Hello and welcome to A Mind Occasionally Voyaging, where bad comics... Well, actually, I don't know what happens to bad comics on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging, because I've never reviewed a comic before.
I don't have a whole lot of experience with comics. I grew up in an exurb that didn't have a comic book store, and even if it had, it was six miles to town, so I was pretty much at the mercy of my parents for anything that had to be bought, and comic book stores weren't high on their list of places to take me. Oh, I accumulated a few over the years. A Star Trek comic from the period between The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home when it was widely assumed in fandom that Kirk would be rewarded for stealing the Enterprise by being given command of the Excelcior (which he would just call "Enterprise" anyway) without being demoted. A crossover between Transformers and Spider-Man which had a note in the back explaining why Spider-Man was wearing a black suit. I still have this creepy image stuck in my head of Shockwave standing in front of a brick wall in which he's burned the words "All Are Dead" (the cover of Transformers number 5). A reprint of an old Tales From the Crypt.
But I'm not widely read. I've got the trades of Star Trek: Countdown and Watchmen, and a book by Scott McCloud about how to read comics, but most of what I know comes from Wikipedia and Atop the Fourth Wall. Nonetheless, when I found out that Continuity Comics very briefly produced a Captain Power series, well, there was no way I was passing that up. Remember, this was literally weeks ago, and for all I knew, this was the only Captain Power-related narrative that would ever exist beyond what I'd already seen twenty-five years ago.
You may well be a bit afraid. Comic tie-ins to existing franchises generally mean one of two things: either a labor of love trying to expand and ressurrect a beloved franchise in a new form, or... a cheaply-made attempt to spend as little effort as possible in order to milk the name-recognition for a few bucks. Which is this? Hey, let's be honest here: we're talking about a show that got green-lit purely on the condition that it could serve as a half-hour long toy commercial. So with all that in mind, let's dig into Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #1.
Oh, and if I'm going to do this, let's do it properly, shall we?
There are two covers available for this issue. I don't know which one is the canonical cover and which is the alternate, and they were cheap so I bought both. I'm going to guess that this one is the earlier version, since the logo style on the other one is repeated on issue #2, which only has the one cover.
As you can see, the cover is a group shot. Not terrible, though the ground at the bottom belies the forced perspective in the rest of the frame, which is to say that Tank and Pilot look tiny, because they're supposed to be further back, but if you look at Pilot's feet, it looks like she's standing directly across from Scout, who is twice her size.
The costumes are pretty show-accurate, rather than staying close to the art from the toy boxes, which is a nice touch. Some of the laser blasts are coming from funny angles, but from a technical standpoint, that's also show-accurate. If I'm going to lodge one complaint, it's that Cap's facial expression is kind of weird. I assume we're supposed to have caught him in a fierce war-cry, but he just looks goofy, like he's about to take a bite out of something. If this were coming out today, I would fully expect this to be all over the internet with dongs photoshopped in.
The alternate cover has a redrawn logo. The colors are brighter and the logo itself is cleaner, though I'm not crazy about the "And the soldiers of the future" text; it looks sort of stamped-on. They also look to have made a real effort to imitate the look of computer-rendered text with the Gourad shading and the forced perspective; the other cover's text has a more "natural" metallic look, while this one looks computer-drawn.
This is also a group shot, though Cap's pose is more dynamic. For Cap himself, this cover gives you much more of an impression that we're watching real action going on, rather than a posed publicity shot. For Cap. Unfortunately, everyone else is just sort of shooting off in random directions, making it very clear that they're just here for demonstration purposes, and aren't really part of the scene with Cap and the scared civilian in the corner. Oh, him? Well, I assume that's Professor Karl Malenkov, but I can't really tell you much about him; he's pretty much a MacGuffin that they were presumably setting up for later in the run, but they never get around to actually doing much with him before the comic was cancelled.
Now, if you thought Cap's expression on the last one was goofy, look at this. He looks like he's about to ask a Bio-Dread if he feels lucky. Or perhaps he's just uncomfortable, as he apparently just crapped molten lava.
By the way, I'm going to forgo my usual tack of inserting punchlines and sight-gags into the images. Between the word balloons and the general density of the image compositions, it'll just make it too hard to work out what's going on.
Issue 1 is "freely adapted" from the episode "A Summoning of Thunder", which we won't get to in my regular reviews for some timeBy my estimates, at the rate we're going, June 2347, but the adaptation is loose enough that it's really not spoiling anything. Just like an episode of the series, we open on a fight scene that won't have anything to do with the rest of the story. Cap is pursuing a Dread scientist who's trying to defect. We're told that Professor Malenkov is the "holder of the key to the salvation of mankind... or its destruction," though we will never be told how exactly. We're also told that he "Runs like a broken-legged dog." So, um... Not at all because it's too busy laying on the ground whimpering about its leg? Of course not! It means that he's panting and puffing, which is to say, he's saying "Pant" and "Puff", and the occasional "Huff". Also, is it just me, or does he look like his jaw is broken?
We cut over to some Dread troopers, called "commandos" here, who are preparing a trap to attack Cap, but to their shock and awe, he touches the emblem on his chest, shouts his contractually obligated catchphrase, and...
A two-page spread shows us the results, along with a title card. So, the Power On transformation was one of the big visual effects things of the show, a sensory overload with strobing lights and complex crossfades and the best visual effects a Commodore Amiga could produce, so how does that translate to serial art?
Um. Is he naked there in the middle? That's... Really weird. Cap shoots two of the commandos while still in the air. One of them lets out a little "Eep!" as its head is severed from its shoulders with a pink "KREENK". The remaining Mechs return fire, apparenly surprised to discover that Captain Power is, in fact, Captain Power. The first time we see the transformation seems like a good time to pull out a two-panel spread, but I'm not crazy about the composition here. An awful lot of the page seems to be devoted to showing us the backs of exploding Clickers.
As the battle continues, one of the commandos marvels at Cap's "impossible" speed. Cap tosses off an awkward one-liner while privately thinking that he's outnumbered. At this point, we introduce Soaron, who is eager to destroy Cap, and for some reason, refers to himself in the third person.
He's called off by Lord Dread, who for some reason looks less like Lord Dread and more like the Borg assimilated the Pharoah from Prince of Egypt. Dread orders Soaron to stand down, as he wants to get the entire team together. Never mind that picking them off one-by-one would almost certainly be a safer idea; they're worth more as a box-set.
Tank obliges by showing up, guns a-blazin'. His legs are weird in this shot, like one of them is cut off mid-calf. I think the idea is supposed to be that he's cresting a hill and his other foot is behind the rocks, but the way he's standing, it looks like one leg is way longer than the other. He's fighting a group of mechs led by "Overunit Drucker". In the series, the title of "Overunit" always went to men in Nazi costumes with large bling around their necks. Overunit Drucker, on the other hand, appears to be wearing red power armor. He may even be a cyborg, it's not quite clear. It's an interesting idea, but I think having Dread use armored human soldiers sort of undermines the major gimmick of the Power Team, and that's doubly annoying when Overunit Drucker doesn't really do much of anything that really calls for him to be wearing power armor. Tank, we're told, has "Good reason to hate Dread," though these reasons will not be disclosed in this comic, or in the series for that matter.
Hawk appears above Overunit Drucker to provide covering fire for Tank, prompting Drucker to think "It's Hawk! It must be!". Yes, it must be him, Hawk, and not one of the other flying armored resistance fighters. In the next panel, Soaron confirms: "It is Hawk!" Um. Did Soaron just respond to Drucker's thought balloon?
Next, Scout and Pilot show up. Cap thanks them for appearing in a timely manner in order to have a proper roll call introducing all the characters for the benefit of the readers. And again, we've got Cap posing for an internet meme picture with photoshopped dongs. In this particular panel, Cap looks quite a lot like his appearance in the original trailer. It wouldn't surprise me if work on this book started before casting was finished, though this comic is dated August 1988, which means that it wasn't published until after the series had ended. I have no idea how much lead time you'd normally have for a project like this. It could be that they started work on it before the show aired, but held off on publishing it until the summer hiatus. I kind of hope that's the case, since it seems like a bit of a cruel joke for them to start work on a comic in 1988 for a show that was already cancelled.
Tank catches up to Overunit Drucker, leading to what for my money is the best pair of panels in the entire book. Tank decides to do a Judge Dredd impersonation. Gaze into the fist of Tank.
True to the show, Hawk and Soaron go mano-a-birdo, and they even follow the Captain Power Cliche of "Bad guy shoots hero, hero falls offscreen, then hero turns out to not be seriously hurt after all and rejoins the fight. Though here, I think the problem is that Hawk's wings are on upside down for a few panels.
The rest of the battle is pretty much a confusion of people jumping around, firing lasers, and shouting things with that slack-jawed dongs look. I don't know what it is about the artists on this, but they seem inordinately fond of drawing people with their mouths really wide open.
I'll also take a second here to note that I think they do a really good job on the likeness of Maurice Dean Wint here. It's a nice touch, given how hit-or-miss the art has been so far.
Dread resorts to using weapons they descibe as OASes, short for "Obsolete Armored Shell". Or maybe it's not Dread. I can't really tell, and they never go back and explain what the deal was.
Dread's forces eventually retreat, but Cap and Company can't find the professor, so they all pile into the Power Jet XT-7 for some reason and fly home. I think this officially gives the Power Jet more screen-time in the comics than it has in the show.
Back at base, Cap takes off his helmet, but remains in-costume, which is a little weird, since in the show, he'd be about an hour past the maximum charge on his suit by now. He makes plans to go visit his dad's grave, and we get a nice close shot of him without his helmet on, and for the first time, he's actually recognizably based on Tim Dunnigan. I wish I could say the same for Hawk, but at no point in this comic does Hawk look anything like Peter MacNeill. At first, I thought maybe he was modeled after Hawk in the original trailer, but that Hawk was younger, and looked kinda like Stephen Collins in Star Trek 1. No, Hawk seems to look inexplicably like Reed Richards. And while we're on the subject, what's up with Pilot's forehead in this shot? Humans do not have that much head above their eyes.
The dialogue across this bit is so weird that I had to check both copies to make sure I hadn't lost a page somewhere. First, Pilot says "His father?" to which Hawk answers, "S'a long story, kid. The Captain goes back to see his dad every year about this time. (Ominous pause) Back to the grave." What's with the melodrama here? And, really, is it that long of a story? The story here is "His father is dead. He visits his grave once a year." Surely, the concept of having lost a family member and mourning them doesn't require a lenghty explanation in this post-apocalyptic hellscape.
Weirder still, we get the exchange in the picture above. I didn't cut anything out -- this is literally the next panel after Hawk says "Back to the graveAnd what's the deal with that anyway? "He goes back... Back to the grave" is the sort of thing you'd say if Cap were a zombie. And clearly, this is not that kind of apocalypse.." I don't even know quite how to parse it. It's like Pilot is just cottoning on to the fact that "Power" is actually Cap's family name, and not just a superhero alias. The best I can figure out is that she recognizes Stuart Power's name and has just realized that he's Cap's father. Though this doesn't work on several levels: first, wouldn't this have come up the first time they talked to Mentor? More immediately, why would the fact of Cap having a dead father lead her to reach some previously unrecognized conclusion. It's just a very strange way to set up the scene, and the only real point to it is to give
Ra's Al GhulHawk an opening to refer to Cap's dad as "The Monster Maker".
We cut to Volcania, where Dread is chewing out Drucker and Soaron for their failure. And in contrast to normal supervillain rules, he decides that rather than give his failed underling another critical assignment, he's just going to off him. Overmind talks Dread down, ordering him to digitize Drucker rather than kill him outright. Overmind chastizes Dread for letting his emotions get the better of him. This is sort of an ironic little scene, because one of the big reveals intended for the second season was that this whole digitization thing was just something Overmind did to keep Dread on-board; Overmind would just as soon exterminate the human race. We get a close shot of Dread, the only time in the book where he actually looks show-accurate. Extremely show-accurate, in fact. This is also the facing-page for that close-up of Cap I mentioned before. One thing that they do really well here is this parallel scene composition thing, showing heroes and villains on facing pages in similar poses in juxtaposition. It's a neat effect and handled pretty well. Also, I love how Drucker is just standing there with a look of Dull Surprise on his face. You know, Dread's all like "You will pay with your life" and then Overmind is like "No, not death, just digitization (hey, have you forgotten that being digitized is a fate worse than death?)" and he's just sort of standing there. He's not trying to run, he's not even crying. Just dull surprise.
Suitably inspired, Hawk launches us into the flashback that makes up the bulk of the second half of the issue. Hawk tells of the Metal Wars, how industry produced robot soldiers which made war "palatable", leading to countries declaring war at the drop of a hat, as is illustrated by a sequence where apparently the east coast of the US declares war on the west coast. Which is just silly; we all know that what would really happen is that Real America in the middle would declare war on those latte-drinkin' sissies on both coasts.
We learn that "limited" war was all the rage, televised on network TV under the assumption that the robots would just duke it out on their own leaving humans to go about their business. Everything went up the spout, though, when the robot battles spilled out of the designated war zones and into occupied areas. Robot soldiers and weapons would demolish buildings to deny cover to the enemy, blissfully unconcerned about the humans inside, such as this cowering family about to meet their maker. Man, and I thought the TV version was dark. Nice touch having the little boy shout "Mommy!" as their apartment building is bombed into rubble around them.
War stopped being "fun", but for some reason or other (Hawk is vague on this point), no one was able to just turn the war machines off (It sort of sounds like it's just the prisoner's dilemma: whichever side turns their robots off first loses). The cities are defenseless, we're told, because all the world's nuclear weaons had been destroyed years earlier. Damn you Superman IV! You short-sighted fool!
Hawk finally gets around the the point of this flashback, telling how Stuard Power and Lyman Taggart, played here by Doctor Strange and Jerry Lewis, had a vision of achieving peace through technology, so they built a robot-controllin' machine called "Overmind". While Power wants to test it more, Taggart is anxious to go ahead and switch the thing on. And what's with Taggart's character art here? He doesn't even look like the same person from one panel to the next. First he's Jerry Lewis, then he's Gilbert Gotfrey, then he's Darren McGavin, then he kind of looks like the professor guy from the first page.
He turns on the machine, which treats us to Taggert's O-face as he's overcome with pain as "The machine cuts me... to... my... soul! And fills me with the precision of the machine!" It also burns off the side of his face, so now he's got a Harvey Dent thing going on. I don't know what purpose this serves in the comic; in the show, Taggart isn't disfigured until much later, during his final battle with Stuart Power. Here, he'll wear bandages for the rest of the flashback, though he won't get his artificial hand before the end of the second issue.
A somewhat confused little montage shows us that Taggart gains control over all the machines, and summons them to serve him. Power organizes a resistance, based around everyone going their separate ways and finding "their own strengths" and "special talents". It's kind of hokey, like he's setting up audtions for the JLA. "Sorry, Sea-Person, we've already got three guys whose gimmick is controlling the creatures of the oceans. We're also all stocked up on Fire, Air and Heart."
The next two pages are kind of a mess, divided between a two half-page spread of a battlefield that's mostly laser blasts and people's backs, and smaller panels showing pretty much the same thing in miniature.
Lord Dread constructs his private techno-volcano in DetroitI think this is the closest thing we get to official acknowledgement of where Volcania is., and I really love the look of simple pleasure on his face as he watches his union construction crew knock a Detroit sign down on him.
With his new base built and "Power levels at maximum," they "BEGIN THE CREATION". Which seems to involve Dread humping one of those transporter pods from The Fly.
We cut back to a younger Hawk, whose duties had "taken him from the battlefield." Those duties involve pressing the clicker on a garage remote. We then show some young, boyishly handsome fellow fighting robots with a sword. By which I mean he's got a sword, though he does all his fighting in the form of implausibly high kicks. The scene is kind of a mess, just shots of the as-yet unnamed character mid-kick and robots exploding, often against a blank background. The scene is broken up with panels of Dread on his knees raving about the "Seed of the machine." Eew. And if this is supposed to be a flashback that Hawk is telling to Pilot, where's the stuff in Volcania coming from? Hawk wouldn't know the details of Soaron's creation.
This all gives way to the next pair of facing pages where we have another of those great juxtapositions, on the left, Soaron emerging from his birthing matrix. This is a great, full-page shot, with a lot of attention to detail that really seems to capture both Soaron's menace, and also a real sense of something like joy at suddenly finding himself alive.
Juxtaposed on the facing page is the hero from the last scene, now revealed to be a young Jonathan Power, smoke curling up around him(It kinda looks like his hair is on fire) as he poses with his sword and gun held high, gleeful in his triumph over the training robots. Just as the last page showed us the birth of Dread's ultimate weapon, Soaron, this page is really showing us the "birth" of the resistance's greated hero, Captain Power. In the background, Wolverine and Rex Harrison from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir look on in pride.
Hawk narrates us out of the flashback, and we cut to Cap, landing in an "anonymous graveyard in the Land of the Enslaved". No idea what he's flying. I assume it's meant to be the Power Jet, and the phoenix logo is visible on the canopy, but it actually looks like a Dread Interceptor that's been painted white. I'm kind of curious who makes these headstones and tends the graveyard, what with the whole "apocalypse" thing. Interesting bit of trivia here too, as Stuart Power's gravestone isn't quite legible, you can make out part of the birth year, and it's in the twenty-first century, possibly 2024, which would make him awfully old even if they're using the originally-scripted 2099 setting, making him about 60 when he died, and putting him in his forties when Johnathan was born. Not impossible by any stretch, but pretty surprising.
As Cap fills his dad's grave in on the plot about Professor Malenkov, and about their new friend Pilot, we cut back to Volcania, where Dread charges Soaron with a mission to ambush Cap at the graveyard, and insists that, "I want him I find this sort of interesting; it seems to be a theme in this comic that where Overmind and Dread differ, it's largely because Dread gives in to his violent emotions and demands someone's death, while Overmind considers that wasteful and prompts for digitization instead. In the show, when Dread falls short of the machine ideals, it's because he has a sudden stab of compassion, choosing to let someone go rather than digitize or kill themdead!" And so we end on Soaron, bowing to his master and swearing to kill Captain Power.
This comic... It's a mixed bag, really. The art, taken on its own, is pretty good, at least for the slower, dramatic scenes. There's a lot of well-composed scenes where the frames are laid out to show parallels between the heroes and the villains. But when you consider it all together, it's not as sunny; although the art is always pretty good, there's no consistency to it; characters look radically different from one panel to the next, with Lyman Taggart/Lord Dread being the worst offender. Cap switches back and forth between two very different depictions -- again, I'm wondering if some of the art was based on Dunnigan and other parts were based on the original trailer. The only character who's drawn consistently is Hawk, but he looks nothing like he did in the show.
And while the slower, more dramatic scenes are well-done, the action sequences are a chaotic mess. They're too dense around the edges, with too much space at the center taken up with people's backs and blaster-fire. It's hard to tell what's going on, especially when they jump around in the flashbacks.
The story itself is also a mixed bag. I love that we get a detailed backstory about the Metal Wars. The episode that this comic is based on focuses much more closely on the personal story of Cap and his father; we never really get to see what the Metal Wars were all about.
But on the other hand, backstory isn't the same thing as story, and the entire second half of this comic is essentially a long-form backstory infodump. There's hardly any narrative, just a sort of montage showing Dread's empire arising and the human resistance forming. The character of Malenkov is introduced early on, talked up as the possible savior of mankind, then ignored until the last page. We have a long action sequence at the beginning that doesn't really accomplish anything, and is there mostly to introduce the caracters -- though even then, we don't get to see Pilot or Scout really do anything that gives us a sense of what their characters are about. And we never learn what was up with the "Obsolete Armored Shells" being dropped on them.
In all, as much as I liked having the story of the Metal Wars shown for us, for a first issue, I think it would have felt a lot tighter if we'd been given a condensed, text-only summary of the events in the second half of this comic on the inside cover, and used those pages instead to show us Cap and his team working together, getting on with the actual plot. There's a reason that the episode this was adapted from came in the second half of the season: we needed to see these characters doing their thing first so that we'd have a reason to care about them and about this world, so that we'd want to know how Dread's empire came about and how Cap and the others came to be Soldiers of the Future.
Storywise, I think it's a good tie-in; it expands and enriches the world of the show, rather than being a direct adaptation of one episode. Folks who hadn't watched the show probably aren't the target market for this. But in that case, it's even more grating when they make changes from the show continuity and can't even get the characters to look quite right. If you're a fan and you don't already have it, there are a surprising number of copies available on ebay, for roughly what you would have paid for them new, adjusted for inflation.
Many, but not all of my issues with this comic are fixed in issue number 2, and we'll take a look at that one next time. See you next mission.