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The Challenge of the Superfriends - Jabootu's Bad TV Dimension
(1978)

[Internet Movie Database entry for this film]

 

This review is brought to
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of the official Jabootu
sponsor for April 2006,

Mr.
Eric
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Episode: "Revenge on Gorilla City"

[Please ignore the DVD episode menu, which lists the episode incorrectly as "Revenge of Gorilla City".]


One reason people have such fond memories of the abbreviated run of The Challenge of the Superfriends, aside from the sheer profusion of superheroes and supervillains it showcased, is that the series was smart enough to focus more on the miscreants. In contrast to the Marvel Comics formula, which was as concerned with the private lives of their superheroes as with their crime fighting activities, DC heroes were comparatively bland and wholesome pretty much across the board. This was even truer of the various Saturday morning cartoon series devoted to DC’s characters, as they were strictly aimed at the kiddies.

The earliest version of the show, 1973’s Super Friends, was further handicapped by the fact that, instead of battling DC’s colorful array of established supervillains, the Justice League tended to find themselves up against generic mad scientists and the like. Even these tended to be misguided more than anything else, perhaps for fear of scaring small children with outright villains. (Yeah, right.)

To make up for the lack of dramatic tension this engendered, the Super Friends were given teen sidekicks, Wendy and Marvin, wannabe superheroes along with their pooch, Wonder Dog, who wore a cape and was of the "Ruh Roh!" talking canine variety. Marvin and Wonder Dog, naturally, were purportedly comical goofs from the Shaggy and Scooby Doo School, with Wendy as a level-headed mix of Velma and Daphne. Aside from supposedly being identification figures for the audience, the teens’ function was basically to provide a typically lame brand of comic relief.

1977’s The All-New Super Friends Hour replaced Wendy and her chums with the similarly youthful Zan and Jayna, sibling alien superheroes with especially dumb powers. The two also were meant to give the kids in the audience someone to ‘identify’ with, and fulfilled the rest of the sidekick duties via the ‘comic’ antics of their space monkey Gleek.

Finally, they got things right (and given my reviews of the skein’s previous episodes, you can imagine how bad the ‘wrong’ ones were) with 1978’s The Challenge of the Superfriends. (Technically, I guess, it’s "SuperFriends," but that’s lame and too much trouble to type a billion times. Besides, when the show’s title card reads, "SUPERFRIENDS," I think you’re leaving the matter open for reasonable interpretation.)

Gone were the teen characters, and in were the actual supervillains. Moreover, they were wise enough to focus on the latter. To be frank, Superman and his comrades were a bunch of stiffs. This is why the episodes generally open with the villains and seem to spend at least as much time with them as with the program’s putative protagonists. Believe me, Solomon Grundy and Bizarro are a lot more interesting to watch than Apache Chief and Hawkman.

Sure enough, this is another villain-driven narrative. As you’d expect from the episode title, this chapter centers on Gorilla Grodd, a criminal mastermind expelled from his home community of scientifically advanced, super-intelligent apes following an attempted coup. (Fans of the Cartoon Network’s recent Justice League cartoons will be aware that this storyline was re-told, in a rather more sophisticated fashion, on that program.)

As such, we open not in the show’s usual "fetid swamp," but in "equatorial Africa." In what might be-maybe—a witty comment on the normal images of crocodiles we’d generally be seeing at this point, we instead see the heads of a herd of hippos swimming down an African river. We quickly move on to see Gorilla City, a rather generic ‘70s ‘future’ city. This therefore includes the inevitable monorail system, as well as a giant force field dome to keep the city from harm.

Outside the dome is none other than Grodd himself, who naturally lusts for vengeance upon his fellows. Holding up a standard Legion of Doom superscientific doodad, in this case a "sonic energy drill," he makes to cut what is basically a hole through the force field. After this is established, he will pump "gorilium-sulfide"* fumes into the city, with the result being that Gorilla City’s hirsute inhabitants will be "hallucinating their worst fear." (Insert obligatory "Giant, rampaging Banana" joke here.) You certainly can’t fault the show for moving too slowly. This is all set into action forty seconds after the opening credits ended.

[The subtitles translate this as "grilium-sulfide" fumes, but sure it’s meant to be "gorilium," as in ‘gorilla.’ Left unexplored is how this substance is difference from the fear gas employed by Gorilla Grodd’s teammate the Scarecrow.]

One unfortunate ape, having breathed in the LSD fumes, er, Gorilium-Sulfide fumes, hallucinates a horned and befanged ape. "It’s Lotor," he yells, "the gorilla monster!" So a gorilla with horns and fangs is a ‘gorilla monster’? Hmm, they may be super-intelligent, but the denizens of Gorilla City aren’t very imaginative. We see a bunch of gorillas (well, the same gorilla, reproduced to save money) running around in terror.

Typically worried by the idea that we in the audience won’t ‘get’ what we are seeing occur before us, subsequent events are explained to us by the show’s Omniscient Narrator. "Grodd secretly enters the city," he booms, "[and] storms the royal palace of the gorilla leaders." Throwing open the palace’s golden doors, Grodd finds the city’s ruler, Solovar, on his throne, having been rendered unconscious (?) by the fumes.

Grodd, per the rules of the Legion, pauses to gloat over his partially-realized victory. However, Solovar proves to be playing possum (or whatever animals gorillas ‘play’), and at his command his guards appear and shackle the would-be conqueror. "Our sensors picked up the change in pressure in the city," Solovar explains, "giving us enough time to seal off the palace from your sinister vapors." If you say so. Nice first use of the obligatory ‘sinister,’ by the way.

Solovar basically calls Grodd out for being a perennial pain in the ass. "You are the only criminal gorilla in an otherwise peaceful society," he notes. I’m not sure why he had to explain that Grodd was the only criminal ‘gorilla,’ since that’s all they have there, but anyway. Grodd is then placed in what appears to be an electrical chair, but any hopes that someone will just whack one of these guys remain unfulfilled. The chair is instead a teleportation device, and Grodd is again banished from Gorilla City.

"Seconds later," the Narrator explains, "on the other end of the world…" we see an enraged Grodd materialize. You can’t say the inhabitants of Gorilla City aren’t well mannered, however, as they have teleported Grodd right outside the Hall of Doom. "Those intellectual apes won’t stop me from conquering them!" he slurps.

Inside, the gang is all sitting around their sinister horseshoe-shaped meeting table. Brainiac is blathering on about his most recent sinister invention. "After we attach the bitronic mind circuits," he asserts, "my newest device will be finished." I really loved this shot, because everyone else at the table seems to be chatting* with the guy next to him or staring off into space and more or less just ignoring Brainiac’s presentation. You can’t really blame them, either. For these guys, hearing about the latest super-invention is about as exciting as sitting through a report on quarterly TQM compliance.

[*What exactly would Bizarro and Scarecrow have to yak about, anyway? Do they both follow the same football team or something? The mind boggles.]

As bored as everyone else, Black Manta takes advantage of Grodd’s entrance to change the subject. "Well," he reverberates, "it looks like Grodd is a bit hot under the collar." First, if I were a guy whose superpower consisted of owning a boat, I wouldn’t mock a huge, irate super-ape. Second, not to be pedantic or anything, but Grodd doesn’t wear clothes, and so technically doesn’t have a collar.

"Perhaps his simian siblings got the best of him again," Toyman jeers. Dude, no wonder the guys in Gorilla City don’t take you seriously: You’re letting yourself get dissed by Black Manta and Toyman. I mean, if you haven’t seen the show, let’s just say that they wouldn’t cast Rip Taylor as Toyman because Taylor’s just too butch. There are only two rungs lower on the humiliation ladder. The first is being mocked by the Hall of Doom’s janitor, and the second is being made fun of by the Riddler.

"No one gets the best of Grodd!" Grodd snaps, which, given the circumstances, is kind of lame. Brainiac, meanwhile, tries to get the spotlight back on himself. "I’ve just completed my brain-wave amplifier," he boasts, "and with it, the Legion of Doom will be able to control anyone within a thousand mile radius!" Really? That’s an oddly round number. And don’t you guys already have a bunch of mind-control devices? And I don’t know, it just seems kind of prosaic. Remember that one that let you control people when they were sleeping? At least that had some sort of memorable twist to it.

Grodd decides that this is just the ticket, though. "All I have to do is rewire it to work on gorillas…" he muses, "and I can use it to take over Gorilla City once and for all." Yeah, that or you could just storm the place with Grundy and Bizarro and kill all of them. Whatever. It’s all good.

Here we cut to a really weird shot of Black Manta, with (the currently normal sized) Giganta looking over his shoulder. This is a classic Challenge of the Superfriends shot. First, because the establishing shot had Giganta on the opposite side of the room from Black Manta. Second, because the scale of the shot is way the hell off. Manta’s head here looks even squatter than normal (his uniform being a scuba suit and a funky helmet that is too small to fit a human head into at the best of times).

In contrast, Giganta’s head is absolutely huge. Not "I’m fifty feet tall" huge, but way the hell too big. To be fair, though, I guess you could rationally explain all this by saying that during the last close-up of Grodd, Giganta got up, ran across the room, positioned herself directly behind Black Manta and grew to a size of ten feet for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever.

Black Manta must really be feeling his oats, because he again gets right into Grodd’s face. "Forget it, Grodd," he retorts. "Your battle with Gorilla City is your own personal affair." Giganta concurs. "We have other plans for Brainiac’s brain-wave amplifier!" she adds. Grodd, however, argues that once they have control of the gorillas, "We can use their strength to help us take over control of the world!"

"Maybe Grodd’s plan will work," Luthor jumps in. "Everything else we’ve tried has failed." (And he’s the leader of the group.) That’s not exactly infallible logic, but it carries the day. Manta, however, wonders about how they’ll handle the Superfriends. "They’ll be an easy catch once we have the population of Gorilla City helping us," Grodd asserts. Yeah, that follows. Certainly Superman would be helpless before an army of gorillas. Assuming they were made of kryptonite or something.

So anyhoo, the Hall of Doom rises from the swamp and jets over to Africa for what the Narrator describes as "a dangerous rendezvous with Gorilla City." I’m not sure how you have a "rendezvous" with a city, nor what "dangerous" means in a universe in which no one ever comes to physical harm. Personally, I’d have gone with ‘a sinister rendezvous.’ You can’t go wrong with ‘sinister.’

Six of the villains disembark in a pair of hilarious-looking dune buggies entirely reminiscent of those the Banana Splits used to drive around in. Adding to the comedy is the sight of the enormous Grodd crammed into one of the driving seats. (And why is Sinestro riding along? He can fly.) Meanwhile, the second car contains a bald-headed green guy, a masculine redhead in a leopard-skin dress, and a fey-looking dude in a jester’s costume. I think this shot pretty much established why these guys have never managed to take over the world. And that’s beside the fact that they decided Black Manta and Toyman would be in any way useful on this mission.

I guess they thought of that, too, and so they have Grodd explain their presence to his comrades. "Giganta and the others will give us cover," he slurps. I have no idea what this means. Usually ‘cover’ means suppressing fire of some sort. I mean, Brainiac might have a ray gun of some sort, but Giganta normally wouldn’t use any ranged weapons, and as for what the hell they expect Toyman to do, well, you got me. Something involving a colossal Slinkey, perhaps?

As their teammates provide some sort of diversion, Grodd continues (wouldn’t it have been better to detail this plan on the flight over to Africa?), they themselves will "storm the central communications complex. We’ll attach the brain-wave device to Gorilla City’s telepathic-communications system [!!] and control every gorilla within the dome." No wonder Luthor decided to back Grodd’s plan. Brainiac’s device apparently only works when attached to a handy, pre-existing "telepathic-communications system". There can’t be too many places with those.

Earlier the energy dome over Gorilla City was transparent, but now it hides the city from view. When Toyman cries that he sees no city, Grodd explains, "Only gorillas can see the protective dome. To humans, it’s invisible." Uhm, OK. Anyway, Sinestro uses his power ring to create a portal through the force field, which I guess is possible. Even so, Green Lantern also has a power ring and has been imprisoned within force fields, I’m pretty sure.

Anyway, the sextet drive their two goofy buggies into the city, so I guess their plan is to incapacitate the city’s inhabitants by making them convulse with laughter. They are quickly intercepted by a trio of gorilla guards flying around in an anti-grav platform, or some damn thing. Spotting the miscreants, they open fire with what appears to be a Whammo Air Blaster converted to shoot energy spheres rather than ping pong balls.

"I’ll stop those puny gorillas!" Giganta shouts and embiggens herself to do so. Of course, the gorillas are in a flying platform, so they could theoretically fly higher than Giganta could grow. However, they apparently don’t think of that. On the other hand, Giganta doesn’t (of course) dash them to their deaths upon getting hold of them, but instead put them high up on the side of a building, being content to merely put them out of the way.

However, it turns out that three guys (gorilla guys, admittedly) in a flying doohickey is only the city’s first line of defense. The second is a funky looking tank mounted with a "meson destabilizer," which, if I’m remembering correctly, is what was used to destroy the Giant Claw. Sadly, this fearsome weapon proves inadequate to stop a group containing Sinestro. "A yellow energy bubble will protect us," he boasts. This not only protects them, but bounces the destabilizer ray back on the gorillas, although to what effect I couldn’t quite figure out. Obviously it doesn’t kill them or anything.

Grodd reminds them that speed is of the essence, lest "they send the entire gorilla army after us." I guess this is why they elected to raid the city in those dune buggies, vehicles that are clearly capable of achieving speeds upwards of fifteen miles an hour. Luckily, they’ve soon offscreen teleported inside a place with light panels all over the walls, so you know it’s a science-y sort of location.

Soon Grodd has grabbed a fistful of wires from a panel of some sort, into which he plugs the brain machine, or whatever it was.

Meanwhile, Solovar senses that something is up. "My gorilla telepathy tells me that Grodd is about to activate a device," he expositories, "and controls the minds of all inhabitants of Gorilla City." So wait, now the gorillas are inherently telepathic? Huh? Realizing that there’s nothing he can do to stop this, Solovar jumps into the Teleportation Chair (which is now self-actuating, for some reason) and beams himself out of the city. Seconds later, a montage of very cheap animation confirms that the remaining gorillas are all under the Legion’s control.

By the way, even in its success this mission confirms that Legion away teams are often made up of just anyone who wants to get out of the Legion of Doom for an hour or so. Apparently it’s like when you head to the store to pick up a few things and a friend or two decide to tag along for no real reason. When you get down to it, they only needed Grodd and Sinestro to accomplish their objective, and since Sinestro could have flown the two in, it would have been faster, too. Still, I’m sure they all felt safer having Toyman and Black Manta on hand, just in case something had gone awry.

The scene ends with a shot of hundreds of gorillas awaiting the Legion’s orders. It’s an impressive sight (despite the fact that they clearly drew one gorilla and cheated it a zillion times), but even at that moment I was thinking, "Uh, yeah, but…you know…Superman." I mean, sure, a thousand super-intelligent apes might give Batman and Robin some problems, but, you know…Superman. Invulnerable, pushing-the-Earth-out-of-orbit-with-his-hands Superman.

Apparently, the writers actually thought about this. So we cut to the Hall of Justice, where The Flash, Batman, Robin and Apache Chief are watching Superman punch a cascade of space rocks on the Hall Viewscreen. Setting a new record—or, more accurately, tying an old one for about the hundred time—Robin goes nearly a full second before saying something that makes me want to see Solomon Grundy pull his arms and legs off. "Holy Meteor Showers!" he shouts. "Superman and the others sure have their hands full with that disaster in Galaxy 13!"

One thing you have to love about this show is how in one second it can have your brain racing to catalogue a myriad of inanities. How did the Superfriends get to "Galaxy 13"? I don’t know, it sounds far away. Who else went with Superman, and why? How come they can all breathe in space? Where is the camera sending the image of Superman? How did it get there? What about the time lag? Aren’t the Superfriends light years away? How to explain the instant reception of their transmission? By all rights, they should actually be watching something Superman did years ago, the broadcast of which is just now reaching Earth.

At this moment, Solovar teleports in. (Shouldn’t the Hall of Justice have some sort of screen to keep people from doing that? The Legion has teleportation devices, too.) In an actual nice bit of writing, it’s the Flash that recognizes him. That’s because in the comics Grodd is primarily a member of the Flash’s rogues gallery. Thus he’s the Justice Leaguer most likely to be conversant with Gorilla City and its ruler. Solovar warns them of the danger, noting that with control of the gorilla legions, Grodd could cause "untold destruction over the whole continent." Yeah, that’s quite a threat to Africa’s fabled political stability.

Back in Gorilla City, we find the entire Legion ensconced in the royal palace. Grodd, needless to say, has grabbed the throne. "Now that Gorilla City is ours," he slurps, "we’ll soon have control of all Africa!" OK, then. I mean, really, how much worse of a job could they make of the place? Perhaps kenning that this goal is markedly short of their usual ambitions, Luthor tosses in, "And then it will only be a short step to world domination!" Apparently their plan is:


Step 1: Use army of super-apes to conquer Africa.
Step 2:
Step 3: Rule the world!


Adding to my sense that Luthor is really just going through the motions on this one, he continues by noting that the plan will proceed "[a]s soon as Toyman trains the gorilla troops." How the hell did Toyman get this job? And what exactly is he training them to do? Smile and crash symbols together? Pack themselves into barrels following extensive arm-linking practice? C’mon, he’s friggin’ Toyman! What the hell?

Cut to Solovar and the Superfriends looking upon all this (despite the fact that Toyman and the gorillas were shown to be inside a windowless building, and Our Heroes are out in the open air somewhere). Just in case you don’t already hate Robin as much as I do, please note that he now utters a gag so nauseatingly bad that even I have refrained from using it: "Holy gorilla warfare!" he shouts. At this point I still want to see Grundy pull his limbs off, but only after sodomizing him.

In another example of the show’s seamlessly invisible hand with exposition, Solovar suddenly cups his ear and says to no one in particular, "These electronic earplugs will protect me from the effects of Grodd’s mind control." On the other hand, just a minute ago, whilst writing this very review in an otherwise empty room, I grabbed the waistband of my underwear and said aloud, "These briefs keep my naughty bits from coming into direct contact with my trousers." So who am I to judge?

Solovar breaks off to try to free his fellow apes—this again seems to fall into the ‘step missing’ school of strategic planning—while the quartet of Superfriends (well, three Superfriends and Robin) make to confront Toyman and his thousand-strong super-intelligent gorilla army. Oh, and ultimately Sinestro and Solomon Grundy and Bizarro and all the others.

Toyman is just at the point of mobilizing his ape army when Batman calls out. I know they’re the good guys and everything, but maybe they should just attack sometimes rather than announcing their presence first. However, the Strike a Pose thing seems very much part of their idiom, and so Toyman turns to find them all standing together with their hands on their hips. (Except for Apache Chief, who presumably had too much ethnic pride for this nonsense. And again, his superhero name is ‘Apache Chief.’)

"We’re here to put an end to your invasion plans," the hands-on-hips Flash avers. Just in case Toyman was wondering, I guess. Then Flash speeds forwards and carries Toyman away from his perch (?) before stopping to confront him. "Your game is over, Toyman," he preens. Get it? ‘Game.’ ‘Toyman.’ Sorry, but that’s about as good as it gets on this show. "You’re forgetting about my gorilla troops!" Toyman sneers in response, and, sadly, he’s right. Man, you know you’re having a bad man when Toyman makes you his bitch.

So on Toyman’s command, the gorillas rush to the attack. Batman swings safely past one such, but of course Robin is immediately captured. He whines like a little girl, naturally, and Batman comes to the rescue with a "Batarang balloon." That’s right, a Batarang balloon. You know, I’m not saying those two are gay, but they obviously don’t care if people wonder about it.

In case you’re wondering, a Batarang balloon circles a line around its target, inflates to maybe four feet across and floats up in to the air, carrying off whoever is tied to it. I’m not sure what kind of gas in that small volume would suffice to carrying off a 500 pound gorilla, but I guess that’s why I’m not a superhero. Also, I can’t really seeing anything good in this ape’s immediate future, whether it involves plummeting to Earth from a great height, or being carried high enough to freeze to death, or whatever.

Next Toyman is saved when two apes run forward and grab the Flash. That’s right, he can run around the entire globe in a millisecond, but he can’t keep from being manhandled by two gorillas. "No offense, fellas," he tells them, "but if you can’t control yourselves, I’m going to have to!" By they time he gets all that out, you’d think that a pair of seven foot apes would have crushed Flash into kibble, but luckily they don’t. This allows Flash the opportunity to spin like a top at super-speed, and fling them off.

Toyman then orders the rest of the apes forward for an en masse attack. However, Apache Chief grows real big, grabs two apes (maybe that’s all they could afford to animate) in one giant fist, and Toyman in the other. However, then Black Manta shows up with some sort of hairdryer—no, I guess it’s a ray gun—and fires it. This encases Apache Chief (and the apes and Toyman) in a transparent cube, and also causes Apache Chief to shrink. (??) At this point he’s caught in the cube with a smug-looking Toyman and the two gorillas, and with his powers neutralized. So, you know, this would seem a good spot for Toyman to order the gorillas to tear him to pieces. But…he doesn’t.

"You’re next, Flash," Black Manta warns. "With my great speed," the Scarlet Speedster preens, "he’ll never be able to hit me!" So he takes off, but Black Manta just fires ahead of him, and Flash runs right into the newly materialized transparent cube, this one with a door that swings shut. "Great Wings of Mercury!" the speeding sap exclaims. "He accounted for my speed and tricked me into running into his box!" What an idiot. (And again, how do you ‘lead’ an object traveling at the speed of sound or the like?)

Anyhoo, Batman and Robin swing forward and grab Black Manta, which leaves them with a thousand slave gorillas and the rest of the Legion of Doom to worry about. Oh, wait. In fact, they don’t even accomplish that much. "Wrong, bat fools!" the real Black Manta cries, stepping into sight from around a corner. "You’ve trapped a decoy!" And so the Caped Crusaders are also captured.

Again, talk about embarrassing. Three and a half Superfriends, including one of the most powerful, have just been captured by friggin’ Black Manta. You can bet that’s not the way they’ll tell it to their teammates later. Nor, I expect, will we ever see the Legion employing that amazing transparent cube gun again, despite its yeoman’s work here.

The superheroes, still enboxed, are taken to the royal palace. "It looks like Black Manta’s brought us quite a catch," Luthor gloats. (See, Black Manta is Aquaman’s chief nemesis, and ‘catch’ is a fishing term, and…. Oh, never mind.) He then admits to feeling generous and says he’ll let them go.

Robin figures something dodgy is afoot—can’t get one past that guy—and Luthor admits this is so. "I don’t plan to release anyone until I’ve exposed you all to this power neutralizer." Say what now? Seriously, is that a device that supposedly takes away superpowers? (Although neither Batman or Robin has any, so big whoop for them.) OK, c’mon, there’s no way they wouldn’t just keep on using this thing until they won. That’s just too powerful a weapon. Despite the fact that I’m predicting it will have a ‘reverse’ button that gives one’s superpowers back.

Anyway, they use the ray, and Flash blurts, "My superspeed, it’s gone!" Then, instead of turning it on Apache Chief (although I guess we’re supposed to assume they do at some point), they ray beam Batman and Robin. "And our utility belts are useless!" Batman explains. I’m not sure how he would know that, and also, and forgive me for being pedantic, but carrying mechanical devices on a belt isn’t a ‘power.’ The Batarangs are simply throw objects. How does a ray beam ‘neutralize’ those?

Here the writers prove their amazing originality by having Grodd explain, "And now you will be given five minutes’ head start to run free into the jungle." Gee, where is this going. "Then, we shall hunt you down like animals, for the sport of it" he slurps, which sounds like a weird thing for a gorilla to say. In any case, yep, it’s the five billionth rip-off of The Most Dangerous Game.

By the way, the Legion already tried pretty much this exact thing with disarmed Superfriends, albeit in that case with the purported neutered heroes being chased by fully-powered robot duplicates. It didn’t work out that well. Still, kudos to the writers for patiently waiting four entire episodes, in a season lasting 16 episodes total, before recycling this particular plot device.

"Without our powers, there’s no way to break out of the energy dome surrounding Gorilla City," Flash helpfully explains. This observation would seem worthy of a "Holy No Shit, Sherlock" from at least one of his colleagues, but Batman might still be pondering why a neutralizing ray would work on his Batarangs. Does this mean his house keys won’t work either? For that matter, why don’t his pants fall down, if his belt is "useless"?

In a particularly patronizing moment, Apache Chief speaks up to announce, "I still have my Indian tracking abilities." Because, you know, he’s an Indian. That’s why he doesn’t have Swedish tracking skills. In any case, tracking skills theoretically would be handier when you’re the tracker than the trackee, one would think. I mean, he asserts that "They should help us to elude the Legion of Doom," but to my mind, that’s like saying Mario Andretti has an advantage when somebody tries to run him down with a car.

Back at the Palace, Grodd notes that time is up. Sinestro replies that he and Giganta will head out with a platoon of apes. That seems a tad lame, since, you know, Sinestro and Giganta still have superpowers and everything. Taking a bunch of super-apes along to boot just seems like piling on. This is reinforced when Black Manta (just the guy I’d use to conquer equatorial Africa…yeesh) and Toyman take the second platoon and venture forth to take of the continent. Seriously, Sinestro might be tired of doing so much of the heavy lifting, but that’s just lame.

Noting that "It won’t be long before Africa is ours," Toyman and Black Manta set out on horseback (!), their ape army marching behind. Meanwhile, Sinestro (who can fly) and Giganta do the same. Soon they’ve caught up with our depowered heroes. Spying their approach from a distance, Batman calls out, "Apache Chief, look. Sinestro and Giganta are hot on our trail." I’m not sure why Batman saw them first, given that Apache Chief has "Indian tracking skills," but there you go.

"We’d better follow the animal trails," Apache Chief replies. "They should lead to a river where we can cover our tracks." Cripes, I knew that old saw from watching prison movies, and I don’t even have any Indian tracking skills.

However, the apes themselves have tracking skills, and one hirsute pursuer quickly find signs of their passage. "These gorillas are the best trackers I’ve ever seen!" Sinestro marvels. Of course, they’re probably also the only trackers he’s ever seen. But still.

Meanwhile, Toyman and Black Manta attack the town of Bogona. (This is marked by African grass huts and modern skyscrapers. Move along, folks, no stereotypes here.) The apes go on a family friendly rampage, and we soon learn that if apes are super-smart it gives them the sort of strength to lift sedans over their heads. The scale is off too, per usual, as the car-lifting gorilla appears to be ten or twelve feet tall. "We’re being overrun by gorillas!" one savvy cop exclaims, although personally I’d have focused more on the ‘talking’ gorilla part.

Luckily, lacking any sort of weapons that might repel an army of gorillas (like, I don’t know, guns), the citizens flee. Toyman and Black Manta—who must be sweltering in that wetsuit and helmet—declare victory. "Once Africa is ours," Manta gloats, "it won’t be long before the world falls under our crushing power." Again, there seems to be a step or two missing there, but I’ll take his word for it.

Meanwhile, proving complete dunces, the Not So Superfriends find they’ve run themselves right up against Gorilla City’s invisible power dome, where they are trapped by their pursuers. Wow, imagine how bad they’d have looked had they lacked Apache Chief’s Indian tracking skills to call on. Sure enough, the gorillas grab Our Heroes, and savagely proceed to…tie them to a wheeled wooden slab. Uh, OK.

Apparently they’ve been so secured so that they can be tipped into a gorge and plummet to their doom. This kind of fancy-pants scheming is what always gets the Legion into trouble, but do they ever learn their lesson? Nooooo. And how about something with a little panache, like dressing them up like giant bananas and setting the gorillas on them. Fan chance of anything that cool happening, I wager.

Sure enough, the cart is instead sent rolling down an adjacent hill, with presumably only seconds remaining until they suffer a horrible death. Luckily, Solovar just happens to be right next by. "I’ve got to save the Superfriends," he cries (instead of just doing it). "Or there’ll be no hope for Gorilla City." Yeah, sure. I mean, look what a good job they’ve been doing up to now.

Luckily, the hill is so high and graded so softly that Solovar has time to materialize a stretched rope (where the hell did he get that?) in their path. This saves his pals, but amazingly, Giganta and Sinestro have actually hung around to watch their death trap in operation. Man, if they keep doing that sort of thing the Superfriends are screwed. Seeing the situation, Giganta calls out an alert and sends the gorillas forward. However, Solovar and the others escape their pursuers by…hiding behind some branches as their foes run right past them. You’re right, Sinestro, those apes are some amazing trackers, all right.

Still, as Batman reminds them, they still have no powers. Flash explains that they can’t call for help, in that "Our emergency radios can’t penetrate Gorilla City’s outer dome." (Huh? How did they get inside the city? Not a very good force field, I’d have to say.) However, Solovar has an idea. "Maybe they can, Flash," he muses. "Gorilla City rests on top of huge deposits of gold." Sure enough, right next to them is a huge exposed vein of the stuff. "If this gold vein is exposed somewhere outside the protective dome," he continues, it may act like a radio antenna." Well, that’s convenient.

As you would imagine, this scheme works, and Batman manages to contact his fellows, who are still floating around in the void of Galaxy 13. (Man, when Solovar said that gold might work as an antenna, he wasn’t screwing around.) In an amusing bit, Superman and Black Vulcan are sans space helmets—although they can naturally still talk—while Wonder Woman is floating around in her normal swimsuit-sized costume but wearing a round glass bowl over her head. As dopey as this is, it does follow continuity as established in the episode "The World’s Deadliest Game."

Batman explains their plight, and adds, "Black Manta and Toyman are conquering Africa." At this point I expected Superman to smirk at his teammates and ask, "Who is this?" Instead, Supes replies that they will head on back and meet them in Gorilla City. "Green Lantern and the others can take care of Galaxy 13," Wonder Woman notes. (Since the ‘others’ would seem to include Hawkman and Aquaman, this is presumably a mean joke on Wonder Woman’s part.) "We’d better hurry," she exclaims. Yeah, probably so, given the whole ‘we’re in another galaxy’ thing.

Apparently the writers exhausted their collective imaginations when they dubbed the earlier made-up city ‘Bogona,’ as the Narrator now sets the stage by declaiming, "Later, in another African city…" I mean, seriously, is that the best they could do? "Another African city"? Yeesh. In any case, we arrive to see the city surrendered. "We have no choice but to surrender to you," a cop notes (apparently he’s authorized to make that statement). I guess the city is in French Africa.

Black Manta again pauses to gloat, but this time finds his boasts interrupted by a shout out from Superman. (Didn’t they notice that there were other Superfriends unaccounted for? I don’t know, I’d be keeping tabs on Superman as a general rule, were I them.) Apparently feeling his oats—or maybe he’s just really drunk—Black Manta sneers at the arrival. "So we have three more Superfriends to scratch off the list!" he chortles. I mean, yes, he’s got an ape army at this back, but we’re talking Black Manta and Toyman facing off against Superman, Wonder Woman and Black Vulcan here. Not exactly an even match.

On the other hand, I forgot that the Superfriends are often incredibly inept. "This should light up your life," Black Vulcan quips, as he prepares to throw a binding lightning bolt—look, just go with it—at one of the approaching apes. Hilariously, though, the gorilla snatches the missile from the air and throws it back, and it’s Black Vulcan who’s trapped. (He can turn to raw energy—I think—so I don’t believe that would work, but anyway.)

However, even given their Super Screw-Up abilities, there’s still, you know, Superman. "You simian citizens of Gorilla City are strong," he admits, "but no match for Superman." Which is kind of hard to argue with, really. So saying, he flies two apes to a nearby river and casts them off into the distance in a convenient banked canoe. He then turns his attention to Toyman.

However, the Pasha of Perilous Playthings is ready, and pulls forth a "radio-controlled kryptonite airplane." Now, Superman has super-speed, so you’d think he’d run far enough away to be safe, and then turn and heave a rock at the thing. Or, to take another tack, Wonder Woman could just lasso either Toyman or the plane before it reached her teammate. Frankly, with Supes on the roster the only real purpose for anyone else to be a Superfriend is to intercept the occasional piece of kryptonite.

"I’ve got to get away from it!" Superman girlishly shrieks, and flies off. "Look at brave Superman," Toyman laughs, "afraid of a child’s toy!" Wow! Superman has put himself in a position where he can be dissed by Toyman. If I were him, after I took care of the plane, I’d come back and kill not only Toyman and Black Manta, but the apes and Wonder Woman and Black Vulcan too. There’re just some things you can’t afford to let become public knowledge.

Back to Batman et al. Having somehow conveniently gotten back inside the Gorilla City power dome, Batman now suggests they must try to get their powers back. "Perhaps then we can figure a way to shut off the Legion of Doom’s mind control," Solovar adds. Well, considering that there’s only about five minutes of show left, yeah, probably.

However, as they stolidly plod through the remaining jungle, they are quickly spotted by Sinestro and Giganta’s ape patrol. (Considering that Flash is dressed head to toe in scarlet, and that Robin’s costume is a mixture of red and yellow, I wasn’t really that surprised.) They move to intercept the heroes.

Back in the palace, Grodd is snug in Solovar’s throne, while the others are just basically farting around, with Bizarro, Captain Cold and the Riddler playing cards* (!), Cheetah just standing in the middle of the room and staring into space, and Grundy and Scarecrow each grabbing a snooze. (!!) World conquest isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I guess.
 

[*I imagine the game would go something like this:

Captain Cold: "Ha! Sorry, Bizarro, but your pair of kings can’t beat my cool full boat."
Bizarro: "On Bizarro World, pair beats full house!"
Captain Cold: "Well, we’re not on Bizarro World, you chalky freak, and...AIEEE!"
[Bizarro reaches forward and pops Captain Cold’s head like a zit.]
Bizarro, turning to Riddler: "What you got?"
Riddler: "Riddle me this, Bizarro! What hand is like a couple of men who enjoy musical theater?"
Bizarro: "Me pair of kings beats your pair of queens. Me win."
Riddler: "Ah, but on Bizarro World queens would beat kings!"
[Bizarro begins to reach for the Riddler’s head.]
Riddler, hastily: "Er, riddle me this: When should a guy totally shut the *&#$ up? You win, buddy!"]
 

Luthor, for his part, is yakking with Grodd. "Sinestro and Giganta have probably put an end to Flash and the others by now," he muses. Yeah, probably. No reason to call them and find out or anything. I mean, at this point in your plan, what could possibly go wrong? "Oh, I wish I could have seen it!" Grodd slurps. Yeah, that would have been awesome. On the other hand, it would have meant getting your fat hairy ass out of that chair, so you got to keep your priorities straight.

"You’ll see worse than that!" Solovar dramatically (if nonsensically) cries, throwing open the throne room doors. Solovar grabs up Captain Cold and Scarecrow, which to my mind isn’t really a maneuver designed to strike fear in the hearts of a Solomon Grundy or Bizarro. "Quick, stop him!" Grodd shouts. Damn, man, you stop him. You’re sitting right there. There’s nothing worse than a lazy supervillain.

Meanwhile, Batman and the others are around the corner from the power neutralizer, which is being guarded by Bizarro (who was in the throne room playing cards two seconds ago) and Brainiac. At Batman’s command, Robin yanks on a rope and a chandelier falls on the villains and pins their arms. Good thing that was hanging right over them, and that there was a rope you could yank to make it fall down, and that the rope was around in the corner in the hallway from which you could watch and wait for the villains to get into the proper position.

Now, I don’t want to be overly picky, but trying to pin Bizarro’s arms with a chandelier is sort of like trying to capture Hulk Hogan inside a smoke ring, only not that effective. Even so, when Robin yanks the rope again, the two are lifted up into the air—meaning that Robin must be dead-lifting a good 400 pounds—where they helpless flail their legs. As I noted earlier, the neutralizer of course has a reverse switch, and in seconds the foursome have reclaimed their powers, including Batman and Robin the use of their utility belts and, presumably, their zippers.

With Bizarro and Brainiac still utterly confounded by the chandelier, Our Heroes jog off to find the controls for the mind control machine. This they find guarded by two apes. "You get their attention," the Flash tells Batman. "I’ll try to shut down the mind control." Dude, you’re the Flash. You can move so quickly that you can vibrate your atoms and pass through solid matter. Somehow I don’t think you need to have somebody ‘distract’ two gorillas while you ‘try’ to get past them. Yeesh again.

Of course, Batman does distract the apes, by swinging into the room. Being super-intelligent, the gorillas instantly leave behind the machine they were told to guard and rush after him. Given this vital few seconds—which for the Flash is like a year and a half—the Scarlet Speedster whizzes over and looks over the machine. "I wonder which button turns this thing off," he wonders. Oh, brother. Look, you guys never have to look for buttons. You wander into a random room and find whatever controls you need, and hit one switch and it’s always the right one. I didn’t see you guys dithering over the power neutralizer, for instance. So please cut the lame attempts at ‘suspense.’

Meanwhile, as Flash pauses at normal speed for absolutely no reason, Batman finds himself in danger of being dismembered by the gorillas. "Hurry, Flash!" he shouts, which is sort of like yelling, "Get strong, Superman!" But anyway. He pulls one switch at random, exclaiming "I hope this is the right one," and of course it is. The apes are freed from their mental control. "They’ve released us from the mind control," one ape explains, which must have been insulting to even the show’s five year-old viewers. At this Solovar comes walking into the room. You know, Solovar, who seconds ago was confronting nearly every useful member of the Legion of Doom by his lonesome. Glad he could break away.

Meanwhile, "at the captured African City," we find Superman bound in rope to a log and with the kryptonite plane resting on his chest. As far as I can tell, this means he’ll be dying of cancer no matter what happens from this point on. Similarly secured are Black Vulcan (with a rope?!) and Wonder Woman. Whatever. "I hope you have a pleasant journey down the river," Black Manta laughs, referencing a nearby treacherous waterfall.

"Release them!" Toyman commands, and again, this has got to be the most humiliating chapter in Superfriends’ history. His hirsute henchmen comply, and the threesome is launched into the water. "As the Superfriends float dangerously toward the edge of the towering waterfall," the Narrator exclaims, "the gorillas are suddenly released from the clutches of the mind control!" Again, I think we could have figured that part out on our own.

Now, I don’t care how advanced these gorillas are, you’d have to think they’d be sort of pissed off and would opt to express their displeasure upon Black Manta and Toyman in the most direct fashion possible. Instead, some of them swing on vines past the waterfall and grab the bound Superfriends just as they go over—which is pretty unlikely even for this show—and then leave the villains to the freed superheroes.

Meanwhile, Sinestro and Giganta and their apes are still aimlessly wandering around and looking for their supposed prey. Of course, the apes are soon freed from their control and jump their captors, which doesn’t seem very likely given the villains' respective powers. However, the episode is about over, so they succeed anyway.

Back in the city, meanwhile, the remaining Legion members have barricaded themselves in the palace. At this point I think we just have to declare this the most embarrassing episode for everyone involved and move on. Anyway, Solovar knows a "secret way inside," and the Superfriends rush the place, and catch the villains off guard, because, you know, who would have thought that the Superfriends would ever be able to get into a building or anything?

Batman and Robin swing into the building (they reversed the neutralizer, remember, so their ropes work now) and grab a huge drapery on their way. Swinging along and dragging the drape behind them, they sweep up a fleeing Luthor and Riddler. "It looks like it’s curtains for you two!" Batman japes. [See previous note re: Most Embarrassing Episode Ever.]

Meanwhile, Captain Cold actually tries to fight back, much to the apparent shock of Cheetah, who is standing behind him doing squat. "This will slow down your hyperactive molecules, Flash!" he boasts, but he only ever manages to hit Flash with his ray gun early in the show, before it’s the heroes' turn to win. So, naturally, he now misses, and Flash runs around him and Cheetah and catches them up in a mini-tornado. This is, at least, less humiliating then being swept up in a curtain.

Apache Chief keeps Scarecrow and Brainiac from redeploying the neutralizer, while Solovar confronts Grodd, Grundy and Bizarro. (!!) "You’ll never stop us alone," Grodd slurps. No he certainly won’t, not without a handy chandelier at least. "I don’t intend to try," he retorts, and the palace doors are flung open (for like the fiftieth time) and a flood of apes issues into the room. We cut away, since there’s no way in hell any number of gorillas could possible deal with either Grundy or Bizarro, much less the both of them...and then suddenly the two juggernauts are seen tied to a post, and just taking it like a couple of bitches. This might be the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

With the villains secured, it’s time for the Superfriends to gloat, which means that we are seconds away from the Legionnaires teleporting themselves to safety or something. "The Legion of Doom is all present and accounted for!" Superman brags, which is pretty rich for a guy who was just nearly whacked by Toyman. "Having committed their crimes in Gorilla City (except for the invasion of those cities and the attempted murder and all)," Solovar notes, "they are subject to our simian law."

Luthor is then all "Uh, uh, we don’t play that!" and luckily for him nobody has bothered to take away the largish remote control device he’s got in his hand. Pressing a button, he summons the flying Hall of Doom, which hovers over the city and fires some sort of blackout ray.


READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO LEARN THE
SURPRISE SHOCK-SECRET ENDING OF THIS WEEK’S EPISODE
OF "
THE CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERFRIENDS
"!!!

 

Seconds later the lights come back on, but the Legion has escaped. (Also, the continuity manager—assuming this show ever had one—forgot that Green Lantern and Samurai were still supposed to be back in Galaxy 13, and so they are seen in this shot.) "The Legion of Doom has escaped!" the Flash yells in shock. And can you blame him?! What a totally unexpected development. O. Henry, you are avenged!

And so the Superfriends do their, "Yeah, well, so what, we’ll just stop them next time." And you know, they’re probably right.

 

Thanks to Superfriends
(of Jabootu)

Carl Fink
&
Billy Leary


for using their atomic proofreading
powers only for good.

 

 

 

-Review by Ken Begg