Into the back issue box #4

(Greg sticks his head out of the bunker.)

Is it safe? Yes? Okay, then! Let's delve deep, deep, deep into the back issue boxes for this week's olde-school comicky entertainment! It's hijinks in the Mighty Marvel Manner!

Power Man and Iron Fist #112 ("The Legacy of Bad Ned") by Jim Owsley, Greg Larocque, and Jerry Acerno. Published by Marvel, December 1984.

There are two ways to look at this comic book. On the one hand, it's not all that good, but it's not all that bad, either. It's the kind of mediocre comic that has some action, some character development, and a moral. In other words, it's a mid-1980s Marvel book! It's certainly nothing that is going to make anyone who picks it up swear off comics forever, and if you're a die-hard Luke Cage and/or Danny Rand fan, I suppose you'll like it - Luke gets to beat up on people, Danny gets to figure out how to break into a top-secret government installation, and the Falcon guest-stars! It's a completely forgettable yet inoffensive comic.

On the other hand, part of the purpose of this column is to try to read each comic as if it were the first one I have ever read, and someone who has never read a comic book before might be impressed by how much information is packed into this, most of it pretty effortlessly by Owsley. (An aside: I'm sure I read it somewhere, but why the pseudonym back then? Was "Christopher Priest" not cool enough? That's who Jim Owsley is, right? Am I losing it?) I'll get to that in a second. First, a quick overview of the plot.

In the first few pages, Luke and Danny are babysitting Bobby, a young boy who has been infected with a "space spore," which has two side effects: it is slowly killing him, but it also enables him to manipulate his molecular density and transform, Shazam-style, into "Captain Hero." They're tying to take him to Project Pegasus, a government energy development and research facility, even though Danny knows there is no cure. Danny is trying to figure out a way to get into Project Pegasus and visit Bobby because he likes him, but Luke hates his guts and wants nothing more to do anything with him. When he tries to leave LaGuardia Airport, he gets into a taxi just as a young girl gets in. He pushes her out, and some FBI guys take her away. Luke gets taken away by some other government guys, and they take him to meet Gordy, the bureau chief of Special Military Intelligence - Law Enforcement division - SMILE. I love Marvel acronyms! Gordy tells him the girl's mother is a computer whiz at the Pentagon, and the girl - Sally - ran away from home with a bank book with access codes in it. He tells Luke he has to bring Sally back or he'll put Heroes for Hire out of business. Danny, meanwhile has gone to find Sam Wilson, the Falcon, to get his help in sneaking into Project Pegasus. Luke goes to the airport and finds Sally, who tells him the FBI guys who took her are really Control 7, a mercenary group, and that after she escaped them, she burned the bank book. While Luke fights Control 7, Sally gets on a plane to Chicago, where she wants to see "Bad" Ned Jackson, her football idol, in a playoff game. Ned drops a desperation pass and his team loses the game, and Sally and Luke both find him in the hallways of the stadium. It turns out he knows Cage (of course) and he tells Sally that she could grow up to be a better football player than he is. The story ends on a sappy note, as Luke, who throughout has professed his hatred of children (ironic, since he now has one), calls Danny to find out how Bobby is doing.

There's a lot going on in this book, and although it's not that great a book, I want to point out all the information that we get from Owsley in this book and how a first-time comic-book reader can easily figure out what's going on. We learn very quickly that Danny's superhero name is Iron Fist,then we learn his real name is Danny, Bobby calls Cage "Luke" on the second page (and makes fun of his repeated use of the epithet "Christmas," which Cage uses later in the issue, which cracked me up), both Bobby and Danny tell us how the "space spore" affects the boy (and Danny, in a thought balloon, tells us that it is a space spore), we find out later on, when Gordy is blackmailing Cage into helping him, that he and Danny make up Heroes for Hire, Inc. - "do-goodnicks for a price." We also learn that the Falcon's real name is Sam Wilson, that he's a social worker, and that he was once Captain America's partner, and that he worked for SHIELD on a project that turned into Project Pegasus. This last bit is all in three panels on page 13. Throughout the book a few different people comment on Luke's powers, and we also see them in action. Most of this is done with little fuss and blends pretty seamlessly into the regular dialogue, and it's pretty nicely done.

There are a few dumb moments, however. Luke continually tells Sally that she can't be a football player because "it's a man's game! Says so right in the rules!" Well, I doubt that, but it's kind of funny how angry he gets when Sally tells him she wants to play. He could be patronizing, I guess, but he gets really mad. The subplot with "Bad" Ned Jackson is a bit confusing, as well. One of the government men in Gordy's office tells Luke they have "inside information" about the game, which seems to imply that Jackson will throw the game. As it turns out, he blows the final play, but it's never mentioned again whether or not he was dirty. The play on which the Chicago Wolves lose the game is strange, as well. Jackson fumbles "a ninety yard desperation pass." Apparently he was in the end zone and dropped a pass, but ninety yards? Really? And if he just dropped the pass, that's not a fumble. I hate to nitpick about this, but doesn't every American male, whether they like it or not, know at least some things about football? Or is Owsley not American? Anyway, Jackson looks like an offensive lineman - he has a pretty good gut on him. If he's a skill player, he should take better care of himself. On the final page, reflecting a more innocent time, Jackson tells the 11-year-old Sally that, "if you were my girl, I'd never let you out of my sight," and she replies, "Well, see me in about ten years and we'll see," and he flirts back, "It's a date." Eeeeeeewwwww! That's just a minor little icky thing, and I understand that in 1984, things weren't as shitty as they are today with regard to child molestation, so flirting with an 11-year-old, while still creepy, wasn't quite as creepy as it is today.

There's a couple of dangling plot lines, obviously - it's a Marvel book! Gordy, it turns out, does not work for the government, something I'm sure will vex our heroes in future issues, and Danny is still trying to get into Project Pegasus. But that's okay. For the most part, this is a solid story with serviceable art (I've only seen Larocque in some comics from the 1990s, and his art was better then, but it's not horrible here) that makes an effort to make sure new readers know exactly what's going on without making it so obvious that it's just recapping. It certainly isn't a great comic, but if this was the first comic book someone had ever read, they would be able to figure things out pretty quickly. Good job by Owsley. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Wow! A random comic that could easily draw people into comics because it's easy to follow! What are the odds? Be here next week as we delve into the back issue boxes once more!

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