King Features Syndicate was one of the first groups to introduce superheroes to the public through their syndicated comic strips. As early as 1934, Flash Gordon was appearing in Newspapers, protecting the Earth from extraterrestrial threats. Then, there were Mandrake the Magician, introduced in 1934, and the Phantom, introduced in 1936, who also battled evil. However, these characters never fully interacted for decades to come.
This all changed in 1986 when Marvel Production in collaboration with King Features Entertainment introduced the Defenders of the Earth. This 65-episode cartoon series featured many of King Feature’s greatest pulp fiction heroes. So, there was finally a show that allowed Flash Gordon to work alongside the mystifying Mandrake the Magician.
Flash Gordon acted as the leader of the Defenders of the Earth. Aside from being an exceptional pilot, Flash Gordon had no powers to call upon. Still, he helped the team with his wits, piloting skills, and combat experience.
Mandrake the Magician acted as the second in command of the group. As a skilled mystic and hypnotist, he was useful in disabling their enemies mentally.
Mandrake’s apprentice, Lothar, was another part of the team. While Mandrake concentrated on mental abilities, Lothar was an exceptional physical fighter as well as a mechanic.
The Phantom had a chant that granted him power: “By jungle law, the Ghost Who Walks calls forth the power of ten tigers”.
They were accompanied by their young progeny, all of whom were created for the cartoon series. For Flash Gordon, there was his son, the computer genius Rick Gordon. The Phantom brought on his daughter, the telepathic Jedda Walker. Mandrake’s adopted son, Kshin, along with an extra-terrestrial companion, Zuffy, joined the team. Finally, there was Lothar’s son, L.J., who excelled at martial arts like his father.
The team fought against the evil forces of Ming the Merciless and his allies. This supervillain was supported by his own family including his son, Prince Ko-Tan, and his daughter, Princess Castra. His other allies included an artificial intelligence named Octon, Garlax who was the leader of his mechanical forces, and a creature that resembled a giant serpent named Mongor.
The Defenders of the Earth also appeared in a 4-issue-long comic book series from Marvel’s Star Comics in 1987. This series featured stories written by Stan Le and Michael Higgins. Meanwhile, the art was created by Alex Saviuk. While a 5th issue had been planned, the series was canceled before it was published.
Galoob created the action figures for the Defenders of the Earth in 1986. Galoob produced six action figures of the main cast from the series. There was Flash Gordon, Garax, Lothar, Mandrake the Magician, Ming the Merciless, and the Phantom available in this line. Each of these toys came on a colorful card back that featured unique artwork for each character. While they did not have file cards, the back of the cards provided a useful bio for each character.
Each of these toys featured a power punch feature to help produce exciting, action-packed play. To activate the punch, the toys featured a twistable knob on their back. Otherwise, each action figure came with at least one weapon accessory.
Galoob also provided six vehicles and creatures that these action figures could ride on. The vehicles included the Defenders Claw Copter, the Flash Swordship, the Garax Swordship, the Grip Jaw, and the Phantom Skull Copter. Notably, each of the Swordships included a handle at the end of the ship. These handles were there so the ships could be converted into swords with soft-tip blades. Then, there was Ming’s mighty serpent, Mongor.
Even though the series ended in 1986, it briefly reemerged when Enigma Variations Software created a video game adaption for the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, SAM Coupe, and ZX Spectrum. This side-scrolling action game featured only Flash Gordon as a playable character, but Lothar, the Phantom, and Mandrake could be called upon to assist the player throughout the journey.
In 2021, NECA paid homage to the Defenders of the Earth by recoloring their King Features 7-inch-scale toy line. Toys of Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Ming the Merciless were released with color schemes from the vintage cartoon series. A second series is coming out in 2023 with Mandrake the Magician, Lothar, and Garax.
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