Monday, February 07, 2011

Columbus gets a new superhero; no one in Columbus cares

I've been fairly fascinated with the National Hockey League/Stan Lee team-up, in which the latter helped create 30 new superheroes, each one named after and given powers to represent the name of an NHL team. The Guardian Project, as it's called, seemed like a pretty fun idea when it was first announced, and in the course of my (week)daily link-blogging for Blog@Newsarama, I've picked up quite a few interesting items relating to the Guardian Project: Complaints that The Penguin is derivative of Cyclops, jeering at The Maple Leaf, Chris Sims' noble attempt to narrow the 30 bat-shit crazy super-characters down to just “the Ten Most Insane” characters, Toronto Life’s snarky paragraph “reviews” of each Guardian, Heidi MacDonald's declaration that the surreal project may be “Stan Lee’s greatest achievement yet” and so on.

It wasn't until very recently that I remembered that Columbus, Ohio—my adopted hometown from 2000-2010—had an NHL team of its own, and thus Columbus has its own Stan Lee-created superhero: The Blue Jacket.

Why did it take me so long to put 2 and 2 together, "so long" being relatively lengthened by the fact that I was reading articles about the NHL Guardians on a daily basis for the last few weeks?

Well, probably just because I'm a little dense. Maybe too because I left the city limits of Columbus last year, returning to my ancestral home off the shores of Lake Erie, and have been therefore thinking of Columbus more as my former hometown than my current hometown, and thus I now feel less ownership over fictional characters that live there. Surely my not giving a shit about sports at all was also factor.

But despite all of those other certainly relevant factors, another remains: Columbus, Ohio still doesn’t seem to have really integrated having its own NHL hockey team into its essential, core being just yet.


Columbus was, and is, a great sports town.

Saturdays during college football season there are semi-religious affairs, and, if that Saturday’s game happens to be a home game, many parts of the city become embroiled in a sort of strange, fevered pagan holiday feeling—those days are like Easter, Super Bowl Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day combined, only it happens every other weekend.

The city spends a ridiculous amount of money on police officers to direct traffic and to arrest fans for pissing in the public and/or rioting and setting things on fire (During one period in the early part of last decade, when the campus area was rocked by house parties-turned-riots on a weekend-ly basis, the streets in the neighborhoods on game day would have a positively surreal amount of different police vehicles present: Police cars, police trucks, police helicopters, bike hops, mortocycle cops, horse cops (those are the best cops), and even a few of these weird high-tech mobile home-sized mobile command center things.)

Also, and this is true, you can shout “O! H!” at nearly any group of two or three people in Columbus, Ohio, and you could count on this group to shout back “I! O!” This is apparently a cheer that is popular at Buckeye games (I don’t know; I’ve never been to one).

Yes, Columbus is a great sports town—as long as that sport is Ohio State University football.

I know Columbus is a great sports town because during that first half of a decade I spent in Columbus, I was a reporter for a (since-de-alt-ified) alt-weekly newspaper, on the Things That Aren’t Music or Arts beat (although I ended up covering music and arts in my “spare” time too), and would end up covering things like the debut of the Columbus Destroyers arena foot ball team, or the Columbus Landsharks indoor lacrosse team.

Both of them shared facilities with the Blue Jackets, both of them were announced with great fanfare, their owners citing Columbus’ embrace of OSU as a sure sign that they would enthusiastically embrace these exciting new sporting endeavors, and both have been gone for years now—The Landsharks started playing in Columbus in 2001, but relocated to Phoenix after the 2003 season, while The Destroyers moved to town from Buffalo in 2004, and folded in 2008, while

The Blue Jackets obviously fared much better than the Destroyers or Landsharks, yet they’re still nowhere near as beloved nor as inextricably entwined with the city as the Buckeyes are.

If you were to rank various sports teams in Columbus’ collective heart, I would guess the Blue Jackets are somewhere near The Clippers, the city’s minor league baseball team.

Of course, the Buckeyes had a massive head start—their first season was 1890, and they’ve been playing in their current stadium since the early 1920’s.

The Blue Jackets became an official NHL expansion team in 2000, but began influencing the city a bit before that, when the city’s biggest employer and biggest business (last I knew), Nationwide, along with Columbus’ last-remaining daily newspaper The Dispatch and other entities, built Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus. It was sold as an effort to revitalize the dead, ghost town of a downtown (Downtown is filled with people form 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but abandoned the rest of the time—in fact, finding a place that will sell you a cup of coffee on a Saturday in downtown Columbus is extraordinarily difficult).

I don’t know how well it’s worked exactly; I guess the level of development and night life and weekend life downtown is now much better than it was in, say, 1999, but I think it’s more than fair to suggest that downtown is more more vital than it is revitalized.

Anyway: Columbus has an NHL team, and while Columbus doesn’t mind the team, and in fact some folks in Columbus like it quite a bit, Columbus still isn’t a hockey town, and the Blue Jackets are a distant, distant, distant second or third in the hearts of Columbus sports fans.


The team name comes from the uniforms of the Union Army during the Civil War. While it was fairly firmly part of the North and the Union, Ohio isn’t generally thought of as a big Civil War state, and its role in the conflict is thus sometimes surprisingly striking.

When Lincoln requested that Ohio raise ten regiments to fight for the Union at the beginning of the war, the state more than doubled his request, offering up 23 volunteer infantry regiments. Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were both Ohioans, as was George Custer and Philip Sheridan. Ohio also produced a number of great Civil War figures, including William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, and George Custer. As for Columbus, there were two Civil War-era military bases there, Camp Chase and Camp Thomas.

The team name was derived via a contest in local, terrible newspaper, the Dispatch. This occurred before I moved there and had to pay attention to such things, but I’m told there was a contest in the paper to name the team, and “The Columbus Cows” or “The Columbus Mad Cows” received the most votes.

See, Columbus is referred to, both derisively and self-deprecatingly as “Cowtown” due to, uh, it’s general lameness and the fact that it’s perceived as more rural than urban by more urban parts of the country, so apparently the cow was regarded as a good animal mascot for a sports team based in the city.

I kinda like Mad Cows—why not name a sports team after a terrifying, deadly disease derived from the horrors of modern factory farming practices?—and think white uniforms with mottled black patches on them could have been rather neat looking. (An earlier Columbus hockey team, The Columbus Chill, apparently went by Mad Cows and had special jerseys made for at least one game)

But the powers that be went with The Blue Jackets instead; I guess Union Soldiers are cooler than cows. There was also an 18th century Shawnee war chief who went by the name Blue Jacket in Ohio, but the Blue Jackets’ logos and art usually feature elements of Civil War uniforms.

The Jackets’ mascot wasn’t a Union Soldier, however, but a red-eyed, yellow or green-neon-colored, bee-like stinging insect named Stinger, who wore a Union soldier’s uniform. I guess he was a play on the similarities between the words Blue Jacket and Yellowjacket. Wikipedia, which is never wrong about anything ever, says “The Blue Jackets have since distanced themselves from Stinger, removing him entirely from the jerseys beginning in the 2005 season.” What is the reason for this friction between Stinger and The Blue Jackets? I don’t know, but it’s probably for the best that the giant bee-man has had less to do with the team of late, as he didn’t influence the creation of Stan Lee’s Blue Jacket superhero.

Perhaps if Stinger were still part of the team’s logo, Lee would have given us a superhero akin to Marvel’s Yellowjacket, the name Ant-Man/Giant-Man Hank Pym would later adopt. Yes, Blue Jacket might have just been Yellowjacket, only blue.

Instead, this is Blue Jacket:


Here’s what his “bio” at The Guardian Project website says about him:

The Blue Jacket is entirely encased in a metal suit of armor…For weaponry he has an armada of 1857 Napoleonic Cannons strapped all over his body. The cannons on his wrists, shoulders and thighs fire cannon balls loaded with explosives. At his side hangs the state flag of Ohio, only this is no ordinary flag. He can throw the flag and envelope his opponent, something he calls ‘cocooning’; temporarily freezing them in their tracks.
In design, he looks like more of a robot than a man in armor, a la Iron Man or Steel. If you look at his thighs, they look like pieces of girders, with no real room for a human leg in them. His costume is blue, steel gray and red. His metallic gray face and glowing red eyes call to mind DC superhero Captain Atom, although he wears a Union Soldier cap with the Blue Jacket’s logo atop it. His chest is open, and shows some clockwork-like gears in it, a neat little detail, giving him a sort of steampunk look, appropriate for a 19th century-themed superhero.

His cannons, which are ridiculous in number (I count eight) are all old-school cannon-shaped, and while his bio says he shoots exploding cannonballs, all of the art so far makes them look more like lasers or something.

Over all, it’s a pretty cool design, especially compared with many of his peers in The Guardians, which are…well, “pretty cool” isn’t the first, second, third or forty-first descriptive phrase that comes to mind when looking at some of them.

Although I’m not sure why he has a obelisk-shaped cod-piece, sticking straight up, over his crotch, the NHL logo on its tip. A surprise, ninth cannon, for those situations where eight cannons just aren’t enough, I assume.

One of the genuinely endearing aspects of Lee’s Gauridans is how complex they are; like, they never just have one power, or set of powers, but have something else thrown in. For example not only does The Shark have titanium teeth that can bite through anything, the ability to summon and command sharks, razor water-skis and enhanced senses, but he can also "telepathically interface with computer software."

Overkill? Probably, but overkill can be kind of charming in the world of superheroes, particularly ones from the hyperbolic mind of Stan Lee. It’s as if he thought to himself, “In the ‘60s, I was just giving every superhero one power each, how can I top that! I know, I’ll give these heroes three of four powers each!”

Kind of like if, in addition to his extra-sensory powers, Daredevil could also shoot eye beams and telepathically command his enemies to perform actions against their will, so long as his commands are phrased in the form of a dare.

So no only does The Blue Jacket have all these cannons, but he also has that stupid flag gimmick.

And the official press release from The Blue Jackets themselves goes into much greater detail than the bio at The Guardian Project website, unveiling a mystical power in addition to the old-fashioned, high-tech armor:

A great military mind, the Blue Jacket lives to fight and he has the power of mediumship to communicate with the Union Civil War Generals that he idolizes. In battle, he relies on his heart and intelligence and not on modern technology. The Blue Jacket is entirely cased in a metal suit of armor that houses a devastating array of weaponry. For weaponry, he has an armada of 1857 Napoleon Cannons strapped all over his body. The cannons on his wrists, shoulders and thighs fire cannon balls loaded with explosives. At his side hangs the state flag of Ohio made of astral plasma. He has the ability to cocoon his victim with the flag, giving the illusion the victim has disappeared when in reality, the victim is temporarily suspended in time.
So not only does he have this boss, cannon-filled armor, not only does he have a flag of “astral plasma,” but he also has the power of mediumship to communicate with the Union Civil War Generals he idolizes.

So The Blue Jacket is kind of like Iron Man, if Iron Man was The Haunted Tank.

I’m not going to lie—I completely love The Blue Jacket.


This is very important: THE BLUE JACKET is essentially IRON MAN, IF IRON MAN'S ARMOR WAS MADE OUT OF THE HAUNTED TANK. And the tank were haunted by more than one Civil War general. And the ghost-generals fought for the right side of the conflict.


Quick aside: If the type of cannon that comprises Blue Jacket’s armada of cannons sounds awfully specific, there’s actually a reason for it—The Blue Jackets have an 1857 Napoleon cannon housed at Nationwide Arena, which they fire off to celebrate certain good things happening during the course of their games. I think they pretend to fire it off, rather than actually shoot cannon balls, but I don’t know; the only Blue Jackets games I had to attend were pre-cannon acquisition.

They also have lots of t-shirt cannons, but those are of 21st century origin.


Each Guardian stars in a short little comic book adventure, which you can download and read from the “Battles” page of the Guardian Project website. The Blue Jacket stars in a five-page comic, complete with a cover that recalls the cover designs of the earliest of Marvel’s Ultimate line of books, with a character posing, and a bar of solid color running vertically off to the side of the image, to set it off.

The story is written by Chuck Dixon, which both excited me—Cool, I like Chuck Dixon!—and made me kind of saddened me—Aw, why’s Chuck Dixon writing this instead of comics about Batman being awesome, or the Punisher punishing people?. Tony Chagrin gets a story credit, which is sorta funny, given that “the story” is simply this: Bad guys show up, Blue Jacket shows up, they fight, Blue Jacket wins. An Al Bigley and Bob Almond are credited with pencils and inks respectively, and Stan Lee gets a “Chief Guardian” credit, which is kinda vague, along the lines of his “Grand Poobah” credits in his Boom Studios super-comics.

The first panel is a blurry aerial photo of The Battelle Institute, near OSU’s campus, on King Avenue and near the bank of the Olentangy River. (If you want to go to the trouble, if you download the comic, and then open up the “About Us” section of Battelle’s website, you’ll see that it looks like the comic used the exact same image of Battelle that is on Battelle’s site—four different views of parts of Battelle alternate on that page, and one of them is a non-blurry version of the first panel of The Blue Jacket comic).

A narration box doesn’t quite name Battelle, although the photo and a later drawing make it pretty clear what it is, if you’ve ever heard of and/or seen it: “A local Columbus research facility…The world’s largest, independent research and development organization and a treasure house of classified projects.

There are probably legal reasons explaining why they didn’t name it, but they missed out on the opportunity to entitle the story “The Battle for Battelle.”

Anyway, “world’s largest, independent research and development organization and a treasure house of classified projects” sounds about right.

I’m not so sure about the narration box in the second panel, however: “And also a magnet for spies and international thieves.”

Here the spies and thieves are a uniformed group being called Hammersmith,” and they’re about to battle the police when Blue Jacket shows up.

Fun fact: The Columbus Division of Police uniform consists of a white shirt and white hats tucked into dark pants, not the all-blue outfits drawn in this comic. Also, their patrol cars are all white with read and blue stripes on them, and are not the traditional, generic black-and-white police car design.

Even more fun fact: It took me less than a minute of googling to find a photo gallery on the Columbus Division of Police’s home page with plenty of photo reference of what their uniforms and cars look like.

After the first page, there’s not much city-specific about the story. Blue Jacket talks in a computer-like font, his dialogue bubbles square and outlined by blue borders.

Hammershmith shoots at Blue Jacket, he re-boots by plugging a downed power line into the cogs in his chest (“Yeah…that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”), he shoots Hammersmith into submission, and when they start to run away (“You win this time, Jacket! But we’ll be back and you’ll be sorry”), he throws a giant flag on them.

At no point does he consult with any of the ghosts of any Union Generals, but the Dixon/Lee/Chagrin team only had five pages and 20 panels to work with here—I think a story exploring all of the potential awesomeness inherent in a Columbus, Ohio-based superhero who is kind of like Iron Man and kind of like The Haunted Tank is going to need a lot more room to breathe.


Fortunately, it sounds like there will be more room to breathe for all of these guys, if the NHL and Stan Lee get their way. From a Washington Square News story:

The animated debut at the All-Star Game is merely the first step in a Guardians media blitz. The Guardians' online presence will include back-stories and animations, social media websites that parse out Guardians information and a game in which fans will battle with their chosen Guardian. Graphic novels, as well as a full-length novel, will be created. A major piece of the puzzle, however, is to "eventually expand into animated TV series, feature films, and console video games," [Guardian Media Entertainment’s chief creative officer Adam] Baratta said.
That all sounds very optimistic, probably naively so in the case of a feature film, but you can’t fault a chief creative officer for being super-ambitious.


Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any one in Columbus paying any attention to the debut of The Blue Jacket. I visited the websites of Columbus’ two faux-altweeklies, The Other Paper and Columbus Alive, and could find nothing. I was particularly surprised that neither Googling nor poking around The Dispatch’s archives yielded any results, since The Dispatch is basically just a big daily sports page with a hard-right Republican editorial page and a bunch of wire features attached.

Cursory searches of both and didn’t yield any results either.

In fact, all I found was able to find was the following:

Three sentences on a Dispatch site, linking a joke another paper made about The Blue Jackets.

A January 30 post on Fire That Cannon, a Blue Jackets-specific blog

Dara Naraghi posted a bit about the project on the Ferret Press/Panel blog, and several of Naraghi’s fellow Panel-ists weighed in.

And that’s all I could find and, you know, I’m not sure if the Panel posts even “counts,” given that it is from comic book-people on a comic book dedicated blog—if the goal of the Guardian Project was to get folks talking about/excited about NHL and/or they’re new heroes, than I assume the target audience is people who can’t recognize Neal Adams artwork or tell you which Marvel characters Stan Lee co-created, and with which collaborator.


One of the regular features on The Ferret Press blog that I dig is their “Character Wednesday,” where they pick a comics character of some sort—Goody Rickles, Black Panther, Ralph Wiggum, Stilt-Man—and they all contribute their drawings of said character.

I think it is Panel’s duty as Ohioans and Columbusites to devote a future installment of Character Wednesday to The Blue Jacket.


A frequent topic of conversation here on the comics blogosphere is the way black people, women and, really, any “minority,” with “minority” here being defined as “any group other than white, heterosexual males of the sort that defined the superhero genre when it arose in the 1930s-1950s,” are represented and portrayed in comics. One frequent sub-topic being the fact there are so few black superheroes, or so few superheroines, or no good gay superheroes, or non-stereotypical characters of Asian or Latin descent.

It occurred to me while scrolling through the 30 Guardians on The Guardian Project that they are a) all male and b) all white, excepting the ones that have unnatural skin colors (Avalanche is ice-colored, Blue Jacket is steel-colored, etc), are half-animal/half man (Bruin’s a bear man, Wild’s a werewolf type, The Shark has a shark head, etc) or have their faces and bodies completely encased in a skin-color-hiding costume.

And isn’t it kind of weird that there are clearly more bear-men and shark-men on The Guardians then there are black dudes?

Now, this isn’t meant to be a rant about race, and I’m not accusing The Guardian Project of anything malicious here; I’m just offering an observation.

The lack of ladies on the team could easily be explained away by the fact that these are heroes based on various National Hockey League teams, and there are no women on any of the NHL teams.

I’m not sure what the racial make-up of the NHL is, but it’s been my understanding that professional hockey—and hockey in general—is a “whiter” sport than many other sports.

So maybe that was a consideration…?

But, honestly, I doubt it. I think it was more a matter of just not thinking about race at all when creating the characters, and perhaps the subconscious default state of the superhero in the minds of the creators were white dudes. And bear- and eagle- and shark-dudes.


I have a question about The Guardians: What is their relationship to the hockey teams they take their names and logos from within the context of the fictive setting they inhabit?

That is, in the Columbus that appears in that little Blue Jacket comic, is there even an NHL hockey team called The Blue Jackets? Because if so, and that Columbus is home to both an NHL hockey team called The Blue Jackets and a superhero who calls himself The Blue Jacket and wears the Blue Jackets’ logo on his head (not to mention an NHL logo on his crotch), then he would either have to be working with the NHL and Blue Jackets in some capacity, or else he would be violating their copyrights and trademarks and would likely be at odds with the team whose name and icon he bears, right?

And what are the chances that 30 cities in this fictional North America would all have superheroes in that exact same situation, in relation to professional sports teams in the same cities?

Unless there is no coincidence involved, and the back-story involves the NHL creating, licensing and employing all of these superheroes to fight crime and evil in their 30 host cities, but if that’s the case then the whole thing gets kind of disturbingly meta, doesn’t it?

1 comment:

Dara said...

Thanks for the shoutout, Caleb. As far as your comments about seeing Chuck Dixon's name associated with the Blue Jacket comic, I had the same exact reaction as you.

You'll be happy to know that the PANEL collective has heard your challenge, and we will be featuring the Blue Jacket in an upcoming "Charcter Wednesday" edition.