Super Friends: The Lost Episodes

Russell Burlingame Reporting

Warner Home Video will release Super Friends: The Lost Episodes on DVD this week, featuring 24 episodes that never aired during the Super Friends' original airings and instead only hit television years later. Featuring the '70s and '80s-style animation recognized by any fan of superhero comics more than 20 years old, Super Friends was Hanna-Barbera's Scooby-Doo style interpretation of the Justice League. In addition to being the first televised interpretation of many DC characters (including Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom), Super Friends was one of the iconic animated series of its time and influenced a generation of comic fans and future creators alike.

It's interesting that they put Hal Jordan on the cover and on the DVDs in spite of the fact that not only is Aquaman (not Green Lantern or Flash) featured in the credits, but longtime Green Lantern fans like myself will know that Hal was rarely, if ever, featured prominently in the Super Friends episodes. This seems like a pretty blatant Blackest Night/animated GL attention grab, where Hal might peek out from the shelves at people who might otherwise not have noticed the DVD in the mass of other Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited collections.

The quality of the Justice League-centered shows themselves are an interesting artifact—while I've remembered them for years as being pretty bland, the reality is that neither the plot nor the dialogue is much hokier than what's currently being seen on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The central difference, and the thing that makes them unsettlingly geeky to watch with other people around, is the over-expository narrator, whose dramatic intros, outros and explanations of the B-listers' powers are so well-known and consistently mocked as to almost make them charming—almost. Also worth noting: The Wonder Twins stories, aimed at small children even then, are virtually unwatchable these days except with tongue firmly in cheek. Where the stories featuring the known superheroes are pretty enjoyable—if a little young for the average 20- or 30-something comic book fan that remembers seeing these episodes on TV—the Wonder Twins stuff is really only fun for your baby cousins.

The first episode on the set, featuring Mr. Mxyzptlk (with a comically-mis pronounced name), fits well with the tone of the series and given that there's not much in the way of a continuity to Super Friends in general, or particularly to these "lost" episodes, it's a great choice for a kickoff episode, as it really establishes a feel for the rest of the set. Also, of course, having a Superman-Batman solo story is a good way to start off any set of stories featuring a number of fairly anonymous Justice Leaguers and Justice League wannabes. It does, however, illustrate one of the oddities of this series. Probably because of the time constraints of a half-hour show (particularly at a time where many or most animated series split their episodes to smaller stories, making for two or three stories per 24-minute show), many of the stories feature only a couple of characters (immediately following on the heels of the Superman-Batman story is one that features the Wonder Twins, who are only later joined by The Atom—and even then only him), making the notion of a super-team almost moot in many of the adventures featured on the discs. Is it any wonder, then, that fans were later so excited by the advent of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited show, where a more sophisticated audience was assumed and more interaction was standard?

Certain episodes—such as one in which the spirit of a Mohawk Native American throws a stereotypical tantrum over Wayne Tower being constructed on an "ancient Indian burial ground," are clearly the product of an animation culture in the growing pains between the politically incorrect, Flintstones-and-before era and today's, self-consciously diverse cartoons. They use Apache Chief to diffuse the conflict peacefully, which I suppose was sending the basic message that when a minority group gets riled up, just bring in one of their own to calm them down rather than reacting with violence. A noble enough ideal, if clumsily and monochromatically presented.

In the grand scheme of things, Super Friends fans and completists will likely make up about 80% of all the people who purchase this set...but it's worth a look for anyone who enjoyed this series as a kid or who's open to enjoying an admittedly silly superhero series these days.

Russell Burlingamee is a journalist and columnist living and working in New York City. In high school, Russell interviewed Elliot S. Maggin for a review of the Kingdom Come novelization, and since then has worked consistently in and around the comics industry. He interned for Wizard magazine, and has freelanced for Wizard and Newsarama, in addition to a number of non-comics publications, Russell is currently working on a graphic novel based on Cap'n Internet, the comic strip that ran in his college newspaper; and a graphic biography of folk singer Phil Ochs with artist Marion Vitus.

Currently, in addition to his freelance work and his comics projects, Russell writes a number of columns for ComicRelated, including Conscientious Sequentials, The Gold Exchange, What's Perhappenin', Closing Statements, Reflecting 'Pool and To See or Not To See. Russell also takes point on the Hot Shot of the Week feature.

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