Throughout their long, illustrious career the Superfriends
battled and defeated the likes of Dr. Noah Tall, the G.E.E.K.computer, Darkseid, Black Manta, Lex Luthor… hell, the entire Legion of Doom. The only battle they couldn’t win was the one against the Department of Broadcast Standards & Practices
. In fact, they pretty much folded without ever throwing a punch.
yoinked the license to the animation rights to make Justice League of America
cartoons out from under Filmation Studios they relaunched them in 1973 as a censor-friendly, no sharp-edges version called THE SUPERFRIENDS
. Gone were the great fight scenes and supervillains. Instead the Superfriends squared off every week against aliens and scientists…who weren’t really evil or even bad. They always turned out to be good-intentioned, just a little misguided. Nothing a good lecture from Superman couldn’t fix in the end.
And as a point to really drive home the “Friends” suffix (or make Robin seem less impotent) The Superfriends allowed two non-powered teenagers (Wendy & Marvin
) and their dog hang out with at the Hall of Justice and tag along on missions. Sounds like classic child endangerment when you say it out loud, but not when you look at how non-threatening their cases actually were.
Yet for all that lameness, me and every other kid in America would wake up at 6:30am to watch these cartoons religiously. So much so that I never realized the show had been canceled a year later and aired only as reruns for the next three years.
Throughout their existence superheroes have fallen into and out of great popularity. They came back on the rise because of new television series The Six Million Dollar Man
and Wonder Woman
, which led to Hanna-Barbera trying one more time with the Superfriends in 1977.
The All-New Super Friends Hour
came back with some significant changes, especially with the cast. Most notably, the teenagers Wendy, Marvin & Wonder Dog were replaced by teenaged, shape-shifting aliens, the Wonder Twins
and their pet monkey, “Gleek”.
This kept in the new direction of the show which was for more superheroics. Still no fisticuffs but everybody used their powers more and against real supervillains. Also new superheroes were added to the rotating roster. Besides the main five and occasional members from the real Justice League, new superheroes ‘Apache Chief’, ‘The Samurai’, ‘Black Vulcan’
the jungle woman’ were created for the new show.
Another big change was more of a “kitchen sink” format with four animated shorts per program. The first segment of every show featured two of the heroes teaming up in a mini-story. The second segment featured a story with the Wonder Twins. The third segment was considered the "primary" adventure of the week which featured the entire Super Friends roster (including the Wonder Twins) in a longer adventure. The fourth and final segment featured a story with one of the primary lineup along with a "special guest star." The fourth segment typically featured a problem that was solved using the guest star's unique abilities.
Sandwiched in between segments were additional short spots with members of the Super Friends giving basic safety lessons, providing basic first aid advice, demonstrating magic tricks, and presenting a two-part riddle featuring the week's primary plotline. Besides being cooler in some ways, in others it’d turned into a goddamned
And why not? Besides the Six Million Dollar Man and Wonder Woman being insanely popular at the time, so was The Donny & Marie Osmond Show.
This seemed to have been the biggest influence on the creation of the Wonder Twins. As much as they seemed an upgrade at the time because of their powers, they really weren’t much more effective than Wendy & Marvin. I dare say, less so, since Wendy was something of a detective.
Fists bumped, “Wonder Twins powers, activate!” and Jayna would transform into any animal (though 90% of the time she chose an eagle) and Zan would turn into…water. And not like Iceman or Spiderman’s villain, Hydroman- just 3.5 gallons of purple water that would go into a bucket that the eagle could schlep around. Not that it really made a difference since all of their solo adventures involved saving teenagers who’d given into peer pressure.
To me the biggest casualty in this was Aquaman
In the Filmation cartoons
of the 60s Aquaman was a commanding warrior, every bit the King of the Seven Seas. In the first incarnation of the Superfriends Aqauaman was…there
. Not much else. He was like Stu Sutcliffe
of the Beatles: He didn’t do anything but you didn’t mind seeing him on stage.In The All-New Super Friends Hour Aquaman is a straight-up punk!
Throughout these cartoons Aquaman is constantly outclassed and outmaneuvered. It’s particularly painful in one of the first segment cartoons where he teams-up with Superman on an underwater adventure (something that is extremely rare). EVEN IN HIS OWN $%*&ING ELEMENT
Aquaman repeatedly stumbles into perils he has to ask Superman to help him out of! It’s like he has some sort of performance anxiety around Superman. Either that or a man-crush. It’s less emasculating to watch him in the tween segments teaching card tricks
The All-New Superfriends Hour: Season One, Vol. 2
is a two-disc set collecting the second half of the first season…which, if you hit “Play All”
will run together as 32 consecutive adventure and subsequently turn your brain into tapioca pudding. Outside of owning Vol. 1 AND being an obsessive completist, I don’t know what would make you feel like you need to own this DVD collection. The coolest thing on it is a preview for the upcoming Wonder Woman animated movie.
…which almost sounds like a back-handed compliment when I say it in that context.
Just the one. A featurette, “The Wonder Twins Phenomenon: Zan and Jayna’s Impact on Pop Culture”.
Just imagine veteran animation writers like Paul Dini and Alan Burnett along with the hosts of ‘Attack of the Show’ doing a version of ‘I Love the 70s’
except it’s ‘I Love the Wonder Twins’ where they underline every bit of irony and WTF-ness. There ya go. I just saved you 15 minutes of your life.
It’s ridiculous to try argue over which season of The Superfriends is the lamest, for me it’s this one. Some may want to go with the previous Wendy & Marvin season but what ultimately pushes this one over the top for me is how they desecrated Hoyt Curtin’s
awesome theme song. Sorry, but THIS will always be cool:
(sweetened a little bit by Michael Kohler)
If there’s one thing
I can say positive about these cartoons from the 1977 season it’s that 20+ years later they yielded the best parodies. Especially the ones from ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’.
The All-New Superfriends Hour: Season One, Vol. 2 can be purchased here