Mutant Viewing: Challenge of the Superfriends Episode 5: Trial of the Superfriends

It’s been a while — okay, years — since I started my Challenge of the Superfriends viewing project, and I’m not quite sure why I stopped after the fourth episode.  It might have had something to do with the Legion of Doom filing a restraining order against MRFH, or just general laziness on my part.  But after reading back through my experiences with the utterly wacked-out first few episodes, I knew I had to return and see this thing through.

Properly.

For justice.

For revenge.

For the untold millions of little kids who grew up watching substandard (yet hilarious) superhero action.

And now we are off for undoubtedly the greatest episode of them all…

Trial of the Superfriends

The episode starts off with the overenthusiastic narrator — who really is the glue that holds this series together — jabbering on about an “Astro Chemical Research Plant” near Metropolis.  What do they research?  Star chemicals?

“Danger!” a warning sign warns.  “No Trespassers!” it continues ominously.

So, of course, Batman and Robin take that as a personal challenge and an affront to their supreme authority.

"We'll trespass all OVER your astro chemicals, and you'll like it!"

Actually, Batman’s along with three other Superfriends guarding the “incredibly important contents” of the plant.  I don’t know if Astro Chemical is just getting cheap with their security guard budget, or if they know that the Superfriends are saps who will do whatever, whenever anyone calls them, but it leads us to one of the saddest pictures of Batman ever put on screen:

Batman: The Dark Knight Shift

While Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman chew the fat outside, Green Lantern is hanging out with the scientists and a funky 70’s disco beat.  We then find out what’s so important — as one scientist helpfully explains to the other scientist who has been working on the same project for months and knows it like the back of his hand, “We’ve finally isolated the nucleus from the sun’s rays and condensed it into its liquid form.”

That sound you’re hearing?  A thousand high school science teacher’s heads simultaneously exploding.  We learned NOTHING useful from cartoons when we were kids.

So, liquid light.  Awesome.  What’s it used for?  “The answer to the world’s energy problems,” one scientist says, demonstrating this by melting a steel bar in a glass bowl with the goop (the bowl is, of course, completely unfazed).  Um, science guys?  A question?  Have you heard of solar panels?  I mean, they can’t melt steel, but they harness the sun’s rays just fine even still.

SCIENCE!

Robin — using a comically huge portable phone — is excited that the Air Force is on its way to take the liquid light to a government testing base, at which point the Superfriends’ jurisdiction ends and everyone can get a good night’s sleep.  You know, unless a bunch of pajama’d weirdos are hanging out nearby with “sinister plans” and whatnot.  Like those guys.  Hey guys!

On a nearby hill, Brainiac is all excited that his radar jamming device has foiled the Bat-Radar, and nobody has the heart to tell him that radar doesn’t detect people walking around.  He’s just too proud of his contribution.

"Unless they use their eyes, but really, what are the odds?"

Their grand plan to nab the liquid light is to split up the Superfriends and take them out, which is as simplistic as it is stupid.  Why not just wait until the Air Force has it?  You have a giant intelligent gorilla on your team, and if King Kong has taught us anything, it’s that Gorillas > Air Force.

Anyway, as the Legion of Doom attacks, the Superfriends split up to combat their Union-mandated foe: Wonder Woman to Cheetah, Green Lantern to Braniac, Batman and Robin to Scarecrow.

Wonder Woman could’ve just run around the corner, but she shows off by swooping down via lasso, only to find that Cheetah has “three-dimensional holographic laser images” throwing up purrrr-fect duplicates.  Wonder Woman is confused by this bold vision of the future.  Gee!  Holograms!  Didn’t they start putting them on credit cards in the early 80’s?  But holograms are no match for a stern talking-to, which is what Wonder Woman has in spades.  She figures out the real Cheetah because holograms “don’t cast shadows”.  Except it’s night.  But hey, don’t let details stand in the way of your lassoing:

JEM and the Holograms

Just wait, it gets better.  So in this intricate chess match of minds, Cheetah pulls out another card: Wonder Woman has captured a — why not? — rocket version of Cheetah.  As in, blast-into-outer-space rocket.  The thing takes off and Wonder Woman lacks the foresight to let go of the rope, so instead she makes it up to 20,000 feet before letting go (all the while monologuing her issues) and then uses telepathy to call the invisible jet to come pick her up.

Question: how did Wonder Woman ever see that jet?  You’d think she’d fracture a leg free-falling into the cockpit, but whatever.  The rocket comes back down and Cheetah gloats that she finally has WW’s magic lasso, just in time for the rodeo.

Brainiac busts down another wall with a huge tank/drill thing that didn’t quite make it to the toy shelves for Christmas ’78.  Instead of blasting it to kingdom come with his ring, Hal Jordan elects to create something that would give little Timmy nightmares if he saw it under his bed:

"They're called 'eyeball pluckers' Timmy, and they're coming for you"

The tanks tangle, and Green Lantern’s wins, although the victory is short-lived.  He finally tries to send a stream of lime-flavored pain Brainiac’s way, but Brainiac responds with the business end of an air horn and sucks up the energy — along with the ring.  You can see Green Lantern’s mind snap as he loses his one reason to exist (that would be costume jewelry).

In the meanwhile, Batman and Robin are reliving classic scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

It's funnier to misread it as "ovaries"

“This many crows at night can only mean one thing,” says Batman.  A rotting carcass?  “The Scarecrow!” he finishes triumphantly.

So… wouldn’t crows not like the Scarecrow?  Because he scares them?  Isn’t that his whole thing?  I probably shouldn’t overthink it.

A couple crows apiece pick up the Dynamic Duo by their capes — proving that Batman and Robin are completely hollow — and the Scarecrow uses an oddly-specific double barrel gun that shoots two diverging beams that serve to snatch their utility belts.  The Superfriends: don’t question technology!

And good job on making the crotch-shooting beams urine-yellow, guys!

On a side note, I have a love/hate relationship with the Superfriends writer’s inability to come up with truly biting insults for the Legion to sling at the good guys.  The word “fool” is used way too much, and the “super-” prefix even more so.  I don’t think I’d be crying myself to sleep if a living scarecrow called me a “super sap”, but that’s just how tough I am.

Cheetah phones in to base, and Luthor is thrilled that they got the devices that made these specific four Superfriends useful in any way, shape or form.  Good for the Legion of Doom that Superman, Apache Chief and the Wonder Twins weren’t on duty that night, because all they could steal from them was their dignity.  Luthor finally does something that makes me break out in goosebumps: he activates the Legion HQ’s jet thrusters, causing the Darth Vader head to lift off.

"Luke, remember the time you chopped off my head in Empire Strikes Back? Well, who's laughing now? WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?"

Batman proves a little slow to call for backup — and the Legion HQ apparently comes from a half-mile away — because before they can get word out to the rest of the Superfriends, the four emasculated heroes are kidnapped.  Bizarro and Black Manta then stroll into the base and pick themselves up a six-pack of liquid light.

You know what I’m thinking of right now?  That can of “liquid Schwartz” from Spaceballs.  No, I don’t know why.

The four less-than-superheroes appear in the main hall of the Legion’s HQ, where — against all odds — 13 of the galaxy’s worst supervillains are sitting civilly around a table.  Robin spouts another “Holy [noun]!” line, which is pretty much the extent of his contribution.  Batman’s “instincts” tell him that they’re in the middle of the Hall of Doom.  Really, Batman?  Ya think?  It could be a Dairy Queen, you never know.

Lex Luthor immediately strikes terror in their hearts from the top of his heart-decorated podium:

The Legion of Doom: hugs and cuddles for the asking

Apparently we’re in for a mock trial, and Grodd (!) acts as the bailiff, swearing the Superfriends to tell “untruths and nothing but untruths… so help you Grodd!”  Yeah, that’s helpful Grodd.  Go back to flinging your poop on Toyman.

Speaking of Toyman, I guess he’s the prosecutor.  You may be wondering why the Superfriends aren’t at least trying to throw down, with or without their gadgets.  The answer is simple: they really are quite helpless, bound by something stronger than the Legion itself.  1970’s cartoon censors.  The Superfriends never, ever punch or kick people in this show, which is one of those details that becomes glaring once you first notice.  Drop a building on someone, sure, but a roundhouse kick?  Out of the question!

The list of “crimes” against the four Superfriends reads like a love letter from the Legion.  They do good stuff and uphold the law while trying to stop the bad guys — yeah, I think that’s enough for the chair, right there.  Utilizing all the years of his finely-honed martial arts training, Batman stands still and attempts to reason with Luthor.  “This is absurd!” he complains.

“This is absurd!” is also the theme of the show, in case you haven’t caught on.

Toyman goes on to talk about the gizmos they took from the Superfriends, gizmos which are now sitting — unguarded! — on a table about four feet from the superheroes.  Hey guys, I know you love a good trial as much as the rest of us, but perhaps you should make a try for your gear?

Two things should be happening at this point.  One, the Superfriends should stop playing along with the trial thing (although they can’t help it, since it resembles “law” and “justice”).  Two, the Legion of Doom should execute the Superfriends, Cajun-style, and dump their corpses on the front lawn of the Hall of Justice before zipping over to the mall for smoothies.  But, no, Green Lantern has to butt in:

Versus legally breaking in?

“Observe the harsh treatment given to Brainiac, Cheetah and Scarecrow,” Toyman continues as a screen highlights the recent battle.  So, what exactly did Batman and Robin do to Scarecrow again?  Give up their gear without a fight?  Yeah, that was it.

Long story short, the Superfriends are found guilty, and Robin has a stroke.  “Holy mistrials, we’re innocent!”

So what’s the verdict?  A dunk in the shark tank?  Life without parole?  A Justin Bieber concert?  Nay, they’re going to fight android versions of themselves.

Of course.

Again, very fortunate that THESE FOUR superheroes happened to be the ones chosen for guard duty that night.

Meanwhile in the Hall of Justice, Superman orders a pizza and definitely does not check in with the rest of the team.

Because 70’s cartoon writers obviously thought that kids were so stupid that they needed to have a constant stream of exposition and plot recapping so as to not get lost in the labyrinthian threads of these stories, Brainiac painfully points out that “the only difference between you and these androids is that they are wearing your power devices!”  Well, yes, and also their clothes.  And Wonder Woman’s magic bracelets that she never lost to Cheetah, for some reason.

Of all the offended heroes, Green Lantern seems the most peeved, and I’m glad.  Considering that he can’t shut up about how awesome his high school class ring is, I’m enjoying the schadenfreude of seeing him impotent and seething.

After the commercial break, Superman’s finally starting to wonder what’s going on.

"I don't understand" is the Superfriends' official motto

You’d think that the scientists from the plant would’ve notified him of that before now, but I guess they called it a night.  Superman, the Flash and Black Vulcan fly off to help (yes, the Flash can fly because his molecules are faster than air itself, shut up) while Aquaman and Hawkman stay behind to — I swear — hang out by the phone in case Batman calls.

Superman and company enter the plant, where Bizarro and Black Manta are still there (!) gloating about their potential robbery.  Bizarro pushes over a huge cauldron of liquid light, which the scientists have helpfully neglected to install any safeguards against such an event happening.  Instead of eating through the floor like continuity-adhering liquid light should, it instead flows slooooowly toward the heroes.  Heroes who can fly, mind you.  I don’t think Bizarro thought this through.

Superman tries to use a steel door to stop the flow, but the liquid light remembers that it can eat through anything and proceeds to plow through the door and the side of the building but not through the ground and into the Earth’s core.  The liquid light rolls down the hill toward Metropolis, further showcasing the scientists’ incredible foresight to locate their dangerous chemical lab at the top of a hill instead of a crater far, far away from civilization.

Since something exciting — yet stupid — is happening, of course we’re yanked back to the sham of a trial at the Hall of Doom.  Luthor asks the four if they have any last words.  Dude, Luthor!  Don’t give them another excuse to jabber!  Just put a cap in them!

Brainiac teleports the Superfriends and the Superandroids to a jungle, giving Wonder Woman her episode fifth “Great Hera!”   Considering that she grew up in a jungle environment, you’d think it would be a happy event for her.  And you’d be right.

Hello kitty!

Although she does feel compelled to tell us, just for the one kid who was eating glue and not paying attention, that she’s missing her magic lasso.  Wonder Woman?  Are you saying that’s all there is to you?  What about your jet?  Your bracelets?  The Desert Eagle you strap to your lower back?

Once she spots the Superandroid, she does what every bold superhero would do: run away like the craven yellowbelly that she is.

Batman and Robin aren’t faring much better, although for Robin’s sake, at least they were teleported together.  Seeing as how he reacts to a poisonous snake by flinching slightly and letting Batman deal with it, I’d say his life expectancy by himself measures somewhere in the high nanoseconds.

Superandroids appear, and — yes — they run as well.

"Holy cowardly action, Batman!"

And these were the heroes we were supposed to look up to, remember.  The ones who had advanced hand-to-hand combat training, superior reflexes and battle-honed skills.  The ones who were currently trying to hold their bladders while they flee from robots with string.

The Green Lantern gets a full dose of power ring shot at his face, although oddly enough, it doesn’t hit; he just throws up his arms, the beam falls short, and he runs away.  I guess… it’s out of batteries?

We are taken back to the liquid light assault, which is now bearing down on “Kendleville”, not Metropolis as the narrator stated earlier.  Maybe there are two towns, one on each side of the death chemical hill?  Makes as much sense as anything else here.  Black Vulcan and Superman race the stream to do something to it, something possibly involving lightning and heat rays, which was pretty much their majors in college.

Meanwhile, the show treats us to the human face of this tragedy: two barefoot boys who are out in the middle of the night on a mission to — why not? — catch frogs from a creek.  Question!  What are they going to do with the frogs?  Perhaps it’s even more sinister than the Legion of Doom, and Superman should refocus his efforts on amphibian rescue.

"One for each demon we will summon from the underworld, Pete!"

Sadly, we never know the exact frog count, seeing as how the liquid light is ready for its closeup.  Liquid light looks a lot like melted butter, by the way.

Black Vulcan swallows his pride and spits out, “Great lightning!”  If you ever want to make a fortune from a genie that would result in you becoming an instant millionaire, then ask to get paid $1 for every time a Superfriend exclaims something starting with the word “great” (Robin excluded).  He swoops down to pick up the kids as the liquid light goes into the pond and doesn’t resurface.  So is it extinguished?

Superman isn’t worried about small fry like two frognappers — Superman thinks BIG, and right now, he’s curious how much public destruction he can get away with in the name of stopping a trickle of light.  Rip up a concrete dam and throw it into the light’s path?  Um… sure!  Go ahead!

Yes. Yes. "Abandoned." Right.

Question!  When does a dam ever become abandoned?  And if it was abandoned, shouldn’t that mean there’s no more water flowing through it?

If you can accept that a dam will hold together structurally when pulled out and handled by a tiny pivot, then perhaps you can swallow what Superman does next.

He plunks the dam right down in the middle of Kendleville.  Not at the outskirts — on 3rd and Main, visibly squashing several residences and blocking the sun forever.  That’s really going to kill the grass.

On the plus side, the city's skateboarding subset is going to love it.

But really, what was the alternative?  To let the light quickly pass through the town and repair a road or two afterward?  Inconceivable!

Superman lands and checks out the fruits of his super-labor.  “I think it’s holding,” he says to no one in particular.  The liquid light yells “Gotcha!” and bursts through the concrete in the very next second, bowling over Superman and rendering his multiple acts of destruction of property wasted effort.  Nevermind the fate of the town — what’s become of Supes?  Flash is concerned:

...he says to no one in particular.

Now, let’s think this situation through, because the cartoon writers certainly didn’t.  Where does Superman get his awesome powers?  C’mon, first graders know this.  Why, Earth’s yellow sun, of course.  And what’s liquid light made of?  Condensed rays from Superman’s very power source.  So Superman getting covered in liquid light is sort of like covering the Flash in espresso — it’s messy, but it’s just going to make him overpowered and hyper for the next three days.  So there’s really no reason to be concerned.

My theory is that the writers honestly forgot they were dealing with fictional “liquid light” at some point, and mentally substituted “lava” for the remainder of the episode.

The Flash pronounces that there’s only “one chance” left — really, only one?  Says who?  I’m sure there’s more than one chance.  Just give it time.  Form a study group.

We get a giddy shot of the town’s streets being melted by the light as pedestrians, out for an evening stroll to catch frogs, no doubt, run in panic.  Two cars explode, but the light fails to enter any of the buildings.

The Flash runs in circles — he’s forever doing this in the cartoon — and creates a liquid light tornado, or, if you’re hungry, a cannoli.  It gets sucked into the sky, the city is saved, and everyone asks why he couldn’t have done that in the first place.  Or Superman, for that matter.

The narrator, giddy on his interpretation of science, exposits that the liquid light disperses in the upper atmosphere and returns to Earth as “harmless falling stars.”   Did they not know what falling stars were in the 70s, or was everyone simply high at the time and went, “Whoa… liquid light, man…!”?

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is still on the run, swinging from her stolen lasso while her android counterpart swings from the same lasso.  Give the animators a break, it was their kids birthday and they didn’t think anyone would notice.  She gets caught by the android and tied up for what we’re TOLD are hungry ants — you know, the type that love to eat people — but LOOK like burgundy blobs.  Caught in a helpless situation, Wonder Woman decides that the only way out is to use telepathy to break Braniac’s hold on her lasso.

Seriously, my nose bled from typing that.  First of all, how can an android use mental control over anything?  Second, shouldn’t the lasso be bound to Wonder Woman in a way that nobody else can use it, like the Club?  Third, why didn’t she use her mental link with the lasso to get it back when Cheetah first stole it?

She succeeds, and the lasso tosses off the ant-blob-raisin-things.

"Listen, ants are really, really, REALLY hard to draw! Get off our back!"

Wonder Woman’s good, then.  Let’s check in with Batman and Robin, whose fear is pumping those legs like there’s no tomorrow.  Their android versions shoot a net over them — no, not a net, but a copyright infringement:

He's got the Spider-Man costume for kids parties, okay?

Bat-Webs.  Sheesh.  Listen, I gotta wrap this up quickly or I might smash the TV.  Alligators attack, Batman uses the web and a stone to hit the utility belt and activate the Bat Invisibility Ray, the androids run into the invisible web, all is good in Gotham.  We also learn that “alligators don’t like androids”, which helped me not one bit on college placement exams.

Hal Jordan?  He’s dead.  Or something.  I really couldn’t care less.

Everyone meets back at Astro Chemicals, where not a single bio-hazard team or even a firetruck is to be seen.  The Legion is holed up in the plant demanding control of the world’s oil.  Actually, that’s a pretty forward-thinking evil plan, and somewhat sane for this group.  I like it.  I’d love to see how the Arab nations would respond to the demands of a bald white dude with a popped purple collar.

Apparently there’s even MORE liquid light, which shows you that the true villains of this piece are irresponsible scientists.

Or, hey, both!

Batman has a plan, and I’m pretty sure it involves running away screaming like a little girl.

Well, no, but he was thinking it.  The plan is for Superman to tunnel up through the ground and drain the light deep into the Earth’s crust, where it probably will burrow and eventually pop out in urban China.  It’s their problem now, ha ha!

There’s a bit of a fight where nobody actually fights, and the only noteworthy moment is when Batman and Robin use “Bat-Resin” to freeze Grodd in mid-leap.  Huh, resin counteracts gravity and forward momentum now, does it?  I must buy some.

As always, there’s some big talk about hauling the Legion off to prison, but you know the Superfriends’ hearts aren’t in it.  They give Luthor enough time to teleport everyone away, and the good guys look oddly content at the restored status quo.

Except for the destroyed lab.

And one broken dam.

And a city melted and squashed.

And four murderous androids still out there.

And all of the frogs in Jimmy’s bag.

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