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PUNCHING DAY

Punching Day: Night Man

Night Man is a superhero TV series that debuted in 1997: the year the ‘90s finally went too far, and we all realized they had to be put down. The show is about Johnny Domino, which is the most ‘90s name I can possibly imagine, and he is a professional saxophone player, which is the most ‘90s profession I can possibly imagine. It’s like the producers of Night Man knew that the ‘90s were winding down so they had to pack every trope they’d been too embarrassed to use into one show, because they just felt that this was the last year you could unironically wear Hypercolor and it was sort of like the moment you realize an old dog is on the decline.

If Night Man feels like a cheap store-brand ripoff of Batman that’s because this is a Malibu title, and Malibu is the Malt-O-Meal of comic imprints. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Eat shit, Malibu. I know the company is defunct, I know that society and good taste and justice have won out, but this is like hunting Nazis in 1960s Argentina. You’re not allowed to just commit atrocities and retire. This is Hunters shit, and it’s not over until I knock on your door with a copy of Mantra and a pistol.

Anyway here’s our protagonist:

There is no need for time capsules: That image explains everything about the ‘90s in the most brutally honest way possible. Back then we liked generic, hairless men stripping down and struggling with basic communication. I blame the unrealistic standards Van Damme set in the ‘80s. Look at that zany window graphic: You could put a photo of the Armenian Genocide in that frame and saxophones would play while it answers a phone in a towel. It is an inevitability.

I’m pretty sure the rippin’ saxophone theme is supposed to be Night Man himself playing — remember, that’s not only his profession, but his passion. Here he is just hanging out and noodlin’ a “sexy night in the big city” style sax riff in the middle of a crowded cable car.

If you play an instrument on public transport, you are a fungal infection in the dicktube of society. It is literally a captive audience and you are exploiting it for attention you obviously could not earn fairly. If there was any justice in this world, God would strike you down for doing this kind of shit, and there is justice in this world, because that’s exactly what happens.

Night Man is almost immediately struck by lightning, which sadly does not fuse his saxophone to his lips so that he becomes a jazz monstrosity, and racks up a lifetime of tired nurses explaining to horrified newbies that one ♪DOOT♪ means Sax-face is hungry while two ♫BLATS♫ is for ‘full diaper.’ 

Instead, the accident grants Johnny psychic powers. Well, psychic power. You see, now his brain is tuned to the frequency of evil, like evil is a radio station and Night Man is a knob in the other sense of the word. I’m not making any of that up — the creator of Night Man is barely making that up. That only technically counts as imagination, and would earn you a C- on Reading Rainbow even though none of the other children are getting a grade. 

Here’s the face Night Man makes when he listens to KEVL.

He looks like you just told him for the very first time that some letters can represent numbers. He looks like the news just broke into Baywatch to announce that the president cancelled surfing. That’s the expression you’ll find on every personal trainer’s face when you tell them you’re not interested in a free session. 

‘Evil frequency detection’ is his only innate power, but you will still see Night Man flying, going invisible, and firing lasers because at least one producer realized ‘fuckably dumb dude discovers the concept of subterfuge’ only worked for Burn Notice. The whole pilot revolves around Night Man gaining his superpower, then immediately using it to go after a suit that gives him better superpowers. And it’s the suit that really draws the Batman comparisons Night Man is in no way prepared to make. Johnny Domino is clearly supposed to be a suave Bruce Wayne-like figure, but his every expression is ‘unfrozen caveman encountering robot dog’ and he drives a Plymouth Prowler: The official car of regret. 

Prowlers were only bought by paunchy old white men in the early stages of dementia who’d temporarily forgotten what cool looked like but still felt pressured to take a hasty guess. Prowlers look like John Waters turned into a car, Turbo Teen-style, but lost all of his charm in the transition between man and machine. 

Hyping up the Prowler as a bitchin’ new supercar really nails down the window this show operates in: The world was only stupid enough to think Prowlers were cool for like two weeks in the Spring of 1997, and never again, and then so far the other direction that it actually undid those two weeks and I started off this sentence telling you the truth but now it has become a lie.

It’s clear they got that Prowler for free in a promotional deal, because Night Man had a budget of “whatever Hercules: The Legendary Journeys didn’t use” and they might have been… proud of it? Most other shows in the ‘90s had just discovered two things: CGI and the fact that they had no budget for CGI. Most of their rendered abominations were backgrounded, blurred, darkened — Night Man had no such shame, which should surprise none of us after Hunk McPecs answered a phone in a towel then hopped in a Prowler. 

Here’s Night Man bringing its fire to the pilot episode:

That would earn you a “Pass” on your proof-of-concept midterm in a computer animation class held by the Night School program at your local YMCA, and Night Man is so proud of it. It’s almost touching. It’s like they couldn’t bear to hurt the feelings of the special effects department, who might have failed out of ‘coloring time’ in kindergarten but it never stopped them from trying. It is very weird how prominently and unnecessarily Night Man uses CGI — they set their show in San Francisco then filmed it in Canada and rendered every set piece in the barn-studio of Bulgaria’s lowest bidder.

It doesn’t surprise me that Night Man couldn’t afford stock footage of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it does surprise me that they couldn’t even afford “overhead establishing shot of railing and water.” 

You couldn’t afford to be on any bridge? You couldn’t even afford to put a bannister next to a river? Maybe you shouldn’t be making a show then, Night Man. Maybe you should be saving up for the bulk box of Hot Pockets — yes, it sucks that they only have Philly Steak and Cheese, but it saves you 20 cents per Pocket and you can use those savings to buy the film rights for a better Malibu franchise.

Night Man has the craziest priorities in both budget and writing. He hardly ever uses his powers for Nightmanning — he’ll fly to a crime but not during one. He’ll shoot a laser to knock down a ladder so he can climb a building to punch a guard even though he has a laser and can also fly. Night Man reserves his powers exclusively for mundane insanities, like creating a holographic duplicate of himself playing saxophone and then abandoning it:

Really, the only subpar ‘90s staple this show is missing is…

David Hasselhoff agreed to be the central villain of Night Man’s two-part pilot on two conditions: One, that he only has 14 seconds of screen time and two, that nobody mentions his character exists, even when they’re talking to him. I don’t think he even has a name, and he does less than nothing before he dies. Hasselhoff shows up at the very end of Night Man to say one and a half things, then be thrown out a window in a way that makes it look like he slipped on a rollerskate they didn’t have to CGI, but also couldn’t afford to.

And the show ran for two seasons!

So the answers to the questions I know you’re asking right now are “yes, I will be writing about Night Man again,” and “no, I won’t stop just because this column doesn’t do well,” and “yes, this is how I’m going to be for the duration of the site, even if you threaten to quit paying me because of it.”

I will absolutely sacrifice my own financial stability just for the chance to dunk on Malibu some more. I’m not the hero you need, but I’m sure as shit the hero you deserve.

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