In 1979, NBC aired two live-action television specials under the banner heading, Legends of the Superheroes. The specials, each filling a 60-minute slot, were produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and featured a collection of DC Comics characters, including Batman and Robin.
The specials are not well remembered today, but have become a footnote in history for one very significant reason – the specials saw Adam West and Burt Ward return to the roles of Batman and Robin, having previously played the characters in the classic 1966 Batman TV show. Both actors donned their costumes for more adventures as the Dynamic Duo, albeit in a very different format.
Legends of the Superheroes
Each episode of Legends of the Superheroes was shot on videotape and played for laughs, very much like a 1970s variety show (complete with a laughter track). The episodes included a number of iconic DC heroes, with many making their live-action debut.
The Challenge aired on January 18th 1979 as the first episode of Legends of the Superheroes. This episode saw the Justice League of America de-powered and locked in battle with the Legion of Doom.
Justice League members featured in this episode included Batman, Robin, Green Lantern (Howard Murphy), Hawkman (Bill Nuckols), The Flash (Bill Nuckols), Captain Marvel (Garrett Craig), Huntress (Barbara Joyce), Black Canary (Danuta) and the Scarlet Cyclone (William Schallert). The members of the Legion of Doom included Riddler, Doctor Sivana (Howard Morris), Weather Wizard (Jeff Altman), Sinestro (Charlie Callas), Mordru (Gabriel Dell), Solomon Grundy (Mickey Morton) and Giganta (Aleshia Brevard).
As previously noted, Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their iconic roles from Batman ’66. The actors were joined by former Batman cast mate, Frank Gorshin, who returned to the role of the Riddler.
The Roast aired on January 25th 1979 as the second episode of Legends of the Superheroes. This episode focused on a ‘roast’ of the heroes from host Ed McMahon, and featured most of the characters from The Challenge, along with additional characters including the Atom (Alfie Wise), Aunt Minerva (Ruth Buzzi), Ghetto Man (Brad Sanders), and Hawkman’s mother (Pat Carroll).
Adam West and Burt Ward continued in the roles of Batman and Robin for The Roast, however, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler did not return for this special.
The legacy of the Superheroes
Over the years, Legends of the Superheroes has largely been forgotten. Occasionally it crops up in discussions about Adam West and Burt Ward, but for the most part it is something which aired at the back-end of the ‘70s and gets overlooked.
In terms of the quality of the show, despite the involvement of West, Ward, and Gorshin, and the sheer amount of heroes featured in the specials, this is not a strong example of the genre. The writing is weak, the costumes are poor, and the tone is completely off.
If you have never watched Legends of the Superheroes, but you are curious about it, both specials have been released on DVD through Warner Archive – the manufacture-on-demand service. The DVD is Region 1 (NTSC), and includes some outtakes as extras.
But before you dive into that DVD, I would suggest this is comic book property which is perhaps for the die-hard enthusiasts only. Legends of the Superheroes can be commended for putting so many heroes and villains on the screen, but it really is an acquired taste and certainly not for everyone.
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