Challenge of the Superfriends Episode 1: Wanted: The Superfriends

Now that I’m dedicated to finishing the Challenge of the Superfriends 16-episode run, it’s bugged me that I didn’t give the first four episodes the full viewing treatment as I’m doing with the others. So for my peace of mind, at least, let’s go back and check them out!

In this pilot(ish) episode, Lex Luthor is calling to order the meeting of the Legion of Doom — 13 villains from “remote galaxies” that are mostly, um, our galaxy. Our solar system, in fact. Our very planet, to be precise.

He’s got a good idea, which is to band forces to take on the Justice League as a group rather than piecemeal, but I have so many questions about how this will all work. When they conquer the world, will it be divided 13 ways or will they have a battle royale fight to the death? Why does Lex wear purple, of all colors? Who thought it’d be great on morale and computer systems to stick a headquarters underneath the surface of a swamp? And who picked those fabulous curtains up there?

No time for that! Lex has to introduce the 12 other members one by one, turning on the lights as if they didn’t see who’s sitting at the tables when they came in the room. Why this scene ends up being — and I am not exaggerating — the best villain introduction sequence of all time is that pretty much every bad guy uses his or her brief spotlight to destroy something in the room. Captain Cold freezes and shatters a light, Solomon Grundy smashes through a table, Cheetah claws things up, the Riddler sets a fire, and so on. You can just imagine that Lex Luthor is already facepalming: “Guys. C’mon. Guys. Save it for Superman.”

Speaking of, the Man of Steel is at work, at night, and sleeping with his office door open. Honestly, this stunned me, because I thought all of the Superfriends, y’know, just lived at the Hall of Justice. Did they really have time for social and work lives in addition to all of this, or is Clark just moonlighting very poorly as a reporter?

Anyway, Lex Luthor’s first plan of this series is to use a “dream machine” to futz about with the good guys’ heads. That’ll be so much more effective in stopping them as an assassin’s bullet, I’m sure. Since this is Superman’s secret identity, it seems a little weird that Lex targets Clark first for some dream-fiddling.

As we’ll discover, the dream machine is really just a hypnotizing ray for what it does, which is to make the good guys do bad things. Superman heads over to Fort Knox, which is guarded by three of the most impenetrable defenses known to man:

  • A fence
  • Two guys standing outside the door, looking somewhat cold
  • One (1) tank

You’d think that such a show of combined arms would stop Superman, but strangely enough, he’s not deterred:

Oh hey, that did nothing. I will admit that I’m a bit disappointed the tank crew didn’t fire, but the resulting carnage made up for that.

Here’s something I learned about Fort Knox that I never knew before. All of the gold in it is in one pile about chest-high and is protected by a force field. Didn’t know the US government had force fields, but let me tell you, Superman does not think much of them. He makes off with all the precious metals, effectively putting an end to the gold standard in the country. And that, kids, is how history really happened.

I don’t think Lex Luthor has caught on to the fact that his dream machine is hunting down superheroes’ secret identities, even when it finds Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson and makes them steal from the US Mint in Washington D.C. As with the soldiers at Fort Knox, these bozos try to lecture Batman more than take any sort of action. Probably because they’re completely unarmed and wearing fifty pounds’ worth of bellbottom pants.

Also, Robin has an honest-to-goodness lightsaber. A functional one, too, that cuts through inches of reinforced steel. You’d think he would whip that bad boy out any time the Legion showed up.

“Robin! What did you do to Gorilla Grodd?” “Made him holy, Batman. Get it? Hole-y? Eh, I stabbed him with the bat-laser a few dozen times until he stopped twitching and urinating.”

Cue a quick montage of other Justice League members stealing stuff, including one very impressive lasso throw by Wonder Woman that netted her about six paintings from the Louvre.

Come the morning, everyone at the Hall of Justice is a little perturbed by the amount of new gold, money, and treasures that just so happen to be sitting around. Hawkman takes the Emmy for the most ham-handed segue ever when he says, “It seems we all had criminal dreams last night. But when we arrived at the Hall of Justice this morning, we saw something that turned our dreams… into nightmares.”

(Fun fact: when the panel to the treasure trove opens, it’s the exact same sound effect as the Enterprise doors in the 1960s Star Trek series).

I don’t think anyone was listening to him, because how could anyone when they’re staring at a topless guy with a bird hat and wings who looks like he was rejected from a Thundercats audition? You just know that the Legion skipped over Hawkman with the dream machine and he felt left out. So then Hawkman went and knocked over a newspaper stand just to add $45 to the pile of loot and feel like he’s a part of all this.

The world’s chief police dude comes on the screen and tells the Superfriends to go turn themselves in for crime. I can see the heroes stoically accepting this unfair fate, but Batman practically sprints to the nearest police station in his excitement of being booked.

So let’s just take a second to understand all of this: The Legion has successfully framed the Justice League for stealing. Everyone in the world believes it. The Superfriends turn themselves in and get locked up in jail. At this point, they’re effectively neutralized as long as they believe that they’re honor-bound to stay there. All the League of Doom has to do is… nothing, really.

That’s why it makes no sense for Bizarro and Cheetah — the latter who gets a botched eye job courtesy of bad animators — to unmask themselves, hypnotize the Superfriends (again), and blast their jail cell into outer space via rockets. “Oh Justin,” I can hear you say. “You make up the silliest things!”

No, see, this actually happened. There’s the proof: flying jail cell going into space. Since the Superfriends are all frozen in place and the cell is quite open to hard vacuum, you’d think they would freak out and die. But instead they whine about not being able to move and how they’re on a collision course with the sun. This may seem strange to you or me, but for the Superfriends, this is kind of an average Wednesday.

I have to hand it to the Legion: They don’t merely scoop up all of the treasures from the Hall of Justice and retire to divvy it up. No, instead, it’s on to Phase 2 of this whackadoole plan. I could give you as much time as you wanted to guess what this would entail, but you wouldn’t get close to figuring it out, so I’ll just tell you.

Phase 2 involves hooking up a mutation device to the Justice League computer and then using the Justice League satellite to cast a beam over the whole world that transforms EVERY SINGLE PERSON LIVING into (why not) Bizarros and Cheetahs. Don’t know why those two, don’t know why at all, but It’s so surreal that I’m not complaining as much as I am stroking my chin thoughtfully and wondering if this was the moment where Western civilization began its decline.

It’s been about four minutes now of the Superfriends being locked down thanks to a muscle ray, and they’ve spent that whole time complaining about not being able to move while the animators constantly show them moving and twitching about. Green Lantern explains that he’d, you know, completely save the day with his super-amazing-all-powerful ring… if the bars of the cage hadn’t happened to be yellow. Which they weren’t, at all. As in, not a single scene showing the jail cell-rocket-thing are the bars shown to be anything other than grey.

Theory: Green Lantern is colorblind. This is a problem for his profession.

Wonder Woman gets the bright idea of using her telepathy to order her magic lasso to yank off the ray device. No, wait, that would be logical. What she ACTUALLY does is us the lasso to drag one rocket engine to the side so that the jail-spaceship collides with a meteor and takes out the top of the ship with the ray while leaving the seemingly atmospheric jail cell intact. As this is definitely more foolhardy and dangerous, everyone’s in favor of this plan.

For the life of me, Green Lantern never looks like he’s having any fun when he’s conjuring up these ridiculous things with his power ring. If anything, he comes across as a resentful crossing guard, and pretty much as effective in stopping actual crime.

I kind of want to present the above picture without any context, because it may be more enjoyable that way. But if you have to know, Batman and Robin get totally hogtied by Bizarro Alfred, who sends them in the Batcar off a cliff. I mean, guys, if you’re losing the fight against your own butler, then it’s time to get out of the crimefighting game.

After “reversing the polarity” of the satellite beam and transforming everyone back to normal, the Superfriends dress up as Bizarros and Cheetahs to infiltrate their own headquarters. I mean, you could just fight your way in there like heroes, but why do that when stupid subterfuge will result in a mild moment of surprise for the bad guys? Cue a rather boring fight and the Legion slipping away from the Superfriends at the last moment. Guess all that’s left now is to repair the Hall of Justice and return a whole lot of stuff to the world’s vaults while making awkward apologies.

“I did it in my sleep, you see, because a bald guy in a purple shirt pointed a machine at my head,” I can picture The Flash saying.

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