When it was announced that Stan Lee would be “creating” a bunch of superheroes to represent the 30 NHL hockey teams, it kind of whizzed by in the blizzard of such announcements of projects Lee was working on this year — he’s surely the world’s busiest octogenarian. However, as the characters are unveiled in anticipation of this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game where they will “come to life” via some unholy method, it’s becoming clear that these characters may in fact be his Clarinet Quintet, his Black Paintings — a twilight exploration of the themes that have preoccupied his work for a lifetime.
Take for instance, ‘The Maple Leaf’ :
The Maple Leaf is the largest of all the Guardians. A fact made more obvious when he “grows” infinitely larger as the need arises. His body is composed entirely of wood; essentially he is a living breathing maple tree. Large roots that shoot from his feet enable him to secure himself to any surface by penetrating and forming a foothold. His branches can stretch from his forearms allowing him to snatch up the enemy or grasp innocent victims in harm’s way. He fires sticky “sap” bombs from his fingertips that trap his opponents like an insect in amber.
On top of all of this, the Maple Leaf has the super ability of chlorokinesis, basically allowing him to communicate with the plant world. The Maple Leaf, or “Trunk” as the rest of the Guardians know him, is one of the funniest of the Guardians. Always quick with a joke or a sarcastic barb, the Maple Leaf often disarms his opponents by bringing levity to tense situations. Don’t let the funny man routine fool you though, because when angered this Guardian can be particularly brutal, and this is no laughing matter.
As the Eye Weekly points out, humor is essential for a Maple Leaf mascot:
One can only assume this “levity” is the result of an embarrassing loss. Or a five-year playoff drought. Or 43 years without a Stanley Cup. Whatever the cause, it’s a relief they say laughter is the best medicine.
All of the “guardians” can be seen on the project’s Facebook page. (The artist isn’t named but looks to be Neal Adams or a variant of Adams.)
But Lee’s vision does not stop at a tree that has muscles. There is also The Ranger….(no sense of humor here) the kind of futuristic cop we need to clean up our streets….
and the Duck, a hockey player who surfs. (Also a bit of a rip off of the original Mighty Ducks cartoon!)
The Guardian Project is perhaps Stan’s last statement on the nature of heroism, myth, and hockey. As such it will be studied by comics scholars for years to come.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.