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Saturday Morning: The Super Friends - VIDEOS

by Richard Keller, posted Jun 21st 2008 10:33AM

The Super Powers Team -- The last incarnation of the Super FriendsDespite being one among hundreds of other cartoons that graced the Saturday morning schedule, Super Friends, as well as its various incarnations, has a unique place of honor. Not only was it one of the longest-running animated superhero cartoons, but it also transversed a number of Saturday morning trends. From the teenage-heavy, mystery-solving early 70s, to the more action oriented mid-70's, then the incredibly boring early 80's, and finally the resurrection of superhero cartoons in the mid-80's. Super Friends was there during all of these eras.

There's no doubt as to the reason for this. Animated superheroes were a big thing ever since the mid-60s. With so little in the way of other animated superhero fare on Saturday mornings, especially in the early 70s, the viewers just ate it all up. Plus, it gave life to so many superheroes that we only saw in the six-panel pages of a comic book.

So there wasn't any actual fighting between the heroes and villains. And, some of the plots and dialogue were incredibly hokey. And, they stayed VERY far away from comic book continuity. It didn't matter to to the pajama-clad, cereal-eating crowd who tuned in week after week to watch episodes that they had seen only a few months ago. They were ready for their superheroes.

The Super Friends premiered on the ABC 1973-74 Saturday morning schedule under the Hanna-Barbera banner. Prior to this, many of the superheroes that appeared on the Super Friends were animated by Filmation studios. Even as late as 1972, with appearances by Wonder Woman and Superman on The Brady Kids, Filmation took advantage of their licensing agreement with DC Comics to animate these characters. Hanna-Barbera took over the licensing agreement shortly after and premiered their versions of these characters with an appearance by Batman and Robin on The New Scooby-Doo Movies, also in 1972.

The primary cast of Super Friends featured what is now known as The Big Three at DC Comics -- Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as Batman's partner Robin and Aquaman, who had a show of his own back in the 1960's. While all of these heroes appeared under the Filmation banner, only Batman and Robin and the announcer of the various animated series moved over to Hanna-Barbera. Batman and Robin's voices were spoken by the duo of Olan Soule and Casey Kasem, while the narrator for the Super Friends first season was Ted Knight.

Also added to the cast of the Super Friends were two teenagers, Wendy and Marvin, and their dog, Wonderdog. Dubbed the comic relief of the series, these two teens and their dog represented the bridge between those viewers who were fans of superheroes, and those who were fans of the teenage-based animated series that were filling the Saturday morning schedules in 1973. These were the fans who had grown-up on Scooby-Doo and were now watching such shows as Funky Phantom, Brady Kids, and Mission:Magic! By adding these three non-heroes to the cast, Hanna-Barbera hoped to bring in a diverse group of fans.

What it brought was a bit of disappointment from the fans who read about the exploits of these characters in the comics. Unlike previous animated series involving superheroes, Super Friends was extremely non-violent. This was courtesy of the stringent broadcast standards for Saturday morning programming in the early 1970s; standards that all but eliminated superhero cartoons from the schedule towards the end of the 60s. Most of the villains featured in this first series weren't actually villains at all. In reality, many of them were good people who had done something bad that the Super Friends needed to correct. In the end, a peaceful solution would be initiated without even an accidental punch or kick.

There was also much mystery solving...well, the non-superhero sidekicks needed to do something, didn't they? Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog eventually became the poor man's version of the Mystery Inc. gang for the Super Friends. Wendy would normally be the most sensible of the trio, while Marvin and Wonderdog would tend to trip over each other's feet. Despite all of that, the trio managed to work themselves into the Super Friends' missions with a modicum of success.

Sixteen episodes of the Super Friends were made and continued running until the end of the 1974-75 season. After that, the show took a bit of a break. But, like many superheroes, the show may have been down but not out. With the resurgence of live-action heroes like the Six Million Dollar Man and the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman, superheroes became vogue once again. So the network decided to revive Super Friends with a re-run of the original episodes during the spring of 1976 and 1977. By then, the Super Friends were ready to make a comeback.

The All-New Superfriends Hour premiered during the 8:00 a.m. slot in the 1977-78 Saturday morning schedule for ABC. This new version of the show was broken up into four different parts. The first part featured two current members of the Super Friends teaming up with each other in an adventure. So, you'd see Superman and Aquaman, or Batman & Robin and Wonder Woman in another. The second part featured a solo adventure by Zan and Jayna -- the Wonder Twins. With the teenage-cartoon craze now on the decline there was no need for Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog to remain with the team. In their place were two teenagers, and their monkey Gleek, who came complete with superpowers.

The third part of the show was a standard Super Friends adventure, this time with the Wonder Twins in tow. The adventures were more action-oriented, the villains more violent, than those missions that took place during the first series -- a sign of changing times on the Saturday morning schedule. The fourth and final part of the Superfriends Hour featured a team-up between a founding member of the Super Friends with another member of the Justice League such as Flash, Hawkman or Green Lantern. They would also team up with members who were not part of the standard DC Comics continuity that were created for television to establish more racial diversity for the team. It was during these segments that we met such characters as Black Vulcan, Apache Chief and Samurai.

The All-New Superfriends Hour lasted only one season; yet, it wasn't the end of the franchise. By the 1978-79 season the producers of these shows decided that it was time to bring in some of the more popular heroes and villains from the DC Comics universe and pit them in a battle against each other. The result was Challenge of the Superfriends, which became one of the most popular versions of the Super Friends and is remembered most by fans.

The one-hour show featured two segments. The first was a standard Super Friends adventure featuring the core group, including the Wonder Twins. The second segment was the one that got everyone excited. It featured the Justice League of America versus the Legion of Doom. The JLA of this universe consisted of the core Super Friends team, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the three made-for-television heroes introduced the year before. The Legion of Doom, whose headquarters was located in a swamp, featured thirteen of the greatest, yet seemingly most inept, villains of DC Comics.

Led by Superman's arch-enemy Lex Luthor, the Legion featured such villains as Sinestro (arch-enemy of Green Lantern), Riddler (arch-enemy of Batman), Gorilla Grodd (arch-enemy of Flash) and Black Manta (arch-enemy of Aquaman). Each 30-minute episode would feature a plot by the Legion of Doom that was meant to take over the world and eliminate the Justice League. Somewhere along the way the Justice League would succumb (or at least pretend) to the Legion's fiendish doing. However, good would always prevail and the Legion would be humiliated once again. Despite seeming a bit corny now, Challenge of the Super Friends was good television as it clearly pitted good against evil.

Sadly, ABC would abandon Challenge of the Superfriends after only one season. In the 1979-80 season the show would return to its original format with The World's Greatest Superfriends. Featuring the core group of Super Friends, including the Wonder Twins, this series would only produce a handful of new episodes, with the rest coming from the All-New Superfriends Hour. The next season the format would change once again as The Superfriends Hour moved away from half-hour segments back into a series of 7-minute shorts for each episode. This format would last for three years on the network and would introduce us to another made-for-television hero -- El Dorado.

It wasn't until the 1984-85 Saturday morning schedule that fans were given new Super Friends material in the form of Superfriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. Featuring two segments of 11-minutes each, this version of Super Friends was quite different from its predecessors. First, emphasis was on established DC Comics villains, including Lex Luthor, Brianiac, Mirror Master, and Darkseid. Next, the voice of Batman was now performed by Adam West, who portrayed the live-version of the Caped Crusader in the 1960s. Finally, a new teen hero from the DC Comics universe, Firestorm, joined the team and became a focus of many of the adventures. Unfortunately, the show didn't live up to all of the goodness it was providing and it ended after one season.

The last, and best, incarnation of Super Friends premiered one season later. The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians returned to a more stable lineup, adding Teen Titan Cyborg to the team, as well as focused on some more serious superheroing adventures. It also featured a different, more modern, animated look for some of the primary characters. Most particularly Batman, still voiced by Adam West, who resembled more his comic book persona of the Dark Knight than previous versions had. Some of the more interesting episodes of the Super Friends era came from Galactic Guardians, including "The Death of Superman" and the Batman-centric "The Fear," which featured the first animated origin of the character and was a pilot for a future Batman series.

While considered campy and downright horrible to some, the series that made up the Super Friends franchise set the standard for superhero shows for several years. It also paved the way for future series like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, which would become hits with both adults and children. Still, to many of us, Super Friends will always remain the best superhero cartoon ever made.

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People born after 1986 obviously don't understand old school cartoons and how great they were and still are by today's standards. The Superfriends lasted a good long 13 years and still beats out other long-running animated adventure series of its time for good story telling, the kind that lasts for over a decade. The show lasted for so long, is because it wasn't just a show for kids, it was also a show for both comic book collectors and the whole family to see, with something in there for everyone. How many animated adventure cartoons have lasted on one network for 13 years? Not many, that's why The Superfriends is the best of the whole lot and even spawned other adventure cartoons of its kind in the 1980's.

March 14 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lord, did I hate that show. As a kid comic book geek I cringed everytime Zan and Jana or Wendy and Marvin showed up. I wanted so much the heros I was reading in the comic and that was all I had. At the time, Marvel was barely doing better with Spider Man and his Amazing friends. Although the less said about Fantastic Four, the better(robbie the robot?)

In the end, I'm just so happen that Batman: The Animated Series, Superman and Justice League happened. It made a comic book geek smile.

June 21 2008 at 5:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

All this talk of Superfriends really needs to end up on the incredibly well-done Justice League Unlimited series. Boomerang is still airing them at 8pm. By far the best Timm/Dini animated series to date. It deals with some pretty heavy story lines. And Project Cadmus' Ultimen team is a knowing nod to all the goofy characters found in Superfriends - only they're cool.

June 21 2008 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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