Bizarro Back Issues: The Power Team vs. The Agents of Death! (1992)
For those of you who never caught their appearance on Walker: Texas Ranger, here's the basic idea of The Power Team: They're a group of Christian strong-men who travel around the country to churches and schools, bending frying pans, smashing cinderblocks with their heads and in order to lead people to the message of Jesus Christ. That might sound a little weird, but trust me. If you grew up in the South, it makes perfect sense.
They're still around today, but in the '90s -- that grim, far-off past where you couldn't just type "dude breaks baseball bat" into YouTube and had to wait for months to see it live -- they were a pretty big deal. So big, in fact, that they had their own comic book, and yes, it is every bit as amazing as you want it to be. Especially the issue where they fight Internet Devil Worship.
The weird thing about doing a comic based on a bunch of real-life dudes who have an entire act built around their nigh-superhuman feats is that you're kind of stuck presenting problems that can be solved by blowing up hot water bottles or snapping baseball bats in half. It's like how Godzilla vs. Barkley, literally the best comic book in the history of the medium, ends with Godzilla wearing gigantic Reeboks and challenging Charles Barkley to a game of one-on-one in the Grand Canyon. There are expectations to be met, and in the first issue, that's exactly how things go: The Power Team fights a street gang called the Clips -- because they are mohawked punks who hang paperclip chains from their ears, and which I just now realized are meant to be a parody of the Crips -- and pretty much stop them from blowing up a youth center by snapping their bats and lifting up logs.
By the third (and final) issue, though, creators Larry Walker and David Wilson pretty much chuck that out the window in favor of taking on text-based adventures that are actually controlled by a Satanic suicide cult. You know, the stuff kids can really relate to.
The whole thing gets started when Power Team founder John Jacobs -- who is given the semiheroic codename "Commander J" for the comic book -- and his wife, Ruthanne -- who does not get a codename -- are investigating a rash of teen suicides in the city of Mystic, Oregon. To the best of my knowledge, there's no town by that name, but there is a gentleman's club called Mystic in Portland, and this whole thing gets way more entertaining if you assume that it all takes place there.
Regardless, they only make it four panels before they're attacked by a slightly more Satanic version of the bad guys from Karate Kid.
It's not just Johnny and the Cobra Kais that are causing problems, though. As the Jacobses are restrained, their leader, a seven foot-tall, super-jacked masked and hooded albino -- yes, really -- shows up and tells Commander J to hit the bricks. For his part, though, Jacobs is shown reacting as though this is the sort of thing that happens to him all the time, and just responds by quoting Star Wars and then throwing these dudes all over the parking lot.
Unfortunately for the forces of righteousness and/or bodybuilding, the leader gets away, and Commander and Mrs. J are left wondering just what it is they've gotten themselves into. And that's when things get dangerous. Cyberdangerous.
That's right, y'all: These foul servants of the man-goat are using these godless new computer machines to do their bidding.
Commander J and Ruthanne attempt to report their daemonic assailants to the police, but it turns out that the chief of police is a bad guy, which we know because he's drawn to look something like a frog and smokes a cigar thicker than his wrist. But like the trusting folk they are, they let him know where they're staying, and before long, they find that the principal of Mystic High School -- note: not the shojo manga of the same name -- has been the victim of a shocking and grotesque round of vandalism.
Incidentally, "call in the Calvary, in more ways than one" isn't quite the pun they think it is. Best to just move on.
The rest of the Power Team shows up, along with Joe Riley, an agent for the Department of Justice who's been working the case and thinks that the teen suicides are linked to a vast, multi-state conspiracy, and who believes that the best way to crack this case is to team up with six dudes known primarily for running full speed at a wall made of cinderblocks. It seems unorthodox, yes, but he's not wrong; no sooner has he started working with the Power Team than they stumble across a scrap of paper hidden in the latest victim's schoolbook, alerting them that something called a "modem" exists... and is being used for diabolical purposes.
It turns out that the victim, Joey, was a member of the school's computer club -- and he owned a modem. But before that line of Jack Chickian logic can be followed to its conclusion, there's yet another attempt on the Power Team's life, this time in the form of a drive by shooting in which no one is hurt. Things are getting serious, and that means that it's time for the Power Team to rely on their old standby of heading to the school with their message of strongman positivity.
Incidentally, those of you wondering what it sounds like to bash a bunch of ice blocks in half with your head now have your answer: CLOWONCH.
While all that's going on, Power Team member Kaptian Kopta (who is actually still active on the Power Team today) takes on a daring undercover mission to investigate the local gym, based on a few distinctive wristbands that the cultists were wearing back on page 2. Once he's there, he notices that a lot of the trainers are sporting tattoos of a green dagger with a skull at the pommel, and seriously, if you are looking for signs of a local death cult, that's a pretty big tipoff. You could basically call it right there and knock off for an early lunch, but since we're only halfway through the issue, Kopta sits on this information until after we get some more talk about computers.
And it's a good thing he does, because every single thing on this page is fantastic:
Yep, those "compu-heads" are really into their "powerful death club" all right!
At this point, it might seem like this story is actually pretty ahead of its time, what with the cultists using a multiplayer online game to dispatch their minions, but it's actually the other way around. This is just the early '90s digital age update of similar stories about Dungeons & Dragons being the gateway to Satanic power that had been floating around for well over a decade at that point. Just, you know, way more hilarious.
While I've been chronicling Lucifer's long and storied history with roleplaying games, things have gotten worse for our heroes, as chronicled in a series of intensely dramatic close-ups:
That's right, y'all: They have kidnapped Mrs. Commander J, with plans to sacrifice her at the full moon. If only someone had said "let's see you flex your way out of this one, Commander J!" then we'd have hit bingo on every expectation I had for this comic.
Clearly, the Power Team has to step up and sort things out soon, but before they can, they need to figure out the mysteries of the Agents of Death program. For some reason. I guess. And so they do! First comes a breakthrough that reveals that the secret access code to enter the program, the fiendishly clever password that protects all the secrets of the Agents of Death, is "death." So, you know, that's a freebie.
Next, they head over to the computer shop, where they meet the guy selling all the programs in Mystic. And weirdly enough, it turns out he is also a seven foot-tall, super-jacked albino.
Now look: I am in no way suggesting that the Power Team should engage in racial profiling. I'm just saying that when investigating a giant albino who is into internet devil worship, maybe start with the giant albino who owns a computer store. That's just logical. And yet, it is not the tactic that the Power Team chooses to take, and I have to respect them for that.
Eventually, after even more investigation -- have I mentioned yet that this comic is thirty pages long? -- the Power Teammates just decide to hang out in the woods and knock out a couple of cultists and steal their robes. And finally, finally, we are brought into Mordoc the Invincible and Tralon the Quickkiller's secret lair:
At this point, you might be expecting the battle to move to a more metaphysical plane, where Commander J's faith will conquer the Agents of Death and their diabolical powers, and you would be wrong. I mean, yes, there is a two-panel sequence where Mordoc (or possibly Tralon) shoots green magic out of his eyes and Commander J resists, but beyond that, it's just back to bar-bending and throwing skulls.
And that's pretty much that. As near as I can tell, The Power Team #3 was the final issue of the series, which is a shame, because there's a last-page cliffhanger that promises the team will go on to battle the forces of evil in the world of pro wrestling, something that I want to see so bad. But at least we have these three issues, and the valuable lessons they teach us. Lessons like "using a computer will give you the ability to shoot magic out of your eyes" (something I believe was actually true in the '90s) and, perhaps most importantly, when confronted with the forces of evil, throw a skull at it.