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It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a hockey superhero!


Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man, poses for media at Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada, August 28, 2010. REUTERS/Jill Kitchener
Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man, poses for media at Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada, August 28, 2010. REUTERS/Jill Kitchener

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Pow! Wap! Goal!

The National Hockey League is teaming up with Stan Lee, the co-creator of Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men and other iconic comic book heroes, to create a new series of superheroes representing each of the 30 league cities and incorporating hockey elements as a way to market the sport.

Under the deal, the NHL and SLG Entertainment, led by Lee's Pow! Entertainment, will form Guardian Media Entertainment LLC (GME) to create 30 "Guardian" superheroes. Starting in January, the new heroes will be used on the Internet, mobile phones, novels and comic books, gaming, in arenas, broadcast, merchandise, and promotional and sponsorship materials.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the characters will be co-owned by the NHL and SLG Entertainment.

"It really is important for us primarily for the cultivation of the next generation of fans," Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president for marketing, said in a telephone interview. "You want to be relevant as a brand and GME is part of our overall marketing mix."

Each "Guardian" has been derived from its corresponding hockey team, complete with special powers representative of each team and city, but the heroes are not set in the world of hockey, Jennings said. They will be introduced during the 2011 NHL All-Star Game on January 30 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

No word on whether NHL superstars Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals or Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins are being fitted for black spandex, but the idea will be billed at the New York Comic Con on Friday as Lee's new superhero franchise.

"I've always believed that every great plan starts with a great story," Lee said. "In the creation of GME and its unique and unprecedented relationship with the NHL, I truly believe we have the perfect combination."

The idea is to appeal to boys ages nine to 14, Jennings said.

"The NHL not only brings enormous brand equity to the partnership, but also their built-in audience of more than 70 million fans worldwide and their marketing and distribution channels," GME Chief Operating Officer Mark Terry said.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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