Bizarre Marvel TV shows you've never seen

For decades, Hollywood clearly thought of comics as kids' stuff, and although filmmakers were definitely interested in turning the most successful titles into hit films and TV shows, they rarely seemed willing to give the projects the type of serious attention or investment they needed to really work. Over the last decade or so, of course, filmmakers have clearly figured out a formula that works when it comes to putting together successful onscreen adaptations of characters and worlds that comic fans love. It took a great deal of trial and error to get to this point, and the path along the way is littered with strange efforts that have gone mostly unseen since they were originally released. Marvel, despite being the leading superhero media giant these days, has had a whole bunch of hits and misses, and some of their efforts have resulted in a few bizarre Marvel TV shows you've never seen…

Generation X (1996)

In this era of TV hits like The Gifted and Legion, and movies like X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants popping up left and right, it's hard to believe that there was a time during which an X-Men TV show wasn't a sure thing. It's even wilder when you remember that the franchise was experiencing something of a renaissance in the '90s. Among the thriving comic series and animated TV program was a comic called Generation X which featured a younger cast of new X-Men still learning the ropes as mutants. You'd think this was a recipe for success for an edgy '90s teen drama show. It wasn't.

Filmed as a pilot and shown with no full series order (later re-aired as a TV movie), Generation X is a hallucinogenic nightmare, not the good kind but rather the kind you immediately want to wake up from (or, more easily, just close your browser window). The production value is insanely low, the acting is lousy, and somehow it doesn't even manage to be entertainingly bad. Today, it serves mostly as a reminder that we're lucky to have Marvel TV shows like Legion.

Mutant X (2001-2004)

Produced during the Avi Arad era of Marvel Entertainment, Mutant X is the product of poor circumstance. Long story short: Marvel had sold the film and TV rights for the X-Men to 20th Century Fox. Years later, Arad pushed Mutant X into production and was promptly sued by Fox because putting X-Men characters in a TV show they didn't produce violated the terms of their prior agreement (plus they had released the first X-Men movie by then). Because of this, changes were applied to distance Mutant X from its source material, resulting in a genuinely bizarre show that's not quite an X-Men show but not quite not. 

Mutant X is about a group of mutants (turned such through government experiments, not born that way) on the run being kept safe by one of the scientists that helped create them. None of the characters are drawn from the X-Men comics, and the only real resemblance is the presence of mutants and the team's general mission is to find other mutants and help keep them safe. Despite its general weirdness, the show ran for three seasons before its production company folded. 

Silver Surfer (1998)

During the '90s heyday of Marvel animation, a number of characters were given animated series, though few were anywhere near as successful as X-Men or Spider-Man. Plenty of these shows ended after a single season, mostly because they were lousy. Among them, however, is Silver Surfer.

Silver Surfer is an inherently weird character, a "cosmic sentinel" whose stories are often rife with themes of existentialism and philosophical struggle. Rather than tone it down for the show and turn it into a simple beat-'em-up heroes and villains show, the animators leaned into it. Episodes addressed imperialism, slavery, and nihilism (specifically explored through series villain Thanos). It also incorporated some of the strangest characters the cosmic side of the Marvel universe has to offer, including Adam Warlock, Pip, Uatu, and Eternity. The show also used some imperfect but nonetheless charming CGI to bring to life the Surfer's interstellar environment. The result looks like it's ripped straight from a Jack Kirby Silver Surfer comic book page.

Unfortunately, a legal dispute between Marvel and Saban led to the show's cancellation after a single season. It's a huge bummer because this was one of the more interesting, albeit strange, Marvel shows of all time.

The Avengers: United They Stand (1999)

It's hard to imagine a show about the Avengers that doesn't feature any of the traditional core cast members like Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man being successful. And The Avengers: United They Stand wasn't. The show came on during the '90s era of Marvel Animation. It lasted just a single season before cancellation, which is crazy to think about today. However, had you watched the show, you'd immediately understand why it was cut short.

The show modeled its team more after the comics incarnation of the West Coast Avengers. This means that rather than Marvel's heavy hitters, like Captain America or Iron Man, it was populated by a string of B-list (at best) heroes that kids weren't nearly as attached to at the time. We're not knocking Hawkeye, Vision, Tigra, or Scarlet Witch, we're just saying that these aren't exactly the biggest names Marvel could give viewers. On the other hand, topping that team off with a genuine stinker of a character in Wonder Man, and, well, you've got yourself a recipe for disaster. Slapping the name "Avengers" on something doesn't make it good; The Avengers: United They Stand is as much proof of this as anything.

Blade: The Series (2006)

Credit where credit's due: Blade effectively kickstarted the modern superhero genre. Blade II still holds up as some of the best the genre has to offer. Sure, Blade: Trinity might be an imperfect conclusion to the trilogy, but it's not bad enough to sour the whole series. In short, Blade rules. The half-vampire vampire hunter is one of the coolest superheroes to ever grace the screen, so after Trinity, in 2006, Spike TV began developing a series exploring the continued adventures of the legendary "daywalker."

A TV series surely wasn't going to have the same kind of budget as a blockbuster film, so the production value of Blade: The Series isn't nearly on the same level as that of the film series. Unfortunately, without the production value or Wesley Snipes as the titular vampire slayer, there wasn't much to the series. In fact, no actors from the films appeared in the series, forcing the show to rebuild its cast from the ground up. The end result is a series that very nearly feels like a Blade TV show but never quite gets there. It ran for one very strange season (with an admittedly cool pilot) and then got axed.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)

Spider-Man ruled animation in the '90s with Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which ran for four years. After its followup (Spider-Man Unlimited) failed to catch on, a new show was needed to capitalize on the popularity of Spidey's first live-action film. The result is one of the more oddball Marvel shows to ever grace screens.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series is weird from top to bottom. The series aired on MTV, rather than a network aimed toward kids, with a clear eye on appealing to teens. It's also packed with celebrity voice actors, from Neil Patrick Harris (as Peter Parker) to Rob Zombie and Michael Clarke Duncan. Peter's Aunt May, a stalwart character in most incarnations of Spidey, never appears because network executives were worried the inclusion of an elderly character would scare off teenagers. Perhaps the strangest thing to this day is the way the series was animated, a sort of blend of CG and traditional cel animation that never quite looks like a good version of either technique. It worked great for a cosmic series like Silver Surfer but not quite for the more grounded escapades of Peter Parker. The series was short lived. While the idea of a slightly more mature animated Spider-Man show isn't without merit, this wasn't the best possible version of that.

Supaidaman (1978-1979)

There's an undeniable charm to Japanese tokusatsu shows. The basis for the American series Power Rangers, tokusatsu has a long and storied tradition in Japan. Colorful costumed heroes fighting grotesque monsters and giant robots is a pop-culture mainstay in the country. America has been importing it for decades now in the form of Power Rangers as well as Kamen Rider, Beetleborgs, and VR Troopers. All the more interesting, though, is the time the reverse happened and Japan brought an American hero to a tokusatsu show.

Part of a licensing agreement that allowed Toei (the leading producer of tokusatsu in Japan) to use Marvel characters in its shows, Supaidaman resembles its source material in name and costume only. This incarnation of Spidey is named Takuya Yamashiro, a daring motorcycle racer. His powers come from the blood of a dying alien, and he's tasked with fighting a sinister interstellar force, called the Iron Cross Army, which has invaded Earth. Oh, and Spidey's got a giant robot called Leopardon. The show ran for 41 episodes in the late '70s. 

Supaidaman is all kinds of awesome if you're into tokusatsu. It's also super-weird (albeit in the best possible way) to see an American character get tokusatsu-ized rather than vice versa for a change.

Night Man (1997-1999)

Malibu Comics' Ultraverse line is a pretty odd slice of '90s comics. Featuring original superheroes created for the imprint, it was acquired by Marvel in 1994. By then, the line had branched out into multimedia endeavors. Night Man, a TV series based on the Malibu character of the same name, aired in the late '90s. It's among the most peculiar superhero shows of all time.

The series focuses on a buff jazz saxophonist (if you aren't sold yet, we don't know what to tell you) named Matt McColm who, after being struck by lightning, develops the telepathic ability to detect evil at the price of never being able to sleep. He creates a super-suit and uses it to fight crime. It's a stretch of a premise to begin with (not to mention that telepathically recognizing evil isn't too interesting of a superpower if we're being honest) and coupled with laughable production value it makes for a pretty freakish show. Produced by TV legend Glen A. Larson, it lasted for two seasons and reeled in guest stars like Jerry Springer and Donald Trump. However, that's about as interesting as the show ever got. 

A slice of pure '90s weirdness, Night Man is mostly forgotten, but give the opening credits one watch, and we promise it's all you're going to think about for a week.

The New Fantastic Four (1978)

The whole concept of the Fantastic Four dictates a pretty specific lineup. The team name references four very specific superheroes, three of whom are related and the fourth of whom is their best friend. It's hard to argue that a Fantastic Four story that doesn't revolve around Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Invisible Woman, and the Thing (or at least craft a story that acknowledges or explores a member's absence) isn't a Fantastic Four story at all. So what does that make 1978's The New Fantastic Four?

Once the first Fantastic Four animated series ended, the television rights to the Human Torch were wrapped up with Universal. Because of this, any animated series couldn't feature him. Marvel Entertainment still wanted a series featuring the team, though, so they put out The New Fantastic Four, which featured H.E.R.B.I.E, a humanoid robot, in the Torch's place, thus completely removing the Torch from the narrative altogether. The results weren't stellar. Taking out a key member of the team isn't necessarily a bad decision by default, but it's extremely uncomfortable watching the show try to retroactively make this annoying robot a member of the classic superhero team. It didn't work, and the show ended after only 13 episodes.

Ultraforce (1995)

Night Man wasn't the only failed attempt at bringing the Ultraverse to television. The comics featured an Avengers-esque team called UltraForce, which saw several of the line's superheroes unite as a team. There was a brief effort to bring them to animation in 1995, and, we gotta say, it's a wild ride — though not in the way the showrunners intended, we're sure.

There's something strange about the Ultraverse characters even in the comics, a grotesqueness that works great as a satire of superhero stories but reads very uncomfortably when played straight. Prime, a sort of stand in for both Superman and Captain Marvel (aka Shazam) is a great example of playing satire straight: Teen character Kevin Green's transformation sequence, involving a slew of green slime encapsulating his body before turning him into the hero Prime, is far creepier than intended. Additionally, alien queen Topaz reads as a pretty gross, tone-deaf commentary on feminism. However, all of the weirdness that made the comics so engaging was either stripped away or went unacknowledged in the animated series, leaving a dull ripoff of every other animated superhero show on the air at the time. Its opening credits even seem to mimic those of the far more successful X-Men cartoon. The result is a strange show about bizarre superheroes being treated by the show's creators as though these characters are as normal as The Avengers. The lack of self-awareness makes for a pretty bizarre series, one that was pulled from the air after only 13 episodes.