Challenge of the Superfriends: Conquerers of the Future (Part 1)

When last we visited with the Superfriends and their perennial eeee-vil nemisi the Legion of Doom, they were mucking it about in a swamp with an old witch, zombies and, to all intents and purposes, Satan. It was pretty much all Solomon Grundy all the time (and a radically size-changing Grundy to boot), so this episode is almost inevitably going to be a bit of a let-down for your’s truly.

We open in Paris, the camera first showing us the Eiffel Tower, of course, and then panning over to the Arc de Triomphe. Short of showing a parade of women with unshaved armpits, this is about as established a location as you can get. In the earlier part of the season, they nearly always opened with the same shots of the swamp containing the submerged Hall of Doom. However, they must have saved enough money doing so to allow for an opening involving *gasp* newly animated (such as it is) footage here.

Here in Paris, the Omniscient Narrator informs us, “Millions of people travel each day on the Metropolitan Subway.” And fail to wash, but that doesn’t directly touch upon our story, I guess. Although between the swamp and Paris, one might conjecture that the writers believed in kicking off the stories in, uh, aromatic climes.

Anyway, we cut inside a subway car, and yes, there is a man with a little mustache carrying a baguette. The camera then zooms in on a handsome looking fellow in a suit coat and turtleneck sweater. “It sure is nice to take a vacation in Paris as Hal Jordan,” he asides. “No one would guess that I’m actually Green Lantern.” I guess he’s really not all that pleased by the fact, however, considering that he’s standing in a crowded subway car and muttering his secret identity out loud.

Still, the situation is actually kind of interesting. On this show they almost never touch upon the characters’ private lives. For instance, as far as I can recall anyone, we’ve only ever seen Clark Kent (as opposed to Superman) in the very first episode, and that briefly. Here the characters have been portrayed mostly as more or less living in the Hall of Justice and being in costume all day long.

In any case, with GL’s presence in Gay Paree rather hamhandedly established, we cut to the rather poorly drawn workspace of the subway switching center. One of the show’s stable of perhaps six voice talent people (the one who does Robin, I think) assumes a particularly ineffective French accent, and exclaims, “My control pan-ell, it has shortened out!”* Sacre breu!

[* The writers clearly need a better ear for French dialouge. He should have said, “My control pan-ell, it has, how do you say…shortened out!”]

Because of this (stand ready to be amazed), the very subway train Hal is on is running out of control. The train’s engineer, who apparently lacks any sort of braking control over his vehicle (and who is voiced by the Batman guy, also assuming an extremely dubious accent) notes, “Oh, no! They have switched to the wrong track!” Indeed, a light in front of him indicates that a collision with another train is imminent.

This leads to a couple of interesting conjectures, given Hal’s presence directly on the scene. The first is that he and his fellow superheroes exude some sort of energy field that alters probabilities, so that crap like this happens whenever they’re around. You know, like how inviting Jessica Fletcher to a wedding ensures somebody there will be murdered. In other words, if you see a superhero out in public, don’t run over for an autograph. Get the hell out of Dodge before Lex Luthor pops up with some sort of death ray.

There’s another possibility, however. This is that we humans have become so complacent and dependent on the Superfriends to save our asses at the slightest hint of trouble that we’ve all but given up engineering anything to be safe: “Naw, don’t bother putting temperature controls on that spigot. If the water is too hot, Aquaman will pop up to keep me from getting into the shower. Hmm, now to dig out that piece of stuck toast with this fork…”

One woman in Hal’s car screams that they are going too fast. “This looks like a job for Green Lantern,” Hal whispers. (Dude, interior voice.) “But I can’t let these people see who I am.” Yes, they are, after all, French. Plus, they are probably particularly attentive right now in looking about for a superhero to show up, assuming my second conjecture is correct.

Now, Hal could just announce himself and say he’s Jewish, causing his fellow passengers to sniff and turn away from him disdainfully. Instead, he uses his power ring to teleport himself out of the train. (I wasn’t aware he could do that, but OK.) Appearing on the tracks outside in his uniform and mask, he declares, “I’ve only got seconds to stop the trains before they collide!” Some of which he’s just wasted by standing there and saying he’s only got seconds to stop the trains before they collide.

Suddenly his arch-enemy Sinestro appears before him. “Great Galaxies!” Green Lantern exclaims in shock. And why not? This must only happen to him once or twice a month. “It’s Sinestro!” he then finishes. Dude, who are you talking to? You and he are the only ones there, and I’m pretty sure he already knows who he is.

Seriously, GL. Have you fallen victim to some diabolical plot that makes you verbalize everything that enters your head? “Good thing nobody knows I’m Green Lantern!” “I’ve only got seconds to stop the trains before they collide!” “It’s Sinestro!” “Great Galaxies, my zipper is undone and I’m not wearing any underwear! I have mere seconds to zip up before my date notices that my…oops, TOO LATE!”

“That’s right, my green friend,” Sinestro retorts. (By the way, he’s being sarcastic. Green Lantern isn’t his friend.) “I hear there’s some trouble in the subway,” he continues. By the way, haven’t “seconds” passed by now?

In any case, Green Lantern decides his first priority is to fight Sinestro, which is so stupid even his adversary figures it out. “There’s no time for quarrels!” Sinestro answers. “A disaster needs preventing!” So saying, Sinestro indeed saves the day, materializing a giant energy spring between the trains that diffuses the energy of their collision.

Yep, it’s Standard Superhero Plot #27: Our Hero (or heroes) is confused when one or more of his super-foes appear to have reformed and joined the good guy side. Now, normally the hero is further inconvenienced when his suspicions that this is all a trick fall on deaf ears, and even cause his friends and associates to take him to task for his uncharitable ‘paranoia.’ This usually involves the superhero setting up the supposedly reformed supervillain to do something dastardly, only to look bad when the guy instead again acts heroically. However, although I expect the Superfriends to be cautious, they are such goody-goodies that they will probably basically fall for this scheme.

Anyway (and with the train engineer somehow magically having joined them on the tracks), Sinestro waves to Green Lantern and then turns to go, noting, “I’ve got other jobs to take care of.” So saying, he departs, leaving his foe to look on in stunned amazement.

I guess we know how things are going to proceed for a while. Sure enough, we cut inside a closed bank in nighttime Gotham City. Robbers, complete with hoods, are standing two feet away from the vault door and aiming a bazooka at it. (!!) Uhm, you guys may wish to step back a bit farther. However, it’s actually an energy bazooka, so it doesn’t cause an explosive backlash. I still think I’d get a bit further away than that, but what do I know?

Anyway, this completely disintegrates the vault door. Wow. How did they get their hands on a weapon like that? Wouldn’t that be a pretty pricey item, even in this universe? And I know they’re not supervillains, because one guy calls the other Mort. Or maybe they are supervillains, but really bad at picking codenames.

Anyhoo, they enter the vault. “There’s millions here!” one thief exclaims. Yes, who would have guessed they’d hide all this money in a bank vault? “This will be our last job!” he continues, perhaps because these millions mean he can finally make the balloon payment on his energy bazooka. However, another voice answers, “I’ll make sure of that!” Turning, the thieves are shocked to see the Dynamic Duo. “Batman!” one gasps. Yes, who would have thought Batman would show up during a bank robbery in Gotham City? Seriously, these people are all morons.

“You aren’t catching us so easily!” Mort exclaims, and blasts a hole in the rear wall with the energy bazooka. (Why not just disintegrate Batman and Robin? Please. This is Challenge of the Superfriend. People can’t even punch each other on this show.) Of course, these guys shouldn’t be giving Batman—even this Batman—this much trouble. However, they have to momentarily escape so that one of Batman’s Legion of Doom foes can show up and capture them instead. Oops, sorry.

Anyway, the two crooks run out the hole. “They’re getting away, Batman!” Robin exclaims, despite the fact that they are literally two feet behind the fleeing thieves. Or they were, until they stopped so that Robin could exclaim, “They’re getting away, Batman!” Astoundingly, this might be the stupidest this cast of characters have even been. And again, they are on Challenge of the Superfriends, so that’s saying something.

Indeed, as the oh-so Dynamic Duo just stand there, the crooks have already gotten into a car and are driving away. Now again, there’s just no way in hell these schmucks would be giving Batman and Robin this much trouble, except for the fact that the script requires them to.

As their quarries speed off, Batman calls for Robin to head for the Batmobile. Gee, thanks, oh Great Strategist. However, they are halted when a voice rings out that this won’t be necessary, whereupon they turn to find this program’s harlequin version of Toyman standing there. This is weird, actually, since a goodly portion of the Legion of Doom—the Riddler, the Scarecrow—are Batman villains (if especially lame ones), while Toyman is (believe it or not) a member of Superman’s Rogues Gallery. At least Sinestro was actually one of Green Lantern’s personal enemies.

“Holy foul play!” Robin blurts. First of all, the ‘holy’ thing sucks, Robin. Second, at least get a pun in there. If you shouted this at the Penguin, it could at least be read as “Holy fowl play!” I guess you ‘play’ with toys, but yeesh, that’s a bit of a stretch. I mean, you fight these guys all the time. Can’t you prepare any better lines than that? (And you know Robin does prepare his lines, probably calling them out in front of a Bat-Mirror while striking Bat-Poses.)

Sure enough, to the heroes’ befuddlement, Toyman declares that he is here to help capture the robbers. So saying, he produces a small, wind-up toy motorcycle cop. “I’ll teach them to toy around with the Toyman,” he avers (apparently all these guys need to hire some writers) and sends this on its way. The toy soon catches up with the speeding car, projects a spike that disables one of the tires, and brings the vehicle to a halt just in front of a waiting police car.

“Just give me a call if you need me again,” Toyman chortles, and literally prances away. “I don’t get it!” Robin exclaims. Batman agrees. What I don’t get is why they don’t arrest Toyman. Does stopping a bank robbery mean he’s suddenly wiped clean all the no doubt zillions of outstanding warrants for the Legion of Doom members? Or maybe nobody ever bothered to put out warrants on him and Riddler and Black Manta, anymore than they did the Legion’s janitor or cafeteria lady. That I could buy.

“Meanwhile,” the Narrator narrates, “in the skies above Metropolis…” I think everyone’s already figured out the score here, so we really don’t need iteration of ‘suddenly heroic supervillain / perplexed superhero.’ However, they always do things in threes on this show, so at least this will be the last one.

Here, a passenger dirigible impales itself (!!) on what looks suspiciously like the Chrysler Building. You know, I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to be flying that low. On the other hand, if the entire human race is getting lazy and stupid because of superheroes always saving them, then Metropolis must be that phenomenon’s epicenter. “We snagged the building, and punctured the blimp!” the zeppelin driver yelps. Really? Nothing gets past you, guy.

Suddenly, flying to the rescue comes…. Wonder Woman and Hawkman? Seriously, what the hell? First of all, this is Metropolis. So where is Superman? Second of all, Wonder Woman can only fly in her plane (this being Old School Wonder Woman). Meanwhile, Hawkman is, well, Hawkman. I mean, he’ll be more helpful than Aquaman would be, but that’s not saying much. Sure, he could fly a passenger or two to safety, but that would be about it. So I don’t really see how much use these two would be in this particular situation.

“The airship is dead ahead,” Wonder Woman radios Hawkman. Who doesn’t have a radio, but anyway. More to the point, would even Hawkman have that much trouble discerning where the giant deflating dirigible impaled on the Chrysler Building might be?

In any case, Wonder Woman tells him to handle the passengers (just what you want to see when you’re hoping for Superman to come save your life—a bare-chested guy with wings and a beak mask). Meanwhile, she will “seal the leak.” See, I overlooked the fact that she’s a gal. Those sewing skills will sure come in handy right now. Then maybe she can calm the passengers later by baking them some muffins.

Hilariously, the leak is now at the top of the craft, despite the fact that it impaled itself through the bottom (which, obviously, it would have to.) Perhaps the building’s spire has now gone all the way through the airship, but in that case we’re talking a bit more than sealing ‘a’ leak.

Sure enough, though, Wonder Woman leaps on top of the blimp, just where the spire is indeed poking through and pressurized gas is gushing forth. “I’ve got to stop the leaking gas!” she explains. Man, they really missed a great moment, here. Wouldn’t the blimp be filled with helium? She should sound like Alvin the Chipmunk right now. That would be hilarious. All the Superfriends would be, like, “Say, Wonder Woman, how did you save that blimp again?” Then when she started answering in her high, squeaky voice, they’d all fall on the floor laughing.

Except for Aquaman, of course, because man, he wouldn’t dare.

Anyway, Wonder Woman begins to gather the folds of material to cinch them shut, I guess. However, a sudden eruption of gas throws her off the airship, whereupon she plunges to her probable demise. Luckily, though, Grodd the Gorilla is waiting below and he catches her.

Wonder Woman I could maybe see surviving this (since this show never really pinned down how ‘super’ she is). However, isn’t Grodd just a somewhat bigger than normal gorilla? And not Kong-sized bigger; more like ten feet tall?* I don’t know, it seems to me like Wonder Woman would have built up a significant amount of kinetic energy falling over 1,000 feet. (Estimate based on the height of the Chrysler Building, of which this seems an analogue.)

[*Searching the Interweb, I see several assertions that Grodd is superstrong, but can’t find anything authoritative. However, as I’ve noted in the past, this particular show seemed to group all the ‘super-strong’ characters together. This means that Grodd is conceivably as strong as anybody in this particular universe; Superman, Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, etc. Anyway, I’ll stipulate he could catch Wonder Woman and live.]

On to the next point. I assume this is all part of some dastardly plan on the Legion’s part to “destroy the Superfriends.” Again, though, they keep on passing up opportunities to kill off individual heroes when they get the chance. Here, they don’t even have to kill Wonder Woman, they just had to not catch her. Seriously, they have to think this stuff out. Especially when we’re talking Wonder Woman. She’s the only woman in the group, and if she’s dead, the others will never be able to find anything. They’ll be all, “Where’s my utility belt?!, but never finding it.

Anyway, Wonder Woman is all “Wha…,” and Grodd is all like “Nice way to thank me for saving you,” and Bizarro is all like, “I’ll go attend to the blimp, you winners.” (He would thus really calling them losers, since he talks backwards Bizarro-speak…you know, though, I’m not sure he actually does that on this show. Anyway.) He flies up, and in another of the show’s serial and incredibly obvious continuity errors, the building spire is again merely puncturing through the very bottom of the airship, in direct contravention to what we just saw with Wonder Woman.

The pilot of the craft thanks Bizarro for saving them, while Hawkman and Wonder Woman looking on in gawping amazement. Hawkman is finally the one to ask what is going on. Sure enough, Grodd and Bizarro explain that the entire Legion of Doom, tired of the Superfriends beating them again and again, has decided to give up the evil thing and turn over a new leaf. Indeed, they have renamed their organization the Legion of Good. And if they were trying to find something even dumber sounding than the Superfriends, well, congratulations you guys.

Proceed to the sinister part 2 of this review!