The late seventies was a really depressing time for comic fans on television. Marvel superheroes like The Incredible Hulk and Spiderman had their own series but instead of tackling Doctor Sinister and an army of zombie robots, they spent a lot of time lecturing Timmy about why he shouldn’t be shoplifting or spending time with the chain smoking kids who somehow shared the same girl friend.
Yes, Marvel superheroes of 70s TV land were just social workers in spandex.
DC on the other hand, had a fairly succesful TV show centered on Wonder Woman and a way-better-than-we-even-wanted-to-admit-to-ourselves Superman feature film.
As if taking a cue from The Star Wars Holiday Special two months earlier, some exec at NBC figured a quick cash-in could be achieved by slapping together a monumentally cheap title for prime time, get the ratings and disappear without a trace, letting the memory of the show fade – or better yet , rely on the audience to go into denial and forget it ever happened, like a bad superhero comic getting a one-shot.
So for two consecutive thurday evenings in January 1979, Project UFO was pre-empted with a couple of hour long Hanna-Barbera produced specials entitled Legend of the Super Heroes.
Hanna-Barbera, you say? Cool!
Not really. This is the period where Hanna-Barbera and other kiddie-show producers had figured out it was way cheaper to just film people in costumes or chimps dressed like people than produce animation.
One of the writers of The Legend of the Superheroes, is none other than Mike Marmer who co-wrote Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp- a spy spoof series starring an all-primate cast a decade earlier.
That sad practice of animation-free cartoons began with Hanna-Barbera with The Banana Splits in 1968. And when the costume designers of that show, Sid & Marty Krofft went on to pollute the airwaves with their own Saturday morning shows and variety specials, HB figured it shouldn’t spit on such easy cash.
The specials entitled “The Roast” (modeled after the massively popular Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts – and very cheap to do as they basically sit around a single stage) and “The Challenge” featured the following super heroes : Captain Marvel, Green lantern, Hawkman,The Huntress,The Flash, Black Canary, Batman and Robin.
Superman and Wonder Woman, being licensed to better franchises were spared the humiliation.
One guest hero alone should forever find it’s rightful place in the Politically Incorrect Hall of Fame: Ghetto Man (played to cringing lows by Brad Sanders).
The cast is padded out by some of the decade’s most notorious Anything-for-a-Buck Players: Howard Morris, Charlie Callas, Ruth Buzzy, Ed McMahon and Jeff Altman.
The ubiquitous William Schallert also shows up as The Red Cyclone (a.k.a. Retired Man) -which recycles his “old man” character he used to personify “The Admiral” on Get Smart. (See video posted below with Adam West).
It also gives temporary employment to Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin as well as Frank Gorshin reprising his role as The Riddler. This was at a time where they were no longer opening shopping centers and had not been “rediscovered” by ironic hipsters. If anything, the men exhibit either incredible professionalism or a extreme hunger. (Ward was about to be part of a Hustler magazine pictorial- no kidding!)
Ever wonder about the toxic and radioactive waste materials we keep tossing into deep crevaces thinking they’ll never be heard of again? Is there a chance this stuff will bubble up to the surface one day to hurt future generations? Well, think of this as the popular culture equivalent, lingering under the crust of popular culture, preserved for all prosperity by obessive comic fans who actually taped the damn thing while the rest of us discovered alcohol’s ability to erase traumatic experiences like this:
But now, given the popularity of Super Heroes, Warner has unleashed that atrocity again to punish today’s kids for making them spend millions on 3D renditions of two-dimensional characters.
These will not be invading the video stores, so at least casual buyers will be spared buying this lump of coal accidentally for their kids. As part the Warner Brother Archive Collection– an on demand mail order catalogue of DVD-R titles- it’s a fair bet anyone who orders this is either a serious-masochist or deserves to be shocked into getting a life.
Pain Level: 9/10
Quality of Pain: Too-in-ten-se! Must-stop-tal-king-in-syl-la-bles!
For more info (like the names of the actors I was in too much pain to type):