When I was growing up in the ’80s, Adam West and Burt Ward were a staple of my afterschool TV watching via the old Batman reruns a local affiliate network sandwiched between reruns of Gilligan’s Island and Wonder Woman. I’m well versed in the campy ridiculousness of Batman’s adventures in the ’60s, but nothing I saw there prepared me for the full blown and awesome weirdness of the Legends of the Super Heroes DVD that arrived from the Warner Bros. Archive Collection this week. The latest in a fantastic line of rare and classic TV and movie productions that are being sold exclusively through WarnerArchive.com, Legends of the Super Heroes is a collection of two made for TV movies from 1979.
The first TV movie on the DVD is The Challenge, in which the Riddler and his cronies in the Legion of Doom attempt to sap the powers of the Justice League of America by tricking them into drinking a foul elixir. Adam West and Burt Ward return to their roles of Batman and Robin, and Frank Gorshin is back as the Riddler, possibly even crazier than he was on the Batman TV series. Mordru, Sinestro, and Solomon Grundy are just a few of the villains that show up to battle the likes of Captain Marvel, Hawkman, and the Flash. By no means is this a good movie. Many of the costumes look assembled at the last minute at a hobby supply store, and there’s even a laugh track that continually breaks in. The campiness is in overdrive and pushes this bad movie into the realm of “so bad it’s good.”
The second piece in the collection is The Roast, which somehow is even stranger than The Challenge. This one has all the heroes and even the villains reconvening to have a, you guessed it, roast. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a roast and haven’t seen the late night commercials for Dean Martin’s apparently hilarious roast DVDs, it’s basically a gathering where a bunch of people make fun of some poor guy who tries to look amused while restraining his ragekill instincts. In this one, the heroes and villains trade what they hope are witty barbs while Ed McMahon emcees. Yes, that’s Ed McMahon of The Tonight Show and Publisher’s Clearinghouse fame.
This is not a DVD you’ll want to pop into the player to watch the fantastic adventures of Batman and the gang. For that, you should turn to any of the great DC animated series and movies. Instead, Legends of the Super Heroes is a bizarre and nostalgic look at the DC universe through the eyes of people who don’t really seem to understand the characters or comics at all. The weird juxtaposition of horribly costumed and scripted heroes and villains alongside the likes of Ed McMahon and a laugh track results in a product that can’t be viewed for anything other than the unintentional comedic value. Don’t get me wrong; Legends of the Super Heroes is supposed to be a comedy, but none of the jokes are actually funny. Rather, the overall production and the fact that something this campily weird exists are hilarious and make the two shows must-views for DC fans. Have a look at a promo clip:
For an archive video, the print on this DVD is remarkably clean. It looks like Warner Bros. did a great job putting it all together, given some of the messy and noisy versions I found in online videos when I searched for more information about the original airings. I can’t recommend this collection to comics fans who don’t have a sense of humor about their heroes. The DC characters are the butts of all the jokes here, so the mirth could rub some fans the wrong way. But if you enjoy the Adam West as Batman style of camp and want to see what happens when that gets turned up to 11, this is the DVD for you.