The first season of ABC’s ‘Super Friends’ aired during the 1973-74 season, but was not renewed for a second. But after some of ABC’s new Saturday morning shows failed, the network began rerunning ‘Super Friends’ and the strong ratings inspired the network to order a new season from Hanna-Barbera.
But big changes occurred. The first season was an hour-long, but that was one hour-long story. And due to pressure from the group ACT (Action for Children’s Television), the show was devoid of any violence or excitement. Episodes had an overall environmental slant, and most of the time, the antagonists weren’t evil, but misguided. (It was a snooze.)
Luckily, that scrutiny was relaxed by 1977 when ‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’ premiered. In the new episodes, the heroes actually confronted real villains, motivated by greed and power. They still weren’t allowed to physically strike them, but the episodes were still faster-paced and more exciting, and the focus was on the heroes themselves, not the sidekicks, as had been the case before.
The main cast from the first series remained — Aquaman (voiced by Norman Alden), Batman (Olan Soule) & Robin (Casey Kasem), Superman (Danny Dark), and Wonder Woman (Shannon Farnon). Gone were the ordinary teen sidekicks Marvin, Wendy, and Wonder Dog. In their place were older teens Zan and Jayna, from the planet Exxor, who had shapeshifting abilities, and their blue space monkey Gleek. Michael Bell voiced Zan and provided Gleek’s chatter sounds, while Liberty Williams voiced Jayna. Bill Woodson served as the Narrator.
The Wonder Twins called out “Wonder Twin Powers… Activate!” then touched their fists together. Jayna could turn into the “shape of” any animal, but in early episodes, it appeared that they were still getting used to life on Earth and Jayna sometimes turned into animals that were too small or worthless in a given situation. Zan took on the “form of” water in any state like steam, mist, or ice. Their most common forms were of an eagle for Jayna and regular water for Zan. Gleek had a stretchy tail that worked as an extra appendage and he seemed to have the power to materialize a bucket out of thin air every time Zan turned into water.
In this season alone, the Wonder Twins had to remove their gloves and touch their fists together skin-to-skin, but that was later dropped to simplify the animation process. There is a common misconception that the Wonder Twins wore rings, which they clicked together to activate their powers, but this is indeed a “misconception.” No rings required!
The show’s format also changed. Instead of one long story, the new episodes were made up of three shorts and one 30-minute adventure. Before and after commercial breaks, the show also included interstitial health and safety tips, magic tricks, arts and crafts projects, and a decoder segment that offered hints to the episode’s main adventure.
The 30-minute adventure contained the full regular cast, complete with the Wonder Twins and Gleek, but each episode kicked off with a short featuring two of the Super Friends (or three in the case of Batman, as Robin was included). That was followed by a second short, showcasing the Wonder Twins and Gleek. These focused on teenagers who found themselves in danger, sometimes due to accidents, sometimes due to their own dumbassery. These clips usually ended with the teens learning a lesson like not to hitchhike, or climb into a bear’s cave and agitate it. You know, usual teenage problems.
After these two shorts, the show would air the 30-minute group story. That was followed by perhaps the most exciting segment, a short which teamed one of the regular Super Friends (or three with Robin) and a guest star. From the pages of DC Comics came The Atom, The Flash, Green Lantern, Rima the Jungle Girl, and Hawkman & Hawkgirl. Like Batman & Robin, Hawkman & Hawkgirl appeared in tandem in their episodes.
It seems the writers at HB didn’t quite get Green Lantern at first. He wasn’t able to fly, so he conjured up the Lantern Jet, which is really just the Batjet colored green. In his first episode, “Flood of Diamonds” (co-starring Aquaman), his constructs weren’t even GREEN! They were normally colored, so it seemed like he was just able to create whatever the hell he wanted at any time. This was corrected in his second appearance, “Rampage.” And in subsequent seasons, he was much more comic accurate, complete with the ability to fly.
Over the years, fans have expressed curiosity regarding Green Lantern’s tan skin tone. There really was never an explanation, but as comic readers have pointed out, he is based out of oceanside California, so maybe he just had a perma-tan.
The episode “Time Rescue” depicted Superman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl journeying into the distant future. The future Metropolis was a desert wasteland, where the heroes were faced by short, cloaked aliens with glowing eyes, whose language consisted of chattering, similar to Jawas. The heroes also visited a “cafe” full of bizarre aliens. This was a VERY early effort to emulate ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’, which had just come out the summer before this season began.
The oddest inclusion was Rima, star of the seven-issue DC comic book ‘Rima the Jungle Girl’, published from 1974-75. The character originated in W.H. Hudson’s 1904 novel ‘Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest’. In that, Rima was a mysterious woman who dwelled in the rainforests of South America and had a special bond with nature. ‘Green Mansions’ was made into a movie in 1959, with Audrey Hepburn portraying Rima.
Even in the comic books, Rima wasn’t really a superhero. But jungle characters like Tarzan were still quite popular at the time, and on ‘Super Friends’, Rima performed similarly to a female Tarzan, calling out to summon animals. However, once they arrived, she simply told them what to do in English, unlike Aquaman, who used telepathy. Like Gleek, she could pull a random object out of thin air — in her case, a vine lasso.
It’s also possible that Hanna-Barbera chose to use her because she was Latina. In addition, Hanna-Barbera created three new ethnic Super Friends to provide diversity. Apache Chief was a Native American who could grow to 50 feet tall. Black Vulcan was an electricity-powered African American hero. And the Japanese hero Samurai had a mix of abilities described as “powers of the mind.”
Black Vulcan was the first black male superhero to appear in a cartoon series. I assume Apache Chief was the first Native American superhero. I’m not sure if Samurai is the first Asian superhero, as Hanna-Barbera previously created the cartoon alternately known as ‘Young Samson’/’Mighty Samson’. It was never mentioned (that I know of), but the titular hero kind of looked Asian American. Rima is very often mistakenly thought to have been one of these characters created by HB, as her comic book was very short-lived and is pretty obscure.
On ‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’, Black Vulcan’s costume covers his whole body except his eyes, and the lower half of his face. The next year, his suit was redesigned with bare legs and the fabric removed from his neck area. In this season alone, he leaps into the air and calls out his name, “Black Vulcaaaaaaaaaaan!” which turns him completely into a lightning bolt. In later seasons, he would only turn his lower half into lightning and he didn’t yell out his name.
Comic book writer Tony Isabella created the DC Comics character Black Lightning, but part of his agreement with the publisher was that he would get royalties for the character’s use in other media. Hanna-Barbera had hoped to use Black Lightning, but balked at paying extra to do so, so the similar Black Vulcan was created with DC’s approval. It has been a sore subject for Isabella in the decades since, but it seems that things have been smoothed over, as ‘Black Lightning’ now stars in his own live-action series on The CW.
Samurai’s powers were many, but he is mainly known for his tornado abilities. By yelling “Kaze no Yō ni Hayaku” he could turn into the wind, but in this season, his head remained visible. It was odd. Like Black Vulcan, in later episodes, he simply turned his lower body into wind, but in a more dynamic tornado pattern. He could also create tornados from his hands.
His other powers were not shown as frequently. By yelling “Tōmei Ningen!” he could turn invisible. The phrase “Igo Moen” engulfs his body in flames. “Hi ga Moe” allows him to create illusions to confuse opponents.
Samurai is the original HB character that lasted the longest, until the final season, 1985-86’s ‘Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians’. He was also made into an action figure as part of the ‘Super Powers Collection’ around that time. Because of that, he was written into the ‘Super Powers’ comic book and given a secret identity, Toshio Eto, something the other original characters never received. (Then again, secret identities were very rarely used on this series, period.)
The Flash only appeared once, but the other guest-stars appeared in two shorts apiece. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and Samurai were bumped up to regular castmembers the next year when the show became ‘Challenge of the Superfriends’.
Even though ‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’ introduced actual supervillains for the heroes to fight, most of them were original creations. However, in the creepy episode “The Ghost,” the heroes battled a character from the comics called The Gentleman Ghost, although on ‘Super Friends’, he was referred to as “Gentleman Jim.” (His name when he was alive was Jim Craddock.) In “The Water Beast,” they battled the supervillain Manta, who was basically Aquaman’s archenemy Black Manta, except for whatever reason he was colored green. A comic accurate Black Manta was a member of the Legion of Doom in ‘Challenge of the Superfriends’.
Jack Angel voiced Hawkman and Samurai, with Wally Burr as The Atom, Buster Jones as Black Vulcan, and Barney Phillips as The Flash. Regis Cordic provided Apache Chief’s voice in his first appearance, “The Antidote,” before Michael Rye took over. Cordic also voiced Manta. In addition, Rye voiced Green Lantern.
Shannon Farnon, who voice Wonder Woman, is credited on Wikipedia as voicing Hawkgirl and Rima, but that (to my knowledge) is incorrect. Janet Waldo is credited for voicing Hawkgirl in later seasons, but the voice performers for these two female heroes on ‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’ is a mystery.
There were 31 episodes of ‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’ and various episodes were rerun in future seasons. In syndication, the show was broken up into half-hours, alternating between the show’s 30-minute stories, with the three shorts airing together the next day. The interstitial bits were cut.
‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’ was released in two DVD boxed sets in 2008 and 2009. These releases restored the interstitial segments. All episodes are available to stream on DC Universe.
Personally speaking, I think this is the single greatest influence on my entire life. This season was the first version of the ‘Super Friends’ I ever saw and I still vaguely remember it, even though I was a toddler at the time. (Obviously, I’ve rewatched it numerous times since.) ‘Challenge of the Superfriends’ is more popular because it featured 11 heroes and 13 villains in every episode, and the stories were darker and devoid of comic relief (the Wonder Twins and Gleek were left out). ‘Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians’ was more mature and faithful to the comics. But ‘The All-New Super Friends Hour’ was my first exposure and it is also the most purely “Super Friends” to me. It has all the classic elements, including the Wonder Twins and all of the guest-stars, including the rarely seen Rima and Hawkgirl. Even the made-up villains say “Super Friends” to me more than the real comic book villains that showed up.
From the cartoon, I eventually graduated to reading actual comic books… when I finally learned to read.
As I’ve discussed in the past, I also related to the Wonder Twins on a superficial level, because I thought they were like me– a brown-skinned American with dark hair– despite the fact that they were from Exxor. I guess it’s a good thing that they didn’t go with their original color scheme, in which the Twins had purple skin!
I’ll be covering other seasons of ‘Super Friends’ in the future. Be sure to check back!
Do you have any memories of this series?