7 things you might not know about Atom Ant
Hanna-Barbera's first superhero has ties to Gilligan's Island, Andy Griffith and The Simpsons.
On September 12, 1965, two iconic Hanna-Barbera characters were introduced in a primetime special, The World of Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel. The special was a teaser for Saturday morning cartoons which kicked off a few weeks later. The two cute and heroic characters had their own shows for a short while until they joined forces in The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show.
By the end of the 1960s, Atom Ant was no longer a headliner. He was folded into The Banana Splits show. Still, the mighty insect remained a popular figure, spawning loads of merchandise from lunch boxes to jigsaw puzzles.
Here are some things you might not know about Atom Ant.
1. He was Hanna-Barbera's first superhero.
In the mid-'60s, superheroes were again on the rise. The caped comic book characters were on the decline in the 1950s, as horror, crime, western and sci-fi stories filled the funny books. After Marvel introduced a slew of its iconic figures, the spandex wearers were hot again. The dynamic duo of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera jumped on the trend and created Atom Ant, their first superhero. Atom, which borrowed many ideas from Batman, would even beat Batman to the airwaves by a few months. Frankenstein, Jr. and The Impossibles, Space Ghost and The Herculoids would follow soon after.
2. He had two voices.
Two quite recognizable voices give life to Atom Ant. In the cartoon's first year, Howard Morris, best known as Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, acted as Atom Ant. Morris had a disagreement with Barbera after season one, and he was replaced by Don Messick, pictured, the man behind Scooby Doo, Astro, Boo Boo Bear and many, many more.
3. He was paired with Precious Pupp and The Hillbilly Bears.
One of the great aspects of those 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons was their variety. The shows were a Whitman's Sampler of animated characters. Atom Ant's shorts were interspersed with the antics of Granny Sweet and Precious Pupp, as well as the mumbling Hillbilly Bears, a spoof on the rural sitcoms of the era.
4. There was just one single Atom Ant comic book published.
Precious Pupp and the Hillbilly Bears also traveled with Atom Ant in his comic book. Gold Key published a lone issue of the 12-cent comic, which featured art by animator Phil DeLara, who also drew for Warner Bros.
5. His Halloween costume can fetch big money.
Ben Cooper was one of three major manufacturers of the budget plastic Halloween costumes we wore as kids growing up, competing with Collegeville and Halco for the drug store racks. (Read more about those low-cost costumes here.) In 1965, Cooper cranked out this Atom Ant plastic mask and smock, which is frankly one of the better looking designs. Today, they can fetch anywhere from $60 to $225 on eBay.
6. He released an album.
Despite its title, Muscle Magic was not an exercise record. No, it was a story of Atom Ant taking on 6' 3" alien ants, mixed with songs like "Up and Atom" and "Fit as a Fiddle." Fun fact: One of the songwriters behind those tunes, Stan Farber, is also one of the voices singing on "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island," the famous sitcom theme.
7. The Simpsons stole his catchphrase.
Matt Groening would repeatedly pay homage to his childhood on The Simpsons. One obvious nod is the catchphrase of Radioactive Man — the familiar cry of "Up and Atom!" Sounds like a case for Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.
Image: The Simpsons