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. In 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.). There’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 strip. 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.
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.
Overmind’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.
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:
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 Bakula 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.”
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. 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.
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. Learning 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.
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.
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….