Here's where I make a confession I know a few people will find shocking: I'm not a fan of Neal Adams. He seems like an okay dude, certainly makes for a lively interview, but I just don't get into his comics all that much. I don't hate them, there's just a certain hamminess and clunkiness to them which keeps me from being all that interested in what's going on from page to page. He's a magnificent illustrator, certainly, and his individual panels are gorgeous, but his layouts lack any flow or momentum, and the constant over-wrought emotions strung throughout leaves those emotions, which he's working so hard to convey, feeling forced and insincere. And then there's his writing. He's a freakin' mess as a writer, with choppy dialogue, poor motivations, and scattershot plotting.
So no, not a fan of the dude, which is why I was a bit hesitant to check out these comics. All of the above? Still applies here, though I will go through the books a bit more beyond those feelings for those interested.
This incarnation of the series debuted in August of 1988, five months after the series had ended in March of that year, and appears, instead of being a straight tie-in title, to be an attempt at launching the property fresh in the new format. As with those who edited together the Captain Power: The Beginning compilation film, it was decided to focus on the storyline "A Summoning of Thunder" (Part 1, Part 2), restaging it from a mid-season revealer to a new pilot. Sadly, instead of bringing in Joe Straczynski or Larry DiTillio or any other writer from the show, Neal decided to pen it himself, sharing writing credit with Peter Stone, his frequent partner at Continuity, the comic company Neal founded and ran from 1984 to 1994. I can't find any other writing credits for Stone outside of Continuity, though he has recently put out a novel.
Issue one opens, as the show often did, in the middle of an action scene. Karl Malenkon is on the loose from one of Dread's laboratories, and has a "key to salvation" he's looking to put in the hands of Power. Unfortunately, he's got Soaron and a squad of Troopers on his tail. For some reason, Neal's discarded the Nazi-esque suit of the human Overunit commanders, instead giving them red suits of armor which don't look all that different from what our heroes are wearing. Power and his team arrives, with Jon getting a nice hero moment as he transforms mid-leap into the action in a two-page spread, and every member of the team getting their moment: Tank is quippy and decks the Overunit's face to a bloody pulp (ewwww), Hawk takes on Soaron in the air, Pilot kicks ass despite Power's command to hold back, Scout is... there. And overseeing it all is Lord Dread from Tony's affectionately labelled La-Z-Boy.
In terms of likenesses, we don't see Scout or Tank outside their helmets, Pilot looks like Pilot, and Power and Dread keep wavering between panels that dead-on capture their actors, and ones where they look like generic Adams figures, teeth-barred and lips curled as they dramatically shout at everything. The big change is Hawk, who's suddenly a gaunt figure with Dr. Strange eye-brows and streaks of white veering up and back in his jet black hair, to a pair of subtly curled peaks at either side. Think Hugh Jackman's Wolverine hair in the first X-Men movie, with a dash of Adam's original Ra's al Ghul design.
After fending off the Trooper's use of an antiquated mortar device, our heroes return to base, having won, but also having lost Malenkon in the chaos. As they ponder how best to track him down, Power notes the date and takes off to meet with his father. When Pilot questions this, Hawk sits her down to tell her a story. Which is promptly interrupted by Neal's plotting as we cut to Volcania and see Dread also note the date, as he sends Soaron with a strike squad to intercept. Sidebar to say, Soaron looks really freakin' awesome drawn by Neal. Anyways, Dread and Overmind are still at odds as Dread yells at the Overunit, while Overmind tells him to chill with the emotions and just calmly feed the Overunit into the Digitizer.
And back to Pilot and Hawk as we get a surprisingly reworked version of the show's lore. Now, the future US is caught in a full on civil war, with the East Coast and West Coast being their own things, and everything in the middle being disputed territory. Instead of fighting over this land with human soldiers, as neither wants Americans to spill American blood, they both construct armies of machines to do the fighting for them, all of which is filmed by hovering cameras for prime-time television. Everything of course goes to pot as the robots spill out of designated war zones and start wiping out entire cities, with automated factories continuing to churn them out and programs refusing to budge from their locked in codes. These were the Metal Wars.
Stuart Power and Lyman Taggert come into the picture as they decide to build a master computer, Overmind, which will take over these roving bands of war machines, and finally bring the senseless wars to an end. Their disagreement comes when Stuart wants to slow down development as he feels things could get out of hand if Overmind is poorly programmed, whereas Lyman is haunted by the rising death tolls and fears any delay will just mean more death. So he plugs himself into Overmind, only for the computer to take him over, bending him to the will of the Machine and putting the mechanized soldiers under their shared command. I'll admit, the scene of Lyman's mind being ripped into and corrupted by Overmind is some damn good art on Neal's part.
Stuart falls in with the resistance movement, outfitting as many guerrillas as he can with jury-rigged arms and armor, which allows them to gain a solid footing alongside the randomness of their tactics against the chess-like strategies of the Machine. Dread responds by pulling his forces together and constructing Volcania on the ruins of Detroit. As he ushers in his latest creation, the Bio-Dread Soaron, we intercut with teenage Power, being taught by Hawk how to fight against Troopers with his bare hands. Both Stuart and Dread look on with pride at their legacies.
Back in the present, Hawk ends this portion of his tale by saying Captain Power and Lord Dread are so key to their mutual movements that both are desperately looking for the right moment to take one another out. As Jonathan talks to his father's grave (which includes the tidbit that Pilot is still a fresh recruit who only recently joined after her Dread Youth stretch), we cut to Volcania where Dread orders Soaron's assault team to kill the Captain while he's vulnerable.
The next issue, following the trend of Continuity's frequent and oft-criticized delays, wouldn't come out for another five months in January of 1989. We open in flashback with a page recapping the last issue, then move right back into Hawk's narration as we're in a trench on the battlefield, wounded resistance shouting for medics even as an evac is ordered. The reason they're losing is Soaron raining hell from the sky. As the unit commander contacts Stuart Power and Hawk at base, he's Digitized from behind, and Stuart realizes even more of the theories he dreamed up with Lyman have been horribly brought to life. The Warlord program was meant to make thinking, feeling machines to wipe out the mindless Dread Troopers, yet here's the first of the Warlords now leading the fray.
Jonathan is at a rebel supply base when Soaron again arrives. Power doesn't realize what's going on yet as explosions are going off at the other side of the warehouse, and he's punching and blasting his way through a line of Dread Troopers. There's a nice if awkward scene where he uses a chaotic strategy to throw their equations off. Arriving at the other end, he sees Soaron digitizing a line of humans one by one. Power puts up a surprisingly good fight without armor, injuring Soaron, who's driven into a rage as he snatches up the teen and decides to kill him instead of Digitizing him. Until Dread interrupts, ordering the boy taken prisoner. As he's swept off into the sky, Power watches in horror as the humans below continue to be Digitized, as basic Troopers apparently also carry such weapons now.
Hawk and Pilot interrupt their story as, back to the present, Tank and Scout call in, having tracked reports of the missing Malenkon to a pack of wild, partying raiders getting wasted (and apparently laid, as a couple panels would suggest) around a bonfire. If you thought the slang in the TV series was a chore to get through, Tony, here we get exchanges like:
"Wa-hooooo! Party treef an' besto!"
"So, babe, you rad for joinin' Jock's Rag-Tags?"
"Rad and bad, Gato, I'm sure! You tags make me warmest!"
Scout decides to slip in by holo-cloaking himself as a raider, but the gang leader is instantly suspicious, fearing Scout is a Dread rat there to turn them over to the machines. More slang:
"Name your tag, bleeder! You scope like an oil pet to me!"
"Light tension, hog-taggers. I come for swap meet, not rumble. If you got my dream, I can get your dream."
"Ya? What you scopin' for, Dread-dogger? Mebbe we got business. You chop me, I frag you... You scope?"
It's not long before the party is broken up by actual Troopers. Tank is seemingly left on his own in peril, but we cut back to him blasting away every Trooper in sight, waving around severed limbs above his head. Scout runs into the leader again, de-cloaking and convincing the man he's a part of Power's team. This doesn't win the dude over, either, so Scout gets him in a choke hold against a brick wall. Dude claims he sold Malenkon to "The Streetz Warlord". They call this info in to Hawk, who signs off and resumes telling the story to Pilot.
In the past, Stuart pulls Hawk aside and tells him about the Power Armor, seven suits of which are lined on a rack waiting to be permanently coded to their users. Hawk wants to use the suits to save Jonathan, but Stuart says it's too much of a risk as they have yet to be tested on humans. While Hawk steps out to get his exhausted and anxious friend some food and coffee, Stuart receives a call from Lyman. Sidenote to say I like the interim version of Lyman which Neal uses throughout much of this flashback, his bandaged, burned head already losing its humanity, but it hasn't been wrapped in the cybernetics of Dread yet, and his cloaked uniform has yet to be stapled with gizmos and that mechanical arm. Stuart has one hour to turn himself over, or Dread kills Jonathan.
Hawk returns to find his friend gone and the computer suddenly programmed with Stuart's voice and memories. There's a recorded message saying the suits still need to be tested, but we get that classic scene of Hawk damning it all as he puts one on and Powers On for the first time. I'll be honest, Neal tries, but a lot of the emotion he's milking here feels forced and lacks the great staging and performance from the TV series. There's especially a panel of Hawk biting his lip which looks off, which is odd given how much of a lip artist Adams is.
At Volcania, Soaron yanks Jonathan out of a cell, yells at him a bit, slaps him around, then brings him before Dread. There's none of that compelling moment in the series where the Warlord is haunted by some deep emotion buried within him which he quickly shakes off. Isn't emotion your thing, Neal? Anyway, Jonathan is told he'll soon be set free as Stuart is about to land.
And that's when we reach our last page and everything goes nuts. Hawk pauses his story and we cut back to Jonathan at his father's tombstone, only he's in civvies when he was earlier wearing Armor. And instead of Soaron and a hitsquad, the completely un-introduced Bastarr rolls up, Digitizing Captain Power in a big half-pager before we're slammed with a "Continued Next Issue".
I'm not surprised everything ended on a sudden cliffhanger. Despite being around for a solid decade, very very few Continuity books made it even ten issues deep, due to frequent delays, printer issues, and Neal needing to be heavily involved in each and every title. This book is pretty much par for the course from what I've seen of their stuff.
It's not a bad book. It's certainly readable, there are some nice dramatic punches and gripping imagery, the best being the actual moment Lyman plugged into Overmind. I like some expansions of the material, like showing some actual trench warfare, or the idea that Power Armor was a gradual development, slowly evolving from jury-rigged bits here and there to full suits. The dialogue isn't awful, if choppy and over-reliant on ellipses.
But it's also not a recommend from me. A lot of the changes feel arbitrary and unnecessary, most especially the revised and bizarre version we get here of the Metal Wars. A lot of the drama lacks any actual punch, the characterizations fall pretty flat, and all the problems I have with Neal which introduced this piece are still present. Good illustrations, clumsy storytelling, and it ultimately does very little for me. As a "relaunch" following the cancellation of the show, I can't say I'm anywhere near as interested to see what we would have gotten beyond this cliffhanger as I was with that one. This felt like cherry-picking, as if Neal latched onto this property and just did his own thing with it, and thus it's an awkward fit as a companion piece to the show. There has been talk in the last couple years about relaunching the property in comic form, but as it still has Neal at the helm, I really don't have any investment in terms of whether or not that ever comes to be.