Super Heroes of the Seventies
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.
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.
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.
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.
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