SNAK POSSE TAKES HEALTHY STAND

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They may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but a new group of comic book superheroes hitting stores this month is likely to warm parents' hearts.

Snak Posse-composed of Banana Bolt, Blush the tomato woman, Stalker the celery woman, Kernel Corn and Flash the carrot man-are the brainchild of a New York stockbroker and his fledgling company HCOM, Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

The characters use special powers born of their nutritional value as foods, such as Banana's potassium beam, to rid the neighborhood of unhealthy elements. In the first issue, mobsters are pushing drug-laced cigarettes on kids, who want to prove they're cool by trying them.

"We're trying to get kids-as early as possible-to look at nutrition and a healthy lifestyle as fun and exciting," said Anthony Buono, a pseudonym the comic's creator uses. Mr. Buono doesn't want his colleagues or clients to know of his second profession.

Snak Posse uses sophisticated graphics and an action-packed story line to hook readers. But its bad guys are most likely to grab attention for the real-life products they evoke.

Among Snak Posse's villains are a slew of cigarette-smoking camels that look suspiciously like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Joe Camel. The featured cigarette brand, Ryders, is illustrated in one scene by a Marlboro-like outdoor board with a cowboy on a horse. And the neighborhood drug dealer, replete with acne, is called Coke Face.

Spokesmen for Philip Morris Cos. and Coca-Cola Co. declined comment until they had seen the comic, and RJR executives couldn't be reached.

"My legal counsel says we don't step over the line," Mr. Buono said. "And as far as advertisers, we want them to have products consistent with the themes of the comic."

Snak Posse's sole national advertiser for the premiere issue is Fresh World Farms, a Cinnaminson, N.J.-based company that makes vegetable snacks sold only in school cafeterias.

If Snak Posse is successful, it will represent a departure from many best-selling comic book heroes. Still, competitors welcome the upstart.

"The more choices, the greater the audience," said a spokeswoman for DC Comics. "Everything you read about Joe Camel says kids are attracted to him. Using similar imagery to counter that is clever."

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