‘Justice League’ Rewind: A Look Back at the TV Histories of Those Super Friends

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Adventures of Superman
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Adventures of Superman 1952-58

George Reeves portrayed the Man of Steel in Supes’ first television appearance.

Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Batman 1966-68

The late, great Adam West played the Caped Crusader, alongside Burt Ward as Boy Wonder Robin.

Superman Aquaman Hour of Adventure

The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure 1967-68

The now-defunct Filmation studio produced this series that featured an array of DC heroes, including the title characters, in various animated adventures.

Filmation had previously produced the animated series The New Adventures of Superman and The Adventures of Superboy, and followed this series with a standalone Aquaman series, along with The Batman/Superman Hour.

Challenge of the Super Friends
Hanna-Barbera Production/DC Comics

Superfriends 1973-86

The Superfriends animated franchise was a Saturday morning staple on ABC in the ’70s and ’80s, appearing in various incarnations, and including different rotating members hanging out at the Hall of Justice, although the core group of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman generally remained constant. (Too often, though, some annoying teen characters were thrown in, like the Wonder Twins.)

One of the most memorable versions of the franchise was 1978’s Challenge of the Superfriends, which saw the Justice League members battling the Legion of Doom, a rogues’ gallery of DC villains led by Lex Luthor.


Wonder Woman 1974

Hollywood has memorably had a hard time getting a live-action Wonder Woman story right on TV and in movies—from attempts at crafting a feature film about the Amazonian hero bouncing around in development hell for decades, to David E. Kelley’s failed pilot for a Wonder Woman series in 2011, with Adrianne Palicki in the title role.

This year’s big screen feature finally did her justice (no pun intended), as did the late-’70s Lynda Carter series (see next page) on television.

But the TV movie pilot for a potential WW series pictured here, starring Cathy Lee Crosby as Diana, really didn’t get much right. The blonde hair, the ’70s jogging suit attire, and the fact that this Diana didn’t have much in the way of super powers led ABC to wisely go in another direction, back to the original Wonder Woman concept. And that resulted in …

Kickass Woman: Wonder Woman
ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Wonder Woman 1975-79

Until Gal Gadot came along, Lynda Carter was the Wonder Woman in many people’s minds (and probably still is to many). And the series is still a lot of fun, especially earlier on when it was set in the World War II era that originally spawned the comic-book hero (after a move from ABC to CBS, later seasons took place in the then-modern day of the 1970s).

DC Comics/CBS

The Flash 1990-91

Well before the current CW incarnation, there was this short-lived, but fun series about the Scarlet Speedster. John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen/The Flash here, before playing Barry’s father in the new series. Pictured here with Shipp as The Flash is Mark Hamill neoned-out in a guest role as The Trickster.

Warner Bros. Animation

Batman: The Animated Series 1992-95

Following the success of Tim Burton’s first two Batman movies, Warner Bros. decided to continue the Caped Crusader’s adventures in an animated series that maintained the dark, gothic edge seen in those films (along with keeping Danny Elfman’s brooding musical score as an intro). Kevin Conroy memorably voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the influential series that launched the DC Animated Universe well before a live-action DC Universe was underway, leading to other shared-universe TV series including Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000), The New Batman Adventures (1997-99) and Batman Beyond (1999-2001).

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher
Warner Bros. Television

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman 1993-97

The Man of Steel was back on TV in live-action in this fun ABC series starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. As its title indicates, it focused on the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane along with whatever adventures Superman may have embarked upon.

Smallville Season 6
The CW Television Network, The WB Television Network

Smallville 2001-11

Smallville, of course, introduced us to young Clark Kent (Tom Welling, center) and explored how his youthful upbringing on Earth helped him become Superman. But other DC heroes also made appearances in the series, including Lee Thompson Young as Cyborg (far right in the picture) and Alan Ritchson as Arthur Curry/Aquaman (to Young’s left). Also pictured, to Tom Welling’s left, are Kyle Gallner as Bart Allen/Impulse and Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow.

Justice League, animated series, 2001, Cartoon Network
™ & © 2001 DC Comics, ™ & © Warner Bros., ™ & © 2001 Cartoon Network

Justice League 2001-04

This well-done animated series aired on Cartoon Network, and eventually spun off into other series: Justice League Unlimited, which greatly expanded its cast of heroes and ran from 2004-06, and Justice League Action, currently airing its second season on Cartoon Network.

Warner Bros. Animation

Teen Titans 2003-06; Teen Titans Go! 2013-present

Cyborg hasn’t appeared much on TV in live-action, but he is a prominent part of these animated series, voiced by Khary Payton (he’s rocking the drum solo in photo).

Denise Quiñones and Justin Hartley in 2006 pilot for Aquaman
The WB Television Network

Aquaman 2006

Aquaman has proven to be at least as challenging to bring to a live-action project as Wonder Woman has, but likely for different reasons.

For one thing, Aquaman and his ability to communicate with marine life has been turned into a joke over the decades, with even the nerds on The Big Bang Theory snarking at how lame the character is. So more of a badass “edge” would probably be needed for people to take to the character.

And, of course, there is the fact that Aquaman spends a lot of his time in water. The financial costs and technical resources required to realistically create the illusion of a man living in an underwater realm have likely been prohibitive, especially for television.

It doesn’t seem likely that either an “edge” or financial/technical resources will be lacking when Aquaman appears in the guise of Jason Momoa in both the Justice League film, and in next year’s standalone Aquaman movie. But for the 2006 Aquaman TV pilot created for The WB pictured here, with current This Is Us star Justin Hartley as the title character, those setbacks likely were part of what kept it from being picked up to series (along with the fact that around that time WB and UPN were merging to create The CW, which passed on the project). The pilot was released online only, and people tended to like what they saw.

The Flash
Diyah Pera/The CW

CW’s Arrowverse 2012-present

Kicking off with Arrow, a new look at DC hero Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, the CW has developed a nice little small-screen universe — an “Arrowverse” — of series featuring notable DC icons, some of whom have been members of the Justice League, including Barry Allen/Flash in The Flash, which launched in 2014, and Kara/Supergirl in Supergirl, which launched on CBS in 2015 for one season before moving to its current CW home.

Gotham Midseason Return

Gotham 2014-present

Similar in some ways to Smallville, but a lot wilder and darker (as you’d expect from a series about the Dark Knight), Gotham looks at the early, pre-Batman days of Jim Gordon and young Bruce Wayne (played by David Mazouz, pictured).

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At long last, DC Comics’ big-screen universe of characters come together in this month’s release Justice League (in theaters Nov. 17).

The film comes in the wake of 2013’s Man of Steel, which introduced Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill); last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which we met Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman and Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in primary roles, and got brief references to Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg and Ezra Miller‘s Barry Allen/The Flash; and this summer’s blockbuster Wonder Woman, headlined by Gadot in a solo adventure/origin story for her character.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman were all among the founding members of the Justice League when they came together as a group in the pages of DC Comics in 1960 (along with Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, who don’t appear to be part of the film from what we know at this point). Cyborg joined the team in the comics a bit later, but all of these iconic characters have also appeared either together or solo in many small-screen projects over the past few decades.

From the Superfriends to the CW’s Arrowverse and more, click through the gallery above for a look at some of the notable, and in some cases, lesser-known, solo and group appearances of Justice League members Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg on television over the past 60 years.