When a superhero makes the jump from comics to TV, you anticipate that the show will deviate from the source material somewhat. What you don't expect is Spider-Man piloting a giant robot or the Thing hanging out with Fred Flintstone.
Here are 10 superhero TV shows that played it fast and loose with their characters' mythologies. Most minor changes to a hero tend not to derail the show (see: Wolverine's Australian accent), but these changes are so profoundly strange that you wonder if Saturday morning cartoon writers are paid in dextromethorphan.
10.) The Human Torch never joins the Fantastic Four (1978)
When it comes to sheer weirdness, 1978's The New Fantastic Four blows all other FF shows away. How does you make the ongoing adventures of a taffy PhD, a gravel golem, a translucent lady, and a combustible jock any weirder? Simple — replace Johnny Storm with H.E.R.B.I.E., a robot with the gravitas of R2-D2 (and the uselessness of C-3PO).
Here's a clip from the mostly unwatchable second episode, which guest stars Magneto wearing a sweet 1970s version of his armor with gold lamé trim:
See, in 1977 Universal Studios was gunning to make a live-action Human Torch show. When NBC tried to make The New Fantastic Four a year later, the rights to Johnny Storm were tied up. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby therefore invented H.E.R.B.I.E. to round out the roster. This was an odd choice, as Luke Cage had moonlighted with the Four in 1976. Luke would've been an easy stand-in for Johnny, and "Sweet Christmas" is a better catchphrase than "Flame On!" Heck, part-time Aunt May paramour, Baxter Building mailman, and consummate ear-wiggler Willie Lumpkin would've been a better choice than H.E.R.B.I.E.
9.) Thor is an uncontrollable macho ass (1988)
Thor made a cameo in the 1988 TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. In the comics, the noble Thor could turn into Dr. Donald Blake, and vice versa. In his live-action TV debut, Blake could only summon Thor when he was in a bind. Calling upon Thor was more trouble than it was worth, as Thor was a lusty, party-hearty storm god who didn't give a fig what a dweebus like Blake thought.
Click to view
8.) Spider-Man piloted a giant robot (1978)
In the 1970s, Marvel allowed venerable Japanese tokusatsu studio Toei to create a series based on Spider-Man's adventures. Toei delivered a show so trippy that it makes us wonder why we ever tolerated Peter Parker's lachrymose B.S. in the first place.
The program, Supaidâman, featured no radioactive arachnids or Satanically annulled marriages — the show was about motorcyclist Takuya Yamashiro, who gains a giant robot ("Leopardon"), an intergalactic warship ("Marveller"), and a spider-power-granting bracelet from a dying alien from the planet, uh, Spider. Basically, it's Spider-Man, but with the Green Lantern's origins and the panache of Kaiju Big Battel. Here's the first episode of this kitschy classic.
7.) Swamp Thing, toy pitchman (1992)
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Swamp Thing inspired two movies and a three-season TV show on USA. These spin-offs had a strong horror tone in line with Alan Moore's acclaimed run on Saga of the Swamp Thing. Naturally, FOX Kids wanted a piece of the lichen pie, so FOX aired the Swamp Thing cartoon in 1992. Its theme song was jaw-dropping in its total lack of effort and enthusiasm.
See, FOX Kids released the series to capitalize on Kenner's Swamp Thing toy line — the show was a toyetic, gadget-and-sidekick-heavy adventure à la Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. For whatever reason, the series never took hold and aired for only five episodes. This is surprising, as Swamp Thing-branded crapola was abundant in the early 1990s.
6.) The first (official) live-action Wonder Woman is a blond karate fighter (1974)
Believe it or not, Lynda Carter wasn't the first Wonder Woman on TV. She was preceded by two other live-action Wondies. The first was Linda Harrison, who played Charlton Heston's gal pal Nova in Planet of the Apes. In the unaired 1967 screen test "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?", Diana Prince (Ellie Wood Walker) is harangued by her marriage-crazed mother, turns into Wonder Woman, does a sexy dance, and then flies away. This mostly nonsensical segment was produced by William Dozier of Batman fame, so be forewarned that it's military-grade camp.
The second live-action Wonder Woman was Cathy Lee Crosby, who starred in the 1974 Wonder Woman TV movie. The Wonder Woman of the late 60s/early 70s was powerless, dressed like a mod, and under the tutelage of the blind kung-fu master I Ching. The comics jettisoned the I Ching storyline in '73, so seeing the TV Diana debut as a blond Foxy Brown was a bit off. The show's soundtrack, however, was sultry.
5.) Wonder Woman meets...the Brady Kids? (1972)
The kung-fu Wonder Woman wasn't her TV debut— no, her very first appearance on a TV network was on The Brady Kids...as in, "the children of the Brady Bunch." Batman never had to put up with this shit. Oh wait, yes he did.
4.) The Incredible Hulk dies (1990)
In the TV movie The Death of the Incredible Hulk, the Hulk (unsurprisingly) dies. The thing is, this wasn't meant to be a permanent death — the Hulk was supposed to come back in a later film, The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk. However, the film never went into production, and the project was entirely scrapped when Billy Bixby died in 1993. So yeah, the TV Hulk's swan song was falling out of a small plane.
3.) The unfunny Justice League comedy special (1979)
In 1979, The Legend of the Superheroes, a two-part comedy cavalcade starring the JLA and Ed McMahon, unsuccessfully melded stand-up comedy and semi-obscure DC supervillains. Characters like Solomon Grundy, Dr. Sivana, and the Weather Wizard delivered punchline-free comedy routines, entertaining absolutely nobody save the soulless canned laughter. We're not even going to get into the guest routine from Ghetto Man.
2.) The Thing is a teenager with magic rings (1979)
Fred and Barney Meet the Thing was an hour-long cartoon block on NBC starring the Flintstones and Ben Grimm. Mind you, Fred and Barney only met the Thing in the opening credits. Yes, the show's title was a total misnomer.
That's not even the strangest part of the program — that honor goes to the Thing's origin. Teenager Benjy Grimm transformed into a rock-like creature when he bangs his two magic rings together and yalps "Thing ring, do your thing!" In sum, our ever-loving Yancy Streeter was reduced to sandstone body armor.
1.) Everything about Smallville ever (2001-2011)
A Superman that can't fly? And doesn't wear a cape? And receives sex lessons from his dead A.I. father? Get outta town. (Yes, I know that they'll be introducing Clark's flight and cape this season. Also, this photo has absolutely nothing to do with the show. It's just the oddest thing to pop up when you Google "Smallville funny.")