By Andy Daglas and Noel Kirkpatrick
The Challenge of the Super Friends
Season 1, Episode 8: “Revenge on Gorilla City”
Original airdate: Nov. 4, 1978
Noel: When we decided to do Super Friends we intended to tackle the series (or at least its first three incarnations, as this is our last post) on its terms. Sure, we’ve gently needled its earnestness as it struggles to both entertain and cover child broadcast demands of teaching basic lessons of social responsibility and tolerance. By and large, I think it’s been a successful program. It’s very much a product of its time, but I kind of love it for that, and I’m sad to see our time with it come to an end.
So that brings us to Gorilla Grodd and his attempt to, once again, take over Gorilla City. There’s a lot to love in this episode, from how the super villains all initially balk at Grodd’s plan, to the absurdity of the oh-so-very phallic power neutralizer eliminating the usefulness of Batman and Robin’s utility belts (because it’s those belts that make them the Dynamic Duo), to the notion that taking over Africa will help the Legion of Doom take over the world (everyone knows you start with Australia). It’s all so silly, but they pack enough stuff in the episode, including a nutty “The Most Dangerous Game” homage, that I just kind of went along with all of it.
But what also struck me was how similar much of this episode was to Grodd’s first appearances in the Justice League series. His first appearance (“The Brave and the Bold,” season 1, episodes 14 and 15) had him launching a nuclear strike on Gorilla City and mind-controlling Central City. Grand Goilla City poo-bah Solovar goes on the hunt to recruit help, complete with little doo-dads to block the mind control device, similar to what he does here. Later, in Justice League Unlimited, after founding his version of the Legion of Doom, Grodd stages an assault on Gorilla City to turn everyone on Earth into gorillas! (“Dead Reckoning,” season 3, series episode 32). It’s just as silly as it sounds, but it completely works.
All of this may be based on actual Grodd storylines from the comics (I wouldn’t know, sadly, as Grodd and his primary antagonist The Flash are just two of the many gaps in my comic book knowledge). Still, it’s telling that Justice League, a series that you and I, among many, many, many others, would hold up among the gold standard of superhero animation on TV, would crib from a series that is regarded as, in some instances, a blight on that very genre. What say you, Andy? How did Grodd’s plan play for you, and how do you feel about Super Friends‘s legacy?
Andy: Gorilla City is one of the more outré conceits to have become an established corner of the DC Universe. An entire metropolis populated by highly intelligent, cultured, and generally peaceful gorillas, smack dab in the middle of Africa, invisible to human eyes thanks to Comic Book Magic™. And as Metropolis has its Lex Luthor and Gotham has its Joker, Gorilla City has its Gorilla Grodd. A simian with a superiority complex may sound like a hokey villain, but when you combine his size and strength with an intellect comparable to Luthor’s and mind-scrambling powers, he’s one of the most formidable foes in the DCU. Small wonder his latter-day Justice League incarnation was voiced with the cool menace and gravitas of Powers Boothe.
Unfortunately, I thought he was rather thinly used here. After a quick intro in which Grodd straight-up cribs Scarecrow’s M.O., he scurries off to the Legion of Doom for help conquering his homeland (and from there, the world). A lot of the villainy is then spread around among Black Manta, with his energy-box-prison-ray-generator-whatzit, Giganta, with her giganticism, and Toyman, with his whole freakishly disturbing appearance. Don’t get me wrong, most of this is still great smackdown fun, but it does sort of diminish Grodd within his own scheme. Hell, even his mind control abilities—which I’ve always seen depicted in print and on screen as a natural power—get outsourced to Brainiac’s gizmo in this script.
Still, the show is having fun with its unrepentantly evil baddies, which fixes one of my biggest problems with the earlier Super Friends installments we watched. These guys aren’t misunderstood, and they don’t arrive at a peaceful detente in the denouement. There’s no half-measures when you call your private club the Legion of Doom. It keeps the tenor of over-the-top superhero adventure at a steady, brain-rotting, thoroughly uneducational clip from start to finish.
A few side notes:
- I love the title sequence that culminates in the classic move where a group of superheroes charges in from the left and a group of supervillains charges in from the right, and the collision produces a title card. Takes me back to the early 90s X-Men.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE, everyone is watching Superman punching caramel corn.
- There’s a 40% chance this episode only exists so that Robin can say, “Holy gorilla warfare!” And I’m okay with that.