and Jayce, and their pet monkey, Blip; it’s hard to imagine a self-respecting Hanna-Barbera hero without an animal sidekick. And while Space Ghost has the ability to fly through space unscathed, he navigates the cosmos in his sleek Phantom Cruiser ship.
THE SURPRISING INFLUENCE OF SPACE GHOST
The series wasn’t too concerned with providing origin for the hero, or even much of a personality, but the character design of legendary comic book artist Alex Toth captured the imaginations of young viewers. Toth’s precise line drawing has also inspired a new generation of artists. Steve Rude’s design for a more adult intergalactic hero, Nexus, was inspired by Toth’s Space Ghost work. Bruce Timm also cited Space Ghost as an influence on his Batman: The Animated Series drawings.
The simple plots and limited animation of Space Ghost and Dino Boy Probably wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of today’s audiences, but the imaginative lineup of villains and charming voice of Gary Owens (famous as a baritone announcer for Rowan and Martin’s laughter) was enough for Space Ghost to gain a cult following. The series remained in syndication through the 1970s, and following the success of Star wars, Hanna-Barbera was motivated to revive the hero in the early 1980s.
NBC Space stars The anthology series harnessed the revived sci-fi fashion, allowing Space Ghost to star in 22 new episodes. Owens returned to the voice of Space Ghost, new villains were introduced, and the Phantom Cruiser was redesigned to make it look similar to the spaceship seen in Star wars. The rebirth episodes didn’t have the impact of the originals, but it wouldn’t be Space Ghost’s last appearance in the 1980s.
RENEWED FOR THE 80’S, WITH A PRESTIGE COMIC
December 1987 Space ghost was a special one-shot from independent publisher Comico, run by Link artist Steve Rude, a die-hard Toth fan. He co-wrote the story with writer Mark Evanier, while animation historian (and lead layout artist for the 80s Space Ghost cartoon) Darrell McNeil received credit for the help with the plot. Rude drew the comic, Willie Blyberg providing inks. The impressive creative team was completed by Ken Steacy, whose painted colors mimic the look of animated cels.
It’s clear Comico Space ghost was intended as a love letter to the original show. The comic opens with a text by Rude, praising his lifelong admiration for the hero. The first page of the art shows Rude duplicating the title screens from the original cartoon (and Steacy showing off some of his skills with an airbrush), as Space Ghost poses dramatically alongside the title of the story, ” The Sinister Specter “.
Bring in the bad guys
On the prison planet of Gaolworld, we are reintroduced into the evil space mantis Zorak, who dreams of revenge on Space Ghost. A mysterious masked figure appears, providing Zorak with one of Space Ghost’s power bands and causing a massive prison break. It’s no surprise that Zorak’s fellow inmates are also creations of Toth who faced off against Space Ghost in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, Jan and Jayce (spelled “Jace” throughout the comic) enjoy a beach vacation, lamenting that the overworked Space Ghost can’t join them. The hero abruptly calls them back to the ghost planet (his loosely defined homeworld that probably doesn’t house a single ghost) to watch for emergency broadcasts while he’s away facing villainous Rob-Corp. Fans of the series recognize this as a reference to the episode “Attack of the Saucer Crab”.
It’s all part of the mysterious villain’s ploy, who soon mocks Space Ghost via a holographic projection, boasting that he knows all of the hero’s thoughts and possesses all of his powers. As Space Ghost wonders why this villain – the titular Sinister Specter – looks so familiar, his sidekicks are ambushed by another resurrected foe with a memorable design, Metallus. Blip the Monkey does his best to help, in a fun sequence that shows every classic character is going to have their moment, even the pet sidekick.
In fact, it’s Blip who uses his invisibility belt and, as a “ghost”, pits the gallery of thugs against each other, distracting their attention from the gauntlet of every villain who receives his hit, Space Ghost is supposed to cross. Another clever element is Zorak’s inflexibility which he can kill Space Ghost, so he pleasures his fellow villains with all that gauntlet stuffâ¦ and sometimes gets into trouble himself when you’re too close to killing the hero.
WHO IS THE LOSS SPECTRUM?
Having completed the gauntlet, a tired Space Ghost faces the evil Specter, who turns out to be, in fact, Space Ghost! Was that previous line about Space Ghost overworking himself a devious foreshadowing, a clue that the stoic hero finally broke down? Did the creators trick audiences into buying a cynical reimagining of Space Ghost, messing it up for the dark, grainy ’80s? Well, no, actually. It turns out that the “evil” Space Ghost is just Rob-Corp’s double android.
With the help of his sidekicks, Space Ghost blasts the android off a cliff, where it lands conveniently next to Zorak. The villain believes his greatest wish has been granted, as he detonates “Space Ghost” into nothingness.
Zorak’s joy is soon deflated, when he is rounded up with the rest of the villains Toth by the heroes and returns to his space prison. We end not only with Rude’s version of the show’s “The End” card, but also with a lean joke worthy of the show’s shameless silliness.
COMICO’S SPACE GHOST FORECASTS FUTURE TRENDS
The story is slightly more sophisticated than what viewers would have experienced on the ’60s show, but it still feels like it’s part of this world. Evanier and Rude craft the comic with affection for the material, avoiding any fashionable attempt to rearrange a classic concept. It is clearly not a “mature” or “realistic” version of Space Ghost. More like a lost episode, filled with all the villains fans would want to see rendered by Steve Rude.
In recent years, pitting a hero against his rogue gallery has become a sales-boosting ploy, perhaps most famously used in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s “Hush” screenplay for Batman. While these arcs often seem artificial, âThe Sinister Specterâ offers fan service while striving to tell a clear story. There is a bit of bad leadership, fun at Zorak’s expense, and situations that allow each protagonist to have their hero moment.
Another element that hints at the future is the comics’ use of animation-inspired coloring techniques. The production values ââfor this comic are fantastic, and predate Dreamwave and Udon’s attempts to mimic the color design of anime in the comics by more than a decade. Considering the advancements in digital coloring and printing techniques since the 1980s, it’s a shame that the comics produced by major publishers today don’t look as good as Space ghost.
For generations of readers who only really know Space Ghost from its parody talk show in the ’90s (a precursor to Cartoon Network’s irreverent Adult Swim lineup), it’s hard to see why so many pros have taken on the hero. seriously. Yet the same impetus continued into the next generation, as 1980s properties like Masters of the Universe and Transformers received their own serious redesigns from creators who maintained their childhood affection for heroes.
While Space ghost possibly previously a licensed book crafted by an indifferent creative team, Comico’s one-shot was an early indicator that previously rejected properties may hold real value. Evanier, an accomplished television writer, and Rude, considered one of the best comic book artists, probably could have worked on any property they wanted. But what they wanted was Space Ghost. Years later, creators like Alex Ross would dedicate their energy to reviving long-abandoned properties like Battle of the planets. Nostalgia was previously a niche market within comics, but Comico Space ghost became oddly prescient in the years since its release.
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