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The All-New Super Friends Hour: Season One, Volume 2
January 27, 2009

Review by KC Carlson

I pretty much stand alone from my comic book peers in their love for Super Friends. Me, I don’t really get it.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a few years older than most of my comic friends. When these episodes of The All-New Super Friends Hour first aired in 1977, I was a junior in college and had pretty much stopped watching all TV (except for SNL and SCTV) since 1975. I had wrapped up my Saturday morning cartoon phase shortly after the great Hanna-Barbera heroic cartoons (Space Ghost, Herculoids, etc.), although I did stick around for Monkees reruns, the early Archie, Sabrina, and Josie cartoons — although I was largely horrified by what I was seeing — and, always, the Warner Bros./Bugs/Daffy/Road Runner stuff. There was a lot wrong with Saturday morning after this, and I didn’t find out why until much later when I went back and studied the history of Saturday morning cartoons and learned about Action for Children’s Television, a parents’ group which pretty much took out all of the fun of Saturday mornings.

The All New Super Friends Hour: Season One, Volume 2 cover
The All New Super Friends Hour:
Season One, Volume 2
Buy this DVD

Things weren’t all bad under the parents’ groups. Because of them, we got some cool things like Schoolhouse Rock, and they also did away with most of those shows that were basically 30-minute advertisements for bad toys (unless you liked the toys). But then they went all crazy-like in dealing with perceived violence on TV, which led to the ham-fisted editing of such classic theatrical cartoons as Bugs Bunny, Tweety, and Tom & Jerry and caused the downfall of the great superhero cartoons. One year, Saturday morning was filled with heroes — the next they were all gone, replaced by teenagers with bands, or animals with bands, or asian detective families with bands, or basketball teams with bands. Plus, somehow “violence” was confused with “conflict,” so the parents’ groups did away with both, and suddenly everyone on Saturday mornings were Friends with a capital “F.” After feuding for over 30 years, Tom and Jerry were friends. Tweety and Sylvester eventually solved crimes together, and suddenly everyone on Saturday morning owned a dog. Even dogs had a dog. Scrappy-Doo, anyone?

Super Friends?

Which brings us to Super Friends. Which, in a more just and perfect world, should have been a Justice League of America show, but I’m thinking that “League” was probably too conflicted a word for the parents’ groups. (Unless I’m way off and “America” was the problem). So we got stuck with Super Friends. Strike one.

The Super Friends had a dog. It probably would have been okay had the dog had a proper dog name, like Ruff, or Astro, or Marc Antony. But, no, the Super Friends’ dog was named … wait for it… Wonder Dog. Now, Wonder Dog would have been cool if he had bullet-proof bracelets, or a golden lasso, or even an invisible plane. Or if he had a younger version of himself called Wonder Puppy. (Awwww, cute!) But, no. He was just Wonder Dog, a normal dog with no powers who happened to wear a cape. And he’s one of the dumbest dogs in cartoons. Strike two.

Wendy and Marvin. Two non-super-powered teenagers who hung around with the Super Friends. In the comic books, there was a non-super-powered teenager who hung around with the Justice League named Snapper Carr. But he knew cool stuff like how lime would kill giant alien starfish, so he was cool. And he talked like an alien. Wendy and Marvin were not cool. Supposedly they were added to the the cast of Super Friends for “comic relief and viewer identification.” Problem with that is that they weren’t funny, and nobody I knew ever identified with them. Well, maybe boys thought Wendy was cute and available, because Marvin was such a dork. Marvin was as dumb as a stick. Marvin was dumber than Wonder Dog. Who could identify with him? Strike three.

The Replacement Wonder Twins

No surprise, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog lasted only one season. When the show was revived in 1977 as The All-New Super Friends Hour, they were replaced by the Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna) and their dog, er, space monkey Gleek. They were aliens from the planet Exxor, who actually had superpowers. Weird, lame superpowers, but superpowers nonetheless. Their powers would activate when they touched and yelled “Wonder Twin powers, activate!”

Jayna’s power was somewhat useful, as she could change into any animal, from any planet, real or mythological, as long as she knew the name, by shouting “Form of a duck-billed platypus!” (or whatever). Zan, meanwhile, could change into any form of water he could think of including steam, liquid, mist, or the very popular ice. Really. Zan was originally a much larger boy, until he shouted “Form of a snow cone” one day, and Gleek ate half his body weight before Jayna could pull him off. (I made that part up.) Actually, Gleek served the most important role of all in the team — literally, he was left holding the bucket in which to carry the liquified Zan while they were traveling. (You hope that I am making that part up. Sorry. No.)

Zan, Jayna, and Gleek faithfully served the Super Friends for the rest of their animated career and went on to become probably the most maligned, mocked, lampooned, ridiculed, satirized, and heckled fictional characters in pop culture. Quite a feat. (Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog remain twisted with jealousy. Animation is a hard, hard business.)

Why the Super Friends Are Cool. No, Really.

Okay, so far I’ve been having a little fun with everybody, but I don’t want to give the impression that the Super Friends are a complete train wreck. There are plenty of great reasons to watch! Despite the silly supporting characters (and their pets!), Super Friends is after all, a Justice League cartoon. At that time, where else could you see Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman all in the same adventures, other than in the comics?

The All New Super Friends Hour: Season One, Volume 1 cover
The All New Super Friends Hour:
Season One, Volume 1
Buy this DVD

The shows were produced by Hanna-Barbera, the leading TV cartoon shop of the era. While it’s not a stellar piece of animation “art,” it has a fantastic legacy, as legendary comic book artist Alex Toth designed much of the series. On several occasions, I’ve witnessed many full-grown comics professionals drooling like kids while pouring over Toth’s design guides.

Also, by the looks of some of the episodes on this disc, it appears that a very young Alex Ross painted many of the backgrounds for the show, as they look exactly like some of the backgrounds used in his Super Friends-inspired series Justice. (Actually, Alex is far too young to have worked on this 1970s series, but it’s obvious that even the tiniest of details about the look of this show were burned into his brain at a very young age.) And if stellar comics guys like Alex Ross and Mark Waid and Geoff Johns (who provide some commentary on the Season One Super Friends set) think it’s cool, then who am I to argue?

On This DVD

This set collects the final eight hour-long episodes of The All-New Super Friends Hour, which I believe is the second in a long line of Super Friends series. I kinda find the whole broadcast history of the various Super Friends shows kind of daunting. (Yet, I can still rattle off most of the Legion of Super-Heroes homeworlds.) So our friends over at Wikipedia have a pretty good overview on the series over here. I think I’m confused because Warner is not issuing the various DVD series in broadcast order, and I’ve also read elsewhere that the individual shows on some sets are also not always in broadcast order. Perhaps they’re in the order that they were produced.

Each episode is made up of four segments. The first segment is a short team-up between two (or three if Robin is included) Super Friends. The second is another short segment with a Wonder Twin solo story. (This is where I get the most practice doing Mark McKinney’s “I’m crushing your head!” move on Gleek.) The third segment is the heart and soul of the show — an extended adventure of the entire team of all eight Super Friends (counting both Robin and Gleek). And the final, short segment features one of the “core” Super Friends teaming with a “special guest hero” whose special powers are needed to close the case.

Guests included Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Rima the Jungle Girl, The Atom, Green Lantern, Samurai, and The Flash. The heroes especially created for the show (Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Samurai) have gone on to successful careers as has-beens on various Adult Swim shows, most notably Harvey Birdman. The show also had various “bumpers” where the Super Friends dispensed safety tips, demonstrated first aid, and did magic tricks. (One of these things is not like the other.) These bumpers obviously inspired a lot of (air-quotes) ironic bumpers over the years at Cartoon Network, especially on Adult Swim.

I have to admit that I haven’t yet gotten through all the episodes on this two-disc set, as every once in a while I have to stop and think hard about something that I’m watching — like this exchange of dialogue from “The Fifty-Foot Woman” where Dr. Amy Zohn (geddit?) is talking to her female assistant:

Dr. Zohn: My super-strength formula is complete, Dr. Taylor! Soon women will be as strong as men! We will no longer be the weaker sex!

Dr. Taylor: But we don’t need a strength formula to be equal to men!

Dr. Zohn: (intense) You’re living in a dream world! Only with increased strength will we be able to compete with men! And I will be the first one to try my experimental formula!

And the parents’ groups were more concerned about violence… At least Dr. Zohn got her clothes the same place the Hulk did, where anything between torso and knees didn’t rip when she grew as long as it was purple. Otherwise, there would have been a whole different set of complaints.

OMG! The Extra!

The lone Special Feature, The Wonder Twins Phenomenon: Zan and Jayna’s Impact on Pop Culture, sounds a lot better than it actually is. What it could have been was an examination of the far too-numerous-to-count parodies and/or homages to these craptacular characters, by the likes of South Park, Family Guy, Harvey Birdman, Saturday TV Funhouse, Robot Chicken, Attack of the Show, Celebrity Deathmatch, and Spongebob Squarepants (?!). No such luck. What it actually most resembles is a lost segment of VH1’s I Love The 70s, except (as if this was possible) dumber.

Featuring various animation creators, the hosts of G4’s Attack of the Show, and apparently a couple of folks who wandered in off the street, the doc attempts to explain or mock — it can’t really decide — Zan, Jayna, and Gleek the space monkey. Poor Jerry Beck looks like he was summoned into the studio for some other animation doc and instead tied to a chair and forced to talk about the Wonder Twins, whose names he can’t remember. Only Paul Dini redeems himself, by changing the subject altogether to discuss the horror of “The Laughing Fadeout!” And everybody is surrounded by giant blow-ups of the characters. A gigantic Gleek looks like he wants to kiss G4’s Olivia Munn, or possibly just swallow her whole head. Everything is so intensely purple, yellow, or blue that your eyeballs are vibrating by the end! No, I mean it — don’t try to drive after watching this! Absolutely essential viewing!

I love the Super Friends… I love the Super Friends… I love the Super Friends… I love the Super Friends… I love the Super Friends… (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)

19 Responses  
Arp writes:  

Does this include the episode where they wet to Middle Earth? I remember that vividly.

Some of the older cartoons I’ve seen recently just make me shake my head at the horrible dialogue. I can’t believe I used to watch this and the older Spider-Man series religiously.

Still, I had a lot of fun with others doing the Wonder Twins Activate! action. There aren’t too many open-ended superheroes out there, and that dovetails nicely with creative play. I might have to get this for my kids.

 
Evan writes:  

I’d like to see a modern DC Frank miller inspired dark and gritty Wonder Twins.

wait…

No I wouldn’t.

 
Jerry Beck writes:  

“Poor Jerry Beck looks like he was summoned into the studio for some other animation doc and instead tied to a chair and forced to talk about the Wonder Twins, whose names he can’t remember.”

You nailed it completely. I had nothing to say about this series.

 
Easy Google Review writes:  

Ahh the wonder twins… Many of lonely teenage nights were spent with that pair :-)

 
Ed Sizemore writes:  

KC,

I think the nostalgia for most of us ‘youngsters’ comes from the fact this is the first time we saw comicbook superheros animated. Unless you were lucky enough to live in a city where an independent station was rerunning the old Fleischer Supermans or the Marvel cartoons from the 60’s. (And lets be honest those old Marvel cartoons are atrocious.)

I remember seeing these when they first aired and loving them. The animation was no worst then most of the other Saturday cartoons. The ham-fisted messages were also par for the course at the time. I was, and am, a huge Superman fan, so seeing him in action was the best. I drank it up like a man just crawling out of the desert.

Looking back on them now, sure their cheesy and sacchrine, but they still hold a charm for me. It’s mostly remember going outside and talking with my friends excitedly about the lastest episode. Then creating our own superhero adventures. Even then everyone thought Zan was lame. We would transform into something cool, like ice daggers and swords. Really, who wants to be a bucket of water?

 
matthew writes:  

Ed, you turned into water so you could get in a bucket and have your sister, the bird, carry you to the fight, where you turned into something lame and easily beatable like an ice jail. What super-powered villain couldn’t knock down a bunch of icicles stuck in the ground!?

Score one for Women’s Lib, though. The female twin actually had some useful powers. She could turn into a cheetah and totally maul anyone in the vicinity. Then turn into a bird and fly away from the scene. Best. Assassin. Ever.

I have mild affection for the Wonder Twins but only because looking back they were really lame and sort of campy. I mean the whole cartoon was pretty stupid. Invisible jet, my eye! I can see the outline of it!

 
Ed Sizemore writes:  

Matthew,

I’d rather have Jayna turn into a gorilla and me into a huge two-handed broad sword. A sword-welding gorilla is awesome regardless of your age.

 
kjchen writes:  

Maybe not Miller-inspired, but there were some characters clearly inspired by the Wonder Twins (and Black Vulcan, Samurai, and Apache Chief) in the Justice League Unlimited series a few years back. I believe they were called The Ultimates.

 
matthew writes:  

But an ice sword? How many bad guys control fire and/or lasers?

I mean maybe if you could turn into an Ice-9 Sword so after cutting the bad-guy, all the liquid in his body would freeze but now I’m just being silly. :P

 
john writes:  

I remember watching this show as kid here in New Zealand and thinking it was totally lame (I always prefered the Warner Bros cartoons), it also compared badly with UK kids stuff we mostly got – like Doctor Who or the Tomorrow People for example.
I remember too watching the B&W Christopher Reeves Superman TV show around the same time and it was much better.
Not to mention that the colour was awful because for a long time the colour in US shows filmed for the US’s NTSC system looked washed out in the PAL system used here, (a problem that wasn’t resolved until the 1980s sometime) so US shows by default looked cheaper and cheesier because of this.

 
Super Friends Video Clip » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] go along with KC’s review of the new Super Friends DVD set, here’s a clip with Superman and [...]

 
Anthony writes:  

As a kid, I enjoyed watching the various Super Friends shows. Cheesy yes, but has nostalgic charm. Also the first time I saw some DC characters in animated form (though also grew up watching the 60s Filmation Superman and Superboy shorts on Chicago-area TV)…

>>Zan, Jayna, and Gleek faithfully served the Super Friends for the rest of their animated career and went on to become probably the most maligned, mocked, lampooned, ridiculed, satirized, and heckled fictional characters in pop culture. Quite a feat. (Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog remain twisted with jealousy. Animation is a hard, hard business.)<<

I’d say the most maligned cartoon character these days is easily Scrappy Doo… if the first Scooby-Doo live-action movie managed to rip heavily into Scrappy (as part of the plot), that seems to well surpass any treatment the Wonder Twins got (or Marvin and Wendy, per some stupid DC Comics story published a short while ago where Wonder Dog is “really” some sort of evil hell-beast or something that kills them…).

 
Arp writes:  

Scrappy Doo is rightfully maligned. My wife and I cringe the second we see or hear him. Thankfully a lot of the newer Scooby Doo stuff doesn’t have him. He’s like the Cousin Oliver of Scooby Doo, except Scooby Doo seems to have recovered.

>>there were some characters clearly inspired by the Wonder Twins (and Black Vulcan, Samurai, and Apache Chief) in the Justice League Unlimited series a few years back. I believe they were called The Ultimates.

Yes, I believe you are right. I remember thinking that the leader looked a lot like Zan. They were part of the Cadmus storyline.

 
El Santo writes:  

Actually the most maligned character was on Super-Friends, but it wasn’t the Wonder Twins.

Think of the the one who talks to fishes. (Scrappy, on the other hand, did not have a previous history as a rather respectable super-hero.)

>> Yes, I believe you are right. I remember thinking that the leader looked a lot like Zan. They were part of the Cadmus storyline.

The leader, Wind Dragon, was actually Samurai. Zan was one of the albino twins. I was pretty disappointed that they didn’t use the real names. I mean, that growing guy was totally Apache Chief, and there’s no way I’m not calling the electric dude Black Vulcan … especially since those characters had awesome turns on Harvey Birdman.

 
Speed Reading: Super-Friends, Secret Identities, and More « Speed Force writes:  

[...] Comics Worth Reading reviews the All-New Super-Friends Hour. [...]

 
Great Scott writes:  

Most of these comments here and the article above are truly the opinion of downers. Definitely current America. The Super Friends show from the get go, with Marv+Wendy all the way to the climax Galactic G, was LITERALLY comics come to life. Not just by visual appearance but by CHARACTERIZATION. The characters truly acted exactly as they did IN the comics, people. And the most brilliant display was the voice casting, as voice says it all about the character; imagine a woman with a man’s voice, or a man with a woman’s voice, it totally dictates the character. WonderWoman and Robin was excellently voice casted and The Batman showed they really knew who the Batman was. They actually picked up the comic books, understood what Batman is all about, and grabbed Soule from filmation. Reflecting the voices, the characterization, and the art, was the music. The music hit it on absolutely perfectly. When you add all these up what results is that the show captured EXACTLY the spirit and attitude of comic books. The only reason you have comic books past 2000 is because of these guys. The comics from 1965-87 kicked it another ten years and those comics are THEE comics. And everything during that period was honoring comic books such as Superfriends, Superman the movie, SpiderFriends, The HULK cartoon, The X-men cartoon (not w/jubilee+Gambit), even Thundarr the Barbarian. Heck, even Buck Rogers the show and StarWars the trilogy. Everything during this time was reflecting the comic books, if not out right plagurizing it then honoring it. After 2000 comic books went down the drain and the only remnant of this age called “comic books” is Alex Ross. And he does well to fight for it and keep it stable as it’s core identity (except for his Batman). The bottom line is, if you want to know what a superhero is all about, you’re gonna have drop the downer attitude (even if it means leaving America) and take a good stare at the purpose and point that Superfriends succeeded at. Superfriends is the most legendary topic in all of comic books. In the current JLA title they constructed the headquarters to literally be the HAll of JUSTICE. Wizard magazine has had hundreds and hundreds of statements and references to it. The box office smash hit that brought back the JLA, GrantMorrison’s title, is based exactly on Superfriends. Hundreds of comic book scribes and artists have Superfriends as the most exciting time for comic books. Alex Ross himself, painting posters for the Oscars, winning awards left and right, donating over $70,000 at charities praises the show for it’s accurate presentation of the spirit of comic books despite it’s often low budget. You’re going to look embarrassingly foolish if you think you can know comic books without watching the Superfriends. But for the cynical attitude of this current nation, the downer mentality wouldn’t know how to soar high or recognize a superhero if it were in front of them, and one cartoon couldn’t make it anymore obvious: The Superfriends. Thank God it was here.

 
Arp writes:  

I just left America, so I guess I’m allowed the ‘downer attitude’ ;-) I loved the Super Friends as a kid, and I can see why it has lasting influence (who doesn’t go gaga over supergroups? Long live the Travelling Wilburys!). But it hurts to watch now. I know my kids would enjoy it, but they’ll come to their senses in a few years.

Maybe comics aren’t alive because of it, maybe – just maybe – the Super Friends put a nail in the coffin instead. Whenever I see something like JLU, or one of the recent Marvel offerings, I’m struck by the overall quality, and the point of comparison is always the Super Friends. As in Wow – comic cartoons have a come a long way since the Wonder Twins! What adult wants to give comics a chance if their only experience is the Wonder Twins? For many, their lasting impression of comics is of the Super Friends and if the audience for the art is to grow, you have to preach beyond the choir.

 
Interview With Judd Winick About Batman: Under the Red Hood, Plus New Images » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] –- and not really liking it. It didn’t quite feel right. I know I enjoyed it more like watching Super Friends, but I really gravitated toward the comics more than anything. The series wasn’t dark enough. It [...]

 
Super Friends! Season One, Volume Two » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] Hour was when Zan and Jayna joined. That show was also released in two sets, as Volume One and Volume Two. Challenge of the Super Friends was the one where they fought the villain super-group the Legion of [...]

 

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