In 1977 Black Vulcan, Samurai ("Kaze no yo ni Hayaku!" or "Swift as the Wind"), Apache Chief ("Inuk chuk!") and in 1981 El Dorado (named after the city of gold) were 4 of the ethnic characters (being black, yellow, indigenous and brown) introduced on the Saturday morning cartoon, 'SuperFriends' which ran from 1973 to 1986. "It was really important, I think, to get some diversity into the look of who you were seeing on television at the time," one observer remarked. 

Writer Marc Scott Zicree added, "I mean you can't go through the '60s with the civil rights movements and the counter culture and all that and not be affected." Historian Michael Swanigan believed, "The 4 characters were introduced ... as Hanna-Barbera tried to be more pro-social and tried to bring more racial groups into the mix." Writer John Semper acknowledged, "Really all that they were, were cartoon characters version of ethnicity." Comics publisher Paul Levitz maintained, "The network has come to the realization that they were serving a diverse population." On reflection, writer Mark Waid reasoned, "It certainly helps open the door for the next generation of cartoons and the next generation." 

"The essence of drama is conflict," writer Denny O’Neil reminded. "The trick when you're doing these kind of continuing characters, especially characters that have gone on for decades, is to keep the essence of the character intact and let everything else evolves." In an interview in 2011, animator Darrell McNeil recounted, "(Alex Toth) used to say: 'Ask me what time it is, I'll tell you how your watch was built!' 

"I was the first black inbetweener the studio had hired. Before getting the 'SuperFriends' job I was, among other things, just getting out of Westchester High School in 1975, then attending 2 classes at Cal State Long Beach and one at UCLA. The main Cal State class I took was an animation class taught by Hanna-Barbera veteran producer Art Scott; the UCLA class was on the history of Saturday morning television, taught by future ABC Saturday morning Standards and Practices ace Bonny Dare, where I met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera." 

Joe Barbera asked the then 18 years old Darrell McNeil to come up with "several animated series concepts of mine to Hanna-Barbera's then Directors of Development, Duane Poole and Dick Robbins. Mr. Hanna encouraged me to enter his studio's training program to supply Hanna-Barbera with the next generation of animators … The original, multi-ethnic ones were created by people at the network partly as a desire to bring racial diversity in a kinda, sorta stereotypical fashion to the show and partly as a reaction to Filmation 'running the races' with their in-production 'Young Sentinels' for NBC, which featured a black heroine and Asian hero as leads." 

In those days, "We had just gone through a roughly 4-year period (1969-1973) where, after the MLK (Martin Luther King) and RFK (Robert F Kennedy) assassinations and the rising outcry against violence on TV in general and in kids' cartoons in particular, we weren’t doing superhero cartoons at all … Now, the trick was: could we do violent superheroes without said violence and get kids to watch? The answer, judging by the 'SuperFriends' ratings (high 30s/low 40s shares) was yes! One of the compromises we as toon producers had to make was to add pro-social, teaching messages to our shows, as well as to do actions that weren't seen as 'imitable' by our audience." 

In an interview with Trevor Hogg in 2012, Alan Burnett remembered "I was a story editor the last 2 seasons of 'SuperFriends' (1985-86), when it was called 'Galactic Guardians' or some such name. We were trying to be a little more serious with the DC characters, but it was impossible, at least the first year I was on it. The network saw it as an 8:00am showing, meaning a show for really young kids. During that time, I wrote a 'Batman' pilot for ABC Children’s Programming. 

"Jean (MacCurdy) was a Vice President at Hanna-Barbera, so she knew I was a 'Batman' nut but I wasn’t available when they first started developing 'Batman' at Warner Bros; that Batman pilot never happened, but the script was re-tooled into a 'SuperFriends' episode, thanks in part to the producer-director of the series, Larry Latham, who backed the idea.

"Paul (Dini) was on the 'Batman' bibles before I got there. Two were written. One was really dark, and the follow-up was more kid-friendly, but still dark. I know he worked on the first, and probably the second. Tom Ruegger was overseeing the development. There were other names on the bibles, too. But Paul was there from the beginning; he was on vacation when I first started at Warner Bros. and for some reason he wasn’t doing 'Batman'.

"Then he came back from vacation, we met, and I just knew there was a beautiful 'Batman' sensibility there. He was sort of looking to leave Warner Bros. at the time, and I urged him to bring in some story ideas, because I needed to re-route the show. He said he had this notion about an origin on 'Mr. Freeze,' and a few days later I'm holding in my hands an outline for 'Heart of Ice'. It was like striking gold. It was the mother lode. We've been close friends now for 20 years."

Blog Archive