I’m going to shock you by starting out today’s Mutant Viewing with a compliment for Challenge of the Superfriends: Those show writers really knew how to title an episode. Seriously, so many of them boast titles that make you start involuntarily salivating because you’re dying to know what lays within. And if you can’t tell by the amount of drool pooling on my chin right now, I’m psyched for “Swamp of the Living Dead.” Please let there be thousands of zombies. Please, Cult Santa. I’ve been so good this year!
The episode begins with a mysterious witch (?) slinking across a swamp, oblivious to the spiders, snakes, and alligators all around. The Legion of Doom is watching her from one of their omnipresent cameras, with Black Hydra hypothesizing that she’s a “spy for the Justice League!” Uh… really? That’s what you’re bringing to the table? The Justice League doesn’t even know what spies are, and if they ever found out, about half the Superfriends would faint from dramatic shame on the spot.
Since this show’s motto is “act before you can think,” the Legion bum rushes the witch. Solomon Grundy bursts out of the swamp like… well, like the zombie he is, and Cheetah, Scarecrow, and Lex Luthor surround her. The witch says that if they release her, she’ll give them the “greatest power of their lives.”
Sure, they’re down with that. Lead on, oh witchy witch!
“Now pray with me: We thank you, Lord, for the food before us, the shelter around us, the family beside us, and the love between us. Amen!”
Before you can say, “Where are you going with this, episode?” the witch summons the floating head of Ming the Merciless.
Ming offers the Legion this great undefined evil power, but they got to trade him something in return — a great amount of good. Not sure what a floating bald vampire head wants with “good,” but he’s going to get a face full of it when the Superfriends arrive.
Meanwhile, the animators completely forgot how to draw Lex Luthor and gave him chicken legs.
MEANWHILE AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE… Flash and Green Lantern are either wrapping up a game of Risk or giving a clean bill of health to entire continents. There was about one month in 1978 where there was absolutely no war, crime, or travesties in the world, and this episode took place during that time.
Naturally, Hawkman’s got himself trapped in the swamp because those wings are totally for show and he’s continuing to operate under the delusion that he’s actually a superhero and not a part-time janitor with head trauma. Please note that nobody at the Hall of Justice questions this; they just accept that Hawkman is one of those guys for whom getting trapped is a daily occurence.
Things I learned from this episode: Batman does own the dorkiest vehicle ever AND he made a bat-shaped garage door on the side of the Hall of Justice. That’s called “keeping a low profile!”
Of course, “Hawkman” is actually Scarecrow in a mask — the first time I’ve seen him do just about anything in this series other than take a nap and laugh — and he drags Batman into the water to incapacitate (?) him.
In the moment of their struggle, their eyes met. Each froze, a spark crackling between them. Mortal enemies though they may be, their hearts beat for each other. Her hands dropped and the ropes loosened, but Robin cleared his throat and rasped, “Tighter.”
As an aside, this may be the most attractive and natural the animators EVER made Cheetah on this show. If I was single and two-dimensional, I might ask her for the address of her zoo.
Scarecrow and Cheetah make off with the Batbuggy, but Batman uses the “remote controlled buggy anchors” to stop them. Then vines launch out of the swamp and drag Batman and Robin down to drown them. Morbid, but it’s a good twist.
If the Superfriends really had a nemesis on the show, it wasn’t the Legion of Doom. No, it was clear boxes. These heroes were forever getting trapped in clear boxes, most likely because the animators found them super-easy to draw. This is about the sixth time so far in this series that they get thrown in boxes, and I’m dying to know why Batman doesn’t have a “Bat-box buster” on his belt by this point.
The hallmark of Challenge of the Superfriends is throwing weirdness at you in rapid succession and with a completely straight face so that your brain is stuttering to catch up. I mean, you might be still trying to process why a “Batbuggy” has remote controlled anchors when Hawkman casually shows up and announces that in his spare time, he helps the Air Force with parachute tests. Parachute tests. I have so… many… questions:
- Why would the Air Force pick him? Is this an internship?
- What could a guy who can only fly do to help with parachute tests?
- Did he grab a soldier, fly up to 20,000 feet, and just chuck him to see if he’d live or not?
- Did the Air Force give HIM a parachute in case he forgot how to fly?
- Does the Justice League moonlight to help pay bills?
As we’ve previously established, Sinestro and Green Lantern are besties who really love playing together if they ever get the chance. Today, they’re whacking at each other with floating medieval weapons, but your brain is still digesting Hawkman helping the Air Force with parachute tests. After that fun bout, Green Lantern and Hawkman get captured and put in their collector edition boxes.
The animators were always forgetting which superhero was where, which is why Green Lantern so casually shows up back at the Hall of Justice even though he’s also captured (Aquaman is missing from the shot, however).
Superman, sensing that the group is being picked off one by one, volunteers to go check it out alone. He does leave them instructions to “converge in full force” if he gets taken, but really, what are the odds? You know he’s thinking that the rest of them together isn’t even as powerful as his little pinky.
I imagine Superman uses this line often when he wants to get out of work. “There must be kryptonite… in this Arby’s triple cheesemelt! I must… go sleep it off… in my Fortress of Solitude!”
Long montage short: every single one of the Justice League get captured without any hint of a struggle. Maybe they’re all vulnerable to vine kryptonite.
Things this episode has yet to address: Who is this floating head guy? Does he have a name? What does he need with “good” heroes in a box? Darn it, writers, throw us a bone here!
Eh, no time for answers — there’s zombie summoning afoot! Ming the Merciless gives the Legion the “power of eternity,” which means they can make and control zombies. Dude, YES. That’s all I wanted, episode, and you delivered. I shall not say another mean word about you!
Of course, nobody addresses the fact that Solomon Grundy is a zombie himself. So can a zombie control other zombies? Could the rest of the Legion of Doom control him right now?
And what better way to use an army of four (4) zombies than to take over a “top secret federal plutonium plant” located in the same swamp and guarded by guys with stun rays? I am a little disappointed that we didn’t see guards use tommy guns to saw off arms and legs, but this was probably pushing the limit of kids programming as it was.
I am not disappointed in the guards, who freely say the word “zombies” like it’s something that they commonly see out here. Maybe they do.
I love that the living dead here all dress the same and apparently are stronger than Gorilla Grodd and able to melt through walls.
Well, now that the Superfriends are completely out of commission and the Legion of Doom has an unstoppable zombie army at its beck and call, the only way they can be defeated… is to defeat themselves.
So they try to trap the evil being for more power.
Captain Picard, would you like to do the honors here?
I mean… c’mon… you guys. You won. You actually, for once, won everything. And then you had to go and get extra greedy for no good reason. For shame. I had such hopes in you all.
The evil head easily escapes the gumball and summons the zombies to attack the Hall of Doom. I’m not sure if the Legion still has the “power of eternity” to do their own summoning still, but I don’t care. I’m rocking myself in glee that I’m witness to this glorious moment.
As the zombies easily tear through the outer hull of the Hall of Doom, the background layer of the swamp is oddly replaced by a street sign and lampost. Quality control? What quality control?
Because this show didn’t allow for real fighting, the Legion of Doom quickly gives up when the zombies breach the interior of their fortress. Instead, they run over to where the Superfriends are boxed up — below the swamp somewhere — and let them out in the hopes that the zombies will attack them instead. That kind of feels like a poorly conceived plan, but we got to wrap things up, so this is the stupidest way to end it quickly.
The Superfriends try all of one attack — Green Lantern’s power ring — before conceding defeat. Fortunately, the witch shows up and says that the only way to win is to lure the zombies into the depths of the swamp and “tie them to dead trees with dead vines.” I think whoever wrote this show was on a witchcraft kick, because that sounds eerily specific.
Question: If the zombies came up out of the swamp water, are they water creatures? And if so, would Aquaman be able to control them telepathically?
There’s a whole lot that happens in the final minute, so bear with me here. While the zombies melt back into muck, the Legion pilots the Hall of Doom over to the plutonium plant to fill back up. Superman flies over and tosses the Hall back into the swamp, and the Superfriends charge in. Then the witch appears and announces that because she helped the good guys, now she has to help the bad guys. That’s the vague rule to this episode — never explained, mind you — and so she throws some balls of light and sends everyone away.
The Superfriends end up standing in the middle of the swamp in the saddest victory pose ever, trying to make you forget that they spent most of the episode completely owned by a floating head and an animated scarecrow.