Super Friends was Hanna Barbera’s take on DC Comics Justice League of America. It aired in various incarnations between 1973 and 1986 on Saturday mornings on ABC and on weekday afternoon in syndication. The series was cancelled from ABC for a second time in 1983, but was brought back for the 1984-85 season, its penultimate, as The Legendary Super Powers Show. The return was motivated in part, if not entirely, by a new Kenner toyline called “Super Powers” featuring DC Comics characters. Sixteen cartoons, two of which comprised one episode, were made.
The roster was a combination from previous versions of the show. The DC heroes consisted of Superman, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman. Aside from the Wonder Twins, the Hanna-Barbera heroes, Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Samurai, and El Dorado, presented an unusual cultural diversity at the time for both superheroes and Saturday morning cartoons. New to the series was DC hero Firestorm, whose powers included an ability to change matter into whatever he wanted. His essential omnipotence makes him a terrible character. There is no suspense in the stories because he is undefeatable. Now that is understandably a good thing when you have stories that are 11 minutes long because he can take care of any problem, but then it makes no sense how the Super Friends get into any trouble in the first place.
The line-up may seem larger because more Super Friends are shown than actually appear in this particular set of episodes. The opening credits tease the viewer with Super Friends Aquaman and Flash, yet they don’t appear in an episode. This may be a result of the season not being finalized before the animation work, but then neither do Hawkman and the villain Black Manta, who only grace the DVD packaging. Green Lantern has a brief cameo in one episode on his way to an off-screen adventure.
The villains are predominantly from Superman’s Rogues Gallery. They are Lex Luthor, who wears some sort of battle suit, Brainiac, appearing in his more robotic guise minus the tight white trunks, Mr. Mxyzptlk, whose perpetual failure to recognize his name spelled backwards will forever astound me, and Darkseid, the godlike being whose plans in the comics of domination over the known universe were so watered down for Saturday morning cartoons that all he now wanted to do was marry Wonder Woman. Admittedly, she is a fox.
Fans of Super Friends will notice some changes in the cast. Adam West, the live-action Batman from the ‘60s series, reprises his the role. He replaced Olan Soule, who had done a very fine job previously and still appears on the show in smaller roles, which is distracting. Shannon Farnon no longer plays Wonder Woman and it sounds as if different actresses play her throughout the season.
There are five commentary tracks by three writers. All are paired with DC Comic writer Mark Waid. It is very interesting to hear how they crafted a script and the network restrictions placed on them, especially in terms of violence. Two other special features focus on the changes in the series and the toyline.
Die-hard fans and very young children will enjoy The Legendary Super Powers Show. Others won’t be as forgiving as the stories are rather simplistic like red kryptonite turning Superman into a bratty child in “Uncle Mxyzptlk” or the Super Friends being shrunk in the appropriately titled “The Case of the Shrinking Super Friends.” For them, I would suggest checking out other Super Friends series first.