Legends of the Superheroes
Legends of the Superheroes 1979
Batman’s 80th anniversary just passed yesterday and in celebration I finally gave in and signed up for DC Universe’s new streaming app with their 80 cents for the first month sale. The main reason why I wanted to get the app was to watch this DC oddity that I had heard about but never got around to watching until now. It’s not quite a movie, not quite a miniseries, but it’s a two-part TV special that honestly feels like DC’s answer to the Star Wars Holiday Special. It’s ultra-low budget, it feels like a sketch comedy show with superheroes, and it’s difficult to tell what they really wanted to do with this property. It’s one of the very few Hanna Barbera live action properties and was tied into the Superfriends cartoon, but they couldn’t use Superman or Wonder Woman due to their rights being tied up in other places at the time. It’s pretty much one of those so-bad-it’s-good, but it did catch a couple genuine laughs out of me.
The basic premise is a classic variety style show that stars the Justice League consisting of: Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman, The Huntress, Captain Marvel, and Black Canary. And they’re facing off against a group of supervillains that aren’t exactly given a group name that consist of: Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, Mordru, Dr. Sivana, Giganta, Solomon Grundy, Sinestro, and Weather Wizard. And while the heroes get an announcer to introduce all of them one by one in an opening credits fashion, the villains go through a comedy sketch style roll call. The Riddler goes through each of the villains one by one and gives them what’s supposed to be a riddle-like introduction but basically just describes them, followed by the villains saying their name and/or attacking Riddler in order to show off their powers. Like everything else involved in this special, it was just a lazy and cheap way to introduce all of the villains who were basically unknown at this point except to comic book fans.
As far as the characters and their powers go, cheap is the only word that can be used to describe it. The Flash’s super speed is represented by having him stand in one place, then disappear in a cheaply animated red dot. It doesn’t so much seem like he’s moving fast, but is teleporting. Green Lantern and Sinestro don’t fare much better with their rings giving off basically animated laser beams. At one point, Green Lantern points the ring at himself and disappears, and it’s very much unclear as to whether he was supposed to be invisible, or teleporting/moving at super speed like the Flash. The costumes themselves were also pretty poor with the majority of the costumes just being a step up from a Halloween store costume. Hawkman’s was the most elaborate but his face mask looked like it was made out of construction paper. Even the sets for the villain and hero lairs were exactly the same set, just dressed slightly differently. The best makeup would probably go to Solomon Grundy who actually did look the part.
But besides the costumes and special effects were the performances themselves, and they also varied quite wildly. The best would be the mini-reunion from the 60’s Batman show with Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin falling right back into their character beats. The heroes were all pretty poor with zero personality. Captain Marvel was really the only one who got more than a couple lines and those were pretty dull and uninteresting. The villains fared just a little better with Solomon Grundy playing up the dumb brute routine well enough and Dr. Sivana played by cartoon voice actor Howard Morris doing his best generic foreign villain accent. Sinestro played by Charlie Callas had a few nice comedic beats as well, like when he was disguised as a fortune teller playing off of Green Lantern.
As far as the plot goes, there really isn’t one to speak of, this was basically just an excuse to have a comedy show about superheroes. The first half/episode/whatever focused on the villain’s scheme to set off a doomsday device but it somehow turned into a sketch comedy chase movie where each of the heroes split up and the villains dressed up in different costumes to stall them/lead them astray. Solomon Grundy dresses up as a gas station attendant using a magic hat so that the heroes don’t see through his disguise unless he takes the hat off, which he does more than once. Sinestro dresses as a fortune teller, Riddler as a psychiatrist to stall Captain Marvel, and finally Sivana as a kid in a lemonade stand giving out drinks that will sap the heroes’ powers. There’s also a completely random jetski chase with Mordru and Batman & Robin. The second half eschews any sort of hero plot and turns into just a straight up comedy roast with Ed McMahon hosting. They bring in several other random characters like Hawkman’s mother and Ghettoman as just excuses to perform basically a couple minutes of superhero-themed stand-up comedy. There’s a few special effects thrown out here or there, and while much of it would be considered very tone deaf nowadays, Ghettoman’s set was the funniest.
It’s very difficult to describe this special to someone, and it’s even more difficult to know what they were trying to do with this when they initially made it. It was extremely cheap, it used plenty of the more obscure and lesser known superheroes. It didn’t play off of any real superheroics and instead just acted as if the whole thing was a big joke and they were just making fun of the concept of superheroes in general. There were a few funny moments here and there, but for the most part it was just a bizarre oddity that kept getting stranger and stranger until it ended with Mordru literally doing a literally tone deaf musical number. It’s worth watching for the sheer absurdity of it all but that’s about it. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.