Seven little superheroes will vanish one by one. / Seven little superheroes, soon there will be none!
Webshooters don’t fail me now – for we are about to embark on the absolute best episode of the greatest superhero cartoon of all time (not up for any debate) – Seven Little Superheroes!
Seven Crawlspace readers, dying to be in the know,
Must first watch the video, so here is the show!*
This first aired in October of 1981. I had not quite turned eleven and I did NOT spend my Saturday morning watching it. Why? Because it came on NBC. You young whippersnappers don’t know how hard we had it back then. Cable did not come out my way and satellites were huge monstrosities that most people could not afford. We had an antenna and could only pick up ABC, CBS, and PBS. NBC was watchable only days of abnormal atmospheric disturbances.
This episode was written by Doug Booth. He is a prolific cartoon show writer, but this is the only one he did for SM&HAF.
The title and plot of “Seven Little Superheroes” is a play off of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. This a revised title because before that it was the slightly racist Ten Little Indians, but that is nothing compared to the original title, which is too racist for me to put here (or in my classroom). Here is the back of the book blurb:
Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide.
The tension escalates as the survivors realise the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again… and again…
Both the book and the SM&HAF episode play off of this little racist 1868 ditty, “Ten Little Injuns” (There are two versions – one is the original and the other is the one created a year later that was often used when the word ‘Indian’ was substituted for a different racial slur and is the used in the Agatha Christie book. Here they are, side by side for comparison):
Ten little Injuns standin’ in a line, (Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;)
One toddled home and then there were nine. (One choked his little self and then there were nine.)
Nine little Injuns swingin’ on a gate, (Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;)
One tumbled off and then there were eight. (One overslept himself and then there were eight.)
Eight little Injuns gayest under heaven. (Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;)
One went to sleep and then there were seven. (One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.)
Seven little Injuns cuttin’ up their tricks, (Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;)
One broke his neck and then there were six. (One chopped himself in half and then there were six.)
Six little Injuns all alive, (Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;)
One kicked the bucket and then there were five. (A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.)
Five little Injuns on a cellar door, (Five little Indian boys going in for law;)
One tumbled in and then there were four. (One got in Chancery and then there were four.)
Four little Injuns up on a spree, (Four little Indian boys going out to sea;)
One got fuddled and then there were three. (A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.)
Three little Injuns out on a canoe, (Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;)
One tumbled overboard and then there were two. (A big bear hugged one and then there were two.)
Two little Injuns foolin’ with a gun, (Two Little Indian boys sitting in the sun;)
One shot the other and then there was one. (One got frizzled up and then there was one.)
One little Injun livin’ all alone, (One little Indian boy left all alone;)
He got married and then there were none. (He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.)
Of course, the Chameleon’s version is better because it is not racist AND he has a cool overplayed Russian accent. Chameleon only had seven superheroes that he was irritated with, so we’ll just have to be three shy. All seven get invited to Wolf Island for a party and all, for some reason, show up despite the fact that one lives in Antarctica and another at the bottom of the ocean. At this point in the Chameleon’s career, he no longer has to worry with disguises; he can just make the disguise instantaneously with disguise gas, like he could in the comics around this time.
Which Disney villain is also the voice of the Chameleon?
So, who are the seven little heroes that are the sworn enemies of the Chameleon?
Well, of course we have to have our favorite wall crawler – why else even have this post? Spidey starts us out by finding a letter attached to the bottom of a skyscraper ledge. Take a closer look at that letter:
Do you notice that it has a stamp that has been postmarked? That means that the Chameleon didn’t stick it there – he mailed it! So some mailman climbed the skyscraper and stuck the letter under the ledge as a means of delivering the letter? What crazy sort of mailman would do that? My guess is the one and only Willie Lumpkin! Yes – that’s right, the guy who delivers the mail to the Fantastic Four and, for a time, was caught in a love triangle between Doc Ock, Aunt May, and him (a story that I quite possibly had something to do with). Who else could have delivered it?
Willie was actually a character created by Stan Lee for a newspaper comic strip back in the ‘50s.
Spider-Man’s spider-sense is practically useless in this cartoon. He is constantly getting ice blasted, falling through trap doors, etc. He crawls right over a trap door without sensing it. He does, however, manage to be the only one able to defeat his trap – a giant mechanical robot. Think that would be easy for a superhero? Well, it wasn’t for Dr. Strange.
Plus we get a great nobody-will-notice moment with Spidey swinging on . . . a passing bird?
Iceman plays a role that is usually filled by the Human Torch in the comics. They are both goofballs egging each other on. This goes along with the fact that whenever boys get together, their individual IQs goes down 10 points for each male present. In the comics, Iceman never met Spider-Man until Amazing Spider-Man # 92. They are less than cordial with each other.
But they make up. I think the most interesting thing about Iceman in this series is that they revealed he was actually a government agent using the code name Wind Chill Factor Zero.
The Chameleon plays off of the ying yang power match up of Iceman and Firestar by placing them in a situation where they would use their powers to defeat each other.
One thing that bothers me to this day is all the ice bridges Ice Man creates. Surely big chunks of them break off as it melts and hits pedestrians and cars causing all sorts of death, injury, and property damage. No wonder people hate mutants so much. If this issue has ever been addressed in the comic books, please let me know!
By the way, the voice of Iceman, Frank Welker, is also the voice of Ms. Lions.
One thing is for certain – she really knows how to make an entrance.
The original plan for the Amazing Friends was to have Spidey teaming up with Iceman and Human Torch. The execs loved the irony of his two friends having opposite powers. Sadly, the Human Torch (nor H.E.R.B.I.E., our go to Torch replacement) could not be used due to licensing issues, so they just created another one – Firestar. Thankfully they didn’t call her She-Torch or Torch-Girl. She did not exist in the Marvel universe until this cartoon. Five years later, she would get her own limited series and join the ranks of the X-Men.
She has since gone on to be on several teams, set hell on fire, got cancer (she does emit radiation as her power), got better, and I think she is now a member of Wolverine’s X-Men team.
While we are on a heroine who uses microwaves for her power, let me tell you about an Alford family tradition every Easter – Peep jousting! Take two peeps and give each a tooth pick lance. Place them into the microwave facing each other. Turn on the oven and watch them swell up. The first one to hit the other with the tooth pick lance is the winner.
Here is the model sheet they used to draw him in the cartoon.
Sadly, he does more in the model cel than he does in the actual cartoon.
What is Dr. Strange’s downfall? The inability to discern what is alive and what is a robot. Listen carefully – the demon robot makes the same noise as Will Ferrell does in Elf when he is hiding in the kitchen describing the noise the radiator is making. Plus, Doctor Strange yells, “It is – a demon!” probably because yelling, “It is – a G’Uranthic Guardian!” was a bit much to ask of voice talent John Stephenson. These guardians were created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, so that is a nice touch to add one of these to the Spidey cartoon.
They do shoot eye beams, but this one is missing four arms. Shame of Dr. Strange for not being a bit more observant before freaking out and getting eaten. He’s not much help before he gets taken out. He receives a psychic message from Shanna, but that is about it. For the rest of the time, he just sits in a chair or stands around wondering why he even bothered to come to this party. Plus, he displays Aquaman powers during this episode, but unfortunately no fish come to his aid before he is eaten.
I am trying to imagine what circumstance would ever lead the Chameleon and Dr. Strange to cross paths. Or this next guy, for instance –
Namor is a jerk in the comics and the cartoon doesn’t disappoint in this point. He starts off by calling Iceman a freak and goes on to be a rather large suck-egg-mule** to all around him.
His downfall? A problem with his olfactory sense. Sharks can smell a drop of blood in the water up to a quarter of a mile away, but the Prince of Atlantis couldn’t smell that he was in a room full of rubbing alcohol before he dove in like a dummy. The fire that Chameleon sets is quite the bit overkill (like when you pour gas into a yellow jacket hole and drop a match in to be sure). On top of that, alcohol has lower density than water, so Namor is also in danger of drowning from being unable to swim in it. Yes – I actually looked up what would happen if you swim in alcohol. That’s the kind of crack research you’ve come to expect from the Crawlspace!
Captain America – superhero, super patriot, super fool!
This is the biggest disappointment of the whole episode. They wasted a perfectly good opportunity to play Cap’s theme song.*** He’s the only one of the additional four heroes to make another appearance on the show (“Pawn of the Kingpin”).
Now Captain America avoids all sorts of things flying at him – arrows, darts, etc., but he can’t avoid a pool of quicksand. If only Iceman had watched the “Killer Quicksand” episode of Mythbusters, he would have known something is up since the quicksand is too dense to sink in (the opposite problem Namor should have had). Whatever the case, he sinks below the surface and is seen from no more! Well, until later.
Many viewers in 1981 had no idea who she was, but who cares? Certainly no boy watching the show in the ’80s. She was ranked as 53rd in the 100 Sexiest Women in Comics, after all. She is Ka-zar’s wife and her real title is Shanna the She-Devil, but “jungle queen” markets better with children than “she-devil” especially since the leopard print bikini may not have been enough to associated jungle with her.
She was created in the early ‘70s along with Night Nurse (who is now the most popular Netflix Marvel character) and Claws of the Cat (who later mutated and became Tigra and had a fling with Spider-Man in a Civil War novel (Tigra reached out her arms and half-hugged, half-hoisted Spider- Man up out of the building. Her furry body was warm and muscular; her bikini costume barely covered her at all. She held Spidey close, just a little too long.)) in order to get more female readers.
Her powers? Super agility. Her downfall? Falling to her death – twice. Yep. Her main ability is agility and she falls two times. Oh well. The freakiest thing is how Chameleon keeps changing into her. It adds a creep factor and ramps it up to 11 when he snuggles up to Spidey.
Once they realize that Spidey was getting the moves put on him by Chameleon, the Chameleon just runs away and they stand there unsure what to do. To be fair, the Chameleon did just trigger a pit trap to kill Ms. Lion.
Shanna is voiced by Janet Waldo, who is a big-time animation voice, probably best known for being Judy Jetson. She also voiced Queen Zerona, who is an ice giant that took a liking to Iceman. That episode gave us the great line:
Queen Zerona: “I am helpless, Ice god, but do not worry, I promise I will make you happy throughout all eternity !”
Iceman: “All eternity. That’s a long time. Oh, why am I so irresistible ?”
The Chameleon’s plan seems to fall apart here. Chameleon has one by one caught each hero in a DEATH trap, but then went out of his way to SAVE them from CERTAIN DEATH so that he could imprison them. Let’s review that – he had all of his enemies dead to rights and instead of killing them, he saves them and puts them in a prison. So he must have a really cool plan for them that would cause him risk everything to keep them alive, right? What’s the plan? Blow up the island.
Yes. He kept them alive, so that he could kill them.
Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and this is certainly not the “best laid plan”. Why does it go south? The eighth little superhero.
She basically does the same job that Wolverine would have done had he been important enough to be invited. He was not and Ms. Lion only comes along since Aunt May (voiced by the same voice of Grandmother Fa in Mulan) is visiting some old broad with a bunch of C-A-T-S. She sniffs out the Chameleon anytime she shows up impersonating someone else.
Her powers? Super sniffing and the ability to levitate for a few seconds (came in handy with that pit trap!).
O.K., I’ve called her “she”, but I’m old and insensitive and have assumed the gender of this beloved character. Actually, Ms. Lion is male, as revealed in Pet Avengers.
Now, because I am such a nerd, I wanted to know how much did the Chameleon spend on his revenge plan? He put more than just a lot of thought into this – he put some serious cash. Here is an itemized breakdown:
Private Island in New York – $1,500,000 (based on Douglas Island in New York – for sale now!)
Build a Castle – $600,000,000
Two Giant Robots – $2,800,000
Helicopter – $700,000 (I’m guessing that’s a Bell B206 JetRanger)
Pool full of Rubbing Alcohol – $256,500 (estimating 13,500 gallons and assuming $19 a gallon)
68 tons of TNT (equivalent power to reproduce explosion in SPECTRE) – $2,837,096
Seven Action Figures – $140 (at $20 apiece)
Seven Stamps – $3.43
Total costs – $608,093,739.43 (plus shipping and tax). That’s in today’s dollars, of course. In 1981 it would be the equivalent of $226,908.962.68. Keep in mind, I am an English teacher, so my math may be off by about $.37 or so. You are welcome to double check me.
Of course, if the whole castle was wired to blow, he could have just set off the explosion as soon as they all arrived. But where would the fun in that be?
Need more? Try this Marvel Mash Up that uses a lot from this episode.
* I teach poetry, I don’t write it.
** I don’t know – it’s something my mom always called people when she was upset with them. Consider it the “crazy town banana pants” of the Alford family.
*** When my daughter was a baby, she would ALWAYS stop crying if I sang the “Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield” song.
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Most are screen shots from the cartoon.
So thus ends my penance for posting THIS PICTURE earlier.