7. SUPER FRIENDS
As noted, Filmation acquired the license to produce DC Comics-based cartoons beginning with 1966’s Superman. That license would expand to include Superboy, Aquaman, Teen Titans, Justice League of America (with Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, and Hawkman solo shorts), and Batman (as a pilot for Metamorpho was produced, pilots for Plastic Man and Wonder Woman were being developed, and properties like Blackhawks, Doom Patrol, and Metal Men were being explored). The while, Hanna-Barbera was producing a number of hit series, some of which were within the wheelhouse of what a lot of DC Comics wanted out of their cartoons (Space Ghost, Birdman, Herculoids, Shazzan, Fantastic Four, Mightor, and Young Samson for example). In 1972, DC would gauge interest in a partnership with HB by having Batman and Robin appear in the second episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, the latest series from HB’s hit Scooby-Doo franchise. The success of this arrangement saw the development of 1973’s Super Friends featuring the Justice League of America in Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman who had developed audiences from the Filmation series (joined by Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog to capitalize on the continued popularity of Scooby-Doo). Featuring guest-stars in the Flash, Plastic Man, and Green Arrow, the show would be canceled after one season.
As the Wonder Woman television series became a huge hit, there was renewed interest to resurrect Super Friends. This time called The All-New Super Friends Hour, Wendy and Marvin were dropped in favor of the Wonder Twins and their space monkey Gleek (reminiscent of Space Ghost) and would prove to be a huge hit for ABC. Guest-starring the likes of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Atom, the characters would actually combat villains from the comics in Black Manta (called simply “Manta”) and Gentleman Ghost (referred instead as “Gentleman Jim Craddock”). Changing formats from an educational series with action elements, the franchise was re-branded the following season as Challenge of the Super Friends. Therein, the Justice League of America would expand taking the usual Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman and add several of the heroes from the previous season in the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Black Vulcan (likely inspired by Black Lightning), Apache Chief, and Samurai in order to combat the Legion of Doom. Originally titled Battle of the Superheroes, the show was going to introduce Captain Marvel (who had developed a following from Filmation’s live action series Shazam!) to the Super Friends as his nemesis Doctor Sivana formed the League of Evil in response. However, Filmation maintained the rights (which lead to the series The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!) as well as produced The New Adventures of Batman creating a quagmire over character rights leading to HB only using Scarecrow and the Riddler (as the rights to Plastic Man were tied up with Ruby-Spears Productions in The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show). The series proved to be another hit actually receiving a live action version the next year on NBC in Legends of the Superheroes with Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin reprising their Batman characters.
After Challenge of the Super Friends, the brand would take a step back a little more in line with All-New Super Friends Hour in The World’s Greatest Super Friends. Returning to the original five Super Friends joined by the Wonder Twins, the League ventured more into Fantasy and Sci-Fi territory. This lead to the early 1980s Super Friends which generally featured re-runs with new animated shorts. A New Teen Titans series was in development from HB but abandoned as it seemed series like The Smurfs were more popular at the time. The series effectively finally ran its course until 1984. The explosion of the action figure market lead to DC Comics awarding a license to Kenner to produce the Super Powers toyline. To promote the toyline, Super Friends would again be resurrected but its traditional Alex Toth character designs were abandoned in favor of that of José Luis García-López who produced the style guides for the comics and toys. The result was Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show which featured the addition of Firestorm (a new, popular young character for DC) as the Justice League took on Darkseid and his minions. Also notable, Adam West would takeover the voice acting duties of Batman. The series would be followed by The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians which saw Cyborg join the Super Powers team. Notably, this season would see the premiere of the Joker and Penguin in the Super Friends franchise and featured the first ever origin of Batman outside the comics in “The Fear” where Scarecrow forces Batman to relive the death of his parents. In 1987, the action figure market bubble would pop and Super Powers came to an end which also saw Super Friends end. The brand, however, would live on. While the Legion of Doom took on a life all its own, Super Friends itself was resurrected as a toyline from Fisher-Price with a comic book series and an original video animation called The Joker’s Playhouse directed and produced by Ciro Nieli and written by Brandon Auman (both of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame).
6. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2012)
In 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird sought to parody Daredevil and the X-Men in an independent comic book series titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their creation would arguably become the most successful indie comic book of all time. When Eastman and Laird approached little known toy company Playmates about producing a toyline for their series, Murakami-Wolf-Swenson studio was hired to develop an animated series based on the comic’s characters. Legendary Japanese studio Toei (who produced animation for many of the Marvel Productions series in the ’80s like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Dungeons and Dragons, and more) animated a five-part mini-series and the result would become a cultural phenomenon. The action figure market bubble had burst in 1987 but by 1988 when the Ninja Turtles toyline emerged, it took the industry by storm. A second season of the show emerged to help promote the toyline as the TMNT animated series was adapted for comics by Archie, a popular video game series emerged, and a popular live action film series hit theaters (as various clones of the series cropped up). TMNT would remain on the air for ten seasons leading to an unsuccessful live action TV series from the people behind Power Rangers called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation as the toyline came to a close with the failure of that new direction.
In 2003, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would return in a new animated series that would follow closer in tone with the comic using darker, more dramatic elements. While not as culturally impactful as the original series, the 2003 show was superior in almost every conceivable way becoming one of the best animated comic book series of all time. Airing for seven seasons, the show was followed by a TV movie called Turtles Forever featuring a team-up between the 2003 Turtles and their 1987 counterparts as well as the original 1984 comic heroes. Viacom would purchase the franchise and went about creating a new CGI-animated television series of the Turtles for its Nickelodeon series of networks. Ciro Nieli, who made a name for himself for his work on Teen Titans and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go!, was named executive producer and cherry picked from across the Ninja Turtles’ almost thirty year history making a series that both appeased old fans and intrigued new fans. Battling the Foot clan in the shadows of New York while combating an invasion from Dimension X, the Ninja Turtles saved the world several times over only to see their world destroyed by the Triceratons. However, thanks to the Fugitoid, the Turtles have gone back in time and are trying to stop the Triceratons in a battle across the stars. Simply put, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best comic book cartoon on television today. Perfectly combining comedy, action, and drama while making old fans happy (paying homage to the past with plenty of nods to geek culture), it’s also quite profitable with a popular accompanying toyline.
When people think of Disney, they tend to think of cartoons with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. However, arguably one of their greatest characters in the last seventy years came from a comic book. Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck’s uncle, was intended as a one-off character until his creator Carl Barks saw the possibilities McDuck offered. A wealthy recluse, McDuck would recruit Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie to search for treasure forming the basis of a decades long series of adventures. Gaining his own title in 1952 in Uncle Scrooge, McDuck would make the jump to animation in 1967 with Scrooge McDuck and Money before starring in the animated film Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). In 1985, Disney wanted to get into the lucrative animated television market producing The Wuzzles and Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. This was followed in 1987 with DuckTales, loosely adapting Uncle Scrooge generally minus Donald who was largely replaced by pilot Launchpad McQuack. The series was a big hit for Disney, spawning four seasons of 100 episodes (one of Disney’s longest running TV series), a theatrical film in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, a popular video game series from Capcom, a spin-off in Darkwing Duck, and laid the groundwork for the popular programming block Disney Afternoon. A new DuckTales series is set to come to Disney XD in 2017.
DC “Animated Universe” gets lumped in at #2, with Young Justice at #1?
Great show, but it’s no JLA or Batman Animated. Either of those shows should be #1, and Avengers should be in the top #5.
Superfriends was barely watchable. It was limited animation trash with terrible stories. Come on!
@Jason. They have their top ten, you have yours. I am currently re-watching YJ to help with the #KeepBingingYJ trend. After having recently re-watched pretty much all of the DCAU shows I found that the DCAU was great fun and full of wonderful stories and moments. But YJ hits more personal beats, is more relevant in today’s world dealing with personal loss, growing up, friendship, proving one’s self, humourous beats and is just more relatable. Also twice as mature which appealed to me.
As a whole, the DCAU is the best representation of a shared universe. YJ is the best example of long form storytelling.
I am surprised The Tick didn’t make an honourable mention however.