During reruns of the original Super Friends episodes, the Caped Crusader returned to CBS with the launch of Filmation’s The New Adventures of Batman in February 1977. Serving as a direct sequel to the earlier Filmation series, The New Adventures of Batman retained the majority of the character designs from its predecessor but, with Olan Soule and Casey Kasem under contract to Hanna-Barbera, the task of voicing the Dynamic Duo fell to the very two actors who had spent the best part of a decade living in the shadows of their costumed counterparts. Although Burt Ward had earlier reprised the role of the Boy Wonder for a public service announcement in 1972, The New Adventures of Batman marked Adam West’s first return as the Caped Crusader. The pair were joined in the cast by Melendy Britt (The Lawyer, 1970) as Batgirl and Catwoman, along with Filmation co-founder Lou Scheimer as Bat-Mite – the magical side-kick who made his first appearance in the comic book story Batman Meets Bat-Mite by Bill Finger, published in Detective Comics #267 (May 1959) – while Lennie Weinrib (H.R. Pufnstuf, 1969-1970) voiced Commissioner Gordon and the various villains of the Rogues Gallery. Filmation produced sixteen episodes in total and they were repackaged several times, receiving subsequent airings as part of The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour (1977-1978), Tarzan and the Super 7 (1978-1980) and Batman and the Super 7 (1980-1981). In 2007, Warner Home Video released The New Batman Adventures on DVD under their ‘DC Comics Classic Collection’ banner.
With The All-New Super Friends Hour continuing to deliver strong ratings for ABC, the show would undergo a dramatic revamp for its third season, splitting into two distinct half-hour segments under the new title Challenge of the Super Friends. The first segment continued in the same vein as the previous season, while the second section took a more serious approach, dropping comic relief characters such as the Wonder Twins and introducing a new criminal collective known as the Legion of Doom, led by Lex Luthor and consisting of the DC supervillains Bizarro, Black Manta, Brainiac, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Giganta, Gorilla Grodd, the Riddler, the Scarecrow, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy and the Toyman. To combat this threat, the original Super Friends roster was also expanded to include the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman, along with the newly-created heroes Black Vulcan, Apache Chief and Samurai, each of whom were designed to increase the ethnic diversity of the team. Consisting of sixteen hour-long episodes, Challenge of the Super Friends ran from September 9th, 1978 until September 15th, 1979, during which time Hanna Barbera also produced the two-part live-action NBC special Legends of the Superheroes, which featured the on-screen return of Adam West and Burt Ward.
Super Friends underwent yet another change of moniker to The World’s Greatest Superfriends for the 1979/1980 season, with Hanna-Barbera reverting to the roster of The All-New Super Friends Hour for eight new hour-long episodes, which were broadcast alongside reruns of earlier installments. For the next two years, Hanna-Barbera ceased production of new episodes in favour of seven minute shorts, three of which were broadcast each week alongside a half-hour rerun under the original title of Super Friends. Forty-two shorts were broadcast before Super Friends entered weekday syndication across the United States in 1983, with ABC then making the decision to pull the series from its Saturday morning schedule for the 1983/1984 season. During this time, an additional twenty-four shorts were created and sold to international markets; referred to as ‘the lost episodes’, three of these would be broadcast in the U.S. in 1984 and the rest eventually received an airing on the USA Network in 1995.
Despite the cancellation of Super Friends, the syndicated episodes continued to prove popular and in 1984 Kenner Products launched a highly successful ‘Super Powers Collection’ toy line, leading to a flood of merchandising and promotional tie-ins. As part of the ‘Super Powers’ push, Hanna-Barbera produced eight new 30-minute episodes of Super Friends, with the show returning to ABC’s Saturday morning programming block for the 1984/1985 season under the title of Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. This revival saw Olan Soule vacate the role of the Caped Crusader in favour of ABC’s original Batman Adam West, while the series also marked the animated debut of its primary antagonist, the god-like tyrant Darkseid. West continued to voice the character for what ultimately proved to be the final season of Super Friends, with ABC calling time on the series after just eight installments of the latest incarnation, The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians.
Among the tales produced by Hanna-Barbera for the final run of Super Friends was an episode entitled The Fear, which had initially been intended as a pilot for a new animated Batman series. Considerably darker in tone than the majority of the Super Friends episodes, The Fear was particularly notable for detailing Batman’s origins for the very first time outside of the comic book and was written by Alan Burnett (Challenge of the GoBots, 1984-1985), an up-and-coming writer-producer who would come to play an increasingly important role in the animated adventures of the Caped Crusader in the years to come. These final run of episodes also included the first and only appearance of the Penguin, along with Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker, who had originally been intended as a member of the Legion of Doom, only for Hanna-Barbera to encounter rights issues with competitors Filmation over the inclusion of the character.
Having been a regular fixture of the Saturday morning television schedule for the best part of twelve years, Super Friends came to an end with the broadcast of The Death of Superman on November 6th, 1985. With a lack of new material forthcoming, the syndicated broadcasts of Super Friends continued to attract decent viewing figures but it was almost seven years before the Caped Crusader returned for more cartoon exploits, with Warner Bros. producing a new series that would revolutionise children’s animation and go on to earn a reputation as one of the greatest superhero adaptations ever to grace the screen – Batman: The Animated Series.
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.