Saturday, July 04, 2009

Out of the Vault- Power Plays

First off, let me just say, Happy Independence Day!

And second off, okay, fine, since I did Power Factor last week, let's stick with the "Power" theme and take a look at another independent publication, this time from 1983: Power Plays.

The rise of direct market distribution for comics in the late 70's and early 80's (rather than newsstand distribution) encouraged smaller publishers and even self-publishers to take a chance in the marketplace. They were further encouraged by the success of Dave Sims's Cerebus the Aardvark and the Pinis' Elfquest. In the early to mid 80's, the market was flooded with cheap black-and-white books all trying to be the next Cerebus or Elfquest,at least until 1984, when the market was flooded with even more cheap black-and-whites trying to be the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

And in 1983, one of those contenders was a fairly entertaining little self-pubbed book titled Power Plays, written and ilustrated by Mike Kelly. I don't know if Kelly ever did anything else; I can't find any other info on him.

While it was locked in the Vault for lo, these many years, I would occasionally remember it. The character's dialogue from the cover of the first issue was indelibly imprinted on my brain: "My dearest, dear friends! May I present: Power Plays"

I couldn't remember much about it, except that it was some kind of black-and-white superhero parody, something about a rich superpowered girl surrounded by a menagerie of losers, with an X-Men vs. Galactus parody in there also, which was a wicked send-up of Claremont's writing at the time.

So I pulled Power Plays out of the Vault and read it. The rich girl + misfits plot I had fairly down. The X-Men vs. Galactus thing, not so much. I was apparently confusing it with another black-and-white hero parody. That one's still in the Vault somewhere, and I have no idea what it's called.

Power Plays takes place in a world where superpowers have suddenly and mysteriously cropped up in a wide cross-section of people. A scientist named Thomas Appleton wants to study the origin of the powers and help people deal with them. He has gathered a group of super individuals around him as assistants/test subjects, along with a non-powered individual who wears a dog mask and calls himself Barker the Beagleman.

Barker's the real star of the book. Seriously. His only powers seem to be cynicism and a bad back. But he succeeds using wits where brawn fails, as in this scene where he defeats a super-villain using a can of quick-hardening plastic foam.

Barker and Appleton meet with incredibly rich and even more incredibly super heiress Kristel Montclaire at her penthouse, where she agrees to sponsor his research, as long as he and his people come to live with her. She likes to surround herself with special people like herself, you see.

In the meantime, an assassin with a super version of the Dim Mak Death Touch (he even looks a little like Count Dante) has been hired by a mysterious someone to kill Montclaire. He chooses to do the deed at the lavish coming-out party she hosts for her new housemates (where she repeats the "My dearest, dear friends" formulation, the one that stuck in my brain for twenty-five years when the rest of the book had faded).

The book turned out better than many independent efforts. It had charm and appeal in both the art and writing, although both needed developing. The book is pretty dialogue-heavy, especially on the exposition pages, and the artwork is bogged down with tiny figures and frenetic, confusing layouts trying to cram too much action into too few pages.

It apparently didn't sell too well, because the second issue, hyped on the inside back cover, didn't come out until two years later, from a different publisher (AmeriComics, who also reprinted issue one). Five years later, according to this page, a third issue was again self-published by the author. Then in 1995, twelve years after the first issue was published, four issues were published by Millenium Publications (whether they were new material or not, I can't say--I only have the first issue from 1983 and the second issue from 1985).

Speaking of the second issue, you know what never gets old? X-Men parodies. /sarc

1 comment:

Leiulf said...

I just posted a story on Michael Kelly and William Clausen's 1986 offering Cold-Blooded Chameleon Commandos. I found your post looking for current info on Mike. My brother William says he became an animator, but I can't find anything either. Thank god for this post. At least I have something of interest to point my readership to. Cheers!