Back in the late 1970s, my generation dutifully gathered in front of their TV sets, bowl of sugar-laden cereal in hand, to watch Saturday morning cartoons. And if you were a sci fi and/or comic book fan, Hanna-Barbera’s “Super Friends” was obligatory viewing.
One of my favorite episodes was late 1978′s “History of Doom”. By the standards of the day, this one was comparatively high-concept.
Three extraterrestrials arrive on Earth and find the planet’s surface has been all but destroyed. Exploring the records of the Hall of Justice, the alien trio learn the origin stories of Lex Luthor, Apache Chief, and Giganta; how the Justice League of America and the Legion of Doom came to be formed; and how Earth became a devastated planet.
The latter, we come to discover, involves the Legion firing a rocket at the Sun that will both create a solar flare that will destroy the Hall of Justice and will turn the Sun red thereby robbing Superman of his powers so he cannot stop the flare.
In response, the Justice League activated the Earth’s planetary force field – did I mention at some point the Justice League apparently rigged up a planetary force field? – but the flare interacted with the force field in such a way that the Earth was all but annihilated.
Manatu, one of the alien explorers, uses his mental powers to both turn back time and to move the Moon so as to block the flare.
The episode concludes with Superman gloating to Lex Luthor over the latter’s failed plan by telling the supervillain that he should have confirmed there would not be a solar eclipse that day. Luthor replies that he did check and there wasn’t supposed to be one.
Superman responds, “Don’t bother trying to figure it out, Luthor. Sometimes, when you’re on the side of justice, things just seem to go your way.” Because there’s nothing mysterious or alarming about the Moon being in an impossible position in its orbit.
“History of Doom” may seem unimpressive by modern standards. But if you were seven or eight years old and living in the interminable interregnum between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, it was what we had.
“Captain, external sensors are reading a drop in temperature.”
The captain glanced at the holoscreen in front of him, then back toward his crew. “How about magnetic readings?”
“Beginning to change, sir.”
“Good. Send confirmation back to command - we’ve reached heliopause.”
“All right people, that’s gonna be more than a day before we hear back. I think it’s time we celebrate. Being the first humans out of our solar system and all.”
The crew cheered as wine appeared from hidden compartments all over the command deck. “Send word down to the rest of the ship - we made it out on the first generation. We’re right on schedule.”
Suddenly, an alarm blared across the command deck.
“Captain, the gravity sensor’s gone haywire!”
“Proximity sensors going off across the board!”
“We’ve lost visuals for nearly everything left of center!”
“All communications bands are reporting garbage data! It’s like we’re being-”
THUNK. The entire ship lurched to the side as something impacted the hull.
“What was that!?”
“Captain…we’ve stopped moving. Entirely. And…that can’t be right…”
“What. Can’t. Be. Right?”
“Visuals aren’t offline. I think something just grabbed us.”
“What’s the status of the hull?”
“No damage reported. But…I have visuals again. Looks like…yeah. Well, I guess first contact is our problem now. Someone’s breaking in.”
“Someone’s breaking into the ship. We’ve been locked onto a much larger vessel, and they’re trying to cut through our hull. Right…here” The crewman indicated a point on the screen.
“That’s- that’s command. That’s right above us.”
A horrible squealing noise rang out through the room.
“Oh good. They have plasma cutters. This isn’t gonna be long, is it?”
A red glow began to show on one wall of the command center.
“Everyone have your sidearms?”
The read glow deepened, and alarms began to blare as the panel started dripping towards the floor.
“Take cover, keep your aim steady, but do not fire until I order you to or I am shot. Do you understand?”
The panel collapsed inward in a cloud of smoke and sparks.
A man walked in through the gap, wearing a vivid purple suit and trailed by a few floating robots. A triumphant fanfare began to play as one of the robots shot confetti over the open area in the center of the room.
“Congratulations to the crew of the Aurora! You’re the first humans to make it out of your solar system. We’ve been waiting for a little over six thousand years for this moment, you know.”
“We’ve been waiting. Well, more than that, I suppose. A little over six thousand years ago, your ancestors signed on with a Galactanet Broadcasting Network contest. We plonked them down on that world you called Earth, and have been broadcasting your activity ever since. And you, all of you, as the first humans to make it back out of your system, are the grand prize winners for the True Man show!”
It had been 9 months since Commander Narrynite had been rescued by Human Chris and Human Ann. He was still grateful for their actions and was looking for a way to show them his appreciation. He had overheard Human Chris telling Human Ann that he wished he could be home over “Christmas”. Narrynite had no idea what “Christmas” was, but he was struck by an idea.
“Human Chris, Human Ann. As a sign of my gratitude I would like to give you a gift. We are passing by Earth on our way to Drunbaa and I thought we could use an explorer pod to land for one day so that you could see your families for this “Christmas” that you keep speaking of.“
At this, Human Chris and Human Ann started “smiling” and they both took turns “hugging” Narrynite. The baring of teeth and the forceful embracing and restraint of Narrynite’s upper tentacles went against all his instincts, but he knew these were a sign of happiness and camaraderie amongst the humans.
Once they were near Earth, Narrynite requested the coordinates of Human Chris and Human Ann’s residences. Thankfully they were in the same region and it was decided that Human Chris would be delivered to his residence first. Commander Narrynite would accompany Human Ann to her residence as he was interested in her familial occupation of farming and wished to learn more about the traditions that have fed the humans for so many years.
“Welcome to Duluth, Minnesota!” Human Ann said when they arrived at her home.
It wasn’t long before Narrynite had wished he would’ve stayed on the main ship. Duluth was awful. His temperature sensor read that is was a mere 29°F and there was nothing but white blanketing the land.
Human Ann’s family was pleasant, but he had trouble maintaining a conversion as he was focused on trying to stay calm with the temperature being alarmingly low. If the temperature went below 20°F his skin would begin to freeze within seconds.
After a few hours of observing Human Ann’s family “sing” which he understood to be nothing more than synchronized chanting, he told Human Ann that their time was just about up and to prepare to leave.
As they were exiting the house, Human Ann’s dad looked up at the sky and said grimly “A storm is coming. Be careful Annie.”
“Don’t worry Dad. What’s a little snow.”
It began as they were prepping the pod for takeoff. Commander Narrynite looked out the window and saw the frozen precipitation lightly falling to the ground. He was startled when Human Ann said directly behind him “Sir, I think I should pilot the pod for this trip.”
“Absolutely not. I have piloted every craft I’ve been in since I gained my rank as commander. Not to mention, you don’t know how to fly.”
“I know I technically don’t have my license, but I’ve watched you fly the ship plenty of times, plus I have a bad feeling about this storm.”
“Watching me pilot the ship and doing it yourself are entirely different things. And you’re basing this assertion on a ‘feeling’ ?”
“It sounds crazy, I know. I promise I won’t crash the ship.”
Narrynite began objecting again when Human Ann grabbed him on the upper tentacles and said “I’m really sorry for this.” Using her considerable human strength to restrain him and cuff him to the passenger chair.
“Human Ann let me go immediately!” Narrynite shouted as he tried to free himself.
“Commander, I really am sorry, but if I don’t fly this pod, I know we won’t survive.”
At this Narrynite became even more agitated. “Are you saying my flying capabilities are inferior?”
“It’s not that,” Human Ann said as she placed her hand on the throttle, “you’ve just never seen a good old Midwestern blizzard.” With that she pushed the lever forward and sent the pod careening.
After about 30 minutes of cursing Human Ann in Jythoan, Narrynite conceded that Human Ann might not be entirely wrong after all. The sky had become a mottled grey and it was almost impossible to see more than 10 yards. He heard a strange rumbling and hoped that was normal.
“Human Ann, what was that?”
“Sir, I believe that we’ve encountered thundersnow. It’s pretty rare, I’ve only seen it once.”
Of course. Human Chris and Human Ann rescued him from a deadly crash only for him to get stuck in a weird Earth storm.
“Hold on Commander,” Human Ann said as the snowfall became heavier and the thunder more frequent.
At this point Narrynite was quite relieved that he wasn’t piloting the pod. Human Ann seemed confident as she navigated through the storm and despite a few mumbled curses, she appeared happy.
Narrynite eased slightly when Human Ann exclaimed “Sir, we’re almost to Winnipeg. Only a few more miles.”
It was only moments after they landed when Human Chris boarded the pod. He was “smiling” and sat next to Human Ann and they instantly began reminiscing about past storms they witnessed.
Narrynite knew he shouldn’t underestimate the humans and their odd planet, but somehow they kept surprising him. He made a mental note to next time choose a human from a more mild sounding region, Greenland perhaps.