What Could Have Been: Super Powers Season Three by Jerry Whitworth
When Star Wars debuted in theaters in 1977, it not only changed cinema but the action figure toy market. The Kenner line of Star Wars gave rise to the collectible action figure market that saw such titans as Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Mattel’s Masters of the Universe emerge. DC Comics, wanting to take advantage of this developing industry, awarded a contract to Kenner to produce what became the Super Powers line. Featuring figures modeled after the DC Comics Style Guide drawn by José Luis García-López, Super Powers became one of the most successful lines of the 1980s. As with other notable brands around this time, Super Powers was promoted via comic books and cartoons. For the latter, Hanna-Barbera resurrected Super Friends that saw veteran Batman voice actor Olan Soule (nearly eighty years old by that point) replaced by Adam West (who famously portrayed the character in the 1960s on television) and abandoned the Alex Toth character models in its second season for that inspired by García-López. Sadly, the action figure market bubble burst in 1986 and the Super Powers toyline died after three waves joined by its animated counterpart after two seasons (sixteen episodes in total). In the ensuing years, we’ve come to learn what future waves of the toyline would have entailed. But, we’ll never know where the cartoon would have went. Lets speculate, then, what could have been.
When Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show debuted in 1984, nine of the twelve initial figures of the toyline were featured (although, Aquaman and the Flash were only in the opening credits). Further, the redesigned versions of Lex Luthor (donning power armor) and Brainiac (skeletal in appearance) for the figures were animated. The season also teased future figures such as Firestorm and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters Darkseid, Kalibak, and Desaad. Noted earlier, Adam West joined the cast as Batman but the series’ producers had also approached Lynda Carter, who portrayed Wonder Woman on television in the 1970s, to play her iconic role for the animated series. Unfortunately, Carter was filming Partners in Crime at the time and couldn’t commit so Connie Cawlfield was cast as the new voice of Wonder Woman. The following season, The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, added Hawkman, Joker, and the Penguin from the first wave of figures but added virtually none of the second wave (save the Parademons, referred instead as the Para-drones). With how much time it takes to produce an animated series and the disconnect between Kenner and Hanna-Barbera, new characters based on the figures couldn’t be included. However, that said, the final season of Super Friends featured future Super Powers figure Cyborg and Kenner adapted the Super Friends character Samurai for its final wave. With these details in mind, we can began to envision what a third season of the animated series might have looked like.
With little doubt, the so-called Super Powers Team would have added Dr. Fate, Martian Manhunter, and Red Tornado and brought back Green Arrow for its third season to adapt the toyline’s second wave. Further, with Partners in Crime canceled after thirteen episodes, it’s likely Lynda Carter would have been available to voice Wonder Woman. What would have been interesting, however, is that in 1987, Christopher Reeve returned to the role of Superman for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. While that film largely killed the cinematic brand, it could have enticed Reeve to voice Superman for the animated series as something of a cross promotion. Additionally, while the classic Supermobile made several appearances on Super Friends, a third season of Super Powers could have featured the toyline’s new version without arms. Perhaps the greatest unknown of the next season of the series is that considering how the appearances of Firestorm and Cyborg heralded their emergence in the toyline, what new young hero would’ve been introduced to tease their figure? There are a couple of hints to this, the most likely being the Power Plus line.
When Jason Geyer of the website Toy Otter uncovered Kenner’s plans for the future of the Super Powers toyline, several prototypes had been produced of what would have been in the fourth wave. Among them were Man-Bat and Shockwave from the comics, El Dorado from the cartoon, and original characters Silicon and the mysterious Quadrex or Insecta Six or Bio Bug. But more notably, an entire new sub-line would have emerged in Power Plus. Mostly featuring pre-existing figures generally with modified torsos, Power Plus figures offered new features such as lights or new moving parts. Among the produced prototypes included Superman, Batman, Firestorm, Cyborg, Darkseid, and original character Rocketman. It has been speculated by fans that the appearance of Rocketman strongly resembles that of Wonder Woman’s boyfriend Steve Trevor from the final season of Super Powers. Considering its prominence, chances are good Power Plus would’ve found its way to the show’s third season. But, Rocketman doesn’t really seem to be in the same mold as Firestorm or Cyborg. A character that emerged in the line’s third wave, however, fits quite well.
When The New Adventures of Wonder Woman became a ratings hit in 1977, DC Comics capitalized by having Hanna-Barbera resurrect its failed series Super Friends. However, The All-New Super Friends Hour deviated from its predecessor by having the Justice League combat supervillains rather than purely mad scientists and alien invaders. A big hit, the creators doubled down and prominently featured supervillains in the Legion of Doom in the subsequent season Challenge of the Super Friends. However, the original plan for the season would have saw Captain Marvel join the team and his nemesis Dr. Sivana create the League of Evil as a consequence. Rights issues with Filmation however squashed the concept. Hanna-Barbera subsequently tackled a live action Marvel in the two 1979 Legends of the Superheroes specials (which initially brought Adam West back to the Batman role against a Legion of Doom that included Sivana). With Captain Marvel emerging as Shazam in the Super Powers line’s third wave, it could have been Hanna-Barbera’s opportunity to finally add the character to its animated Justice League. With Burr Middleton voicing Marvel for 1981’s The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!, he likely would have been the first choice to bring the character to the Super Powers Team. While odds are good Sivana would have put in an appearance to face Captain Marvel for Super Powers, the second wave of the toyline offers a glimpse at what other foes the team would have faced.
The Super Powers toyline prominently featured Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Darkseid and his minions Kalibak and Desaad acted as the primary villains for both seasons of Hanna-Barbera’s Super Powers and the third season likely would have been no exception. During the release of the first wave of Kenner’s line, a mail away offer emerged for the Steppenwolf action figure. By the second wave, the figure was part of the line, this time on a cardback. For these reasons, chances are high Steppenwolf would have been a major component of the third season. Further, Mantis, another minion of Darkseid, was in the third wave so odds are he would have put in an appearance. Chances are also good Lex Luthor could have returned to help promote the toyline’s Lex-Soar 7 vehicle. In that same vein, the Darkseid Destroyer of the second wave had a good chance to emerge.
It’s interesting to try and speculate what the future of the Super Powers animated series could have entailed. The third wave could have prompted more Jack Kirby characters in Orion and Mr. Miracle to emerge, Plastic Man (who had two seasons of his own show from Ruby-Spears paired with Super Friends on ABC) to return to the Super Friends, saw Mr. Freeze and Tyr from the comics emerge, and original characters Cyclotron and Golden Pharaoh arrive in a fourth season. Noted earlier, Man-Bat, Shockwave, El Dorado, Silicon, and Quadrex were likely set for a fifth (as the Clark Kent mail away figure of the second wave likely would have been carded for the fourth which may have saw an episode featuring Superman’s alter ego). Before Super Powers, Hanna-Barbera pitched series on the Teen Titans (resulting in a PSA) and an original concept in Wonder Woman and her Wonder Girls (featuring Black Canary, Power Girl, and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld) which likely would have germinated in the minds of the show’s creators as the seasons moved forward (Black Canary being pitched repeatedly for Super Friends, her only appearances resulting in the live action Legends of the Superheroes). It should be noted, much of the kinds of stories Super Friends stood on was wiped out in the comics in 1985 with the Crisis on Infinite Earths so as time moved forward, the two paths would have diverged further apart. With that in mind, DC Comics may have almost welcomed the end of that line.