A post from my old Marvel blog giving some behind-the-scenes details about the creation of NFL SuperPro
One of our buddies, Sam Humphries from over at MySpace Comics, wrote to ask:
With NFL season kicking off this week, I know I’m not the only one who would love to hear more about one of the more befuddling curios in Marvel’s cabinet: NFL SUPERPRO!
If you have any light to shed on this one, I would be all about it.
I’m not sure if I have any really tremendous stories to relate about NFL SUPERPRO, but I was around for its conception, so I’ll take a crack at it.
For those not in the know, NFL SUPERPRO was a Marvel series done in conjunction with the NFL back around 1990. It was one of a number of assorted crazy ways that Marvel was trying to reach out towards a new audience. At the time, the NFL had an interest in cultivating a wider and more diverse audience as well, and people there thought that a Marvel comic might help to do the trick.
This fell under the jurisdiction of Bob Budiansky’s special projects division, where I was Bob’s young assistant editor. As I recall, Bob did a decent amount of conceptualizing on the character himself before bringing in a writer. (I have a nagging feeling that there was somebody hired to write the series bible, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember who that might have been—it’s possible that Bob simply did it himself.) I remember specifically that Bob originated the notion that Phil Grayfield was bound by villains in flammable nitrate films of the most classic gridiron moments in the history of sports, and that this combined with assorted other chemicals that were ignited as the crooks tried to finish Phil off played some quasi-mystical role in him gaining his powers.
The NFL SuperPro costume was designed by Ron Frenz, and the color scheme was devised by me. Actually, I wound up doing something like a half-dozen different color schemes for the character, and Bob and our NFL liaison (whose name I regrettably forget, as he was quite an affable guy) selected the one that they thought worked best.
The first NFL SUPERPRO book that was produced was a massive 48-page origin special in what was then called Prestige (or “Dark Knight” ) format. An ungodly number of copies of this special were given away by the NFL at pro games. Several months later, when there seemed to be some life in the character and the series, the book was reprinted for regular newsstand distribution, and a follow-up series was launched.
Fabian Nicieza wrote both the Origin Special and the first four issues of the ongoing series. At the time, Fabian was a rising star who was still grabbing almost any assignment he could get his hands on. He did a decent job of treating a concept and a character that was pretty absurd with a certain amount of seriousness and dignity. If anything made the book work at all, that was it. Reputedly, Fabe really only took the assignment after being promised free passes to NFL games, but he brought the same interest in social causes and contemporary issues that characterized his work on series such as NEW WARRIORS to his issues of NFL SUPERPRO. The artwork was handled by Jose Delbo, a long-time journeyman in the field whose pitch-perfect, straightforward storytelling made the book accessible to readers who may never have tried to read a comic book before. While not the hottest artist of the day (Jose was at that point mainly doing custom comics and licensed books), he brought a level of professionalism and craft to the work of a sort that’s really a hallmark of an earlier generation. If I’m remembering correctly, Mike DeCarlo inked the first Special, and may have worked on the series as well.
I had been promoted to Managing Editor by the time the regular NFL SUPERPRO series began, and so I didn’t really work on it directly. After Fabian took his leave with issue #4 (he was picking up more and better assignments by that point), a number of different writers were tapped to do stories for the book. The best-remembered issue was, I believe, #6, which managed to offend the Hopi Indian tribe with its depiction of their culture, and a formal apology had to be issued. But otherwise, the remainder of the series was fairly unremarkable, and it ended with #12.