The Worst Comic Book TV Shows
With ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘ premiering this month,’ ‘Arrow‘ entering its second season and ‘The Walking Dead‘ season four on the way, we are currently in a renaissance of comic book TV shows.
This bumper crop of quality comic book shows is particularly sweet to those of us who remember what we used to have to sit through. Sure, there were the occasional hits like ‘Flash’ or ‘Smallville,’ and everyone loves classic shows like ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ But most of the time, creating a superhero epic on a TV budget led to some of the worst shows of all time. Take a look at a few terrible comic book TV shows that somehow made it to the small screen.
‘Birds of Prey’
Back when The CW was known as The WB, they were so desperate to replicate the success of ‘Smallville’ that they greenlit a series based on the DC superheroine team Birds of Prey that had very little to do with the actual comic book. In fact, the premise was so convoluted, it required an opening sequence where Alfred explained who everyone was every week.
Set in “New Gotham” (what made it “new” we’ll never know), the show hinges on the premise that Batman has left his city for reasons that are never fully explained. So his crimefighting mantle is picked up by Huntress, who is — wait for it — the offspring of a torrid love affair between Batman and Catwoman. Oh, also she’s a “metahuman” with special abilities despite the fact that neither of her parents have powers. She’s joined by Oracle, who had already been Batgirl but was now confined to a wheelchair thanks to being shot by the Joker. (The brief moment of Joker shooting Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in the show’s opening sequence is probably the closest we’ll ever get to an adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke.’) Also there’s a young metahuman named Dinah, who is the daughter of Black Canary and has telepathic abilities because, who knows, they wanted a Jean Grey type probably. Oh, and in the unaired pilot Sherilyn Fenn played Harley Quinn (Mia Sara played her in the actual show) because why not toss her in at this point as well, right?
Looking back, ‘Birds of Prey’ feels painfully dated in an early ’00s way with its “alt rock” theme song and lead actress who was clearly channeling Jessica Alba in ‘Dark Angel.’ But Batman eventually came back, right? Nope. In the final episode, Alfred calls “Master Bruce” and tells him how great his daughter is doing. So basically, it’s a Batman show where Batman goes on vacation and makes his kid pick up his slack.
Actor Dick Durock played DC’s melancholy swamp creature in two films and this short-lived USA TV series. That fact is the only thing notable about this show, from back in the days when Kari Wuhrer, who played Abigail Arcane, was considered a big draw for a TV show.
Remembered today mostly for its terrible production values and hokey dialogue and plotlines, the show is yet another example of the work of comic book scribe Alan Moore getting mangled in another medium. If he has a problem with the ‘Watchmen’ movie, best to keep him far, far away from this nonsense.
‘The Amazing Spider-Man’
Everyone loves ‘The Incredible Hulk’ show from the ’70s, but pretty much nobody likes the Spider-Man series that CBS also aired. In fact, Stan Lee himself ripped the show for being “too juvenile.” (Harsh words from the creator of Mailman Willie Lumpkin.)
Besides Spidey’s goofy costume and oversized web-shooters that looked like Wonder Woman’s bracelets, there’s the fact that the series was a huge mess. J. Jonah Jameson was surprisingly calm for the first time in the character’s history. Aunt May was played by different actresses throughout the show’s run. And instead of supervillains like Green Goblin and Sandman, Spidey battled generic thugs, New Age gurus and mad scientists that even a hungover Jim Rockford could’ve easily dealt with. That said, the funky theme song is still one serious jam.
For some reason, animation studio Filmation went live-action with this cheesy series based on DC’s Captain Marvel.
In a creepy change from the comics that reflected the freewheeling ’70s, young Billy Batson traveled around in a RV with a mentor named, uh, Mentor because the show was made on the cheap and they didn’t have time to think of a better name. Also, Billy looks about 30, which is actually the least of the show’s problems.
‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’
We’re well aware that this show has fans. But have you watched it lately? It has aged about as well as a bottle of Zima.
By turning the Superman saga into “Moonlighting in tights,” the long-running ’90s rom-com managed to set Superman back several decades. Part of the reason people have a hard time taking the character seriously is because they remember Dean Cain making goo-goo eyes at Teri Hatcher instead of punching bad guys.
Let’s pretend for a second that you’re Marvel Studios head Avi Arad. It’s 2001, and ‘X-Men’ was all the rage on the big screen the previous year with a sequel in the works. So how do you sate the public’s appetite for mutant action without actually using any characters from the comic book who are already committed to movies? Make up a bunch of new characters with vague powers and a generic title that sounds like it would’ve been used for a third or fourth tier X-Men comic.
‘Mutant X’ somehow ran in syndication for three seasons despite never having anything remotely to do with X-Men or the Marvel universe. Really, you could’ve called the show “Superhero Guys” and nothing would’ve changed. Meanwhile, the show led 20th Century Fox — who had the film rights to the merry mutants — to sue Marvel for creating a series that could potentially distract from their blockbuster franchise. Marvel countersued, saying the show was nothing like the X-Men movies. See, the ‘X-Men’ movies are about a bunch of people born with powers who seek out and help other such “mutants” while ‘Mutant X’ was about a team of genetically engineered people with powers who seek out other “New Mutants” like themselves. Big difference.
‘Human Target,’ (1992)
No, this isn’t the surprisingly solid ‘Human Target’ series that ran on FOX a few years back. Master of disguise Christopher Chance actually first had a show on ABC back in the early ’90s that only ran for seven episodes. Only this time out he was played by none other than rocker Rick “Jessie’s Girl” Springfield.
Created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, who had better success with the CBS ‘Flash’ series from a couple years prior, ‘Human Target’ was a generic action series with plenty of early ’90s cliches (the computer expert sidekick, terribly dated computer graphics for Chance’s plane the Blackwing, the casting of Rick Springfield in the lead…). Springfield wasn’t exactly action hero material, and he thankfully went back to music for the most part after the show tanked in the ratings.
Created by famed ‘Green Arrow’ writer/artist Mike Grell, ‘Jon Sable, Freelance’ was a popular James Bond-esque comic book series about a mercenary who also moonlighted as a children’s book author. ABC produced a TV series in 1987 that only ran for seven episodes. (An early version of the pilot featured Gene Simmons of KISS in the lead, which we can all agree would’ve been amazing.)
While the show has its fans, it’s pretty indistinguishable from every other cheesy ’80s detective show. Also, Sable’s children’s book author secret identity is super flamboyant in an uncomfortably dated way.
Today, the show is mostly notable for introducing viewers to Rene Russo, who played Sable’s love interest before going on to bigger and better love interest roles in movies like ‘Major League’ and ‘Lethal Weapon 3.’
We’ll be honest here — it’s hard to hate any show where the title hero moonlights as a jazz saxophonist named Johnny Domino. But that outfit is just too ridiculous to take seriously.
The premise of this show, based on a short-lived Malibu/Marvel comic, is also pretty ridiculous. Johnny Domino makes the ladies swoon with his jazzy stylings, but after getting struck by lightning during a cable-car accident, he gains the ability to telepathically “hear” evil. So of course he also wears a suit that allows him to fly and fire laser beams.
Should you go looking for ‘Night Man’ on torrent sites, keep an eye out for appearances by Little Richard, Donald Trump and Jonathan Chase, the lead character from show creator Glen A. Larson’s series ‘Manimal.’ Yes, Night Man teamed up with Manimal.