Category Archives: Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

An episode-by-episode analysis of the short-lived 1987 Post-Apocalyptic Children’s Adventure series “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future”

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future: Index

It has been a long road, but we’re finally done on our look back over Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. For the sake of posterity, I’ve collected all the posts here.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Episodes

  1. The Future! The Shiny Neon Future!: Shattered (October 2011)
  2. Yippie-ti-yi-yo, Get Along Wardoggies: Wardogs (November 2011)
  3. Old Soldiers Don’t Die, They Just Get Digitized: The Abyss (November 2011)
  4. Our Last, Best Hope for Kool-Aid: Final Stand (December 2011)
  5. For in that Sleep of Death, What Dreams May Come: Pariah (June 2014)
  6. She Blinded me With Science: A Fire in the Dark (June 2014)
  7. I Am He as You Are He as You Are Me: The Mirror in Darkness (July 2014)
  8. Don’t Even Fix a Price: The Ferryman (August 2014)
  9. Gonna Lay Down my Burden, Down by the Riverside: And Study War No More (August 2014)
  10. Broke Into the Old Apartment: The Intruder (September 2014)
  11. The Only Choice We’re Given is How Many Megatons: Flame Street (September 2014)
  12. I’m Starting With the Man In the Mirror: Gemini and Counting (November 2014)
  13. I Can’t Control the Beast That is My Anger: And Madness Shall Reign (November 2014)
  14. Who am I? 24601!: Judgment (November 2014)
  15. So Long Ago, Certain Place, Certain Time: A Summoning of Thunder Part 1 (December 2014)
  16. But if Our Paths Never Cross, Well You Know I’m Sorry But: A Summoning of Thunder Part 2 (December 2014)
  17. Heading Out to Eden, Yea, Brother: The Eden Road (January 2015)
  18. I Heard You On The Wireless Back in ’52: Freedom One (February 2015)
  19. Light the Sky and Hold on Tight: New Order Part 1: The Sky Shall Swallow Them (February 2015)
  20. The World is Burning Down: New Order Part 2: The Land Shall Burn (February 2015)
  21. You Know the Rules: Retribution Part 1 (March 2015)
  22. And So Do I: Retribution Part 2 (March 2015)

Captain Power Comics

  1. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Issue 1 (October 2012)
  2. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Issue 2 (December 2014)
  3. The Captain Power Annual (March 2015)

The Voice of the Resistance: Obscure Contemporaries of Captain Power

  1. Introduction / The Rose of Yesterday (September 2014)
  2. Second Chance (September 2014)
  3. Out of this World (October 2014)
  4. Max Headroom: Twenty Minutes into the Future (October 2014)
  5. Probe (October 2014)

Captain Power Miscellanea

  1. The Captain Power DVD (January 2012)
  2. The original Captain Power demo reel (June 2012)
  3. The Captain Power reboot (September 2012)
  4. The Training Videos (December 2014)
  5. Season 2 and Epilogue (April 2015)

Deep Ice: Adaptations of The War of the Worlds

  1. The Mercury Theater’s War of the Worlds (October 2014)
  2. War of the Worlds: Breaking News (January 2015)
  3. WKBW’s War of the Worlds (January 2015)
  4. The Great Martian War 1913-1917 (January 2015)
  5. War of the Worlds: Goliath (February 2015)
  6. The War of the Worlds 1953 (March 2015)
  7. George Pal’s War of the Worlds TV Series pitch (March 2015)

So glad we almost made it, so sad they had to fade it (Captain Power: Epilogue)

It is May 16, 2013. The last episode of the US remake of The Office airs. David Beckham announces his retirement. Pope Francis calls for global economic reform in the face of the “tyranny” of financial speculation. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hold the top position on the Hot 100 with “Can’t Hold Us”. Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks”, which will later be my son’s favorite song, is number 6 on the Rock chart, part of a weird little movement where everything on the Rock top ten sounds kinda like a sea shanty: “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers, “Carry On” by fun., and two songs by Imagine Dragons also chart.

But we’re not really here for the music. There’s a movie opening at midnight tonight. It’s pretty hard for me to see a theatrical release these says, what with the one-year-old. I’ve made my peace with that. The last one was fine, I liked it well enough, but it didn’t really ignite my inner fanboy, so I’m okay with waiting until this one is on Netflix. So let’s talk a little more about where it all started…

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I guess the reason I started this series, so many years ago, was because — actually, you know what? I’m not sure why. I mean, we could posit a world where Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was an obscure piece of television history that hasn’t already been exhaustively covered by people with way more scholarly cred and dedication to keeping to a schedule than me, but we don’t live in that world. There’s plenty of apocalyptic science fiction for me to have chosen from when I started out down this path. I guess at some level, I wanted to take a more jaded, cynical look at the first season of Captain Power because I think we lose sight now, after seven seasons and three spin-offs and several feature films, just how precarious things were at first.

Do you remember Star Trek? Influential cult science fiction series from the ’60s. They did a bunch of movies in the ’80s that were pretty good. And at the same time as Captain Power‘s first season was airing, they actually made a new TV series out of that. The called it, Star Trek the Next Generation, which seems like a kind of awkwardly on-the-nose name, but who are we to talk, right? After “Retribution” aired, there were still six more episodes of that left to run, at least one of which was pretty good. But it sort of petered out. Star Trek the Next Generation‘s series finale, “The Neutral Zone“, aired twenty-five years ago today, on May 16, 1988 (Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine hold the number one spot with “Anything For You”; SCOTUS rules trash can be searched without a warrant; Surgeon General Admiral(In an utterly bizarre twist, the Public Health Corps is a uniformed service, and therefore the Surgeon General is by definition an officer, holding the rank of Vice Admiral) C. Everett Koop issues a report saying nicotine is as addictive as heroin.). It’s kind of a snore, though maybe you can see them backpedaling a bit on the arrogance that made this season so unlikeable: the plot involves a little cadre of 20th century humans the Enterprise finds in suspended animation, and though it looks like they’re going to do the whole “Boy is our audience a bunch of backwards savages,” with the suave ’80s venture capitalist being shown as useless and obsolete in this post-scarcity society, he ends up redeeming himself as his business sense lets him see through some Romulan posturing, which is helpful because it’s not like the Enterprise has a telepath in its senior staff or anything. Mostly, the episode is just sequel bait, though, with the cryonauts and the Romulans mostly being there to set up a mystery involving stolen colonies on the edge of Federation and Romulan space. If they’d been renewed, I assume they’d have gotten into that next season. Probably somehow related to the flue-gill parasites from last week’s “Conspiracy”.

But, of course, there was no second season for Star Trek. After the resounding “meh” that the first season had generated, the admittedly sizable fanbase just couldn’t get worked up enough to fight for this one. Not all of them had been on-board in the first place, with this idea of trying to do Star Trek without its iconic 1960s characters, and this just seemed to prove it: maybe there was still something they could wring out of the unexplored corners of the existing franchise, but there just wasn’t a viable way forward for that universe. When 1989’s Star Trek V flopped, that was pretty much it for the franchise.

I hope this series of essays has given you some sense of how close we came to seeing Captain Power face that same fate — as bad as Star Trek the Next Generation was, I don’t think it was worse on average than the episodes of Captain Power that aired around the same time. Heck, a modern fan would be hard pressed to even recognize that first season — the whole show changes when they find their footing in the third season. It’s even literally a different show, as they change the title from Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future to Captain Power: The Phoenix. We like to joke that you can pretty much tell when it becomes the show we know today when Tim Dunigan grows a beard. Of course, switching to an hour-long format helped too.

But that sea-change didn’t come out of nowhere. You can absolutely see the show growing up over the second season. In the fall of 1988, Captain Power returned with its opening two-parter, “Vendetta”, which really sets the tone for the whole season. That sense of gravitas that I always said was conspicuous in its absence? Deprived of the Power Base, and with Cap clearly coming unglued over the death of Pilot, we finally see the team acting like they actually comprehend the stakes. And the format change helps a lot too: there’s only two single-parters this season. “Vendetta” and the two-part finale “Code Name: Ranger”/”The Observer” feel very much like hour-long episodes that have just been split down the middle — “Vendetta”, of course, originally aired in a special hour-long block. Those two really prefigure the way the show will work in the hour-long format from Season 3 onward, but so too does the rest of the season. “The Archers” and “The Blood-Dimmed Tide” are very much in the tradition of the television serial. It reminds me a lot of old British shows like The Tomorrow People or the original Doctor Who: each part is structured with a beginning, middle, and end, but each beginning, middle and end are still only parts of a larger story.

Captain PowerIt’s not perfect at this stage; there’s a strong impulse in serials like these to have every episode end on a “cliffhanger”, on the misguided theory that people are only going to tune in next week because they are seriously entertaining the fear that it’ll turn out that the protagonist of the series dies from the seemingly-inescapable death trap he was in last time. This is just painful, say, in episode 4 of “The Archers”, which ends with Hawk’s suit failing while he’s flying over a plasma storm. Episode 5, predictably, starts with Hawk just switching it back on. On the upside, though these are pretty much the only times in the season that they fall back on season 1’s favorite trick of “It turns out that he wasn’t as badly hurt as it seemed.”

This serial format, I’ll note, was a really weird thing to do on American TV of the period. They’d done it a bit back in the ’60s with the Adam West Batman, sure, but the dominant model of US TV at the time was completely stand-alone. The idea of having plots that stretched from week to week just didn’t jive well with the syndication model of TV distribution, where episodes could be aired out of order or preempted at random. The only real exceptions were soap operas. And to a certain extent, what you had with Captain Power was a collision of cult science fiction with some of the motifs of the soap opera: not just a continuing storyline, but also an increasing sense that everyone existed in one coherent world with elements that stuck around to grow and change over time. The loss of the wormhole system from the first season makes the second a lot more geographically grounded. The Jumpship crashes in a forest explicitly near Toronto at the end of Vendetta, and it’s not until “The Observer” that they move on. I’ve read that the original treatments called for “The Blood-Dimmed Tide” to be set on a nonspecific tropical island, and boy am I glad they rewrote that.

There are basically two season-long plot threads for season two. Right from the start of “Vendetta”, we find out that Captain Power’s dad had built a second Power Base somewhere in northern Canada, and for our heroes, this season is about them trying to locate and get to it. For the other side, it’s “Project Rebirth”, which on the face of it is just Project New Order Redux. The punch-line, such as it is, is the introduction of Xenon, the third Bio-Dread Warlord, “Fire” to Soaron’s “Air” and Blastarr’s “Earth”.

Obviously, this calls for a new “Specialist”-type Soldier of the Future, and that’s Private Chip “TNT” Morrow, formerly Andy Jackson from “The Intruder”. Space Sheriff Garvan Captain Power CrossoverThis is a character archetype I never really like, but he does grow on me a bit, especially when we get a little more character focus on him in the later seasons, and we get to see that yes, he actually does have some issues with the fact that, after he’d worked so hard to earn a place on the team, he was ultimately given a Power Suit on a whim because Cap wasn’t thinking clearly — Chip’s introduction marks the point where the relationship between Captain Power and Hawk starts to break down, with Cap increasingly turning to the reckless and less experienced Chip instead of the old friend who’s level-headed enough to curb Cap’s growing excesses; Cap pretty much steals one of the spare Power Suits and gives it to Chip because everyone else has more sense than to go on a suicide mission to murder Locke.

I wish there were more to say in the context of season 2 about the other new addition to the team, Christine “Ranger” O’Connor, but she doesn’t really come into her own until next season. I will say this, though: it would have been far too easy to just write her straight-up as a replacement Pilot, and they don’t. Although we don’t get any character focus episodes this season (“Code Name: Ranger” is a really brilliant misdirect; its first act is clearly setting up a Ranger-focused episode, but she’s essentially sidelined after the first commercial break with the reveal of the Observers), they spend enough time with her, particularly in “The Blood-Dimmed Tide”, to really distinguish her. I mean, Pilot was tragically under-used in the first season — she’s fairly generic even in her own character focus episodes — but they go out of their way with Ranger to play up the fact that she’s far less sheltered and starry-eyed than Pilot ever was, and her budding relationship with Tank (though it never does go anywhere during the original series) serves to contrast Pilot’s difficulty with expressing her feelings: Ranger is one of those really delightfully forward female characters that nerdy men sometimes write basically because they’ve always wished that girls would just freaking tell them when they’re interested.

We finally get Scout’s big character focus episode too, the rather unfortunately titled “Face of Darkness”. Looking back at what eventually happens to his character when Maurice Dean Wint left the series at the beginning of season 4, you could be excused for seeing the writing on the wall here, the way we finally get to see some depth behind the silly voices and get a real sense that, yes, there’s a person underneath who is having actual human-like reactions to the horror around him. Maurice Dean WintWe get the man who wears every face juxtaposed with someone who, effectively, doesn’t have one at all. Now, I got a chance once to read a draft version of the script. The draft feels very much like a good first-season episode: a bit rushed around the edges, but with a solid emotional core that is somewhat undercut by a big old problematic-as-hell wart in the middle. The biggest change in the aired version is Scout’s big Kirk-Speech at the climax. In the draft, it’s got an uncomfortable sense of victim-blaming as he comes very close to calling Mindi responsible for her own alienation. The tonal shift of the second season serves this story very well: in the aired version, Scout’s speech is a lot more introspective, and you really get the sense that he knows from experience what it’s like to feel the need to hide behind a false face (In the draft, Mindi wears a hood rather than a mask to hide her disfigurement, another really adroit change).

Morganna 2But of course, the big thing this season, the thing that really shapes the future of the series, is Morganna II. She’s referenced all the way back in “Vendetta”, but she doesn’t appear in the “flesh” until “A Passion Formed in Steel”, yet her palpable absence haunts the season. And when she’s introduced, it’s as Lord Dread’s lover — what at first seems to be a flashback to a pre-war Taggart is revealed to be cybersex. This is shocking all on its own — and let’s face it, anything trying to depict network computing in 1998 is going to be pretty silly; the Cyber-Dens of Flame Street are a far cry from the modern interociter I’m dictating this essay on. But remember, we’re talking about the Season 2-4 version of Dread, the one whose only visible human flesh is the one eye. This is the farthest Lord Dread ever gets from his humanity; his shocking heel-face-turn in “The Worst of Both Worlds” is a whole season away. I know they retconned this later, but if you read any of the interviews from the summer of ’88, there’s no question: Morganna was originally meant to have the mind and appearance of Cap’s mother. So here, when Lord Dread has allegedly — and he’s been living up to it so far this season — shed the last vestiges of his humanity, we see him using cyberspace to recreate himself as Lyman Taggart and bone his best friend’s wife. I’d suggest, if you take into account her interaction with Dread in season 3, it’s Morganna who is the catalyst for his ultimate decision to attempt to reclaim his lost humanity, leading to the arc through season 4 where, in a real sense, he becomes the effective protagonist, with most of the story focusing on his attempts to make peace with Captain Power, building up to his ultimate decision to reject both Cap and Overmind as both being too extreme, and creating a third side in the conflict.

Which makes it all the stranger that Morganna doesn’t ever have a heel-face-turn of her own; she remains 100% Team Overmind for the rest of the series. We never even really lean what she is. Sure, it’s widely understood that she’s some kind of Terminator-style robot, with fake flesh over a crunchy metal center, but they never actually say that, and the special effects sequence when she switches in and out of her human form is ambiguous at the least.

All this builds up to the season finale, which is basically a clip show. Yeah, I don’t like clip shows to begin with, and this certainly isn’t as good as “The Worst of Both Worlds” or “Dread”/”Taggart”, but the framing device of the Observers, particularly the new linking sequences they shot to insert clips of Observer One into earlier stories, is really clever, and it tries out some of the storytelling techniques JMS would perfect later in the spin-off series The Phoenix Banner: Babylon 5‘s season four finale, “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”. (And what a wonderful parallel it is, too, since it’s here that they finally reveal, years later, who the Observers were — season 2 implies them to be from Eden II, but the whole thing gets dropped by the end of season 3, and it’s only years later in an entirely different show that we learn the Observers were Vorlons the whole time).

Captain Power-Babylon 5 Crossover

But really, just talking about what happens in the episodes isn’t doing justice to the legacy of Captain Power‘s second season. This is really when the show worked out what kind of show it was, and in a very real sense, it set the tone for science fiction TV in the 1990s. See, around this time, television makers were starting to cotton on to the power of fandoms. And in their usual mercenary way, this meant that they saw fandoms as a way to extract money from nerdy twentysomethings who were free to dump every penny they earned on swag, since they didn’t have wives or children or mortgages. There was a serious danger of Science Fiction on TV becoming sort of insular and pandering — Science Fiction shows of the 1960s and 1970s lived or died on mass appeal. Virtually every single one of them failed because they failed to attract a following among “ordinary” folks. But can you imagine what would have happened if Star Trek the Next Generation had survived? There’s nothing in that show’s single season to attract anyone who wasn’t already deeply committed to Star Trek. It would have ushered in an era where you could make and market science fiction specifically for consumption by a smallish group of dedicated followers rather than for the general public. Science Fiction would have become “cult”, shoehorning everything into over-signified master narratives ripped straight out of Joseph Campbell.

We got this instead: Captain Power was always pitched as a kid’s show. But I just got through telling you that one of the major antagonistic forces in the narrative is introduced in a sex scene. This wouldn’t have computed by the logic of anything that came before. Kids’ shows hardly ever got the respect they deserved, just an abiding belief that children were stupid and undiscerning, so there was no need for anyone to try too hard to make shows that didn’t suck ass. But of course, Captain Power didn’t work like that; it was something altogether stranger: a “kids’ show” for the whole family. This wasn’t a show for mom and dad to set the kids in front of then go off about their own business. This was a “Family dinner in the living room in front of the TV” show. It wasn’t ever really a properly “adult” show, but it was a show adults could and did enjoy. This is a thing that hadn’t really happened in American TV like this, not with any deliberation. You had “adult shows” with broad kid appeal, things like MacGyver and Knight Rider, but the most you had in the other direction was “Sesame Street occasionally throws a bone to the parents so they don’t kill themselves some time around hour 7 of Elmo’s Greatest Hits”.

It reminds me of the great legacies of British TV in the 1970s, shows like The Tomorrow People, and of course Doctor Who: a bit of “teatime brutality” that had enough of a plot to keep adults engaged, and enough action and silly faffing about for the kids. With a serial structure to keep people coming back week after week. And it won. Captain Power became the dominant model for science fiction TV in the 90s: fantasy that targeted the entire family, where an individual episode’s plot was simple enough for a child to follow, arranged into arcs that the adults could appreciate. I mean, obviously, between The Phoenix Banner: Babylon 5 and its sequel series, The Phoenix Banner: Crusade, you have a big chunk of the ’90s where Captain Power and its spin-offs are the powerhouses of the genre, but you can see its influence as the genre evolved, say, in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, an adaptation of a pretty camp comic vampire film, which recast it as serious drama, taking advantage of the season-long arc structure Power pioneered.  And of course, it’s fitting that in 1996, Doctor Who, which had died in its original form just as Captain Power was taking off, got an American revival that ran for eight seasons. I can’t imagine an American-made Doctor Who having succeed if it were born out of the Star Trek tradition; the whole thing would have been laden down with pointless continuity references and given the Doctor some kind of Campbellian hero’s journey and just been a pile of largely disconnected scenes that screamed “EPIC, ISN’T IT?” at the audience rather than telling a story. They’d probably have gotten someone young and dashing to play The Doctor rather than Hugh Laurie.

Hugh Laurie

That, then, is the legacy of Captain Power‘s success. A decade of Science Fiction shows which straddled the line between a kid’s show and an adult show. Those kids’ show sensibilities held in check the general trend of the ’90s to be Darker and Edgier and more Extreme, really giving us the best of both worlds. I shudder to think where shows like Dark Skies or Sliders would have ended up if they’d actually tried to take themselves entirely seriously. Or something like The X-Files. Can you imagine what that would be like if, say, the focus had been on those two FBI agents and not their wacky conspiracy-nut groupies?

Captain Power: Phoenix RisingOf course, the pendulum swings back over time. It’s a good thing; you had folks like Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin and JJ Abrams finding a way forward for properly “adult” TV to incorporate (and to a certain degree, perfect) the techniques that those family-aimed ’90s shows had developed. But I miss it. I saw the 2009 reboot, and it was… Good. Seeing Soaron rendered with twenty-first century technology was amazing, and I thought it was delightfully cheeky for them to introduce Stingray only to kill him off in act 2. Plus, the whole thing having been engineered by a time-traveling Tim Dunigan!Cap to bring Pilot back to life was a really clever twist. And yes, I know that after the prequel series The Metal Wars flopped, most people thought the franchise had run its course (Let’s face it, Scott Bakula is no Bruce Gray). But ultimately, it just didn’t do it for me; those kids’ show sensibilities were gone (Which I should have seen coming when they announced that they’d changed the title to something less silly), and the whole thing just felt a bit “ordinary” without it.

Phoenix RisingFrom the trailers, it’s pretty clear to me that Phoenix Rising Into Darkness is going to be similar. I’m sure it will be fine, just… A bit ordinary. Though if you get the chance, watch the Japanese trailer. There’s an extra bit at the end in that one. Spoiler Alert: I think they’re going to reenact Pilot’s death scene, but it looks like maybe Pilot and Cap’s roles will be reversed.

Can they pull it off? I don’t know. But here, in the nexus of all realities, all things, even this, are possible.

Power Down

 


This article owes most of its inspiration to Creators of History: Assignment: Earth, part of Josh Marsfelder’s Vaka Rangi.

And So Do I (Captain Power: Retribution, Part 2)

Previously…

Captain Power Episode 22A lackadaisical blogger decided to write a series of reviews about the failed 1980s post-apocalyptic children’s series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. With an emphasis on sight-gags and the ill-conceived idea of having Sherlock Holmes as a sidekick, he covered four episodes of the series before going on a two-and-a-half-year hiatus after the birth of his son. Cribbing some stylistic elements from Phil Sandifer’s Tardis Eruditorium, he resumed the blog in 2014, eventually ramping up to a weekly posting schedule, albeit one with frequent side-trips. In the mean time, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future turned 25, an occasion marked by the release of all 22 episodes on DVD, and followed shortly by the announcement of a planned reboot under the title Phoenix Rising.

And now, the conclusion…

It is March 27, 1988. Macho Man Randy Savage pins Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania IV. Brian Boytano wins the men’s figure skating championship at Budapest. The Grateful Dead play Hampton Coliseum in Virginia. Jesse Jackson becomes the frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primaries, defeating Michael Dukakis in the Michigan caucuses. Dick Gephardt drops out of the race to see who’s going to lose to George Bush. Next week, Beetlejuice will open in theaters. In the past week, McDonalds opened a restaurant in Yugoslavia, its first in a communist country. Rick Astley immediately caves on his promise and Gives (the top spot on the Billboard Charts) Up to the man in Michael Jackson’s mirror.

Supercarrier and Murder, She Wrote are new. NBC shows a new Lincoln biopic with Sam Waterston, ABC shows Tootsie. CBS shows a biopic starring Rick Schroeder as Calvin Graham, a husky 12-year-old who lied about his age to join the Navy in World War 2. Star Trek the Next Generation takes the week off, leaving Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future unopposed for what turned out to be its denouement.

Jessica Steen as Cpl. Jennifer "Pilot" ChaseLet’s get this out of the way right up-front, because it’s easier to talk about the first half of the episode without it hanging silently over out heads.  At the climax of this episode, Jennifer “Pilot” Chase dies, sacrificing herself to destroy the Power Base before Lord Dread can capture it. There. With the pretense of suspense out of the way, we can talk openly about how this episode unfolds and walks itself to its inevitable conclusion.

There is almost a kind of Greek Tragedy element to the final episode of Captain Power. When we left off last week, remember, Lord Dread had discovered the wormhole network our heroes use to reach the Power Base and Soaron has scanned the frequency key they use to access it. Which is to say, from the first minute of this episode, the end is already inevitable. Even if Captain Power and his friends knew how precarious their position was right now, it’s not clear they’d be able to do anything about it.

On the one hand, this can make for a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion: we already know going in that nothing Captain Power does in this episode is going to affect the outcome. And that’s been one of the biggest problems all season, that our heroes seem almost completely lacking in agency. We’re not going to end with the good guys storming the castle and a fateful one-on-one battle between Jonathan Power and Lord Dread.

But, of course, we did all that two weeks ago, and frankly, I was underwhelmed. There’s a shift in emphasis here, then. We’ve already had the big fateful confrontation. Captain Power invaded the very belly of the beast, took on Lord Dread in single combat, foiled his plans and left Volcania crippled. But that’s not going to be what the finale’s about: the finale is going to be about Lord Dread’s terrible vengeance.

David Hemblen as Lord DreadAnd this is ultimately a good thing. The big problem I had with “New Order”, dramatically speaking, is that it was too much of a curbstomp. Enough, in fact, that it starts to become unconscionable that Captain Power has let the war drag on this long: if his gang of five freedom fighters can waltz right into Dread’s throne-room and seize control of Volcania’s systems — even if it’s only for a few minutes — why didn’t they round up Cypher and Sands and Gundar and the rest five years ago and level the place?

This episode has an answer of sorts: namely, Dread’s been playing softball. While Lord Dread’s shown a repeated willingness to kill, it seems like — admittedly, they haven’t been entirely consistent about this — he overwhelmingly prefers to convert or digitize. And therefore he’s been holding back. He essentially said as much last week: he’d opted to focus on creating the “new order” rather than on wiping out the old one. The justification, then, that it’s only with the “ticking time bomb” of Icarus and Prometheus that Captain Power would finally go on the offensive is because even with Volcania in ruins, Dread is capable of launching a counterattack more devastating than anything we’ve seen.

Heroes, particularly superheroes, are of their nature supposed to be primarily reactive: Batman can’t just show up at the Joker’s hideout and beat him to death for “being a villain”, he has to wait until the Clown Prince has actually embarked on some kind of crime. Even in your classic Joseph Campbell Monomyth (Which Captain Power tacitly accepts at least insofar as it is rather shamelessly knocking off Star Wars), where the hero is on a quest to unseat the tyrannical power that rules over the land, the story arc itself is still largely reactive: the hero starts out by refusing the call to adventure until the Saruman scourges the Shire, The Kurgan kills Ramirez, Storm Troopers toast Uncle Owen or Lyman Taggart kills Captain Power’s daddy.

Villains act, heroes react, says the law of dramatic necessity. Thus, Captain Power can react to the Prometheus countdown by attacking Volcania, but he can’t just waltz in there on a Thursday and shoot Overmind with a bazooka.

All the same, these last four episodes seem like something of a reversal, don’t they? The lack of any sort of meaningful tension in “New Order” makes the whole “Ticking time bomb” ring false. That story essentially opens with Captain Power learning the vital piece of intelligence he needs to mount a major successful offensive against Dread, then mounting a major successful offensive against Dread. Meanwhile, the very title of this two-parter tells us that now it is Dread who is going to be doing the “reacting”: all season, we’ve been watching him try (and fail) to enact his masterplan. But now, he’s given up on that and is just going to get his revenge.

This is especially important because one of the biggest problems I’ve had with this series is how little seems to be at stake. We’re told that the whole world cowers under Dread’s oppressive rule and all, and Cap told us at the end of “The Land Shall Burn” that this was their first substantial victory against Dread. But does that ring true at all? In “Wardogs”, they destroyed Dread’s base and evaded his trap. In “Final Stand”, they rescued the townspeople before they could be digitized. In “Pariah”, they rescued the kid and cured the Pariah Virus. In “A Fire in the Dark”, they persuaded Jessica Morgan not to help Dread. In “The Mirror in Darkness” they unmasked Jason. In “The Ferryman”, they almost completely foil Charon. In “And Study War No More” they shut down the Styx toxin manufacturing in Haven. In “The Intruder”, they rescue Jim. In “Flame Street”, they escape with critical intelligence. In “Gemini and Counting” they steal a supply of flu vaccine. retribution204In “And Madness Shall Reign”, they completely foil Styx. In “Judgment”, they get key intelligence back to the Power Base and in “Freedom One” they capture Christine and foil the plot to capture the resistance leaders. Practically every episode ends with the heroes scoring at least a minor victory against Dread, and the only time Dread manages even a qualified victory is creating Blastarr in “The Ferryman” (Even then, it’s less a “victory” and more “One step shy of an utter rout”). I know, I know, kids’ show and all that baggage, but by this point in the series, Lord Dread seems to be ranking up there with Cobra Commander and Skeletor. I know we’re still half a decade away from David Xanatos, but look at, say, Megatron. He managed to pull off the whole, “Sure, Optimus Prime managed to foil my plan, but we still made forward progress before he did by stealing all this Energon,” thing. Lord Dread is far more in the vein of Dr. Claw, uselessly shouting, “I’ll get you, Captain Power, NEXT TIME!!!” at the end of every episode. We’ve never really seen the good guys lose anything — even the people who get digitized tend to be villainous. We really should have had Eyepatch-Cypher back in “Freedom One”.

Jessica Steen and Tim Dunigan That streak’s going to end here, though. After Dread gives a motivational speech to the Hitler Youth, we hop over the the Power Base. Captain Power visits Pilot in her room, where the music does its level best to fool us into thinking there is any chemistry at all between the two of them, as Cap gives an utterly emotionless speech about how much he appreciates and values her while they stand over her little shelf of unlicensed Captain Power collectibles, such as the Isaiah plaque from Haven and her Dread Youth hat from “Gemini and Counting”. Jessica Steen does her usual admirable job of using her eyes to do the acting since Straczynski can’t be bothered to give her any lines, but Dunigan feels especially low-key immediately after Lord Dread’s big emotional speech to the troops. Jessica Steen and Tim Dunigan do a commentary track for this episode on the DVD, and he doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with his performance here (He thinks the scene really works), so I’m going to assume that his flatness here is deliberate and pretend it’s confirmation of what I’ve been saying for months now, that Captain Power is meant to be profoundly emotionally crippled. Pilot starts to confess the Big Secret She’s Been Wanting To Tell Him For Some Time when Scout calls them to interrupt with a mission.

The episode from this point on is in large part an inversion of “New Order”, now that I think about it. The story sends our heroes once again to meet chain-smoking, bullet-shooting, mushroom-haired Locke, who sells them up-to-the-minute information on Dread’s troop movements, and throws in the highly time-sensitive tidbit that our old friend Cypher (who will not be appearing in this episode, more’s the pity. Also, Cap identifies him as the head of “The Angel City Resistance”, which I assume is meant to be Los Angeles, even though he was part of the “East Coast Resistance” last time), has been captured and they’ve got exactly one hour to rescue him while he’s being relocated to a secure facility.

Just like “The Sky Shall Swallow Them”, then, we’ve got Locke delivering intelligence to our heroes that leads to a ticking clock with Captain Power and his allies needing to act quickly before Lord Dread’s plan comes to fruition. I find myself really pleasantly surprised by just how cleverly this parallel is set up. It goes a long way to redeeming a lot of my issues with the “New Order” two-parter. Of course, we know from the outset how things are going to turn out this time. Any questioning of Locke’s veracity is short-circuited when a brief fight scene erupts with some mechs, who our heroes easily dispatch before saying their goodbyes to the data thief.

Captain Power Episode 22Literally the frame after Captain Power is off-screen, the camera pans over and an Overunit and some troopers appear behind Locke — there is absolutely no way Cap and Company could have missed them, but the fact that the rouse is this transparent almost becomes part of the charm. Or maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic because I’m on the last episode. The Overunit thanks Locke for selling out Cap and Company, and Locke decks him while expressing his own self-loathing. There’s no talk of payment as Locke departs unchallenged. That’s an especially nice touch. Given J. Michael Straczynski’s ham-and-anvil approach to morality at this stage in his career, I’d have expected Locke to be offered thirty pieces of silver. As the scene stands, though it’s not said outright, we can, if we want, assume that Locke was paid with his liberty. We’ve had more than enough examples by now to believe that the threat of digitization would break a better man than Locke.

Lord Dread orders Blastarr and a unit of troopers to sneak back through the wormhole when Captain Power arrives to rescue Cypher — they’ll secure the unguarded Power Base and gain all of Cap’s secrets: Mentor, the spare power suits, files on the resistance, Tank’s enormous collection of bodybuilder porn, the Stargate, everything. What Dread hasn’t anticipated, however, is that Cap has decided that the information from Locke is sufficiently important that they ought to take it straight back to base first, and, since they’ll be taking the jumpship into battle and will need their best pilot at the controls… Has decided to send Pilot back to the base anyway and let Hawk, the guy who’s more accustomed to flying solo, pilot the ship.

I gather that Jessica Steen had come to the decision to leave the show fairly early on. I don’t begrudge her this. Her character is really poorly served by the vast majority of episodes. Every time she’s on-screen, she’s wonderful, but it happens so rarely. And besides, the character of Pilot is a very sort of “tech” character. In her minor appearances, she’s usually fixing equipment or using her proton spanner to unlock something. While she mentions in her commentary that the technobabbling she learned for Captain Power helped her land a role as a space shuttle pilot in Michael Bay’s Armageddon, a look at the rest of her filmography suggests that playing an emotionally stunted young woman who is the one regular character to least often get a fight scene is almost uncannily avoiding her strengths as an actor. I have no idea who they’d have cast as her replacement if the series had been renewed, but given the general outline of the replacement character, “Ranger”, a passionate, cynical, “dark action girl”, you know who I’d strongly consider? Jessica Steen.

Peter MacNeill in Captain Power

This scene technically goes about two paragraphs down, but I am impatient to share the Peter MacNeill Facial Expression Goodness.

But if they did indeed have full warning of the need to write Pilot out, it’s strange how awkwardly set up this is. Namely, we have Pilot going off alone on a hoverbike, and this is going to lead to a one-on-one fight with a BioDread. Meanwhile, Hawk’s going to be flying the jumpship, and when it’s inevitably damaged, he’s going to be the one fixing it while everyone else goes off for a fight scene. This is exactly backwards from how these characters have been used so far this season. And after Hawk’s close call and its surprising lack of payoff in “The Land Shall Burn”, I wonder if there was some stage in development here where the roles were reversed, and the intention was to send Hawk back to the Power Base for a final, deadly confrontation.

Captain Power Episode 22Whatever the case, Cap promises to continue that talk they were having later, again, utterly failing to convey any emotion. Pilot sets off for home on her bike while the others head for “Sector 9”. As they emerge, Hawk, having missed the memo that Star Wars references were three weeks ago, shouts, “It’s a trapAdmiral Ackbar!” as they’re attacked by this ugly quad-copter looking airship thing. When Cap realizes that the enemy ship has entered the gate, he finally shows a little emotion as he shouts for Hawk to get them back into the gate. Just like in “The Ferryman”, it’s messing with Cap’s stuff that really gets him riled up.

At the Power Base, Mentor declares the disk they got from Locke to contain nothing of note, giving Pilot a two-second warning of the trap they’re in, because Blastarr and his troops are inside the Power Base by now. She’s able to contact Captain Power, who tells her to “Hang procedure!” because you can’t say “Fuck” on broadcast TV, and blow the place up immediately. She sets the self-destruct, but first makes a backup of Mentor and grabs the spare Power Suits. Later, they will say this is because she was a rebellious sort who didn’t like to follow orders. I think it would have been better if they’d acknowledged that it was because she was a by-the-book, non-rebellious sort who always followed standard evacuation procedures, since, y’know, it would have actually reflected the character she’s been playing for 22 episodes.

Tim Dunigan does his best at ACTING!, first with his desperate pleas for Pilot to get out of the Power Base, then shouting at Hawk to get the Jumpship back in the air while he goes off to shoot some more troopers because we’re running out of time to get in any more fight scenes. Cap does mention the possibility of running back to base in the Power Jet, but it can’t be launched due to the damage the Jumpship has taken. It’s a bit annoying not to see the centerpiece of the toy line in the finale, but honestly, there’s just no room in the story for it anyway.

Captain Power Episode 22Just in case you missed the memo that they’re evil, scenes of Pilot packing up Mentor and turning on the self-destruct mechanism are intercut with the Troopers shooting up the other rooms in the Power Base. Careful checking of the past season worth of episodes should remind you, though, that the only other rooms we’ve ever seen are bedrooms. So we’re treated to clips of Biomechs shooting at beds. And, of course, symbolically blowing up Pilot’s swag table. Because Evil!

Lord Dread orders Blastarr to find the control room and stop the self-destruct, then channels a Batman Villain from the old Adam West series, because he reckons that Power’s final defeat is completely assured at this point even though Blastarr hasn’t actually found the control room yet, the only strategic information they’ve acquired is what color bedsheets Captain Power likes, and right now his Ground Guardian looks very strongly to be reenacting the role of Commander Torg from Star Trek IIIAnd this means that he thinks that he doesn’t actually need to watch the rest of the episode, and it’s a perfectly good time to take a nap — the suspended animation they’d mentioned last time that he’d be going into as part of his “upgrade” to a fully robotic form.Captain Power Episode 22 And that is how David Hemblen leaves the series, a few minutes ahead of the climax, in the middle of a fight scene, escorted out of the room by some troopers for his nap.

Cap and Tank finish off their own set of troopers just as Hawk finishes his makeshift repairs. Meanwhile, Blastarr shoots his way into the control room. If the Star Trek III parallels so far weren’t obvious enough, his incidental music even kind of sounds like the Klingon theme. He shoots the place up.Bruce Gray in Captain Power As Mentor’s tube is destroyed, I swear to God, it kinda looks like he flips Blastarr off. He blows up the Christmas Tree, because symbolism. He even blows up the spiral staircase. It collapses onto a chair, which apparently is how you disable the self-destruct mechanism, because we cut to Pilot in the hangar bay hearing the cancellation announcement. I think if I were constructing a secret base from which to run a resistance against a world-conquering psychopath, I would not design my self-destruct mechanism such that it would automatically shut off if someone shot at the controls. Just saying.

She launches the hoverbike on auto-pilot, then runs off to have a pitched fight with Blastarr and the troopers in the hallway. She singlehandedly kills the sixteen troopers, but takes a direct hit to the back and two to the chest from Blastarr. Which is actually pretty good given how many times he shoots at her, because Blastarr can’t aim for crap. Her power suit fails, but she manages to drag herself back to the control room, where Cap contacts her from the Jumpship.

This next scene is hard to watch without getting a little choked up. Even more so when you know that J. Michael Straczynski drew on his own real-life experiences in writing it. In a message board post on GEnie back in 1993, he revealed that he’d drawn inspiration from an incident in his own life when he’d tried — and failed — to talk a friend out of committing suicide over the phone.

Jessica Steen in Captain PowerRemember, this is 1988. This sort of thing does not happen. I mean, maybe if an actor died then when they came back from a break in filming they’d do an episode where everyone was in mourning, like with Mr. Hooper or Coach. Or if an actor got in a big fight with the producers they’d just be absent and never spoken of again. If the producers were really mad, maybe you’d end on the characters getting a telegram announcing that Colonel Blake’s plane had been shot down. But you didn’t actually kill a regular character on-screen. Even in the sort of show that killed people, if your name was in the titles, you were contractually immune from monsters of the week. It is March. We’ve still got a month before a sentient oil-slick effortlessly bitch-slaps Tasha Yar to death on Star Trek the Next Generation (Seriously, fuck that scene). This scene traumatized me a little, as a nine-year-old. It stuck with me for years. Even though he’s continued to be willing to kill off main characters, Straczynski has never really topped it in my opinion.

;There are only five minutes left in this show, including the credits, but they are determined to squeeze some emotion out of Tim Dunigan. There’s desperation and choked-back tears in his voice as begs for Pilot to hold on. Blood is running from the corner of her mouth and her voice falters as she warns them off. With the auto-destruct disabled, she’s left with no choice but to trigger an overload of the power source, which, shockingly, is a thing they alluded to way back in “The Ferryman”. Cap fumbles his words as he tries to protest that there’s another way.

There are things you can’t say in kids’ shows. Sometimes, this can be hilarious, such as one of my favorite lines from Power Rangers: “He who lives by the sword meets his doom by the sword.” As a small child, I’d gotten this idea that “oblivion” was some kind of pocket dimension where Megatron would send captured Autobots. But other times, this can be unintentionally chilling. For example, in The Sarah Jane Adventures “Day of the Clown”, they’re squeamish about having Oddbob outright kill the children he’s abducted over hundreds of years, but don’t want the logistical problem of his defeat leaving London full of temporally-displaced children freed from his pocket dimension, so they assert that the kidnapped children simply cease to exist over time. Sweet dreams!

As a child, this part confused me a little. It wasn’t like a few minutes were going to make any difference at this point, and if Cap had another way to destroy the base, why didn’t Pilot just wait for him? That’s because as a child, I didn’t understand what she says next.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future has not been one to hold strictly to kids’ show tradition, of course. They’ve identified people as dead before. But having Pilot outright say that she’s mortally wounded with any specificity was apparently a bridge too far. She says, “It’s too late. I’m all broken up inside.”

Cap is now visibly fighting back tearsTim Dunnigan as he begs her not to do it. Pilot confesses her love for Jon as Blastarr shoots his way in. “Goodbye. Think of me sometimes. Goodbye.”

Blastarr advances on her, orders her to surrender. “Go to hell,” she says. Her hand touches a control which glows brightly. A mountain that doesn’t look much like Cheyenne Mountain explodes. We cut in close on Captain Power’s face as he screams a Big No.

Captain Power: The Death of Pilot

I want to point out: there should be no doubt whatever that Pilot died here. It’s hard to explain just how clear this is. Because obviously, we don’t actually see her die: we just see the explosion from a distance. Blastarr is right there, and he has his arm up — it’s technically possible that he’s about to digitize her.

And yet, you can not watch that scene and walk away believing that’s what happened. Pilot was not digitized. She died in that explosion. Whether Blastarr himself survived is uncertain. If, three seasons later, there was a shocking reveal that she’s saved to disk in Blastarr’s blown-off digitizer buried under a mountain, I wouldn’t believe it. I’d probably go post on Compuserve or something about how the show had been RUINED FOREVER by cheaping out like that.

In a sense, Pilot’s death is also where Captain Power exits the narrative — the Captain Power we’ve been watching since way back in September. The cool, commanding stoic really vanishes from the story. A broken, weeping man buries his face in his hands.

Hawk, though shaken, implicitly takes command here, ordering Scout to rendezvous with the skybike before hugging his grieving friend. Peter MacNeill and Tim DuniganThe final scene of the series places the four grieving survivors in a smoke-filled forest (It seems pointless to bring it up at this late date, but just about every single “outside” scene in this series is filled with smoke). Hawk discovers the rescued power suits and Mentor backup. His voice cracks as he announces it. Peter MacNeill’s delivery reminds me a lot of the scene in Star Trek II where Scotty announces the death of his nephew (I feel like I always understood the kid was his nephew, but sources tell me that the line where they explain this was actually cut from the theatrical release). Captain Power is being stoic again, but this time the character of it is different: it’s transparently forced. He stares vacantly at nothing as he reiterates that he’d told her to drop everything and book it. Tank promises to make the “Metal Monsters” pay. Cap orders the bike and its contents loaded onto the jumpship and walks away in order to fade into a montage of Cap-n-Pilot moments, which is mostly just clips from last week’s episode since, as I’ve been saying, Jessica Steen was criminally underused. I assume if they’d gotten the rights, they’d have played “Dust in the Wind” for this, that being the universal way of signifying that a character is well and truly dead.

Because there was no second season of Captain Power, we’re forced to confront this episode as a series finale, and it’s weaker on that count than it ought to be. We don’t have time for there to be any aftermath to Jennifer’s death or the destruction of the Power Base. Lord Dread drops out before the climax. Soaron is completely absent.

But, of course, if it’s still March, 1988, we don’t know that Captain Power is over yet, and viewed as a season finale, it fares much better. Indeed, let’s not forget that in this time and this place, the idea of the Season Finale Cliffhanger wasn’t the dominant mode of adventure show writing yet. Season Finale Cliffhangers were largely unknown in US TV until Dallas’s “Who Shot JR?” campaign in 1980, and wouldn’t become the default until Star Trek the Next Generation ended its 1989-1990 season with “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”. The big “event” episodes for adventure series of the ’80s tended to be two-part season openers that would often be initially aired as a single feature-length block. This ending is not exactly a cliffhanger, but we do have a radical change to the status quo left hanging: Captain Power has lost Jennifer and the Power Base. Lord Dread is undergoing a metamorphosis and may have lost Blastarr. We’ve got avenues left to explore with Eden 2, two power suits in need of an owner, and the fate of Locke the Data Thief left up in the air.

There are weaknesses, of course. Scout is barely present and Tank is just there to say whichever words the writers think sound hilarious in a thick Danish accent. They completely forget about Cypher. Was the information about his capture a lie? It seems like they assume it was, but it’s just as likely that he was bait for the trap. Why couldn’t they try to contact him first to check if he was okay? To what extent am I just complaining because I wanted Lorne Cossette to show up again?

It seems even more obvious than usual to compare this episode to Star Trek the Next Generation. At the end of April, the episode “Skin of Evil” will kill off Tasha Yar. The situation behind the scenes isn’t all that different: Denise Crosby had originally been cast as Deanna Troi. For reasons no one has ever been able to adequately explain, Crosby and Sirtis’s roles were switched, leaving Crosby in a part that didn’t really play to her talents and that the writers didn’t really know what to do with. She quickly came to the conclusion that this part wasn’t going to go anywhere and bowed out.

So, in act 2 of the twenty-third episode of the first season, Tasha Yar tries to force her way past a gestalt entity created from the collective evil of an ancient alien culture, and it zaps her dead like it ain’t no thang. She dies like a Redshirt, struck dead effortlessly for no better reason than to demonstrate to the audience how the monster of the week works. It is cheap and sensationalist, its only redeeming value being in how utterly wrong it is — an affront to the laws of narrative logic that work to protect the lives of people with first names.

The war to be “Star Trek for the Eighties”, the war for the soul of science fiction on television was an utter rout. Star Trek the Next Generation defeated Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future so handily I doubt they even realized it was there at all. But on this one, small point, I think Star Trek needs to concede one very palpable touch. When it came time to kill off an under-utilized, miscast character who was wasting a perfectly good actress’s talents because writers had their heads way up their butts when it came to the concept of “Strong female warrior character”, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future actually knew what the hell they were doing.

Tasha Yar died because there was nowhere for her character to go, and her death shouted that at the audience. When Jennifer Chase died, it wasn’t merely the death of a character who was never going to go anywhere. It’s the collapse of a future that could have been. A romance with the nominal hero that would never happen. A quest for redemption that would never end. Her death doesn’t just leave a hole to be filled by giving Worf a different color uniform: it completely rewrites the dynamic of the team. From the moment Pilot dies, Captain Power is no longer in control of his world. He only gives one more order in the series, and he’s barely paying attention when he does.

This was part of the plan going forward: Cap’s plot arc through season two was to make him increasingly unfit for command as he failed to cope with Jennifer’s death, leaving Hawk as the de facto leader, and you actually see that happening in the few minutes of screen-time left after the Power Base explodes, with Hawk immediately taking charge, while Cap walks around in a glaze.

This is not the strongest of series finales. It’s not the strongest of season finales. But it’s a far stronger and more coherent finale than we’d been led to expect out of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. It turns the show’s former weaknesses into strengths. The oddly subdued stakes of “New Order” — indeed, the overall lack of anything in this show ever costing our heroes anything — creates a sense of invulnerability about our heroes which proves disastrously false here. The unfortunate tendency for our heroes’ actions to have little bearing on the outcomes of individual episodes is here transformed into a very classic style of tragedy. It’s very Caves of Androzani (A Doctor Who serial whose plot is basically “Ten minutes in, the Doctor falls into a hole full of poison, and spends the entire rest of the story trying and failing to not die from it.”). Their favorite trick of “It turns out our hero isn’t hurt all that badly after all,” is turned on its head when Pilot indicates that she’s been mortally wounded.

This series has been strange and uneven. Almost every episode has a strong idea at its core, but it’s hamstrung by poor follow-through. Pacing is all over the place, plot developments are sidelined for action sequences, and the writers are rarely willing to place the characters in real peril, whether moral or mortal. The practical effects are lovely but the digital effects are… overly ambitious. The model work, though rare, is absolutely beautiful, but also very dated, having a visual texture that aims for Star Wars but feels a lot more like Space: 1999. Few of the actors are actually bad, but few of them are great, and only David Hemblen and Peter MacNeill are written to leverage the acting skills they actually possess, with Maurice Dean Wint reduced to one-liners and Sven Ole Thorsen, weighed down by a suit that wouldn’t even accommodate sitting, only gets as many lines as he does because the director really got a kick out of the way he says “Party”.

And there’s digitization. No one in the show, hero or villain, seems to be quite sure how horrific it’s meant to be. Dread himself offers it as the blessing of “immortality” to Stuart, and uses his preference for it over killing as moral justification… Then turns around and uses it as a form of torture, and punishes his own people with it. Meanwhile, for our heroes, it’s a straight-up rape analogy the first time we see it, but then they’re perfectly happy to allow or even manipulate their human enemies into being digitized as punishment.

But there’s something mad and beautiful about this show. There’s a basic bizarreness to the way that there are quite clearly three completely distinct iterations of the design process that all bleed through into the finished product of the franchise. There’s the Marvel Annual, which can’t seem to tell if it’s derived from the toy line or the show. There are strange ghosts of a much more Flash Gordon version of the concept. There’s the training videos, where they bring together the worlds of the merch and the show, and which by all rights ought to be utterly disposable and non-crapgiving. But then you see the World Trade Center in the background, or the absolute epic awesomeness of the “Tower of the Seer”. You’ve got the sheer, unmitigated balls of history’s most shameless rip-off of the Death Star Trench Run. And the creepy sexual undertones of Dread’s relationship with Overmind. Or the growing parallels between the Dread/Overmind dynamic contrasted with the Cap/Mentor one. There are tantalizing hints of a bigger world out there, with Eden 2, the Wardogs, the East Coast Resistance, but then the odd contradiction of Captain Power’s team being seeming ignorant about events outside North America.

There’s no one thing you can point at and call, “The reason Captain Power failed.” Most of the parts of this show are, if not great, at least okay. There are ideas and themes that J. Michael Straczynski would pick up on later in his career to great effect. This level of reliance on computer-generated effects won’t be seen again for years — in fact, the degree to which Captain Power integrates live action with computer animation is probably still unheard of in television (Yes, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica and later incarnations of Star Trek would all do that sort of thing, but not for a substantial chunk of every episode), but it’s hardly bad enough to sink the show. I think the biggest problem for the Soldiers of the Future is just down to it being 1988, and that TV doesn’t work that way yet. In the years to come, Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV would learn how to do things like series-long plot arcs (The X-Files), maintaining a lighthearted tone while tackling adult storylines (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), telling whole stories while maintaining a heavy action component (Hercules), conveying the horror of war on a human level (Battlestar Galactica), and transforming heroes fighting robots after the apocalypse (Power Rangers RPM).

Here in 1988, what we get instead is a strange Frankenstein’s monster of a show. As though Landmark Entertainment dug up some discarded corpse of a ’50s sci-fi serial and reanimated it by summoning the ghost of the more sophisticated television of the late ’90s. Maybe it walks funny, it’s got bolts in its neck and stitches on its forehead, and it’ll freak out if it sees fire. But, y’know, I don’t think it really deserves the torches and the pitchforks.

Next time, I’ll talk a little bit about the legacy of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, and about the plans they had for a second season. But before that, I’ve got one last diversion I want to go on…

To be concluded…


Tim DuniganTim Dunigan (Captain Power) would go on to star in four Davy Crockett TV-movies for The Wonderful World of Disney during the 1988-1989 TV season. His acting career would slowly peter out afterward, whittling down to one-off guest roles. His most recent acting role was as police chief Crockett in the 2011 direct-to-video Buddy-Cop-Dog movie k-911.

Peter MacNeillPeter MacNeill (Hawk) remains a regular face in Canadian drama, appearing in Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop, Call Me Fitz, PSI Factor, and Queer as Folk. He also appeared in The Good Witch series of Hallmark Channel TV-movies, and is currently appearing in the series, which debuted at the end of February.

Sven-Ole ThorsenSven-Ole Thorsen (Tank) continues to work as an actor and stunt man. His most notable role to date is as Tigris of Gaul in Gladiator. He is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most frequent collaborator

Maurice Dean WintMaurice Dean-Wint (Scout) was a regular such shows as TekWar, PSI Factor, and Haven, and starred as RoboCable in Robocop: Prime Directives, Quentin in Cube, and Luther in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Jessica SteenJessica Steen (Pilot) went on to appear in Armageddon. She was a regular on Homefront, Earth 2, Murder One, Killer Instinct, Flashpoint, and Bullet in the Face. She had a recurring role on NCIS and originated the role of Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate SG-1. She currently appears in Heartland and Canooks.

David HemblenDavid Hemblen (Lord Dread/Lyman Taggart) has continued to work in film and television, particularly the works of Atom Egoyan, but is best known these days as the voice of Magneto in the X-Men animated series. He was offered the role in the live-action movie but had to turn it down. He also voiced Asmodeus in Redwall.

Ted DillionTedd Dillion (Overmind) voiced Commandant Lassard in the animated Police Academy series, and Hammer in Cadillacs and Dinosaurs.

Deryck HazelDeryck Hazel (Soaron) has no film credits after 1990. I found a reference in a book to a Toronto-area actor of that name who died in the early ’90s, but I can’t confirm it’s the same person.

John S DaviesJohn S. Davies (Blastarr) had a recurring role in Prison Break and was a frequent guest star on Walker Texas Ranger.

Bruce GrayBruce Gray (Mentor/Stuart Power) was an occasional guest on Dallas, Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. He played Admiral Chekote in Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and appeared as Vulcan patriarch Surak in Star Trek Enterprise. He also had recurring roles in Medium, Falling Skies, and How I Met Your Mother.

Don FrancksDon Francks (Lakki) spent much of the ’90s as a voice actor, with credits on the animated A.L.F., Police Academy, X-Men, The Legend of Zelda, Swamp Thing, and Cadilacs and Dinosaurs, as well as voicing a series of animated adaptations of the works of Richard Scarry. He also has regular live-action roles in La Femme Nikita and Hemlock Grove.

Lorne CossetteLorne Cossette (Cypher) would go on to appear in The Twilight Zone, Street Legal, Two if By Sea, The Song Spinner and Darkman 3 before his death in 2001.

Larry DiTillioLarry DiTillio (Writer) went on to write for such shows as Babylon 5 and Beast Wars: Transformers.

J. Michael Straczynski (Writer) created Babylon 5. I mean, he did other stuff too, for which he is justly famous, but it’s unlikely anything he does with the rest of his life is going to top the epic levels of geek cred he got for creating Babylon 5.J. Michael Straczynski

Gary GoddardGary Goddard (Creator) went on to create Skeleton Warriors, but most of his work has been creating dark rides and 3D short films for amusement parks, including T2 3D: Battle Across Time and a segment for The Star Trek Experience. He’s currently working on Broadway 4D, a high-budget multimedia extravaganza that will feature Christina Aguilera as Eva Peron provided it ever actually happens (there is some doubt). And, of course, Phoenix Rising.



Of course! Don’t you know anything about Science? (Marvel’s Captain Power Annual)

The Captain Power AnnualIt is 1989. Blah blah George H. W. Bush. Blah blah Taylor Swift, Anton Yelchin, Daniel Radcliffe and Lucy Hale. Blah blah Graham Chapman and Hirohito. Blah blah World Wide Web. Blah blah Salman Rushdie, blah Manuel Noriega. Blah blah Shining Times Station, blah “Blame it on the Rain” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. We’ve been here before and we all know the drill.

So you know how I made a couple of references to The Captain Power Annual, a 1989 publication that is probably the most distant point in the Captain Power Universe. Information on it is sketchy. I didn’t even know about it myself until a few months ago. In terms of obscurity, this is less-well-known than the handful of supermarket coloring books (Which no, I’m not going to suddenly show up with and talk about, because there is nothing at all to them). More than once, I’ve sort of intimated that I’d review it if I ever found a copy, which I implied to be an unlikely task so many decades later.

As it turns out, though, the trick to getting a copy of The Captain Power Annual was, technically speaking, to actually look for it. Seriously, once I decided to make an actual effort, it took me two hours to order a copy off of eBay. It would have taken less but I don’t speak Dutch.

The Captain Power Annual was made by Marvel UK, and falls into the tradition of British Comic Annuals. There’s not, so far as I know, a direct stateside equivalent of this sort of thing — the closest equivalent I can think of, at least in terms of content, would be fanzines. American comic makers sometimes do release special annual publications, but these are usually either reprint albums or just special longer editions, and the practice has been in decline since the ’80s in favor of trade paperbacks.

British Comic Book annuals are typically published around Christmas, and are hardcover books running in the neighborhood of 60-90 pages containing games, comics and short stories. In addition to the annuals associated with the classic staples of sequential art in the UK, annual publications are often associated with TV-tie-ins. Doctor Who, Star Trek, Blake’s 7, Thunderbirds and Space 1999 all had annuals associated with them in the UK — Doctor Who‘s resumed publication with the launch of the new series. Even The Tomorrow People and Sapphire and Steel got one annual each.

They were typically aimed at a younger audience, and because of the vagaries of how the TV shows were licensed, who was writing what, and when things had to be done, they often diverged wildly from the source material.  Furthermore, Great Britain already had its own tradition of comic art when American-style superhero comics became widely available, and so the art style in British sequential art is a lot more varied than what you see in US comics. For me, this gives everything a very retro feel, with the brighter colors and less stylized art that I personally associate more with newspaper comics than with comic books.

All that adds up to the fact that, despite coming out at almost exactly the same time, the Continuity Comics adaptation of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future looks basically nothing at all like the Annual.

I’ll be upfront. This isn’t great. It’s a slim sixty pages consisting of three comic strips, three prose stories, three “games” and back-of-the-toy-box-style radically non-show-consistent character profiles for Dread, Cap, Tank, Hawk, Soaron and Blastarr. It shows a cover price of £3.95, which would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $13, which is roughly half what I paid, and roughly twice what you’d pay for a modern copy of The Doctor Who Annual. It seems like kind of a lot of money to me, but it’s apparently not out of line with similar publications of the era.

The Captain Power AnnualThe front and back cover show identical pictures of Captain Power and Lord Dread locked in battle, Cap blocking Dread’s force-lance while drawing back a kind of tecnho-billyclub thing. The inside cover, again front and back, have the same illustration expanded to a tableau with the supporting characters surrounding the pair, Cap’s allies to the left, Dread’s to the right. The artwork is just a bit reminiscent of Judge Dredd. Even though the characters themselves bear little resemblance to one another, the physical designs of the two are similar enough that it should really be surprising if Cap didn’t owe a little in his comic book form to He-Who-Am-The-Law. This tableau is the only place where the art style seems anywhere close to the Continuity Comics series, though their preference in this book is for gritted teeth over the open-mouthed “dongs” look. The art inside the book is simpler and brighter. Though they do have in common the fact that Dread looks a bit like a cross between Yen Sid and Yul Brenner. There’s a frame or two in the Continuity Comics book where he looks like that too, but not many.

The Captain Power AnnualThis book is very strange in its approach to continuity. I would say that it seems like the writers (There are no credits in this book beyond the copyright, so I have no idea who to blame) hadn’t seen the show, and were working entirely from the toy boxes and possibly the series bible. But of the three prose stories, one is a straight-up adaptation of “Flame Street” and another is explicitly a sequel to “The Eden Road“.

But at the same time, the trivia puzzle on page 22 claims, as if the audience had a realistic chance of knowing this, that the Metal Wars started in 2020, while the introduction manages to get confused on the same page, giving the current date as both 2089 and the show-accurate 2147.

The introduction frames the annual as excerpts from the journal of Jennifer “Pilot” Chase, discovered hidden in the barracks by a nameless Dread Youth soldier. That’s a cool conceit, and you see similar things done these days with TV-tie-ins and mixed-media “scrapbook”-style books such as Dugald Steer’s ‘Ologies series. It would have been really cool if they’d done something more with it. The introduction ends with the disgusted soldier turning the book in to Lord Dread for destruction, hoping to get some kind of reward. Instead, he’s scheduled for digitization, as Dread considers the journal so dangerous as propaganda that no one who’s read it can be permitted to live.

The Captain Power AnnualThe content proper begins with a comic titled “Judge”, in which Captain Power and his friends rescue an Overunit who’s been placed on trial for being a Captain Power supporter. Cap and company break in with the help of an under-cover sympathizer and rescue the prisoner. Cap agonizes for one panel over whether to take the operative with them too, but ultimately decides to leave him under cover. But once they’re gone, it turns out that Dread has found out about the double-agent, and it’s kind of implied that the trial was actually just a rouse to expose him. This story feels incomplete. There’s an interesting angle here, with Captain Power being conflicted about leaving a resistance member under cover in Volcania, and the fact that Cap’s decision turns out to be the wrong one should be a great source of conflict. But we never see Cap again after the agent is exposed, so we’re left with a downer ending for no clear reason. That’s especially jarring when you consider that the Annual, like the rest of the Captain Power merchandizing, is unambiguously targeted at children rather than adults, and the Annual seems to be targeting even younger audiences than the toys and the comic.

Captain Power Annual - Lord Dread and FalcorLord Dread’s profile and picture include Falcor, the robotic bird who was originally planned to be Dread’s personal Laserbeak. It gives a greatly simplified version of his backstory: in this version, he simply became “embittered” when he was “ridiculed” for inventing BioDreads. Fair enough. If someone invents intelligent life, “ridicule” is not an appropriate response.

Our first prose story is “The Eden 2 Enigma”, which gives the rather bizarre dateline “47 23 mark 5”. Which, based on the show, would be the twenty-third month of 2147.  Lousy Smarch weather. The first part of the story is a straight-up rehash of “The Eden Road”, with Cap and company making their way into Darktown to gather intelligence on Dread’s latest secret plan, “Project Stormbringer.” There’s no mention of Pilot, which I suppose is technically appropriate as this should be a year after the series finale. It mirrors the Darktown part of “The Eden Road” up to the point where Scout impersonates a trooper, then Soaron shows up and knocks Cap into a hole, where he blacks out. Cap awakens in Eden 2, where he’s greeted by John, who for some reason looks like Barry Gibb now. He’s tempted to stay, but Vi shows up and asks after Hawk, which harshes his buzz by making him remember his responsibilities. Vi gives him a soporific flower and he passes out. We get our one attempt in this thing to render Tank’s accent, as the awakening Cap hears him say “Pawra Keppen Pawra,” which is eventually decoded as “Power on, Captain! Power on!” The others assure Cap that his experiences in Eden 2 were only a dream, as he was unconscious for only a few minutes after his fall. The coda, however, reveals that Cap still has the flower, which he chooses to destroy, lest his team lose sight of the fight against Dread in favor of searching for Eden 2. Much like “Judge”, this story is light and fluffy, but suddenly makes a wild tack at the end to go a bit heavy.

annual8

Next up is a profile on Captain Power himself (who’s described as the defender of Eden 2), and a trivia game that can’t make up his mind whether Cap’s Christian name (That is the actual term they use) is spelled “Johnathan” or “Johnathon” (I’m pretty sure I never saw this spelling in the wild until the 21st century, when suddenly it became ubiquitous. Resultingly, I have a hell of a time not wanting it to be pronounced to rhyme with “telethon”) and asserts that while the PowerJet can travel at Mach 19, Hawk’s top speed is the speed of light. The next comic is “Salvation”, which is, this seems kind of inexplicable now, a beat-for-beat retelling of “Gemini and Counting” with, for no reason I can sort out, the character of Pilot written out. “It starts with one,” the narrator tells us. Captain Power AnnualA disease breaks out in the passages — which here, look suspiciously like a generic mid-20th century small town full of people in generic early mid-20th century casual wear — and the only place where they can find vaccine in quantity is Volcania. Cap sneaks in and roughs up some Dread Youth. One of them wakes up, so he ties her up, binds her wounds, and tells her her entire life is a lie. Just like Pilot, he’s able to recite a Dread Youth oath word-for-word, and decries Dread as the “lord of lies”, which has a nicely biblical tone to it. He retrieves the medicine he needs, bandages the nameless Dread Youth some more, and is held at gunpoint by her once the fighting breaks out in earnest. He offers her the same choices Pilot offered Erin: kill him, come with him, or let him go and just pretend this never happened. The one thing this version of the story adds is a brief coda: a single frame at the end of the nameless young woman, still bandaged from her injuries, at a Dread rally, unable to cheer along with the others. The comic ends with the narrator repeating the opening line: “Someone has to be first.”

Captain Power AnnualThe juxtaposition is nice, great even, but it’s a poor substitute for the emotional core of “Gemini and Counting”, the implicit congruence between Pilot and Erin. Absent that, what we’ve got here is essentially a very stereotypical story of The Mighty White Man who saves the soul of an impressionable girl by giving her a sermon. I suppose it’s just about possible that the Dread Youth in this story is actually meant to be Pilot (Though she’s a brunette… Except for that last panel. Maybe having your soul saved bleaches your hair?), and this is really Pilot’s origin story. That rubs me very wrong. Firstly, it makes Pilot’s origin story an inferior knock-off of Pilot’s big character focus episode. But far worse, given the romance arc between Cap and Pilot, it’s really nasty to insert an element of “Oh, he beat me up, restrained me, forced me to question my entire way of life, alienated me from the only family I have ever known, and now I love him.”

The frame of this being a journal Pilot left behind when she defected from Dread to join the resistance might account for why Pilot herself barely figures into the narrative. But that explanation only goes so far. After all, at least some of these stories are set during or after the time frame of the series. Besides, Scout is equally absent.

Which means that we’re in a somewhat similar situation in the Annual that we were with the series: the writers only seem to have time for a Power Trio, but they’re technically supposed to be writing a Five Man Band. It makes me think of the old Activision Ghostbusters videogame (“Conglaturation! You have completed a great game! And prooved the justice of our culture! Now go and rest our heroes!”), where Peter, Winston, Ray and Egon were replaced by three identical white guys (The versions for systems oriented toward showing a bunch of text explain that you’re not playing the Ghostbusters, but a random franchisee in a new city facing, surprisingly, exactly the same kind of invasion by a dark hell-god).

Scout gets the worst of it. He only appears in two illustrations in the entire book. And, while I will grant the possibility that this is just a printing error, he seems pretty unambiguously white in both of them. I know, it’s an easy mistake to make, what with Scout being one of the only two people of color in the entire Captain Power universe, but you had one job, TV-tie-in!

Captain Power Annual

Next up is a simple race-style board game and a profile on Tank which doesn’t mention anything about him being genetically engineered. Then there’s an adaptation of “Flame Street”, which is divided into two parts with a break in the middle for Blastarr’s profile. Including one direct adaptation like this is a bit strange to begin with, and stranger still when you consider that “Salvation” is basically a complete rip-off, and even “The Eden 2 Enigma” is really only a slight modification of “The Eden Road”. Keep in mind, though, that this is still 1989. DVD won’t be invented for another six years. TV shows were only rarely released on home video formats, and concepts like a complete season boxset were a decade away. Captain Power was lucky in that it received a home video release at all, but even then, only ten episodes were available on VHS (Plus several “Movie” compilations, edited chimeras stitched together from eighty minutes of the final four episodes). And I haven’t turned up any evidence that such releases were ever made in PAL format for the UK market. So if you were a child in the UK in 1989 and you wanted to re-experience Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, this was pretty much it.The adaptation is completely straight; the only deviation from the televised show is that Cap is looking for information on the afforementioned “Project: Stormbringer” rather than New Order. Captain Power AnnualWhat does diverge, quite a bit, are the illustrations which accompany the story. Zoneboy and Mindsinger both sport a lot less hair and are a lot more colorful. Far and away the most bizarre and impressive change, though, is to Stuart Power. I have no idea what the Expletive Deleted prompted this. Stuart Power here is depicted looking kind of like an elderly wizard, balding with long white hair and beard wearing Cap’s armor with a full-length cape. Far from looking like the unlikely bearded lovechild of Kenny Loggins and Rachel Maddow, here, he looks like the unlikely lovechild of Marvel’s Odin and Shazam, the wizard mentor of DC’s Captain Marvel. I have absolutely no idea what they were thinking here, but it’s amazing.

I imagine young people of today don’t have the same experience I did growing up. When I was a kid, most things with broad child appeal had a prose adaptation. A lot of them had several. You could often expect a picture-book for youngest readers (Often a read-a-long book with included 45. One of my fond childhood memories is collecting all four parts of the Gremlins read-a-long adaptation that came with the kids’ meal at Hardee’s over the course of four weeks), and a proper novelization, sometimes targeted at multiple reading levels (I have a copy of Spaceballs The Book with an elaborate aside about fruit allergies to make the “Nobody gives me the raspberry!” bit comprehensible to a child who wasn’t familiar with that euphemism. Also, the crosseyed gunner is renamed “Major Idiot”). There’s probably at least two generations of Doctor Who fans for whom their primary experience of about two thirds of the serials is based not on DVDs and animated reconstructions, but on the relentlessly workmanlike prose of Terrance “Wheezing, groaning” Dicks. Novelizations still exist, of course, often as a way for a fan-writer to produce his own “Director’s Cut” of the story, but they’re more polarized, limited to picture books for the very young, and adult novels in heavily merchandized franchises like Star Trek which already have established original fiction lines. The second board game in the Annual is an even simpler kind of race game, close to Parcheesi, Sorry! or Ludo. The profile of Soaron is brief, but refers to his dislike of the “other warlords“, implying that it was drawn from a draft that still included Tritor.

The last comic of the book is “Captain Power and the Glory”. To keep the sense of time and space thoroughly inexplicable, the caption at the start of the story gives the date as 2029. Cap and company (minus Scout for no clear reason. Pilot is there in a non-speaking role) arrive for a meeting with an up-and-coming resistance cell called “The Glory”. “The Glory” turns out to be Blastarr and some troopers in disguise, as part of a plan that makes no real sense: the Glory was to give the people hope, then crush it when they use this meeting as an ambush. A really terrible ambush, because they decloak their Phantom Striker to taunt our heroes first. The battle is a Stephen Ratliff-level curbstomp, with Cap and company easily defeating Dread’s forces. There’s a real lack of any sense that the writer got these characters at all, giving Blastarr a big complex villain speech (and having him fly a Phantom Striker), and giving Tank lines like “Yo, Johnathan, what’s with the worried expression?” rather than something like “Keptin, vhy so zahd at the pahrty?” In the end, Captain Power resolves to have his team pass themselves off as The Glory in order to keep the myth alive, even though this will mean a reduction in their own relative fame.

annual11Honestly, this story doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, why they’d bother, how Dread’s plan was supposed to work, or anything really. Combined with the shoddy characterization and the bizarre date-line, I’m suspicious that they had no craps to give about this story. The art, at least during the fight scene, is okay. Bright, colorful and fairly clean. The choice of yellow land and pink sky is odd.

Hawk’s profile is followed by a story which focuses on his character, “Enemy Mine“. Which does not even slightly live up to the promise of its title. It’s not a terrible story, though. During a mission in Sector 12 related to Project: Stormbringer (They can’t get the date right to within a century from one story to the next, but they manage a plot arc around Project: Stormbringer?), Hawk takes a serious hit from Soaron and his suit is damaged, forcing him to make his way back to the rest of the team on foot through enemy territory as his suit’s power supply rapidly dwindles. It’s straightforward and action-packed, with a complex dilemma for Hawk, as he struggles with the decision whether to break radio silence, jeopardizing the rest of the mission. The climax comes when Hawk, his power reserves almost depleted, finally uses his radio when he sees Lord Dread sneaking up on the rendezvous site. He’s met with laughter from Cap, who reveals that “Dread” is actually Scout in disguise. The mission had been scrubbed since Cap’s own suit developed a malfunction, and the others (Scout and Tank; Pilot is not mentioned) met too much resistance and nobly ran away, leaving Hawk to the realization that it was only “his own pride and dignity” that had stopped him calling for help sooner (The others didn’t dare contact him since they had no way of knowing if the sound of his radio would give him away).  Like several of the other stories, it ends on a much more complex moral note than you’d really expect.

Captain Power Annual - BlastarrThis book is weird. In fact, this book is so weird that it’s like a tiny little microcosm of the whole series. Much like the show as a whole, there’s this weird tension between the very child-oriented simplicity of the stories, the bright, colorful artwork, and the strangely maudlin endings. The confusion about the date, I’ve already mentioned. It’s rare for there to be any characterization to speak of, but when there is, it’s all over the place.  I didn’t bring it up in context, but there’s also a sense I get that the writers didn’t know how the Power Suits work: they’re handled properly in “Judge”, “The Eden 2 Enigma”, and “Captain Power and the Glory”, but in “Salvation”, Cap is already in his armor when he “Powers on”, and it seems like the implication is that rather than summoning the armor out of hammerspace, the incantation just energizes some kind of super-mode. In “Enemy Mine”, Hawk’s suit fails repeatedly, but rather than dispersing, it becomes rigid, immobilizing him. This seems like a massive design flaw. For the most part, it feels like this was based purely on the bible and the toy line without any reference from the show itself, but then we’ve got the show-accurate dates (and the clearly show-derived but obviously wrong “47-23” date), wholesale adaptations and direct sequels.

The art is strange. No one looks even close to right, though none get so badly handled as the Last Airbendering of Scout. Pilot and Scout appear only rarely — Scout is never a proper character, just making cameos in “The Eden 2 Enigma”, and “Enemy Mine” (He appears in the illustrations to “Flame Street” but isn’t mentioned). Pilot has a line of dialogue in “Flame Street” and “Captain Power and the Glory” is mentioned in “Enemy Mine” and has a wordless cameo in the opening illustration and “Judge”. I don’t know which one got more shafted here. Scout is spared the indignity of having his big story rewritten to omit him, but on the other hand, he gets turned white for his two appearances, and — I just went back to check this because I found it so unbelievable — he’s not even in the opening tableau.

The utter erasure of the black character and the female character are big-time serious problems with this book. But they’re also symbolic of the problem Captain Power had with its race and gender dynamics in all of its incarnations. For that matter, it’s symbolic of the race and gender dynamics of comic books in general from this time period (and two steps forward and/or backward since then), and I’m a more than a little ashamed to realize that had I been reading this back in 1989, I totally would not have even noticed that this was a problem (I’d like to think I’d have noticed Scout being white, but I bet I’d have thought it was a straightforward printing error, like the time Optimus Prime inexplicably turned albino for one panel).

Captain Power AnnualBut there is one thread of this paradoxical publication that does manage to properly fascinate me. As I said, the art style feels very retro, very Silver Age. Bright colors, simple artwork. More than that, I’m very specifically reminded of the old 1960s-era Doctor Who comics, back when he was called “Dr. Who” and traveled with John and Gillian, and had a Magic Box and saved Santa. Add to that the odd design choices like how Dread’s human forces all dress like communists at a winery (Except for the high-ranking ones, who have Judge Dread epaulets and samurai helmets. And it seems to be implied that the biomech troopers are actually humans in suits), or the way that the passages and Volcania both look like generic midwestern towns of the fifties, and the early 21st century dates occasionally used, and it adds up to that same feeling I mentioned in reference to the training video cover. This feels like the Annual for the hypothetical 1950s Captain Power that everything Captain Power except the TV show itself screams out for.

Captain Power AnnualDoes the Captain Power Annual do it for me? Is it a worthy expansion to the world of this weird little post-apocalyptic ’80s children’s show that I so love from my youth?

The short answer is no. This adds very little to the experience of Captain Power. I sought it out because I’m an obsessive completest who can afford to blow twenty-five bucks every couple of years in pursuit of his lost youth. But I didn’t need this.

But how would Me-Age-Ten have felt about this? I don’t know. I haven’t been that kid in a quarter of a century. I can sort of abstractly say that this is the sort of kid-friendly yet still just slightly dark thing that I think young-me would have thought was a lot of fun. And of course, the me of 1989 would have had his disappointment in a third of the stories being recycled material modulated by the fact that in 1989, I didn’t have the option of watching “Flame Street” or “Gemini and Counting”. That me would very likely just be happy to have, even if it isn’t very good, just a little bit more Captain Power to enjoy.

So ultimately, I guess Me-Age-Ten and Me-Age-36 aren’t so different after all.


 

The Captain Power Annual is occasionally available from amazon.co.uk for a fair bit cheaper than what I paid.

You Know the Rules (Captain Power: Retribution, Part 1)

Captain Power Episode 21: Tim Dunigan and Jessica SteenTwo more to go…

It is March 20, 1988. In Eritrea, the Battle of Afabet is won by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. Yesterday, two British corporals were abducted and shot dead by the IRA. Mike Tyson beats Tony Tubbs by knockout for the heavyweight boxing title. Tubbs retains both ears. M. Butterfly opens on Broadway, or if you’re a masochist, you can go see Police Academy 5 at the movies. Slow news day. Slow week at the movies. Slow week on TV. The Wonderful World of Disney is in repeats. Last week’s Supercarrier pilot is repeated. Tomorrow’s MacGyver is a repeat. The ABC Sunday movie is Octopussy while NBC airs a new TV adaptation of Inherit the Wind with Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas as Drummond and Brady. It’s the third movie adaptation of a 1955 play based kind of loosely on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, with everyone’s names really obviously changed (Such as HL Mencken becoming “EK Hornbeck”) to avoid getting sued. The play would be adapted again in 1999 with Jack Lemmon as Drummond and George C. Scott as Brady (Scott had previously played Drummond on Broadway). I remember watching the 1988 movie, but not really understanding it. Mostly I remember being confused as my dad tried to explain that these two people I’d never heard of (Robards and Douglas) were playing two people I’d never heard of (Drummond and Brady) who were really supposed to be two other people I’d never heard of (Darrow and Bryan).

This week’s Star Trek the Next Generation is “A Matter of Honor”, where Riker does a slightly goofy “officer exchange” with a Klingon ship, then has to scheme to honorably seize control of the ship to keep it from blowing up the Enterprise when they suspect it of infecting them with ship-eating bacteria. Vaka Rangi will not give you a tremendous insight into what this episode is about, but it will give you a great little bit of nostalgia about the 3D Viewmaster, so you should totally read that (Though he finds it noteworthy in this context to discover that the Enterprise-D model is blue and not gray. Maybe it’s just because I’m red-green deficient, but that was the very first thing I noticed about the Enterprise-D in the show and never thought anyone would think the ship was supposed to be gray (Minor expanded-universe evidence in my favor: the novel Dark Mirror makes a point of saying that the mirror universe Enterprise is gray, and this makes it look subtly more threatening than the proper Enterprise)).

For a week when nothing happened, I have stretched out the lead-in for this article a bit because I’m reluctant to dive in here. I mean, this is it, right? The end? This one and the next one and then I’m completely tapped out of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Unless I can track down a copy of that 1989 Annual.Captain Power Episode 21: Tank, Scout, Hawk

After the previous two-parter was such a disappointment, I’m more than a little anxious going into this. When we open, Captain Power and the gang are dancing. That’s not a euphemism or a metaphor either: they’re actually having a little party to celebrate their victory in the previous episode. According to the Captain’s Log, about a month has passed since the previous episode, so this must have been one hell of a party. Captain Power Episode 21: Captain Power and PilotThe others intimidate Cap into dancing with Pilot, and he is polite enough to take his gunbelt off first, which looks oddly suggestiveCaptain Power Episode 21: Captain Power and Pilot.

Back at Volcania, Dread is still fuming over his recent defeat, and orders Soaron and Blastarr (Who are, of course, perfectly fine despite having been blown to bits last week) to engage in a scorched earth policy against Cap’s allies and resources. It’s a weird little scene. Dread himself oozes menace like never before: “I once thought [Cap] could be saved, but no longer. There is no place in our perfect world for him or for any of his kind. We must find him, and we must hurt him. Badly. Poison his resources, cripple his supply lines, destroy his outposts, strip him of everything he holds dear. Alive or dead, whatever it takes, we must push him from the face of this planet.” But as he pontificates, we keep cutting back and forth to Soaron and Blastarr, who are, like, idling. Blastarr taps his fingers together. Soaron futzes with his digitizer. It’s weirdly casual, and aside from the mood whiplash, it’s also visually pleasing. It’s a rare moment where it would have been perfectly reasonable, given the seriousness of the scene, to have them just stand stock still, but instead, they fidget. I think it really shows a level of comfort with the CGI that’s been growing across the season.

Captain Power Episode 21: Soaron and Blastarr

Unfortunately, what happens next is that we get a long montage of Dread Troopers shooting at things that are off-screen which is so obviously recycled footage from earlier episodes that they even include the digitization of General Briggs from “The Abyss“. Great. Cheap stock footage montages. Just what I wanted from my season finale. At the Power Base, Captain Power does another Captain’s Log telling us basically what we’ve just seen, but speculating that Dread is angry and thus liable to make a mistake. Then he nods off in his chair, and Pilot comes in and kind of stalkerishly watches him sleep. Captain Power Episode 21: Pilot watches Cap SleepYay!

The next fight scene is new footage, thankfully. At least, for the most part (There’s some old footage of Tank). They make one more stab at witty banter, with Hawk telling Cap not to take the attacks personally, then going on a murder rampage with a bazooka because a clicker scratched his helmet. Scout actually does something useful with his camouflage for once, impersonating a mech so he can sneak up behind the other troopers and stick grenades to their backs, then commandeer a tank, which he uses to disable Blastarr. Remarkably, they don’t recycle the usual “Blastarr drops to his knees” sequence: he’s actually thrown off his feet.

Captain Power Episode 21: Blastarr

Tank and Scout declare Blastarr suitably dealt with for the moment, so Cap and company bugger off. But at this point, remarkably, the episode actually starts to get good. Dread orders Blastarr back to his feet, actually seeming to will the damaged BioDread to rise. They cut back and forth between Blastarr’s twitching fist and Dread’s own, which shakes as he orders, “By my will and by my blood. You. Will. Move. Do not stop. Keep moving. I command you to keep moving.” Captain Power Episode 21: BlastarrBlastarr protests, “There is great pain,” and, “System disruption,” but rises to his feet just in time to justify those weird bits in the last several episodes where they made a big deal out of calling attention to the uncanny ability of Captain Power to travel the country allegedly faster than should be possible. Because when Blastarr manages, unsteadily, to rise, he looks up in time to see the Jumpship vanish into the transit gate. Lord Dread realizes that he can exploit this to locate the Power Base and finish Captain Power once and for all.

At the Power Base, since it’s 47-12.24, the gang surprises Cap by making a Christmas tree out of broken mech parts. Captain Power Episode 21: Christmas TreeSensing that they are running out of time for this character to make an impression on us, they finally give Scout a major speech. He attempts to tug at the heartstrings by telling the story of his own childhood attempt to make a Christmas tree, of his mother’s reaction, and of her capture by Dread’s forces a few days later. It reminds me of nothing so much as the speech Phoebe Cates gives about her father in Gremlins, but still, major props for at least trying. The camera keeps cutting around to reaction shots from the others, but they all just do the usual stoic thing. Scout concludes that he’d since decided that Christmas Trees were cursed, and that terrible fates awaited anyone who tried to celebrate. Which totally isn’t foreshadowing, right?Captain Power Episode 21: Maurice Dean Wint

Lord Dread more or less flat-out accuses Lakki of spying on him when Lakki interrupts his work to remind him of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Then Dread flat-out murders the little weasel, ordering him to go fetch a tool for him which is just on the far side of an unmarked live wire. The show momentarily develops the sense of humor I’ve been wishing it had, because as troopers carry Lakki away, he revives long enough to mutter, “Wait, I’m not quite dead yet.” Captain Power Episode 21: LakkiDread gives Soaron a scanner, and orders him to go chase Power the next time he goes through a transit gate, then goes to chat with Overmind, who’s been prepping for Dread to enter suspended animation so he can have the rest of his meat body surgically removed.

But before he goes through with that, Dread wants to finish up things with Power, so he asks for “The Mind-Link”. “For the first time since I took control of all the world’s Biomechs and began the Metal Wars, I require direct access to all of our troopers everywhere on this planet.” Though last week, Captain Power was apparently utterly uninvolved in operations outside North America, so this strikes me as overkill. He asks Overmind to, swear to God, “Let me feel the power. Touch me with the might of the machine.” I’ve used up all the jokes I can think of about the weirdly sexual overtones of Dread’s relationship with Overmind, but at this point, it’s so blatant that I think just saying it out loud is funny enough. Once he’s been adequately touched by the might of the machine, he orders all troopers everywhere to drop what they’re doing and keep a lookout for Captain Power. This is accompanied by another stock footage montage of troopers wandering around factories, quarries, and Haven.

This would be a lot more impressive except that in every other episode, it was pretty clear that Dread was already receiving instant notifications every time Cap showed up anywhere, so again, this seems a little excessive. But hey, it’s not this episode’s fault. When Cap finally does turn up, Soaron flies off to intercept, cloaking to avoid detection.Captain Power Episode 21: Soaron

Wait, what? When did Soaron get a cloaking device? Isn’t that the sort of thing you ought to mention before introducing it? Well anyway, cloaked, he’s able to shoot the Jumpship undetected. It escapes serious damage, deliberately I assume, but is forced to retreat through the transit gate. The pursuing Soaron bounces off, but his scanner picks up the access code for the system. Lord Dread declares that Power is already defeated, and just doesn’t know it yet…

This episode is fantastic. Yes, there’s some really bad use of stock footage, and yes, too much screen-time is wasted with montages, and yes, Scout’s big speech doesn’t really work, and yes, the build-up about the transit gates was transparent and forced. But there’s a degree of actually trying here that you just don’t see elsewhere in this series. Dread is actually menacing here, much moreso than he ever has been, and David Hemblen somehow manages to do things like say, “Touch me with the power of the machine,” with a straight face and actually sell it. Not to mention the fact that we’re only halfway through this two-parter, and yet we’ve already had a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, but which is all the same a proper first part of a two-part story.

I wish they’d all been like this.

Captain Power Episode 21

 

The World Is Burning Down (Captain Power: New Order, Part 2: The Land Shall Burn)

Captain Power Episode 20Previously on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Cap and company enacted a desperate reenactment of the Death Star Trench Run sequence from Star Wars in order to stop Lord Dread’s Icarus satellite from digitizing the eastern seaboard. With the crashing Icarus on a collision course for Volcania, Power and his team race to the very stronghold of their enemy to stop Lord Dread from touching off a deadly plasma storm.

It is March 13, 1988. Last Friday, the pound note ceased to be legal tender in the UK, enraging Adam Ant (Which is, at least, safer than enraging Adam Adamant, who will straight-up murder you for it). Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Cybil Shepherd and Accused Rapist Bill Cosby win the 14th People’s Choice Awards. Gallaudet University elects its first deaf president, which you’d think would have happened a lot sooner, but people kinda suck. In the coming week, Eugene Marino will become the first African American Catholic archbishop. He will resign two years later amid allegations of sexual misconduct (Thankfully, not the kind you usually associate with Catholic priests; an apparently consensual relationship with an adult).

We have finally entered the glorious two-week reign of Rick Astley, and it is a crying shame that the words to “Never Gonna Give You Up” don’t work well for this post’s title. Little else changes on the Billboard top ten, except that Debbie Gibson is back at number 8 with “Out of the Blue”. 14 Going On 30 concludes. This week’s MacGyver is “The Spoilers”, which I won’t ruin for you. Star Trek The Next Generation is back with “Coming of Age”. It’s a thematically important story which I remember hardly anything about other than the plot having a good chunk of vagueness in it, since the A-plot is “The Enterprise is being investigated on suspicion of there being ‘something wrong’, and we never get told what or why or anything really.”  This is because it’s actually foreshadowing for the season pre-finale, and the thing they’re looking for is going to turn out to be those neck-gill bug things. But it’s 1988, and “We’ll drop some hints back in March then not mention anything about it until May,” is not the standard mode of TV storytelling, so I never really felt like it gelled. Anyway, obligatory linklove to Vaka Rangi.

Much like this article, part two of “New Order” begins after a recap that goes on way too long. When we left Volcania last week, Icarus was expected to smack into the side of it in about twenty minutes. Now, that might sound to you like a really clever set-up for an episode that takes place in real time, with the crashing Icarus acting as a ticking clock throughout the episode. That’s because you live in the impossibly far-off world of 2015; we’re still a dozen years away from 24. Heck, we’re still three years away from the real-time episode of Seinfeld. As far as I know, the only real-time TV episode to have aired at this point in history was an episode of M*A*S*H back in ’79, and the real-time there is more than made up for by the fact that the series as a whole ran in approximately 1/3 time. No, we rejoin the story like 15 minutes after the end of part one, with Lord Dread desperately rousing Soaron to come defend Volcania.

Captain Power Episode 20: Soaron RegeneratesSoaron, you may recall, got blowed up right good last episode, and has to grow his leg and wing back before he can set off. There’s some really good detail shots of Soaron writhing on the ground, flexing his injured leg, and standing up. Too bad it’s completely undermined by just how godawful the actual regeneration effect is. I mean seriously, if Soaron were a suit actor, this would look like it was done on a greenscreen by pulling a green blanket over his leg. Soaron assures Dread that he can save Volcania. Soaron flies back to Detroit, interposes himself between Icarus and Volcania, and starts shooting. I note here, just to remind you, that Captain Power had previously refused to involve the rest of the resistance on the grounds that only his team, with their access to the jump gate network, could possibly move quickly enough to strike both Icarus control and also Volcania in the time allowed. Soaron has just covered the same distance faster, despite the fact that he started out down a leg and a wing.

Captain Power Episode 20: SoaronIcarus proves too big a target for Soaron to destroy, so he resorts to just shouting at it until it hits him, smashing him to pieces and leaving Dread and Overmind uncertain if he’ll even be able to regenerate at all. I’m of two minds on this scene. Soaron is completely out of the narrative for the rest of the episode, which I’m fine with, since the plot is already getting to be kind of a clusterfrak. Soaron’s last stand here is, I think, a well-made scene. The whole idea that, despite knowing that it’s hopeless, Soaron’s pride wouldn’t allow him to back down, and he actually thinks that just hovering there shouting “I AM SOARON!” at a giant burning space station might actually work is kind of cute. But I can’t help also feel that it’s really more of a Blastarr thing to do than a Soaron thing to do. It’s just so “Hulk Smash”.

Captain Power Episode 20: Volcania

At any rate, a few seconds later, Icarus smashes into the side of Volcania in an explosion so big that some of it appears to have actually happened, with model shots and everything rather than just compositing in the same fireball they use in the opening credits. Captain Power and his team take that as their cue to teleport in, which is a bit odd if you accept the statement back in “A Summoning of Thunder” about the network only having five exit nodes, but whatever. While they land the jumpship in what’s probably the best model shot of the jumpship all season, Dread recovers in his throne room and assesses the damage.

Captain Power Episode 20: Jumpship

Overmind reports extensive damage, but says that Prometheus can still go off as scheduled. Then Overmind says its best line of the series, because it echo’s Taggart’s words from the end of “A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2” he woke up as Dread: “I hurt.”  Dread orders Blastarr to take care of Captain Power, using the same kind of florid, “He is here, Blastarr, the one who has injured The Machine, the one who defies me again and again”-type nonsense that he’s supposed to have elevated himself above what with the whole Perfection of the Machine thing.

Everyone Powers On in the Jumpship. Hawk’s suit reminds him that he’s only got a fifteen percent charge on his batteries after last episode’s Soaron fight. Given that Scout, Cap and Tank fought their way through the Icarus base last time, it’s strange that they don’t need a recharge too. I know that Hawk’s condition is supposed to be related to his crash during the Soaron fight, but looking back over the series, there’s a huge number of times that the power suits have quite clearly only had enough charge for about five minutes of fighting. Captain Power notices Hawk’s reaction to the announcement, though I assume he can’t hear it himself, because Hawk proceeds to lie to him about it, claiming to be more than half-charged. After cloaking the Jumpship, Cap and company start fighting their way toward the throne room, which is for some reason the only place Scout can access the Prometheus controls.

Captain Power Episode 20 New OrderThey fight their way through a room and a half before Hawk’s batteries go flat after getting shot in the back by a Bling Nazi, and Cap instantly caves on his whole, “We push on no matter what and we’re totally leaving anyone behind who can’t keep up” by ordering Tank to carry him back to the Jumpship. You know, after going to the trouble of having him lie to his commander, you’d think Hawk’s impending suit failure would be more of a big deal, maybe have it fail at a time that really screws them, or putting him in a position where he needs to fly to escape. As it is, though, it’s just an excuse to get Peter MacNeill and Sven Ole-Thorssen out of the story, which, in turn, is because there’s not really enough plot to carry all five of them, and the sets are going to get a lot smaller, so the action choreography is better with just the three of them.

Captain Power Episode 20: Blastarr

Blastarr shows up and chases them into archive footage of Captain Power Episode 20: New Orderthat hallway with the sex toys on the ceiling from way back in “Wardogs“. When it widens out a bit, they toss their belts at him, which explode. This sets Blastarr on fire, but does not otherwise harm him. Their only reprieve comes when he has to stop for like 30 seconds to fold out his roller skates, buying Pilot enough time to unlock the next door with her sonic dildoCaptain Power Episode 20: Sonic Probe (It turns out that the thingy is officially called a “Proton Spanner”. In her commentary tracks, Jessica Steen seems oddly proud of it). Having tired of Blastarr’s crap, they bait him onto an exposed power cable, which electrocutes the BioDread. And then he explodes. Upstairs, Overmind reports that Blastarr, like Soaron, has uncertain chances of recovery.

Captain Power Episode 20: Blastarr

When Captain Power arrives at the throne room, he finds Dread’s throne occupied by a hologram: the real Lord Dread is exploiting Television Combat Strategy by standing directly in Cap’s line of sight, but outside the frame of the camera, thus rendering him invisible. Dread stuns Scout and Pilot, but Cap is able to disarm him by shooting him in the hand. Captain Power Episode 20: LakkiJust as Power is about to totally respect his father’s wishes about never taking human life, Lakki inexplicably does something useful and shoots Cap’s gun.

Disarmed, hero and villain are forced to resort to fighting with their totally-not-lightsabersneworder213. The fight is so distracting that Dread doesn’t notice Scout wake up and switch Volcania over to manual. This enrages Dread so much that he whacks Captain Power in the crotch with his stick hard enough to de-morph him, and then runs away. Scout manages to blow up the Prometheus power station, which explodes in a model shot that’s way more detailed than I’d ever have expected from this show.

Captain Power Episode 20

Before our heroes can do anything else with their complete unfettered access to Volcania’s main systems, Overmind starts trying to override their control. Rather than shooting the stupid Sargon ball that’s just sitting there exposed on the other side of the room, Captain Power and his friends decide to leg it. Their escape is presumably really boring, because we just cut to the Jumpship taking off and leaving unopposed, and they don’t even bother carving the phoenix emblem in the side of the place. Captain Power Episode 20: Hawk and ScoutInside, Scout bandages Hawk’s arm, because I guess Tank was happy enough to just let him sit there bleeding the past twenty minutes.

We end on Cap doing his Captain’s Log thing, declaring this to be their first major success in the war against Dread. Which is kind of disappointing, really. You may be starting to get the impression that I’m running out of patience with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. We peaked, I think, right around the middle of the series. But now, just when it’s absolutely critical for the show to really nail it, they revert back to my complaints of the early part of the series: this two-parter is pretty much a forty minute action sequence. And it’s not even particularly good action. At least in “Freedom One”, the over-long action sequence was dynamic and well-composed. In these past two episodes, it’s just kind of a mess. Soaron and Blastarr alternate from scene to scene between being nigh invulnerable and being literally blown to bits. Hawk lies to Cap about how badly off he is, is injured in battle, and nothing comes of it. Hawk being injured is the closest thing this plot has to an actual complication in it, and it amounts to nothing.

Look at the basic outline of this episode: with the last two steps of Project New Order conveniently scheduled for two hours after we find out about them, Captain Power comes up with an audacious and nigh-suicidal plan to stop them… And they do it. Easily. We’re told that this is dangerous, that it’s borderline insanity to assault Volcania directly. But if anything, they have less trouble waltzing into Lord Dread’s throne room and reprogramming Prometheus than they did with the Icarus trench run. At no point does this episode have the tension even of, say, “Wardogs”. Cap and company basically dominate from the first scene onward. And if, as Cap’s log says, this is their first major victory against Dread, what the hell have they been doing for fifteen years? Everything is just far too easy. And two episodes in a row end with “As the countdown reaches zero, Scout reprograms a computer to make a model explode.” This isn’t good storytelling.

Credit where it’s due and all: the model work in these episodes is fantastic. The Prometheus plasma station, the Icarus satellite, the Death Star Trench (itself. The compositing of the Jumpship and Skybikes is wretched), and Volcania itself are all detailed and lovely. But nothing else in the episode justifies the time and expense that went into them. I’ve kept saying all season that the half-hour format is a problem for a show this action-heavy, and that two-parters ought to give them some breathing room. And here they go proving me wrong: “New Order” as a two-parter is even more terse and action-heavy than the single-parters. It’s barely a two-parter at all, really; each half has a distinct beginning, middle and end that stands on its own. Taken as two separate episodes, though, “The Sky Shall Swallow Them” and “The Land Shall Burn” suffer from (a) not being especially good action-heavy episodes, and (b) being essentially the same exact story twice in a row.

Captain Power Episode 20: Soaron

This show had better up its game next time. It’s running out of chances.

Light the Sky and Hold on Tight (Captain Power: New Order, Part 1: The Sky Shall Swallow Them)

Captain Power Episode 19It is the sixth of March, 1988. In Gibraltar, Operation Flavius concludes when the British SAS shoot three IRA members to prevent a bombing. The outcome is highly controversial, as witness accounts suggest that the suspects were shot after surrendering, though the SAS maintained that it looked like one of them might have been reaching for a remote detonator or wearing a hoodie or something. In the coming week, George H.W. Bush will shore up his standing for the bid to be Reagan’s successor by rousting Bob Dole on Super Tuesday while the Democrats will utterly fail in their bid to get their own candidate picked out early so they could get on with the business of losing the general election.

George Michael hangs on to the top of the charts for one more week, but Rick Astley’s about to roll up over him. David Lee Roth, Richard Marx, Michael Jackson and Cher break into the top ten. The Wonderful World of Disney airs the first part of 14 Going On 30, which is pretty much exactly what you think it is: Big crossed with 13 Going On 30, and I only bring it up because Daphne Ashbrook is in it, and because a lot of people think that its ending (She turns herself 14 so she can keep dating the hero after he returns to his original age. Which is really freaking creepy when you think about it) is actually a deleted scene from Big. Supercarrier and In the Heat of the Night premier. Probe premiers tomorrow, right after that MacGyver with the woman who kills the dog.

Star Trek the Next Generation is still on a break as Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future rolls into its final four episodes with the first part of “New Order”. And unfortunately, this one is kind of a Curate’s Egg (Once upon a time, a curate was invited to have breakfast at the Bishop’s house. The Bishop looks at the curate’s plate and observes that he’s been served a rotten egg. The curate, wanting to be gracious to his host says, “Oh, no, parts of it are quite good.”). This episode — this pair of episodes, really, are just about the most action-heavy in the series. And it’s not even good action. The plot progression is kind of sloppy, the sense of time and space is more warped than usual, and there’s an awful lot of stock footage. There are some nice moments, but on the whole, there’s a real feeling of them suddenly realizing that there were only four episodes left and still two phases of Project Macguffin to deal with. They also appear to have realized that they’re running out of show and still haven’t given Maurice Dean Wint much of anything to do all season, so he’s got a slightly larger role here — they actually seem to have deliberately pushed Peter MacNeill to the sidelines for a lot of the story to make room.

Captain Power Episode 19 - Maurice Dean Wint as ScoutWe start out with Captain Power and Scout at a clandestine rendezvous with Locke, a “data theif” played by Paul Humphries, the son of an accomplished Canadian TV producer, in one of a handful of roles he played before deciding to go into music instead, presumably because he realized that both James Spader and Michael Shanks are both better James Spaders than he isPaul Humphries in Captain Power. He’s got exclusive data on the Icarus phase of Project New Order that he’s looking to sell. He gives Scout a preview of the content on his 3.25″ floppy using a Virtual Boy, and Scout confirms that it’s genuine. Somehow. Before they can set a price, however, they hear the approaching sounds of Soaron. Soaron’s dialogue suggests that he’s just sort of randomly happened into the area looking for humans to digitize.

Given the importance of the data they’re buying and the need for secrecy, the obvious thing to do is to lay low and hope he goes away. So of course Cap and Scout immediately Power On and start shooting. Lord Dread, as always, feels the need to micromanage, and dispatches Blastarr to help. While Cap tangles with Soaron, Blastarr corners Locke, who tries to shoot him. I mean actually shoot him. Paul Humphries in Captain PowerWith a gun. That shoots bullets. I’m having a hard time conveying the weirdness of that. I think this is the only time in the series we see a regular gun. Fortunately, for the safety of their time slot and the rendering farm that would have to work out how to make the CGI model interact with a squib,  Locke misses by a mile. Blastarr gloats and returns fire, and… Also misses by a mile.

Captain Power disables Soaron by blowing up a building, or something. It’s hard to tell; it’s the usual way of filming Soaron fight scenes, cutting back and forth between contextless shots of Cap and Soaron each off-screen. The camera stays close-in, which gives us a good look at Soaron’s detailing, but makes it basically impossible to derive any sense of what the hell is going on. There’s very little dialogue to clarify, beyond something to the effect of “Ha! Gotcha!” right before Cap blows something up, which I think is meant to indicate that he’d used a feint to lure Soaron into an enclosed area to shoot him. Captain Power catches up with Blastarr just as he’s about to dispatch Locke (Or rather, while Blastarr has been standing around for about ten seconds with Locke cornered and his gun-fingers aimed, patiently waiting for Cap to show up and shoot him) and disables him momentarily, triggering that same old short loop of the Ground Guardian falling to his knees that they’ve used in about two thirds of his appearances. Blastarr’s resilience varies wildly from scene to scene and episode to episode. Like I said before, you could probably explain this as him needing conscious effort to avoid injury, resulting in his being particularly weak against sucker-punches.

Locke, despite protesting about his payment, agrees to retreat with Scout and Cap on a hoverbike… And then just drops out of the story. We’ll be seeing him again, but not for a while. We cut immediately back to the Power Base, where Mentor and Captain Power explain what they’ve learned. Icarus and Prometheus are to follow in rapid succession. Captain Power Episode 19Icarus refers to a gigantic space-based digitizer, capable of vacuuming up the entire human population of the planet, starting, because now is as good a time as any to start caring about geography, with the east coast of the US two hours from now.

Hawk questions the fact that Dread has somehow launched a giant satellite without them noticing. And here’s where things start to get awkward: presumably, Dread launched it from one of his many other facilities around the world which Captain Power and company know nothing about and haven’t been paying attention to.

LOLWHUT? No, just no. If Lord Dread has facilities all over the planet, why has this never come up? Why were Styx and Charon both done entirely in the US, where the one guy who stands a chance of stopping him lives? For that matter why doesn’t Captain Power pay attention to the rest of the planet? This sounds like a recipe for someone’s last words being, “Gee, Probably should have checked to see if he had a huge backup army in Brazil.” What the hell? There isn’t much of anything in this show that makes sense unless you start from the assumption that either Power and Dread are both operating globally or that the rest of the world has been somehow placed “out of bounds” by some kind of catastrophe.

To prevent us from thinking too long about that, though, Mentor adds that the Prometheus program is scheduled to go into effect immediately after Icarus: this one is the use of “plasma stations” to ignite a firestorm that will sterilize the eastern seaboard to clean up anyone who evades the digitizer. Captain Power sends the others off to warn Freedom Two and the East Coast Resistance (I have all their albums) while he thinks of a plan. It’s rare to see Cap personally and explicitly take on the task of strategy. I don’t particularly like it, given my personal take on the character, but I can’t say that it goes against the Word of God on his tactical abilities.

While he strategizes, we jump back to Volcania just long enough for Dread and Lakki to passive-aggressive at each other, mostly Dread insisting that it’s too late for Captain Power to do anything about Icarus and Lakki reminding him that Captain Power is two for two on disrupting phases of Project New Order so far.

Back at the Power Base, Cap has devised a bold plan to save the world. And when I say “bold”, I don’t mean “A plan which is daring in its difficulty and stakes with the odds against them;” I mean “I can’t believe they had the gall to be this overt about ripping off Star Wars.” Because his plan is to reenact the Death Star Trench Run in the jumpship.  And not subtly at all. The Icarus control station is located at the end of a long trench, and he orders Pilot to fly down the trench in the jumpship and blow it open with a “proton missile”. Everyone is so relieved that they can finally be open about the fact that they can finally be open and honest about ripping off Star Wars that they barely bat an eyelash when Captain Power adds that the second part of his plan is for them to go attack Volcania directly to disable Prometheus. Maurice Dean Wint in Captain PowerThis new spirit of liberation gives Tank the courage to directly reference Star Trek: “What are ve vaiting for? Let’s go boldly where nomen has gahn before.” Scout adds, “Beam me up, Scotty.” (Side note: It’s 2147. That show is two hundred years old. And besides, the only time anyone actually says “Beam me up, Scotty,” is in Star Trek IV).  If you read my essay on “And Study War No More“, you might remember that I proposed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek thesis that even as Star Trek the Next Generation was spooling up, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was in its very modest way trying to stake out its own claim as a legitimate successor to the cultural role that the original Trek had held. But I didn’t really expect them to come right out and say it. It seems like a bit of a dangerous proposition to reference a much more popular competing science fiction franchise in the middle of your own floundering science fiction franchise.

There’s some cutting back and forth to Volcania mostly to break up the time skips, with the strange effect that it appears Captain Power spent an hour and a half of their two hours coming up with his plan, and the next fifteen minutes letting Pilot practice on a simulator. With fifteen minutes to go, they board the jumpship and set out. They’ll be going in unassisted, since, according to Cap, the rest of the resistance couldn’t possibly make it to both targets in time. Because teleportation. So presumably, Cypher, Sands, Blaise and Evangier are just, like, sitting around with their thumbs up their butts while the world gets ready to literally burn around them, because Cap and Company are the only people allowed to actually accomplish anything in this show. En route, they’re attacked by “BioDread forces”, and they speculate it may be Soaron. Given that Soaron is the only thing we’ve ever seen fly other than Dread himself that one time, it’s a safe bet.

Hawk is dispatched to keep Soaron out of the way, and it’s kind of disappointing; the battle appears to be composed entirely of stock footage from earlier in the season. The only thing really noteworthy is that you can see Soaron’s tail swishing behind him at one point. The battle proceeds in the usual way, Hawk firing his nerf darts and Soaron’s laser beams exploding against the empty sky behind Hawk until he eventually gets in a good shot that knocks Hawk out of the air. Soaron’s in “Red Baron” mode for this one, coming close to complimenting Hawk for his prowess, but declaring the day his as he slowly lines up his kill-shot. As per usual, the shocking reveal is that Hawk is less badly hurt than it seemed, and he stands up and hits Soaron point-blank with a nerf dart to the chest, which blows off one leg and wing. They’re really getting brutal with this.

Captain Power Episode 19

The trench run is literally the exact same footage as the trench run from the end credits. I mean, okay, it’s not like I expected them to film a separate sequence for it, but it’s just so blatant. The jumpship and hoverbikes are matted in kind of crudely, and the interactivity effects have been replaced with a glowing ball that chases them part of the way. They occasionally show a reverse-angle on the jumpship, which is nice, but the background of the trench looks like it’s probably just the same end credits loop played backwards. Thanks to a little peck on the cheek Tim Dunigan and Jessica Steen in Captain Power Captain Power gives her, “for luck” (and also because we’ve got a romance subplot to shoehorn in here), Captain Power Episode 19despite getting consistently blown up about ten seconds into the run on the simulator, Pilot manages to survive the, I don’t know, it feels like about six hours (Seriously, the sequence is really tedious) to launch a photon  torpedo shoot a blue strobe beam fire the proton missile at the unshielded thermal exhaust port door, blowing it up.

Lord Dread’s countdown informs us that only seconds remain as Cap, Scout and Tank shoot their way through the installation. It’s a perfectly good fight scene, but it doesn’t really add anything we haven’t seen a dozen times by now. In fact, the whole thing is basically identical to the fight at the Styx base back in “And Madness Shall Reign“. The timing is sloppy. The countdown hits zero just as… Scout sticks a floppy disk in a computer. And then he types something. And then he announces that the Icarus satellite is turning. Was the countdown just a suggestion? At any rate, Scout’s interference causes an explosion on the satellite and it falls out of orbit. Here, we get a slightly weird twist — one moment that actually managed to impress me. We cut immediately back to Volcania where Overmind announces that the Icarus platform isn’t just going to fall to Earth at random: it’s on course to crash straight into Volcania.

That’s a clever part of Captain Power’s strategy which they deliberately withheld from us earlier, but I’m not really sure they earn it. I’m reasonably sure that what they meant to indicate is that Cap’s plan was not merely to destroy Icarus, but to engineer its descent specifically to turn it into a kinetic orbital bombardment against Volcania. But because they withheld this information for dramatic effect, it’s vague enough that you could easily think this is just a deus ex machina, a happy accident that Icarus’s reentry would take it to Volcania. The only hint at all that this is intentional is one line from Scout as he orders Icarus to turn, and you could easily miss it over the noise of the rest of the scene. What we really needed here is to stretch out the middle of act two, show Cap struggling to come up with a plan, and outright saying that there isn’t enough time to hit both targets. They could still withhold the exact plan, but we should have seen Cap’s “Eureka” moment when something gives him the inspiration for the plan. You know what this would be a good time for? A flashback. Bring back Dylan Neal and let Bruce Gray out of his Zordon Tube. Maybe show them playing some kind of sci-fi version of curling, where Daddy Power bests his son by caroming a shot off of one of Young Johnny’s stones so he could give a little speech about turning your adversary’s strengths back against him. But no, we needed that screen-time to squeeze in some more stock footage fight scenes.

Captain Power Episode 19

I Heard You on the Wireless Back in ’52 (Captain Power: Freedom One)

Captain Power Episode 18: Gwynyth Walsh as Christine Larabee/Freedom OneFor Captain Power, the apocalypse is nearly upon us.

It is February 28, 1988. The Calgary Olympics ends with its closing ceremony. Thirty Armenians or more die in the Sumgait pogrom in Azerbaijan. Documents surface implicating now-Austrian President and former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in the deportation of Yugoslav Partisans to concentration camps in World War II. Though his involvement was never established as anything but minimal, he kinda became the poster-child for Germans (and Austrians of German descent) who “don’t remember” anything about what they were doing from round about 1933 to round about 1945 and really just wish you wouldn’t bring it up. Blues singer Edith North Johnson dies in St. Louis. Republican Presidential hopeful Pat Robertson publicly forgives Jimmy Swaggart for last week’s vaguely confessed-to sins involving prostitutes and speculates that the whole thing might be a conspiracy to derail Robertson’s presidential bid. Pat Robertson would not go on to be president, but would go on, in 2005, to blame Hurricane Katrina on gay sex, in 2010, to blame the Haiti earthquake on the Haitians having made a deal with Satan in order to escape slavery, and in 2015, to suggest that good Christian parents should beat their children into submission if they reject their parents’ religion.

George Michael tops the charts with “Father Figure”, and the Pet Shop Boys, Patrick Swayze, Rick Astley, and Eric Carmen all leapfrog over Exposé as well. Two days ago, General Hospital showed the first interracial wedding in on American daytime TV. Also that day, the original, non-musical version of Hairspray opened in theaters. Star Trek the Next Generation will take this week and the next off. Tomorrow, Day By Day will premier, a short-running show about some parents who quit their high-power ’80s jobs to open a home day care in order to spend more time with their young daughter, having decided that the whole high-power-80s-jobs thing had screwed up their teenage son. I mention it because Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was in it and the teenage son character had the same name as I do. He was played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who would later play Greg Brady in the late-90s Brady Bunch parodies/reboots, which is extra funny because one of Day By Day’s later episodes was an extended dream sequence set in a Brady Bunch-pastiche guest-starring much of the original cast. Edward Mulhare will guest star on MacGyver in an episode I strongly suspect was actually recycled from an unused Knight Rider script (Specifically, one which would have seen Mulhare in a double-role as both series-regular Devon Miles, and his laid-back roguish-scamp twin brother). Courtney Gibbs will be crowned Miss America. The Joshua Tree wins Album of the Year at the Grammies while “Somewhere Out There” takes Song of the Year.

We are rapidly pulling up to the end of time. This episode, “Freedom One” is the last “regular” episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future to air. Four episodes remain, two two-parters, which themselves follow on one from the other directly enough that they easily could have been presented as a four-parter. Of course, it’s more complicated than that if you sort by the date codes in Captain Power’s log entries; in that case, this episode would have fallen back at the end of August, between “And Madness Shall Reign” and “And Study War No More”, with “Judgment” instead being the last episode before the arc-heavy wind-up. There are, as I’ve already said, problems with this ordering, but since the most affected episodes, “Freedom One”, “Judgment”, “The Eden Road” and “A Summoning of Thunder” have little to do with the Project New Order season arc, you probably could put them in any order, the main anchoring point being that “A Summoning of Thunder” explicitly takes place on the anniversary of Stuart Power’s death (Sorta. The stardate for the framing story and the one for the flashback aren’t actually consistent)  This show’s arc is very sparse. There’s a handful of references to Project New Order sprinkled in random episodes, but mostly, you’re talking about “The Mirror in Darkness“, “The Ferryman“, “And Study War No More“, and “And Madness Shall Reign“, while the finale will bring together some plot threads from “A Summoning of Thunder” and “The Eden Road” as well. Most of this season’s episodes have been what you’d call “filler” in a more modern arc-based series. But here we are, five weeks left, and we’re on the last one. After this one, things get real.

Have I done a good enough job un-selling you on this one? Sorry about that. It’s another episode that’s, y’know, fine. It’s kind of an “intrigue”-sort of episode. Star Trek Deep Space Nine was good at that sort of thing. Babylon 5 was good at that sort of thing (This episode, for what it’s worth, was written by Christy Marx, not JMS). Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is not good at this sort of thing. They’re not terrible at it or anything, but it’s certainly not playing to its strengths.

We open on a montage of fight scenes (With a clip of Sandtown thrown in there as an establishing shot for some reason). We only get to see the Dread troopers, not the resistance cells fighting them, presumably because this is all spare footage from other episodes. A voiceover provides a summary of events. “This is Freedom One speaking, the voice of the East Coast (Pretty sure Sandtown was in the southwest…) Resistance Movement.  Valiant fighters in Quadrant Nine (So I guess there are “quadrants” now in addition to “sectors”) destroyed one column of Dread troops today. No casualties. Intensified sweeps by Soaron in Sector One (So Sector One is on the East Coast. God I hate this show’s sense of geography). All resistance fighters are warned to remain under cover. Just received word of a stunning blow against a secret Dread project by Captain Power and his unit (wink wink nudge nudge). They are an inspiration to us all.” This is a radio broadcast by the eponymous “Freedom One”. She’s not entirely unbelievable; she has something of a late-night-female-DJ sort of thing going on — she actually reminds me a lot of Delilah. But that kinda seems like a strange choice for the “voice of the resistance”. It’s a smooth, dulcet tone she uses, the sort that you might find soothing, to help you get through a breakup or your dog dying. But I wouldn’t think it’s the kind of tone that would be comforting to people in a war zone. That sort of, “Hey, it’s okay; life is still beautiful. Here, you should just relax and listen to some Patrick Swayze,” thing isn’t particularly compatible with the whole “Most of the human race is dead or digitized” thing. I think you’d want something more energizing than relaxing. More Art Bell, maybe.

“Freedom One,” or rather Christine Larabee, is played by Gwynyth Walsh, a regular in the Syndicated Speculative Fiction Filmed in Western Canada arena. According to her filmography, she seems to play medical doctors a lot. That kind of makes sense, given the voice: it’s exactly the sort of soothing thing you’d want to convey things like Gwynyth Walsh as B'Etor of the house of Duras“You can trust me,” and “Don’t panic,” when delivering bad news (Or, as in her recurring roles on Da Vinci’s Inquest and NYPD Blue, a sense of trustworthiness when explaining medical evidence). That said, the role you’re most likely to know her from is B’Etor, one of the Duras sisters, the recurring villains in Star Trek the Next Generation who were largely responsible for the Enterprise-D’s destruction in Star Trek: Generations.

At the Power Base, Captain Power and Hawk are worried, because Freedom One has missed a transmission. That’s kind of a clunky transition, since she was literally still finishing her voice-over after the scene started — less than a second passes between her sign-off and Hawk fretting that her broadcast hasn’t started yet. If that wasn’t awkward enough, she starts broadcasting again just as Cap says that he hopes nothing’s happened to her.

She explains that she’d had to relocate after a close call, and gives personal thanks to our old friend Cypher, who’d saved her at great personal cost. Our heroes share a moment of… I’ll be nice and call it stoicism rather than dull surprise, Cap even putting a hand on Pilot’s shoulder. She’s the only one who chooses to actually look sad at the news of Cypher’s apparent demise rather just squaring their jaws. I’d kind of have preferred it if they’d made it Scout who emoted and had Pilot remain stoic, especially if this episode really is meant to go before “Judgment”.
“Sacrifice is a word we all know too well. There is no one within the sound of my voice who has not lost someone. A wife, husband, children, friend, lover. But there is one thing we must never lose: Hope. Without hope, we’ll give up when we’re tired and hungry and it seems as if chaos and madness must overwhelm us. Hope is the flame that burns in our hearts. It’s warmth when the soul is cold. It’s light when the darkness surrounds us.”

Dread troops raid another resistance base, a cave stocked with worn and old equipment, manned by resistance fighters in clean, unworn and professionally tailored uniforms. Captain Power Episode 18 - Elzar Comforts the dying GundarThough the bad guys are driven off, at least one soldier is morally wounded, and asks them to leave the radio on so that he can enjoy Freedom One’s voice as he dies. I guess this is supposed to sell us on the idea that her cliché platitudes about hope really are a big part of what’s holding the resistance together. I guess it was nice of her to stop talking for a minute during the battle so we wouldn’t miss any of her speech.

At the end of her broadcast, she gives a special message, “I summon the thunder.” Captain Power recognizes this (and, though everyone in the room clearly already knew this, he will explain it to them a second later) as a code-phrase indicating that she’s about to transmit encrypted co-ordinates for a face-to-face meeting, apparently in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Captain Power Episode 18 - MapIn Duxbury (By which I mean, “in the exact same ruined-urban-landscape set as they use in 2/3 of the episodes”), a woman in a helmet and pink jumpsuit is nearly gunned down by a monocle-wearing bling-NaziCaptain Power Episode 18, but Captain Power and his gang arrive on hoverbikes and save the day by shooting the bad guys in the crotch. Captain Power Episode 18The angles on the fight scene are awkward, never even coming close to lining up when they cut from heroes to villains. A clicker dutifully waits while Pilot lands her hoverbike before trying to shoot her in the back, which gives Hawk time to dispatch it. “Got to watch your backdoor, kid,” he admonishes her. Pilot’s response is an awkward salute. Her motions are sort of overblown and panto in a way that reminds me of the stylized body language in Super Sentai. I’m guessing it’s stunt actors in these scenes, since their faces aren’t visible and they don’t move like Peter MacNeill and Jessica Steen. She also says “Uh…. Thanks?” in a tone that suggests to me that she was fully aware how dirty it sounded for Hawk to tell her to “watch her backdoor”.

Peter MacNeill as Hawk in Captain Power episode 18We also get the minor treat of watching Hawk’s wings retract, a VFX shot which has never been depicted before. Way too late for it to be apropos, Hawk thinks of a clever one-liner about the mech he killed — whose foot got caught in a rope as he fell off the building — and notes, “Funny how they’re always hanging around.” It’s been so long since they showed it hanging off the roof that I actually couldn’t work out what he was talking about until my third viewing.

After cleaning up the rest of the troops, Cap and Freedom One meet in person. In person, she’s a lot more glib and snarky. She proposes a meeting of the five most important resistance leaders, which everyone thinks is a terrible idea, but she’s sorted out that Captain Power must have teleportation powers, because ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION IT IS GOING TO BE REALLY IMPORTANT THAT CAPTAIN POWER HAS TELEPORTATION POWERS SOON, which she reckons will let them get everyone together too fast for Dread to do anything about it.

She isn’t really clear on what the point of this meeting is, beyond the fact that they’ve agreed to name Cap as the Overall Leader Of The Resistance. Which is nice and all, but as a purely practical matter, no one ever makes the case for why they can’t all just coordinate remotely via the same kind of “tight beam transmission” that they used to set up the meeting — there’s no explanation of what the advantage is in a face-to-face meeting. Sure, meeting people in person is nice and all, but under the circumstances?

In any case, Captain Power agrees to a meeting in “sector 23”, and to go pick up the resistance leaders, “Sands”, “Gundar”, “Blaise”, “Evangier” and Cypher — who I guess isn’t dead, even though it seems like they were implying the heck out of that a scene ago.

Christine tells Cap her real name, and asks for his. Finally, after all these episodes, someone is properly surprised that “Power” is his real name, having assumed it was a “silly codename”, like her own handle. I don’t think anyone doing the boots-on-the ground making of this show was ever really sold on the name.

Dread Base - Captain Power Episode 18

The meeting is at an abandoned Dread base, which Captain Power, because he is no Admiral Ackbar, thinks is clever rather than a trap. When she asks him to guard her backpack transmitter, he stoics his way through a little speech about how people are more important than machines. She calls him an “innocent” for his sentimentality, and for some reason, that actually gets a smile out of him. I am going to deliberately misinterpret that evidence that he is in fact secretly a serial killer who’s been keeping it under control by channeling his psychopathic impulses into the war, as previously hinted way back in “The Mirror in Darkness“.

Because it’s obviously a trap, after a bit of flirting with Cap, she goes off to another room and summons a Lord Dread hologram. After the commercial break, she outs herself to us as a deep-cover Overunit, who’s spent “months” building up her street-cred in order to set up this trap. She’s pissed that her boss has called her in the middle of all this, but he puts her in her place, and explains that the dead guy from a couple of scenes ago was, in fact, Gundar. This is a problem, because Gundar’s second, ElzarElzar, turns out to have met Christine in her pre-Freedom-One days. Fortunately, Gundar had personally requested Pilot to be his pickup, so Dread can kill two birds with one stone since death is “the fate of all traitors and rebels,” which totally isn’t foreshadowing.

Raymond O'Neill as Elzar in Captain PowerTank picks up Cypher, who seems totally fine and in good spirits, so what the hell was all that stuff about Cypher having sacrificed to rescue her anyway? Pilot picks up Elzar without even questioning the fact that some guy she’s never met is claiming he’s Gundar’s replacement without anything to back that up aside from a freshly pressed uniform without any trace of wear on it. How have these guys stayed alive this long?

I guess we’re not going to bother with Sands, Blaise and Evangier. Pilot and Elzar arrive at their designated trap to face off with Blastarr. Blastarr, as has been the case lately, looks really good, at least while they’re fighting (When he switches his feet over to roller skates to drive off later, he looks like an animated GIF). Pilot takes a shot to the chest for Elzar and then a wall falls on them. Blastarr declares them dead and leaves, because Blastarr is really stupid. Blastarr - Captain Power Episode 18
Elzar and Pilot have dug themselves out of the rubble and are completely unharmed when the camera angle changes, and Pilot wasn’t even conscious at the time.
The plot realizes it’s running out of time, so Captain Power becomes inexplicably suspicious of Christine when she announces that Pilot’s been delayed, and follows her when she leaves the transmitter she’d been using to talk to Lord Dread to go outside and use a completely different transmitter to let Lord Dread know that it’s time to attack. She gives up on her cover immediately and pulls a gun on Cap, but at exactly that moment, Elzar shows up carrying Pilot, who shoots Christine in the hand.

Captain Power decides to stay behind to delay the incoming troops while the others escape out the, irm, back door (Because for some reason this base has a back door that Dread will not think to watch). Hawk warns Cap that they “won’t have time to get back to you,” and Cap, who must have missed a page in the script, responds, “So I’ll have the element of surprise.” Captain Power orders Christine taken to the passages, in order to be, I am not making this up, tortured for information (Well, what he says is to have their “psych people” try to get something out of her, but the venom in his voice hints at what he has in mind. Remember, she’s a true believer; she hasn’t been brainwashed or tortured into compliance like, say, Athena). Okay, at least he doesn’t set her up to be digitized.

There’s a nice chase scene of Cap playing hide-and-seek through the base pursued by mechs and a gloating Blastarr. At one point, Captain Power dispatches a group of troops by shooting blindly over his shoulder without having given any indication he knew they were behind him. We see too much of Blastarr’s feet, though, which is hard on the illusion since they never quite look like they’re really on the ground. It’s also a bit too much of a curbstomp for me to really believe this ambush ever had a chance of working — if Cap can dominate so easily, how did they expect to beat the entire power team plus the five most experienced soldiers in the resistance?

Blastarr and a Dalek. Captain Power Meets Doctor Who

Captain Power finally escapes Blastarr’s pursuit by… Climbing up a ladder. On the roof of a building that looks nothing like the exterior of the Dread Base we’d seen earlier, Cap holds off the remaining mechs until Hawk shows up on a hover bike to rescue him. As they fly away, Cap catches a transmission from the new voice of the resistance. Elzar, having escaped with Christine’s backpack (which I didn’t mention before because there’s nothing much to say about it, but they did kind of play up the fact that the backpack transmitter was kind of macguffiny, presumably because of its power, range and portability), is now calling himself “Freedom Two”. He’s a lot more what you’d expect from the role too, going not for soothing, but rallying:

“The Voice of the Resistance will stay on the air, I make that pledge and I intend to keep it. This is the new voice of the resistance, Freedom Two. And if anything happens to me, there’s gonna be a Freedom Three. And four. And five. We didn’t start this war, but we’re going to finish it.”

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Heading out to Eden, yea, brother (Captain Power: The Eden Road)

Captain Power Episode 18: The Eden RoadIt is February 22, 1988. This week will see Katarina Witt get an Olympic gold medal for figure skating in Calgary, Archbishop Desmond Tutu get arrested in South Africa, Senator Bob Packwood get hauled feet-first before Congress by Capitol police to answer a quorum call (And you thought partisan politics were effed up in 2014!). The Supreme Court will side with Larry Flynt in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. Falwell and Flynt would apparently later become personal friends despite their differences, presumably finding common ground in the fact that they were both kinda jerks. Yesterday, Jimmy Swaggart gave his infamous “I have sinned,” speech, confessing in vague terms to an unspecified sin that pretty much everyone by now knew was some form of really liking prostitutes.

Exposé has the number one spot on the Billboard charts with “Seasons Change”, while George Michael’s “Father Figure” is on the rise, and will overtake it by the week’s end. The other newcomer in the top ten is Rick Astley, making is preparations for the invention of YouTube.
At this point in my life, I don’t think I’d ever seen The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, an early ’60s teen comedy based on an earlier Bobby Van movie, about a hapless and slightly doofy teenager who dreams of a more glamorous life than working at his dad’s grocery store and settling down with the girl next door, as he pursues social and romantic advancement with town’s preeminent beauties such as Tuesday Weld’s Thalia Menninger, while evading the affections of the homelier girl-next-door Zelda Gilroy. Also, Bob Denver plays… Pretty much Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (In fact, the creators of Scooby-Doo Where Are You? eventually admitted that all four of the human characters were based on Dobie regulars, Fred is Dobie, Velma is Zelda, Daphne is Thalia and Shaggy is Maynard). I bring it up because February 21, 1988, they showed a reunion movie that I remember fairly well, not least of all for its amazingly WTF title, Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. The reunion finds Dobie, decades later, working at his dad’s grocery store and married to the girl next door. One of the “Many Loves” returns to town, decides she does want Dobie after all, and offers an exorbitant sum of money to stimulate the town’s flagging economy if they murder him after he spurns her affections. Of course he spurns her affections; he’s finally at peace with the fact that the simple life of taking over your father’s working-class job and marrying the homely girl as a reward for her loyalty and persistence even though you’ve never shown any actual attraction or interest is the far superior life to fame, fortune, and women who are attractive in the way Hollywood tells us is superior. Because moral messages come and go with the years in TV Land, but the one moral imperative that can never be broken is, “Don’t get ideas above your station.” The plot is lifted from a 1956 Swiss play about justice and dehumanization that’s considered one of the most important 20th century German-language literary works. Which is very strange to contemplate, in kind of the same way that it’s hard to contemplate that Zombie Strippers (A hard-R skin-flick about exotic dancers who are also undead), is an adaptation of Ionesco’s The Rhinoceroses(An absurdist play about the rise of fascism as represented by people turning into even-toed ungulates).
TV this week is still dominated by the Olympics. Everything’s new this week, but it’s all shows I’ve mentioned before. A TV movie on Sunday, and CBS is showing The Wizard of Oz on Wednesday. Star Trek the Next Generation airs “Home Soil”. Here’s Vaka Rangi on that, because I was just saying a little while ago that I should link to that more. The important bit is that it’s the episode that gave us the line, “Ugly bags of mostly water.”

This week on Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future, it’s another oddball episode, “The Eden Road”. Like “The Intruder“, this is an episode that’s heavily haunted by the ghost of the second season that never was, and is a lot weaker than it would have been if we were looking back on it as foreshadowing the big moves of season, let’s say, three.

The “Eden” of the title refers to “Eden 2”, which had been referenced way back (or shortly back, depending on your perspective) in “Wardogs“. And here, it’s helpful to glance back at some of the production materials.

Eden 2 is a concept that came up very early in the creative process for Captain Power. Captain Power Design Sketch - Eden 2Described as a quasi-mythical “Shangri La”, it was meant to be a hidden refuge where humanity could not simply survive the war outside, but flourish in the face of it. Envisioned as a large, underground biosphere, the series bible proposes that in the show’s second season, following the loss of the Power Base, Cap and company would actually relocate there, persuading the Edenites to join his cause and make a stand against Lord Dread. We now know that this idea was heavily modified by the time they went into production, of course, with the commissioned scripts for season 2 instead moving Captain Power to a secret identical Power Base apparently unaffiliated with Eden 2. Though obviously, there are still shades of the idea: the second Power Base was, like one of the proposals for Eden 2, to be hidden in the arctic, for example. It could well be that relocation to Eden 2 was still in the cards: “The Observer”, proposed as the second season finale, sounds like it might have been meant as the story of Eden 2 deciding to ally itself with Captain Power.

Unfortunately, we never got our second season, much less a third, and Eden 2 vanishes from the story after this episode. This isn’t just a missed opportunity; it actually casts the entire thing in a completely different light. Imagine for a second that I hadn’t just spent a paragraph telling you what the bible says that Eden 2 is all about, and tell me what your first reaction is to this capsule summary: There’s a highly secret human enclave with a portentous name, rumored to be a paradise where people can live in peace and safety. They’re mysterious and vague about their location, intentions, and capabilities. They want to meet Captain Power, and insist on having the meeting in an extremely dangerous place.

Hell yeah it sounds like a trap. I mean, it doesn’t just sound like a trap. It sounds like the plot of “And Study War No More“. Even if they hadn’t already done that one a few weeks ago, the whole thing stinks so bad of “trap” that I think even comparatively unsophisticated viewers are going to waste most of the episode waiting for the other shoe to drop. But what makes this episode all the more disappointing is that, if you do waste most of the episode waiting for the other shoe to drop, sure, you’ll be disappointed when it doesn’t, but you won’t actually miss much. The sum total of what happens in this episode boils down to this spoiler: Yes, Virginia Captain Power, there is an Eden 2, and no, they are not going to make themselves relevant in the near future.

So that’s a bit of an anticlimax. It’s not altogether a worthless episode, mind you; there are some nice bits. But they’re largely incidental to the plot. I’ve been trying to make sense of the chronology a bit. No matter how you slice it, it just doesn’t quite work. Based on the in-episode dates, “The Ferryman” should be the third episode, occurring between Pariah and “A Fire in the Dark”. That would mean that for almost all the episodes which aired first, Blastarr exists, but Dread doesn’t think to involve him. This dating also places “And Study War No More” after “And Madness Shall Reign”. Okay. Not a flat-out contradiction, since they’re essentially finding out about Haven’s involvement in the Styx plot after the fact. But it’s very clear in “And Study War No More” that this is Blastarr’s first meeting with Captain Power, which just doesn’t hold water if he’s already appeared in both “The Intruder” and “Flame Street”. Besides, I would think that the “new human form” Dread is trying to design in “A Fire in the Dark” is meant to be a reference to Blastarr, which doesn’t make a lick of sense if it takes place a week afterward. Furthermore, Lord Dread’s characterization is all over the place in this ordering. Originally meant to be a major part of his character, Dread’s obsession with finding the location of the Power Base comes up in “The Intruder”, “Flame Street”, “A Summoning of Thunder”, and “Retribution”. As aired, it feels like a building obsession starting around the middle of the season. In calendar order, it’s more spread out, perhaps closer to the original intention of it being Dread’s long-time goal, but giving the impression that he more or less thinks of it every couple of months then promptly forgets to pursue it for a bit. If you wanted to suggest Dread is schizophrenic, the calendar order helps you out in other ways. The episodes where Dread comes off as vaguely sympathetic or regretful are kind of distributed at random through the season with “Flame Street” as the last of them, rather than clustering around the middle. Dread’s next major plan after deliberately letting Cap escape from his father’s grave is to… Send out a copycat in an ersatz Power Suit (“Final Stand” and “The Abyss” take place in the middle, but neither involve Dread actually making active plans, just reacting to others). Admittedly, it does make sense that Cap cites his dad’s oath against taking human life when he fights Jason if he’s only just recently been thinking about him. Though there’s a lovely bit of irony in having Cap make that citation two episodes after we watched his dad try to murder someone with his bare hands. On balance, the aired order just makes more sense for Dread as a character. We see him in the middle of the season suffer a crisis of conscience (Aside from Blastarr’s presence, “Flame Street” would actually make more sense as the first of these episodes, were it set before “A Fire in the Dark”. Rattled by his experience in the cyberweb, he seeks out an artist to reassure himself that his “utopia” will be more beautiful than the blighted wasteland he’s created), which he eventually resolves by doubling down at the end of the season. We’ll see Dread become increasingly ruthless and increasingly obsessed with Cap’s defeat starting this episode, which makes a lot of sense if you interpret him leaving the music box at Stuart’s grave as him finally leaving behind the last piece of humanity he’d been holding on to.

I think it may not be wise to read too much into those stardates after all. Increasingly, I think they reflect a tentative ordering, and when they realized that Blastarr wouldn’t be ready for the first block of episodes, it was still early enough in the process that substantial story elements could be retooled to generate the ordering we eventually saw on the air, though, for reasons that completely elude me, too late to change the date stamps. No, this episode was clearly trading on the notion of being a Big Old Part of the Series Mythology, and hoping that (And bringing their A-game on the visual effects) would make up for the fact that there’s not much in the way of plot.

Doctor Who alum Lorne Cossette returns as Colonel Cypher, led blindfolded into the Power Base — this is the first intentional guest they’ve had since A Fire in the Dark, so it’s our first chance to see their security measures. Which mostly consist of the blindfold and being kind of snippy. He seems to have recovered fully since “And Madness Shall Reign“, but Captain Power’s team all seem kind of bitter and dismissive toward him. The last time we saw him, Cap treated the old soldier with respect and concern, even though he was, at the moment, literally stark-raving. Here, they mostly seem annoyed that he’s insisted on meeting with them in person. He’ll appear again in next week’s “Freedom One”, and I’m curious how their relationship will be presented then. This pair of episodes is backwards chronologically: by its stardate, “Freedom One” should be set about two weeks after “And Madness Shall Reign”, so this is really Captain Power’s last encounter with Cypher.

Captain Power’s team seems somewhere between bemused and annoyed when Cypher explains that he’s here because of Eden 2. They’ve heard of it, yes, but had dismissed it as a myth. When Cypher claims to be part of an “underground railroad” smuggling refugees to Eden 2, they’re highly skeptical. According to Cypher, he’s been entrusted with one of the links in a highly secret chain leading to Eden 2. Eden 2 is so advanced they’ve already got Tor, you see, so the titular “Eden Road” consists of a bunch of pit-stops, with only one person at each location who knows only the location of the next node, so that no one outside of Eden knows the whole route.

Lorne Cossette in Captain Power

Dread, apparently by dumb luck, took out a node adjacent to Cypher’s, as revealed by a recording of a fight scene from earlier in the season on a floppy disk Cypher provides. For no clear reason, the Edenites want Captain Power to take delivery personally of a data crystal giving the replacement route. This sounds so much like a trap that even Captain Power and his gang are suspiciousCaptain Power: Peter MacNeill as Hawk, but they decide it’s at least worth investigating when Cypher presents an autographed Wardog patchCaptain Power - Wardogs Patch as proof of his claims.

Cypher’s Eden 2 contact has requested to meet Captain Power in the really really unfortunately named “Darktown”. “Darktown” had been subject to “proton bombardments” back in the last war, and rendered uninhabitable. Pretty much, Straczynski clearly wrote this setting as a nuclear fallout zone, filing the serial numbers off because, as we learned from the comic book (and is emphatically reinforced in the series bible), 2147 is a strictly nuclear-free zone. Darktown is polluted with a permanent “acid mist” that is not only deadly to organic life, but also causes biomechs to malfunction and eventually break down. Even the Power Suits only offer limited protection.

Captain Power - Darktown Flyby

Our first view of Darkdown is a flyby from the Jumpship. It’s a really nice model shot of a ruined city, undermined somewhat by the presence of “acid pits” that are pretty much strobing yellow blotches added clumsily in post. For absolutely no discernible reason, Lord Dread has stationed a heavy Biomech presence here, despite the fact that his troops keep going rogue due to the acid mist, because, obviously, he’s got to guard the place so that people don’t… sneak around there and die from the acid mist. Captain Power and Pilot both wear extra face-shields to protect the bits of their faces not covered by their smaller helmets, and begin to sneak their way to the rendevous site. Captain Power: The Eden RoadIn order to disable a force-field (which Dread has put up to stop any of the people who can’t survive here from sneaking further into Darktown to find the uninhabitable ruins with nothing of value inside them), Scout is called on to pull his usual trick of impersonating a clicker.

Due to the acid mist, though, his octocamo glitches and fails while he’s working. This wouldn’t be a problem, since the only mech nearby is steadfastly looking in the opposite direction. But the third or fourth time this happens, Cap realizes that this would be a great chance to get in one of their contractually obligated fight scenes, and starts shouting. The team is able to take out the nearby mechs without too much trouble, and make their way further into the city, hoping that the damage they’ve done will be attributed to a rogue mech.

Of course, they’ll have no such luck, because that would make for a boring episode. And this episode is already kind of thin on plot to begin with. Captain Power: The Eden RoadBack at Volcania, Lord Dread and his Bling Nazis are compiling maps showing Captain Power sightings. One look at the map convinces Dread that it’s impossible for Cap to have traveled those distances in such a short time, and therefore he must have an army of helpers who travel the country in Captain Power Halloween costumes to set up false trails to confuse the enemy matter teleportation technology.

Up until the previous two-parter, the most they’d ever said about the jumpgates was that they existed, and now, two stories in a row have gone out of their way to talk about the fact that Cap has a personal wormhole network. Now, I know why they’re building this up at this point, because I’ve already watched the entire season. But this must have been very strange for the original audience back in 1988 to suddenly have these little plot-diversions to talk about matter teleportation, especially in light of it being 1988, when “foreshadowing something for later in the season” was not a very common action-adventure trope. A very long time ago, I took issue with how random this whole “Oh, and also they have a wormhole network,” thing feels, in that it’s not really a technology that seems to have anything at all to do with any of the other technology in the show. It’s clearly not there to justify Captain Power’s ability to travel over large distances, since geography makes so little sense in this show that it doesn’t really matter. Besides, Hawk could fly from Colorado Springs to Detroit in nine minutes without the jump gates. That is about 33 times faster than traveling by commercial jet (And 126 times faster than driving up I-80 to I-94, if you’re keeping score).

Which, of course, is a whole separate issue, because in every damned episode, wherever Cap and Company are going, Blastarr or Soaron is only about an hour away. If it’s impossible for Captain Power to cover that much ground, surely the same could be said for the BioDreads, and yet there they are, week after week. For example, Blastarr is only about ten minutes’ walk from Darktown right now.

Which is handy, because a report comes in of some fighting in Darktown, and of course, every single thing that happens anywhere on the planet is immediately reported directly to Lord Dread. Though the reporting Bling Nazi theorizes it’s probably just a mech going rogue, Dread has the advantage of having read the script, and quickly concludes that it must be Power. He immediately dispatches Blastarr to lead counterattack.

He’ll come to reconsider this a few scenes on, though; even Blastarr is not immune to the “acid mist” and begins to have trouble speaking and thinking clearly.Captain Power: Blastarr Dread claims that Soaron had no such trouble, and attributes Blastarr’s weakness to Cap’s interference with the birthing process. The scene is a little uncomfortable. My ancient memories of this show don’t include Dread ever being particularly critical of Blastarr; I always thought that once Blastarr had come along, it was Soaron who got treated like the unwanted child — that was a big part of my perception that Soaron might eventually mutiny. But here… Frankly, it kinda seems like Dread is negging Blastarr. Deliberately playing on the sibling rivalry. If that’s what’s afoot, it works, because Blastarr demands to be allowed to finish the mission in spite of his difficulties.

Meanwhile, Cap and Company have arrived at the rendevous spot, a small shack whose interior is mysteriously well-lit and free of acid. A fair-featured boyishly handsome man (Of course it is. Ever notice how the representatives from otherworldly utopian civilizations is pretty much always an aryan poster boy? Always white, always male, always blonde.) in sparkly future-wear greets them and entreats them to take off their masks and Power Suits, as he’s rendered the environment safe using his fancy Eden 2 powers. They remove their masks, but, unlike all those other episodes where they’re always powering down the second they don’t have a BioDread in line-of-sight, they opt to stay armored, just in case. And if this didn’t already feel like a big old trap, the emissary also shows off his shiny acid-heat-cold-and-blaster-proof coat, which he suggests Cap and his friends will get as part of their welcome gift basket when they come to Eden 2 in person. Hawk notes that it’s the first technological development anyone but Dread has made in years. Captain Power: Brent Stait as JohnJohn is played by Brent Stait, a regular fixture in Toronto and Vancouver productions. He’s appeared in The X-FilesStargate SG-1, Smallville and Supernatural, but his biggest role was as Rev Bem in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. The emissary, John, assures everyone that he’s on the level, and he assures Hawk that Vi is happy and safe, and he assures Captain Power that they’re trying to help, and he doesn’t even pull the traditional Highly Advanced Culture That Meets Our Heroes stunt SG-1 is so proud of where they’re all like “We totes like you guys, but we’re all advanced and Prime Directivey and won’t involve ourselves in your war or give you weapons or advanced technology, and kind of think you’re a bunch of savages for not being able to resolve this diplomatically.”

In other words, they act exactly like the traditional Seemingly Highly Advanced Culture that Secretly Plans to Enslave And/Or Cook Our Heroes and Eat Them that SG-1 is so proud of (See also, The Aschen, The Visitors, The Quar’to, the Taelons, and those guys from The Twilight Zone with the cookbook). However, the other shoe, as previously mentioned, never drops. Captain Power: BlastarrInstead, the increasingly erratic Blastarr shows up and starts shooting up the place. The emissary decides to leg it, but not before passing Cap a fist-sized chunk of pink quartz that’s allegedly a “data crystal” containing the new Eden Road node location and a Mysterious Package that totally isn’t a trap.

Captain Power and the others go outside and fight Blastarr, only not really, because Blastarr completely loses it and starts just shooting at random, taking out his own forces. So much chaos ensues that the shot which finally disables Blastarr isn’t from our heroes; it’s one of the pink pew-pews from a BioMech gunCaptain Power: Blastarr.

Blastarr’s scenes aren’t much different than everything else we’ve seen of him, but, like Soaron last week, it does seem like the quality of his animation has improved. When he collapses at the end of the fight, it’s new footage, not a recycle of the same sixty frames of him falling to his knees they used in “Justice”, “Flame Street” and “The Intruder”. There’s more small motions to him, changes in the way he turns his arms or the articulation of his torso. It’s a pity we’re getting so close to the end of the season, because it really does seem like they’re starting to get a handle on doing the CGI elements properly.Captain Power: Blastarr Animation

Back at the Power Base, Cap opens his package the box from Eden 2, triggering a thermonuclear explosion which wipes out our heroes, a tragic end to the series on par with the last episode of Blake’s 7, and finds an orange. Everyone gasps at the first piece of fresh fruit anyone’s seen in years. Captain Power: OrangesHe passes around segments, and Hawk declares that he can tell from its taste that this is no hydroponic orange, but one that grew in soil. Given that oranges grow on trees, so even non-hydroponic ones don’t actually come into contact with dirt, I am not sure how he deduced this. Everyone enjoys a light moment appreciating this proof that Eden 2 is real and on-the-level, and surely in the days and weeks to come, it will….

Never be mentioned again. Grr. Every time something actually interesting comes up in this show, it’s never mentioned again. Meanwhile, this whole matter teleportation angle actually is building up to something, yet it’s a weird, offhand element of the world background that feels tacked-on. It’s just disappointing. Another episode for the “skip if you’re in a hurry” bin.

And that’s too bad. Visually, this episode is fine. Everyone gets something to do, a few meaningful lines. The action sequences are fantastic. But the plot is effectively absent, and what narrative beats are actually there are all wrong. The whole story uses the plot beats from an “Seemingly idylic enclave is secretly evil” story. The desperate and dispossessed flock to Eden and are never seen again. Through an unlikely coincidence Dread disrupts their underground railroad and now they’ll only reveal the new route to Captain Power in person in the most dangerous place on Earth while Dread’s forces surround them, and they back up their claims by giving Hawk the one secret token that might trick him into letting his guard down? I’ve seen this episode so many times. Heck, I’ve seen this episode of Captain Power. Not only is the setup similar in key ways to “And Study War No More“, I think there’s also elements of similarity to “The Room” (Not that one), one of the cut episodes from earlier in the season that would have seen Cap infiltrate a purported underground railroad taking refugees to safety and uncover the dark secrets therein.

So taken on its own, this episode just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Honestly, even taken as the first half of a two-parter, it’s deeply weird, unless the second half is “The leadership of Eden 2 turns out to be evil reptiloids.”  Maybe if they’d sold it better, it could have worked: after Haven and The Room, the audience is primed to expect a trap, so you could play off, “No, really, this time, it’s legit,” as a twist. But they don’t quite manage it. For it to really work, you’d want Captain Power and his gang leave the rendezvous under the assumption that they’d been set up, only to have the orange lead to the revelation that Eden 2 is on the level. You’d have to make this explicit. Have Cap (Or better, Scout) reflect that it’s just like Haven. Maybe one of them reflects on there being a “snake” in this “Eden” (Either Tank, who we’d previously established as having some knowledge of scripture, or Pilot, to give her some character growth by implying that the experience at Haven had prompted her to learn about it). They take the box back to the base and have Tank open it in full armor in a protected vault or something, assuming it’s a bomb. Have Hawk fret over what this means for Vi. Tank opens the box and they find an orange, have the light moment, then say outright that this means the emissary was telling the truth and Eden 2 is real.

As it stands, while this episode should be tantalizing in how it seems to imply something about the future of this world, it ends up just feeling like they got to the end of the episode without remembering to have the end of their plot actually happen.

Oh, and also, Captain Power throws a BioMech into an acid pit.

Captain Power: The Eden Road; Captain Power throws a mech into an acid pit

That is all.


Or is it…

Shout-out time: I just discovered The Super-Saturday Short-Lived Showcase, which is also working its way through Captain Power. Due to my Generation X work-ethic, they’ve basically caught up with me by now, and they appear to number their readers in positive numbers, unlike me, so they hardly need me schilling for them, but on the off chance you happen to read my work and think, “I’d really like to hear someone else also say clever things about Captain Power”, please, check them out.

A Pair of Hopalong Boots and a Pistol that Shoots… (Captain Power: The Training Videos)

Author’s note: Due to severe VHS interlacing artifacts, a lot of the scenes I wanted to use to illustrate this article were incomprehensible from single frames, so I’ve used a greater than usual number of GIF animations. As a result, this page may have unusually long load times.

Merry Christmas! There’s an episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future that’s set on Christmas, but to be perfectly frank, it’s like one lighthearted minute and then the whole thing turns into an unrelenting bummer, since we’re into the part of the season that gets kind of heavy. So let’s talk about something else Christmas-related instead. Specifically, Christmas, 1987.

It is Christmas Day, 1987. George Michael still tops the charts with “Faith”. Erma Bombeck, Stephen King, Tom Wolfe and Danielle Steele all have NYT Bestsellers out, as do Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and Mikhail Gorbachev. Time Magazine has named Gorby their Man of the Year. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, one of Charles Manson’s followers, is recaptured several days after she escaped from Alderson Federal Prison. Nothing much is happening on TV as far as I know; Teri Garr and Connie Chung are Letterman’s guests tonight. The Atlanta Hawks beat the Philadelphia 76ers. I don’t know, really. Christmas, when you’re a child, has a kind of out-of-time quality to it and it seems weird to try to ground one particular Christmas in its broad historical context. So let’s try again.

It is Christmas and I am eight. This is the second of the three to five years that my grandmother came to stay with us for Christmas (My grandfather had died the year before). I found this kind of upsetting the first year for reasons I couldn’t fully process at the time, that there was this intruder inserted into our Christmas. But I was just old enough to control myself and get over it. The JC Penney Christmas Catalog might give you a certain insight into what this year was like for a kid. Or for anyone really, I mean, look at those shoulder pads.

Christmas Catalogs aren’t really a thing any more, as my sister and I were lamenting this past Thanksgiving. Sears discontinued their “Christmas Wishbook” in 1993, having decided that people buying stuff from the comfort of their own homes and having it delivered to them was pretty much dead, and that traditional brick-and-mortar department stores in enclosed shopping malls was the wave of the future. This bold insight eventually led Sears, Roebuck and Company to evolve from the king of mail-order, through which you could buy everything from a suit of clothes to a washing machine to a house to put your suit of clothes and washing machine in, to be a company who, in 2013, managed to screw up an order I made on their website so badly that I ordered two things, and received three, none of which were the things I had ordered. That is a 150% failure rate. (The Sears Wishbook was reinstated in 2007 as a shadow of its former self). But that’s neither here nor there, because I’m actually referencing the JC Penney book, as it’s the one I remember for this year.

I think my sister had one of those dresses from the cover. I know she got the play kitchen from page 378 — it’s in my parent’s family room right now for when they’re on babysitting duty (though they had to cut the cord on the phone, since my niece, having been born in the twenty-first century, could not cope with the concept of a phone that was leashed to something. Speaking of which, the gray one at the top of page 506 is the first cordless phone our family had) — along with the shopping cart on 380. And the Laurel and Hardy ventriloquist dummies on page 374? Literally the first presents we saw when we walked into the living room that morning. And there’s lots of other stuff there I remember from other years — Teddy Ruxpin (page 359) was the previous year’s big present (My sister got the more advanced “Julie”, page 357, this year). The Cobra Night Raven (page 441) is one of the few GI Joe toys I had. It’s in the basement now. I’d been into Transformers and MASK (pages 443445) in previous years, but they’d fallen below my threshold by ’87 — I was always too much of a dabbler to acquire a really big collection of any single toy line the way my friends did, which I kind of regret a bit in retrospect. (I wanted one of everything instead of all of one thing. Well, okay, I wanted all of everything, but one-of-everything was the compromise I hammered out with my parents.) I had the chemistry set from the middle of page 478. And I know for a fact that my grandparents (the other set) got us the Easy-Bake Oven from page 381 in 1986. Oh, and I don’t know when we got the Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker at the top of the page, but my sister was so nostalgic for it that she bought one on eBay at considerable expense as an adult. (If it seems like I remember my sister’s Christmas better than my own, in 1987, she was three, and as it turns out, three is the perfect age for getting awesome Christmas presents. Says the father of a child who just turned three and is into Transformers and Power Rangers.)

Incidentally, you know what isn’t included in this catalog? A certain science-fiction franchise that had a revival this year. Yes, Star Trek The Next Generation missed out on the Christmas rush: Galoob held the license at the time, and their toy line didn’t launch until 1988. Josh Marsfelder has a nice article on them, which I’ll link to because really I should find more excuses to link to Vaka Rangi, as it is fantastic. I think I probably got my first Star Trek the Next Generation toys the following summer at a convention, where I got to meet Michael Dorn, and possibly Marina Sirtis, but those may have been two separate cons (Also some people who were in much less famous sci-fantasy shows of the time whose lines my dad made us stand in because he felt sorry for them and it was only like an extra two minutes anyway). Most of the draw of conventions for me was that you could get weird and obscure merchandise, so they kind of lost their attraction to me once eBay was invented.

But come on, you know the reason we're all here. Page 432. For that spectacular Christmas of 1987, I got a pair of clip-on sunglasses, a stopwatch, something large in a gray box that's too blurry in the home movies to identify (I think maybe it was a toy electric guitar), a dustbuster (I distinctly remember wanting this and it making perfect sense at the time) and... About a hundred and forty-three dollars worth of page 432 of the JC Penney Christmas Catalog -- basically everything but the gun.
I was the only kid on my block with the amazing PowerJet XT-7. In fact, I was the only kid I knew with one, other than my friend Steve from New Jersey. Which is probably a pretty telling slice of why the franchise didn't end up going anywhere. Returning to Christmas 1987 now means being haunted by the understanding that this is pretty much the exact day that Captain Power died: there were lots of difficulties facing the production, with parental outrage at the violence, terrible syndication timeslots, and stiff competition from that other show, but the nail in the coffin for Captain Power was that the toys didn't sell well during the Christmas rush.
I probably would have gotten the Interlocker Throne too had it been available (It is possible I didn't get the Phantom Striker until my birthday. Heck, it's possible my memory is cheating and I didn't actually get that one after all, since we haven't been able to locate any trace of it. But I have a pretty solid memory of having a hard time getting the wings to stay on, so probably.)

Included in this haul was the first two “training videos”, animated shorts set in the Captain Power universe, with voice acting and live-action bumpers from the cast, providing fifteen minutes of toy interaction. Three of these videos were made (I got the third one some time later, possibly for my birthday, but in my mind it seems like it was much later than that) by Artmic, a Japanese Anime studio that’s probably best known for Bubblegum Crisis, though they also, in 1985, produced the Genesis Climber MOSPEDA OVA, which, in 2013 was adapted into the movie Robotech: Love Live Alive.
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Training Videos

As with all things Captain Power, the cover art is strange and fantastic. Stylistically consistent with the art on the rest of the toyline packaging, it’s clearly derived from earlier concepts than made it to the live-action version. But also, there’s something kind of retro about the style. As incredibly ’80s as Captain Power’s high concept is, having a dude named “Captain Power”, who parades around in shiny gold armor fighting an evil overlord with a physical defect who lives in a volcano very much harkens back to old Republic serials. Hell, Hawk’s flying suit, especially with its janky special effects, is very Radar Men From the Moon. In fact, Captain Power is kind of all over the place temporally, mixing ’80s dystopia with ’50s robophobia, ’40s serial adventure, a bit of ’70s punk and glam, with the ghosts of ’90s CGI and even maybe a bit of contemporary phobias about losing our humanity to the internet hive mind. Some of this is second-order effects: Power clearly drew some of its visual stylings from Star Wars, which itself was a product of the ’70s with stylistic elements deliberately derived from the Sci-Fi adventure serials of George Lucas’s youth. But it’s mad and fun and it’s one of the things I love most about the show.

What we see here is something that’s a little bit Flash Gordon, and it’s lovely enough that, as before, I find myself meandering off in my mind to contemplate some Captain Power that wasn’t. A set of ’50s trading cards a la Mars Attacks that came bundled with bubble gum or boxes of cereal or candy cigarettes. More than ever, Captain Power feels like it’s an adaptation rather than an original property. It’s just that the thing it’s adapting doesn’t exist, which makes me all the more curious about it, this missing counterfactual Captain Power my dad might have enjoyed as a boy. What would it be like?  Would Overmind be a giant wall-panel covered in glowing vacuum tubes? What would they call “digitization”? What would Pilot’s name be (“Jennifer” was a pretty rare name until the late ’50s, and wasn’t a hugely common one until the ’70s)? Would they still “Power On”, or just put their armored suits on the old-fashioned way? Dread, of course, would be a cackling villain with none of the subtlety of televised character, but what of Soaron? Would he be closer to his original “Robot Red Baron” concept, or be reduced to a Bleep-Bloop kind of robot? Would the Nazi analogies be more explicit a few decades closer to the war, or would decorum demand they tone it down a bit? I have no doubt it would have been a largely incoherent mess, but if you’ve been reading this long, you probably already know that I kinda like me a beautiful incoherent mess.

Artmic went bankrupt back in 1997, and I imagine that this complicates the rights situation (which was probably already complex, with Mattel, Landmark and Artmic all holding a stake), which is probably why the training videos aren’t included on the 2011 DVD release, which means that your only choice to see them is shady internet bootlegs, or buying the VHS secondhand (at the moment, prices on Amazon start at 49 cents). Or apparently you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.

It’s doubly a shame these have never been remastered for DVD, since the live-action bits give us some of the cleanest, most straightforwardly-shot footage of the Power Base and the Power Suits. Video 1, Future Force Training begins with a panning shot across the various consoles of the TARDIS-console in the nerve center of the Power Base. The closest we get to a title sequence is a close-up on one of the monitors, where the user “MATTEL” logs in to “run” the training program. It’s a little strange, too, that it seems to be shot differently. In the show, the camera normally shoots the Power Base control center from the left side of the room, so that the kiosk and command console are both to the right. The camera in the training videos is shooting from the right, centered on the console with the kiosk on the left. I don’t know if that’s related, but it’s also the angle they used in the comics when Hawk powers on.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Training VideosTim Dunigan appears and, with even more than the usual amount of emotionless detachment, explains that you’ve been selected to join the Soldiers of the Future as a PowerJet pilot, and that you’re about to go through some training. You’ll be at the controls of a “real” PowerJet XT-7, facing off against simulated targets, computer-generated by Mentor. But before we get to that, of course, he invites us to Power On.

Right away, we know that there’s going to be some issues if we want to treat these videos as canon. I mean, the whole framing of a new recruit on his (Or her. One thing I’ll say for this series of videos is that, although they must have been dead certain which set of naughty bits 99% of their audience was sporting, the player is exclusively referred to in gender-neutral terms) first day being given one of the two spare power suits — which can’t be reassigned once activated — is right out, of course. And there will be other things that don’t line up right later too. We shouldn’t be surprised. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was tied more closely to its toy line than most of the merchandise-driven kids shows of the era, but it’s a low bar to clear. Masters of the Universe had three separate, wildly incompatible versions of its backstory: one from the toy packaging, one from the animated He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, and one from the “Miniternia” small-format comic books that came with the first toy releases. Only about half of the Transformers toys bore more than a passing resemblance to their animated counterparts — I don’t think I ever saw a first-edition Bumblebee or Cliffjumper that were the right respective colors, and Ironhide didn’t even have a head(A recent collector’s edition re-release had a show-accurate clip-on head sold separately).

But there’s another way to interpret it. Sure, maybe Tim’s wooden performance and the various points of divergence from show-canon are just a matter of no one bringing their A-game to making a fifteen-minute video to be bundled with a toy. Or maybe it’s diagetic. In-story, this is a training mission. Cap is clear, direct, and dispassionate to the point of being boring, but he’s also kind of jingoistic. He’s very, “Now get out there and serve your country, soldier,” and “With these weapons, we will one day bring Lord Dread’s tyranny to an end.” I think that the right way to interpret this video is as an in-universe training video. This isn’t Tim Dunigan reading a script where he’s playing Captain Power training a new recruit, this is Captain Power reading a script for distribution to the recruits. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t watch it as a training video, but as a recruitment video. Something they show in the Passages to inspire people to sign up. Of course they’d dangle the carrot of getting to wear a Power Suit or fly a Power Jet. The later videos don’t support this reading tremendously well, but I think you could still make the argument, particularly in light of the fact that, after the power-on sequence, we transition to animation.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Power On Powering on, by the way, will activate the Power On pedestal toy if it’s facing the TV and switched on at the time.
Not visible in the picture on page 432 is the fact that it’s got a handle on the back, so you can pick it up and fly it around too if you wish. Unlike the jets and the gun, it doesn’t shoot, but it will respond if shot. The Captain Power action figure (unlike the others) has a hole in its back that allows you to impale it on the center post of the charging station, making its strobing light visible through Cap’s translucent chest symbol. The sequence has two phases: first, it acts as a target, allowing other toys to “recharge” by scoring points off of it. Then, it switches its strobe pattern and sound, becoming an attacker (The manual calls this the “force field” phase, I think), registering hits on anyone nearby. Or maybe it was the other way around. I can’t remember, and I haven’t found mine in mom’s attic yet, and it’d be a moot point if I did since the PowerJet’s got so much cigarette tar caked on the sensor that I’m not sure it could tell the difference anyway.

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