It’s time for another Friday Flashback here at Crave Online!
And while this feature was originally intended to focus on classic TV series to recommend to all of our readers, this week’s installment is going in a different direction.
"The Cape" is already being called one of the worst TV superhero shows in the history of the medium. And those are the people who are holding back!
But you haven’t experienced true superhero crappery until you’ve seen "M.A.N.T.I.S.," the short lived comic book inspired series that aired on Fox back in 1994.
"M.A.N.T.I.S." has the distinction of being the first live-action African American superhero to have his own solo series on television… but that’s about all he had. The thing is, "M.A.N.T.I.S." should have been awesome. It was created by Sam Raimi and Sam Hamm. We all know who Raimi is from the "Spider-Man" movies and "Army of Darkness," but Hamm was the screenwriter behind the first Tim Burton "Batman" film. He wasn’t a perfect writer, but he knew his comics.
According to veteran TV producer Bryce Zabel, Raimi and Hamm "saw the series as an alternative world with an all-black cast and Fox wanted it to be a super-hero who was black in a regular American city;" which ultimately caused both Sams to walk from the project that bears their names.
However, that’s just backstory. The series itself followed Dr. Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly), a man who was paralyzed in a police shooting incident. Using his Tony Stark-like genius, he built a suit that he could use to walk around, shoot darts and fight crime.
Not a bad idea in theory, he just looked kind of ridiculous. And the show was… well, let’s just say, really bad.
Gina Torres appeared in the pilot episode before being cut from the cast. But she went on to better things like "Firefly" and Laurence Fishburne. Actually, she and Lumbly reunited years later on "Alias."
The last two episodes of the series never actually aired on Fox, but they gave rise to an urban legend of sorts. For years, I had heard that M.A.N.T.I.S. was killed off in the final episode when he was eaten by an invisible dinosaur. And yes, I just wrote "invisible dinosaur."
That brings us to "Ghost of The Ice," the very last episode of "M.A.N.T.I.S.," which I’ve now seen through the magic of Hulu.
The short version is that Dr. Hawkins (in his M.A.N.T.I.S. armor) and his colleague John Stonebrake (Roger Rees) engage in a test flight of "The Chrysalid" (which was essentially their version of the Batwing jet) that soon goes down in the most spectacular crash sequence since Buck Rogers met the Hawkman in the early ’80s. Their friends Taylor (Christopher Gartin) and Detective Leora Maxwell (Galyn Görg) race to their crash site, where they are all menaced by the previously mentioned invisible dinosaur.
Have you ever wondered what an invisible dinosaur looks like? Well, wonder no more!
Here’s a screencap from the scene where Maxwell tries to shoot it.
Incidentally, the explanation for why the dinosaur is invisible is priceless. Suffice to say, it involves invoking the mighty jellyfish and its transparent skin and organs.
I’ll say this for Dr. Hawkins… He’s not a coward and he actually seems quite brave in the face of his impending demise.
That ladies and gentlemen is the real kicker. For M.A.N.T.I.S. doesn’t actually get eaten by the dinosaur as we were led to believe. Instead, he blows up himself AND his love interest Leora Maxwell in order to finally kill the beast. And then Robin Colcord wraps up the series, presumably to become the Sheriff of Rottingham.
A heroic sacrifice is one thing, but the fact that Hawkins couldn’t even save the woman he loved with his final act is even more ignoble than everything else. What could have been a fun, campy romp as a hero’s final adventure instead ends in a tragedy that we can’t even take seriously.
And so, here lies "M.A.N.T.I.S.," unmourned, unloved and largely forgotten.
A cautionary tale for any TV superheroes who want to follow in his rubber-armored footsteps.
Yes, that means you, The Cape!