Lost Signals: M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994)
Sam Raimi will forever be known to me as the beloved creator of the Evil Dead franchise– period. A signature blend of action and 3 Stooges-style comedy, Raimi’s style of filmmaking is best suited to larger than life characters or situations beyond the veil of reality. That may explain why Raimi was a perfect choice to (re)launch the cinematic career of a certain wise-cracking arachnid.
However, Spider-Man wasn’t the first (or even second) superhero that the director has taken on. After cutting his teeth on the equally enjoyable cult film Darkman in 1990, Raimi went on to co-create “television’s first live-action black super-hero” in M.A.N.T.I.S. for FOX. Plagued by racial controversy over changes to the supporting cast between the pilot and the actual series, the only unfortunately only survived one full season which is unfortunate because the concept is rather cool.
Dr. Miles Hawkins (played by Carl Lumbly) is a brilliant, wealthy biophysicist living in Ocean City who also happens to be a paraplegic– paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the spine as a boy. Using his vast knowledge of bioengineering and nanotechnology, Hawkins grows up to create the Mechanically Augmented Neuro-Transmitter Interactive System (M.A.N.T.I.S.) that grants him the ability to walk… and fight crime. In essence he’s like a cross between Professor X and Iron Man.
Raimi’s brand of humor is tempered somewhat by writer Sam Hamm’s (Batman, Batman Returns) more serious undertones, but the series itself never could quite find a balance between the two. Ironically, it reminds me of the hokiness the ran rampant through 1997′s Night Man series with outlandish, trite dialogue and passable visual effects. When it comes down to it, M.A.N.T.I.S. is most fondly remembered for what it did right– namely giving viewers one of television’s first American American AND handicapped heroes.
The pilot (see part 1 above) differs slightly in tone and cast than the rest of Season 1 and as such remains one of the strongest episodes. In fact, later episodes of the series becomes increasingly more eccentric as FOX demanded changes to the storyline in reaction to poor ratings. This included Hawkins battling super-powered villains instead of petty thugs, alternate timelines, parallel dimensions, clones, astral projection, and ultimately ended with the “ghost” of a Tyranasaurous Rex.