Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part VI
Space Ghost: This hero barely escaped the "one-note" trap. Space Ghost had the power of flight but w by a set of wristbands that contained seemingly every ray-type weapon ever conceived. Space Ghost did have vulnerabilities, which meant occasional rescue by two adolescent sidekicks that managed to be less objectionable than those typically seen in the genre. His design, by comic book genius Alex Toth, was simple yet distinctive. Space Ghost so enchanted the imaginations of fans that he was given a comedy show, a comic book with an official origin story, and was easily the best of the 1960s Hanna-Barbera superheroes.
Astro Boy: No doubt about it: this robotic super-kid, the brainchild of the great Ozama Tekuza, was the most winsome creation in anime. Fearless, powerful and dedicated to battling evil, Astro Boy also had emotional vulnerabilities that endeared him to his fans. He gets credit for helping set the table for every super being to come out of anime. Even though American audiences did not see the full manifest of his adventures until years after Tekuza had passed, Astro Boy had an enormous fan base in America. Together with Akira, Astro Boy brought the term otaku to the United States.
The Unsuccessful Super-Protagonist
Mighty Mouse: Paul Terry's most famous creation, although Heckle and Jeckle were far more fun to watch. Mighty Mouse was created in 1940 when Superman fever was overtaking the country. Mighty Mouse was more of an imitation than an original, highlighted by the fact that no one on the Terry writing staff bothered to give the mouse a personality. Mighty Mouse had no seeming limits to his powers, no notable vulnerability, no secret identity, and as historian Leonard Maltin noted, usually didn't appear until his cartoons were nearly over. Not until Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi gave the mouse a makeover in the 1980s did this character move beyond two-dimensional status.
Shazaam: Disney's Aladdin might have come up with a way to defeat an all-powerful genie, but no one in this dreary Hanna-Barbera series ever did. Shazaam could not be harmed, beaten or even insulted, it seems, because he smiled and laughed at everything while dispensing magical butt-kickings. Boring and notably unspectacular for a genie, Shazaam is less a superhero than an abstract symbol of one.
Mighty Mightor: Even the name is unimaginative. If anyone can remember one cartoon in which the bizarre villains that populated them seriously threatened Mightor and crew, you're doing better than I am. Mightor was the epitome of the one-note superhero. He did have an origin story, but the weakling alter-ego subplot (featuring the beauteous Lady Sheera) was a pale echo of the Clark Kent-Superman-Lois Lane riff. The clichéd "noble hero" voice work by Paul Stewart only served to make Mightor a routine superhero.
This genre of hero does not necessarily wield magic as a power; rather, he or she is magical in the sense that the laws of reality are extremely plastic in their presence. The inexplicable and unexpected occurs when this character wills it, and only a surprise assault or clever plan is capable of threatening them. These characters may be ordinary, scrawny, and bereft of any trace of super abilities, but in their own way, they are as powerful as Superman. This hero does not act aggressively, but tends to excel in self-defense.