So far, my fellow Bastard, Justin Wood, has been the Cap’n behind the helm of this crazy starship known as The Spandex Retrospective, and he’s done a stellar job of piloting it through some of the more solid slip-ups of silver screen superheroism. While Justin takes a well-deserved break, I have been entrusted with the solemn duty of captaining this unwieldy behemoth. I’ll try not to screw it up as we steer towads stranger skies. This time on The Retrospective, we travel all the way back to the innocent days of that most misbegotten of years, 1993. It was a simpler time then, perhaps ... but not one without its deep-seeded turbulence. Michael Jordan had just retired to play golf and eventually make Space Jam. The final episode of Cheers aired to much media ballyhoo and Andre the Giant passed away. Finally, and much to the chagrin of music aficionados everywhere, New Kids on the Block finally broke up. To be fair not much else happened that year. Bit of a snoozer.
Indeed, it was a time of its own turmoils and strife. It was a time in need of heroes, and as the world still reeled from the death of Superman only a year prior, there was but one place to look for a savior: the inner city streets of Washington D.C., and of course ... to the skies. Enter: The Meteor Man, starring, written, produced and directed by Robert Townsend. Who? It doesn’t matter! What does, however, are the other great names tied to this picture.
Not only does it star the incomparable Marla Gibbs, the always-amazing James Earl Jones (his toupee-wearing, music nerd, proto-hipster lummox is delightful) and Bill Cosby (whose portrayal of a mute hobo is well met with his iconic facial expressions), it also counts among its number Mr. Robert Guillaume, who I honestly don’t think has been bad in anything, including this. Some other noteworthy players are Sanford and Son stalwart, LaWanda Page, whose chatty “Old Nurse” is the fucking business! Then there’s Eddie Griffin, who proves that he’s still got it ... back in 1993.
Townsend plays lovable coward Jefferson Reed, a substitute teacher, whose meek exterior belies his true desire to heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and all that other stuff. The perils of his world, however, are stacked against him. Decent men and women are forced indoors, terrified of the looming threat of gangs, like the copper-topped Golden Lords led by the nefarious slinky-wielding Simon ... and to a lesser extent, someone called the Bloods and the Crips.
If any one scene exemplifies the trials and tribulations of this world, it is one which sees two child ruffians mugging the snot out of a lady in what was, in all seriousness, pretty fake, but also disturbing. But what is one man to do against the slings and arrows of 1990s culture, besides Maglite-up and join the Community Watch?
Well, on his galumph home, no doubt dreaming of a hot bath to wash away his blues over the human condition, Jefferson instead finds himself in a shower ... of the meteor variety! This scene, which inevitably brings together Meteor and Man in a sweet embrace, is actually pretty fucking gruesome. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects were about eight different shades of dated, but as the meteor sloooowly enters our hero’s chest, all I could think was, “Huh, this must be what it looks like when Slimer gives someone a Cleveland Steamer.”
What follows is a medical miracle, as the doctors attending Jefferson’s recovery are completely fucking flummoxed as to why their patient has totally healed from his wounds. Little do they suspect, however, that Jefferson’s amorous encounter with a big fat rock yielded more than just rapid healing. Throughout the course of the movie, we follow along with the budding hero as he discovers his powers, which, while being the worst/best kind of 1990's goofy, was also just giddy, childish, stupid fun. I also forgot how expansive Meteor Man’s power set is; seriously, he makes Martian Manhunter look like the hulk’s dick.
The first power that manifests is the ability to absorb the information of any book he touches for a period of 30 seconds, which helps him in a fight when he accidentally absorbs a Kung Fu book written by Bruce Lee, but decidedly less so when he touches one about how to walk like a supermodel. And yes, hijinks do ensue. This power would have been the ultimate dream for kids, though; particularly young boys (i.e., the “target demographic”). Homework would have been a breeze, not to mention tests. ‘Course the only tests kids are failing these days are pregnancy tests. Oh no he didn’t!
Unfortunately, of course, the particular ability of having instant information at one’s fingertips has been rendered moot by the combined power of Google, smartphones and a limited attention span, but at the time, that shit would’ve been boss! Finally, I’m not gonna speculate that this particular Meteor Man power “directly inspired” Andy Diggle’s alarmingly-similar book Uncanny ... all I’m saying is that the evidence is there.
He also has super strength, flight, meteor vision and meteor hearing, which he promptly uses (accidentally) to watch people walk around in their underwear. Meteor Man’s final power is the ability to talk to animals. Why? Because that’s how meteor’s fucking DO!
Just as Superman has his kryptonite and Aquaman has his ... everything, Meteor Man also has a weakness: his own fear of heights. This element was one of the few things I remember after seeing this movie when I was a kid, and even then I thought it was hokey. Saying that, the scene where he goes on patrol for the first time by floating gently at eye-level was pretty hilarious, despite (or maybe because of...) how clearly dated the effects were.
After montaging on through a few variations weirdly inspired by an old Iron-Man comic, Jefferson finally dons a more fakely-muscled supersuit than anything in Joel “Bat-Nipples” Schumacher’s flicks, and sets about the task of cleaning up the streets! “Drug dealer people,” he proudly bellows during a raid, “Meteor Man’s in town!” And indeed, he was!
Now, something must be said about the way he solves problems. In a word, it’s sweet. In a few other words, it’s batshit goofy; but yes, also sweet. I mean, he doesn’t decimate even one densely-populated metropolis. When a house is being burgled of its 90s television set that occupied it, he alerts the community by using his meteor powers to “pump up the volume” (as was the parlance of the day) and then mid-air backflip the fuck on out of there like a goddamn ninja!
When he stumbles across Cypress Hill and Naughty by Nature in a gunfight with the cops, does he snap an evil Kryptonian general’s neck? No! He just stands there like a fucking pimp and takes bullets, ending the conflict by calling for peace in what was a much more nuanced messianic allegory than anything Man of Steel did.
However, the best use of his powers is in one saxophone-punctuated scene, wherein he builds a super-garden in the middle of the inner city, which is then farmed and otherwise tended-to by the fucking Bloods and Crips. It just goes to show you, gang warfare is no match for agriculture. I’m also pretty sure this is subtle commentary on injecting gentrification and hormonally-enhanced food into the ghetto, but I could be wrong.
Unfortunately for our hero, his antics don’t fit into the business model of global crime, so the aforementioned Simon and his Golden Lords (which includes a young Don Cheadle as right-hand-man, Goldilocks), must shut him THE FUCK down. Say what you will about main baddie Simon, but not only does he have deep lines like, “Slinkies move like life ... in one second, everything can change,” he also makes time to eat lunch with his child soldiers. I think that should be commended.
My notes here say “JET magazine cameo!” so guess what? That happened.
The third act commences having seen tension at an all time high between the Golden Lords and Meteor Man, who is slowly losing his powers. The film ends in quite possibly the most poorly-choreographed fight scene in the history of cinema. What was great, though, and even a bit creepy was when Simon, after being temporarily imbued with meteor powers, orders his underlings to shoot him and then dances giggling in the hail of bullets. This was a great bit of evil joy, but one that didn’t last long after his defeat. With that crisis narrowly averted, the UN shows up! Oh no, it’s global crime. Wait, did I almost make a political joke there? Luckily for you, this movie ends so much better than that joke would have. In fact, it may be my favorite ending to a superhero movie ever.
Just as the well-heeled bunch of international bad guys converge on the now completely powerless Meteor Man, they are scared away by a phalanx of the United Gangs of Benetton. That’s right. At the end of this book, two of the most notorious domestic gangs at the time - the Bloods and the Crips - become the good guys. There’s your take-home, kids. When your local police force and the community itself can’t defend its own interests, you should always turn to armed gangs. The end.
I’m not sure who, if anyone, still owns the rights to this property, but I would honestly love to see it rebooted into modern continuity. Hell, Marvel did that six-issue limited series tie-in when the movie came out, just dust him off and chuck him on The Avengers or something - they’ll take anyone these days. Or just give it to Fraction, the kids love that guy.
In the end, I actually found the bumbling innocence of The Meteor Man an endearing distraction, and a fun look back at a quirky little bi-product of its time. Apart from the ending, the messages here were pretty sound, like “don’t fight, unite” and “free giant pumpkins solve gang violence.” Stuff you can really sink your teeth into. So crank up your YouTube (where the film can be found in its entirety), settle in for some classic 1990s cinematic superhero arcana and enjoy this goofy little gem. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be the Meatier Man for it.