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Legends of

the Superheroes

a/k/a The Challenge of the Superheroes

     "The NAACP says you guys have got to integrate, and the "Green" Lantern doesn't count!"

--  Ghetto Man   

 

     

Reviews:

CultTV

 

 

Buzzkillers!

"Oh, really. THAT big?"

 They don't call him the Big Red Cheese for nuthin' folks.

 

Watch it!

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DVD

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Sights &
Sounds:
Legends
of the
Superheroes
(1979)
 Original Airdates:
  The Challenge:
  January 18, 1979 (NBC)
  The Roast:
  January 25, 1979 (NBC)
 Episodes :: 2
 Hanna-Barbera
 Productions /
 National Broadcasting
 Company
 

 

Roll Call!

The Heroes:

 Batman

 Adam West 

 Robin

 Burt Ward 

 Hawkman

 Bill Nuckols 

 The Green Lantern

 Howard Murphy 

 The Flash

 Rod Hasse 

 Captain Marvel

 Garret Craig 

 The Atom

 Alfie Wise 

 The Huntress

 Barbara Joyce 

 The Black Canary

Danuta 

 Retired Man

William Schallert 

 Ghetto Man

Brad Sanders 

The Villains:

 Mordu

Gabriel Dell 

 The Weather Wizard

Jeff Altman 

 Giganta

A'leisha Brevard 

 Sinestro

Charlie Callas 

 The Riddler

Frank Gorshin 

 Dr. Sivana

Howard Morris 

 Solomon Grundy

Mickey Morton 

 Auntie Minerva

Ruth Buzzie 

 

Our dose of bad brown acid/double-dip of 1970's kitsch opens with Gary Owens introducing our merry band of do-gooders: Captain Marvel, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Huntress, Hawk Man (-- and his bizarre war hoop), Black Canary, and lastly, but not leastly, the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin. These introductions conclude with the announcement that all of these heroes are to be the victims ... make that guests of honor, at a celebrity roast -- so, if thereís a global emergency look elsewhere, because, tonight, weíre busy. (Hey! Whereís Foster Brooks?) With that, Ed McMahon, our master of ceremonies, begins the evening with a fairly funny speech, where he talks about how some superheroes got their powers by falling into a vat of chemicals, and then relates how he once fell into a vat of Budweiser but nothing happened. 

( I knew he couldnít be sober for this. )

The first celebrity roaster of the evening is the Flashís arch-nemesis, the Weather Wizard, whose jokes about meteorological disasters left me shaking my head, hoping that things would get better. They didn't, as he whips up a maelstrom of bad jokes until the Flash dispatches him. Things do recover a bit with a visit from Hawkmanís mom. After a few bad bird jokes, she sticks in a couple of good zingers, chiding her son for not being a homing pigeon, as he never visits; but if he ever does come home to roost he should warn her first, so she can change the papers on his bed. (What can I say, Iím an easy target for laughs.) Dating itself horribly with the next guest, Ghetto-Man starts off strong but quickly degenerates into Idi Amin jokes. I'm serious.

Dr. Sivana, an old enemy of Captain Marvel, is next. An M.D. (-- Mad Doctor, get it?!?), he wants to examine everyone, especially the Black Canary and the Huntress. (Well, who can blame him; the dirty old fart.) Now, I used to have a huge compendium of old Captain Marvel comics, and all I can say is Dr. Sivana is one of the greatest comic book villains of all time but as a comedian he's pretty damned awful. Some fifty-five groans later, they cart out the geriatric Retired Man, a/k/a the Scarlet Cyclone, who is so old -- How old is he? -- and decrepit, he hurts himself while trying to strike a proper superhero pose, and nods off while trying to tell stories. Next comes superhero/celebrity gossip columnist, Rhoda Rooter (-- get it?!?), and her big scoop is that the Atom is going to marry the gargantuan Giganta. (They met through a computer dating service that, quite obviously, is no longer in business.) Things get a little dicey when Rhoda asks how they intend to consummate their marriage, but we cut to a commercial before it gets too graphic.

The Mighty Ghetto-Man.

When we come back, Robin is confessing to Captain Marvel that he wrecked the Batmobile while trying to park it. ("Holy up the creek, Batman.") Of course, word comes that Gotham City is once more under attack, and, in the programís funniest segment, when the Boy Wonder fesses up to totaling the car a disappointed Batman takes him by the ear and warns him to just wait until they get back to the Bat-Cave.

Paging Dr. Wertham! Dr. Frederic Wertham! Please report to the Bat-Cave. Stat.

The brutish Solomon Grundy makes his way in next by crashing through the wall. From there, things quickly go down hill as every time someone would mention the villain's swampy origins, Grundy would get mad and bop McMahon on the head. And no matter where the conversation went, it always circled back to the swamp, explaining why the emcee wound up on the floor, beaten senseless. (Sober or not, I have to give McMahon a little credit; he does a good job with this mounting stoopidity.) After Grundy lumbers off, Auntie Minerva (-- an obscure Captain Marvel villain, who's a black widow in search a sixth husband --) slithers in and sizes up the men folk. When the old bat chooses the Big Red Cheese, she kisses him and shouts "Shazam!" Lightning flashes, and when the smoke clears, Auntie Minerva has been transformed into a femme fatale, who dumps the suddenly drooling Marvel on the spot.

The roast concludes with a dueling ring battle between Green Lantern and Sinestro, and a wild musical number from the mystical Mordu. Iíd like to go into greater detail, here, but my brain has liquefied, and is currently leaking out my left ear, and Iíve got a whole other episode to get through yet ... When the song ends, McMahon thanks everyone for coming, wishes all a good night, and flies off.

I guess the Budweiser finally kicked in. Alas, no cameo appearance from the Taste Buds. Now who remembers those?

The next episode, The Challenge, begins in the villainís lair, where they plot to take over the world. To begin, Mordu, who appears to be in charge, has the Riddler, acting secretary, call the role, and he barely survives when all the bad guys demonstrate their powers on him as he tics them off the list. And so, before they go any further, the Riddler demands that they elect some new officers. Moving on, Dr. Sivana reveals his doomsday device that will detonate in one hour, destroying everyone else on Earth -- including their dreaded enemies, the Superheroes. To prevent the good guys from finding them, or the bomb, they have the Riddler devise a series of clues and puzzles as delaying tactics.

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Heroes, the Scarlet Cycloneís retirement party is interrupted when the Villains send a message, saying the world will end in one hour by way of Sivanaís bomb. (Hereís a novel idea. Why not instead of delaying tactics they just not tell them about the bomb until after it goes off?) With so little time, the heroes decide to split up. And if they find anything, theyíre to leave a message at the local gas station. (I donít know, itís the '70s, just go with it.) Outside the Hall, Sinestro sabotages the Batmobile, and then watches as the Heroes exit and disperse ... It isnít long, then, before the Batmobile breaks down. They barely make it to the gas station and turn it over to the attendant for repairs, who is none other than Solomon Grundy in disguise. See, Mordu gave him a magic hat that disguises him, but Grundy, being a little slow, keeps taking it off -- like right now. Once unmasked, Grundy and Batman fight, and the brutish villian easily wipes the floor with him. Outmatched, Batman and Robin strategically withdraw to look for the bomb.

In a nearby phone booth, taking this all in, a very thin Marsha Warfield gives her friend on the other end of the line the play by play of the action. Redundant? Yes. Funny. No. Meantime, the Green Lantern is suckered in by a fortuneteller (-- and that's either the ugliest gypsy of all time, or it's Sinestro in drag), who promises to reveal where the bomb is. After getting his palm read and his handwriting analyzed, Lantern finally unmasks Sinestro and blasts him. Nearby, Operation Stall continues with the Weather Wizard posing as a used car salesman, who tries to sell the Dynamic Duo a new set of wheels. After selling them a booby trapped motorcycle and sidecar, the Wizard watches as they roar off, the cycle appearing to have a mind of it's own, and their new ride splits in two ... Back at the gas station, Hawkman spies the Batmobile. But when he investigates, our hero is captured by Grundy and chained to the top of the car-lift in the shop.

Meanwhile, some poor people trying to have a picnic are run over by the Flash, the Huntress, and the runaway Bat-Cycle. The Black Canary also spots the Batmobile but gets captured, too, and chained up beside Hawkman. (For the record: Warfield is still on the phone taking this all in.) Captain Marvel is next to fall into a trap, when the Riddlerís next clue, disguised as a Bermashave ad, tells him to look into his mind for the answer. So, Marvel figures the location of the bomb lies hidden in his subconscious. As luck would have it, the Riddler is nearby disguised as a psychiatrist, with a couch ready and waiting. He diagnoses Marvel as having an identity crisis compounded by a split personality. But the villain's word association game backfires, though, as HIS subconscious accidentally reveals that the bomb is located in a lake. (How did this happen? Because Marvel is such a big idiot and is terrible at word association.) Ah, but the Riddler disappears before Marvel can find out which lake.

Returning to the gas station to report in, Marvel tricks Grundy into leaving, frees the others, and tells them the bomb is located in some unknown lake. Luckily, Warfield overheard Grundy talking to Mordu and tells them itís at a lake with an island. With that revelation, Hawkman says it has to he Hidden Island Lake, the only lake with an island. (... Hidden Island Lake? Who's writing this crap?) Using her sonic cry, the Black Canary shouts to the other Heroes about where to go.

In a last ditch attempt to stop them, Sivana takes his liquid anti-power formula, disguises himself as a little boy, and opens a lemon-aid stand. He tricks Marvel and Green Lantern into drinking his serum, rendering them powerless, but the others bypass him. And so, Mordu jumps on a Jet Ski and leads the Heroes on a wild goose chase as the timer on the bomb counts down to zero. With less than a few minutes remaining, all the Villains congregate in their lair, where they drink a toast to the impending victory -- but drink Sivanaís anti-power solution by accident. The Heroes break in, mayhem ensues, and the bomb is stopped, using Dr. Sivana's head as a battering ram with -- all together now -- one second left to spare.

The End

Whew! I made it!

Back in the late 1970's, the heroes of DC Comics were going through a massive surge in popularity. With the forthcoming feature film for the Man of Steel, the mod television version of Wonder Woman, and, of course, the Saturday morning staple, The Super-Friends, these guys and gals in spandex hadnít had it this good since the original Batman TV series was on the air in the late '60s. Seriously. I remember back in 1976 when my folks piled the entire Beerman clan -- all seven of us -- into the old wood-paneled Vista Cruiser and headed to Florida for one of those hell vacations that weíve all been through. Remember, most of those old station wagons had the last seat facing the rear, so I rode all the way from Nebraska to Florida -- and back again -- backwards. (I was also the kid that got carsick and threw up every three miles.) One of our destinations was Sea World, and aside from seeing Shamoo and the sharks (-- along with superheroes, the nation was also gripped in JAWSmania), we took in a water park theme show, starring none other than a bunch of poor souls dressed up as the same DC comic book characters. I remember my older sister, Chris, was plucked from the audience and allowed to participate. Oddly enough, even Aquaman seemed out of his element. It was so bizarre. Iíve got the program, a large treasury edition comic, and pictures of that six pack of awesome floating around in one of those boxes at my momís house that I pray she hasnít chucked out yet. (More online pics here, here, and here.)

A couple of years later, Hanna-Barbera took an idea from Sheldon Moldoff and turned it into a live-action comedy show based on these same DC characters called The Legends of the Superheroes. And to pull it off they put Adam West and Burt Ward back in their Bat-jammies, but the rest of the heroes are relative unknowns. To play the villains, they recruited some better known comedians of the day like Callas, Morris and Buzzie. One episode was to be a roast, based, Iím sure, on the immense popularity of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. The second was more of a homage to the old Batman TV series: bad jokes, bad puns, silly action with goofy villains, concluding with a slam-bang fight scene. Mercifully, it only lasted two episodes. Truthfully, the concept was already running out of gas already, so this is probably a good thing.

Now, some DC staples seem suspiciously absent here. I assume the license for Superman was tied up in the movie, Wonder Woman with the TV show, and Aquaman was -- hey, where was Aquaman?

They only could have gotten away with this crap in the '70s, but on the flip side it also makes the program very dated. Unless you were around, all the energy crisis, Drive 55, and womenís lib jokes wonít make much sense. But letís give some credit where credit is due (-- I say trying not to laugh). The production seems rushed but itís solid enough. The costuming job is really quite good, especially Solomon Grundy, and all the actors seemed to be having fun and sell it with all they got. The pyrotechnics are adequate, but the rest of the F/X are strictly chroma-key and in-camera trickery.

I do remember watching this thing when it first aired, but, for some reason, the only thing I really remembered about it was the *sigh* Huntress and the *double sigh* Black Canary, which is strange because I was a huge fan of the Flash. (You figure it out.) Some twenty years later, while browsing a local comic book shop, I found a stash of rare videos for sale. Having enough money for only two vids, I bought this and Roger Corman's aborted Fantastic Four film. It was a toss up between those and the Star Wars Holiday Special, but I just canít quite bring myself to watch that again. Of course, these were bootlegs, and as crappy as the print of The Fantastic Four was the print for this was remarkably good, and appears to be dubbed off the direct satellite feed because, when it went to commercial, there were several minutes of dead air.

I'll admit if this didnít have Hanna-Barbera listed in the credits, Iíd swear this whole thing was another Sid & Marty Kroft pipe dream. And if I was a mean sort of guy I could have ripped this program savagely, but since I'm not I'll leave you with this:

The Legends of the Superheroes is cheesy, grounded in the era from whence it came, and corny as all hell, but I laughed my butt off. If you don't like cheese, 1970's variety TV, or corn, you probably won't. Use that as a reference, and proceed at your own risk.

Legends of the Superheroes (1979) Hanna-Barbera Productions :: National Broadcasting Company (NBC) / EP: Joseph Barbera / P: Bill Carruthers / AP: Joel Stein / D: Bill Carruthers, Chris Darley / W: Mike Marmer, Peter Gallay / E: Andy Shubert / M: John Beal, Fred Werner / S: Adam West, Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin, Jeff Altman, Charlie Callas, Gabriel Dell

Originally Posted: 05/17/01 :: Rehashed: 10/05/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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