1980’s Showcase: Power Pack

Happy Monday after Mother’s Day everyone!

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While this previous Sunday was the American version of the holiday, it’s nice to know that the idea of celebrating motherhood is usually given its own special day all across the world as well.

And why not?  Looking after a human from its puke and poo days all the way to something resembling adulthood isn’t easy.

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Now, I have a confession to make: I always hate writing this blog the day after Mother’s Day, because so many superhero stories go out of their way to take the parents out of the equation as quickly as possible.

Seriously, superhero parents are either completely absent,

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replaced by surrogates before the hero has any chance to become aware of his or her actual family,

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or killed off to provide the hero with motivation.

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Thank you Batman.

Granted, this has gotten better over time and there are superhero stories that have talked about parenthood and the relationship between family members rather well,

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but most of the parent figures presented in the movie are abusive jerks with only one of them redeeming himself at the very end.

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So it’s safe to say that comic books don’t have the best track record when it comes to treating moms and dads.  But why?

If you ask me, there are two reasons why superheroes aren’t very good at including parents in their stories.  First, being a superhero is kind of dangerous.

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The level of destruction, property damage, and bodily harm that is inherent in so many of our favorite superhero stories is kind of terrifying if you take a step back and look at them with a critical eye.  I don’t have kids, but I don’t think any mortal parent would be okay with seeing their child getting smashed into buildings on the evening news.

Even if the parents are superheroes themselves, they tend to express reservations about their children doing what they do before realizing that it’s kind of necessary for their kids to grow up.

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The second reason why superhero stories don’t deal with parents very well is because well…most of them are stories for children.

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I almost hate to say this but, most children are selfish greedy little twerps who don’t realize what their parents do for them and believe that life would be much better without them.

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Comic book creators know their audience and present their readers with a fantasy where all the problems of the world can be solved quickly and violently and where its main character can live in a world where nobody is there to tell them to brush their teeth and go to bed.

That’s not to say that stories where superheroes had parents, and in the 1980’s Marvel produced a comic book series where the main characters were children, and their parents were not only alive and kicking, they were integral to the plot.

Let’s kick off this new era for this blog by talking about Power Pack.

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Origin and Career

The 1980’s were an interesting time for Marvel.  They had established themselves as the dominant comic book publisher in the American comic book market and the editorial direction of the companies stories were under the direction of a man named Jim Shooter.

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Shooter is a rather…divisive figure in the comic book world.  On one hand, he published his first comic book work when he was 14 years old, so he’s clearly a fan of the medium.

Also, during his time at Marvel he helped bring us the black Spider Man suit,

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that would eventually give us Venom,

On the other hand, a lot of creators have very negative opinions of Shooter’s leadership style and he had a reputation of squashing creative ideas that weren’t his own.  It was either his way or nothing at all.

Anyway, one of the things that Shooter pushed when he was in charge of Marvel was the idea that editors should write the stories instead of working with writers.

One of these editors was Louise Simonson, the eventual creator of Power Pack.

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Holy crap, we actually have a female creator on this series!

Simonson teamed up with an artist named June Brigman,

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(holy crap…TWO women?  This is nuts!)

and together they created a team of superhero children, who made their first appearance in August of 1984.

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The story follows the Powers, a family of six.  There’s a mother, father, and four children named Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie.

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Both parents are hard working individuals who try to care for their kids.  The father just so happens to be a brilliant inventor who has invented a way to turn matter into anti matter.  Because even though this is the most normal family I’ve seen in a comic book, someone’s got to have a weird job or quirk.

What the Powers don’t know is that their father is being watched by an alien called  a Kymellian who is named Aelfyre Whitemane.

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Okay, first…how the hell does he stand on those two legs?  And second, I would like to take back everything I’ve ever thought or said about certain internet communities with strange interests or fetishes.  It’s clear that this strangeness has been around long before the internet was a thing.

Anyway, Whitemane is disturbed at the news of Dr. Powers invention because it turns out that his planet had been destroyed by a similar device.  Unfortunately, this news is also picked up by the mortal enemies of the Kymellians, an evil race of lizard aliens known as the Snarks who want to use the device as a weapon.

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The Snarks succeed in capturing Dr. Powers and his wife but Whitemane sacrifices himself to save the children.  The horse alien explains what’s going on and gives the children his powers of gravity and density manipulation, energy blasts, and instant rainbow teleportation along with some spiffy new suits.

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Also, the kids get a ship to go after their parents.  It’s a fully intelligent ship and its name was Friday.

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It is worth mentioning that the main characters of this series are children, the oldest one is 12 while the youngest is only 5 years old.  Amazingly, they’re actually written like children, not pint sized god beings who are wise beyond their years.

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Despite the age problem, they manage to use their powers to rescue their parents and return to Earth.

Even though the family is still together and back home, there are still some problems.  A major running theme throughout the series is whether or not the kids should tell their parents about their powers.  This comes to a head in the fifth issue of the series when their dad’s boss suspects the kids of being mutants and CHASES THEM WITH A GUN!

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While the father doesn’t know about his kid’s powers, he punches his boss and resigns from his job.  This, along with his boss suing the family, bankrupts the Powers family who wind up moving to New York when the father is offered a teaching position.

While in New York the kids establish themselves as a part of the Marvel Universe.  They have a whole bunch of crossovers with characters like Spider Man,

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and the X-Men.

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What makes this series unique and interesting is that the comic wasn’t afraid to talk about some very serious issues.  In 1984, Simonson wrote a crossover story with the Power Pack and Spider Man that talked about sexual abuse.

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The comic was released for free and printed in newspapers across the country.

While the comic dealt with serious issues, the Power Pack still manged to remain kid friendly, a testament to Simonson’s writing.  Despite their abilities, they were still children and they dealt with having powers and using them like children.

So what happened?

The series was a success, but sadly times and tastes changed and the series attempted to change with it.  In 1990, new writers were brought on to try and make the series edgier and darker with issue #56,

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It did not work.  The fans revolted and the series was cancelled less than a year later.

It’s worth mentioning that the move to grimmer and darker storytelling was a rather unfortunate trend for comics in the 1990’s, and would go on to have rather disastrous consequences for the entire industry…but that’s another story for another time.

Thankfully, all was not lost and the Power Pack was fondly remembered enough to get a four issue mini series in 2000.

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The series advanced the ages of the kids by a few years, moved them to Seattle, and had them fighting the Snarks in space while dealing with the themes and problems that kids have to deal with.

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There has been talk about the Power Pack making a comeback into the Marvel Universe, but short of a small appearance in the Fantastic Four comics, that has yet to happen.

The Power Pack is a fun piece of comic book history and deserves way more attention than it gets.  It was a thoughtful, engaging, and fun series that treated its child protagonists with respect and dignity and proved that you don’t need dead parents to make a good superhero story and while Marvel has a newer set of young heroes in the limelight dealing with childhood problems,

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I happen to think that the Power Pack would make an excellent tv show or cartoon.

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Comic book showcase: The Flaming Carrot

You know what?  I think it’s time to take a break from the Golden Age this week.

The Golden Age of Comics was an age of ridiculous comic book characters and a “well let’s just throw things against the wall and see what sticks” attitude, which is the main reason why I started this blog in the first place, but I’d like to branch out and see if there might be other characters that could be just as ridiculous and crazy.

Sure, we’ve talked about comic book characters from different time periods before, but there has to be something there that’s crazy, bold, and…

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oh hello, where have you been all my life?

Screw tradition, this is the Flaming Carrot.

Origin and Career

The Flaming Carrot made his first appearance in a small comic called Visions which was published by a convention called the Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1979.

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A bit of context here: the early 1980’s were a time when the independent comic book scene was really starting to take off.  Creators were often ditching the big publishers of Marvel and DC to self publish their own stuff or with smaller publishers who were much more generous with their checkbooks and willingness to share credit.

For a bit more context, this was the time period that gave us the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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The Flaming Carrot comic would later be self published through a company called Killian Barracks Press and then find different homes through various publishers over the next thirty years.

He was created by comic book author and illustrator Bob Burden.

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The hero was meant to be a parody of superhero comics at the time.

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he got his powers by suffering from brain damage after reading 5,000 comics in a single sitting.

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Just goes to show you, comics are bad for you and will rot your brain.

How did his head turn into a carrot?

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Don’t ask such stupid questions.

The Carrot lived in the fictional neighborhood of Palookaville in Iron City.  He didn’t have any superpowers but he would often win the day through grit, determination, and sheer dumb luck.  Also, he had a toy chest of gadgets to help him along with a gun, which he used without hesitation or remorse.

His enemies were equally ridiculous, as you can see below.

You’ll notice that a lot of the interior artwork is in black and white.  It was like this to cut down on art and printing costs.  Believe me, I know.

Over the course of his career, the Flaming Carrot developed a cult following and became pretty popular.  He even found some time to create a team of working class heroes known as “The Mystery Men”

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We’ll touch on that later.

So what we have here is an independent creator, publishing a black and white comic, that parodies super hero stories, and is self published without any help or support.

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Can’t imagine why I would relate to something like that.

Side note: did you know that we actually have another web comic up and running?  It’s called “Questing 9 to5” and it’s on our Tapastic account which you can find here 

So what happened?

It’s actually kind of difficult to pinpoint the exact time and moment when Flaming Carrot ceased publication ended.  Despite its success as an indie hit, it ceased being an ongoing title when issue #31 was released in 1994.

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The hero would make various appearances in one shots and crossovers over the course of the 1990’s, including a crossover with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1993.

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Sadly, this did not make it into the show.

In 2004, the character was picked up by Image Comics and four more issues were published.

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His last appearance was in 2006 and to this date, Bob Burden hasn’t published anything else.

Thankfully, Flaming Carrot was just crazy enough, and just popular enough, to garner attention from Hollywood, and in 1999 Burden helped create a movie based around Flaming Carrot’s teammates.  The movie was called Mystery Men,

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and it failed spectacularly.  It’s actually kind of sad really, the movie has some great actors who would go on to better things, so it was clear that there was SOME effort put into it.  Although, it had Dane Cook in it which was just…

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ugh.

However, there was one thing about the movie that has stayed with us and has gone on to pop culture immortality.

You know that one song by a band called Smash Mouth?  The one that was really REEEAAALY popular in the early 2000’s and everyone knew as “that song that plays at the beginning of the first Shrek movie”?

Yep, this is the movie where that song came from and why the introduction has a whole bunch of ridiculous superheroes…and Dane Cook.

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You’re welcome.

I’m going to level with you, Flaming Carrot is that kind of ridiculous cheesiness that makes comic books the unique and wonderful medium that they are.  He was a rough and tumble, blue collar, scrappy hero with the kind of gimmick that would make you roll your eyes and groan.

But it was very clear that there was a lot of heart and effort put into The Flaming Carrot, and although he was ridiculous, he was drawn proof the the wonderful and heartfelt insanity that could only occur in comic books.

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Golden Age Showcase: The biggest space opera of early science fiction

I feel compelled to talk about a well known, nostalgic, space opera about a small group of plucky rebels against an all powerful empire that threatens the freedom and safety of the entire galaxy.  It would also help if this space opera has a rabidly loyal fan base and has gone on to influence popular culture for decades

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What, you were expecting something else?

Origin

Before Superman made comic books profitable in 1938 the best way to get sequential stories published was through a newspaper comic strip.  The strips were published and distributed through something called syndication.  This was where a syndication company would hire a creator to create a strip and then distribute it to various newspapers around the country.

One of the biggest names in the industry at the time was King Features Syndication.

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How big is it?  Well, it’s still around today and if you’ve ever picked up the comics section of a newspaper before, I guarantee that you’ve read one of their strips.

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Anyway, in 1934 King Features had a problem.  A rival company had just rolled out a science fiction adventure comic called Buck Rogers to huge commercial success.

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King didn’t want to miss out on this explosion of sci fi popularity, so they turned to a staff artist in their employ named Alex Raymond.

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He was the man who created Flash Gordon and in May of 1934, the first comic strip debuted.

The strip begins with the end of the world.  A giant planet named Mongo is on a collision course with Earth and a half mad scientist named Dr. Zarkov kidnaps a Yale polo player named Flash Gordon and his true love Dale Arden to stop the collision and save Earth.

They manage to stop the collision and save Earth, only to come into contact with Mongo’s evil ruler: the awesomely named Ming the Merciless.

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Impact and legacy

The comic was a huge hit and would go on to inspire dozens of adventures, re imaginings, and become a massive multi media franchise with the release of several movie serials between 1936 and 1940.

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The character remained popular through the 1940’s and 50’s, transcending the backlash that so many comic book characters faced in post war America.  He even got a big budget re imagining several decades later which was a pretty blatant attempt at cashing in on its nostalgic value in 1980 where the main hero was re imagined for modern audiences.

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Because the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Side note: the comic has a website that publishes strips every week.  You can find it here and it’s really worth checking out.

Everything about the character, from the comic to the movies, is deliciously cheesy and over the top.  It’s got strange aliens, grand romance, and the forces of good triumphing over impossible odds.  It was also a massive influence for a lot of film makers and creative types at the time, including a little known film student named George Lucas.

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Lucas would go on to use the Flash Gordon space opera, along with ideas from film legend Akria Kurosawa and a host of others, to create a little film called Star Wars.

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It’s a really obscure movie, you’ve probably never heard of it.

The more you look at it, the more similarities you can find.  Like Flash Gordon, Star Wars has a band of plucky rebels,

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resisting an evil ruler,

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and tells a deeply personal story set against the backdrop of a massive and violent sci fi universe.

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Oh, and both franchises are famous for the sheer amount of merchandise and spin offs they managed to produce.

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Flash Gordon is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction stories of all time.  It’s epic scope and scale, along with it’s amazing story telling and imagination, have ensured its place in the annals of pop culture history and as the direct ancestor of one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.

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