Armagideon Time

There are a billion lousy licensed toy comics in the naked retropolis. The following is about one of them.

The tale begins with Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line, an assortment of bowlegged plastic titans inspired by an extremely literal (Skinkor, Man-E-Faces, Get-Your-Mom-To-Buy-It-Right-Now-Ko) and high concept mishmash of sci-fi and fantasy tropes. The popularity of the toy line got a massive boost after FCC degregulation cleared the way for animated advertainment series featuring the characters and — more importantly — the product-driving cosmology of the franchise. (“We couldn’t have defeated Skeletor without this [playset/vehicle/character],” then cut to a commercial for said lump of molded plastic wish fulfillment.)

Unlike Star Wars, Dukes of Hazzard, Tron and other properties where the merchandise was dependent on external and typically finite phenomena, lines such as Masters of the Universe or G.I. Joe were able to craft self-sustaining narratives which acted as wellsprings for a continuous stream of new, must-have products.

The action figure trend of the late 1970s and early 1980s represented a paradigm shift in the marketplace, one which caused a no small amount of worry for firms which represented the old guard of boys’ playthings. That the actually successful lines were essentially outliers in a wide clearance aisle of failures was of little import. The bigger worry was the terror of being left behind to rot in a ever-shrinking slice of market share, which was why Revell branched out from its usual business of manufacturing muscle car and warplane model kits…

…to unleash the misbegotten Power Lords upon the world.

A painfully obvious attempt to ape the Master the of Universe franchise, the Power Lords represented toymaking at its most research marketing driven. Though Revell tapped the design talents of Wayne Barlowe in crafting the visual concepts for the line, they didn’t seem to take into account the limitations of the sculpting and contruction processes of the time

Neither did they consider the subtextual implications of a main character who “powers up” by turning (literally) engorged, blue and veiny, apparently. Or that his human face bore a disturbing resemblance to Mr. Bentley, the British neighbor on The Jeffersons.

As this was the Brave New World of Toy Promotion, Revell partnered up with DC to produce a three-issue Power Lords miniseries in order to…um…flesh out the backstory while pimping the associated plastic products.

The comics tell the story of the conveniently named Adam Power, a virtuous earthdude sporting a rockin’ hairdo which further proves my hypothesis that the 1970s did not technically end until 1987.

As fate would have it, Adam was actually a Space Moses and thereby part of a long and cliched tradition of literary sleeper messiahs tucked away in some backwater until their special purposes could be properly realized. In Adam’s case, this purpose was to restore justice and peace to the galaxy by delivering a beatdown on the sinister Arkus and his Legion of Bad Scrabble Hands…

Adam’s true blue self was awoken by Queen Farrah Shaya…

…demi-furry warrior woman who uses a mysterious “power gem” to stimulate the hero into achieving his full turgid and veiny potential.

What followed was a laughably predictable exercise in Heroic Narrative 101 with all the beats and “shocking” cliffhangers that bored your grandparents to tears when Brash Whiteman fought The Chinamen of Mars on CBS Science Fiction Theater during the Days of Breadlines and Polio.

Will Adam’s fake-out sacrifice himself for the Greater Good? Will Queen Pouty McFarrah-Hair abandon her Amazonian attitude and develop “feelings” for the male lead? Will the image of Mr. Bentley as a giant anthropomorphic penis quit haunting my nightmares, please?

I’m tempted to say the Power Lords comics represent the pinnacle of licensed futility (since even the infamous Watchmen toaster can be put to practical use) but that honor goes to the Power Lords videogame, which was an exclusive release for Magnavox’s Odyssey¬≤ and thus experienced by upwards of a dozen people.

Given that we’re talking about a 1980s toy line, I have no doubt Power Lords has some remnant fanbase bunkered down the ruins of an archived Geocities page. Even now, I’ll bet there’s some desperate, lonely soul counting the spam-generated pseudonyms on his revival petition to Revell even as he premptively pens a letter of complaint about the theoretically anticipated resdesign of Sydot the Supreme.

Keep fighting the good fight, comrade! But I’m still going ahead and throwing this unloved child of ready-made pegwarmers into the discount bin of the damned known as Nobody’s Favorites.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorites: Stale to the core
  2. Nobody’s Favorites: All bot cons
  3. Nobody’s Favorites: Get the spray

20 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: An insignificant power”

  1. David Thiel

    I will say that I like the Arkus design. But the freaky thing about the figural Adam “powering up” is that he winds up with his human face and torso on his back.

  2. Christopher Farnsworth

    I owned an Adam Power action figure. It was indeed pretty weird, but still more fun than Rom.

    As a side note, I submit that Dick Giordano’s inks made everything better, even painfully generic Space Moses narratives. Just look at that cover.

  3. Doug Frye

    I had a Power Lords coloring book, and while it gave me some names and faces, I never could figure out what the hell they were about. I think my dad probably found it for a nickel (or less).

  4. Mitchell Craig

    “Special purpose”, eh?

    Much like Navin Johnson, then.

  5. Aberration, The

    *looks at cover*
    Yo, sis, you know you holdin’ that backwards, right?

    That Power Lord figure (which I never had, but always remembered from that ad, and always referred to as The Blue Veiner) always creeped me out because each hand had two thumbs. In retrospect, I should’ve been more concerned that Ol’ Veiner had an extra chest and set of abs instead of a spine, and a face on the back of his head.

    “Polly shouldn’t be! Rawwk!!”

  6. rnrk

    Is Arkus supposed to have tusks or a handlebar mustache? Or a handlebar mustache made out of tusks???

  7. Rockie Bee

    I’d definitely agree with you that the Seventies didn’t finally end until 1987; I’d say what finally crushed the last bit of Seventies was the release of ‘Top Gun’ to home video. Shag haircuts and butt-cuts were a thing of the past at my high school, out with prairie dogs and the Conestoga wagon, and if you couldn’t find an old man barber for a clipper cut like Maverick, Goose, or Iceman, the gum-cracking hairdressers at the Hair Cuttery would give you a buzz and a dollop of gel.

    Pro ballplayers and comic book artists are slow to keep up with the rest of the world’s hairstyles. A look at a 1987 baseball card will find a bunch of guys still sporting whiskers and hair over the ears, and a look at 1987 comics still show guys with Harrison Ford’s ‘Star Wars’ hair.

  8. Tim O'Neil

    One slight quibble – perversely, shows that advertised toy lines weren’t actually able to show ads for the toys during the shows themselves. Meaning – the He-Man toy advertisements couldn’t actually be shown during the ad breaks for He-Man. Which is hilarious, but there you go. This came up whenever nerds wonder why shows like X-MEN or BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES couldn’t run ads for comic books during the show itself – besides the fact that the whole series was an ad for comic books, it’s technically illegal.

  9. bitterandrew

    True, but the restriction was toothless when the local UHF stations would run He-Man ads during GI Joe and vice versa a half hour later.

  10. Frank

    …cliffhangers that bored your grandparents to tears when Brash Whiteman fought The Chinamen of Mars on CBS Science Fiction Theater during the Days of Breadlines and Polio.

    That sir was golden.

    I had an Adam Power figure, and I too always though he looked like the awkward lovechild of Paul Benedict and Gary Collins. I also had a Queen Shaya figure, or as I liked to call her, “Lordess Cronenberg Vaginaphobia.” Super-heroes should not work the same way as reversible jackets, or more importantly, look like they puked their insides all the way out from lips to asshole.

    Marvel had G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Wars, Rom, Micronauts, and the Star Comics line. Did DC ever have anything remotely resembling a toy licensing hit, or was it the place such dreams went to die?

  11. Tim O'Neil

    Atari Force.

  12. Ken

    I too owned the Power Lord figure. I felt like the rest of the ones in the line didn’t live up to the freakiness of the Adam figure. I was pretty dissapointed when I picked up the comic and found out that when he powered up he didn’t have a non-powered version of himself on his back and that was just a result of the figure mechanics.

    I mostly made him interact with my Manglor playset, it just seemed to make more sense.

  13. kidnicky

    Frank-
    Warlord had fairly popular figures I think. And Super Powers, but obviously that’s cheating.

  14. Adam Ford

    Dude, I LOVED ggriptogg. I lived in a he-man household but friends of my parents gave their kids the full set of the power lord toys and I thought they were kinda cool.

  15. Snark Shark

    the comic does look lame…

    BUT THE TOYS WERE AWESOME!!!!

    the ALIENS at least. I never had the human figures.

    “Is Arkus supposed to have tusks or a handlebar mustache? ”

    Tusks… I guess. He’s a big insect- but maybe he’s part rhino.

    A ND ALL AWESOME. :D

  16. Philip

    I’ve always enjoyed, and been a little envious of, your way with a phrase. Hat’s off for the most oblique and delightful dig at a comics news site ever.

  17. Mitchell Craig

    Would you mind overly much if I quoted your Brash Whiteman line?

    It has a musicality to it, sir.

  18. bitterandrew

    Feel free!

  19. Jim Kosmicki

    DC also had MASK, based on a line of vehicles – one miniseries followed up by a regular series that lasted another 9 issues – for a licensed book, that’s not too bad. DC also had more success with TV/movie licenses, having lots of success with Star Trek (after Marvel whiffed the same license so badly) and a series based on the TV series V that lasted far longer than the show did.

    plus, while Marvel had toy license success with ROM and Micronauts and GI Joe (and to a lesser extent with Shogun Warriors), they had lots and lots of Visioneers and Crystar and the like on their trash pile too!!

  20. Frank

    Jim Kosmicki gets the prize for Start Trek. I forgot that DC had such a long run with the property, until Marvel/Malibu stole it back and sank it. I was looking for stuff external coming to DC and thriving. Remco’s Warlord & Sgt. Rock toys were licensed from DC Comics, and though I owned a few, they always came across as low rent.

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