This week sees DC Comics' TV superheroes team-up in a four-night crossover event in "Supergirl," "Flash," "Arrow" and "Legends of Tomorrow." The "Flash" poster for the event pays homage to the Hall of Justice, the home base of the Justice League on the classic "Super Friends" TV series that aired for nine seasons between 1973 and 1985, suggesting that this new TV team-up might be a spiritual successor to the long-running cartoon series. Could we even perhaps get some variation of a Justice League? Time will tell.
In the meantime, we can look back at the "Super Friends" and the many superheroes that appeared on the show over its long run and see which ones worked and which ones did not go over quite as well, with a heavy emphasis on how important the various characters were to the story on the show. Here, then, are all of the Super Friends ranked from 20 to 1.
20 Plastic Man
The last spot on the list goes to Plastic Man, mostly because he only appeared in just a single episode. it's also a bit unclear if he is even an actual member of the Justice League! In the season one episode, "Professor Goodfellow's G.E.E.C.," the world is in trouble after a scientist invented a super-computer that seemingly has erased the need for any physical labor any more on Earth. This naturally caused everyone to get lazy.
However, things took a turn for the dangerous when the computer (known as the G.E.E.C.) began malfunctioning. When the Super Friends investigated, they discovered that the problem was a mouse trapped inside the machine! Superman decided to call in Plastic Man, who then carefully uses his elastic power to go into the machine and safely take the mouse out. His appearance totalled less than a minute of screen time. However, later in the decade, Plastic Man received his very own cartoon series, so it all worked out for the best!
19 Green Arrow
Green Arrow also made just a single appearance on the series, but at least he was definitely a member of the Justice League; even referred to as a "staunch member of the Justice League of America." He appeared in the season one episode, ""Gulliver's Gigantic Goof," during which a scientist decided to solve the problem of over-population on Earth by coming up with a shrink ray that would shrink all adults to miniature size. Gulliver, of course, would remain normal-sized to look over the world.
After the rest of the League are shrunken down, Green Arrow is the only member available to deal with the crisis when he is contacted by Marvin and Wendy. However, before he can do so, he is shrunken down, as well, and must fight off "giant" ants. He then travels to Gulliver's hideout (complete with a mini bow and arrow) and helps to free his friends, who then became normal-sized and saved the day.
18 Hawkman & Hawkgirl
One of the problems that has always faced Hawkman and Hawkgirl when placed in a large group of a superheroes is the question of what, exactly, differentiates them from any other flying hero? They can fly, sure, but so can most superheroes, so when flying is their one thing, it's hard to make them stand out (other than their slightly more flamboyant crimefighting gear). In the comics, it has often been that they have highlighted their warrior abilities, along with their variety of weapons (most notably Hawkman's mace). That doesn't fly (no pun intended) on a kid's cartoon series.
At the same time, for whatever reason, the show would repeatedly feature Hawkman and often throw Hawkgirl into the mix, as well. Hawkman was spotlighted prominently in the theme song to "The Challenge of the Super Friends," as he got a solo scene and is shown with the rest of the League in the big group shot in front of the Hall of Justice. But that's the issue -- he is mostly there for show. He barely ever has an actual line. Someone must have just really liked his costume, though, because he and Hawkgirl are mostly decorative characters.
17 Rima The Jungle Girl
Rima the Jungle Girl has one of the oddest heritages of any "Super Friends" character, as she debuted in a Victorian novel, "Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest" by W.H. Hudson, about a girl who was part of a lost tribe within the jungles of South America. DC Comics decided to do a comic book series based on Rima and launched it in 1974. They first adapted the novel and then moved on to new stories starring Rima, now more of a Tarzan-like character than anything else.
A few years later, the "Super Friends" cartoon had an issue regarding there being very little female heroes on the show, so the show decided to add Rima as a recurring character to give them an additional female presence. She is mostly played like a Tarzan-esque character who can talk to animals in the jungle while also being an excellent fighter and an expert tracker.
The size-changing hero known as the Atom actually had a bit of an animated pedigree by the time he debuted on the "Super Friends" as one of the characters who had his own feature in the "Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure" in the late 1960s. The Atom was voiced back then by Pat Harrington, Jr, who would later become famous for something else "super," namely playing the superintendent Schneider on "One Day at a Time."
The Atom mostly appeared in the side stories in the cartoon, where regular members of the League would team-up with hero guest stars. However, he did feature in at least one prominent "Super Friends" episode where he and Wonder Woman traveled through time; the Atom managed to convince George Washington to continue fighting in the Revolutionary War when the General was disillusioned after thinking that Wonder Woman was a British spy. Ultimately, the Atom was the one who saved the day by shrinking down to molecular size and altering the way that the time machine worked.
15 El Dorado
After a while, the cast of "Super Friends" was expanded to add more diverse heroes to the group. The problem was that DC Comics did not exactly have a ton of options to choose from, so Hanna-Barbera just ended up making up a lot of their own new heroes. They often seemed to take the basic power set-up of a DC Comics character and then just applied them to a diverse character. In the case of the Latin American hero, El Dorado, it appears as though Hanna-Barbera basically gave him the same powers as the Martian Manhunter (he could turn invisible, he had telepathy and he could shoot heat blasts from his eyes).
El Dorado typically showed up whenever the Super Friends had a mission in a Latin American country. His speech pattern was particularly embarrassing, however, as he would speak broken English, with Spanish words mixed in here and there, always saying, "Si" instead of "Yes."
14 Marvin, Wendy & Wonder Dog
For the first season of "Super Friends," Hanna-Barbera figured that kids would need someone to identify with on the show (whether this has ever actually been shown to be something that kids wanted in the series remains to be proven), so they introduced Marvin and Wendy, as well as Marvin's pooch, Wonder Dog. Marvin and Wonder Dog were basically right out of "Scooby Doo," with Wonder Dog being an amiable cartoon mutt (although, notably, he did not have the ability to speak). Marvin was a bit of a clumsy dude who walked around with a cape and a giant M on his chest.
Wendy, on the other hand, was the brains of the operation. She was an excellent detective (in the comic books, she was later explained as being related to Batman) and was actually an assistance to the superheroes. The cartoon never explained why the superheroes were hanging out with these teenagers, but in the comics, teenager Snapper Carr was a member of the League, so it isn't too far off from the source material, strange though it may seem.
13 The Wonder Twins & Gleek
When the "Super Friends" came back after four years off the air after being canceled following the first season, Hanna-Barbera decided to drop Wendy and Marvin. However, they were still committed to the idea of the Super Friends having teens to help them, again in the perhaps vain hope that they would self-identify with the younger characters. This time, though, Hanna-Barbera decided to make the characters actual superheroes in their own right.
Zan and Jayna were teen superheroes form the planet Exxor (along with their space monkey, Gleek), who were on Earth to train alongside the Super Friends. Their superpowers would be activated when they touched hands and famously shouted, "Wonder Twin powers, activate!" Zan had the ability to turn into any form of water (he would often shout what form he was taking, like "Form of an ice cube!") while Jayna could transform into any animal (real, fake, whatever) that she knew the name of (she would also shout out the form she was taking, "Form of a hyena!"). The Wonder Twins could at least fight, so they were a step up from Marvin and Wendy, but they were also pretty superfluous, character-wise, though largely well-remembered.
As noted earlier, when the "Super Friends" returned to television in 1977 after being off the air for a few years, Hanna-Barbera made a concerted effort to introduce more diverse heroes as part of the League. One of these heroes was Samurai. Also as noted before, it often seemed like Hanna-Barbera would just take existing power sets for DC superheroes and give them to these new heroes. In the case of Samurai, he had the ability to create giant gusts of wind and form a cyclone that would allow him to fly. This was just like the comic book hero, Red Tornado.
Samurai initially appeared in the back-up features where the various Justice League members would team-up with their lesser known teammates, but eventually he became a regular member of the team and even had some prominent successes. Once, he even used his ability to turn invisible (Samurai's powers sometimes didn't make a lot of sense; neither did his name) to trick the Mirror Master after the villain had defeated the rest of the League.
One of the most prominent members of the actual Justice League of America, Flash surprisingly did not see a whole lot of action on the "Super Friends," despite making appearances on the show throughout the run of the series. His one truly notable appearance in the first few seasons was when he sped the Earth back into orbit after it got dislodged in Season 1. It appeared as though the writers of the series had a bit of a problem with the Flash's powers, as it can be difficult to write fight scenes with a character who can move so much faster than everyone else. Amusingly, the Flash would sometimes be able to fly in the cartoon.
Despite not being all that important of a character in the show, the Flash did regularly appear in the "Challenge of the Super Friends" episodes, but he would rarely speak. His appearance was particularly necessary because he has such a great Rogues Gallery that two of his bad guys -- Captain Cold and Gorilla Grodd -- appeared as members of the Legion of Doom.
10 Apache Chief
Apache Chief was one of the most fascinating characters on the show. He was a pretty awesome character overall, but in an attempt to come up with diverse characters, Hanna-Barbera would often end up pushing racial stereotypes with him rather than fully committing to rich stories. For instance, Apache Chief talked like Tonto and, of course, the guy's name was "Apache Chief," which is its own bit of problematic wonderment.
However, in a lot of ways, Apache Chief managed to get past his stereotypical attributes and stand tall (pun intended that time) as a prominent hero in the series. He appeared throughout the "Challenge of the Super Friends" and was the only one of the newly created heroes to get his own arch-nemesis on the Legion of Doom. Granted, his nemesis, Giganta, was inherited from Wonder Woman, but it was better than the others got, at least. His ability was to grow to large size by reciting the phrase, "Inyuk-chuk" (meaning "Big Man").
9 Black Vulcan
In one rather major way, Black Vulcan should be all the way at the back end of this list. This is because, while the other heroes that Hanna-Barbera added to the "Super Friends" were at least original characters (albeit with power sets likely based on established DC heroes), Black Vulcan was clearly just a knock-off of the then newly-created superhero, Black Lightning. The issue was that DC Comics had cut a deal with Black Lightning's creator, Tony Isabella, that he got a royalty if Black Lightning was adapted into a cartoon character.
So of course, DC did not want to actually pay Isabella out of their cut from the "Super Friends" cartoon series, and Hanna-Barbera did not want to pay extra to use Black Lightning. So instead, Hanna-Barbera just invented Black Vulcan, a substitute for Black Lightning so Isabella got nothing and DC, the ones who would have needed to stop Hanna-Barbera for copyright reasons, just let them do it. That's pretty lame. On the other hand, just based on how he was handled on the series itself, Black Vulcan was the best of the newly-added Hanna-Barbera characters (likely because he was a knock-off of a good character), and he was a valuable part of the team throughout the rest of the series.
8 Green Lantern
Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, made just minor appearances in the first season of "Super Friends," but became a much larger character in the series during the subsequent "Challenge of the Super Friends" season, as Hal's nemesis Sinestro was a prominent member of the Legion of Doom. With a cool villain to fight, Hal was often used in the series, although his ring's powers were often depicted oddly, with his constructs were rarely appearing as fully green.
In one notable episode during the "Challenge of the Super Friends" season, we got to see Hal's origin shown on television for the first time, as Lex Luthor had the bright idea to go back in time and stop the origins of a few members of the Justice League. Thus, we got to see the previous Green Lantern of Sector 2814, Abin Sur, as he gave his ring to Hal. Following the Legion of Doom season, Green Lantern only made sporadic appearances for the rest of the run (and they got less and less frequent as the series went by).
In the last two seasons of "Super Friends," the show was now called "Super Powers" to tie in with the then-popular Kenner line of DC superhero action figures. The shows became a good deal more serious and more intent on telling stories that, if not fully serialized, had a good deal of sequential aspects to the narrative (as opposed to the earlier series, which were mostly all "done-in-one" stories). In the final season of the series, which took on an even darker tone, Cyborg joined the series.
Voiced by Ernie Hudson (Ernie Hudson loves voice-acting -- he was actually turned down to play Winston on the "Real Ghostbusters" cartoon!), Cyborg is introduced when he is responsible for stopping an attack on Earth by Darkseid. Superman knows that Darkseid will want revenge on Cyborg now, so he lets Cyborg provisionally join the League, mostly to keep an eye on him. Thereafter in the show, Cyborg and Firestorm become close friends. Speaking of Firestorm...
Firestorm debuted in the second-to-last season of the "Super Friends," which was called "Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show." By this point, it appeared as though Hanna-Barbera realized that you could do teen characters without having them be a negative towards the overall story, like Marvin, Wendy and the Wonder Twins. Firestorm served that same role, standing in as the brash young hero dealing with suddenly becoming a member of the preeminent superhero group in the world. And it was a blast to watch.
Firestorm was a unique character, as well, which made him intriguing, formed as he was by the merger of a teenager, Ronnie Raymond, and a scientist, Professor Martin Stein. Stein's mind would share Ronnie's body and give him advice). In the final season, Firestorm and Cyborg's friendship became a major part of the series, especially at the start of the season, when Firestorm tries to convince the young Cyborg that he should really use his abilities for good.
In many ways, Robin (voiced by Casey Kasem!) on the "Super Friends" was mostly just one half of a character known as "Batman and Robin," as the two rarely appeared on the series apart from each other. However, since Robin was one of only five heroes to appear on the show throughout the long run of the show (and its many revamps), it is only fair to give him his own prominent spot on this countdown.
Robin did have a few notable stories to himself. In the Season 4 episode, "The Super Friends Meet Frankenstein," an evil scientist steals the powers and abilities of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman and transfers them into a Super-Monster. Robin then must temporarily give himself the same powers to stop the bad guy. In the Season 7 episode, "The Krypton Syndrome," Superman traveled back in time to prevent the destruction of Krypton. When he returned to the present, only Robin is left as the rest of the League was killed by the Legion of Doom, since there was no Superman around to save them. Superman then has to go back to the past to let things go as they originally occurred.
Few characters are quite as associated with the "Super Friends" series as Aquaman. The series has been both a blessing and a curse for the King of the Seas. On the positive side of things, Aquaman was featured throughout the entire series (almost certainly due to the fact that he had already had a cartoon series, "The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure"), which helped to raise his profile dramatically. More famous heroes like Green Lantern and Flash were sent to the sidelines while Aquaman stayed up in front for every season. In addition, during the first run of the show, Aquaman was handled very well.
On the negative side of things, while he remained on the series throughout, his role was reduced significantly compared to Season 1 and seemed to shrink more and more each passing season. In addition, he almost only appeared in water-based plotlines, which led to a whole generation of children making jokes about how all Aquaman does is talk to fish. Unfair, of course, but that's how Aquaman ended up being seen by many viewers, a reputation that beleaguers the leaguer to this day.
As noted earlier, the Dynamic Duo were almost always together in plots on "Super Friends," so it is a bit difficult to separate the two. However, Batman had a much more prominent role than Robin in their scenes together, so he clearly deserves to be higher on the list. Batman had two prominent roles on the "Super Friends" in the first season. He was the guy who solves every problem just when it needed to be to save the day (often through the use of the Bat-Computer), and the guy who delivers the moralistic sermon at the end of each episode (the "villains" in the first season of the "Super Friends" often turned out to be just people who were misguided, not evil). Batman's utility belt played a major role, as well.
When the series took on more of a broader scope in the later seasons, Batman was an odd fit, since his lack of powers made him often unnecessary for the group fight scenes, but he was so popular that he always had to be involved. In the final season, Batman got a spotlight episode that showed the first depiction of his origins outside of comics. Perhaps surprisingly, the famous live action "Batman" series in the 1960s never showed Batman's origin, though that may have been too grim for the campy fun of the show.
The most commonly used character in all of the "Super Friends" episodes was Superman, as he was one of the only heroes who could easily adapt to whatever type of story was being told. He worked in both small and large scale adventures, and his name recognition would always put butts in seats and eyes on screens. However, the show ran into the same problem that comic book writers had been running into for as long as Superman has been in team books -- how do you come up with stories where Superman just doesn't do everything himself? The "Super Friends" solution was a common one in the comics, as well: Kryptonite! Lots and lots of Kryptonite!
While Lex Luthor was the driving force of the Legion of Doom in the "Challenge of the Super Friends" season of the show, Superman's other foes also served as major villains in the series in the later years, from Brainiac to Bizarro to Mr. Mxyzptlk. Superman was the backbone of the "Super Friends" narrative, and not just because his name was in the title.
1 Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was not just a major part of the "Super Friends" series, but it was almost certainly the success of her live action television show that led to the "Super Friends" getting a reprieve after being canceled in 1973. The show returned to the air in 1977, a year after Lynda Carter's "Wonder Woman" series began its regular run (following a series of special one-shot episodes in 1975 and early 1976).
Wonder Woman was also a huge part of the only serialized plot on the series, which was Darkseid's obsession with her in the final two seasons. However, Wonder Woman was far from a damsel-in-distress, as she gave just as good as she got when it came to battles. In addition, her invisible jet became an iconic part of the "Super Friends" series, as did her lasso of truth.
Unlike Batman, Superman, Robin and even Aquaman, Wonder Woman had never had her own cartoon series (and had only had one animated appearance before "Super Friends" on an episode of "The Brady Kids," of all places). Thus, she is tied to the "Super Friends" in ways that only Aquaman can echo, and Wonder Woman came off better than he did on "Super Friends." That alone is enough to put her in the top spot.
Which Super Friend do you think should be #1? Let us know in the comments section!