How I Would Have Done It: Super Powers by Jerry Whitworth
One of the most notable toylines of the 1980s, Kenner’s Super Powers featured action figures, vehicles, and a playset modeled after DC Comics properties. The Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon was resurrected to bring the show to television as Jack Kirby (who was involved in the toyline’s development) contributed to several comic book adaptations. Both the toys and cartoon were modeled closely after the work of José Luis García-López who provided style guide art for DC beginning in 1982 (which was the standard look to be followed in the comics and was employed directly on licensed merchandise). That style guide art would be used heavily as part of a multi-faceted campaign by DC to put Super Powers on seemingly everything (party supplies, arts/crafts, puzzles/games, coloring/story/audio books, and Funpals® underwear to note a fraction of the coverage). Essentially, the Super Powers Collection by-and-large introduced children to DC Comics in the 1980s leaving a lasting legacy to today. 2014 marked the thirtieth anniversary of Super Powers and in the years since, many products have been produced to mark the occasion. From the final wave of Mattel’s DC Universe Classics (which frequently paid homage to Super Powers over its run) to Figures Toy Company’s Mego-inspired World’s Greatest Heroes! to Kotobukiya ArtFX + statues to Gentle Giant’s Jumbo and Micro recreation figures, the last few years have seen a great deal of Super Powers. In 2016, two separate and unrelated Super Powers comics would also emerge.
Announced at San Diego Comic-Con, Tom Scioli of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe fame was producing a Super Powers comic based on the style of Jack Kirby for DC’s mature imprint Young Animal. While stated it would be a back-up series in the comic Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, it wouldn’t be until the book’s release that readers learned this back-up would generally only be two pages in length as part of a book costing $3.99 (in other words, for those buying the title for the back-up, it cost roughly $2 a page). Less than a month after Scioli’s series was announced, another Super Powers comic was revealed to be in development by Art Baltazar and Franco for the all ages market. However, when this title emerged, it was merely a continuation of the universe the pair concocted across Tiny Titans, DC Super-Pets!, and Superman Family Adventures. Simply put, there was one series at least modeled after the original series of comics only two pages in length and another series with virtually no relation whatsoever. No true Super Powers-based comic emerged, just the appearance of one (though, it would appear the original three mini-series will be reprinted this coming August). Lets take a look how this could have been approached differently.
When Super Friends emerged, a comic book based upon the series materialized as writer E. Nelson Bridwell tried to link everything together to the present Earth-1 continuity. However, as time marched on, this became less applicable and fans informally attributed the series to Earth-1A. Where Super Friends would return to television as part of the Super Powers campaign, the Super Powers comic departed in various ways from the cartoon likely due to the nature of the relationship with Kenner. Employing Jack Kirby in development and hiring artists from the comics in various ways, Kenner seemed to have a working relationship at the publishing end while Hanna-Barbera wouldn’t learn what toys were planned until their actual release (creating at least a disparity in the product by a year). Due to these circumstances, virtually all of the line’s action figures saw their characters appear in the comics but were a year behind on the show which saw different interpretations of the characters (such as Samurai and Golden Pharaoh getting their powers from a New God scientist to aid on Apokolips and Darkseid becoming the Son of Vulcan-inspired Janus, Son of Jupiter in the comics while Darkseid tried to woo Wonder Woman to become his bride in the cartoon). With three comic series to three toyline waves to two television seasons, the water is muddied of any so-called Earth-1A continuity. So, certainly, some revisions would need to be made if any new Super Powers comic came along trying to employ elements of the show and book.
In order to address any differences in the cartoon and comic for a new series, some event could emerge in the first story arc of a new comic which covers the history of the Justice League of America relating essentially a new Earth-1A’s continuity to readers as well as patching up conflicts. Likely Captain Marvel would be a good candidate as a focal character given the last two seasons of Super Friends each focused on a new young hero (first Firestorm and then Cyborg) and Marvel had only just joined the team in the comic when it ended (although, a case could be made the Legends of the Superheroes specials were in Super Friends canon). Such could perhaps even resurrect an old pitch Hanna-Barbera had in the 1970s when they believed they could add Marvel to Super Friends as it appeared Filmation lost the rights to adapt the character (only to instead regain those rights). In said pitch, Marvel had just joined the Super Friends leading his nemesis Dr. Sivana to form an anti-Justice League group called the League of Evil (the group would become instead the Legion of Doom when the plans for Marvel fell through). The initial arc could also re-establish Darkseid’s presence in the series, perhaps even introducing some new New Gods in his employ such as Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, or the Female Furies (maybe even Intergang).
As noted, in the comics, virtually every action figure found their character to appear. Moving forward, perhaps what is known today regarding what was planned for the toyline could be a guide for story developments. For a proposed fourth wave of Super Powers, prototypes were developed for the characters Man-Bat, Quadrex, Shockwave, Silicon, and Rocketman meaning it would have been likely to see them emerge in the comic (and cartoon a year afterward). Other characters considered for the line’s future (that hadn’t yet appeared in the cartoon or comic) were Atomic Knight, Black Racer, Blue Devil, Creeper, Deathstroke, Executioner, Howitzer, John Stewart, Kid Flash, Manhunter, Metallo, Obsidian, Reverse Flash, and the Vigilante. Also of note, for a time Kenner pitched to produce a Teen Titans line of toys and Hanna-Barbera pitched an animated series based on the group that only went as far as a sixty-second anti-drug PSA commercial. With both Robin and Cyborg for Super Powers (and perhaps Kid Flash had the line continued), a Teen Titans angle easily could be incorporated into a proposed comic (perhaps in place of the Junior Super Friends which featured Wendy, Marvin, Wonder Twins, and their pets). In a manner of speaking, some element of the Super Friends continues on today. In the comic Scooby-Doo Team-Up, a version of the Justice League in the vein of Super Friends is present which could very well mean the comic takes place on some modern day version of Earth-1A. What brings this full circle is that to a degree, Super Friends started out from a somewhat pilot of Batman and Robin appearing in the series The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Considering the somewhat imprint Hanna-Barbera has today under DC Comics in series like Future Quest, a Super Powers extension could fit right in (as a DC Comics/Hanna-Barbera crossover in in the works for March).