by Matt Derman
...reading comics from the year i was born!
Power Pack #28-33 (Marvel)
by Louise Simonson, Terry Shoemaker, Jon Bogdanove, Val Mayerik, Hilary Barta, Dan Green, Glynis Oliver, Christie Scheele, John Wellington, Petra Scotese, Joe Rosen, Ken Lopez
Kids want to be adults. And there is a tendency among adults to respond to this desire hand-wavingly, because kids aren't given the credit they deserve. At the same time, there are absolutely aspects of life that children are not ready for and should not have to deal with. The massive, unsolvable problems of the world, the unfairness and bottomless cruelty, can’t even be handled by many grown-ups. I’m not one to advocate over-protection or needles sheltering, but it’d be nice if people’s childhoods could be unsullied by such despicable things. Of course, that’s not always going to be the case, which is at the center of Louise Simonson’s 'Power Pack'. Dealing with extremely adult problems in believably childlike ways, the kids of the titular team prove themselves to be more mature than the adults of their world may think, but not yet as grown as they’d like themselves to believe.
Point being, these kids aren't exactly qualified for the job they have. Possessing power does not necessarily mean you know how best to use it, and Power Pack often end up tackling obstacles they’re not entirely fit to deal with. Drug epidemics, kidnappings, disturbed teenagers…all of these things are beyond the scope of a group of children their age, yet they charge in headfirst and try to save the day anyway. Noble though their intentions may be, they have at best mixed victories, doing but a small bit of good in places of immense evil. Heroes, no doubt, but tragic ones.
Once Garbage Man is out of the way, though, Trash are less willing to keep playing hero. Their individual circumstances and histories have not been improved merely because they defeated their former boss, which means that they are still stuck with no money, support, or future. The lives that pushed them to become drug runners and guards are still theirs, and though Power Pack makes a sincere attempt to convince Trash that continuing their criminal activity is the wrong decision, ultimately nothing changes. Just as the Pack hasn't wiped crack off the face of the planet simply by taking out one dealer, they fail to improve Trash’s world in any lasting way. Even when they have won a battle, the war continues on without them.
If their age makes them somewhat inept, it is their continued and deeply earnest efforts to use their powers for world-saving good that turns this ineptitude into something endearing. We root for these kids in spite of their lack of experience and because of their wealth of sincerity. The combination of these attributes is what sets this series and its stars apart from other cape comics. It’s plain to see these children have the powers and personalities to make truly great heroes, but they aren't quite there yet due only to their youth. Watching them grow into their potential, even with mistakes along the way, is a compelling journey to follow. Their accomplishments, however small, are still impressive for a group of unsupervised kids, and though their failures can be rather disappointing, their unflappable hope is twice as inspiring.
I think Louise Simonson knew, somewhere in her mind, that Power Pack worked best as a children’s book. Her dialogue has a tendency to be repetitive and overly expository when discussing the plot, which is due in part to the time in which she was writing, but is also indicative of aiming at a potentially younger audience. It’s helpful to reiterate story points for children to make sure no one is lost or confused, even if it slows things down a hair. Simonson still has plenty go on in every installment, and even when there is a multi-issue through-line like the team’s battle against crack, each chapter is a self-contained tale as well. All of this speaks to wanting children to read this title, which was, I think, the right call to make with these characters. If they’re going to be the believable kids of the Marvel U, might as well target them at readers of similar age, fans who can more directly identify with these particular heroes.
Jon Bogdanove is the penciler for most of these issues, with #28 drawn by Terry Shoemaker and #30 by Val Mayerik. What all three of these artists have in common, though, and the thing that Bogdanove does best, is the blend of grounded and more exaggerated visual elements. Largely, this book looks fairly real. It’s still a superhero comic, so when people’s powers are going off there is a fantastical side to things, but the figures and the settings are generally more down-to-earth. Bogdanove in particular packs in a lot of tiny detail to his backgrounds and costumes, and tends to keep the action relatively restrained, too. Where he goes bigger and broader are the moments of most heightened childishness. Not necessarily the emotional peaks of the stories, but those places where the Pack are most like kids and least like superheroes. That’s a fitting choice, and one that does a lot to help Simonson’s scripts connect. By having the visuals go their craziest when the characters get their most immature, we are reminded of the fact that this series is, at its heart, about exploring what it feels like to be a kid living in a grown-up world.
While on their own the three pencilers do bring a cohesion to the style, five of these six issues are inked by Hilary Barta, so his work is clearly also a major factor when it comes to the series looking consistent. It is Barta who allows the lines to get a little looser when called for, and who keeps them more rigid on the rest of the pages, beefing up the realism of the series overall. He helps the pencilers walk the line between caricature and more lifelike figures, amping up the exaggerated moments and downplaying the others. This back-and-forth in the art is key to maintaining the childlike mood and outlook of the stories, and Barta is an important ingredient in that effort’s success.