Powerblog: On Discovering Fandom

It was painfully obvious I was a fan of Power Pack from the get-go, but at the time, I was also pretty much alone in that. I had a few other friends who liked comics, but they all preferred the grown-ups, or at least the teenagers. Folks with X in their names, or who used a lot of guns. Such is often the nature of young boys, I suppose.1 I definitely didn’t know anyone else at the comics shop who seemed to get the book. It was me, over in my little corner, reading the book that wasn’t hot or collectible, where Wolverine might visit for Thanksgiving, but the only thing he cut with his claws were the tie lines of parade balloons.

That was probably why I always made sure to read the letters pages. See? I wasn’t alone. Here were people who liked the same things I liked. Or sometimes they didn’t like it, but they were all reading this same book. I wrote in a couple of times, myself, though I can’t recall if I had any letters printed there. If I wasn’t directly interacting with them, well, it still felt like a bit of a group discussion.

It was there, in those “Pick of the Pack” letters, that I ran across Dan Cuba’s request for folks to help him put together a fanzine. I think I hesitated at first, but after a month or two, I couldn’t resist the call to gather, and so I joined.

I was and still am pretty painfully shy. Crowds make me nervous. I’d not been to a comics convention ever, and it was unlikely I’d have worked up the courage to do so at the time. There probably were folks already gathering in the ether at this point, but I’ve always been more than a bit of Luddite. The early adopters are always rolling their eyes at me. So, it would still be several years before I had an email address. Probably a bit longer than that before I discovered usenet. So Power Pages, as we eventually named it, was my very first genuine experience with a fandom.

Here they were, boys and girls2 who all loved this little book, who talked about its details, wrote our own stories, drew our own pictures. Power Pack meant something to someone more than me. And I knew some of those people, albeit only on paper. No one thought it weird to sit down and, for example, talk about the differences between how June Brigman drew those wacky kids’ boots and how Jon Bogdanove or Brent Anderson modified the designs. We got to geek out with one another, and all our weird ideas were welcome, and goodness, but that was lovely.

I’d probably credit Power Pages for my eventually falling in and following some stuff on usenet, and later following comics bloggers and trying my hand at some, myself. The interwebs weren’t nearly the love fest the fanzine had been, but having had that group of people who understood the thing I loved enough to call ourselves fans of it, I was far more bolstered to deal with and recognize the trolls and seek out the folks who were really interested in talking about things.

I’ve completely lost track of pretty much everyone from the fanzine, as things eventually fell apart without a book to follow any more (though we did try). Still, I think I have just as much of a soft spot for that little fanzine as I do for the book which inspired it.

1. I didn’t know any girls who read comics at the time. Don’t worry, it wouldn’t be long, though. [back]

2. I believe none of us were out of high school when we started? If I’ve got that wrong, then there were men and women mixed in, and that was just fine, too. But in my head, we were all around the same age, even if we weren’t. [back]

Powerblog: On Specialties and Weekly Obsessions

By the time Power Pack finished its second year, it had long stopped being the only series I collected. With the help of that well-stocked book store, I was collecting several series at that point. But, of course, those pesky little kid super heroes were still top of the list.

Issue 25 changed up a lot of things. In addition to the kids switching powers, the comic changed up its shipping schedule. The end of the issue announced that Power Pack would now be going bi-monthly. I was going to have to wait two whole months between installments.

Of course, my obsessiveness kicked in quite thoroughly in that interval. Did going bi-monthly next issue mean that it would be two months until issue 26, or that 26 would ship as normal and set the cycle, after which it would be two months until 27? Yes, it was wishful thinking. But, between desperation and math being not my friend, it made complete and utter sense at the time.

So the next month came, and I went to the book store anyway, and there was no Power Pack. Emboldened more than I normally would be, I asked behind the counter if they knew if the book would be another month or not. The folks at the book store were nice and all, but there was only one employee who dealt with the comics ordering, and that person wasn’t around.

However, if I wanted to check, there was a comics specialty shop I could vis–

Wait, did I just hear…? There were shops that didn’t just have a comic book section, but which were wholly dedicated to comics? I had to excuse myself to re-align my understanding of the way of the universe.

With the same fervor I’d had on previous attempts to Have All Power Pack Always, there was badgering which resulted in finding the local comic shop. It was, at the time, a fairly small store, but in addition to having all the comics the book store carried, there were these long, cardboard boxes full of comics, all in protective plastic sleeves and with cardboard backing. It was like a little treasure trove of comics archive-iness. If I’d been overwhelmed by a long magazine rack of comics, I was rather shell-shocked when realizing (1) how many comics fit in a box, and (2) how many boxes were in that small shop.

It did turn out that I’d have to wait an extra month for Power Pack, but in the meantime, I’d just discovered the comics specialty store. Several more shovelfuls had thus been dug for my entrenchment.

Powerblog: On Recommending Good Novels

This one is probably less comics-related than a lot of other bits, but it continues to speak to the many influences Power Pack had on impressionable, younger me. 1

I mentioned previously that Julie Power was one of the characters I related to almost instantly, largely due to her thorough love of fantasy and science fiction books. It wasn’t something that just sort of cropped up in the first issue and disappeared, either. Julie was quite often found reading long into the night, or into the day. She found literature of the fantastic just as engrossing once her life had become a fantastic narrative of its own as she did when she thought it was all pretend.

Mind you, Julie’s choices had a tendency to reflect those real life fantastic elements. So, shortly after her encounter with Dragon-Man, she was found in her next adventure reading–and name-checking–Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books.2

When I found out that McCaffrey was an actual author who had written actual books about dragons, that I could be reading the same book Julie was raving about, there wasn’t really a question about tracking them down.

Mind you, I read them a bit backwards. The dragonrider books proper were for quite some time always checked out when I was in the library, but the Harper Hall Trilogy was available, so I started there. So while most folks saw the Harper stuff as a side narrative, in my head the dragonriders were always a background element for the story of Menolly and the Harpers, whose lives were eventually fleshed out in Dragonsdawn. That’s probably why I feel the series sort of ties together into a poetic conclusion when the original Master Harper from those books passes away.

In any case, never let it be said that comics can’t lead to outside interests, I suppose. Also: dragons are cool, but fire lizards are more fun.

1. Older me is still pretty impressionable when it comes to those damn kids, but at the time, I had the excuse of youth, so I’m taking it while I can. ;) [back]

2. Incidentally, this was also my first exposure to Brent Anderson, who always brings the awesome to Astro City.[back]

Powerblog: On Becoming Complete. Issue-wise, at Least.

This shouldn’t surprise you. I did, after all, warn you that Power Pack catalyzed multiple comics turning points for me. I hope you didn’t expect me to show restraint by not sharing them.

When last we left much-younger-me, I was fully invested in this crazy little story about the kid super heroes. I ran to that spinner rack every time we were in the grocery store, hoping that maybe that first issue I missed would be there. But then issue #3 showed up and, while not downplaying the joy of finding out what happened next, I was even more determined to find out what happened first. So it was that Power Pack #1 became the Thing I Had To Have.

I grew up in a little town. Our library was in a renovated mobile home. I’m not kidding. It’s actually not gotten much bigger since then. That spinner rack in the grocery store was the only place in town that would have comics.

However, as luck would have it, there are more than a few not-as-little towns about a half hour or so away from where I grew up. One of which was close to where my grandmother lived at the time. That’s where my father, having heard me bemoaning the unavailability of Power Pack #1,1 ran across a used book store, and took me to said used book store. They didn’t really keep back issue stock, but since they hadn’t cleared it out yet, there it was: Power Pack #1. My little fanboy heart was full.

And then I looked around and saw that the store carried every current Marvel and DC comic on a huge magazine rack/shelving unit that ran the nearly the length of the store. I was agog. I had no earthly idea there were that many comics that came out regularly. It was overwhelming.

I was in heaven.

And that’s how Power Pack and parental automobiles drove me into the arms of the full spread of super-hero comics, and a monthly trip to the store.

1. It’s entirely possible he just heard about said bemoaning from my mother. I was young. I was bereft of my kid super hero origin. I bemoaned. It did not matter who heard.

Powerblog: On Being a Comic Book Geek

As noted previously, 2014 marks 30 years since Power Pack #1 hit the shelves. I think that may be a more significant milestone to me than my own birthday next year. And, honestly, the more I thought about it, the more I realized Power Pack was the impetus for a huge number of comics-related firsts in my life.

The first issue of Power Pack I found was in the spinner rack at the local grocery store. It was #2, and I was ten years old.

Up until then, honestly, I’d not had much interest in comics. Super heroes, sure, but that was all cartoons and the odd movie. I’d read random comics before, borrowed from my cousins, mostly. But they were almost all running on high numbers, and I felt like I was missing story. And I liked Batman and Superman and Spider-Man and all that, but they were on Saturday morning, so why bother trying to track down dozens or hundreds of other comics?

But right there, on the cover in the spinner rack that day, were a bunch of kids. Super hero kids. I’d never seen that before. I had to have it.

I devoured that thing. There was bookworm-y Julie who liked fantasy books like me. And nerdy Alex who was awkward like me. And all four kids squabbled and picked on each other kind of like how my little sister and I did.

And unlike Robin or the Wonder Twins1, they weren’t teenagers I was still years away from being. They weren’t grown ups like Superman and Batman, whom I only vaguely imagined I might be. They were my age. They were like me. And they were changing the world right the heck now.

Right there was the moment a comic book became something than a rag I might read over if one looked neat, or if I was bored when visiting my cousins. There, with Power Pack, was the moment when I had to have comics. That’s what got me invested, what made me a collector, a fan.

From there I fell in love with the short-lived New Universe, and the New Warriors, and dozens of other series that fascinated me and captured my imagination.2

If I’m a comic book geek, it’s all because of that wonderful little pamphlet Louise Simonson and June Brigman created. And that’s only the first thing you can blame those incorrigible kid super heroes for.

1. Remember, my references were largely cartoons at that time. I had no idea The Wonder Twins only existed on television. Or Firestar, for that matter. I don’t want to throw all the love to DC. I loved me some Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends as a kid.

2. I have a fair track record of falling for series that just don’t make it in the long run. There was a point where I thought I might be a jinx, but whatever. You love what you love, and just because other folks aren’t paying attention, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Power Pack is probably a part of that philosophy, too.

Archive: Powerblog: Gift Exchange

(Images from Power Pack #1 and #50.
Art by June Brigman / Bob Wiacek and Jon Bodganove / Hilary Barta, respectively).

Probably one of the better twists in Simonson’s run on Power Pack was the infamous Power Switch. Sure, super-heroes had swapped bodies before, and people with external powers like armors or rings had passed those on, but this was, I think, the first time an entire team swapped abilities, and not just for a single storyline, but for an extended stretch. It was something of a coup by super-hero standards. I mean, could you see DC swapping the entire JLA’s powers for over three years? How about Marvel doing that with the Fantastic Four? When the end of Power Pack #24 announced that things were about to change forever, then, it wasn’t just overblown hype.

One of the most important factors of children’s literature is that children grow. Probably moreso than their adult counterparts, we expect children to change. They grow up, and in doing so both their bodies and their personalities evolve. Simonson understood that, and the power switch was one of the ways in which she explored those changes in a super-hero context.

Consider the original powers with their owners. Alex was a straight-laced analytical thinker; he got the straightforward on-or-off gravity power. Julie was the dreamer; as I’ve said before, flying is the purview of the dreamer. Jack was a stubborn blowhard of a child; shifting between a physically ineffective cloud and a super-dense miniature seems perfectly matched. And Katie? Well, she was a little spoiled and prone to throwing tantrums; a power as volatile as the energy power was tailor-made for her.

In the course of two years and a tick, however, Simonson had done her work in character development. Of course, while the new powers helped point to changes in the children, the changes in the children similarly influenced their use of their new gifts: Alex’s volatile pubescence made the energy power all the more explosive, Julie’s malleable sense of self lead to even more permutations for the density power, Jack’s natural showmanship made gravity dynamic instead of binary, and the kinetic child that was a growing Katie made for an even more frenetic application of flight.

The great thing about the power switch, then, was that it was both a surprising, unexpected hook and the most natural thing in the world. It’s just the sort of thing you’d expect to arise from the unique mesh of super-hero and children’s lit that was Power Pack at its best.

Original version published at Trickle of Consciousness

Archive: Powerblog: When I grow up …

(From Power Pack #1. Words Louise Simonson, pencils June Brigman, inks Bob Wiacek, colors Glynis Oliver.)

It’s one of the things kids do most often. It’s essential role playing, really. Whatever it is you’re interested in that week, that’s what you’ll be when you grow up. Having fun with football? You’re going to the NFL. Something of a dolphin in the water? Swimmer. Recital go well? Ballet dancer, of course. Anything and everything is fair game, as long as it holds your attention.

There are, of course, those rare children who show exceptional potential: the Olympic hopefuls, the child prodigies. Kids whose early ability is more than a moment’s wish, it’s an achievable goal. If they recognize that (or, more often, if an expert like a teacher or a coach does), they wind up exploring their careers earlier than most of us manage to encounter algebra.

And in the Marvel Universe, it only makes sense to add to that list “super-hero.” For most kids, this would be a passing dream, but what about the kids who actually have the potential? How young is too young when you’re clearly possessed of the ability?

(From Power Pack #2. Words Louise Simonson, pencils June Brigman,
inks Bob Wiacek, colors Glynis Oliver)

Power Pack, then, on this level, takes a look at what the Marvel version of child prodigies might look like. Just like with the real thing, initial excitement is often marred by all the actual work involved in a career. The kids time and again face the fact that this isn’t like the games and fantasies they had before gaining powers (of course, there are any number of times when it is like that, or better, generally when meeting their own super-hero idols).

It’s work. You have to stay up late, you wind up missing classes (and teachers aren’t all of the understanding sort), and, well, as Jack discovers early on, you’re not always going to love the uniforms.1

In a lot of ways, this is one of the elements that works really well at making Power Pack a truly all-ages book. Children (and not a small number of adults) can watch the fantasy of “I wanna be” fulfilled, but the more … grown-up reader can also watch as the Power children (and later Franklin Richards and Kofi Whitemane) learn that you don’t, actually, get to do everything you want when you’re a grown-up. I think one of the more important elements of good children’s lit is that it’s not just a recreation of some timeless “childhood,” but rather that it’s about children growing up, about the fact that childhood (like much of life) is one long transition.

1. The “Power Pack as star athletes” comparison seems to break down when you consider their parents don’t know about their gifts. But then, super-hero convention teaches us that one of the primary skills of the field is the ability to fool your loved ones. As such, the Power parents–with the later added benefit of the mindfix–are actually the prototypical “stage parents” for a budding super-hero, no?

Original version published at Trickle of Consciousness