“Superhumans are real, and we will find them!”

Part of the fun of the superhero genre is the super powers. Flying, super-strength, mental telepathy, telekinesis, egg-laying, the list goes on and on. There’s that initial rush of excitement in which the characters first discover the powers, and there’s the excitement of seeing how different characters’ powers match up against each other. It’s all great fun, but superhumans aren’t real, right? Right?!?

In this reality series, legendary comic book writer Stan Lee has “assigned” contortionist Daniel Browning Smith, a.k.a. “the world’s most flexible man,” to search the world for real-life superhumans. Smith travels from America to the UK to India and back again, meeting an assortment of truly unique individuals.

Through the course of these eight episodes, Smith meets the following superhumans:

• “Electro Man,” who can conduct electricity through his body, powering lightbulbs and kitchen appliances.
• “The Human Calculator,” who can calculate complicated math problems faster than a computer.
• “Radar,” a blind man who, through clicking his tongue, achieves bat-like echolocation, allowing him to ride bicycle safely down a crowded street.
• “Super Strength,” who looks like an ordinary guy, except he can bend metal with his bare hands, not even breaking a sweat.
• “Quick Draw,” a sharpshooter who can draw his pistol and hit a target in a split second.
• “Heat Wave,” a sauna enthusiast who can survive temperatures too extreme for an average human.
• “Ultimate Warrior,” a martial arts expert who has mastered the movie-style one-inch punch.
• “Leap of Faith,” who jumps from more than 30 feet up, landing safely in a mere 12 inches (inches, I said!) of water.
• “Ultra Marathon Man,” who can run for days without getting tired.
• “Human Anvil,” who has an extra-thick skull, allowing him to smash anything with his head.
• “Super Sound,” who can mimic not just one music instrument, but an entire orchestra, with just his mouth.
• “Future Man,” who claims he can see the future in his dreams.
• “Human Speed Bump,” a weightlifter who can survive a truck driving over his rock-hard belly.
• “Human Juke Box,” an autistic young man who can play any tune on a piano from memory after only hearing it once.
• “Ultimate Climber,” an agile man who can climb up anything, like a monkey.
• “The Man Who Feels No Pain,” who jabs himself with needles without any pain or bleeding.
• “The Ultimate Diver,” who can swim downward to extreme pressures and hold his breath for far longer than an average human.
• “Mind Force,” who can attach metal objects to his head, as if by magnetism.
• “Human wolf,” who lived for a year and a half in the wild as a pack of wolves. Can he really communicate with the animals?
• “Super Balance,” who performs his balancing act at extreme heights. Is he a literal “man without fear?”
• “Modern Samurai,” a swordsman able to slice a bullet in half just as it’s been fired at him.
• “Human Beehive,” who uses pheromones to walk safely among swarms of bees without getting stung.
• “Extreme Escape,” an escapologist who maintains calm in the face of frightening death traps.
• “Human Crash Test Dummy,” an automotive expert studying crash safety, who has survived numerous crashes.
• “Anti-Venom,” who is able to inject himself with deadly snake venom and suffer no ill effects (such as dying).
• “Rubber Band Man,” who has incredibly stretchy skin. His neck-flaps fold up over his face!
• “Man of Steel,” a sword swallower who swallows the blades as they are red-hot, straight from a blacksmith’s fire.
• “Rocket Man,” who has built himself a personalized pair of wings and an engine, allowing him to not just guide, but truly fly. Amazing!
• “G-Force,” a pilot who is able to withstand 12 Gs. Most humans pass out at 6 Gs.
• “Jaws of Steel,” who can eat practically anything.
• “Human Stun Gun,” a martial arts expert who claims to be able to knock someone out without touching them. Is it truly telekinesis?
• “Super Memory,” who can recall seemingly endless facts and minor details from his mind, without having to think of it.

To begin, the initial premise is beyond flimsy. Does anyone really believe that Stan has actually hired Smith to find superhumans? Stan is barely on this show, only here to make the occasional comment and lend a famous name to the credits. Him giving Smith the order to find real superhumans gives the proceedings a slight “comic book adventure” feel, but it’s a hokey one. Why can’t Smith just be the show’s host, and Stan his color commentator? Why set things up so it’s Smith’s supposed heroic quest? It’s not like Stan is going to organize all these superhumans into an Avengers-like team, although that would be hilarious.

Fortunately, not everything on the show is cheese-brained fakery. The superhumans themselves are a fascinating bunch, offering a variety of unusual abilities and personalities. The setup here is that Smith meets each superhuman, sees what he can do, and then brings in medical and scientific experts to determine how any of this is possible. It’s in that last part that the show has its most interesting moments. We’ve all seen a carnie eating light bulbs, but giving that same carnie an MRI scan to determine just how and why he is able to do this? That’s something new. In some cases, the results are amazing. The ordinary-looking guy who can bend metal with his bare hands? Turns out it’s not his muscles, but his muscle fibers that make this possible. Is this a phenomenon that geneticists can tap into, allowing future generations to have the power to crush frying pans with their bare hands? Or consider the deep sea diver who can hold his breath longer than most people and who can dive to extreme depths without any special equipment. What if, say, astronauts could develop the same ability? I absolutely love how this otherwise goofy show raises these kinds of questions.

It doesn’t happen often, but there are a few times in which the results are inconclusive, and Smith and the experts have to throw up their arms and admit they don’t know what’s happening. Is the psychic guy really seeing the future, or are his findings a coincidence? You could argue either way. Is the martial arts master really knocking people out with telekinesis, or is this the power of suggestion at work? If it is the power of suggestion, could that be considered his “power?” Again, these kinds of questions are fascinating, and I love that this show asks them.

Viewers should know that there’s no shortage of gross-outs throughout these episodes—although perhaps that’s a draw. The unbreakable skull guy bangs himself up black and blue to show off his ability, as does the can’t-feel-pain guy and the stretchy skin guy. There were numerous times that a squeamish weakling like me had to turn away from the screen. Yeah, I know, it’s all for science, but still.

The show suffers an almost near-fatal flaw, which keeps it from being as enjoyable as it could be. As each episode breaks for a commercial, it returns with a detailed two-to-three minute recap, in which Smith reminds us not just about the superhuman he’s currently meeting, but about the show’s entire premise. It’s like having to sit through a show’s opening theme every time it comes back from a commercial. If that weren’t bad enough, there are no commercials on DVD, which means every episode is buffered with repetitive footage. It’s padding, and it will have viewers reaching for their remotes to fast forward.

Despite the negatives, Stan Lee’s Superhumans is actually a positive, upbeat series. Words like “freak” or “monster” are never used. In a lot of shows like this, the superhumans would be depicted as something scary, with suspenseful music playing as they do what they do. That’s not the case with this show. Here, the superhumans are celebrated and appreciated for being different.

Picture and audio on this two-disc set aren’t a problem, considering this is a recently-made cable series. All we get for extras are a handful of bonus scenes.

This is one of the trickiest types of reviews to write—a mixed bag. There’s a lot of truly fascinating real-life amazingness to enjoy, but there’s also a lot of fakey reality TV silliness to turn you off. I will now demonstrate my own superhuman power to help you find a middle ground—put it in your rental queue.

The Verdict

Super? Not quite. Neat? Sure.

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