Monday, February 04, 2008

NFL Superpro #3

NFL Superpro #3, December 1991, Marvel Comics
writer: Fabian Nicieza
penciller: Jose Delbo
guest finisher: Charles Barnett
letterer: Janice Chiang
colorist: Evelyn Stein
editor: Bob Budiansky
EIC: Tom DeFalco

Blogger's note: Entry for Superbowl Sunday, Febraury 3, 2008.

NFL Superpro is a former pro football player that uses his accidental superpowers “to defend the sport he loves against the forces that would seek to corrupt it.” So, what kinds of crimes does Superpro investigate -- steroid abuse? Commercial exploitation? Cheating? How about masked gangs that use football franchises as motifs for armed robbery? If you chose the last one, you were right, but of course you already knew that. After all, a comic book supposedly endorsed by any sports league isn’t going to explore the ripped-from-the-headlines controversies that might jeopardize its legacy and reputation, nor would the legal ramifications of such controversies make for an action-packed series. No, NFL Superpro isn’t a comic book about football; rather, it uses football to tell simple, Marvel style superhero stories. I don’t know if that distinction really needed to be established, but considering the similarities between sports and comics, I think a more adult-oriented athletic comic book would be an interesting gateway to either world.
Seriously, can you imagine a series that does for superheroes and sports what Ex Machina does for superheroes and politics?

In the meantime, in this issue, Superpro is on the trial of a masked gang that targets hardcore Philadelphia Eagles fans, but his partner Ken, a reporter for television’s Sports Inside, makes subtle efforts to sabotage his mission. Apparently, Ken’s nephew is in the gang, but as his friends grow increasingly violent, the kid makes the right decision and helps turn them in. This storyline is entertaining enough, but behind the scenes Superpro’s more maniacal nemesis Sanzionaire hires the time traveling bounty hunter Instant Replay to take the hero out. These two subplots fail to achieve a believable balance; while Instant Replay is established a tough foe to beat, his confrontation with Superpro is cut short when his circuitry is damaged by some wayward metallic golf clubs. I can understand writer Fabien Nicieza’s intent to use Superpro as both a fantastic superhero and also an urban champion for the people, as each niche would appeal to an all-ages audience, but when squeezed into a single issue without potential for even allegorical crossover, one storyline is going to suffer.

Visually, NFL Superpro #3 is a good example of how to draw comics the Marvel way. Artists Jose Delbo and Charles Barnett mimic Marvel’s classic style, and some of their panels boast Kirby and Romita-like characteristics. If Superpro didn’t inspire kids to pursue football as a career, perhaps he drove them to try drawing.

Of course, a young reader could never pursue both. As I’ve explained before, I firmly believe that the human mind is incapable of simultaneously appreciating sports and comic books to their greatest potential. Interestingly, superhero adventures and sports have quite a few characteristics in common: both feature predominantly male figures exhibiting strength in a competitive arena, distinguished from one another by their colorful costumes. Further, their fans are prone to memorizing the entailing statistics, from sports teams’ victories to comics’ issue numbers. At this point in history, both medium’s are so mired in their respective statistics, I don’t know if any one person is capable of memorizing and appreciating them both -- hence the vast social distinctions of “the jock” and “the geek.” Could NFL Superpro be the peace treaty? If we can embrace a jock as a superhero, what are the odds that some geek will finally be the first picked for the dodgeball game?

That’s what I thought.

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