Review: ‘Super Friends! Season One Volume Two’
At least one generation of super-hero fans grew up knowing the DC Comics heroes through their appearances on ABC’s [[[Super Friends]]]. Loosely based on the [[[Justice League of America]]],[[[Superman]]], [[[Batman]]], [[[Robin]]], [[[Wonder Woman]]], and [[[Aquaman]]] teamed up in the Hall of Justice and fought all manner of menace. Accompanying them for no rational explanation were Wendy Harris and Marvin White, along with Wonderdog.
The first iteration debuted in fall 1973 and was an hour-long adventure with 16 episodes comprising thefirst season. The series survived in various incarnations well into the 1980s when it finally faded away, ringing down one era of animated heroics. The biggest problem confronting these early missions was the network demand that there be no violence. Threats yes; actually hitting the bad guy, no.
Additionally, the stories were designed to deliver messages such as ecological awareness so the youngsters watching at home could learn something.
What they also learned was that story logic was not required on weekend mornings. The first half-season was collected earlier this year and now Warner Home Video releases Super Friends! Season One Volume Two on Tuesday. Maybe it’s telling that the packaging uses Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dick Giordano style guide artwork than imagery from the series. Despite the fabulous Alex Toth doing design work for the series, the limited, budget conscious animation is pretty atrocious.
The wonderful Ted Knight narrates each episode as if he were reading from a Mort Weisinger script. We’re told what we’re seeing, we see it, and then the characters repeat much of the same thing. His voice, though, is pitch perfect to provide each adventure with a serious tone regardless of how ludicrous the stories are.
And they’re pretty terrible. Scientists with idiot henchmen are repeated a lot. Aliens arrive on Earth, telling us it looks pretty clean for settlement then it becomes a story of how humans are polluting the land, air, and sea. Well, which is it?
The heroes apparently hang out in the Hall of Justice, not having a life beyond the heroic personas, and wait for the TroubAlert to selectively tell them of a problem. One episode shows the computer summoning the heroes only after the third identical crime has been committed. Interestingly, Clark Kent is described not as a reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, but is instead a new commentator on television station WGBS, a nod to the then-status quo.
For whatever reason, the well-established and colorful villains to the
individual heroes and the team as a whole are eschewed for lame threats
from all corners or reality. The discs open with “The Balloon People”,
aliens who arrive on Earth and are welcomed by the heroes but hunted by
greedy scholar named Noah Tall who wants the “secret” of their
telekinetic powers (which is actually their physiology). The ecology
theme from this opener is continued in “The Fantastic Frerps”, which has
King Plasto (accompanied by jester Styro and Princess Polly Lean) who
wants, what else, a plastic world.
100-carat jewels are stolen by Dr. LaBond in “The Planet Splitter” to
power his invention which would carve a distant world in two, bringing
one half back to act as Earth’s second moon and a source of new natural
resources. It takes Wendy and Marvin to convince the misguided scientist
that the tidal disruptions would be devastating. The episode offers up
Robin providing a brief recap of his origin plus a lengthy retelling
Superman’s origin and early days on Earth (although the conflict between
Jor-El and his peers is poorly portrayed).
While volume one boasted guest appearances by Flash and Plastic Man, the
only other JLAer to appear in this two-disc set is Green Arrow, called
upon to save the world in “Gulliver’s Gigantic Goof”.
What becomes clear pretty quickly is that the writers had no idea how to
fill their 43 minutes per week. Without fight sequences or actual
character stories, everything is padded leading to lapses in good story
construction. No one has a distinctive personality except for maybe
Wonderdog, and he borrowed his from [[[Scooby-Doo]]]. A great concept was
poorly executed time and again, making some of us wince.
The soled extra provided is a trivia quiz that can be played with one or
two teams and demands knowledge of not only first season episodes but
comic book background that is not reflected on the series.