During the early 1980s, mainstream superhero comics such as Frank Miller's Daredevil were becoming increasingly
hardboiled, a trend of escalating violence that would reach its apotheosis with such series as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (also by Miller, 1986) and The Punisher (1986). But Power Pack, created in 1984 by Marvel Comics writer-editor Louise Simonson (an alumnus of such Warren horror magazines as Creepy and Vampirella) and artist June Brigman (also known for her work on Supergirl for DC Comics and the syndicated Brenda Starr newspaper strip), followed a decidedly different trajectory.
Power Pack is the tale of a quartet of siblings, four young children who receive superhuman abilities from a benevolent, horselike alien named Aelfyre Whitemane, who with his sentient spaceship seeks to thwart the invading reptilian Snarks. Alex, Jack, Julie, and Katie Power are the children of Margaret Power and Dr. James Power, who had invented a technological device that the Snarks sought to possess. To prevent this, Whitemane gives twelve-year-old Alex the power to make objects lighter or heavier (hence his superhero name
Gee, as in gravity), bestows superspeed upon ten-year-old Julie (
Lightspeed), confers upon eight-year-old Jack the ability to expand and contract his body's molecules, thus enabling him to alter his body's density at will (and justifying his nickname
Mass Master), and empowers five-year-old Katie with the ability to unleash powerful energy blasts from her hands (she calls herself
Energizer, thanks to the inspiration of a well-known television commercial). As the oldest of the siblings, Alex becomes the group's natural leader, carefully looking out for the younger kids (especially the emotionally volatile Katie, to whom Julie often refers affectionately as
Although many enthusiasts of the era's traditional superhero fare (primarily adolescent males) disdained Power Pack, younger readers and those who were themselves the parents of small children found the series enchanting. Simonson's scripts blended fairy tales with science fiction and children's books (the evil alien Snarks, for example, were straight out of Louis Carroll), juxtaposing the backdrop of outer space with the real-world setting of New York City, and presented relatively realistic characterizations of children and their sibling relationships. Brigman's art had a gentle, expressive, and whimsical quality that brought Simonson's words and imagery to vivid life. The reason for the distinctiveness of Brigman's illustrations may have been her relative unfamiliarity with the comics medium prior to working on Power Pack; being largely unacquainted with the conventions and clichés of the superhero genre, she wasn't enslaved by them. While Power Pack's unusual content may have put the series at a competitive disadvantage in terms of sales, it provided seven years of highly original comic-book storytelling. Power Pack evidently found its unorthodox audience right away; though originally conceived as a miniseries, Marvel quickly decided that the concept was strong enough to sustain an open-ended monthly series.
During the first half of Power Pack's run, the kids' adventures don't involve their parents, who are at first entirely ignorant of their children's superheroic double lives. The group eventually expands to encompass a nonfamily member, four-year-old Franklin Richards, the son of the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman. Franklin, who becomes an honorary team member, adopts the supermoniker
Tattletale because of his ability to see events from five minutes in the future, thus
telling on bad guys before the fact (he also frequently quarrels with the headstrong Katie). The Powers also have a number of adventures with Kofi, the son of Whitemane, the source of the group's powers. During these adventures, the team is frequently at odds with their father's former boss, who becomes a supervillain whose name is calculated to strike fear into the hearts of children: Bogeyman. In addition, they frequently face big-league villains, such as the fearsome mutant known as Sabertooth, their series taking part in such world-threatening multiseries crossovers as Secret Wars II (1986), The Fall of the Mutants (1988), Inferno (1988), and Acts of Vengeance (1990).
Over the years the series also played host to numerous high-profile Marvel guest stars, such as Spider-Man, Cloak and Dagger, the X-Men, Wolverine, the New Mutants, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Punisher, and even the all-but-omnipotent eater of entire planets, Galactus. On one occasion, Marvel used the Power Pack characters in a special public service-oriented giveaway comic dealing with child sexual abuse (Spider-Man/Power Pack, 1984).
After Simonson's departure from the series with Power Pack #40 in 1988, numerous other writers took custody of the Power kids, including Steve Heyer, Jon Bogdanove, Judith Kurzer Bogdanove, Julianna Jones, Terry Austin, Dwayne McDuffie, and Michael Higgins, and the art chores passed from Brigman to Mary Wilshire, Brent Anderson, Scott Williams, Bob McLeod, Terry Shoemaker, Sal Velluto, Whilce Portacio, Ernie Colón, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Morgan, and Steve Buccellato. While Power Pack was being published, a TV pilot based on the property was produced, intended to launch a Saturday-morning cartoon series on NBC during the 1991–1992 season. Unfortunately, the show died on the drawing board, just as the comics series—its audience weary of so many creative-team changes—was gasping its last.
During the run of the series, the superabilities of the Power children were swapped around among the four siblings on more than one occasion. The first time this occurs (Power Pack #25, 1986), Alex receives Katie's
zap power, prompting him to change his name to
Destroyer; after getting Jack's density-powers, Julie changes her nickname to
Molecula; Alex's original gravity-control powers go to Jack, who becomes
Counterweight; and Julie's superspeed jumps to Katie, who is subsequently known as
Starstreak. The Powers' powers received yet another random reshuffle three years later (Power Pack #52, 1989) only to be restored to their original owners in Power Pack Holiday Special #1 (1992), the oversized magazine-format comic in which the series concluded (the regular monthly title had ended in 1991 after a sixty-two-issue run).
But permanent obscurity wasn't in the cards for the Power family, lest Marvel risked losing its trademarks on the characters. Under the name
Powerhouse, a slightly older Alex Power joined the 1990s motley misfit superteam known as the New Warriors (The New Warriors vol. 1 #64, 1995). In this incarnation, Alex bears the powers of all four Power Pack members. The rest of the Power siblings recovered their abilities a few years later, however, when the original Power Pack team reassembled in a four-issue miniseries (Power Pack vol. 2, 2000), written by Shon C. Bury and penciled by Colleen Doran (whose beautifully rendered science-fiction comic, A Distant Soil, makes her an ideal Power Pack illustrator). Today Power Pack remains alive, well, and charged with fond memories. Though underemployed now, the Power kids stand ready to return whenever the superhero readership seems ready for kinder, gentler storytelling.