It’s hard to believe that Birdman and the Galaxy Trio originally debuted forty years ago on September 9, 1967 on NBC. Not that I’m old enough to have seen the show during its initial run, (I watched the reruns during my youth), but just the thought that these cartoons have been around for four decades and have maintained a strong following is pretty amazing.
Think about all the Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons that have come and gone, forgotten by generations and generations of kids now adults. So why is it that a sun-powered superhero with wings sporting a sidekick eagle and a trio of super-powered space patrolmen have not only survived but merit a DVD release? Well, believe it or not, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio are classics. Cinema has Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, and The Maltese Falcon. The literary world has The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird. And somewhere between Max Fleisher’s Superman, Popeye, and Space Ghost, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio have a place in the in the animation hall of fame.
Back in 1967, after the success of the Space Ghost and Dino Boy cartoon, Hanna-Barbera produced a new series featuring the winged hero known as Birdman. Bestowed powers by the Egyptian sun god Ra, Ray Randall used flight and solar rays to fight criminals, evil masterminds, and super villains. Alongside his loyal eagle Avenger, Birdman received assistance from an eye-patch wearing government agent named Falcon 7 in his weekly battles against the ill-famed likes of Murro the Marauder, Shado the Brain Thief, Nitron the Human Bomb, and arch nemesis Vulturo. Each Birdman episode ran half-an-hour and featured two 8-minute installments of the winged crusader. Between each Birdman sections was an 8-minute installment of The Galaxy Trio.
The Galaxy Trio was made up of Vapor Man, Meteor Man, and Gravity Girl. Vapor Man could turn his body into any type of gas, allowing him to fly and turn into whatever substance was needed to get out of a bind. Meteor Man was a combination of the Fantastic Four’s Mr. Fantastic and the Thing. Not only did he have super strength, Meteor Man could resize any part of his body. Gravity Girl’s ability to control gravity allowed her to shoot energy beams to repel, lift, or attract anything that got in her way. Together, the trio patrolled the universe and maintained law and order. When innocent aliens were terrorized by baddies such as Computron, Plateaus the Pirate Planet, and the enslaving Cave Men of Primevia, the Galaxy Trio were never too far thanks to their ship, Condor One.
Like myself, fans of the series have only been able to get their hands on the series through comic conventions and ebay. Most of these fan-assembled bootlegs are plagued by bad quality, poor editing, and missing episodes. But thanks to this DVD collection, retro animation lovers can finally toss out the VHS-transferred DVDs and custom made cases for an official Birdman and the Galaxy Trio release.
Having watched the two, double-sided DVDs, the episodes are as great as ever. Certainly, the episodes maintain an extraordinary level of camp and cheesiness but it’s all in the name of good, old fashioned superheroics. I was immediately transported to my days as a kid, sitting in front of the television and enjoying a good Birdman thrashing before heading off to school. It sounds cliché, but they just don’t make cartoons like this anymore. Not that they could; children would laugh the show out of ratings and its time slot. But for fans of pure “good guy wears wings and bad guy has a pointy nose” entertainment, you can’t get much better.
Technically speaking, it doesn’t seem that the folks behind the DVD made too much of an effort to remaster the picture quality as scratches and spots are visible throughout. But the colors are significantly more vivid than the dull, muted palette I’d been relegated to watching on VHS-quality versions of the cartoon so I’ll keep my complaints to a minimum. The audio is exceptionally clear, especially when Birdman employs his inevitable “Biiiirrdmannn!” call. In addition to the episodes, there’s also a short featurette. Titled Birdman: The Forgotten Hero, the featurette is an interview with one of the co-creators of Harvey Birdman at Law (the comedic Adult Swim spoof where Birdman is an attorney who represents and prosecutes other Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters) as he goes over the show’s history and highlights Alex Toth’s amazing design work.
Finally, if anyone at Warner Brothers is listening, please stop releasing these DVDs in the impossible to open slim cardboard cases. You practically have to shake the inner DVD case out if you want to get to the discs. Warner Brothers did the same thing for the Batman Beyond: Season 3 and Justice League Unlimited Season 2 releases. If they just stuck to nice and simple, two-disc clam shell cases like they have for The Batman and Teen Titans DVDs, cartoons lovers and fanboys would be much happier. I know I would.
Overall, I'm beyond ecstatic to finally see Birdman and the Galaxy Trio on my DVD shelf. And to show that Warner Brothers does know a little something about the audience for these animated classics, they've also released Space Ghost and Dino Boy: The Complete Series DVD in the same week. If The Fantastic Four, The Herculoids, Thundarr, and Mightor are on the horizon, I’ll be in retro toon heaven. Frankly, if the first time you saw Birdman was in a courtroom, you may not be keen on this DVD release. But if you’re a fan of the classics, it’s a must buy.