BHOC: SUPER FRIENDS #9

On Saturday mornings, SUPER FRIENDS had started producing new episodes for the first time in several years. The original 1973 run had produced 16 hour-long episodes, and were an outgrowth of a pilot program developed, in all places, in episodes of the BRADY KIDS animated series. After new more stringent legislation had been passed ostensibly to clean up the overly violent children’s programming times, super heroes had largely disappeared from Saturday mornings. SUPER FRIENDS was an attempt to reverse that trend, and it did so by putting the assembled Justice league heroes up against ecological menaces and misguided scientists and similar situations–nobody ever threw a punch in SUPER FRIENDS. Additionally, a pair of kids, Wendy and Marvin, were added to the cast as viewer identification fodder, along with their comedy relief pet Wonder Dog.

The show was extremely popular, and while no new episodes had been made in several years, it continued to air in reruns, and ultimately inspired the launch of a SUPER FRIENDS tie-in comic book. But now, the show had come back (under the title THE ALL NEW SUPER FRIENDS), albeit with some changes; Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog were out, replaced by alien kids Zan, Jayna and their space-monkey, Gleek. Additionally, the stories became less social-problem-oriented and more straightforward super hero adventure (albeit still with a reluctance to have any hero use his or her powers directly on another person.) These changes needed to be explained somewhere–the show didn’t bother–and so comic book writer and continuity maven E. Nelson Bridwell took up the challenge in the pages of the SUPER FRIENDS comic book.

Bridwell actually began his three-part storyline before the new animated series debuted, unveiling Zan and Jayna to the world. They’d come to the Justice League to warn of a plan by Superman’s old enemy Grax to destroy the world with a series of powerful bombs. The assorted American Super Friends would have to team up with local heroes all around the world in order to defuse these bombs and save the Earth. In the course of this story, Bridwell introduced a number of brand new international heroes who would go on to become known as the Global Guardians.

As with the previous two issues, the story follows a proscribed structure: with most of the main Super Friends along with Zan and Jayna watching from the Hall of Justice, a Leaguer teams up with a new hero and together they work to overcome the particular menace surrounding the Grax bomb in that area. It’s a very Gardner Fox-style plot, actually. This third installment opens up with Green Arrow in Australia partnering with the enlarging Tasmanian Devil, followed by Aquaman pairing up with Denmark’s Little Mermaid.

Everything is going along great for the Super Friends–there’s just one bomb left. In Europe, Wonder Woman is joined in her search for it by the Olympian, who possesses all of the powers and skills of Jason and the Argonauts (and who wears the original Golden Fleece as a cape and cowl!) They locate what they think is the location of the bomb, but it turns out instead to be the secret fortress of an otherwise-uninvolved super-criminal, Colonel Conquest. They overcome Conquest easily–but the location of the final bomb is still a mystery, and time is running out!

Realizing that they have overlooked Antarctica, the Super Friends locate the final bomb in an area of extreme cold–and it’s set to go off if the temperature around it rises by even one degree. A frosty hero is called for, and so the team contacts the Norwegian heroine Icemaiden for the job. Icemaiden was one of the most successful heroes introduced by Bridwell in this tale–she’d go on to a long career in the Justice League books under the more truncated code-name Ice. And just so that they can get some action in themselves, the Super friends accompany Icemaiden to Antarctica to hold off a bunch of monsters that Grax has protecting his final explosive.

As this is all playing out, Grax himself breaks into the now-undefended Hall of Justice, intent upon revenge on Zan and Jayna for foiling his plans. This gives the teens from Exor a chance to display their own powers–Zan can transform himself into any form of water, while Jayna can become a bevy of different animals. But they are untrained, and no match for Grax, who bests them quickly. Spurred into action, Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog jump Grax, handing this intergalactic menace who has stood toe-to-toe with Superman perhaps his most humiliating defeat–they beat him senseless.

The Super Friends return for the wrap-up, surprised at how the kids were able to defeat Grax. They declare that Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog have graduated, that they are now ready to become heroes in their own right. At the same time,. Zan, Jayna and Gleek clearly need training in how to best use their own super-powers, so they’ll replace the three kids as the Super Friends’ proteges.

As was his wont, Bridwell explained the thinking behind the changes, both to the animated series and in the comic book, on the issue’s letters page. And while he had to be circumspect in what he said and how he said it, Bridwell’s opinions come across loud and clear. While they lacked the bombastic promotional style of a Stan Lee, I found that Bridwell’s text features tended to be among the warmest and most illuminating within the DC publications–a byproduct, no doubt, of the fact that, before he’d broken in professionally, Bridwell was himself a comic book fan, and so understood the psychology of the readers he was writing for.

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