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The Challenge of the Superfriends - Jabootu's Bad TV Dimension

[Internet Movie Database entry for this film]


     Episode: "Monolith of Evil"


A few months ago we adjudicated the episode the Trial of the Superfriends. In that chapter of The Challenge of the Superfriends, the show’s writers had daringly diverged from the program’s theretofore rigorously observed plot schematic. (Although, as I then theorized, this might have been the result of their awkwardly stitching two leftover half-plots into one misshapen whole.) In any case, this apparently depleted their reserve of narrative bravado. And so here they perhaps wisely, if boringly, fled back to the safety of the series template.

Thus, our current chapter opens with the familiar pan shot of the alligator-laden swamp in which the villainous Legion of Doom secretes its headquarters. The opening voiceover is equally generic. "Deep within their bleak and dismal bog," the Omniscient Narrator orates, "hidden beneath its swampy waters [a poorly timed remark, actually, as it’s directly here that we get the staple ‘headquarters rising from the fetid waters’ shot], lies the sinister headquarters of the Legion of Doom." As aficionados of the program know, the adjective of choice for anything involved with the Legion was ‘sinister.’

Inside their sinister sanctuary, the Legionnaires are assembled at their sinister horseshoe meeting table. Those familiar with TV series animation of mid-‘70s will not be unduly shocked to learn that the only one of them seen to be actually moving, and then in a pretty restricted way, is the miscreant currently addressing his immobile peers. In all, the tableau reminds one of the old stand-up comic jape, "Is this an audience, or an animation cell?"

The speaker, no doubt relishing his limited animated glory, is the nefarious—sorry, ‘sinister’—Toyman. "That’s absurd!" cries the Prince of Perilous Playthings, as we join things in mid-conversation. Given that we haven’t yet been apprised of what topic they were discussing, I initially assumed he was referring to his own membership amongst this sinister assembly. On the other hand, compared to such teammates as Black Manta or Scarecrow or Cheetah, I guess he wouldn’t really be all that concerned about his own deficiencies.

Sure enough, the Mandarin of Malevolent Marbles is speaking to another issue. "You’ll never convince me that there is one single source of all evil power," he harrumphs, in his trademark prissy fashion. (Shouldn’t that be, ‘one single sinister source’?) I’ll give him this, the guy’s got balls, because the dude he’s arguing with is the super-powerful zombie Solomon Grundy. If Grundy gets pissed off, I don’t think a laser-firing teddy bear or exploding hula hoop is going to slow him down much.

Despite Toyman’s reservations, a typically irate Grundy maintains that this is, in fact, the situation. "If you don’t believe me," he shouts, pulling himself up to his full, eight-foot height, "maybe Grundy demonstrate it on you!" Uh, oh, Toyman, you better get that Scrabble set with the deadly letter tiles ready.

As a side note, if you’re new to Challenge of the Superfriends, you might be wondering why Grundy as portrayed here sports a—sort of—Cajun accent. Apparently, somebody decided that since Grundy’s comic book origin story involves a man who is killed in a swamp and later resurrected as a zombie, he might hail from Louisiana. However, as comic nerds will point out, the specified location of these occurrences was Slaughter Swamp, which is located outside of Gotham City. (Despite this, Grundy’s was initially a foe of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, not Batman). In any case, few if any future versions of Grundy went the Cajun route.

Anyway, back to the show. Fortunately for the Einstein of Evil Etch-a-Sketches—ok, that gag just might be running out of steam—Grundy goes no further than to lift his sarcastic interrogator a few feet in the air and then dump him back in his seat. (Toyman must be pretty thankful at the moment for the show’s steadfast ‘no violence’ rule.) At this point the nearby Sinestro, perhaps hoping to avoid the dry cleaning bills that would ensue should he get Toyman’s blood and viscera splattered over his supervillain suit, encourages Grundy to continue his tale.

"Solomon Grundy do better than tell you," he avers. "Me show you." Yes, he can’t master pronouns or articles, but he can operate the Legion’s giant viewscreen. Oddly, at the touch of a button, this portrays a truncated visualization of Grundy’s origin story. "Grundy lie lifeless in swamp," he explains, and sure enough we see his corpse, floating face-down in brackish waters but glowing with a yellow light. "Come back to life with strange energy come up through ground."

I have to admit, coming right out and explaining that Grundy is an undead zombie is pretty scary stuff for this show. I imagine there was some debate over whether this concept would prove too frightening for their target audience of extremely simple five year-olds. At least, that’s who I assume they were going after, given the general level of the scripts.

Cheetah*, a woman in a fur jumpsuit who unsurprisingly isn’t normally given much to do, decides to jump in. "But how would we know where to look for this incredible power source?" she inquires. And, I have to admit, anything that could resurrect a corpse and grant it strength the equal of Superman’s would probably be something worth pursuing.

[*As was often the case with this show, they here violate continuity in order to reuse a preexisting animated shot. In this case, the referenced close-up of Cheetah features Captain Cold standing behind her left shoulder. This is strange, as in fact it’s Grundy who is sitting to her left. Moreover, since they are sitting at a horseshoe-shaped table, there shouldn’t be anyone ‘behind’ her at all. Still, the oddest aspect of all is that Cold was just moments earlier established as sitting at the far end of the table’s other wing.]

"Grundy know legend about evil power," he explains. Given that he’s Grundy, nobody decides to ask, ‘And then why is this the first we’re hearing of it?’ In any case, according to these tales, "It come from ancient monolith buried near center of Earth." No explanation is advanced as to why it asserts so particular an effect on one swamp, then.

Lex Luthor, presiding chairman of the Legion, consults with a couple of his actually useful teammates, Brainiac and Bizarro. (Although this is quite possibly just because they had a preexisting still of these three conversing.) "If Grundy’s right," Luthor suggests, "then the evil monolithic energy source that helped spawn him will give the Legion of Doom all the power we’ve ever dreamed of!" Yes, finally, they’d no longer have to dabble with small potato projects like building artificial planets inside of black holes, or turning the entire population of earth into Bizarro and Cheetah clones, or using pocket time travel devices to raid the treasure of the past. Finally, they’d be in the big leagues.

With a consensus reached, Solomon Grundy avers, "Solomon Grundy knows way to evil energy. We go now!" He then pulls a level handily marked PROPULSION ACTIVATOR. This causes the Hall of Doom to sink back down beneath the water, and, upon reaching the swamp floor, to begin boring down into the earth. I’m not sure any of that represents ‘propulsion,’ but whatever.

Soon the Hall of Doom reaches its strange destination deep within the scalding inferno of the Earth’s inner layers. "Somewhere deep within the scalding inferno of the Earth’s inner layers," the ON confirms, "the Hall of Doom finally reaches its strange destination." Thanks for filling us in. Otherwise the animation of the Hall of Doom reaching its destination deep within the scalding inferno of the Earth’s inner layers might have really proved confusing.

A door in the side of the Hall opens, and a team consisting of Grundy, Grodd the Gorilla, Cheetah (?) and the Riddler (??!!) look out with amazed expressions. "It’s incredible!" the Riddler exclaims. "We’re somewhere within the molten center of the Earth!" Even more amazing is that none of the four seem to be having any problem breathing, much less evince any evident discomfort at what one might suppose to be a rather inhospitably high temperature range. Maybe they’ve just got the Hall’s AC really cranked.

Grundy insists they get moving, and without pausing to don any sort of protective clothing—and really, except for the fountaining jets of lava that keep shooting up all over the place, the presumably poisonous atmosphere and the no doubt tremendous heat, why would they bother?—they head forth. (If you freeze frame the quartet during their perambulations here, you’ll see some of the show’s worst animation ever. Especially in the long-shots, their body proportions are way the hell off.)

Soon the ground begins violently shaking. "It’s some sort of underground earthquake!" the Riddler hazards. However, Cheetah quickly notices the real cause, which proves to be a giant fire-shooting insect/dinosaur beastie standing about fifteen feet in front of them. "Look!" she cries, lest the nearby emergence of the hundred foot-tall saurian had somehow eluded her comrades’ attention. Which, given these mooks, isn’t an entirely unreasonable assumption.

Needless to say, the dragon doesn’t unleash its fiery breath directly at the villains, since none of them are charbroil proof. Instead, it fires upon a rocky ledge over the fearsome foursome, dislodging a shower of stones. Grundy, however, manages to save their asses by plucking a nicely-shaped rectangular of rock out of the nearby cliff face, which he and Grodd brace on their backs to divert the falling boulders. Gee, good thing Cheetah and the Riddler came along. They’re so frickin’ handy.

Escaping through a convenient tunnel, the quartet soon espy a glowing stone. "A monolith of evil," Grodd dubs it, having apparently read the episode’s title. The Monolith is situated on a little island amidst a lake of lava, reachable via a slim stone bridge. The Riddler immediately declares, "Let’s cross this lava river and get it!" and begins heading across. Again, and I want to emphasize this, he’s the Riddler. How exactly are you going to help ‘get’ a multi-ton stone monolith, you putz? Will asking it why the chicken crossed the road magically transport it to the Hall of Doom? Show a little class, man. At least Cheetah just stands there and tacitly admits that she’s useless.

In any case, the Purveyor of Pernicious Puzzles has gone barely ten feet when a humongous lava monster rears up from the lake of molten rock. "It’s a lava monster!" Cheetah announces, which although a rather extreme example of belaboring the obvious, still makes her more useful than the Riddler. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered if a beastie composed entirely of lava could screech, well, yes it can.

In any case, the Legionnaires quickly decide a strategic retreat is in order and beat feet. The Lava Monster then smashes the stone bridge leading to the Monolith and sinks back into the fiery depths. "That evil Monolith is protected by that incredible molten monster!" Grodd announces. It’s good to know that if Cheetah gets killed, someone else can take over the ‘explicating the evident’ chores.

Man, this is a tough situation, all right. It only leaves the Legion with about two dozen different ways to procure the Monolith. For example, previous episodes have established that their mobile headquarters comes equipped with both teleportation and tractor beam technology. How about employing one of those? Or, I don’t know, how about sending for Bizarro. You know, the guy who can fly, is super-strong, and indestructible? I don’t know, maybe that particular mix of superpowers could, in some mysterious fashion, be of use in this particular instance?*

[*Intrigued by how unlikely that seemed, I later used the Justice League supercomputer to see whether Bizarro could, in fact, aid in any way. After processing trillions of bits of information, the computer announced that he could, in the following manner: He could fly over to the Monolith, pick it because he’s super-strong, and fly it back over without worrying about the Lava Monster, because he’s indestructible. Of course, I used a supercomputer to come up with this complicated, Rube Goldberg-esque plan, so I can’t exactly fault a zombie or gorilla for not formulating it.]

Grodd, however, gives up and declares the situation a lost cause. Yes, these guys will be taking over the universe any day now, I’m sure. Even more embarrassingly, it’s the Riddler (!) who refuses to surrender so easily. Now, you might think they’d call upon Captain Cold, who has previously frozen entire metropolitan areas, and give him a shot at forestalling the Lava Monster. Or, well, quite a few other options. Like that Bizarro thing.

Instead, the Riddler declares that if they can’t get to the Monolith, the Superfriends can. This, to my mind, seems a pretty damning admission of their own inferiority. You’d think he’d at least dress it up with something like, "Why should we risk our own sinister necks when we can get those Super Fools to do the job for us!" On the other hand, the Superfriends do have a history of being pathetically easy to manipulate. I mean, remember that time the Legion tricked them into radically altering the Earth’s atmosphere so as to facilitate an alien invasion? Meanwhile, the Riddler’s assertion that tricking the Superfriends will require some "super riddles" is pretty lame. I mean, ‘super riddles’? That’s just sad.

Later, the Hall of Justice main viewscreen begins flashing a Trouble Alert. (Trouble Alert. Speaking of lame…) Luckily, Superman is on hand to explain to his fellows what is happening. "We’re getting a trouble alert emergency signal," he confirms. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is super-redundant. Doesn’t a ‘trouble alert’ and an ‘emergency signal’ sound like pretty much the same thing? Perhaps they could clear things up entirely by calling it the Trouble Alert Emergency Signal Crisis Alarm Disaster Siren.

Switching on the video feed, they receive a plea for help from the assembled United Nations. I initially assumed this would be a routine request for the Justice League to support this week’s U.N. declaration bashing Israel. Instead, the situation is even less dire. "The Legion of Doom has threatened to hold the entire United Nations General Assembly for ransom!" the chairman notes, in what has to be the least threatening threat in human history. It would be like criminals ‘threatening’ the World Series by holding the Chicago Cubs for ransom. On the other hand, I’m sure the owners of New York’s four star restaurants and strip clubs are in a panic.

Here the viewscreen image starts shaking, followed by the picture cutting out entirely. "We’ve got to get out there before there’s international turmoil!" Black Vulcan avers. Dude, please. When isn’t there ‘international turmoil’? And, boy, there sure has been a lot less of it since the U.N.’s been around, uh huh, that’s for sure.

Even more amusingly, Hawkman declares that "The three of us should be able to handle it!" referring to himself, Black Vulcan and Superman. That’s like me saying that I, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps should be able to take out the Taliban in Afghanistan. Let’s see, that particular threesome would consist of:

A guy who can fly, and also transform himself (I think) into pure electrical energy, and control, manipulate and project that same energy in incredible amounts.

A guy who can fly and is also strong enough to topple mountains, is physically invulnerable, has super-speed, x-ray vision, heat vision, super-breath, cold breath, and about a thousand other super powers, and…

A guy who can fly, and, uh, catch and consume field mice.

This would have been a classic opportunity for the animators to put in a brief shot of Superman surreptitiously winking at Black Vulcan and saying, "Sure, Hawkman, you bet." Sadly, however, the opportunity goes for naught.

"Moments later, at the United Nations," the Announcer announces, setting the scene. Luthor and Brainiac, arriving via some pretty fey ankle jets (ones that look like they would be most efficient at burning off the twosome’s sinister feet), arrive outside the U.N. Building. At Luthor’s direction—good thing he came along—Brainiac uses a "proton shrinker" pistol to reduce the U.N. Building and, presumably, its occupants, to a portable size. Hey, why didn’t they just use that gun and shrink the Lava Monster in the first place? Morons.

"Any second now, and we’ll be able to put the United Nations in our back pocket," Brainiac chortles. (Hey, why not, Saddam Hussein did.) Of course, this indicates that the proton shrinker works like all comic book reducing and/or embiggening devices. By this I that it sheds mass from objects that are shrunk and adds mass to those that are enlarged. Otherwise, you’d have a foot-inch tall United Nations center that would still weigh hundreds of tons, which would probably rip out Brainiac’s ‘back pocket.’ Assuming that he or Luthor actually had back pockets, which they don’t. (And, actually, they stop shrinking the complex while it’s about two feet tall. Why, I don’t know. It still looks sort of cumbersome at that size.)

Moreover, the main building, the tower we see in movies whenever they need a U.N. establishing shot, has a connected annex. In a mind-bogglingly stupid attempt to be ‘realistic,’ they keep the annex attached to the main building, which just look incredibly awkward and must have been a pain to draw. Besides, buildings aren’t meant to be picked up, and you’d really have to think that even at the reduced size, the connection holding the two buildings together would just snap.

In any case, before Lex and Brainiac can flee, the Superfriends away team lands nearby. Unfazed, the villains jet back up into the air while the trio of superheroes—who, as I may have mentioned, can all fly—just stand there and watch as the two miscreants vanish, taking the UN Building with them. Superman expresses amazement at this development, despite the fact that the five previous episodes of the show have well established that the Legion has teleportation technology. (And time travel devices, and hologram projectors, and invisibility machines, and…)

Suddenly Superman’s Justice League belt beeper—a device that oddly is never visible unless the script calls for it to be buzzing—goes off. It’s the Riddler, continuing the tradition of the Legion being able to hijack at will the League’s communications equipment. Of course, since the League is almost entirely reactive in this universe, they probably never would stop the Legion if they weren’t contacted by them first. So in a roundabout way, I guess it makes sense.

Sure enough, Our Heroes find themselves *cough, cough* challenged with a "clever riddle":

"If you follow the frogs and find the right spot,
just let gravity guide you and you’ll be very hot."

Hmm, well, since we’re talking the U.N., "follow the frogs" obviously means going to a place the French frequent. And since it’s to a place that’s down ("let gravity guide you") and sweltering ("you’ll be very hot"), presumably the clue is meant to lead them to Hell. Well, that was simple.

Having listened to this crafty conundrum, Hawkman offers his opinion. "Sounds like the Riddler is trying to lead us into another trap," he suggests. Hmm, yes, given that this is what he does every single time he gives you guys a riddle, you just might be on to something. "You’re probably right, Hawkman," Superman replies. ("Probably"?) "But it’s our only lead!" Seriously, guys, you’re allowing yourselves to be yanked around by the frickin’ Riddler. It’s time you broke out of this circle of dependency.

Back to the Hall of Justice. "I fed the Riddler’s message into the computer decoder," Batman explains. First, you don’t ‘decode’ a riddle. Second, isn’t it cheating to have a computer solve a riddle for you? Man, you people have really lost your passion for the job.

"According to this analysis," Batman reads from the resultant printout, "‘following the frogs’ represents the swamp on the outskirt of Metropolis." Yes, because that’s the only place in the universe with frogs, right? [Reviewer’s eyes roll painfully far back into skull. This lends momentary relief from watching the cartoon, but sadly, his vision soon returns.] I know they’ve been trying to install computers with a capacity for ‘fuzzy logic,’ but damn.

I mean, normally (assuming the reference to ‘frogs’ wasn’t a moronic pun of some sort), Batman would have just read this portion of the riddle and Robin would have cried, "Holy Amphibians, Batman! The new frog exhibit at the Gotham Aquarium!" I know I’m harping on this point a bit, but really, that’s just really incredibly lazy writing. These guys made a paycheck off this show, but they couldn’t spend five extra minutes coming up with a clue that would actually lead to the swamp? How about something about ‘getting bogged down outside of Metropolis’? Look, that took me ten seconds. It’s stupid, but it’s still better than an utterly generic reference to frogs.

Also, to be peevish, Solomon Grundy was resurrected in Slaughter Swamp, which is outside of Gotham, not Metropolis. In fact, in the previous episode, The Trial of the Superfriends, Metropolis was explicitly shown to be surrounded by mountains. (And then the same location became a small town. Again, were the people who wrote these things just incredibly high?)

Finally, they attempt to cover this horrendous laziness by having Wonder Woman refer to this ‘analysis’ by declaring, "Of course!" Yes, it’s so evident when you think about it. What other possible explanation for ‘follow the frogs’ could there be? Moreover, she continues on by noting, "And ‘let gravity guide you’ must mean to go straight down."

With the riddle now decoded, Our Heroes leap into action. "Moments later," the ON explains, "the Superfriends streak over the city." Don’t get excited, this just means they’re headed to the swamp. Again, they only send Superman, Black Vulcan and Hawkman, presumably because they’ve already proven how startlingly effective they can be as a unit. (Actually, Superman is probably pissed. He must have had a super brain fart to let Luthor and Brainiac get away like that, and he’s presumably more used to laughing at his underpowered comrades than being in a position to be made fun of himself. Hell, even Aquaman is probably having a chuckle at his expense.)

As I watched the trio arrive at the swamp, I realized I was being overly kind when I commented earlier about how useless Hawkman’s presence was. In fact, he actually represents a detriment to his teammates. Superman, of course, can fly at super-speed. Black Vulcan, presumably, can travel at the speed of lightning. Meanwhile, what can Hawkman’s top speed be? A couple of hundred miles an hour? (To be generous.) For these two, having Hawkman come along must be like bringing one’s three year brother with you, forcing you to slow down to a crawl so that he doesn’t get left behind.*

[*On the other hand, that sort of thinking is too sophisticated for this show. In an earlier Superfriends piece, I commented on how all the super-strong characters, meaning basically Superman, Bizarro, Gorilla Grodd and Solomon Grundy, seemed about equal in what they can do strength-wise. Admittedly, Superman’s powers of flight allow him—and Bizarro—to do things like fly off with a dam, which neither Grodd nor Grundy could do. Still, in terms of grappling, for instance, all four would generally be roughly equivalent. The idea that Grodd as a gorilla would be stronger than, say, Batman or Luthor but not nearly as strong as Superman or Grundy was probably just too much work.

Similarly, if you could fly, that’s probably as far as they took it. The idea that Superman could fly faster than Hawkman perhaps wouldn’t even have struck them. This is probably lucky for Hawkman, since appallingly this means he’s even lamer than Aquaman. At least the latter has a couple of unique abilities, and is in theory handy to have around if going underwater is involved. Moreover, if one of goldfish in the Hall of Justice aquarium is ailing, hell, he can just ask it what’s up.

However, Hawkman is, as argued here, worse than useless. As defining characteristics, he lacks both the military fighting skills and the power mace given Hawkgirl in the recent Cartoon Network Justice League cartoons. The first would, in any case, be useless on a show where nobody can even throw a punch. Meanwhile, the energy mace was presumably provided Hawkgirl for exactly this reason, to amp up her power levels to the point where her presence on the team doesn’t inspire laughs every time she shows her beak.]

Anyhoo, they land at one spot in the presumably enormous swamp—given that it lies directly outside the country’s largest city and yet hasn’t been drained—whereupon Hawkman pronounces, "This must be the spot." Well, obviously. Only a madman would think it could be, oh, fifteen yards over to your left. "Now to dig straight down," Superman agrees. "I’ll lead the way." Well, duh. You mean Hawkman isn’t going to tunnel miles through the earth?

Actually, it’s worse than that. Superman dives underwater and begins drilling himself down. Wouldn’t the tunnel fill with water, assuming it didn’t just collapse? How could Hawkman keep from drowning? And I don’t think his wings fold up that much, so I’m not sure how the Superman-sized tunnel would even be wide enough for him to follow.

Of course, all goes well, and the heroes end up arriving in front of the same background stills, er, location, as the Legion of Doom did earlier. Looking around at the lakes and fountains of molten lava, Hawkman observes, "This must be the ‘hot spot’ the Riddler was talking about." Yes, good thing they brought him along. "We’ve got to find the Legion of Doom and the U.N. building," Superman replies. Yes, because obviously this is where they probably stashed it. I mean, where else would you stick the U.N. building after you had shrunken it down to a couple of feet high?

And so they set off. Oddly, despite the fact that each can fly, they decide to walk. Personally, I’d have had either Superman or Black Vulcan scope the place out at superspeed and get the lay of the land, but what do I know? In any case, as they amble along, they are soon incepted by the same dragon that attacked the Legionnaires earlier. I will say, they are a little better equipped to handle it. (Well, at least two of them.)

In a bit that inspired a pretty good belly laugh after all my carping about Hawkman, the unwitting Avian Avenger finds himself plucked up by the dragon. "Superman! Black Vulcan!" he cries. What a dweeb. Black Vulcan responds by materializing a static, Zeus-like lightning bolt (!!)—good grief, what can’t this guy do?—and hurls it at the dragon. Assuming it delivers a massive electrical charge of some sort, that doesn’t seem like it would be doing Hawkman too much good either. On the other hand, maybe that’s the point. ("Too bad, Hawkman didn’t make it. Oh, well, we’ll just have to try to muddle on without him.")

Oh, my mistake. The lightning bolt remains solidified (??) and wraps itself around the beastie’s jaws. That’s what you love about this show. You think you’ve seen it all, and then it gets even more retarded. In any case, the confused monster drops Hawkman, and the threesome scamper off (again, on foot) before it can retaliate. However, we do see the monster tear the restraint off, just in case the kiddies would worry about how it could eat with its mouth tied shut.

Of course, the Superfriends end up in the spot where the Monolith lies on its little islet, although now it’s disguised as the missing U.N. building. (When last seen, the miniaturized edifice was roughly a fifth the size of the Monolith, but never mind.) Needless to say, they forgot that they had the Lava Monster destroy the stone bridge to the island, and so now it’s back again. Morons.

"It’s surrounded by a lake of molten lava!" Superman helpfully notes, in case his comrades should not perceive that the islet is surrounded by a lake of molten lava. I mean, that’s the sort of thing I personally would notice, but, you know, tomato-tomahto. In any case, and for no real reason, the islet is now in imminent danger of being flooded over by lava. Therefore the building must be gotten to immediately.

Needless to say, Superman is the one who flies out after it. (The script presumably had him flying instead of walking over because the bridge was destroyed, even if the animators forgot.) However, he’s intercepted by the towering Lava Monster, which erupts out of the burning lake. I know that probably sounds cool, but sadly, the lackluster execution robs the sequence of any pizzazz it might have had. "His grip is like an oven of liquid rock," Superman grunts, and Hawkman is probably really glad right about now that he didn’t volunteer to fetch the building. This dazzlingly suspenseful situation ends when Superman flies out of the creature’s grasp. Wow, that’s quick thinking there, Man of Steel.

In any case, Superman latches on to the U.N. Building about half a second before it was inundated with lava (wouldn’t it have burst into flames by then?), and flies it to safety. Oddly, when he picks up the building, it’s the same size as when Brainiac had it before, despite the fact that the establishing shot we got of it about thirty seconds ago portrayed it as being maybe ten feet tall. Again, the animation on this show was air-tight.

Superman returns to his comrades, and then takes care of the Lava Monster by using his super-freeze breath on it. Meaning that, as I suggested before, Captain Cold could have vanquished the monster just was easily, and all this rigmarole with involving the Justice League could have been avoided. Or, conversely, they could have just sent Brainiac out, who could have done everything Superman did here. Or, again, about a hundred other things.

"Thanks for your help, Superfriends!" Our Heroes are shocked to hear. They turn to find the Riddler, Cheetah, Grodd and Grundy all standing nearby, with the Hall of Doom sitting prominently just behind them (!!!). Because this made my brain hurt, I’m just going to pretend that they’d all been cloaked by the Legion’s invisibility device and let it go at that. That’s giving the show waaay too much credit, but there’s only so much gross incompetence the mind can behold before it explodes in self-defense.

Calling Superman "Stupidman," the Riddler (really, talk about balls) reveals that the ‘U.N. Building’ was in fact the Monolith, disguised with a hologram. Hilariously, Grodd explains that they never took the U.N. Building in the first place. The appearance that they did was a hologram, too. I have to admit, there is reason to argue that the Legion involved the Superfriends not because they couldn’t get the Monolith themselves, but because who wouldn’t want to take advantage of adversaries this stupid? When even a semi-articulate zombie like Solomon Grundy has grounds to mock you—"We trick you to get evil power source for us," he gloats—you know you’ve made an ass out of yourselves.

Astoundingly, Superman actually decides to respond proactively, by attempting to destroy the Monolith to keep it out of the Legion’s hands. However, the Monolith casts him off. "Evil power repel all goodness!" Grundy chuckles. Hey, how about dropping a boulder on it, Supes? That’s a pretty neutral object. Or you could used your heat vision and free the Lava Monster and let it take care of the Legion for you. Or…well, I don’t want to be here all day. Let’s move on.

Grundy must be right, because he’s able to pick up the Monolith (which is quite evidently smaller than it was before) and cart it off without incident. "Quick, we’ve got to stop them," Superman shouts, probably because he’s noticed that neither of his teammates has done jack up to now.

However…man, this so dumb, I can hardly even describe it. Grodd has a ball and chain attached to a prisoner’s manacle. Only it’s all green. He swings the ball around on the chain, and then casts it at Superman, and the manacle snaps shut on his ankle. (???!!!) "That kryptonite ball and chain will stop you," he slobbers. Actually, exposure to that much kryptonite—cripes, they must have used thirty pounds of the rare element making this thing—would quickly kill him. Except on this show, that is, so here he’s only catastrophically weakened.

"There’s no need for exotic devices to stop you," Grodd sneers, because you can’t get more mundane than a kryptonite ball and chain with Auto-Locking Manacle Action™. "Now to seal the three of you down here forever!" the Riddler concludes, although actually containing Black Vulcan might require a bit of work. (And BV isn’t bothered by kryptonite. Why doesn’t he just blast it off of Superman’s leg?) Humorously, it turns out that what the Riddler meant by this statement was, ‘We’ll just go back into the Hall of Doom and leave, and assume that you guys won’t be able to escape.’ Which, to be fair, was their plan whenever they had the Superfriends at a disadvantage, even if it never worked.

So a laser shoots out from the hall and closes off the one tunnel the Superfriends entered through. "They sealed up the way we came in!" Hawkman elaborates for the slower viewer. Of course, you’d think the Hall would leave a pretty sizable tunnel itself when it drills its way back to the surface, but I guess nobody thought of that. In any case, they cut to commercial on this supposedly ominous note.

Returning, we find a weakened Superman explaining, "The only thing that can cut through kryptonite is a nuclear laser." Well, that’s a new one on me. And really, that must have made fashioning the ball and connected chain links, not to mention the manacle’s kryptonite lock mechanism, a real bitch. Now, I still think that Black Vulcan should be able to blast his way back to the surface and get help. You’d have to think the Hall of Justice would stock such lasers for just such an emergency, assuming that Batman doesn’t carry one in his magical utility belt to start with.

Instead, his two comrades help their comrade to his feet, and they head off walking at a slow pace. (????) They decide to try another tunnel, presumably looking for a passage that contains a handy corridor leading all the way back up to the surface. However, a monstrous cry is heard, and inky black tentacles emerge from a cave to grab Black Vulcan and the nearly catatonic Superman. "I can’t hold on!" Hawkman cries as the beast grabs Superman from his grip. No kidding. I wouldn’t rely on that guy to hail a cab.

Meanwhile, the Hall of Doom has relocated itself in New York Harbor, overlooking the city. (The WTC towers are seen on their viewscreen, and still remain a jarring sight.) "Now that we control the source of all evil," Luthor declares, apparently referring to a five foot hunk of rock, and…nothing. He never finishes his sentence. Toyman wonders what to do with all this "pernicious power." Sinestro inevitably suggests a "small demonstration of our sinister strength." Yes, wow, that plan is perfect, right down to the last detail! Then he Mwahaha’s.

With the Legion apparently happy with Sinestro’s complex scheme—the one about demonstrating their sinister strength—we see the Monolith emerge from a portal at the top of the Hall. In an appalling moment, a beam fires from it and begins to knock over one of the World Trade Towers. Obviously you can’t blame the guys behind the show for writing this in 1978, but it still raises the hackles. We never see the building fall over the way over, but given the angle we last see it at, you’d have to assume that that’s what happens to it.

More destruction follows. Another beam fissures a busy street. (But only between the standing cars, of course. Can’t imply that anyway is actually imperiled.) "The street’s breaking open!" one shocked driver helpfully notes. At this point flames erupt from the fissure, and we cut away. We then get a shot of the errant World Trade Tower leaning over at a pronounced angle, yet still somehow standing. It’s hard to do mayhem on a show that has a rigorously observed ‘nobody gets hurt’ policy.

Then the Monolith sends out a beam that flies to the sun and causes a huge solar flare. Then the sun disappears. (???!!!) "The sun!" a street cop exclaims. "It’s gone out! It’s doomsday!" And yes, so you’d think. "That’s right, fools," Luthor boasts as he listens to this cry over the Legion viewscreen. That’s a brilliant scheme by the Legion of Doom, by the way. With sun out, they’re really in the driver’s seat. Besides, as C. Montgomery Burns once piquantly observed, "Since the beginning of time, Man has dreamed of destroying the sun!"

By the way, where are the rest of the Superfriends during all this? You’d think they’d at least show up. Oops, spoke too soon. For we now cut to them gathered around their master viewscreen back at the Hall of Justice. "We need your help desperately!" a vaguely Asian-looking (?) man is telling them. It’s true; once things get to the ‘putting out the sun’ phase, it’s time to call the big guns in.

However, they lose the video feed. "Holy cut communications, Batman!" Robin yells. "We’d better act fast!" Yes, indeed. Having the sun go out is one thing. However, losing your communications feed, man, that raises things to a whole new level. Batman, however, is looking at the bigger picture. If they in the Hall are being contacted for help, he muses, "then where are Superman, Hawkman and Black Vulcan?" In other words, the Superfriends on duty in the Hall of Justice were not only unaware that New York City is in ruins and that the sun itself has ceased radiating, but haven’t bothered to wonder what exactly their comrades, sent out to retrieve the shrunken U.N. Building, are presently up to.

"Batman’s right," Green Lantern agrees. They might be in danger beneath the swamp." Of course, their thinking this now makes no sense. Those Superfriends still in the Hall of Justice know (roughly) where the away team is, i.e., somewhere down under the swamp. In other words, Superman, Hawkman and Black Vulcan are the ones out of action, not the members left at the Hall, who in fact presumably remained there to handle any concurrent emergencies. Yet they now act like getting a call for aid at their public headquarters must mean that something’s happened to the isolated away team. Which it has, but the one has nothing to do with the other.

They decide, naturally, to split up. "Batman, Robin and I will head to the coast to intercept the Legion," Wonder Woman offers. The geography of this show really makes your head hurt. Where the hell is the Hall of Justice supposed to be located? Is it in Metropolis? You’d think so, since a reference to frogs draws them to the Metropolis swamp.

But where is Metropolis, then? "Head to the east coast" certainly makes it sound like it’s either in the Midwest or towards the west coast. Yet earlier Superman, Hawkman and Black Vulcan left the Hall and arrived at the U.N. Building "seconds later." Meanwhile, where is Gotham, and how is that situated to both Metropolis and the real cities? Both New York City and Washington D.C., for instance, are mentioned in episodes. When a mesmerized Batman robbed the National Mint in Washington (Wanted: The Superfriends), for instance, he drove there.

Yet, if the Hall is located in Metropolis—and I’m only guessing—why would Batman and Wonder Woman, the heroes who rely on using mechanical transport, be the ones to "head to the east coast"? This means that the heroes who can fly under their own power, as both Green Lantern and the Flash (at least on this show…some times) can, and thus move more quickly, are instead delegated the local situation. Admittedly, Apache Chief can’t fly, but Green Lantern could always ferry him out in an energy bubble.

As well, there’s a certain obvious power discrepancy. Neither Batman, Robin nor Wonder Woman (this version, anyway) have superpowers, and yet they are going off to confront the entire Legion of Doom. Meanwhile, three characters with superpowers, including two of the League’s powerhouses, are put onto another team. It seems to me that a little more mixing and matching might be in order.

For the uninitiated, the writers of Challenge of the Superfriends were instructed to create some minority members, ones that didn’t originate in the comics, to mitigate the team’s general whiteness. (This aspect of the original Justice League membership isn’t too surprising, considering that most of the members were created back in the late 1930s and ‘40s.) Hence Black Vulcan, Apache Chief*, Samurai—whose powers indicate that he was actually a Japanese redo of an established, if obscure, comic book character, the Red Tornado—and El Dorado.

[*Anyone who digs riffing on these cartoon simply has to visit Seanbaby’s profane yet hilarious Challenge of the Superfriends website (which he lamentably abandoned before it was finished) . His take on these affirmative action team members is some of his best stuff. As he notes of Apache Chief’s strenuously generic moniker, "Now that I mention it, I don't think he was Apache or a chief. His name doesn't make any damn sense. That's like putting a white guy on a team of Native Americans and naming him "Minnesota President."]

Keeping this supposedly progressive ‘minority outreach’ idea in mind, it’s hard not to let fly a pretty good horselaugh when we cut to Green Lantern’s team arriving at the swamp: "With the help of Apache Chief’s keen tracking abilities…" the Narrator begins. Holy cripes! "Keen tracking abilities"!! I wonder what his superhero weakness is. Firewater? And when will Black Vulcan’s suburb basketball playing come to the fore? Will they someday require El Dorado’s amazing skills in getting a buttload of superheroes into one car? Perhaps Samurai’s photographic expertise will prove essential to their survival?

Green Lantern quickly has them down in the now familiar underground caves. "These flaming caverns are enormous," he exclaims. "It could take us hours to find them." Er, it could if you didn’t have the frickin’ Flash with you, you moron. You know, the guy that moves at superspeed? Yeesh. Also, since the Superfriends carry communicator devices—we’ve seen Superman using his—don’t you think it would be a good idea to put a homing device in them?

Luckily, they don’t have to rely on the man who can run around the frickin’ globe in a second flat, because they still have Apache Chief’s ‘keen tracking abilities’ at their disposal. "The caverns are large, Green Lantern," Apache Chief agrees. "But their trail is a narrow one."

So the three head up the same path that we’ve seen both the Legionnaires and the missing Superfriends use before. Meanwhile, we cut over to Hawkman, who is still just standing outside the shadowy cave that Superman and Black Vulcan got pulled into. (By the way, how exactly does one grasp someone who can turn into electricity? That’s what Black Vulcan can do, right? Or is it? Dammit, I could really use a sourcebook here.) The unseen monster is still roaring, for what that’s worth.

"I’ve got to figure a way to get them out of there before it’s too late!" the Winged Wonder decides. Yeah, there’re no flies on you, Hawkman. Rather conveniently, there’s a raised lava pool standing right nearby. "This hot lava should chase that creature out of the cave!" he deduces. Yes, and scald Black Vulcan and the weakened Superman to death. Still, you can’t make an omelet and all that.

In any case, he breaks open the thing with a handy stalagmite and the lava flows out just like he wanted. Sure enough, this draws an admittedly creepy-looking giant crab/octopus monster out of its cave, and Hawkman is able to fly up and snatch both of his captured teammates from its tentacled grasp. It’s a good thing none of the giant mutant beasts down here can grip anything for crap.

Meanwhile, the Batplane and Wonder Woman’s invisible jet have arrived in New York. Robin soon has spotted the Hall of Doom in the waters of the harbor, and Batman radios Wonder Woman as to their discovery. He then calls for "Attack Plan Seven." Actually, the idea that the Superfriends have one ‘attack plan’ is surprising, much less over half a dozen of them.

Inside the Hall of Doom, Luthor, Cheetah and Sinestro are looking at a radar display. "Radar Computer indicates the Bat Jet and Invisible Jet on attack approach!" Cheetah rather pointlessly explains to her substantially brighter colleagues. (I mean, ‘radar computer’? Please.) You’d think the Hall would come equipped with a force field, but apparently their newfound power has gone to their heads. "They won’t be so eager to bother us after they get a taste of the Monolith’s power!" Luthor sneers. By they way, is the sun still out of order? I don’t know, you’d think that would be kind of a big deal.

Luthor throws a switch on a control panel, whereupon the Monolith fires a beam into the harbor and creates a Godzilla-sized Water Monster. (Man, they really had monsters on the brain this time.) Is that what Luthor intended for the Monolith to do? I mean, that’s a pretty esoteric function for a switch, don’t you think? What does that nearby button do? Whip up a gigantic laser beam-firing emu? I don’t know, wouldn’t it have easier to just have the Monolith shoot the planes down?

"Holy H2O, Batman!" Robin blurts upon seeing the creature, and I sincerely wanted him dead at that moment. "I may be able to disperse it with a high-speed pass!" Wonder Woman radios. Yeah, sure, whatever. So both jets fly through the monster, but with little apparent effect. "It’s too strong," the Caped Crusader helpfully notes.

Undeterred, the monster walks over to the Brooklyn Bridge and makes to tear it down. "The Bat Freeze Ray should stop him!" Batman notes. First, this thing is like five hundred feet tall, and undoubtedly made up of millions of gallons of water. So that better be one fine-ass freeze ray. Second, if you had another option available, was it really the best idea to try flying your plane smack through the creature first? Third, Superman already froze one monster, so this solution seems a bit lazy. Fourth, I couldn’t help noticing that, due to an animation miscue, the monster is turned to ice before the freeze ray even hits it. That’s some good quality control there. (Also, it’s a water monster, standing in a harbor, but only the monster is frozen and none of the water it’s knee deep in? How does that work?)

Sadly, this doesn’t really change things much. The monster is briefly forestalled, but then another beam erupts from the Monolith and animates it again. "Great Gotham!" Batman exclaims. "That strange monolith changed the water creature into an ice monster!" Well, sort of. Actually, you changed it into…oh, never mind.

Back in the caverns, Black Vulcan and White Hawkman, er, I mean, Hawkman, are carrying the semi-conscious White Superman—no, that doesn’t sound right at all—around. "It’s getting cooler!" Black Vulcan observes. "We must be getting closer to the surface." Uhm, OK, if you say so. However, that doesn’t mean that their travails are over. "Great Lightning!" he continues. "We’re turning to rock!" Boy, it’s always something, isn’t it? "There’s no way to get free!" Hawkman adds. "We’re finished!" Nice stiff upper lip, there, Hawkman.

However, it conveniently turns out that the Flash, along with Apache Chief and Green Lantern, has just made the scene. "Some high speed molecular action should free you up," he asserts, and since this worked when his teammates were in exactly similar straights in the episode The World’s Deadliest Game--that’s right, the Superfriends have nearly been turned to stone in two of the show’s first five chapters—there’s no reason to think he’s wrong.

In most cases, for the Flash to do anything, he has to run around something very, very fast. By doing this he can do pretty anything whatsoever he wants. Here, however, he merely vibrates his hand, which results in it projecting what I can only assume is a Molecular Action Speeding field, which engulfs his three endangered comrades and returns them to normal.

"Hurry!" Hawkman says once this is done. "We’ve got to get Superman back to the Hall of Justice to get him free of the kryptonite!" Huh? Look, even if Black Vulcan can’t get the manacle off for some reason, Green Lantern is standing right there. There’s about three hundred ways his power ring could be used to get the chain off, of which the simplest would be to just materialize a green key for the lock.


Well, that’s not really fair. Only Hawkman is a complete moron, and really, we already knew that. Even though Superman protests that it’s too late to save him, Green Lantern argues, "No, there’s still one chance!" Luckily, one chances always work on this show. And so it proves in this case, in which the one chance involves GL materializing a green "nuclear laser" rifle, with which he hopes to blast the manacle off. Black Vulcan notes that this might kill Superman, given his weakened condition, but of course it doesn’t. Seconds later, Supes is freed and back up on his feet. Then, it’s to the surface, where…

…Oh, no, you don’t. Before we move on, may I inquire as to whether there was some reason Black Vulcan, Hawkman and Superman started turning to stone? Is that just an occupational hazard when one is roaming the corridors deep beneath the Earth’s crust?

I ask again, did the guys who wrote this show feel any embarrassment when they cashed their paychecks? Couldn’t they even have written in a basilisk or something, even if only to pretend they gave a rat’s ass? Moreover, why weren’t the just arriving Superfriends so affected? They were standing all of maybe five feet away from their petrifying teammates.

Anyway. Back topside, Batman and Wonder Woman are still buzzing the gigantic ice monster, which the Omniscient Narrator helpfully describes as "strange." Just so, you know, we ‘get’ that it isn’t one of those utterly mundane giant ice monsters. The monster has succeeded in tearing free the suspension bridge it was menacing before. Luckily, though, it’s just cradling the structure, which is rather fortuitously still in one piece (!) , in its frigid grasp.

"There’s still one thing we haven’t tried," Batman notes. (See previous note re: ‘one things.’) "If I can alter the Bat Radar frequency to the right signal, it should break up the ice molecules!" he posits. So saying, he adjusts a little dial on the Batplane dashboard, and they dive at the creature—who still is holding its arms crooked, as it was before, although here the animators forgot to draw in the bridge its supposed to be carrying (!!)—and the radar signal shatters the monster into a zillion pieces.

See, this is what I mean about the turning-to-stone thing. Look how lazy the writing is normally, when the Flash can do anything required by running around in circles, or where, as in the prior episode, Batman gets out of trouble by employing the never before indicated "Bat Invisibility Ray" on his utility belt. I mean, functionally, they might as well just say that the Superfriends have magical powers and stop pretending that there’s any ‘science’ involved. Yet even so, they couldn’t be bothered to whip up even that lame a fig leaf to explain the petrifaction thing.

Back at the Hall of Justice, we hear perhaps the most terrifying phrase uttered during any episode of the The Challenge of the Superfriends: Aquaman saying, "I’ve programmed the Justice League Computer." Aquaman!! I wouldn’t let that guy make toast, much less screw around with the world’s most sophisticated computer.

However, oddly, everything goes well—I guess—and the computer soon vocally delivers its analysis of the Monolith (based on what, I’m sure I don’t know, since they don’t have a sample of it or anything): "Data indicates that energy source is more powerful than Super Friends. [Apparently the Computer’s speaking programming was assigned to Apache Chief, given the way it drops articles and such.] However, there is a flaw in the data. The power source is not evil."

Everyone greets this conclusion with some stupefaction. Not, however, for the reasons you’d expect. For instance, computers analyze the data they are given. Hence the venerable maxim, Garbage In, Garbage Out. How, exactly, a computer could then blithely decide that the data provided it was faulty is quite a conundrum. I suppose if it were sufficiently well-programmed, it might come to the conclusion that the data it’s been provided with is inherently contradictory.

However, nothing the Superfriends could have told it about the Monolith would intrinsically conflict with the notion that the object is independently malign.

In essence, computers weigh facts against the data it’s been programmed with. For it to reach a judgment that the Monolith is morally neutral, it theoretically must have been fed a definition of ‘evil’ that the data about the Monolith contradicts.

However, given the sheer paucity of what the Super Friends could have possibly told it—that it can animate huge amounts of water and ice, etc.—it again seem grossly unlikely that many conclusions at all could be drawn about the Monolith, much less that particular one. Ah, well, perhaps its programming is just atheistic on spiritual issues.

In any case, the justification for the Superfriends’ bewilderment is summed up when the Boy Wonder blurts "But that’s impossible! Look at the destruction it’s caused!" On the basis of that thinking, a car that runs over a pedestrian must be possessed by demons. Luckily, the computer is able to think a bit more clearly than Robin. "The Monolith is just a source of energy like any other," it clarifies, "good or bad, according to intent of user."

Amazing, this notion hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind up to now. "Of course!" Batman says. "The reason it appears to be evil is that the Legion of Doom is controlling it!" Well, duh. Less obvious, however, is Wonder Woman’s subsequent assertion. "Then I should be able to control the Monolith the same way I control my magic lasso! Telepathically!" Uh…what now? What the hell does that even mean? Are they maintaining that Wonder Woman can mentally control anything that isn’t ‘evil’? Seriously, I have no idea what they are getting at here. Nor do the writers, I suspect, whose best stab to supporting this ludicrous notion is to have Superman reply, "Wonder Woman’s right!" Well, that proves it.

[By the way, there’s a good story reason for the Monolith not to be "the source of all evil". If it were, than all the Justice League would have to do is destroy it, and there would be no more evil in the world. Aside from being theologically problematic, this would also put the Superfriends, and the makers of any cartoons about them, out of business.]

Cut to the Legion. Perhaps seeking a spot of fresh air—after all, their company includes a woman in a cowled fur jumpsuit, a guy who lives in a helmeted wetsuit, a massive gorilla and a 10 foot tall zombie, so you know the Hall of Doom can’t smell very good—the Legionnaires have assembled at the base of the Statue of Liberty for the requisite period of gloating. Personally, I’d have left somebody back at HQ to guard over their super new power source, not to mention all their over crap. But then, hubris is what always does these guys in.

Looking up, they spot the Superfriends flying over their position. The three heroes seen doing so under their own power, amazingly, are Superman, Green Lantern and Black Vulcan. In other words, all ones who actually can fly, unlike the Flash, who the show often shows flying anyway. I guess I could really nitpick and point out that Black Vulcan’s legs haven’t turned to lightning, the way they normally do when he’s flying. Still, for this program to get things 90% right is quite a triumph, so let’s just move on.

"Solomon Grundy show them it futile to try and stop us!" (‘Futile’ seems like a pretty big word for someone who can’t employ pronouns and suchlike, but anyway.) On cue, the Monolith raises from the Hall of Doom—we’ll just say they brought a remote control for it and keep going—and fires a blast at the Statue of Liberty, which begins to teeter over. Actually, it would have been a lot funnier to have brought it to life to menace New York, so that the Superfriends would have had to destroy a national monument in order to save lives. Instead, Superman just flies over and pushes it safely back onto its pedestal.

Sneering that Superman can’t be in two places at once, Luthor hits a button and the Empire State Building starts toppling over. However, Wonder Woman’s rather convenient ability to control the Monolith telepathically comes in play, and another blast from the Monolith sets the skyscraper aright. You’d still have to think all this would have caused a lot of stress to its superstructure, but maybe the Monolith magically fixed it. Sure, why not?

Soon other blasts have restored the rest of the damage done earlier. Even the bridge, which the Ice Monster had entirely ripped loose and then carried some distance away, somehow now returns to its proper position. Finally, a last beam shoots out into space and reignites the sun, or whatever the hell the writers were thinking it would be doing.

"I’ll stop those Super Fools!" Toyman cries. Then he remembered he was the fricking’ Toyman and sheepishly said, "Never mind." No, wait, actually he—somehow—makes the Monolith fire another beam and create a giant killer toy robot. Oh, and the Superfriends are now also standing in a group, mere yards from where their foes are massed. That’s a little odd, considering that Wonder Woman and Batman were flying around in their respective planes (which are nowhere to be seen) about thirty seconds ago.

Before anything else stupid can happen, or, I guess, possibly something exciting, Superman flies over and just grabs up the Monolith. "I hate to disappoint you, Toyman," he says, although he probably doesn’t mean it. At his apparent command—or so I assume, which means that at this point pretty much anyone can make the Monolith do whatever they want—the Monolith fires another blast.

This one makes the Giant Toy Robot turn and grab up twin fistfuls of the Legionnaires. Assuming it could do this, this would actually constrain Bizarro or Solomon Grundy from busting loose, at least to the point that they wouldn’t want to turn their teammates into a yucky paste before they managed to break the robot’s metallic grip. "That’ll teach you to leave your toys lying around," Superman quips. Yeah, well, when you’re Superman, you don’t really have to be funny.

These latest developments have Grodd confused. "How could the Superfriends control the forces of evil?" he slurps. "It wasn’t an evil power source," Batman smugly explains, although the only reason he knows it is because their computer told them so. Lex thanks them for this info. "In that case, it shouldn’t harm us to use the Monolith’s power against ourselves," he responds.

So saying, he pushes a button—using again the control box with but a button, and yet the Monolith always does the one thing he wants it to do—and the Robot drops the villains back into the Hall of Doom. (It actually drops them through the top of the several story-high structure, so you’d expect at least the more human members to be sporting a broken bone or two.)

The Hall then flies off, and as usual, the Superfriends just stand around and let it go. Hey, you morons, you have the Monolith. Just have it disable the Hall of Doom’s jets or something! Oh, never mind. "They’ll be back, and with another sinister plan," Green Lantern declares. Yeah, probably so, since you Superfriends never bother to actually, you know, apprehend them. Morons.

Of course, this leaves the Superfriends with the Monolith. Needless to say, we’ll never hear about it again, or learn what the heck they did with the thing.


Monolith of Evil is possibly my favorite Challenge of the Superfriends episode. Or, at least, it’s the one that most heavily features Solomon Grundy, who I’ve always had a soft spot for. This is actually a bit odd, as he is one of extremely few DC characters I can say that about, being myself a born and bred Marvel Man.

Although a poorly handled Grundy can come off like a cheap knock-off of the Hulk (especially the original, surly gray version), Grundy has a cool, Frankenstein Monster-esque look. Even on this show, with its near total ban on violence, Grundy remains an actually menacing character. And hey, anybody who can stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with Superman is OK in my book.

As noted, Grundy has been around for a while. He first appeared in 1944 as a villain opposite the golden age Green Lantern, Alan Scott. (This somewhat mitigates the idea that he’s a knock-off of the Incredible Hulk, who didn’t make the scene until the ‘60s.) Scott’s power ring was unable to affect wood, as opposed to the later Lanterns’ inability to affect anything yellow. Since Solomon Grundy’s body was composed of swamp matter, including wood, the Lantern’s ring had little direct power over him.

As usual with any comic book character who’s been appearing for sixty years, Grundy has been subject to several revisions. Much like the regenerating Dr. Who, his personal continuity eventually benefited from the notion that every time he was destroyed, he would eventually be resurrected again, often with different levels of physical strength and intelligence. In this too Grundy is like the Hulk, who at different junctures has exhibited the mental capabilities of a six year old, but at others retained the raw intelligence of his physicist alter ego, Bruce Banner. In the main, though, both the Hulk and Grundy have tended to be mighty strong and none too bright.

Indeed, I used to hope for one of the DC/Marvel crossover books centered around Grundy and the Hulk teaming up. A regular plot device of the Hulk comics is that the Green Goliath is something of an innocent victim, dangerous mostly because the authorities wouldn’t stop hounding him. Think again of the Frankenstein Monster, especially Karloff’s version from The Bride of Frankenstein, in which the Monster found a peaceful existence after being taken in by a blind hermit. Sadly, the two lonely souls were parted when hunters interfered to ‘save’ the Hermit by driving off his guest. In the process, the hermit not only lost the companion he’d always hoped for, but his cabin was burned down.

In any case, the Hulk would often just be hanging out in the desert, trying to mind his own business, only to find himself on the wrong end of some Hulkbuster tanks. Had he come across the equally monstrous Grundy, it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for the two to band together and establish a mutual defense pact. Then, after the authorities had triggered a rampage, the combined forces of the Justice League and the Avengers—with perhaps the Fantastic Four lending an elongated or rocky hand—would have to be called in to deal with them. Now that would have been a battle royale.

Second, I want to mention the commentary track for the first Challenge of the Superfriends episode, Wanted: The Superfriends. This features present day DC comic book writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, and can be found on the first disc of the ‘complete series’ two DVD set. Yes, the one that holds all sixteen episodes. So make sure to skip the earlier, separate discs that between them featured only the show’s initial eight episodes, and which didn’t carry this extra.

It’s an amazingly fun track with the two writers riffing on how cool they found the show as kids. More impressive, not to mention humorous, are their citations of various odd and woefully obscure pieces of the hopelessly complex DC universe continuity. Following decades featuring hundreds of titles and thousands of characters, the continuity got so laborious that it was wiped out entirely during the epic Crisis on Infinite Earth crossover, and, I think, several times after that, to allow for the clock to be reset and the character backgrounds re-simplified.

The pair’s knowledge of the universe’s more bizarre and comical absurdities is pretty hilarious, including recollections of how (at one time) Clark Kent supposedly always wore a blue suit and red tie because those were the only two colors he could find friction-proof dyes for, or Lex Luthor’s personal hideout the Hall of Villainy, which obviously must have been meant as an analogue to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

The two don’t shy away from laughing over the show’s deficiencies, even if in the end they really seem to think the show was pretty good, at least for what it was. Still, when a mind-controlled Superman flies off with the one palette of gold bricks from Fort Knox, Johns (or Waid—no ear for voices have I) laughs, "That’s all gold they had, huh?" Later, when Batman similarly robs the national mint, and apparently disables the facility’s entire security system by throwing a single switch, they observe, "That did it!" Meanwhile, you know you’re listening to kindred spirits when a cameo appearance by the Riddler warrants a sarcastic, "Yeah, he’s useful."

And, even after the microscope I ran the episode through, Waid and Johns still notice additional problems. For instance, how the meeting table at the Hall of Justice has fewer chairs than the team has members. Hell, even the Legion of Doom got that one right.

This is really a top-notch commentary, and it makes you wish the DVD production team had gone ahead and brought in various people (Kevin Smith being an obvious example) to do one for each of what is, after all, a pretty paltry run of shows. This even would have made up, at least somewhat, for the fact that if you bought the first two discs you had to re-buy half the series to get the entire slate.     


--review by Ken Begg