?With the debut of NBC’s superhero drama The Cape this past January, came a wave of criticism that the show had basically ripped off nearly every comic book hero that came before it (with the possible exception of Ambush Bug). That might be true, but The Cape isn’t trying to reinvent the superhero TV show. It’s just trying to be a not-particularly challenging action series… and one that, occasionally, seems to know how hokey it is. It’s hard to tell, frankly.
The point is, while The Cape might not be that good, it’s also not that bad. There are plenty of other TV superheroes who have donned capes and cowls to far worse results. Here are 20 of the small screen’s lousiest heroes!
While Manimal could turn into any animal, he generally preferred a bird and a cat (animal handling budgets were smaller back in 1983). He did this to help solve crimes. That shows how awful his town’s police department was, in that the biggest case could be only be cracked by a reasonably intelligent bull.
19) Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
Electra Woman wasn’t the best crimefighter, but she was excellent at keeping her name branding visible. Everything she owned needed to have the word “Electra” in front of it, like her “Electra-Plane,” “Electra-Beam,” “Electra-Degravitators,” and “Electra-Chomps.” Too bad she couldn’t brand her way into more than eight episodes back in ’76. “Electra-Footnote-In-TV-History!”
18) Thor from The Incredible Hulk Returns
Never has the battle between Thor and the Hulk been so… talky. Action isn’t Thor’s strength in this 1988 made-for-TV Hulk movie that was supposed to shuttle the God of Thunder into his own series. Thor ended up looking like an underfunded cosplayer, always at the beck and call of Donald Blake… who was a totally different person. Think “genie from Aladdin, but more Nordic.”
17) Andrew Clement from My Secret Identity
Jerry O’Connell lives the life we all want to lead, from starring in Sliders to marrying Rebecca Romijn, but I’d partner with Romijn’s Mystique in a fight over O’Connell’s Andrew Clement. Straight from the great country of Canada, the politest nation on Earth, My Secret Identity lasted from 1988-91, starring a suburban Superman who was about as whitebread as they came. Still, I’d give up a year’s salary just to see Frank Miller’s take on him.
Being a “computer expert” in the early ’80s meant being able to create a living hologram with a human head that fought crime. Apparently, you could do that sort of thing before Windows ’95 came along. Automan’s look was based on the characters from Tron, but don’t expect a big-budget “Automan: Legacy” anytime soon, despite Desi Arnaz Jr.’s pleas to “de-age me, I beg of you.”
15) Gemini Man
Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will remember two episodes of this 1976 series were squished together to make Riding with Death. It wasn’t good and neither was this series about an easy-going secret agent (Ben Murphy) who could turn invisible after a diving accident (we’re not sure about that either). Abrupt cast changes and molasses-slow pacing kept this dud to only five aired episodes.
14) ’70s Spider-Man
Fourteen episodes were all that could be squeezed out of this live-action snoozer from the late ’70s. Offering none of Spidey’s colorful supervillains and only three of the cast from the comic (Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson, and Aunt May), the show saw a badly-dressed hero swinging around and fighting generic criminals. At least viewers of the show could enjoy the fact that they could probably take Spidey in a fight.
13) The Misfits of Science
Courtney Cox and Max Wright from ALF? Why didn’t this mid-’80s show survive? If pressured, I would probably say, “comedy aspects of show at war with superhero aspects of show, coupled with more people wanting to watch Dallas at the same timeslot.” Super-powered teens, while a hit in the comics, struggled to make a splash on TV. There are DVDs available if you go to Germany, though!
12) Matthew Starr from The Powers of Matthew Starr
When the Smallville-esque adventures of a psychic teenage prince from outer space got dull, the producers dropped almost everything that had been built up in the first half of this 1982 show (including nearly all of the characters) for a darker, more serious approach. Matthew Starr may have had telepathy and telekinesis, but he couldn’t save this confused show from well-deserved cancellation.
11) Black Scorpion
Black Scorpion was basically Darkwing Duck for adults. Based on two Roger Corman straight-to-cable Batman knock-off films, sexy vigilante Black Scorpion battled a whole host of colorful villains played by Frank Gorshin, Adam West, and a bunch of ex-Playmates. Despite having everything that fanboys love, the Scorpion was living on borrowed equity from the beginning and was squished after one season in 2001 on Sci-Fi.
10) Generation X
Truth: The Marvel comic series was awesome. Truth: The TV movie was released less than a year and a half after the series debuted in ’95. How much of the series could the creators pull from in those few short months? Not a lot, since popular characters were done wrong (Jubilee), familiar characters were left out (Husk, Chamber), and familiar X-villains were replaced with Max Headroom‘s Matt Frewer, not known for being a badass.
9) Captain Planet
Cap and the kids lasted longer than any other hero or team on this list, racking up an impressive 113 episodes over six seasons from 1990-93. It also boasted an all-star voice cast, including Sting, Meg Ryan, James Coburn, and Martin Sheen. But man, Captain Planet looked like a dumbass. You’ll see people dressed in his blue skin and mullet at conventions, and you will generally look down at them. Friends don’t let friends, okay? Let’s stop this now.
8) Blue Falcon and Dynomutt
It’s hard to take Blue Falcon seriously. As much as he tries to come off like Bruce Wayne, he’ll always be saddled with a dog that wears boots. He fares a little better in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, but still, he’s a guy dressed like a bird who hangs around with a robot dog who wears boots. Say nothing of the fact that the bird’s beak blocks his vision, we’re wondering why a dog would need boots. Boots, gah!
7) Night Man
Alas, it’s not the rock musical from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s a 1997 action show based on the comic from Malibu about a jazz saxophonist-turned superhero who can’t sleep. Yep, it’s as if Kenny G got insomnia and felt like fighting crime. He can also telepathically detect evil, which must cause huge headaches every time he watches Leno. Hey-yo!
6) Man From Atlantis
Step By Step‘s Patrick Duffy stripped down to a speedo and got webbed fingers for this short-lived 1977 bucket of seawater. He could breathe underwater (much like Aquaman), survive at great depths (much like Aquaman), and drew great strength from the sea (much like Aquaman). Sadly, he failed to keep viewers interested (again, much like Aquaman).
5) ’70s Shazam!
Shazam the character has held up well, but this mid-’70s show was strictly for kids only. Adults who may have grown to accept a comic with a talking toy tiger or a balding uncle in a cape were not interested in a series where some teenager and old man drive around in an RV helping people. No supervillains and no fist-fighting made this Captain Marvel just a super-powered handyman, who lived in a van down by the river.
4) Turbo Teen
Turbo Teen was a kid who would transform himself into a car when he got hot, and back into a teen when he got cold. If this happened to us, we’d move to the North Pole, shun all human contact, and cry out against an unjust God. Turbo Teen, however, fought crime. He was about as effective as… well, as a smart person driving a car.
If you ask people to name awful superhero shows, 1994’s M.A.N.T.I.S. is usually the first that comes to mind. A paralyzed doctor in a mechanical suit, M.A.N.T.I.S. battled criminals (in the beginning) and then supervillains and monsters (near the end, when the show was struggling). What finally did him in? An invisible dinosaur. I’m not kidding, he was killed in the last episode by an invisible dinosaur.
2) ’70s Captain America
Before Chris Evans, before Matthew Salinger, there were two made-for-TV movies in 1979 with lunkhead Reb Brown as the star-spangled supersoldier. But who cares about the familiar costume? Motorcycle helmet with wings! Red and white suspenders! Transparent shield! Is there a Red Skull to battle? Nah, Cap fights against (and again, I’m not kidding) theft of social security checks.
1) Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog
Fans of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman who watched Superfriends had to sit through the inane shenanigans of this trio of… interns? Make-A-Wish kids? No idea what they were supposed to be. We tuned in to see Batman beat on the Joker — not to see two teenagers and a goddam dog in a cape take pratfalls. Seriously, those guys were worse than M.A.N.T.I.S.