Ken Tucker
January 21, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Recently there have been numerous efforts to create African-American superheroes, including Robert Townsend’s flop film Meteor Man and DC Comics’ current Milestone Media line. None, however, has been as amusing as the TV movie Mantis (Fox, Jan. 24, 8-10 p.m.). This sly effort features Carl Lumbly (Cagney & Lacey) as a neurophysicist in a wheelchair who, when danger strikes, turns into Mantis, a goggle-eyed adventurer capable of temporarily paralyzing villains by—well, by shooting some sort of super-duper serum at them, as far as I could follow.

Mantis‘ executive producers include Sam Hamm, who had a writing hand in the recent Batman movies, and Sam Raimi, whose Darkman (1989) had a long black trench coat similar to Mantis’. As directed by Eric Laneuville (St. Elsewhere), Mantis has its spoofy aspects. Mantis has an insectlike mask that glows around the eyes, and he likes to leave a little toy praying mantis in the mouths of his frozen victims. The movie also satirizes the black middle class with its dialogue about such things as ”sister(s) on the buppie tip.” This is, in other words, fun for the whole family. B

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