Review for Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show
Previously, on Super Friends…
Well, last time I looked at the Super Friends universe it was to focus on the cool Galactic Guardians show with episodes like The Fear and The Death of Superman. That was effectively the second season to this one, which was heavily influenced by the Super Powers Collection toyline and into the “toy show” era launched by He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I won’t venture any further back, Scott can have the likes of the Voodoo Vampire and Keelhaul Kelly to himself, I’ll stick with the New Gods of Apokolips and the regular Superman baddies.
It’s eight episodes, split into two segments to make sixteen, but two Darkseid-centric episodes are two-parters, so it’s fourteen stories. Enough Steiner maths, to space!
The Bride of Darkseid (by Jeff Segal and Alan Burnett)
As was noted in the comments section on the previous review, Darkseid’s obsession with Wonder Woman started in this series with this two-parter spanning 22 minutes. It’s also the debut of the mysterious Firestorm, with his matter transforming powers, as well as New God Darkseid and his son Kalibak via stargate rather than boom tube. It’s a plot to destroy Earth and kidnap Wonder Woman.
The animation is still on the same level as the previous Super Friends shows, not as detailed or realistic, and run and movement cycles look pathetic, but the backgrounds look great and the Firestorm transformation with pixelated merging of Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond is good, looking like it would’ve been in a high quality video game of the time. So, they make sure to use it, and the reversal, as much as possible.
In all honesty, it’s not a promising start to the series with Firestorm’s crush on Wonder Woman, Darkseid being a bit of a stalker, the Hall of Justice forcefield having a big on/off switch on the wall freely exposed, DeSaad as a cackling ninny… All the gear, but no idea. Better times were to come, though.
The Wrath of Brainiac (by Glenn Leopold)
A funny comment from Mark Waid on the special features about Brainiac’s redesign in this series in the skeletal robot form with tentacle ship (“I don’t mean to knock the old Brainiac, but he wore shorts!” – funnily enough, he still appears in the green-skinned form in the intro). It’s a Brainiac/Darkseid team-up, using Superman and Wonder Woman androids to defeat the Super Friends. Not a lot of mystery or build given the limited time, and Darkseid is still trying to woo Wonder Woman, leading to the villain team-up going down the pan. Darkseid and his followers cowering at the Wonder Woman clone in the end shows they had no idea how to use this new set of characters.
Reflections in Crime (by John Bradford)
Ah, Samurai! Or should that be “Ah so, Samurai!”? As discussed in the special features, it was a noble effort to try and diversify the Super Friends, but they were such token efforts that it was self-defeating. When Samurai and Superman go to investigate an incident at an observatory, Supes is trapped in Mirror Master’s mirror dimension. His efforts to contact his friends through mirrors offers some humour, but not much else to say.
Wikipedia lists Casey Kasem as playing Mirror Master in this show, but it’s actually the late, great George DiCenzo, who had a long career on and off camera, playing Blackstar and, more famously, Hordak and Bow for Filmation. He was Lorraine’s dad in Back to the Future too and is the best thing about this particular episode. Captain Lou in Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling too. Mirror Master generally has done well in animation since, played by Alexis Denisof in Justice League Unlimited.
No Honor Among Thieves (by John Semper and Cynthia Friedlob)
Luthor, now in his power suit, plans to steal the powers of the Super Friends with the help of Darkseid. Worth mentioning at this point El Dorado, who speaks like a less charismatic Tito Santana. Darkseid’s palace and throne room on Apokolips, where the powerless Super Friends are expelled to the jungles, have all the grandeur of a village hall.
Mr. Mxyzptlk and the Magic Lamp (by John Bradford and John Bonaccorsi)
The world’s worst criminal steals Aladdin’s lamp and Mxy pretends to be the genie and helps him commit crimes. Cue the theft of the Crown Jewels and some of the worst English dialogue you’ll hear (“The BOUNDER!”). A shame this segment so actively sucks because they’ve got some great voice actors like Gregg Berger (Grimlock from Transformers) and Arthur Burghardt (Destro from G.I. Joe) making guest appearances.
The Case of the Shrinking Super Friends (by John Bates)
Cataclysmic events are occurring on a really cool, distant planet and the Justice League must save it. So, of course, we are left with the B-team of Firestorm, Robin, Zan and Jayna and Gleek on Earth. Well, Z-team.
Lex Luthor then turns up in his stingray ship and shrinks the Hall of Justice and everyone inside. Oh, Luthor, how far you have fallen! When Gleek is getting the better of you you’re really struggling! We’ll look at how Ruby-Spears presented him down the line, but it really took the Clancy Brown reinvention to redeem him.
The Mask of Mystery (by Glenn Leopold)
Meet the Robber Baron and his manservant/partner in crime Sleeves! Worse, meet Captain Mystery, junior hero and resident misfit. Cue some bad comedy as Luthor tracks him down, thinking that he’s the key to defeating the Super Friends.
Pat Fraley plays the annoying role of Mystery (actually Sidney Wanamaker, schoolmate of Ronnie Raymond/Firestorm) well, but this type of character, the incompetent wannabe hero, rarely works. The 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show had a good twist on this with Timothy, AKA the Pulverizer, a chubby, schlubby vigilante, who you would think would get a nice moment in the sun despite all his mess ups. Instead, he got covered in mutagen and turned into the protoplasmic Mutagen Man, a living, conscious blob with visible innards, eyes and lips.
Hey, I said it was a good twist, I didn’t say it was a nice twist!
Darkseid’s Golden Trap (by Alan Burnett and Jeff Segal)
It’s the 532nd Annual Intergalactic Underworld Auction! And Black Vulcan, Firestorm and Wonder Woman are going to infiltrate it in a mission TOO DANGEROUS FOR SUPERMAN! Even the announcer is incredulous!
This is the first really enjoyable episode after a few lesser ones because of playing up the auction aspect and having some freaky aliens in attendance, with Darkseid and company there too to bid for (or just take) some gold kryptonite. Far better for having some extra time. El Dorado gets a really cool alternate outfit in black to battle Kalibak.
Island of the Dinosoids (by Marc Scott Zicree)
Batman and Professor Stein crash-land on an island somewhere in the Pacific where dinosaurs still exist. The other Super Friends go to rescue them, including the giant Apache Chief battling with a T. rex. A mad scientist is responsible for this, using his invention to regress animals back to their prehistoric forms (for instance, a buzzard into a pterodactyl). The TMNT movie with Sheamus playing Rocksteady used the same premise.
This at first seems like a lame, predictable episode with a stretch of a premise, but instantly becomes far more interesting when we get to the titular dinosoids, who are actually humans who have been regressed as well into reptiles. Check this one out.
Uncle Mzyzptlk (by Kimmer Ringwald)
Another appearance for the Wonder Twins and Gleek, who find a piece of red kryptonite and take it straight to the Super Friends, waving it right in front of Superman’s face and regressing him back to being the world’s most obnoxious Superbrat. Mr. Mxyzptlk turns up to make things worse. This includes creating a massive scoop of ice cream obstructing train lines, which have to be turned into whipped cream by Samurai to avert disaster. This episode could probably have run longer as long as there was a better writer to sustain the plot. The Superman – The Animated Series crew got a good grip on how to present Mxy in the nineties, including using Gilbert Gottfried.
The Case of the Dreadful Dolls (by Rich Fogel)
Batman has a strange incident in the Batcave, which is apparently made out of ice in this show, and becomes an unwitting pawn of the Dollmaker. Strange voice for Dollmaker, who’s played by Frank Welker, sounding like Slimer if he could talk properly. Dollmaker is also a substitute for Toyman, as given away by him being based out of Big Shott’s (sic) Toy World.
Again, the Superman show in the nineties presented a really creepy Toyman with the permanent mask with rictus grin, and while this Dollmaker has some of the scary toy paraphernalia it’s just a goofy wizard with “magic mud”. And as soon as you see a fire emergency break glass so obviously positioned on screen you know how the episode is going to end.
The Royal Ruse (by Rich Fogel)
An alien crash-lands on Earth, a princess begging for help against Darkseid on her planet. So, the Super Friends go to help. The title of the episode might give away what happens next. Rich Fogel at least presents a bit of inner turmoil and some detail in the script, but ten minutes isn’t long enough to sustain it. That might be why current shows like Transformers Cyberverse, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Thundercats Roar aren’t thought of as well as longer shows. That, plus other reasons.
The Village of Lost Souls (by Doug Booth)
Apache Chief takes the Wonder Twins and Gleek on an expedition that reveals a seemingly mind-controlled populace. I didn’t cotton onto who was responsible at first until it was revealed. The villain’s ship is presented in a cool and creepy way. I also have to reveal that I actually like the Wonder Twins, from their costume design to their (slightly dubious) powers. The name and catchphrase makes it difficult for any reinvention to take them too seriously, but a self-aware parody in some show would be nice to see.
The Curator (by Glenn Leopold)
Landmarks are disappearing across the world, including the Hall of Justice. Who could be responsible? The Curator, who is transporting them to his asteroid for posterity. Nothing to this one, an unsurprisingly underwhelming end to the series.
Evolution: New Heroes, Viler Villains, and Ethnic Additions
A number of comic and cartoon luminaries act as talking heads to discuss the show. Discussion points include the attempt to build genuine conflict and veering closer to the comics, the introduction of Adam West as the voice of Batman (“Like the voice of your favourite uncle!”, says one of the experts), the Jack Kirby influence and the introduction of the Fourth World villains, the struggles they had getting broadcasting standards and practices to allow them to use Darkseid (his name alone would potentially offend German-speaking viewers), and Firestorm appearing as a different, younger voice, a bit cooler than the typical Hanna-Barbera kid and his dog dynamic. Nobody really defends the quality of the show, admitting it looks quaint and was aiming for too young an audience, over explaining things to make up for the limited animation. They were so far behind the complexity of the comics and knew they’d have to run quick to catch up. They’d get there, but not with this show.
The Super Powers Collection: The Effect of the Toy Industry on the Super Friends
Holy unwieldy special feature names, Batman! The experts, including an action figure historian and a marketing guy, talk about how it used to be that you had lots of comics on the shelves, but not figures, so when Ronald Reagan allowed for TV shows where you could include toys they went for it. This meant a lot of money was being channeled into syndicated shows (boy, was it ever!). The writers argue their case for how they weren’t toy commercials, because if the kids don’t like the characters and how they’re presented then they won’t buy the toys.
Comic book artists worked with the toy guys to produce the best toys, including all sorts of characters with different looks and different action features, sometimes good, sometimes bad (Brainiac’s Power Action Computer KICK!). The toyline was produced over three years, three waves of twelve, with the first wave being the big guys, the next wave having some more interesting ones, but the line was cancelled by the time the third wave was ready to come out, so it distributed less. Mark Waid tells the story of being 24 and on a road trip to California from Texas and finally being able to pick up Cyborg in a random Kmart.
In conclusion: If Super Friends before this was the kids pool, this was the shallow end of the big pool. A little bit deeper, but not that deep. Not something you’ll get overwhelmed by, nothing that will make you choke.
Next time: The Ruby-Spears Superman from 1988.