Monthly Archives: December 2014

If he ever figures it out, we’re done for.

Scene: A few days before Christmas. DYLAN is upstairs. MOMMY has retreated to the library to wrap presents. DADDY is in the family room.

DYLAN (oov)

Daddy? Where mommy is?

DADDY

I’m not sure, son. Are you ready to go up to bed?

DYLAN

Not yet, Daddy. I was just… I just went upstairs so you wouldn’t see me unwrap the lollypop.

A Pair of Hopalong Boots and a Pistol that Shoots… (Captain Power: The Training Videos)

Author’s note: Due to severe VHS interlacing artifacts, a lot of the scenes I wanted to use to illustrate this article were incomprehensible from single frames, so I’ve used a greater than usual number of GIF animations. As a result, this page may have unusually long load times.

Merry Christmas! There’s an episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future that’s set on Christmas, but to be perfectly frank, it’s like one lighthearted minute and then the whole thing turns into an unrelenting bummer, since we’re into the part of the season that gets kind of heavy. So let’s talk about something else Christmas-related instead. Specifically, Christmas, 1987.

It is Christmas Day, 1987. George Michael still tops the charts with “Faith”. Erma Bombeck, Stephen King, Tom Wolfe and Danielle Steele all have NYT Bestsellers out, as do Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and Mikhail Gorbachev. Time Magazine has named Gorby their Man of the Year. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, one of Charles Manson’s followers, is recaptured several days after she escaped from Alderson Federal Prison. Nothing much is happening on TV as far as I know; Teri Garr and Connie Chung are Letterman’s guests tonight. The Atlanta Hawks beat the Philadelphia 76ers. I don’t know, really. Christmas, when you’re a child, has a kind of out-of-time quality to it and it seems weird to try to ground one particular Christmas in its broad historical context. So let’s try again.

It is Christmas and I am eight. This is the second of the three to five years that my grandmother came to stay with us for Christmas (My grandfather had died the year before). I found this kind of upsetting the first year for reasons I couldn’t fully process at the time, that there was this intruder inserted into our Christmas. But I was just old enough to control myself and get over it. The JC Penney Christmas Catalog might give you a certain insight into what this year was like for a kid. Or for anyone really, I mean, look at those shoulder pads.

Christmas Catalogs aren’t really a thing any more, as my sister and I were lamenting this past Thanksgiving. Sears discontinued their “Christmas Wishbook” in 1993, having decided that people buying stuff from the comfort of their own homes and having it delivered to them was pretty much dead, and that traditional brick-and-mortar department stores in enclosed shopping malls was the wave of the future. This bold insight eventually led Sears, Roebuck and Company to evolve from the king of mail-order, through which you could buy everything from a suit of clothes to a washing machine to a house to put your suit of clothes and washing machine in, to be a company who, in 2013, managed to screw up an order I made on their website so badly that I ordered two things, and received three, none of which were the things I had ordered. That is a 150% failure rate. (The Sears Wishbook was reinstated in 2007 as a shadow of its former self). But that’s neither here nor there, because I’m actually referencing the JC Penney book, as it’s the one I remember for this year.

I think my sister had one of those dresses from the cover. I know she got the play kitchen from page 378 — it’s in my parent’s family room right now for when they’re on babysitting duty (though they had to cut the cord on the phone, since my niece, having been born in the twenty-first century, could not cope with the concept of a phone that was leashed to something. Speaking of which, the gray one at the top of page 506 is the first cordless phone our family had) — along with the shopping cart on 380. And the Laurel and Hardy ventriloquist dummies on page 374? Literally the first presents we saw when we walked into the living room that morning. And there’s lots of other stuff there I remember from other years — Teddy Ruxpin (page 359) was the previous year’s big present (My sister got the more advanced “Julie”, page 357, this year). The Cobra Night Raven (page 441) is one of the few GI Joe toys I had. It’s in the basement now. I’d been into Transformers and MASK (pages 443445) in previous years, but they’d fallen below my threshold by ’87 — I was always too much of a dabbler to acquire a really big collection of any single toy line the way my friends did, which I kind of regret a bit in retrospect. (I wanted one of everything instead of all of one thing. Well, okay, I wanted all of everything, but one-of-everything was the compromise I hammered out with my parents.) I had the chemistry set from the middle of page 478. And I know for a fact that my grandparents (the other set) got us the Easy-Bake Oven from page 381 in 1986. Oh, and I don’t know when we got the Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker at the top of the page, but my sister was so nostalgic for it that she bought one on eBay at considerable expense as an adult. (If it seems like I remember my sister’s Christmas better than my own, in 1987, she was three, and as it turns out, three is the perfect age for getting awesome Christmas presents. Says the father of a child who just turned three and is into Transformers and Power Rangers.)

Incidentally, you know what isn’t included in this catalog? A certain science-fiction franchise that had a revival this year. Yes, Star Trek The Next Generation missed out on the Christmas rush: Galoob held the license at the time, and their toy line didn’t launch until 1988. Josh Marsfelder has a nice article on them, which I’ll link to because really I should find more excuses to link to Vaka Rangi, as it is fantastic. I think I probably got my first Star Trek the Next Generation toys the following summer at a convention, where I got to meet Michael Dorn, and possibly Marina Sirtis, but those may have been two separate cons (Also some people who were in much less famous sci-fantasy shows of the time whose lines my dad made us stand in because he felt sorry for them and it was only like an extra two minutes anyway). Most of the draw of conventions for me was that you could get weird and obscure merchandise, so they kind of lost their attraction to me once eBay was invented.

But come on, you know the reason we're all here. Page 432. For that spectacular Christmas of 1987, I got a pair of clip-on sunglasses, a stopwatch, something large in a gray box that's too blurry in the home movies to identify (I think maybe it was a toy electric guitar), a dustbuster (I distinctly remember wanting this and it making perfect sense at the time) and... About a hundred and forty-three dollars worth of page 432 of the JC Penney Christmas Catalog -- basically everything but the gun.
I was the only kid on my block with the amazing PowerJet XT-7. In fact, I was the only kid I knew with one, other than my friend Steve from New Jersey. Which is probably a pretty telling slice of why the franchise didn't end up going anywhere. Returning to Christmas 1987 now means being haunted by the understanding that this is pretty much the exact day that Captain Power died: there were lots of difficulties facing the production, with parental outrage at the violence, terrible syndication timeslots, and stiff competition from that other show, but the nail in the coffin for Captain Power was that the toys didn't sell well during the Christmas rush.
I probably would have gotten the Interlocker Throne too had it been available (It is possible I didn't get the Phantom Striker until my birthday. Heck, it's possible my memory is cheating and I didn't actually get that one after all, since we haven't been able to locate any trace of it. But I have a pretty solid memory of having a hard time getting the wings to stay on, so probably.)

Included in this haul was the first two “training videos”, animated shorts set in the Captain Power universe, with voice acting and live-action bumpers from the cast, providing fifteen minutes of toy interaction. Three of these videos were made (I got the third one some time later, possibly for my birthday, but in my mind it seems like it was much later than that) by Artmic, a Japanese Anime studio that’s probably best known for Bubblegum Crisis, though they also, in 1985, produced the Genesis Climber MOSPEDA OVA, which, in 2013 was adapted into the movie Robotech: Love Live Alive.
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Training Videos

As with all things Captain Power, the cover art is strange and fantastic. Stylistically consistent with the art on the rest of the toyline packaging, it’s clearly derived from earlier concepts than made it to the live-action version. But also, there’s something kind of retro about the style. As incredibly ’80s as Captain Power’s high concept is, having a dude named “Captain Power”, who parades around in shiny gold armor fighting an evil overlord with a physical defect who lives in a volcano very much harkens back to old Republic serials. Hell, Hawk’s flying suit, especially with its janky special effects, is very Radar Men From the Moon. In fact, Captain Power is kind of all over the place temporally, mixing ’80s dystopia with ’50s robophobia, ’40s serial adventure, a bit of ’70s punk and glam, with the ghosts of ’90s CGI and even maybe a bit of contemporary phobias about losing our humanity to the internet hive mind. Some of this is second-order effects: Power clearly drew some of its visual stylings from Star Wars, which itself was a product of the ’70s with stylistic elements deliberately derived from the Sci-Fi adventure serials of George Lucas’s youth. But it’s mad and fun and it’s one of the things I love most about the show.

What we see here is something that’s a little bit Flash Gordon, and it’s lovely enough that, as before, I find myself meandering off in my mind to contemplate some Captain Power that wasn’t. A set of ’50s trading cards a la Mars Attacks that came bundled with bubble gum or boxes of cereal or candy cigarettes. More than ever, Captain Power feels like it’s an adaptation rather than an original property. It’s just that the thing it’s adapting doesn’t exist, which makes me all the more curious about it, this missing counterfactual Captain Power my dad might have enjoyed as a boy. What would it be like?  Would Overmind be a giant wall-panel covered in glowing vacuum tubes? What would they call “digitization”? What would Pilot’s name be (“Jennifer” was a pretty rare name until the late ’50s, and wasn’t a hugely common one until the ’70s)? Would they still “Power On”, or just put their armored suits on the old-fashioned way? Dread, of course, would be a cackling villain with none of the subtlety of televised character, but what of Soaron? Would he be closer to his original “Robot Red Baron” concept, or be reduced to a Bleep-Bloop kind of robot? Would the Nazi analogies be more explicit a few decades closer to the war, or would decorum demand they tone it down a bit? I have no doubt it would have been a largely incoherent mess, but if you’ve been reading this long, you probably already know that I kinda like me a beautiful incoherent mess.

Artmic went bankrupt back in 1997, and I imagine that this complicates the rights situation (which was probably already complex, with Mattel, Landmark and Artmic all holding a stake), which is probably why the training videos aren’t included on the 2011 DVD release, which means that your only choice to see them is shady internet bootlegs, or buying the VHS secondhand (at the moment, prices on Amazon start at 49 cents). Or apparently you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.

It’s doubly a shame these have never been remastered for DVD, since the live-action bits give us some of the cleanest, most straightforwardly-shot footage of the Power Base and the Power Suits. Video 1, Future Force Training begins with a panning shot across the various consoles of the TARDIS-console in the nerve center of the Power Base. The closest we get to a title sequence is a close-up on one of the monitors, where the user “MATTEL” logs in to “run” the training program. It’s a little strange, too, that it seems to be shot differently. In the show, the camera normally shoots the Power Base control center from the left side of the room, so that the kiosk and command console are both to the right. The camera in the training videos is shooting from the right, centered on the console with the kiosk on the left. I don’t know if that’s related, but it’s also the angle they used in the comics when Hawk powers on.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Training VideosTim Dunigan appears and, with even more than the usual amount of emotionless detachment, explains that you’ve been selected to join the Soldiers of the Future as a PowerJet pilot, and that you’re about to go through some training. You’ll be at the controls of a “real” PowerJet XT-7, facing off against simulated targets, computer-generated by Mentor. But before we get to that, of course, he invites us to Power On.

Right away, we know that there’s going to be some issues if we want to treat these videos as canon. I mean, the whole framing of a new recruit on his (Or her. One thing I’ll say for this series of videos is that, although they must have been dead certain which set of naughty bits 99% of their audience was sporting, the player is exclusively referred to in gender-neutral terms) first day being given one of the two spare power suits — which can’t be reassigned once activated — is right out, of course. And there will be other things that don’t line up right later too. We shouldn’t be surprised. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was tied more closely to its toy line than most of the merchandise-driven kids shows of the era, but it’s a low bar to clear. Masters of the Universe had three separate, wildly incompatible versions of its backstory: one from the toy packaging, one from the animated He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, and one from the “Miniternia” small-format comic books that came with the first toy releases. Only about half of the Transformers toys bore more than a passing resemblance to their animated counterparts — I don’t think I ever saw a first-edition Bumblebee or Cliffjumper that were the right respective colors, and Ironhide didn’t even have a head(A recent collector’s edition re-release had a show-accurate clip-on head sold separately).

But there’s another way to interpret it. Sure, maybe Tim’s wooden performance and the various points of divergence from show-canon are just a matter of no one bringing their A-game to making a fifteen-minute video to be bundled with a toy. Or maybe it’s diagetic. In-story, this is a training mission. Cap is clear, direct, and dispassionate to the point of being boring, but he’s also kind of jingoistic. He’s very, “Now get out there and serve your country, soldier,” and “With these weapons, we will one day bring Lord Dread’s tyranny to an end.” I think that the right way to interpret this video is as an in-universe training video. This isn’t Tim Dunigan reading a script where he’s playing Captain Power training a new recruit, this is Captain Power reading a script for distribution to the recruits. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t watch it as a training video, but as a recruitment video. Something they show in the Passages to inspire people to sign up. Of course they’d dangle the carrot of getting to wear a Power Suit or fly a Power Jet. The later videos don’t support this reading tremendously well, but I think you could still make the argument, particularly in light of the fact that, after the power-on sequence, we transition to animation.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Power On Powering on, by the way, will activate the Power On pedestal toy if it’s facing the TV and switched on at the time.
Not visible in the picture on page 432 is the fact that it’s got a handle on the back, so you can pick it up and fly it around too if you wish. Unlike the jets and the gun, it doesn’t shoot, but it will respond if shot. The Captain Power action figure (unlike the others) has a hole in its back that allows you to impale it on the center post of the charging station, making its strobing light visible through Cap’s translucent chest symbol. The sequence has two phases: first, it acts as a target, allowing other toys to “recharge” by scoring points off of it. Then, it switches its strobe pattern and sound, becoming an attacker (The manual calls this the “force field” phase, I think), registering hits on anyone nearby. Or maybe it was the other way around. I can’t remember, and I haven’t found mine in mom’s attic yet, and it’d be a moot point if I did since the PowerJet’s got so much cigarette tar caked on the sensor that I’m not sure it could tell the difference anyway.

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But if our paths never cross, well you know I’m sorry, but… (Captain Power: A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2)

Previously…. Fifteen years ago, Stuart Gordon Power died. We’re about to find out how, as Captain Power has gone to his dad’s grave to mourn and have flashbacks at us. Lord Dread and his ridiculous sidekick Lakki are on their way to the grave in the hope of capturing him, traveling in the toyline-centerpiece Phantom Striker.
Captain Power Episode 15 - The Phantom Striker
Via Lord Dread, we phase back into the misty world of 2132 (Or 2139. Whatever). I think it’s fair to judge the framing of this story as indicative of the kind of underdeveloped storytelling mechanics of television in the 1980s in general, children’s television in specific, and Captain Power in particular. Narrative convention suggests that this should be Dread’s flashback, the story told from his perspective. But of course that doesn’t gel with what we see, that the narrative remains conventional, flipping back and forth between Volcania and the Power Base. This isn’t uncommon for flashback episodes in any era really, and certainly not before television grew up.

Captain Power Episode 16 Bruce Gray in VolcaniaIn 2132, Stuart has just arrived at Volcania, and is escorted by a pair of Mechs to his meeting with Taggart, which is for some reason taking place in some kind of wiring closet. Taggart muses that, “It’s been a long time.”

Time is something Captain Power has very little sense of. Taggart’s statement, and indeed his whole attitude, seem to indicate that his transformation by Overmind and the subsequent war have been going on for a long time. But other things, like the continued existence of the US government at this point, seem to hint otherwise. I suppose we should assume that it’s been a whole generation since this war started, since Pilot is an indication that there’s been enough time for Dread to raise an entire generation of Dread Youth. But on the other hand, doesn’t it seem odd that, as close as we can tell, nothing of note happens in the course of the war over the next fifteen years? Or, for that matter, that there could be a multi-year conflict without the government collapsing when “The bad guys seize total control of the combined armed forces of the entire world,” happens literally on day one? Moreover, Taggart and Stuart Power look to be about the same age.  But we’re going to see a pretty inescapable implication that Taggart was over 40 when he activated Overmind, and Stuart’s only 40 now. And for that matter, what about Jessica Morgan? She was in the dream sequence montage last episode, so clearly they haven’t forgotten about her. But we saw in “A Fire in the Dark” that she was blinded by Soaron but before Taggart became a cyborg. The events of this episode make it clear that the window between these things is at most a day, and Taggart already had a pretty full schedule. And where do the Power Suits fit in to all this? In the comic, their explicit purpose is to enhance the wearer’s natural strengths — that’s a recurring motif for the character of Stuart Power in the comic: his success derives from his skill at finding each person’s specific talents and leveraging them accordingly. That’s not something they bring up in the show, but both comic and show do contain the idea that the Power Suits are impervious to digitization. And yet, if digitization is a brand new phenomenon in this war, only introduced with the birth of Soaron (This is explicitly the case in the comic. The show is more vague, but I think it is still the implication), how could Stuart have possibly prepared for that? Previously, we’d been able to dismiss a lot of the discrepancies through the idea that Dread’s war is only the latest part of a long-running series of conflicts, but as the details of the timeline fill in, that part helps less and less.

Captain Power Episode 16 - Mentor's IntroductionAt the Power Base, Hawk comes back from getting lunch or whatever, and just as he discovers his boss’s discarded ID badges, Mentor pops into existence, explaining that, “Doctor Power has given me his likeness. His stated purpose was to assure that his son would never be without him.” For such a smart guy, Doctor Power seems like kind of an idiot if he thought that this would do more good than harm to a teenager’s psyche. Mentor promises to tell Matt all about what’s happened to Stuart and Jon, but he’s been programmed to run the “Phoenix Program” first, and shows Hawk his rack… Of spandex jumpsuits.

We return to Volcania for the equivalent scene to the one in the comic of Soaron threatening the imprisoned Young Captain Power. The tone and content is completely different here. Jon Power is clinical and detached, probing Soaron for information about his nature. Soaron is creepily philosophical. Jon asks him whether he can actually think for himself:
Captain Power Episode 16: Soaron

Yes. I think. First there was darkness, but now I think all the time. I fight and I think. I fly and I think. And I listen to the voices. And I find something in my program I do not understand. There is something in the dark.

The “something in the dark,” here refers to Soaron’s hidden failsafe program, implanted by Overmind in case it ever needed to kill Taggart. But more than that, Soaron’s rhetoric here, while not directly recycled, echoes motifs Straczynski would use later in Babylon 5. Heck, Soaron comes within an inch of saying there’s a hole in his mind.

This scene, more than anything else, is the reason that for years, I’d felt that Soaron would one day tire of Team Overmind. I’m not the only one; while there’s conflicting information about whose loyalties would change over the proposed future of the series, Larry DiTillio did suggest in a Starlog interview that Soaron might switch sides. Of course, some of what he says in that interview contradicts other things I’ve heard, but presumably, it’s all down to “The show got canned while we were still planning out the exact details so there’s a couple of things we hadn’t finalized yet.”

The middle of this episode is largely intercut between Hawk’s quest to rescue the Power Family and a dialog between Stuart and Taggart. Captain Power Episode 16: Taggart's Music BoxTaggart evokes their prior friendship, evidenced by Chekov’s wind-up music box (They should have done a bit with that. Flashback within a flashback or something. Because a music box seems like a random gift for one dude to give another dude, unless you frame it as being related to Taggart’s obsession with the beauty of mechanical perfection. So show them giving it to him, and have him ooh and aah over the beauty of its intricate design), a birthday present Stuart had given him once. He wants Stuart to come work for Evil Inc. Stuart politely declines, what with the wanton murder and digitization and all. I note here that Stuart blames Taggart for the deaths of “thousands”, because Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.

They argue back and forth a bit until Jon arrives, whereupon we cut back to Hawk, who’s decided to try out a Power Suit despite the fifty percent chance of death. He orders Mentor to hand the Power Base over to the Pentagon and order an air-strike on Volcania in the event that he kicks it. Everything about that sentence is weird. There’s still a Pentagon. Air strikes on Volcania are an option, but for some reason they’ve never taken it. Captain Power Episode 16: Peter MacNeil as Hawk The power-on sequence is somewhat different from usual, and involves a lot more screaming on Hawk’s part. Unlike the comic, we don’t bother with the ad-break cliffhanger: though Matt falls limp to the ground, he gets right back up and declares the process to have worked. Mentor breaks character to declare, “And so it begins.”

Now, Hawk crumpled on the ground, possibly dead would have been a fine place for the commercial break, as evidenced by the comic. Mentor’s proclamation would have been a little less good, but still okay. So of course, they choose to let the action go another few seconds so we can see Hawk take to the skies for the first time, entreating his absent friend to “Hang on,” for the nine minutes it will take him to fly from Colorado Springs to Detroit (Remember, the warp zones aren’t on-line yet). Hawk’s flight to Volcania is nine minutes of intense action as he tests out the amazing powers of his newly activated flying suit, defeating everything Lord dread’s forces can throw at him. It’s nine minutes of intense action, nine minutes of awesome adventure, nine minutes of amazing spectacle, and, above all, nine minutes that will not be shown in this episode, for reasons the least important of which is that there’s only eight and a half minutes left until the credits.

So instead, we return from commercial in Volcania, where, now that Dylan Neal is there to have a gun waved at him, Taggart has cut to the chase: him and Overmind want to have a three-way with Stuart. Stuart’s bread isn’t buttered on that side, but he’s willing to deal when Jon’s freedom is offered up in exchange. Reports of Hawk — identified by Taggart’s minions only as an airborne attacker with an “unknown configuration” — come in, and Taggart dispatches Soaron to deal with him, as Volcania isn’t yet “fully operational.”

The battle between Soaron and Hawk here is the best we’ve seen so far. It’s fast-paced and dynamic, with Hawk portrayed as realistically uncertain about his suit’s capabilities. Captain Power Episode 16: Aerial BattleHe alternates between slow, well-aimed shots and faster, less controlled salvos. Soaron and Hawk frequently appear on-screen at the same time, usually with one in the foreground and the other in the background. Hawk and Soaron are the correct size relative to one another. There actually are backgrounds: the ground itself, an occasional mountain (Which is presumably lost because they’re supposed to be in Michigan), or Volcania’s industrial complex. And though the compositing of the explosion effects is a little off in places (Hawk takes one to the chest, resulting in a fireball that appears an inch away from him), there’s only one instance of the early-season mainstay “Missed laser beams explode when they strike the empty air far behind the target.” They actually fly around each other, exchanging which one of them is in front and which in back in a single shot. Not once does Hawk pull his favorite trick of crashing to the ground apparently disabled, only to turn out to be just fine. Soaron’s animations are a lot more complex than we’ve seen before too. It seems like they’ve improved their rendering quality with this episode and given Soaron a wider range of motion, most obviously when he cartwheels out of controlCaptain Power Episode 16: Aerial Battle briefly.

While that’s happening, Stuart agrees to join his mind with Overmind in exchange for Jon’s release. Stupidly, though, Taggart insists that he first pony up the location of the Power Base so that he can blow it up. I mean, the whole concept here is that Taggart is dead certain that once Overmind achieves mental intimacy with Stuart, he’ll become a loyal Servant of the Machine, so surely it would make more sense to just get on with that and then have his newly loyal ally tell him about the Power Base. To compound the stupidity, Stuart’s refusal is weirdly tactless. He could simply say, “There are innocent people there, let me warn them to evacuate first,” but instead he gets all evasive and says, in the world’s most suspicious tone, that revealing the location of the Power Base is going to “take some time”.

Taggart reacts to this obvious “I’m Up To Something” signposting a bit hyperbolically: he declares that Stuart will be digitized (In another “The show can’t make up its mind how horrific digitization is” moment, he describes it as the “gift of immortality”), while Jon will be killed as an example to others. This, of course, trips Papa Bear’s berserk button, as he pulls some doodad off the wall and throws it at Taggart’s shootin’ hand. They fight until Taggart whacks a power cable, which, due to shoddy manufacturing and poor OSHA compliance, initiates an irreversible overload that will destroy the entire section of the building in however many seconds we’ve got left till the end of the scene. Captain Power Episode 16: Bruce Gray vs David HemblemStuart orders his son, who’s retrieved Taggart’s gun, to make a break for it, while Stuart Power himself, the guy who taught Young Captain Power an abiding respect for all life, and made him swear an oath never to take a human life no matter what, declares his intention that this war shall end here and now, one way or another, and attempts to throttle Taggart to death with his bare hands, or at least hold him there until they’re both consumed in the impending explosion. They don’t even mince words about this: Taggart more or less concedes that they really should just both get the hell out of there, but Stuart isn’t having any of it.

Captain Power Episode 16: Dylan Neal outruns the fireball
Young Captain Power shoots his way out to, I think, the balcony where we first saw Blastarr back in “The Ferryman“, and calls Hawk. Hawk and Soaron are about equally matched, and it doesn’t seem like either one of them is going to get the upper hand in short order, but they both reassess their priorities when the explosion rocks Volcania, poorly compositing in a giant fireball that knocks Dylan Neal off the catwalk. Captain Power Episode 16:Hawk and Soaron truceWithout a word to each other (Soaron cries out, “Master!”, but not to Hawk), they put aside their differences for the moment and actually move into formation with each other briefly as they dive to Volcania. It’s probably the most realistic Soaron has ever looked, sharing the screen with Hawk for just a second. It looks even more like he’s actually there than when he picked up Jon last week. In accordance with the laws of dramatic necessity, Jon struggles to maintain his grip as he precariously dangles from a gantry until his fingers finally slip and he falls… Into the waiting arms of Hawk. Sort of. If anything, Hawk looks less convincingly like he’s actually carrying Jon than Soaron did. As they retreat, the future captain relates his father’s fate in a tone of abject horror and grief.

We end our flashback in Dread’s throne room, where he’s just been Darth Vadered. I guess Hawk called off the air strike. Pity, it probably would have finished him off. In a glazed voice, he mutters, “I hurt.” Overmind “comforts” him with the knowledge that he is now part machine himself, and therefore closer to immortality and perfection. Captain Power Episode 16: Lord Dread RevealThe throne turns to show Lord Dread in his usual form, and though he reacts with horror to his own borgification, he takes inspiration from Soaron’s claim that his new appearance will “Inspire dread” in his enemies, declares Lyman Taggart dead, and accepts the title of “Lord Dread”.

In the present day, Dread switches his dashboard monitor to what, based on the angle, must be a camera on Stuart’s gravestone, to catch the tail end of Cap’s lamentations over his father’s grave. As Captain Power says his goodbyes, Lakki notes that they’re only two minutes away and could catch Cap if they switch on the Afterburners. Dread orders Soaron away so that he can proceed alone, then looks down at that music box, now lightly seasoned and seared. He turns it over to reveal the inscription:

Captain Power Episode 16 - Music Box
To Lyman Taggart

On the occasion of his 40th Birthday.
You’re not getting older, you’re getting– Well, older.

All our best, Stuart and Jon Power.

I notice that there’s no Mrs. Power mentioned here, which is kind of interesting if we take for granted the proposed season 2 storyline that would reveal that Jon’s mother and Taggart were lovers. But probably, it’s just down to this show being a damned sausage-fest. We cut to Stuart’s gravestone a few minutes later, to reveal that the music box now rests next to it, just below a single flower.
Captain Power Episode 16: Stuart Power's grave
So wow. I mean, just wow. Freed from the constraints of squeezing a story into twenty-two minutes, we finally get to see an example of how a Captain Power story would work either as an hour-long show, or a proper TV serial and… It’s good. I mean, purely on its own merits as a stand-alone episode, a genuine, unqualified “good”. Not perfect, no, but, it’s head and shoulders above probably half of the first-season TNG stories. We have the time to sell the character of Stuart Gordon Power in a way that justifies just about everything he does. Even a lot of the plot holes can be justified in light of what we know about Stuart: the same myopia and hubris that led him to build Overmind led him to charge unarmed into Volcania without telling anyone. The same single-minded passion to end all war that gave us Overmind eventually causes him to forsake his own principles and try to assassinate Taggart. And yet, we see him try to reach out to Taggart, in spite of everything he’s done, and try to find what humanity lingers in his old friend.

Captain Power Episode 16: Bruce Gray arguingPlus, Bruce Gray is just a pleasure to watch. He’s great at conveying a whole bunch of conflicting emotions in a very short span. And his little gesticulations and the hand motions he uses to punctuate his dialogue are a really passionate contrast to how staid the other actors are for the most part. Even Mentor gets in on the action, opening his arms in an expansive gesture as he introduces himself to Hawk. I was just about to say that I think Mentor is too over-the-top in this story, but it’s just occurred to me to wonder if perhaps this is some kind of secret hint that there might be more to the resident head-inna-tube than we’ve been lead to believe. Could Mentor be hiding the fact that he’s much more an artificial lifeform than a simple interactive user interface?

David Hemblen, freed for most of the episode from the constraints of his prosthetics and Darth Vader suit, is also in rare form as Lyman Taggart. In the kind of confrontation that makes the center of this episode, you’re pretty much used to the hero appealing to the villain’s humanity and their shared past. But that’s largely inverted this time; it’s Taggart who keeps coming back to their past partnership, to their shared goal of bringing about a new, peaceful, utopian age. And he gets to run the gamut here — there are shades of his Lord Dread personality in every scene, most especially at the birth of Soaron, but there are differences too. He’s far less controlled with his emotions, and far less deferential to Overmind. He’s passionate about his pursuit of a mechanical utopia, without the same level of visible regret over the destruction he’s wrought in pursuit of it.

And here I was, lining up my Sabrina jokes, but Dylan Neal is actually really good as a younger version of Captain Power. We see in a few places that he’s able to do the same kind of nigh-pathological stoicism as Tim Dunigan’s Cap, but primarily he plays younger, happier, more free-spirited and really more emotionally balanced character. Where he’s awkward or unlikeable, it still feels apropriate for a younger character who’s grown up under extraordinary circumstances. If you can look past the fact that Dylan Neal and Tim Dunigan don’t look a lick alike (David James Elliot was absolute crap back in “The Mirror in Darkness”, but at least he and Tim Dunigan have the same basic body type), it’s really easy to imagine Dylan Neal’s Jon Power as a younger version of the character played by Tim Dunigan, particularly with the understanding that some great emotional trauma separates them.

And I never thought I’d see the day when Soaron got to be genuinely creepy. Most of the time in the show, he’s simply a thug. If he seems like “the smart one,” it’s mostly by comparison to Blastarr. The comic adds the idea that he’s arrogant, which maybe comes across a little in his demeanor on the show, but is never really explicit. But here, we see a Soaron who’s more than just a very powerful footsoldier. He actually has a personality here. After his little “Something in the dark” speech to Jon, he seems to realize he’s said too much and orders Young Captain Power to forget everything he’s heard. He’s guilty about it. I think if they’d given him some lines during the Hawk fight about finally getting a proper challenge, they’d have finally sold the original concept of Soaron as something like a robot version of the Red Baron.

If I’m going to complain about this one at all, I have to say that it works very well as a stand-alone episode in a hypothetical “The Metal Wars” series that doesn’t exist, but not nearly so well as episodes 15 and 16 of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future which does. There’s some weird little inconsistencies in the timeline I’ve already mentioned, like the incident with Jessica Morgan. Or the way that Stuart knows what a Biodread is (The scene in the comic feels very much like they went back with the benefit of hindsight and shored up some of the dialog on this point). There are some awkward lapses into exposition, such as the exchange between Hawk and Stuart over the Jump-Gates, or Mentor’s monologue about the nature of the Power Suits. And the ease with which Matt waves off Stuart’s guilt over the fact that he’s almost as much to blame as Taggart for the war rubs me wrong. But even more than that, this show, about Stuart Gordon Power and Matthew Masterson’s comb-over and Young Johnny Power and Lyman Taggart with his Gordon Gecko hair, has characters who are rich and dynamic and compelling in a way that the actual main characters of Captain Power only rarely are. The regular cast (Hawk and Dread excepted, though even they are playing substantially different versions of their regular roles) isn’t in this two-parter for more than a minute, but I don’t really miss them at all. I want more of these guysMore of Bruce Gray being allowed to emote and use his hands. More of David Hemblen being able to move freely, and to passionately defend his utopian vision. More of Dylan Neal getting excited by things. Heck, more of confused newborn Soaron.

I feel like this episode would have been billed as the “Secret Origin” of Captain Power, but of course, it isn’t. Jon Power isn’t a captain at the end of this. Like I said when I started, the only characters for whom this is a straight-up origin are Soaron and Mentor. It’s an origin of sorts for Hawk and Dread, of course, but for Jon? Not quite. It would be easy to sell his father’s death as the single defining event that turned Dylan Neal’s Young Jon into Tim Dunigan’s Captain Power, but, notably, they don’t do that. We see some hints of Cap’s adult personality when he confronts Soaron, yes, but after the death of his father, we don’t see Jon evolve as a character, because his story stops dead when he flies away with Hawk, openly weeping in grief. What’s left of the story goes to Taggart, for whom there is very much a transformative event as you see him give a part of himself to the machine to cope with his mutilation.

No, this isn’t Captain Power’s origin story, but it implies Captain Power’s origin story. I’d really like to see that now. Something set a year or so on from these events, showing Dylan Neal’s Corporal Power having become a reckless hotshot in the wake of his father’s death. The climax would be something where he realizes that he’s more valuable to the resistance as a symbol than as an “ace”, and decides to put on the gold armor and sublimate his personal feelings. There’s even a proposed plot outline in the bible that would work for this, about Captain Power and company encountering a famous lone-wolf hero from before the war who’s secretly working for Dread now. So do that plot with flashback cast: young Johnny idolizes the legendary ace, is betrayed by him, and finally realizes that the symbol is more important than the man. That could even be how you explain what he’s doing in charge, and how Captain Power outranks Major Masterson — have Hawk make the conscious decision to step back from small-P power because the people will rally behind Jon in a way they won’t for him. Though really, if you’re not going to include the character of Stuart Power, there’s kind of diminishing returns on a whole-episode flashback.

Really, I just want more of this one. And I know there isn’t going to be any more. And that makes me sad.

So long ago, certain place, certain time (Captain Power: A Summoning of Thunder, Part 1)

It is February 7 through 15, 1988. Tiffany holds the number one position on the Billboard Charts for both weeks with that song that isn’t “I Think We’re Alone Now”. Springsteen, Pet Shop Boys and The Artist make their way into the top ten. Manuel Noriega has been indicted on drug charges. Anthony Kennedy is appointed to the US Supreme Court. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down the ban on gay people serving in the Army, though the decision is quickly overturned. The Soviet Frigate Bezzavetnyy rams the USS Yorktown in a complicated display of international policy: the US and USSR held differing opinions about the details of the right of innocent passage under maritime law, and resolved this via the time-tested method of “The US sends some ships through some water that the Soviets don’t want them to while shouting ‘If you don’t like it, do something about it!'” Though the Yorktown was not badly damaged, in keeping with tradition, the Bezzavetnyy won the right to mate with the Yorktown’s girlfriend. The incident eventually led to the “Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities”, wherein the superpowers basically promised not to go to war over each other’s boats wandering “accidentally” into each other’s territory, and to give each other fair warning before firing lasers in each other’s general direction. International politics is weird.

The Winter Olympics begin in Calgary, and that takes up a good chunk of this week’s TV time. The Wonderful World of Disney shows something called “Rock and Roll Mom”, whose commercials I dimly remember. In theaters, She’s Having a Baby and Action Jackson are released.

Star Trek the Next Generation airs “Too Short A Season”, wherein an elderly admiral takes a youth-drug so that he’ll be fit and young to face down the dictator of a primitive planet he’d sold arms to early in his career. It’s not bad to start with, but it gets really good when it suddenly occurs to you that Admiral Jameson’s backstory is basically the plot to the TOS episode “A Private Little War”, and Jameson is clearly an expy for James T. Kirk: the whole thing is really an indictment of TOS’s shortcomings. Then next week, it’s business as usual with “When the Bough Breaks”, in which aliens abduct Wesley Crusher and the crew spends the episode trying to get him back for some reason. I mean, it’s pretty good as Wesley-centric episodes go, and has a wonderfully weird bit with an eight year old complaining about having to do his calculus homework. Weak but not offensively bad.

Captain Power, meanwhile, does something that's simultaneously important and unwise: a two-part whole-episode flashback. We pretty much sideline the entire cast for two weeks to provide an origin story. Of sorts. As origin stories go, this is kind of an oddball. Pilot, Tank, and Scout are entirely absent, and though Not-Yet-Cap is present, played here by -- Wait, really? Hold that thought.
Dylan Neal as Young Captain Power It's Dylan Neal (Not my son's namesake.) as Young Johnny Power. You may know him from such roles as Dr. Ivo on The CW's Arrow, or Jack Griffith on The Hallmark Channel's Cedar Cove. Only not that second one because I can not imagine there is much of an overlap between my readership and Big Hallmark Channel fans. He also played Doug Witter on Dawson's Creek, The Young Handsome One in Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers, and appeared alongside fellow Guy-Who-Isn't-Tim-Dunigan-But-Played-Captain-Power David James Elliot in JAG. He was also in a show called Hyperion Bay, because apparently he likes doing shows named after waterfront towns in New England. But somewhat more relevant to us here in the nexus, he was Aaron Jacobs, the dude Sabrina left at the altar for having the wrong-shaped magic soul rock. Oh, and he's in Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah.
Anyway, while Not-Yet-Cap is present, we don't actually get to see him become "Captain Power". Yes, we see a formative incident that we're supposed to understand as being the catalyst for making Cap into the man we know today, but it's an incomplete story. Hothead Young-Not-Yet-Cap is reckless and gets his dad killed, and presumably this is why he's such a square and why Dread pushes his berserk button. It lacks closure though. It's also an origin story for Dread's costume, I guess. Continuing our Star Wars parallels, it's akin to the "reveal" of Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith: going through the motions as though this was to be a shocking reveal because it is in a sidereal sense, even though the audience already knows what's coming because the story has been told out of order. But I don't think it works as well here because although we've seen a pre-Dread Taggart, we've seen approximately ten seconds of a pre-evil Taggart: there's no real character transformation, just a costume change.

It's also a not-quite origin story for Hawk, played here by Peter McNeil with a different haircut; his role in the narrative is fairly minor. We don't talk about his family or how he fell in with the Power family, but we do get to see him Power On for the first time. Really, the only character for whom this is a straightforward and unambiguous origin story is Mentor, who actually does originate in the course of this story.

Captain Power Episode 15, Cap's Bedroom We open on a weird little montage, mixing clips of the series so far with clips from later in this very episode. There’s ominous close-ups of Dread and Soaron, some digitization, even Jessica Morgan getting shot in the face (more on that later). Which is weird, since this montage is supposed to be Captain Power having a bad dream. The montage ends on Dylan Neal outrunning a very cheaply composited fireball, which gives way to modern-Cap waking in his bunk, sweaty, with an expression of abject… well, dull surprise, really. Seriously, Captain Power is so damned stoic most of the time that I’ve decided I really kinda like pretending that he’s secretly a violent psychopath who’s keeping it covered up so he can lull his victims into a false sense of security. Also, he sleeps in his uniform, and apparently has plastic sheets.

The broad outline of the story is much the same as the Continuity Comics version, but the emphasis is very different. We don’t learn anything new about the backdrop of the endless metal wars that was emphasized in the comic version, nor do we get any but the sketchiest of details about Papa Power’s resistance. All the emphasis here is on that last day, when Taggart became Dread, Hawk became a Power Ranger and Stuart Gordon Power became an ex-parrot.

There are still some directly parallel scenes, though. We start off in one of them: Captain Power and Hawk have a terse exchange the gist of which is that Hawk should hold down the fort while Cap goes off to mourn. Pilot is there too, but unlike in the comic version, she already knows where Cap’s going, and has apparently been around long enough to recognize what it’s all about. There’s none of that business with her being shocked to discover who Cap’s dad is, or any need for Hawk to expo-dump on her. That would track pretty well with the notion of the comic framing story being a prequel, set a year or two earlier than the series, but of course, there’s the complication that Blastarr already exists in the comic. As per usual, it’s probably best to just treat this as an alternate continuity.

Captain Power Episode 15, Stuart Power's GraveCap takes the Power Jet XT-7 to his father’s grave-site, which isn’t a proper cemetery here as it was in the comic, but just the base of a tree near a small pond in an otherwise barren landscape. Doctor Power’s grave marker gives his birth and death years as 2092 and 2132, which is a lot better than the comic’s “maybe 2024”. If Young-Captain Power was meant to be about the same age as Dylan Neal when he played him, that would put Stuart in his early twenties when Cap was born. Reasonable. I mean, early twenties is a popular time in one’s life to have kids. People who get “Dr.” in front of their names tend to hold off a bit on that, but still, entirely plausible.

The grave Video Toasters into the Power Base, still under construction, circa 2132, where Dr. Power tells Nameless Nerdy Sidekick he can double his salary if it makes him happier about the fact that he and all the other folks involved in building the Power Base have to be blindfolded when they’re brought in to maintain the secrecy of their location. Which, in case you’ve forgotten, is Stargate Command NORAD. I mean, the total secrecy here makes perfect sense as a laudable goal, but there’s something just a little off about the fact that their secret base is being built inside basically the best known place to build a secret base on the planet. I mean, Cheyenne Mountain is such an obvious place to go when you want to find a secluded place where you can be protected from the effects of an all-out global war that Robert Heinlein was extremely pissed when he found out that NORAD was building itself in his back yard (Seriously. He pulled out a map, worked out where he’d be safest in the event of nuclear war, and moved there. Then the government did basically the same thing and stuck a nuclear bunker there.).

The fact that people are still thinking in terms of “salaries” is telling about the state of the war at this point: civilization hasn’t collapsed yet. But you’re going to have to keep telling yourself that, because honestly, we’re not going to see much that backs that up. Dr. Power does acknowledge that money isn’t going to be relevant soon, which kinda seems pessimistic as he also seems like he’s pretty much on-track to turn the tide of this war.

Captain Power Episode 15 - Peter MacNeil as HawkWe join Peter McNeil with a different haircut and young Dylan Neal in another part of the unfinished base. Hawk explains how clever bio-mechs are strategically, able process information fast enough to block any predictable movement. Again, this makes perfect sense, unless you have actually been watching this show and know that they’ll typically fall for a straight right, a left hook, or that trick from old Bugs Bunny cartoons where you bend the barrel of their guns around to point back at them. We get a live-action version of Young Captain Power’s training battle against the mechs. It’s not as flamboyant as the serial art version — he doesn’t get a sword for one thing. Dylan Neal’s Young Johnny Power comes off as a lot less of an arrogant jackass than the cartoon version. That’s kind of a shame, though, to my mind, since having him be more flawed and teenager-y gave some extra depth to the character.

Hawk cautions young John about overconfidence, which seems kind premature from what we actually see. I mean, there are bits and pieces where, yeah, I’m kind of reminded of Chris Pine’s Young Jim Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, but Young Jon seems primarily to be eager to help and self-sacrificing rather than cocky or self-aggrandizing. Captain Power Episode 15 - Dylan Neal as Jon PowerReally, if they wanted to sell “Young Brash Hotshot Jon Power”, they should have made him more rebellious and eager to take big risks and chances. Instead, he’s just an enthusiastic young man who follows orders and is willing to place himself in harm’s way, but only to help others.

Neal’s Jon is a lot more expressive than Tim Dunigan’s though: seeing him really light up when his father congratulates him after the training session is an angle we’d never see from the older Cap. And man, is Bruce Gray on the stick here. Finally free to use his hands, he claps them in approval of his son’s performance against the mechs, claps the boy on the shoulders, then punctuates his words with a finger point as he orders Jon on a supply run.
Captain Power Episode 15 - Bruce Gray as Stuart Power
But even better, his demeanor changes with context. He’s warm, friendly, and proud with Jon, but in other scenes, he’s much more stoic and businesslike — I’d even suggest that he’s playing Stuart Power as a kind of prototype for the adult Captain Power: Stuart, like his son will be, is stoic, and, like his son, is haunted by a tragedy from his past. But in just a few scenes, Stuart comes off far more balanced than Cap, able to relax and express emotion openly around those he cares about. He and Hawk retire to the Jumpship to discuss the impending activation of the Jump Gates. Waving a pen around for illustrative purposes (I am really glad the show is backing me up on my earlier guess about Bruce Gray liking to use his hands when he acts), he explains the jump gates to Hawk in a bit of expospeak that I’d accuse of wasting valuable screen time except that Bruce Gray is so damned good at it. They continue their trend of treating the invention of instantaneous wormhole travel (Hawk calls it “short range teleportation”, which, okay, but this thing’s range is at least coast-to-coast, so what would “long range teleportation” be in this context? Mars?)

The conversation drifts onto how this whole war is basically Stuart’s fault, as he laments, with a mixture of sadness and contempt, about how they’d intended to end all wars with Overmind until Taggart had fused himself with it and become an evil overlord. This abbreviated version, along with a few oblique references back in “The Abyss” are most of the explanation we’re going to get about Taggart’s transformation. I’m underwhelmed by Hawk’s response, though you’ve got to imagine that he’s heard it all before, since, y’know, it could not possibly be the first time he’s heard this story. I don’t know how I feel about the fact that Hawk’s response is entirely supportive, largely disclaiming Stuart’s guilt in light of the fact that he’d meant well. I mean, Hawk lost two kids on account of this war, so I think a little bitterness would be called for. It’s not unlike last week’s “Judgment” in that sense, far too quick to let the “good guys” off the hook for their sins. Kudos to the comic adaptation here — when Hawk learns of Stuart’s work on Biodreads there, he actually gets angry about it and accuses Stuart of insanity.

Back at Volcania (which looks like it’s still under construction, a nice touch), Overmind gives birth to Soaron. It’s not as dramatic as in the comic, and the strengths of serial art really shined there, with the next-page juxtaposition of young Cap in triumph after his training scene with Soaron’s sudden almost orgasmic coming to life.
Captain Power Episode 15 - The Creation of Soaron
After a commercial break, we see Soaron’s effectiveness as he easily overwhelms resistance fighters. It’s nice to see them try, though; aside from the Wardogs, we’ve never really seen any other bands of resistors do much. We can see that things aren’t as bad yet as they’ll eventually become: the resistance is far more organized, there are regular supply chains, even a reference to the President — you may or may not recall back in “The Abyss”, Cap found the idea of those troops waiting on orders from the President ludicrous. So in this flashback, we’re seeing the way things were before everything collapsed.

Captain Power Episode 15 - Stuart Power and Soaron A transmission from the fighters as they’re defeated tips off Stuart, who recognizes Soaron as a Bio-Dread — unlike in the comic, he doesn’t say how he knows this — and explains its nature with horror that’s slightly underplayed until he remembers that Jon is still out in the field. Back at Volcania, Overmind warns Taggart that Stuart’s technical background would cover how to fight Bio-Dreads. In the comic, Overmind goes on to check out resistance logistics and determine the supply depots where Power’s been getting what he needs for the Power Base. In the televised version, it’s Taggart’s idea. I read that as a hint to how the relationship dynamic between Taggart and Overmind has evolved over time. At this point in the relationship, Taggart still has some power.
Captain Power Episode 15 - Close up

Young Captain Power’s delayed getting his supplies, because dad’s access was erroneously revoked by a message on “Blue Seven,” which, as it turns out the Romulans Overmind has cracked, which means that Soaron shows up just about a second later. When it becomes clear that the resistance doesn’t stand a chance, Young Cap orders everyone else to safety, remaining to buy time. He’s no match for Soaron, not even managing to hurt him enough to make him angry as in the comic. All the same, Soaron prepares to kill him, but is called off by Taggart, who orders Jon brought in alive.

And then something amazing happens. Soaron picks Dylan Neal up and flies away with him. I was just talking about this in last week’s episode: this is the only time in fifteen episodes that we’ve seen Soaron touch something.
Captain Power Episode 15 - Soaron Captures Power
Back at the Power Base, Stuart activates “Project Phoenix”, mostly to set it up for later. It causes a clothes rack to extend out of the wall with the spandex-form Power Suits on it. He makes his own captain’s log about them, the most interesting element of which is that he gives a stardate of 39-7.13. Captain Power Episode 15 - Bruce Gray and the Power Suits If, as we have been in every other instance, we assume that this should be read “July 13, 2139”, that would place this episode seven years after Stuart’s death-date. Of course, maybe the dates don’t work that way. But then, everything else we know about dating from the other episodes is up in the air. It’s just such a weird mistake to make — it’s not like there are other things in the show with a ’39 date.

He’s interrupted by a priority incoming transmission: Taggart calls up, announces that he’s got Jon, and invites Stuart to Volcania. Bruce Gray, in a few short gestures, conveys pain, fear, and above all fatigue, before, while breathing heavily, he orders his computer to activate the “Mentor Program” the next time Hawk comes in. Captain Power Episode 15 - Bruce Gray He scrunches up his shoulders, sighs heavily, then closes up the Power Suits, takes off his ID badge, and walks out. With everyone being so stoic all the time in this show, it’s just amazing to see a character convey such a range of emotions, most of it nonverbal, and have all of it come off sincere and natural. I freaking love the fact that there’s no discussion, no agonizing over the decision: Taggart has his son, so — knowing full well that he is going to his death — Stuart sets everything up for Hawk to take over and just goes. It makes me kind of regret that Bruce Gray isn’t the lead in the other twenty episodes of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

Taggart apologizes to the captured Jon for all the inconvenience, promising that he’ll “understand” when he’s older. And something kind of remarkable happens with Dylan Neal at this, because for the first time, it actually feels like you are watching a younger version of the same character Tim Dunigan has been playing. He promises that if his father is harmed, he’ll spend the rest of his life making Taggart wish he’d killed the younger Power instead. It’s a promise and a threat, and it’s made without any real emotion other than grim determination: gone are all the emotions he’d expressed so clearly in his early scenes — pride after the training montage, fear at the supply depot, indignation at his capture — replaced by the same grim, cold stoicism we’ve come to associate with his older self.

At this point, we leave the flashback to find ourselves in Volcania, where Lakki basically shames Dread into doing something about the fact that Cap is out in a known location unprotected and in mourning. Captain Power Episode 15 - The Phantom Striker When Overmind chimes in that, “You have the moment,” Dread grabs Lakki and hops in the Phantom Striker.

Though presented as coequal in the toy line to the PowerJet XT-7, this is going to be just about the only time we see the Phantom Striker in action, and we’re not even going to get a decent dogfight out of it. Soaron’s Dread’s wingman on this mission, and Dread orders him to “Capture if possible, obliterate if necessary,” a far cry from his order, “I want him dead!” in the comic.  As Soaron cackles menacingly, we’re informed that this episode is “To Be Continued…”

And because I am over three thousand words, this article will be too….

Captain Power Episode 15 End Card

He has a magic gun. Where’d he purchase that? (Captain Power: Continuity Comics #2)

Previously on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

Don’t ask me to explain it, but it is January, 1989. In Japan, Hirohito dies, ending the Shōwa era, and ushering in the Hisei era with the enthronement of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito, and causing news-watching Americans to be surprised that Hirohito had been (a) still alive and (b) still emperor, because we’re crap at remembering things like that. Besides, it’s the 1980s, so for most Americans, Japan is barely a real place, just a sort of quasi-mythical wonderland which emits high-energy rays of video games, cars that are incredibly good value for money, VCRs, violent quasi-pornographic cartoons, cyberpunk aesthetics, and Godzilla, and would almost certainly be ruling the world in a few years due to their incredible work ethic and business acumen. I mean, unless they had some kind of massive stock market crash in a couple of years, but what are the odds of that?

Stateside, Ronald Reagan hands over the reigns of government to his Vice President, George Herbert Walker Bush, who won a landslide victory over Democratic hopeful Mike Dukakis due to Bush’s unbeatable one-two punch of accusing Dukakis of being a pussy for his death penalty opposition and swearing that under no circumstances would he ever raise taxes, and as long as he sticks to that and doesn’t get us into any wars, he’s sure to cruise easily through two terms.

There’s also a major plane crash in the UK, a major earthquake in the Tajik SSR, a major school shooting in California, a major loss for the art world when Salvadore Dali dies, and a major meal for Ted Bundy, who is executed on the 24th. And I turn ten.

On TV, The Arsenio Hall Show, The Pat Sajack Show and Shining Times Station all premier. Ryan’s Hope, Snorks and Simon and Simon end their runs. On the other side of the pond, Doctor Who‘s quadranscentennial season ends with the final part of “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”. ITV premiers Agatha Christie’s Poirot, which will run until 2013, and Press Gang, a children’s show created by future Doctor Who-ruiner Steven Moffat. It sounds like the sort of thing I’d like, but since it’s highly recommended by people who think Steven Moffat is the finest showmaker in television history, I have to assume I will actually sink into a deep depressive spiral if I ever watch it. Also, it’s hella expensive to import it on DVD.

But we’re not here for TV this time. Five months after issue one of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Continuity Comics published the second and final issue of Captain Power. It was strange enough when issue 1 came out months after the series had ended. But I don’t know the full timeline for the cancellation of the series — they had a batch of scripts written for the second season, so I don’t know when exactly Hasbro pulled the plug. But I have to assume that by the following January, everyone knew it was over. I couldn’t turn up any specific reason for why this comic came out when it did, beyond the fact that Continuity was kind of infamous for their releases being late. Maybe this was a last-ditch attempt to keep interest in the property alive in some form, or maybe they were just halfway through drawing it when the plug got pulled so they decided to finish it off in their spare time rather than write off what they’d already put in. Cover of Continuity Comics Captain Power Number 2In any case, by January, 1989, I’m pretty sure Captain Power was fading fast in the public consciousness. We’re getting close to the extreme tail end of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future as a “thing that is happening”; soon enough we’ll have moved into Cap’s version of the Wilderness Years. If the Internet had been a thing in 1989, rather than the specter of a thing-to-come, maybe it would have been different. But it’s 1989 and Captain Power never managed to hit critical mass.

Kudos to the cover artist for trying for a nicely dynamic action shot rather than another group shot, but it’s pretty janky. I mean, Soaron’s reaching out like he’s about to sweep Captain Power up in his arms and give him a hug, while raking the ground behind him with laser fire. Cap’s looking intensely at something off-panel to the right — I think he’s supposed to be looking at Soaron, but he’s just, well, not. Heck, they managed to get the sight-lines mostly right in the televised show, so how could they be so far off here? Cap’s shooting Soaron in the knee, despite the fact that he’s not even close to aiming that way. Cap’s calves are drawn the same size despite the fact that the bend in one leg means it should be several feet forward of the other, and it looks like his ankle is broken. They’re basically anatomically reasonable at least, but the perspective doesn’t make any sense. Is this secretly a tribute to Dali? Also, Captain Power is doing his “Dongs” face (If you missed my last review, I’ve noticed that the art-style for this book is heavily oriented around pictures of people with their mouths open, lips pursed, in a position that kinda looks like they’re about to eat a hot dog.) again.

And that scene, for what it’s worth? Does not occur in this comic. We open with a quick recap of the previous issue’s dong-mouth highlights which makes explicit that the Metal Wars Overmind had been created to stop weren’t, as I’ve been claiming, caused by human leaders being stupid and venial and starting pointless wars now that the press wouldn’t have juicy pictures of dead nineteen year olds to discourage the public, but rather were the result of a simple malfunction in the mechs which caused them to refuse the order to stand down. Huh. That’s… Really really lame.

The story proper picks up mid-flashback, on the battlefield of 2132 (Which is kind of confusing as the recap explicitly gives the setting as 2147. Not an error, just an awkward narrative decision to start out in a flashback without explicitly signifying it.). Captain Power Number 2, Page 1There’s some nice artwork here, showing a soldier comfort his mortally wounded colleague, and possibly a reference to the style of the show in that we don’t actually see who the soldiers are shooting at, aside from a tiny little mech in the background. As with Overunit Drucker last time, I’m a little put off by what seems to be power armor on the soldiers — There’s one panel where I thought one of the soldiers might have been Scout. If that sort of powered armor isn’t unique to Captain Power and his team, it’s not really clear what’s so great about them. I mean, sure, they’re still an elite fighting force, but it’s just not as satisfying if everyone’s got power armor, even if Cap and Company are the only ones who can summon theirs from spandex.

The next two pages are mostly taken up by a spread showing… Soaron’s back. Not their finest hour; it’s basically a full two pages of gray broken by some geometric lines to indicate the contours of his wings. The exploding chaos below him is basically indistinguishable and it just feels cheap. A small mitigation, the bottom third of the pages show Hawk and Stuart Power at their command center. It’s not explicit that this is the future Power Base, but I think we can guess that it’s still under construction from the fact that the command console appears to be plugged into a random power stripCaptain Power Number 2, Page 2. Hawk and Stu watch in horror as one of the soldiers from the previous page reports the death of his companions at the hands of Soaron, who digitizes the soldier — whose name was “Benson” on one page, but “Peters” on the next — on the following page. The narrative frame pulls back a bit, so around the individual story panels you can see 2147-Hawk telling the story to Pilot over coffee.
In an unusual cross-promotion, Hawk and Pilot are played by Dr. Strange and Veronica from Archie.
I mostly just complained last time instead of admitting that I really like the way Hawk’s drawn in this book. Sure, he looks nothing at all like Peter MacNeil, but he’s got a very classic “Old Soldier” look to him, and there’s something nicely cartoonish about the way that his hair sweeps up at the sides to give him a slightly aquiline aspect. The background is also a nice touch; they probably could have gotten away with a splash of color or something, but instead, you can see bits of stairs, a door and the Power-On podium.

All the praise I’ve given to the art, though, does not extend to Pilot. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a less distinct look than Pilot. Generic blonde woman in a brown shirt. With that same dongs-face expression as everyone else. More and more, I get the feeling that the character brief for Pilot never really got beyond, “She’s the girl,” in the minds of most of the writers. We’ve seen it again and again in the series that, outside of the pair of times she’s put front-and-center, the writers barely seem to remember she’s there at all.

Stuart explains digitization to Hawk — this is apparently a new development with Soaron. The series bible was very adamant that only the Warlord-class Biodreads had digitizers, which holds true (with a caveat we’ll get to as the series winds down) on-air, so we should probably accept this as the origin of digitization. It’s not explicit in the show, however, even though that does seem the obvious implication. I have a hard time with this, just on the basis of how Dread’s plan from pretty much day one was to fuse human minds with immortal machines, which seems kind of weird in the same way that, say, Power Rangers Time Force was apparently called “Time Force” even before they invented time travel.

Stuart also gives a very terse explanation of Soaron, claiming that he and Taggart had been developing the “Warlords” for (you guessed it) peaceful purposes, but had shelved the project due to, “A flaw in our plan… big enough to drive a truck through.” A flaw so big that it will not be elaborated upon further.

Captain Power Number 2, Page 6Overmind’s worked out one of the supply bases Power is using, and in a nice touch, you can actually see a hint of sadness in Taggart’s bandaged face before he orders Soaron to attack.

Of course, it’s the very base where young Captain Power is at that very moment picking up supplies. But his suspicious are already up due to a “funny delay” when he gave his code cards to the computer. He orders everyone to safety as he tries to buy time, narrating to himself as he fights. “They can’t change their programming fast enough to shoot low,” he claims, and basically avoids being hit by ducking. He grabs a mech to use as a nonhuman-shield, then throws himself into a, I dunno, ventillation shaft? It mystifies the mechs, who conclude that the resistance must have invented teleportation.

Captain Power Number 2, Page 14
Yeah. They don’t see him duck into a hole in the wall, and therefore conclude that the only logical possibility is teleportation. He pops out of a manhole behind them and dispatches the mechs, then turns his attention to Soaron. Though stronger than the others, young Cap concludes the Warlord is just as dumb when it moves in close to digitize the seemingly unconscious boy, allowing Young Cap to get in a shot at point-blank range. Soaron’s returned fire disarms Cap, and Soaron is so rattled to have been injured that he picks Cap up by his shirt, declares him unworthy of digitization, and prepares to punch him to death. Thinking his only chance is to anger the Biodread into making a mistake, young Captain Power says a line you’d never in a million years expect out of this franchise:

Captain Power Number 2, Page 14

Dread’s shocked expression here is because he’s just realized the Simpsons is still on. In 2147.

It doesn’t work, but Taggart is watching from Volcania and orders Soaron to bring Cap in intact.

This being an exciting place for a cliffhanger, the story gods oblige us by having Tank and Scout call in to interrupt Hawk’s storytelling. Hawk shows them a picture of Scott BakulaCaptain Power Number 2, Page 16 in the hopes that he’ll help them finish killing off the franchise. Out in the field, Tank and Scout are running down a rumor that a local gang was “spreading some oil” that they might have that Professor Malenkov guy who was the ostensible macguffin of the framing story. Remember him? Former Dread scientist who’s absconded with information vital to the resistance. It’s really not important. The gang turns out to be some proper Mad Max-type dystopia punks, of the sort we really should have seen more of in the show. The bottom third of the page depicts them, partying and speaking in gibberish, with bald Steven Segall declaring “Party Treef an’ Besto!” while Tina Turner asserts, “Rad and bad, gato. You tags make me warmest.”
Captain Power Number 2, Page 16
Disguising himself as a punk, Scout tries to barter for information about Malenkov, but even his mighty slang is no match for true post-apocalyptic punk, as they suspect him immediately, and think their suspicions confirmed when a Dread Patrol also arrives. While Tank deals with the mechs (who curiously warn him that his “criminal charges will be recorded on digi-disk”, and order him to remove his armor for digitization), Scout roughs up the leader of the punk gang. Once the fighting is over, they call home to let Hawk know that Malenkov had already been traded to a “local warlord”.

Another one of the nice touches about this comic is that they paint a seedier side of the civilian populace. The series bible and some of the released information about season 2 talks about the possibility of threats emerging from bandits, opportunists and crime gangs.Captain Power Number 2, Page 21 On screen, most of the civilians we see are just refugees, and the only threatening ones are either working for Dread or are convinced that Captain Power is. Here, we see hints of local strong-men carving out little fiefdoms for themselves. And the punk Scout roughs up even dismisses Power as “a drug for the brain dead.”

But that part of the story is done for now, so Hawk awkwardly segues us back into his flashback. A manic Stuart shows Hawk the untested Power Suits — actual suits, not just spandex, then Hawk is called away mostly as a plot contrivance, so that Stuart is alone when Dread calls. Dread has Johnny, all dong-faced with indignation, of course, and orders Stuart to come to Volcania and exchange himself for his son.
Captain Power Number 2, Page 24
He’s already gone on the next page, and Hawk’s return triggers the “Phoenix Project”, which declares Hawk, “Acting commander-in-chief.” So… Stuart was the president? Hawk notes that the computer “Sounds like Stuart,” so I guess that’s Mentor’s intro, though he doesn’t actually manifest visibly. Captain Power Number 2, Page 25Learning what’s happened, Hawk is so upset he nearly eats his own jaw, then resolves to put on the untested Power Suit despite the 50% chance of, y’know, death. The last we will see of Hawk-2132 in this issue is his limp form crumpled on the floor, possibly killed by the uncalibrated “bio-leads”. I mean, except that he’s the one telling the story so plainly he’ll turn out to be okay. There’s also a sort of strange parallel here, with Hawk’s screams about acid shooting into him as he transforms being reminiscent of Taggart’s interface with Overmind in the previous issue.

The flashback ends with Jon in Volcania. Soaron basically yells at him a bit then tosses him at Dread’s feet. Present-Hawk explains that Dread planned to “Bend Stuart to the will of the machine. With Stuart gone, the resistance would be crushed,” which for some reason prompts generic-female-character to ask, “But how?” A question so awkward that I’m not even sure it works grammatically. Wasn’t she paying attention?

We cut away to Stuart Power’s grave, where Captain Power has just finished telling his dead father about the events of the previous year. Hey, what’s he doing powered-down? He was powered up when we last saw him.

Oh, that’s right. The plot says so. Because no sooner has Cap finished than Blastarr appears. Cap’s insults are no match for the Biodread, who, pretty much without hesitation, digitizes the hero of our series.
Captain Power Number 2, Page 28
Yeah.

That is how this comic book series ends. With Captain Power being digitized. I know the show itself was a bit schizophrenic when it came to “how big a deal” digitization was, sometimes treating is as nothing more than a kid’s show-friendly way to remove characters from play without having to technically kill them, while other times drawing a straight-up analogue to rape. But this comic seems to come down on the side of “really really horrific.” There’s no guarantee that Cap would have come back from this experience unchanged.

Nor, for that matter, is it guaranteed that his return would be immediate; the fact that all the present-day action is shifted over to Scout and Tank suggests to me that Neal Adams and the folks writing the comic had a stronger understanding of Captain Power as an ensemble show than its live-action counterpart could consistently manage. It wouldn’t be unprecedented to actually remove the lead character from the story for an extended period before building up a “The Return of Captain Power” event — Optimus Prime had been killed off exactly two years earlier in issue 24 of Marvel Comic’s Transformers series (He committed suicide out of guilt at cheating to win a video game. Really.) and wouldn’t return until July of the following year.

Where would this plot have gone? I have a strong suspicion. The key hint to me is in what the mechs who accost Tank say — as I mentioned earlier, this is the only time it’s suggested that a mere clicker can wield a digitizer. But it refers to a “digi-disk”. In context, it sounds like a physical artifact of digitization. Looking back to the series bible, the original concept for digitization involved reducing a victim to a microchip, which the Biodread had to hand-carry back to Overmind at Volcania, with the possibility that, were the chip recaptured first, the digitized victim could be restored by Mentor.

The evasive Professor Malenkov is described as a Dread scientist who possesses some key piece of information that could turn the tide of the war. I think they were building up to the reveal that Malenkov is capable of building an un-digitizer. The story arc would continue to follow Tank and Scout as they tracked down the professor, segueing into a quest to find the necessary parts from which to build the un-digitizer, while Hawk and Pilot would be engaged in a protracted hunt for Blastarr to recapture Captain Power’s “digi-disk”. As I mentioned, although Hawk mentions the computer having Stuart’s voice, we never actually see the Mentor — and back in issue 1, Pilot didn’t know about Cap’s heritage. Perhaps in the comic version of events, it would only be with the contribution of Malenkov’s un-digitizer that the computer records of Stuart Power would be fully transformed into Mentor as we’ve seen him in the show.

As always with this show, we’re left lamenting what might have been at least as much as we celebrate what was. This was a much more promising start than I thought it would be: I’d started out questioning the wisdom of doing the first two issues almost entirely as flashbacks that didn’t even star the actual heroes, and retreading a televised story. Sure, they flesh some things out more — the events leading up to Taggart’s alliance with Overmind, the Metal Wars, details about Stuart’s involvement with both Taggart and the Resistance. These are all things, though, that I think should have taken a back-seat to getting on with some cool adventuring. But right at the last minute, they pitched a curve-ball. The digitization of Cap changes the status quo, and the quest to restore him that surely would have followed is exactly the sort of thing to start off a new comic series with.

Had that actually happened, and this not turned out to be the franchise’s swansong. And in conclusion: Dongs.
Captain Power Number 2 - Open Mouth Collage
This was a big moment for me; this is very likely the absolute most distant point in the official Captain Power universe for me: I’ve seen it all now. I mean, unless I can turn up a copy of the 1989 Captain Power Annual, I’m never going to get to experience a piece of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future for the first time again.

At least, not until the Phoenix rises….