Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Welcome to Hank McCoy (Before the Fur), a weekly column by Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). Leave all that you know at the door when reading, and make sure to not speak ill of Dazzler (that will anger Tedd). And also make no mention of films The Howling or Event Horizon. I don’t know why? But I love the most obscure characters in superhero comics. Okay, I don’t love THE most obscure characters in comics, i.e. the characters that only appeared in one issue and were so pathetic that they were never shown again. That’s what I liked to think of as the “third tier” of comic universes. Actually, I have got one particularly hysterical example of this caliber of character- at one point, the Frightful Four were looking for a replacement member (in this case it was Wizard, Sandman, and Trapster without a fourth to fill the ranks) and had “tryouts.” Eventually, they settled on a guy with wings calling himself “The Osprey.” The thing was? The Osprey didn’t actually have any superpowers. His wings were made of plastic that he had strapped to his back or something, and it wasn’t until the whole group got into some pitched battle with the Fantastic Four that it became painfully evident that the Osprey was just some lonely nutjob who wanted to “play supervillian.” The Wizard, frustrated as all get out, strapped one of his weird “null-grav” discs onto the poor guy’s back and he likely floated, uncontrollably, high into the atmosphere and then fell to his death. But the characters that I have been truly obsessed with are the ones I like to think of as Marvel and DC’s “second tier;” that is, those characters that have (or had) their own comic books but you’d have to be a comic book fan to really know who they were. In other words, there are no action figures, cartoon shows, or movie promotions for these guys. Again, I don’t know why, but I always have this weird thrill when I’m reading a comic and it cameo character (x) from comic book (y) who hasn’t appeared in print since 19(zz). Sometimes that’s because some of those obscure characters are really, really cool and probably deserve more fandom and attention than they deserve. Other times, I just think it’s cool in terms of continuity- even if some comic book fails, I like the idea that the writers are still willing to stick their necks out there and say “the EVENTS of this past comic still HAPPENED, whether it was a popular comic or not.” A couple of years ago, I kind of feel like there was a mass genocide of comic book titles. In the late eighties and early nineties, people just started cranking out books and spinoff books. But a couples years later when titles like “Fantastic Force,” “Darkhawk,” and “Suicide Squad” weren’t selling too well (no offense to Suicide Squad fans- I think Suicide Squad totally kicked @$), the whole thing fell apart. Lately, however, there has been a little bit of a reemergence of said, obscure, “second tier.” My FAVORITE rumor that has been floating around is that sometime, this year, Power Pack is going to be relaunched at Marvel. Currently, Power Pack gets printed as an out-of-continuity, Marvel digest book- you know, it isn’t like a full sized graphic novel, it’s just those little, made-for-children bound books that there have been more and more of lately. OKAY, I admit it- I’ve read a couple of these. But only because it was Power Pack. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Power Pack was a comic Marvel produced in the 80’s about four children- all siblings: Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power- who inherited superpowers from a dying alien. The comic often dealt with quasi-educational issues, like sexual abuse, drug addiction, etc. But the thing that I really loved about the comic was that the writers were fully committed to making the main characters children. And by that, I mean the main characters weren’t fully developed superheroes who happened to be stuck in a child’s body- they thought, behaved, and sometimes fought the way children do. Occasionally, one of them would do something very brave, or perhaps very foolish, in this certain way that only a child would only ever be capable of. Of course, I don’t know if Power Pack really turned out to be the best “role model” comic book Marvel had ever created. I mean, they wanted it to be and it was pretty good shot- but the truth was, the Pack were ridiculously unsupervised and constantly being put into extremely dangerous situations that leave most children with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the rest of their lives, superpowers to rely on or not. In fact, the Pack sometimes ended up in those huge, very dark X-Men cross-overs, like “The Mutant Massacre” and “The Fall of the Mutants.” You got to see the events from a child’s eyes, and granted, they weren’t very close to the action, but I always thought having Sabretooth jump out of the shadows and threaten to gut me would have messed me up as a kid. So…the tension between having the Pack be part of the mainstream Marvel Universe and having the Pack be a child AND adult-reader comic book was a bit pervasive. They wanted to do good with it, and sometimes they did- but it was tough to get the whole thing to “fit” right in the Marvel Universe. Regardless, the comic has gained a pretty substantial fan base and is still remembered by many as one of the best things that came out of the 80’s. It also brought together some really interesting threads from other comics- for example: Actually, Franklin Richards (Reed and Susan Richard’s son), became an official fifth member of the Pack during its run, and unofficially Leech and Artie filled a sixth and seventh spot some of the time (they’re Morlocks, although Leech appeared in the third X-Men movie? The kid who could shut off mutant powers?). And at one point, I could have sworn there was a New Mutant comic about Days of Future past (the future in which Sentinels wreck all of human civilization) in which Katie Power appeared as an elderly woman, and the only surviving member of the Pack. The Power Pack have made a few other in-continuity appearances since the end of their comic, most of which I have NOT enjoyed. At one point, Alex Power stole all of his younger sibling’s abilities for himself and started calling himself “Powerpax.” He joined the New Warriors for a bit. I can’t tell you how incredibly relieved I am that he is not implicated in the incident that led to Civil War, thus sending he and his siblings into infamy forever. On a note that I’m a little more Ambivalent about, Julie Power appeared in the comic book Runaways. I have to say, this comic has impressed me- the cast mostly concerns the daughters and sons of supervillians who do NOT wish to follow in their parent’s footsteps. At one point, the comic features a support group for the children of superheroes called “True Believers” (Get it? Funny, right?). Julie Power is among it’s members. In this case she, and many of the other group members, appear kind of like aging, dissatisfied celebrity children- you know, the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family, and all that stuff. She talks a lot about how being a superhero “deprived her of a normal childhood.” I have to say, this interpretation of Julie makes a lot of sense- it bums me OUT, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t witty, funny, and realistic. Well, I’m HOPING to see the Power Pack return to the Marvel Universe sometime soon. In the meantime? I have to say, these digests are really good (don’t judge me!). I’m usually not a big fan of the pseudo-anime style of comic art: for me, I want anime to be anime and comic books to be comic books. But the art has really won me over on these. And they’re hysterical, in that way that only children/ teenagers could be. My favorite bit involves Katie Power questioning a future version of herself in order to verify her identity. After asking a series of questions like “What’s our middle name?” and so on, Katie asks “herself”: “Who was my first boyfriend?”, to which the older Katie responds “Franklin Richards,” followed by the younger Katie exclaiming: “HA! It was a TRICK QUESTION! BOYS ARE ICKY!!”. So yeah, I’d check them out. And while you’re at it? There’s this other digest- Spider-Man/ Human Torch: I’m with stupid- that is really damn funny too. …I am not ashamed that I have read these digests for younger readers. Not in any way. No. Nope. Not at ALL. I feel great about myself. Yes.