Friday, 12 July 2013

Power Pack - an introduction

It's time for a look at a series that deserves at least one Essential volume but instead has to do with other collected editions for now...

I've had limited experience of Power Pack over the years. As a child I only read a couple of issues of Marvel UK's ThunderCats and none of Star Wars. Although Power Pack was a back-up strip in both titles either it wasn't in the issues I saw or I simply forgot about it. Then when I first got into US comics directly (as opposed to experiencing them via the various UK reprint titles) it was the early 1990s and their series had ended by then. About the only time I can recall seeing any of the Power siblings in then-current comics was an appearance by Alex as "Power Pax" in the New Warriors when they showed up in the Spider-Man crossover "Maximum Clonage". Of all the Spider-Man storylines to be first sighted in, that one is amongst the worst. (I did see rather a lot of Franklin Richards in many titles, but those appearances almost never reference his Power Pack days and in any case he was long established so doesn't count in this regard.) The 2000 mini-series is one of many that seems to have completely slipped me by.

I have, however, encountered a small number of back issues in one form or another. Issue #18 is a crossover with Secret Wars II and whilst I was picking that up I came across a surprisingly cheap good quality copy of the 1988 Origin Album trade paperback which reprinted the first four issues. The team also made a few other appearances in the period around Secret Wars II that I saw, such as in Thor and Fantastic Four. Later on I found the special one-shot with Spider-Man dealing with sexual abuse, and more recently issue #27 is part of the "Mutant Massacre" crossover and so has popped up in both Essential X-Factor volume 1 and Essential X-Men volume 6.

At first glance it's curious that Power Pack hasn't had any Essential volumes yet, especially as a modern day revival has been quite successful in digest form. One possible explanation is that the modern series are a new continuity. Another could be the different age target (more on this below). But a third is the release of the early part of the series in the Classic format, and the success of those books. I forget where exactly I saw it, but I've seen sources stating that the Essentials sometimes rely on other collected editions with higher budgets doing the ground work in creating new masters of the material. There's also a desire to avoid too many overlapping releases. And the success or failure of the Classics may determine whether or not demand is perceived for an Essential release.

There's a general presumption about children's fiction that children generally aren't interested in the adventures of those younger than themselves. How true this is I'm not sure. As a child I was a voracious reader of many of Enid Blyton's mystery and adventure series but largely stopped reading them before I was as old as the youngest of the children (although ages weren't always spelt out, particularly when the series accumulated a dozen or more books). However that stopping was in part down to a teacher who imposed a "Blyton Ban" (without explaining why - she was terrible at explaining things) when I was eight years old and I drifted towards other books before realising the ban was no longer in force. On the other hand I read most of the Chronicles of Narnia books when I was a year or two older than the ages of the youngest children involved but I can't remember the ages being specified (and the BBC adaptations of 1988-1990 cast all of the children with actors older than me and sometimes older than the conventional ages given in the books). With most children's television I was either younger than the major characters or not home from school in time.

How does this impact on the comics industry? I'm from a country where, for good or for bad, comics, by which I should probably specify the publishing format, have the reputation of being for children (to the point that manga, graphic novels and even trade paperbacks somewhat stand aside from the term and even series like 2000 AD or the reprints of US Marvel & DC superheroes can now be found amongst the sci-fi/cult magazines rather than with other comics in most W.H. Smith's, in a change from when I was a child). The reasons behind this are many and generally beyond the scope of the post, but I do wonder if part of this is down to the predominance in the popular mind of titles either featuring children and/or tying in with children's television and toys. It's notable that for most of their history the US superhero comics have generally shied away from titles starring children - there were some examples in the early years, most obviously Captain Marvel (although even he is a boy who transforms into a man), but most either faded away or grew older. By the 1960s most of the DC child versions and sidekicks, like Superboy or Robin, were teens rather than children, whilst over at Marvel the youngest heroes were also at least in high school. Titles starring pre-teen children just don't seem to have existed for decades before Power Pack.

So just who is Power Pack aimed at? The advert for the series says "for readers of all generations" and the series is surprisingly multi-levelled. Children can presumably identify with the characters who face the problems of sibling rivalry, keeping secrets from parents, enduring trips with relatives, the travails of school and more that children know all too well. The secretly-young-at-heart can identify as well, whilst parents may warm to the series also. But I suspect many teenagers and above at the time may have found it embarrassing to be seen buying and reading the series. This is a pity because the series works on another level too, exploring some quite deep themes without trivialising them. I'd be fascinated to see the precise breakdown of the original series's sales as whilst the figures don't tell everything, there are indications that subscriptions disproportionately go to the young (either as gifts or because they don't have easy transport access to comic shops) and newsstand sales skew younger than the direct market. If these assumptions are true (and that's a big if) and the complete data is available (another big if because the Statement of Ownerships don't go into that level whilst the series was published in an era of multiple direct market distributors) then it may be possible to get an idea of at least which markets the title did best in. However none of the sales data directly records the age of buyers, let alone readers, so we will never know exactly who was reading it.

But regardless of who was reading the series in the 1980s, or who buys and reads the modern version, there are now three Classic volumes of the series (and a fourth was scheduled earlier this year but then withdrawn - hopefully it will one day materialise) with the first twenty-six issues of the series and some associated crossovers. It's time for a look at one of Marvel's more unusual teams.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...