1980’s Showcase: Power Pack

Happy Monday after Mother’s Day everyone!

Image result for mothers day

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.

Image result for child to adult

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,

Image result for captain america

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

Image result for spiderman

or killed off to provide the hero with motivation.

Image result for batman parents

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,

Image result for guardians of the galaxy vol 2

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

Image result for guardians of the galaxy yondu

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.

Image result for dangerous superhero fights

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.

Image result for superhero parents

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

Image result for child reading a comic book

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.

Image result for children who hate their parents

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.

Image result for power pack comic 1980's

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.

Image result for jim shooter

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,

Image result for black spiderman suit 1980's

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.

Image result for louise simonson

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

Simonson teamed up with an artist named June Brigman,

Image result for june brigman comics

(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.

Image result for power pack comic 1980's

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

Image result for power pack comic family

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.

Image result for power pack aelfyre whitemane

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.

Image result for power pack zn'rx

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.

Image result for power pack comic smartship friday

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

Image result for power pack comic smartship friday

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.

Image result for power pack comic 1980's family

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!

Power Pack Vol 1 5

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,

Power Pack Vol 1 6

and the X-Men.

Power Pack Vol 1 12

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.

Spider-Man and Power Pack Vol 1 1

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,

Image result for power pack issue 56

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.

Image result for power pack comic 2000

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.

Image result for power pack comic 2000

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,

Image result for marvel's runaways

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

Image result for power pack comic family

 

Advertisements

Golden Age Showcase: Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

WARNING: This article contains a frank description of the history and politics of the American hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. This group has a long and ugly history of racist violence that unfortunately continues today.  Also, this article contains images and descriptions that many people will find offensive.  If this bothers you, it is perfectly okay to not read this article.

Superman is 80 years old today!

Image result for superman

Today I want to talk about one of Superman’s greatest, and most important, stories.  It’s not a comic book, it’s a radio show, and it is one of the most important pieces of superhero media ever produced.

It’s Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross, the story where Superman literally, not figuratively but LITERALLY, helped bring down one of the most vile and awful hate groups in American history.

Image result for superman and the clan of the fiery cross

Background and History

The KKK was a white nationalist group that was initially founded just after the American Civil War in 1865 by a group of former Confederate soldiers.

Image result for first kkk

Their goal was to intimidate newly freed black slaves and prevent them from voting and trying to improve their lives.

Image result for kkk attacking former slave

The Federal Government cracked down on them, declaring them a paramilitary terrorist organization and forbade them from assembling.

While this version of the group was crippled, they would make a comeback in the 1920’s with the premiere of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a fictionalized and highly romanticized account of the original klan.

Image result for birth of a nation

Unfortunately, the movie was an incredibly effective recruiting tool and the new version of the klan exploded in popularity.  They adjusted their message slightly, instead of targeting black people they became anti immigrant and for the prohibition of alcohol.

They even managed to become involved in politics.

Image result for 1920's kkk primary source

By the 1940’s the Klan returned to form, campaigning against equal rights for black people across the American South through violence.

One of the people who saw all these horrible things happen was a man named Stetson Kennedy,

Image result for stetson kennedy

Kennedy was a writer and activist from Florida who saw what was going around him and decided that he didn’t like the KKK very much.  So he decided to do something about it by infiltrating the organization and finding out as much as he could.

Image result for stetson kennedy in the kkk

He discovered that the Klan was less intimidating and had some really stupid customs and rituals, not really surprising considering that it’s a bunch of guys dressed in sheets, and decided to make them look as ridiculous as he could.

Image result for stetson kennedy in the kkk

Sadly, there was a problem: how was Stetson going to share his information with the public?  What could he use to reach as many people as possible?

This is where The Adventures of Superman radio show came in.

Image result for the adventures of superman radio show

The show was produced and syndicated by the New York radio station WOR and starred a man named Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.

Image result for the adventures of superman radio show

In 1946, Mr. Kennedy approached the radio show and asked them if he could use Superman to share his findings about the Klan with the world.  DC comics was more than happy to oblige since the Second World War was over and Superman couldn’t fight German Nazis anymore.  Now he would fight the American version.

Here’s the first part of the radio special for your listening pleasure.  I skipped the first two minutes of the video because it’s an add for a discontinued breakfast cereal called Kellogg Pep, but it’s still pretty good and I highly recommend tracking down the rest of the series and giving it a listen.

So what was the impact?

The effects of the radio broadcast were immediate and massive.  Within two weeks recruitment into the Klan was down, and by 1948 people were openly mocking its members at their rallies.

Kennedy would go on to share the rest of what he learned about the Klan with the authorities, and even wrote several books which led to arrests and prosecutions for several chapters.

Image result for stetson kennedy kkk book

So the Klan was substantially weakened, thanks to Superman.

Image result for superman and the clan of the fiery cross impact

Sadly, while the Klan was substantially weakened it wasn’t killed off completely.  The organization maintains a violent anti immigrant and white nationalist stance and holds rallies to this day,

Image result for modern kkk

and there’s a former low level politician named David Duke who is a member of Klan who has gained an unfortunately large amount of attention.

Image result for david duke

It’s worth mentioning that the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and hate groups in America over the past couple of years, it’s not a very large rise and can be attributed to a small number of very vocal fringe groups.

A lot of people say that Superman is boring, too powerful, and too much of a goody two shoes to be interesting in the modern world.  But in a world that is filled with some awful people and vile ideologies,

Image result for modern kkk

it’s good to know that we have characters like Superman who stand for what is true and just.

Image result for superman

Here’s to 80 more years.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

It’s funny that popular culture doesn’t associate women with the sciences, and it’s especially interesting when you consider that women have been responsible for huge advances in science from early mathematics and astronomy,

Image result for hypatia of alexandria

to creating the genre of science fiction,

Image result for mary shelley

to taking us to the moon,

Image result for apollo programmer

and basically inventing the whole idea of computer sciences and programming.

Image result

Image result for rear admiral grace hopper

Interestingly enough, the comic book industry had a female science hero to call their own in the 1940’s, and I thought it might be fun to talk about her today.

This is Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

Image result for jill trent science sleuth

Origin and Career

Jill Trent made her first appearance as a back up story in Fighting Yank #6 in 1943.

Image result for fighting yank #6

She was created by artist Al Camy, a man who had done a lot of work for Standard Comics including work on one of their most popular heroes, the Black Terror.

Image result for al camy comic artist

The setup for each story followed the standard Golden Age setup with not a lot of attention paid to the backstory and not a lot of effort being put into explaining how Jill makes a living.  She’s just a genius who invents stuff and solves crimes with them.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #9 - Version 2

As you can see from the page above, Jill Trent was a genius inventor and scientist.  Not only did she develop a way to see through walls, she presumably figured out a way to defy gravity as well.

Image result for jill trent science sleuth

To help her with her adventures Jill had a friend named Daisy Smythe, who was her confidant and sidekick throughout her adventures.  This were their sleeping arrangements.

Image result for jill trent science sleuth

Sure those are double cots placed side to side and it’s no different than what Batman and Robin were doing around this time,

Image result for batman and robin beds

but let’s face it, your mind already went there didn’t it?

Not only was Jill a genius, but both ladies were actually very capable fighters and had no qualms about defending themselves by any means necessary.

Image result for jill trent science sleuth

Also, they weren’t above the use of guns either, especially in one particular adventure when they were fighting off a bunch of goons over a copper bedframe.

Comic Book Cover For Wonder Comics #8

Granted, the crooks were trying to get the bed back because it had a large stack of money in it but still, it certainly puts a vicious spin on customer complaints.

Despite being a bit controversial Jill and company were actually reasonably successful.  They appeared in two issues of Fighting Yank and were then moved to a title called Wonder Comics where they appeared in twelve issues.

So what happened?

Her publisher suffered with the rest of the comic book industry in the 1950’s and she was cancelled in 1956.

With that being said, she may have been cancelled but she hasn’t been forgotten.  She’s actually in the public domain and free for anyone to use, although the sources I’ve checked have said to be careful since there still might be some legal issues.

However, legal grey area or not, that hasn’t stopped the independent comics scene from reviving the two heroines.  In 2015 a Kickstarter was launched to give Jill a modern update and it was incredibly successful.

Cover art by Rafael Romeo Magat.

Sadly, I have no idea where you might be able to buy this if you’re interested.  If anyone knows, please post a comment.

Jill Trent isn’t just progressive and potentially subversive, she’s pretty awesome as well.  She throws down like Wonder Woman, she’s dedicated to the pursuit of scientific knowledge like Einstein, and she has the ability to come up with more gadgets than Q from James Bond.

Image result for jill trent science sleuth

She would make a genuinely fantastic modern heroine and more people deserve to know about her.

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…

Image result for the flaming carrot comics

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.

Image result for visions #1 1979

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.

Image result for teenage mutant ninja turtles 1984

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.

Image result for bob burden

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

Image result for the flaming carrot

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

Image result for comic book pile

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

How did his head turn into a carrot?

Image result for flaming carrot

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”

Image result for the flaming carrot comics

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.

TLOSV_Cover_Final.jpg

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.

Image result for flaming carrot comics 31

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.

Image result for flaming carrot comics and teenage mutant ninja turtles

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.

Image result for flaming carrot comics image comics 2004

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,

Image result for mystery men the movie

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…

Image result for dane cook mystery men

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.

Image result for dane cook the waffler

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.

Image result for flaming carrot

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: The Kugali Anthology

So I thought the Black Panther movie was awesome,

Image result for black panther movie

and if the box office numbers have anything to say, everyone reading this is probably thinking the same thing.

I’m willing to bet that the creators of today’s Kickstarter comic looked at the release of the movie and thought that now would probably be the best time to try and raise money for their project: The Kugali Anthology.

Image result for the kugali anthology

The Kugali Anthology is a collection of comic stories and characters written and drawn by black creators, with an emphasis on creators from Africa.

The comic is being funded out of Britain, so any funding information is converted into American dollars.  At the time of writing this comic has currently raised $5,922 out of $13,782 and has 26 days left in its campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kugalimedia/the-kugali-anthology?ref=discovery

Why I like it

Before we start I should make one thing incredibly clear, I am not an expert on Africa and I have no ancestral or familial ties to Africa.  Outside of a few close family friends and an extremely brief section of my school’s history curriculum, my knowledge of African history and culture is very limited.  I am simply writing as a very curious, and very white, comic book fan and tourist.

From the looks of it, this particular anthology is focusing on fantasy stories and folk tales.

Image result for kugali

I will admit that I could be wrong, but even if I am, the very idea of having a magazine that brings more attention to creators and artists from Africa telling stories that are based in African culture and history is incredibly exciting and makes me very happy.

Image result for kugali

What little I do know has been enough to pique my interest in Africa for a while and I find its history absolutely fascinating.  Africa is a vast,

Image result for africa size comparison

and incredibly diverse continent filled with larger than life places and people.  Stories about great kings such as Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire,

Image result for mansa musa

the East African spice ports,

Image result for zanzibar spice trade

and the life and exploits of Shaka Zulu,

Image result for shaka zulu

have captured my imagination and I have been trying to learn more ever since.

Heck, Africa is home to one of the first and greatest civilizations in Western history, a civilization that some historians devote their entire lives to studying.

Image result for egyptian pyramids

Again, I will admit that I am writing this from a place of relative ignorance but let me ask you this:  If my limited knowledge of Africa can demonstrate that the continent is more than a collection of unfortunate stereotypes, that there is more to it than poverty, disease, and violence, what do you think we could learn from people who actually live there?

Image result for kugali

This leads me directly into my next point…

Why you should donate

Because the world is getting smaller and introducing people to entertainment influenced by different cultures just makes sense.  Plus, it can provide creators with a much needed infusion of new ideas and aesthetics.

I’m going to explain by picking on the fantasy genre for a minute.  To be clear, I love a good fantasy story but let’s be honest, the second you read the word “fantasy” your mind probably brought up images like this:

Image result for lord of the rings screenshot

or this,

Image result for game of thrones screen shot

or maybe this if you’re a Japanophile:

Image result for samurai fantasy

Sure, some creators have helped audiences branch out by introducing fantasy worlds that aren’t influenced by Medieval Europe or Japan.

Image result for avatar the last airbender

but European and pan Asian cultures are not the only places that have stories worth telling and interesting aesthetics.

Africa has so many stories, characters, and themes to offer the world and it’s high time that African creators took their rightful place on the cultural stage and shared their voices with the world.

Image result for kugali

The Black Panther movie showed us that audiences are ready for stories that uphold the idea of a strong and confident Africa and that African themes and aesthetics can be a viable source of entertainment.

 

Image result for black panther movie

Let’s take the next step and introduce audiences to the wonderful world of African comic books.

Image result for kugali

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kugalimedia/the-kugali-anthology?ref=discovery