M.Y.O.P.I.A. #32: A Hero Best Suited to the Syndicated Past – The Night Man

If you’ve never heard of the 90s TV show Night Man, then you are in the vast majority of people who didn’t miss out on much. Even in the 90s when it aired, the show seemed pretty obscure. I don’t brag when I say I used to watch it every week. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I sometimes even taped the show so I wouldn’t miss an episode. But to understand my desperation for comic-book related material, one would need to understand something of the superhero landscape in the 90s.

Nowadays, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a superhero. Prior to about 2000 when superhero movies began to get taken much more seriously, the landscape was pretty bleak. (For more on the evolution of superhero movies, check out M.Y.O.P.I.A # 7-9.) Whereas cartoons were always a rather befitting transition from comic books, live-action superheroes had a past of seeming something more like a dare, a challenge to Hollywood to overcome the difficulties of portraying superheroes on screen. That’s why live-action superheroes typically fell into two camps: one camp being campy, and the other more serious. Think 60’s Batman, and The Greatest American Hero for campy. On the more serious side, some heavy-hitters were there, Superman led the way in the 50s, and the 70s revolutionized superheroes on TV with Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk. By the 90s, superheroes were a niche part of TV. A Flash TV series failed in 1991, but the more successful Lois & Clark (Superman) was quite successful.

The Night Man character, and yes, for some reason, the creators separated “night” and “man” like that, was created in 1993. His power involved a form of telepathy that let him hear evil. He wore a special suit that gave him greater “combat abilities.” His alter ego, Johnny Domino played the saxophone, and sometimes he even played while dressed as Night Man. The saxophone was of course, pretty trendy in the early 90s. If it was cool enough for president Bill Clinton to play, then surely the sax was the right choice for an aloof and brooding superhero.

The 90s saw booming sales on comic books. In fact, the industry grew pretty saturated, and several new companies came and went. Night Man was part of a small new company called Malibu Comics. They’d had some moderate hits. Since some in the industry saw these smaller companies as leeching sales from bigger ones, a few of the new and small companies got bought up. In Malibu’s case, Marvel bought them. They in turn, ended most Malibu Comics, including Night Man.

Of course, Marvel likely wanted to hang onto its own characters for bigger things, like some rather amazing and uncanny movies that were less than a decade away. They apparently wanted to capitalize off Malibu characters and Night Man was a fairly tangible character to build a TV show around. Part of the classic success of older shows was the ability to portray a somewhat realistic superhero. For example, painting a man green was easier than having one engulfed in fire after flaming on. Night Man wore a suit that gave him powers; he could turn invisible—fairly easy to pull off on camera; he was bulletproof—aside from giant gaps around his mouth and the oh-so vulnerable flowing locks of his long hair; he had an eye lens that could both help him see and shoot a laser; and he had a belt that they said allowed him to fly, but it in the show it always appeared more like awkward hovering.

The live-action show was produced solely for syndication, which meant broadcasting rights were sold only to smaller local stations to air when they pleased. Night Man proved too violent for kids, and too cheesy for adults. In fact, any time I used to try and recommend watching the show to someone, they ended up thinking I was playing a joke on them.

Granted, Night Man in his super suit did kind of look like a superhero who’d woken from a long nap in a dumpster. The budget and special effects inhibited the show, and there were often on screen product placements, like Johnny Domino driving about the most conspicuous car ever, a Chrysler Prowler.

Alas, the show made attempts to actually feature super-villains and other superheroes, something that even Lois & Clark rarely seemed to acknowledge. Another thing the show had going was that the creative folks behind it put in real effort. The acting was pretty good, and despite what were likely financial constraints, it seemed like the directors and writers tried to tell interesting stories. Episodes also had to feature some dramatic fluff to fill out the one hour time-slot, and this meant viewers were treated to way more Johnny Domino than Night Man scenes.

The Night Man show somehow managed to last not just one, but a whopping two seasons. Perhaps the show’s fate was sealed before it even aired, with an obscure hero getting an obscure show. If it even played at all in certain areas, it played at odd times. Yet, whatever else can be said about Night Man, in some ways the show played a small part in a bigger movement to help bring superheroes to wider audiences. For that alone, the long forgotten Night Man show deserves credit.