Nothin' Super About 'EmI tell you, the past is a bucket of ashes.
Carl Sandburg wrote that, and he wasn't just whistling Dixie. After all, he won the Pulitzer Prize for writing things like "the past is a bucket of ashes" and "Hog Butcher for the World" and "Millie, pass the schnapps and get me some more pretzels." And what have you ever won? A whole lot of nothing is what...
What Carl Sandburg -- who is oh so much cooler than you, by the way -- is trying to say there, is that things in the past are sometimes better left there because they're not of much value in this day and age. Like painful memories, for example. Or a carton of milk that's a couple of three weeks past its expiration date. Or, just to drive the point home here, ABBA.
So shall it be with "The Superfriends)."
A few weeks ago, I happened to be at home -- and I know this will come as a complete and mortifying shock to all of you -- watching television, which is when I stumbled across the Cartoon Network. Which is when I stumbled across "The Superfriends."
In that long ago time known as the 1970s, that time of polyester pant suits and toothy presidents, that era of ABBA and cartons of milk that were a couple of three weeks past their expiration date, two mighty cartoons roamed the land, lording over the likes of "Stop that Pigeon," "Josie and the Pussycats" and any of that crap that Sid and Marty Kroft put out. The first cartoon of unparalleled excellence was "Laff-a-lympics," the show where Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo and Muttley the Sniggering Hound typified the struggles of the human condition through the field of athletic competition. And the other show was "The Superfriends."
No kid worth his or her respective salt would have been caught dead on a Saturday morning in the 1970s anywhere else but in front of a TV, glued to every moment, every word, every nuance of a "Superfriends" episode. We followed their little morality plays. We learned valuable lessons about personal hygiene and traffic safety and the dangers posed by mounting a maniacal attempt at global domination. And we bought their stuff -- "Superfriends" action figures, "Superfriends" lunch boxes and other "Superfriends" bric-a-brac. Myself, I owned a pair of "Batman" Underoos, and not just because I based my life on Batman and all of his teachings but because Underoos Are Fun To Wear.
Sadly, because of excessive drug use or drinking milk a couple of three weeks after its expiration date, my generation has forgotten most of its "Superfriends" heritage. Mention the "Superfriends" to anyone and you're likely to get the same reaction I got when I told a colleague I would be writing an article on one of two of the seminal cartoons of the 1970s.
"Gleek!" he screamed, as I jumped back about 20 yards, thinking he was having some sort of episode.
"Gleek!" he repeated, a wild look swirling in his eye. "Are you gonna write about Gleek?"
Ah yes, Gleek, the pet monkey to Zan and Jayna -- that's the Wonder Twins to you and me, Cap'n. The Wonder twins would activate their Wonder Twin powers to assume the form of and shape of things that were really cool. And Gleek... well, he would gibber like a monkey.
So to answer the question: Are you gonna write about Gleek? No. No, I am not. And I'll tell you why -- because Gleek runs counter to everything that the Superfriends stand for. He possesses no Super Powers, save for the ability to fly -- which admittedly is a pretty neat trick for a monkey. But when the chips are down and some madman bent on world domination is about to pour molten lava on you, the last person you want to have to depend on for a daring rescue attempt is a gibbering purple monkey.
Gleek's purpose, his objective, his raison d'etre is very simply to provide comic relief to the otherwise dour Superfriends proceedings. In this way, he serves much the same purpose as his predecessor, Wonder Dog -- a character named only after hours of brainstorming by the creative creme de la creme of Hollywood.
"What should we call him? SuperMutt?"
"Amazing Colossal Dog?"
"Rin Tin Tin?"
"The lawyers will have our asses for that one."
"How's about Wonder dog?"
"Fabulous. Now, let's go do some blow."
But we're getting off the subject here, which is in fact, "The Superfriends" and how it airs at 7:30 p.m. weeknights on the Cartoon Network. After discovering this happy circumstance, I decided to spend a few evenings watching "Superfriends" to see if this treasured chestnut from my youth still had valuable lessons to teach me. Would "The Superfriends" be like a good novel or any work of art where repeated viewings reveal new depths heretofore unexplored? Or would it just be really lame?
Wonder Twin Powers -- Activate! Form of... biting satire! Shape of... a bottle of Canadian Mist!
The first thing you notice when you sit down with a nice tall glass of Tang to watch "The Superfriends" is not the chintzy animation -- and we're talking stuff that looked out-of-date 20 years ago -- nor the stentorian voices used by each and every one of the characters, nor even the fact that that's Casey Kasem in the pivotal role of Robin. No, the first thing you notice is that you're questioning the very premises on which the show is based.
Take Aquaman, for instance, who, along with Green Lantern, was probably own of my favorite "Superfriends" back when I was a lad. But now I look at Aquaman and think, "Okay, what's so super about you? I mean, sure, you can communicate telepathically with sea creatures and that'll really come in handy should I ever need a manatee to come to my rescue, but apart from that what good are you?" It seems that if I were a super villain bent on global rule and I was committing my acts of terror away from the water, I've pretty much neutralized Aquaman. He's just another simp in a unitard at that point. What's he going to do, send a porpoise to my secret lair to rough me up?
And for a group whose stated aim is to fight injustice and right all wrongs, it seems kind of odd that Superfriend membership and all the honors that entails was never extended to Spidey, The Thing and the rest of the gang from Marvel Comics. I guess that Truth, Justice and the American Way crap only goes so far. It's almost as if the Superfriends are saying, "Sod off, Reed Richards and don't let the Hall of Justice Door hit your ass and the ass of your invisible bitch of a wife on the way out."
Then, there's the Superfriends' whole enmity with the Legion of Doom, as if having Super Powers and dressing up in a unitard gives you the right to judge others. Now, of course, there are many problems with the Legion of Doom's whole operation -- the over-reliance on Lex Luthor, the tendency of the group to relegate Solomon Grundy to manual tasks while leaving him out of the decision-making process and, of course, their stated aim of global conquest and subjugation of all peace-loving people.
But let's look at this more closely. Each episode features the Legion of Doom cooking up some scheme to rule the world and destroy the Superfriends -- in other words, using their wits and natural ability to get a leg up on the competition and live out their lifelong dreams. Sounds to me like the living embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit that we need more of in this country, misdirected though it may be. Maybe someone like Superman or The Flash or even Apache Chief should have pulled the Legion of Doom aside and explained to them that instead of using their cunning and megalomaniacal powers of evil to pull hijinks like stealing all the gold from Fort Knox or stowing away aboard a rocket ship to gather up a whole mess of Kryptonite from outer space, they could instead put their energies into starting up a small business, perhaps something in the food service industry where Solomon Grundy's business sense will finally be put to good use.
But that apparently would require too much effort from the Superfriends, who would rather swoop in on the Legion of Doom, shouting out things like "My X-Ray Vision will disintegrate that disintegrator" and unleashing righteous Superfriend beatings on the Legion of Doom's collective ass. And while that may make for some good stories to tell over a few beers back at the Hall of Justice, it's certainly not what I would consider Super, X-Ray vision or no.
And that brings me to the creamy nougat center of my burgeoning disillusionment with the Superfriends, namely that they are neither Super nor Friends. I don't know about you, but when I'm out for a night on the town with my friends, we do not shout out loud in stentorian voices "Great Hera! I'm receiving a distress signal from Paradise Island" or "If only... I... could... reach... my power ring!" Because those are silly things to yell out loud in public. And I steadfastly refuse to wear a unitard.
So really for the sake of accuracy, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman and all the rest should really be referred to as the SuperColleagues or the SupereConfreres or something. Only...
Only there just isn't anything that Super about them...
It's not just the unwarranted persecution of the Legion of Doom either, though that certainly doesn't help. It's that the Superfriends are do-gooders, busybodies, meddlers -- sticking their smell-enhanced Super noses where they don't belong and monkeying up the works. What authority do the Superfriends have to determine who's naughty and who's nice, to decide who should be protected and who should be on the business end of Wonder Woman's magic lasso? Because they have super powers and we don't? Because they're wearing unitards?
No, what we have in the case of the Superfriends is the worst case of abuse of power since Bill Clinton thought it would be neat to browse through some FBI files. It's as if the Superfriends are saying, "Look, we'll decide what's in the best interest of truth, justice and the American way. We have super powers. You just sit back and behave, Sparky, and maybe we won't have Aquaman unleash a giant squid on your pudgy, non-super-power-possessing ass."
Take, for example, an episode I watched where a brilliant marine biologist by the name of Palagian, concerned by the presence of pollution in the world, goes right off his nuts and vows to destroy three industrialists who don't share his love of Mother Earth by using a variety of man-made tsunamis, earthquakes and whatnot.
Clearly, what we have here is a case of environmental terrorism. So where is the moral outrage of the Superfriends? Where is Batman with the Bat Nerve gas? Where is Apache Chief with that neat trick that makes him huge? Where are the Wonder Twins with that blasted Gleek?
Sympathizing with the brilliant but insane Dr. Palagian, apparently. Instead of using their SuperPowers to knock some sense into the doc's thick skull, they decide a more appropriate use of their time and effort would be to go and harangue the three industrialists to change their pollutin' ways.
"That horrible man!" screams one of the industrialist after one of Dr. Palagin's tidal waves nearly misses destroying her factory.
"Horrible?" the stentorian Superman asks. "Yes, perhaps he is, but so are the oceans made horrible by pollution..."
Ah, yes, thank you, Superman for that incisive observation: Pollution bad. Sure, you have some demented nutbag unleashing terror upon an unsuspecting populace, but as long as there's pollution, can you really blame the guy? Never mind that pollution, while certainly regrettable and on many occasions stoppable, is the byproduct of any industrial society. Or is free-market enterprise exempted from that whole American Way rigamarole?
But Superman's prissy lectures aren't so nearly as grating as when he and the Superfriends finally apprehend Dr. Palagian. Not only do they not slap him from pillar to post before dipping his body in honey and tying him to a tree crawling with flesh-eating ants, they let him off with a slap on the wrist. One stern-talking-to from Superman later, and Dr. Palagian is back on the streets, presumably free to start up a chapter of Earth First!
Not that the ball was in the Superfriends' court to begin with. A quick glance at the copyright date at the end of the episode indicates that the Dr. Palagian episode was filmed in 1973... about the same time that Richard Nixon was feeding growth hormones to the bureaucracy in the form of establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead of turning to the Superfriends -- who were clearly unwilling to do the right thing in the form of a well-deserved beating for Dr. Palagian -- why didn't the government just sic Rogers
But I don't want you to think that watching "Superfriends" was a complete waste of my time. In fact, it revealed an important truth in life that I had almost forgotten in this age of bipartisanship.
Quite frankly, we need arch-enemies.
What would Aquaman be if there was no Black Manta to oppose him? Just another schlep in a unitard is what. If not for Lex Luthor, Solomon Grundy and Bizarro Superman, how would Superman fill his busy day? Doing the crossword and raking the leaves is how.
We do not define ourselves through our actions, through our accomplishments, or even through our morals and values. Rather, we are who we are based upon the people who have sworn everlasting vengeance against us. Bill Clinton has his Newt Gingrich. Ronald McDonald has his Hamburglar. H.R. Puffinstuff has his Witchie-poo. And the circle is now complete.
I believe we must all have arch-enemies -- someone who not only opposes all that we believe in and hold dear, but who would do anything to obliterate us off the face of this earth... and vice versa.
So who is my arch-enemy? Who have I sworn to spend a lifetime taking arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them?
Because I also believe all articles should have closure.
* For those of you who correctly recognized that Rogers Morton was indeed Richard Nixon's Secretary of the Interior from January 1971 through the beginnings of the Ford Administration, you win a cookie. Send your name and address to KingChimp@aol.com.
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