By the fall of 1983, Hanna-Barbera's "Super Friends" series had entered syndication, which prompted ABC to drop the long-running show from its Saturday morning lineup. Their reasoning was that they didn't want the competition, since kids could now catch their favorite crimefighters after school five days a week. After all, the Saturday morning version had been in reruns for over a year by this point anyhow, so kids weren't missing anything new.
It didn't hurt that the superhero genre overall was on the outs. Reflecting the trends of the time, the network was running fad titles like "Pac-Man" and "Rubik, the Amazing Cube," while CBS had its "Saturday Supercade" of videogame-inspired adventures. NBC, meanwhile, had recently reduced its "Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man" show - the only superhero program still around - to thirty minutes, making room for a Mr. T cartoon. (Within a year, "Hulk" would be gone, replaced by the MTV wannabe "Kidd Video.")
Apparently nobody bothered to tell the folks at H-B, though, since they continued to churn out eight new episodes of "Super Friends" during what they felt was a simple hiatus. One of those episodes eventually made it to air in 1985, when ABC revived the franchise (this time as "Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians"), while the rest would go unseen for a good decade. They were eventually broadcast on cable's USA network in the mid-1990s as part of the "Superman/Batman Adventures," a compilation show collecting the old Filmation shorts from the 60s and 70s, but never mind the eventual out-of-the-vault status: since 1983, this season of "Super Friends" would forever be known by fans as "the lost episodes."
Now these eight episodes (each consisting of three shorts, for twenty-four adventures total) have arrived on DVD, and taking a new look, something else becomes all too clear: these cartoons are terrible. The "Super Friends" franchise was never that strong in the first place, and restrictions placed upon the network by overprotective parents' groups left the stories neutered to ridiculous extremes, yet the 1970s incarnations still had a certain charm to them, especially once it had evolved into the highly entertaining (if still cheesy) "Challenge of the Super Friends."
But by the early 80s, as the studio began relying more heavily on rerun material to help fill the timeslot, the quality had begun to decline beyond the point of no return. The "lost" season of "Super Friends" is an eight-episode exercise in terribleness and bizarre idiocy, with scripts that often turn our heroes into useless buffoons - and that's if the stories bother to make a lick of sense in the first place.
Many of the stories attempt - painfully, pathetically - to connect with the trends of the day. One story, features a poltergeist and a hidden Indian burial ground; another finds Superman inside a video game, chased by a killer Pac-Man. Surprisingly, there are no mentions of Jazzercise or Walkmans.
Perhaps keeping up with the lousy writing, the animation also hits new lows of cheapness, often reducing characters to clumsy scribbles reminiscent of a sixth grader's doodles. I'm not sure what's going on with the faces in these examples, but it sure ain't pretty:
What's most notable about this batch of stories is just how ineffectual the characters have become. In some episodes, the Wonder Twins are taken to their most absurd hall monitor extremes: in one story, they're working as a sort of intergalactic highway patrol, "pulling over" some alien drag racers and - gasp! - threatening to write a ticket. A ticket!
Taking a cue from previous tales that had the Twins serving as walking public service announcements, reminding children not to hitchhike or cheat on their tests, H-B has now extrapolated this idea to the point of sheer lunacy, as in the episode where the Twins teach kids not to break into abandoned amusement parks, jumpstart condemned rollercoasters, and go for joy rides at two in the morning. Thanks, Wonder Twins!
Most of the other stories deal with nutty, senseless chunks fantasy - like the one where the sunken Titanic becomes a giant squid-beast, or the one where Lex Luthor unleashes an all-powerful Gleek clone, or the one where an invasion by alien dolls is foiled not by superhero cunning, but by the aliens' failure to remember to bring proper AA batteries with them. Oh, and then there's the one where all the voice actors mispronounce Mr. Mxyzptlk's name, because learning to say it correctly would be too much work.
Every now and then, a truly memorable piece of horribleness pops up, one with a script that completely undermines what we know and love about these characters. Consider "The Krypton Syndrome," which posits a classic sci-fi set-up: Superman gets sucked into a time warp that dumps him on Krypton right before it explodes; he prevents the planet's destruction, but in doing so also prevents his father from sending his baby self to Earth to become Superman.
So far, not bad. Superman then arrives back on a non-Superman Earth to find the Hall of Justice in ruins and a pants-wetted Robin surrendering on sight (the funniest moment in the entire season, by the way). It turns out that without Superman, the rest of the Super Friends are spineless cowards, or easily-killed nincompoops, or something, all easily defeated by the likes of Gorilla Grodd.
Superman knows what he must do: go back and destroy Krypton so he can live as Earth's messiah. How wonderfully selfish of him, to kill billions just so he can be the only competent superhero on our planet. (Never mind that this goes against everything we know about the character; it also makes for lousy storytelling, the cartoon refusing to offer up a lick of tension or interest throughout its entire seven-minute what-if? scenario.)
The most go-for-broke chunk of madness arrives in the late-season tale "One Small Step for Superman," in which a young boy is paralyzed after a nasty fall (sustained while being chased by a grizzly bear - oh, and for extra nutty points, it's assumed that the bear ate the boy's dog). Nothing's wrong with the boy physically, and his paralysis is a medical mystery. This leads the Super Friends to throw all their hi-tech efforts his way, taking valuable time out of their schedule of Lex Luthor-stopping and Riddler-punching. The boy's response to this charity? Stone cold hatred.
The kid's whiny, sulky jerkiness turns the whole affair into a brilliant comedy, in which Batman and the Wonder Twins utilize exclusive Batcave technology toward his recovery, and all he can do in reply is to spit out a snarly "Thanks for nothing!" Then Superman figures a personal flight around Metropolis might pick up his spirits - what kid wouldn't want to fly with Supes? - but no, the jerk is too jaded to appreciate the adventure, and he tells off the hero.
The lunacy, now boiling over, reaches its peak when (spoiler alert!) the Super Friends arrange to fake a robot attack on the Hall of Justice. We don't learn it's a fake until the end, which is sort of the key to understanding what our heroes have become: conniving liars. They figure if the boy thinks Superman is in danger (in a complete about face of character, he suddenly shows enough empathy for the rouse to work), he'll stand up on his own and help save the day. The cartoon ends with some nutty banter about how it was all in the boy's head.
So listen up, paraplegic kids! Quit your whining and start walking, or else Superman and Batman will fake-destroy an entire city block to get you to quit your bitching!
In case you're still not sold: not only do the Wonder Twins appear more than they should in every episode, this is also the era of the franchise that dumped all those politically correct sub-heroes our way. And while it's nice to see a Super Friends roster that refuses to be lily white across the board, you can't help but be embarrassed by Apache Chief's broken English or Samurai's preposterously clichéd Asian-ness.
It's a wonder they didn't get cancelled sooner.
Warner Bros. has collected all eight "lost" episodes onto a two-disc set. The discs are housed in a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray; this case then fits into a cardboard slipcover.
Note: Each half-hour episode contains three cartoon shorts; it's these shorts the studio is counting when it hypes the set as including "24 episodes." You can choose to watch the half-hour episodes in their entirety or each short on its own.
The episodes included here are:
"Mxyzptlk's Revenge" (Batman, Superman) / "Roller Coaster" (Atom, Wonder Twins) / "Once Upon a Poltergeist" (Apache Chief, Batman & Robin)
"The Krypton Syndrome" (Superman) / "Invasion of the Space Dolls" (Batman & Robin, Wonder Twins) / "Terror on the Titanic" (Aquaman, Black Vulcan)
"The Revenge of Doom" (Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman) / "A Pint of Life" (Aquaman, Wonder Twins) / "Day of the Dinosaurs" (Samurai, Wonder Woman)
"Playground of Doom" (Batman & Robin, Superman) / "Space Racers" (Flash, Wonder Twins, Wonder Woman) / "The Recruiter" (Superman, Wonder Woman)
"Warpland" (Batman, Superman) / "Two Gleeks Are Deadlier Than One" (Super Friends) / "Bulgor the Behemoth" (Apache Chief, Superman)
"Prisoners of Sleep" (Batman, Superman) / "An Unexpected Treasure" (Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Wonder Twins) / "The Malusian Blob" (Batman & Robin, Black Vulcan)
"Return of the Phantoms" (Green Lantern, Superboy, Superman) / "Bully for You" (Batman & Robin, Wonder Twins) / "Superclones" (Aquaman, El Dorado)
"Attack of the Cats" (Batman & Robin, El Dorado) / "One Small Step for Superman" (Batman, Superman, Wonder Twins) / "Video Victims" (Samurai, Superman, Wonder Woman)
Video & Audio
Looking a little more worn out than previous "Super Friends" DVDs, this set reveals heavy grain throughout, some muted colors, and a pinch of print damage. There's also some flicker here and there. Presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
The Dolby mono soundtrack is simple and clear, nothing fancy, again sounding about as decent as it always did. A Portuguese mono dub is included, as are optional English, French, and Portuguese subtitles.
The lone extra here is are reprints of two adventures from the "Super Friends" comic book. In the first, the gang matches wits against a giant, immortal mole (don't ask). Then, Marvin and Wendy gets a tour of the Hall of Justice in what's known as a pointless "filler" story. These reprints are available twice on the disc: through the DVD menu, you can click through each page in slideshow format; and via your DVD-Rom drive, you can download them in PDF format.
Trailers for "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" and "Green Lantern: First Flight" are also included.
Completists will welcome having these rare episodes finally on disc, as will anyone giddy over the unintentional comedy of bad kiddie fare. But the rest of you will do fine to Skip It. These adventures are among the weakest of the franchise, and the nearly barebones presentation doesn't help matters.