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Super Friends, Trans-Thematic Media Branding, and the 1970s/80s Team-Based Superhero

by Ethan Tussey

by Ian Peters for IN MEDIA RESIn the Fall of 1973, Hanna-Barberas classic superhero team-up series Super Friends began a 9-season run on television that defined the genre for a generation of children. Revised regularly after a three-year hiatus when the first series' first incarnation was cancelled, the series featured lighthearted stories that emphasized the importance of team work in overcoming any obstacle. Despite emerging during an era where audiences were dealing with similarly difficult real-world events (like Watergate), these positive role-models aimed at children are a stark contrast to many of the angst-ridden heroes featured in the TV, film, and comics of later years. Superheroes of every era share the same basic concepts of good and evil/light and dark, but the Super Friends are some of the best examples of where there was no gray. These heroes were well-adjusted and past tragedies didnt matter. Instead, children were able to dream about one day becoming their favorite hero and embarking on their own similarly vanilla adventures.
The importance of viewer-identification with these heroes was emphasized in the program's early years with the inclusion of the three Junior Super Friends Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog. These youthful sidekicks let children imagine that they could solve crimes with the Super Friends at any age. Furthermore, these characters were thematically, aesthetically, and vocally similar to characters in Scooby-Doo, Hanna-Barberas well known team-based detective series. With veteran Scooby actor Frank Weller (Freddie) voicing Marvin and the Scooby-Doo-esque Wonder Dog, these heroes served as thematic extensions of other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Jonathan Gray argues in Show Sold Separately that the box-office dominating Marvel and DC films of the contemporary era have trained audiences to expect infinite reboots and alternate universes while simultaneously restricting the possibility of continuous transmedia narratives (214). While Super Friends did have several tie-ins during its original run, including a DC-produced comic, the cartoon is effectively an earlier TV-based incarnation of this later trend (barring the occasional reference in DC-related media in the years since). However, it can also be seen as a brief thematic brand extension of Hanna-Barbera, where familiar character types and positive values like team work, community service, and friendship were incorporated into the DC universe on TV and in comics. Industrially collaborative hybrid creations such as this encourage scholars to not only consider how trans-thematic media branding impacts notions of franchise canon, but also how that thematic blending imacts audience interpretion of the media text.

Saturday Morning Cartoons and Super Friends

A clip from Super Friends

from Super Friends (1973)
Creator: Hanna-Barbera
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey