Text by Steve Currier
A few years back, the NHL, in its infinite quest to entice young fans excited about hockey, decided the sport was lacking excitement for kids. So, what did the league do? Snazzier uniforms? New features in the EA line of video games? More TV commercials featuring Alex Ovechkin’s toothless grin? No, the new promo idea was better than that, thought the league: comic book characters! After all, what young whippersnapper doesn’t love to spend his free time reading about the adventures of Batman, Wolverine and the Avengers. Only, the NHL didn’t use said comic book legends to entice fans. Instead, they came up with the “Guardian Project”, a truly worthy induction into the Hockey Hall of Shame.
The problem though was that while the above-mentioned comic book superheroes have interesting back stories and have all sorts of plot lines, cartoons, live action movies and video games (you know, to capture the imagination of children), the NHL tried to introduce 30 different comic book superheroes at the same time, with almost no promotion whatsoever. Do you remember going to games and seeing these comic book characters promoted in any way? No? Didn’t think so. And almost all of these characters sucked, for reasons you shall soon understand.
For one thing, each superhero adopted the name of an NHL team. That is all well and good if you happen to be the superhero of the Red Wings, the Hurricanes, or the Sharks; those are pretty decent comic book names. But what about the St. Louis Blues? Who would take seriously a superhero called the Blue? What about the Duck, or the King? This was just one of the problems with the Guardian Project, an ill-advised concept that came to be because of one man…
That’s right, THE Stan Lee, creator of said Avengers, Iron Man, and Spider Man helped create the Guardian Project! Well… something tells me Mr. Lee would have better sense than that, so he probably asked one of his underlings to handle this assignment. And boy does it show! Sweet Jesus, does it ever!
First, I think it is important for you to understand how the Guardians came into being. In the comic book universe, the Guardian Project was the brainchild of 15-year-old Mike Mason. In a plot that made about as much sense as Plan 9 from Outer Space, the characters come to life during a mysterious explosion at Dark Laboratories. You see, the man in charge of the laboratory, one Deven Dark, was evil, if his name didn’t already give that away. How evil is he? Well, Deven Dark is a super-villain in charge of a group of lesser villains terrorizing each of the NHL’s thirty cities. Like every super-villain, he has an incredibly convoluted master plan to take over the world. In this case, Dark actually WANTED his minions to be defeated by the Guardians so he could note each of their weaknesses, which could be exploited at a later date. Obviously, Dark’s superpower is limitless wealth because why else would you spend presumably thousands, if not millions of dollars, training minions, equipping them with weapons, only to expect them to fail.
At the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina, Dark sets his evil plan into motion. The Dastardly One takes the arena hostage, so Mason unleashes the Guardians to take care of the problem. Remember how Dark used his minions to discover the Guardians’ weaknesses, well it turns out they all conveniently had the same one: suction. Dark’s plan was to lure all of the Guardians to the All-Star Game where he transformed the arena into a massive wind tunnel device that would trap all of the Guardians, and presumably the 18,000 plus fans sitting in the arena. If our superheroes were so easily sucked into the vortex, I’m guessing little Sally Slapshot and little Petey Puckhead sitting in the nosebleeds didn’t stand a chance. That’s what should have happened, but since all of this was played out on the Jumbotron and in a laser show at centre ice, and NOT in real life, no fans left their seats unless it was to take a leak. That’s the problem when one believes what happens on a movie screen is real. Anyway, back to the show. One Guardian did stand a chance against Dark: the Hurricane, Carolina’s local superhero. Apparently, Dark did not realize that a superhero named THE HURRICANE would have some sort of mastery over wind. So, anyway, the Hurricane reversed the vortex’s magnetic pull and closed it, crushing Dark’s simple dream of taking over the world. Somewhere, some young executive at the Asylum was anxiously planning a glorious film franchise for the Guardian Project, right up there with Transmorphers and Sharknado, but like many brilliant ideas, it never came to fruition. Shame on you, I say!!!!
What ANY of this has to do with the NHL, hockey or professional sports, I will never know. Did the league actually believe some hockey-loving comic book nerds were going to crap their pants over this sorry attempt to gain fans?
Let’s take a look at some of these artistic abortions, shall we?
First off, we have the Coyote, Guardian of Phoenix’s NHL squad…
Check out that snazzy NHL belt buckle? Somewhere, Howard Wolowitz is pining for one of those to add to his collection. In fact, all of the Guardians have ‘em, and… wait a minute… I thought the NHL wanted to create its own comic book superheroes. Why am I looking at Wolverine’s lame-ass twin? Take a good look at this picture of the real Wolverine and tell me the Coyote is not a direct rip off.
Yeah, I know, Wolverine’s claws are longer and their made of anamantium or something, I don’t know, and I don’t care. No twins look EXACTLY alike, do they? The good news is if Hugh Jackman’s career ever starts to flag, I smell a new superhero franchise he can profit from.
Speaking of blatant comic book rip offs, here’s my beloved Montreal Canadiens’ superhero, Cobra Commander?
Again, the proof is in the pudding, kids…
But wait, it gets much better, or worse, whichever way you want to look at it. While the Habs felt hiring Cobra Commander was the right move to protect their rink, the New Jersey Devils went above and beyond in their quest for safety and security. Apparently, the city of Newark was able to scrounge up enough cash to secure the services of The Devil. You know? Mephistopholes, Satan, the Fallen One, the Guy in the Red Pyjamas, Ozzy Osbourne’s best buddy.
I don’t know what kind of scratch it would take to bring The Devil to your town, but I can imagine it being A LOT! Funny, I always pictured the Unholy One being a Toronto fan, considering how, like the Devil, the Leafs have also fallen from grace.
I’m having some real problems understanding the deal with this here Devil. You would think that employing the Devil would pretty much guarantee that no super-villain could ever overtake your city, yet Deven Dark just sucked him up into some super-powered vacuum cleaner? What’s the point of having the Devil in your employ if any one of his underlings can just waltz in, kick him in the balls, and declare himself Lord and Master of Earth? Bond villains on a sugar crash have put up a better fight than this Devil. And what about the fact God had banished the Devil years ago to burn in Hell for all eternity. How did the Devil just reappear on Earth like that? And why is he being so helpful all of a sudden? Isn’t he the one who is such a keen supporter of Donald Trump, Justin Bieber, guys with man buns in their hair, and just about every atrocity humans have unleashed since the dawn of time?
And another thing that keeps me up at night is his alter ego. Every comic character has one. Superman has Clark Kent, Batman has Bruce Wayne, Iron Man has Tony Stark. Who would be the Devil’s alter ego? I’m thinking Al Pacino from the Devil’s Advocate. That would officially make the Devil the greatest comic book superhero of all time. Anyway, let’s move on…
I present to you exhibit D, the mighty Maple Leaf!
What more can I say? The poor guy has no neck, but that’s far from the biggest problem here. Seriously, he’s a freakin’ TREE! Ooh, watch out Mr. Dark or he’ll drizzle maple syrup on you! Leafy here must be pretty popular come Sunday brunch at Mike Mason’s place.
But come to think of it, if you’ve ever seen the Maple Leafs’ defense, a comic book character planted firmly in the earth and not moving at all seems quite apropos. OK, you can breathe easy now; I’ve got all the Leaf jokes out of my system.
Now, let’s all hail the King!
Problem with this guy is when one thinks of the King, one usually thinks of an old, out-of-shape Elvis.
But at least he’s not the Oiler, the man who has domain over the Alberta oil sands!
From what I can gather, he has the power to lower your gas prices with a single squirt. Whatever you do, just keep him away from the Devil or else someone’s hair may catch fire.
Next… the mighty Penguin…
Seriously, who is going to take some buffed superhero seriously with a lame-ass name like the Penguin? How is that going to strike fear into the heart of evil? When I think Penguin, I think short, stocky, Batman villain, not some Silver Surfer wannabe.
Next, we have the Predator…
Considering his primary purpose is luring children to the hockey rink, I would expect this Predator to have a serious talk with Chris Hansen pretty soon. I don’t even want to think about who the Predator’s alter ego would be. Why don’t you just have a seat over here, Percy Pervertson, and check out the best Guardian of the bunch: the Bruin!
I really don’t know what to make of this. It’s a giant bear wearing a sleeveless, skin-tight shirt and WRESTLING TIGHTS! No creature can make that ensemble look good, no matter how angry he may be or how sharp his claws are.
Just a year after the official launch of these comic book superzeros, their official website was still under construction, and only a few items ever appeared with the characters likenesses. And they were nowhere to be found on the Jumbotrons of any NHL arena. There were plans to create TV shows and movies around the Guardians, but of course, that never happened. The British tech firm Oxford Metrics Group, an umbrella group that housed House of Moves, the studio responsible for the excellent 3-D and motion capture graphics in games by Rockstar and Electronic Arts, reported its full-year pre-tax profits dropping from £3.7 million to £700,000. Those are pounds, people, not dollars, so you can imagine the explaining Stan Lee had to do after this little financial hiccup.
All photos can be found on Google Images.