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 2Buy 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?
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 1Buy 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.)