Mutant Viewing: Challenge of the Superfriends (Episodes 1-4)

Back in college, I spent a Thanksgiving at my friend Russ’ house. Russ (who first introduced me to Hudson Hawk was going through a bit of a “Superfriends” phase, and yours truly got dragged along for a marathon viewing of about 238 Superfriends episodes. Now, let me tell you that even one of these episodes is well enough to put a decaying crater in the middle of your brain, crumbling whatever sense and logic you happened to store there, but a nonstop string of these shows left me the Man With The Swiss Cheese Brain that you see before you today.

Me am survived.

So like the kid who decides to have another sour gumball because he’s already got the cavity to go with it, I have returned to the land of my super-forefathers for another go at the craziest bunch of heroes and villains that ever graced the small screen.

If you’re not familiar with Superfiends, then get thee to a friend with indestructible nostalgia right away, and be prepared for a saga like no other! This infamous cartoon – the spawn of DC comics, horrible animation and quite likely LSD – was produced by Hanna-Barbera in the 70’s, and continued to be broadcast to impressionable young minds well into the late 80’s. It told the tale of a modified version of the Justice League of America (now called the “Superfriends”, since “Bestfriends” was already taken), where DC comics heroes were yanked away from their day jobs and forced into a single room where egos and arm-wrestling contests could run amok. Legends like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman knew that separate, only one of them was invincible, but together, they could hide behind the invincible Kryptonian. They also bolstered their ranks with the prerequisite comedy characters (Marvin, Wendy, Gleek and the Wonder Twins), sidekicks (Aqualad, Robin) and politically correct minority heroes created for the very purpose of weird affirmative action (Black Vulcan, Apache Chief).

To see this show is to be bombarded with a level of stupidity the likes not seen since… well, ever. Really. These episodes are jumbled nonsense where no hero’s power is ever faithfully adhered to, physics are told to take a day off, punches are forbidden (thank the network censors) and the script seems like the result of tag team writing (“Okay… you’re it!”). It’s not the sort of MST3K event where you have a few minutes after identifying something dumb to really get a good string of jokes going; Superfriends will often throw multiple moronic things at the audience all at once, while the mind cannot choose where to aim its sarcasmotron at first, and ends up dying in a stroke.

Perhaps the most famous season of Superfriends was during 1978-1979, when Challenge of the Superfriends descended to Earth and dominated our lives forevermore. It was this season that introduced the “Legion of Doom”, a collection of supervillains that were perfect foils for the dense supervillains across the street. They may be bad, but they wear as many smiles as the good guys, because they’re having just so much fun trying to conquer the Earth with bizarre plots and outlandish technologies. They would do anything to get out of their base, considering that it’s located in a swamp and their roommates include a decaying zombie, an unwashed gorilla and damp straw.

Here we go through the first few episodes of the first Challenge of the Superfriends season, episode by episode nipping at your conscience until we turn you to our devious purposes… FOREVER! As a proper mutant viewing of all three discs end up running about 50 pages of a normal format, I’ve decided instead to highlight some of the more notable, bizarre or laughable moments of each episode.

Episode 1: Wanted: The Superfriends

Lex Luthor uses a dream machine to force the heroes to commit crimes. In which we find out that the Superfriends are far too willing to turn themselves in to the law, there is air in space, and an Earth full of Cheetahs and Bizarros is best left to the imagination.

  • Supervillains, when introduced, are done so under a veil of darkness so that conveniently placed spotlights can flick on and reveal their sinister presences to the people who already saw them come in the room.
  • As the members of the Legion of Doom are introduced, several of the members take this opportunity to commit random acts of violence on the room itself to prove how “bad” they are. Our favorite: Captain Cold freezing and shattering a light fixture.
  • Lex Luthor uses a hovering, “fool-proof” dream machine to control the good guys and make them do bad things. Fool-proof: I do not think he is knowing the meaning of that word.
  • Even while sleepwalking, Clark Kent will put on his hat before he leaves the room.
  • Fort Knox is guarded by four soldiers (without guns) and one easy-to-mangle tank. Also, a force field, which is consistent with 1970s U.S. technology.
  • The whole of Fort Knox’s gold reserve is a single pile of gold on the floor. We used to have two piles, but strip poker last weekend morphed into Texas Hold ‘Em, and now Wales owns 1/3rd of the USA.
  • Lex Luthor has cameras everywhere. Just a thought: If your average villain had cameras all over in the world, would they spend so much time on crime or peeping in certain shower rooms instead?
  • The Federal Mint is guarded by two U.S. soldiers in Japanese uniforms who would much rather lecture Batman on the wrongness of his crime than try to actually stop him.
  • Among his many gadgets, Robin has a honest-to-goodness LIGHTSABER in his belt. Please, no innuendo.
  • Wonder Woman can lasso eight of the world’s most valuable paintings in one throw.
  • Batman looks happy all the time. Even when he’s about to die.
  • You simply cannot look at Hawkman’s mask and not giggle. LOOK AT IT!
  • Star Trek sounds ahoy! They use the classic “Red Alert” klaxon, phaser and the “schwoop” of the opening door sounds.
  • When asked to turn themselves in and go to prison, Batman is a little too quick to be like “Okay, let’s GO!” Robin, not so much.
  • All of the superfriends are locked into one tiny jail cell and asked to stay in there based on the honor system. Yeah. Okay.
  • Admiral Ackbar: “IT’S A TRAP!” It’s not actually a jail cell, but a rocket ship and a muscle paralyzing device all in one!
  • Samurai needs to put on pants. Badly.
  • When paralyzed, heroes keep mentioning how they can’t move while wiggling around like mating salmon. Also, wouldn’t muscle paralysis extend to mouth, lip and tongue muscles?
  • Everyone seems concerned with the fact that the jail cell/rocket ship is heading for the sun, but not so worried that it’s completely open to the vacuum of space. It goes without saying that they can all talk and breathe just fine.
  • Lex turns everyone into Bizarros and Cheetahs, all 6 billion people of the world, which the Superfriends try to stop on a one-by-one basis. Good for them. Let me know how that works out.
  • Where’s the jail cell getting the fuel for those rockets? Also, I like how Superman pushes the cell against the thrust of the rockets back home instead of simply turning the thing around.
  • Superman attacks a street sweeper! He’s super.
  • Bizzaro-Alfred!
  • There’s a road outside of Gotham City which leads right over a cliff, without any guardrails or anything.
  • The Riddler: “What’s green and black and the most treasured thing on earth? ME! Hahahaha!” Um, hold on a second.  You’re black since when?
  • In science fiction, whenever something is shooting an evil or bad ray beam of some kind, the solution is always to “reverse polarity”. Happily, that works here.
  • Superman, who can hear anything in the world, carries a cordless phone while he flies to take calls from Batman. He also uses it to call from outer space. You know, that place where the air is not.
  • How did Hawkman hide his massive wingspan in a Bizarro outfit?
  • The Green Lantern would make a great outfielder with his ring.
  • Wonder Woman ties up Cheetah, and I resist making the obvious comment. Cats on leashes, sheesh.
  • “Holy metallurgy, Batman!”
  • Batarangs can saw through steel bars. Good to know.

Episode 2: Invasion of the Fearians

The Legion assists Venusians in converting the Earth environment suitable for colonization. In which the Superfriends screw up the world, and good.

  • Lex Luthor’s greatest tool? A gavel.
  • Despite what your science teachers may tell you, the planet Venus has vegetation, habitable surface, plenty of intelligent (three-headed) life forms, and is only a phone call away.
  • If the Legion of Doom has a freeze ray that can freeze entire cities, do they really need the help of aliens to conquer the planet?
  • And why would they want aliens to mess up the planet that they wish to rule over? You’d think at least Captain Cold would object to the constant 100+ degree temperatures that would ensue.
  • Does the DC universe HAVE a New York City? I thought they had Metropolis and Gotham City instead.
  • Captain Cold’s gun can freeze things to “absolute zero.” I think something called the “laws of thermodynamics” might have issues with that.
  • “Great Wings of Mercury, I’ve got to stop that falling building!” Good sentiment, but… how? Well, obviously by using cables from the Brooklyn Bridge to pull it back up. Duh.
  • By running really fast, you too can defrost entire cities!
  • “Now that the Flash has defrosted all of the cities…,” Superman says, staring at a screen in which a city is still obviously frozen solid.
  • Aquaman screws up: he puts out a sea fire (!) with a tsunami, which then goes on to swamp “all the coast lines in the Western Hemisphere.” All of them? Including all of the newly-drowned folks?
  • It’s Superfriends law that if your evil opposite is performing crime, only you are allowed to stop him.
  • The Green Lantern actually pushes the Earth out of its orbit to avoid some comets (and fails to push it back!).
  • “There’s no time to think about it!” Batman’s advice here remains constant for the remainder of the series.
  • Hawkman uses his mighty powers of flight and… gardening?
  • The U.S. Capitol building is surrounded by gently rolling green hills, and not much else.
  • Green Lantern, do you have to remind us you can’t affect yellow things at the rate of twice per minute?
  • Lex Luthor converts the Capitol dome into a rocket ship, but the Superfriends don’t seem very concerned.

Episode 3: The World’s Deadliest Game

The Toyman traps a few Superheroes in a black hole. In which the Riddler should have kept his big mouth shut.

  • Okay, no matter how much I may ridicule this series, I have to admit that the theme music gets more and more catchy each time I hear it.
  • Solomon Grundy has an inexplicable southern accent, and is playing with a Bat-Wing toy, which he got on sale at Target for $2.99.
  • Toyman owns his own planet? Cool! But not as cool as Braniac’s cloaking device, which can make the ENTIRE PLANET disappear from sight. More impressive is that it’s hand-held and runs on AAA batteries.
  • We have satellites orbiting the moon (checking for moon weather?).
  • Although Wonder Woman makes a passing try at suiting up for space survival with a bubble helmet, Hawkman and Black Vulcan don’t even have that – and of course, they can all talk through the void as if they were sitting in a nightclub lounge sipping Long Island Ice Teas.
  • Wonder Woman can fly under her own power. And Hawkman’s wings can use space’s abundant atmosphere to fly as well. Can you dig it?
  • “Sector 721 is light years away! How could Earth have gotten there?” “There’s no time to question that now!” I disagree. It’s going to take decades to get there, anyway.
  • The three heroes plunge through a black hole and only complain about mild discomfort. A metaphor involving pooping comes to mind, but I shall leave it be.
  • The center of black holes are calm, like the eye of a hurricane, and can host an entire planet. Ugh.
  • If you’re drawn to a mysterious planet in the middle of a black hole, and find lights, cameras and strange “ghost towns” lying about, you might as well just wander into them and pay no attention to your common sense gland.
  • Does anyone else wonder how much it cost Toyman to build a city on a planet in the middle of a semi-black hole? That sort of thing can’t be Wal-Mart cheap.
  • “It’s too hard to fly in this heavy gravity!” And yet, Black Vulcan was flying just minutes before. I guess the gravity got heavier or something.
  • When he’s on the big screen TV, Riddler’s right hand actually goes outside of the frame, making it look like he’s reaching through the picture.
  • From Riddler’s mention of “trickle”, Batman goes, “Trickle… water… a stream… the Grand Canyon!”
  • The Superfriends would be so lost without their big computer. Lost and cold and afraid.
  • The Flash flies. Shoot, my bunny can fly if shot from a powerful enough catapult.
  • “The tidal wave is rapidly approaching their unprotected mine shaft!” Oh… the innuendo…
  • Batman: “It looks as if the Legion of Doom is having good sport with us!” Since when did the Dark Knight talk like Mr. Walton?
  • If the Riddler led them into a deadly trap with his clues, why would the Superfriends keep trying to follow them? Oh, that’s right, he “never lies” in his riddles. *bangs head on desk*
  • Could you connect the logic dots between “Tighten your belts” and “The missing Superfriends are somewhere in Orion’s Belt”? If you can, you’re Batman.
  • I love Hawkman’s delivery of the line, “That’s NO baby!”
  • During the giant mechanical baby sequence, the animators apparently decided to stop using backgrounds altogether.
  • Never trust women on jungle planets, as they will always hate men. And try to petrify them.
  • The Flash’s molecules are “too fluid to solidify”, whatever that means. I guess he’s made mostly out of water, but then again, so am I.
  • Two clues = two traps. Again, why are the Superfriends still listening to the Riddler? BECAUSE HE NEVER LIES IN HIS RIDDLES.
  • If you can direct your attention to the fact that among the party sent to rescue Black Vulcan, Wonder Woman and Hawkman is… Wonder Woman. Evil twin?
  • “No one knows what’s at the center of a black hole,” says Aquaman, “It could be incredibly dangerous.” Yeah. Or stupid.
  • The Green Lantern, whose green bubble has shielded the other Superfriends in the harshness of space, just up and leaves them.
  • The grand plan of escape from the black hole? The Green Lantern uses his ring to merge (!) with Superman, making something that does something else. Don’t ask me, I’m just an observer.
  • Braniac charges airplanes $10 million to land. I like his style.
  • The Toyman needs to shut the heck UP with his nonstop giggling.

Episode 4: The Time Trap

Grodd traps the Superfriends in the distant (or non-existent) past. In which every superhero follows villainy blindly into weird glowing door frames.

  • Bizarro wants to return to Bizarro World, where “losing equals winning”. I’d think most of the Legion of Doom would want to go there, too.
  • “Silence, Bizarro!” Lex commands. “Or you’ll be the one who loses!” Yeah, but wouldn’t that make him a winner? He just said?
  • Giant gorillas can build hand-held time machines. Who knew?
  • What we’ve learned so far: the Legion spends 100% of their down time sitting around a table, and the Superfriends stand in front of their computer for their 100%. I’d think someone would shower once in a while.
  • “Evasion Plan 6” = Sailing a boat away.
  • I like how Apache Chief instantly figures out that they’ve traveled in time. “Water dinosaur!”
  • Water dinosaurs have thumbs.
  • “It’s time to fight size with size!” Apache Chief is so very wise.
  • Apparently it’s best to freeze stone before you carve it with a magical ring.
  • Things you never thought you’d hear Robin say: “They’re stealing the head of George Washington!”
  • Just a thought: shouldn’t a Japanese superhero named “Samurai” have a sword of some kind?
  • They travel back in time to King Arthur and Camelot. Oh, wait, I meant FICTIONAL time. Whaaaa?
  • Samurai takes a look around some green hills and instantly calculates the year as “500 A.D.”. So that’s what he does.
  • I notice that whenever Green Lantern talks about his power ring, he has to raise it up and show it to everyone. Every. Single. Time. Yeah, yeah, we’ve seen it before, Greenie.
  • If I was Green Lantern, and Sinestro made a horse to joust with, I think I’d make a tank in response.
  • Getting back to the 20th century without a time machine “won’t be easy,” says Green Lantern. Or, you know, possible.
  • For a second there, I thought Caesar would have Batman and Robin crucified. That would’ve been cool.
  • Superman mentions checking the “perimeter of the Milky Way” in such a casual tone as if to suggest he’s just popping down to the 7-11 for a Slurpee.
  • You think the Superfriends would notice they’re standing on a dinosaur before it woke up. Stop thinking.
  • Aquaman has a radio with a “tiny nuclear battery”. Ah, I miss the era when everything was nuclear powered and tiny. Today sucks.
  • Even if Aquaman’s battery could last 100 million years, wouldn’t the casing and circuits disintigrate well before then?
  • “There’s little time, we’ve got to rescue the rest of the Superfriends!” Um, if they’re in the past, does it matter how fast you do or don’t come to their rescue?
  • Superman has very little trouble skipping between time periods. Maybe he should’ve used that in the past to keep thwarting the Legion of Doom before they could impliment their ludicrous plans.
  • Superman flies off with a lion, and presumably tosses it into the stratosphere.
  • Oh, and the Green Lantern’s ring can send them all back in time too. I think about the only Superfriend who can’t travel in time is Hawkman.
  • Batman and Robin have “Bat-lube” in their belts.
  • Seriously.
  • I’m biting my lip SO HARD here.
  • Robin tries to go after the escaping criminals, but Green Lantern stops him (!). The Superfriends like going through this routine on a weekly basis.
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