Hello, and I hope you’re enjoying all the new apocalypses since we last spoke. Personally, I feel both Doom Cloud and “Codename: Alecto” got shorted by the Lindsay Lohanaissance, but I hope you’ve been able to find your own favorite eschaton.
The one I don’t want you to worry about is a madman extinguishing all life on earth with the push of a button. You see, we stopped him in 1979’s Legends of the Superheroes: a two-part special airing on NBC, in which DC superheroes defend the globe from Mordru the Mystic and sundry supervillains. And we did it without superpowers.
Legends was deliberately corny, a barrel of silly fun that remains one of the most faithful comic adaptations I’ve ever seen. It’s unbelievable that a comedy showcase hosted by Ed McMahon is loyal to costumes and continuity with more accurate detail than 7 out of 10 of the Spider-Man movies released last year. It’s so accurate to the comics that Huntress is introduced, then immediately forgotten.
The only character this show can’t detail in its two-hour time limit is the evil wizard Mordru, whose backstory is “Eternity.” All you need to know is he’s the personification of chaos, can’t be vanquished, and dresses like the thunder god of any country that still suffers at least one goat-related dueling death a year.
He’s a lame-ass villain fit only to challenge the Legion of Superheroes, and this show is proof of why I am wrong to say so wait WHAAAAAT?
We open on your parents in aerobics gear, plotting the end of the world:
Dr. Sivana’s doomsday machine will go off in one hour, “killing every single living creature on Earth.” How? They don’t say, which is a tacit admission it’s oligarchic capitalism. You’d think they’d save penguins, pizza ingredients, and people with strong sex moves, but nope: all life except these six dudes and a woman hyper-evolved from a zoo ape. Game on.
The villains taunt the heroes with clues, and you are completely forgiven if you blame The Riddler for this part of the plan. But he complains that he’s been given no notice to craft his clues. Mordru had literally forever to plan this properly but still didn’t give his generals time to prepare.
Meanwhile, here in this great hall of justice, the superheroes are toasting Retired Man, a.k.a. Scarlet Cyclone. He’s an original character who was a two-fisted pulp slugger in the ’30s, and it’s fine if you want to confuse him with Red Tornado.
–and they’re off to scour the earth up to 30 miles from the studio lot. Black Canary kicks ass, as per her character sheet.
Mordru puts a magic hat on Solomon Grundy that disguises him as a regular human gas station attendant. Personally I can’t remember the last time I was at a gas station that didn’t have a methed-out Grundyface stealing aluminum, but I guess the ’70s were a more innocent time, when only attractive people huffed leaded fumes by the roadside.
The ruse collapses in seconds because Grundy is a swamp toddler, but he hands Batman his bat-ass and sends him packing.
Playing the role of DC’s version of The Watcher, Roz from Night Court gives the best running commentary from a phone booth. It’s emblematic of how great this adventure is, and adults mocking children’s entertainment will always be America’s highest form of humor. Upgrade your subscription to 1-900-HOTDOG today!
Sinestro disguises himself as a fortune-teller to distract Green Lantern from ending this chase in seconds. For this, he gets knocked ass over giant noggin in as much power-ring SFX as this film can budget. Yeah, the 2011 Green Lantern film is looking pretty good now, isn’t it?
But imagine you were just having a picnic and saw a superhero laserblast an elderly lady? You’d have so many questions you’d join a monastery or something. And God wouldn’t answer you. What you thought you saw never happened. Is anything real?
Weather Wizard pretends to be a used car salesman to delay Batman & Robin. He tries to sell them a lemon, but billionaire Bruce Wayne only carries $50 because it’s all he can afford to lose. That’s objectively funny, but I was distracted by the first canonical appearance of bat-nipples on a costume:
Harried to pick a vehicle, Batman browbeats the importance of responsible purchases into Robin 40 minutes before the end of the world. Despite that, the strange rules of this universe say the villains are only allowed to prankishly stall the heroes. It’s almost like none of these lunatics really wants to get into an extinction event and they’re subtly undermining their boss’s awful plan with calculated failures.
Meanwhile, Grundy is stacking bird-themed B-listers in his garage like he’s lining a nest.
Captain Marvel follows Riddler clues that suggest he subconsciously knows where the machine is. (Wisdom of Solomon, I guess?) Desperate for a psychiatrist to crack open his noggin and spill out the juicy thought-meats, he settles for Riddler actor Frank Gorshin taking us on a walking tour of accents he can do.
Where’s Flash? The show gets around the problem of his being a god by not using him. He’s in one very odd bit before he loses his speed, and he doesn’t even do that part onscreen.
But how, you ask? Dr. Sivana disguises himself as a child and sells the heroes tainted lemonade that strips their superpowers. All of them hate this twerp much more than they hate the actual mad scientist.
Soon, Gotham’s runaway protectors cascade into the lake surrounding villain HQ. And it is there that we get…
Hold on, are you ready?
We get the greatest visual in DC cinematic universe history:
Yes! YESSSSSSS! This is what it was all building towards! An extra-dimensional wizard who exists outside of time is ripping wicked doughnuts on one of our Earth lakes!
“Follow me for fun!” he bleats at the heroes, but they cannot hear him over the motor, the waves, and the hydrocube-gleaming. This is the greatest thing humanity has ever done, and somehow Batman is only perpendicularly involved!
Oh shit. Oh fuck. Oh shit oh fuckshitfucko shiiiiiit Mordru is so rad! How have I slept on his greatness in more than three decades of nerdology? Look at him ride that steed of the sea! Hahaha, I bet that little hop is when he outboards Aquaman’s brainpan. This is raw propaganda for Mordru’s greatness, and I’m coming back for seconds.
Where do we go from here? Nothing we achieve will live up to this. Let the machine run, and take us out on a high note, heroes.
Sadly, the powerless crusaders save the day through an ancient technique known as violence. It’s fun, and Mordru gets dragged out by his ankles. But this was not the end! The following week, NBC dropped:
Ed McMahon is your MC, and things are already weird. Ed McMahon could not possibly have read a comic book in his life because Ed McMahon was born 53 years old.
He introduces Weather Wizard, whose first joke is to list types of extreme weather and whose second is a Johnny Carson impression that probably cost McMahon twenty lashes for permitting it. There is no third joke.
Hawkman’s mom jokes about how disappointing it is to have a hawkson. This is accurate. People make fun of Aquaman, but he’s amphibious Golden Age Superman plus telepathy. Hawkman’s weakness is not being able to walk straight through doors.
Ed jokes about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vainglory, which will always be America’s highest form of humor. Upgrade your subscription again, but higher, at 1-900-HOTDOG today!
That’s when actor Brad Sanders makes his celluloid debut as—uh…Oh boy.
Here comes Ghetto Man.
It goes…not badly? Most of the other comedians’ jokes amount to acknowledging that some things are weather and other things are birds. Ghetto Man actually indicts the heroes’ lack of diversity. The Super We Have Black Friends laugh it off, but you know they’re going to examine their starhearts for ways to decolonize their utility belts. The best comedy is a golden lasso compelling us to speak uncomfortable truths.
Dr. Sivana does horny crowd work by giving superheroes their physicals. He mashes up on Black Canary’s chest, but does not joke about her being a screamer, and that was in 1979, so I don’t know what battles the feminists think they’re still fighting.
Retired Man returns with the same jokes, and he’s not leaving. Don’t get me wrong, he’s perfectly funny for a production like this, but did you ever get a bowl of Lucky Charms that’s way too many orange stars and not enough purple horseshoes? Retired Man is that bowl’s oat kibble.
The Ghost of ‘80s Future shows up in Rhoda Rooter, a gossip columnist covering Giganta’s romance with The Atom. The premise of their conversation: How big girl and tiny man make fucky?
The answer, Atom smirks, is so hard she’ll be lucky to survive. I would remind you here that Giganta is a genetically modified gorilla.
Robin confesses that he smashed the Batmobile, and Batman lets his mask slip to reveal the domestic abuser within. Goodbye, your childhood:
Look, I know things are dark right now and for the rest of our lives, but never forget you live in a world where Solomon Grundy once menaced Ed McMahon. That’s a real moment we can share with our parents and grandparents and…well, let’s be honest, nobody’s in a position to have our own kids. Just enjoy this.
Hey, it’s Sinestro—DC’s best villain! There’s an actual bad guy named Hitler-Devil, but somehow Sinestro is more compelling at being both of those things. Anyway, let’s see him do some stand-up.
Comic Charlie Callas is a funny guy, but he wrote his material for this gig on the ride here, and his ride was a horse-drawn ice cart. All of his jokes start in Depression-era NYC and end with the punchline “Ring-blast rim shot!” That might fly at orgies, but not here.
Picture you’re at a dinner club in whatever year it stopped being acceptable to make fun of people’s race but was still okay to mock the intellectually challenged, and you’ve got the gist. I know Grundy’s a petrified mushroom zombie, but he’s still sitting right there listening to these cruel baits.
Also, Sinestro’s wearing a more comics-accurate costume this week. It’s appreciated.
Ruth Buzzi shows up as Aunt Minerva, and uses her crackshot skills to threaten the only people on earth to whom bullets mean nothing. Captain Marvel hosts two villains tonight, while Huntress just barely catches enough spotlight to be the butt(?) of a vagina joke.
And then we come to the end. The big finale. The crescendo. Mordru’s back, baby! And he’s singing “That’s Entertainment” with the lyrics changed to types of misery. He did that two years before The Jam did!
Mordru, you madman. This show was supposed to be warmed-over late-night jokes and lemonade stand skits. Who is this unstoppable force inventing mod punk and x-treme sports? I thought I’d be writing about how bonkers-fun this odd production was. When did it all go Hot Dog?
He wrecks the set like the rockstar he is! Nobody follows Mordru onstage. Like all tyrants, he must be the best and the final. All hail Mordru, who was never born, and can never die! Lord of Chaos! Emperor of Evil! Mordru! MORDR—
The caped crusader pulls the perfect weapon to defeat tyrants out of his utility belt: a pie to the face.
Mordru, you loser. You overflexed and it cost you everything. How can you rule in terror when the entire world has seen Batman creampie you on Jumbotron? You can’t. Because the only thing more immutable than an evil wizard is this universal truth: Batman always wins.
If you want to support a real-life superhero, comic writer David Gallaher has some medical costs after stepping in to protect a 13-year-old girl from violence.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme, Yossarian: whom former lovers describe as “like Mordru on a jetski” in bed.