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Super Heroes of the Seventies

Legends of the Superheroes - full cast

It has been said that we are living in a Golden Age of super hero stories.  The genre is certainly experiencing a boom in popularity at the movies and on TV.  But the seventies were no slouch in the super hero department either.  Some of the seeds of our modern day super hero explosion were sown back in the 70’s.

Adam West Batman

Growing up in the seventies, Batman reruns were a staple.  The sixties Batman starring Adam West was in syndication during the 70’s and it was like super hero crack to a young lebeau.  The first piece of writing I ever had “published” was a Batman story based on the TV show.  It was reproduced, complete with illustrations by me, in my elementary school newspaper.

I can’t remember a time before Batman.  Obviously the show predated my existence.  I expect that it was my introduction to the world of super heroes.  And really, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction.  It was an exceptionally kid-friendly show.  There was lots of action and bright colors.  Batman and Robin were in costume for the majority of the episode as opposed to Superman who spent a frustrating amount of time on his show as Clark Kent.  And they fought costumed villains.  By comparison, Superman usually opposed men in suits.

Of course there was a lot going on on Batman that completely went over my head.  The show worked on a completely different level that I was a young child was unaware of.  Watching it today, I realize that Batman was a very clever satire of super heroes and the pop culture movement of the sixties.  Unfortunately, the show proved a little too successful in that regard.  For decades afterwards, people came to regard comic books in terms if the “Biff Bam Pows!” of the TV show.

Superfriends

If the Batman TV show wasn’t my introduction to super heroes, then it would have been Super Friends.  Super Friends started as an hour-long Saturday morning cartoon in 1973.  It featured Batman and Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  If Aquaman’s inclusion seems random, it really wasn’t.  Aquaman, along with Batman and Superman, had been featured in his own cartoon in the late sixties.

Prior to launching Super Friends, Hannah-Barbera introduced the characters on other cartoons.  Batman and Robin appeared on two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.  Superman and Wonder Woman had guest spots on the animated Brady Kids.

The show introduced a trio of new characters who were inspired by the Scooby Doo gang.  Wendy and Marvin were teen detectives.  They had no super powers except the ability to get themselves in trouble.  They also had a Sccoby Doo-like dog named Wonderdog.  Wonderdog talked which somehow seemed normal.  He also wore a cape.

After sixteen episodes, Super Friends was cancelled in 1974.  The episodes that were produced continued airing regularly in reruns.  In 1977, based on the popularity of The Six Million Dollar Man and Wonder Woman TV shows, Hannah-Barbera revived Super Friends with new episodes and a new format.

Wonder Twins

Hannah-Barbera relaunched the Super Friends as The All-New Super Friends Hour in 1977.  The first season of the show did not feature comic book villains.  Instead, the plots usually involved a mad scientist who had good intentions but went about things the wrong way.  The conflict was usually resolved peacefully through reasonable conversation.  When the show returned, Hannah-Barbera wanted to amp up the action to the extent that was allowed on a Saturday morning cartoon in the 70’s.

That meant replacing the non-powered teens with teenage superheroes.  Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were out and the Wonder Twins (along with their space monkey, Gleek) were in.  Zan and Jayna were alien teens who were being trained by the Super Friends.  When they touched hands, they activated their transformative super powers.  Jayna could turn into any animal (including fictional ones) which was often very helpful.  Zan could turn into water, which was often not as helpful as what his sister could do.

I remember seeing the Wonder Twins for the first time.  I hopped up and ran to the kitchen to get my mom.  She needed to see the new super heroes!  I didn’t know what a space monkey was, but it sure seemed cool at the time.

Challenge of the Superfriends

In 1978, the show was reinvented again.  This time as The Challenge of the Super Friends.  This is when things really heated up.  The show’s roster of super heroes was expanded.  Justice League regulars The Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman joined the Super Friends.  And in an attempt to add diversity, ethnic heroes Black Vulcan (based on existing character Black Lightning), Apache Chief and Samurai were introduced.

The new team faced off against a team of villains consisting of the arch enemies of the main Super Friends.  The Legion of Doom was lead by Lex Luthor and included Solomon Grundy, Sinestro, Black Manta, Cheetah, Giganta, The Scarecrow, Toyman, The Riddler, Bizarro, Brainiac, Captain Cold and Gorilla Grodd.

The show continued on into the eighties changing its name, format and line-up as it went.  It ultimately ended its run in 1986.

Next: Wonder Woman and Shazam

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Posted on April 8, 2015, in 1970s, Nostalgia, Super Heroes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. lol! That was a great little jaunt down memory lane! I have absolutely no memory of CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERHEROES and can’t imagine why–back in those days, I wouldn’t have missed that under any circumstances.

    I’m not sure, though, why you’d think anything about the Adam West Batman went over your head back then. Looking at it as an adult, there’s nothing clever or sophisticated about it–it WAS a kid’s show and stupid merely for the sake of being stupid.

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    • I was so stoked to watch Challenge of the Superheroes. It wasn’t long after that aired that my interest in the genre went dormant. 79 was like a last hurrah for superheroes (well Superman 2 in 1980 was the capper).

      I do have a lot of affection for the Batman show. It cracks me up. As a kid, I watched it purely as an adventure show. It was serious business. But now I enjoy the humor and a look at the swingin’ sixties.

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      • I loved it as a young kid (up to maybe 7 or so) but when it fell out of favor with me, it fell really hard. It would be hard to overstate how intensely I once hated it. I think its legacy is a cancer that continues to plague genre productions all these decades later. These days, I appreciate its production design and art direction (and always did, though when so very young I wouldn’t have even know what “production design” and “art direction” were) but I’m loathe to say much of anything good about it. My own interest in comics didn’t wane until near the end of high school (where they’d sort of fallen apart).

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        • I went through a phase of loathing the 60’s Batman. I didn’t really think about superheroes at all in the 80’s. But Batman 89 slowly brought me back in. By 92, Batman Returns and Batman the Animated series had revived my interest. The more serious I got about comic book characters, the more determined I became that the Adam West Batman was a crime against the medium. Over time, my resolve softened. I decided it really wasn’t fair to blame Batman for everyone else’s assumption that it represented the entire medium of sequential art. The production values really were top notch. And I enjoy it today as a time capsule of sixties pop culture. I won’t sit down and watch it with any frequency. But on the rare occasion that I do, it’s usually good for a laugh or three.

          This is my favorite scene and the one that made me decide I liked Batman 66 again:

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  2. Really good stuff here! Fortunately, WGN aired 1960’s “Batman” in the late 1980’s (about a year before Tim Burton’s “batman” was released) as well, so I got to view it afterschool. I still hold the show in high regard (have caught it on MeTV from time to time over the years). Now, “The Incredible Hulk” terrified me as a child; I would run out of the room anytime David Banner would undergo his change. However, RetroTV aired the show at a 6PM time slot at the end of the last decade, and I viewed it almost daily. I really liked the storylines, and now I’m fond of that show.
    It really is a shame that there are no dedicated female superhero programs on the air. I mean, it seems even Wonder Woman (who has a show rumored to be in development, then shelved occasionally) can’t get off the ground.

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    • I am baffled that no one can think of a way to use one of the most recognizable icons in all of American pop culture. Especially after the WW show created a decent template. The show was by no means perfect. But it showed you what you could do with the character. A Supergirl show is in the works and I have high hopes for it.

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  3. When you learn about all the ways that Superman: The Movie could have taken a wrong turn–Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman as Superman???–it’s amazing that it turned out so well. Credit is surely due to Donner and Reeve, along with Margot Kidder, who is almost as definitive a Lois Lane as Reeve is Superman.

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    • I know a lot of people who don’t think Kidder is pretty enough to be Lois. But I defend her. She and Reeve had terrific chemistry.

      I love Superman. It’s not a perfect movie. I wish the end was different. I wish Luthor was more of a threat. But Donner got the important stuff right. He knew it was a fairy tale and a love story. He knew audiences had to believe a man could fly. Otherwise we wouldn’t have bought any of it.

      John Williams’ score goes a long way to selling the flight. But ultimately it was the decision to cast Reeve that made Superman a classic. Reeve embodied everything right about the character.

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      • In addition to the points you make, what I think they–Donner, Reeve, Kidder, et. al.–got absolutely right was the tone of the movie. It’s neither too heavy nor too light. Very few superhero movies that I’ve seen through the years since 1978 manage that; most err on the “too heavy” side, in my view.

        And Kidder will always be Lois Lane for me. I’ve yet to see Amy Adams in Man of Steel, and I’m sure that, unlike certain other actresses who have the initials Kate Bosworth, she is a perfectly fine Lois–but I doubt she’s on Kidder’s level. Kidder plays so well off of both Reeve-as-Superman and Reeve-as-Kent.

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        • Kidder was the perfect Lois for Donner’s Superman. As you said, tone was the key and she fit that light tone. Man of Steel (which I dislike) goes for a very heavy tone. Everything about that movie is oppressively serious. Adams is one of the better things in the movie, but the movie gets Superman wrong and a talented actress playing Lois can’t redeem it.

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    • You know, I could see Dustin Hoffman making a good Clark Kent, but not Superman. I think Muhammad Ali would have been interesting as Superman, but he’s too much of an extrovert to be believable as Clark Kent (it’s also the case that the public just wouldn’t accept him in the role, and that Donner was right that a big name actor was a bad idea). I think Robert Redford is the only candidate that could play both roles, but I’m glad that Christopher Reeve got the part.

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  4. Rock the Casbah

    What a trip down the memory lane of my youth! BTW, even as a kid I hated those damn Wonder Twins. I always thought they had NO business hanging out with the real, authentic superheroes (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, etc.)

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  5. Ah! My childhood! I was obsessed with superheroes as a child. My first exposure was to Spider-Man (capital “M”, not lower case “m”) on Electric Company. Then to Wonder Woman, Shazam, Isis, Super Friends, hulk, and everything. I even watched reruns of The Adventures of Superman in the 70s. I never saw Batman until the early 80s when TBS began airing on it weekday afternoons. I loved it. Still do. I have the complete series on Blu-ray. I have most of the series mentioned above on DVD, along with scads of other superhero and comic book-based shows. Spider-Man will always be my favorite though. My Amazing Spider-Man collection currently runs consecutive from #27 to #789, and I’m adding to that all of the time. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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    • I am going to have to watch out for that when I repost old articles. I have updated the spelling of Spider-Man on this one. For what it’s worth, I have the spelling right on the article that posts tomorrow.

      It sounds like we had a lot of the same experiences as kids in the seventies. Back then, you had to take your superheroes where you could find them. Silly as some of these shows were, they cast the warm glow of nostalgia. I can’t help but smile thinking about them.

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  6. I loved them all. Thanks for reminding me how much fun it was!
    Wonder Twin powers activate!

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