By Noel Kirkpatrick
The Challenge of the Super Friends
Season 1, Episode 1: “Wanted: The Super Friends”
Original airdate: Sept. 9, 1978
Programming note: Andy wasn’t able to join me to discuss this episode, but he’ll be back for our final installment in two weeks. Provided he hasn’t been turned into a Bizarro.
It’s a brand new season of the Super Friends franchise, and as such, it’s also an all new incarnation of the franchise. The Challenge of the Super Friends version is probably the most well-received of the franchise. Where Wendy and Marvin were attacked by a mutant hell hound in the comics, and the Wonder Twins are routinely mocked for their amazing power imbalance, the twist on the superhero formula here, the introduction of the Legion of Doom, is much beloved and hasn’t been as horribly destroyed in comics or popular culture as earlier versions have been.
It’s likely because Challenge actually allows our heroes—their ranks now expanded to include The Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Hawkman, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and Apache Chief—to do battle against actual super villains instead of random, well-intentioned aliens and scientists. And, really, it’s likely the presence of the recognizable villains that allows Challenge to skate by, because I kind of feel like this plot (mind control through dreams) isn’t much sillier than anything in earlier versions. But because the plan was hatched by Lex Luthor, it’s fun instead of dumb.
And the introduction of villains is great. Captain Cold freezes a light fixture just because, the Riddler sets fire to flash cards featuring members of the Super Friends just because, and Giganta is “feminine yet fearsome” (and implied to be an Apache Chief villain instead of a Wonder Woman villain). There’s a delicious seriousness to this introduction but because it’s happening in the well-appointed interior of Darth Vader’s helmet in the middle of a swamp, it all still feels perfectly in tune with the tone of the series thus far.
The continuation of the tone from the previous installments is one of the elements I like. There’s more violence here than previously, but at the same time it’s still generally restrained. No one is getting punched, just lasso’d up by Wonder Woman, and there’s still not an emphasis on strength but on thinking critically (the brain is the only muscle that isn’t inhibited by the yellow mind control/muscle control ray). In this case, it’s using the power of Wonder Woman’s telepathic control of her lasso followed by posing as Cheetahs and Bizzaros to get back into the Hall of Justice.
The shorter run time (only a half hour for these installments) helps as well. The narrative is tighter and leaner, with less repetitive flab (and no PSAs!), generally allowing for the maximum amount of super-powered antics that feels reasonably justified, and I’m generally happy with it. The plot, however, is really completely nonsensical.
Interpretation-wise, the villains here a bit scattered. Luthor is firmly in his mad scientist version (not the ruthless power player version), while Cheetah is so-very-obviously supposed to be Catwoman that she practically stepped out of the Adam West Batman, with all the purring and cat puns. Bizzaro is still grammatically challenged (but who isn’t?), though he lacks the opposite-meaning wordplay that I’m familiar with from the more recent DC Animated Universe. I dig the Luthor and the Bizzaro, but their Cheetah just feels too much in that campy Catwoman vein for me to like it.
So, in two weeks, Andy and I will wrap up our discussion of Super Friends with “Revenge on Gorilla City” and, hopefully, a discussion of this franchise ‘s influence. We hope you’ll join us for this.
- Continuing Star Wars‘s influence, Robin has a lightsaber. A LIGHTSABER.
- I can’t help but notice that the Legion of Doom is a little more progressive, gender-wise, compared to the Super Friends. Wonder Woman’s the only woman on her team while Cheetah and Giganta seem to be major players in the Legion of Doom. Ethnicity-wise, the Legion of Doom isn’t very diverse with just Black Manta and, I guess, Sinestro (does a Korugarian count as being ethnically diverse?).