Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Power Pack #4

Power Pack #4, 2006, Marvel Comics
writer: Marc Sumerak
artist: Gurihiru
letterer: Dave Sharpe

Believe it or not, this issue of Power Pack is one of the most accessible comic books available today. Repackaged in an X-Men/Power Pack collection boasting the old giant-sized brand, I read Power Pack #4 right off the bookshelf at Target, one of the largest department store chains around, and by far the most chic. Yes, Target sells comics, from The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told to Neil Gaiman’s 1602 for the veteran fans, and from classic Fantastic Four to modern X-Men anthologies for the younger fans, either in age or collecting experience. Interestingly, these collections are not shelved with the children’s books, not even in the area promoting Spider-man coloring books, but rather in the young adult fiction section, relatively close to the best-selling soft covers for grown-ups. Comics may have their own racks in Borders and Barnes & Nobles, not to mention the hundreds of specialty shops around the country, but for some reason, finding Power Pack at Target makes me feel like they’ve finally made it somehow.

I’ve never been a tremendous fan of Power Pack, and I don’t know why. When I was collecting Strange Tales several years ago, when the titled starred Dr. Strange and Cloak & Dagger, I enjoyed their cameo appearances, particularly the touching tale in which one of the kids teaches Cloak how to read. The fact that these heroes are kids, and siblings to boot, without sidekick experience (setting them apart from the Teen Titans) sounds like something a child development buff like me would enjoy. Indeed, that could be my problem. In this issue, the eldest sister, tired of her older brother’s assumed leadership, quits the team – prematurely, I should note, because the youngest bro snuck a read from her diary. These diary entries served as the opening act’s narration, but the sophistication of the character’s use of language and syntax made me second-guess its validity as a pre-teen’s innermost thoughts. Adolescents can be surprisingly insightful, but these captions would have been more believable as a third person narration, or even the kids’ father’s insight. If the appeal of these heroes is their youth, keep them young. When I want to hear someone elegantly pontificate about the trials of super-powered selflessness, I’ll read Spider-man.

In this issue, Power Pack’s sibling rivalry gets in the way of their crime-fighting, permitting a two-bit crook to escape their grasp only to find himself abducted by an old alien enemy that bequeaths him with generic super-powers, all part of a plan to defeat those pesky kids once and for all. When Power Pack receives word of the dastardly plot, they try to pry their retired sister away from her friends, in a hilarious attempt at secret identity concealment: “Uhm, the Power family is going on a Power vacation and we need to Power pack . . .” I can imagine Dick Grayson trying to pull Bruce Wayne away from a golf game, back in the day: “Uhm, the batting cages are open and I was hoping we could practice our swing before somebody else comes robbin’ our favorite cage . . .” Gurihiru’s pseudo-manga interpretation of the Power children definitely creates a visual appeal that should attract the eyes of young readers otherwise seduced by Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, but in my opinion, the effort needs a tighter implementation, a complete transformation from the standard western format. Kids like manga because of its size, the fact that they can stash it in their backpack or Gameboy carrying case. Power Pack are half-pint heroes that could benefit from a comic that parallels their size.

Truth be told, I’ve been keeping an eye on Target’s comic book shelf for a while now. The graphic novels are moving slowly – new volumes rarely sweep the old inventory off of the shelf – but these giant-sized compilations seem to be doing well enough. This is the second X-Men/Power Pack collection I’ve seen, and with four issues collectively priced at $4.99, the price is fairly affordable for a child with a week or two’s worth of allowance burning a hold in his pocket. Power Pack is one of those titles that struggled in the specialty stores, not without its niche audience but failing to maintain the sales necessary to keep the ball rolling for a significant amount of new release time. In this format, piggybacking the X-Men and featuring more kid-friendly stories and art, perhaps the Power family has finally found its target audience.

I know, I know. Sorry ‘bout that.

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