Each Saturday morning, we’ll remind you of the time when it was still cool to wake up early on weekends. So whenever the hell you wake up these days, there will be a nostalgic treat waiting for you, reminding you of those old jammies you used to wear and that old television set. They make even less sense now, but that’s half the fun. We hope you enjoy.
The Cartoon: Super Friends
Animation Studio: Hanna-Barbera
Original Run: 1973 – 1986
Aired On: ABC
||The Bullpen||The Legion of Doom||The Apokolips Gang||Various Evil Independent Contractors|
|Superman||The Wonder Twins & Gleek||Lex Luthor||Darkseid||The Joker|
|Wonder Woman||The Flash||Cheetah||Desaad||The Penguin|
|Batman||Green Lantern||Solomon Grundy||Kalibak||Mxyzptlk|
|Aquaman||Apache Chief||Sinestro||ParaDrones||Mirror Master|
|Black Vulcan||Black Manta||Malhavoc|
|The Juniors||Hawkman||Giganta||The Evil Universe Super Friends|
|The Wonder Twins & Gleek||El Dorado||The Scarecrow||Capricorn Kid|
|Firestorm||Gorilla Grodd||Captain Nemo|
|The Wastes of Space||Cyborg||Riddler|
|Wonder Dog||Captain Cold|
The Setting: Based on the DC Comics characters of the Justice League of America, The Super Friends were a collection of superheroes who banded together to safeguard the Earth and the universe from the forces of evil.
The Gist: For kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, the Super Friends were simply must-see TV on Saturday mornings. It’s tough to imagine enjoying weekend cartoons and not liking this show in any of its various incarnations (and there were several). They were the DC comic books come to life, filled with our favorite superheroes taking on our favorite supervillains in episodes of high adventure and fantasy. Super Friends were staples of Saturday morning toons for nearly fifteen years in various forms. If I’m making a Saturday morning cartoon Hall Of Fame, this show is a first-ballot inductee to be sure.
First off, those of us that were around to actually watch these on Saturday mornings on ABC rather than on Cartoon Network or Boomerang much later on will probably default to arguably the most popular incarnation of the series: Challenge of the Super Friends. This is the one that featured a football team of Super Friends going against the even more stacked Legion of Doom. Back in the day, it was the epitome of toon awesomeness. For years afterward, I recalled it fondly and remembered it to be the best version of the show. After catching it years later, I realized I was mistaken. More on that later.
As mentioned, the show had several revamps in the lineup and structure during its run. The first outing was titled simply Super Friends. It featured the core lineup of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, along with teen sidekicks Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog. It’s been several years since I’ve seen these versions in detail, but what I do remember that they were mostly forgettable, and Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog were dogshit sidekicks. They made Zan, Jayna and Gleek look like genius. This incarnation featured sixteen one-hour episodes and ran from 1973 – 74 before being canceled.
The All New Super Friends Hour came back into being in 1977 and featured the core five, along with new sidekicks The Wonder Twins and Gleek. These episodes were also an hour and featured four segments:
- A mini adventure with two of the Super Friends.
- A mini adventure featuring the Wonder Twins and Gleek
- A main adventure utilizing the entire lineup.
- Another mini adventure featuring a main roster hero with a guest hero.
Then there’s the aforementioned Challenge of the Super Friends from 1978 – 79. On the plus side, this version featured the biggest lineup on both sides of the morality fable. It was the Monday Night Football of the Super Friends, with some 24 total characters in any given episode. It even featured the two teams running at each other in the opening credits, headed for a major clash. You half expected Howard Cosell to come on and narrate the proceedings. So if this is the version that is probably most remembered, why wasn’t it the best? Simply because, even though it featured the most major lineup, the stories were frequently ass and the resolutions even moreso. And unfortunately, such a big lineup meant that many Super Friends had to be punked out early in order to keep the story manageable.
The episodes tended to be fairly one-note:
- LOD has a hair-brained scheme to eliminate some or all the Super Friends and conquer the world.
- Some of the SFs get taken out by said plan.
- Rest of SFs get overrun by the LOD.
- The SFs taken out find some way back or some straggler SFs figure out the LOD plan and how to reverse it.
- SFs reunite, get into smackdown with LOD, beat them.
- LOD escapes in their giant Darth Vader helmet HQ.
I caught these episodes as an adult years ago and was quite shocked how badly they held up. They were nowhere near as good as I remembered. These episodes were an hour long, with the LOD segment occupying half of that running time. The other half hour featured the core five and Zan and Jayna in another adventure. I remember some of these episodes, such as “Rokan, Enemy From Space,” “Sinbad and the Space Pirates” and “Attack of the Vampire” to be pretty good. “Terror From the Phantom Zone,” where three Kryptonian supervillains escape the Phantom Zone and expose Superman to red kryptonite, causing him to age was particularly good among this bunch. Also, “Batman: Dead or Alive,” where Batman goes up against the Western-styled Capricorn Kid was also memorable. And you’ve got to love “Journey Through Inner Space,” where Aquaman got turned into a giant prehistoric shark and the Super Friends had to go all Fantastic Voyage in order to save him.
For my money, the best version of the show, including being the best-written episodes, was The World’s Greatest Super Friends, which ran from 1979 – 80. Damn shame there were only eight of them, though. After Challenge, the roster was pared back down to the core five and the Wonder Twins and Gleek. The episodes only featured one adventure with the entire team. No side Wonder Twin solo adventures and no gaggle of superheroes and villains clogging up the narrative. The eight episodes consisted of the following:
- “Rub Three Times for Disaster” – An Arabian Knights-styled episode where The Super Friends go up against Kareem Azar, the Thief of Zaghdad and his giant magical genie.
- “Lex Luthor Strikes Back: – One of the best episodes of the entire series. Lex Luthor escapes prison and seeks revenge on all of the Super Freinds, especially Superman.
- “The Space Knights of Camelon – Styled after the Arthurian legend, this episode has the Super Friends having to go up against an amnesiac Superman, who thinks he’s the Black Knight.
- “The Lord of Middle Earth” – Another great episode. Inspired by The Lord of the Rings, this episode had the Super Friends journeying to Middle Earth, an underground domain ruled by the sorcerer Malhavoc, who turns them all into trolls.
- “The Universe of Evil” – It’s the mirror universe episode of the Super Friends. What’s not to love? It has Robin with a moustache, and Superman in an alternate universe, fighting against evil Super Friends, while Evil Superman trashes the good Super Friends in our universe.
- “Terror at 20,000 Fathoms” – The Super Friends and the Kandorians have to stop Captain Nemo from destroying California. Hey, wasn’t that in a movie or something?
- “The Super Friends Meet Frankenstein” – Another one of my favorites. Dr. Frankenstein’s evil descendant goes into the family business and creates monsters based on the combined powers of the Super Friends. It falls to Super Robin to try to stop him.
- “The Planet of Oz” – Mxyzptlk traps Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman in an evil version of Oz and turns them into characters from the story. Aquaman can’t swim and Wonder Woman almost gets eaten by warthogs. It’s friggin’ classic.
The next period was a nebulous stretch where seven-minute adventures were done from 1980 – 82 and Super Friends was also rerun from 1983 – 84 under the banner, The Best of the Super Friends. During this period were the so-called “Lost Episodes,” which were created but not run in the US during the 1982 – 83 season. I’ve seen the lost episodes in the last few years, but honestly, don’t remember that much about them, other than the fact that the seven-minute shorts were generally much lower quality of storytelling than World’s Greatest and even Challenge. The show went another revamp in 1984 as Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. Firestorm was added, the team was beefed back up to include much of the Challenge heroes and the Wonder Twins, and the episodes were typically two 11-minute adventures. This version was also notable for bringing in Adam West to voice Batman.
The final revamp came under the new monicker: Galactic Guardians: The Super Powers Team in 1985. The animation was beefed up, and the principal villain became Darkseid and his merry Apokolips band. The team was renamed The Super Powers Team, and the final lineup consisted of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin, Cyborg, Aquaman, Firestorm, Hawkman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Samurai and El Dorado. Darkseid also wanted to bone Wonder Woman. I always hoped those crazy kids would get together. This last incarnation wasn’t bad, and it was cool having Adam West as Batman. Also dug the improved animation, as disctinctly ’80’s as it was. But I’d still hold up World’s Greatest as the best of the bunch.
You could get a headache trying to keep all the versions straight. But for the most part, for me, it wasn’t a proper Saturday morning without the Super Friends.
The Short History: Hanna-Barbera produced it of and on from 1973 to 1986. It went through a crapload of revamps.
The Merchandise: The big tie-in was with the Kenner line of Super Powers Team action figures in the mid-’80s. I personally never had any that I remember. I was pining for Transformers at the time, yet making due with Gobots knockoffs.
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Tune in next Saturday morning for another installment.