Judge Paul Corupe thinks Alpha Flight really never got a fair shake.
Wonder Twin powers activate!
Based on the long-running DC comic book Justice League of America, Hanna-Barbera's The SuperFriends first hit the airwaves in 1973, a show that teamed well-known superheroes Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman as an unstoppable force for good. Poorly made and saddled with annoying teenage protagonists Wendy, Marvin, and their Wonder Dog, the show wasn't particularly successful, and was subsequently buried for several years. However, in 1977, the boom in live action superhero TV adaptations like Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk convinced Hanna-Barbera to dust off the old show and revamp it, creating one of the most memorable—and possibly insane—Saturday morning programs of the late 1970s.
Facts of the Case
SuperFriends: Volume Two features 16 classic episodes from the 1978 season starring the core members of the SuperFriends: Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin. Also along for the ride are two aliens from Exxor, sibling Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, and their pet, "space monkey" Gleek. Together, they fight all manner of threats to Earth and its citizens.
• Rokan: Enemy from Space
• The Demons of Exxor
• Battle at the Earth's Core
• Sinbad and the Space Pirates
• The Pied Piper from Space
• Attack of the Vampire
*The Beasts are Coming
• Terror from the Phantom Zone
• The Anti-Matter Monster
• World Beneath the Ice
• Invasion of the Brain Creatures
• The Incredible Space Circus
• Batman: Dead or Alive
• Battle of the Gods
• Journey through Inner Space
• The Rise and Fall of the SuperFriends
SuperFriends: Volume Two follows Warner Brothers' earlier DVD release Challenge of the SuperFriends: The First Season, two shows that actually ran back to back in 1978 as part of an hour-long SuperFriends programming block. While Challenge of the SuperFriends stepped up with an impressive gallery of rogues, here the SuperFriends are left to battle more generic threats like dinosaurs, space pirates, and robot cowboys. Even though SuperFriends: Volume Two may not be quite as enjoyable as the first DVD release, it still packs an enjoyable wallop.
Black Vulcan, Samurai, and Apache Chief were the Hanna-Barbera created characters added to the concurrent Challenge of the SuperFriends to give the show a little multicultural appeal, but in this version, kids welcomed back Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, who had originally replaced Wendy and Marvin in the revamped 1977 version of the show, The All-New Super Friends Hour. Aliens from the planet Exxor, the Wonder Twins were SuperFriends "trainees" who frequently managed to get themselves kidnapped or otherwise screw up a situation that would require a SuperFriend fix. Unlike their decidedly average forbearers, the Wonder Twins actually had rudimentary superpowers, and by touching their fists together, they could change into different forms—Zan could transform into any shape of water, and Jayna, any animal. The sheer impracticality of Zan's poorly conceived power forced the writers to really get creative, and throughout this season, he mostly morphs into objects made of ice. Ice crowbars, ice chairlifts and ice rocketships may be more helpful in heroic situations, but they're also pretty much cheats—at one point, Zan even turns into liquid nitrogen. Replacing Wonder Dog is Zan and Jayna's pet monkey Gleek, who was added for (usually poor) comic effect. Besides a few helpful tail tricks along the way, Gleek's performance was almost always confined to the very end of each episode, where he would invariably cast a spooky shadow on the wall and make the SuperFriends think the monster they just vanquished is back—until they realize that it's just Gleek, and chuckle merrily into the end credits.
While SuperFriends is considerably more sober than the bizarre storylines of Challenge of the SuperFriends, it does spiral off into inspired madness now and then. In the 1960s, transforming and/or mutating heroes became a standard plotline at DC Comics, and it wasn't that strange to see Superman turned into a baby or a giant sea monster for an issue—it usually made for a provocative cover, at the very least. It's nice to see a little of that mentality rub off on this show, which also has members of the SuperFriends change into all manner of villainous creatures. One of the finest episodes on the set, "Attack of the Vampire," has Superman changed into a Supervampire, thus indicated by having all the color disappearing from his uniform, and in "Terror from the Phantom Zone," he's suddenly turned into a powerless old coot. "The Beasts are Coming" is a radiation-soaked tale that features Zan, Jayna, and Wonder Woman mutating into Hulk-like monstrosities bent on total destruction. Blowing nine-year-old minds every week with these kinds of mind-boggling plot twists, it's no wonder the show has remained a favorite for so many throughout the last two decades.
But were the crazy plots just a distraction? Possibly. SuperFriends featured some of the most lackluster writing and artwork out of all of Hanna-Barbera's shows, and that's really saying something. Although fans praise the show for coming closest to a true comic book style, the drawing is overly simplistic and fraught with technical errors. The look of the characters is inconsistent from show to show, and sloppy animation is evident throughout the set. Just as prevalent but less bothersome are the ridiculous and illogical plots, which take all kinds of liberties with its young audience for the sake of storytelling, including having the SuperFriends conveniently "forget" about useful superpowers at critical times.
The shows presented on SuperFriends: Volume Two look about as good as they do on other Hanna-Barbera releases: good, but not great. This is probably as clean as these old animated shows are going to look on DVD, so get used to the noticeable layer of grain, as well as dirt, scratches, and other source artifacts that frequently show up throughout the set. Color, though, is excellent. Much like the picture quality, the sound is unremarkable but reliable. As a mono TV soundtrack from the 1970s, there are no dynamics to speak of and the music and dialogue occasionally seem a little flat, but Warner Brothers has at least presented them clearly, with minimal distortion. Those that have the first SuperFriends set will find this release much on par with that earlier DVD.
We've seen an evolution in the quality of the extras presented on these Hanna-Barbera box sets since they first started coming out about a year ago, from throwaway bits meant for kids to commentaries and documentaries on more recent releases. SuperFriends: Volume Two is, unfortunately, a bit of a step down from the previous set, which at least featured a few episode commentaries. First up this time is "Pajama-Rama," a ten-minute featurette with interviews from the likes of Lost scribe Paul Dini and comic book writer Geoff Johns (The Flash). It's a fun, if not particularly informative piece. Also here is a music video called "The Ballad of Zan and Jayna," a tongue-in-cheek look at everyone's favorite Exxorians. Last and certainly least is a "limited edition" animation cell that falls on the floor pretty much every time I open the set.
While it wasn't exactly the best made or highest rated show of the late 1970s, SuperFriends: Volume Two is a treasure chest of nostalgic joy for those lucky enough to have caught it in its original run. The shows markedly improved as the SuperFriends went through several different incarnations in the 1970s, and this set captures them at their best—well, at least their second best.
Shape of an…ice gavel! Not guilty!
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• Pajama-Rama SuperFriends Retrospective
Review content copyright © 2005 Paul Corupe; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.