On History: The Super Friends

By | Tuesday, December 20, 2016 Leave a Comment
For myself, and I expect many Gen Xers interested in comics, Super Friends was a staple of Saturday mornings. The show spotlighted the adventures of the expanding Justice League, starting with a core of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman to start and evolving over the show's history to eventually include the likes of Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Firestorm, and new characters like Black Vulcan and Samurai. The show ran for over a decade before ending in 1986. As I said, it was something of a childhood staple.

But it interestingly had a rocky start.

The show first debuted on ABC in September 1973. The character designs and stories were fairly straightforward and simplistic, but the lack of depth or complexity was pretty standard for Saturday morning at the time. The first season was comprised of only 16 episodes, which were re-run through August 1974. The show was then cancelled. Presumably from less than anticipated ratings, but perhaps also influenced by cameo appearances on The New Scooby-Doo Movies and The Brady Kids the previous year.

The success of the Wonder Woman TV show in 1975, and probably the early development interest in the Superman movie which had secured Marlon Brando that same year led ABC to reconsider Super Friends. The original 16 episodes were re-run beginning in early 1976, while production began on a new series. To help promote the new series, DC also began publishing a Super Friends comic. While the stories there were independent of the show, they followed much the same style of the original series.

Not wanting to miss out on the apparent upcoming superhero fad, CBS also began working on The New Adventures of Batman and Robin. They were able to secure the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward from the 1966 television show, while ABC used Olan Soule and Casey Kasem from Filmation's 1968 Batman cartoon.

Beginning in mid-1977, E. Nelson Bridwell, writer of the Super Friends comic, learned of some of the cast changes (notably, the replacement of Wendy and Marvin with Zan and Jayna) after working on the book for several months and wrote the change into his stories, so by the time the new season of the show began in September 1977, the comic had already made the transition to the new characters. Despite no real obvious and/or ongoing correspondence between the comic's creative team and the show's, they played amazingly well off one another from a timing perspective. Interestingly, though, this seems to be the extent of any collaboration between the show and the comic, as the villains from the show are largely ignored, as are the heroes created for the show.

What I find curious is that the comic only survived until mid-1981, while the show continued into 1982. However the show was only re-runs for the 1982/83 season, and was cancelled outright in the fall of '83. The show was brought back again in 1984 and ran until September 1986.

Given the on-again-off-again nature of the show, and regular use of mixing re-runs with new material, I suspect there were more than a few clashes within the network about the show's future throughout it's tenure. If, then, DC was continually getting notices about the show maybe being cancelled or maybe not, and/or what direction the show might take, I wonder if editor Julie Schwartz just decided that it wasn't worth the effort. I don't have insight into sales numbers from that period (even John Jackson Miller has something of a hole in there!) but I never got the impression the comic was a top-seller. It had a respectable five-year run, so it couldn't have been doing too badly, especially with the cartoon tie-in, but if they felt at DC that it was only saleable so long as the cartoon was ongoing, they may well have cancelled the comic, assuming the show wasn't going to last either. After all, it'd been cancelled once already.
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