Forgotten Superhero TV Shows
Often in the television industry superheroes have proven to be pure gold. This is both in live action like Batman and the Incredible Hulk, and in animation like Justice League and X-Men. Sadly not every hero from comic book pages can be a success. Over the years many superhero shows have not only failed to but for or better or worse have been forgotten as well.
Blade: Part of the inaugural batch of shows for the Spike network, it was a no-brainer that the hit film franchise would be a hit on TV. Naturally bringing Snipes onboard was out of price range, but they cast a solid lead in “Sticky Fingaz” Jones of Onyx fame. Behind the scenes, Blade benefitted from the writing talents of big namers David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns. The series sees Krista Starr become tied up with a powerful vampire clan and forming an alliance with the famed Daywalker. The pilot episode scored huge ratings, but from there Blade petered off until it ended after 13 episodes as the price tag to keep the show going proved too much for the fledgling channel.
Superboy/The Adventures of Superboy: By 1988 Alexander Salkind had led Superman to the big screen three times and Supergirl once and was now looking to bring the franchise to television. To this end he sought to loosely adapt Superboy, the tales of young Clark Kent just beginning his superhero career. Rather than Smallville, the action of Superboy was moved to coastal Schuster University in Siegelsville as both a nod to the character’s creators and because the show was filmed in Florida. Like a Superman equivalent of Gotham, Superboy saw the Boy of Steel take on younger versions of Lex Luthor and other members of his rogues gallery. Despite a change in lead actors and titles, the show never really took hold and was cancelled after four seasons.
The Avengers: United They Stand: In the current year of 2023, the Avengers are one of the hottest properties in entertainment. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have been featured in films, cartoons, video games, lunchboxes, toys etc. But this has not always been the case, and in 1999 animators hoped a cartoon series would put the team on the same fame level as Spider-Man and the X-Men. Working against them was the fact that they were not allowed to use the Big 3 of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. The line-up they utilized consisted of the likes of Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Wasp, Falcon, and others who were largely unknown outside of die-hard comic circles, all of them decked out in horrid costume redesigns. You do not need the intellect of Hank Pym to realize that this was not exactly going to draw-in viewers and the series was barely a blip before ending forever.
Swamp Thing: While he has never been an A-lister of Superman or Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing has been the subject of many adaptations over the years, most notably the cult classic 1982 film. A forgotten onscreen adventure for the character was this 1990 TV series. At the time USA was known for showing cult horror films and DC’s marshy monster fit in perfectly, it even got a boost with Dick Durock reprising the lead role from the films. However, despite ambitious plans of a show far more serious and darker it never translated onscreen as the end result was Swamp Thing being campy fun.
Birds of Prey: The city of New Gotham had been abandoned by Batman following the Joker’s crippling of Batgirl AKA Barbara Gordon. Babs takes it upon herself to protect the city and recruits meta-humans Huntress and Dinah as her team the Birds of Prey. Taking a good amount of any momentum away, the show was forbidden from using most of the familiar citizens of Gotham meaning the trio largely had to take on a lame “monster of the week” working for Harley Quinn. Producers on the show seemed to know their time was numbered and on their final episode pulled out all the stops to make it a finale their small but devoted fanbase would be happy with.
The Maxx: During the 90’s MTV, for better or worse, decided to expand their programming beyond music videos. Alongside fan favorites like Celebrity Death Match and Daria was this adaptation of Sam Keith’s fantasy comic. Split between the “real world” and the mystical world of the Outback, in both worlds the Maxx has to protect his only friend Julie from Mr. Gone. For unknown reasons the show was cancelled after a single season, but is worth checking out because the animation is top notch.
The Crow: Stairway to Heaven: To this day 1994’s The Crow is revered as a cult classic. Sadly no sequel has been able to hold a candle to this hauntingly beautiful original, but few realize that a sequel was also attempted in a television format. Taking on the role of Eric Draven would be Mark Dacascos who lacked the acting chops or charisma of his predecessor Brandon Lee, but was a trained martial artist leading to solid action scenes in the show. While the potential was there to expand on the mythos of James O’Barr’s creation, but Stairway to Heaven was obviously hampered by budget and production values. Despite solid ratings the show ended after one season.
The Flash: To be honest this one has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years thanks to the star John Wesley-Shipp showing up in the current Flash series. While Wally West had been the Scarlett Speedster in the comics for four years at this time, Barry Allen was chosen to lead this show. What the Flash had going for it also proved to be its biggest downfall as every penny of it’s high budget can be seen onscreen complete with a Stan Winston Studios designed costume and a Danny Elfman score. With a price tag of over a million dollars an episode one would have thought CBS was have gotten behind this show full-speed ahead but over the course of its run the Flash was constantly shifted around in different timeslots until it was finally cancelled.
Wild C.A.T.S: In the 1990’s Jim Lee was one of the hottest talents in comics, even serving as the artist on one of the best-selling single issues of all time in X-Men #1. When he created his own team I am sure executives were beating down the door to bring it to life. David Wise, an animation veteran with titles like Star Trek, Batman: The Animated Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more was enlisted to bring the Wild C.A.T.S to the screen as part of an overall effort for an action-oriented Saturday morning cartoon block. Unfortunately, Wild C.A.T.S. came to an end with the other shows it was grouped with. While it was short-lived it did introduce many to the fan favorite character Grifter who continues to appear in comics to this day.
Night Man: Men in Black may be the Malibu Comics property most remembered for being adapted, but the same year Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones busted aliens on the big screen Night Man was fighting crime on the small screen. As a result of a lightning strike, jazz musician Johnny Domino finds he no longer needs to sleep. With this free time he takes up nocturnal crime fighting with an advanced suit calling himself Night Man. With this particularly odd premise and a protagonist with a silly name it is little wonder Night Man shuffled off the airwaves after 2 seasons.