Thursday, May 19, 2005

Power Pack #1-2

Written by Marc Sumerak
Drawn by Gurihiru, Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics, $2.99 USD

Power Pack is Marvel’s latest effort to revive some of the characters from their past and market them to a younger crowd, and it definitely succeeds in what it attempts to do, but I fear that without any kind of mass marketing promotion, all Marvel is really doing is getting its dwindling “zombie” fans to buy more books.

All of that aside, Marc Sumerak and Gurihiru do a wonderful job with this title. It’s very reader friendly, and about as appealing to the eye as any book that Marvel publishes. Each issue has two complete stories, something that is probably shocking to anyone who currently reads the material coming out of Marvel these days.

The main feature in each book is, of course, the Power Pack, which follows the misadventures of the four Power’s children, who happen to have superpowers. There’s Alex (or Zero-G), the oldest, who can either lift things or hold them down, including himself; Julie (or Lightspeed) who has super-speed and can fly; Jack (or Mass Master) can control his density, and the youngest member of the group, Katie (or Energizer), who can absorb and release energy.

Titled “I know What We Did Last Summer”, issue number one opens with an interesting retelling of the team’s origin. Done up as a children’s report, complete with crayon drawings and narrated by young Katie. The bulk of the story though is about the other three Power kids trying to convince Katie why telling the world their secret would be a bad thing (even their parents don’t know). A point illustrated to her when one of their enemies locates their home.

While the first issue’s focus is on the youngest member, the oldest, Alex, is prominently featured in the second issue, titled “Misadventures in Babysitting”. When he scores a date with his high school crush on the night of his parent’s anniversary dinner, Alex must choose over his responsibility to family and his own personal desires. Being a teenager, he opts for the latter and like Katie the issue before, finds he’s made a definite error in judgment when a monster finds its way into the Power’s home.

Sumerak probably has a better handle on this decompressed style of story telling than anyone to come along in recent years. Each issue starts off relatively slow, building up to the more exciting events later in the issue, and while that is a pretty common thing to see in action-oriented television these days, it’s becoming less and less prevalent in the superhero comics world, and even then it’s rarely done successfully.

None of the plot developments feel forced, which can often be a problem in kids and young adult entertainment. The dialogue is very hip, yet doesn’t ever feel as if the author is trying to hard, or is disconnected from the audience he’s trying to reach. One of the big drawbacks to comics, specifically in the genre, is often continuity, but Sumerak handles it with ease.

Long-time fans will feel right at home in this book, with references to the Snarks, the aliens who were after their father’s invention, and to the Marvel Universe in general. But none of that ever feels alienating in any way, in fact if anything it’s inviting and should pique the interest of unfamiliar readers.

Some may be disappointed that Sumerak seems to be ignoring most of what has happened to the Power children in favor of making them more accessible, but it does work, in fact he’s able to do what the Ultimate books were intended to do, write a book that has it’s own continuity, one that shed’s most of the dead weight the Marvel Universe has saddled itself with, only Sumerak seems to favor permanently putting it to the side (which isn’t nearly as detrimental as some fans would have you believe) rather than just reshaping it into a “cracked-mirror” version of itself.

Gurihiru’s art will probably bee seen by most as manga-influenced, but it really has very little in common with the format except for the characters big eyes. Gurihiru’s work here looks closer to most modern cartoons than manga, and Gurihiru infuses it with enough energy that it does feel like you’re reading a cartoon. Every panel seems to be alive with movement, even the calmer ones. There’s a series of scenes in the first issue where the family is eating dinner, and each one is similar enough so that it feels natural, but different in key ways so that you get that sense of motion. Something similar appears in the second issue when Alex becomes so elated that he begins to hover. At first glance it seems to be the same panel, but the background is off-kilter enough so that you really can sense him lifting into the air.

Not to be left out of the joke-telling department, Gurihiru squeezes in a few visual gags now and then, often via the kid’s expressions. There’s nothing incredibly elaborate here, which is likely a good thing for a book that’s supposed to attract a younger audience. Everything is clean and clear, easy to follow and very vibrant, and being that there is no colorer credited, one can only assume Gurihiru is responsible for that as well. In a book like this simple is often better and it couldn’t be much better than it currently looks.

The back-ups featured in each issue feature, Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius, are written by Sumerak and drawn by Chris Eliopoulos. They follow the son of Reed and Sue Richard (Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman for those not in the know) as he gets himself, along with his constant babysitter, H.E.R.B.I.E., into all manner of trouble. In these first two issues, Franklin takes a trip into his father’s body (think something akin to Innerspace), to make his science homework “more fun”, and then he devises a way to bulk himself up in the hopes that he’ll be seen as a “big guy” so he can have a snack.

If Power Pack is a cartoon, then Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius is a Sunday comic strip. Fans of the uber-popular Calvin and Hobbes should feel right at home with the misadventures of Franklin and H.E.R.B.I.E. Sumerak has clearly drawn his inspiration from these strips, and while Eliopoulos’ art doesn’t necessarily look similar, the kinship is undeniable.

Being that it’s shorter than the Power Pack feature, the jokes come far quicker here, but it definitely works to its advantage. Long time Marvel followers will appreciate the slightly annoying H.E.R.B.I.E. as well as get a kick out of some of the more juvenile jokes, like Reed Richards picking his nose.

Unlike Power Pack, the art and dialogue here aren’t really self-reliant; they both depend on the other one to punch up the joke, working together to make sure that you get the gist, and while in an older book that could be seen as overkill, here it works rather well.

As a whole Power Pack is one of the best mainstream kid’s comics to come along in quite sometime. Marc Sumerak knows how to appeal to his targeted demographic, and has enlisted two excellent pencillers to make it visually appetizing. The jokes are funny, if occasionally juvenile, the action is sensibly goofy, and it’s not bogged down by the weight of the past like so many other books coming out of the mainstream publishers. It’s really a shame that comics aren’t more accessible to those outside its base readership, because this is a book that hits ever mark it aims for.


--Logan Polk

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