I had a very skewed perception of reality as a kid… I mean REALLY skewed. I was upset when anyone laughed at the 1966 Batman TV show as I was certain my hero would never be anything to laugh at. I was convinced that the superheroes that I adored were godlike creatures worthy of recognition just as much as folklore and historical figures of note. In my mind Benjamin Franklin, Johnny Appleseed and Hawkman were all equally important. In fact, there is probably some comic out there where superheroes interact with folklore heroes as well as honored champions of historical importance and if so… that messed me up.
In any case, when a special two hour program aired on TV in January of 1979, I went through the roof. The Christopher Reeves Superman movie was a major hit in my household, Super Friends was in heavy rotation on Saturday mornings and I enjoyed an ample diet of the aforementioned Batman TV program as well as the occasional cartoon. A newspaper ad displayed the heroes in grainy black and white but to my eyes it was a magnificent display of herculean power. I clipped out the ad and stared at it every day until the fateful evening when it finally aired.
Part of the appeal for Legends of the Superheroes lay in the bizarre selection of characters. At the time, Justice League of America #200 (to date the finest comic ever published in my opinion) was a well read document and it introduced me to the new and old members of that time-honored crew. I took to Green Lantern, the Flash and Hawkman as they were visually intriguing yet I never imagined I would see them on screen alongside Batman!
Adding to the mystique of the TV superhero, I actually met Adam West in costume at the World of Wheels and was convinced (as no doubt was he) that he WAS BATMAN. Therefore, in my young mind, the comic books depicted fictionalized adventures while the actual heroes fought crime on screen every afternoon. As I tried to communicate early on… my vision of reality was tremendously skewed, my fantasies at an all time high and the arrival of an impossible dream come true nigh.
So great was my excitement that for years I imagined that I had dreamed the odd opening sequence in which the heroes assemble to their own unique introduction… because that was all that I remembered. My memory was so choppy that I figured the program never aired or I fell asleep before it started or some such thing. It was not until I walked past a TV playing the Legends Of The Superheroes at a Boston comic book convention that the awful truth finally dawned on me.
Oh yes… it was real.
The story is actually split into two hour-long segments.
The first is a challenge put forth by a dastardly (and entirely random) assembly of rogues; The Riddler (played by Frank Gorshin), Giganta (apparently played by a transexual entertainer), the Weather Wizard, Dr. Sivana, Mordru, Solomon Grundy and Sinestro (unbelievably played by funny man Charlie Callas). The baddies dream up a scheme and the heroes have an hour to stop them.
What follows is a flurry of chicanery and bad jokes as bad actors in ill-fitting costumes wander around LA trying to find trouble, ending up looking like fools. Green Lantern is tricked by Sinestro who dresses up as a fortune teller, the Batmobile breaks down and Hawkman is attacked by Solomon Grundy (masquerading as a mechanic) and strapped to the top of a car. The odd thing is that in my mind this must have all been terribly exciting and action-packed. In reality it looked like a refugee from a muscle beach wearing a papier-mâché hawk mask and a quilt strapped to his back getting assaulted at a Citgo station.
It’s all so bizarre that I think I can understand my lapse in memory. Putting all of the pieces together, I imagine that I watched the first half and fell asleep part way through. Someone lovingly picked me up and put me to bed, vowing never to speak of this atrocity again.
I know that in this age of mega blockbuster superhero movies and the San Diego Comic Con, this special is a recognized disaster of the worst kind, far worse than the Batman and Robin or Catwoman films. But at the time, there was nothing else, just a little boy in suburbia with a rolled up comic and a head full of bad ideas. The fact that I didn’t burn all of my comics that night and instead remembered the event as a dream, something that was too good to have aired on TV speaks not only to my love of the comic book medium but also to the deep resources of my imagination. Or again, maybe I just saw the intro and fell asleep.
But allow me to introduce some perspective here…
Just this past week, the150 million dollar Thor movie was released.
In a few weeks movie goers will be exposed to an X-Men movie, Captain America and the Green Lantern, all racking up millions of dollars in production cost, not even counting marketing.
Yet back in 1979, someone figured that Charlie Callas made the perfect choice for Sinestro.
Different times, man.
The second half of the two-hour-long special is far worse, however, and features Tonight Show co-host Ed McMahon roasting the heroes. It’s so painful that it’s not even the so bad it’s good kind of bad. It’s just wrong. Jokes about ‘Retired Man’ and ‘Ghetto Man’ abound.
Finally, the entire affair wraps up with Ed McMahon declaring his magic word ‘Ahkeem!’ and flying into the rafters (well, I’d like to think that’s where he ended up) and the evil transdimensional wizard Mordu delivers a stirring rendition of ‘That’s Entertainment.’
Finally available on DVD as part of the Warner Home Video archive collection, Legends of the Superheroes contains cut scenes and rarities that will no doubt delight those members of my generation who long for a simpler time yet appreciate that we will never forget that fateful night on January 1979 when our heroes were roasted.
Not exactly recommended… but available by clicking on the image below.