In our first installment, we kicked off this multi-part superhero crossover by comparing the classic 1970s lineups of both the Justice League of America and Saturday Night Live.
Part 2: The 1980s: I’m Gypsy, Dammit!
By the early to mid 1980s both SNL and the JLA were going through their first major shakeups. SNL was in constant flux, struggling to match the creative lightning of the original, amounting to a largely forgettable era for the show despite some real talent being peppered throughout. The JLA was in a similar pickle. Hot young teams like the Teen Titans (with their hormones and high collars), were all the rage while the JLA were beginning to look like aunts and uncles at a family reunion (No matter what he tells you, don’t pull Elongated Man’s finger). So the team rebranded, relocated to Detroit (as one does), and ditched most of its best members like Batman, Superman and Green Lantern, for some new blood, namely, Vibe, Vixen, Steel and Gypsy. They basically pulled a Van Halen, if the band had replaced all of its members with Sammy Hagars.
1) EDDIE MURPHY AS VIBE
This is kind of unfair to Murphy. Eddie Murphy is one of the most successful SNL cast members ever, let alone from the 80s, whereas Vibe is a character so lame that even 90s Grant Morrison would not be able to make him interesting. But Murphy definitely encapsulated the “young and new” attitude SNL was adopting at the time, not unlike Vibe giving the JLA some swag (just look at those shades). Joke’s on Murphy though, since Vibe at least had the decency to get killed off by an android. Murphy, on the other hand, has stuck around, flushing all his comedic mojo away somewhere between Norbit and Meet Dave. Then again, DC just published a new solo Vibe comic last month and apparently it’s not awful, so maybe Murphy’s due for a hit (Dolittle 3-D anyone?)
2) JOE PISCOPO AS AQUAMAN
I assume Aquaman is at least damp at all times, but doesn’t Joe Piscopo just seem like a slippery guy? Now, I could just be racist in that I think anyone with a name ending in O is Italian and thus a member of the mafia (makes you look at ThunderCats differently). But I’d like to think the inherent rhythm in his name’s pronunciation is innocent, and also probably why Piscopo is one of the few 80s SNL casts members that I can think, despite him not really having much success outside of the show. Aquaman is in a similar bind, i.e. he’s never really been able to carry a solo book for very long, yet for whatever reason seems vital to the JLA and DC Universe at large, which is why he’s still chuggin’ away every month. Meanwhile, Piscopo, who isn’t vital to anything outside of a Dead Heat sequel, has basically disappeared from the public eye. Maybe one day he’ll reappear with long hair, a beard and a harpoon hook instead of his hand. Truth is, we still won’t care.
3) JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS AS ZATANNA
Maybe I just have a thing for raven-haired girls in top hats who talk backwards, but Zatanna has always been one of my favorite characters in the DCU even though her power is often used as a lazy deus ex machina (albeit with vague limitations – I still don’t know why she doesn’t just say “Enoz motnahp eht ot [INSERT THREAT HERE] dnes.”). Her association with the Detroit League is disheartening to say the least. Dreyfus has the same problem, being really talented (seriously, check Veep out, plus that other show she was on in the 90s) while being on SNL during one of its worst eras. I can see the conversation now:
JLD/ZZ: “I was on SNL/in the JLA.”
“That’s awesome! When?”
JLD/ZZ: “…the 80s.”
4) JON LOVITZ IS THE ELONGATED MAN
As dope as Ralph Dibny was in 52, The Elongated Man is ultimately the poor man’s Plastic Man. He’s who you call when Patrick “Eel” O’Brian (maybe the best alter ego name in comics) is busy dicking around, shape-shifting into an unexpected Guy Gardner’s salami sandwich or something. Speaking of salami sandwiches – Jon Lovitz. He’s who you call when EVERYONE ELSE is busy.
5) PHIL HARTMAN AS THE MARTIAN MANHUNTER
The Martian Manhunter is the rock of the JLA, being on nearly every iteration of the team since its inception. It’s also pretty well known that he’s a powerhouse in the DCU. With nearly as much strength as Superman, he can also phase through matter, change his shape, and read minds. I find myself respecting the guy even though he’s a fictional Martian superhero. Hartman is equally awesome. A consummate entertainer who could pretty much do it all. The anti-Lovitz, if you will. Both the Manhunter (love it when they call him that) and Hartman were beacons of hope in a very dark and stinky time for their respective institutions. The Martian Manhunter also enjoyed eating oreos. If only there was some Hartman cookie-gag to reference… wait, wait… Yes.
6) JIM BELUSHI AS STEEL
Steel was a somewhat generic Golden Age superhero who appeared in various comics through the years, never quite making an impression. Even when a younger version showed up as a member of Justice League Detroit, he was killed off two years later and has been on the obscure DC trivia circuit since (say hi to Itty for me). Jim Belushi has similarly popped up over the years in various media, but he’s never achieved the level of acclaim his brother did. Despite this he’s somehow managed to maintain a an achingly mediocre career (I literally wince when I hear his name). The one exception, of course, being Thief with James Caan, which is the tits.
7) DANITRA VANCE AS VIXEN
Even though Vance was only on SNL for one season, the cast for that year included Robert Downey, Jr. (what?), Anthony Michael Hall (whatwhat?) and Randy Quaid (whatwhatwhat?!). She was also the first black woman who was a regular cast member, which is why I chose her for Vixen, who was the first major black heroine within the DCU, and the first on the JLA. There’s probably a joke that doesn’t paint me as a sexist bigot here, but it’s harder to find than a reason to care about the WNBA. Ah crap.
8) VICTORIA JACKSON AS GYPSY
According to Wikipedia, Gypsy can use “illusion-casting powers to protect herself.” Jackson is a Christian conservative.
Now for everyone who was expecting Mike Myers, Dana Carvey et al to appear (since they did technically start their SNL tenures in the 80s), I’ll be including them next in the next segment: 1990s Part 1. Also coming: Norm.