Friends, I wasn’t always the superhero-loving comics reader you see before you. I underwent a tribulation, a trial of faith, wandering in a wilderness without capes. My resistance to superheros and the Justice League of America in particular stemmed from one root: The SuperFriends. I can’t, in general, argue with the idea of super-friendship, but The SuperFriends scarred the hell out of me.
Wiser, more learned geeks will tell you that ABC’s The SuperFriends ran with variations in title and friend line-up from 1973 to 1986. The cartoon was a parent-friendly portrayal of DC Comics’ Justice League of America, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Batman and Robin, accompanied at first by Wendy, Marvin and their comic-relief Wonder Dog, then the Wonder Twins and their comic-relief space monkey Gleek. Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado and Samurai also
appeared regularly, as did Green Lantern, Hawkman and Flash. The cartoon alienated me from every single one of them. Wonder Woman’s retro-matron hair alone alienated me. It seemed hard on the heroes, too. Afterwards, Aquaman had so much to prove that he went positively Ahab.
As a child, I watched the show for aliens, action and the Legion of Doom, in their massive HQ, a non-actionable replica of Darth Vader’s helmet. (click!)
Banded together from remote galaxies are thirteen of the most sinister villains of all time, The Legion of Doom, dedicated to a single objective: the conquest of the universe. Only one group dares to challenge this intergalactic threat: The SuperFriends! The JusticeLeague of America versus The Legion of Doom! This is the Challenge of the The SuperFriends!
And so I watched through the same desperation that drove me to eat those sugarfree “mints” that taste like Tums but are sweeter than sweet. I wanted cartoons and candy, but got a little queasy.
Overall, I blame the voicing for my pain. Has Wonder Woman ever sounded so
matronly? Shannon Farnon put me off the Amazon Princess for decades. Danny Dark’s Superman was genial, the kind of 1960s tv dad geniality that wouldn’t be entirely out of place while tossing someone into the sun. Olan Soule’s Batman was friendly but seemed like a police PR officer attached to the JLA. Adam West’s
Batman was, well, Adam West’s Batman.* It’s a balance of preferences around voice and characterization, which is, as the man says, a matter of taste and, therefore, not morality. So, for example, I like Kevin Conroy as Batman better than Olan Soule, but the Batman in Songs and Stories from the Justice League
is just plain wrong, no matter which Batman you prefer—even Adam West’s.
In response to another piece, a Gutter reader commented that the celebrity voice actors in Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) were distracting. I hear what he means. David Boreanz’ characterization of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern just sounds like David Boreanz. It’s weird to write that because by the time I started
reading superhero comics again, Hal Jordan had already gone crazy, killed people and gone uncrazy, so I’ve never had a strong sense of him. But The SuperFriends—and David Boreanz—made me appreciate voice casting that suits the character in the story’s context and voice acting that is involving enough that I don’t separate the actor from the character.
But if one cartoon soured me on the JLA, another brought me back around again: Justice League / Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006). I could say that I lost faith in the JLA with The SuperFriends then found it again with Justice League, but it’s more like The SuperFriends obstructed my faith from the get-go. I love the JLA—all of them—in Justice League. I love the casting, the voice acting and Dwayne McDuffie’s scripts. And I loved the return of the Legion of Doom’s swamp headquarters, which I couldn’t have if I had never watched The SuperFriends.
So have the SuperFriends been better friends to me than I thought?
Without The SuperFriends, there likely wouldn’t have been, The Real World Metropolis and, therefore, maybe no Robot Chicken at all. I wouldn’t have appreciated huge chunks of Adult Swim or Mad TV’s segregated Hero Justice League of America (featuring super voice actor Phil Lamarr who also voices Green Lantern John Stewart in Justice League and Black Vulcan in Harvey Birdman, Attorney-At-Law) I couldn’t pester people with my belief that Aquaman was the most emotionally mature SuperFriend, the glue that held the team together. (Someone has to fly the invisible jet while Wonder Woman’s in the fray or it’ll crash. Plus, Aquaman signs for FedEx, plans dinners and remembers to take laundry out of the dryer). Without The SuperFriends, would I enjoy as much the superhero team-ups of an emotionally healthy, happy-fun blue Batman in Batman: The Brave and the Bold?
If I weren’t so scarred would I have opinions about the JLA, let alone about voice actors playing JLA members? Would I say that Kevin Conroy is my favorite Batman or viscerally appreciate Bud Collyer , the voice of Superman before The SuperFriends? Would I care about voice acting? Did they make me a geek?
We are all what our history makes us and somewhere the SuperFriends are in a Hall of Justice inside of me, hurting me with their voices and maybe saving me from themselves. Though I take more comfort from the thought that there is a Legion inside me, plotting the SuperFriends’ destruction from a Hall of Doom hidden deep in my heart.
*I will say nothing against Adam West.
Oh dear god, I remember “Songs and Stories from the Justice League”. Even as a wee tot, this one seemed like a tossed-off money magnet. The faux Edward G. Robinson voice they gave Batman was particularly perplexing, and every bit as out of place as the avuncular “heck no, I’m not dressed like a bat at all” voice they gave him on “Super Friends”. While we are on Bat Voices: When I first saw THE DARK KNIGHT I kept hoping Batman would take off the cowl and we’d learn that the growly thing Christian Bale was doing was the supposed to be the product of some voice-altering tech built into the suit. And then that didn’t happen…
i’m afraid the damage was far more drastic for me. the shitty animation, the utterly implausible plotlines, it’s what put me off conventional superheroes pretty much forever…but at the same time, of course, without my even realizing it made me utterly fertile ground once marshal law came along.
I find myself pondering the side-kicks, like the Wondertwins, with their own side-kick (infinite regression?) or, Snappy (was he just in the comic? He runs around animated in my head). Anyway, I can’t help but wonder why an already tamed and domesticated group of rosey-cheeked security guards needed incompetant kids and animals to soften them up.
Even just writing about Superfriends for two seconds makes me irritable and itchy. You must have a spine of steel to have gotten through this whole article.
I fear you.
Every time I see the title of this piece, my mind wants to read it as “Scared by the Superfriends”
There is something frightening about that cartoon.
If I know better, I say like the others you only love JL & JLU because of 3 things: 1) Kevin Conroy is Batman & no other 2) Batman is more superior & perfect than the Justice League who were unfairly one-dimensional &inferior because they’re colorful. 3) Edgy & Dark.
This pretty sums up the lack of diversity in WB/DC’s media during the Timmverse reign of bleakness.