Bizarro Back Issues: ‘Captain Power’ Is Pretty Much Just ‘Terminator’ For Kids (1989)
A few weeks ago, I found myself in an antique store, and --- being the kind of person I am --- I pretty much ignored anything that wasn't a vintage Santa Claus figurine or a banged-up long box full of back issues. I mean, I can see an old lamp or a gently used kitchen table pretty much any time I want to, but finding out what comic books could properly be considered "antiques" was an opportunity that doesn't come along every day.
As you might expect, the answer was "a bunch of random-ass comics from the late '80s and early '90s," but mixed in there with Knightquest tie-ins and that one issue of Green Lantern: Mosaic where John Stewart explains Christmas to the aliens was an issue that caught my eye. It was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #2, which comes complete with some of the weirdest house ads I've ever seen.
I'll admit that before I grabbed this valuable antique out of a box with "$1" written on it in Sharpie, I was completely unfamiliar with Captain Power, but here's the short version as I understand it: It was originally a short-lived action/adventure series that combined vaguely tokusatsu-esque live action with blocky, computer-animated robot enemies. Needless to say, it was funded by Mattel, but when the toys didn't really take off, it was canceled after a single season.
From what I can tell, the comic book tie-in, released by Continuity Comics, the publishing arm of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano's Continuity Studios, actually had the pretty clever purpose of giving the backstory to the show and the origins of all the characters. Unfortunately, that backstory --- which, in this issue, was drawn and co-written by Adams, with Peter Stone and an original story by noted He-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski --- is basically just the backstory of Terminator.
"But wait," you say as you scroll down through this column, "You always just talk about how weird these comics are, but you never really explain why we should read them. Can't we just turn to television instead?" A fair question, but as an ad for Continuity Comics that was published in Continuity Comics explains, YOUR KIDS DON'T READ TELEVISION!
I love this ad more than I can ever express. I genuinely wish that there was a comic book company today with enough confidence to make an ad where the major selling points were listed as "good writing" and "good drawing." They don't even go for "great!" They don't even call it "art!" It's amazing. And it's not the only ad for Continuity in this thing either.
But let's get to the story. In a move that might seem familiar if you've caught up with Adams' more recent work in books like Batman: Odyssey or Coming of the Supermen, the whole thing is a little disjointed, being told as a flashback that will occasionally stop being a flashback for one or two panels, and then go right back into it for the next ten pages with no real indication of how that narrative shifts.
But either way, we start off our second issue in the grim darkness of the Metal Wars, where humanity is in danger of being... digitized.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: After humanity decides that it would be just a really great idea to build autonomous killer robots to fight all their wars, everyone is shocked when robots decide that they would rather shoot humans than each other and then promptly take over the world. The big twist, though, is that the mechanical forces are led by Lord Dread, a scientist who helped build a machine that could allow him to interface with the machines, only to test it out on himself.
The other scientist, though, is one Stuart Power, who ends up as the de facto commander of the Resistance, an army of surviving humans. His son Jon is a Captain --- you can probably see where this is going --- and as we join the story here in the second issue, he's in danger of being taken out by a whole new kind of killer robot.
And really? I might nitpick the quality of the story here, but there is nothing that seems like a more true representation of humanity than the idea that this man could see something as incredible as a robot complex enough to feel genuine emotions --- an emotion as simple as anger, sure, but a real, human emotion --- and then have the thought "maybe I can make it do something dumb."
That is the story of our reaction to every technological development for the entirety of recorded history, up to and including recorded history itself.
Anyway, confronted with a new model, Jon Power is immediately taken prisoner so that Lord Dread can lure Power the Elder into a trap. There is, however, a rescue attempt before we get to all that, but it's not exactly an encouraging one. As they hit up the post-apocalyptic landscape for clues, a couple of Power's Teammates --- Tank and Scout, the eponymous Soldiers of the Future --- end up running into a gang of Raiders:
Because really, why settle for just being Terminator when you could also be Mad Max?
It's in this scene that Adams busts out one of my all-time favorite sci-fi tropes: Genuinely incomprehensible future slang. I love it every time it shows up in comics, and the weirder it gets, the better. Seriously, scope this, hog-taggers:
It makes me warmest, for real.
With the rescue operation going pear-shaped, Power Dad has no choice but to give himself up in hopes of freeing his son, which, considering that he's trying to deal with a genocidal cyborg named "Lord Dread," seems unlikely. Before he heads off, though, he leaves his latest creation in the hands of his partner, Hawk Masterson: A robot suit that will give him the ability to fly, neutralizing the robots' major advantage. The only problem is that there's a 50/50 chance that even turning it on will kill him.
And that's where we end, and I'll admit, I'm curious to see where the story goes from here. Unfortunately, much like the show it was based on, the Captain Power comic didn't last long, and a third issue never made it to the stands. I mean, considering that Hawk was actually part of the show, it's pretty safe to assume that he does not actually die in this story, but if you want to know more than that, I'd suggest you take Continuity's advice:
Don't hold your breath.