A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Did one 60's superhero get his power from … smoking?

January 26, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Decades ago, when I was a lad, I remember a late 50's or early 60's cartoon called the Eighth Man, or 8-Man, something like that. It was your typical cartoon super hero fare except that this little critter got his superhuman strength from smoking cigarettes (I think they were cigarettes). Whenever he found himself in a weakened state, he'd simply light another doobie and off he'd fly. I've yet to find anyone else who remembers this 'toon so it may simply be the result of my own early drug dependence. Oh, and I also recall that whatever text showed up on screen, such as a traffic sign or store names, 'twas in Chinese, Japanese, or some other 'ese. Ring any bells?

SDStaff Scott replies:

Ah, America's confused love/hate relationship with the cartoon. In the early 90's, Bart Simpson proclamation that he was an "underachiever and proud of it!" prompted some schools to ban students from wearing t-shirts featuring the yellow-skinned character; next MTV's Beavis & Butt-Head are blamed for the death of a child due to Beavis' obsession with fire — yet in 1965, a superhero was arguably teaching kids to smoke — a good 20 years before villainous Joe Camel hit the scene — and nobody objected.

Having said that, whatever drugs watching 8-Man inspired you to abuse didn't affect your memory of the show — you've pretty much got it down. 8-Man originated as a weekly comic strip in Japan (those in the know and who obsess over such things refer to these Japanese comics as manga), and eventually was produced as a half-hour cartoon show (56 episodes were produced). The animated 8-Man was a hit in Japan, and, as was the case with other Japanese series (Astro-Boy, Gigantor, Speed Racer, etc.), it was soon imported into America, redubbed, re-edited, retitled (from 8-Man in Japan to The Eighth Man here), and hit the airwaves. Both manga and anime (Japanese animation, also beloved by these same social misfits) versions followed the same general plot: Police detective Peter Brady is murdered by a notorious gangster, then brought back to life — as a humanized robot with superhero strength named Tobor (read the name backwards and groan) — by a brilliant scientist, and goes on to fight crime.

After having read that, I know what you're thinking: This 8-Man sounds like it might have inspired a popular 70's live-action show. And while it is possible, it's still highly doubtful that producer Sherwood Schwartz was watching 8-Man when naming the middle boy on The Brady Bunch. Other, more fanciful minds have found similarities between 8-Man and a little show called The $6 Million Man (and, years later, the film "RoboCop").

Now about those cigarettes: While most doctors will tell you to quit smoking if you want to be able to continue participating in any sort of strenuous activity such as beating up criminals, 8-Man/Brady/Tobor was advised the opposite: Feeling rundown? Light up! When in need of a burst of energy, 8-Man recharged his atomic energy supply with tiny strength pills, which were in the form of cigarettes. After a few drags on his special smokes, 8-Man was as alive with pleasure as any of the playful subjects in a typical Newport ad, and once again ready to battle his nefarious foes.

It seems that back in the 60's, when this series first aired, parents were either blissfully unaware of what was happening on the shows their kids watched, or they were smart enough to realize, unlike today's fretful folks, that they were just harmless cartoons. 8-Man may have been unique in that he got his strength from smoking a substance manufactured in a lab and wrapped in rolling papers, but characters on other shows from this same era got their strength in equally suspicious ways — at least by today's standards. Henry Cabot Henhouse III was transformed immediately into Super Chicken after gulping down his "Souper Sauce," and both Roger Ramjet and Underdog were popping pills to get their anabolic highs. Just try getting that on TV today. Better, apparently, that kids be watching the slightly masked profanity and the supposed hilarious running gag of a child being violently killed each week on the abysmally-written, -acted, and -animated South Park.

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