Back in the early 1970′s, superhero cartoons were about to embark on an important journey. The production studios of Filmation had already created the Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Aquaman, Flash, Teen Titans and the Atom cartoons… but Hannah Barbera was about to do it all over again. This new series would be a reinvention of the comic book characters and also serve as ‘infotainment’ for the children watching, thus serving the needs of the network who demanded a softer more kid-friendly cartoon series that educated as well as entertained.
Super Friends 1973 Opening
The addition of teenagers with whom the viewer could relate is a tradition that has actually stayed with comic book superhero productions to this day. Just look at Rogue in the X-Men films. When developing what became the Justice League cartoon, animator Bruce Timm felt compelled to include teenage heroes since otherwise the cartoon would simply be turned down for being a bunch of grown ups in silly outfits. So, the teenagers were added as a necessary element to make the program more accessible.
In the case of Super Friends, however… it took another path entirely.
Wendy and Marvin were two fans of the Super Friends who desperately wanted to be suuperheroic in some way. Studying at Ivy University (of Professor Ray Palmer alias the Atom fame), Wendy and Marvin were superheroes in training. While Wendy seemed to be quite sensible, Marvin was a danger to himself and others, completely unaware at his lacking agility and common sense. Oblivious to his shortcomings, Marvin even took to wearing a baseball tee bearing a giant M in addition to a cape. It was tragic.
No doubt thinking that they were being polite, the Super Friends made the decision to take the pair in and let them go on dangerous missions with them. As a result the missions were rarely all that dangerous and Wendy and Marvin were primarily comic relief characters who bumbled into bad situations requiring the Super Friends to rescue them.
Along with the teenage duo was Wonderdog who wore a cape tucked into his collar and seemed almost as useless as Marvin.
The series was cancelled after 16 episodes. When it returned in 1977, Wendy and Marvin had been replaced by two members of an intergalactic superhero exchange program Zan and Jayna… and their space monkey Gleek. While Wendy and Marvin were superhero wannabees without any special abilities or powers, Zan and Jayna were shape-shifters. Even though they had special powers, Zan and Jayna were just as bumbling and used primarily for comic relief, the duo was still more popular than Wendy and Marvin and many viewers never even knew there were teenage sidekicks before the aliens from the planet Exxor.
Outside of the cartoon depictions, the two characters appeared in a comic book version of the Super Friends series. They were more or less the same characters aside from the fact that they proved to be useful in cases and rather clever to boot. Former DC Comics braintrust E! Nelson Bridwell went on to postulate the identities of Wendy and Marvin as being somewhat related to Batman and Wonder Woman. Wendy Harris was the niece of Harvey Harris, the detective who trained Batman while Marvin White was related to Diana Prince, the woman whose name Wonder Woman borrowed for her secret identity.
Writer Geoff Johns introduced new versions of Wendy and Marvin in the pages of the Teen Titans during the ‘One Year Later’ story line which saw an entirely new team take over the title. In this new version, Wendy and Marvin were tenth level geniuses who also acted as caretakers for the team headquarters known as Titans Tower. Everything went south, however, when they took in a stray dog nicknamed Wonderdog… who turned demonic and ate Marvin before crippling Wendy.
Readers reacted with a level of backlash at the use of characters who would only appeal to fans of the actual classic cartoon series only to brutally murder them. After seeing Johns on several documentaries accompanying these cartoon DVDs, I’m at a loss to explain what the idea was but for once I have to side with the outraged fans. It really did seem like a sick joke on nostalgia-hungry readers.
In any case, the first installment of episodes starring Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog can now be viewed by all as they have finally been released by Warner Home Video. After watching a few episodes you may be touched by the nostalgia and pure innocence of the cartoon. Then again, you may side with Johns for having the pair done away with.