Sunday, January 04, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Many Faces of Super Friends, Part 1

For kids who came of age in the seventies and eighties, it's a safe bet that some of their earliest exposures to the costume-clad cavalcade of DC Comics heroes came by way of ABC's Super Friends. The kiddie-fied version of the Justice League teamed DC stalwarts Superman, Batman (& Robin), Wonder Woman, and Aquaman on-screen for the first time, usually pairing them with such made-for-TV creations as Wonder Dog or the Wonder Twins (presumably so kids wouldn't be bored by, y'know, Superman and Batman).

Produced by Hanna-Barbara and airing intermittently, in one form or another, from 1973 to 1986, Super Friends holds a degree of nostalgic appeal for many that's inversely proportional to its actual quality. I wasn't around for the early part of that run, obviously, but I have very strong memories of the later stuff. Part of its longevity came from how it constantly reinvented itself every year or so, adding in new characters, new premises, and above all, new intros. Check 'em out below:

Here's how Super Friends looked when it first premiered in '73, with character designs by legendary comic book artist Alex Toth. Make special note of (ugh) "amateur heroes" Wendy & Marvin:

There were sixteen episodes of that run produced, after which the show was cancelled due to mediocre ratings. A few years later, thanks the popularity of The Six Million Dollar Man (also on ABC), Super Friends was revived, this time as The All-New Super Friends Hour, which ditched Wendy & Marvin (yay!) in favor of the Wonder Twins, Zan & Jayna (and their space monkey, Gleek). Hmm, kind of a lateral move, to be honest. Here's what that looked like:

FYI, this version of the intro was parodied by Family Guy a few years back, so I guess we know which one Seth MacFarlane has a special place in his heart for...

After fifteen episodes, the show was reinvented yet again for the '78-'79 season, this time as Challenge of the Super Friends. What makes this version stand out is that it brought in, for the first time, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Flash, as well as the various archenemies of the Justice League heroes as the "Legion of Doom," making for a a kind of Wacky Races-esque scenario every week as Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Bizarro, et al would try (and fail) to outsmart the Super Friends. Note also the prominent placement given to made-for-TV "multicultural" heroes Apache Chief ("Enuk chuck!"), Samurai, and Black Vulcan (no, not this guy).

After sixteen episodes, it was time for more ch-ch-changes, as the show morphed into The World's Greatest Super Friends for eight episodes during the '79-'80 season:

After that, it was back to plain-old Super Friends from 1980 to 1982:

At this point, plain-old Super Friends was cancelled again (for the second time, if you're keeping count). Not because of low ratings, but rather due to reruns of the show being sold into syndication, and ABC not wanting to compete with its own old content. With more than seventy episodes racked up, that was nothing to sneeze at, but as it turns out, even two cancellations wasn't enough to keep the concept down. When it would return, and why, is something that'll just have to wait until next week's entry.

(By the way, for some of the biggest laughs of your life, check out Seanbaby's Super Friends page. Trust me.)

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: ProStars

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Manimal

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