Today, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will square off in Super Bowl XLVIII, a game with two weeks of built-up hype and one that may define the way Peyton Manning--one of the great regular-season quarterbacks of all time--is thought of in terms of his postseason performance.
Five years ago, we took a stroll down a kind of surreal memory lane that reminded us just how few really good football-themed comics there have been over the years, in spite of having a fair number of comic book characters who played the sport.
There have been a few extras that we can add to the list since then, including some that are actually pretty good. So it seemed as good a time as any to update the thing.
Most of the football comic books we encountered didn’t last for more than one issue. Of course, some were designed as one shot promotional issues. One of the earliest examples of a professional football comic book was Charlton Sport Library - Professional Football #1, which was published by Charlton Comics in 1969. Oddball Comics has a great write-up about the issue, which it describes as being more of a collection of schedules, player biographies, rosters, and game recaps than an actual comic book.
In that way, a lot of the reality-based and celebrity tie-in type comics haven't changed much in forty-five years: Bluewater Press still makes bio-comics and history comics that are little more than illustrated pamphlets giving a short history of the topic at hand.
In the 1990s, Revolutionary Comics published two series called Sports Superstars Comics and Sports Legends. These series weren’t exclusively dedicated to football, but featured biographies and stories about star athletes from a variety of sports.
Football players that were featured in their own issues of Sports Superstars included Joe Montana, John Elway, Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, and Deion Sanders. We couldn’t find a complete list of Sports Legends Comics, but two of the football players featured were Joe Namath and O.J. Simpson.
Speaking of O.J. Simpson, it may not have been a comic unto itself, but he appeared in a series of memorable ads for Spot-Bilt shoes in the 1980s, promoting his "Juicemobiles" cleats. You can see one of them above.
Flipping through old comics these days, of course, it's a little surreal to see convicted felon and accused double-murderer Simpson smiling, laughing and dispensing advice to children.
Years later, he would get another comic book dedicated to him, of course...but it wasn't about his accomplishments on the football field. He Said, She Said--a series of celebrity scandal-themed comics from the '90s that also published issues on Woody Allen, Tonya Harding and Joey Buttafuoco, did two issues dedicated to the Simpson murder trial: one titled for O.J. "The Case for the Defense," and one for Nicole Brown Simpson, his alleged victim, for the prosecution.
Personality Comics also did a couple of biography comic books featuring football stars. The football players featured in the Sports Personalities comic book series included Joe Montana, Bo Jackson, and Lawrence Taylor.
There have been a few comic books featuring actual NFL teams. In the late eighties, Sports Action Comics published one issue of a Denver Broncos comic book featuring John Elway and one issue of a New Orleans Saints comic book.
These days, Peter Parker's body is host to Dr. Otto Octavius, one of the Marvel Universe's most notorious villains, in Superior Spider-Man. Years ago, he spent some time with the Dallas Cowboys, one of the teams most likely to be voted supervillains by basically anybody not their fans.
In 1983, Marvel Comics published the one-shot called The Dallas Cowboys and Spider-Man. The story was entitled “Danger In Dallas” and was an advertising supplement for the Dallas Times Herald. Former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry also got his own comic book. Spire Christian Comics published Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys.
As far as football comics that weren’t one-shots or biographies, Marvel Comics deserves credit (or perhaps blame) for trying to launch two different football comic books in the modern area. In the eighties, Marvel’s first attempt at launching a football comic book was called Kickers, Inc.
This New Universe title was instantly forgettable, in that it’s another one of those Dazzler-style “superheroes operating as fill-in-the-blanks”-style books. That said, it’s a whole super-powered football team, so it’s hard to leave them off the list completely.
The title was canceled quicker even than most of Marvel’s New Universe titles and its only enduring legacy to the publisher seems to be the partnership of Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, which has continued more or less to this day, with the pair working together on a number of Spider-Girl projects and a recently-reprinted run on Thor and Thunderstrike.
Kickers, Inc. told the story of a group of former professional football players from a fictional team called the New York Smashers. Instead of going into broadcasting or coaching, these former football players decided to become heroes for hire. Their leader was Jack Magniconte, who gained superhuman strength through a combination of an experimental muscle-enhancing device and exposure to radiation during the “White Event.” Kickers Inc. survived for twelve issues, which was about twelve issues too long.
In the nineties, Marvel’s second attempt at launching a football comic book was called NFL Superpro. Marvel produced NFL Superpro in collaboration with the NFL, so one would think it surely would have met with more success than Kickers, Inc. But, no, NFL Superpro only lasted for twelve issues as well. NFL Superpro was not just a bad comic book, but it is widely regarded as one of the worst comic books of all time.
Looking every bit as ’90s as any character ever has, NFL SuperPro is exactly what it sounds like–a superhero character created by Marvel and the NFL who is the avatar of truth, justice and football–or something like that, it’s really hard to get very far into his Wikipedia entry with a straight face.
The character had his own series for a year, and it was so reviled that Fabian Nicieza has never totally lived it down. According to the character’s Wikipedia entry, the veteran writer admitted to writing the comic for the free football tickets that were a perk of the job–which really isn’t all that surprising when you look at it.
NFL Superpro told the story of Phil Grayfield, an ex-NFL football player turned superhero. A knee injury led to the end of Grayfield’s football career, but an incident involving fire, experimental chemicals, and a near-indestructible football uniform turned him into a superhero.
As Superpro, Grayfield battled such diabolical villains as Quick Kick, a football place kicker turned ninja. His allies were the Happy Campers, whose members had such superpowers as being able to shoot pennies from their wrists. Go figure, why this comic book wasn’t an enormous success.
Back in 2012, Tim Tebow (who this year was released from a pair of teams and ultimately can't get work in the NFL anymore) was a superstar who led the Denver Broncos to more success than anybody thought possible for the frankly underwhelming squad.
Tebow, whose outspoken religious views and controversial playing style left him in the public eye for much of that football season, appeared on the Marvel Comics website, drawn by Bong Dazo, Scott Koblish and Todd Nauck, and then later that same week on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
These days, arguably the best football-to-comics transition you'll see is in the form of The Protectors, a series by writers Ron Marz and Israel Idonije (the latter of whom is an NFL player) and artist Bart Sears.
"Like everybody else, I watched ProStars when I was a kid and I look at some of the other attempts to bring the world of sport and comics together and I felt that we could do a better job at it, and The Protectors was born from there," Idonije told ComicBook.com in part one of a two-part interview shortly after the series was announced. "I didn’t know where it was going to go but it’s been really exciting as I’ve seen the project develop. The images in your head come to life and the things that have happened are just so exciting. Bart sent me some pictures today and–man! You get shivers, you get goosebumps looking through them and you start to identify with the characters. It’s a great feeling, it’s a great project, and I’m having a blast being a part of this great team."