Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, the Complete Series
by erick Von erich
Possibly the rarest of all the Super Friends seasons, DC has bundled the complete 1984 series into a snazzy DVD package. Comprised of two discs and 16 episodes (with special features), this was the second-to-last season of Hanna Barbera's infamous Super Friends series.
Most notable is the sub-title, as "The Legendary Super Powers" show was added to tie-in to the recently released Super Powers Collection action figures. Super Friends, the TV show, had run for almost 10 years at this point, but had never been used to promote toys. Sure, there were Super Friends lunchboxes and Underoos, plus the cartoons were promoting DC Comics in a roundabout way. But a late 60's backlash against an animated "Hot Wheels" cartoon by consumers caused a legal restraint that no TV show could be used to promote toys. The restraint expired around 1982 and suddenly animators began cranking out cartoons to tie-in with toys. Which explains why there was a huge deluge of toy/cartoon tie-ins in the 80's, when none existed in the 70's. Super Friends already had an established following, so it was fairly easy to re-work the show and maintain canon, with the new additional purpose of selling toys.
This season has three notable additions. First and foremost is the arrival of Firestorm. The Super Friends had been adding new members since they appeared, but for the first time we're shown how a new hero actually joins the team. In earlier seasons, Black Vulcan, Green Lantern, El Dorado, Hawkwoman and others had simply appeared as full-fledged members with no explanation.
The second big addition is the inclusion of Darkseid and his Apokolips cronies, DeSaad and Kalibak. Supposedly, no less than Jack Kirby was called in to upgrade and overhaul the characters' looks for animation purposes. The Super Friends now have a recurring alien villain, and one who was based closely on his comic counterpart. Darkseid is voiced by Frank Welker, in a vein similar to his "Dr. Claw" character from "Inspector Gadget". Unlike previous villains who had to resort to secret hideouts and under-handed plans, Darkseid has an entire empire to oppose the Super Friends with. He also has a creepy obession with Wonder Woman, an element exlcusive to the cartoons. Why this was added is debateable, as it makes for some uncomfortable situations for a kids' show. In several stories, Darkseid tries to capture Wonder Woman or blackmail her into becoming his "bride". Apparently, there were no women on the animated version of Apokolips. Or else, Darkseid's the only Super Friends character with a pulse. All the other villains or heroes had never noticed the hot Amazon running around in a swimsuit and red hooker boots.
The final addition isn't much in terms of storyline purposes, but is fun nod to all comic-geeks: Adam West signs on as the voice of Batman. West had done the Filmation "New Adventures of Batman" in the late 70's, but now he's onboard with Hanna Barbera. West plays it straight, with very little campiness, and is a marked improvement over the high-pitched nasaly voice of Olan Soule, who voiced Batman in all previous Super Friends seasons. Soule is a capable voice actor, so he's pushed over to voice the role of Professor Martin Stein, one half of Firestorm. Good casting moves in both cases. It's also a trivia point to mention that Casey Kasem is back for his role as Robin (I think he had done Robin all the way back to the 60's).
The stories themselves still maintain the goofy aspects and cartoon-ish elements of previous seasons. For one, Kryptonite is very abundant and is used in almost everytime Superman is on-screen. The Wonder Twins also return along with their monkey, Gleek. DC heroes Aquaman, Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern make no contributions to the stories. Aside from quick appearances in the show's introduction, the first three do not appear at all in the episodes. Green Lantern makes a very brief non-speaking appearance in one episode, but that's it. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are around, but most stories tend to feature Firestorm or the four "multi-cultural characters" (Samurai, El Dorado, Apache Chief and Black Vulcan) in the spotlight. As the commentary tracks point out, in most cases the multi-cultural character ends up saving the day. Strangely enough, Rima the Jungle Girl, another multi-cultural Super Friends character from the 70's, didn't make the cut to the 80's. Bah...but who needs another woman around, anyways?! Them things is only good for getting' captured in cartoons.
On to the episodes:
Episodes 1 & 2 - "The Bride of Darkseid (Parts 1 & 2)"
Serves to introduce Darkseid's troops, along with Firestorm. Superman mentions that he's heard of Darkseid as the "head of the intergalactic underworld". Apokolips is shown, but it appears without its trademark fire pits and looks like an ordinary "creepy castle on an alien planet". As the title suggests, the plot is all about Darkseid trying to bag Wonder Woman.
Episode 3 - "The Wrath of Brainiac"
Debut of the shiny new upgraded Brainiac. The show addresses past continuity by showing Brainiac's old appearance, as a bald guy with no pants. Darkseid teams up with him to once again capture the Super Friends and Wonder Woman, but things quickly fall apart for the bad guys. Commentary track by Mark Waid and the show's writer.
Episode 4 - "Reflections in Crime"
The only Super Friends appearance of longtime DC villain (and Flash Rogue) Mirror Master. Identical to his comic couonterpart, he traps the Super Friends in a weird mirror world. More like a carnival House of Mirrors than an alternate dimension. Strangenly enough, the Flash is nowhere to be found.
Episode 5 - "No Honor Among Thieves"
Lex Luthor returns to fight the Super Friends, now wearing his new "power armor". Commentaries mention that this look, designed by George Perez, was created especially for the cartoon. But I seem to remember seeing it well before the cartoon-- around 1982 or so. Luthor meets up with Darkseid and the inevitable "Super Villain Team-up and Misunderstanding" occurs. Commentary track by Mark Waid and the show's writer.
Episode 6 - "Mr. Mxyzptlk and the Magic Lamp"
Another Mxyzptlk episode and, as he always was in the Hanna Barbera world, he's annoying. This time he poses as a "genie" and dupes a smalltime crook into believing he has a magic lamp. End of the show has cameos from Lois Lane, Diana Prince and Steve Trevor.
Episode 7 - "The Case of the Shrinking Super Friends"
While all the "grown-ups" are called to an alien planet (including Green Lantern in his one appearance), Firestorm, Robin and the Wonder Twins are left to man the Hall of Justice. Lex Luthor comes calling, without his power armor, but with a shrinking ray. Part of the story takes part on "L Island", Luthor's private island that looks like...well, a big L.
Episode 8 - "The Mask of Mystery"
A bumbling teenaged hero named "Captain Mystery" tries to join the team. All of these episodes are stupid, but this one is just insulting your intelligence at 30-second intervals. Luthor returns again. Commentary track by Mark Waid and the show's writer.
Episode 9 & 10 - "Darkseid's Golden Trap (Parts 1 & 2)"
Maybe the best two episodes of the season, as the Super Friends have to work to defeat Darkseid's latest plan. Darkseid acquires Gold Kryptonite at an intergalactic auction. Cool moment where the Gold K is auctioned off at 100,000 bleens. Darkseid wins the auction by bidding ONE bleen. The Super Friends plan to bid, as Firestorm wonders how they'll come up with "bleens". Wonder Woman reminds him that he could use his transmutation powers to make a million bleens. The same joke and the exact same lines would be re-used, next season.
Episode 11 - "Island of the Dinosoids"
Sorta' like "Jurrasic Park", a scientist has an entire island of dinosaurs. He flips out and tries to make the entire world into dinosaurs, including the Super Friends. Apache Chief saves the day, here.
Episode 12 - "Uncle Mxyzptlk"
Another stinker. Mxy finds the always unpredictable Red Kryptonite and turns Superman into a kid. Samurai and the Wonder Twins save the day. In this episode, we're shown that Superman has his own bed inside the Hall of Justice, complete with a little "S" on it. Sheesh.
Episode 13 - "The Case of the Dreadful Dolls"
The Dollmaster, a re-worked version of the Toyman, does his best Puppet Master impression and takes over the Super Friends. Dollmaster mentions wanting "revenge" on his "old enemies", so why he was switched from Toyman is unknown. El Dorado is the big hero, here. El Dorado is actually pretty cool, as he has a bunch of unusual powers. Mostly teleportation, telepathy and the ability to create mental illusions. He debutted on the show around 1982 or so. Outside of Zorro, he's one of the few Mexican heroes on any cartoon. But his speech is a little ridiculous as he uses that improbable "tex-mex" slang by uttering phrases like: "let's go get them, amigos". He's like a live version of the "Ask a Mexican" columnist. Commentary track by the writers and Mark Waid.
Episode 14 - "The Royal Ruse"
Darkseid invades a planet and uses their princess to lure in the Super Friends. Probably Robin's biggest role of the season. For once, Darkseid doesn't try to make Wonder Woman his "queen". More commentary included.
Episode 15 - "The Village of Lost Souls"
Apache Chief, Wonder Woman and the Wonder Twins find a mountain village that is being controlled by Brainiac. Unusual teaming against an unusual villain. Wonder Woman's secret identity of Diana Prince plays a sizeable role.
Episode 16 - "The Curator"
Firestorm, Superman and Samurai encounter an alien out to steal Earth's landmarks. Sort of like Marvel's Collector.
Special Features: Special bonus featurettes with interviews from DC Comics creators (and Dan DiDildo)
"Evolution: New Heroes, Viler Villains and Ethnic Additions - How Super Friends Prefigured the Era of Cultural Diversity in Animation"
Well, yeah...it's about Black Vulcan, El Dorado, Samurai and Apache Chief. Black Vulcan was, of course, the coolest one, but they leave out how he may have been based on Black Lightning. I wonder if Tony Isabella (Black Lightning's creator) had anything to do with that? They also slam El Dorado, rather undeservedly. The feature implies that the characters were created specifically for THIS season, when they had been around since 1977 or so.
"The Super Powers Collection: The Effect of the Toy Industry on the Super Friends".
Complete nerd feature on the Super Powers toys, but the information about "Hot Wheels" is worth listening to. Mark Waid tells a story about he was driving across Texas and walked into a KMart to find a Cyborg figure. He was probably in his mid-20's at the time, so that had to be embarassing. Even more embarassing is the fact that he's anxiously waited his entire life to tell this lame story.
Why'd You Buy This? These episodes are an oddity, as they were pulled from the airwaves after 1985 and rarely seen again. They weren't included with the Super Friends syndication package that ran until 1986 or so. Two episodes popped up on Cartoon Network in the 90's, with a few more appearing sporatically on the "Superman/Batman Adventures" show that aired on USA Network (and later, Cartoon Network and Boomerang). The DVD set is a nice package, but the episodes soon wear thin after a few minutes. Once you get over the novely of Darkseid and Firestorm, it feels like watching the typical sub-par Super Friends "shorts". The series was re-tooled and upgraded for its final season in 1985 as "The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians". At least that season let the entire series go out on a good note. If the 1984 season had been the final one, Super Friends would have been an even bigger joke that it was. So, collectors only for this DVD set.