With superhero TV shows like The Flash, Supergirl or Daredevil kicking and punching their way across TV screens, it’s easy to forget that, not too long ago, shows like these were rare. Back in the last century, special effects were bad and TV executives were skeptical. As a result, TV superheroes were often underwhelming, to say the least.
The history of television is littered with bodies of canceled TV shows… and some of them wear capes and tights. It is quite possible that some of the entries below will make you go: “A What-man? Super-who?” That’s all right though: for the most part, these are the TV superheroes that time forgot.
Here is Screen Rant’s list of the 11 Most Obscure TV Superheroes.
11. Ultraman (1966)
As is typical with many Japanese tokusatsu TV shows, Ultraman takes place in a world besieged by dangerous aliens and giant monsters. Earth is protected by the Science Special Search Party – a global military force equipped with the most advanced weaponry and vehicles. But whenever SSSP finds themselves overwhelmed (which is quite often, apparently), they called on the assistance of Ultraman – a giant alien warrior fused with the mind and body of Captain Shin Hayata (Susumu Kurobe).
Created in 1967 as a sequel to an earlier show, Ultra Q, Ultraman was nevertheless first TV show to feature the titular character. Ultraman was the creation of Japanese special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, who also worked on the original 1954 Godzilla film. Ultraman premiered on TBS in July of 1966 and aired for 39 episodes. But Ultraman is just one of many long-running TV shows that are almost unknown outside Japan.
10. The Secrets of Isis (1975)
The Secrets of Isis (no relation to that ISIS) follows the adventures of Andrea Thomas (Joanna Cameron), a school teacher who discovers an ancient magical artifact during an archeological dig in Egypt. The Tutmose Amulet turns its carrier into an avatar of the Egyptian goddess Isis whenever her name is invoked and the golden amulet exposed to the sun. As Isis, Andrea has the powers of animals and control over the elements of Air and Earth which she uses to help her students whenever they got in trouble.
The Secrets of Isis was quite possibly the first American live-action TV series about a female superhero – predating both Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman. It debuted on CBS in September of 1975. All in all, two seasons and 22 episodes of The Secrets of Isis aired before the show got canceled due to low ratings.
9. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (1976)
Created as a spoof of the already campy 1960s Batman series, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was a children’s TV show about titular female superhero (played by Deidre Hall) and her teen sidekick (played by Anne Stedman). Assisted by a helpful scientist Frank Helfin (Norman Alden) from their hidden ElectraBase, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl would battle villains using a variety of gadgets such as the Electra-Beam, the Electra-Force or the Electro-G.
Brothers Sid and Marty Krofft became famous in 1970s as the creators of silly, fantastical and even slightly psychedelic TV shows for children like H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos and Land of the Lost. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was created as a part of their Saturday morning show called The Krofft Supershow. It premiered on ABC in September of 1976 but, although The Krofft Supershow lasted for two seasons, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl segment was dropped after the first season.
8. The Phoenix (1982)
Bennu of the Golden Light (Judson Scott) was an ancient alien being from planet Eldebran who woke up in our modern world after spending thousands of years in suspended animation. His Phoenix Amulet gives him paranormal abilities such as levitation, clairvoyance, telekinesis and astral projection. Bennu helps people around him with his powers and fights the sinister Yago, an ancient shape-shifter bent on evil. Meanwhile, Bennu is also pursued by some sinister government agents, led by the cynical Justin Preminger (Richard Lynch).
The Phoenix was heavily influenced by then-popular stories of UFOs and paranormal activity. The look and abilities of Bennu were somewhat inspired by the Nordic aliens from the books by ufologist George Adamski as well as by Erich von Däniken’s theories about ancient astronauts. The Phoenix premiered on ABC in April of 1981 but it was such a ratings failure that it got axed after mere five episodes.
7. Manimal (1983)
“Dr Jonathan Chase… wealthy, young, handsome. A man with the brightest of futures. A man with the darkest of pasts.” So began Manimal – a story of a successful English scientist (played by Simon MacCorkindale) who fights evil using the powers of shape-shifting he learned in Tibet and Africa. Dr. Chase can change into all kinds of animals but, due to budgetary constraints of the show, he most often turned into a panther or a hawk.
Manimal was the brainchild of Greg A. Larson, creator of the original Battlestar Galactica (as well as two other titles on this list). The transformation sequences were designed by none other than Academy Award-winning SFX artist Stan Winston, which somewhat mitigates the fact that they are recycled throughout the show. Manimal first aired on NBC in September of 1983. Its ratings were so low it got canceled after only eight episodes.
6. Automan (1983)
Automan is a superhero story about police officer and computer programmer named Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz Jr.) who creates an artificial intelligence/hologram called Automan (played by Chuck Wagner). Nebicher also invented Cursor: a flying polyhedron that could draw and create physical objects out of thin air. Then, instead of using his creations to become the most powerful man in the universe, Nebicher uses them to fight petty crime.
Yet another superhero series created by Greg A. Larson, Automan used as its basis computer technology that was, at the time, just becoming popular and was yet little understood by the general public. Despite its digital superhero, special effects in the series were decidedly analogue: Automan’s glowing suit was made out of a highly-reflexive fabric and polished plates that simulated the look of contemporary computer animation. Automan premiered on ABC in December of 1983 but was canceled after 13 episodes.
5. M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994)
M.A.N.T.I.S. was an acronym for “Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System,” an advanced exoskeleton invented and operated by the brilliant billionaire Dr. Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly – playing quite possibly the first African-American TV superhero). After being wounded by a policeman during a riot, Hawkins was paralyzed from the waist down, which only made him more determined to battle evil in all of its forms.
M.A.N.T.I.S. was produced by the filmmaker Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) and premiered on Fox in the August of 1994. From the start, M.A.N.T.I.S. faced difficulties: there were so many differences between the pilot and the rest of the series that the story was essentially rebooted before it even got going. M.A.N.T.I.S. was changed again mid-season to include more fantastical elements such as time travel, parallel universes and invisible prehistoric dinosaurs. Nevertheless, the show struggled with poor ratings and was canceled after only one 22-episode season.
4. NightMan (1997)
Johnny Domino (Matt McColm) was a jazz saxophonist – and with a name like that, who could blame him? After he got struck by a freak lightning bolt in a cable car, Johnny gained the telepathic ability to hear evil thoughts, but also became unable to sleep. Despite having no other super powers, he becomes the superhero NightMan after stealing some bullet-proof body armor that gives him the ability to fly, turn invisible and shoot laser beams. NightMan then proceeds fight crime in San Francisco, and even finds a nemesis in IT billionaire Kieran Keyes (played by Kim Coates).
Greg A. Larson’s final show on this list, NightMan is a loose adaptation of a comic book created by Steve Englehart. The series premiered in September of 1997 and ran for two seasons in syndication before it was canceled. NightMan also featured several guest appearances and cameos by the likes of Simon MacCorkindale (who reprised his role as Manimal), Jerry Springer and Donald Trump.
3. Black Scorpion (2001)
During the day, Darcy Walker (Michelle Lintel) is a tough police officer. By night she becomes Black Scorpion – a vigilante fighting crime in a way police never could. Black Scorpion is a martial artist and a computer hacker who owns a futuristic voice-controlled car called the Scorpionmobile, as well as a power ring allowing her to change her outfits “on an atomic level”. Using her skills, Black Scorpion fights such bad guys as Torchy Thompson, Gangster Prankster and the aerobics-themed villainess Aerobicide.
In his five-decade-plus long career, director and producer Roger Corman made a name for himself as the fastest working filmmaker in Hollywood, churning out cheap B-movies on tight deadlines. In the late 1990s he produced for Showtime two made-for-TV films spoofing the superhero genre: Black Scorpion and Black Scorpion: Aftershock. In January of 2001, a TV show based on these two films premiered on the SciFi Channel. However, Black Scorpion aired for only one season before it got canceled.
2. Mutant X (2001)
Mutant X follows a secret underground group of super-powered mutants led by bio-geneticist Dr. Adam Kane (John Shea). While Kane worked for a international corporation called Genomex, he helped conduct a series of illegal genetic experiments that created mutants. Trying to atone for his past sins, Kane helped his New Mutants escape the forces of Genetic Security Agency – a sinister organization led by Mason Eckhart (Tom McCamus).
Mutant X was a Canadian-produced sci-fi/superhero series that premiered in October of 2004 and aired successfully in syndication for three seasons. Behind the scenes, however, 20th Century Fox sued the show’s producers Fireworks Entertainment for the breach of their licensing agreement, claiming that 20th Century Fox held exclusive rights for the development of Marvel’s X-Men property. Despite the show’s popularity, Mutant X was cancelled after the third season due to the dismantling of Fireworks Entertainment.
1. The Cape (2011)
Vince Faraday (David Lyons) was a former police detective who was betrayed by his partner and framed for the murder by the supervillain known only as Chess. Left for dead, Vince joined a group of flamboyant bank robbers posing as a traveling circus troupe. From them, he learned the tricks and skills necessary for fighting his enemies and gains a special cape made entirely out of spider silk, allowing Vince to become a vigilante known only as The Cape.
The Cape seems quaintly naive in its ideas and delivery, hearkening not only back to 1960s Batman TV series but even further back to the golden age of comic books. It features numerous colorful villains such as Scales (played by Vinnie Jones), who suffers from a skin condition that leaves him covered in, you guessed it, scale. The Cape premiered on NBC in January of 2011 but, despite being created during the latest era of superhero craze, it failed to draw in the audience. The Cape was canceled after only ten episodes.
Did we miss any other bizarre or obscure TV shows? Let us know in the comments!