It’s not easy finding Saturday morning cartoons to review, so I don’t know how Craig’s going to pull this one off. Weekday afternoon stuff gets all the attention online. I don’t if it’s because they got away with more (not having to deal with a “Bureau of Standards and Practices”) or because it aired more. You can occasionally find a fansite dedicated to Mighty Orbots or something, but most of the time? Unless it aired on Fox Kids, it’s probably not somewhere embeddable. For example, I would love to do Pole Position or Starcom in the future. Both shows have an official host, at a site called Jaroo (thank you to Kevin Cross of the Saturday Supercast for the heads-up), but the site doesn’t allow for embedds. Tonight’s entry has no official home outside of the DVD I’ll promote at the end of the article, so I don’t mind going to Veoh (via Vodpod) to get it.
(Also, if it autostarts for you as it does me, I’m sorry. That’s why I moved it past the “jump” on the home page Sunday.)
In the last season of Hanna-Barbera’s holding of the DC license, they decided to go out with a bang. Super Friends had been one of ABC’s mainstays for most of my childhood, but the last season changed the name to Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, bringing with it higher quality animation, slightly more detailed character models, and a more mature style that wouldn’t be surpassed until the so-called “DCAU”, the shows from Batman: The Animated Series up to Justice League Unlimited.
The best episode I could think of to demonstrate the new tone of the show is the Batman-focused episode “The Fear”. It’s a different look at how Crime Alley affected Batman, and showcases not only his famed detective skills (usually ignored in Super Friends in favor of the Bat-Gadgets) but a rarity for this version of the franchise–secret identities.
If Craig ever wants to do this show, I would actually direct him to “The Death of Superman”, as his Voice Actors blog would probably go there to find all the voices. It’s one of the episodes that features the whole cast (except, oddly, the Wonder Twins, who did show up in only one of the other episodes, unless that’s just poor memory on my part, and never again). Then he could talk about all the voice actors involved, including Ernie Hudson as Cyborg. (Which makes me wonder why we had Arsenio Hall as Winston Zedmore in later seasons of The Real Ghostbusters if he was also a voice actor. That would be good press.)
However, I would be remiss in not noting the new voice of Batman, or rather the return of an old voice. In the previous seasons, Olan Soule was the voice of Batman, but on this show he became the voice of Professor Martin Stein. This actually started last season, when Super Friends gained the subtitle “The Legendary Super Powers Show” (more on that in a moment). I don’t know why the change (I heard something about it once, but I don’t recall what it was), but SPT:GG gave West a chance to play a more serious Batman than he had in TLSPS, or his previous work in both the live-action and Filmation Batman shows alongside Burt Ward, who didn’t take over Robin here. (In fact, Filmation’s The New Adventures of Batman actually aired on CBS at the same time ABC aired Super Friends during the former’s run. It didn’t last as long.)
Bat-voices weren’t the only change. The series took on a more serious tone and darker art style. The quality of the animation was a vast improvement, which is odd for Hanna-Barbera, known for their use of limited animation to fit the budget. This season must have had a bigger budget for it’s last dance. This actually made it my favorite season of the series, since the science was more believable. Not exactly accurate, but believable, at least to an adult. (Yes, I am an adult.)
The name change (starting last season) to add “Super Powers” was most likely connected to the Super Powers toyline that DC had licensed to Kenner. The figures were pretty good for the day, and came with mini-comics showcasing the hero (or villain) it came with. If anyone knows where I can find copies of those, even online scans, don’t hesitate to let me know. I loves me some mini-comics.
So why did I choose this episode? “The Fear” is memorable for two reasons. One is the use of not only the characters’ secret identities, but the supporting cast. Lois Lane showed up a few times over the many years of this license, and once in a blue moon you’d see Clark Kent for five seconds, but usually we never saw these characters out of costume cohabiting with the comic’s supporting cast, like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred popping up here. (I think this was Alfred’s first and only appearance in the Super Friends Universe, which is more than I remember from Justice League.) We also get to see Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Diana Prince out of costume. That never happens on the show. That goes for the Scarecrow, which uses the comic identity of Jonathan Crane. Since SFU (Super Friends Universe) Scarecrow was never seen staying in prison (the Legion of Doom always managed to escape somehow during Challenge of the Super Friends), it’s highly possible that Batman never learned who Scarecrow was in this universe, so I can believe Crane fooled everyone.
The other thing is the way it handles Batman’s origin story. The “Crime Alley” murder is what led to the creation of Batman after all, but while the later Batman: The Animated Series showed Bruce visiting the alley every year, it became in the SFU the one thing that Batman still feared, a reminder of his inability to save his parents. (An interesting way to handle it. As kids we could only guess how the crook killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, since young Bruce stops at “Look out! He’s got a…(thunder and lightning)”, and we don’t even hear a gunshot. This was the first time the Batman origin was even shown outside of the comics (although a passing mention was made to it in the first episode of the live-action series, and perhaps the serials but I haven’t seen them in years). That alone makes this episode memorable, and pretty serious for the ’80’s on Saturday morning.
If you want to see more of these episodes, the entire season is available on DVD. Order it through Amazon or check it out via Netflix, but if you thought Super Friends was too “cheesy” or whatever, you owe it to yourself as a cartoon/super hero fan to give it a look.