Stan Lee teams up with the NHL for superpower promo;Guardian Project gives each team its own

October 9, 2010

Zap! Whoosh! Bam! Goal?

Comic-book legend Stan Lee has an unlikely partner for his new team of superheroes: the National Hockey League.

The Spider-Man co-creator and the NHL are collaborating on The Guardian Project, creating a superhero to represent each of the league's 30 teams.

"It's thrilling to me because they have such great teams, and every team has a name that lends itself to a superhero we've created, and nobody, I think, has done anything like this before," Lee says in an interview. "We're taking the whole hockey league and we're playing up every one of the teams, and we have a whole story behind it. It's going to be an epic story."

Each Guardian will have five powers, including one tied to his team. The Calgary Flames representative will have control over fire, for example, and the Philadelphia Flyer can go airborne. They are not being developed from existing mascots.

"We worked really closely with all 30 teams over the last 10 months to really get the look and feel and personality of their team and incorporate it into the physical superhero," says Adam Baratta of Guardian Media Entertainment (GME), the partnership set up by the NHL and Lee's POW! Entertainment to launch and operate the franchise.

The superheroes are designed to appeal to the NHL's fan base, but also to the younger set, perhaps cultivating new fans. Plans call for comic books, a novel, mobile applications, TV and film.

"We were looking at how do we cultivate a relationship with the next generation of fans," NHL marketing chief Brian Jennings says. "And watching the explosion of superheroes that was going on in the entertainment world, we immediately saw an amazing opportunity."

Organizers are keeping a lid for now on the powers and likenesses of The Guardians, with plans to reveal them individually over time on the enterprise's website ( before presenting them together at January's NHL All-Star game.

The teams had a role in designing heroes to reflect themselves. The Flyers are characterized by toughness, the Montreal Canadiens by speed and the Toronto Maple Leafs by size and strength.

The superheroes will work together and separately, although there will be friction between those representing traditional rivalries, such as that between the Flyers and the New York Rangers.

They spring from the mind of another character, a hockey fan named Mike Mason. They will be fans of their respective teams, but their stories will take place in a world outside of hockey. Of course, there will be villains.

Mason will have something in common with Spider-Man's Peter Parker "in the sense that (as) we tried to make Peter Parker as realistic as possible, we are trying to make Mike Mason as real as possible. (But) it's a whole different story," Lee says. The Guardians will have "their own personal problems and hang-ups."

GME's Tony Chargin, who worked with Lee and Jake Shapiro to create and develop the characters, came up with the idea of merging superheroes and professional sports. In the late 1990s, he noticed kids becoming less interested in team sports and more engaged with wrestling and the X-Games.

"How do you get kids in today's world, who have so many options, interested in team sports?" he says. "Kids love superheroes. Kids love sports. Sports figures are very similar to superheroes. It seemed natural."

He and his partners also talked to other professional leagues, but the NHL pairing made for a partnership rather than a licensing deal, GME COO Mark Terry says.

Hockey is a fine fit, Lee says. "It's fast-moving, it's thrilling, it's exciting as a game can be."