Night Man (1997 TV Series)

Posted: April 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

**Frequent collaborator and friend Brian C. Baer has taken some time out of his busy schedule writing about the history of He-Man to inform and educate us about WGN’s secret Marvel / DC crossover from the late 90’s. Oh, you weren’t aware of any official crossover? Well, get ready to learn about the strange world of Night Man…**

Before we get started, I just want to warn you that this article discusses a forgotten/forgettable ‘90s TV series called Night Man. So, go ahead. Get it out of your system…

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There we are. Now, moving on.

nm2Night Man was created by Glen A. Larson, the producer responsible for shows like Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider, but also for Manimal. It was ostensibly a comic book adaptation of Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse character The Night Man, though a great deal of liberties were taken. In the comics, he was a Johnny Domino, simple jazz saxophonist involved in a bizarre, supernatural accident. It gave him the ability to see in the dark, to not require sleep, and telepathically hear the thoughts of others, but only when those thoughts were about doing evil things. He would then throw together a makeshift costume and fight crime.

In the live-action series, Domino was still a saxophonist and a similar accident gave him his crime-telepathy and ability to forego sleep. He was then caught up in a conspiracy of evil bureaucrats trying to sell off an experimental piece of military equipment. It was a super-suit, with a cape and everything, which gave its wearer an embarrassment of superpowers, including flight, invisibility, a laser-shooting eyepiece, and others. Taking possession of the suit, Domino became Night Man.

The series struggled through its two seasons. It changed its tone, direction, and even filming location; it also wrote out characters and replaced actors. The one constant was Matt McColm, the former model and overall charisma vacuum who played Johnny Domino / Night Man.

bkMarvel bought up Malibu in 1994, and their characters had all but disappeared by the time the show debuted in 1997. Still, the show’s opening credits stated the character is based on the Marvel comic, with no mention of Malibu. Marvel had attempted to be a good parent company by making crossover comics, including one-shots where The Night Man fought Gambit and Wolverine. In 1995, they even shipped some of their established characters over to the separate Ultraverse continuity. One such character was the Avenger Dane Whitman, the Black Knight.

And then, in the second season of the show, Night Man introduced a character called the Black Knight.

BlackKnight1

Jax?

The TV version of the Black Knight was not Dane Whitman, though this in itself is not too surprising. There had been two other Black Knights in Marvel’s comics before the heroic Avenger was introduced, and there’s been a few more since. The character on Night Man, however, was more Blaxploitation-inspired than knight-themed.

BlackKnight2Art Bryson was a character with a criminal past, who still seemed to be on the wrong side of the law.  But he was actually undercover, working with a shadowy government overseer to take down an organized crime ring from the inside. He did this with help from some sci-fi devices: a chest harness that generates a blackout field which rendered him invisible in the dark, and boots that allow him to leap extra far. In classic superhero fashion, Bryson first clashed with Night Man in the episode “The Black Knight”. After realizing he could sense no evil from this mysterious new character, Night Man teamed up with him.

This Black Knight was played by former American Gladiator L. Red Williams, who had just appeared as Jax in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Williams possessed the imposing figure of a superhero, but his acting skills were as minimal as McColm’s. Not much thought or effort was put into his costume either, as it was a solid gray unitard and mask.

Still, the TV show was an adaptation of a Marvel Comic, and it was centered on a character with ties to the best-known incarnation of the Black Knight. Unofficial or otherwise, it is very easy to see this as the first (and to date only) live-action appearance of the Marvel hero.

Things just got weirder from there.

ds1In the episode titled “Knight Life,” Night Man and the Black Knight, two characters loosely based on Marvel superheroes, joined forces against a legendary white-haired assassin named Slade. That episode’s bad guy was suspiciously reminiscent of Slade Wilson, better known as DC’s Deathstroke, the Terminator.

Slade1This Slade was not an exact dead ringer for Deathstroke. He had no superhuman powers, no sword, costume, or eyepatch. He was, however, portrayed as a very capable fighter and marksman, and someone with the same brutal, obsessive nature we would expect from the comics character. He also spouted some terrible one-liners, but so did everyone on Night Man.

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Who are you?

While this incarnation of the DC villain was unofficial at best, it was miles better than the character’s first appearance in live-action. That had come two years earlier, on a 1996 episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. In it, Deathstroke had been a virtual Magneto knock-off who used his magnetic powers to cause heart attacks in his victims. The Slade of Night Man was closer to the mark than the second live-action Deathstroke as well, as he had been an overweight, immortal military general on Smallville.

Actor Andrew Bryniarski certainly looked the part of Slade Wilson. He would go on to play another DC character in a less-than-sanctioned adaptation: the space mercenary Lobo in The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special.
Slade2

“Knight Life” was released on November 22, 1998 to no fanfare. Night Man aired on a little-watched network at an unfortunate timeslot, so this covert Marvel/DC crossover went unnoticed. However unofficial, “Knight Life” still makes for a fun footnote in the history of comic book media.

nms

At least he looks, more or less, the same.

It is available to be streamed, though not in very good quality, on YouTube.

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