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Monday, January 16, 2012

Challenge of the Super Friends, Episode 1

Episode 1: "Wanted: The Superfriends"

After concluding the Shrine's look at The All-New Super Friends Hour, it was only a matter of time until we got to another iteration of the show, arguably the most popular: Challenge of the Super Friends!

This episode opens, as almost of all of them would, in a murky swamp, where the Legion of Doom's headquarters is located. The angrily-voiced Lex Luthor introduces all the members to one another: Bizarro, Brainiac, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Giganta, The Scarecrow, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, The Toyman, plus unlikely seat-mates Gorilla Grodd and Black Manta:
Batman's arch-nemesis The Riddler is also a member. Introduced in a scene that completely blew by me as a kid, but now seems like some sort of sly in-joke by the animators, The Riddler opens up a "deck" of pictures of the Super Friends, just before setting them ablaze:
It goes by very quickly, but you can clearly see Zan and Gleek--who, along with Janya, are nowhere to be seen in this show. Challenge of the Super Friends will turn out to be an angrier, darker show than its predecessors, and at the risk of reading too much into it, this little in-joke feels like a signal that we're in unfamiliar territory here: this is no place for amateurs!

Anyway, Luthor has developed some sort of weapon that attacks the Super Friends while they sleep (how, we don't know, and shouldn't ask). He turns it on, and it heads straight for Superman, who is at the moment, hard at work in his civilian guise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for The Daily Planet:
The beam finds Clark and, as if sleep-walking, he changes into Superman and heads straight for Fort Knox, stealing all of the gold inside (which is, conveniently, kept in one large pile in the middle of the room). They pull the same trick on Batman and Robin, who rob the U.S. Mint (that's a long drive from New Jersey to Washington D.C.).

Such a robbery is child's play for the Dynamic Duo of course, but its even easier ever since Robin got a lightsaber:
Robberies like this are committed all over the world by the sleeping Super Friends. The next morning, they all convene at the Hall of Justice, where they relate each other's strange "dreams." This is our first glimpse of Aquaman, who sadly won't have much to do in this episode:
The Super Friends turn themselves into the authorities, and are jailed. They promise not to break out, but then realize they've fallen into a trap: the prison guards are really Bizarro and The Cheetah!

With the flip of a switch, a strange paralyzing beam hits the heroes, and they are helpless as the entire jail cell rockets off the floor, out of the building, and into outer space towards the sun!

While the Super Friends are gone, The Legion of Doom breaks into the Hall of Justice, and Luthor sets up a dish (requiring no more than two plugs, the HOJ must run on Macs) that shoots a beam to the Justice League satellite. That beam is shot back down all over the world, turning people into Bizarros and Cheetahs!:
The LOD gives the order for their mind-slaves to steal everything that isn't nailed down, and soon they are flooded with wealth--cash, gold, jewelry, etc.

Meanwhile, the Super Friends use teamwork to escape their flying jail cell, and return to Earth. They stop all the various Bizarros (Bizarri?) and Cheethas from further looting--except for Batman and Robin, who are suckerpunched by a Bizarro Alfred, who ties them to their Batmobile and sends them hurtling off a cliff.

Of course, they escape at the last minute, and using their Bat-Computer figure out where the Legion of Doom is hiding. After Superman stops Luthor's beam, the Super Friends go undercover as Bizarros and Cheetahs, waiting until they are back inside The Hall of Justice to reveal themselves:
Aquaman? No, not quite--a mis-colored Superman!

Anyway, the Super Friends take on their villains (with nary a punch thrown; this was still the age when network censors strictly prohibited any kind of person-on-person violence in kids' cartoons). Superman then turns the mind-controlling beam on the Legion of Doom, who helpfully stand together in a group.

Things look bad for the villains, until later, when Luthor reveals he built a fail-safe into the weapon which, when used on the Legion of Doom, transports them all back to their hide-out, where they are free to conceive another nefarious plot against the Super Friends!

Our heroes are steely in their resolve, insisting that wherever the Legion of Doom might surface, they will be there to stop them:
...not The End!

As a young comic book fan, I absolutely adored Challenge of the Super Friends.
Never before had a cartoon so faithfully reproduced its comic book source material: instead of just featuring DC's Big Five, Challenge pitted almost the entire Justice League against the Legion of Doom, giving us characters rarely--and in some cases, never--seen in animation.

Looking back on these shows as an adult (hollow laugh), I of course see how completely insane and bare bones they are: characterization among the heroes is nil (any hero's dialogue could come from any other hero, and that includes Wonder Woman), and the plots are insane: science and physics are gleefully tossed aside when needed, and the Super Friends seem to almost go out of their way to not make sure the villains are actually caught, leaving them to fight another day.

But after the apple-cheeked, sitcom-esque antics of the previous Super Friends series, Challenge of the Super Friends still feels like the comic books come to life, with all their good and bad qualities intact. I still love this show.

Aquaman gets literally nothing to do here--at first he's seen sitting, then standing, that's it--but he'll take a greater role in later episodes. But for now, I have to say:

This episode's Aqua-Content: Low


Stephen said...

Oh how I loved this show when I was a kid! It was the closest thing I had ever seen to a JLA cartoon. Plus,the sound effect they had for Black Manta's voice was amazing. Unfortunately, Aquaman didn't appear in too many episodes - but he got a star turn in the next episode coming up when he attempts to save an island that's going to be set ablaze by Manta.

Jorge PR said...

Hi Rob. I want to ask your help (and other readers' as well) for 1 Super Friends ep I can't remember its title adn I only saw that once. Mr. Mxyzptlk showeed up and involved the SF in a movie (I think) where he made the SF go against each other; he dressed Aquaman as a western sheriff and Superman as the thief, and made them fight, and Superman tied Aquaman to the front of a train and started it, which was heading to a cliff (ok, Superman didn't tie Aquaman in the word's sense because he did it with some iron from the train itself, otherwise I'm sure Aquaman would have been able to cut the ropes ;) ). Of course, just when the train was about to crash, Superman got free of Mxyzptlk´s spell and rescued Aquaman. Do you remember that ep?

Wings1295 said...

When they had episodes like this, it blew me away as a kid. I was used to the Superfriends, but here was Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern with them! And I loved it!

Earth 2 Chris said...

I think the Mxy episode was from the regular SF episodes aired at the same time as "Challenge". These still had the original 5 Super Friends and the Wonder Twins. Essentially a continuation of the main feature of the year's previous "All-New Super Friends Hour".

I can't really add anything different to what you all said about Challenge. There are other SF episodes over the course of the run that stand above the rest, but as a collective whole, Challenge can't be beat.

As for Aquaman, I think his shining moment in Challenge is when he and Apache Chief are stranded millions of years in the past, and he realizes he can bury his JLA emergency signal in the spot where the Hall of Justice will be built, and the atomic battery will still be able to alert the SF in the future. That's mind-bending stuff to a 4 year old!!!


Russell said...

I always wished there had been a poster of that Title Card where the 11 JLAers are facing off against the Legion of Doom. See who is front and center? Yep, our guy!