12. THE DARK KNIGHT vs. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
The fourth iteration of the Super Friends cartoon, The World’s Greatest Super Friends began in 1979 and ran for just eight episodes. With the show taking cues from various literary works, the superheroes find themselves tangling with the likes of Frankenstein, King Arthur and the Wizard of Oz. Then, in what might be the most unlikely crossover in all of the Dark Knight’s strange history, he and his friends wind up taking a trip to Middle Earth.
It all starts when Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna (and Gleek) go camping in the woods and, in the middle of the night, come across a group of frightened trolls (they look more like dwarves) who have been imprisoned by an evil wizard, Mal Havoc. Though the twins try to help, Mal Havoc is too powerful and transforms both into troll-versions of themselves.
Batman, meanwhile, is at the Hall of Justice showing off his cool new invention, an indestructible “fusion cape” covered in plutonium. When Gleek shows up with news of Zan and Jayna’s plight, Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman race to the rescue.
“Great Scott!” Superman exclaims when he sees Mal Havoc’s underground mine. “It’s the kingdom of Middle Earth!”
Unfortunately for the Super Friends, Mal Havoc manages to turn them all into trolls and they need to race to the “Cave of the Three Deadly Tasks” to win back their freedom. They end up tussling with Spider people, giant snails, The Dragon of Darkness (“The Deadliest creature in Middle Earth!”) and eventually Mal Havoc himself. Batman even gets a chance to use the indestructible cape he just invented and utters strange things like, “Great Gotham!” and “The Bat-forcefield will stop your black magic!”
In the end, Mal Havoc is defeated and the heroes are transformed back into their proper forms just in time for the big twist… it was all a dream! And Gleek’s dream to boot! But even as the Space Monkey comes to this realization, he sees movement in the distance of what just might be a troll. Maybe Middle Earth isn’t so far away after all…
Almost as weird as the fact that “The Lord of Middle Earth” exists is how little it actually has to do with anything from J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. Outside of the term “Middle Earth”, the specifics play like some sort of public domain equivalent, offering up things like “The Ring of Gandor” (a portmanteau of Gandalf and Gondor?) . The episode arriving just two years after the animated Rankin/Bass The Hobbit television special and one year after Ralph Bakshi’s theatrical The Lord of the Rings, it’s a wonder it slipped past the notoriously litigious Tolkien estate. That might be just the reason that The World’s Greatest Super Friends is one of the only seasons of the long-running cartoon not available on DVD.