Super Friends! “The Mysterious Moles” (part 1 of 8)
Featuring the all-star lineup of Superman (voiced by Danny Dark), Batman (voiced by Olan Soule) and Wonder Woman (voiced by Shannon Farnon, I think), with support from Robin (Casey Kasem) and Aquaman (Norman Alden), you’d think it would’ve been a superhero blowout of epic proportions, a triumph of animation that would be revered for all times and spoken of in the same tones of hushed awe that come upon folks who’ve seen guys like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird in their primes.
You would be wrong.
There’s a great book out there called Saturday Morning Fever that goes into things with a little more depth and finesse than I care to get into right now, but the basic situation at the time was a rather over-the-top emphasis on good values and pro-social behavior in cartoons, causing them to come off as more pandering and condescending than was probably intended.
There were also more valid concerns around the advertising being run during the programs, concerns which were amplified in the ‘80s with Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe, which were basically toy commercials with a little plot and action thrown in for flavor.
Personally, I have no problem with teaching good values and proper behavior. I do, however, have a problem with dumbing down stuff for kids because of an overly protective group of adults arbitrarily deciding how a story should be told. It gets even worse when you have psychiatrists rather than writers and directors determining a show’s content.
In the ‘60s, there was a bit of an uproar over superheroes that, much like the uproar over horror comics in the ‘50s, was truly much ado about nothing. At least nothing any sane, rational person capable of independent thought would be truly bothered by.
The effect on our subject today was… Well, the nicest way I can put it is that it sucked. Rather than going after well-known villains like the Joker and Lex Luthor, the Justice League was reduced to fighting an assortment of well-meaning but misguided nitwits (usually mad scientists, or aliens which were nowhere near as cool as they could be), with an overbearing “message” hammered into the skull of each and every viewer by the end.
Another result of the previous decade’s outcries was the superheroes on this show not being able to do anything too violent. That’s right, there were no fights at all in these early episodes. Just bland, homogenized superheroics, tied together with a nauseatingly obvious message at the end.
This all might have been tolerable, if not for the horrifically obnoxious trio of Marvin (voiced by Frank Welker), Wendy (Sherri Alberoni), and Wonder Dog (Welker again, poor bastard). Yes, for some reason, it was decided that the most powerful superheroes on the planet—powerful to the point where just one of them could kick the shit out of a problem in no time—really needed two teen sidekicks and a dog that sort of talks/barks.
Actually, I think I know the exact reason they were added, and it can be summed up in two words: Scooby Doo.
But then again, it’s possible the kids were added to show the Justice League’s sense of charity towards the mentally challenged. Because while Wendy might have one or two sporadically active brain cells, and the dog must have something going on upstairs, since he can talk (just go with me on that one), Marvin was more than likely that one kid in school who ate paste.
The series eventually got better, with Marvin and Wendy being dumped after season one in favor of the outlandishly bizarre shit seen in Challenge of the Super Friends, and things improved even more from there as the series got into the mid-‘80s. But today, we’re dealing with the first season. So strap in folks, your 45-minute (yes, the show ran in a one hour timeslot) torture session begins… Now.
We start off with our opening title sequence and omnipresent narrator Ted Knight, of Mary Tyler Moore and Caddyshack fame. I’d like to think that good old Ted saw how shoddy the scripts were, and decided to do his work in “Ted Baxter after a few shots of booze” mode. At least that’s how he comes off here.
There’s a driving rhythm, while we get images of the Hall of Justice and our four main heroes. I won’t be mentioning every bit of narration Ted does; we’d be here all day if I did. Let’s just say that he narrates basically every single bit of action as it is happening. Yeah, evidently someone out there thought kids were really, really stupid.
However, Ted’s opening narration does have a rather… unique cheesiness to it.
Hmm, I wonder how much Ted got paid for this gig. Whatever it was, he deserved more.
With that out of the way, we get a look at our lineup of heroes, with a clip of each one in action.
Superman: Good place to start, he’s a cultural icon. Pretty much the most powerful dude on the planet. He’s seen stopping a train before it goes over a collapsed section of track into a ravine. In other words, a typical Wednesday for him.
Wonder Woman: Decent addition, pretty cool character, though all we see is her flying in her invisible jet and twirling her lasso.
Batman: Another good choice, though I’m reserving judgment on him for now, given that all we see is him and Robin picking up our three extraneous characters in the Batmobile. At the moment, he does get a bonus point for leaving Wonder Dog behind as he drives off.
Aquaman: He gets a bad rap from his appearances here (it’s well deserved, believe me), but in truth he’s actually a fairly decent character, provided there’s water somewhere. Otherwise, he’s a little like installing central air conditioning when you live in Antarctica. His clip has him swimming around and mentally controlling a bunch of sea life, while riding a seahorse.
I wonder how the audition process for the Justice League went.
Aquaman: Well, I can communicate through mental telepathy—
Wonder Woman: Cool!
Batman: Sounds good.
Robin: Holy mind reading!
Aquaman: —with fish.
[Cue awkward silence.]
Superman: [raises an eyebrow] Just fish?
Aquaman: Pretty much, yeah. If it lives underwater, I can talk with it. Oh, I can also swim. Do we have a lot of missions underwater? If not, that’s okay, I can do land-based things too if you need it. I could really use the work right now. Greenpeace fired me last week, they said I wasn’t what they were looking for anymore.
Wonder Woman: Well, that’s… uh… nice. Don’t you think so, Superman?
[Wonder Woman gives Superman a pointed look. A beat.]
Superman: Fine, I guess you’re in. Just don’t let us catch you doing anything like filtering your urine into water and drinking it.
Ted then gives narration for Marvin, Wendy, and Wonder Dog, calling them “junior superheroes”. No, that would be Robin. These three are just a bunch of mental defectives that the real heroes decided to take in.
Wendy is dressed in a typical ‘70s outfit: bell-bottoms, vest, and a shirt with a flared collar. She could pass for a member of the Partridge Family. Marvin, however, is decked out in a white shirt with a big “M” on it, with a green cape that in all likelihood is being missed terribly by his mother’s dining room table right now. The dog also has a cape.
They get a stupid gag with a mirror that I would get into, if not for the fact that there will be plenty more chances for me to knock these geeks over the course of this episode, and I believe in moderation in humor. [Note from the author: Yes, I know that’s bullshit, but I also believe in trying to come across as humble.]