So, any o’ you guys interested in seein’ a really dumb comic book? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Kickers, Inc. #1 awaits!
KICKERS, INC. #1
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Ron Frenz
Inker: Sal Buscema
Colorist: George Roussos
Letterer: Phil Felix
Editor: Michael Higgins
Publisher: Marvel Comics/New Universe
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1.00
Previously in Kickers, Inc.: The thing you have to remember about the New Universe, the thing that most people in modern 20/20 hindsight context forget is, it was EXCITING. The New Universe was the next big thing from the nigh-unstoppable pop culture juggernaut that was Marvel, home of the X-Men, home of Wolverine, home of… I dunno, Spider-Man’s cool new black costume. Massive, sweeping giant events weren’t immediately treated with mistrust and suspicion, and the idea that Jim Shooter was going to loose Marvel’s greatest talents on a WHOLE NEW UNIVERSE of awesome, with a more realistic bent and real consequences, occurring in real-time? That was a big deal. Unfortunately, pressure to cut costs kept them from recruiting the titans of comics circa 1986, instead being forced to use a combination of in-house veteran talent (most of whom were employed by the company already in editorial and other roles) and brand-new folks learning their craft. Of all the New U books (and, yes, I read them all, even Merc), the one that seems to get the most derision is the less-than-elegantly-named Kickers, Inc. Thus, join me as we take in the all-american spectacle that is football!
Remember, Faithful Spoilerites: The watchword of the New Universe is “realism”, and their tagline “The world outside your window!” makes it clear. That doesn’t necessarily translate into realistic football, though, as I’m quite certain that the New York Smashers’ tactics here are against SOME rule. Still, thanks to their chicanery, the team pulls off a last-second win, and retreats to their locker room, where we meet Jack Magniconte…
It is very interesting to me that we are only ever shown four Smashers who have names and/or actual roles in the story, even though the rules of American Football require 11 men on the field, and total rosters of fifty men or more. But, REALISM! Aside from Mr. Magnificent, we meet Suicide Smythe, Dasher Corbin, and Buford “Brick” Wohl, each of whom falls into a strict role: “Showoff”, “Fancy-pants”,”Wise Elder.” As for Jack himself, he’s the hungry young star who wants nothing more than to be the best… AROOOUND! Nothin’ ever gonna la de daaah!
Jack is also married, and his wife Darlene almost-but-not-quite escapes the role of scolding, snippy wife/mom figure, especially as relates to Jack’s neer-do-well brother…
So, with our cast of
stereotypes characters assembled, we follow Jack to Steve’s lab, where the elder Magniconte has created a device he calls “The Intensifier”, which increases muscle mass without the negative side-effects of performance enhancing drugs. Seems like it should still be highly unethical, but all Mr. Magnificent can think about is whether it will make him the greatest quarterback in history!
Aaaand then, the White Event. This mysterious phenomenon swept the world on July 22, 1986, causing strange things to occur in its wake. BECAUSE REALISM! Aaaanyway, the weird thing about Kickers, Inc. is that the White Event doesn’t seem to have any effect, other than Jack getting a bit dizzy… until the next day.
The Intensifier or the White Event or a combination of both gives Jack an immediate boost of muscle mass and turns his hair dead white, making it clear that SOMETHING has happened, but the true extent isn’t clear until the next day. When a group of punks intentionally splashes him during his morning road work, an angry Mr. Magnificent has a Barry Allen moment…
Because realism. Grabbing the bumper of their car (!!), he accidentally wrenches it off, discovering his superior strength. Jack is thrilled to have the edge that he’s been seeking, but during the next game, his throw seriously injures his receiver, taking the shine off his new abilities. More disappointing, his new abilities make the game he loves TOO easy…
Note once again that only our named Smashers get to reap the benefits of fame and fortune. Then again, in this world, having a stronger quarterback makes the team unstoppable, so maybe they really ARE the only ones who do anything? I don’t know. In any case, Jack’s big brother with the gambling problem who is now independently rich actually owes a lot of money to a sleazy mafioso/bookie (because realism), only to find that said bookie is willing to forgive his debt, if he can get brother Jack to play nice in the upcoming Super B– BIG GAME! I meant The Big Game, you guys!
Jack, still troubled by the fact that his cheating feels like cheating, asks whether Steve can reverse the Intensifier’s effect. Steve, not sure that his machine did anything in the first place, instead tries to talk Jack into keeping the point spread low, leading to Jack worrying that big brother is gambling again. Of course, Jack’s super-powers make that task night impossible…
After destroying their opponents, Jack returns to Steve’s lab just in time to find that he’s also destroyed his brother’s life…
Steve is murdered by the thugs, leading Jack to wonder if he shouldn’t use his super-strength for something better than cheating at sports, bringing together his closest friends to tell them the truth about his powers. They even attempt to use the Intensifier on Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Brick, only to find that it has no effect at all (likely because it has never had any effect at all.) Still, the fact that only one of them has super-powers doesn’t stop them from taking the next logical step in a comic book…
…forming a super-team! Because, as we noted before, realism. As a run of the mill comic book, this isn’t actually spectacularly bad. Indeed, if you were operating under rules other than “the world outside your window”, it would be a perfectly serviceable dumb comic book. As it was, though, Kickers was one of the four New U titles to get the axe after 12 issues, with Mr. Magnificent popping up here and there later, which sort of undermines the whole idea of giving him an admirably multicultural team to work with. All in all, Kickers, Inc. #1 doesn’t really deserve all the scorn that it gets, featuring some pretty solid pseudo-Kirby Ron Frenz art, with lovely inks by Sal Buscema, earning a disappointing-like-the-New-Universe-itself 2 out of 5 stars overall.