Who was TV’s first superheroine? If you said Linda Carter as Wonder Woman, you’d actually be wrong. That’s what I would have said until I researched tonight’s entry, The Secrets of Isis (sometimes just known as Isis), Filmation‘s Saturday Morning live action series. While there was a 1974 movie Wonder Woman movie (thus making you half-right), Secrets of Isis was the first TV series, airing in ’75 and Wonder Woman became a series a year later. (Sid & Marty Krofft‘s Electra Woman & Dyna Girl would follow soon after.)
Instead of the first episode, I’m going to show you the last one. While Isis fought more “regular” criminals than fellow Filmation superhero Captain Marvel (Filmation had the “Shazam!” license which it used in a live-action series and later in a cartoon alongside Hero High), both shows would mostly be about some kid making a bad decision and learning his or her lesson. In this episode, however, it was more like a straightforward superhero story, where Isis’s friend is framed for theft of a top-secret device.
(You may ask how a high school teacher gets involved with creating a top-secret device for the government, but between this show and Spider-Man, high school and college was far more advanced in science than most normal government labs.)
In this story, Captain Marvel makes two cameos just to have him there, I guess. Isis would drop by his show now and then and do the same thing, but rights issues have kept that series pretty much out of view. (By “rights issues” I mean Warner Brothers has done almost nothing with it.) However, the focus is really on a group of character Filmation had hoped to spin-off into a series of its own. See if you would have wished it had happened.
According to Wikipedia, our three stereotypes there were supposed to get their own series, working title The Super Sleuths I guess. As I said, The Secrets of Isis and Shazam! seldom had the heroes fighting regular villains (and neither had a supervillain), preferring to have the heroes using their powers to simply help the kids out of some scrape they got into. This hasn’t sat well with the superhero fandom, and they look down on these series, especially Shazam! due to its comic book origins where he would battle evil far more often.
Personally, I liked the shows as a kid and while I wouldn’t have minded something more like the above two episodes, I don’t think they’ve aged too poorly. (Maybe the fashions.)
There aren’t enough female superheroes on TV. In addition to the above mentioned there was Sci-Fi’s adaptation of Roger Corman’s The Black Scorpion and that completes the list. Someone would try to include Jamie Sommers from both The Bionic Woman and the recent TV series that suffered from–new term, kids–Battlestar Galactica Syndrome, where the name was just slapped on a completely new series. I wouldn’t consider Jamie Sommers a “superhero” any more than I do the cast of Heroes. Too many missing tropes.
There were also some animated series, but I’m talking strictly live-action here. The only other case you can make are for Saban’s superhero shows, Power Rangers and VR Troopers, but those were team shows and I’m talking “supergirl doing it for herself” type shows. I’m a little mixed on whether or not Birds of Prey qualifies as “superhero” or not, but even if we give it a pass we still come up short.
The series is available on DVD, and of course on Hulu as of this posting. I thought it was a good series.