Total Recall

20 Forgotten TV Superheroes

Have a look at some small-screen heroes you might struggle to recall.

by | August 8, 2017 | Comments

Fall offers an abundance of  new and returning TV superheroes, which started in August with Netflix’s highly anticipated team-up, The Defenders. While the superheroes headlining this latest Marvel venture may be recognizable to you — Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) — some of their TV predecessors weren’t so lucky and came and went without much fanfare.

Have a look at some TV superheroes you may not recall.


Automan

Having famous parents will give a person a leg-up in show business, but that’s only part of the battle — just ask Desi Arnaz, Jr., whose legendary parents’ prowess wasn’t enough to keep him from starring in Automan, a 13-episode wonder that aired on ABC from late 1983 through the spring of 1984. Following the adventures of unfortunately named cop/computer specialist Walter Nebicher (Arnaz, Jr.) and his AI hologram creation Automan (Chuck Wagner), the show combined corny humor (its second episode was titled “Staying Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever”) with goofy special effects (Automan’s Tron-inspired suit was made out of special reflective fabric), to negligible results. By summer, he was gone, along with his Autocar and Autochopper.


Birds of Prey

Taking its inspiration from the DC series of the same name, the WB’s Birds of Prey imagined a Batman-free future for Gotham — one in which three of the city’s strongest women (Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Oracle, played by Dina Meyer; Helena Kyle, a.k.a. Huntress, played by Ashley Scott; and Dinah Lance, played by Rachel Skarsten) team up to fight crime, assisted by a police detective (Shemar Moore) and, of course, Batman’s manservant Alfred Pennyworth (Ian Abercrombie). The show’s splashy premise made it a popular viewing destination early on, but ratings quickly eroded; after Prey‘s 13-episode first-season run, the network opted not to renew.


Black Scorpion

Avoiding camp is often a tricky proposition for superhero series; their concepts require such a delicate suspension of disbelief that it can sometimes be easier just to embrace the silly humor inherent in the idea of a costumed crimefighter. The Sci Fi Channel series Black Scorpion is a case in point: Drawing its inspiration from a pair of Roger Corman films and leaning heavy on the exclamation-pointed aesthetic of the 1960s Batman series (right down to hiring special guests Adam West and Frank Gorshin), it starred former Miss Kansas Michelle Lintel as the titular hero, a police detective leading a double life as a masked vigilante. Like Batman, Black Scorpion relied on combat training, cool gear, and impossible gadgets to do her work, which may have been part of why she ended up battling low-budget baddies like Aerobicide (and her sidekicks Bend and Stretch) — and that, in turn, likely had a lot to do with why Black Scorpion lasted only a single 22-episode season before being retired.


The Cape

If for no other reason than that its supporting cast included the magnificent Keith David, CBS’s The Cape should have had a long and healthy life on television. Alas, this 2010-11 midseason replacement was quickly doomed by lukewarm reviews and dismal ratings, more than likely the byproduct of a thoroughly convoluted (if still fairly exciting) premise involving an honest cop (David Lyons) framed for murder by a criminal mastermind (James Frain) who thinks he’s killed his patsy — but he’s really only driven him underground, where he’s been schooled in the ways of combat and trickery (as well as outfitted with a nifty cape, ergo the series title) and reborn as a hero hellbent on exposing the crimes of his nemesis. Originally booked for a 13-episode run, The Cape was cut to 10 installments, the last of which was subject to the then-unique indignity of airing only on the network’s website — but it did at least walk away with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series, Miniseries, Movie Or A Special.


CAPTAIN NICE, William Daniels, 1967 (Courtesy Everett Collection)

Captain Nice

A sort of goofy precursor to The Greatest American Hero with a Captain America twist, 1967’s short-lived Captain Nice followed the clumsy adventures of Carter Nash (William Daniels), a nebbish police chemist who ingests a “super serum” that endows him with special powers (strength, invulnerability, flying) without making him particularly heroic. Garbed in a uniform made and monogrammed by his mother (the incredible Alice Ghostley), Carter Nash becomes Captain Nice and gets himself mixed up in all sorts of goings-on, all while remaining blissfully ignorant of the affections of meter maid Candy Kane (Ann Prentiss). Although it had a solid creative pedigree, springing from the mind of Get Smart co-mastermind Buck Henry, Captain Nice was always campier than funny, and after 15 episodes, NBC had seen enough.


Electra Woman and Dyna Girl

Sid & Marty Kroft, better known for their puppet shows and Land of the Lost, attempted their own superhero show in 1976 with Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Days of Our Lives Diedre Hall and actress Judy Strangis starred the titular Electra-duo. The pair used advanced “Electra” branded devices — like the Electra-Beam and the Electra-Strobe — to fight supervillains while aided by scientist Frank Heflin (Norman Alden) at the ElectraBase. After producing sixteen 12-minute segments for their Saturday morning Kroft Supershow, the Krofts chose not to produce additional material during Supershow’s second season. Forgotten by audiences at large, it was memorable to handful of TV executives, leading to an unaired 2001 WB pilot featuring Night Court’s Markie Post and a 2016 webseries starring Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart.


GENERATION X (New World Entertainment Films / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Generation X

Before they feuded over Mutant X, Fox and Marvel teamed up for Generation X, a 1996 TV movie that positioned Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford) and Emma Frost, a.k.a. the White Queen (General Hospital vet Finola Hughes) as the leaders of a Professor X-less Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Our heroes and their young charges squared off against Russel Tresh (Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer), a mad scientist whose quest to access the “dream dimension” involves scooping brain tissue out of a mutant named Skin (Austin Rodriguez). Bringing superhero action to the screen on a television budget is always a tall order even under the best of circumstances, however, and that problem is compounded when you’re dealing with a script that calls for a large cast bestowed with a dazzling (in theory) array of powers. Toss in a screenplay that gives too many of our teen mutants short shrift and a director who seemed to be actively encouraging Frewer’s hammiest instincts, and it’s no wonder that Generation X hasn’t been followed by future small-screen X-outings (yet).


Isis

Before superhero-watchers were treated to Wonder Woman, they got The Secrets of Isis, starring Joanna Cameron as a high school science teacher whose discovery of an ancient amulet during an Egyptian archaeological dig bestows her with the power of the titular goddess. Part of the same Filmation stable that produced its frequent crossover buddy Shazam!, the two-season Saturday morning hit represents peak ’70s superhero action, with a highly permeable fourth wall and loads of kid-directed moral lessons (delivered straight to the camera during each episode’s closing moments) to go along with the many moments of peril defused by Isis’s poetry-prompted powers.


Man-Thing

Undoubtedly one of the odder heroes to shamble out of the Marvel hivemind during the publisher’s occasionally trippy late 1960s-mid-1970s run, Man-Thing is the unfortunate aftermath of a spy ambush meant to steal the work of a biochemist trying to recreate the “super soldier serum” that created Captain America — when he injects himself with the serum in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, then crashes his car into a swamp that also happens to house the Nexus of All Realities, Dr. Ted Sallis mystically merges with the muck to become the virtually indestructible creature who brings burning pain to all those who know fear (in other words, just about anyone who sees a lumbering red-eyed giant in the middle of a swamp). This 2005 TV movie, which originally aired on the Sci Fi Channel, altered vast chunks of the Man-Thing’s origin (Ted Sallis is now a Seminole chieftain rather than a scientist, for starters) and made it more of a murderous beast than an interdimensional guardian, leaving Man-Thing a low-budget horror movie that served as an adaptation of its alleged inspiration pretty much in name only — and a missed opportunity to present a fun, enthusiastically goofy B-movie version of one of Marvel’s cultiest cult favorites.


M.A.N.T.I.S.

What’s a socially responsible doctor to do after being shot in the spine and paralyzed from the waist down? Well, if you’re Miles Hawkins (played by Carl Lumbly), you dedicate a sizable portion of your considerable wealth to the development of a powerful exoskeleton and other assorted cool gear, you give yourself a secret identity that doubles as a fancy acronym (Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System, or M.A.N.T.I.S. for short), and you fight crime in a hovercraft between R&R sessions in your secret underwater lab. As M.A.N.T.I.S., Hawkins made life miserable for nemeses like unscrupulous industrialist Solomon Box (Andrew J. Robinson), but the one bad guy he couldn’t defeat was network indifference; Fox pulled the plug on the show before it could make it to a second season, leading to a series finale in which our hero is killed in the line of duty while battling an invisible dinosaur.


Manimal

For decades, Manimal served as the butt of jokes whenever NBC wanted to make fun of its own programming choices. Though only the second-worst series the network aired (the worst being the Love Boat wannabe Supertrain), Manimal featured the catchier name and premise. Jaws 3’s Simon MacCorkindale starred as Dr. Jonathan Chase, a man who could change into the shape of any animal the production could afford; typically a hawk or a panther. Teaming up with Detective Brooke Mackenzie (Flash Gordon’s Melody Anderson), Chase used his special abilities to fight crime. The premise failed to excite viewers and was canceled after eight episodes were produced. In fact, Manimal was one of eight new series NBC quickly axed in 1983. Curiously, MacCorkindale would reprise his role as Chase in a 1998 episode of Night Man called “Manimal.”


MISFITS OF SCIENCE (Universal TV/courtesy Everett Collection)

Misfits of Science

A good-natured, Ghostbusters-inspired paranormal action comedy anchored by Dean Paul Martin, Misfits of Science is notable not only for its eclectic cast — which included a young Courteney Cox, fresh off her big break in Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video, as well as future Predator Kevin Peter Hall and ALF‘s sputtering landlord, Max Wright — but for the talent behind the scenes, a group that included first-time writer Tim Kring. Although the show was a pet project of NBC president Brandon Tarkitoff, it was ultimately too expensive to justify continuing in light of low ratings, a casualty of Misfits‘ unenviable position across the schedule from Dallas. After 15 episodes, Science was blinded, although it remains a cult favorite for a small group of devoted fans — for proof, check out Will Harris’s ebook Misfits of Science: An Oral History.


Mutant X

Fox’s ownership of the film and TV rights to Marvel’s X-Men characters enabled the publisher to see some of its heroes on the screen at a time when they weren’t able to adapt those titles themselves, but it has also been a source of persistent complication between the companies — and occasionally the basis for a lawsuit, as was the case when Marvel produced Mutant X, a syndicated series about a bio-geneticist named Adam Kane (John Shea) whose remorse over having helped create a generation of mutants leads him to round up and lead a group of genetically altered heroes on a mission to protect and train mutants at risk of being harmed or exploited. The story possibilities were fairly endless, and the ratings were sufficiently healthy for three full seasons’ worth of episodes, but Fox sued the various companies involved, arguing that Mutant X was a breach of their licensing agreement. Marvel eventually settled out of court, leaving its production partners Tribune Entertainment and Fireworks Entertainment to continue fighting on their own — and when Fireworks went bankrupt, Mutant X died a sudden death.


My Secret Identity

Those lucky Canadians, man — not only do they have publicly funded health care, but the Great White North is also home to photon beams that endow teenage boys with superhuman abilities. (This may explain how the guys in Rush are able to rock so hard.) That’s the premise, anyway, behind My Secret Identity, which starred a young Jerry O’Connell as Andrew Clements, a Toronto teen who just happens to be pals with a super-genius scientist (Derek McGrath, a.k.a. Andy Andy from Cheers) who helps him navigate the perils of superpowered puberty. Part of the same block of delightfully ’80s syndicated series that included Out of This World and She’s the Sheriff, My Secret Identity made Saturday afternoons fun for a few years before soaring off into obscurity.


Night Man

Years after Manimal faded into the annals of misbegotten TV crimefighters, the show’s creator, Glen A. Larson, got a second shot at helping develop a small-screen superhero with Night Man, a syndicated (and loosely Marvel-derived) series about a saxophone player (Matt McColm) who acquires the ability to telepathically detect evil (but is no longer able to sleep) after being struck by lightning. Did we mention that this poor fellow’s name is Johnny Domino? Given its intensely silly premise, visibly low budget, and a supporting cast that briefly included Taylor Dayne, it’s perhaps most surprising that the show managed to last for two seasons, enjoying a 44-episode run (during which Night Man came across Little Richard and Donald Trump as well as Manimal) before disappearing into the darkness.


No Ordinary Family

Before ABC had access to the Marvel Comics library of characters, it tried to grow its own superhero TV show. The result was not fondly remembered, if recalled at all. The Shield’s Michael Chiklis starred as Jim Powell, the patriarch of a regular California family that survives a plane crash in the Amazon and gains special powers. Once home, they attempted to balance family dysfunctions with their new calling as heroes. Despite being co-created by future Arrow and Flash innovator Greg Berlanti, the show’s sci-fi dramedy format, a strange fit for ABC at the time, bled viewers. Picked up for a full season in October of 2010 thanks to a strong premiere, the order was cut to twenty episodes early the next year and canceled in May of 2011.


Powers

Based on the comic book by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, Powers had the best of intentions, but lacked a wide enough platform to be seen. District 9’s Sharlto Copley starred as Detective Christian Walker, a cop assigned to the LAPD’s Powers Division whose beat included crimes perpetuated by or against extranormal individuals. The first season saw Walker — once a costumed hero himself — investigating his former mentor and facing the temptation to regain his powers. While featuring an interesting premise and a handful of good performances, the production values left a lot to be desired. Also, the show was only available on Sony Playstation consoles via its Playstation Network; severely limiting its availability as a first-run program. A second season was ordered, but Sony soon pulled the plug after the series debuted in May of 2016.


Swamp Thing

Despite surviving for three seasons, USA’s Swamp Thing aired long before basic cable channels were known for quality original content. The series did little to change that reputation. Stuntman Dick Durock reprised his title role from the Swamp Thing feature films as Alec Holland, a scientist burned and left for dead by the twisted Dr. Anton Arcane (Mark Lindsay Chapman). Instead of dying, he became a supernatural vegetable creature dedicated to keeping the evil men do out of his swamp. Initially campy and family-friendly, the show would become a darker tale after its thirteenth episode. But with episodes aired out of order, and the generally poor quality of writing, the show never amassed more than cult following. Ironically, that following led to some of USA’s best ratings at the time which gives you an idea of how small cable audiences were thirty years ago. Today, most are surprised to learn that the show ever existed.

  • JointhePredacons

    Automan was a great show.

    • Joolio D.

      Such good memories of Automan.

      • JointhePredacons

        I still hum the theme song here and there

  • Joolio D.

    I’d add Manimal and all its seven episodes to this list.

  • Ken Hill

    I remembered and liked Birds of Prey, Mantis, and you did remind me about The Cape. A few of these were done in by their budgets and the cheesiness of their special effects. In My Secret Identity, all I ever saw was Jerry O’Connel floating awkwardly, Misfits of Science; you never saw them use their powers hardly. I had it BAD for Courtney Cox but even that smile wasn’t enough to keep me tuned in. I watched Nightman but could never figure out why he was a superhero. I liked Automan but I was like 11 when it premiered.

  • Balam

    What about Gemini Man. He had a digital watch that made him invisible when pressed. But he can only remain invisible for 15 minutes or else he will stay invisible forever.

    • bjensen

      He must have remained invisible for 15.1 min then, cause no one remembers it now.

      • Balam

        It starred Ben Murphy who was Jones in Alias Smith and Jones. They only made 12 Episodes.

      • Mark Schieber

        ba dum PSHH

  • Stu Dolgon

    Mister Terrific was on CBS, not NBC.

  • peeker3000 .

    Don’t forget Man from Atlantis.

  • pronto

    Captain Nice was quite funny due to the influence of Buck Henry.
    It had a Get Smart sense of fun & humor.

    Mr.Terrific was a bland,ho-hum vehicle.

  • Jim Gorr

    Despite all the flaws in Birds of Prey, I liked it… The Cape was also a series I liked also…

    • tman418

      The Cape? You mean that TV show about a superhero who says in the pilot episode:

      Alright, after barely defeating a midget in an MMA brawl on the 3rd try, I’m totally ready to be a superhero out in the field”.

  • Bobby Bellew

    Mr. Terrific and Captain Nice were the only 2 I didn’t know from watching. But I did learn about them online. Secrets of ISIS helped jump-start my puberty.

  • Tracy Wood

    I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that I watched almost all of these, or the fact that I liked most of them. HAHA

  • Bealeki

    Does ‘The Highway Man’ with Sam Jones count as a superhero?

  • Stang2691

    Forgot a classic: “The Greatest American Hero” Loved that show when I was a kid. Props for remembering Automan.

    • Jackie Jormpjomp

      But it is not forgotten

    • Wayne A. Bibbs

      I have the box set!

      • rogerscorpion

        Do u mean the kit, Wayne? If not—look it up. Comes with the cape.

  • Tommy Cashman

    Good to know I’m not the only one who noticed the glaring omission of ‘The Greatest American Hero.’ Man-Thing, Captain Nice, and The Cape were included, though? Ralph Hinkley (or Hanley, depending on what season it was) was not only a truly unique spin on the ‘traditional’ superhero tale, but he was a strongly positive role-model. He was a good person above all, and despite many, many opportunities for that integrity to be corrupted by his new abilities granted by ‘The Magic Jammies’ (thank you, Bill Maxwell) he never fell victim to that. This is also the reason why the individual who wrote the premise for him losing the suit in the horrific ‘Greatest American Heroine’ had absolutely zero sense of Ralph as a character.

    • Jackie Jormpjomp

      But it isn’t forgotten

  • William Magnaus

    Am I the only one who thinks that Knight Rider and the pilots of Airwolf are also considered heroes? How about Captain Power: And the soldiers of the future?

    • charley newman

      Yeah, but Knight Rider was successful, that’s why it wasn’t on the list. At least highly memorable anyway.

  • David

    Birds of Prey would have been pretty good if they had picked a direction for the show to go in. Either tie it to the Batman lore or totally ignore it. They kept going back and forth with the show. The biggest problem with the show was the idea that Batman would just up and leave his city behind. Because Selina Kyle was killed.

  • John

    you forgot Manimal, Viper, No Ordinary Family, and Street Hawk

    • Zebra Snark

      Props to you for these.

  • Blakeney

    I’d like to include Now and Again, a great show and much missed:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_and_Again

    • Jackie Jormpjomp

      That was a really good and original show

      • rogerscorpion

        It was a great & SMART show!

  • Tank Manhammer

    I always loved Charlie Kelly’s Nighman theme song.

  • charley newman

    I LOVE THE CAPE!!!

  • Soleil Noir

    We didn’t “forget” about them; it’s just that they were so fucking retarded, we were trying to spare them the embarrassment of reminding them that we still remember them. Oh — and you forgot “Manimal” and “Sable”…

  • Mr. Terrific was on CBS, and Captain Nice was on NBC. Both shows were a response to ABC’s Batman mania. Both failed. And then so did Batman.

  • Milos Pantic

    Guys wth u forgot blade the series (he is my favorite superhero)looks like that one was trully forgoten

  • Yinzhe Lu

    Where is Bibleman?

    • Zebra Snark

      Well… he’s “live-action” theater and not on TV. But I’ll give you a B for effort.

      • Matt Traut

        Bibleman was indeed on TV, It started out as a direct to video series, but episodes ran on one of the Christian channels in the 2000s. I’ll give you a D for failing to do your homework.

  • tman418

    The Cape was probably one of the most retarded TV shows I’ve seen.

    I watched the pilot episode, and nothing more. If I remember correctly, during the hero-to-be’s training montage, the circus group training him decides he’s ready for in-the-field combat after he barely…defeats…a midget, ON THE 3rd TRY!. This is a straight-up “anything goes” 1-on-1 hand-to-hand fight, btw.

    I’m not denying that little people can be tough, you’re clearly not ready for actual in-the-field combat if you can only BARELY defeat a midget, on the 3rd try. I mean, aren’t you supposed to be ready to take on large groups of enemies, some of whom are likely to be well-trained, and possibly ARMED (with firearms and/or other melee weapons), and almost 100% of them will be your size or larger?!?! Oh and don’t forget, they’re all trying to KILL you! Not just make you tap out.

    Glad I didn’t waste my time watching that.

  • Patrick Gerdes

    Misfits and Mr Terrific were actual very big in Germany. (Also the first season of Dark Angel – the second was a mess)
    It`s a shame that they can`t continue with shows if they hit in other markets.

    It`s somehow a super hero series…does someone watched Pushing Daisies? That was some awesome show.

  • Zebra Snark

    What about No Ordinary Family?

  • Zebra Snark

    Niiiice. Now I’ve got the theme song running in my head.

  • Zebra Snark

    Too bad William Daniels didn’t moonlight as Captain Nice while he was on “St. Elsewhere” (all a dream anyway, right?) or while he was Mr. Feeny on “Boy Meets World.” Heck, Disney could have used it for “Girl Meets World.” Dave Foley could be his sidekick.

  • Wayne A. Bibbs

    Remember “Lucan” with Kevin Brophy, and how about “The Kids From C.A.P,E,R.”?

  • rogerscorpion

    I LOVED the 1990 Flash. The costume was absolutely perfect—& that was back when special effects were less advanced. Tech is BETTER now, so why couldn’t they make his suit to not wrinkle? The Flash’s suit does NOT wrinkle. I’ve been reading it since the 60s. The show was a lovely amalgam of Jay & Berry & had characters with names which nodded to the other characters from the Flash universe.

  • mlauzon

    Out of the 14 shows on here, I only never knew of two, and they were “Captain Nice” & “Mr. Terrific”. However, there are many other superhero shows that are not listed that people may or may not know about.

  • “Night Man, a syndicated (and loosely Marvel-derived) series”

    Marvel derived? Not really…actually, at all. NIGHT MAN was based on a comic book of the same name published by Malibu Comics (which MARVEL did eventually acquire) as part of its quasi-creator-owned shared superhero continuity/universe ULTRAVERSE. ULTRAVERSE existed in the mid-90’s and was part of the comic book “boom” and flood, where just about anyone who had the means and any company that had a creative component tried to establish a superhero universe and comic book line. In fact Night Man appeared in Cartoon form in the ULTRAFORCE cartoon based on the comic of the same name. It was as awful as the NIGHT MAN TV show if not worse.

    • bjensen

      Was going to say the same thing, though the comic (while not necessarily good) was better then the show but probably the worst of the Ultraverse stuff

  • Brunoxxx

    Why wasn’t Superforce, the monster squad, bill Bixby’s the magician or phoenix about the solar powered ancient egpytion on this list?

  • Joseph Wilson

    I loved my secret identity! I watched it all the time!

  • Miggy fan

    NightMan was a decent program with Earl Holliman and Michael Woods the first season. Once they dropped them, it stunk.

  • Christina Lee

    I loved misfits of science…only one season ’85🤖😪

    • Mark Schieber

      Me too! I have the DVD set from Germany.

  • Michael

    There was talk for awhile of a crossover episode between “Birds Of Prey” & “Smallville”. The kryptonite-powered “meteor-freaks” were even mentioned on a “Birds” episode.

  • Rupert Bauer

    Many people remember ‘The Greatest American Hero’, but lately I’ve heard they don’t remember why. The show was pulled from the air in it’s first season because the lead character had the same name as the man that shot Ronald Reagan. It was remixed with the main characters name as Ralph Hanley, then started it’s second season with his name back to Ralph Hinkley. By the third season, the issue of his last name became a joke with him being called several versions and receiving a plaque with “Hunkley” on it. Ralph gives up and says “it’s close enough for politics”

  • Lee Sharp

    I was expecting a list of superheroes we forgot about? A part from Captain Nice and Terriffic I’ve never seen, the rest have never forgotten about, even got some on DVD?

    I’m sure there’s alot more obscure superheroes than these to list?

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