It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … the Backstreet Boys?

They just don’t make superheroes the way they used to. The past two Batman films were atrocious, Superman died, and Spider-Man can’t even make it to the big screen. Instead of aspiring to save the world while clutching these larger-than-life crusaders, youngsters now try to complete their Pokémon card collections. And as if the current crop of nondescript comic-book characters weren’t bad enough, now there’s a new set of boy wonders who make Robin look like a brooding tough guy. Stan Lee, the genius behind Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men, recently decided to lend his talents to a comic-book recreation of the Backstreet Boys, who will don capes and weapons and rid the world of many evils — insipid pop music excepted.

Sold exclusively at Backstreet Boys concerts and at www.backstreetproject.com, this series illustrates the exploits of Howie, A.J., Nick, Kevin, and Brian, who, in addition to benefiting from significantly improved muscle tone, receive special powers from a “curvaceous alien creature.” Nick becomes a black-belt martial artist, Kevin makes like the circus strongman, Brian gets hops like Vince Carter, A.J. ends up more knowledgeable about weapons than even the average NFL player, and Howie auditions for Carrie 3 using his “mindblowing” telepathic powers.

With the exception of Prince, who was honored with a DC comic before becoming the Artist, the musicians previously chosen to be immortalized in vibrantly colored ink have been much more menacing than the Boys. Not counting the collectible serials that featured The Beatles and The Monkees, the first bona fide band-related comic book, printed in the late ’70s, celebrated Kiss in all its grotesque glory. To provide extra incentive for its gore-hungry fans, who might have considered comic books to be a somewhat sissified diversion, the band spread the rumor that its members had shed blood into the ink before the finished product went to print.

Other metal icons who made the jump from shocking stage theatrics to heroic printed-page adventures include Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper. The Insane Clown Posse, Kiss’ heirs to the merchandising throne, mass-produced action-figure likenesses of themselves, as did The Misfits, in another desperate ploy for attention to their current Danzig-free lineup. Perhaps the most appropriate subject for comic canonization is the Wu-Tang Clan, hip-hop’s Fantastic Four (plus five) as drawn by Image Comics.

Several pop princesses have been Barbiefied, including The Spice Girls and Britney Spears. Some models of Spears’ doll actually play back her single “Hit Me Baby One More Time” when provoked by a poke, making this a perfect gift if you love the kid but hate the parents. Reportedly in the works is an enhanced model that, using the dormant “pump” technology pioneered by Reebok, enables children to adjust their dolls to keep up with Britney’s ever-changing anatomy.

Of course, toy and comic manufacturers have not exhausted the pool of potential subjects. Here are a few ideas that have yet to make it big:

ð The Hip-Hop Live Show Activity Set: This toy comes with a star and a sidekick. Pull their strings and both will shout such phrases as “Wave your hands in the air” and “All the ugly people be quiet.” Push the buttons on their bellies and the duo will recite maddeningly small portions of their hit songs. Mature collectors can purchase the restricted model, which adds lewd gestures and vulgar comments to each rapper’s arsenal. This set has not tested well; sample buyers have admitted to feeling cheated by the $15 sticker price.

ð Arena-Rock Fun World: Arena-Rock’s line of toys has not tested well, either; consumers seem reluctant to pay $10 for parking during each trip to this pricey toy store. Inside, music fans can shell out $5 for bottled water and $8 for a slice of pizza and then pay $40 for a glimpse at the Fun World set that contains their favorite band. However, they can view it only across an expansive warehouse (binocular rental: $12) and can’t take the toy home or even take a picture of it.

ð Where in the World Is the Rock Band?: At first, this computer game seems like a rock fan’s dream. With brilliant graphics, Where in the World depicts an ideal club, with just the right mix of modern features and atmosphere. However, the player soon learns that the band is mysteriously absent from the stage, replaced by a solitary record-spinner named DJ Disco. In this interactive adventure, players can ask the club owner, patrons, promoters, and even DJ Disco for clues on the missing band’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, this game is exceedingly difficult, and most become frustrated before bringing live music back to the stage. However, because of the characters’ frequent discussion of economic issues, Where in the World is touted for its educational value.

Unlike these ill-fated projects, Backstreet Boys spinoffs figure to succeed, due to the multi-platinum stars’ immense popularity. However, according to frontman Nick Carter, comic books offer the Boys an opportunity to tap into a new demographic area. “There are a lot of females in our audience,” he said in a recent interview. “[Comics are] a really cool way to get guys involved.” Although the response from any die-hard male comic fan to this claim would probably cause a sarcasm detector to spontaneously combust, it’s hard to blame the Boys for trying.

The concept of middle-age men dressed as the X-Men screaming “I Want It That Way” in a crowded arena has certain aesthetic charms, but it would be much more exciting to see the Backstreet Boys, juiced by the heroism of their inked counterparts, attempt to become real-life crime-fighters. They wouldn’t need new outfits (those from the Millennium tour were pure Batman, down to the oversize codpieces), they’re probably wealthier than Bruce Wayne (so high-tech gizmos should be easy to come by), and they already have despicable arch-nemeses, such as ‘N Sync, who can provide them with plans to foil and a target for witty post-plan-thwarting remarks.

By dispensing with the criminal community, the Boys could further broaden their fan base while getting sweet revenge on those who always considered them wusses. And by saving the world on a regular basis, a feat infinitely more impressive than scoring a touchdown, singing on-key, or delivering a tearjerking onscreen performance, the Boys would become perhaps the first celebrities to truly justify the intense adoration of millions.

Contact Andrew Miller at 816-218-6781 or andrew.miller@pitch.com.

Categories: Music