Underrated Gem: M.A.N.T.I.S. The First Black Superhero Series That Should Be Remembered.
You may have heard of Black Lightening, Luke Cage and Static Shock but before these classic black superhero series came to be we had M.A.N.T.I.S., an acronym that stands for Mechanically Augmented Neuro-Transmitter Interactive System. Dr. Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly), a brilliant millionaire scientist, is shot one day in the spine by a police sniper during a riot while trying to rescue a child leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and forced to use a wheelchair. He and his best friend\partner John Stonebreak (Roger Rees) build the M.A.N.T.I.S. suit to help Miles walk again, but end up using it to fight evil doers and protect the city of Port Columbia.
Carl Lumbly as Dr. Miles Hawkins\M.A.N.T.I.S.
Roger Rees as John Stonebrake.
Christopher Gartin as Taylor Savage\Savidge.
Galyn Gorg as Lt. Leora Maxwell.
Facts about the series:
- While the pilot was filmed in Los Angeles the series itself was produced in Vancouver, British, Columbia, Canada. Many Vancouver landmarks, such as the dome of Science World, appear, as do CN Rail cars on the train tracks.
- It was developed by Sam Hamm (Batman and Batman Returns) and produced by Sam Raimi. ( Spiderman trilogy, The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness etc.)
- It took three years to film due to Carl Lumbly being busy filming Nightjohn, one of Disney Channel’s premiere films in 1996.
- There were a number of differences between the pilot and the series, including a completely different supporting cast.
- In the pilot Hawkins wore a stylish suit and brown leather trenchcoat over the exoskeleton which lacked a skullcap, leaving the top of his hair bare, and the mask/headpiece was larger with special glowing green lenses which could hypnotize anyone who looked into his eyes, an ability dropped from the subsequent series as was his habit of leaving behind a small metal mantis as a calling card.
- The show started off much more grounded and due to network interference mid-season the series got a bit more outlandish with the inclusion of parallel universes, time travel, super villains and monsters.
M.A.N.T.I.S. was officially the first superhero\comic book series starring an African American, leading to the handful of future series like Luke Cage, Black Lightening, Static Shock and recently Naomi. It was in good company with 1990s superhero\comic book films too like Robert Townsend’s Meteor Man (1993), Michael Jai White’s Spawn (1997) and Wesley Snipes’ Blade (1998). I also believe that M.A.N.T.I.S. had huge influence on 2017’s massive global blockbuster Black Panther starring the late great Chadwick Boseman. It may have been short lived, but its impact on television and even movies is still running strong.