Sunday, January 30, 2011

v2, d267: Can They Save Us???

Okay, this one may get a little long.  But it should be fun.

I've almost commented on this subject multiple times, but I decided to wait until tonight, when the whole thing was officially unveiled.  I'm speaking of one of the biggest, most ambitious, and most controversial marketing projects in the history of pro sports.

And quite honestly, I'm a little jealous I didn't get a chance to work on it ;-)

I speak, of course, of the NHL's Guardian Project.  For those who haven't been following along, here's the basic premise: A superhero character based off every NHL team.  The Bruin, for example, prowls the streets of Boston, while the Devil protects the Meadowlands, the Avalanche patrols the Rockies, and the Canuck defends the shores of British Columbia.  Over the past month, the Guardian Project Facebook page has been revealing one new character each day leading up to tonight's NHL All-Star game, where the Guardians were to be officially revealed during the second intermission.  (I'm glad it was the second intermission, because I'm still pretty sick and was sleeping through the first half of the game) 

Most hockey fans, it seems from Internet response, have hated every second of it.

To be fair, superheroes have a very limited appeal to many adults.  That said, this is not a project aimed primarily at adults.  It's for kids.  Let's face it, when we were kids, we loved all kinds of stuff that, years later, we realized was kind of dumb.  For example: I remember thinking the X-Men cartoon was an epic feat of animation and storytelling.  Turns out, it wasn't.  I also followed the adventures of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers until I hit middle school.  (I think I realized that was garbage at the time, for the record)  I have a suspicion the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon might still be clever, but I'm afraid to check.  The exception to this rule: Batman: The Animated Series. 

But I digress. 

Bottom line is, the league has created something that a lot of kids would totally eat up if it's packaged correctly. 

Here's what impresses me about the whole thing: This creative team headed up by Stan Lee (yes, that Stan Lee) has come up with thirty new characters, each with their own history and backstory, incorporating elements of each team's mascot, history, and host city.  The Lightning is a cocky East Coast beach celebrity, the Shark is a techno-geek, the Blue Jacket an old-school Union soldier/artillery machine, the Ranger is a cop, the Flame can summon a "flaming stampede" (though I'm not entirely sure I want to know exactly what that means), the Predator digs country music, and so on and so forth.  While they manage to miss the mark pretty severely at times, the creative team has really put a lot of care into making this a credible enterprise--once again, keeping in mind that it's a superhero adventure story that young fans will get excited about. 

Here, some examples:

The Los Angeles King.  Incorporates the royalty theme and blend's the team's silver-and-black history with its modern royal purple.  Also has a sword and a shield and causes earthquakes while the helmet brings in a touch of the hockey goalie mask. 

The Boston Bruin.  At times, the creative minds behind these characters were a little handcuffed.  The Bruin was pretty much going to have to be a giant bear.  This guy reminds me of a dream I had recently...  Anyway, I like how it really sells the "Big Bad Bruins" feel from the 70s.  Also, he reportedly doesn't get along too well with the Flyer.  Also also, note the "6" patch on his shoulder, signifying Boston's place in the NHL's "Original Six" era.  Nice touch.

The Columbus Blue Jacket.  I love this guy.  Nice tying in of the Civil War history.  Also, the team fires a cannon when they score at a home game.  So that obviously came into play, too.

Now, inevitably, there are going to be some characters who bear a striking resemblance to other famous comic book characters.  Let's face it, there have been a lot of comic book characters over the years.  It's not like there are many superpowers or "looks" that haven't already been done.  That said, Stan Lee created most of those characters, so I suppose if anybody's going to rip them off, it might as well be him!

The Florida Panther. Yeah, it's pretty much Black Panther. The original one.  Not the newer, curvier one.

The Colorado Avalanche/Mr. Freeze...

The Penguin/Cyclops...

The Montreal Canadien/Iron Man.

To be fair, I have no idea what I'd have done with "The Canadien" either. Mountie on steroids?

Then, of course, there are a couple that are so ridiculous that even I can't defend them.

I'm not sure what exactly I hate about the Washington Capital Guardian.  I guess I don't think it needed to be a mutant eagle, though it's a nice throwback to the late 1990's jersey.  It may be the high school wresting colors.  It may be that there appears to be one muscle too many in his left leg.  Or maybe it's that dumb point.  Why is he pointing??  Maybe it's an Uncle Sam/I Want YOU thing?

The Ottawa Senator.  Egad, man!  Cover your legs!

The Anaheim Duck.  The "Rebel With a Trust Fund."  Fortunately, it's not actually a giant duck.  It's a human wearing a mask.  A duck mask.  Complete with bill. O-kay....(Had I been in on this project, this would have been my least favorite assignment)

And finally...
Okay, look. This guy is a tree.  I mean..he's a tree! Their Guardian is a freaking tree!  Over a week later, I still can't get past that. 

Anyway, the whole thing built up to tonight's big debut, introduced by Stan Lee himself!  (The whole thing was very Stan Lee, and if you watched either season of Who Wants to Be a Superhero? you know that's not always necessarily a good thing)

So, to recap: Stan Lee is showing off the cool new Guardians when the evil Deven Dark (Deven Dark??  Stan, that's the best you got???) interrupts the festivities and is holding the whole crowd hostage.  All the Guardians then converge outside the RBC center, ready to lay the smack down.  And then...they all get captured at once!!!!  Deven Dark astutely remarks that our super heroes are not so super after all.  Then, the Hurricane shows up and saves the day, since he's the hometown boy.  I'll assume his showing up late was part of the Guardians' plan, using the others as bait to unveil Dark's sinister scheme.  'Cause otherwise, it looks like he knew something was up the whole time and just decided not to warn any of the others. 

Hey wait, why didn't anybody notice that Deven Dark was transforming the RBC Center in Raleigh into a massive super-hero detainment facility and death trap?  Surely that process had to take some time. 

Anyway, the video ends with a teaser of things to come and a web site.  So I checked it out, and I have to say, I'm impressed.  It appears the story is going to be continuing virally.  You can register to receive updates from the Guardian's commander.  I don't know what that means at this point.  There's also downloadable stuff, and if you're not interested in following the current story you can check out the "chronicles," which features back story for each character and a short (5-6 page) comic book for each Guardian.  And again, they're not fantastic.  But I know how my friends and I would have responded to this when we were little.  Heck, even my three-year-old got excited by it, and he didn't really even understand what it was supposed to be.  "The superheroes are flying!" he said.  "Is that the bad guy?"  He was fairly into it. 

Now don't worry, I won't be posting Guardians updates every time something happens. But it's an impressive endeavor.  And the graphic novel is for sale on their site.  And I want that, though I don't know when the next time I'll buy something for myself will be, what with the baby coming soon and all.  Just wanted to share this grand bit of silliness with you all.  Especially since this is the sort of thing I've wanted to see since I was in, oh, sixth grade.  It'll push merchandise, that's for sure, and I applaud the league for making a big portion of the All-Star Game so kid-centric.  Always good to have something for the younger ones during those long stretches of boring between periods.