Are You Ready for Some Kickers Inc.?

Kickers Inc. #1
“This Legend Born!”
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Ron Frenz
Inker: Sal Buscema
Letterer: Phil Felix
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Michael Higgins
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Released: 1986

The question may no longer be asked in any official capacity, but the answer remains the same: Yes, I am ready for some football.

I've been a football fan for at least as long as I've loved comics. I learned it from my mom, grandparents and great-uncle and aunt, though they were mostly Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers fans. I still don't know how I landed on the Washington R- er, Football Team as my squad of choice, but here we are. Perhaps it was as random as my daughters' love of the Tennessee Titans, which was sparked by the fact that during an October game, the Titans had more pink paraphernalia in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month than the Browns.

So any overlap between football and comics, particularly superheroes, is right up my alley. One of these days, I plan to do a read-through of Marvel's NFL Superpro (scoff if you like), but I'm two issues shy of completing the run.

For now, we'll go with the first issue of Kickers Inc., from Marvel's '80s New Universe line. It's been on my radar ever since I learned the protagonists were pro football players – but not one of them is a kicker.

The creative team is another draw, as the series was the product of a collaboration between writer Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz.

After a terrific splash page with a classically dramatic comic book title – “This Legend Born!” – we're introduced to members of the New York Smashers as an NFL game draws to a close. Quarterback Jack Magniconte – aka Mr. Magnificent – is the leader on and off the field. He's got a tight circle of friends on the team in offensive lineman Beauford “Brick Wall” Wohl, sophisticated receiver Dallas “Dasher” Corbin and off-the-wall running back Thomas “Suicide” Smythe.

Jack tries to maintain a physical edge with nutritional supplements provided by his older brother Steve, who developed a gambling problem after his own football career ended. Jack's wife, Darlene, is skeptical of Steve's intentions, but Jack supports his brother, including trying out an experimental machine to intensify his physical attributes.

The machine works better than Steve imagined, increasing Jack's strength, speed and body mass and turning his hair white (all changes the team appears not to notice?). It's apparently due to changes in Jack's body caused by a flash of white light, which I believe served as the kickstart for most everybody's powers in the New Universe line.

Jack's new abilities propel him and the Smashers to the top of the NFL, but soon leave him bored and feeling guilty about his advantages. Meanwhile, Steve is in deep to a loan shark, who wants him to convince Jack to shave points in the upcoming Super Bowl. Rather than turning into a reverse-Booster Gold origin, Steve keeps the situation to himself.

After winning the Super Bowl but taking little satisfaction in it, Jack walks in on the loan shark's thugs, who have inadvertently shot Steve. He makes short work of them but is unable to save his brother's life.

This inspires Jack to use his abilities for more than football. After exposing Brick Wall, Dasher, Suicide and even Darlene (who gets the codename Doll) to the Intensifier machine, which does not have the same effect on them, he pitches forming a nonprofit to help people out of bizarre trouble like Steve's situation. After announcing they intend to “kick serious butt,” they settle on the name Kickers Inc.

This issue is full of classic comic book tropes (accidental powers and feeling a higher calling to use them), strong character setups (the friendly rivalry between Dasher and Suicide, Brick Wall's aw-shucks demeanor that melts away when he talks finances) and solid football action. I'm curious to read more, though I know DeFalco and Frenz didn't stick around long because their initial Challengers of the Unknown-style pitch didn't fit well with what editor-in-chief Jim Shooter intended for the New Universe line.

(For more on that, check out Jesse Starcher and Chris Armstrong's recent interview with Frenz on the Unspoken Issues podcast. Those guys do a great job, despite their disrespect of Ravage 2099).