Friday, June 4, 2010

*WARNING -- ELECTRICITY IS DANGEROUS*

Let's talk about Power Comics today. And what, pray tell, was Power Comics? Power Comics was a series published by Eclipse Comics in the 1980s that reprinted superhero comics done by British talent for the African market. Here's a little of how Dave Gibbons explained it to Jim Salicrup in Comics Interview #16 (October 1984; the place I learned where these stories existed) :
"My agent was approached by a company in Nigeria. They wanted to do a black version of SUPERMAN without having to pay the people who created SUPERMAN. It was called POWER MAN. Probably they should have paid Marvel something. (Laughter.)"

Fast forward a bit, and Eclipse had major success with their repackaging of the "Marvelman" strip from Warrior under the title Miracleman. The name change was necessitated by, you guessed it, Marvel Comics. The twists and turns of Marvelman/Miracleman since then are enough to fill a book (not kidding here), but for our purposes, all you need to know is that it gave Eclipse incentive to search for something that might interest people who bought Miracleman. That's my assumption as to what led to Power Comics.

I mean, you can't fault the logic. On the surface, it seems like a surefire success. First, the stories were produced in the U.K., and the 1980s comics mania for all things British was on par with the 1960s "British Invasion" in music. The art was produced by two men who were eminently bankable (Gibbons and Brian Bolland) at the time. And the book even required relettering just like Miracleman to avoid hassles from Marvel. Hence, "Powerman" becomes "Powerbolt" in Power Comics.

The hitch in this cunning plan is the key difference between Miracleman and Power Comics. While Miracleman features some of the smartest and most challenging comic writing of its era, Power Comics, to be charitable, doesn't. That Nigerian company seemed to seriously question the abilities of its potential readership, and demanded stories that are even less sophisticated than you could imagine. Heck, they even required each panel on each page be individually numbered so no one would get confused about the sequence. So whereas Miracleman is still revered as a landmark, Power Comics is an obscure curio.

The aspect of Power Comics that has always floored me, especially given the concerns of its original sponsor over whether kids would "get" what was happening, is how Powerbolt recovered when he was injured. You see, our intrepid hero's origin is that he was struck by lightning as a child, and this granted him special powers. The lightning even "calls" him when danger is nearby. For reasons I don't recall catching, his only weakness is a snakebite. Naturally, it follows that he gets bitten by snakes almost as many times as gangsters stumbled across stray Kryptonite meteors in 1960s Superman comics.

What does Powerbolt do when he gets a snakebite? Well, here's one extreme example :
Powerbolt Fig. 1
You might think there's no way they would actually depict this in a comic book, but you would be wrong :
Powerbolt Fig. 2

Wow. And just think, I saved until last to mention Powerbolt's implied prodigious prowess as a lover. Apparently, that Nigerian company thought such a detail was important, too.

6 comments:

Kabuki Katze said...

And here I thought the electrocution was just to get his mind off the snakebite. ;)

Travis said...

Please tell me one of his villains carried a gun that shot snakes at people.

Also, those leopard-print briefs are totally stylin'.

C. Elam said...

@ K - The man needed a shower, that's all. ;)

@ Travis - You know, it has been a few years since I last read these thoroughly, so I am not sure! It's not out of the realm of possibly, especially after evil hunters and swarm of snakeflies (whatever snakeflies are).

I must confess, Powerman/Powerbolt's design is my absolute favorite part of this comic.

Matt Celis said...

Miracleman had good writing? Pretentious, maybe. Good, not even remotely.

C. Elam said...

Matt, thank you for this comment on a post from almost 6 years ago that wasn't even about Miracleman.

Aaron S said...

Powerman comic also had a black sherrif called 'Jango'. Sound familiar?