With the moderate success of Filmation’s live action show Shazam! the studio decided to create a female counterpart to Captain Marvel but as they were unwilling to pay licensing fees for Mary Marvel a new character called Isis was created. Later Isis would appear alongside other heroes in animated form on the cartoon series The Freedom Force, which was part of Tarzan and the Super 7, and eventually DC Comics would adopt her officially into canon where she would eventually became the wife of Captain Marvel’s nemesis Black Adam. Yet before all that, back when it all started, she was just a simple high school science teacher who was suddenly gifted with powers of a god.
Like many Saturday morning kid’s shows The Secrets of Isis didn’t have an origin episode but unlike in the case of Shazam! we do at least get a little backstory as to how she got her powers; for The Secrets of Isis it was in the form of the show’s opening narration where we are told how the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut was given a powerful amulet by the royal sorcerer that would endow her and all her descendants with the powers of the goddess Isis,“With the powers of the animals and the elements. You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles and command the elements of sky and earth.” Then 3,000 years later science teacher Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) dug up the amulet while on an archeological dig (don’t bother asking why a high school science teacher was on an archeological dig…maybe it was some kind of vacation thing) and found out that she was the heir to the power of Isis, and now she must live a dual life as “Andrea Thomas, teacher; and Isis, dedicated foe of evil, defender of the weak, champion of truth and justice!”
The basic formula of the show was very similar to Shazam! where mostly stupid teen-agers would get into some kind of trouble and Andrea would have to call on the power of Isis, “O mighty Isis!” and she would transform into her Egyptian counterpart to rescue whatever particular idiot was in danger. What made this show work better than Shazam! was that Isis had a massive variety of powers on hand to add a bit of variety to the proceedings, and with the catchy incantation of “Oh Zephyr Winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!” she could take to the air like Captain Marvel, but whereas flying and super strength were the only powers Captain Marvel had to work with Isis on the other hand could control all the of the Earth’s elements (not only sky and earth as the opening narrator stated but air and fire as well), she has also had complete control of matter and molecular density which allowed her to phase through objects or make them immaterial instead. Her headband even allowed her to see through the eyes of her raven as well as to look into the past, but most startling of all her abilities was the one that allowed her to stop and reverse the flow of time.
If seeing Captain Marvel relegated to using his immense power to convince kids to not give into peer pressure seemed to be a gross waste of potential than seeing Andrea use these amazing powers to uncover the real culprit behind the theft of a school mascot will surely blow your mind.
In the episode “Lucky” a little boy is taught by Isis that his dog drowning is just part of the circle of life, cause that kind of logic is comforting to a child, but the real crazy thing here is that she literally has the power over life and death and could have easily reversed time and stopped the kid’s dog from dying. I must say there’s a difference between teaching a life lesson and being a cold-hearted bitch. In fact the power to halt and reverse time kind of trumps all of her other powers as it could pretty much undue any moment of trouble her students get into.
As Isis she also has the ability to create matter with a wave of her hand, which is in contention with time manipulation as the most awesome power ever, and in one particular episode fleeing crooks are captured when she makes a ring of full grown trees suddenly appear around them to form a cage. It’s quite clear almost from the outset that she must just be screwing with those around her as that power set could end any conflict in seconds. This is what makes the show so good, the complete and utter absurdity of this woman snapping off a rhyming couplet to call on immense powers for some of the most mundane and ridiculous reasons, “I’ve got to find out which cheerleader is cheating, better call on all the forces of the Heavens and the Earth!” My all time favorite moment in the entire series is when she used her elemental abilities to create a ring of flames around a bear who was endangering an idiot school slacker, and throughout that sequence you couldn’t help but pity that sodden bear.
The Secrets of Isis also had a bigger supporting cast than Shazam did; aside from Andrea Thomas we have fellow teacher and possible love interest Rick Mason (Brian Cutler), though he’s too much of doofus to have a real chance with Andrea, there’s Dr. Joshua Barnes (Albert Reed) the stern but kind school principle, and then over the course of the two season she had two different teaching assistants; Cindy Lee (Joanna Pang) for season one and Rennie Carol (Ronalda Douglas) in season two. My question is, “Do high school science teachers actually get teaching assistants?” They certainly didn’t at my school, unless it was kept a secret from me for some reason, but with most of the cast clearly being played by actors in their twenties this could easily have been a show about a local college campus. I guess having it in a high school setting is more relatable to the show’s target demographic.
It’s interesting that a show based on an original character would completely outshine the more well-known comic book character of Captain Marvel, but as Standards and Practices forbade such violent stuff as punching and kicking on a children’s show Captain Marvel found himself hopeless kneecapped by those restrictions, while Isis on the other hand had her wide gamut of magical powers which allowed her to take on opponents in variety of interesting ways. Where Captain Marvel was relegated to mostly saving people by lifting things, followed by the required stern lecture, Isis was able to whip up magical barriers and reverse time if need be. Though to be fair she also used her powers to magically retrieve dirty dishes from the bottom of a river, so not always that impressive.
Most of the episodes for The Secrets of Isis had insanely ridiculous plots with the first episode “The Lights of Mystery Mountain” being a prime example of this as it had Andrea and the gang uncovering a real estate scam that used flying saucers to scare off owners so they could get a hold of their land, or in the episode “No Drums, No Trumpet” our heroes found themselves in an old west ghost town haunted by a trio of thieves, both of those were more in keeping with something you’d see on Scooby Doo, Where are You! then what you’d expect on a superhero show.
As formulaic and silly as the show was it did have some interesting science fiction elements such as a force field generator in “The Sound of Silence” or the weather machine that Rick is framed for stealing in the two-parter “Now You See It…Now You Don’t.” Sadly episodes like that where Isis and company are up against actual criminals were rare and the plots mostly revolved around more mundane topics such as cheating, taking dares, learning about responsibility, low self-esteem, and the dangers of hitchhiking. In one particular idiotic episode the students believed the legendary Bigfoot was living in the nearby hills, but it of course turned out to just be a tall dude in hat.
As silly as most of the episodes were they are also insanely fun to watch as an adult now, my friends and I laugh harder watching The Secrets of Isis than we do most actual comedy shows, it seemed like every two minutes something lacking any logical sense was happening, and it’s bloody brilliant. In one particular episode there was this scene where a girl was trapped in a well (seriously this show had that old chestnut) and the girl’s father finds her but it’s up to Isis to save the day by magically reassembling an old broken ladder, levitating it down into the well, to save both the girl and her useless father, but what made this scene amazing was that she then levitated the girl’s father, ladder and all, out of the well. What was the fucking point of rebuilding that ladder if you could have just levitated them both out?
Whatever can be said about The Secrets of Isis one has to admit that JoAnna Cameron really sold the character, no matter how ridiculous the setting she was fully committed to the part, she even put up with that stupid raven that the show runners refused to get rid of, and those few times Captain Marvel teamed up with her clearly illustrated how useless he was in comparison to her. If you can get a hold of this series I recommend you do so, and then have a few friends over for a real fun time.
• Andrea has the standard Clark Kent disguise of wearing glasses but then she doesn’t wear them half the time which makes her friends even dumber than Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.
• Andrea builds a force field generator in her high school science lab that is radioactive and somehow she’s not fired for this.
• Rick was working on a top-secret government plan to build a weather machine. I must say this high school hires fairly over qualified teachers.
• Isis occasionally would break the fourth wall and wink at the audience. Could this be part of her being a goddess?
• Whenever President Trump demands the destruction of Isis I can’t help think that somewhere out there JoAnna Cameron is turning around looking startled and asking, “What was that, destroy me?”
• In an episode of Smallville Lois Lane was possessed by the spirit of Isis.
The Secrets of Isis (1975-1976)
As 70s live action kid’s shows go The Secrets of Isis is easily one of the better ones, it may be downright ludicrous at times but it is certainly entertaining if watched with the right mindset.