In our pancreatically-challenged community, we've known Captain Glucose and Meter Boy fondly for some time now as the "Diabetes Duo" raising awareness and educating by bringing smiles when it comes to diabetes.
They're all about a little "diabetes emPOWerment," so to speak!
But now, after roughly a decade of advocacy that's taken this duo from being just two guys in costumes to the main voices behind an animated cast of D-themed heroes and villains, the two real-life advocates who play Captain Glucose and Meter Boy are being forced to rebrand themselves.
Forced -- because a particular entertainment powerhouse that owns the rights to a certain pair of caped crusaders has pressed fellow PWDs Brad Slaight and Bill Kirchenbauer to revise their characters in order to avoid a legal battle.
(Pssst - Just so you know, we're talking secret identities here: Bill/aka Captain Glucose is a type 2 PWD who many may recognize from his various TV and film roles through the years, among them being Growing Pains and Just The Ten Of Us where he played Coach Lubbock! Meanwhile, Brad/aka Meter Boy is a fellow type 1 diagnosed in his 20s about a quarter-century ago, and professionally, he's also starred in many film and TV roles that include the Young and Restless, and he's an accomplished playwright. So now you know who they "really" are... Shhhh!)
With 10 years or so under their diabetes hero belts, the script and character descriptions for Captain Glucose and Meter Boy are changing. First, they're going to be part of a larger cast of animated D-characters, and secondly, they will henceforth be known as the "Diabetes Hero Squad" (no more "Duo"). The mission remains: Be your own personal diabetes hero and empower others to do the same.
Brad's been diplomatic, and careful to not mention the name of the actual business pressing for these changes; he emphasizes that the big-named entity "has been very gracious during the whole process." To us and probably most people, it's pretty clear we're talking about Warner Brothers here: the studio that owns all things related to Batman and Robin.
We first got wind of all this about a week ago, when the Diabetes Duo name changed online. Then, the animated images of Meter Boy and Captain Glucose vanished and the original website disappeared. A Facebook message popped up, letting the community know that changes were underway. And that's when we got really curious, and got on the phone to chat with Brad.
Brad explains that the whole D-superhero effort started out with the two friends just talking about how they could use their acting and comedic talents for something important to both of them: diabetes awareness and education.
"We're good at entertaining, so we thought we should use what we're good at to fill the void for something that's entertaining and informative at the same time," Brad says.
The pair of PWDs began to dressed up in costumes and film some homemade parodies and spoofs all in the name of diabetes advocacy. They even created a video PSA with actor and friend Alan Thicke, who has a son with type 1, and whom Bill knew from his work on Growing Pains. So, Alan starred as "Commissioner of Diabetes" while Bill and Brad appeared as Captain Glucose and Meter Boy respectively.
Eventually, Brad says they realized that there were a little old to be wearing costumes with tights and decided to take their work to the next level -- going animated. Over the years, they've produced a whole line of cartoons and animated videos, even one starring our D-blogging friend George "the Ninjabetic" Simmons and another in 2012 featuring a Blue Fridays Bear named Bolus who encourages people to wear blue for diabetes awareness. They've shared their story and appeared on DSMA Live and TuDiabetes in video interviews, and we have long admired their work -- including the cartoons and funnies that mirror our own Sunday Funnies here at the 'Mine.
But as Brad says now, "it was only a matter of time before someone took notice of the similarities with the iconic Dynamic Duo."
It happened early this year, when Brad and Bill explored trademarking the "Diabetes Duo" as a way to possibly expand their non-profit diabetes education and empowerment efforts down the road. A certain movie studio took notice, and raised intellectual property concerns about how Captain Glucose and Meter Boy looked too much like the other well-known "duo" in the superhero universe.
"We've had to make major changes to these characters and things that we've put incredible time and money into over the years, and it has been a kind of a shock," Brad told me by phone. "But I'm in the business and understand the importance intellectual property. We're not fighting this, and we appreciate that they're giving us the latitude to make changes and keep doing what we do."
Don't Say 'Super'
Obviously, these characters are a take-off on Batman and Robin -- but they're all about raising awareness and education in fun, entertaining way about a chronic health condition. For Brad and Bill, it's not about making money or a name for themselves; it's about advocacy and helping people.
So it's all the more surprising that dropping the word "duo" is not the only demand here. Apparently the terms "superheroes" and "superpowers" are trademarked, too. Yup, seriously.
Weird how words that seem so generally descriptive and common nowadays, but may have been unique back in the day when they were first used, get thrown into the mix on all of this. Like the term Super Bowl -- advertisers and media can't say it anymore, so they've reverted instead to saying "the big game." How lame!
That's just the way it is, I suppose, in a world in which the name of everything seems to be for sale.
Yet while the former Diabetes Duo moniker won't be used going forward and has been removed from some YouTube videos, and the former iterations of the Captain and Sidekick are basically discontinued, it's nearly impossible to wipe it out completely from this 21st world of online sharing. So, Brad says the effort has been focused on creating a new web presence with a new site, either www.thediabetesheroes.com or www.diabetesherosquad.com.
Other changes are underway, too.
They are giving the two main characters a makeover. Meter Boy's already revised, so as to not be confused with the "Boy Wonder" -- his outfit went from red to green as the main change. An artist is also in the process of revising Captain Glucose, and Brad hopes that will be completed by year's end.
Of course, the characters won't be a "duo" any longer but will be a "squad" -- with an expanding cast of other characters that they had already started adding before this IP infringement issue arose. They've greeted D-Girl to the cast, and now have a D-Dog hero named "Oggie" that among other things can detect high and low blood sugars. They're also planning a new character called the Amazing Endo, which won't actually be like a real doctor but will have amazing powers more like the James Bond character with cool gadgets and devices that no one's heard of -- including a ray that shrinks diabetes blood sugars! Zappo!!
On the villainous side, they'll be adding to the original characters of Blood Sugar Maniac, the CarboHydra, and the dreaded A1C Monster known as hAte1c... Plus move coming down the road, we're told. Look out!!
Of course, all the characters feed into the mantra to Educate, Enlighten, and Entertain PWDs. Totally awesome!
Despite the recent hurdles that prompted these changes, Brad remains optimistic and says he sees a lot of possibility for the future -- one of which is to make a full-length DVD aimed at raising awareness and educating the public about diabetes.
And maybe someday big Entertainment Industry companies will be more willing and able to embrace these health heroes to help reach a much larger audience with awareness and education.
"Going back to the core, this isn't necessarily about superheroes, but about people with diabetes learning to be their own personal heroes," Brad says. "We want them to be able to learn, and not falter in the face of something that's often very scary and tough, and feel like they're empowered enough to live well with diabetes."