Part 3: Late 80s-Mid 90s: Daaa Leeg!
When we last left Saturday Night Live and the Justice League of America, it was the mid-1980s and prospects for both groups were looking hella bleak after some disastrous turnovers (which happens to be the title of my forthcoming baking memoir). SNL had installed a revolving door of ho-hum cast members, while the JLA sold out for some MTV cred. Both were in danger of going the way of the beta-max when two equally cosmic occurrences rescued them from the brink: Lorne Michaels (who had left the show) returned and the entire DC Universe got undid.
Following Michaels’s prodigal return, SNL purged much of its cast and began to fill its ranks with stand-up comedians since it was the late 1980s and they were multiplying at a rabbits-on-a-honeymoon frequency. It was a good strategy that worked critically and commercially, spawning many memorable skits/characters and making several cast members household names. It also gave the show its most sausage-laden cast ever, until around the second half the 90s when more women were hired. It’s no worry to me though since I’m comparing it to a superhero team, and those have more rods than a lightning field. SHAZAM!
DC Comics was having its own watershed moment after Crisis on Infinite Earths, which saw the myriad dimensions in the entire DCU consolidated into one amalgamated funhouse. This prompted DC to introduce contemporary and streamlined versions of its top characters, including Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc. As for the JLA (renamed to just “Justice League” and later “Justice League International”), it too was rebooted, but editorial constraints barred the creators from using many of the aforementioned characters (except Batman, who DC doesn’t mind pimping out if it earns them a little extra bread). So instead, they decided to use lesser-known heroes like Booster Gold, Captain Atom and Big Barda. Imagine The Muppet Show, but with only Pepe, Sam the Eagle, Cpt. Link Hearthrob, and Sweetums. Or Seinfeld, starring Neuman, Mr. Peterman, Putty, and Mrs. Costanza (holy Laotian sweatshop I’d watch that). To set the series apart, the creators decided to inject humor into it, which became affectionately referred to as the “Bwa Ha Ha” era, due to its blend of ensemble action and situational comedy.
Like SNL upping the funny with its stand-ups, DC’s comedic JL was a winning formula that washed the bad taste of the early-mid 80s out of people’s mouths. That taste was cocaine and jellybeans, by the way.
Ok, enough of the history lesson. Let’s boogie.
1) CHRIS FARLEY AS GUY GARDNER
With large personalities and a mop of red hair, both Farley and Gardner were the instant breakouts of their respective groups. Farley’s physicality coupled with his impossible energy levels often led to the comic stealing whatever skit he was in, most of which involved him breaking furniture with his face. “Farley collapsing” was basically the only reason to watch SNL for a while. It was equally as entertaining to watch Guy Gardner get hurt, and get hurt he did, especially after acting like a fart-breathed tool, which made it that much more satisfying.
2) ADAM SANDLER AS CAPTAIN MARVEL
The concept of Captain Marvel is basically the movie Big except switch Tom Hanks with Superman, Zoltar the fortune teller with the wizard Shazam, and FAO Schwarz with the Rock of Eternity. He has a kid’s mind inside of an adult’s body – The World’s Mightiest Man-child, if you will. Sandler is similarly man-childish (a word I am really not comfortable with), and, despite some actual dramatic roles where he exhibits a range of blah blah blah, is mostly known for his juvenile humor (and “The Hanukkah Song”). His magic word would likely be some asinine noise.
3) KEVIN NEALON AS ROCKET RED
The Rocket Reds are Russia’s (or rather the USSR’s) superhero team, comprised of a dozen or so cosmonaut-lookin’ blokes in red and white robo-suits who patrol Russian airspace. I should say “Russian” superheroes, though, since they’re really what 1980s Americans envisioned would be the Soviet Union’s answer to the JLA, i.e. something borne out of Cold War paranoia (and second in offensiveness only to Russia’s mobile suit in G Gundam, which pretty much wore an ushanka). Once the JL became the JLI, they brought on Rocket Red (he had an actual name… who cares), who talks like Yakov Smirnov and was mostly around to deliver hammy dialogue that played off his accent and ignorance of American culture (“Hey comrades, we get lunch at Burger Czar, Yes?”). For comedians, it’s a racist cul-de-sac (there’s my tell-all book of limericks). But I think Nealon could pull it off. I’ve always found him to be one of the quickest humorists around, and his inherent silliness would fit R.R. nicely while avoiding the pitfalls of stereotype. He’d probably lose the accent after a minute and you wouldn’t notice or care.
4) MIKE MYERS AND DANA CARVEY AS BOOSTER GOLD AND BLUE BEETLE
Little else typified the “Bwa Ha Ha” era more than the guffawing bromance of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. The two rookie Leaguers were often cracking wise and generally actin’ a couple knuckleheads even at times of great duress (and much to the chagrin of team wet-noodle Martian Manhunter). That sort of giggly, nudge-your-friend-when-the-teacher-says-duty also applies to Wayne and Garth Myers and Carvey, whose quirky energy freshened up the formula like a sprig of parsley. Although post JL/SNL, there emerged a gaping disparity of achievement (aaaaaand my bathroom book of trivia). Booster Gold and Myers both went on to save the space-time continuum (see: Booster Gold’s recent solo series and Austin Powers), while Blue Beetle got shot in the head and Carvey starred in Master of Disguise, the movie that taught me that movies can get zero stars.
5) NORM MACDONALD AS MISTER MIRACLE
If any comedian could be described as an escape artist (which is what Mister Miracle is considered) it’d be Norm. It’s nigh impossible to take the man seriously, meaning he could probably worm his way out of even the most heinous situations through his innate funniness. Example: imagine it was Norm who went on a racist tirade a few years ago instead of Michael Richards – now don’t lie to me and tell me it isn’t suddenly a screwball kind of situation with Norm ultimately being invited to a cookout to make amends, only to call a flamboyant passer-by a faggot in which the party stops (record-scratch) and then erupts in laugher with Norm shrugging at the camera for a freeze frame ending (just like Jungle 2 Jungle, except less racist).
6) CHRIS ROCK AS METAMORPHO
This is really more of an ironic pairing since Metamorpho can transform himself into any material he desires while Chris Rock cannot be anything other than Chris Rock, so much so that it could probably be considered a superpower. There’s also a great Silver/Bronze Age issue of JLA called “Metamorpho Says No!” in which Metamorpho turns down an invitation (literally, the JLA actually sends out cards) to join the League for whatever reason Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky cooked up that day. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rock also refused to join an organization as august yet so very vanilla as the JLA.
7) JULIA SWEENY AS BIG BARDA
Aside from her brief appearance in Pulp Fiction (remember, with Harvey Keitel at the dump?), I think Sweeney’s claim to fame would be Pat, the uncomfortably androgynous character that was somehow expected to carry an entire movie (with arcs and shit!) and oh look, it totally Boston-Marathon-bombed (table for one, please, with a view of the Lake of Fire if available). Anyway, we can all agree that Big Barda’s pretty mannish, right? At least in the traditional, strength = masculinity, sense (a scale I don’t subscribe to since I’d land just shy of whelp and on it). So there’s a bit of gender bending there, certainly enough for a satirical (and, let’s face it, arbitrarily cobbled) internet list such as this.
8) DAVID SPADE AS OBERON
Oberon’s a rather puzzling presence in the DCU. He’s one of Kirby’s New Gods, yet doesn’t seem to possess any sort of powers or abilities. His inclusion in the JL was merely due to Mister Miracle’s, since Oberon is technically MM’S assistant/agent/stepstool. Mostly, though, he was just the team’s resident curmudgeon. But despite being prickly and generally unlikeable, I don’t mind him since he’s one of the quirkier DC characters still around even after the New 52 makeover where Jim Lee made everyone look grotesquely polished and hyper-produced like an NFL TV-spot. Spade too has a pretty loathsome image, and I don’t even find him particularly funny, but he seems to take it all in stride. I actually kind of root for him when I see him hackin’ away out there. Think Sam Elliot at the end of The Big Lebowski: “The Spade abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.”
9) JAN HOOKS & MELANIE HUTSELL AS FIRE & ICE
Visually, this works swimmingly. Hooks and Hutsell actually look like Fire and Ice, respectively, so much so that I think I’d cast in a hypothetical JLI movie from 1993. I mean come on, look how perfect that would (have) be(en). I’m not even going to make a joke – I’m too damn pleas’d wif meself (so much so, I’ve gone cockney).
10) ROB SCHNEIDER AS CAPTAIN ATOM
By a show of hands, who would be surprised if it turns out that Rob Schneider was actually some time-displaced government experiment gone wrong, forced to make cruddy movies as some sort of penance for misunderstood past deeds? Anyone? Didn’t think so. Anyway, that’s roughly Captain Atom’s deal, and it’s one of the few explanations for Schneider’s continued existence/career that I would believe. Or rather, I have to believe it for the soundness of my psyche. The good Captain’s power is the ability to absorb energy and discharge it back, meaning if you shoot him with a cannonball, he can subsequently blast an equal amount of force back at you or elsewhere (also works with sass and ‘tude). Shoot Schneider with a cannonball and you’ll probably just kill him (or make him more powerful than you could possibly imagine), but at least you’ve prevented another Deuce Bigelow.
11) JANEANE GAROFALO AS BLACK CANARY
As fun as it would be to see Garafalo’s reticence to don fishnets and a blond wig, by the 1990s Black Canary actually had a new outfit that was somehow worse than before. Just look at that monstrosity. It’s like the designer responded to claims of sexism over the fishnets (wonder why) and just swung in the total opposite direction, covering poor Dinah in a billowy sartorial gulag complete with a G.D. headband. Also, both have strong feminist attitudes, and it would be righteous if Garofalo had Black Canary’s screeching power and could scream at someone like Rush Limbaugh until he turned to dust.
BONUS: LORNE MICHAELS AS MAXWELL LORD
During the JLI years, the League was actually owned and managed by Max Lord, a dubious yuppie with mind control powers who essentially treated the venerable team as a capitalistic venture, prompting them to go global (thus putting the “I” in JLI). And based on what I’ve gleaned from interviews with SNL alums, Michaels possesses a sort of notorious mesmeric hold over the show’s cast members, all of whom want nothing more than to please Daddy-Lorne Legs. Now all you fuckin’ nerds out there know that Max eventually broke bad and was the primary antagonist of 2005’s Infinite Crisis, in which he set into motion one of Batman’s doomsday protocols, shot Blue Beetle in the head when he found out about it, sent Superman on a hypnotized rampage, and was ultimately dispatched when Wonder Woman twisted his head 180 degrees. So, if we adhere to castings put forth by this list and its two predecessors, that would mean that Lorne is going to set into motion one of Bill Murray’s doomsday plans (I could only imagine), shoot Dana Carvey in the head, brainwash Chevy Chase into going on a destructive rampage, and finally have his neck snapped by Gilda Radner.
Join us next time (probably some time in 2014 at this rate) for the penultimate episode where we look at the late 1990s/ early 2000s.