Random Review – NFL SuperPro #4
In 1991, I was the only geek on my football team, and the only one who played sports among my comic-reading friends. Either there was a lot more crossover in the States, or Marvel and the NFL were really banking on me buying a lot of copies of their new football-themed super hero comic: NFL SuperPro.
Unfortunately for them, I only bought the 1st issue (collector’s item!) in the 90s, as well as his trading card. It wasn’t until 2018 that I picked up my second issue, NFL SuperPro #4. Hopefully I’ll be able to follow the plot even though it’s been 30 years since I read the first issue and I’m skipping the next to.
Surprisingly -shockingly even- the plot was not hard to follow. Evil millionaire Marco Sanzionare, tired of SuperPro thwarting all of his plots, becomes the super villain Sanction, dons golden power armour, and kidnaps SuperPro alter ego Phil Grayfield’s girlfriend, Jane Dixon. This is to lure SuperPro into a football field themed death trap where, as the cover explains, SuperPro plays the game of his LIFE… in the arena of DEATH!
Sanction’s mistake is thinking that the football-themed super hero’s kryptonite is a football field. SuperPro easily escapes the arena of DEATH with his LIFE, defeats the villain, and saves the girl, but not before his girlfriend figures out that her boyfriend -a former football player turned fellow reporter who often gets the scoop on SuperPro- IS SuperPro.
NFL SuperPro has a reputation as one of the worst Marvel characters and series, with good reason. He’s just Superman in shoulder pads, with no effort made to distinguish him. Which might have been Marvel’s plan, make a gateway comic that will attract new readers. Or maybe the NFL’s input was a list of things they wanted for their comic character, unaware that they were listing off super hero clichés. Most likely, like Sanction’s armour, once the basics were done, no one bothered with the details.
However! There were a few things about this issue I did enjoy. The first is the title character’s design.
Even though everything I said about the comic being Superman + football applies to SuperPro’s costume, I love this design. The colour distribution, the armour quality of the padding, a visor (I’m a sucker for a visor).
Extending from that, like I mentioned in my Random Review of Robin Annual #2, I like early 90s mainline art. It says what it’s trying to, it’s easy to follow, and it conveys detail without challenging you to make out what you’re trying to see.
The other thing I enjoyed is that, canonically, SuperPro’s kind of an idiot. At first I thought his witless dialogue was just lack of effort on writer Fabian Nicieza’s part. Then characters started pointing out that what he was doing and saying was stupid. Not in a villainous “foolish hero!” way, in a “I love you, but you’re dumb” way.
I like the idea of the adventure of a below average intelligence super hero. I don’t think Super Pro was the best candidate for that characterization because of the dumb jock stereotype, but it was something that made him stand out.
The Other 90s Football Hero
Just for fun, here’s a side-by-side of NFL SuperPro and Captain Gridiron, a football-themed soldier that was added to GI Joe the year before. Neither character is well remembered, but I have to say I like both designs. Gridiron does not even look as much like a football player as other Joes, they leaned into the forest tones and fatigues instead of a jersey.
Is this comic good? No. Not at all. Not even ironically. It just is. However, it might not be my last issue of NFL SuperPro. This was Nicieza’s last issue, and he was replaced for a few issues by Buzz Dixon, one of my favourite comic writers of the 90s.. I am curious how a Buzz Dixon SuperPro compares to a Nicieza SuperPro. We’ll see if another issue of NFL SuperPro ends up on my side table.