Back in the early 80s Marvel editor Louise Simonson was encouraged to write a comic book of her own, a policy Editor in Chief Jim Shooter was trying to promote at the time, and so with artist June Brigman she created the superhero team known as Power Pack. Of course the most unusual thing about this team is that it was the first superhero group consisting of pre-teen heroes, even younger than the New Mutants, and having little kids thrown into dangerous situations is often dicey subject matter. The kids powers were given to them by “Whitey” Whitemane, a member of the Kymellian race who resemble humanoid horses, and they had come to Earth to stop Dr. James Powers from accidentally destroying the planet due to an error in his formula, which could have caused a chain reaction and destroyed the world. Whitey’s attempts to warn the professor are hampered by an enemy alien reptilian race called the Snarks; the Power family is kidnapped and Whitey is killed rescuing the children, but before he dies he bestows them his powers, as well as his sentient spaceship called Friday.
The team consists of twelve year old Alex Power (code name Zero-G) who has the ability control gravity, ten year old Julie Power (code name Lightspeed) who has super-speed and flight, eight year old Jack Power (code name Mass Master) who can control his size and density, and lastly there is five year old Katie Power (code name Energizer) who can disintegrate any kind of matter, including water and air molecules, store that energy up and then expel it in balls of explosive energy. I must say that’s a pretty dangerous power to give a five year old.
What made the run of this comic so good is that it wasn’t just a “kid’s comic book” but that it tackled some pretty heavy and mature topics such as pollution, drug abuse, runaways, kidnapping, gun violence, bullying, orphanhood, and homelessness. The four children fought all manner of dangerous foes in the Marvel Universe, teaming up with the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine, all while keeping their crime fighting lives secret from their parents. Unlike certain superheroes the Powers children have loving parents, and they are often emotionally torn about keeping their secret lives from them, but that’s what makes for great drama in any story let alone a comic book. Sadly the creative team changed, much to the chagrin of the fans, and the series was cancelled in 1991. Strangely this cancellation led to an attempt at creating a Saturday morning kids show, even strange was it was not animated but live action, and once again television execs ditched pretty much everything about the comic book characters in favor of generic family fun.
The pilot begins with a voice over explaining about how during his travels throughout the universe he had learned of amazing powers; that in the right hands could be extraordinary and in the wrong hands dark and destructive. So when the time came to pass on his powers he found a group of young children who inspired him with their innocence and honesty, so much so that he believed he could trust them with his powers. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s not surprising that a Saturday morning kid show would ditch the origin story that involves intergalactic beings that resemble horses and reptiles, ninety’s television budget would certainly not allow for it, but that opening narration is so vague that we are left with no clue as to who and the hell gave them their powers. Was it aliens or possibly God himself?
Missing aliens aside the biggest departure from the source material is that the parents are now completely aware that their kids have extraordinary abilities, and then for some reason treat it like annoyance that could get their kids shunned at school. When the dad spots Jack (Bradley Machry) using his powers to shrink down small enough to retrieve his retainer that had fallen down the drain, he calls everyone for a family lecture telling the kids that, “It is important to remember that with power comes responsibility, to yourselves and to this family.” So for a second there I thought he was going to trot out the classic “With great power comes great responsibility” but no, he seems more worried that people will freak out and possibly cause the property value of their house to drop. Look, no parent is going to want their children running out to fight crime, but that’s why in the comic the kids kept it secret from them. With parental units aware of their children’s ability it completely hamstrings the basic premise of the show; that premise being it’s a show about superhero kids.
Another alteration is the powers themselves; Jack in the comic could increase his density to shrink, using his classic Jack-Hammer attack against foes, or he could spread out his density and become a cloud, but in this show all he does is shrink, and the fact that in small form he still weighs the same is never addressed. Alex (Nathaniel Moreau) is shown using his gravity powers to lift a small aquarium, and later he uses it to rise himself out of a pit, so that is fairly accurate to his powers found in the comic book just not all that cinematic. Now in the case of Julie (Margot Finley) the show just has her function as basically Kid Flash with a rainbow streak behind her, the ability to fly is never addressed. Then there is Katie (Jacelyn Holmes) who in this pilot never disintegrates anything nor does she form explosive balls of energy, instead we see her causing a small ball she is holding to glow while staring outside at children playing. That she is staring at these kids with a look, one that would be more appropriate for Stephen King’s Carrie, is what’s a little troubling.
Sure, it can’t be easy to fit in an origin story/introduction to a group of characters when you only have roughly 26 minutes to work with, and you still have to get the kids on some kind of adventure as well, but what dastardly villain will the Power kids take on for their television debut? Sadly no villain from the pages of Marvel comics will grace this Saturday morning pilot, instead Jack we will get pushed into breaking into an old abandoned mansion, a haunted looking place that use to be owned by Doctor Mobius and the Circus of the Macabre, by couple of schoolmates. To sneak in, and to apparently impress his new school buds though he still hides his powers from them, Jack shrinks down to miniscule size so that he can crawl under the back door of the mansion. He then encounters a rat.
While bumbling around the cobweb strewn mansion with his new found friends, who scream at seeing such horrifying sights as skeletons and guillotines, they then spot a painting of Doctor Mobius and the kid who conned Jack into committing a B&E in the first places convinces our young hero take this jeweled amulet they find lying on the ground below the painting. What’s the point of breaking and entering if you’re not going to steal anything? The trio are then chased out of the mansion by spooky noises.
Back at home Julie begs Alex to handle her chores so that she can lightspeed over to the local arcade to hang out with her new friends, thus she misses out on this entire adventure, because as Jack returns and we find out that the spirit of Doctor Mobius has followed him home, but only to apparently nicky-nicky nine door the Power home. When Alex answers the door, after the ghost knocked on it and demanded, “Return it to me!” the ghosts vanishes just before Alex opens the door.
So Alex, Jack and Katie return to the haunted house to return that which was stolen. Then it turns out that the ghost of Doctor Mobius is a real dick about having stolen things returned to him. While attempting to return the amulet Jack is trapped in an iron maiden, Alex is dropped into a bottomless pit and Katie is attacked by a mother freaking zombie! A five year old girl being attacked by the undead isn’t something one would expect to see on a Saturday morning kids show and I’m not sure if this is awesome or phenomenally stupid.
Jack is able to shrink down to escape the iron maiden, Alex uses his gravity powers to float up out of the pit, and they meet up with Katie to finally put the amulet back where it belongs, but Mobius is still be a totally pill about the whole thing and he heats up the amulet as Katie tries to place inside the setting in the painting. This whole scene with Alex using his power to lift Katie up to the painting, her screaming “I can’t, its burning my hand!” as a beam of energy superheats the amulet she is holding, is just bizarre. For most of the show we are treated to low rent Family Ties comedy, but then in the last act we get a five year old girl being attacked by a zombie and then burned by a vengeful ghost – one who she was trying to help – what the hell is up with that?
Katie does managed to get the amulet back into its rightful spot, and the group head home just in time to find out that Julie had used her Lightspeed powers to do the chores that she asked Alex to do for her in the first place, and thus the parents are still left oblivious to what their kids have been up to. The episode ends with Alex getting a phone call from a pretty girl he met at school – and him yelling at Jack to get off the extension – basically your standard family sitcom ending.
That this show didn’t get picked up as series is not surprising, what is surprising is the fact that not only was it aired but that it actually aired several times during regular children’s programming on Fox, as a Saturday morning special. Of course the real mystery is to the “why” the network felt a live action version of this comic was the way to go, and not the more sensible animated route. A cartoon with cute alien horses that bestow powers to a group of kids seems like an easy sell to me, but then again I’m not a network executive.
In conclusion the show took almost nothing from the source material – all the actors were pretty bad – and the plot for this pilot episode was beyond bizarre. Of course now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is bringing millions of dollars in ticket sales – not to mention the Marvel Netflix shows – it’s been announced that Power Pack will get another live action shot, but don’t hold your breath as television shows and movies focusing on preteens will always be a bit of a hard sell. Then again maybe the creators of the Netflix series Stranger Things will take a shot at it.