December 17, 2005
ABC ran this incarnation of the Superfriends as part of an hour-long package with Challenge of the Superfriends in the 1978-1979 season. This version featured Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman with the Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna (and their space monkey Gleek). With shades of DC Comics’ Justice League of America, the Superfriends had their headquarters at the ultracool Hall of Justice where they received distress calls from all over the world.
The first thing that strikes you about the show is how truly useless and uncool the Wonder Twins’ superpowers were. Zan could change into anything water or ice while Jayna could transform herself into any animal (for example, in one episode he turns into an ice chair and she into a seagull). Gleek was just comic relief and yet always seemed to save the day when Superman and Batman could not.
Like the Spider-Man cartoon of the late ‘60s, the Superfriends fought some pretty bizarre bad guys. There was Rokan, a purple prehistoric beast from outer space and a four-armed blue Cyclops created from the fears of the inhabitants of the Wonder Twins’ home planet. Years before Superman 2 (1980) released three Kryptonian villains from the Phantom Zone; the Superfriends tackled the same story—sadly without Terrence Stamp.
There are some truly crazy stories that play out in these episodes. The “World Beneath Ice” episode posits the theory that the last Ice Age was brought on by a secret civilization wary of an ever-expanding surface population. In retaliation they swallow up cargo ships and ocean liners in large icebergs (?!). In “Batman: Dead or Alive,” we are presented with an alien planet called Texicana, a mix of the Old West and modern society—kind of animated variation of Westworld (1973).
“The Rise and Fall of the Superfriends” is best the episode of the lot because it actually features a name villain, Mxyzptlk, a trickster from the 5th dimension that puts our heroes to the test. In the final analysis it’s all pretty cornball stuff and not in a cool way like the ’67 era Spider-Man cartoon. Hanna Barbara would improve on this template significantly with The Challenge of the Superfriends show which added more DC superheroes and villains (in the awesome Legion of Doom).
Disc one features “The Ballad of Zan and Jayna,” a four minute music video that plays up the cheesiness of the Wonder Twins by immortalizing them in an ‘80s style power ballad.
Disc two features “Pajama-Rama ‘Super Friends’ Retrospective,” an affectionate look at this classic Saturday morning cartoon with the likes of Paul Dini (Lost, etc.) and several comedians waxing nostalgic. It’s all in good fun as the overt cheesiness of the show is celebrated with lots of clips to illustrate the point.