Despite the unfortunate revelations that Netflix has cancelled Iron Fist‘ and ‘Luke Cage‘, we are still in a golden age when it comes to superhero TV shows. Obviously, there have been many in the past, some of which have been tremendously popular, from ‘Batman’ to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man‘ to ‘Heroes’, with many in between. But these days, there are more than ever. The CW hosts ‘Arrow’, ‘The Flash’, ‘Supergirl’, ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ and ‘Black Lightning’. Netflix still offers the first two seasons of ‘Iron Fist’ and ‘Luke Cage’, as well as the only installment of ‘The Defenders’ and the still on-going ‘Daredevil’ which just returned for a third season, ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘The Punisher’. Add to that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, ‘Gotham’, ‘Krypton’, ‘Cloak & Dagger’, ‘Runaways’, ‘The Gifted’, ‘Legion’ and the new ‘Titans’ on DC Universe. And still in the works are ‘The Boys’, ‘Doom Patrol’ and ‘Stargirl’, even ‘Swamp Thing’, if that counts.
But not all shows are so lucky. Here is part one of a two-part listing of superhero TV shows that are all but forgotten today.
‘Automan’ aired on ABC TV in 1983-84 and was a direct swipe at Disney’s theatrical film ‘Tron’. The titular hero, played by Jack Wagner, was a living computer-generated hologram. He was assisted by a floating orb named Cursor which could create solid objects including the Autocar (why didn’t they just call it the Automobile?) and Autochopper.
Automan’s sparkly suit was directly inspired by ‘Tron’ as was sharp turning ability of the Autocar, which resembled the Light Cycles from the movie.
Automan, who used the alias Otto J. Mann, was brought to life by police computer expert Walter Nebicher, played by Desi Arnaz Jr. The show was created by Glen A. Larson, who also created the series ‘Manimal’ which makes an appearance in Part Two of this list.
The series consisted of 13 episodes, but for whatever reason, ABC only aired 12. It has never been released on home video but has popped up in syndication, including on the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as Syfy).
‘Birds of Prey’
This one may not be 100% forgotten, since it was loosely based on a popular DC Comic series, but the show doesn’t remain very faithful to the source material. While Dina Meyer’s Oracle/Barbara Gordon is accurate, as is the group’s clock tower headquarters, the creators of the show used the pre-Crisis origin for the Huntress (Ashley Scott) making her the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, except that this Catwoman was a metahuman with cat powers, which she passed on to her daughter. Rachel Skarsten played Dinah Redmond, the daughter of Black Canary, who had telepathic powers, which bears no resemblance to the characters in the comics.
On the other hand, ‘Birds of Prey’ marks the first live-action depiction of Harley Quinn, played by Mia Sara.
This show consisted of 13 episodes and aired on The WB in 2002-03. It has been released on DVD and is also available on the DC Universe streaming service.
Low-budget horror master Roger Corman created two ‘Black Scorpion’ movies for Showtime, starring ‘Playboy’ model Joan Severance as police detective Darcy Walker, who also operated as the Black Scorpion. For the series, the part was recast with Michelle Lintel in the lead role. The series invoked the camp of the ’60s ‘Batman’ series as well as T&A to appeal to male viewers.
Black Scorpion possessed no powers, but was an expert hand-to-hand combatant and utilized a variety of gadgets and a high-tech car.
There were 22 episodes that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2001. Three episodes were edited together as a movie ‘Sting of the Black Scorpion’ released on DVD in 2002. The series in its entirety was also available on DVD.
‘Blade: The Series’
Picking up the story following ‘Blade: Trinity’, ‘Blade: The Series’ featured Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones as the character played by Wesley Snipes in the films. The show featured a pretty impressive lineup behind the scenes with creator David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns providing screenplays.
This was the first scripted series from the Spike Network and it actually got great ratings, but because Spike was so new at the time, it simply couldn’t afford to continue producing such an expensive series, so it only lasted for 13 episodes. As Johns said at the time, “The network didn’t want to cancel it, I just think Spike TV is still a young network, and the price it was costing to make…they just weren’t able to do it.”
The series was released on DVD.
The most recent show on this list, ‘The Cape’ aired on NBC in 2011, as a mid-season replacement. David Lyons portrayed honest cop Vince Faraday, who is framed for the murder of the police chief of fictional Palm City, California.
The rest of the cast was pretty impressive, with James Frain portraying lead villain Peter Fleming a.k.a. Chess, a sinister businessman who wanted to privatize Palm City’s police force, which would enable him to control them. Summer Glau portrayed a blogger named Orwell, who assisted Faraday, and Keith David portrayed Maxwell “Max” Malini, leader of the Circus of Crime, who teaches Faraday skills such as magic, escape, acrobatics and more, including how to manipulate his cape as a weapon. (This inspiring the name of the show.) The Cape was a character in his son’s favorite comic book, so Faraday adopted the identity to take down Fleming and clear his name, as well as to be able to see his son in secret.
Due to poor ratings, NBC cut the episode order from 13 to 10. And then, the network didn’t even air the series finale on TV, making it only available to stream on its website.
‘Captain Nice’ is one of two comedy series that were released in reaction to the success of ‘Batman’. It aired on NBC in 1967, on Monday nights at 8:30pm EST. Coincidentally, CBS aired their own comedic superhero show, ‘Mister Terrific’ (not related to the ‘Arrow’ character) on Monday nights at 8pm, so fans could watch the two back-to-back.
William Daniels played police chemist Carter Nash, who invented a serum that gave him super strength and flight, however he was afraid of heights. Alice Ghostly, who would later go on to recognition on ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Designing Women’, played his domineering mother who sewed his super suit and essentially nagged him into becoming a superhero.
‘Captain Nice’ lasted for 15 episodes. It was released on DVD in Germany in 2011.
In 2007-08, Sci-Fi attempted to create a new series based on the classic comic strip character ‘Flash Gordon’, who was of course immortalized in the 1980 film. Unfortunately, the series was set on both Earth and Mongo, with the Earth segments not being particularly interesting.
The show was not well-received, with England’s SFX magazine calling episode 3, “possibly the worst episode of anything, ever”, and “the worst [series they] had ever reviewed.” The New York Post gave it 0 stars and called it “a disgrace to the name of the enduring comic-strip-character-turned-movie-and-TV space hero.” Judging by reviews, however, the show actually improved over time, but viewers were so unimpressed with the earliest episodes that they had jumped ship.
There were 21 episodes total and it has been released multiple times on DVD, which you can usually find for less than $5.
‘The Green Hornet’
Many are aware of the 1966-67 series ‘The Green Hornet’ because the two main characters, Green Hornet and martial-artist sidekick Kato appeared in two episodes of ‘Batman’ which have been aired in syndication repeatedly over the years. But the actual ‘Green Hornet’ series has not been seen as regularly.
Van Williams portrayed Britt Reid, a newspaper mogul, who moonlighted as a crime fighter. However, to the local police, the Green Hornet was a wanted criminal. In his first American role, Bruce Lee depicted Kato.
Unlike ‘Batman’ which was campy and vibrant and appealed to adults and kids, ‘The Green Hornet’ was played straight and as such did not garner the same level of popularity.
It still managed to last for 26 episodes, which have never been released on DVD. In 2011, Seth Rogan starred in a comedic film version of ‘The Green Hornet’ that was a box office disappointment.
TV favorite, Mark Valley (‘Boston Legal’, ‘Fringe’, ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’) starred on this series based on a DC Comics strip. Technically, his character Christopher Chance, isn’t a superhero, but is based in the mainstream DC Universe, so close enough. This series had a strong cast, including Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley, Lennie James, Armand Assante and Tony Hale.
‘Human Target’ actually lasted for 25 episodes and two seasons, but it was bumped around FOX’s schedule from the start. It usually aired on Wednesday, but not always.
The first season was released on DVD and Blu-Ray, but the second was not. It is available to stream on DC Universe.
This was actually the second ‘Human Target’ series. In 1992, Rick Springfield starred in a series which only lasted seven episodes on ABC.
‘Man From Atlantis’
‘Man From Atlantis’ starred a pre-‘Dallas’ Patrick Duffy as an amnesiac who adopts the name Mark Harris. He believes that he is the sole survivor of Atlantis and has the ability to breath underwater, possessed webbed fingers and toes and super strength.
NBC aired four ‘Man From Atlantis’ TV movies in 1977, which were popular enough that they ordered a 13-episode weekly series for the 1977-78 fall season, however the show failed to catch on and was cancelled after that. In England, ‘Man From Atlantis’ was a solid hit, besting ‘Doctor Who’ in the ratings.
Dell published a series of novels based on the show and Marvel released seven issues of a comic book.
The pilot episode was available on VHS. The TV movies and episodes have been released a few times on DVD and can now be purchased through Warner Brothers’ “on demand” program, and streaming through Youtube.
That’s it for Part One of the list of Forgotten Superhero Shows. What do you think so far? Check back for Part Two!