The SmarK DVD Rant For SuperFriends: Attack Of The Legion Of Doom!

The SmarK DVD Rant for SuperFriends: Attack of the Legion of Doom!

Childhood is a funny thing, as shows you loved back then you sometimes watch again from a modern slant and realize how well-written they really were and how much you were missing by watching from a child’s point of view instead of an adult’s. For instance, as a big Mr. Show fan, I tend to watch Spongebob Squarepants and can enjoy it on both levels.

SuperFriends is not that kind of show.

Created in the 70s by cheapo animation experts Hanna Barbara to cash in on the resurgent Batman and Superman comics, SuperFriends is a bizarre, badly animated and written cartoon filled with politically correct nonsense and a strange universal verbal diarrhea where characters are compelled to state EVERY OBVIOUS THING that comes to mind. More on that later.

Before there was the infinitely superior Justice League cartoon, there was this. Written for 6-year olds by 5-year olds, the initial version of the show featured the bare minimum of superheroic characters, and threw retarded “kid-friendly” Wendy & Marvin into the mix, I guess so the kids watching could have someone to relate to. Which kind of defeats the purpose of escapist entertainment, you might say, but then that’s about 18 notches on the IQ chart above this show anyway. Next revamp in the mid-70s saw Wendy & Marvin riding the short bus back to pop culture hell and being replaced with the spectacularly stupid and pandering Wonder Twins and their monkey Gleek. As a general note, pet monkeys are never funny or entertaining. By the 80s, the show took a HUGE leap forwards when it was reworked under the “Super Powers” brand, whereby all the dead weight was dropped and Firestorm was added for a teen edge. You have to keep in mind the audience this is written for, however, and when I was that age I ate this stuff up with a spoon so any shots I may take at the show are purely in fun. Just wanted to get that out in the beginning before I get hate mail.

Now Warner, which owns to the rights to the whole shebang, has released 4 of the 1978 run of the show on DVD as part of it’s continuing superhero line whereby they rip off the paying customer by dribbling this stuff out 90 minutes at a time when everyone else is doing 3 hours a disc and season sets.

The Film

The specific season of the SuperFriends being used here is the 1978 one, subtitled “The Challenge of the SuperFriends”. The concept is simple: You have the SuperFriends, and you have the evil Legion of Doom (no relation to either the hockey line or the Road Warriors), comprised of 13 of the most evil people in the universe. Those people:

– Lex Luthor (Superman’s arch-enemy, very evil),
– Brainiac (#2 heel for Superman, also very evil),
– Sinestro (the yellow-wielding nemesis for Green Lantern, and his NAME is sinister, so he must be evil),
– Bizarro (getting pretty far down the depth chart for Superman’s villains now, as he’s really more of a tragic figure than a villain, but as an evil anti-Superman, he works I guess).
– The Riddler (In the words of Luthor, “humorous but SINISTER” — what, was the Joker having his makeup retouched?)
– Captain Cold (Flash’s arch-enemy and about as scary as Crash Holly)
– Black Manta (Aquaman’s arch-enemy, although he doesn’t really demonstrate any POWERS in the show, but then neither does Aquaman)
– Solomon Grundy (We’re kinda reaching now with an obscure Batman villain)
– Gorilla Grodd (Flash villain, he’s a big talking gorilla and that’s about it — maybe Gleek got into the juice and went nuts)
– Cheetah (Wonder Woman’s nemesis, she dresses like you guessed it a Cheetah. No appreciable powers, except maybe PMS)
– Scarecrow (A D-level Batman villain whose power is to induce fear, thus making him basically useless for group attacks)
– Toyman (Are you KIDDING me? Luthor wouldn’t even invite this idiot to his parties)
– Giganta (A made-up 50-foot woman who doesn’t exist in the comics except briefly as a Wonder Woman villain in the 40s, and is only there as a counterpoint to Apache Chief)

Keep in mind, these are supposed to be the most evil people available at the time. Granted, Joker was something of a comedy figure in the 70s thanks to the Batman TV show, but even Flash had better villains to choose from if they needed warm bodies. More disturbing, however, is the ludicrously huge technology advantage that the Legion had over the heroes — they had mind-control devices, time machines, matter transporters EVERYTHING. They could make TRILLIONS of dollars selling this crap to the highest bidder and just BUY the world.

And on the side of good, the SuperFriends!

– Superman (Man of Steel, alternates in the show between being able to move planets with a shrug and being unable to escape a force field)
– Batman (Total pansy reduced to letting computers do his detective work in these shows who basically serves no purpose in a field of super-powers)
– Wonder Woman (Token chick, presumably there to clean the kitchen and turn tricks to support the cost of the Hall of Justice. Sometimes uses her magic lasso to do rodeo tricks for the guys)
– Flash (Fastest man on earth. Ouch. Bet Wonder Woman gave him that nickname)
– Green Lantern (Much like Superman, alternates between moving the Earth with a thought and shrieking “Oh no, it’s YELLOW” like a little girl. Bed-wetting issues, perhaps?)
– Aquaman (King of the seas. Talks to fish. Must be lonely down there or something. Peter David saved his career in the 90s)
– Hawkman (He can fly. Big whoop, so can Superman)
– Robin (Batman’s gay lover, as voiced by Casey Kasem. Sidekicks should never be in the main team)
– Apache Chief (An invention of the show’s writers, he’s a native American who grows really big on command. I hear he left to do porn)
– Samurai (A Japanese dude who creates tornadoes with his body. Damn Japanese, stealing work from the Red Tornado)
– Black Vulcan (Based loosely on Black Lightning from the comics, he’s black and he shoots lightning. Not to be confused to Tuvok, a black Vulcan)

Armed with the knowledge of the protagonists, it’s time for the Challenge of the SuperFriends!

– “Wanted: The SuperFriends”. The debut for the 16-episode run sees Luthor calling a meeting of the Legion of Doom and introducing everyone. Everyone gets to demonstrate their powers, except for Brainiac, who presumably does 1500 crossword puzzles in his 2-second allotted time using his super-brain. Before they can even get to the super-villain kegger or a gang-bang of Giganta, they have to complete Luthor’s first super-scheme. He has a dream machine, with which he can hypnotize the SuperFriends into doing his bidding while they dream. We have to take it on faith that this thing can not only control their minds, but can locate the specific people anywhere in the world, even in their unshakeable disguises, like Clark Kent. They all dutifully steal the world’s loot and wake up to find it stashed in the Hall of Justice, and when the police come calling, they decide to turn themselves in. Good enough so far. However, when the scene changes, we clearly see a sign marked “POLICE HEADQUARTERS”, so of course we need the narrator to add “Meanwhile, at police headquarters”. Anyway, our heroes get locked in a ceremonial cell by the cops, even though they can break out whenever they want, but it’s a SWERVE! Turns out that the “police” are Bizarro and Cheetah under masks (although how someone could still wear Cheetah-ears under a rubber mask and not be discovered as a fake is beyond me) and they’ve got a mind-control device that freezes the SuperFriends in place! You know they’re frozen in place because someone stops to say “I can’t move! They must be using some kind of mind-control device!” Apparently it freezes everything but the mouth. You’d think a device like that, whereby the poor saps would bore each other to death with years of mindless exposition, would be evil enough, but it gets worse, as Bizarro launches the cage into space, on a collision course with the sun. Now I know what you’re thinking here — Wouldn’t sending it into space be enough, what with the total vacuum instantly killing them and all? NO! You obviously don’t understand the devious mind of the super-villain. Using only solid fuel rockets, the cage is sent from Earth to the sun in a little under 2 minutes, making me think that the Legion of Doom should just sell the formula for whatever they’re using to power this thing and they could make billions on the stock market. Once into space, Wonder Woman uses the power of telepathy to command her lasso to move the rockets and send them into a collision course with a comet, which shatters the mind-control device. Superman warns her of the pinpoint precision needed to avoid being destroyed by the comet. They’re flying through space in a cage without suffocating to death and he’s worried about the COMET killing them? Further, if pinpoint precision is the order of the day, I’d say that using a telepathically-controlled magic lasso wouldn’t be my first choice of precision instruments. But naturally they make it back to Earth, where the Legion of Doom has hatched an even MORE insidious scheme — using a mind-control ray to transform everyone on Earth into Bizarro and Cheetah. Complete with little cheetah ears, that’s the really impressive bit. An evil Bizarro street cleaner tries to run Superman over with what appears to be a giant car-buffing machine, as I wonder what exactly the threat here is supposed to be. I mean, sure Kryptonite got pretty cliché after a while, but aside from a slightly cleaner uniform, I don’t really see the need to even stop this guy. Maybe after being transformed into a Bizarro, he went on a street-cleaning rampage that we missed due to time constraints, where he wantonly removed debris from the streets without consideration for the bums who might have living in the garbage piles. These are the questions I’m left thinking about. The heroes return to the Hall of Justice, all dressed as Bizarro or Cheetah depending on gender (I guess there’s a costume-rental place around the corner), and get into the climactic battle with the Legion, which they win handily. The highlight is Batman trapping Bizarro inside a big inflatable plastic bubble, from which he can’t escape. A GIANT PLASTIC BUBBLE. See kids, Saran Wrap CAN be dangerous. The Legion of Doom escapes and the SuperFriends face no repercussions from all the countries they looted, because the UN are just a bunch of understanding guys, even the Middle Eastern ones. Gets you right there.

– “Attack of the Fearians”. Even the title of this one is stupid. It seems that Luthor has contacted the Fearians, who have three heads and live on Venus, about a plan for conquering the Earth. All the LOD has to do is raise the temperate of the Earth, increase the humidity, and overrun it with vegetation, and then it’ll be just like Venus. I don’t even know where to start dissecting that sentence, so I’ll leave you to think it over yourself. Anyway, they discuss all this on an Earth-Venus conference call, which is pretty neat for 1978. Maybe they had like beta-version 1600 Gigahertz cordless phones or something. The Fearians promise to deal with the SuperFriends, assuming they keep their end of the bargain. So Captain Cold brings his giant freezing ray and starts traveling the globe, encasing entire cities in ice. Pretty soon the entire North American continent is like Edmonton in January. The Flash is there to foil him, however, so Cold drops a building on him. To show you the quality of dialogue we’re dealing with here, with a building about to fall on him Flash stops to say “I have to stop that building before it falls on me! I’ve only got a few seconds.” So he uses the wires supporting the Brooklyn Bridge to hold the building up. This of course would probably collapse the bridge and kill everyone stuck on it, but Flash IS all about the instant gratification. Flash runs really fast to melt all the ice, sending steam into the atmosphere. Next up, Black Manta is setting the ocean on fire. The writers, god bless them, don’t actually stop to ask how the f*ck you set a giant mass of water ON FIRE, but just take it on faith that it’s happening and by god Aquaman is the guy to stop it. The implication is that it’s happening in the Pacific, which is weird because the Hall of Justice is on the East Coast and Aquaman (whose only power in the show is the ability to TALK TO FISH) gets there in about 20 seconds. Holy logic gaps Batman. His solution to the problem of course involves talking to fish, in this case telling them to cause a giant tidal wave to put out the flames. You’d think that the water that the fire was burning on to begin with might have done, but no. Sadly, Aquaman doesn’t think ahead and consider that causing tidal waves near populated areas might be bad, and soon the West Coast is being flooded. Finally, Sinestro creates six yellow comets and sends them towards the Earth, so Green Lantern heads out into space to foil him. At this point Robin suspects that there might be something going on. I guess Batman just keeps him around for his looks. One comet on a collision course with Earth would be enough to kill all life on the planet, so naturally six is just the right number for their purposes. Green Lantern averts this disaster by MOVING THE PLANET, which is pretty much impossible in both the real world and the comic-book world, and the comets fly by harmlessly. However, now the damage is done, and the steam from Flash has increased the humidity (although in reality the whole Flash-Cold exchange breaks all the laws of thermodynamics), while the floods have caused vegetation to spontaneously grow all over the planet. And now Earth is just like Venus. Where, presumably, there’s lots of plant life. Yup. So the Fearians “invade” (although it’s only actually one Fearian) and to deal with the SuperFriends, they encase them in a big bubble. Well, geez, BATMAN could have done THAT. The SuperFriends quickly trick the Fearians into letting them out again, repel their attack, and then clean up on the Legion of Doom to save the day. Damn Venutians, I never liked that planet anyway.

– “The World’s Deadliest Game”. No, not Australian Rules Football. The Legion of Doom have a new scheme so devious that it would make a snake envious, and the writers were obviously on some REALLY good shit when they wrote this one. The plan is threefold: First of all, Brainiac will use a cloaking device to make the entire planet appear invisible from space. Oh, wait, it gets better. The victims of this scam are Black Vulcan, Hawkman and Wonder Woman, all of whom are hanging around in space fixing a ship for NASA (You know it’s space because Wonder Woman has a bubble over her head to protect her) and suddenly realize that the Earth has disappeared. Toyman sends them a fake distress call from “Sector 751”, which is apparently trillions of light-years away, and so they go there. Just like that. The narrator helpfully compresses the necessary millennia that it would take to fly there by noting that “Later, trillions of miles away ” and we’re there. Neat trick. Once there, they discover that there’s nothing there. Presumably they can arrive at an endlessly vast region of space, take a look around, and deduce that there’s nothing there. Ah, well, except for the black hole, which sucks them in (Racism! Racism!) and where they find a planet constructed by Toyman within. Now, sometimes you just have to go on faith and assume that Toyman, a C-level Superman villain at best, would be able to not only construct an entire planet, but somehow situate it in the middle of a black hole. Really, if you can accept the planet, you can accept the black hole without much more of a leap of faith. Back on Earth, the Riddler jerks around the others by giving clues that lead them into traps, from which they narrowly escape. One classic moment has them trapped in a mine in the Grand Canyon, with Superman barely holding up the ceiling while everyone else stands around going “Just hang on a bit longer, Superman!” With friends like that, who needs arch-enemies? The next clue has Riddler telling them to tighten their belt, from which Batman makes the logical assumption that he wants them to go to the constellation of Orion’s Belt, which is a mere hop skip and a jump away from Earth. Back on the deadly planet of toys, our heroes get stuck in a giant game of space pinball and then fight a 50-foot tall mechanical baby. I’ve gotta try whatever they were drinking when they thought this one up. The last clue for the others is “Follow your noses or get left in the dark”, from which Batman deduces that they have to fly into a black hole to find them. He is truly the World’s Greatest Detective. So they do, and Superman and Green Lantern combine forces to extricate the helpless Wonder Woman and her group from the collapsing black hole, just in time to stop the Legion of Doom from blackmailing the entire world out of billions of dollars. Brainiac does get one witty line, when he tells an incoming jet that it’s cleared to land as long as it’s carrying $10 million in cash. But then androids do have a dry wit.

– The Time Trap. The DVD wraps up with the first time-travel story of many in the series, as Grodd builds a time machine that can take you pretty much anywhere. Their plan: Steal the world’s treasures before they become treasures. So first up, Black Manta & Giganta lure Aquaman & Apache Chief out to the middle of the ocean and then take them back to 70,000,000 BC when water dinosaurs ruled the earth. Then, Sinestro & Captain Cold lure Green Lantern & Samurai back to 500 AD, when Arthur was King of Camelot (although Arthur didn’t exist and there was no Camelot, but bear with me here) and finally Batman & Robin chase Grodd & Grundy back to ancient Rome, where everyone speaks English. All the heroes get stuck there while the villains escape and plot a looting of the gold rush. Luckily, Aquaman’s radio has a battery with a life of 100 million years (wouldn’t keeping nuclear material with that kind of half-life in your POCKET sterilize you pretty quick? At the very least, he should have cancer) and he buries it under the future site of the Hall of Justice with a timed alarm that will go off in exactly 70,000,000 years (plus 1978 and 252 days). Good thing they went back EXACTLY to 70,000,000 BC, otherwise the math alone would take them another 10 years to figure out. Superman finds the radio, realizes the dilemma with the help of carbon dating (apparently carbon-14 dating can tell you the exact year dirt was left on a radio — you learn something new every day) and just kinda flies back in time to save everyone using the most bizarre leaps of logic I’ve ever heard. This is course leads more observant viewers to wonder “Well, if Bizarro has all of Superman’s powers, why doesn’t he just do that same thing?” but then that’s ruining all the fun. The SuperFriends regroup at Sutter’s Mill in the 1800s, foil the Legion of Doom, and once again the villains escape in the nick of time.

Overall, my cynical nature aside, this is perfectly fun campy entertainment that pre-teens and comic book geeks will LOVE, packed with nostalgia value for Gen-Xers. I kid because I love, remember that. It doesn’t hold up as a story these days, but it was always intended to be mass-produced advertising for the comics, more or less, and that’s all it aspires to be.

The Video:

In a word, terrible. Colors are bland and washed out, dirt and scratches are everywhere, and it’s basically a lazy dump of the original 1978 tapes onto DVD. The clarity is great compared to syndicated versions out there right there, but there was really no effort put into cleaning this stuff up at all and it shows.

The Audio:

Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono. Which means that the only thing used is the center channel. That’s how it was originally intended, but I’m frankly shocked they didn’t even have a stereo mix of it. It sounds fine for what it is, however.

The Extras:

Nothing really — quickie episode introductions by the writer of the shows, Jeffrey Scott, as well as a silly guessing game and villain dossiers (complete with listings for first appearance in the comics). Nothing exciting.

The Ratings:

The Film: ***1/2
The Video: *
The Audio: *
The Extras: ½*