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The Guardian Project January 17, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

I’ve been deliberately holding my thoughts on this until they rolled out Washington’s character, so that I could write just one post and have done with the matter.

For those who haven’t heard, comic book icon Stan Lee has created 30 superheroes themed around the 30 NHL teams. The general reaction seems to be summed up by Ryan Lambert over at Puck Daddy, who rolled his eyes at the whole idea:

Now, I know, I know, this isn’t aimed at me. It’s aimed at children, who are idiots, and adults who like comic books, who are worse.

First off, don’t call children idiots: that’s just out of line. No, the average six-year old probably can’t recite the NHL Rule Book chapter and verse, but it’s not because they’re not smart: they just haven’t had time to learn it all yet.

And why not try to appeal to children in the general population? Isn’t that a good way to make lifetime hockey fans, to get ’em started when they’re young? Sports parents get their kids started rooting for their team when they’re young already. And wasn’t it Kids’ Club Day today at the Caps-Sens tilt? So why shouldn’t the NHL try to appeal to a wider base of younger viewers, who may not necessarily have hockey fans for parents? If hockey is a great game–which it undeniably is–and if it should be appreciated by more people than it is–which it definitely should–and if the best fans get started when they’re young–which you can admittedly argue either way–then what, exactly, is wrong with appealing to younger viewers with a comic series? If the NHL wants to get creative making new fans, more power to ’em: more passionate hockey fans is definitely a good thing.

Now, regarding adults who like comic books, I’m probably going to strike a nerve with this, but here goes. I think comics and sports have more in common than Mr. Lambert would like to believe. Both are, essentially, narrative escapism. They scratch the same itch, so to speak, just in different ways.

Good comic book characters get drawn and re-drawn; the good ones get animated; and the best get live-actioned. There are stories, and there are more stories; but the characters themselves never go away. And even though some characters seem to hang around forever, new characters can sometimes come along to provide new stories of their own.

In hockey, teams play season after season; the good ones make the playoffs; and the best win the Stanley Cup. There are seasons, and there are more seasons; but the teams themselves never go away. And even though some teams have been around for a very long time, new teams have joined the NHL over the years, and less successful teams have found new homes, all of them providing so many more stories to fascinate hockey fans over the years.

I’m not denying that the one is a narrative fiction, and the other, a narrative reality. But both are ongoing narratives in their own right. And humans are essentially hard-wired to respond to narratives, in whatever form they take.

For instance, consider Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” The music is powerful enough on its own, to be sure. But when you understand the history of the piece–that is, the narrative behind it–it becomes that much more effective.

And again, it is one thing to see the director’s cut of “Brazil” and take caution from its warning against authoritarianism. But it becomes a much more important film when you know the story of how the director and studio clashed over their competing visions of the film. That back story, that (again) narrative, enhances what’s already a very impressive piece of film-making.

Or, closer to home, it is one thing to watch, on DVD, the Capitals’ game against the Florida Panthers of April 5, 2008. But when you know the story behind that one moment–how the Capitals came storming back from last place to win the division on the very last game of the season–then that game takes on a whole new meaning. (As does the song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which I was referencing that February.)

People need narratives, need stories. Some find them on TV; some find them on the silver screen; some find them in the written word. And some find them at the rink, while some find them in six-panel grids. Perhaps, by making the NHL available to fans of visual narratives–i.e., comics–the league might be able to get fans of comic narratives to pay attention to the many fascinating narratives of this great game.

As an aside, one argument I’d submit against the whole 30-characters-is-too-many business is this: there are 40 players to keep track of in any given NHL game, and that’s just the active rosters. Keeping track of those isn’t terribly taxing if you’re of the mind to know these things. Or again, every NHL team currently has its own AHL affiliate, and learning those is simple enough, if you genuinely care to know it. And most hockey fans have a player or two on other teams that they don’t much care for. And then there’s fantasy hockey. Again, they can be kept straight by those who want to keep them straight.

Now, as to The Capital. Given the team’s logo, I was expecting an eagle-themed character, and Mr. Lee did not disappoint. The CIA/espionage bent that seems to be part of his character is most welcome indeed to a guy who still thinks “Alias” got rooked. I have to wonder in print whether or not being able to speak any language is simply a Washington thing (all the embassies in town), or whether or not somebody on the board at Rosetta Stone might have quietly snuck that part in there. Regardless, the character seems to be a good fit for DC, although I’m not quite sure how he fits the real-life Capitals’ style of hockey.

I like what I see of this character so far, and it will be interesting to see what they make of him in the initial segment they’re set to show during the All Star Game.




1. JLee - January 19, 2011

Seems like the NHL is going after the very lucrative virgin demographic.

CapitalSpirit - January 19, 2011

That’s not nice.

We all need stories, and we all have a need to play, as well. That does not ipso facto translate into being luckless in the bedroom.–CS

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