Every now and then a DVD comes along that delivers a complete surprise. Though many of us had fond memories of Super Friends, wading through Warner Brothers' releases on DVD had been a case of "oh, yeah, probably should have just stuck with the memory."
Even watching episodes with the Legion of Doom brought more eye rolling than excitement. That was the last update of the series that I remembered, having not so much grown up as learned in college to sleep in on Saturdays, especially since superhero shows had by then only brought disappointment.
Sure, the Super Powers line of toys came out and had us checking out Toys R Us stores on an almost daily basis, but somehow it escaped notice that Hanna-Barbera totally revamped the Super Friends. In fact, they changed the name to match the toy line, but they did a lot more than that. They made a short-lived but incredibly groundbreaking animated series. And it's …good.
The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians still has its goofy moments. As terrifying as Darkseid is meant to be, he still gets noticeably giddy around Wonder Woman. Don't think that Amazon vixen doesn't use that to her advantage, especially since she got a redesign between series.
To match the times, Hanna-Barbera went from modeling after Alex Toth's work to that of Jose Garcia-Lopez, DC's signature artist in the 80s. Not only are the heroes more muscular, their designs have become more complex. Despite the still limited animation style, Garcia-Lopez's look plays more dynamically, especially with Batman.
In the previous series, Hanna-Barbera landed Adam West to voice the Dark Knight once more, but in this disc, West really gets to play him as the Dark Knight. Thanks to an episode entitled "The Fear," we see Batman's violent origin portrayed for the very first time in any medium outside of comics.
Almost everyone involved marvels that they also did this in a time when guns were forbidden on Saturday morning television. It's clever and harkens back to a time when suggestion could carry a narrative; even though you never see the gun, you know exactly what happened. It also allows for West to turn a lot more dramatic than he ever got to in the live-action Batman or in his earlier animated turns.
Here's another surprise: the series ends with an episode titled "The Death of Superman." Though loosely adapting a sixties "Imaginary Story," the writers come up with a solution very similar to the one DC used years later for their Death of Superman.
This feels like a lost part of animation history. Maybe it was just too dark while still being restricted by standards and practices. In the included interview segment, nobody really touches on why it failed, though series writer Alan Burnett does make it clear that it paved the way for his later Batman: The Animated Series.
Instead, they focus on all the firsts, including the first television appearance of Cyborg. Heck, even his origin gets covered, minus the Teen Titans, in a pretty satisfying way. The way this show portrays him, it's also pretty obvious why he's such a fan favorite. (And now I feel like he's usually mishandled in comics.)
So don't write off The Super Powers Team. It's a rare treat to find the missing link - then to find that it's pretty entertaining.
The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (DC Comics Classic Collection)