14 Characters Alan Moore Might Have Tapped for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen if He Had Decided to Plunder Short-Lived 1980s TV Shows Instead of Victorian Novels
1. Jonathan Chase (Manimal)
“Let’s pretend Alan Moore someday goes completely off his rocker,” he thought to himself one day (politely assuming he hasn’t already done so). “If he ever decided to write a new volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories mashing up fictional characters from short-lived ’80s shows, who would make the cut?” He could do worse than start with animal behaviorist Jonathan Chase, the man who learned the “secrets that divide man from animal” from his late father. If any further explanation for his ability to transform into animals (most often a black panther) was ever given, I don’t remember it. But for eight episodes in the fall of ’83, Chase used his shape-shifting powers for good, assisting the New York Police Department as a consultant in a special investigative unit that used animals to fight crime. You know, like if Sam from True Blood joined the Bon Temps police department. Oh, I’m the only one willing to admit I watch that show? Okay, then.
What he brings to the party: the abilities and strength of any animal on command; a scientist’s diligence and desire for the truth; the best advance scout or undercover agent you can ask for; someone who can empathize with the underdog… for obvious reasons.
2. Jesse Mach (Street Hawk)
Fans of crime shows starring super-vehicles were well-served in the ’80s. Car buffs had Knight Rider, of course; Blue Thunder and Airwolf faced off in the “Super-Helicopter” division; and Riptide had a boat that… okay, it wasn’t a super-boat, but there was a robot. At any rate, 1985’s Street Hawk introduced us to a souped-up hog with a .50 caliber machine gun, a blue particle beam gun, computer targeting systems, and top speeds of 300 m.p.h. Badass motorcycle cop Jesse Mach landed behind a desk after an accident caused by an old enemy wrecked his leg; a government inventor offered to rebuild it if Mach road-tested his super-bike. Mach went one further and kept using the bike’s speed and firepower to fight crime as a mysterious vigilante. You may safely assume there were more than a few high-speed chases and jumps in the name of justice during the four months the show was on the air.
What he brings to the party: street smarts; a passion for justice; one sweet mother of a ride; a little something called “attitude.”
3. Matthew Starr (The Powers of Matthew Starr)
Starr was a foreign-exchange student who was as foreign as you can get; forced to flee his home planet when his father was overthrown by rebels, Starr and his guardian (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) fled to Earth to hide the young lad and help him develop his telepathic and telekinetic powers before returning home to reclaim his father’s throne. For a while, they posed as a high school student and science teacher while fighting a secret war against the aliens and robots who managed to track them to our backwater planet… but then they were suddenly working for the government, and Starr added astral projection and transmutation to his CV. It was every bit as awful as it sounds (and a career low for Academy Award winner Gossett), and NBC pulled the plug after one season.
What he brings to the party: an endless array of enemy agents, aliens and robots to thicken the plot when needed; government connections; an impressive list of powers that can be lengthened when needed; a character that can project the aloofness of nobility with the vulnerability that comes from being a long way from home.
4-7. Gloria Dinallo, John Bukowski, Billy Hayes, Elvin Lincoln (Misfits of Science)
Teenage mutants teaming up to save the world? It’s been known to happen. But this show, aired on NBC during the ’85-’86 season, was just different enough from a certain X-franchise to avoid any legal action. In a nutshell: two scientists at the benevolent Humanidyne Institute (one of whom can shrink from a height of 7-foot-four to 11 inches) recruit a telekinetic (played by a very young Courteney Cox) and a guy who can hurl bolts of electricity (played by someone who didn’t star in Friends) to foil criminals and fight evil mutants (and, once, three senior citizens who got super powers from eating irradiated hamburgers). There was also a team member who could freeze anything he touched, but that was a little too close to one of Marvel’s X-Men, and he disappeared after the pilot episode. Not that the rest stuck around for much longer after that.
What they bring to the party: youthful exuberance; occasional drama in the form of “they fight to protect a world that fears them”-fueled angst; romantic hi-jinks.
8-9. Zac Rogers and Mr. Merlin (Mr. Merlin)
Mr. Merlin might have been a little too ahead of its time, given how books and movies about wizards and their youthful apprentices aren’t exactly a hard sell these days. But back in 1981, it was an unusual offering for CBS viewers, a supernatural sitcom starring a 1,600-year-old wizard — yes, that Mr. Merlin — who runs an auto repair shop in San Francisco and teaches the ways of magic to a neighborhood boy after a never-seen “council” orders him to find an apprentice or else. Hilarity ensued when Zac would cast the wrong spell or put both of them in danger of being exposed to the non-magical world.
What they bring to the party: Obvious connection to the magical realms; a dose of storytelling chaos when needed; a mentor figure who may or may have his own agenda and has had 1,600 years to make backup plans, secure sources of funding, and learn where lots of useful bodies (metaphorical and otherwise) are buried.
10. V.I.C.I. (Small Wonder)
Small Wonder wasn’t exactly a short-lived show (against all logic, 96 episodes were produced for syndication between 1986-89), and it’s still remembered by a lot of children of the ’80s, fondly or otherwise. Ah, well. My list, my rules. The setup: A cybernetic engineer builds a robot to resemble an adorable 10-year-old girl. Since the android came with a built-in Voice Input Child Identicant, or V.I.C.I., it became known to the world as Vicki. Only it wasn’t known to the world; for reasons too stupid to get into, the inventor and his family pretended Vicki was the daughter of family friends who were killed in a car crash, and they were making good on a promise to take care of the child (the scene where they paid Russian mafia goons for a black market birth certificate and medical records was left on the cutting room floor). Dramatic tension came in the form of nosy neighbors and others who would notice odd things like her robotic monotone, superhuman feats of strength, or the fact she looked like a pony-tailed 10-year-old for four years straight. But forget all that: the guy invents the greatest thing in cybernetics since the word “robot” was invented and he makes it look like a prepubescent girl? And the best his family can think to do with it is let the son treat it like his personal slave? Laws of robotics be damned; Asimov himself would hot-wire her to kill them in their sleep for being so stupid.
What she brings to the party: A quick calculation or super-strong hand when needed; the visual humor of a young girl being the team’s designated strongman; endless possibilities in the technological powers department; someone who can say “emotions are not logical” while secretly trying to understand what it is like to be human, like a mini-Data.
11. Automan (Automan)
And then there are the shows you really can’t believe made it to air. Automan is neither an auto nor a man; he’s an “automatic man” created by a nebbishy police computer programmer who, out of boredom, creates a computer program to be the ultimate detective… and is one day shocked to find his creation has come to life. As a hologram that can walk in the real world, Automan isn’t bound by the laws of physics; he can walk through walls, talk to other computers and “merge” with Walter to lend him his invulnerability. He also came with a floating diamond-shaped “sidekick” that could draw whatever he need, like a computer-generated car that is (ahem) in no way based on Disney’s then-recent Tron. His only weakness: it takes a lot of electricity to power him, so he can only come out at night when the city’s electric grid can handle the strain he puts on it. Only 13 episodes were produced, with the last one seen years later on the Sci-Fi Channel. “With ‘Cursor’ as Himself!”
What he brings to the party: a “ghost in the machine” who isn’t bound by physical limitations; a librarian and archivist who can retrieve any information or data that might be needed to complete a mission; someone who would be real handy to have around in situations where being invulnerable is a good thing.
12. Max Headroom (Max Headroom)
Is there room for two computer-generated ghosts in the machine on this team? Hell, yes. Consider how large he loomed over the cultural landscape at the time, it’s kind of surprising to learn Max Headroom’s ABC show only lasted 14 episodes. Amazing what a Coke ad campaign can do for a guy’s career. In the near future where television rules and networks are under constant pressure to stay on top of the ratings, investigative reporter Edison Carter worked for Network 23. He was hot on the trail of a big story when he was injured in a motorcycle accident; a computer programmer created Max Headroom, a VR program based on Carter’s brain patterns, as a way of unlocking the information inside Carter’s comatose mind. Max quickly escapes into the wired world, popping up at will on televisions all over the city to make acidic commentary on what’s happening around him and act as the trickster figure that any good dystopia needs to keep things lively.
What he brings to the party: Are you kidding? He IS the party.
13. Ernie Lee (Sidekicks)
Teaming crusty guardians with precocious children was a common TV trope in the ’80s — take a bow, Punky, Arnold and Webster — but none of those kids combined being cute with kicking ass. Well, with one exception: Ernie Lee, the young lad who ends up in the care of Sgt. Jake Rizzo, a cop who was chosen to be Ernie’s adoptive father by Sabasan, his dying grandfather. Seems Ernie was the last in a line of mystical martial-arts warriors, and he inherited the martial-arts skills and mystical abilities that came with his designation as “the last Electric Knight.” Cut to scenes of Ernie using his skills to help Rizzo solve the kind of cases that can only be cracked by a karate chop or roundhouse kick. But don’t worry; there was also a comely social worker keeping an eye on the boys…well, one more than the other, if you get my meaning.
What he brings to the party: definite uptick in the book’s “cute” quotient; a dose of always-a-good-thing cultural diversity; a handy secret weapon that no one would suspect of being a weapon until it was too late.
14. Simon McKay (The Wizard)
And who can we tap to lead this motley team of robots, mutants, vigilantes, wizards and aliens? Who would have the genius required to defuse personality conflicts, determine mission rosters and anticipate problems before they happen? Who else, indeed, but Simon McKay, the diminutive genius known colloquially as the Wizard. His short-lived adventure show (one season on CBS) saw Simon join forces with government agent Alex Jaggere, who was assigned to protect him from falling into enemy hands. And why would McKay be such a valuable commodity to America’s enemies? Why, because the unassuming toymaker and developer of devices for the handicapped is also one of the government’s top inventors. And every episode saw the two of them traveling the world and defending democracy with the help of, say, an explosives-packed toy helicopter.
What he brings to the party: technical expertise when needed; a sardonic outlook that comes from having an outsider’s attitude; a keen analytical mind; someone, like Ernie, who’s too easy to underestimate until its too late.
So what do you think? Any other ’80s icons we should consider adding to the team? And to anyone even thinking of nominating ALF: Get out. Now.