CODY, WYO. — Taking a page (literally) from the seemingly endless stream of wildly popular comic book properties that are earning billions for Hollywood entertainment conglomerates, the National Park Service is launching a new superhero group based in Yellowstone National Park.
In a series of adventures aimed at attracting a younger generation of visitors to the world’s first national park, the “Guardians of Yellowstone” will fight evil and protect natural resources using skills and powers based on the park’s iconic landscape and wildlife.
The superhero team will make its first appearance next month in a 24-page comic book given out for free at entry gates to any cars with young passengers—or to any visitors who ask for a copy. A series of animated shorts is also being considered, and would be released online and promoted through Yellowstone’s social media channels.
“We see ‘Guardians of Yellowstone’ as a great way to reach younger visitors, educating them about the many unique aspects of Yellowstone, while also getting across some important safety messages,” said Yellowstone spokesman Stan Thatch.
Yellowstone managers and national park advocates have long worried that younger generations lack the same affinity for the outdoors as their parents or grandparents, and fear that “enthusiasm gap” could eventually lead to an erosion in public support for parks.
“There is a concern about the parks losing mindshare in the face of Atari games or chatting on Instagram and so forth,” Thatch said. “So our goal with this superhero initiative is to create a property that makes young people more passionate about Yellowstone.”
The Park Service is keeping many details about early storylines under wraps. But Yellowstone’s public affairs office on Thursday released character bios and images of three superheroes who will appear in “Guardians of Yellowstone” comic books sometime this summer:
Mild-mannered geologist Calvin Derrick is transformed after being caught in a strange earthquake in a cave near Yellowstone’s underground magma chamber. As Caldera, Derrick gains the power to emit grand eruptions of steaming hot water, bubbling mud and noxious gases. But Caldera’s body is permanently transformed in a way that leaves him feeling like a hideous freak, unsure if he will ever again find love or meaningful human contact.
Leading microbiologist Priscilla Matthews is knocked into Grand Prismatic Spring by an errant drone. Though she suffers only minor burns, Prisma is imbued with special powers by the unique microbes living in the spring. She can blast enemies with a dazzling and disorienting display of multi-colored light, rendering foes confused, dumbstruck and even temporarily blinded.
Little is known about the mysterious, hooded figure known as Lobo, who is often seen watching over the wolves of Yellowstone. Some say Lobo may be linked to the disappearance of the brilliant but volatile field biologist, Beau Lopez, who spent his life studying the park’s gray wolves. Those who have encountered Lobo’s wrath—and heard his chilling howl—say he is a force to be reckoned with, and one of nature’s most zealous defenders.
Thatch said other heroes will also join the “Guardians of Yellowstone,” whose first adventure centers around teaming up to defeat a villain known as Swarm, an enigmatic entity believed to be secretly introducing non-native, invasive plant and animal species into the park.
“We think the timing is right for this campaign,” Thatch said, citing recent box office records notched by “Deadpool” and “Superman v. Batman,” as well as the continuing small-screen success of franchises like “Daredevil” on Netflix and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
‘Proselytizing and propaganda’
But not everyone is convinced that a Yellowstone comic book is a great idea.
Some elected officials and community leaders in gateway towns say the “Guardians of Yellowstone” amounts to “proselytizing and propaganda” aimed at an impressionable audience, and that the project is an unnecessary expense at a time when the Park Service faces a growing backlog of deferred maintenance.
“Here we go again, wasting more federal tax dollars. I don’t see how creating a mud monster funny book hero is going to make the kids put down their Pokémons and grab a backpack and head off for Yellowstone,” said Wyoming Rep. Teetrick Huddleton, a Republican from Cody.
Huddleton said he would prefer to see park managers focus on repairing roads and upgrading facilities to handle what is expected to be a record summer for visitation, as the Park Service celebrates its centennial.
“The superhero they need in Yellowstone is Professor Toilet Man or Captain Traffic Lady—someone who can keep the bathrooms clean and keep the cars moving along the roads,” he said. “Less proselytizing and propaganda, please, and more profits and productivity.”
Garrett Overby, program director for the Federation of Western Ranchers, said he didn’t like the idea of using a comic book “to indoctrinate kids into a type of environmental thinking that borders on religion.”
“Presumably, the heroes are clumsy government workers who have bizarre accidents that give them special powers, and it sounds like the villains are anyone who doesn’t love wolves enough,” Overby said. “That’s ridiculous and offensive.”
Though some Park Service employees consulted on the “Guardians of Yellowstone” project, it was developed in cooperation with a Denver advertising agency, and will be funded through private donations, said Terrence Rovak, spokesman for the Grand Loop Fund, a nonprofit group that supports Yelowstone.
Rovak the project draws inspiration from “Captain Planet,” an animated superhero series co-created by billionaire environmentalist Ted Turner and broadcast during the 1990s on his TBS cable TV channel.
“This comic book and the superhero concepts it explores represent a treasury of good ideas about preserving Yellowstone for future generations, and we hope to turn it into a major fundraising vehicle through licensing and spin-off properties,” Rovak said.
“Guardians of Yellowstone” toys, games, clothes and other merchandise could bring in big money to benefit the park, and the idea could be repeated at other national parks if it proves successful, he said.
“Just two Avengers movies have made close to $3 billion. So we think a Caldera action figure or Prisma Halloween costume or a Lobo backpack could all be big hits with the kids, and raise tons of money for a great cause,” Rovak said.
Thatch said subplots in the initial series of comic books would include safety messages like staying on boardwalks in thermal areas or keeping a safe distance from wildlife.
“Each year, we struggle to educate visitors about the potential dangers of Yellowstone,” he said. “We think kids are likely to be more receptive to a message like ‘don’t take a bison selfie‘ if it’s coming from a superhero. So if the comic book saves just one life, this project is worth it.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].