I don’t think the original Super Friends ever appeared on British screens. The first time I came across them, other than in DC Comics house ads for Saturday morning TV, was in the comic’s seventh issue, apparently the first distributed widely here, when Zan and Jayna arrived. This issue, though, it’s Wendy and Marvin who team with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Robin and special guest star the Atom to tackle ‘the murderous Menagerie Man’.
Spoiler! He doesn’t kill anyone. He does ruin a Gotham City basketball game for Marvin, Wendy and canine chum Wonder Dog when he bursts in looking like the love child of Kraven the Hunter and the Atom.
Wendy uses her special charm bracelet to summon help – The Batman. He’s not much use.
Caped Crusader, Marvin and Wendy take their troubles to the rest of the gang.
While Wendy is wondering why Menagerie Man has a belt with compartments (doggie bags?) and Marvin continues to be suspicious about the random mutt at the game, they hear their foe has struck again.
With Robin guessing that Menagerie Man doesn’t own the animals, the gang try to work out where he’ll strike next.
Atom, Wendy and Marvin hit the jackpot, but as the Tiny Titan heads for the villain, ready to give him a 180lb punch…
The baddie once more vanishes into thin air but our heroes now have all the clues they need to work out how the crimes are being committed.
The Atom gives Marvin and Wendy context with a very detailed explanation of his origin.
Batman guesses – sorry, deduces – that the Menagerie Man is going to appear next at a gallery and so every one of the heroes takes up a position.
Soon, the fight is on.
Menagerie Master learns that when you take on the Super Friends, it’s a dog eat dog world.
Back at the Hall of Justice, Wendy and Marvin learn that the Atom didn’t tell them the whole reason for his visit.
Well, that was fun, but I wonder how kids in 1977 felt about all the beating up of poor, innocent animals in this issue? Couldn’t Wonder Woman simply use her magic lariat to contain them?
Still, it’s great to have an extra Justice Leaguer pop in and, it turns out, for very good reason. Writer E Nelson Bridwell gives readers unfamiliar with the Atom a terrific demonstration of his powers, intelligence and even throws in his origin.
I’m not convinced the story needed two whole pages of Atom background, but I did laugh that readers get the impression Ray Palmer wore that diamond ring – he actually had it on him because he’d proposed to girlfriend Jean Loring earlier that day (she turned him down – honestly, there’s something wrong with that woman…)
ENB gives us the usual wink to the wider DC Universe, this time in the form of a reference to comics greatest band, Great Frog.
Menagerie Man is pretty rubbish, but his animal wrangling being down to size-changing rather than teleportation is a splendid twist, and it’s not beyond credibility that some readers worked it out along with the Atom and Marvin.
Speaking of whom, good on him for spotting the dog clue, the For All Mankind podcast – which will be discussing this issue soon – has taught me that he usually got short shrift in comparison to Wendy. But here he spots the clue, with Wendy and Batman being terribly dismissive.
And that Wonder Dog sure has some slick moves, he takes out that rough-looking pooch with pizzazz. Mind, that dog must have something, he seems able to wander into Gotham’s swankiest places at will.
Penciller Ramona Fradon seems happier in the action scenes than when she’s having to match the style of the show; her elegant style suits a traditional superhero yarn, less so the likes of Marvin, who is designed to look somewhere between Shaggy from Scooby-Doo and a ventriloquist’s dummy.
I don’t know if it was Fradon’s idea, but I really like the panels which share one word balloon with two pointers, I’ve never seen that, it’s a great way to indicate that two things are happening at once.
We can almost certainly ‘credit’ Fradon with Menagerie Man’s look. He may work at a zoo, but that’s no keeper, you can’t even see the full chest emblem! Someone give him Paul Gambi’s phone number.
Overall, though, the pages look as good as they read, with solid work from Fradon, inker Bob Smith and colourist Jerry Serpe. And the cover – extra vibrant because I’ve downloaded the digital version, having forgotten I have it in a trade about a foot behind me as I type – is just gorgeous. Well, if you ignore Batman’s shrivelled chest emblem.
I came late to this story, but better late than never!