One, Volume One
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Reviewed by Will Harris
arner Brothers has been releasing the classic “Super Friends” cartoon series at a pretty decent clip, offering up collections of “Challenge of the Super Friends,” “The Legendary Super Powers Show,” and “Galactic Guards,” as well as the so-called “All-New Super Friends.” Those who know their timeline, however, will be well aware that there was absolutely no attempt on the studio’s part to put out the series in anything remotely resembling chronological order – which is to say that the very first “Super Friends” series, which aired on Saturday mornings during the 1973–1974 season, has been conspicuously missing from release. Indeed, when they released “Super Friends: The Lost Episodes” (24 adventures which had never before found their way into the rotation of the Saturday morning series in the United States) last year, we’d officially decided that the first season of “Super Friends” was to DC Comics what “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is to George Lucas.
Not so: at last, the time has finally come to introduce a new generation to the Super Friends’ original trifecta of youthful wards, Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog.
In Bullz-Eye’s review of “The All New Super Friends Hour,” a man of questionable wisdom – okay, it was me – declared, “If there’s one ‘70s Saturday morning TV truism that holds up under scrutiny, it’s that you can’t go wrong with ‘Super Friends.’” The caveat to that statement, however, is that the nostalgia inspired by the series must compete with the reality that some of the material is undeniably cringe-worthy, and in this field, no “Super Friends” series can compete with the first “Super Friends” series.
Filmation Studios had done an acceptable job of translating the heroes of DC Comics to animation with “The Superman / Aquaman Hour of Adventure” in 1967, giving comic book fans the opportunity to see the adventures not only of the titular characters but also of the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Superboy, the Teen Titans (featuring Aqualad, Robin, Speedy, and Wonder Girl), and even the Justice League of America. Unfortunately, Hanna Barbera took over during the era when the studio was forcing virtually every single one of their series to follow the “Scooby-Doo” format by throwing in a couple of kids and a semi-talking dog. Worse, the combination of complaints about cartoon violence and lack of educational content meant that, instead of proper super villains, the Super Friends always seemed to be battling individuals who were only slightly misguided and could easily have their viewpoints changed with a little help from the heroes and the kids.
The animation in “Super Friends” is pretty awful, but it’s a tight race as to whether it’s as bad as the dialogue. The Marvin / Wonder Dog dynamic is virtually identical to that of Shaggy and Scooby, but even though he’s clearly underage, you almost hope Marvin’s stoned, since he makes such incredibly stupid comments that the only alternative is to presume that he’s mentally deficient. There’s also an occasional effort to make the heroes sound “hip,” but either the poor voice actors clearly have no frame of reference to what they’re being asked to say (which makes their delivery of the lines sound ridiculous) or the lines themselves are so half-baked that they don’t actually make sense. In one episode, Aquaman is asked how he managed to save the day, and he responds, “With a little help from my friends,” then proudly adds, “From the name of the same song!” Um, okay, that’s clearly an attempt at making a Beatles reference, but something’s definitely been lost in the translation.
Clearly, this is not an incarnation of “Super Friends” which is loved by as many as, say, “Challenge of the Super Friends,” but then, it’s not as if Professor Goodfellow and Dr. Pelagion can really compare to Lex Luthor and the Legion of Doom. There isn’t even much of an attempt to bring in any guest stars from the DC Universe, although we do get very brief appearances from the Flash and Plastic Man. Nonetheless, diehard “Super Friends” will want to be completists and pick up the set, which is presumably why Warner Brothers has despicably decided to release this as a two-part set, with each consisting of a mere two discs. It’s a given that the obsessives will buy both sets, but considering how long they’ve already waited for these underwhelming adventures to hit DVD, it seems cruel to make them pay extra for them. But, then again, “Super Friends: Season One, Part One” was clearly nothing but a money-making maneuver, as you’ll see by the limited effort which was put into the special features.
Special Features: Talk about your missed opportunities. Despite having put together fun featurettes for the previous “Super Friends” DVD sets, often with full acknowledgement of the questionable quality of the episodes being discussed, there’s no such retrospective included here. In fact, the only special feature is a Super Friends Trivia Challenge, which is pretty lame. As the very first “Super Friends” series, as well as one which receives a great deal of ridicule for the addition of Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog, I would’ve loved to have seen a look back at their place in DC Comics history (they were eventually brought into continuity, if you can believe that), and it also would’ve been fun for fans if they’d included a digital version of the issues of the “Super Friends” comic which explained where they went. If you’re wondering, Marvin went on to attend Ivy University, while Wendy moved to Paradise Island to attend an Amazon university and continue her training. Sadly, Wonder Dog’s whereabouts remain unknown.