The long, nefarious history of the Legion of Doom before their star turn on 'Legends of Tomorrow'

 

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

So the Jan. 24 episode of The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow filled us in on how George Lucas was inspired to create Star Wars by heroes from other time periods (involving blasters, trash compactors, “You’re our only hope” – you know the drill). But it also told us, obliquely, where the resident historian on the Waverider got the name  “Legion of Doom” to describe the bad guys.

As if you didn’t know.

But maybe they don’t want you to know. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim said at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, according to The Hollywood Reporter: “We decided that the perfect antagonist for TV’s first-ever team of superheroes would be TV’s first-ever team of supervillains.”

Oh, please. There have been plenty of superhero teams on TV before Legends.

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW  © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman, left) and Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) are two of the four members of the Legion of Doom on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

If you just count live action, Batman and Robin starred on the boob tube in 1966. They even teamed up with another team, Green Hornet and Kato! That’s not to mention Team Arrow and Team Flash on The CW itself – several of whom have actual super-powers. Smallville (2001-11) gave us the first TV appearance of the Justice Society, the Legion of Super-Heroes and a budding (but unnamed) Justice League, teaming versions of Aquaman, Cyborg, Green Arrow and Flash with the young Superman. And speaking of the Justice League, they got their own TV pilot in 1997, plus two specials in 1978 called Legends of the Superheroes.

Yeah, some of that was cringe-worthy. But these shows had superheroes, who were in a team, and were on TV. Sorry, Mr. Guggenheim, Legends isn’t remotely the first.

And if you extend our search for precedent to the movies, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) suggests itself, as does The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1998). There’s another group of note that calls itself “The Avengers” who have had a movie or two. And if you want to go back a bit further, the whole idea of a super-team – a group of heroes with specific, individualized talents – up pops Robin Hood and King Arthur.

And that’s not to mention cartoons! Not only have Marvel and DC contributed major super-teams like The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Justice League and the Teen Titans, but everybody else has gotten into the act. You’ve got robots (Transformers), cavemen (Herculoids), teenagers (The Impossibles), fantasy (Thundercats), eco-warriors (Defenders of the Earth) and whatever the Power Rangers are.

And speaking of cartoon TV super-teams, ABC aired the silliest version of the Justice League ever in 1973, Super Friends. That’s the one that had the utterly useless and underage Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog, who should have gotten Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman arrested for child  endangerment. This is the show that depicted Aquaman, strangely, riding a jet-ski. (Your main super-power is to swim fast, dude – maybe you should use it.)

Super Friends improved with its second season, dumping the Wonder Trio in favor of two super-powered teens from outer space named Zan and Jayna (named for Tarzan and Jane) and their blue monkey, whose super-power was to be incredibly annoying. I don’t know what happened to Marvin and Wendy, but I’m guessing they were sent back in time, with Wendy becoming important in the Peter Pan story, and Marvin growing up to be Shaggy on Scooby Doo. (Who else says “Zoicks”? And I bet it wouldn’t take many of those Scooby Snacks to help you forget you were ever a superhero-in-training.)

Wonder Dog’s fate? It’s best not to think about it.

But it was the third season of Super Friends that is most of interest to Legends fans. In 1978, not only did Super Friends change its name, not only did the cast expand, but we finally got a Legion of Doom.

Challenge of the Superfriends featured 13 bad guys who are constantly scheming against the Justice League, here represented by 11 superheroes. And it this group of bad guys, led by Lex Luthor, that was the first to go by the name “Legion of Doom.”

Nate “Steel” Heywood (played by Nick Zano) says it himself on Legends. When he is asked where he got the name Legion of Doom, he says, “It’s from this Hanna-Barbera cartoon I liked as a kid.”

Ta-dah!

Of course, the two teams are almost entirely different. Legends only has four bad guys, which is a severely understaffed Legion. The cartoon version featured Bizarro, Black Manta, Brainiac, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Giganta, Gorilla Grodd, Luthor, Riddler, Scarecrow, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy and Toyman. These were arch-enemies of Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman, so the remaining heroes on the show – Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Hawkman, Robin and Samurai – just had to share.

Mostly that was because three of them were invented for “Challenge of the Super Friends,” and didn’t have any pre-existing bad guys. It doesn’t take a sociologist to figure out why they were created – the Justice League was pretty much lily white in 1978, so Hanna-Barbera gave us a Native American, an African American and an Asian guy. (No points for figuring which was which.)

It must be noted that, despite all those characters, the 16 episodes of Challenge weren’t exactly the greatest show on earth.

For example, why did all of these villains continue to follow Luthor, when his plans failed 16 consecutive times? Why were people from other planets, like Sinestro and Brainiac, even hanging around? Of what conceivable use were Hawkman and Robin? (At least Aquaman could talk to fish!) Why couldn’t the Justice League stop these guys from coming back every single episode?

And why wasn’t “Black Vulcan” simply “Vulcan"? We could see he was black! It’s not like his teammates called themselves “White Superman” or “White Flash” or “White Green Lantern.”

But no idea is so bad that it goes away forever. The Legion of Doom was destined to return again and again, in various ways – including, eventually, in the comics. Groups calling themselves “Legion of Doom” battled superheroes in various Super Friends series, and in more serious books like Extreme Justice (1996), Justice (2005) and Flashpoint: Legion of Doom (2011). They hit the silver screen in the straight-to-video animated movies Justice League: Doom (2012) and LEGO DC Super Heroes: Justice League – Attack of the Legion of Doom (2015).

Copyright Warner Home Video

The Legion of Doom in the 2012 animated movie Justice League: Doom included (from left) Star Sapphire, Bane, Metallo, the evil Martian Ma'alefa'ak, Cheetah and (not pictured) Mirror Master and Vandal Savage.

And the Legion returned in cartoons as well. Perhaps its best appearance was on Justice League Unlimited in 2006, in an episode titled “The Great Brain Robbery.” For reasons unimportant here, Lex Luthor and Flash switched bodies – with the Scarlet Speedster trapped in the Legion’s headquarters in Luthor’s body, pretending to be their leader!

This resulted in the classic exchange in the Hall of Doom’s men’s room, where the evil master of magnetism, Dr. Polaris, is outraged by Flash/Luthor’s lack of restroom etiquette.

Dr. Polaris: “Aren’t you going to wash your hands?”

Flash/Luthor: “No … because I’m EVIL!”

OK, maybe it wasn’t that classic. But so far, that’s the best Legion of Doom story on TV. Let’s hope the boys on Legends – Captain Cold, Damien Darhk, Malcolm Merlyn and Reverse Flash – can give us something more memorable.

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I remember Joe "Road Warrior Animal" Laurinaitis saying that the infamous wrestling tag team, the Road Warriors, took their alternate name, "The Legion of Doom", from the cartoon.

I did not know that. Were there enough Road Warriors to constitute a Legion? Or, like Legends, are they fudging on numbers?

I only recall Hawk and Animal as members. They may have included their long-time manager, Paul Ellering, as well.

Captain Comics said:

Super Friends improved with its second season, dumping the Wonder Trio in favor of two super-powered teens from outer space named Zan and Jayna (named for Tarzan and Jane) and their blue monkey, whose super-power was to be incredibly annoying.

I never knew that!

I learned it from one of the animators of the time, Darrell McNeil. Here's an interview.

ClarkKent_DC said:

Captain Comics said:

Super Friends improved with its second season, dumping the Wonder Trio in favor of two super-powered teens from outer space named Zan and Jayna (named for Tarzan and Jane) and their blue monkey, whose super-power was to be incredibly annoying.

I never knew that!

Howard Morris did make a great Dr. Sivana. Excellent makeup job on him, especially since Hawkman's mask seemed to just be made of felt.

Since they already had Robin, why not bring in Wally and Donna Troy instead of Water Guy and Kangaroo Girl? I'm sure they could have made Wally just as incredibly annoying if they put their minds to it.

Personally, my favorite version of the Legion of Doom is the one from Earth-Robot Chicken. 

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