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Collecting the Legion 010: Let's Watch TV

[Written on Christmas Eve 2001]

Since there's nothing on TV tonight except Christmas shows (which are OK if you like that sort of stuff), here's some non-collectible TV collectibles. They're on the list, but there's nothing official to collect. Well, sorta.... Bear with me.....

On consecutive weekends in February 1978, NBC showed the infamous "Legends of the Super-Heroes": part 1, "The Challenge" and part 2, "The Roast." It was practically a live-action episode of Superfriends, minus Superman and Wonder Woman: Captain Marvel, Black Canary, Flash, Huntress, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Batman, Robin, and the Atom. The bad guys: Weather Wizard, Giganta, Sinestro, Riddler, Dr. Sivana, and Solomon Grundy. Oh yeah, Ghetto Man and Retired Man showed up, too. So did some guy named Mordru. Superman was unavailable since he was in the movies, and Wonder Woman was on another network.

According to the "Legends of the Super-Heroes: In Lurid Videotape" web site -- the show is abbreviated, disconcertingly, LOSH -- here's a plot summary of the Challenge episode:

"As the story begins, the Super-Villains have created a bomb in order to "destroy the world". Oddly enough, they're not planning to ask for any ransom, and are apparently unconcerned about how they will themselves escape. During the course of the program, the Super-Villains rob the Super-Heroes of their powers, via Mordru's magical potion. I would assume this plot twist came about to save on the special effects budget, except that special effects were virtually non-existent already. The Super-Heroes track down the Super-Villains at their lair through a maze of transparent schemes to stall them and idiotic sight gags. Then in somewhat tired fashion they subdue the Super-Villians (who have by this time stupidly drank some of the very potion they used to de-power the Super-Heroes), and shut off the doomsday device to canned cheers & applause. The end."

But wait, the Roast episode is even worse:

"The following week "The Roast" aired. As feared, it was a superhero version of the "Dean Martin Roasts" which had been successful for NBC a few years before. Ed McMahon acted as host. The Atom, Ghetto Man (Black Lightining?) and the Captain Marvel villainess Aunt Minerva were added. ... The worst part of the shows were the roasts, the laugh-track, the script, and the use of cheap video-tape."

Mordru, oddly enough, didn't appear in the Roast episode. You'd think that with his vaudeville background, this would have been a natural. In addition to the LOSH site, you can also read about the episode on the IMDB. Gabriel Dell (1919-1988), a serial/B-movie actor from the 40's as one of the "Dead-End Kids" played Mordru.

Nearly 22 years later, on October 31, 1999 we finally saw the Animated Legion as part of the Superman Adventures show, in the episode titled "New Kids in Town". Saturn Girl, Chameleon, and Cosmic Boy (voiced by Melissa Joan Hart, Jason Priestley, and Chad Lowe, respectively) went back in time to Smallville to help the not-yet-Superman fight a time-travelling Brainiac. Ironically, it was (I think) the only episode of the show to delve into Superman's Smallville roots and didn't feature him in costume at all, only a semi-powered Clark Kent. (Sound familiar?). The episode also featured a tantalizing look at the 30th century, including some of the other Legionnaires: Ultra Boy, Apparition, Dream Girl, Livewire, Spark, Brainiac 5, Triad, Bouncing Boy, Kid Quantum (James, with a fade haircut instead of dreads), and Andromeda. I used their new series code names since that's what their costumes are based on.

Sadly, the Legion hasn't made another appearance on the show, but you can still catch it occasionally in reruns. Check DC's web page for details. In the meantime, you can find the official episode's site at http://www.batman-superman.com/superman/cmp/legion.html. There are more screen captures at the Mirror Lad Archive.

As I mentioned above, these are on the list of appearances outside the comics, but since they were never released as official products, there's nothing really to collect. Bootleg copies several generations old of the Legends episodes can be found at practically any comic convention where someone is selling videos, and I'm sure you can find compilations of the Superman episodes.

Starting in the summer of 2000, the Warner Brothers Studio Stores started selling orignal cels from the animated show special order only (you went into the store's animation gallery and specifically requested a cel from that episode, and you could specify scene or characters if you wanted). The cels cost around $300-350 depending on how many characters were in the scene. When WB saw that there were an unusual number of fans requesting to purchase a cel (like me, for example), they put a moratorium on sales of cels from the episode in fall 2000 until they could catalog the best ones, jack up the price, and sell them via a catalog. In January 2001 they had a sale of the best remaining, where they typically ran around $400 and up. Since there are no more WB stores, your best bet for finding one would be to contact an animation art gallery, they have contacts and may be able to get you one. Does this make it an official collectible or original art? That's up to you.

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