The Super Friends (1976)
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Publisher: DC TV Comics (DC Comics)
Publication Date: January 1976 - August 1981
Country: United States
Like Justice League Unlimited (2004), The Batman Strikes (2004) and Teen Titans Go! (2004), this comic was aimed at the viewers of an accompanying cartoon. However, unlike those Johnny DC titles, The Super Friends was actually written to a higher standard than that of the cartoon on which it was based. (Cynics will point out that this, of course, was due to the fact that the Johnny DC titles didn't need to be written to a higher standard.) With E. Nelson Bridwell taking many of the writing chores of the book, the title often elevated itself above the simple morality plays that the early Super Friends cartoons often were.
Which Earth is this?
This comic "re-adaptaion" led to an interesting phenomenon. While the cartoon could definitely have been said to occur on some other Earth than one that had previously been chronicled in the pages of DC comics, The Super Friends (1976) is absolutely on Earth-1. It's a point that could probably be debated ad nauseum among comic scholars, but the comic doesn't give the "no way it's on Earth-1" people much wiggle room. There's very little in the comic which clearly contradicts Earth-1 continuity. These are stories where the focus is on action, so character studies of the main heroes don't really feature.
More to the point, the main characters reference then-current events in other Earth-1 titles. More than a dozen specific issues of Teen Titans, Justice League of America and Detective comics are noted in editorial boxes liberally sprinkled throughout the first 10 issues alone. Among the "mainstream" DCU concepts or characters referenced, just in the first year of the title's publication: Snapper Carr's youthful antics with the Justice League; the rock group formed by Robin, Speedy and Hornblower; S.T.A.R. Labs; the fact that the main heroes really work out of the JLA satellite and the Hall of Justice is just a "classroom" for Wendy, Marvin, Zan and Jayna; Dick Grayson's matriculation at Hudson University; the full retelling of the origin of the Earth-1 Atom; the Thanagarian nature of Hawkman and Hawkgirl and the real sources of their powers of flight; Red Tornado's then-recent reassembly; Black Canary's involvement in the story, "Crisis in the 30th Century"; and Bruce Wayne's rejection by Silver St. Cloud—just to name a few.
Sure, this is a light continuity book, with more throwaway connections than deep ones, but there's no doubt what the editorial intent is here. The Super Friends are the "real", current versions of our super heroes, not the cartoon's abstract idealizations of them.
But the comic inevitably has the stench of the TV series about it, and the cartoon frequently gave us depictions of our heroes that offended DC comic fans' sensibilities. Superman, in the cartoon, was notably different, gaining powers he had never displayed on any Earth, and yet being frequently impotent against fairly ordinary opposition. There are clearly some readers who will never accept The Super Friends as anything more than "the bastard child of a bastard child".
But we're going to side with writer E. Nelson Bridwell.
His introduction to issue #1 makes clear that these are "our Earth-1 heroes", even if chronicled for a younger audience. You'd be hard-pressed to define how this title is substantively different from the Silver and early Bronze Age titles involving these characters.
Those Damn Kids
One of the more intriguing aspects of this series was its attempt to give some depth to the characters that were often little more than "talking suits" on the Saturday morning cartoon show. In particular, this comic attempted to give some definition to the characters that had been created exclusively for the cartoon. The comic started rather late into Wendy and Marvin's run on the cartoon, so they left within the first year of the run. Nevertheless, they got origins that tied them to people who existed in the Earth-1 DCU, and even a theoretical tie to Earth-2.
The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, benefited enormously from their run here, which began with issue #7. The duo, made famous by their cartoon expression, "Wonder Twin powers, ACTIVATE!", were given an origin, a background, and most importantly, basic competence in their first comic incarnation.
Interestingly, Zan and Jayna appeared alongside Wendy and Marvin for a few issues before the original "teen sidekicks" were finally displaced. The comic thus gives a better reason for Wendy and Marvin's departure than the cartoon. Well, that is to say that it gives a reason. Apparently, Wendy and Marvin completed their super-hero training and naturally left, having nothing more to learn from The Super Friends.
Given the number of times that Marvin, Wendy, and the Wonder Twins actually save the day in the comic book, it's not altogether unfair to say that the title was largely about giving these teen sidekicks some kind of DCU legitimacy.
Number of issues cataloged: 55