The Power Pack Metaphor

By Kevin Leslie

I cry sometimes. I guess I should admit that. Since becoming a parent almost six years ago, I've cried a lot more than I did the prior 15 or so years. Sometimes it's something on the television (usually involving a parent and a child) and sometimes it's just a moment of absolute happiness (usually involving my family). I cried when I was a kid too, like most kids I suppose, but I decided at some point that I should stop crying, and I did, for a really long time.

I do remember a comic that made me cry. It was Power Pack #19. Power Pack is a superhero team made up of kids. They found an alien ship complete with horse headed alien and it gave them powers. Like all Marvel heroes the Power Pack kids lived in New York. The urban landscape as seen in the Spider-Man and Daredevil comics was always a fascination for me, since I had only lived in the suburbs and on Air Force bases. In Power Pack it took on another meaning. I guess it was novel to see kids living in apartment buildings instead of houses. These kids had alleys in their neighborhood and sewers! Seeing adults move through those places was one thing, but seeing kids in that environment was simultaneously exciting and terrifying for me. I always worried about their safety.

Those fears culminated in Power Pack #19. This issue had a lot going on. Beta Ray Bill, an alien version of Thor was on the cover. Now that I look at that cover, Beta Ray Bill is downright terrifying himself. What was Walt Simonson thinking when he drew that face? It's part dog and part skull. Wolverine and Kitty Pride from the X-Men are also in the issue, which is probably why I picked this up to begin with. I guess now I see the shameless crossover as a way to try to bring in new readers. Maybe Power Pack was about to be cancelled at the time. Who knows, but it worked for me.

This issue had a lot going on, but what hit me like a ton of bricks was the theme of abandonment. The mother of the Power Pack kids is sick and part of the comic is about the family coping with her being in the hospital. I’m not sure why, but when I was a child I had a deep fear that my family would break-up. If my parents had an arguement, I assumed divorce was imminent. I worried about our home being burned down in a fire. I was scared that my dad’s plane would crash, or he would get in a car accident on the way home from work. I worried a lot, which is why I identified with the Power Pack kids.

The other tragedy in the comic is Leach. Leach is a green mutant who looks like a burned Kermit the Frog. He lives underground with the Morlocks, mutants who are so ugly or messed up that they can’t live with society.  An old woman named Analee takes care of Leach, but she treats him like an unwanted servant. Her own children were killed, so she took care of the Morlock orphans, but she wasn’t very nice to them. She dressed Leach in a dirty nightgown.  Again, this comic tapped into some deep fear I had that my comfortable life was tenuous.

The comic has a happy ending as most from that time do. The mom is going to be okay and everyone convinces Analee that she’s got to take better care of Leach. The Power Pack kids give him some clothes. The panel that got me was Leach putting on a knit cap and saying “warm.” That was when I cried. It didn’t occur to me until then that this poor, pathetic creature would also be cold. I was happy that he had friends and he had clothes, but I didn’t trust Analee. I thought she was going to slip. She was going to hit him again, take away his jacket if he was bad. I wanted him to live with the other kids. I had a childhood that was safe and warm, but I was often too anxious to understand that, so no matter how irrational it was, I saw myself in Leach, and when he was loved, I felt loved.