Super Friends

(redirected from SuperFriends (1978))
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Super Friends #22 © 1979 DC Comics. (Cover art by Ramona Fradon.)

Super Friends

(pop culture)

For thirteen years, they protected the Earth from within their headquarters, the Hall of Justice. If they had kept their title the same, ABC and Hanna-Barbera’s group of superheroes would have been among the longest-running animated series in history; however, the Super Friends got new series titles on a regular basis. The core team always remained Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin, and Aquaman, although multiple other heroes and sidekicks often joined them

Superheroes had fallen out of favor with networks as the 1970s began, but in 1972, a pair of CBS New Scooby-Doo Movies, with guest stars Batman and Robin, and two episodes of ABC’s The Brady Kids, which guest-starred Superman and Wonder Woman, changed the minds of development executives at ABC. Soon, the alphabet network commissioned Hanna-Barbera to create a new supergroup to entertain on Saturday mornings, but they wanted the adventures to be moralistic and nonviolent. Hanna-Barbera picked five of DC Comics’ top heroes—Aquaman was included over Flash or Green Lantern because he had already had his own animated series—and saddled them with teen sidekicks Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog. Simple, but elegant, designs by comics master Alex Toth gave all the characters a dynamic flair.

Super Friends debuted on September 8, 1973, with an adventure in which the heroes had to stop energy thieves who came from an energy-depleted planet. Of the sixteen episodes produced, other adventures included guest-stars Green Arrow, Flash, and Plastic Man, and saw the Super Friends battle a super-computer called G.E.E.C., dastardly polluters, and alien balloon people. Although Super Friends did well in the ratings—and actually received primetime promotion—it was dropped from the air in August 1975, only to return again in February 1976. Half-hour edited versions of the shows ran from December 1976 to September 1977.

The first title change for the series came on September 10, 1977, when The All New Super Friends Hour debuted. This version altered the format, showing four adventures over the hour (one half-hour story, and three mini-adventures). Interspersed between each story were Safety Tips, three-part Decoder Clues games, and alternating Crafts or Magic Tricks short segments. The other major change for the series was that Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog were dumped for new sidekicks: alien teens from Exxor named Zan and Jayna, and their space monkey, Gleek. Zan and Jayna were the Wonder Twins, and when they pushed their fists together and yelled “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” Zan could form anything made of water or ice, and Jayna could become any animal from Earth or another planet.

The short stories tended to feature one or two characters teaming up to stop disasters or villains, and many of them guest-starred other heroes from the DC Comics universe: Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Rima the Jungle Girl, Green Lantern, Flash, and the Atom. Created for the series were the new multicultural heroes Black Vulcan (an African American man with electrical powers), Apache Chief (a Native American man who could grow to be a giant), and Samurai (an Asian man who could spin his lower torso into a tornado). The final of fifteen episodes also featured the first supervillain adapted from the comics: Hawkman’s foe Gentleman Jim Crad-dock, the Gentleman Ghost.

On September 9, 1978, ABC debuted what would be the most popular incarnation of the series ever: Challenge of the Super Friends. In this series, the Super Friends were now regularly joined by Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, and Samurai, leaving Wonder Woman the sole female heroine (the Wonder Twins were gone for these stories). Fighting against them was the Legion of Doom, whose members included well-known comic-book villains Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Cheetah, the Riddler, the Scarecrow, Toyman, Sinestro, Black Manta, Captain Cold, Bizarro, Gorilla Grodd, Solomon Grundy, and Giganta. The Legion of Doom met in the Hall of Doom, a building that resembled Darth Vader’s helmet and was built in a swamp.

Although the villains were out to conquer the world, and often caused major problems, they just as often escaped justice at the end of each half-hour adventure. When television’s Standards and Practices arm objected, the Legion were caught in some episodes, only to be miraculously free the next week. Not only did the show feature many comics characters, several episodes also showcased the origins of the heroes and villains, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Lex Luthor, Giganta, and the Legion of Doom itself.

Since Challenge of the Super Friends was a one-hour show, and the Legion of Doom stories only took half that time, separate half-hour stories filled the rest of the hour. These sixteen stories did feature the Wonder Twins, fighting evil alongside the crew from the previous season’s adventures. These stories were a little more cosmic in nature, with Mr. Mxyzptlk, Dracula, the Greek Gods, and dangers from Exxor, Krypton, and other planets stressing out the Super Friends. Challenge proved so popular that the show was expanded to ninety minutes from November 1978 to September 1979, with older reruns added in to fill the time.

Another name change came in 1979, and the show became The World’s Greatest Super Friends. Though the series was an hour, only eight new episodes were produced. Fantasy ruled these episodes as the heroes battled space knights of Camelon and the Frankenstein monster, took a trip to the Planet of Oz, and faced their evil dopplegangers. Gone were the extra heroes, though the Wonder Twins stuck around.

The 1980-1981 season saw a simplified title to The Super Friends Hour. Eight new half-hour shows were produced, though each was split into a trio of seven-minute short stories. Eight new Safety Tips, Magic Tricks, and Crafts shorts were produced as well. The cast returned to its wider reach, as guest-stars Apache Chief, the Atom, Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Rima, and others stopped by to lend a helping hand. Villains included Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bizarro, in addition to non-comic-book menaces such as the Voodoo Vampire, the Termites from Venus, and the Incredible Crude Oil Monster.

Things got a bit complicated for the heroes over the next several years. In September 1981, the series was renamed The Super Friends, and more short adventures were produced (three per half-hour), adding a new Hispanic hero named El Dorado to the mix. Six new half-hours (eighteen stories) were produced and aired in the 1981-1982 season, but the 1982-1983 year featured all reruns. Eight more half-hours (twenty-four stories) were produced for the 1983-1984 season, they but did not air in the United States. Thus, for U,S. viewers, the 1983-1984 season was also all reruns.

Concurrent with a new line of action figures from Kenner, known as Super Powers, ABC and Hanna-Barbera changed the title of the series again with the September 8, 1984 episode. Super Friends—The Legendary Super Powers Show featured Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, Atom, Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Samurai, and the Wonder Twins. Also introduced into the stories was teen hero Firestorm.

The Legendary Super Powers Show started out as a thirty-minute series, but by December it had been expanded to an hour. The stories were either two separate eleven-minute tales, or a two-part storyline; in addition to eight new half-hours, two half-hours from the missing 1983-1984 episodes were also aired. Darkseid and others of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters (Kalibak, De-saad, the Para-Demons) were the main antagonists, while familiar comic villains such as Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Mirror Master, and Lex Luthor also bedeviled the heroes.

In September 1985, the series changed titles once again, losing its Super Friends connection once and for all as it was renamed to The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, and the character designs were changed to reflect the templates, drawn by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, in the DC Comics Style Guide for licensors. Eight more half-hours were produced, with some of them cited by fans as the best stories of the entire run.

While the team remained functionally the same, African American teen hero Cyborg was added to the mix, perhaps testing the waters for a proposed Teen Titans series, of which he would have been a part. Lex Luthor, Darkseid, Brainiac, and Bizarro were back to cause trouble, while newcomers the Royal Flush Gang (with Joker in tow) and Felix Faust appeared. But it was in an episode called “The Fear” that fans got a real “first”; it featured the first-ever time that Batman’s origin had been told on television or film! Another story bucked television tradition and harkened back to a much-loved Silver Age (19561969) Man of Steel comic-book story: “The Death of Superman” was one of the rare cases that the word “death” ever appeared in an animation title.

Galactic Guardians ended its run on September 6, 1986, closing out thirteen seasons of the various Super Friends series. The show was later sent to syndication, then to USA Network (where all the missing 1983-1984 episodes were finally shown), and finally to Cartoon Network, where it resides today. Well-remembered by older fans, and embraced by younger viewers, Super Friends began a resurgence of popularity after the turn of the century. Cartoon Network produced newly animated promos featuring the characters (and brought back many of the original voice actors), and even featured Black Vulcan and Apache Chief on its Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law series.

Justice League, the successor to Super Friends, began airing on Cartoon Network in November 2001. DC Comics launched a nostalgia-laden campaign in 2002, publishing the first of two Super Friends trade paperbacks, and following them later with action figures, posters, statues, and other limited edition materials. The Wonder Twins have shown up in recent years in the pages of Extreme Justice and Young Justice, and even Apache Chief was reborn as Manitou Raven in the pages of JLA. Warner Bros. also began to release Challenge of the Super Friends DVDs, to surprisingly high sales.

In 2007, the Justice League of America established a new public headquarters in Washington D.C., the Hall of Justice, named after the Super Friends’ headquarters. The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, appeared in a 2009 episode of the live action television series Smallville, played by David Gallagher and Allison Scagliotti. DC Comics launched a new Super Friends comics series aimed at children in 2008, and sidekicks Wendy and Marvin entered official DC universe continuity in Teen Titans #34 (May 2006). —AM & PS