Running Time: 352 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Region: 1
MSRP: $26.98

Own It!
Challenge of the Super Friends: The First Season (1978)

Warner finally closed out the first season of Challenge of the Super Friends, not by issuing two more discs (the first eight episodes were spread evenly over two discs), but by issuing a set in their "DC Comics Classics Collection".

Briefly: a collection of DC Comics' big name stars, the Justice League (re-christened The Super Friends for the touchy-feely 70's) had been a fixture on Saturday morning TV since 1973, but this '78 incarnation moved them away from fighting bad guys in suits and scientific experiments gone awry to opponents more worthy of their mettle: a collection of super villains called The Legion of Doom, culled from the heroes' own comics. And if the stories tended to be more about the villains than the heroes - well, bad guys are always far more fun to write.

We've covered the first eight episodes in our reviews for the first two discs here and here. The remaining episodes seem to get even more outre as the series progresses:

  • Revenge of Gorilla City cleaves pretty close to established DC continuity as Gorilla Grodd tries one more time to take over his native city of super-intelligent gorillas, and actually succeeds for a time.
  • Swamp of the Living Dead, though, is where things start to get weird. The Legion makes a deal with an Old Witch-type character - and a being we shall call Satan Lite - where, in exchange for capturing the Super Friends, the villains receive the power to raise the dead and command an army of indestructible zombies.
  • Conquerers of the Future begins with the Legion of Doom apparently turning over a new leaf and doing good deeds, but that's only an (incomprehensible) part of a typically byzantine plot to journey into the future and conquer Earth there. Then. Whatever.
  • The Final Challenge trots out Frederic Brown's "Arena" one more time, as an alien of incredible power abducts half of each collection of super-beings to compete in a loser-dies-horribly contest, while the remaining half must team up to locate their missing comrades.
  • Fairy Tale of Doom - weirdness time again, as Toyman comes up with a ray that somehow teleports people into a book. Therefore, Hawkman winds up in "Jack and the Beanstalk", Superman in Gulliver's Travels, and Wonder Woman in a Wonderland full of homicidal maniacs (The Cheshire Cat I always suspected, but the Caterpillar? I always thought he was just a stoner...)
  • Doom's Day - starts with the Legion abandoning Sinestro, Cheetah and Black Manta when yet another plan goes awry. The vengeful villains get their hands on a new ray which creates anything the operator thinks of, all to get revenge on their cowardly compatriots - and no, we'll never see that ray again.
  • Super Friends: Rest in Peace starts out with a bang: the funeral for Batman! As the rest of the Super Friends cower in the Batcave, we find out in flashbacks that the Legion of Doom managed to get their hands on an artificial element called Noxium, engineered specifically to kill the Super Friends - which they proceed to do. Not an imaginary story! Not an alternate earth! Still contains one of the biggest deus ex machinas - literally! - since "It was all just a dream!"
  • History of Doom, the last episode of the season, also starts strongly, with a montage of a devastated, dead Earth, culminating in a newspaper blown across a desolate cityscape, it's headline: END OF WORLD NEAR! SUPERFRIENDS NO HELP! Some new-age wisdom-spouting aliens land and check out the curiously still-functioning computers at the Hall of Justice and the Hall of Doom to piece out what happened. This leads to the origins of Luthor and Giganta, and clips from two earlier episodes. The aliens then set things right, which means this is a story where the Super Friends are even more useless than usual.

Perhaps it's a decreased bit rate due to more content on each disc, but flaws in the animation material were much less noticable this time, only the occasional scratched acetate or dust problem are obvious. Don't go hoping for any chapter stops within episodes, for they will be nowhere to be found. No effort was made to remix the audio, which is really just fine by me, but that also means when those rear speakers kick in during the extras, you might be surprised. Speaking of which:

Disc One contains the first seven episodes, and only one extra: an audio commentary track on the first episode, Wanted: The Super Friends, by DC writers Geoff Johns and Mark Waid. They spend their time alternately impressing each other (and the listener) with their knowledge of DC history arcana, and really, really enjoying the episode, apparently for the first time in years.

Disc Two is a flipper, with seven more eps on side one. Side Two has the last two stories, and the extras: another commentary track by Johns and Waid for History of Doom. Saturday, Sleeping Bags and Super Friends: A Retrospective, which is a compilation of interviews with various industry luminaries, including the aforementioned Waid and Johns, artist Alex Ross, producer Paul DIni, and others, who speak with varying degrees of fondness about the series. This finishes out with the Hall of Justice and Legion of Doom features from the first two discs.

There was some howling and grumbling when Warner took the release-two-discs, then put-out-a-box-set path, both with this and their Batman: The Animated Series franchise. Admittedly, the strategy appears to be putting out the cheaper discs with less content for the younger demographic, then a box set later for the more serious collector. Whether this means that leery consumers are putting off purchasing any DVDs for, say, the current Justice League series, waiting for the box set (as yet unannounced), and thus impacting Warner Home Video's timetable ("These aren't selling well - cancel the box set"), is yet to be seen.

Dr. Freex, 5/4/2005