Monday, June 18, 2007

THE POWER COMPANY #1 DC Comics, 2002

The Power Company was an old-fashioned superhero comic book with a new twist – this group of bickering misfit heroes was drawn together not for the common good, but to get paid in full. The Power Company, who should not be confused with The Electric Company, were corporate professionals who provide “superhuman services” to wealthy clients.

I do not use the term “old fashioned” in a pejorative sense; Power Company reminded me of DC’s great team books like New Teen Titans and Batman and the Outsiders and – of course -- Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. One of the great things about books like those listed is that they brought together heroes with radically different backgrounds and personalities. They’re colorful, shiny. Fun.

Another old fashioned trait of The Power Company was that it had the same creative team for the entire run – writer/creator Kurt Busiek and artist Tom Grummett. OK, think there might have been a fill-in storyline drawn by the awesome Stephen Sadowski in there somewhere, but stil, in today’s age of transient artists, when four issues is a long gig on a book, it was refreshing to see some consistency and persistence of creative vision.

So of course, that shit got cancelled.

I don’t think The Power Company hit the mark every time, but overall it was a straight-up solid superhero team book. Busiek, the Continuity Master, worked a couple of third-tier characters into the line-up (Bjork*, Manhunter) but staffed his team mostly with new characters, which is always a bit of a gamble. For whatever reason, the book didn’t click, and after a few years it was axed. From my perspective, DC gave it a marketing push and an opportunity to find an audience, which is more than what most books get in today’s market. These days I bet Power Company wouldn’t have made it four months before somebody in Accounting pulled the plug.

One of the things I enjoyed about The Power Company was the diversity of characters. I didn’t really care for Bjork or Striker Z (Gawdamn, what a name!) but at least they were a departure from the standard straight-white-guy as hero paradigm. The character I found most interesting was Skyrocket, a black woman in a star-spangled power suit. She has a bit of a stick up her ass in a Hal Jordan way, but I really liked Busiek’s idea of a principled, smart, ass-kicking woman in a low-rent suit of powered armor. Skyrocket is a great character and I think she could fit into the larger DC Universe nicely.

Plus: Manhunter.

I’m a fan of all incarnations of Manhunter – the Walt Simonson version, the scary red robot version, the masked bounty hunter version, and the current all-red version. When I was a kid I read this fantastic short story called "Gotterdamerung" with art by Simonson that got me hooked on this minor character. Does anybody remember that story? If memory serves, it was a back-up in Detective Comics and it featured Manhunter in full-on Seventies kung fu bad-ass mode fighting a bunch of assassins in a huge cathedral. That story just gripped my shit and made me a Manhunter fan for life.

Overall, I liked where Busiek was going with the series and appreciated the mix of DC Universe continuity and new characters. Plus - Haunted Tank! The book had a poll for what characters readers wanted to join the team, and they overwhelmingly voted for Haunted Tank. Busiek obligingly add the Haunted Tank into the mix, which I thought was incredibly cool of him.

Tom Grummett's art work was solid, professional, tight -- the usual. Grummett has a well-deserved reputation as a reliable workhorse who can crank out quality pages month after month - see what I mean about old fashioned? This guy has probably forgotten more about page layouts and transitions and drawing action scenes than most of these slow young whippersnapper prima donna artists will ever learn.

Jeez, listen to me - I sound like an old man, don't I?

Hey, if digging professional, well-crafted comic books makes me an old man, I guess I'll accept that. Now you damn kids stop hitting baseballs into my yard!

*Seriously, Icelandic pixie/pop star Bjork is one of the stars of the book. She wears this crazy swan dress and everything. Gets thrown into Phantom Zone in issue 3.


Anonymous said...

You put an asterisk next to Bjork and then don't explain it. Huh?

Mark said...

Tell us more about the Haunted Tanks involvement! That is so freaking cool!

Bill D. said...

Grummett deserves a lot more respect than he gets these days. He's not the flashiest guy in the biz, but he's got a clean, instantly recognizable style that's well-suited for superheroes, and as you say, he's actually punctual. Remember when those qualities were considered assets in the comics biz?

Anonymous said...

I think that Goetterdaemerung story was the last chapter in the Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson run on Manhunter, which was collected sometime in the '80s, when I was a lad.

Skipper Pickle said...

Here's the book you want, Dave:

Collects the whole Simonson/Goodwin Manhunter saga and wraps it up too, iirc.

David Campbell said...

"You put an asterisk next to Bjork and then don't explain it. Huh?"

Sorry, added it. It was just a lame Bjork joke.

Thanks Skipper for the link!

Travis said...

I can see how Bjork would make a good superhero, though...

John Jakala said...

Sniff - I always liked The Power Company and was sad to see it go. I really enjoyed the Kirk DePaul version of Manhunter, too, although I remember at least one fan being vehemently opposed to the character on the grounds that it tarnished the original Manhunter stories by Goodwin and Simonson (despite the fact that Simonson gave Busiek his blessing to use the character/concept). That issue-long battle between Batman and Kirk DePaul was pretty cool.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Word. I loved the Manhunter/Batman issue as well. That one really amped up the coolness of that character for me. He doesn't have to explain himself to Batman! %#@& Batman!

Underrated series, but at least it got a shot. Good call, Campbell.

Bully said...

Was that Earth-1 or Earth-2 Bjork?

And which one co-starred in The Brave and the Bjork?

Avi Bastermagian said...

My shit had also been severely gripped by "Gotterdamerung", it was one of those perfectly executed pieces of comic book storytelling, like the Michael Golden Marvel Fanfare #47.. it just blew Young Avi's mind and stuck with me. While you're giving shout-outs to solid old-fashioned comics, how about Kesel and Grumett's short-lived Section Zero? Man, what potential.. didn't even make it to the 4th issue. Boo to the Hoo.

Dave said...

Not to brag or anything, but I'm the person who picked the location of the Power Company's office building.

Kurt Busiek needed a San Francisco-based research assistant to provide some local color, so I volunteered, supplying the location -- right on the Embarcadero on the Bay side -- as well as some tidbits like SFPD being headquartered in the Hall of Justice (he told me he was thrilled with the prospect of using the HoJ in an in-continuity book) and picking a location for Bork's apartment in the Dogpatch section of the city. I tried to have him locate it on Quesada St., but he wouldn't go for it.

Obviously, I feel a close connection to this series . . .

Edward Liu said...

I liked the series, but the winner of the lot was totally the Batman/Manhunter fight, with a tribute to a clasic Batman cover and a totally Eisner-inspired splash page that spelled the title of the comic in funky urban stuff. Also because I think it told 3 different stories at different times and always made it clear which one you were looking at through color and panel border tricks. It just clicked in nearly every way.

And I liked Striker Z, if nothing else because I'm a sucker for Asian superheroes who aren't kung-fu masters and aren't caricatures. Plus, new-style Haunted Tank. Too Cool for School.

In all other respects, I agree with Dave. I thought the series was good and becoming great. I thought it was really hitting its stride when the cancel notice came down.

FWIW, Bork and Witchfire make a brief cameo appearance in the latest ish of Busiek's Superman.

Anonymous said...

I still have no idea if you're joking about Bjork being in this comic. Help?

Anonymous said...

The name of the character in Power Company was actually Bork; orginally a one-shot villain from The Brave and the Bold.

I really liked Power Company, but I think Kurt Busiek hit the nail on the head when he said doing the series of one-shots before the series proper started was a mistake. It felt like a cheap stunt (although several of the stories where quite cool) and an attempt to artifically recreate the beautiful surprise of Thunderbolts.

I think my favourite character was Witchfire. A magical type who was an 'in your face' gloryhound rather than acryptic mystic.

Paul said...

I still have no idea if you're joking about Bjork being in this comic. Help?

The actual character was Carl Bork, a reformed supervillain. But I have to agree that adding Bjork to the lineup would have been cool.

And yeah, I was a huge Busiek fan when the book came out. Devoured every issue. That was a lot of fun. And it's still really cool to see Skyrocket and some of the others pop up from time to time.

The Mutt said...

But Bjork can hurt you!

Anonymous said...

Check this out for the full Manhunter saga. There's even an all-new 20 page epilogue by Simonson;

Luke said...

"The Power Company" was my favorite comic book while it was being published. Every month was some new twist or turn which kept the adventure going without resorting to ridiculous character breaks or crossovers. Striker Z remains one of my favorite third- (or fourth-)string heroes of all time.

Mike Haseloff said...

I like the Thunderbolts lots, too.

Wait, what?...

Andy said...

That Brave and the Bold issue that introduced Bork was some classic Bob Haney/Neal Adams goodness.

"Bork needs dough!"

Adam said...

Best thing about that Manhunter/Batman issue was the art by Aussie legend Gary Chaloner, who is very much following the steps laid down by Eisner, even taking on his John Law character as writer/artist for IDW. Good shit.

notintheface said...

Thanks for the memories, Dave!

I came late to the Power Company party (about midway thru the run), but it hooked me instantly.

Not enough can be said about Grummett, especially when he has the right inker (as Prentiss Rollins definitely was). Besides his reliability and consistency, the guy could draw virtually any character or setting really well, which was great when the book had guest stars ranging from Green Arrow to Firestorm to Baron Winter to Doctor Cyber.

This book was made of awesome!

West said...

To be blunt, I'm not a Grummett fan (although the samples you provided look pretty doggone good), the character designs were awful, and the characters' names were awful... yes, even for comic books.

Whatever else the series had going for it, those last two elements, I think, were sure-fire series-killers.

Quilty said...

My favorite moment in the series was after Josiah Power was shot. The team members had been bickering among themselves for some time but when they were in the hospital they vowed to stick together and find Josiah's shooter, no matter what the cost... only to have a detective walk in and announce that the shooter had been caught. A nice twist on the standard "let's go get those butchers!" plot.

Twobyfour said...

Yeah, Simonson and Goodwin's take on Manhunter just smoked..pure '70's design and flash, mixed with Bondian suspense and exotic locales, plus I think DC was running Kirby Manhunter reprints in some of the 100 page super-spectaculars. This and the fact that Kirby later updated the him for 1st Issue Special, makes me a Manhunter fan for life.

Jeff Albertson said...

Love the Power Company. I was very sad when it got canceled.

SUBZERO said...

Power Company was also on top of my reading list every month.

For me the best charakter was the Manhunter clone. When he was in the hospital talking to the injured Witchfire and Skyrocket was surprised that he like cared about her and stuff. Yeah, right. It later turned out that he only talked to her to get her to sign a paper that let´s him speak for her in the meetings.

So he could veto Skyrocket because now he had two votes. Owned !

Or when he goes to rescue the team all the while cussing and swearing how stupid they are and how he´s even more stupid to help them against his better judgement.

Or when Firestorm ( the real one ) got on the team and totally misread Manhunter and Skyrocket.

Or when.......

Damn, I could go on for hours. This was one solid book.

Anyway, Grummet was always one of my favorite artists since his run on TEEN TITANS during the WILDBEAST HUNT storyline. And he drew my favorite issues of the new Titans title 13 and 20. Especially the inks by Nelson on issue 20 are not of this world.

Word verification : dpoktb. What they called getting probed in the Ukraine. Believe me, you don´t want to be dpoktbed in the Ukraine.

Too late. Second word verification : elupx. Those small green thingie they put into the salad in the mediterranean.

Anonymous said...

Loved this title! Shame its not still around. I meat Kurt Busiek on a board and told him how much I liked the book they guy actually sent me a signed copy of #1.
Coolest guy ever in my book!


Anonymous said...


I just recently found your blog, and I'm loving the archives. This is great, great stuff! You and I are approximately the same age, and we've read lots of the same comics. Thanks for the awesome & hilarious nostalgia trips.

Anyway - to Power Company - I'm a HUGE Walt Simonson fan. My buddy Rich and I met him 5 years ago at a comic shop north of Pittsburgh. We each took the day off so we could hang out with Walt for about 4 hours. He could not have been nicer. Signed a bunch of books for both of us. He even signed Rich's Manhunter maquette (looks gorgeous with the silver 'dinosaur' on the base), and drew me a quick sketch of Manhunter on a comic board. I loves me the original Walt sketch.

I asked him about Manhunter's use in Power Company. He confirmed that Busiek did ask for his permission, and then said something like this: "When I write one of the characters I've created, I consider it gospel. When someone else writes them, I consider it gossip." I took that to mean he wasn't slamming Busiek's writing, but he recognized that the character was really owned by DC, and they could've done whatever they wanted to him with or without Walt's permission.

I enjoyed the Power Company, and wished that it had gone on longer. Sadly, it never got the mass appeal or the numbers that it needed.

But we can all go read our back issues. I think I will this weekend.

-- PeteMan

My verification word: jpejtax. The fee I have to pay every year to legally own my jpej.

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