Superheroes on TV: Live action shows

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Given that the Superhero TV phenomenon started in 1952 with a certain Man of Steel, it’s only appropriate that he should still be represented on the prime-time schedule in 2007 ("Smallville"). DC Comics had the monopoly on the live-action superhero genre for years upon years, but Marvel finally started to make some headway in the ‘70s and, nowadays, even the indie publishers can get a show green-lighted…not that you have to rely on existing characters to get a super-series on the air. (Can anyone say “Misfits of Science”?)

Adventures of Superman (1952 – 1958)

No matter how good you might think the film “Hollywoodland” is, it’s done one really unfortunate thing: it’s brought the death of George Reeves back into the public mind. Once again, people won’t be able to watch Reeves playing his most famous roles – neither the mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper nor the strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men – without thinking of the way Reeves died. And, dammit, that’s a real shame, because despite the fact that it hasn’t exactly aged well, it’s crucial that we remember just how awesome “Adventures of Superman” was to the kids who grew up watching it. There was no CGI back then, and the special effects guys of the day did they best they could. If some of it looks laughable now, it was just fine and dandy in the ‘50s -- one just needs to consider the show in the proper perspective. Of course, things went horribly wrong when the show made the switch halfway through its run from filming in black and white to color. Seeing Superman’s costume in all its Technicolor glory somehow made it harder to suspend disbelief, but, in addition, the scripts reflected this as well, turning more lighthearted and often getting downright silly. Look, fun’s fun, people, but if you’re not scared of the bad guys, what’s the point? In 1958, “Adventures of Superman” took its last flight, with Jimmy saying to Clark, "Golly, Mr. Kent, you'll never know how wonderful it is to be like Superman,” and Clark responding, "No, Jimmy, I guess I never will." – Will Harris

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Batman (1966-1968)

Oh, the camp of it all! With tongue planted firmly in cheek, William Dozier, William P. D’Angelo and Howie Horwitz brought the caped crusader to television for three years of fun. Their vision was hyperbole wrapped in fantastic guest villains from Burgess Meredith (The Penguin) to Liberace (Chandell), with giant William-Shatner-like overacting from the brilliantly silly Adam West as the cherry on top. Children liked it, but the humor was clearly aimed at adults. Julie Newmar in a Catwoman outfit makes me feel tingly to this day, and, on the good girl front, Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl looked pretty good herself. No one can deny that Frank Gorshin’s brilliantly manic portrayal of the Riddler is the greatest villain performance of all time. WHAM! Hyperbole: don’t you love it? But, seriously, Gorshin’s performance in the role was superb and puts everyone else who has played the character to shame, including a snoozable John Astin and a strained Jim Carrey. This version of Batman was far removed from Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s original vision, however. Kane fully attributed the show to saving Batman as a comic book, but after the series was cancelled, the comic then suffered for a period, forcing DC to re-invent the Caped Crusader again, emphasizing the character’s darker elements. If you compare the fabulously comic interpretation of the show to the newest Christian Bale incarnation, they share names in common only, but offer delicious dichotomies of one of the most brilliant fictional characters ever created. – R. David Smola

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The Green Hornet (1966-1967)

The genesis of this 26-episode series (which was way too short of a run) traces back to the radio program that aired in the 40’s prior to becoming a comic book. The radio show was created by the same folks who created the Lone Ranger; in fact, the original character in the radio show was actually the son of the Lone Ranger’s nephew. By the time the series got made in the 60’s, it turns out that the best part of the show, and its focus, was not on the handsome newspaper publisher Britt Reid or his green alter-ego (both played by Van Williams) but on his assistant, Kato, a role filled by none other than Bruce Lee. The show shot straight and didn’t incorporate camp like Batman, but it had a very cool car, the Black Beauty (a supped-up 1966 Chrysalis Crown Imperial); a dude with a secret identity; and the incredible fight choreography of Bruce Lee. The show did do a couple of crossovers with Batman as the two dynamic duos fought crime, but the Hornet started off being misinterpreted as a bad guy (see Spider-Man), so his image was much different at first. Despite the interest generated by Lee, the Hornet bit the dust after only 26 episodes. In Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, it is the disappointment of this cancellation and being passed over for “Kung Fu” (a role which was given to non-Asian David Carradine) which led Lee back to Hong Kong and his superstardom there. Sadly, Lee died in 1973 before his star status back in the States would be cemented with Enter The Dragon. – RDS

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Shazam! (1974 – 1977)

The character of Captain Marvel had been a staple of comic books since the 1940s, but given the incredible amount of mythos that had been built up around Cap and his whole Marvel Family, this was a rather odd way to finally bring him to the small screen. Captain Marvel, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him (and don’t laugh, it’s been way too long since he’s gotten his due outside of the comics), is the secret identity of young Billy Batson. He gains the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury by saying the word resulting from taking the first letter of each of their names: Shazam. In the comics, Billy is a radio announcer; on the show, however, he is, for no discernable reason, driving around the country in an RV with an old guy named Mentor who serves as (oh, isn’t this just a little too obvious?) his mentor. Although it was always a cool concept for kids to imagine that if they only knew what their magic word was, they too could turn into a superhero, this live-action version of “Shazam!” wasted a really good concept by making the character into a wandering nomad who was always popping up at just the right time, saving the day, then going on his merry way. When kids started to figure out that every episode followed approximately the same format, the novelty began to dwindle. Well, at least, it did for me, anyway. – WH

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Spidey Super Stories (1974 – 1977)

Okay, we know, this wasn’t a freestanding series. But should we really hold that against “Spidey Super Stories,” given that it served as a legitimate educational aid for kids during the ‘70s? Laugh if you will, but my mother would be the first to stand up and tell you how crucial “The Electric Company” was to the furthering of my reading skills, and the ongoing appearances from ol’ Webhead sure kept this young’un tuning in. Obviously, though, the average age of the viewer meant that the wall-crawler wouldn’t spend his segments engaging in life-or-death battles with Doc Ock, The Green Goblin, or Kraven the Hunter. No, Spidey tended to engage in conflict with dastardly villains like The Tickler, Funny Bunny, and, um, Conk and Bonk, whose modus operandi involved Conk hitting the victim over the head with an oversized mallet as Bonk punched them in the stomach with a giant boxing glove. (Trust me, it went over like gangbusters with the under-8 set.) Spidey didn’t even talk in his appearances; instead, his comments appeared in word bubbles above his head, just like a comic book! It may sound silly, but the segments were so successful that they spawned a Marvel comic aimed at the same young audience, one which continued to be published for five years after “The Electric Company.” And unlike Spidey’s TV adventures, the comic actually found him battling proper villains, as well as teaming up with folks like Captain America, Iron Man and Dr. Strange. If you need to see this stuff to believe it, go check out one of Shout! Factory’s two box set retrospectives of “The Electric Company;” both contains episodes featuring some of Spidey’s most super stories (not to mention his short but super-groovy theme song). – WH

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The Secrets of Isis (1975 – 1977)

Right about the time kids started getting a little iffy about the “Shazam!” series, CBS came up with a great way to bring in the female demographic: dedicate half the show to a super-heroine. Even better, they were able to avoid having to pay royalties to anyone by creating a completely new but not entirely dissimilar character that was also based on mythology, in this case the Egyptian goddess Isis. Her back story was pretty standard superhero stuff: while on an archeological dig in Egypt, high school science teacher Andrea Thomas found an ancient mystical amulet that formerly belonged to Queen Hatshepsut and gave the wearer the powers of Isis. All Andrea had to do to access her powers was to recite the simple three-word incantation, “Oh, mighty Isis,” and, voila, she’d suddenly be wearing a super-short tennis-dress-looking outfit that looked vaguely Egyptian (if, y’know, you weren’t actually from Egypt and didn’t know anything about Egypt except for maybe catching a few minutes of “Cleopatra” once when you were just kinda flipping through the channels). Isis actually had to do quite a bit of incanting to get the job done; for instance, if she wanted to fly, she’d have to say, “Oh, zephyr winds, which blow on high, lift me now, so I can fly.” I’ve gotta be honest, I remember precisely one specific thing about this show: actress Joanna Cameron was way hot, both as Andrea Thomas and Isis. One of these days, I’m going to invest in the box set of the series that was recently released by BCI-Eclipse. Though, interestingly, it seems that virtually everyone involved in the show contributed to the set’s special features except for Cameron. So did they not bother to ask her, or couldn’t she be bothered to revisit her past? Oh, mighty Isis, reveal the truth to us! – WH

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Wonder Woman (1975 – 1979)

We sure remember this show fondly: Lynda Carter filled out that all-American outfit in all the right places, and she even had a theme song that flaunted it! (“In your satin tights / Fighting for your rights / and the old red, white and blue!”) The road to a “Wonder Woman” series actually started in the late ‘60s, in the wake of the camp-tastic “Batman” series. Had any network bit, we’d’ve ended up with a God-awful weekly series called “Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince,” which had Diana living with her mother, who’s constantly telling her how she’s not getting any younger and needs to find herself a husband. Instead, it took eight more years for Carter to end up in costume, and even that didn’t happen until after Cathy Lee Crosby did a “Wonder Woman” TV movie the previous year. Unfortunately, even after “Wonder Woman” finally got on the air as a weekly series, producers still didn’t know what to do with her; it started off in WWII, with Diana battling the Nazis, then switched to modern day in Season Two, explaining that the ageless Wonder Woman had retreated to her home on Paradise Island for 35 years. (We like to think that she set fire to Hitler’s bunker, then hopped in her invisible plane and said, “Well, I’ve taken care of Germany, but you guys are gonna have to bomb Japan yourselves, ‘cause I’m going home!”) Season One is awesome, like seeing Golden Age comics brought to life before your eyes; in the later years, though, they desperately catered to the teen audience, finding ways to work roller coasters and skateboards into plots, or, (in possibly the greatest act of desperation), adding to the cast a streetwise teen named T. Burton Phipps III. It’s no wonder the show was cancelled soon afterwards. – WH

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Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (1976 – 1977)

Wowie! Along with “Wonderbug,” “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” was my favorite part of “The Krofft Supershow” on Saturday mornings in the mid ‘70s. I was only four years old at the time, but the show made enough of an impression on me to last a lifetime. It had to have been those skintight outfits the duo wore, or the groovy disco-styled theme. At any rate, Electra Woman (Deidre Hall) and Dyna Girl (Judy Strangis) battled evil doers like The Sorcerer. They come fully equipped with various Electra-gadgets and their HQ is called the Electrabase, where good friend Frank Heflin (Norman Alden) creates their weapons and maintains the base. The show only lasted eight episodes, but was going to be resuscitated in 2001 as a tongue-in-cheek reworking featuring Markie Post and Anne Stedman in the lead slots. Unfortunately, although a pilot was made, with Electra Woman now a drunken trailer trash slob, it was never picked up. It’s hard to imagine that it would have done that well, anyway, but perhaps a single, fun feature could have been made instead. Still, you can’t go wrong with the original. It was as campy as the “Batman” series of the ‘60s, and Electra-groovy in its own ‘70s fashion! – Jason Thompson

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The Amazing Spider-Man (1977 – 1979)

Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. Of course, when I was a kid, I got to thrill to his adventures on “The Electric Company,” so it was doubly good for fans like me when Spidey was finally brought to primetime TV in the late ‘70s. It came out around the same time as “The Incredible Hulk,” but it didn’t last even half as long. Nicholas Hammond played the lead role as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Like everything else at the time, it’s definitely a product of the ‘70s, complete with lots of bad wacka-wacka guitar in its soundtrack and other elements of the Me Decade that date it. (Honestly, I never liked Spidey’s eyes in his costume on this show. They’re just flat-out wrong.) Plus, you never got to see him swing through the city. Granted, this was undoubtedly due to production costs and special effects capabilities of the time, but how many scenes can we see of Spidey climbing up a building with his restraint cables clearly visible in his shadow? On top of that, the villains he fought in the series just weren’t very thrilling. It’s no wonder that Spidey lost this round to The Hulk. It was just missing too many critical elements that make up classic Spider-Man fun. But it was cool to see as a kid, and, at that age, I didn’t tend to notice all of its inherent flaws. – JT

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Though it’s virtually unknown to Americans, there was also a Spider-Man television series produced for the Japanese market. Aside from Spidey’s familiar costume, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the original comic book, but, frankly, we think that all we’ll need to do to sell you on the series is offer you these seven words: he’s got a giant robot named Leopardon.

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The Incredible Hulk (1978 – 1982)

Nowadays, when people discuss “The Incredible Hulk,” they observe how the series owed as much to “The Fugitive” as it did to the original comic book. Of course, when you’re 8 years old, all you care about is the bit where he goes green, anyway, but it’s true: almost all of the Hulk’s mythos were tossed aside. In the comic, The Hulk was born as a result of Robert Bruce Banner – emphasis on the Bruce – being caught in a gamma bomb explosion while trying to save a teenage boy who was in the bomb’s path. On the show, however, David Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) – emphasis definitely on the David – is traumatized over having been unable to save his late wife from a burning car and starts researching how some people gain abnormal strength in stressful situations (or, more specifically, why he didn’t gain any). Anyway, instead of writing it off to adrenaline, Banner comes up with some cockamamie theory about how it’s got to do with gamma radiation from sunspots and, to make a long story slightly less long, he doses himself with gamma rays and, now, when he’s angry, he turns into Lou Ferrigno. Unfortunately, Banner also gets caught up in a situation where he’s wrongly accused of murder and, as a result, has to spend most of the time on the run from either the law or a nasty reporter named Jack McGee. As in, “Mr. McGee, don't make me angry; you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.” After the show was cancelled, there were a few TV movies, but they’re really only worth seeing so that you can laugh at the producers’ attempts to depict Daredevil and Thor, both of which will make you really, really glad that neither of those characters got their own series. – WH

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The Greatest American Hero (1981 – 1983)

Forget all the other superhero shows that came out in the early ‘80s. For my generation, “The Greatest American Hero” was the thing to watch when it came to guys in capes with superpowers. You know the story by now: William Katt plays Ralph Hinckley, a school teacher with his own set of Sweathogs to try and tame. One night, an alien spaceship visits him and gives him a supersuit and an instruction manual. Ralph loses the manual and wackiness ensues. His Fed buddy Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) and hot girlfriend (Connie Selleca) join him in his adventures. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. “The Greatest American Hero” was indeed a great time, as it was cool to see an average joe have to deal with these amazing powers that he couldn’t ever control, yet somehow managed to get the job done in spite of it. The show lasted three years before giving up the ghost to the failed “Greatest American Heroine.” It was all for the better; by that time we had “The A-Team” and “Riptide” and other shows to satisfy our action needs. But you can’t go wrong with this one to this day. Pick up all three seasons and bask in the Hinckley hero glow! – JT

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Misfits of Science (1985 – 1986)

If I should ever get the chance to interview Courtney Cox Arquette, consider it my guarantee to you that, before the conversation is over, I will indeed ask her about this show. When I was 15-year-old comic-book-reading geek, I was all over the concept: a disparate bunch of individuals (a rock star, a runaway, and, um, a tall black dude) who have super powers and, along with their semi-mentor – Dr. Billy Hayes (Dean Paul Martin), a scientist at Humanidyne Institute – go on crazy adventures that require them to utilize their fantastic abilities. Johnny B. (Mark Thomas Miller) can shoot lightning bolts from his hands and run at super speed; Glo (the glorious Ms. Cox-Arquette) has telekinetic abilities; and Dr. Elvin Lincoln (Kevin Peter Hall) can shrink down to a height of only seven inches. (Yes, irony fans, Dr. Lincoln is the tall black guy!) In addition to having Cox in its cast, the more recent reason people have belatedly become aware of the show is that “Heroes” creator Tim Kring once served as a writer for the series. Unfortunately, the problem with the show was less its writing than it was its lack of a sufficient budget to pull off the special effects very well. Frankly, it looked cheesy even in the ‘80s, so God only knows what it looks like now. Still, if someone at Universal should happen upon this write-up, allow me to submit a format request for them to put the show’s 15 episodes on the fast track to a “Complete Series” DVD release. Call it morbid curiosity, but, man, I’d love to see it again, no matter how bad it is! – WH

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My Secret Identity (1988 – 1991)

Now that Jerry O’Connell is married to Rebecca Romijn and has a promising new ABC sitcom (“Carpoolers”), the days when he was known as “the chubby kid from ‘Stand By Me’” couldn’t seem farther away. This, of course, means that it’s time to take him down a peg before he gets too cocky, so let’s refresh your memory about his first starring role in a sitcom. “My Secret Identity” was a syndicated series featuring O’Connell as Andrew Clements, a clumsy teenager who goes to visit his scientist pal, Dr. Benjamin Jeffcoate (Derek McGrath), only to trip and stumble right into a radiation beam from one of the doctor’s experiments. As a result, Andrew finds himself gifted with super powers: he discovers he’s invulnerable to harm, can move at super-speed, and can levitate. That’s “levitate,” you’ll note, and not “fly.” To actually propel himself, he uses aerosol spray containers. That’s right: Jerry O’Connell is single-handedly responsible for the hole in the ozone layer! OK, that’s not entirely true, since, as the show went on, he was able to fly. Still, he probably didn’t help things any! Andrew fought crime for three seasons under the guise of Ultra Man, but despite a brilliantly schmaltzy theme song (“You'll never guess my secret identity / Who's on the inside hiding out / You'll never know what you'll see / When you unlock a mystery”), the show itself isn’t overly memorable. It’s mostly a family-friendly affair with cheesy special effects. It was, however, a fun concept, and as syndicated sci-fi sitcoms go, it’s got at least one credit to its name: it’s better than “Small Wonder.” – WH

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The Flash (1990 – 1991)

We said it before, and well say it again: if there’s one thing you can tell about this series, it’s that it never, ever would’ve happened if it wasn’t for Tim Burton’s “Batman,” which had been a massive success the year before. Warner Brothers still pulled out all the stops for this show, but, unfortunately, they did it by attempting to precisely imitate the look and feel of “Batman,” all the way down to a Danny Elfman-composed theme song. Thing is, the dark look and feel of that character didn’t match this one; Batman lives in the shadows to strike fear in the hearts of criminals, but the Flash didn’t have or need such restrictions. Maybe the producers just couldn’t imagine a guy in a bright red suit with little wings on his ears and ankles running around in broad daylight. It added to the plot that they played up the difficulties his super-powers brought to his metabolism – you try running at super-speed on a regular basis and watch how quickly you burn through your calories – but it still felt as though someone said, “Hey, let’s do a TV show about the Flash,” sold it, and then said, “Hey, how the hell are we going to pull this off without it looking ridiculous?” This obvious hesitation would explain why the Flash didn’t battle any real super-villain types ‘til about halfway through the show’s one-season run. Too bad; the episodes with David Cassidy as Mirror Master and Mark Hamill as the Trickster are when the show started to reach consistent excellence, which, naturally, is right about when it got cancelled. – WH

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Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1997)

For years, it had been a given that, for all the flirting that went on back and forth between Superman and Lois Lane, there was never any chance that the two would ever really get together as a couple. But, then, suddenly, things changed in the comic book, and when that happened, someone at ABC said, “Say, as long as they’re doing it, then why don’t we do a series that’s basically a romantic comedy version of ‘Superman’?” “Lois and Clark” started off as an extremely strong series, thanks in no small part to the rapport between its two good-looking leads, Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. The ensemble cast was also solid, with Lane Smith giving it his all as Daily Planet editor Perry White, and John Shea providing a suitably slimy take on Lex Luthor. Season Two may have been the show’s strongest year, as it focused heavily on the Lois and Clark romance while still taking time to bring in classic Superman villains like Metallo, The Prankster and The Toyman. But things began to fall apart in Season Three, as people started wondering, “When are they gonna get married?” After suffering through a bizarre Season Three story line involving a Lois Lane clone, DC Comics’ sweethearts finally got around to tying the knot in Season Four, but by then, there weren’t nearly as many viewers around to care. Those who did stick around, however, were no doubt pissed when the season and the show ended with an unresolved cliffhanger. Great Krypton! – WH

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993 – 1996)

I’d be a liar if I told you that I’d ever gone out of my way to watch even a single episode of this show, but I do have two nephews, and they were absolutely addicted to “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” when they were younger, so I’m not completely unaware of the series. Then again, is it possible that anyone who lived through the ‘90s could even be unaware of the series? After all, as kids shows go, this one was a full-fledged phenomenon. “MMPP” was inspired by a Japanese show called “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, and by “inspired,” I mean they actually utilized footage from that show in the first season of “MMPP.” The Power Rangers came into existence when the evil witch Rita Repulsa and her army of space aliens attempted to take over Earth, and the wizard Zordon selected five socially-diverse teenagers and granted them super powers and super weapons, so that they might battle the forces of evil. Naturally, they beat the witch back, but Rita continued her attempts to take over the planet, which provided for many more adventures, and the series was successful enough to spawn two feature-length films, as well as more TV spin-offs than you can shake a stick at. But come on: when you think of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, do you really think about “Dino Thunder” or “Time Force” or any of the later incarnations? Nope. You think about the six original Rangers: Red, Yellow, Blue, Pink, Black and Green. And immediately after that, you’ll find yourself singing, “Go, go, Power Rangers!” Yes, even if you’ve only seen a couple of episodes. It’s just that kind of theme song. – WH

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Smallville (2001 – present)

What started the WB’s re-imagining of Clark Kent’s (Tom Welling) high school years has turned into a seven-year take on Kent’s pre-Superman mythology. Unlike most of the shows on this list, “Smallville” wasn’t specifically inspired by a comic of the same name. There’d already been a Superboy cartoon and live-action series, so creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, concerned about making a show with too much traditional superhero content, adopted a “no tights, no flights” rule, vowing that Clark wouldn’t wear a costume or fly at any point during the show. Instead, the show focuses on Clark’s relationships with his friends and family. Set in Kansas, Smallville is meant to represent Middle America, a.k.a. Smalltown, U.S.A. Every small town worth its salt has its own Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), who acts as Clark’s object of affection for much of the series. He is consistently conflicted about his feelings for Lana, struggling to open up to her even though she so desperately wants him to. Lois Lane (Erica Durance) joined the cast in Season Four, and has slowly (and unknowingly) wiggled her way into Clark’s subconscious. But it’s Clark’s relationship with Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) that really drives the series. Clark’s arrival during a now-infamous meteor shower was the cause of Lex’s baldness, and Clark’s decision not to trust Lex with his secret led to a huge chasm between the two former friends; so, in many ways, Clark created his own arch-rival. The series started with a somewhat repetitive “freak of the week” format during Clark’s high school years, but it has since taken on adult themes and subject matter and, thankfully, has moved to a more compelling, serialized format. – John Paulsen

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The Tick (2001 – 2002)

We TV critics are constantly compiling lists of our favorite cult shows – you know, series that were either cancelled too soon or flew under the radar the entire time they were on the air – and one that’s become a staple in recent years is the live-action version of “The Tick.” Whenever someone gets around to authoring the book “Great Moments in Television Casting,” let’s hope someone remembers Patrick Warburton in the title role of this series. We can’t imagine that anyone else could have pulled off the skin-tight, antennae-laden blue suit of The Tick, and even if they had, there’s no way they could’ve matched his delivery of lines like, “Mandingo, how I grok your mouth music,” or, “Armless bandit, empty your bladder of that bitter black urine men call coffee!” Basically, if you don’t own the complete 6-episode series on DVD, your collection is officially incomplete. Warburton remembers the show fondly (if not necessarily the costume), but he’s the only one still working regularly in comedy. Everyone else in the cast – David Burke (Arthur), Liz Vassey (Captain Liberty) and Nester Carbonell (Batmanuel) – have all gone and gotten proper dramatic jobs. Still, we suspect we won’t be the only ones laughing when Carbonell pops up next year as the mayor of Gotham City in “The Dark Knight.” Batman meets Batmanuel? That’s worth the price of your movie ticket right there! – WH

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Birds of Prey (2002 – 2003)

You know what really gets on the nerves of comic geeks? When producers decide to make a television series out of a comic book series, then go out of their way to change everything about the comic that made it so good in the first place. Such was the case with the storyline of “Birds of Prey.” The show’s creators took a Chinese menu approach to more than 60 years of “Batman” history by pulling together whatever incongruous bits worked best for their purposes, then ignoring anything that didn’t work in favor of their own inventions. In the show, Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) had a daughter named Helena, who possesses many cat-like abilities, such as enhanced agility, night vision and a sixth sense for danger, as well as extraordinary strength and a tendency to heal faster than the average human. Though Daddy was never in the picture, Helena’s mother was murdered by The Joker; as a result, she was taken in and raised by the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who was shot and paralyzed by The Joker but has since become a master hacker who goes under the name of Oracle. Once Dinah Redmond, a.k.a. the daughter of The Black Canary, enters the picture, the three join forces and fight crime in Gotham City. “Birds of Prey” looked cool and gothic, and there were other DC characters thrown into the mix, like Alfred the butler and Dr. Harleen Quinzel (who, as Harley Quinn, was formerly The Joker’s right-hand woman), but there was a big bat-shaped shadow looming over the proceedings from the very beginning – it was indicated that Helena’s father was alive but had left Gotham City years before – and with no sign of a guest appearance from either Batman or The Joker, viewers quickly tuned out. – WH

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Painkiller Jane (2007)

Loosely based on the popular comic book, “Painkiller Jane” started out as a Sci-Fi original movie, starring Emmanuelle Vaugier as the title character, which received a good enough response to prompt the network to develop a weekly series, albeit with a different star. Jane Vasko (Kristanna Loken, a.k.a. the hottie T-X from “Terminator 3”) is a former DEA agent who joins a black ops military group charged with tracking down “neuros,” people who can do amazing things with their minds. Jane herself has a superhuman ability: she seemingly can’t be killed. She heals from small wounds instantly and from major wounds more slowly. She still feels the pain of each injury, however, hence the nickname. The show had a nice look, but the storylines were a bit repetitive (yes, it’s the old “freak of the week” again) and there wasn’t much in the way of season-long storylines. The dialogue was also fairly weak, with lots of voiceovers from Jane (which can get a bit grating, considering Loken’s husky, Kathleen Turner-esque pipes) and some seriously cheesy lines. Example: the team takes down a neuro who has the ability to force people to hallucinate, and as he’s being arrested, he asks, “What’s going on?” One of the team members responds, “We’re changing your mind about changing people’s minds.” Ugh. Despite these complaints, though, the show really did have potential, but apparently not enough: the network has already announced that it won’t be returning for its second season. Sayonara, sister. – JP

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