Where can you find a superheronie dressed like a hooker, a post-op transvestite villainess, and a very buff shirtless actor with huge wings and a ridiculous mask? Legends of the Superheroes, that's where. This 1979 Hanna-Barbera produced a live-action show features major DC heroes that weren't licensed to other companies (no Wonder Woman or Superman): Batman, Robin, Capt. Marvel, Black Canary, The Huntress, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, along with the some of the star villains on the DC Universe: Mordru, Doctor Sivana, The Weather Wizard, Solomon Grundy, Sinestro, and The Riddler. This TV rarity also has Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their Batman and Robin TV roles, the last time that they've appeared in character on screen. Though today's kids may stare at the screen in disbelief, people who grew up in a time are sure to enjoy this campy but fun adventure.
This disc is actually two hour-long (with commercials) TV specials that were broadcast in January of 1979 (and these were the only two that were made). The first is The Challenge, where the villains have banded together in order to destroy the world. Doctor Sivana has created a doomsday device which will kill everyone on the planet (themselves excluded), so they start the machine which will take an hour to work. While they're waiting, they give the Superheroes a series of clues (thanks to The Riddler (Frank Gorshin, from the Batman live action TV series)) and watch the do-gooders scramble around trying to find out where the villains are hiding. It all ends with a non-super powered slugfest between the two groups (since they've both ingested a potion that strips them of their powers... it would have been way too expensive to do it otherwise.)
The second episode is The Roast, where (get ready for this) the family, friends, and enemies of the superheroes roast them, hosted by none other than Ed McMahon. This features most of the villains from the earlier episode along with such notables as the hero who fought evil in the previous generation, the now-name Retired Man, the unforgettable Ghetto Man, a black man with an attitude who performs a standup act (a bit they'd never be able to get away with today), and Katar (Hawkman) Hol's mother who now lives in Jersey, Esther Hol. She throws such zingers as "I run into people at the supermarket. They tell me my son's a doctor, my son's an accountant. How do I tell them my son's a Hawkman?"
Both of these are very, very low budget affairs. Even so, I suspect that the second episode was in the format that it was because they had used all the funds in the first episode. That's not really a slam against these though, that where a lot of their charm lay. The costumes themselves are hilarious. Just look at the painted on eyes of Hawkman's mask, and Doctor Sivana wears a bald wig with large wrinkles in it. The heroes never even use their powers (well, The Flash will disappear and then reappear somewhere else, and Green Lantern will shoot a green beam out of his ring, but that's about it). When Captain Marvel is looking for the villain's hideout, he spends most of the time walking! I got a laugh out of that fact alone. Can you imagine the nerve of selling a superhero TV show where no one uses their powers? That takes some balls.
The only big problem was the incredibly obnoxious laugh track. Every line received a huge dose of mechanical laughter. They even placed giggles after lines that weren't jokes! When the Huntress asks where the doomsday device could be hidden, Batman replies that he's not sure which is followed by laughter. What? Who dubbed that?
Even with the obnoxious laughter, these were a lot of fun. Highlights from the first show include Batman and Robin negotiating to buy a used car after the Batmobile breaks down, Sivana dressed as a kid selling potion-filled lemonade to Captain Marvel "Oh please sir, please. My ma is sick, and I'm raising my brother and sister, and were gonna get evicted tomorrow and my father's in jail and my grandma croaked and they wouldn't burry my grandma until I come up with the money." and Charlie Callas in drag as a fortune-teller.
The second episode was even better with the ever delightful Ruth Buzzi playing an old widow who has decided to marry one of the heroes (she intimidates them all by drawing a gun!), the aforementioned Ghetto Man segment, and Ed McMahon's interview with Solomon Grundy where the dim-witty villain hits the MC every time he says the word 'swamp' or something that reminds him of swamps, which is everything.
The show-stopping finale of the second special is the best part of the whole disc however. It has the magician Mordru singing his version of "That's Entertainment":
A flood, that turns a city to mud
Or a blaze, that keeps burning for days
Or a quake, even Richter can't take...
Now it might be a plague on the crops of
Or a drought wiping out all the rice in
Some great invention of man, like an aerosol sprayer that kills the ozone layer
A louse, buys his grandmother's house
Ups the rent, though she hasn't a cent
Granny's sweet, but she's out on the street
The world's a mess
But never the less
The mono soundtrack is rather limited. The range is pretty narrow with both the highs and the lows being clipped off, and there's some distortion through both episodes. Nothing terribly annoying, but don't expect the audio quality of a 70's TV show from a major studio. It's less than that.
Obviously taken from videotape, the full screen image isn't the greatest, but it is light years ahead of the bootleg tapes I've seen at SF cons over the years. If you ever paid $20 for a crappy 4th generation VHS dup, you'll be ecstatic over the way this looks. Even so, there are occasional video dropouts, mainly at the beginning of the first episode, and the image itself isn't very crisp. There is some color bleeding, though it's minor, and the definition isn't very sharp. Not horrible, but not great either.
I was very pleased to find that there was an extra included with this disc. Warner Archives are always bare bones discs (sometimes they'll have a trailer) but this one includes 8 ½ minutes of cut scenes and extra takes. These didn't have the laugh track, which was nice, but they were pretty minor. Green Lantern freezing and then running out of the frame so they could have before and after images when his disappeared, another hero waiting for the noise of a plane passing overhead to die, stuff like that.
A cross between the live action Batman TV show (when is that going to come out on DVD??) and the Superfriends cartoon, these two TV specials won't wow kids of today but they are a still a lot of fun. Yeah, the jokes are corny, the writing is horrible and the sets and costumes pretty low-grade, but I found myself laughing throughout (though as much at the show as with it.) A great find and well worth checking out. Recommended.