The Challenge of the Super Friends
Season 1, Episode 8: “Revenge on Gorilla City”
Original airdate: Nov. 4, 1978
Nirajan: When we made the decision to tackle Super Friends, our intention was to engage with the series on its own terms, particularly focusing on its first three iterations (since this is our final post on the topic).
While we’ve playfully poked fun at its earnestness as it strives to entertain while fulfilling the educational requirements of teaching basic lessons on social responsibility and tolerance, overall, I believe it’s been a successful program.
It’s a true reflection of its era, and I have a fondness for it because of that. It’s bittersweet to see our journey with it drawing to a close.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Gorilla Grodd and his recurring attempts to conquer Gorilla City.
This episode offers plenty to appreciate, from how the supervillains initially resist Grodd’s plan to the absurdity of the remarkably phallic power neutralizer rendering Batman and Robin’s utility belts useless (since it’s those belts that make them the Dynamic Duo).
Plus, the idea that taking over Africa is a step toward the Legion of Doom’s global domination (everyone knows you should start with Australia) adds a touch of humor.
It’s all quite nonsensical, but the episode is packed with enough content, including a zany homage to “The Most Dangerous Game,” that I found myself just going along with the whole story.
However, what also caught my attention was how much this episode resembled Grodd’s initial appearances in the Justice League series. In his first appearance in the episode “The Brave and the Bold” (Season 1, Episodes 14 and 15), Grodd launches a nuclear strike on Gorilla City and mind-controls Central City.
The Grand Gorilla City leader, Solovar, embarks on a quest to assemble a team and employs little gadgets to thwart the mind-control device, much like what he does in this episode.
Later, in Justice League Unlimited, after forming his version of the Legion of Doom, Grodd orchestrates an attack on Gorilla City with the intention of transforming everyone on Earth into gorillas in the episode “Dead Reckoning” (Season 3, Series Episode 32). It’s just as ludicrous as it sounds, but it surprisingly works.
It’s possible that all of this draws inspiration from actual Grodd storylines in the comics (unfortunately, I wouldn’t know, as Grodd and his primary adversary, The Flash, are among the gaps in my comic book knowledge).
Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that Justice League, a series that you, I, and countless others consider a benchmark for superhero animation on TV, would borrow from a series that, in certain instances, is seen as a stain on the genre.
What’s your take on this, Andy? How did Grodd’s scheme resonate with you, and what are your thoughts on the legacy of Super Friends?
Abishek: Gorilla City stands out as one of the more unconventional concepts that has found a place in the DC Universe.
It’s a complete metropolis inhabited by highly intelligent, cultured, and generally peaceful gorillas, hidden right in the heart of Africa, thanks to some good old Comic Book Magic™ that keeps it invisible to human eyes.
Just as Metropolis boasts Lex Luthor and Gotham has the Joker, Gorilla City has its own distinctive figure in Gorilla Grodd.
On the surface, a simian with a superiority complex might appear to be a somewhat cheesy villain, but when you factor in his physical might, intellectual prowess on par with Luthor’s, and mind-manipulating abilities, he emerges as one of the most formidable adversaries in the DC Universe.
It’s no surprise that his later incarnation in the Justice League was voiced with the cool, menacing gravitas of Powers Boothe.
Regrettably, I found that his utilization in this episode was somewhat limited. After a brief introduction where Grodd blatantly borrows a page from Scarecrow’s playbook, he rushes off to seek aid from the Legion of Doom in his quest to conquer his homeland (and, subsequently, the world).
Much of the villainy is then distributed among characters like Black Manta with his energy-box-prison-ray-generator-thingamajig, Giganta with her ability to grow to gigantic proportions, and Toyman with his downright unsettling appearance.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a lot of entertaining, action-packed fun, but it somewhat diminishes Grodd’s role within his own grand plan. Even his mind-controlling abilities, which have typically been depicted as an inherent power in both print and on screen, get handed over to Brainiac’s gadget in this particular script.
Nonetheless, the show takes pleasure in its unabashedly malevolent villains, which addresses one of the major issues I had with the earlier Super Friends episodes we’ve reviewed.
These characters aren’t misunderstood, and they don’t arrive at a peaceful resolution by the end. When you name your exclusive club the Legion of Doom, there’s no room for half-measures.
It maintains the tone of high-flying superhero escapades at a consistently thrilling, mind-boggling, and entirely non-educational pace from beginning to end.
A few side notes:
- I love the title sequence that culminates in the classic movie where a group of superheroes charges in from the left, 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.