Posted by Sheldon A. Wiebe on 07/26/2006

While the world might not need another superhero speedster, “Stan Lee’s Lightspeed” [tonight, 9 p.m., ET/PT] isn’t just another superhero speedster – he’s a superhero speedster from the man who co-created “The Fantastic four,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Uncanny X-Men” – and you know that nothing will come easy for him…

“Stan Lee’s Lightspeed” is constructed like a good comic: first you meet your hero-to-be; then you meet your villain; next you learn why your villain is the way he is; then you learn how your hero becomes super, and, finally, you get the big showdown. It’s a formula that only works if you care about the characters, and that’s what happens here.

When Daniel Leight [Jason Connery] is injured by a collapsing building [shades of 9/11!] caused by the evil “Python” [Daniel Goddard], he requires extreme prosthetics [titanium leg, anyone?] and specialized radiation therapy. When Python cranks up the rads, something unforeseen happens and Daniel discovers he can move at incredible speeds.

Between the collapsing building and the cranked up radiation, we learn – via flashback – that Python was a research scientist who was working on replacement skin for burn victims. He was using snakes as a template, and just as he was on the verge of success, his funding was pulled. The kicker? His first use of the new skin would have been to save his sister’s life – when the funding dried up, his sister died.

Now, the snake-skinned Python is putting together a weapon that will destroy Washington, DC – and in the meantime, he’s killing everyone he perceives as having been responsible for stopping his project – even his old friend, Daniel, and the senator who had the misfortune of being chosen to tell him the bad news.

Daniel, in the meantime has become part of an elite outfit called the Ghost Squad – formed to handle extreme cases [and with extreme prejudice]. His boss, Tanner [Lee Majors], comes across as gruff but compassionate – at least for his own [he’s quite willing to machine gun down hordes of the villain’s soldiers in the middle of the city]. In the kind of complication that makes for serious angst in the comics, Daniel is love with Beth [Nicole Eggert], a member of the Ghost Squad under his command. Needless to say, their relationship plays heavily into the finale.

As the Ghost Squad tries to figure out what Python is up to [a series of thefts involve an unusual array of items], Daniel is trying to recover from his injuries – and figure out what has happened to him. Despite his certainty that he knows who Python is, and what he wants, Tanner and Beth more or less blow him off – leaving him to his own devices.

“Stan Lee’s Lightspeed” is a fast-paced [understandably] superhero romp that gets a bit more vicious than we’re used to seeing on television. People get shot, get their throats slit, and get buildings dropped on them – and there’s a lot of blood spray! The villain is genuinely villainous – despite his original motivation, he’s clearly gone off his nut; the hero is heroic – in spite a most logical weakness, and the girl is both beautiful and brainy. Even the villainous twist at the end is pure Lee.

The special effects aren’t particularly terrific – the same effects were achieved with much lower tech on CBS’s “The Flash” – but Lightspeed’s costume is cool, and there are nods to a lot of comics’ conventions. My favorite is the Daily Bugle-like headline, “Lightspeed: Hero or Menace?” – keeping the spirit of J. Jonah Jameson alive! “Stan Lee’s Lightspeed” won’t clear your sinuses or retread your tires, but it will give you a couple hours of entertainment. If the ratings were to warrant another “Lightspeed” adventure, it’s possible an entertaining series could result.

For now, the combination of “Stan Lee’s Lightspeed” with a frosty beverage of some sort, equals a good way to spend a hot Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening…

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