As we approach the final chapter of the glory that is Challenge of the Superfriends (there are but three episodes remaining after this one), one can only mull on the progress the series has made during its brief lifespan. Don’t get me wrong, the program is still utterly insane. Hell, it’s practically psychotic.
However, it’s no longer as purely inept as it was in the early going. While the writing yet suggests the work of ADD-addled seven year-olds hopped up on endless bowl of Sugar-Frosted Flakes augmented with Pixie Stix, the fact remains they no longer forget things like the fact that the Flash can’t fly. Nor do we routinely see the main characters’ hair or uniforms suddenly change color. Occasionally there’s even a bit of continuity regarding some previous episode. For that, at least, congratulations are due.
This time around we open underwater to find a submarine rather, shall we say, reminiscent of the Nautilus from the Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The locale is helpfully identified by the Omniscient Narrator as “an unknown sea” (you know the kind) and the submarine as “infamous.” Maybe it’s fleeing Disney’s copyright lawyers. Which, to be fair, are a lot more threatening than the Legion of Doom.
Now, I assumed said craft was going to be owned by Black Manta, the show’s resident miscreant whose superpower is ‘owning boats.’ However, the sub’s period interior matches the exterior, and the Narrator informs us that the vessel “silently travels on its well-known journey.” So I guess it really is the Nautilus, and sure enough, the skipper proves to be Captain Nemo.
At least he doesn’t entirely look like James Mason. On the other hand, Nemo’s underling is wearing a red and white striped sailor shirt, just like Kirk Douglas did in the movie. I guess the show’s producers assumed Disney’s attorneys would be out golfing on Saturday mornings. I have to admit, though, I’m more than a little intrigued. If Captain Nemo can show up, who couldn’t? (Well, OK, I’d guess we’re only talking characters in the public domain. Still, though.)
Back to the story. To my manifest lack of surprise, they elect to feature that part of Verne’s story—which I vaguely recall may have also been featured in the film—where the Nautilus is assaulted by a giant squid. And again, for all its myriad and manifold flaws, you remember why kids of the time loved this show.
Viewing this from a short distance away is a scuba tank-equipped…Toyman. (Because again, I guess Black Manta would have made too much sense, what with the action here taking place underwater.) Soon seen floating behind a rock which patently hadn’t been there seconds earlier, Toyman giggles, “It’s incredible! I never thought it would work this well!”
It seems a bit late in the game for this line of thinking, since this observation might have been employed for pretty much every scheme and gadget the Legion has used up to now. In any case, Toyman’s undersea gloating somehow garners the attention of the squid. Perhaps attracted / offended by Toyman’s flamboyantly garish outfit, the beast turns its attentions in that direction. Toyman swims off, but with the cephalopod in pursuit.
Just when Our Villain appears inescapably trapped, we hie ourselves inside the Hall of Doom. There we see a ray gun firing a beam into a book, from which Toyman is emerging in the nick of time. So this week’s adventure will clearly involve sticking random Superfriends into the pages of various pieces of public domain literature. Once again, you can’t say the show lacked for imagination.
Still, the possibilities are boundless. For example, I’d pay a hundred bucks to see an episode wherein the rest of the Legion prankishly strands Solomon Grundy in Pride and Prejudice. “Solomon Grundy finds rigid social conventions of this milieu tediously restrictive and calcified! Also, not fond of kippers!” Bonus Topic for Discussion: Which Bennett sister would end up married to the eligible Mr. Grundy?
To boot, this raises the fascinating question of whether the presence of these outsiders actually changes the events, i.e., the very text of the books. Presumably at best each individual tome is a pocket universe, so that when the giant squid is distracted from attacking the Nautilus by Toyman, or Grundy gets annoyed by Mr. Darcy’s ‘tude and rips his head off, only the text of that individual books would be changed.
But what if that weren’t true? What if inserting people into the novels actually changed the Book in a larger sense, so that every copy changed to reflect the intrusions? Would that also alter previous film adaptations of said book? Would a nattily-mustachioed Sinestro take the place of Rhett Butler (after presumably killing him) and not only get Scarlett, but help the South win the war with his power ring?
And does the ray work the other way around? Apparently so, because before the ray is turned off one of the squid’s tentacles emerges from the book still reaching for Toyman. Given this, could you pull the now presumably more evil Scarlett out of the altered book and bring her into the ‘real’ world, allowing her to join the Legion of Doom herself? If you could, why wouldn’t you? Regular Scarlett is already scarier than a good third of their members, much less an amped-up, Sinestro-mentored version.
Also, can you insert somebody into a non-fiction book? I mean, the League and the Legion can already time-travel, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Still, could you send somebody into a copy of, say, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and assassinate Hitler during the ‘Rise’ part? Could a sympathetic reader enter a Poe biography and give him drugs to manage his chronic depression or save his young bride from TB, thus, conceivably, ruining him as a writer?
Also, can the ray only send you into books? Can it send you into movies or TV shows, or be adapted to do so?
Now back to my original musing, in which only the text in one individual volume changed. What would those alternate universe copies be worth on eBay to scholars and fans of the original story? Could you insert the X-Men into Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame for a crossover? The possibilities are myriad and mind-boggling. Admittedly, that’s generally true whenever you consider the ramifications of any of the Legion’s casually whipped-up gadgets.
And instead of using it to take over the world—in a roundabout way, I guess, by using it to get rid of the Superfriends—why not just become the world’s richest (Toy)man by establishing a literary travel agency. How many fans would pay huge money to visit Sherlock Holmes, for instance? Or have sex with the characters from a Robert Heinlein novel?
Imagine what the TV rights for the device would be worth, as each week Bear Grylls shows you how to survive being stranded on Arrakis or Dorsai? Or a reality series where Big Brother contestants are stuck hobnobbing with the characters of David Copperfield? I mean, c’mon, Uriah Heep would fit right in.
Anyhoo, apparently I myself have been pulled into a Melville novel, given that endless series of rambling discursions. So back to Our Story. As Toyman begins to speak to his assembled compatriots, I was amazed to note that they actually remembered he was wearing a scuba tank. (Again, continuity has previously not been the show’s hallmark.) Sure enough, he is seen unencumbering himself from his gear before kicking off the Ritual Pre-Success Gloating.
Even ubervillain Lex Luthor has to give Toyman his props. And you can see why he’s particularly impressed here. All Toyman has invented in the past was stuff like an artificial planet full of menacing giant toys hidden inside a black hole trillions of miles from Earth. So, I mean, who’da thought?
Meanwhile, since this was written for kiddies, they spell out what the ray does. And Toyman further elucidates the ray’s one hitch: “If you don’t get out of the story within 12 hours, you become stuck in the book forever!” Funny how things like this always occur after some easy to observe time period, like ‘12 hours,’ isn’t it? Anyway, I wonder how he sussed this out. Certainly it’s amusing to think he randomly shoved a series of people into a copy of, say, Through the Looking Glass…
Actually, no. That’s not amusing, that’s terrifying.
In any case, Toyman presumably must have sent squads of people into some book, timing each subject to see at what point one became irrevocably trapped in the tome. Assuming this is true, then it indicates that Toyman’s kind of a dick. I hope he at least sent them into a book they were copacetic with. Imagine getting stuck in a Robert James Waller novel.
Sinestro, though, has his space panties in a bunch, perhaps because he’s not currently the center of attention. Smacking his fist down on the Legion’s assembly table, he sneers, “How come there’s a flaw in your device, Toyman?” (Yeah, what’s the point of a device that only half-assedly inserts you into books? How lame is that, huh?) Toyman responds that this isn’t a bug, but a feature: “It’s been perfectly designed to trap the Superfriends in what will become their…FAIRY TALE OF DOOM!”
Wow! He said the title!
Per tradition, we now leave the show’s interesting characters and go to join Our Heroes at the Hall of Justice. There Superman, Wonder Woman and Hawkman—yep, the Rule of Three—are gazing upon their giant Viewscreen. They are watching Flash and a bunch of the team’s D-listers addressing some generic aliens—who weirdly all look alike—“at the Interplanetary Peace Conference.” Given that this is probably as useful a gathering as the UN is here on Earth, I completely understand why they sent backbenchers like Apache Chief and (!) Aquaman. Still, aren’t the delegates a little miffed? I wouldn’t trust Aquaman to pull off a grocery store opening.
Switching channels, they see Black Vulcan, Green Lantern, Batman and Robin in a packed stadium. They are there, we learn, to “officiate at the opening of the Galactic Olympics in Andromeda.” Man, I never knew the Superfriend were such a batch of freakin’ hippies. They’re even lamer than I thought they were, if that’s possible.
As the series progresses it’s kind of hard not to start rooting for the Legion, who at least have a genuine work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, it never hit me before, but the Hall of Justice, League spaceships, et al is probably funded by the taxpayers. At least the Legion steals its money in an honest fashion.
Meanwhile, the Legion is watching Supes, Wonder Woman and Hawkman on their own viewscreen. It’s been established on numerous occasions that the Legion can spy on the League at will, which again makes them seem fifty times as competent. (Admittedly, that’s not saying a great deal.) “We’ll get rid of Superman, Wonder Woman and Hawkman,” Luthor sneers, “while the other Superfriends are far off in space.”
Back in the Hall of Justice, the Trouble Alert* Monitor suddenly shows three simultaneous emergencies in different locales. This is patently a trap meant to split the remaining Superfriends up, although none of them seems to figure this out. Man, it must be humiliating for the Legion to be regularly defeated by these morons. No wonder they hate the universe.
[*Presumably named in a contest among kindergarten students. Second place went to The Oh-Oh Alarm. However, all the contestants got a Winner’s Certificate personally signed by Superman, because he had nothing better to do that day.]
Hawkman ends up “in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.” (According to the Narrator, he arrives there “moments later.” Can Hawkman really fly that fast? Perhaps the Hall of Justice is located in Denver.) You might think you wouldn’t send a shirtless dude to snow-clad peaks. Also, wouldn’t the thin air up there perhaps affect his ability to fly? On the other hand, Hawkman can fly bare-chested through the void of space, and even talk there. So I guess the cold and lack of atmosphere here wouldn’t really make much of a difference.
Standing there, Hawkman avers, “I’ve got to do something fast, or that avalanche will cover those skiers!” While he’s saying this, first the two skiers and then the avalanche itself moves past his position. Apparently the “doing something fast” part necessarily comes after the “standing there and talking about doing something fast” part.
This prerequisite accomplished, he flies over and grabs up a ski lift bench (they just conveniently unhook, which would certainly make me feel safe were I in one) and uses this to scoop the skiers up just before the snow hits. Wouldn’t it have been easier, not to mention faster, just to grab them? And how strong is Hawkman, flying around with a ski lift bench and two full adults?
Of course, Hawkman sticks around to get praised by his rescuees, one of whom notes “we’d have been a couple of frozen skiers.” This line is delivered like it’s a pun or something, although if so, I don’t get it. However, Hawkman is distracted when he sees Toyman sitting on a nearby snowmobile. (Shouldn’t Captain Cold be handling avalanches and such?) Toyman inevitably calls him a “fine feathered fool” and Hawkman is all, like, ‘oh, it’s on.’
This is a ridiculously obvious trap, of course. Even so, Hawkman flies right after him when Toyman revs up his snowmobile. (Shouldn’t there be a separate supervillain whose power is owning a snowmobile? You know, like Black Manta’s is owning a boat?) Hawkman gets close to the snowmobile—yeah, you’d think, since he flew to the Rocky Mountains in ‘moments’—but can’t quite close the gap.
Before he gets more of a chance, however, we see Solomon Grundy standing nearby with the ray gun and Sinestro holding open a story book. Again, who the hell makes up the Legion’s duty rosters? You’re laying traps for Hawkman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and you send Solomon Grundy and Sinestro after Hawkman? WTF?
Then there are their actual tasks. You sport half a dozen super-scientist types in the Legion, and you assign the can-barely-talk, superstrong zombie to run the ray gun? And really, you need to assign the guy with the “most powerful weapon in the universe” power ring to stand around holding a book open? I don’t know, it seems a shame to waste a job when you finally have one you could actually entrust to Riddler or Cheetah.
The ray is activated, and both Toyman and Hawkman are zapped into the book, in this case the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. (Which isn’t actually a book, but anyway.) Personally, I think Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds would have been a lot funnier, but what do I know? And why send Toyman into the story too?
Those answers will have to wait, however. We now head to the “Sierra Verde silver mine in Southern Mexico,” where Cheetah lies in wait. (That’s odd. On the Trouble Alert board we saw signals from two American locales, but none from south of the border.) Boy, is Cheetah going to freak if Superman shows up.
On the other hand, I still can’t quite figure out how powerful Wonder Woman is in this iteration. In the episode ‘Origin of the Superfriends’ they say she has the strength of Hercules, which should mean that she’s way out of Cheetah’s weight class. Still, they’re both girls, so I guess that trumps such other factors.
Wonder Woman appears in the mine via an elevator—wow, what a flair for the dramatic that woman has—and Cheetah taunts her and starts off running. Again, we were told (if I remember correctly) that Wonder Woman had the speed of Mercury. Given this, it’s hard to see Cheetah escaping, especially since they’re down in a mine. I mean, where’s she going to go?
Also, they missed a bet by not playing Yakkity Sax during the chase. That would have been great, especially if Wonder Woman grabbed Cheetah’s costume, and it ripped off, and she continued to run clad only in her spotted panties, bra and garter belts. Then a bunch of miners join in the chase…well, it writes itself.
Of course, this whole situation proves another trap, with Bizarro manning the ray gun. Meanwhile, Black Manta is holding the story book open, and I can’t really argue with that one. It’s just about his speed, and to be fair, he doesn’t lose his place or anything. So the ray is employed, and again both Superfriend and Legionnaire are transported into the tome, although this time we aren’t shown what it is.
“That should be the last we see of poor Wonder Woman!” Black Manta gloats, laughing manically. Yeah, boy, BM, you sure showed her, holding that book open like that. What a sinister triumph of supervillainy. Make sure to tell your flippered grandkids about this one.
Also, again, why are they also sending Legion members in with the heroes? (I mean, aside from providing a mechanism to save them later?) If I were writing the show, I’d have this be a grand scheme of Luthor’s to dispose of his more useless / annoying confederates. After all, once the Superfriends are disposed of—and getting rid of Superman and Wonder Woman would go a long way in that direction—why split your spoils with all the team losers?
Considering Cheetah and Toyman are the ones so employed so far, that would follow. I imagine a little something like this:
Cheetah: “But Luthorrrrrrrrrr, why must I go into the book too? That makes no sense. I…what are you holding? Cat nip!! Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Purrrrrrrrrrr!”
Luthor, stage whispering: “Quick, Brainiac, toss that ball of yarn down into the mine! There she goes! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! My plan is working perfectly!”
We cut to a view of Mt. Fuji, as that Narrator explains that we’re on the outskirts of Tokyo. Well, it does make sense they’d send Superman on this task. Not so much because he’s the fastest—just as all the superstrong character are roughly equally superstrong, so it seems to be with speed—but because 83% of Trouble Alerts from Japan involve Godzilla or Rodan. So it’s not like the Japanese people would be much reassured seeing Hawkman come flying to the rescue.
In this case, however, a Legion team is striking the “giant Toho Electronics plant.” (Ok, props for that reference.) Brainiac is there stealing advanced computer components. Really? Every episode involves an insane device some Legionnaire has whipped up, like a time travel machine or brain control gun or ray that inserts you into books, and they need to steal computer components? Uhm, OK.
Making this especially unlikely is Brainiac’s boast that, with the components he’s stealing, “I’ll be able to increase the power of my own android brain a hundred times!” Isn’t he from the future, or outer space or something? I don’t know, it’s hard to believe that even supertech from the mid ‘70s would allow him to ramp him up like that. Imagine traveling back to, oh, the 1500s today to steal ‘technology.’ “This yurt design will increase the power of my android brain a hundred times!”
So Superman naturally shows up for some extraordinarily lame trash talk (this guy beat Thor?!), noting that even so enhanced Brainiac won’t be able to outsmart the Superfriends. Given that the Last Son of Krypton is about to become the third League member in the past five minutes lured from the Hall of Justice and captured, I don’t think Supes has a lot of standing on this issue. On the other hand, the Legion blows every single upper hand it gets over the League, so maybe he does.
Brainiac replies that, “You’ll need more than words to stop me!” (Not on this show, sonny.) So saying, he pulls a convenient switch, thus activating a big robot arm that naturally grabs up Superman. You can’t hit people on this show, but you can grab them like nobody’s business.
Of course, Superman is roughly as quick as the Flash, so he basically could have moved away from the robot pincher like a zillion times before it got anywhere near him. However, then he wouldn’t have the opportunity to burst free from it and show how totally awesome he is, with the only downside being the needless destruction of someone else’s massively expensive private property. Man, Superman is a dick.
Oops, my mistake, Superman doesn’t do that either. I guess he forgot he has superpowers or something. So the robot arm drops him on a conveyor belt which is handily equipped with automatic manacles to hold him. Wait, was all this gear already on site?! I mean, it is a Japanese plant, so it’s possible, I guess. In fact, if I were Superman I’d be hoping I wasn’t in the room(s) with the mechanized Raping Tentacles.
Then an overhanging ray begins zapping Our Hero. (Uh, couldn’t they be shooting him with the Story Book Ray right now instead?) Superman casually identifies it as a “million volt arc welder” ray, which, you know, sounds totally real. I guess when you’ve been shot with as many superscience beams as the Man of Steel, you get pretty good at identifying them. Anyway, Supes isn’t impressed. It “isn’t even strong even to clean my supersuit, Brainiac!” he yawns. Oh, snap!
Anyhoo, you know the drill. Superman breaks the manacles—wow, didn’t see that coming—Brainiac starts to run away (from Superman?!), and then Grodd (ray gun) and Cap’n Cold (book holder) zap the two of them into another book. This is witnessed from the Hall of Doom, as Luthor inevitably gloats. I notice that Grundy, Black Manta and Cheetah are there. Shouldn’t they be capturing Wonder Woman in Mexico right about now?
Anyway, Luthor preens that with all three of the on-Earth Superfriends disposed of, they can now…grab the Hall of Justice. Good grief! It’s always the grabbing of the Hall of Justice with you, Luthor. Are you really that insecure? Dude, all they have there is a big viewscreen, and you already have one of those!
Well, OK, they also have a little table that seats four people (!). However, you have that U-shaped number that—imagine this—seats your entire team. And it has a cool podium for Luthor to stand at. No one can argue that the Legion hasn’t completely dominated the vital Furniture Gap. And, oh yeah, you guys live in a giant, flying, underwater Darth Vader helmet. That’s so much cooler!
I know, I know, the vaunted Hall of Justice Supercomputer. Really, though, how can the Superfriends possibly have a better computer than you do? You have a ton of superscientists on your team. They have, what, Batman I guess? Really? Batman built them a better computer than Luthor (the man so smart that his sheer brainpower makes him Superman’s archenemy), Brainiac, Grodd and Toyman combined? And Bizarro, who once built a ray that turned people into hundred foot giants? And yet the League has a better computer than you?!* I call shenanigans.
[*A computer, by the way, that doesn’t even have security software to keep the Legion from using it when they take over the Hall of Justice every two weeks.]
Cut back to the farm in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” where Hawkman is just zapping into existence. (“Great birds of prey!” he exclaims. Really? That’s just sad.) Oddly, although this isn’t what happened when Toyman entered 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, here Hawkman has somehow actually replaced Jack. We learn this was he is treated as Jack by none other than Jack’s mom, who laments him selling their cow for the magic beans.
Boy, if you can make the Superfriend the main character of the book you send him into, why not choose something like Candide? Actually, since we’re talking Hawkman, why not stick him into Jonathan Livingston Seagull? That would be hilarious. (Kind of mean, though.)
Anyway, a giggling Toyman drops several beans (presumably toy ones) into the farm’s tilled earth, with predictable results. He then begins effortlessly climbing up the side of the massive, literally skyscraping beanstalk. Toyman might be totally lame as a supervillain, but apparently he does a ton of cardio.
Hawkman follows after his foe in a like fashion. That’s right; Hawkman also begins climbing up the beanstalk. Hawkman. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, here’s a hint: Think about what Hawkman’s sole superpower is. Imagine if Aquaman were chasing somebody who started to run around to the other side of a swimming pool, and the Wet Warrior continued after him on foot. Like that.
Cut back to Wonder Woman, who’s still plummeting. Indeed, during her uncontrolled descent, she observes, “It seems like I’ve been falling forever.” She is seen plunging past various objects suggesting Victorian England. Given this, we’re not entirely amazed when she turns out to have entered Alice in Wonderland.
So the Maiden of Might eventually lands next to a small table. This naturally bears a bottle tagged with a note reading “Drink me,” and is situated in a hallway featuring zillions of anonymous doors. “The last thing I remember is chasing Cheetah,” she muses, presumably for the benefit of any viewer who missed the beginning of the show. Because that’s the essential piece of knowledge you’d need to follow things, I guess.
Wonder Woman is further perplexed when a white rabbit in a waistcoat appears next to her. Referring to his pocket watch, he frets “How late it’s getting!” They don’t bother giving him an English accent, which seems kind of lazy, but there you go. “Great Hera!” Wonder Woman declaims, because that’s the sort of thing she says. “Either I’m dreaming, or this is the story of Alice in Wonderland!” Actually, wouldn’t it be funnier if the ray didn’t work, and the Legion was just punking their enemies with elaborate sets and props like a rabbit robot. And then they filmed it and put it on TV just to make the Superfriends look like chumps?
Wonder Woman soon finds herself corrected by a mouse-sized Cheetah, who is standing next to a similarly tiny door. I think it says something about how lame the Superfriends are that it apparently doesn’t even occur to Wonder Woman to just step on her miniaturized foe. Or, more to the point, that Cheetah herself apparently has absolutely no fears in this regard. “You’re only half right,” the villainess purrs. “It’s now the story of Wonder Woman in Wonderland!” Really? You had prep time, and that’s the best line you could come up with? Yeesh.
Cheetah runs laughing / purring (the actress playing her must have worked on that combo) through the door. Figuring that in for a penny, in for a pound, Wonder Woman grabs the ‘Drink Me’ bottle and gulps away. Sadly, she doesn’t shrink out of her clothes. Even aside of the obvious advantages for the viewer, this would actually be a pretty big edge for Cheetah. The now puny Wonder Woman, after all, wouldn’t be able to wield her now enormous magic lasso, bracelets and tiara. Anyhoo, Our Heroine hoofs it after Cheetah through the teeny door.
Meanwhile, Superman wakes up (?) to find himself Gulliver. (Yes, the best way to put Superman to a disadvantage is to make him a super-gigantic Superman.) He’s naturally in the scene where Gulliver is tied down by the Lilliputians, which is possible, a really tiny Brainiac tells him, because they’ve given the villagers Kryptonite ropes. (!!!) OK, there’s a host of problems with that idea, but let’s just move on.
Back to the Hall of Justice. For about the fifth time, we see that the Legion has taken over the heroes’ headquarters. Man, you’d think they’d learn to lock the doors or something. Gazing upon the admittedly highly risible sight of the Superfriends addressing the, ahem, Intergalactic Peace Conference, Luthor chortles, “While the rest of the Super-Fools are busy discussing interplanetary peace, we’ve got the entire Earth at our mercy!” And you know what, he’s entirely right. Man, the Superfriends suck.
However, having apparently completed their super-fool’s errand, Batman and the others now begin their journey home. Alerted to this by Black Manta, Luthor shrugs. “There’s nothing to worry about, Manta. We’ll use the Superfriends’ own devices to capture them.” (Really? Batman doesn’t have a friggin’ remote control for them in his Batplane / Batspacerocket?) Moreover, Sinestro notes that their victims have but six hours to go before they’re permanently trapped in their storybook dooms.
We cut back to the Beanstalk. The two foes have continued their hand by hand ascent, and we see Hawking saying “I’ve got to catch Toyman.” Yes, it’s too bad you can’t, oh, I don’t know, fly or something YOU GIGANTIC ASS. I mean, really, good grief. We then cut to Hawkman topside, standing on a cloudbank. “I’d better take a look inside that giant castle,” he muses. There’s no indication that he’s aware there’s an actual giant in there, though, despite knowing he’s in “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Hawkman enters the castle, and blurts, “It’s incredible!” Is it? I don’t know, doesn’t this sort of thing happen to them all the time? Time travel, giant toy planets set in black holes, adventures in the hollow core of the Earth, fighting Satan, etc. And with Toyman involved, wouldn’t you just assume he built all this? I’d think these guys would have a higher bar of ‘incredible’ by now. More along the lines of “Wow, this is possibly the weirdest thing that’s happened to me this week!”
Then Toyman yoo-hoos from atop the nearby giant table. “If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a piece of bread dough,” he says, “you’ll soon find out!” So saying he pushes a giant rolling pin off the table, expecting it, I guess, to hit the floor and keep on rolling over to Hawkman’s position and flatten him.
Of course, if the thing is heavy enough to crush Hawkman, I’m not sure why the puny Toyman can even move it. Second, again, am I the only one who remembers that Hawkman can fly? It seems to me that somewhat reduces the odds of getting smushed by an object rolling across the ground. As such, this is one of the lamest death traps I’ve ever seen, even on this show.
Anyway, to my vast surprise, Hawkman unexpectedly escapes his apparently certain demise by flying up over the approaching Engine of Destruction and Bakery. (Whereupon Toyman produces a skeet gun and shoots him while he’s distracted? No?) Man, what a clever solution to his predicament. Good work, writers.
However, peril soon reinserts itself with the booming arrival of The Giant. “Oh, no!” Hawkman yells in surprise. “It’s a giant!” No #*$&^, YOU MORON. (“Holy crap!” Ken gasped, hours after discovering he had been transported into the novel Dracula. “It’s a vampire!”) I mean, even if Hawkman didn’t already know he was in Jack and the Beanstalk, which he does, who the hell does he think would live in a giant-sized castle outfitted with giant furniture and such?!
So The Giant does the whole “Fee, fi, fo, fum” routine. However, in deference to the (falsely) delicate sensibilities of the tykes watching the show, he finishes with “I smell the fear of a tiny one!” Apparently children would have the vapors if he said ‘blood,’ which is why no one’s ever actually read “Jack and the Beanstalk” to a child.
Hawkman decides to flee, but is grabbed up by The Giant, who is really, really huge. As the Avian Avenger struggles in his massive grasp, we cut away. We find Wonder Woman roaming a gigantic garden. (Why do all three stories feature gigantism of some sort? Isn’t that kind of rote?) Like Hawkman before her, Wonder Woman has deduced that she must catch her enemy if she’s ever to escape. Again, this raises the question of why the Legion sent some of their own members in the books to start with.
Inevitably, in expressing this observation Wonder Woman pauses in her actual pursuit of her adversary, allowing her feline foe more time to get away. Then Our Heroine is further distracted by a menacing (!) Caterpillar and Cheshire Cat, who mockingly tells her she’ll never escape. And in case you’re wondering if the Caterpillar has its trademark hookah here, well, no, of course not.
Anyway, WW proves not much of a reader. She tries to lasso the Cheshire Cat, which naturally just disappears save its grin. It rematerializes behind her and grabs her up, which again is this show’s version of fighting. (That attack, by the way, actually pays homage to how Carroll wrote the character, so here’s a rare, honest tip of the hat to the writers.) However, I have to say I found the image of the giant, leering anthropomorphized Cat glomming on to Wonder Woman and apparently dry humping her from behind sort of disturbing.
On to Lilliput. Superman has been transported to the King’s castle, where that august personage inspects his prize alongside Teeny Brainiac. Superman then suddenly snaps all the Kryptonite cables, apparently because the script now says he can. “You’ve got to stop him at all costs!” Teeny Brainiac demands. Yeah, they’re going to stop Giant Superman, probably with their tiny little spears and dirks.
But no, I’m wrong. Brainiac, I guess, has supplied them with a big pile of Kryptonite rocks. Seriously, why is he even still here? I mean, if he had left while Superman was safely bound, the Last Son of Krypton would trapped forever.
Conversely, why bother with all this is he had all these chunks of Kryptonite? Brainiac has a 12th level intelligence (whatever that means), so shouldn’t he be able to come up with about 800 ways to kill Superman with all that Kryptonite? Like, I don’t know, imbed it in a knife and stab him? Or mold into a bullet and shoot him? I mean, I have like a 1st level intelligence, if that, and there’re two ideas right off the top of my head.
So Superman is instantly pelted by dozens and dozens of Kryptonite rocks. (Which really should kill him right there, or at least fatally poison him). I’m not exaggerating either, so apparently the Lilliputian catapults—both of them—have some sort of rapid fire capacity, although you can’t tell that by looking at them. And we fade away, so…I guess Superman is defeated again? I mean, there’s ten minutes of show left, so I suppose.
So the one party of Superfriends, including Batman, Robin, Green Lantern and Black Vulcan, returns from space to the Hall of Justice, unaware that a “sinister trap” awaits them there. Going to the Viewscreen—man, that’s really all they got, isn’t it?—they activate the “recorder” to see what has happened to the others. Somehow this shows them footage of Superman being captured, despite the fact that this happened, you know, in Japan.
Luckily, the apparently automatic perspective changes and scene editing the recorder provides allows them to figure out the entire “Superman was sent into a book” thing. However, at this moment the Legion calls out from behind them—where they were hiding I have no idea—and springs their ‘trap.’ Hilariously, the next shot we see is a tableau with Green Lantern, Batman, Robin and Black Vulcan standing in the foreground, being ‘menaced’ by…Luthor, Black Manta (!) and Scarecrow (!!). Fittingly, Green Lantern is standing there with his hands on his hips and body language that rather understandably reads “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
His all too understandable confidence proves ill founded, however. As they just stand there like goofs, Luthor reaches over and pushes a button on the wall. (He’s in the Hall of Justice, so how does he know what all the buttons do?). This causes the exact section of floor the four heroes have crowded themselves on to fall away. This despite the fact that, oh, yeah, both Green Lantern and Black Vulcan can fly. Or that they saw Luthor reaching for the button that drops away that exact section of the floor they were crowded on, which they should probably recognize as such, given that they’re standing in their own headquarters. Good grief.
As if that weren’t funny enough—and believe me, it is—we then cut to an overhead shot of the heroes peering up from the open, lidless chamber they’ve fallen into. “They’ve got us penned up in our own escape-proof intruder trap!” Batman declares. (He is, after all, the World’s Greatest Detective.) Apparently this is so escape-proof that they don’t even try to leave it, despite the fact that, again, two of them can fly, and they didn’t even bother to animate in a force field or something. There’s just a big, gaping exit right over their heads.
Anyway, Luthor of course pauses to gloatingly explain the whole “in one hour your friends will be stuck in these books right here forever!” (What would happen, by the way, if they just tossed the books into a fire or something?) Then he declares that he and Black Manta—Manta sees a lot of action on this series, so somebody apparently thought he was cool—will stay behind to watch over things. Meanwhile, the rest of the Legion will depart to oversee what Sinestro describes as a “mission of felony.”
Back to the Castle in the Clouds. The Giant, who is a rather jolly sort, has a bound Hawkman laid out in a skillet and is adorning him with chucks from a humongous carrot. This suggests a really baroque episode of the Food Network’s Chopped. “Chefs, open your baskets. You have 30 minutes to make an entrée featuring each of the following four secret ingredients: Carrots, marzipan, tapioca pudding, and a miniaturized version of one of the lamer Superfriends.”
“I’ve got to get out of this fairy tale before I come to a real end!” Hawkman observes. Wow, he’s almost as smart as Batman! However, The Giant has other ideas and moves to shove the skillet into a fire. Luckily, giant (to him) floating and flaming fire embers are dancing around in the air, and Hawkman manages to snag one. He uses the flame to sever the ropes binding his legs—since he now magically has an arm free in order to grab the ember, and don’t ask me how that happened—and flies to freedom.
Wow, that was boring. And then…utter confusion. Hawkman spots Toyman, who starts running. Then suddenly Toyman is running to avoid being crushed under The Giant’s mammoth boots (?). Then The Giant disappears, or something, and Hawkman has Toyman trapped in a corner. However, Toyman has the last laugh when he suddenly just fades out of sight. Uhm, OK.
Cut back to the Hall of Justice, where the Book Ray is materializing Toyman back into our reality. So, what, Toyman had a signal or something to let Luthor know when to fetch him out? Or…I don’t know. I should just go with it, I guess. Toyman has a triumphant if prematurely gloating giggle fit, while Luthor jeers that Hawkman will “never get out of this fatal fairy tale.” Alliteration, the Official Literary Device of the Legion of Doom™.
Cut to Wonderland. There we find Wonder Woman bound to the cap of a gigantic mushroom, while the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat loom over her. It’s like this whole cartoon was designed to be exported to Japan. If Wonder Woman were just a squeaky voiced 12 year-old wearing a sailor suit with a teeny skirt that afforded copious fan service, the illusion would be complete.
So Wonder Woman is still being menaced by these two, which frankly doesn’t jibe with my understanding of either character in Carroll’s book. She’s all, “I’m not Alice,” and they’re all like, “We don’t care, bee-oytch!” So the Caterpillar uses his huge fangs—yeah, don’t ask me, either—to cut through the stem of the mushroom. At this the cap begins bouncing along, complete with some rather silly boing-y sound effects, and heading to a presumably fatal end for Our Heroine.
However, Wonder Woman telepathically (I guess) manipulates her Magic Lasso, or something. Which…I don’t know, maybe she could do that at some point? DC comic lore isn’t my strong suit, and superheroes who have been around for decades tend to pick up and discard strange abilities over the years. Anyway, the Lasso stretches out ahead of her, twining back and forth between two trees. The mushroom cap hits the tautened lengths of it and is grated into pieces, and she is free.
Luckily, Cheetah is nearby, leaping (albeit more like a kangaroo than a cat) from one giant flower to another, Our Heroine takes up the pursuit, swinging around on her Lasso like Spider-Man. By which I mean, the Spider-Man who swung around along the tops of skyscrapers while you could never figure out what he had attached his webbing to. To the Amazon’s chagrin, however, Cheetah dematerializes from sight like Toyman did before her.
Emerging back at the Hall of Doom, Cheetah notes, “Your device is incredible, Toyman.” (Yes, amazingly she doesn’t describe it as ‘purrr-fect.’) Man, I hope she’s talking about his Book Ray. More gloating, etc.
Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse for Wonder Woman when the Red Queen shows up and has her seized. Uhm, really? I mean, sure, Alice got grabbed up. Wasn’t she like a 10 year-old girl or something, though? You’ve telling me Wonder Woman can’t escape from / beat up a bunch of guys with playing cards for torsos? I mean, you’d think a frustrated, pissed-off Amazon would enjoy the opportunity to blow off a little steam. “Come here, you muther*#$~%s,” she would yell, pausing only to casually rip her first victim’s pasteboard body in half as the rest of them scatter in gibbering terror.
Instead, Wonder Woman gives it up like a punk. Damn, sister. “I haven’t done a thing,” she lamely protests. Well, yeah, that’s kind of the problem, isn’t it?
Back at the King’s castle in Lilliput. Superman is still having scads of Kryptonite rocks hurled at him. So much for this being a rare element, as Brainiac seems to have brought ten or twenty pounds of the stuff with him. (And again, if the Legion had all that at its deposal, why wasn’t Superman dead a long time ago?)
“I’ve got to get rid of this Kryptonite!” the Last Son of Krypton moans. Yep, nothing gets past good ol’ Kal-El. “My only chance is to use my heat vision!” he elaborates. Well, actually, if he can still use his heat vision, you’d think he’d be strong enough to, oh, I don’t know, get up and walk away from the castle. I mean, he’s a big frickin’ giant, so that would require at most like five or six steps on his part before he was out of range of the Kryptonite’s effects.
Still, why do something so prosaic when you can do something retarded instead. “If I can magnetize that metal gate,” he explains—yes, his plan involves magnetizing metal with his heat vision—“it may be enough to attract the Kryptonite.” Hmm, now it all makes sense. When you magnetized a pin in science class as a kid by rubbing it against a magnet, it was because of the friction generated by the two objects. The ‘magnet’ part had nothing to do with it, I guess.
By the way, isn’t that gate in the same courtyard with him? I revise my earlier estimate; clearly if he got up and took one step away, like stepping over the castle walls to the area outside, he’d be in the clear. Presumably they thought that was insufficiently dramatic and super-powery, though. Anyway, in about a second the metal gate is glowing red hot (although not igniting the cart of dry hay literally two feet away from it), and naturally draws all the Kryptonite boulders from like ten or fifteen feet away. Ta-dah!
With all the Kryptonite ‘safely’ several yards away, Superman is back in his trash talking fettle. Brainiac takes off, although given that he can’t fly and, oh, yeah, has a stride now about one one-hundredth of Superman’s, that doesn’t seem too promising. Luckily, though, offscreen teleporting works in cartoons, too, and Brainiac is pretty much at the seashore before Superman has barely left the castle. Don’t know how that works, but there you go.
So Brainiac sets off in a row boat (!!!!). Superman, when he finally arrives at the shore, wades in after him, apparently again forgetting that he can fly. However, Brainiac vanishes like his comrades in crime before him. Moreover, Superman is instantly—because that’s how sea vessels move—surrounded by the Lilliputian armada, which also is armed with that seemingly infinite number of Kryptonite cannon balls. (Hey, if they have gunpowder, why were they using catapults back at the castle?) Anyway, Superman is imperiled yet again, since he’s too stupid to just fly away.
Although he’s still got his heat vision, right? And the ships are made of wood. Just sayin’.
Brainiac returns to the Hall of Justice, and does some gloating that for once is rather justified (if again a tad premature). “With Superman trapped,” he preens, “the entire Justice League will be crippled!” And you know what, he’s right. At this point it’s basically just a mopping-up exercise. Especially since they already have Green Lantern captured. Flash is about the only big gun still free and clear, and he’s no Superman. I mean, yeah, he could just dash in and stab about 90% of the Legion to death in a micro-second, but that would still leave Brainiac.
“Only twenty minutes more,” Toyman reminds us, presumably following what would originally have been a commercial break, “and Superman, Wonder Woman and Hawkman will become permanent characters in Gulliver, Alice in Wonderland and my favorite, Jack and the Beanstalk.” OK, everyone back up to speed? By the way, with the Legionnaires now all safely retrieved, let me again advance the notion of them just burning the books. I mean, why not?
We return our focus to the four heroes trapped in a lidless hole in the floor. “Holy Houdini!” Robin blurts. Sigh. “There’s no way to get out of here,” he mewls. “First law of a Superfriend,” Batman reminds him (probably while grimacing at his protégé acting like such a girl in front of the others), “is that there’s always a way.” This from the guy who just a few minutes ago described the lidless hole in the floor as “escape-proof.” Make up your mind, Caped Crusader.
Now, admittedly, Batman (although perhaps not this exact incarnation) is the World’s Greatest Escape Artist, amongst his other distinctions. Still, it would make more sense for him to have a built-in backdoor to the trap rather than there being a flaw in a trap that presumably was designed to hold Luthor or Brainiac as well as, say, Solomon Grundy and Sinestro.
Anyway, this plan involves grabbing some exposed wiring conduits and freeing up the wires. “If I can rewire this two-way monitor and patch into the computer,” he explains, “I may be able to reopen the trap door.” Which, again, the animators forgot to draw. Seriously, there’s nothing there. It’s completely open above them. And again, even though Batman’s ‘plan’ is objectively nonsensical, presumably it will work. So how could they have expected this ‘escape-proof’ cell to hold the half of the Legion members who are exaggerated scientific geniuses?
We now get one of the greatest images ever. Luthor and the others are watching their offsite comrades engage in Superfriend-free deprivations. What we actually see is a shot of Bizarro holding up a Brink’s truck! Bizarro! (Even better, although it’s hard to tell because there’s a dark tree in the background, but it appears like Bizarro might be threatening the truck driver with a handgun.)
“We’ll soon control the wealth of the world!” Luthor yells. Yeah, one Brink’s truck at a time, baby. I mean, man, there could be literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in there. Right there that’s like, what, 7% of the wealth of the world?
The villains are shocked, however, to hear Green Lantern’s voice ringing out behind them. (Which is odd, because the ‘snuck up on from behind’ thing generally happens to both teams multiple times an episode.) Too bad neither Luthor nor Brainiac—the two most intelligent beings on planet Earth—thought to put a watch over the lidless hole in their opponent’s own headquarters that they tossed the Superfriends into. Maybe Bizarro could have been doing sometime more useful than holding up a Brink’s truck. And Solomon Grundy is probably knocking over a 7-11.
Anyway, Green Lantern snarks, “Aren’t you two a bit lost?” This is strange, as there are currently five Legionnaires in the Hall of Justice, not two. But then, Green Lantern is a superhero, not an accountant. So saying, he materializes a glowing green skateboard (!) under Luthor and Brainiac and rolls them into the aforementioned hole. Then Batman and Robin, swinging from who knows what, grab up Toyman and Cheetah in scissor kicks and dumps them in too.
Black Manta tries to use his “Manta Ray” (get it?) on Black Vulcan, but it conveniently has no effect. Vulcan then materializes a solid, apparently non-electrified lightning bolt and wraps Manta up in it. Seriously, that’s what he does. Using this, he levitates Manta into the hole as well, which now mysteriously has a lid and closes. Really. So much for the show having fewer continuity errors late in the run.
In a rare bit of make-sensus (which naturally will lead to further not-make-senus) the Superfriends are wary of trying to use the Book Ray to retrieve their comrades, since they don’t know how it works. “Holy Short Stories!” Robin exclaims. Seriously, somebody kill him. Batman, however, has a plan. A stupid, boring plan that leads to the lamest wet fart of a climax of any Challenge of the Superfriends episode.
So Sinestro, Giganta and Cap’n Cold return to the Hall of Justice. There they find Batman, Robin, Green Lantern and Black Vulcan standing in plain sight, bound together with a glowing green chain. Meanwhile, their sinister confederates are nowhere to be seen. (This is why the hold suddenly has a lid, so that they can’t see them.) Now, first off, you’d think they’d notice that the heroes are again ‘trapped’ with a glowing green chain. Especially Sinestro, maybe, since he’s Green Lantern’s archenemy and all. But no.
So the Superfriends tells them that the Legionnaires for no conceivable reason popped themselves into the books, with only bare minutes left before the tomes disintegrate and trap them forever alongside Superman, Hawkman and Wonder Woman. (They hadn’t explained the time limit thing before, but that’s how it works; the books themselves crumble into dust.) The newly arrived villains, being completely morons, go “Oh, noes!” and pop into the books themselves to save their compatriots.
So we get three iterations in a row of the villains materializing in the book, realizing they’ve been tricked, and having a Superfriend materialize next to them. These pairings always pop up right by the missing Superfriends, who join them as they automatically pop back into reality. Apparently just ‘catching’ a Legionnaire all by itself returns you to the real world, like how you get a pot o’ gold if you catch a leprechaun. Seriously, the writers don’t even try to explain why this would be the case. It’s like they were finishing the script on a Friday afternoon and wanted to leave early and were like, “Whatever, good enough.” Indeed, sometimes I get the idea that this was the show’s official motto.
There are a couple of funny bits. For instance, I can believe that Black Vulcan catches Cap’n Cold, or that Green Lantern literally bottles up Giganta. However, it strains credulity that Batman and Robin could catch Sinestro. And how do they do it? Batman unleashes the previously unseen and never seen again “Bat Straight Jacket” on his super-powerful foe. This involves—I swear—releasing what looks like some standard flapping bats from his utility belt, which swarm Sinestro and then turn into a straightjacket. Really, that happens. For some reason, Sinestro doesn’t just blast or cut it way free with his power ring, and he’s ‘trapped.’
Oh, and they’re the ones who save Superman. He’s stuck there being pelted by those Kryptonite cannonballs. But Batman yells, “Quick, Superman, this way!” At this Superman suddenly seems to realize that he can walk away from the ships, and he does. Wow, what a dramatic resolution!
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is found indeed by tried by the Red Queen, sitting in a witness box and lamely protesting her innocence. “This isn’t justice!” she complains when given the death penalty for a false accusation of tart-stealing. It’s at this point that Green Lantern appears and ‘saves’ her. Why Wonder Woman would need ‘saving’ is beyond me, but there you go.
After this extremely limp ‘climax’ to the story, the villains are all seen captured at the Hall of Justice. (Bizarro and Gorilla Grodd, for their part, are just standing there lounging around. I guess they “gave up.”) Maybe next time they’ll learn that it’s no fairy tale when they challenge the Superfriends!” Superman declaims. Which doesn’t even make any sense, but maybe he’s still woozy from the Kryptonite. Anyway, this is usually where they have the villains escape somehow. This time, though, they’re too lazy to even bother. Next week, naturally, the villains are all free again with no explanation. And yes, I checked.
Whatever, good enough.