The popularity of superheroes seems to be at it’s highest peak. The rise of the Marvel Universe has seen them become the most bankable genre at the box office with franchise after franchise of Lycra clad muscleheads filling up cinema screens. Meanwhile DC continue to mine the legacies of the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to keep them fresh and relevant for new generations. But there is a different breed of superhero out there who never got the attention they deserved. We’ve picked out 8 cult superheroes who may not have seen their popularity soar but are no less deserving of their time in the spotlight.
Loosely based on the celebrated Manga series of the same name from Yoshiki Takaya, The Guyver is a bio-weapon which transforms its holder into a lethal, alien super-creature. Which is exactly what happens to martial arts student Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong, TV’s Days of Our Lives) and puts him at direct odds with the nefarious Chronos Corporation and it’s band of mutant henchmen intent on taking the weapon back.
Produced by Brian Yuzna (Society, Beyond Re-Animator) and co-directed by special FX expert Screaming Mad George (Predator, Big Trouble in Little China), it’s notable for featuring Mark Hamill in one of his first screen lead roles since Return of the Jedi. It’s outlandish, lovably goofy at times and has special effects that hold up magnificently today as you might expect with the team behind it. More gore than your average superhero film but that’s not a bad thing.
The Return of Captain Invincible
An Australian musical superhero film starring Alan Arkin written by the man behind Die Hard? Those are the improbable ingredients of The Return of Captain Invincible but together they make something glorious. Captain Invincible, a superhero who fought during the early 20th century is forced into hiding in the 1950s after suspicion of being a communist and committing crimes such as wearing underwear in public. In the 1980s, his arch rival Mr Midnight (Christopher Lee) reappears so the US call on Captain Invincible, now lying low Down Under, to save the day.
A delightfully eccentric and entertaining film with suitably hammy performances from Arkin and Lee giving it plenty (“Today New York…tomorrow THE WORLD!”). There’s also an array of catchy tunes, some co-written by Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley from The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame. A satire that creaks at times but a great hit rate for laughs.
The Meteor Man
It was slim pickings for kids of the 90s looking for a superhero film. Superman was been and done, Batman was aimed at a more adult audience and Spiderman was still years away from a feature film debut. So who filled the gap? The Meteor Man! After being hit by a meteor, school teacher Jefferson Reed (Robert Townsend, Hollywood Shuffle) discovers he has super-human abilities albeit with some caveats. He takes on The Golden Lords, a gang of bleach blonde haired teenagers and helps restore peace in his neighbourhood by shutting down crack houses and bringing harmony between gangs and the police.
Impressively cast (James Earl Jones, Robert Guillaume and Marla Gibbs all feature) and with cameos from the likes of Luther Vandross and Cypress Hill, The Meteor Man is a well-intentioned film which gives more weight to social issues than nearly every other superhero movie and balances its message with humour. It’s flawed at times but thoughtfully executed, a superhero who wants to save his neighbourhood before he thinks about saving the world.
Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) is the eponymous hero who has spent centuries protecting Earth when an evil wizard named Kabal (Brian Thompson, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) jumps in from another dimension intent on destroying it. There’s only one way to settle this – a fight to the death!
With a wizardy theme that involves a portal and a doctor, thoughts of the Marvel superhero Doctor Strange may come to mind and you can be forgiven for thinking why. Producer and co-director Charles Band had secured the rights from Marvel to make a Doctor Strange film however as production took too long to begin the rights had lapsed. So Band decided to re-jig the story, removing any explicit Doctor Strange references and plough on with his film. What we have instead is an energetic and exciting caper with the charismatic Combs taking charge.
Camp goes hand-in-hand with many of the cult superheroes on this list and Black Scorpion is no exception. Joan Severance (See No Evil, Hear No Evil) is police detective Darcy Walker but when she’s forced to hand in her badge and gun for going too far in hunting down her father’s killers, she becomes Black Scorpion!
Executively produced from an original idea by Roger Corman, Black Scorpion has a similar feel to the Batman films of the 90s with it’s karate kicking hero clad in black, mixing noir themes with satisfyingly cheesy undertones. She even has her own Scorpionmobile, a pretty flash looking whip with state of the art technology. Black Scorpion is an unsung classic that never fails to entertain. You can even keep the fun going with its sequel Black Scorpion II: Aftershock and TV series.
Based on the Manga series of the same name, Cutie Honey is an acrobatic sword fighting heroine who takes revenge for her father’s death caused by a series of villains who form a group called Panther Claw. She teams up with a dour police inspector and newspaper reporter to fight against the evil clan and bring peace to Tokyo. This is all wrapped up in a series of outrageous fight scenes and expressive acting with a quirky pop soundtrack.
Directed by Hideaki Anno, the man behind the Anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cutie Honey is a combustible, frenetic affair that fizzes with energy from start to finish. There’s an overload of camp and special effects that may make you wince in between laughing but there’s enough charm and fun to bring you under its spell. Eriko Sato (Funuke, Show Some Love, You Losers!) has a heap of charisma as the lead and welcomes you to embrace the eccentricity.
Argoman: The Fantastic Superman
The bewitching Jenabell (Dominque Boschero, Full Hearts and Empty Pockets) is after a famous gem that will give her abilities allowing her to rule the world. So Scotland Yard send in Argoman, a cross between James Bond and Batman in yellow spandex with a libido that makes Austin Powers look like a Trappist monk. Argoman is kind of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to special powers however he has the rather unusual disadvantage of losing all of those powers for six hours after being intimate with a woman. Also worth mentioning is Argoman’s alias, the brilliantly named Sir Reginald Hoover.
The film vacillates between two genres: superhero and Euro-spy with plenty of the tropes of both. Plus there’s some of the most glorious 60s set design you’re ever likely to see (including futuristic hovercrafts) and the on-location shooting in London and Paris adds interest. Plain daft in places but charmingly so most of the time, there is an adventurous and engaging spirit to it and fine example of an Italian superhero film of the period.
Err…does this count? Bat Pussy’s “twat is tingling” alerting her that somebody is trying to make a pornographic film in Gotham City. Furious that a couple are having sex without inviting her, she immediately jumps onto her Bat Space Hopper(?) and bounces across town to confront the randy couple before joining in. It’s not quite The Dark Knight Rises…
Described as “the un-sexiest thing that ever happened in front of a camera” and cited as one of the first pornographic parody films, Bat Pussy is an extraordinary film shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows who made it or starred in it. Nobody knows where it was filmed or in what year. Discovered in the storeroom of a Memphis adult movie theatre in the mid-1990s it has since attracted a cult following. Completely absurd, surreal and profoundly un-arousing, it’s definitely one for the curious available on ARROW.