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The First Season
Running Time: 347 Minutes
Studio: Warner Bros.
Retail Price: $29.98
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Mono, Spanish Dolby Mono, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Episode Selection, Two-Disc Set
Released: July 13th, 2004
Yet another cartoon series that was slightly before my time, "Challenge Of The Super Friends" still is a popular mainstay with comic book fans and generation-xers. A pretty sizable hit since it originally aired, the show has only grown to be bigger over time (it used to be in heavy rotation on Cartoon Network for one thing, exposing it to a new generation of youngsters). The series, which is no mere cultural artifact, has worked its way to become a 1970s pop culture highlight that aficionados still love to constantly talk about. There are plenty who oogle about it. There are plenty who constantly reference it and deem it a source of inspiration. So if you were a young male lad growing up in the late 1970s, chances are you were big on seeing all your favorite heroes battle out the evildoers you love to hate.
I suppose that concept is why the show appealed to so many in the first place. It wasn't just a single superhero franchise, it was what fans dreamed of: a giant crossover galore from the DC universe - it's as if the unthinkable and ultimate teams were assembled, and would do battles comic book style. Each and every week, the likes of Superman, Wonderwoman, Batman, Aquaman and a host of others would meet at the Hall Of Justice and take on members of the Legion Of Doom. All the drama, all the action - all the stuff boys usually love to death. I suppose if you love action, adventure and namely comics,
With that said, I definitely see why so many love the Super Friends and why they're obsessed with the show, but here's my personal bias: I was never much of a comic book fan (and I'm still not really one). Sure I like superheroes and have enjoyed other superhero cartoons (not to mention some superhero/comic flicks), but given that I am not much on the lore in the first place probably automatically diminishes my embrace for the Super Friends. The appeal - even the possible excitement of me as a little boy - is there, and while I can relate to why so many feel for this show I just can't relate to this particular series. I'm sure some of the true, undying love in the enjoyment of the series rests in all the memories and warm nostalgic glow of waking up on Saturday to watch it, and how it does capture that inner child, and probably for a lot it comes with not only growing up with the series and that pop culture mark, but also in enjoying the comics too - either before, during and/or after (but most likely before - familiarity can engross us).
As far as a series, it's decent enough and has its own personality that makes it stand out. The storylines are fine and enjoyable for a show like this, and the wide cast of characters definitely makes for a lot of variety when it comes to plots. I'm sure there are some characters you like better than others, but at least all the characters are featured somewhere during this first season. For a late 1970s show, the animation is just as nice as you'd expect - pretty detailed and fluid, with nice character designs. Thankfully, the voice acting doesn't slouch either - the voices fit the heroes and villains quite well, and is overall strong (though I will say some of the dialogue is quite painful to listen to, corny lines or one thing but when there's an emphasis on very positive and warm feelings... echhhkinda).
But does my say even matter? Probably not - millions love this show for one reason or another, and nobody's opinion is certainly wrong. Hate me for not loving the show if you must, but like I said in my review of the animated Spider-Man series from the 1960s, I think nostalgia plays a part to at least some extent. Nonetheless, I welcome the first season of "Challenge Of The Super Friends" on DVD - and it's something I'm sure that'll make a ton of fans happy. All sixteen episodes from the season are included (though certain bonus segments that appeared during episodes are not), so once again, prepare for - and enjoy - yet another happy TV time warp DVD fans.
All sixteen episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full screen - just as they were broadcasted on TV. Overall, the transfers look okay but are nothing outstanding - the age of the series definitely shows. The transfers for the most part are a bit grainy and soft, have noise and also feature quite a few distractions on the source prints: dirt specks, blemishes and scratches among other little inconsistencies (all these little elements pop up quite often). Other than that, detail is good for what it is and color saturation comes out okay as well - there's nothing especially vibrant or amazing about the hues here so nothing really stands out, but the colors are easy to make out and don't bleed. Personally, I think a slightly better job could have been done on these transfers.
Nothing but mono here (in English and Spanish), but that's not a bad thing. Fidelity is pretty decent, and of course, sound dynamics are painfully limited. In a nutshell, these tracks sound incredibly flat and don't have anything to really perk them up. This is how they aired so that's one thing, and I'm not sure how good remixing these tracks would have done (besides, I'm sure a lot of purists savor the original mono). But in comparing these mono tracks to other superhero cartoon shows on DVD today - especially more recent ones (which do benefit from mainly being rooted in more recent audio technology) - these don't really stand much of a chance. Still, for mono tracks these are as good as you can hope: there is no distortion, the voice acting is easy to hear, the various music sounds fine and all the sound effects - particularly the action between the Super Friends and Legion Of Doom - come in just fine. English closed captions are included for the episodes through your television, and subtitle streams in English, French and Spanish are included as well.
The set features two Audio Commentaries with Comic Book Writers Geoff Johns and Mark Waid (one for the first episode and one for the last) - both of who currently write for DC Comics. Even though I'm not big on the show, these guys have a clear unsung passion for it (why not? they grew up with it and write superhero stories for a living). Their enthusiasm is certainly great and lively; the two remain chatty during the tracks and offer quite a few tidbits on the series itself (even getting technical by commenting on rights issues, which would make it pretty impossible to do another "Super Friends" series), comment on the storylines and even have a few droll comments concerning the episodes that are quite amusing. These are definitely fanboy tracks, and I certainly liked the approach Warner took in having these guys record commentaries. Like the best of fanboys, they really love what they're watching but also end up coming across quite knowledgeable. Hopefully Warner will bring back Mr. Waid and Mr. Johns for future seasons, and perhaps other animated superhero series they plan to release on DVD.
Saturday, Sleeping Bags & Super Friends: A Retrospective is a featurette pumped with nostalgia that runs for about thirteen-and-a-half minutes. With clips from the series and sketches, this retrospective has a strong roster of interviewees: "Justice League" producer James Tucker, legendary writer Paul Dini, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, DC Comics editor Dan Didio and renowned artist Alex Ross. Everyone here loves the series (obviously), and basically everyone gets his say on what the series was about, the climate in animation when it aired and what they love best about it: the Hall Of Justice! The villains! The heroes! Let the nostalgia run rampant and the hero love - this is a nice, compact tribute to the series.
There are Character Bios divided in two sections: "Hall of Justice" and "Legion of Doom" (guess which characters each section features). The bios are nice - there's a still on screen with the respective character, some information and then a voice-over revealing additional information. Also, each character gets their own clip reel which you can choose to view - very nice.
Rounding the set off are some previews for other animated TV sets available from Warner, and inside each set, is a free ticket to the Halle Berry disaster "Catwoman" (good through August 2004). Might as well promote other DC characters while they're at it, right?
After releasing some "best-of" DVDs of the series in the past, Warner has now gotten "Super Friends" on DVD right - and if you were obsessed with this show then, then you probably still love it now and will want to own this set. Kudos to Warner for providing a few extras on the set, as well as giving the episodes strong presentations. The retail price for this set is more than fair too, making this a solid buy for fans of the show.