Friday, November 17, 2017

JLA Week: Justice League (2017) Trailer

JLA Week: Smallville: "Justice" (January 18, 2007)

In “Justice,” Clark Kent (Tom Welling) is still busy rounding up Kryptonian criminals who have escaped from the Phantom Zone.  But when his old friend, Bart Allen (Kyle Gallner) -- the fastest man alive -- happens into Kansas, Clark is suspicious that something is up.

He’s right. 

Bart is now working in secret with Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Alan Ritchson), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Lee Thompson Young) to help stop Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), and his secret “33.1” program, which involves the capture and exploitation of those with unusual abilities. His plan seems to to create an army of "super freaks."

On his mission to learn more, Bart walks into a trap at the Luthorcorp Ridge Facility, and Clark attempts to rescue him, unaware that the same facility is refining the meteor rocks that are deadly to him. 

Fortunately, Oliver’s “Justice” league comes to the rescue, and destroys the facility.

This sixth season episode of Smallville (2001 – 2011) written and directed by Steve DeKnight, sets up the Justice League for future appearances on this long-lived superhero series. Indeed, the league would return with new members (like Black Canary) throughout the remainder of the program’s run.

We live now in an age when superheroes on film and TV are not shy at all about appearing on-screen in comic-book uniforms. Smallville emerges from the age immediately preceding that one (post X-Men 2000]) when this was not the case. There was some embarrassment, apparently, on the part of producers about the comic-book costumes. Accordingly, the Justice League featured here is not seen in uniform, but rather in colorful “hoodies” and designer eye wear.  

The Flash -- here called Impulse -- wears a red hoodie, for example. Green Arrow wears a green one.  In a nod to the character’s appearance in The Super Friends, Arthur Curry’s Aquaman in Smallville is seen in an orange shirt.  

It’s not a perfect solution, for certain, and today – post-Avengers [2012], the hoodies seem silly and unnecessary, when we could have seen the characters in their classic uniforms instead.

So how does “Justice” hold up today? 

Well, again, one must consider the historical context. Smallville arose from a TV era that gave us two brilliant genre series: The X-Files (1993-2002), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003). In those series, audiences saw monsters-of-the-week, and also a strong post-modern, or “meta” sensibility.  

The same is true for Smallville.  

Especially notable in this episode is the latter quality.  Oliver jokes that he wants to give his league something with the name “Justice” in it. Similarly, Clark notes he boasts some “pretty amazing friends,” which seems like a reference to the Super Friends version of the Justice League.  The whole episode is quippy and tongue-in-cheek, and yet effective dramatically in one very real sense.

What is that sense? 

Well, Smallville ran for a very long time, and had a very “slow burn” approach to its story arcs.  “Justice” is worthwhile because Victor, Arthur, Bart, and Oliver, of course, have all had special episodes devoted to their back-stories and abilities by this point. "Justice" is not their first appearance, but rather their first appearance together. Accordingly, there is a sense of history about each of the league members that we would not have had, if the series had not assiduously devoted time and energy to establishing their characters individually. That history pays off here.

And yes, the episode is a bit cheesy.   

I won’t write, as one character quips, that “disappointment abounds,” but clearly this is the Justice League on a live-action TV budget. The team’s most dramatic moment finds the group -- walking in slow-motion-photography -- in the foreground of a shot, as Lex’s facility explodes in the background.  The effects don’t hold up particularly well today, and the moment doesn’t make  any sense anyway. 

Oliver is still human, rather than meta-human, right? Wouldn’t he want to move quickly away from a fireball?  

Actually, the same thing holds true for Clark, since we know meteor rocks are on the premises, and would make for very dangerous shrapnel in an explosion of the size we witness.  But now, instead, we get a cool-for-cool’s sake moment.

The other disappointment, of course, is that Justice League as featured here lacks two of the most famous and notable members: Batman and Wonder Woman. Come to think of it, this Justice League, at this juncture, is all-male.

Still, I was a big fan of Smallville over the years, in part for the investment that Welling and Rosenbaum clearly put into their starring roles. 

So when “Justice” aired for the first time -- a decade ago -- I was thrilled to see the Justice League come together in live action.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

JLA Week: Justice League: "The Enemy Below" (December 3, December 10, 2001)

“The Enemy Below” is a first season episode of Justice League (2001 - ) that has the distinction of introducing Aquaman to the prime-time TV series (if not the titular organization).

In “The Enemy Below,” a U.S. nuclear submarine, the Defiant, comes under attack by an advanced vessel. This underwater vehicle belongs to Aquaman, King of Atlantis, who is protecting his borders from invasion. He has no use for “surface dwellers.”

But Aquaman soon has greater problems to contend with: treason. His own brother, Orm, attempts to murder him, and kill his son, the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Atlantis.

The Justice League intervenes to help Aquaman, who must now stop a “doomsday” device from destroying the surface world.

Look at what they’ve done to Aqauman! In the 1960’s and 1970’s Aquaman was a blond haired, friendly superhero who could communicate with the animals of the sea. He was wholesome and kind, and basically -- down to the curl in his golden hair -- an underwater, blond version of Superman.

But the upshot was that some people made fun of the character, and felt he wasn't edgy, or angsty enough.  He was the butt of many jokes.

So the original portrayal changed in the 1990’s. Aquaman developed an attitude, grew long hair, and acquired a hook for one hand.  

This episode of Justice League follows on with that modern portrayal.  It depicts a Namor-like, arrogant individual who wears the heavy weight of ruling Atlantis on his shoulders, and clearly lacks for the social niceties. And, in the course of the two part “The Enemy Below,” we see the incident that costs him a hand.  Here, in the act of saving his son, he must cut it off.  He later acquires the hook.

As far as communicating with animals goes, this Aquaman does call for the assistance of an Orca during one climactic moment, but we don’t see any psychic waves emanating from his head (as was the case on The Super Friends in the 1970’s).

This Aquaman is so attitudinal that he gruffly pushes Wonder Woman aside -- without so much as an "excuse me" - and even, by episode’s end, doesn’t fully trust the surface dwellers. In the original continuity, if I remember correctly, Aquaman was one of the founding members, actually of the JLA.

As I noted in my review of "Secret Origins" earlier today, the writers of Justice League apparently found it necessary to cause Superman incredible pain on a regular basis in an effort to humanize the character and show that he wasn't a God. In this story, Superman is constantly being zapped and hurt by Atlantean weaponry, so we can't assume that he is invincible. Again, I will say that this approach doesn’t really work. Once you realize what the writers are up to, it becomes something of a joke that Superman is constantly being battered and blasted.

Man of Steel…magnet for pain.


JLA Week: Justice League: "Secret Origins" (November 17, 2001)

In the fall of 2001 -- on the WB -- the Justice League was finally about to be done….justice

On Monday nights at 9:30 pm that autumn, many beloved D.C. heroes came together for two dozen adventures of action and excitement. This was Justice League, from producers Rich Fogel and Bruce Timm, and it was supposed to be a far cry from The Super Friends of the 1970’s.

No Wonder Dog.

No Wonder Twins.

No Wendy or Marvin.

No “That’s what you think!”-styled dialogue.

Instead, the focus was to be on the D.C. Universe and an adult rendering of the League characters.  

The protagonists featured in each half-hour episode were Batman, Superman, Jon Stewart (Green Lantern), Wonder Woman, Hawk Girl, Flash, and Martian Manhunter, who was introduced to the team in the pilot, “Secret Origins.”

The story of “Secret Origins” follows an attack on Earth by a race of alien parasites controlled by an intelligence called “the Imperium.” Martian Manhunter arrives on Earth to warn our planet of the extreme danger, since his culture was destroyed by this race.  

Soon, it’s all-out war, with only the superheroes to save mankind from subjugation.

At the end of the tale, the aliens are defeated and a Justice League is proposed, “like a bunch of Super Friends,” according to the dialogue.  

More like a…Justice League,” is the appropriate response.

Although grand in concept and in action, The Justice League is not the pure triumph it might have been because of the extreme focus on action, rather than on character. 

This weakness is plain in “Secret Origins.” It rivals The War of the Worlds, or at least Independence Day (1996) in terms of scope and ambition, but the characters are given short shrift. Hawk Girl and the Flash just show up, with no back-story or history to help us get to know them

Only two heroes -- Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman -- are given much by means of “secret origins” in this tale.  We learn here the tragic history of J’onn J’onz on Mars, and also the story of Wonder Woman leaving Paradise Island.  

When she first sees the superheroes, Green Lantern asks “Who’s the rookie in the tiara?

So Wonder Woman is, in essence, in this series, a novice superhero.

Batman and Superman are “in character,” here, meaning that they behave in ways that mark them as individual and distinctive people, but they still don’t get a lot of interesting things to say or do.  At the very least, they don’t announce what they are doing, all the time, like the characters did on The Super Friends.

“Secret Origins” features some scenes at the UN involving a protest about weapons of mass destruction, making it particularly timely for the turn of the century, and the soon-to-be Age of 9/11. 

Here Superman repeats his actions from the feature film Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), disarming the nuclear weapons of the world, only to see the interference back-fire. 

The Imperium arrives, and Earthlings can’t defend themselves without their nukes. So, make no mistake, this first episode of Justice League is a social commentary about the need to maintain an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. 

Who knows when the next super villain plots to invade the planet, or our nation?  At least that seems to be the undercurrent here.

Superman’s act of kindness and peace is viewed as misguided and having the opposite effect.  The impact is to humanize the character (and reveal his flaws), but again, it’s strange that the writers picked this particular lesson since it was, indeed, the very lesson of Quest for Peace, which isn’t exactly considered a high point in the D.C. movie-verse.

Re-watching Justice League this time (in 2017), I noticed that the writers make special pains to give Superman feet of clay, so that he is "relatable" as a character, and not a God Incarnate.  In this episode, for example, the Man of Steel is almost constantly undergoing "pain" from mental contact with Martian Manhunter. He is always doubling over, collapsing, and grimacing.  I'm not sure it really works in terms of the character.

The great thing about “Secret Origins,” I suppose, is that it is action-packed, and each character gets a moment to shine…violently. We understand, from the visuals, exactly what each hero brings to the table, in terms of abilities, and strength.  

At the time the series aired, I watched it religiously, but came away, after the first season, feeling that, again, an opportunity not been fully exploited.  This is a more faithful take on the D.C. Justice League than we have yet seen, but I'm not sure that it accomplishes that meme of doing the team members "justice."  I know the series is very highly-regarded by fans, but on a re-watch I found the constant focus on action to, actually, sort of dull.

JLA Week: Justice League Intro (2001)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

JLA Week: The Super Powers Collection (Kenner)

In keeping with my Super Friends theme, I'm looking back at a famous DC Comics Super Friends toy line from the decade of Reagan. The Kenner Super Powers Collection was sold in toy stores from 1984 - 1986 and featured a full range of vehicles, action figures and even a play set.

In terms of action figures, the Super Powers Collection consisted of the 3 3/4 inch size popularized by Kenner's Star Wars line, and included three waves.

The first wave of figures included twelve iconic figures: Superman, Flash, Batman, Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Hawkman and villains such as Brainiac, Luthor, Penguin and Joker. Joker came with a green, oversized Joker mallet, and Penguin was armed -- of course -- with an umbrella. So he could battle Superman, Luthor wore a "power suit."

Second and third wave figures in this Kenner line included Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado, Dr. Fate, Darkseid, Kalibak, Plastic Man, Shazam, Samurai, Mr. Freeze and more. 

There was even a mail-away Clark Kent action figure that today is highly prized amongst collectors.

In terms of vehicles, the Super Powers Collection offered several. There was a blue batcopter and blue Batmobile (two-seater) and a rocket-like "Supermobile" (though why Superman would need a vehicle is a question I need answered immediately...). 

Other vehicles were a bit more unfamiliar.

For instance, Lex Luthor had his very own plane/car combination, the Lex-Soar 7. This purple rocket was described as his "assault ship" and came complete with a Kryptonite Crystal, laser cannons and action figure "gripper claws" so Luthor could "use Kryptonite to weaken Superman!"

Another villain's conveyance was the Kalibak Boulder Bomber Vehicle, the "Cruel Crusher's Massive Machine." It came pimped out with spring-launched maces, grinding teeth (!) and removable spearheads. The box advertised that "No one gets in the way of Kalibak as the teeth of this vicious vehicle grind into action!"

Perhaps the coolest to associated with the Kenner Super Powers Collection was the very large, cast-in-yellow Hall of Justice Play set. Once opened, this huge toy revealed several internal computer rooms, two jail cells for villains, a trap door mechanism on an upper level, and a storage center for Super Friend equipment. 

Opened up, this great toy featured three over-sized rooms, one in blue.

Now if only Kenner had produced a Legion of Doom HQ in this series...

JLA Week: Super Friends Comic Book (DC)

JLA Week: Super Friends Coloring Book (Whitman)

JLA Week: Super Friends Flashlight

JLA Week: Super Friends Talking View Master (GAF)

JLA Week: Super Frieds Magnetic Pa'cheesie Game

JLA Week: Super Friends Lunch Box

JLA Week: The Super Friends Theme Song

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

JLA Week: Challenge of the Super Friends: "The Time Trap" (September 30, 1978)

In “The Time Trap,” Grod the Gorilla invents an “interspatial time conveyer” to raid various historical time periods.  Aquaman and Apache Chief travel together through time -- 70 million years into the past -- to prevent Giganta and Black Manta from plundering historical sites.

But it is all a trap! Our heroes are left stranded in a prehistoric age.

Meanwhile, Green Lantern and Samurai end back in King Arthur’s Camelot, to stop Sinestro and Captain Cold.

Grod and Solomon Grundy, in turn, tramp Batman and Robin in Ancient Rome.

As its title suggests, “The Time Trap” concerns a crime spree through time itself, as the Super Friends pursue agents of the Legion of Doom, throughout history. 

Intriguingly, the presence of the Super Friends in epochs past doesn’t seem to impact or pollute our timeline. Thousands of Roman citizens see Superman fly down into a Colosseum, fend off a tiger, and rescue Batman and Robin.  

And miraculously, no Roman poet or politician ever wrote or spoke of such a remarkable and spectacular occurrence.

Actually, Superman is out of action for most of the episode, before performing that heroic rescue. The episode writer sends him off to “Check the perimeter of the Milky Way to check things out.”  

Yep, that’s a mission that could take a log time.

The baffling thing about “The Time Trap,” and many Challenge of the Super Friends episodes, actually, is that the series straddles so arbitrarily the line between stupid and clever. 

On the clever side, consider Aquaman’s radio/walkie-talkie trick for a moment. He realizes that it runs on a nuclear battery (!) with a life of 100 million years. So if he buries it in prehistory -- in the exact spot where the Hall of Justice will be built -- then in the 20th century, it will still send out a signal.

Smart idea, right?

The stupid part is the timing, and how it plays out. The Hall of Justice has been around for some time, and it seems like the nuclear battery would have been detected earlier in the time line, rather than at the exact point in the timeline that the Legion of Doom is launching its time raids. After all, the walkie-talkie has been there since the prehistoric age.

Once more cataloging our familiar lines of dialogue, I see that this episode has Captain Cold barking “That’s what you think, Green Fool,” to Green Lantern. And Robin comments on “Holy Vanishing Acts!”

JLA Week: Challenge of the Super Friends: "World's Deadliest Game" (September 23, 1978)

Brainiac develops a cloaking device that hides the Earth from Super Friends, in space. Wonder Woman, Black Vulcan, and Hawkman respond to a distress call from a distant sector. They travel through a black hole and end up on Toy Man’s planet.

There, the villain traps the heroes in a giant pinball machine, and then in a giant doll-house, where the heroes must contend with a giant wind-up baby doll.

The other Super Friends attempt to find their missing comrades, and battle Empress Zayna, who immobilizes them with sleeping pollen so she can turn them into statues and keep them in her stone menagerie.

In one crucial way, “The World’s Deadliest Game” captures perfectly the creative plan of Challenge of the Super Friends (1978). If I had to state that strategy in two words it would be:

No. Rules.

No rules whatsoever. The Super Friends observe no rules, and neither do the members of the Legion of Doom. It’s all pure phantasmagoria. Anything can happen, at any time. And something that was impossible in one minute, happens in the next minute. 

Consider what happens in this episode. The villains cloak an entire planet, all as a trap for the Super Friends.  Think of the power required!

Then, the Super Friends travel to a distant galaxy without any faster-than-light drive…just by flying. And they travel through the center of a black hole, and don’t experience spaghettification or any gravitational forces that stop them.

And through it all, they are not wearing armor, or force-fields, or even rocket packs.

Which makes it very funny, for certain, when Hawkman and Black Vulcan complain, while dealing with the giant pinball machine, that they can’t fly because of the forces of gravity

Now the gravity bothers them?

No matter, a few minutes later they are flying again, with no further mention of gravitational forces.

This is a series that may know, broadly, the Laws of Physics, but has zero interest in applying them in anything approaching a consistent manner.   For instance, Green Lantern protects some Super Friends in space with a green force field. But then he leaves, when they travel through the black hole, without protection.

So someone writing the show knew that there should be some explanation for the survival of the Super Friends in the void of space. But then didn’t think to apply that explanation to survival in a black hole.

Again, I know the counter-argument is: this is a show for kids.

Well, as I always notes, kids are smart. For one thing, at the age they are watching a series like The Super Friends, they are also enrolled in science classes. So, they know -- in some cases better than adults – when a series strays from science into out-and-out fantasy.

The “no rules” approach of Challenge of the Super Friends makes the battle between the JLA and the Legion of Doom completely arbitrary, a matter of luck. There is no underlying reason for victory or defeat. It’s just a matter of what “works” this week.   It’s weird that the Legion of Doom would never use its planetary cloaking device again, or modify it for their headquarters, for instance.

The best aspect of this episode involves Toy Man's doll-house, which manages to be a creepily, nightmarish locale.

Long story short: Holy Mind Bender, as Robin exclaims in this episode. 

Challenge of the Super Friends is really Short Attention Super Hero Theater. You can get the gist of the story while you eat your cereal, get your clothes on, and start the day. If you pay total attention to the story-lines, you will realize how vapid and dumb the series actually is.

Next up: "The Time Trap."

JLA Week: Challenge of the Super Friends: "Invasion of the Fearians" (September 16, 1978)

The Legion of Doom teams up with three-headed aliens invaders from Venus known as “Fearians.” To assist them, Captain Cold ushers in a new Ice Age, necessitating an intervention from the Super Friends, and in particular, The Flash.

At the same time, Black Manta sets a section of the Pacific Ocean on fire, and Aquaman arrives there to stop him.

However, these are all dastardly tricks to impact the planetary environment, and make Earth’s atmosphere more like that of Venus, and therefore more hospitable to the Fearians.

Once more in Challenge of the Super Friends (1978), thirteen of the most dastardly criminals in the known galaxies are “formulating sinister plans that will jeopardize the Earth.” The game this week involves the Legion of Doom tricking the Super Friends into intervening to alter the atmosphere, in an attempt to reshape the Earth to Venusian preferences.

So, basically, the Super Friends, in “Invasion of the Fearians,” cause the process of global warming to hyper-accelerate so that our beautiful planet can be home to a Fearian colony. The second part of the plan involves using android duplicates (built by Brainiac) of governmental leaders, to facilitate the hand-over of power.

The new Ice Age angle was a big trend of the late 1970’s (see: Robert Altman’s Quintet 1979]), and the android duplicate angle was also popular in the disco decade, in movies such as Westworld (1972), The Stepford Wives (1975), and series such as The Bionic Woman (1976 -1978), which featured “fembots” as recurring villains. The tale a cautionary one. What happened to Venus, and shaped the monstrous Fearians, could happen here on Earth.

As usual in a Super Friends production, there is little attention paid to scientific accuracy. For instance, Flash reduces his temperature to “absolute zero,” and yet he shows no ill-effects, and can still function perfectly. Superhero heroic powers do not equal invincibility…except on this show.

When I reviewed “Wanted: Super Friends,” I noted that there are two specific lines of dialogue that get repeated in every episode of Challenge of the Super Friends. The first is the exclamation: “That’s What You Think!”  In this episode, that line is actually said twice in 24 minutes, first by Batman, and then again, later, by Captain Cold.

The second oft-repeated line is Batman’s exclamation of “Holy (fill in the blank).”  Here, Robin says “Holy Iceberg!” and Holy Impenetrability!”

The whole episode is nonsensical, lacking in any real fidelity to the comic book characters, as we understand them today, and yet, for the 1970’s, a lot of fun.  I do think that children of the 1970’s were ready for a more character-driven, intellectual experience than what is provided in stories like this one. And occasionally, Challenge of the Super Friends delivered on that promise (see: “History of Doom.”)

Next up: “The World’s Deadliest Game.”

JLA Week: The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977-1978)

The All-New Super Friends Hour aired from 1977 to 1978 on ABC television, and featured the adventures of the denizens of the Hall of Justice.

These DC Comics superheroes include Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna...) and their "space monkey" Gleek.

And week after week, these "Super Friends" battle the likes of outer mind-controlling space ants ("Coming of the Arthropods") and corporate conspiracies ("The Secret Four.") They travel back and forward through time ("Planet of the Neanderthals") and destroy deadly weapons (like "meson energizers,") put out forest fires, expose impostors ("The Marsh Monsters") and lecture villains about the use of force.

Back in the days of The Super Friends, there was no cable television...and no secondary market for DVDs either, which meant that, essentially, come Saturday morning, children ages 3 to 13 had only three channels to choose from. Thus the programming had to be suitable for those ages...and homogenized. For superhero programming like The All-New Super Friends Hour, this meant very little "real" violence (punching, kicking, etc.) but lots of morally valuable conflicts and discussions about what it means to be a good person.

Each episode of The All-New Super Friends Hour is split into several short segments. The initial story usually highlights two of the Super Friends working in tandem to solve a problem. Often, there is a special guest star Super Friend in the mix too. For instance, Wonder Woman and Apache Chief worked together in "The Antidote," and Aquaman and Black Vulcan helped save a runaway ship in "The Whirlpool." Among the other guest heroes: Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Black Vulcan, Rima the Jungle Girl and Toshi Eto...Samurai.

A second segment is termed "Safety" and features an adult Super Friend offering children guidance about the perils of every day life. For instance, in one segment, Wonder Woman warns little kids about the danger of chewing on pen caps and Styrofoam cups. Another entry sees the Paradise Island native praise a boy for carefully crossing the street. "I saw you from my invisible jet and had to stop by..."

Another short segment is called "Decoder" and features different superheroes offering clues about puzzle words such as "caveman," "insect," and "bedrock." The third short segment is truly bizarre: A Super Friend Magic Trick showcase, again demonstrated by your favorite heroes. Examples included Superman's "Scissor Sorcery!" and Aquaman's "Disappearing Coin Illusion!"

Every episode of the All-New Super Friends Hour also features a morally valuable adventure of the Wonder Twins. Each tale commences with Zan and Jayna happily involved in some activity like volleyball or miniature golf when they receive a "teen trouble alert" via special wristwatches. Then, they leap to the rescue of misbehaving teens. Said rescue always entails the Wonder Twins using their shape shifting abilities. Jayna often morphs into a polar bear, an eagle or a camel, while Zan transforms into water, a lake, a ski-slope(!) and an ice sled. After the danger is resolved and the guilty, crest-fallen teens learn their lessons, these segments universally end with Gleek's comic shtick.

Among the Wonder Twin stories are titles such as "Hitchhiking," "Vandals," "Runaways," "Joy Ride," "Initiation," "Shark," "Tiger on the Loose" and even "Prejudice!" One story warns against the danger of "jumping to conclusions," which -- truth be told -- is a refresher we can all use.

Another segment on The All New Super Friends Hour pits the entire Hall of Justice team against some alien or earthbound evil. "Super Friends vs. Super Friends" lands our heroes in the undersea kingdom of Oceania, where they are forced to battle one another in a kind of underwater Roman Colosseum. "City in a Bottle" takes the Super Friends to a frozen planet to rescue the Wonder Twins and a miniaturized Mid City. "Invasion of the Earthors" pits the Hall of Justice Regulars against mole men at the center of the Earth.

These All New Super Friends episodes are relics of a different age in entertainment...though wholly enjoyable on their own terms. For instance, Batman is not dark or angst-ridden in the slightest in this incarnation. And Superman does not feel the pressure/isolation of his "otherness." The Flash is not a smart-aleck wise-cracker either. The Aquaman you see here is old school too -- not the angry-looking, long-haired, hook-equipped avenger of recent vintage. Instead, all the Super Friends seem virtually interchangeable, save for their specific powers, costumes and devices. On that note, some of the Bat devices featured here are truly absurd. I got a good chuckle out of the "Bat-Lube," a utility belt item that is always handy to keep around, in a pinch, I guess...

If you didn't grow up with The Super Friends, or don't have a child, I can't imagine that this will be the version of the DC Legends you choose to enjoy, especially with the superior JLA of this decade also available on DVD. But if you remember the disco decade, and if you have an enthusiastic child to share them with, the All New Super Friends Hour remains terrific fun.

Monday, November 13, 2017

JLA Week: The Justice League of America (1967)

JLA Week: Legends of the Superheroes: "The Roast" (1979)

Ed McMahon and many notable guests -- super-villains and superheroes alike -- roast the D.C. superheroes at their subterranean lair.

Among those doing the roasting are:

-        “The Weather Wizard,” a villain who makes it rain on The Flash, and does a (bad) Johnny Carson imitation.

-        Hawkman’s Mother, who notes that her son is not a “homing pigeon,” and that he should visit his mother more often.

-        Ghetto Man, an African-American superhero who points out that The Green Lantern is also a “colored” person.

-        Dr. Silvana, who tries to give all the superheroes their physical exams, but in particular wants to examine the Huntress’s “quiver.”

-        The Scarlet Cyclone, now “Retired Man,” an old superhero who is suffering from dementia.

-        Solomon Grundy, a hulking swamp zombie who beats up Ed McMahon, while the superheroes look on and laugh.

-        Sinestro, who shoots himself in the foot with his own power ring.

-        And Aunt Minerva, the “Zsa Zsa Gabor” of villains who desires to marry (the quite unwilling) Captain Marvel.

There’s no getting around the fact that Legends of the Superheroes (1979) is a terrible, embarrassingly bad, no-good relic from the disco decade.

The first episode, “The Challenge” is a low-budget train wreck that demeans its stars and characters (the JLA, basically), but at least it lands the superheroes in a fantasy/adventure format.  In other words, they do what superheroes are expected to do: solve a crime, or prevent a fiendish super-villain plot from coming to fruition.

“The Roast,” the second and final installment of the series, doesn’t’ have even that going for it. It is much, much worse than “The Challenge.”  In fact, it’s cringe-worthy.

As the title suggests, the episode is structured as a "Friar's Roast" type event.  It's a roast (grilling) of the superheroes in their underground headquarters as they are “honored” by arch villains.

Ed McMahon is the host of the proceedings.

How could DC Comics -- or Hanna Barbera, for that matter -- ever have agreed to treat the Justice League so shabbily? The variety-style program is not just embarrassingly bad, like The Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978, but actually racist, sexist and ageist in execution.

Let’s go to Ghetto Man first, to explore the racist angle. 

He is an African-American man in a costume designed to reek "pimp" who is a walking stereotype of 70’s “black” jokes. His shtick is terrible (“Hawkman in Harlem” would be “Kentucky Fried” chicken, he says), and his delivery is worse.  Somewhere in "Ghetto Man's" presentation is the (correct) idea that minority characters were largely under-represented in the superhero Valhalla, but the valid point is lost in the racially-charged and largely offensive monologue.

Scarlet Cyclone, another subject roasted proves that this series doesn’t like old people, either. The senior citizen hero falls asleep in the middle of a story, can’t remember his next line, and is the butt of a lot of bad jokes.  The jokes here, following those of "Ghetto man" make one "The Roast" seem awfully mean-spirited.

And don’t even get me started on Aunt Minerva an old, diminutive women who wants to bed the terrified Captain Marvel. When the sex-obsessed old maid changes form and becomes a lovely young woman, however, Captain Marvel changes his tune in short order.

If that sounds a bit kinky and adult, consider the sequence here in which a Barbara Walters-like reporter -- named Rhoda Rooter -- jokes about Atom and Giganta’s sex life. He's tiny and she's huge. Get it?

All I can writer here is, simply: WTF?

It’s all skin-crawlingly inappropriate, and a total coarsening and cheapening of characters who have been beloved for generations. Perhaps there was no budget available to tell a superhero-styled story, but “The Roast” is so campy that it makes the Adam West Batman series of 1966 look like a serious, straight-forward affair.

It’s always nice to see Adam West and Burt Ward back in character, but their story-line here -- which involves the Boy Wonder wrecking the Batmobile -- is hardly the stuff dreams are made off.

More like a nightmare.