Super Friends At 40: The Show That Defined Superheroes For a Generation

THE_SUPERFRIENDS_(1973_-_1974)

Has it already been FORTY YEARS since the show that shaped my very existence made its debut on national television?

Make no mistake, to this day, everything I hold near and dear to me in pop culture is rooted in The Super Friends. I do have to say, though, that last sentence frustrated me for no other reason than the fact that Hanna-Barbera, the creators of DC Comics' seminal TV series, couldn't even make up their mind whether it was "Super Friends" or "Superfriends." It's almost up there with "Spiderman" when everyone knows it's "Spider-Man." But I digress, so long as the DVD catalog, to which I own every single offering, calls them "Super Friends," that's what you'll get here.

The Super Friends were to me what Yo Gabba Gabba and the Muppets are to my daughter, not even two years old yet. I watched the series from the very beginning, which is why it's hard for me to offer my favorite superhero when on any given day it could be Aquaman, Batman, Wonder Woman or Superman. Being exposed to all of these greats at the same time formed my lifelong love for super-teams over solo endeavors. To me, Batman is friggin' awesome, but with Robin at his side and someone like Superman, maybe Green Arrow or Plastic Man in there, the more the merrier. Speaking of Batman, it didn't hurt that at the same time I was being exposed to this relatively fresh new show on Saturdays, a Detroit-based network was airing reruns of the mid-1960s live-action series starring the Dynamic Duo every weekday afternoon. Despite exposure to some other great offerings over the 1970s from Marvel Comics, my love for DC and their catalog was a lock as early as 1973.

super-friends-season-1-volume-1-20100107041445906-000Super Friends was all fun and good for the first three or four years, when it was the core group of the above-mentioned Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Batman & Robin, but even the evolution of Marvin, Wendy & Wonder Dog to The Wonder Twins and Gleek was a mere placeholder for when SH--... GOT... REAL. In 1978, Challenge of the Super Friends was for me was what Marvel's The Avengers was to comic book fans. Just getting a whole ton of colorful superheroes in the same room, and then you pit them against their archenemies once a week?? GAME... ON. Prior to that, the Super Friends were typically engaged in socio-ecological conundrums, which is not a bad thing, in fact it'd be nice to see a little more of that in contemporary superhero programming. I wonder if the next Avengers movie is going to actually bring up some relevant question of world's state the way the last two Batman movies did. But going back to Challenge of the Super Friends, it was a smorgasbord of DC Universe greatness. Superman going at it with Luthor AND Brainiac when the former was brought to life in the biggest motion picture next to Star Wars that very same year? Yeah, that's what made me a Superman fan for life.

I'm not going to pretend that this series was perfection, though. Superman all too often played like a blowhard (George Reeves was practically cuddly by comparison), Batman & Robin relied on gadgets even more than Adam West and Burt Ward (but that was mostly thanks to conservative activists who neutered virtually all network animation in the 1970s), Wonder Woman played the role of schoolmarm, the King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman, somehow relied on a jet-ski and... well, the Wonder Twins. Ugh, just the other day I watched some of the show via their latest DVD release and Zan, Jayna & Gleek were more useless than ever, no small feat for this brother and sister act with powers that on paper should be world-changing, yet they routinely looked like they weren't ready to front a Nick Jr. series.

But this show, more than anything, got DC Comics on TV frequently and often. In 1984, there wasn't another viable option that I can recall. Batman was still five years away from owning the silver screen, and Superman and Wonder Woman weren't on the radar in a relevant medium. Super Friends endured, to the point that I made it a point in junior high to set my alarm early enough on Saturday mornings to watch the ABC network present Firestorm, Cyborg, and Jack Kirby's Fourth World, all designed by José Luis García-López after a decade of layouts courtesy of the peerless Alex Toth. The Super Friends, better yet, the JUSTICE LEAGUE, have in fact seen better days in animated form on TV (thank you, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini), but there is no question that DC Comics was very well represented in the Seventies and Eighties. The Super Friends definitely did right by me.