“Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…” Just hearing that line of booming narration from none other than Ted Knight means DC superheroes for many a generation.
Oh sure, there is a tremendous amount of focus on the DC universe today, thanks to big movies and big box office, but for so many Super Friends, Hanna-Barbera’s adaption of the DC comics, still stands as a wondrous Saturday morning window into this exciting world.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Super Friends brought Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and many other members of DC Comics’ Justice League of America soaring off the page and onto TV screens.
Superman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman had been brought to life in TV animation before this, in the 1960s, from the Filmation studio. Additionally, in the 70s, Filmation brought Wonder Woman and Superman back as guest stars on The Brady Kids, while Batman and Robin guest starred on Hanna-Barbera’s The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
The idea of bringing these superheroes together in a shared universe on a Saturday morning show began when ABC commissioned Hanna-Barbera to develop the series. The studio enlisted famed artist Alex Toth (who had created Space Ghost for Hanna-Barbera) to develop Super Friends.
The show debuted on September 8, 1973. In each episode, at their headquarters, The Hall of Justice, Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman would await word from Colonel Wilcox on the “Trouble Alert” computer, informing them of an emergency that required their attention.
In addition to these traditional heroes, Super Friends also featured a very “Saturday morning touch,” with the addition of new characters: a pair of teenagers, Wendy Harris and Marvin White, along with their pet, Wonder Dog. They didn’t come with any superpowers but instead served as a way into the superhero world for kids watching at home and softened some of the edgier aspects of the comic book action.This softer version of Super Friends was a big part of the show, debuting when concerns over violence in children’s television steered the show’s battles, while exciting, toward action where none of the characters would face harm. Additionally, each episode of Super Friends would include an educational and informative message.
The excellent voice cast included actor Olan Soule as Batman (he had also provided the character’s voice for Filmation and The New Scooby-Doo Movies), with Casey Kasem, iconically known as the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo and as the host of radio’s American Top 40, as Robin.
Voice-over actor Danny Dark was Superman and noted actress Shannon Farnon was Wonder Woman. Character actor Norman Alden provided Aquaman’s voice. Hanna-Barbera’s stalwart voice actors filled out the cast with Sherri Alberoni as Wendy, Frank Welker as Marvin and Wonder Dog, and John Stephenson as Colonel Wilcox.
Additionally, while starring as anchorman Ted Baxter on the legendary Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted Knight provided the perfect, rich narration for the show.
The actors and actresses of this talented cast would also play multiple roles of guests and recurring characters who would appear in each episode. These included The Flash and Plastic Man.
Super Friends was canceled after its first season and aired reruns after until the series was revised in 1977 as The All-New Super Friends Hour.
This updated version jettisoned Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog, replacing them with the Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, and their monkey, Gleek. The twins did have powers: Zan could morph into different forms of water, while Jayna could transform into animals. They did this after declaring, “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” another line from the series that’s become iconic.
In 1978, the series became Challenge of the Superfriends, and there were subsequent title changes as the show continued an impressive run through 1986.
Reflecting on the longevity of Super Friends, authors Joe Garner and Michael Ashley wrote in their book, It’s Saturday Morning: Celebrating the Golden Age of Cartoons, 1960s-1990s, that “… this show defined superheroes for a generation – exposing youngsters to amazing characters they may not have known without reading the grittier comics. Super Friends led with humor instead of violence and encouraged cooperation to battle the forces of evil. Most important of all, the show offered something invaluable. For several moments every Saturday morning, it presented an escape from humdrum reality, allowing boys and girls to dream of their own magical powers.”