SUPERFRIENDS: The Lord of Middle Earth by Kevin of KEVIN GEEKS OUT!
Some might call this episode of the SuperFriends an homage to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, others would call it a rip-off, but to 5-year-old me it was just plain terrifying.
Everything about this cartoon has a nightmarish quality. Recounting it here is like remembering a bad dream: It all takes place inside a maze-like cave-world. An evil wizard magically morphs Superman (and friends) into grotesque halflings. The troll-like heroes are stripped of their super-powers and forced to work deep inside in the diamond mines.
Even though it freaked me out, "The Lord of Middle Earth" was easily my favorite episode. This was the first time a show had such an effect on me.
REASONS THIS CARTOON WAS KINDERTRAUMATIC:
The heroes lose their super-powers. That's a hard thing for a child to witness. But again, some part of me must have enjoyed seeing the all-powerful crimefighters brought down to size. The little SuperFriends are roughly the same height as the kids who watched the show. Like much of the episode, it's simultaneously appalling and appealing.
DYING INSIDE A CAVE
Six minutes into the cartoon, Robin fears he's going to die inside the cave. After spending years battling Lex Luthor, Sinestro and Toyman it could all end here: collapsing in ancient underground kingdom while doing manual labor.
MY RECURRING NIGHTMARE
Full disclosure: When I was very young I had a recurring dream about being trapped inside a volcano where large lava-colored men worked with deadly magma. (This probably has something to do with my Dad being a boiler-house engineer, right?) I don't know which came first: my recurring dream or "The Lord of Middle Earth." Either the episode captured elements of my bad dream or it inspired a recurring nightmare.
MALHAVOC IS ONE BAD MUTHA
Listen to that rich, bass voice â€“ it's even deeper than Superman's! Malhavoc perfectly embodies a child's idea of evil incarnate. Plus his pale skin, crimson eyes and jet-black hair evoke KISS and Alice Cooper (which I also found terribly unsettling when I was 5 years old.)
SCARY CAVE CREATURES
Besides the vengeful warlock, this episode features a long-tongued cave beast, evil spider-people and giant snails. (Granted the snails are "good guys", but they're still unnerving.) Plus the Dragon of Darkness ("the deadliest creature in middle-earth!") Today I recognize these monsters as obligatory obstacles in a sword and sorcery adventure. But this was the first time I'd encountered any of them and it was really scary.
THAT FREAKING STATUE
The gigantic stone gargoyle is the icing on the cake. The statue's face is wrought with dark emotion. If his twisted face looks familiar, maybe that's because both the gargoyle and Malhavoc appear in the series' opening credits. Also, in the opening, the statue comes to life!
I know it's the same music beds that appear in all the other episodes of the SupeFriends cartoons â€“ but the soundtrack is especially haunting set against the backdrop of a dreary underground labyrinth.
Today I still enjoy this episode. I've even shown it to my kids. I know this cartoon can't measure up to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, but those films will never grab me the way "The Lord of Middle Earth" did.