Challenge of the Super Friends (1978) – Season 3 of the Super Friends animated series – Starring Batman, Superman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Samurai.
When looking at CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS, it’s important to remember two things: 1. it was made in the mid-to-late ’70s, and 2. it was made for kids.
When I keep this in mind, I can enjoy the singular episodes well enough. CHALLENGE offers up the Justice League of America versus the Legion of Doom every week, and it contains one of the great openings in Saturday morning cartoon history. It never gets old watching all of the various team ups and hero vs. villain combinations, which is good because this is a highly formulaic show: the Legion of Doom comes up with a crazy plan, they temporarily succeed, the JLA recovers to defeat them, the Legion escapes.
I originally bought the DVD a couple years ago and dutifully sat down to watch each episode. “Wanted: The Super Friends” kicks things off and it involves the Legion using some kind of dream brainwashing to get the Super Friends to commit a bunch of robberies for them. The Legion has the JLA (I’m not going to keep writing Super Friends because it takes longer than writing “JLA” and it sounds stupid) bring all of the goodies back to the Hall of Justice. The next day, a cop calls the JLA on their monitor telephone and tells them they need to turn themselves in. Superman says, “We need to do it or everyone will think we’re guilty.”
Just like Supes – giving a crap what the public thinks.
The JLA dutifully turns themselves in and gets locked in a single jail cell. The cops are all, “We know you can break out, so we’re holding you to your word to stay locked away.” Batman makes the case that they need t be let out to figure out who’s behind all this, when one of the two cops before them goes all Mission: Impossible and pulls off his mask to reveal … Bizarro!
How’d he learn to talk normal?
It doesn’t matter because nothing matters in CHALLENGE beyond the coolness of the idea.
Don’t believe me? Well, that jail cell the Super Friend (d’oh!) are in actually has rockets on the bottom and the Legion sends the jail cell full of Super Friends blasting off into space!
In one or even two-episode chunks, this is still tolerable for me because it’s got enough nostalgia and fanboy thrill to be entertaining. When I watch more than that, however, it can get a bit too much to bear. Everyone is just so … stupid. And everyone says everything out loud. When I was five, this was probably necessary for me to get what was happening. Now? Not so much.
That’s to be expected, of course, because I’m not five anymore, but that doesn’t mean I have to tolerate it. There are so many good superhero cartoons that have been created since 1978 that CHALLENGE is little more than a tasty nostalgic snack. Like any snack, if you try to make a meal out of it, it doesn’t work so well.
There are some really good episodes here, though. “Secret Origins of the Super Friends” sees the Legion of Doom going back in time to prevent Diana, Hal Jordan, and Kal El from turning into Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Superman, respectively. It’s pure fanboy joy to see Cheetah become Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor become Green Lantern. There’s “Conquerors of the Future,” when the Legion of Doom pretend to be good in order to take over the Earth in the future.
It’s a bit of a downer to see the Toyman instead of the Joker, and it’s always a shame to see Luthor eschew business suits for his Flash Gordon Meets Green Goblin outfit, but it’s so nice to see Sinestro, Black Manta, Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, and Grodd that those are small complaints. It’s not like the Toyman is awful (he’s actually quite fun and makes complete sense in a kids’ cartoon to have a character like this) and while Luthor might look like a narc trying to bluff his way into Studio 54, he’s still coming up with plans so crazy only a diabolical genius/idiot could come up with them.
The series ends with a bang, with three really good episodes: “Doom’s Day,” where Sinestro, Black Manta, and Cheetah get all angry at being abandoned by the Legion of Doom and go rogue; “Super Friends: Rest in Peace,” which sees the entire Justice League killed; and “History of Doom,” where three aliens come to Earth to find everything destroyed – including the Super Friends.
How do the Super Friends get out of this?
Well, the aliens turn back time and save the Earth.
Well done, Super Friends?
There’s a lot of good here, and if you grew up watching CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS, I can’t see why you wouldn’t get a kick out of this series all over again. Just don’t expect it to blow your mind this time around.