|Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984)
Starring: Adam West, Rene Auberjonois, Casey Kasem, William Callaway, Constance Cawlfield, Danny Dark, Frank Welker
Although DC’s superhero cartoons have come a long way since the days of the Super Friends, it’s always nice to take a look back to a more innocent time, and remember when things were less about the angst and more about the fun.
With “The Legendary Super Powers Show,” one of the later incarnations of the “Super Friends” series, DC had actually teamed with Mattel to a certain degree, offering up action figures based on its characters. This was right after government deregulation allowed Saturday morning cartoons to become intertwined with advertisers, a practice which has only gotten worse over time. Interestingly, though, there was a very remarkable camaraderie between DC and Mattel, with DC’s artists actually contributing to character design changes to make for better-looking toys. (Hey, at least it wasn’t done without their approval, y’know?) There really weren’t that many dramatic changes to the heroes, but the versions of Lex Luthor and Brainiac resulted in significant new looks, with the former sporting a power suit and the latter leaving behind his human-looking appearance in favor of a colder, more obviously computerized form.
Although the villainy on “The Legendary Super Powers Show” wasn’t quite up to the standards set by the Legion of Doom in previous years, there remain several key reasons to offer up props, namely the decision to use Darkseid as the recurring adversary – along with his minions Desaad and Kalibak (the latter being his son) – throughout the series’ run. Darkseid, lord and ruler of the planet Apokolips, is unquestionably one of the more evil villains in all of DC Comics (thank you, Jack Kirby). Call it coincidence or not, but Darkseid really wasn’t being used to his fullest extent until after he received a prop-up in the mainstream, courtesy of “Super Friends.” Other old-school DC villains who popped up included Mirror Master and Mr. Mxyzpltk, the latter making two appearances, but, otherwise, the focus tended to remain on Darkseid.
Hero-wise, there’s probably more false advertising in this series than any other period in “Super Friends” history. Despite being unabashedly featured in the opening credits, there’s no sign of The Flash and Green Lantern within any episodes, and it’s the same deal with Hawkman, who is shown in the set’s artwork. (In one of the audio commentaries, DC writer and historian Mark Waid notes Aquaman’s appearance in the credits. “That’s it, that’s all you get: 16 more episodes, no more Aquaman. How the mighty have fallen.”) This is the era when the Political Correctness Police really began to run amuck on the show. While I’m sure there were kids out there who were really psyched to see a Hispanic hero like El Dorado, it’s, like, did we really need to have him punctuate his comments with Espanol to emphasize the point? Plus, given how many heroes there are in the DC universe, why create losers like Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, and Samurai? On the upside, though, we do get introduced to Firestorm, a DC hero who’d been created in the ‘70s, but was making his animated debut here.
“The Legendary Super Powers Show” will keep your kids entertained, and if you grew up watching the show, you’ll get a kick out of seeing it again. You might also be surprised to find that, on this particular year, Adam West began voicing Batman, which he’d never done for “Super Friends” before. Most importantly, though, you’ll really enjoy the special features. Wisely, they don’t try to claim the show was the best of its kind but, instead, simply focus on how much fun it was for its time.
Special Features: Thankfully, the powers that be have gone back to providing audio commentaries, a la the “Challenge of the Super Friends” set from a few years ago. This time around, they’ve drafted the aforementioned Mr. Waid to lead the conversations, teaming him with the writers of several different episodes. We get five commentaries, and although some of them are a bit repetitive on occasion – the price of having one guy remain a constant throughout – it’s a laugh to listen to Waid and his cohorts mock the ridiculousness of several of the scenes as they pop up. Still, they do praise the show for at least trying to rise above the laughable mad-scientist plots of previous years by going with legitimately evil villains like Darkseid, Brainiac and Luthor.
Also included are two featurettes: “Evolution: New Heroes, Viler Villains, and Ethic Additions” and “The Super Powers Collection: The Effect of the Toy Industry on the Super Friends.” They’re really well-compiled pieces, utilizing DC writers and animation stalwarts to great effect with their reminiscences of the show and how it came to be. The latter is particularly interesting. You’d expect people to rail against the commercialization of the heroes, but, in fact, they’re mostly giddy about the cash influx that the toy industry brought in, and how it resulted in some really cool action figures. Waid admits how awesome it was to find himself able to walk into a store and purchase a Dr. Fate action figure, and then tells a great story about how his quest for a Cyborg action figure came to a successful conclusion.By the way, if you’re now really psyched to hear that story, you’re totally a geek. But speaking as a fellow member of your tribe, lemme tell ya: it’s a great story.