CHRONICLES OF COMICS – POWER PACK #40 – FIRE WITH FIRE

The Man Wit No Voice and The Pure Mood dig out and review a comic from their expansive back issue collection. It could be a pivotal story, a forgotten classic, or even a giant mistake not worth the staples binding it together. From the ’40′s to the ’00′s, come by every week as we take an in-depth look at comics history in CHRONICLES OF COMICS!

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Like a lot of Marvel readers, I have an incredible soft spot for POWER PACK. Which is weird, because the ’80’s may be one of my least favourite decades at Marvel, and POWER PACK couldn’t be more ’80s – there’s plenty of drug lords, sex abuse and kidnapped children, lengthy expository dialogue explaining how superpowers work in great detail, obsessive and awkward attempts at creating seamless continuity…but somehow, Louise Simonson made it work.

I think it was the contrast between the ‘mature’ themes and situations and a group of young kids that illustrated some of the interesting things about adolescence. The Power’s are almost always a little too naive to deal with the threats they face, and they often struggle to fully understand them. At the same time, they’re just at the cusp of a pre-teen age, and they’re beginning to understand more adult and complicated concepts. Simonson handled that balance perfectly, and issue 40 is one of the perfect examples of it.

She was hardly subtle about it, either; the villain in this issue is named the Bogeyman. The group of superpowered kids treat the very real threat of a sick man in a jetpack kidnapping children the same way kids do treat monsters – they understand fear, they understand that there are horrible and frightening things out there, but they can’t really come to terms with how real these things are. As an adult reader, seeing Bogeyman throwing a gagged and blindfolded Katie into a plastic bag is horrifying, but the rest of Power Pack can treat it as another supervillian to defeat.

pp2Teaming up with the New Mutants, the kids discover that Bogeyman is selling superpowered children to the demon N’Astirh. The guards of Bogeyman’s fortress are once again symbolic of Simonson’s on-going theme; they’re all cyborg warrior/toy action figure hybrids. As long as the threats they face are familiar to them, Power Pack doesn’t really know any fear – they can battle the Bogeyman and his army of toy soldiers as readily as any child can play their favourite video game. However, the most interesting elements of the issue come when the kids are forced to deal confusing and complicated concepts.

Having defeated the villainous Bogeyman, the kids are able to rescue their sister and a young child named Rebecca. Power Pack, ready for a new recruit or at least to inspire a young child to become a superhero like them, are shocked to discover that Rebecca has no desire to become one. In fact, she’s against the idea. “I KNOW what I want to do. When I grow up, I’ll use my powers to HELP people. But now…I just want to be a kid.” This creates a real moral dilemma for the kids – is it right that they’re super heroes? Is it okay for young children to put on costumes and put themselves in danger? Even more so, the on-going drama of the POWER PACK series, is it okay that they keep their secret from their family? Rebecca’s superpowers were public knowledge, and that’s part of what led her to danger. However, she also had the support and love of her parents to come home to, while the Power children basically live two separate lives.

pp1Even the kids interactions with the New Mutants is part of Simonson’s ongoing exploration of what it means to be a child – at times, Power Pack admires the experience and knowledge of the super powered teens, while at other times, they resent and rebel against older kids trying to tell them what to do. POWER PACK is more than just nostalgia, and even though it followed all of the cliches of it’s era, it was always a unique series that explored exactly what it was like to be a certain age.

How often did we escape into fantasy to avoid terrifying and adult ideas? How often did we come face to face with things we knew were wrong, like keeping secrets from our parents, but make the conscious choice to do it anyway? How ready are kids to enter this adult life, and how much should we shelter children from it? POWER PACK #40 is about what it means to be a kid, how bizarre and magical it is to go off and explore on your own and figure out who you are, while still living in a world that you can understand.

 

 

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