Happy Thanksgiving From NFL Superpro, the Football Superhero
It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the USA, and while that’s nominally a holiday about showing our gratitude for the nice things we have — friends, family, Batman — let’s be honest here: It’s mostly about eating enough turkey to go into a tryptophan coma and watching football until you pass out.
Far be it from the crew of ComicsAlliance to stand in the way of tradition! That’s why, in celebration of Thanksgiving, we’ve gotten CA contributor Chris Sims to take a look at comics’ most notable use of football:
“NFL Superpro,” on the other hand, just pretty much sucks.
To start with, there’s the obvious: SuperPro was created in 1991 as the product of a truly bizarre marketing union between Marvel Comics and the NFL, apparently designed to answer the questions that were left over from their previous foray into Football Super-Heroics, Kickers, Inc.
“SuperPro,” which centered on an ex-football player turned journalist turned super-hero, was created by writer Fabian Nicieza, who essentially wrote the series to get free tickets to football games. As you might imagine, it is rife with problems, most notably the fact that its protagonist, Phil Grayfield — who partially gets his powers from, and we are not kidding, inhaling the fumes of a chemical fire that burns up a priceless collection of NFL memorabilia — pretty much steals his costume from an eccentric scientist.
And did we mention that it was created in 1991?
Because it definitely was.
Even if you put aside the signature 90s-ness of the dialogue, though, the problems only multiply as the series goes on. Namely that matter what you might’ve heard from Spider-Man…
For one thing, everyone knows his secret identity, which he’s always pretty surprised by even though the helmet that he wears covers his face less than an actual football helmet would. For another, he just doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot: There is no crime that SuperPro fights that could not be better handled by the normal authorities, let alone, let’s say Dr. Druid or one of the Slingers. Thus, Nicieza relies on the old trick of having other characters, like Spidey up there, show up to tell you how good he is. This, unfortunately, did not work.
But it did give us the chance to see what the “Half-Costume” representation of a secret identity looks like when it’s combined with a truly terrible suit:
Admittedly, he does branch out to solving a figure skating mystery in #6 — the issue that was actually pulled from shelves for being offensive to Native Americans — and we get the mandatory Save the Rainforest issue in #7. Mostly, though, it’s football.
SuperPro never gets around to feeding Michael Vick to his own dogs in a “Tales from the Crypt” ironic style punishment, but he does manage to clear fictional Chicago Bears quarterback Ron Macedon of charges when he’s framed for drug use by Crossbones (though why exactly a guy who fights Captain America is framing a pro quarterback for steroids, we may never now), and he even rescues real-life star Lawrence Taylor when he’s dragged underground by a man named Kabuki-Back (?!):
Even the villains themselves were tied to football: A placekicker turned ninja called Quick Kick (no relation to the GI Joe of the same name), a former player turned into a Hulk-like monster by steroids, and of course..
Surprisingly, he never faced off against a murderous, cybernetic Hank Williams Jr., but if we ever get the chance to bring him back, rest assured that’s going to happen.
Still, as bad as the football-themed villains were, things got even worse in the later issues when the book moved away from this, like the one that introduced The Happy Campers, a team of middle-aged office workers who got superpowers at a crooked fantasy camp, including — wait for it — The Almighty Dollar, a man with the power to shoot coins out of his hands whose civilian identity was J. Pennington Pennypacker.
Of course, such awfulness couldn’t sustain itself forever, and Grayfield was retired after only a year of publication. But really, with characters like Instant Replay and the Almighty Dollar propping things up, the question isn’t why it only went 12 issues, but how it managed to last that long.
You can write this stuff. We just wish you hadn’t.