Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
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Box Art - 4: The look of the show grows up and so does the look of the DVD artwork. Though the art used for the heroes on the cover and back cover doesn't have that chiseled look designed by Jose Garcia Lopez and used as the models for this season's characters, the art is evocative of what's to come a decade or so later with "Justice League".
Somewhat surprisingly, the "Super Powers" logo differs from the now-classic logo from the 1980s - though it's possible DC's legal relationship with Kenner (who made the Super Powers line of action figures) may limit their ability to use that logo.
Original Super Friend Aquaman gets short-shrift on the close-up head shots on the cover. But even more surprising: the two real stars of this show - Firestorm and Cyborg - aren't included (though Cyborg does show up on the rear cover alongside the original Super Friends lineup).
Disc Presentation - 4: Two discs with villains getting the spotlight. Disc one has a picture of Darkseid. Disc 2 features Kalibak, scary robot Brainiac, and the Joker.
Content - 5: This is the final incarnation of the Super Friends but the Super Friends moniker is nowhere to be seen. Most of the voices are the same - most notably to Superman fans the late voice actor Danny Dark once again provides the Man of Steel's pipes. Adam West returns for the second year as Batman. Firestorm's still with the team. And there's a new Super Friend, er, Super Powers teammate - Cyborg, a character associated primarily with the Teen Titans in the comic books, voiced by "Ghostbusters" co-star Ernie Hudson.
As mentioned above, the look of the show changed drastically with this final year. Finally, the characters looked the same as they did in comic books of the same period. Comic book artist Jose Luis Garcia Lopez designed updated looks for the characters replacing the Super Friends designs of artist Alex Toth.
But so much more than the show's look changed with this last year. The stories continued to grow up as they had begun to do with the previous year's incarnation "Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show". Again, the stories were starting to look more like the stories in early 1980s comic books.
For instance, there's "The Death of Superman", an episode based on an imaginary story from the Silver Age but which has Earth's mourners sporting black armbands with red "S" logos - just like the ones contained in the bagged copies of "Superman #75", in which Doomsday killed Superman. The Super Powers Team episode came seven years before DC killed the Man of Steel!
Then there's "The Fear" where Batman's origin is tackled in an animated cartoon for the very first time. As was done so eloquently years later in "BTAS" episode "Robin's Reckoning", the storytellers and animators use cut-aways and reaction shots to keep the death of the Waynes within mid-1980s broadcast standards and practices. Young Bruce cries out "He's got a...", then there's a cut-away to a bolt of lightning and roar of thunder to symbolize the moment the Waynes are shot. Without showing any violence, any death, and not one gun, the origin is even more effective as it keeps the focus on young Bruce's reactions. It's masterful plotting and storyboarding and a sign of things to come from comic book creator Alan Burnett who cut his DCU teeth on these final Super Friends shows.
It isn't even just drama and violence that's brought into this mature Super Friends - it's comedy and not the hokey kind perpetrated by the likes of Wendy, Marvin, Zan, and Jayna (and Wonder Dog and Gleek). There's a great story with Bizarro Superman and Mr. Mxyzptlk training a newly created Bizarro Super Powers Team of Bizarro Cyborg, Bizarro Firestorm, and Bizarro Wonder Woman (with tennis balls for earrings). There's what looks to be a serious adventure beginning with Felix Faust in prison using magic to steal Superman's powers - but things go horribly awry and comedic when Faust's cell mate steals Superman's powers: the Penguin!
This is also the season that includes the one and only appearance in the Super Friends franchise of The Joker in episode "The Wild Cards" which, naturally, involves the Royal Flush Gang too.
All in all, I highly recommend this DVD set to fans of the type of adventures DC Comics was publishing in the early to mid-1980s. Even those who never followed the Super Friends in any of their previous incarnations because they thought it was just too silly an interpretation of the DCU should find something to enjoy here.
Special Features - 4: Other than a few trailers, there's a short featurette called "Super Friends Redux: Galactic Guardians Retrospective Featurette". The featurette includes interviews with DC personnel as well as some of the creators of the show. Nothing against Mark Waid but it is time to dig out somebody else to be interviewed for these featurettes - he shows up on many of the Super Friends ones and the feature for New Adventures of Superman to name a handful. As an alternative, artist Alex Ross - known to be a Super Friends fanatic himself - would have been a great person to include here to get his views on the updated character designs.
What's also missing from the featurette is a discussion of the factors that resulted in this being the last year of the Super Friends - now Super Powers, a decision explained in the featurette. You're talking about a show that existed in one form or another continuously from 1973 through 1986. That's quite a legacy. Given the huge change in the look of the show and the feel of the stories, and given the unanimous feelings of those interviewed for the featurette (including Paul Levitz, Dan Didio, and Waid) that this was a huge step in the direction of "Batman: The Animated Series", it begs the question why they only did eight half-hour episodes and never continued the new look past one season.
Video & Sound - 5: These shows aired on ABC originally in 1985 and 1986. For animation slightly older than 20 years, it looks and sounds pretty good. However, I include the same caveat here that I always do - I'm no videophile or audiophile and my TV's not high-def so take my opinion on look and sound as just one layperson's take.