Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crisis on Earth-Blog: Super Powers 25th Anniversary

Some threats are too big for one hero to handle. Some crises encompass more than one world in the multiverse. Certain epic adventures call for a crossover!

That's right, boys and girls, it's time for another comic blog crossover! And, in true comic book fashion, these events continue to build in size and scope. This particular "Crisis on Earth-Blog" is undeniably epic! In order to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Kenner Toys's fondly remembered Super Powers Collection line of action figures featuring the heroes and villains of DC Comics, Crimson Lightning is teaming-up with over a dozen other superhero blogs!

The Super Powers Collection encompassed thirty-four figures, eight vehicles, and one playset released during a three-year period in the mid 1980s. The Flash was a key component in the first of three waves, launched by Kenner in 1984, but, truly, one of the great joys of the Super Powers line was the way in which the sheer number and variety of its figures represented the vastness and intricacy of the great DC Universe itself. Imaginative kids playing with the Super Powers toys in bedrooms and backyards had a chance to put all of their favorite heroes and villains together and participate in epic comic-style storytelling.

This celebratory anniversary crossover intends to achieve a similar effect. Crimson Lightning and Speed Force will be covering the crimson comet's part in the Super Powers line-up but, to learn more, you'll be able to link to a veritable multiverse of blogs, from Bat-Blog to Justice League Detroit to Love Dat Joker, with a dozen sites in between. This particular crossover event is so big, in fact, that it's going to take up several days this week here at Crimson Lightning. Today we'll review The Flash mini-comic packaged with its corresponding action figure. Tomorrow we'll reminisce about those wonderful Super Powers toys themselves. The end of the week will bring a few associated surprises. Do you remember the halcyon days of the Super Powers Collection? Whether you once owned one of these legendary action figures or not, I and the others hope that you enjoy the latest "Crisis on Earth-Blog!"

Super Powers Collection #4: The Flash

Title: N/A
Date: 1984

Synopsis: One sunny afternoon, Superman disappears from the skies above Metropolis after unexpectedly encountering Brainiac's ominous skull ship. Soon, other key members of the Justice League are disappearing from their hometowns as well: Hawkman from Midway City, Wonder Woman from Washington, D.C., and Batman from Gotham. Zeroing in on Central City's fleet-footed defender proves a challenge for the alien android, however. Moving at super-speed, the Flash is not only able to avoid the dangerous beams being emitted by Brainiac's starship but also manages to rescue a number of innocent civilians caught up in several unrelated disasters. The scarlet speedster's humanitarian efforts to save the survivors of a shipwreck, however, slow him down just enough to be captured at last. As the Flash takes his place in Brainiac's menagerie of super-powered heroes, the true extent of the extraterrestrial menace's evil scheme is revealed. Only the quick thinking of the fastest man alive can save his teammates from certain doom!

Commentary: Produced as a tie-in packaged with Kenner's celebrated Super Powers Collection of action figures, the fourth of twenty-three Super Powers mini-comics stars none other than the Flash. Let's make one thing clear up front: this pocket-sized book is little more than a flagrant marketing gimmick, a comic book story written and illustrated in order to encourage kids to both purchase and play with Kenner's extensive line of toys. That being said, the story is masterfully crafted to achieve that effect, thematically echoing and exploring the very acts children would come to associate with the action figures themselves. The story stars the scarlet speedster but, like all other mini-comics in the series, makes sure to include a number of his superfriends as well. If they didn't already own them, any child reading this mini-comic was sure to want to add the likes of Superman, Batman, Hawkman, and Wonder Woman to his or her collection. (I'm living proof. I had them all, though I was particularly fond of the Hawkman figure with its majestic, flapping wings!) In fact, the story's chief villain, the recently redesigned Brainiac, has assumed the role of a collector himself in the pursuance of his evil plans. The alien supervillain is desperate to collect a complete set of superheroes, as is evident when he exclaims upon spying the scarlet speedster, "There is the Flash! He shall be my next prize!" In their glass suspension tubes, the captured members of the Justice League clearly resemble action figures in mint-condition blister packs. Each scene, each individual panel of the adventure imaginatively simulates the sort of play we'd associate with the toys. From a marketing perspective, at least, this is an impressively presented scenario.

Though compact, the story also covers a lot of ground, too. The narrative not only sets-up Brainiac's (admittedly simplistic) scheme but also shows us the scarlet speedster saving lives during not one but two full-scale disasters and makes an effort to showcase a variety of his usual super-speed tricks. As regular readers know, I'm always appreciative of any tale that takes steps to creatively convey the true extent of the Flash's abilities; regardless of the fact that the goal here is simply to make the action figure's "Power Action Lightning Legs" more enticing, I appreciate an adventure that shows the scarlet speedster isn't simply a superhero who "runs fast." The art is detailed, dynamic, and colorful enough for this sort of thing and it's wonderful to see our hero granted the opportunity to face off against Brainiac, one of the man of steel's classic foes. The skeletal, Ed Hannigan-designed Brainiac seen in this book is visually terrifying, a wonderfully horrific creature. I've always loved Brainiac and I particularly appreciate Hannigan's distinctive pre-Crisis design. With a grim visage like this, Brainiac is an impressive villain, even when he's being senselessly tossed about in silly little stories like this. (Could that metallic, tentacled skull ship of his be any more imposing? It outright dominates any story it appears in!)

This Super Powers Collection mini-comic tie-in is slight but it's entertaining in a childish sort of way and, even more amusingly, it cleverly incorporates its marketing ploys into the narrative at just about every level. If you've managed to put down your Super Powers Flash long enough to read this mini-comic, you're sure to snatch the toy right back up following its denouement.

High-Speed Highlight: Demonstrating one of his trademark high-speed stunts whilst striving to save the victims of a maritime disaster, the monarch of motion dashes across the surface of a lake, skipping like a stone, much to the amazement of Brainiac, who covets such a wonderful super power.

Quotable: "What? The Flash runs faster than my light beam! I've missed him!" --Brainiac, despite all of his supposedly superior computational powers, is inexplicably stupefied upon witnessing the Flash's distinctive and well-known super powers and describes them for us quite concisely

Credits: Over at the Aquaman Shrine, Paul Kupperberg offered the following notes regarding the Super Powers Collection mini-comic credits (or lack thereof): "I wrote only one of the Kenner minis, for Steppenwolf (#13). Alas, I have no real memory of having done it. Art looks to be Jose Delbo. The rest were probably written by the likes of Jack Harris, Rozakis, and the like. Wish I could remember more about them: I don't even recall who the project editor was... probably Barry Marx, who worked under Joe Orlando in Special Projects."

Comic Blog Crossover: Wait, there's more! The multiverse-shattering "Crisis on Earth-Blog" doesn't end here! Special thanks go out to the irredeemable Shag Matthews of Firestorm Fan and Once Upon a Geek for making this remarkable event possible. Thanks to Shag's direction, this crossover connects no less than fifteen comic book blogs. Each blog is dedicated to a different character represented in the Super Powers Collection. (Fans should take note that Barry Allen participates in at least two other mini-comics. In Aquaman's tie-in, the fastest man alive and the sea king team-up to defeat the Penguin. In Green Arrow's book, the Flash and Martian Manhunter assist Oliver Queen in fending off the New God Kalibak. Additionally, the Flash has a cameo in the Hawkman mini.) Now that you've heard the thrilling tale of the Flash's Super Powers mini-adventure be sure to visit our team-up partners for their own heart-stopping stories of superheroism, prime merchandising, and terrific toys...


Anonymous said...

Awesome. Great post. The Kenner toys are what got me into comics and Flash in particular. Good times...

Any chance you could post all of the Flash mini-comic? It'd be very much appreciated.

-- Ian.

Dixon said...

Thanks, Ian. I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying the crossover! I'll see what I can do about posting the mini-comic in its entirety.