Monday, November 13, 2017

JLA Week: Legends of the Superheroes: "The Roast" (1979)

Ed McMahon and many notable guests -- super-villains and superheroes alike -- roast the D.C. superheroes at their subterranean lair.

Among those doing the roasting are:

-        “The Weather Wizard,” a villain who makes it rain on The Flash, and does a (bad) Johnny Carson imitation.

-        Hawkman’s Mother, who notes that her son is not a “homing pigeon,” and that he should visit his mother more often.

-        Ghetto Man, an African-American superhero who points out that The Green Lantern is also a “colored” person.

-        Dr. Silvana, who tries to give all the superheroes their physical exams, but in particular wants to examine the Huntress’s “quiver.”

-        The Scarlet Cyclone, now “Retired Man,” an old superhero who is suffering from dementia.

-        Solomon Grundy, a hulking swamp zombie who beats up Ed McMahon, while the superheroes look on and laugh.

-        Sinestro, who shoots himself in the foot with his own power ring.

-        And Aunt Minerva, the “Zsa Zsa Gabor” of villains who desires to marry (the quite unwilling) Captain Marvel.

There’s no getting around the fact that Legends of the Superheroes (1979) is a terrible, embarrassingly bad, no-good relic from the disco decade.

The first episode, “The Challenge” is a low-budget train wreck that demeans its stars and characters (the JLA, basically), but at least it lands the superheroes in a fantasy/adventure format.  In other words, they do what superheroes are expected to do: solve a crime, or prevent a fiendish super-villain plot from coming to fruition.

“The Roast,” the second and final installment of the series, doesn’t’ have even that going for it. It is much, much worse than “The Challenge.”  In fact, it’s cringe-worthy.

As the title suggests, the episode is structured as a "Friar's Roast" type event.  It's a roast (grilling) of the superheroes in their underground headquarters as they are “honored” by arch villains.

Ed McMahon is the host of the proceedings.

How could DC Comics -- or Hanna Barbera, for that matter -- ever have agreed to treat the Justice League so shabbily? The variety-style program is not just embarrassingly bad, like The Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978, but actually racist, sexist and ageist in execution.

Let’s go to Ghetto Man first, to explore the racist angle. 

He is an African-American man in a costume designed to reek "pimp" who is a walking stereotype of 70’s “black” jokes. His shtick is terrible (“Hawkman in Harlem” would be “Kentucky Fried” chicken, he says), and his delivery is worse.  Somewhere in "Ghetto Man's" presentation is the (correct) idea that minority characters were largely under-represented in the superhero Valhalla, but the valid point is lost in the racially-charged and largely offensive monologue.

Scarlet Cyclone, another subject roasted proves that this series doesn’t like old people, either. The senior citizen hero falls asleep in the middle of a story, can’t remember his next line, and is the butt of a lot of bad jokes.  The jokes here, following those of "Ghetto man" make one "The Roast" seem awfully mean-spirited.

And don’t even get me started on Aunt Minerva an old, diminutive women who wants to bed the terrified Captain Marvel. When the sex-obsessed old maid changes form and becomes a lovely young woman, however, Captain Marvel changes his tune in short order.

If that sounds a bit kinky and adult, consider the sequence here in which a Barbara Walters-like reporter -- named Rhoda Rooter -- jokes about Atom and Giganta’s sex life. He's tiny and she's huge. Get it?

All I can writer here is, simply: WTF?

It’s all skin-crawlingly inappropriate, and a total coarsening and cheapening of characters who have been beloved for generations. Perhaps there was no budget available to tell a superhero-styled story, but “The Roast” is so campy that it makes the Adam West Batman series of 1966 look like a serious, straight-forward affair.

It’s always nice to see Adam West and Burt Ward back in character, but their story-line here -- which involves the Boy Wonder wrecking the Batmobile -- is hardly the stuff dreams are made off.

More like a nightmare.

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