If I haven't mentioned it enough, I'm Canadian. As you may or may not be aware, we like our hockey here. I wouldn't say it's an unpopular sport "south of the border" (one of our many great euphemisms for America) but it's certainly not part of the national fabric of the U.S. like it is in Canada. They say baseball is America's game but I see more fanaticism out of football starting at the high school level on through the NFL. That's almost like hockey in Canada, except we're born with skates on...
Anyway, hockey is a growing sport in America, it's numbers increasing fairly rapidly in viewership, attendance and earnings in many markets. Impressive performances at the World Juniors and Olympics by the American teams in recent years have shone a nice spotlight on the talent that's being produced. Even still, there's still a vast majority of the population of the 50 states that don't watch or even care about hockey. So what's the answer. How do you promote a fast-paced, physical sport to a disinterested population? Well, you have to start young. With so many distractions and attractions vying for their attention - movies and television and video games and other sports and internet amongst other things - how do you stand out to the youth market.
Well, for the NHL, you turn to Stan Lee.
No, I'm not kidding.
A company called "Guardian Media Entertainment", after making a failed bid to the NFL, approached the NHL about creating a new superhero for each team in the NHL based off the team's name, called The Guardian Project. But it's not about creating new mascots, as apparently there's also a massive/convoluted story structure set behind it (which fills a 400 page bible referenced here) and an entire multimedia component --including web and social networking presence (as of today there's over 16,000 people who have braved embarassment by "liking" their Facebook page, mobile gaming, comic books, animation and more. It's a brave and valiant effort (but keeping an eye out at Stan Lee's creations over the past decade (Stripperella anyone?) doesn't necessarily inspire immediate fandom, not especially from the rapidly aging base of direct-market fanboys. But then this initiative is meant for kids, and while kids are getting more savvy about being pandered and flagrantly marketed to, this does have a slim, but possible chance for success (like the Atlanta Thrashers winning the Stanley Cup).
If anything is going to handicap this initiative, it's going to be character design. I mean, sure, I like giant dragons wearing purple underwear or giant, two-horned, interstellar purple planet eaters, but I also lived through the Liefeld era of huge metal shoulder guards and pouches (oh, the pouches) So over the next five days I'll be taking a look at all of the NHL Guardians in the guise of being one of those hypercritical/dismissive d-bags who judges a book only by its cover.
The Pittsburgh Penguin
Powers: super maneuverability, glacial sled, ice missiles, and a magnetized suit...
To be honest, I like him, in spite of Cyclops visor and Iceman's powers. Design-wise, he's simple (which you'll soon see isn't a trait of most of these characters) and dynamic enough. In the video maquette he has these awesome "penguin wings" for a cape which I quite like but they're not in the illustration, oddly enough. But what the hell does "magnetized suit" mean?
The Los Angeles King
Powers: super strength, accelerated healing, force field shield and seismic shift (his sword causes earthquakes)
Well, he's all medieval-like armor and spandex which are like the cucumbers and chocolate, two great tastes that should never meet. He's over-designed, over ornate, just look at that helm or those shoulder pads.
The Carolina Hurricane
Powers: Atmospheric resistance, flight/levitation, barometric implosion, environmental empathy
So, he's Red Tornado, but with a flowing mane of red hair, like some impostor goth (impgothster? ugh, nevermind) with a hankering for Quiznos. Ditch the hair, pare back the "H" symbolism all over the costume and it's not *that* bad. And this won't be the first time you see this but what the hell is "elemental empathy"? He feels sorry for trees, because he understands what they're going through when a hurricane pummels through?
The Chicago Blackhawk
Powers: Flight, titanium armor, concussion cannons, and elemental empathy.
Well... um... ugh. This is way overthinking such a simple idea. You go literal. Make the dude a Black. Hawk. Or something like Black Condor over at DC. This whole super-bulky hyper-armor, well it's not very modern. And "elemental empathy", seriously, these things need more explanation. Moving on.
The Buffalo Sabre
Powers: electrification, molecular manipulation, hydro suit, "the falls"
Apparently this dude's comprised entirely of water, like the Spidey villain hydro man, but like Mera he can create hard water contstructs, like a sword or body, and he has a big ol bulky Mr. Freeze rejected suit which allows him to electrify himself. He's actually not that bad, once again way overdesigned though. And I gotta know what "The Falls" are (does he tap into the power of the Niagara Fall, like a hydro power station?)
The Philadelphia Flyer
Powers: binocular vision, telekinesis, mind melding, flight, durability
Durability, like tupperware. You know, some of these names, "Blackhawk", "The Penguin" obviously have been used elsewhere, but to my knowledge I've never heard of a superhero named "The Flyer". There must be one somewhere in the history books of public domain characters? "What's your name?" "The Flyer." "And what do you do." "Seriously?"
Anyway, this is godawful ugly, but then I hate the Flyers so they deserve this. Wing tattoos on the forehead. Yeah we get it, you have wings.
With all these many overdesigned characters, it's like a 15-year-old in 1995 designed these things... but that, I believe, is the story behind the Guardian Project...
More to come. Sorry.