The Apocrypha #3 - The Cave Man of Steel

Editorial Note: This edition of The Apocrypha was to have been published on Sunday, November 11.  That it failed to be thus is typical of how things happen when the staff of The Apocrypha are given a deadline.  Despite this grevious error in timing, the headline banner has been published with the original scheduled date unchanged.  This will serve as a reminder to our staff that timeliness is key and to our readers that The Apocrypha is about as half-assed an operation as you are likely to find in the world. 
                               Captain Theodore Vincent MacHornberger III (CTVM3) - publisher, The Apocrypha

The Cave Man of Tomorrow
By Joe Rockhead
In 2001, Warner Brothers reinvented the Superman mythos, though certainly not for the first time, with their hit television series Smallville.  Previous television shows like Superboy and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman put their own unique spin on the Man of Steel, however there was a certain ABC show in the 60s that served as a pathfinder for all of these programs.  In 1963, early into its fourth season, the Hanna Barbera-produced prime time cartoon The Flintsones debuted the first televised retelling of Superman’s origin.  A groundbreaking  move that went unnoticed for nearly a decade!

Hanna Barbera was notorious for borrowing themes and characters from other creators, retooling them, and calling it original.  From the Sgt. Bilko-inspired Top Cat to their more famous, and far more contentious, Honeymooners rip-off, The Flintstones, this little animation studio made a name for themselves that persists to this day.  Secure in having successfully avoided a threatened lawsuit from Jackie Gleason, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera next set their sights on DC Comics for inspiration.  And with flagship character Superman still basking in the limelight, the character’s back story must have seemed ripe for the picking.

But what connection does the “modern Stone Age family” have to “the last son of Krypton”?  The story of a mysterious orphan with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men being adopted by an amiable and childless couple to be raised as a normal human being of course!  Or proto-human being depending on the epoch in question.  And so it is that, like his contemporary counterpart, the Cro-Magnon Kryptonian known as Bam-Bam shares an early history that mirrors that of Kal-El.  

Strange Visitor
While not as dramatic as the planet fall of his comic book cousin, Bam-Bam’s arrival in Bedrock would be no less impactful.  Abandoned on the front porch of the Rubble house in a tortoise shell cradle, the baby boy was a blessing to the Flintstone’s infertile neighbors.  Initially mistaken for “another basket full of kittens” in exactly the way the infant Kal-El’s unearthly conveyance was not, Bam-Bam was a welcome addition to Barney and Betty’s lives.  So overwhelmed were the couple by there unexpected bundle of joy, they were completely unbothered by the child’s inexplicable superior strength.

At least, like the Kents, the Rubbles had to make the adoption of the abandoned child official.  Unlike their counterparts they faced a legal battle with prehistoric one-percenter Mr. Stonyfeller who presented a prior claim on the boy.  Represented as he was by the highly successful Perry Masonary, the couple lost the custody battle and very nearly their bid at parenthood.  While they certainly could have elected to pursue more traditional avenues of adoption, fate smiled upon them when Mrs. Stonyfeller proved not to be barren after all.  Upon discovering that he would have a true blood heir, the wealthy Bedrock resident retracted his custody claim and averted potential class warfare.

Whether Stonyfeller was aware of Bam-Bam’s potential like some prototype of the Luthors of Smallville is uncertain, but within the confines of a single prime-time episode, Bam-Bam became a Rubble for all time.  And it was under the care of his newfound parents that he began to exhibit the preternatural strength that would be his childhood trademark.  Much like the infant Superman-to-be, Bam-Bam’s was known for incredible feats that were beyond the capacity of even the most powerful adult, like lifting his father’s automobile and placing it within the garage.  Plus he had the personal liability-inducing habit of hurling Fred Flintstone bodily to the floor from one side of himself to the other. 

Powers and Abilities
Unlike Clark Kent’s adoptive parents, Bam-Bam’s openly reveled in the unique nature of their son.  Given the level of social sophistication exhibited over 10,000,000 years before a strange visitor from another planet plowed into a Kansas field, there was little likelihood that government black-ops teams or experimentation on extraterrestrial life forms had been invented yet.  At that period in prehistory, if it couldn’t be done by a trained animal, it simply couldn’t be done!  So in that regard it was relatively safe to tout the existence of an adopted child who could lift hundreds of times his own weight with ease comparable to his parents lifting a dodo feather.

In order to skirt copyright infringement issues such as those that plagued Fawcett Publications’ flagship character Captain Marvel, the animators shrewdly opted to limit Bam-Bam’s super-humanity to impossible strength.  Early drafts of fifth season scripts had suggested the addition of “fire vision” and “ice breath” to the boy’s repertoire but when the high-profile Shazam! case reduced Fawcett to reprinting Family Circus comics, plans for power expansion were scrapped.  By managing to escape the attention of National Periodical Publications, Hanna Barberra was able to effectively borrow the basic conceptual themes of Superman for an additional two years.

What Ever Happened to the First Last Son of Krypton?
Five years after the show that made Bedrock famous and wooly mammoths synonymous with housecleaning, a spin-off show was to be launched that would bring a teenaged Bam-Bam, flushed with Herculean strength, to the forefront.  However, a shrewd copyright lawyer at DC Comics happened to be home with the flu one fateful day and chanced to watch two episodes of The Flintstones prominently featuring the baby version of the character, including his first appearance.  The similarities in the origin and powers of Bam-Bam and those of Superman as presented by Simon and Shuster were not lost on this litigator. 

Contacting his employers from his sickbed he insured a promotion by informing the publisher of the blatant disregard of intellectual property rights  displayed by the syndicated cartoon.  A threatened lawsuit forced a last-minute rewrite of the first episodes of the new series, The Pebbles and Bam-Bam Show, dooming it to obscurity in the eyes of many fans.  In an out of court settlement the creators of the cartoon did not admit direct wrong-doing but did acknowledge the similarities and pledged to remove any super-human aspects from the character in any and all future incarnations.  

And so it was that when the Flintstone and Rubble children were given their own series, every vestige of his former strength was not only absent but also not spoken of in past tense.  While such a move spared the show’s creators a potentially devastating court appearance, it did leave life-long fans wondering why Bam-Bam had managed to outgrow his super power.  While the onscreen  character was officially no more endowed of strength than the Bronto Bunch’s Zonk, fan fiction picked up where the show left off.  Bedrock Babylon, a popular fanzine of the day, was the most noted for not only extrapolating the Bam-Bam/Superman connection to its logical conclusion, but also suggesting that the aforementioned motorcycle gang were in fact corollaries to the Phantom Zone criminals. 

While the Bronto/Zod connection went quietly unnoticed by a more attentive DC Comics, it was not the only example of Hanna Barbera skirting the Cease and Desist order.  The Great Gazoo is widely recognized as a blatant rip-off of Superman’s extra-dimensional thorn in the side, Mr. Mxyzptlk.  None the less, speculation runs rampant to this day that perhaps the character did garner notice and as such was the real catalyst for the demise of The Flintstones rather than the lackluster, shark-jumping plotlines and incessant pop-culture nods.  An unpublicized action against the animation studio could well have been what opened the door for future DC Comics parent company Warner Brothers to obtain Hanna Barbera outright, thereby taking the Bam-Bam saga full circle.

Joe Rockhead is a freelance writer and author of “Modern Stone Age Conveniences – The Technology of ‘The Flintstones’”  He resides in New Rock, NR with his wife, three children, and their hoparoo. 

Note: This article is dedicated to my lifelong friend Steve McCauley and his lifelong love of Superman and to my friend John Glio and his lifelong love of The Flintstones. Special thanks to John for his suggestions and Flintstone fact-checking. - JediCole