King James, Starring LeBron James (2004)
“The King of Basketball”
Writer – Gary Phillips
Penciller – Damion Scott
Inker – Sandra Hope
Colorist – Carrie Straehan
Letterer – Kenny Lopez
Flava – James Marsh
Art Director – Maria Cabardo
Editor – Ron Perazza
Now what in the hell?
In 2004, DC Comics teamed up with LeBron James and the Coca-Cola company to produce a promotional comic book promoting the new Flava23 Sourberry Powerade. Oi. This is one I just found in the cheap-o bins, and seeing the DC bullet in the top left corner, knew I had to have it.
Powerade has become something of a joke in my home of late. Recently my wife had fallen ill with a hard-to-shake sinus infection compounded with a terrible bout of bronchitis. As it often goes, she was feeling especially ill during a time in which she would not be able to get in to see her normal doctor. She was having some breathing challenges, spells of dizziness, as well as a fair amount of pain. We found the nearest Urgent Care center, and popped in for a visit.
After waiting a good hour or so, we were finally seen. The doctor (I think he was a doctor…) performed an examination and said he’d write up a few prescriptions. He told my wife that on top of everything else, she was dehydrated. He advised us to pick up Vitamin Water… but absolutely forbid us buying Gatorade or Powerade.
Because, you see… both Gatorade and Powerade… were made by… the Nazis.
We both gave a courtesy giggle, figuring the doc was just making a poor attempt at humor… however, he became positively stone-faced… and repeated his warning.
“The Nazis?”, I asked.
Deadly-serious, he told us that the Nazis invented Gatorade and Powerade as a way of giving us cancer. He began naming every artificial color under the sun, while writing two my wife’s two prescriptions… simultaneously. He wrote with both hands at the same time… didn’t much matter, I suppose… couldn’t read either of them well enough to know what they said anyway.
Now, not being any sort of cancer specialist, I offered that I did not know the ‘ades contained any carcinogens. He quickly corrected me, saying they weren’t carcinogens… they caused cancer.
I looked at the wife, and suggested it was time we took our leave. As we left, he kept repeating “Vitamin Water… Not Gatorade.” “Vitamin Water… Not Powerade.”
We left to fill the prescriptions, and while there stocked up on some Acai Berry Vitamin Waters. I may be an idiot, but I ain’t no Ratzi.
With all that being said, I must assume that LeBron James is fighting the good fight against the Third Reich in the titanic tale to follow…
Before our story begins we are treated to a short text piece allegedly written by LeBron James in which he attempts to explain what “flava” is. He continues to claim that the ink that printed this issue received an actual infusion of Powerade. He is not kidding! I can not corroborate this claim, however… this book just tastes like paper to me.
Our story opens in Hawaii with the not-yet King, LeBron James slam-dunking on a basketball-face-painted warrior called Julius. Don’t dare call him that though, he goes by Reaper. One of LeBron’s entourage cheers on, calling that slam-dunk “the flava”… so maybe that’s what “flava” is? The Reaper dismisses LeBron’s attempt at sportsmanship, claiming he doesn’t shake hands with nobody.
|Don’t leave me hangin’ Julius…|
Off to the side, shadowy organization, The Hetairia (which most online dictionaries define as simply “a society or association”) reveal themselves as having set-up the street-ball tournament LeBron finds himself competing in. This Hawaiian match was only the first round. If our man is to truly become the King of Basketball, he has three more trials ahead of him. Next stop, Siberia.
On the plane LeBron downs an orange Powerade with the quickness, as his buddies discuss the finer points of the cold weather they’re about to encounter. When they land, LeBron and his entourage don Captain Cold-esque winter coats, and approach the next challenge. Somebody must have spiked the onboard Powerade supply, as one of the guys says the following: “How come we this whole thing didn’t take place in tropic Hawaii?” Say what, now?
LeBron meets his next opponent, Yuri Dragonin… but you can call him “Abominable”. Towering over LeBron, with his dreadlocks and maybe (in some panels?) wearing an eye patch, Yuri is one imposing dude. He tries to psyche our man out by referencing Akron, Ohio… Why… he knows LeBron’s hometown!!!
|Get outta my head, Yuri!|
LeBron thinks to himself how the cold “zaps” his energy… and the floor of this b-ball court is slick. He regains his composure remembering a time he spoke to his mother. She tells him that Hetairia have been involved in this deadly game ever since she was a child. Basketball tournaments are not to be trifled with.
The game begins. Yuri is quite the trash-talker, constantly in our man’s face… busting his chops about how cold it is. Tell us something we don’t know, Dragonin. Yuri is also a filthy cheater, elbowing LeBron in the gut. It gets shrugged off, no blood equals no foul… right, James? LeBron is able to wrangle control of the ball, much to his buddies’ delight. One says “That’s what I’m talking about.”… while another exclaims, “Fo’ Sho’.”
Somehow, Yuri makes an icicle fall from the ceiling right above a cheerleader… yeah, there are cheerleaders in Siberia, cheering on a one-on-one, underground super-secret basketball tourney. LeBron leaps into action saving the pom-pom girl, while Yuri takes it to the hoop. It’s no matter, though, LeBron still comes out victorious. Yuri promises they will meet again… I can hardly contain my excitement.
Next stop, Australia. LeBron downs another Powerade on the plane, and then we look into his cold-dead eyes. LeBron’s (well, everyone’s) eyes throughout this entire issue are terrifying gaping sunken black holes in his face. Just empty sockets… very unsettling to behold, indeed.
|Glad we agree, your highness!|
In Australia, LeBron is pitted against contortionist Larry Samuels, now known as Flexxor. On his court, up looks like down… and down is out of sight (dy-no-mite)! The entourage tries to brainstorm how LeBron will find his way out of this one. One member, while introspectively stroking his chin says as long as LeBron knows that a straight line is always a straight line… he should be okay. Jeez, what is in this Powerade, anyway? Is this the result of being under the influence of “flava”?
LeBron is struggling to maintain control of the ball while doing quantum physics in his head, however eventually comes out on top. We actually observe super villain Flexxor score three times to LeBron’s one.. so I must assume in Australian-rules basketball there is a 7-point shot. Or am I just not following the art? Either way, LeBron wins… yay.
It’s now time for the finals. LeBron and Company are now Brooklyn bound. They somehow make it all the way from a tent in the middle of the outback to the Brooklyn sewers in 11 hours. A quick check of kayak.com shows a flight from Sydney to JFK as 25 hours. They must be mixing Powerade in with the jet-fuel.
In Brooklyn we meet LeBron’s final opponent. Henry Isaacs aka The Magistrate! It is a competitive hard-hitting match-up. The two masters are going shot for shot, neither with a distinct advantage. It isn’t until we zoom in on LeBron’s soulless eyes at a moment where he is thinking about his mother that the tide turns. LeBron breaks away and scores the winning point. Only now is LeBron James truly worthy of the title of “King of Basketball”.
|Good Luck sleeping tonight.
This may replace the Starro and Egg-Fu in my nightmares…
LeBron and the Magistrate shake hands and tell the Hetairia to hit the bricks. This isn’t a game to them… the game’s what it’s all about. Wait, what?
LeBron and Co. walk off the court as our newly-crowned King of the Courts takes a no-look shot on net. They fear that this story is far from over, lucky for us… it is. Our adventure ends with a satisfying “swishh”.
Okay, this was horrible.
Can’t really say it any plainer than that. Granted, this was a promotional giveaway (allegedly there are upwards of three-million of these floating around out there)… and as such was likely meant to be disposable fluff. I get all that… perhaps analyzing it as if it were anything but is unfair… but, here we are. I really do have a difficult time completely bagging on any comic, but I cannot think of anything nice or redeeming to say at this juncture.
The writing was light. This is a Powerade ad, after all. I don’t believe it was endeavoring to be “high art”, but even so… it was pretty stilted. Dialogue was clunky and wildly unnatural. It was as though everyone was narrating the story… while also being in the story. I can’t see how this all got past both an Editor’s and a Flava-er’s desk. I must admit I’m not familiar with the writer, however, I must assume if left to his own devices he would be capable of a much better story than this.
The art is… well let’s say, stylized. Characters were rather disproportionate, extremities were absolutely everywhere. Arms that spanned yards, legs that reached for miles. Rubber band men every which way. Again… I get what they were going for… I think… maybe not. It’s all pretty difficult to follow, and not very pleasant to look at.
For this being a Powerade ad, there’s actually very little in the way of product placement. LeBron takes maybe two swigs the entire issue. It doesn’t help his performance on the court… it wasn’t like Popeye’s can of spinach, it’s just a refreshing throat-stinging beverage while sitting on an international flight.
I’d be remiss to leave this out. The Sourberry Powerade is apparently something James had a rather big part in, if this (credible?) source is to be believed. I submit for your approval, from LeBron James, King of the Court by B.J. Robinson (2005): “… according to USA Today, as part of his six-year deal with Coca-Cola, LeBron ‘sat with chemists and scientists: to develop Flava23, a red sourberry flavor for his own Powerade. LeBron said via email from Athens, to USA Today, that he ‘picked a color close to the Cavalier’s road jersey. I chose sour berry because I like the fruity taste.”
Not recommended for reading… may be a neat oddity to have in your library. Be forewarned though, tho we may travel around the world, we never do find out exactly what “flava” is.
Interesting Ads: (sensing a theme? edition)
UPDATE 5/7/23 – “Remastered” for WordPress!