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Rick’s Cafe: Be careful, NHL … remember NFL Superpro?

Dec 23, 2010, 1:15 PM EDT

nflsuperpro

We’ve known since October that the National Hockey League is teaming with comic book icon Stan Lee and SLG Entertainment to create The Guardian Project; in which Lee and his team will invent a different superhero to represent each of the 30 NHL teams. (You know, for kids).

Then on Wednesday it was announced that TGP will let fans go to its Facebook page and vote on the order in which the new superheroes will be unveiled. We haven’t seen any of them yet, but as you can see in the graphic below, they have the potential to be pretty cool.

Or not.

Lee, of course, co-created such characters as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Captain America and Iron Man as the head of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, beginning a comics revolution that has evolved recently into several successful feature films. But not everything he’s touched has turned to gold. Um, Squirrel Girl, anyone? Yes, this was an actual Marvel superhero from 1992, co-created by Steve Ditko, the original artist on Spider-Man.

But the year before, in 1991 — and this should make NHL fans a little nervous — came NFL SuperPro (pictured at top). It was Lee and Marvel’s first attempt to team with a pro sports league to market the sport toward a younger audience, and it was, ah, not good. The comic was about as ridiculous as the costume there. Even a guest appearance by Spider-Man in the first issue couldn’t save it.

More about NFL SuperPro here.

Also, remember Marvel superhero hockey cards? Not a popular item, as I recall.

Here’s the thing about superheroes; you can’t just knock them out to order. They’re organic. The chances of a comic book superhero catching on and becoming popular are about as tenuous as the life expectancy of a hatchling sea turtle; only a small percentage live to become adults. For every Spider-Man or Incredible Hulk, there are 10 or 15 Squirrel Girls. Or, to put it another way, here are The Legion of Superpets:

I’ve never read a story with the Legion of Superpets, but I’d bet that whatever the mission was, the cat was barely interested. Also not sure why the horse would need a cape … just seems superfluous. And I’d imagine that Michael Vick is quite shocked and concerned to learn that there’s a superdog. “Superman, I’m going to have to sit this one out. I have a little vigilante justice to attend to.”

Fortunately, though, the new NHL superheroes will not have to sustain their own comic books; they’ll just show up occasionally online and look all muscley for their young fans. But if one or more of them ends up as stupefying as NFL SuperPro here, they can do more harm to the league than good.

The larger point, however is this: Why did the NHL hitch its wagon to a dying star?

According to he comics trade magazine ICv2, the most recent publishing sales figures show comics in a record free-fall, with total sales down 12 percent on the quarter, single issues down 14 percent, and graphic novel sales down 6 percent. They report that it’s the “largest year over year quarterly decline we’ve seen since we started tracking these numbers in 2004.” Sure, the Spider-Man and Iron Man movie franchises are doing well, and Green Lantern will be showing up in theaters soon. But as popular as the movies are, they are not helping comics sales that much. The industry is, and has been, slowly dying since the 1990s.

While I have all the admiration in the world for Stan Lee, I’m not sure that an 87-year-old man and a moribund superhero industry is the key to capturing the imagination of young fans.

Also, how is a super horse with mental telepathy not making Superman rich at the Preakness?

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Rick’s Cafe Americain appears each Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com.

  1. pjp1289 - Dec 25, 2010 at 2:01 AM

    I’m so sick of Vick comments in every story. This has absolutely nothing to do with him and you just found a way to include him. To be honest, I don’t even like Vick. I think he is an a-hole. But I’m sick of tired of reading your thoughts on him in every post. It’s grown very old.