austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

We stood on the beach at sunset

Enough Aquaman for the moment. Let's get back to real proper Superfriends antics with The Revenge Of Doom:

In a dark, mysterious swamp, the rotting remains of the Hall of Doom is having its chain-link fence maybe two feet higher than the fence we had at my childhood home invaded by construction workers. Batman and Robin pull up, but the foreman reports the Department of Parks is turning the Hall of Doom into a museum. The foreman slips, revealing he knows the ion engines were removed, showing that Lex Luthor has been getting dumb even for supervillain genius. He puts Batman in a test tube, and just lets Robin be hugged by Solomon Grundy. The Legion starts to introduce itself, until they run out of voice actor budget, and Luthor says there's no need for introductions. The Legion goes to work with its construction equipment to repair a hall which, as I recall, was crated by a whiff of Sinestro's wand, and they sink it into the swamp so as to reuse the stock animation of the Hall of Doom rising out of the swamp.

The Hall goes out to Metropolis, where they take Superman and Wonder Woman by surprise because nobody's noticed that Batman and Robin haven't checked in despite it being long enough to fix a Hall of Doom. Luthor reveals this week's magic ray which turns Superman and Wonder Woman into crystal, which he didn't use on Batman and Robin because of very good reasons that are none of the audience's business.

In the Hall of Justice, Luthor begins issuing commands to a person he believes to be the President, but who looks to me more like the NBC News weekend anchor from about 1976. Batman and Robin are in the old-fashioned jail cell, but they have nothing to do with saving Superman, who brings himself to motion by using his X-Ray Vision in a way that makes sense for very good reasons that are none of the audience's business. He also revives Wonder Woman, and the two fly slightly chunkily off to Fort Knox, which the Legion is robbing again. They're running at maybe one milliplotpoint's worth of power while Batman and Robin work on reversing the polarity of the crystallization ray, and what do you know, it works.

So Superman punches a pile of gold bricks into a fortress around Lex Luthor, complete with a window, which is really showing off; and Wonder Woman lassoos Sinestro's power ring right off his hand, in case the Legion wasn't feeling owned enough, and soon the whole Legion's behind bars ... somewhere. Superman points out they can't win, ``do I make myself clear?'' and Luthor answers ``crystal clear'', which meets the legal requirement for a comical tag written seconds before the voice actors had to record the line.

This is an episode that must have sounded great on paper: we've got the rights to the Legion of Doom, let's use them. It even creates continuity for the Superfriends, a set of serieses that are not otherwise noted for that. And it even plays off of a reference to the Legion of Doom back in The Krypton Syndrome. As it is, it ... kind of almost plays, yeah. It's not until the climactic battle resolving things that it really stands out that there's actually only four Superfriends and three supervillains involved; they could have done the same story with just a few Doomsters working to put the full Legion back in operation.

One of the problems with Challenge of the Superfriends is that with eleven superheroes (and sometimes guest-stars) and thirteen villains you had a staggeringly overloaded cast, with a compulsion to make sure everybody gets a line, which in a 22-minute episode leaves a lot of characters stepping in to mostly distract from the goings-on and then go back into the background. With a seven-character (effective) cast you'd think that there'd be time for the story to be developed, but since it's squeezed into a seven-minute episode there's still this overloaded sense.

And, then, the storyline doesn't quite seem thought out, even for the Legion of Doom, which made a fine trade in poorly thought-out plans to conquer the Superfriends, of which the plan to transform Earth's climate into a duplicate of Venus so this week's set of Venusian monsters could conquer the world was arguably not the stupidest. Restarting the Legion as something active, that's a fine plan. Catching Batman in a test tube? That's all right. Crystallizing Superman and Wonder Woman? The heck? Why not crystallize Batman and Robin in the first place? And have they got any plans for when the many, many other Superfriends show up, if they exist when they're not on-screen?

For that matter, why do they need the Hall of Doom? This is a bit of a nerdly point, but since having the Legion of Doom guest star is a grab at continuity points for the young nerds watching I think it's fair to ask. According to that episode where aliens review the record-tapes of the destroyed Earth, Sinestro whipped up the original Hall of Doom using his power ring. Why couldn't he make a new one? Or at least do all the repairs, rather than have the gang turn up in construction clothes doing light contracting on the smashed Darth Vader Dome? For that matter, the Legion of Doom always had an impractical last-minute escape plan for when they were captured by the Superfriends; how did it break down this time? Remember that Luthor once took the time to build an escape rocket into the Capitol Dome at a time they believed all the Superfriends were frozen on a moon of Saturn; why wouldn't he have some backup in case Batman and Robin are somehow able to break out of a metal-bar jail?

Incidentally, the subtle degrading of Robin as a potential superhero continues here. Back in The Krypton Syndrome the alternate-history Legion of Doom didn't even bother catching or even inconveniencing Robin; now, while Batman is tubed and Superman and Wonder Woman turned into kind of living crystal, Robin is just hugged by Solomon Grundy, secure in the knowledge this neutralizes him as a threat.

That crystallization ray seems like a pretty cool idea, mostly under-applied, although how Superman and Wonder Woman just turn into living statue superheroes is ... so weird it feels like more should have been made of it. I don't know. The whole episode feels very rushed and would probably have benefitted from being a whole 22-minute episode and having a clearer objective on the Legion's part. Even what they do once they've conquered the Superfriends --- rob Fort Knox --- feels like they didn't know they'd win so early and just grabbed at the first idea anyone suggested and nobody was working hard to suggest something fresh.

So it's got a lot of what was cool about Challenge of the Superfriends but condensed almost to the point the audience barely knows what hit them. There are things to be said either way for this.

Trivia: Coal was taxed in 1667 by the City of London at one shilling per ton. This was tripled in 1670. Source: London: A History, A N Wilson.

Currently Reading: Galahad at Blandings, P G Wodehouse.


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