looks like Sam Raimi's Spiderman movie is a bona fide hit,
being well-regarded amongst critics and fans alike, racking up
over 40 million dollars in receipts on a school day.
With this, a similarly successful (critically if not as financially)
Blade II , and the upcoming Zu Warriors, it's shaping
up to be a good year for superheroes. With the additional appeal
of the mold-breaking X-Men (a comic book movie which neither
sucked nor exactly lost money), we can expect a flood of comic
book movies in the near future.
last time we had superhero fever at anything quite approximating
the current pitch was back in the mid-60s, sparked by the Batman
craze. In the wake of the 1966 series and theatrical
film, there was a sudden flood of super hero entertainment
on TV - mainly on Saturday mornings. Well, there were a few attempts
on Prime Time; but The Green Hornet was too serious, and
Mr. Terrific and Captain Nice were too silly. They
failed to claim the same broad audience Adam West and Burt Ward
had managed to capture with their petite, campy cliffhangers.
if superheroes held reign anywhere, it was in the cartoons. Mighty
Mouse, of course, had been in reruns since the last megafauna
died, but the 60s saw the production of many more. Some were made
up from whole cloth, like the durable Space Ghost or the
deeply weird Herculoids. There were old standards like
Hanna-Barbera's remarkably faithful rendition of The Fantastic
Four and Grantray-Lawrence's version of Spider-Man
(which employed a young Ralph Bakshi, as did the Mighty Mouse-paired
The Mighty Heroes).
there were, inevitably, losers like DePatie-Freleng's Super
President ran a mere season from 1967-68 on NBC, who arguably
showed some of the worst children's entertainment of the 60s (Those
who would argue in favor of such fare as H.R. Pufnstuf
obviously were not in the audience at NOWFF
2001, which howled like injured dogs in pain and dismay while
watching the feature version). I know I watched it, mainly
because I had seen everything that was showing on CBS and ABC
in its time slot. Super President was on fairly late in
the morning, and I was drawn to its odd, no-frills stories and
especially its memorable (to me) piano-dominated score. There
was also the unmistakable cachet of enjoying that certain something
that nobody else knew about....
powerful lure for me, even as a child, was the voices. Even the
tender age of 10, I was a great fan of the voice of Paul Frees,
who here doubles as narrator and the voice of Super President.
Also present were Ted Cassidy, Daws Butler, Don Messick, and a
sadly underused June Foray.
President was James Norcross, who gained his powers in "a
cosmic storm". If there was ever an origin episode, I missed
it - this was revealed in the show's opening, which also detailed
those powers, as Super President battled some formless monster
made of the words Hate, Evil and Fear (it was, after
all, 1967, when such sights were commonplace. Don't get me started
on the psychedelic moiré wipe effects). Norcross, you see,
can change the molecules of his body to any format he desires,
like steel or granite. Steel was usually employed for bullet-weilding
villains, and granite for bad guys with a penchant for flame throwers.
Though a particular favorite of mine was when he was up against
a laser beam. "Must change my body's form to....ozone!!!!"
So that's what ozone looks like!
is also incredibly strong, and thanks to some tiny rockets on
his belt, he could fly. I have absolutely no idea how those rockets
were fueled, and chances are I don't want to know, either.
Irrational Games recently released a computer game called
Force which puts you in control of a squad of Jack Kirby-1964
style superheroes, which is cool enough... but the game also
allows you to create your own heroes; and using this new-fangled
"skinning" technology, you can give them practically
any appearance you want. It was heartwarming when I discovered
that someone had actually gone through the trouble of making a
Super President skin. Especially since I spent years trying to
convince people that the series actually existed.
trying to quantify SP's powers, however, I came to realize something:
his abilities are almost entirely defensive. Sure, he could fly
and pick up heavy things, but his major advantage was that he
could foil any attempt to hurt him by changing to lead or antimony
or pitchblende. After that, he relied on a good old-fashioned
American sock in the kisser. So there is the last major failing
of the character - though the makers may have been trying to teach
us something about maintaining a strong defense, Super President,
in the final analysis, was no more compelling than a common street
of a cosmic storm", eh? Unless I missed that particular two-minute
snippet on The Weather Channel, this implies some science-fictiony
backstory that was never directly referenced again. The
time period of Super President is a bit hazy - we got glimpses
of futuristic tanks and guns, and Norcross lived in the most bizarre
White House - an amalgam of the current residence, the Washington
Monument, and some Florentine arches tossed in for good measure
(and as we see in one episode, it's located on the coast.) It
was never called the White House, either. It was always "The
was reading Marvel comics, too, because the bad guys were mainly
aliens or mutants... or, as we used to say it in the 60s, "mew-TANTS".
There were few human opponents
- and then they were always radical elements of otherwise friendly
foreign lands (Hey, we're America! How could anybody not
love us?). There was one turban-wearing "embittered scientist"
who would easily be labelled a terrorist today, and a witch doctor
who poo-pooed his chief's statements of "But the white men
have always been our friends...." Oh, how I love that
one! And of course it was the Witch Doctor. It's always
the Witch Doctor. Can anybody name me a time when the Witch Doctor
was up to something good?
were never quite sure whether Norcross got his super powers after
he was elected, or before. Or what bill got rammed through
to pay for that secret door in the Oval Office that led to the
Super President Cave, or the Omnicar, Norcross' answer to Supercar.
It flew, became a submarine, had all sorts of nasty weapons -
but apparently no locks on the door, because bad guys kept stealing
it, even the Steel Guy in that one episode - and he didn't
even have any hands!
President's sidekick was Jerry Sayles, who I always assumed was
his Press Secretary or something, but was only ever identified
as Norcross' closest adviser. Sayles was a roly poly pipe-smoking
pseudo-intellectual whose major strength was his ability to pilot
the Omnicar and then get captured. Sure, the first talent saved
on whatever fuel those tiny belt rockets were carrying, but the
second was likely one of the reasons Super President never
hit the big time: shapely female assistant in bondage = big time
ratings and faithful following. Fat guy wiggling in bondage =
emotional scars and future therapist bills.
world of Super President was almost entirely male populated,
too - the only female characters I have evidence of appeared in
the second feature in the
half-hour, Spy Shadow (like I said, Foray was under-utilized).
If the youthful James Norcross was a wishful resurrection of equally
young president John F. Kennedy, so too was SP's companion piece
a salute to Kennedy's favorite fictional character, James Bond.
And tellingly, the female characters were the most badly drawn
of the lot. I was cartooning a lot in those days, and my male
figures were okay, but I couldn't draw a woman that was recognizably
human. Spy Shadow's girlfriend looks a lot like those painful
Interspy employee Richard Vance, having learned "the Power
of Concentration" from some wizened Tibetian gentleman, is
able to make his shadow come to independent life and do his bidding.
The Shadow is actually a pretty cool creation, possessing the
voice of Ted Cassidy, being able to slip under doors and through
cracks, untouchable and yet able to touch.... seeing as how Vance
was always getting into trouble and the Shadow was always getting
him out, it's quite surprising that Interspy didn't simply fire
Vance and put his Shadow on the payroll.
we were trashing... uh, talking about Super President.
strike against the series was its internal inconsistencies, which
is admittedly a problem shared by many of its kin. After all,
exactly how many different rays was Space Ghost able to
coax out of his power bands, which had only six buttons? The major
stumbling block for me was whether or not Norcross' costumed vigilante
was public knowledge - and frankly, the answer to that changed
depending on the needs of a particular story. For the most part,
the world seemed blissfully unaware of the red-and-white pajama-ed
guy (except, of course, for Sayles). But then, in certain episodes,
bad guys would shout in surprise, "Super President!!!!"....
well, with a monicker like that, exactly what is the point
of a secret identity???!!! I mean, who else could he be? Super
President of what? Union Carbide?
won't even get into the fact that he's wearing Canadian colors.
there is also the question of time management. In the 60s we didn't
quite have the pervasive press coverage we have today (24 hour
news networks will do that to you) and we can be forgiven for
thinking that the President had time to go chasing down evil-doers.
We're a little more conscious of how time-consuming the job can
be, these days. Though chances are we probably wouldn't mind a
Chief Exec who could be more pro-active with the evils in the
world, just like James Norcross. Just don't expect the budget
to get balanced (wait a minute... it doesn't get balanced anyway!).
really did spend many years trying to convince people this show
actually existed. "Come now", they would say, "Super
President?" I finally managed to find a tape of the
show (from Cool
Stuff Video), prompting my wife to ask me, "So who was
President when this was on?" The answer was LBJ, though the
country, as I mentioned before, was still pining for Kennedy.
After Super President went off the air, the President we
got was Nixon. And if there is a lesson there, it is far
too twisted for me to even attempt to discern.