Sunday, March 13, 2011

Legends of the SuperHeroes

Spoiler Level: You've got to be kidding, right?  Well, I suppose some of you yung'uns might not know what this is, in which case, it's High.

Legends of the SuperHeroes (all one word) is the Star Wars Holiday Special of super heroes.  They aired about six weeks apart from each other, they only aired once, and they were never released to the public, existing only in the memories of an entire generation.  Well, and as bootlegs at convention dealers rooms.

But now, Warner Brothers has done the unthinkable:  they've released Legends of the SuperHeroes as part of their Archive Collection, where Warner Brothers prints copies to order directly for the customer.  Generally these Archive editions are simply the main feature, with no remastering or bonus features.  But as I mentioned earlier, these two one-hour specials have never seen the light of day since January 1979, so even that much is a treat.

And here, "no remastering" is a step up in quality, since every version of this seen since 1979 has been a bootleg copy of a copy of a copy.  Heck, this is probably better than when I saw it on TV in 1979, because I was probably watching it using an antenna back then!  And the picture is sharp and clean on this DVD; I've definitely never seen it look so good.  And best of all, the ending theme song that I loved so much as a kid is clean and clear here, with no voiceovers.

And if that wasn't enough, this actually has a deleted scene, a few outtakes, and a production track of Mordru's musical number! Sadly, it's not a clean version; it's a muted piano track, with the main audio being the rhythmic click for the pianist to play to.  But man, who would have thought that any of that still existed, let alone would be included on an Archive release?

But is it actually worth watching?

It is if you can appreciate the 1960's Batman TV show.  It's totally comical, complete with a laugh track.  And while a lot of the gags are typical 1970s variety show shtick, some of them are genuinely funny and even a bit racy.

But the reason why Legends of the SuperHeroes succeeds where the Star Wars Holiday Special fails is that, ultimately, Star Wars Holiday Special was a step down for Star Wars from the movie, but Legends of the SuperHeroes was a step up for DC Comics characters on TV.  At that point, we'd had Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel; this gave us Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, Black Canary, and Huntress (within a year of her comic book debut!) and a scene with the Atom. (Batman, Robin & Captain Marvel are here as well, although no Wonder Woman, alas.)  Not to mention a great rogues gallery; they could have just gone with the recognizable Batman villains, but instead they only used the Riddler (reprised by the wonderful Frank Gorshin, who'd always managed to stand out to me in the campfest of the Batman TV series), joined by Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, Weather Wizard, Giganta, Mordru, and --despite Shazam! having run for three seasons-- the live-action screen debut of Dr. Sivanna.  All in their proper costumes!

The first special, "The Challenge," is an adventure, with the villains ready to blow up the world and trying to keep the heroes distracted so they won't be able to stop it, all the while giving them clues that lead them straight to it.  It's played for laughs, but it's helped by some of the laughs being genuine; I was actually laughing with it, not at it.  The second special, "The Roast," is just that-- a celebrity roast where the villains come in and make fun of the super heroes, hosted by Ed McMahon.  I am not kidding.  Most of the super heroes each get a decent scene, and Green Lantern and Sinestro even have a better shoot out in "The Roast" than they did in "The Challenge"!

Will it appeal to today's hardened comic book fans, who want their heroes treated with respect, their special effects to be new and breathtaking, and gritty realism from their stories?  Eh, probably not.  But for those of us who were mesmerized ten-year-olds when this first aired, it holds up to the childhood memories.

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