Appellate Judge Michael Stailey fondly remembers Sugar Smacks.
Our review of Challenge Of The Super Friends: Attack Of The Legion Of Doom, published April 9th, 2003, is also available.
The ultimate battle of good versus evil!
If there was one series that defined Saturday morning television for the North American, Generation X male, it had to be The SuperFriends. Don't get me wrong, you will not find a bigger Scooby-Doo fan than me. But there was something about the exploits of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the gang that made ABC Saturday mornings something to look forward to.
Premiering in the fall of 1973 and running through the spring of 1986, the SuperFriends took us along on 208 adventures, the most exciting of which occurred during the 1978-79 season. For you see, these 16 incidents were unlike any others. They were, in fact, The Challenge of the SuperFriends.
Facts of the Case
Banded together from remote galaxies are 13 of the most sinister villains of all time: The Legion of Doom. Dedicated to a single objective: the conquest of the universe. Only one group dares to challenge this intergalactic threat: The SuperFriends.
The Justice League of America versus The Legion of Doom.
This is: The Challenge of the SuperFriends!
There has long been an unusual affinity for crossovers—a teaming of unique individual characters and storylines to form an even more powerful tale. This has occurred throughout the ages in all forms of storytelling, from written and spoken word to film and television. Sometimes it works—Marvel Comics' "Secret Wars" maxi-series—and sometimes it falls flat on its face—Magnum P.I. teams up with Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. Good or bad, these stories somehow manage to remain lodged in our pop-culture consciousness with little hope of ever being expunged.
Is that why Challenge of the SuperFriends is so fondly remembered some twenty years after its original run? No, in this case it's the exceptional writing of Jeffrey Scott (grandson of the legendary Stooge Moe Howard) that catapulted the show to cult classic status. Here you had the greatest DC Comics heroes pitted against an uneasy collective of their most nefarious arch-nemeses. Check out this lineup…
In this corner, we have the Justice League of America: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, and Robin, and rounding out the ethnic diversity Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and Samurai.
In the opposite corner, we have the Legion of Doom: Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro, Toyman, Riddler, Scarecrow, Sinestro, Grodd, Captain Cold, Black Manta, Solomon Grundy, Cheetah, and Giganta.
Week after week we watched in our breakfast cereal sugar-high as, from the murky depths of the bleak and dismal swamp, the Legion of Doom would develop and implement scheme upon scheme to destroy the SuperFriends and take over the world. Keep in mind, throughout the franchise's first two incarnations The SuperFriends and The All-New SuperFriends Hour (78 episodes total) we never saw any top shelf comic book villains. Most of these stories dealt with bizarre weather occurrences, whacked-out scientists, and visitors from other planets with the very rare appearance of someone vaguely resembling a third-rate DC Comics bad guy. But this was a whole new world—all-star comic book stories come to life! The best of the best versus the worst of the worst. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, they could not use some of the more high profile Batman villains, but the mix they wound up with worked extremely well.
Okay, looking back on this complete 16-episode collection, I admit some of the show's nostalgic shine has worn off. You'll now notice all of the animation continuity flaws, the occasional cornball dialogue, and the inconsistencies in characterization. But these are, without question, the best scripts found in the SuperFriends canon. I mean, really, secret origin stories, history altering time travel, and being forced to work together with your most hated enemies to protect your own interests? How much more could you ask for?
Sure, there were a couple of stinkers in the bunch—"Giants of Doom" (Bizarro, Toyman, and Sinestro grow big to take over the world), "SuperFriends: Rest in Peace" (all of the SuperFriends are killed by the Legion only to have it turn out that the victims were actually robot duplicates)—but each week gave us something different, which for Saturday morning TV was a giant step in the right direction.
Here are my top five favorite episodes:
• "Swamp of the Living Dead"
• "The Time Trap"
• "Fairy Tales of Doom"
• "Secret Origins of the SuperFriends"
• "History of Doom"
Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame format, the transfer is not anything to get excited about. Filled with dirt and scratches and quite shaky at times, there's little difference from what you would find broadcast on Cartoon Network or Boomerang. The colors are less than vibrant and regularly shift slightly from frame to frame. Flesh tones are far from universal with Superman appearing near jaundice at times and Green Lantern looking like the illegitimate son of George Hamilton. The blacks are solid, but the nighttime and underground scenes exhibit a stronger use of blues.
The audio is a respectable Dolby Mono, with the voice characterizations and energized underscore coming through loud and clear. Let's face, the '70s was populated with strong voice actors and the cast Hanna-Barbera assembled for the SuperFriends series was top notch—Olan Soule (Batman), Casey Kasem (Robin), Don Messick (Scarecrow), Frank Welker (Toyman), Danny Dark (Superman), Jack Angel (Flash/Hawkman), and more.
If you were expecting a wealth of bonus material, you'll be disappointed. The best inclusion is a 13-minute featurette called "Saturday, Sleeping Bags, and SuperFriends" in which a collection of today's top comic book and animation talent—Mark Waid, Alex Ross, Paul Dini, and more—reminisce about the SuperFriends and its lasting impact. Writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns team up for two commentaries on the first and last episodes of this incarnation, carrying on the fond remembrances of their youth and the faithfulness the series showed to its comic book origins. The final two features are audio/video bios of the Justice League and Legion members, but neither holds much value.
While this could have been a three-disc set, Warner chose to release it on two, with the second being a flipper disc. I'm not a fan of the flipper, but if it keeps the price of these collections down, I won't argue. I'll reserve my argument for the naming convention used on this release. Since there was no second season of Challenge, perhaps "The Complete Collection" would have been a better choice.
As a child of the 1970s, SuperFriends was to Saturday mornings as Friends or Seinfeld was to NBC's Must See TV in the '90s. It's a part of Americana that deserves quality preservation. Warner Bros. is commended for shifting their focus from "best of" collections to more comprehensive packaging of these classic series, but more can be done. Fans of the series can only hope Warner will continue to release the many SuperFriends incarnations in similar if not improved formats.
This court hereby dismisses all charges against the SuperFriends and condemns the Legion of Doom to five years hard labor in the animated vaults of Hanna-Barbera. Their sentence: to find and preserve all of the classic HB superhero/action-adventure series for generations to come. First up: Thundarr, the Barbarian. Now get to work. This court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Comic Book Writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns on "Wanted: The SuperFriends" and "History of Doom"
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