“Somewhere in space live the Herculoids!”
Mention the word ‘Herculoids‘ today and most people would scratch their head in confusion. Which isn’t surprising – there weren’t many episodes made in either of its runs in 1967 or 1981.
In fact, I hadn’t thought about the Herculoids in over 40 years. Until last weekend. I was watching random YouTube vids and there was one about ’60s and 70’s Saturday morning shows – and lo and behold! – there was my favourite cartoon from that period. It had been buried amongst a heap of other childhood detritus in a forgotten corner of my brain.
Not only that, I learnt Herculoids has been available on DVD for the past few years.
I won’t go into detail about the characters or story here. Geeks does an admirable job of that, so I suggest you visit them to find out more about Zandor, Tara, Dorno, Zok, Igoo, Tundro, Gloop and Gleep. (Yes, I know all their names off by heart!)
Like anything we experience as kids, re-discovering the Herculoids is, at first, a bit of a disappointment. But the more episodes I watch, the more engrossed I get in its wacky, inventive energy. Yes, every episode is pretty much the same story, with a new set of villains arriving to conquer, kidnap and kill, but I can see what attracted me to this series all those years ago.
Firstly, it was different from anything else on at the time. A family on a strange planet is protected by a rock ape, laser-firing dragon, bomb-firing rhino and two blobs of jelly. In fact, they were all a family. There was no apparent reason for the creatures to protect the humanoids – they just seemed to care about each other’s welfare. I still recall the feeling of belonging I got from watching them. They became my family too.
Each of the Herculoids is different, and appealed to a different part of my character. Decades before the Spice Girls, Alex Toth created a group that many different kids could identify with. Zok always seemed the most aloof and least anthropomorphic – he made me think of a cat (that flies and shoots laser beams from its eyes and tail). Tundro was a close second in the ‘hard-to-get-to-know’ category’, but he and Igoo often came across as a double-act, which enhanced both their personalities. And of course Gloop and Gleep were the comic relief. Something for everyone.
There’s a sense of high drama about Herculoids. The voice of Zandor sounds like a hammy Shakespearean actor – which to a child commands attention. Everything Zandor said felt important and made me want to leap through the TV screen and join in the fighting. And who’s father has muscles of steel like that? – no sign of a dad bod there!
Then there’s Dorno, the son, who has strength, resilience, a certain vulnerability, and friendship with some of the coolest, most kick-ass creatures in the universe! What pre-pubescent boy wouldn’t want to be him?
There’s something to be said for formulas in fiction, and Herculoids definitely fits the formulaic mould. Perhaps we’ve become more sophisticated with our formulas, and perhaps Herculoids is only entertaining and important when viewed through the veil of time, but I’m sure its themes of family, loyalty and survival are universal and timeless.
I’ve certainly rediscovered something more than a dusty, slightly-embarrassing kids’ program. Family, loyalty, survival: they’re the themes of both my books. So I have to tip my hat to Herculoids, and hope I can live up to its heritage.
“All strong! All brave! All heroes! They’re the Herculoids!”