By Andy Daglas & Noel Kirkpatrick
The All-New Super Friends Hour
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Brain Machine / The Joy Ride / The Invasion of the Earthors / The Whirlpool”
Original airdate: Sept. 10, 1977
Super Friends lasted only one season (1973-1974) before it returned as The All-New Super Friends Hour in 1977. The show didn’t jump networks in between that time (it remained on ABC throughout its existence), nor did Hanna-Barbera stop animating it. Indeed, the series would continue on like this, changing its name and focus over the years. Iif they had DVRs in the 1970s, it would have never recorded it properly.
In this new series, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog have been fired as interns, and have been replaced by the Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, and their pet space monkey Gleek. The hour-long episodes are no longer focused on a single plot, and are instead divided into four segments with different stories and characters. To this end, Andy and I have decided to tackle two segments each. (If we get really desperate, we’ll ask Cory to talk about how the Wonder Twins worked on Smallville.) -N.K.
“The Brain Machine”
With “The Brain Machine” we get a story similar to what we experienced in the first incarnation of Super Friends: Science run amok, but now compressed into a five minute segment as opposed to stretched out for an hour. Here, a scientist named Dr. Cranium has developed a brain-enhancing device that increases intellect (and head size). He does this to help solve all the problems of the world, assuming that it’s intellect that’s been standing in humanity’s way, not any other factors. As a result of exposing himself to the brain-enhancing device, Cranium obviously decides that he, like all masterminds, must make everyone else like him.
That this is the plot of “The Brain Machine” indicates just how few new stories there are under the sun. I mean, it’s the plot of Batman (1989) and the recently released The Amazing Spider-Man (2012): The villain uses what transformed him or her (almost always him) and decides to spread it to the rest of humanity, often from the top of a very tall structure for maximum exposure. On the upside, “The Brain Machine” isn’t as heavy-handed as the earlier Super Friends episodes we watched. While the message of imposing a will on others is wrong is expressed, the segment is probably just more fun than anything Andy and I watched earlier, more comic book-y than an Arctic scientist in a beret. -N.K.
“The Joy Ride”
If you were really missing the PSA nature of Super Friends season 1, never fear because the Wonder Twins are here! Not only that, but we really get two PSAs for the price of one. Aquaman educates us on the dangers of swimming alone by having a poor kid get caught up in a sea kelp (remember: swim with a buddy!) while Zan and Jayna help explain why stealing a plane and joy riding is a bad thing.
As introductions to the Wonder Twins go, this is just all sorts of awkward. Zan’s ability to transform into, well, “form of…WATER!” and then “form of…A LAKE!” is remarkably lame compared his sister’s ability to turn into an eagle and a pterodactyl. On top of this, they feel like squares, despite their surfing excursion, not as cool as even Wonder Woman summing up the dangers of imposing one’s will over a population. It doesn’t help that the two kids who steal the plane are paradigms of remorseful behavior, perfectly happy to accept whatever punishment they have coming. -N.K.
“The Invasion of the Earthors”
Noel mentioned that the animation remained in Hanna Barbera’s notoriously stodgy hands, but it’s still streets ahead of what we saw in season one. The first thing I noticed was how much brisker and more dynamic this segment was than anything in “The Power Pirate” or “The Weathermaker.” This still ain’t exactly Pixar, but it’s far better than I was expecting.
My gripe in our last installment was that the original incarnation of Super Friends was more interested in telling didactic stories to kids than in telling superhero stories. This version is aiming for both goals. Superman fires up the X-ray vision, turns into a living super-speed drill, and generally commands every minute of the situation like, well, Superman. Batman spends more time rescuing civilians than delivering junior high science lessons. The nefarious Earthors have some actual menace to them (and no dapper chapeaus), and even though it all ends with the same “we’re not evil, just looking out for our own!” reveal that our first two episodes did, Supes at least responds with the appropriate head-slapping frustration (“WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST ASK US?”).
This is still far from an expertly constructed story—the writers still seem to think that the Batmobile is an effective means of getting from the Hall of Justice to a Pacific Island inside like half an hour—but at least it’s zippy and fun. It’s basically a televised version of a kid playing with some Justice League action figures in the backyard. – A.D.
The episodic nature of The All-New Super Friends Hour is a huge strength. Rather than stretching out a thin story over 45 minutes, this M.O. keeps stories quick and tight, like a single comic issue comprising three 8-page stories. The grab-bag approach finds room too for a series of short interstitials—Superman’s brain teaser, Wonder Woman teaching a magic trick—which have a charmingly “back of the issue” feel.
This style lets the show experiment with different story types, different hero combinations, and the occasional “guest star” Justice Leaguer. In “The Whirlpool,” that guest is Black Vulcan, a new character created for Super Friends. Although he is African-American and has the word “black” in his name and has electrically-based powers, he is totally not existing DC Comics character Black Lightning, which he makes sure to remind us by bellowing “BLACK VULCAN” every time he flies or ties his damn shoe or anything.
And the newbie gets to do most of the heavy lifting in this segment, as he and Aquaman rescue a fishing vessel in the North Atlantic. The veteran’s biggest contribution is playing navigator with the help of some bioluminescent fish. Meanwhile, Black Vulcan zips around as a big bolt of lightning, supercharges a stalled engine, and welds together a rupture in the ship’s hull, because that’s how electricity works, I guess? Anyway, the whole thing is mostly a tune-up considering the Big Bad of the segment is an ornery knuckleheaded sea captain with a God complex.
Hands down, the best part is when the regretful old captain laments that his hubris will mean the end of his career, and Aquaman and Black Vulcan stone-cold mock him with puns. It’s hilariously dickish. –A.D.
We’ll be watching the second episode of The All-New Super Friends Hour in our next installment, so it’ll be “The Secret Four / Tiger on the Loose / The Mysterious Time Creatures / The Antidote.”