One of the most popular episodes of the cult television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Pumaman is a 1980 film that rips off Superman and Star Wars and smashes them together with Aztec legends to form one ridiculous lump of a movie. The Pumaman is also one of the worst superheroes in history.
Who is the Pumaman? An Aztec legend tells of a god from outer space who entrusted his descendants with protecting a powerful golden mask on Earth. These descendants were the “man-gods” known as the Pumamen, who have all the powers of a puma, like sensing danger and flying. (Yes, those are totally real puma powers, don’t question it.) The Pumaman is an Aztec legend–even though in the opening scene, the aliens appear at Stonehenge, and the Pumaman is American. So his origin’s at least as convoluted as Hawkman’s.
The newest Pumaman is Professor Tony Farms, a whiny, smarmy coward who just wants to be left alone. (“To be left alone: the goal of every great hero,” Mike Nelson quips in the relevant MST3K episode.) But Pumaman’s Obi-Wan, the buff, actually-heroic Aztec Vadinho, knows that the Pumaman is the only one who can stop the villain Kobras (Donald Pleasance in “I need the paycheck” mode) from using the powerful alien mask to enslave mankind. We’re doomed.
What’s not to love about The Pumaman? The costume, which is just a pair of slacks, a fancy belt, and a poncho? The villains’ S&M outfits? Donald Pleasance’s weird collection of mannequin heads? How about the laughable special effects, like Pumaman’s “flying” which looks like he’s flailing in the air while being given a wedgie by the Invisible Woman?
If you’re ever despondent about a disappointing movie version of your favorite superhero, just remind yourself: at least they’re not Pumaman.
(The Pumaman is available on DVD as part of Shout! Factory’s MST3K vol. XXIX box set, and contains the original and MST-ied versions of the film, as well as an interview with the Pumaman himself, lawyer turned actor turned lawyer again, Walter George Alton.)