Crabcake Confidential: NHL Guardian Project (The Original Six)
If you’re not a hockey fan, you may not have heard of the NHL Guardian Project. And God bless you for your ignorance. The NHL Guardian Project is a totally insane attempt to create a superhero for every one of the NHL teams, and then write a comic about it. Why? Hell if I know. To create a mascot or something? Advertising to get young people to watch hockey? At least the NBA and the NFL were savvy enough to get rap stars to model team jerseys on rap videos. Team-based superheroes lacks a certain … coolness, despite all the uninformed media pundits who tell you that “Superheroes are cool now!”
Maybe so, but not these heroes. Honestly, if the NHL had run a contest to create a superhero for each franchise, you’d discover that ten year olds would’ve come up with more creative superheroes than any of the NHL Guardians.
Anyway, to make matters more insane, the whole project was helmed by Stan Lee. Sure, he’s a legend, and he’s responsible for creating some of the most iconic superheroes in history. But that was in 1960. Lately, Stan The Man has been the guy who has lent his name to Ravage 2099, Stripperella, the Who Wants To Be a Superhero? reality show, a bunch of terrible motion comics from POW!, and newspaper Spider-Man. So it should be no surprise why most of these guardians look like already well-established superheroes.
Naturally, as a Red Wings fan, I was curious to check out what they did to wreck the reputation of my beloved team. And, just to bulk up this review, I decided to check out what was done with the rest of the Original Six (which includes Toronto, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Montreal). Because the only thing better than harassing rival fans over the superiority of your team is lording it over the rest of the League that their team is not as old as yours.
So we have:
- Red Wing – clearly an Autobot. Not to be confused with the other Red Wing.
- Bruin – a giant anthropomorphic bear. Unique, I guess, unless you’re counting Ursa Major of the Winter Guard.
- Canadien – I know you’re tempted to say “Iron Man,” but to me he looks more like Malibu’s Iron Man clone, Prototype.
- Blackhawk – A color-swapped Master Chief. Well, at least Stan’s current on his pop culture references.
- Ranger – The Manhattan Guardian. Which… is actually a pretty obscure source. And a little clever, too. OK, Stan… you win this round.
- Maple Leaf – a tree. And I’m assuming a lowly maple tree, not an oak, which is the first tree you think of when paired with the word “mighty.” Seriously, Toronto fans, a friggin’ tree. You guys got jobbed. He’s probably based on The Thing, but at least The Thing didn’t shoot… ah, I’ll talk about it later.
These comics were written by Chuck Dixon. You may remember from such illustrious titles like Punisher War Journal, Detective Comics, and Birds of Prey. And now he can add the NHL Guardians to his resume. Hey, it’s a living, right? Interestingly, there are separate “Written by” and “Story by” credits. I think that means that Chuck was responsible for the dialogue while another guy was responsible for the plot. The “Story By” guy, then must be taking home the easiest cash in the world, since every story is basically “Guardian meets a villain/Guardian fights villian/Guardian wins, perhaps tossing off a ‘snappy’ one-liner.” This is your NHL Season Ticket money at work, people!
The comics are presented in the sense-shatterin’, mind-blowin’ pdf format. Laugh all you want, but somehow the Guardians folks were savvy enough not to publish the comics in Flash. Not that these comics have any risk of anyone ever pirating them.
Or reading them.
Each hero theoretically battles a supposedly equally matched supervillain. Except Red Wing, apparently, who’s so lame he’s reduced to tracking down baby kidnappers. Man, that’s what you get when your main power is scooting around on shoe-mounted wheels… which are actually less functional than rollerblades. I’m not saying that saving kidnapped kids is not a worthy cause. However, it seems like something more worthy of the fine folks at Detroit 187.
Anyway, he has to stop these guys before they cross the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, as depicted by an artist who never even bothered to google the Detroit Windsor Tunnel. Is this because Canadians are more tolerant of child kidnappers? Or maybe it’s territorial. Like, once Red Wing crosses the Detroit River, he’s greeted with a “Stand back, hero! The Windsor Spitfire will be handling things from here on out!” Incidentally, in a comic where the hero had wheels for legs and a giant jet engines strapped on his back, the goofiest part is probably a scene where the bad guys sing the Canadian National Anthem as they drive for the border. Man, those are some patriotic criminals!
Believe it or not, Canadien has it worse. The costume is less embarrassing overall. However, our French Canadian hero can’t even stop a bunch of motorcycle thugs by himself. Canadien goes into action after a bunch of thieves crash the Montreal Grand Prix. Behold his powers of math: “Nine bikers added to thirty Formula One cars equals fifty thousand potential victims!”
However, highly questionable arithmetic is not enough to save the day! Fortunately the Penguin (sadly, not that Penguin) was hanging around to save the day. How low are you on the superhero totem pole are you when you’re representing the second largest city in Canada (and the largest French speaking city in the world outside of Paris), and you can’t stop a bunch of motorcycle-riding thieves without needing to get bailed out by the hero representing Pittsburgh? Oh, the shame.
Ranger, meanwhile, battles a villain named Time Squared who apparently is all about preventing the New Year’s ball from dropping on Times Square (witty!) Because that means we’ll be stuck in 2010 or something. Anyway, Ranger gets some choice lines in while kicking Time Squared in the hiney: “I don’t punch a clock, Time Squared! But you? I could punch you all day long! Eat voltage!” Wait a minute, Ranger: are you sure you’re not actually stuck in 1966?
In Chicago, Blackhawk fights a giant anthropomorphic rat (Hey! This guy might be sidekick to the Florida Panthers Guardian, fella!), and in the process makes the city safe for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Humanoid rats, St. Patty’s Day, cheap Halo knock-off. OK, whatever. I think there may have been a missed opportunity to introduce a Leprechaun-themed villain, but I guess giant rats are fine. Anyway, big fight, yadda yadda yadda, Blackhawk prevails and protects the good people of Chicago. When the police ask Blackhawk what to do with Toxicon and his half-rodent minions, he tells them to find a place with a big wheel for them to run on. I can only see this as a subtle dig at Red Wing and an attempt to stoke to the ongoing rivalry for dominance of the Norris Division. (And don’t tell me it’s called the Central Divison now. LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU GARY BETTMAN)
Back across the border, Maple Leaf does battle with
Jubilee Spectra. Again: he’s a tree. He has tree powers. I am reminded of the mock superheroes that Joel Robinson made up on MST3K: “I am Lumber Man! I have the power of lumber!” Maple Leaf’s power is that he grows. Because trees grow. Note to Stan Lee: so does every other living thing. Yet, even that’s better than his other power: he can shoot syrup out of his fingers.
Well, if this superhero thing doesn’t work out, at least he can got a job at IHOP. Seriously, Toronto, you guys got jobbed. Anyway, he beats up a young woman with poor fashion sense. Good job… you jerk.
Finally, we get to Bruin, who wins the “Best of Show” award by simply being a giant bear stuffed in a fetching black leotard. As a reward, he gets to battle the bad guy with the least embarrassing villain name: Dr. Mayhem (not to be confused with other notable doctors of mayhem). Sure, he just a guy with a big brain! That’s not the point! The point is Dr. Mayhem! I mean, seriously, if I ever become a villain, I’m totally going by Dr. Mayhem.
Bruin growls like a pro-wrestler, smashes through walls, lets out sonic screams, delivers ownage left and right, and generally basks in his awesomeness. Heck, even his puns (“Wait for the cops — if you can BEAR it!”) are in a class of their own. Stacked next to him, every other NHL Guardian is AHL at best. The only thing that would make Bruin more awesome is if he had a Russian accent. Seriously, can you imagine an anthropomorphic Russian bear representing Boston?
As cheesy as all this is, I can’t really see anyone ever shelling out $30 for the graphic novel, or even picking up any of the officially licensed NHL Guardians merchandise. After all, the jock/superhero synergy has been attempted before, and frankly it has been justly forgotten in the annals of comic history. It’s far more likely that is is the current generation’s version of the Hostess Fruit Pie ads. They knew it was terrible then, they know it’s terrible now, and one day some future Seanbaby is going to make his career rediscovering these comics.
Do you know who I really feel sorry for, though? Wild fans. It was bad enough you had to trade in the awesome “North Stars” name for the focus-grouped “Wild” name.
But now it’s worse. Because your NHL Guardian is Poochie.
A disappointed Gretzky