Created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita, Sr.
Featuring the voice talents of Lou Richards, Peter Mark Richman, Peter Renaday, Buster Jones, Loren Lester, Diane Pershing, William Callaway and Ron Feinberg.
When the planet comes under threat from the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless, Flash Gordon teams up with fellow heroes The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar to form the Defenders of the Earth (DEFENDERS!).
Following the blockbuster success of Marvel's The Avengers last summer, it seems that superhero teams are all the rage. Warner Bros. is not-so-secretly working on a Justice League adaptation, Fox has the forthcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past and Fantastic Four, and Marvel Studios' upcoming slate includes Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers 2. So, in an effort to satisfy our cravings for superhero teams, FremantleMedia Enterprises has dug deep into the Marvel vaults to bring us... no, it's not more Avengers... it's not the X-Men either... nor is it the Defenders, although that one's pretty close... okay, give up? It's none other than the classic 80s animated series Defenders of the Earth.
Okay, so strictly speaking, Defenders of the Earth isn't a Marvel superhero team, given that it's based around four of King Features Syndicate's classic comic strip characters - Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon and Lee Falk's The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Mandrake's crimefighting companion Lothar. Nevertheless, the show was co-produced by Marvel Animation, developed by Marvel veterans Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita, Sr., and the lyrics to its theme tune (which we'll come back to in a minute) were penned by Marvel legend Stan Lee, so that's about as 'Marvelous' as you can get without the property actually stemming from the pages of Marvel Comics itself.
Having drained his homeworld Mongo of its natural resources, the evil Ming the Merciless sets his sights on planet Earth, so Flash Gordon returns from space and recruits his hero buddies The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar to form the Defenders of the Earth and well... defend the Earth (it's a mission statement that Flash will remind us about at least four times each episode). Together with four youngsters - Rick Gordon (Flash's son), Jedda Walker (The Phantom's daughter), L.J. (a.k.a. Lothar Jr.) and the street orphan Kshin, who's joined by his fluffy little alien companion Zuffy - the Defenders of the Earth strive to protect the planet from Ming's dastardly schemes, which typically involves him acquiring some kind of new weapon, or seeking out a mystical artefact in order to develop a new weapon. Occasionally, there's a morality tale thrown in there as well, such as when L.J. learns that women are people too, or a stoned Rick Gordon discovers that drugs are bad.
Now, I assume that anyone thinking of purchasing Defenders of the Earth - The Complete Series will fall into one of two camps - those with fond memories of the show from their own childhood, and those looking for something to keep their kids occupied for a few hours. If it's the latter, then be advised that your children are probably going to wonder A) who these characters are, B) why the animation is so bad, and C) why you couldn't have bought them the latest Ben 10 or Star Wars: The Clone Wars DVD instead. On the other hand, if like me you remember watching Defenders of the Earth every Saturday morning back in 80s, then your level of enjoyment of the series today will likely be commensurate with how big of a fan you used to be; personally, I preferred the likes of He-Man, ThunderCats, Transformers and G.I. Joe (or Action Force, as it was known here in the UK), but Defenders was still a staple of my Saturday morning viewing back in the day and as such, I enjoyed revisiting the adventures of the Defenders of the Earth, even if it all started to get a little repetitive after a while.
Nostalgia aside, Defenders of the Earth is a fairly generic entry 80s action cartoon, but it is elevated immensely by its opening theme song, which could actually be the single greatest opening song in the history of animation. It's so insanely catchy that it's been playing on repeat in my head for the best part of a fortnight, which would be annoying if it wasn't so utterly brilliant. I'm constantly fighting the urge to burst into song at the slightest trigger, and just writing the word 'Defenders' makes me want to stand up and recite the entire thing from start to finish, with a particular emphasis on Mandrake's verse. Still, it's a bit of a double-edged sword, as a thirty-one year old bloke really shouldn't be belting out "master of magic, spells and illusion..." walking round the aisles of Asda on his weekly food shop, and I fear the next time it happens my better half will call forth the power of ten tigers and become 'The Girlfriend Who Walks'.
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.