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 Odyssey² 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.