By Andy Daglas & Noel Kirkpatrick
The All-New Super Friends Hour
Season 1, Episode 2: “The Secret Four / Tiger On The Loose / The Mysterious Time Creatures / The Antidote”
Original airdate: Sept. 17, 1977
“The Secret Four”
The writers of “The Secret Four” had two solid setpiece ideas and no plot to stick them in. Superman fights a tornado! Batman and Robin get caught in a vintage Adam-West-era deathtrap and have to escape using bat-suction cups! Quick, goofy, four-panel fun, especially when Batman has to improvise part of his escape with a “well-executed bat-flip.” Yo Christopher Nolan—y’know what The Dark Knight Rises was missing? That’s right. Plenty of well-executed bat-flips.
The story surrounding these scenes is virtually non-existent, though. The bad guys are some businessman-types who’ve decided to cosplay as mages from Final Fantasy for reasons passing understanding. Not exactly a worthwhile challenge for the World’s Finest pairing, but I guess when you’ve only got to fill eight minutes you cut some corners.
Their scheme—and I use that word loosely—is all about energy, like 85% of the storylines in the Super Friends universe. So Superman has to tack on another reminder at the end about working together to find new power sources, all the while barely repressing the stabbing pain of sheer drudgery, nursing a fleeting wish that he were punching Metallo in the face instead of lecturing another gaggle of middle-aged chuckleheads.
Was the world’s precarious energy supply seriously all anyone could talk about in the 1970s? I don’t remember Mr. Kotter haranguing the Sweathogs every other week about shutting out the light when they leave a room, but maybe those episodes never made it to Nick at Nite.
“Tiger on the Loose”
Oh, I get the Wonder Twins installment this week? …. Huzzah?
So, let’s see here. A tiger escapes from the zoo, one which is especially dangerous since it 1) can fit on the seat of an average-sized school bus with ample headroom to spare, and 2) can apparently hang out on the seat of a school bus completely unnoticed until all the kids and the teacher have calmly climbed back aboard and are nearly ready to depart. Zan and Jayna arrive to save the day, and although I’ve watched this twice I still couldn’t tell you why said day-saving requires Zan to transmogrify into a toboggan. Nor can I tell you why Toboggan-Zan still has a human head, because this is legitimately horrifying. Then the irascible zookeeper, who’d unjustly blamed a teenage handler for facilitating the tiger’s escape, learns valuable a lesson about not jumping to conclusions. And we at home all learn an equally valuable lesson about never watching the pulverizingly dumb Wonder Twins installments in Super Friends.
I wasn’t crazy about “The Mysterious Time Creatures” as a big segment of the show. Dictor’s coup and subsequent chasing after the deposed leader of his world never made complete sense to me, nor was his aim of taking over the universe with a single medallion (MEDALLION! D’OH!) exactly sensible. I’d be willing to overlook the lack of decent plot if there were some spectacular set pieces, but there’s nothing too terrible exciting to be found in the episode. I know it could be seen as a silly thing to look for in a series such as this, but it left me thinking more of earlier Super Friends episodes than anything else.
And the episode did have promise. The de-aging of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman was indeed the highlight of the episode, and I would’ve loved for them to have remained kids for a while. It offered up some humor and self-deprecation as boy-Aquaman wanted to summon his flying fish to save them from Dictor’s underground ship and Wonder Woman retorts, “What do your stupid fish do once they get here?” She gives voice to the thoughts of millions.
If there’s one thing that does completely stand out though, it’s the aging animation and how disturbing it. Any time the episode ages the deposed alien president, it’s actually rather horrifying, and then to de-age him into a pile of dust?! That’s just grim, Super Friends.
Like Black Vulcan before him, Apache Chief joins The All-New Super Friends hour for some ethnic diversity. The impulse to do so certainly isn’t a bad one, but sometimes it’s just depressingly executed. Here, Apache Chief and Wonder Woman head to India (I’m assuming because, as a Native American, Apache Chief is familiar with India) to bring a box of cobra bite serum to a ravaged village. The two show up with a single teeny tiny box for over a hundred people, which seems like the laziest possible disaster response.
The segment highlights Apache Chief’s abilities to recognize poisonous traps, outwit wild boars and a panther, and then finally use his ability to grow 50 feet tall to wrestle the giant cobra into submission. It does seem a little odd to me that this isn’t the plan in the first place, and that Wonder Woman has to be put in peril first (sigh), but at least they leave the giant, animal-mind-controlling cobra in its temple after milking the reptile* for its venom.
*[Ed. note: PHRASING! -A.D.]
Part of why Super Friends has endured in the public consciousness is, as Andy and I noted when we started the series, the campy earnestness of the series. Its use of PSAs are so heavy-handed that they can’t help but be funny. And while plenty of other series adopted similar practices due to regulation of children’s programming (G.I. Joe for example), Super Friends seems to have embraced the gimmick whole-heartedly. They added brain teasers, Aquaman teaching us how to make rhythm instruments out of paper plates and dried beans, and Superman (with perhaps the most amazingly on-the-nose-ness ever) telling us that “Smoking doesn’t make you grown-up. It makes you a loser.”
Next time on Super Friends, we’ll be shifting to the third season of the franchise, The Challenge of the Super Friends. In a way, it’s all been leading up to this as Challenge of the Super Friends introduces the
Secret Society of Super Villains League of Doom and its roster of classic DC Comics villains joining forces against the Justice League Super Friends. So join us next time for “Wanted: The Super Friends.”