Superfriends might not have returned to Saturday mornings if it wasn’t for Kenner. DC had done a set of minicomics for the first wave of the MASK toyline for them (back before they were bought by Hasbro) and Kenner had made the Super Powers Collection, a set of action figures based on DC heroes. Each figure had a unique action figure based on the hero or villain’s powers or whatever they thought would look cool for kids at play. The figures also came with minicomics, many of which I’ve reviewed in the Free Comic Inside series, with more to come. Additionally a miniseries of regular comics was produced.
However at this point cartoons based on toylines were legal and DC Comics already had a deal going with Hanna-Barbera, so why not use their popular cartoon to promote their new toys. The show already had a few different names at times, like Challenge Of The Superfriends or World’s Greatest Superfriends, but the new titles would be a drastic change, especially in the last season. Unfortunately third time was the charm and the show would finally be canceled in the 1984/1985 season. At least it went out by going all out.
Superfriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show was up first. It would offer a few changes. DC villains returned because they were in the toyline. Wonder Woman’s longtime voice actress Shannon Farnon would be replaced by Connie Cawfield and the change was noticeable. Even stranger was that Olan Soule, who had voiced Batman for Filmation originally and has been his voice for Hanna-Barbera on both this show and the two Scooby-Doo crossovers, was taken off this role and given a different one. I don’t know why, or why they brought in Adam West, from the 60s Batman and Filmation’s The New Adventures Of Batman (Filmation noticed they still had the rights a little longer, decided to capitalize on Superfriends‘ success, and brought West and Burt Ward in for their show on CBS), to reprise the role. Admittedly he did a great job, certainly better than expected for what would become the most serious take on Batman until Fox Kids came along. I just don’t know why they changed Batman voices when they still had the same actor.
Instead, Soule would be brought in to play Professor Martin Stein, one-half of the new DC superhero Firestorm…and yes, this is the show that made Firestorm my second favorite DC hero (Superman of course being number one).
Many of the changes were inspired by the toyline, but Firestorm (who did eventually get his own Super Powers action figure) was new to DC Comics, having debuted a few years ago and just now joining the Justice League Of America. His appearance here led me to actually buy an issue of Fury Of Firestorm when I saw it in the grocery store because I liked the idea of two people fusing into one hero, with one as the mind and the other as the body. I’m sure the full significance of that wouldn’t hit me until I was much older. As for the logo…they should have used the one in the comics. It was much better than ordinary letters on something close to fire.
Also making his debut were Darkseid, Kalibak, and Dessad. They would also appear in the toyline, but while other DC villains would still cause trouble for the Superfriends these three became the main antagonists for the final two seasons. I wouldn’t necessarily say you’re wrong about them being a bit lite compared to their comic counterparts, and knowing what I know now about the Fourth World I have to say Darkseid’s obsession with marrying Wonder Woman is outright bizarre (though in the Superfriends universe I could understand it), but at the time all I knew is that these three were the most dangerous threat our heroes ever faced. That was enough for me.
What I do miss is the intro. Yeah, I’m nostalgic for that narrator selling us on the heroes. Instead we get a standard ABC announcer (I think both Hanna-Barbera and Ruby Spears would use him on occasion) telling us the title like we couldn’t read it. We could read “introducing Firestorm” just fine. What makes it worse is that the narrator would disappear from the show entirely after this and was barely in this show as it was.
And then the final season happened. DC went all out on this one. Wonder Woman would get replaced…again, this time with B.J. Ward, who would also voice her in a guest appearance on the Ruby-Spears Superman for CBS a few years later. The Wonder Twins (who I don’t recall ever having a Super Powers figure of their own) were gone, though I’m pretty sure they had one episode where they showed up. I think the one where Bizarro creates Bizarro versions of Wonder Woman and Firestorm. A few more villains from the toyline would appear (including Brainiac’s new design from last season and the toyline) but Darkseid and his amazing foes would still be the main threat. The big change was in the character models and the animation, and the final intro would reflect that along with the complete rename of the show.
I guess when you know it’s your final season you go all out. Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians would keep the theme song and the voices (except for the aforementioned Wonder Woman changes) and that was it. Designs were heavily altered as they dropped Alex Toth’s designs for Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who worked on the toyline and DC Comics. It does make the characters look more like their comic book counterparts so as much as I love Toth’s work this was a necessary and welcome update.
Not so welcome to me was the huge redesign of the Hall Of Justice. Actually that’s half true since the new look of the outside was amazing, but inside was another story. The classic Hall Of Justice has computers, a small meeting table, and other visually stunning additions. In this series it’s an empty room except for a walkway to the Trouble Alert. It’s like they never got around to furnishing the place once they rebuilt it. Did Bruce blow the budget on a bigger monitor for the computer?
The show was now mostly full-length stories, with the occasional exception. It also wasn’t afraid to get a bit darker. This was the first time Bruce Wayne’s origin was shown outside of comics. The serials didn’t mention it, the 60s series noted in the first episode that Bruce’s parents were killed by criminals in a passing comment of a speech and it was never spoken of again, and I don’t think the radio dramas ever recreated it either. Now every version of Batman that comes down the pike has to show it, so I blame this show. That was in an episode called “The Fear”, where the Scarecrow learns that for some reason Batman is scared of Crime Alley and tries to use it against him, in a story that explored the one thing the man with no fear does in fact fear. There was also “The Death Of Superman”, an episode where Superman is exposed to a lethal dose of Kryptonite and Firestorm blames himself for not being there like he should. These are both great episodes and two of the reasons even people who hate Superfriends praises Super Powers Team.
As noted in the intro, though without the big “introducing” moment Firestorm had, Cyborg had joined the team. Yes, this is what Cyborg used to look like before the Teen Titans cartoons turned him into something more like a football player than a basketball player. His first episode was learning to accept his cybernetic body just when the team really needed someone with his skill set. Ernie Hudson voiced Cyborg and to me will always be the voice of Cyborg.
This should be where the story ends. Sadly the third time was the charm and the Superfriends disappeared in every form from Saturday mornings. However it wasn’t forgotten…and I don’t mean stupid parodies. I mean that in 2010 Imaginext would create their own DC Super Friends toyline. You may have seen the later cartoons on YouTube but a pack-in video in the early days of the line would take the inspiration beyond the name and create a pilot show that paid proper tribute to the series.
That’s all the inspirations shoved in there. It’s original animations based on the Imaginext toy design but you can see bits of all the intros in there, including that strange explosiony graphic just before the final logo. You have the heroes showing up on the logo, like the original series, and the narrator is trying to be Ted Knight. Frankly I would have gone with William Woodson instead as he did most of the series and in the full episode it kills a bit of the nostalgia because of it. Then again, did they need to do any nostalgia? It’s not like these kids cared.
Meanwhile you see elements from the other intros as well except for the Super Powers period. Challenge Of The Superfriends and Worlds’ Greatest Superfriends seem to be the biggest inspirations. The Hall Of Justice is like a merger of the classic and Super Powers Team version but still shown like the earlier intros. The show itself is like modern update of the classic show (not so much Super Powers Team) and I wish the series had stayed on with it. Instead the animation quality dropped, the focus was on the newly added disk gimmick, and while it wasn’t terrible it didn’t really do it for me. Remember, I watch preschooler shows so don’t tell me “it wasn’t made for you”. That’s not the point. It doesn’t have to do it for me, but this special did and so I have a soft spot for it.
So that does it for Superfriends and the Super Powers Team, but since I have an extra day why not devote some time to the shows that followed the same formula. Four videos next time as we look at the shows that weren’t Superfriends but still deserve some respect. And I’ll tell you where this show succeeded and the DCAU failed. RELAX!!!!!. It’s only one thing so don’t get your knickers in a twist! I’m not slamming anything for not being Super Friends. I actually like the other shows, but this will always be my childhood, the reason I’m a DC fan, and I will defend it. That’s what I learned from the Superfriends!