Welcome to the first installment of Super Saturday, a new ongoing weekly column that will pay tribute to the animated classics of yesterday, and will be offered on Saturday mornings, a period when many of us remember being the only time animated kids’ programming was offered in the dark, primitive days before streaming, cable, and home video were ubiquitous, making a special time for such programming obsolete. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback or personal remembrances in the comments!
For the first installment of Super Saturday, I will be presenting the first season of Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Super Friends’, a show that would go on to air from 1973-1986 (with a couple of interruptions) on ABC. ‘Super Friends’ often gets a bad rap, because compared to more modern superhero cartoons, it’s pretty crappy, but keep in mind, it debuted at a time when action-adventure cartoons were an anomaly. Due to a crackdown on kids television in the late ’60s, anything that was considered too dark or violent was banished, and Saturday morning offerings tended to all be fairly comedic and light. (Some of them even had laugh tracks!)
So when ‘Super Friends’ premiered, it was the only game in town, if a kid wanted something more action-packed than ‘Scooby-Doo’ or ‘Fat Albert’. The show brought together DC Comics stars Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and saddled them with two ordinary teen sidekicks, Wendy and Marvin, and their pet, the Scooby-Doo-esque Wonder Dog.
Apparently, the show was called ‘Super Friends’ instead of ‘Justice League of America’, because it was too aggressive-sounding.
Along those lines, because the zeitgeist was still awash with the ’60s hippie/flower power message, the show was heavy on ecological themes, with most episodes centered around some sort of threat to the environment. The culprits were generally scientists– some human, some aliens– whose intentions weren’t sinister. In some cases, aliens were attempting to steal Earth’s resources for their home planets. In other cases, scientists were attempting to frighten the population into changing its ways and working to conserve resources and treat the planet better.
Occasionally, an antagonist was actually malicious, but only one opponent actually qualified as a “supervillain,” a costumed mastermind named The Raven, but due to restrictions, the heroes couldn’t strike any opponents. At best, they could capture them or impede their escape.
However, during the first season, the Super Friends rarely directly confronted their foes. In fact, the heroes were more like backup characters on their own show. Generally, the heroes would occupy themselves with thwarting disasters, while, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog would actually unravel the mystery, discover who was responsible and expose their plots. (Okay, actually Wendy would do all that. Marvin was basically Shaggy from ‘Scooby-Doo’, but less stoned and stupider.) Usually, one of the Super Friends would actually apprehend the mastermind, and after they spilled their sob story, the heroes would come up with a fair resolution to the problem, which benefited everyone. Then Wonder Dog would do something stupid and everyone would laugh.
The first season of ‘Super Friends’ is very different from subsequent installments, in that in addition to the stories being so mild, the episodes were an entire hour long. So not only wasn’t there much action (or “violence”) but they were dragged out for what seemed like ages. As crude as later episodes may have still been, the first is probably the least watchable by today’s standards.
ABC actually canceled ‘Super Friends’ after the first season, but when reruns proved popular the following year, the network ordered new episodes. By that time, restrictions on children’s television had relaxed, allowing later iterations to be much more exciting.
Even with a soft beginning, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that without ‘Super Friends’, there may not have ever been a ‘Batman: The Animated Series‘ or anything else that came later. Reaching millions of viewers every Saturday morning, the show had a larger audience than any print comic book, and creators like Alex Ross, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid have cited it as contributing to (or creating) their love for superheroes that eventually led them into the comics field, and beyond.
I mean… I wouldn’t be writing this right now, had it not been for this show!
I will discuss later seasons of ‘Super Friends’ in future columns, but for now, do you have any memories of ‘Super Friends’ Season 1? Feel free to sound off below!
Every episode of ‘Super Friends’ has been released on DVD. The majority of the series is also available to stream on DC Universe.