Challenge of the Superfriends Episode 3: The World’s Deadliest Game

If seems like every episode of Challenge of the Superfriends starts out with the Legion of Doom complaining that all of their plans don’t work… after which they promptly make a new plan. Solomon Grundy is grumpy about the general lack of success, so he takes Toyman’s Batplane away and threatens to crush it.

Poor Toyman, he’s got so little in this life — just his toys — and he looks honestly hurt that someone would take his little gadgets away. I have to think that the rest of the Legion barely tolerates a guy who brings toys to grown-up meetings, but maybe he’s someone’s younger cousin or something.

This week, it’s Bainiac’s turn at bat, and he turns on the Legion’s TV to spy on the Superfriends doing critical repairs to a space station in orbit around the moon. One weird running theme of this series is that Lex Luthor apparently has magic cameras everywhere in the known universe, because otherwise it’s impossible to explain how he can always turn on the TV and see what the Superfriends are doing. That’s got to be awkward when it’s bathtime for Batman.

But there’s so much to dissect about the above image that I’m going to have to limit myself to bullet points or else be carried away:

  • What qualifies Wonder Woman, Hawkman, and Black Vulcan to do any sort of space station repairs? Hawkman? I mean, Hawkman? The guy who most likely mops the floors in his uncle’s shop for weekend money?
  • How come Wonder Woman is the only one wearing a helmet? And where is her air coming from?
  • Why doesn’t anyone have a space suit? We’ve already been to the moon as a nation by the time this aired, so it’s not like they can claim ignorance about space.
  • Hawkman is just a dude with fake wings, his lungs should be streaming out of his nostrils right now. Also, wings don’t really help in the vacuum of space.
  • That spaceship to the right there looks like something that Fisher-Price sold to pre-schoolers in the late 1960s.

Cool shot, but I can barely hear the episode over my involuntary shouts of “WINGS DON’T HELP YOU FLY IN SPACE!” Eh, this show is just never consistent with who can fly, what powers do what, and how outer space functions. While they’re wrapping up repairs on the station, Brainiac uses a hand-held device to cloak the entire world like it ain’t no thing. Like, a person-shaped cloak or an aircraft carrier-shaped cloak would be astounding and command millions if not billions of dollars at any auction, but the android can casually cloak the globe so that anyone outside of the cloaking field sees right through the whole planet. And like any other too-good-to-be-true gadget on this show, it’ll never be seen or used again.

As an aside, it always amuses me that the artists here go overboard in decorating outer space, because there are always these nebula and other planetoids floating around near Earth in about half of the outer space shots.

Anyway, the whole plot here is to trick the three Superfriends into thinking that the planet is gone, which wouldn’t really work if they remembered that gravity existed. Wonder Woman tries to hail the Superfriends, but Toyman intercepts her walkie-talkie and pretends to be the good guys, saying that the Earth got moved — somehow — to Sector 7-21. Let’s try hard not to think of the distance between worlds in real life as we watch these Superfriends take the bait like the extremely gullible nitwits that they are.

“There’s no time to question it now! Let’s go!” cries Hawkman, just as Wonder Woman starts to question how bat-guano insane this is. Without fail, the Superfriends never take more than a second to make any decision or analyze a situation. Something’s light years away and will take a generation ship to reach? THERE’S NO TIME TO TALK LET’S GO.

And “go” they go, with Black Vulcan jumping to light speed (?) while Wonder Woman and Hawkman hold on to lightning bolt tethers and presumably are cooked from the inside-out. This is one of the many exciting uses of electricity, kids! Try it at home!

About twenty seconds later, the three Superfriends have traveled “trillions of miles” through space and arrived at Toyman’s planet. I should point out that this means that a villain who’s main thing is making wind-up cranes and mechanical ducks has also constructed a spaceship of his own that allows him to jump from one part of the galaxy to another in order to stage an elaborate trap on another planet. Forget the Superfriends, NASA should be calling the Legion of Doom for any of its space needs!

Oh yeah, and that planet happens to be in the middle of a black hole. Wonder Woman says that, naturally, the center of a black hole is like the calm center of a hurricane. My theory is that the Superfriends writers were greatly wronged by their middle school science teachers and thus decided on a misinformation campaign to warp the minds of generations of kids, because there’s no way that actual human adults could write stuff this dumb on accident.

Hawkman genuinely seems surprised that a guy with wings in outer space can’t escape the gravitic pull of a black hole on his own power. On the plus side, we get to see his nostrils and speculate about how abnormally big his nose is under that droopy mask.

“That strange town… shaped like a pinball field.” “Yes. Let’s go!” “Into the middle of it?” “Yes, c’mon, let’s see if there are clues!” “In the middle of what is obviously a death trap designed by the one toy-themed supervillain that we know?” “What’s the hold up? LET’S GO!”

See what I’m saying about patience and sizing up the situation? The Superfriends don’t have that part of their brain. They’re like toddlers who see a piece of chocolate suspended over a tiger-filled pit and don’t stop to look at the bones all around.

I had to actually pause the episode for a minute for a facepalm when a giant pinball started flying at them and Black Vulcan — who less than a minute before was seen flying around in the sky — loudly declares that now he can’t fly because of the gravity.

So yes, if seeing survival-adverse superheroes scramble about in a life-sized pinball arena on a planet in the middle of a black hole trillions of miles from Earth was what your life was sorely missing today, then enjoy feeling whole and complete for once.

Thank our lucky stars that the Superfriends feel the need to narrate everything, otherwise our nation’s youth would have been completely at a loss as to interpreting such scenes. For my money, however, Wonder Woman looks like she got into that ball willingly and is ready to blast off to fun!

Back on Earth, the rest of the Superfriends are just starting to realize that their companions have been missing for hours. Riddler comes onto the screen and taunts them with one of his trademark cryptic clues. I would have loved to see the Superfriends stare at him in response and then slowly, deliberately turn the screen off without saying a word in response. This guy’s entire schtick is esoteric riddles that lead the heroes into traps more often than not, so why give him the time of day?

But no, Batman needs his moment of ego-stroking, so he takes Riddler’s comment about a trickle of water a million years ago and somehow gets “an abandoned nickel mine at the bottom of the Grand Canyon” out of that. And off they go on a wild goose chase!

“That must be our target!” declares Superman. “LET’S GO!”

See what I mean? See? Toddlers and a tiger pit every dang time.

I really don’t get the Legion of Doom’s plan here. When you think about it from their perspective, what’s the point of all of this? They’ve isolated three superheroes to mess with them and trapped the rest in a mine in the Grand Canyon — which is subsequently flooded by Black Manta for no good reason. I don’t get the endgame. Are they trying to kill the Superfriends? Because if so, they’re doing a lousy job of it. Maybe they’re just trying to low-key annoy them. I don’t see how any of this helps the Legion take over the world; it’s just a series of actions they’re doing to set up threats for the heroes to overcome.

Meanwhile, Aquaman stands in the corner, smugly thinking about how he’s going to be the only one breathing underwater as the corpses of his friends float by.

I mean, if I was a superhero and had one or two powers, you can bet I’d always be eager to use them in any given situation, but the Superfriends are oddly passive about this. It’s kind of like they have an obtuse chart back at the Hall of Justice that lays out whose turn it is to use their power next, and they have to stick to that schedule. Right now, it’s Green Lantern, who uses his power ring to bore a hole up through the rock.

The Riddler shows up again on the side of a metal blimp to give them another puzzle to solve. “At least he never lies with his clues!” Flash says with a straight face.

Dude? Seriously? He just lied to you. Your friends weren’t in that mineshaft. That was a trap to drown you. So yeah, go off on the next leg of this lethal race; I’m going home and ordering delivery.

The Superfriends, who treat the universe like its their personal backyard, blast off to the hottest star in Orion’s Belt on the advice of a guy who wears onesies and clearly never, ever lies.

Meanwhile, this is happening. Ignore that sound, it’s my StupidMeter, and it’s won’t shut off until I finish this episode. As with Riddler’s riddles, Toyman’s toys are only dangerous if the Superfriends willingly engage with them. If I saw a creepy giant dollhouse on the middle of a dark planet, I’d be whistling loudly while doing a 180 and fast-walking to a different hemisphere.

Or you could stick around and witness a gigantic mechanical baby lurch out of nowhere and threaten to stomp on the heroes. I’m never very clear on where and how Toyman gets the materials to make his gadgets. He can’t summon them from nowhere, like Sinestro, so at some point in the past few months, he transported a 70-foot clockwork toddler across interstellar space, then probably had to make hundreds of round-trips to finish the huge house and pinball field. I admire his devotion, but why do it on another planet? Why not just send this baby toward the Hall of Justice and watch Robin pee down his own leg in horror?

Speaking of Robin (and the rest), they’re on a jungle planet in the Orion constellation, doing their normal planetary search pattern of bunching up and grousing about how they can’t find anyone within the 10-foot radius that lies directly around them. The natives show up and promptly put all of the Superfriends to sleep with their pollen, promising to turn them into stone for their weird menagerie. I often think about how these episodes feel like dreams, in that dreams keep zig-zagging between different nutty scenarios without any logical thread binding them. So Riddler knew that this precise planet had a bunch of Amazons with a beef against men? He must get out way more than I do.

It’s Flash’s turn on the power chart, as his atoms are “too fluid to solidify” into stone. So… he should be a pile of goo, then? Eh, he rescues everyone and off they go into space, just in time to bump into…

Yup. Sure. Why not. Riddler’s got nothing better to do than set up digital billboards in deep space. Probably got Toyman to loan him his ship.

Back on earth, I guess I get an answer about the Legion’s plan, because they’re once again attempting to blackmail all of the nations for the safe return of the Superfriends. You’d think that the nations would feel like it’s the Superfriends who need to protect them, not vice-versa, so this would be a non-starter.

Superman discovers the black hole and determines that only he and Green Lantern have the chops to brave it. So they just, you know, leave everyone else floating in the void of space, now without Green Lantern’s protective field. As Aquaman gasps for non-existent air, he starts to feel the jaws of irony slam shut around him. “Should’ve been nicer to everyone in the mine,” he thinks before the end.

I’ll admit that I’m no DC comics expert, but I suspect that this isn’t really how the power ring works. There are no hard rules for Superfriends’ powers; it’s always whatever the writers want them to be without any continuity or consistency. So Superman and Green Lantern merge together in an unholy fusion of green, black, blue, red, and yellow. Wait, shouldn’t the yellow on Superman’s outfit render Green Lantern’s efforts useless? No time for that, we have to casually fly out of this black hole before it collapses!

At the “World International Airport,” wherever that is, the Legion of Doom is flagging down planes stuffed with money. How much? Brainiac says that each has to pay $10 million, which sounds pretty paltry for a government’s treasury even in 1978 dollars.

In any case, the party is soon over with the return of the Superfriends. Superman takes this opportunity to straight-up yank the control tower off of its platform, as that is the most logical and expedient method of capturing two guys on the top of it. Dozens of flights will now have to ditch into the World International Ocean, but Superman is rarely concerned about collateral damage.

Well, it looks like this episode wants to make a liar out of me, because Brainiac actually yanks out his cloaking gun again and uses it to help the Legion escape. Touché, Superfriends writers. You win one point.

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