|The NHL's Guardian Project|
So what does the NHL’s Guardian Project have to do with fantasy hockey, you ask? Well, there are a few reasons for the relationship and every one of them is a stretch. But bear with me.
When I was 11 until about 15 I collected comics. Mostly Marvel, which meant mostly Stan Lee. So when I first heard about the Guardian Project, I was pretty interested. After seeing the first few heroes released, the excitement grew. I couldn’t believe all the negative press that the project got in the blogosphere. These bloggers, generally men in their 30s, laughed it off. But they didn’t – and still don’t – see what I’m seeing. A brilliant effort by the league to bring in new eyeballs. And I don’t mean attract the 40-year-old football fan. I mean get the fan before he (or she) is at an age where they have fully decided upon their sport. Age 9-14.
Fantasy hockey is another method of bringing in new fans. If you join a hockey pool and you don’t watch hockey, then you find yourself watching the odd game. If you’re a casual fan who watches six or eight games a year, if you join a hockey pool then you find by season’s end you have watched 15 or 20. This is a statistical fact, based on a recent study (albeit on the NFL) in the United States.
Fantasy hockey is a growing industry, and bringing in new young fans is very much in my best interest. So for that reason, and because Stan Lee is an icon, I want on board. Let me help you understand this project. I spoke with Mark Schultz of the NHL and Adam Baratta of Guardian Media Entertainment and gathered all the information I could.
This thing goes deep. The idea was not just about drawing cool pictures. These characters each have extensive backgrounds, the storyline has a running plot and absolutely a future. They won’t disappear after the All-Star game. In fact, Schultz mentioned the “Pro Stars” cartoon from the 80’s (remember Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson?) a couple of times, indicating that the league hopes for a regular comic book series and a weekly cartoon.
They don’t expect a 36-year-old blogger, or a 46-year-old print journalist to get it. They want the characters to be cool enough to attract ongoing attention from the younger generation. It’s about brand recognition. Ask 1000 random 10-year-old boys what a Nashville Predator is and 999 will give you blank stares. If this project succeeds as the NHL hopes, then 200 or 300 will answer that question in a few weeks.
There has been a lot of criticism from bloggers about these characters stealing traits and/or appearance from heroes already invented. That’s true. In fact, it’s blatantly obvious. But ridiculing it is like ridiculing the sky for being blue. Because the fact of the matter is – in the comic book world, all looks and special powers have been done three times over. Of course you’ll find similarities in every one of these heroes. Also consider the fact that the Guardian Project was very limited in what they could with each character. They couldn’t very well make the Shark a hero who flies through the air, shoots fire, and wears a yellow uniform could they? So I do laugh when the bloggers make a joke about how the latest guardian looks like a cross between Hero A and Hero B. But I’m laughing at them and not with them. Because it’s so completely lost on them. For those not as familiar with classic heroes, I'll do my best to give you some comparables. Not to ridicule, but to inform. As I said, all of the permutations and combinations of powers, weaponry, armor, uniforms, colors and attributes have been used up - now all that can be done - well, mostly - is to mix and match.
I’m not saying that this project is a slam-dunk success. In fact, I think the odds are against it getting a big foothold and making a big splash within 365 days, when you consider how tough the market is out there. But I love the initiative and it absolutely has a chance of accomplishing its goal eventually. Which is all anyone can ask. If they only manage to hook a few hundred youngsters on the game, then that’s a few hundred more than they had before. And those few hundred have a few hundred friends…and so on. Add to the fact that these kids may not have another sporting option over the next couple of years with looming lockouts in the other big leagues, and the timing for this is perfect.
I encourage you to get your kids to vote on the Facebook campaign (a million strong and counting) and show them this column (which further ties into my goal of growing fantasy hockey!), as I’ll do my best to explain the heroes one by one (I’ll add to this as they get announced). On page two, some quotes and more information from my conversation with Baratta.
Here is the lowdown on the characters so far:
Attributes: Marine trained; calm; tough as nails; futuristic bio-suit helmet allows for breathing underwater; boots allow for water gliding at high speeds; bio-suit wings allow for short bursts of flight - what this all means is, he is the only Guardian without super powers, but his wealth sets him up with cool gear ala "Batman"
Comparables: Batman, but in the water.
Story: hails from a rich family. Personality very similar to Bruce Wayne. But his suit/gadgets all relate to the water.
Attributes: The fastest Guardian (five times the speed of sound); can fly; possesses hand cannons, mini-cruise missiles;
Comparables: The Flash (speed), Angel/Archangel, Iron Man's weaponry. But all of this is a stretch, it's fairly original with bits of unoriginal slapped together.
Attributes: Intelligent, quick, uncanny sense of smell, elite tracker, and his roar freezes opponents with fear.
Comparable: If he was blue he would look similar to Beast. Some attributes similar to Wolverine.
Story: A "big kid" who is actually very mild mannered - but only when his belly is full. I guess a possible running side joke will be his need to always eat.
Attributes: Body completely comprised of water. The hydro-suit gives him the ability to control his appearance, though he often chooses "human". He can be liquid, solid or gaseous as needed.
Comparable: powers remind us a little of Iceman. The look reminds us of Silver Surfer.
Story: a scientist (hydro-engineering), and the product of an experiment gone wrong.
Attributes: Resistant to heat, pyrokinesis, hands can launch fireballs, eyes can focus flaming lasers that can pierce bulletproof glass, wings made of flames allow for flight.
Comparable: The Human Torch, Angel, Cyclops, the Phoenix, Pyro
Story: By day he's a Calgary politician who enjoys hockey (duh) and skiing.
More Guardians, as well as my conversation with Baratta next page...
What the NHL and GME (Guardian Media Entertainment) want to make clear is that this project/idea has been in the works for a long time and they plan to have it around for a long time. Imagine this: a weekly Saturday cartoon series, an interactive Facebook game, and of course merchandising. This called "branding". Get the name and logo ingrained in the young minds out there and they will prove to be more familiar (and thus more interested and loyal) later on.
"Loyalties created as kids do stay with us for life." Believes Adam Baratta, chief creative officer for GME. And he's exactly right. He was raised in Philadelphia but has lived in Los Angeles for most of his adult life - yet he is a Flyers/Eagles fan through and through. He didn't need to cite that example, because we all have a friend who loves a team from when they were young, even though they now live hundreds of miles away.
I won't get into the NFL origins of the Project, as this was covered nicely over at Puck Daddy. In fact, I tried to steer clear of the questions asked by the mainstream and delve into things from a perspective of a 10 year old. What's the potential of a weekly cartoon show?
"A show like this, with Stan Lee's name on it, sells itself." Baratta assures me. GME's interest lies more in finding a network - not necessarily NBC - who is open to giving all 30 Guardians, plus the main character Mike Mason, equal play. It's tough to convince a network that a 30 minute show can develop interest in 31 characters (not to mention villains, other citizen characters, etc). But the thinking is, each week would feature five Guardians in the plot. The Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other cable networks are also in play. Stan Lee's name is key, of course. His legacy as the greatest superhero creator in history carries a lot of weight. "We could sell the series today."
Baratta really encourages everyone and their kids to tune into the show on January 30th at the All-Star Game (of course), saying it will be "a show that will answer a ton of questions about this project". There will be a threat to the Game itself, and will be up to Mike Mason and the 30 heroes to save the day. More in-depth backgrounds will be revealed and the powers will be seen in action.
The initiative is a good one. Picture sitting with your 12-year-old son on the couch watching the game. Well, you're watching the game. He's texting his friends or playing on Facebook. Now picture the same situation, but the Facebook game he is playing is the Guardian 30 - and when his (and your) team scores you both cheer: you, because your team scored and he because his character gets bonus powers. The fortunes of the team on the ice - live - tie in with the fortunes of his game play. Before you know it, your son is paying more and more attention to the NHL game and less attention to the Facebook one. That's just one thing on the horizon.
"The next generation of fan is not being cultivated." Opines Baratta. Again he is bang on. What are the NFL, MLB and NBA doing to bring in the younger generation? Just hoping that the older generation brings them in, because that's how it has always been done. But other generations have not had to compete with the wireless world and gaming world the way it is today. The NHL is wise to break new ground with this. It sure beats status quo.
On with the rest of the Guardians:
Attributes: Obviously he controls the elements
Comparables: The look is fairly unique, though I've seen the flowing red hair before, as well as the tornado half-body. Powers obviously similar to Storm and other element-controling heroes.
Story: An intelligent entrepreneur who favors honor, loyalty and friendship. Betrayal is the ultimate wrong.
Attributes: Wears body armor, can control the wind
Comparables: Again, the look is unique. Granted, heroes have been given wings plenty of times, and the red armor has been used often. But you'd be reaching if you can dig up any remotely popular hero from the archives and say that the look matches.
Story: He's happy-go-lucky, has an open mind, fun to be around. No back story revealed yet.
Attributes: Controls the elements of ice and rock; freezes what he touches; wears a titanium suit; if the conditions allow for it, he can create an avalanche.
Comparables: Captain Planet - not the most popular character ever created, but probably the closest likeness. Powers are similar to Iceman, but controlling rocks is a slant on that.
Story: A gambler. A risk-taker. He has a problem with authority. He's probably the bad-ass of the Guarndians.
The Blue Jacket
Attributes: Encased in a metal suit of armor, has a devastating array of weaponry, can communicate with long-dead Civil War Generals, can cocoon his victim with astral plasma (that appears as the state flag of Ohio) which temporarily suspends the victim in time.
Comparables: Optimus Prime of Transformers fame. A bit of Iron Man, too.
Story: He has a great military mind and relies on his intelligence in battle more than his weaponry, despite what you see in the picture.
Attributes: Rides the solar wind, can manipulate magnetic tension fields. Harnesses energy to create a weapon he calls a "solar flare"
Comparables: Reminds me of Dr. Octopus (color scheme), Magneto (powers), Vision
Story: A "Celestial Enforcer", implying that he is not of this world. Made up mostly of Hydrogen and Helium gasses. Confident to the point of cocky, he is DobberHockey's kind of hero. Catchphrase: "There's a new Sheriff in town."
The Red Wing
Attributes: Superhuman tracking abilities (like the Bruin), can telekinetically manipulate anything mechanical, aerodynamic.
Comparables: A bit of the later version of Angel, a bit of any Transformer that stemmed from a jet. But mostly quite a unique character.
Story: He is meticulous and thoughtful, but has trouble improvising if the plan goes awry.
Attributes: 10-foot-5, 950 pounds of muscle, has the strength to blast through concrete walls, can blast torrents of energized oil
Comparables: Juggernaut is the obvious one. Can't think of anyone with oil-shooting powers though.
Story: He's gritty and tough, loves the blue-collar workers. He loves pushing up his sleeves and working with his hands. He also loves to explore the Canadian northern wilderness.
Attributes: Half-man/half-panther; extremely agile; razor-sharp gold-tipped claws that can rip through six inches of metal; night vision; can jump to great heights/distances; can blend in with surroundings to near invisibility; controls the element of shadow/dark matter.
Comparables: Almost exactly like the Black Panther, one of the cooler characters of the Marvel universe. Then again, how would YOU make the "Panther"? A swan head and the body of a seahorse?
Story: The Peter Pan syndrome. Immature, happy-go-lucky, no responsibilities...
Attributes: Strong, agile and skilled with the sword. His shield can create a force field around him and his sword can "cause earthquakes".
Comparables: The Black Knight all the way
Story: He wants to lead the Guardians into battle. He's the guy who charges into the fray, sword swinging and shield raised. In life, he is a celebrity and a big star of stage and film, and seems to enjoy that side of his life more than the superhero side.
Attributes: Changes into "wild" form and when he does so he gains his superhero powers, but his "wild" form is too volatile and unpredictable; razor-sharp claws that can tunnel through the earth's crust quickly; hands have celestial incinerators.
Comparable: wolves are done often in comic books, but generally as the bad guy. Could compare to Beast, Sasquatch, Leo (of Zodiac fame). But for the most part quite unique. Pat on the back for drawing up unique characters, because as I said before - everything has been done and options for each character are limited by their name/logo.
Story: An intellectual - extremely brilliant problem solver. He chains himself up at night to protect others from his "volatile side".
Attributes: Jets attached to boots to aid flight or road travel. Also skate blades and in-line skates that can pop out as needed for travel over ice or roads. His can enhance the powers of the Guardians around him, and he can also absorb and copy the powers of the other Guardians as needed.
Comparable: Both Iron Man and Cobra Commander have been bandied about. Power absorbtion is Rogue's power and power augmentation (enhancing) is Ando's power from the show "Heroes". See, I told you all powers have been done before. So asking for something completely unique is impossible.
Story: He is a ladies' man who is culturally refined and is successful at everything he undertakes. Very independent, he does his own thing and it's up to others to follow. Or not. Very well respected by citizens and heroes alike.
Attributes: Titanium claws that can rip through most anything (Marvel probably has the patent on the term "Adamantium"); can spit radioactive plasma.
Comparables: Some Wolverine/Sabretooth in him. The radioactive spit is pretty unique though.
Story: A skilled musician who can play most instruments well. Prefers the guitar. Sees himself as the underdog. He has a tremendous sense of honor and duty and would rather die than fail. Almost impossible to beat in a fight because of that all-or-nothing attitude.
Attributes: Hoofed feet, wings of a bat, horse's head; he can withstand heat; breathes fire; a whip-like tail made of flexible titanium with barbed hooks at the end.
Comparables: Another unique one. The horse's head reminds me of some villains, and the wings will always draw comparisons to Angel or Archangel. Breathing fire is done by several characters. But the tail I think is unique and the combination of everything is also quite original.
Story: He makes up for his appearance by being extra kind and caring. Loves to play practical jokes.
Attributes: super strength; can manipulate ocean currents and weather patterns; can turn parts of his body to water.
Comparables: I'm stumped. Looks familiar...but can't think of a character. I don't know why Juggernaut pops into my head, other than the size of this character and the helmet. Let's give credit for another original.
Story: He's a sailor (of course), and tough as nails.
Attributes: rides a "hover horse"; an innovative machinest; given that the GP claims The Duck as the only Guardian without super powers, I can only assume that The Ranger has powers similar to what Captain America was given - added strength and speed. Speculation only.
Comparables: Robo-Cop crossed with Captain America/The Captain with the vigilante attitude of The Punisher.
Story: Is a vigilante cop-type of character. Very friendly
Attributes: Much like Thor, he is half-man/half god; without knowing for sure, I would assume that he has god-like strength, god-touched weapon and shield; Having lived for two millenium, he obviously has a lot of wisdom from experience; a natural leader.
Comparables: The Black Knight, Thor.
Story: He is a trained gladiator - one of the best. Later he became a Senator. Is a decendent of the Roman God Jupitor. He has lived for 2000 years.
Attributes: Flight, incredible sight (pinpoints objects from 30 thousand feet), x-ray vision, has a pet titanium eagle and can see whatever the eagle sees, he can read minds and make a person do things against their will, and is a true telekinetic.
Comparables: Angel/Archangel, but with better powers and the pet angle is pretty cool. What else are you going to make "The Flyer"? A person who drives a car?
Story: He is very patriotic and very intense as a personality. Loves to be the leader.
Attributes: Controls the element of sand; can call upon a pack of coyotes; retractable claws; can fire cactus quills from inside his coat; can handle extreme heat/cold weather temperatures.
Comparables: Uh - Wolverine? While there are some unique aspects to this character, this one is the least original of the 30. Looks a lot like Wolverine, and though the powers are different, the claws are the same.
Story: He's a drifter who wanders the desert. He's adaptable and dependable.
Attributes: Can project ice missiles from his hands and glide on a sheet of ice. Small wings don't enable him to fly, but allow him to glide through the air.
Comparables: Cyclops (appearance), Iceman (powers)
Story: Son of a steel worker. Thinks outside the box - a gifted inventor. Adapts to change with ease.
Attributes: Nearly blind (like actual sharks) so his other senses are heightened; controls an army of sharks; software empath (I assume that means he can control computers with his mind); not an officially detailed attribute, but I'm guessing he's a kick-ass swimmer.
Comparables: Submariner and Aquaman come to mind pretty quickly, but this character is quite a bit different from them. Unique.
Story: A computer geek from Silicon Valley. Very low key and relaxed.
The Blue (to be posted when released)
Attributes: Controls the element of sound for mind control; ability to teleport.
Comparables: Very cool. Kind of reminds me of Dr. Strange crossed with Nightcrawler.
Story: He's quiet, reserved, mysterious - and of course, he loves music.
Attributes: Can move at the speed of lightning, can travel from place to place using power lines, can summon lightning from the sky and harness the energy, can focus electric blasts from his fingertips, can create a "bolt spear" and hurl it at the enemy, can travel on lightning pulses shaped like a surfboard.
Comparables: Electricity as a power has been done lot of times, but any character with such power has yet to become a popular one. The surfboard reminds us of Silver Surfer. Another original.
Story: A brazen, cocky man of action. A ladies man, he is also unpredictable and bold.
The Maple Leaf
Attributes: Is immovable and can grow in size; branches sprout from feet or hands at will to grasp objects; can shoot sap and trap the victim as if in a web; can communicate with the plant world.
Comparables: Very original. Like an Ent from Lord of the Rings. The power to grow has been done lots of times, as has the communication with plants and sprouting branches from the body. But the combination of things creates a pretty unique hero.
Story: Nickname is "Trunk". He is the funny man of the group, always there with a joke.
Attributes: The cape possesses the ability to shape shift; he can propel himself out of water to great heights; can use Echo Location to track enemies in the water; can summon rain and then use the ensuing downpour to create weapons; can summon his whale friends for aid when needed; has spikes in his ankle and wrist bands that enable him to maneuver through tree tops quickly; can use focused sonar blasts as a weapon
Comparables: The appearance reminds us of Batman. The powers and abilities are again very unique. Summoning weather and calling animals to assist is nothing new, but this is a new slant to that.
Story: Fearless personality, but other than that I am unable to dig up any information about the Canuck's background and personality.
Attributes: Can shape-shift, can speak any language and assimilate himself into any culture. Like The Flyer, he has uncanny eyesight that can spot an object from 30 thousand feet. He has a sonic scream that can destroy objects (or bad guys).
Comparables: None. While the idea of a "bird-man" has been used many times over the years, none have carried any real presence. The sonic scream has been done by Banshee and Black Canary. But in reality this is a very original character.
Story: He is (or has been) a CIA operative. His shape-shifting allows him to hide the fact that he is a seven foot half-man, half-eagle. He is a master interrigator. He is the "spy" of the Guardian group.