THE MIGHTY HERCULESMedium: TV animation
Produced by: Trans-Lux Television Productions
First appeared: 1963
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When you need a superhero that doesn't require much time and effort for development, but comes pre-equipped with excellent name recognition, and yet doesn't require paying royalties — you can't do much better than Hercules. There were Hercules series in the early days of comic books, from Quality Comics, Fox Feature Syndicate, and
other publishers; and in latter-day comics, Marvel Comics uses a version of him as an ongoing character. And when animated cartoons started doing superheroes instead of relying almost exclusively on humor, Hercules was one of the first to appear — The Mighty Hercules was syndicated to local TV stations starting in 1963.
The title character (whose great strength, in this version, wasn't a natural ability but came from a magic ring) wasn't the only one on this show with shorthand characterization. His main supporting character, a young centaur named Newton, was also afflicted with it, in the form of a distinctive but annoying speech pattern — everything he said, he said twice, which is a much easier way to make him appear to be a unique individual than actually making him one. Other characters, such as Herc's girlfriend (Helena) and the villains (Daedalius the Evil Wizard with his cat Dydo, Otis the Chameleon, Willamene the Sea Witch, etc.), were pure cardboard, which is exactly what can be expected when each episode is five and a half minutes long.
There were 109 episodes in all, and stations purchasing them could choose to air them either as individual cartoons (as part of local kid shows, alongside Clutch Cargo, Col. Bleep and others of their type, plus reruns of theatrical toon stars like Woody Woodpecker and Daffy Duck) or in the form of a half-hour show. Some viewers who saw them the latter way report unpleasant responses to such prolonged exposure to its style of animation, which was somewhere between limited and non-existent. This had more to do with the budget than the talent of the animators, who included Rube Grossman (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and Grim Natwick (Betty Boop).
The production company was Trans-Lux Television Productions, also responsible for the '60s TV version of Felix the Cat. The man in charge, Joe Oriolo, also co-created Casper the Friendly Ghost. The writers were George Kashdan and Jack Miller, both of whom also worked in that capacity, and as editors, at DC Comics. (Kashdan also had a hand in the creation of Tommy Tomorrow, and Miller in that of Rip Hunter, Time Master.)
The voice of Hercules was done by Jimmy Tapp, who had no other voice credits but was well known as a television and radio personality in Montreal. Newt was Gerry Bascombe, who also had no voice credits outside of this show (but who also played Daedalius and Tewt, another cute sidekick). Helena was Helene Nicholson, another who lacked outside credits. In fact, the only voice actor on the show who did work on anything else was Jack Mercer (Popeye), who mainly did incidental characters.
The Mighty Hercules was made into a Gold Key comic book, which ran two issues (July and November, 1963). There was also a board game, a record album, and other licensed merchandise. It remained in syndication a long time; in fact, fresh prints were distributed in the mid-1970s. Even today, it's possible for nostalgic fans of the show to find a video or audio item here and there.