Power Pack was a 1980s comic book series by Marvel Comics that starred four child superheroes. While this concept is not unusual in Western Animation, it was new for the Marvel Universe. Unlike those of TV cartoon super-kids, most of the Pack's adventures were straight superhero action, with deeper real-world themes as well, such as child abuse, guns in school, bullying, and genocide - the kids were unwilling witnesses to the mass-murder of the sewer-dwelling Morlocks. The mood was lighter than other Marvel fare, but darker than typical super-kid stories.
The series was about the four children of one Prof. Power, a scientist who had invented an antimatter generator. However, a horselike alien named Whitemane tried to warn him that a similar machine had blown up his homeworld. Unfortunately, "Whitey" (as the kids named him) was mortally wounded by his enemies, the alien Snarks, and couldn't prevent them from kidnapping the children's parents.
Dying, Whitey had no choice but to pass on his superpowers to the Power children and hope that they could save the Earth and rescue their parents. With help from Whitey's living spaceship, Friday, they succeeded, and without their parents finding out about their new powers, to boot!
The four of them then decided to keep their powers a secret, and continued to adventure around New York City as the "Power Pack".
The kids, from oldest to youngest, and their (original) powers are:
- Alex—age 12 original version, age 13 all-ages version—who could control gravity by touch; he called himself Gee. Eventually, deciding this name is stupid in-universe he quietly renames himself Zero-G (or has that name at the start in latter incarnations).
- Julie—age 10 original version, age 12 all-ages version—who could fly (leaving a colored trail behind) called herself Lightspeed
- Jack—age 8 original version, age 10 all-ages version—who could increase his body's density (thus shrinking down) or decrease it (becoming a living cloud) named himself Mass Master
- Katie—age 5 original version, age 8 all-ages version—who could turn matter into energy, called herself Energizer
They would later find out that they could switch their powers around—or even give them all to a single person—as well.
While never a major Marvel series, Power Pack lasted a surprisingly long time, even outlasting contemporaries such as the original X-Factor, and had a loyal following. At one point, Franklin Richards (son of Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four) joined them for a while under the name Tattletale (his godlike powers were at the time reduced to just telepathy, precognitive dreaming, and a ghost body.) The Pack met various other heroes, including Spider-Man and Wolverine. Strangely, for a long while few people called them on being superheroes at such a young age (Katie was only five years old!) or going around without adult supervision (unless you count Friday's) much less doing dangerous stuff behind their parents' backs.
Their parents do eventually find out, however, and the family has to deal with it - by going insane and turning into catatonic wrecks. It's later revealed that the race of space-horses (no, really) who gave the kids their powers created mental blocks to stop their parents ever realizing that the children were superheroes, even if they showed up with a teenage alien runaway and a talking spaceship in tow or something. Which they did.
Although canceled years ago, the Pack characters have resurfaced in other comics such as New Warriors and Runaways (as teenagers). There was an attempt in 2005 to reintroduce the team to regular Marvel continuity in an unashamedly all-ages series of books, but this was later sideways-retconned into an out-of-continuity series, as the writer of Marvel's Runaways comic introduced a version of one of the Pack characters in that book which didn't match up with the all-ages character - or even the character from previous appearances.
Now, it appears as a regular series of mini-series in Marvel's Marvel Adventures imprint and it seems to have found its niche with fun stories complemented with adorable mangaesque art.
There was a failed Pilot for television series version, but it was never aired in the US, though it did appear on overseas channels and has circulated as a bootleg among fans for years. (It can also be found on YouTube, of course.) As of now, Marvel's new owner, Walt Disney Pictures, is wondering if this kid team would be an obvious property to develop for a film.
Making a return in the pages of FF in February 2012 (the issue's title is even "The One Where Power Pack Shows Up"), the first time the whole team's been together in the mainline Marvel Universe in more than a decade (real-world time, at least).
- Ambiguous Gender: The kids argue early on if Smartship Friday is "him" or "her" (according to their own gender).
- And Now for Something Completely Different: Issue 47 of the original comic is entirely about Katie entering a cartoon bizarro universe straight out of Little Nemo and trying to escape. The credits page using TV style credits (For example: Writer Jon Bogdanove is credited as "Script & Cinematography"), events in "Elsewhere" being rendered in landscape instead of portrait (accomplished by turning the book sideways) and comments in the Peer Pressure miniseries (saying that everyone sees "Elsewhere" differently) all suggest this is supposed to be Katie watching way too much TV. Katie learns a new power the group's costumes have during this adventure, causing it to be referenced several times.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: All over the first few issues. News of a UFO is readily dismissed despite several alien invasions of Earth by that point. Also, perhaps most Egregious, is the fact that at one point Jack dismisses the idea that his newfound ability to understand the Snarks' language must mean Friday built translators into their costumes as "too much like science fiction"—while he's a cloud-boy floating next to an alien spaceship.
- Franklin's guardians have a bad habit of knowing full well that his dreams foretell the future and still passing them off as just normal dreams.
- Astral Projection: In a change from the Deus Ex Machina Batman
WizardPsion he was normally used as, Power Pack consistently limited Franklin Richards' power set to this and Dreaming of Things to Come.
- Badass Normal: Taken further in the all-ages series, Franklin Richards has no superpowers, save perhaps for an intellect on par with his dad's and a whole lot of gadgets.
- Back from the Dead: Happens to Thomas "Toro" Raymond via Marvel forgetting he was supposed to be dead (this problem used to be surprisingly common for the big two before the internet came along). Apparently the editors realized this and just dropped the plot thread and "Mr. Raymond" is never mentioned when Thomas Raymond is actually brought back from the dead for real.
- Bare Your Midriff: Julie since her appearance in Runaways.
- Baseball Episode: Nearly an entire issue of the original series takes place at or near Shea Stadium, and a baseball game the "Mecs" vs. the "Clubs") figures into the plot.
- Bequeathed Power:
- Non Sequitur Episode: Issue 34 of the original series. Not only is it never spoken of again, with Katie and Franklin (who feature prominently) wildly Out of Character, it's officially declared non-canon in the letters page of a later issue.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Alex/Katie, Jack and Julie.
- Blue Eyes: The Power children.
- Body Horror: This happens to Carmody, who is transformed into a demon.
- Canon Immigrant: Franklin's Robot Buddy Herbie (all-ages version only)
- Cheerful Child: All the kids in the Marvel Adventures series are cute, but Katie is the epitome of cute as a button.
- Create Your Own Villain: The Pack's Arch Enemy, Douglas Carmody aka "The Bogeyman", is already something of a villain when we first see him (planning to weaponize Dr. Power's converter technology rather than using it to provide cheap power and calling Dr. Power a "hippie" for wanting to do any less), but he descends into full-blown supervillainy after the converter is destroyed, descending into madness, losing the remnants of his fortune, his marriage, and basically his whole life... which he blames the Powers for.
- Comic Book Time: Katie's age is given as 5 in Uncanny X-Men 205 (May 1986), if not earlier. In issue 47 of her native series (July 1989) her age is given as... 5 and a half.
- School starts in issue 7 (February 1985), leaves start falling in issue issue 14 (September 1985) and issue 19 (February 1986) is set on Thanksgiving. Issue 21 (April 1986) up to issue 26 (October 1986) have NYC covered in snow before it vanishes in in issue 27 (December 1986) . Roughly a year passes in two years, so far so good...
- School is back in session in issue 28 (February 1987), Julie graduates elementary school in issue 45 (April 1989), the family goes on a summer vacation in issue 48 (August 1989) with Katie's age being given as "five and a half" the previous issue. Issue 60 (November 1990) is back to school and the series is then canceled at issue 62 (because it turned terrible at 56). The plot is concluded in the Holiday Special (February 1992) and ends the plot during the Christmas season. Now a time scale has advanced to 5 years.
- Continuity Snarl: The Shelter From the Storm PSA comic was released in 1989, but can't be fit in continuity anywhere from issue 22 (1986) to the end of the series (1992) because the Power Pack has the wrong powers. The trade compilation places it next to issue 17, but this creates a small issue where the group's mom mentions Nintendo games as though Jack had a long obsession with them, but it's placed with comics where the latest came out when the NES had only been released for a few months.
- Cute Bruiser: Katie
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Averted by Dragon Man's creator Professor Gilbert. After a cop mentions his robots far exceed those he saw at his recent Disneyland vacation, Gilbert quits his professorship and gets a happy job at Disney.
- Played straight in one late issue has Mysterio try to buy the apartment building the family lives in while getting them to leave via Scooby-Doo Hoax. This scheme requires not only expensive fiber optics, but also the money to buy an entire building of classy 3 bedroom apartments in New York in the first place. There's an implication there's something special about this building in particular, but this plot thread was never resolved.
- Exclusively Evil and Always Lawful Good: The Snarks and Kymellians are shown this way at first. It's eventually revealed most Snarks stick to their own planet and don't try to raid other planets for weapons to use in local power struggles, while the kids learn Whitemane was the last Kymellian to actually uphold the virtues the species was supposedly about.
- Darker and Edgier: Even though Power Pack always took itself seriously and wasn't afraid to portray its young heroes realistically and even put them in violent danger, apparently this wasn't enough for some people. At one point, the comic took an angsty turn and started shoving Body Horror and Nightmare Fuel all over the place, which was ultimately retconned out of existence by the original creators in a "holiday special", which returned the stories to the "not too dark, not too light" mood it originally had.
- Fail O'Suckyname: Alex drops the Gee moniker upon realizing how stupid it sounds and becomes Zero-G instead when he gets his powers back years latter. Julie says she would rather have used "Starstreak" over "Lightspeed" when got her initial powers, though unlike Alex she keeps her original name when getting her powers back.
- Friends Rent Control: The ability for Dr. and Mrs. Power to afford a 3 bedroom New York apartment while feeding and clothing 4 kids as a college professor and artist is hand waved as part of a deal by the college for the apartment, but their ability to live in a nice beachfront property in Maine at the start is never explained.
- Averted in the reboot where Dr. Power holds a much more prestigious job at a space elevator and their mom is prominent enough to be featured in a New York art gallery.
- Gender Equal Ensemble:
- Growing With the Audience: Starting with Snark Wars the series gets progressively darker, fleshing out both of its alien species from their exclusively good and evil nature and simple one-sentence cultures, forcing the kids to confront problems they can't solve just by beating them up and witness New York being turned into
- God Save Us From the Queen: Queen-Mother Maraud of the Snarks.
- Hair of Gold: Alex and Katie
- How Do I Shot Web?: Power swaps allow this to be reused throughout the series. Alex's slower mastery of his current power is often a source of personal frustration for him. According to the Kymellians the kids have learned to shoot web faster and more creatively in a year or so than most Kymellians do in their lifetime, even stumbling upon many creative uses the species never realized in their existence.
- Improbable Age: While the characters are definitely childlike and think and act like actual children most of the time (a rarity in Kid Hero stories), they sometimes do things that are, at least, several years older than their age. Such as 5-year-old Katie's belief at one time that because she seriously hurt someone else, she didn't deserve to live (or something almost as dramatic).
- Instant Costume Change: The kids' costumes are stored in the alternate dimension of "Elsewhere"; saying "Costume on/off" instantly switches them with street clothes. (Conveniently, Elsewhere also cleans and repairs them.)
- Inverse Law of Sharpness and Accuracy: The ability to convert any matter to energy is used exactly once on a living being (and only then just grazes the top of their chest): the very first time the power is is used at all and only by accident. Only by constant reference to the fact that the character's morally can't use this and fear of doing it to themselves by accident is the audience even aware it's possible.
- Karma Houdini: Jack, in the Power Pack/Fantastic Four miniseries.
- Kid Hero: The whole premise, played mostly realistically.
- Klingons Love Shakespeare: Whitey's fondness for Lewis Carroll.
- Last of His Kind: Friday is the first smartship to be upgraded to the latest, newest smartship technology a few issues before the facilities to make smartships are destroyed and their creators swear off technology. Presumably Friday isn't the last of smartships in general (though part of the few remaining) as they are faster than light capable and their creators survived their last planet's destruction by being away when it happened.
- Learnt English From Watching Television: The all-ages version has Whitemane learning English this way. It helps that he gets to be something of a movie buff.
- Left Hanging: While the Holiday Special does a good job of clearing up all remaining threads, two are left unresolved. Why Mysterio wanted an apartment building and what the deal with the firepowered "Mr. Raymond" was.
- Lighter and Softer: The out-of-normal-continuity stories are unashamedly "all-ages." They're not bad, actually.
- Lonely Together: In the original series, at one point the kids' mother is badly injured, and their father spends Thanksgiving with her at the hospital. Figuring being lonely together is better than being lonely separately, Katie contacts a number of people the kids have met up to that point (Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, Cloak and Dagger, Leech and Annalee of the Morlocks, even Spider-Man) and invites them to Thanksgiving dinner. Though Spidey never shows up (and apologizes for it in a later issue), everyone else does.
- Magic Pants: The costumes are made of "unstable molecules" (or "pseudoplasm" in the all-ages comics), which allows for whoever has the density power at the moment to not have to worry about losing their clothes when they enter cloud form... as long as they are actually wearing the costume and not normal clothes as Julie forgets before winding up naked in the Avenger's mansion.
- My Suit Is Also Super: Functionally bottomless pockets, can (apparently) self-repair when switched off and back on, connected to a, um, pocket dimension...
- Issue 47 shows the group wears underwear under their outfit. Given we don't see this when they are given them, apparently the costume's powers somehow extend to the underwear beneath it.
- Morality Pet: Katie is this to, of all people, Wolverine.
- This is par for the course for Wolverine, though.
- Most Writers Are Adults: Handled far better than in most series involving Kid Heroes. The characters actually act like kids and show childlike reactions to the things that happen around them and to them much of the time, but not all of the time. Personality-wise, they act childlike enough to be believable, while still being competent heroes. Dialog-wise, they're... a little smart for their age, though they still say childlike things. Of course, they are the kids of a genius.
- Mother Nature, Father Science
- Mundane Utility: As with many less known heroes, the Powers demonstrate their abilities at the start of most issues. Most of the time this means an issue has a Cold Open or, more commonly, starts with the siblings doing things around the house with their powers. The most common is using the mass to energy power to dispose of trash.
- Mythology Gag: Everywhere in the rebooted series, both for the Power Pack itself (their costumes are made of pseudoplasm, a substance introduced in the final issue of the original series) and those they team up with (Wolverine goes to, and loses, a costume contest where everyone is dressed as a different version of Wolverine. Tony Stark opens a museum exhibit on Iron Man.).
- Never My Fault: Carmody refuses to accept any responsibility for the converter not being ready and nearly blowing up the planet, instead blaming the Pack and carrying out a vendetta against them that is implied to have destroyed his career and even his marriage.
- Never Wake Up a Sleepwalker: Invoked. The children bring Franklin back to Avengers Mansion after witnessing the Morlock Massacre. When the adults find out about this, Franklin claims he was sleepwalking, and the other children say that they didn't wake him because it would be dangerous.
- One Person, One Power: Played straight for the whole main series, with the kids getting one power each. However, it turns out that someone could easily hold all four at once, just like Whitemane did.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. Professor (James) Power exists in the same universe as Professor (Anthony) Power, though they've never met.
- Parental Obliviousness: At one point late in the story, enforced by mental blocks.
- Planet of Hats: Subverted with both alien species introduced in the series. The evil reptilian people are merely one of over a dozen factions in a power struggle. The initially presented image of the Kymellians as benevolent spiritualistic mediators is actually a mask for their culture's hard decent into decadence.
- Powers as Programs: The list of powers is what they started with. They exchanged powers a number of times.
- Puberty Superpower: Averted; the oldest of them was 12. This was seemingly the explanation for Alex balding and then turning into a horse in the final issues, before the holiday special reveals he was just replaced by a superscience doppleganger because of... reasons.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: One arc has the Power's mom in the hospital after being injured by a super-villain shocking her aside with super strength. When Katie decides to be Lonely Together with the various heroes the group has met she invites, among others, Cloak and Dagger as well as some Morlocks to Thanksgiving dinner with them. Dagger's healing abilities and the Morlocks knowing fellow Morlock Healer are never mentioned. Used literally when Reed Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four are always out of town when their son gets into trouble.
- Redheaded Hero: Julie
- Red Skies Crossover: Power Pack is notable among 80s Marvel for consistently averting this. While the Power family may not influence events that much, the events have always been catalysts for major story events within Power Pack's stories. Mutant Massacre in particular had more of an effect than its native book, as most named Morlocks introduced prior to the event's conception survived, only those in Power Pack's supporting cast and those introduced for the purpose of getting killed off actually died in the title massacre.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The Snarks are reptilian. The series latter averts this, establishing that the Snarks seen in the first several issues in-fact represent only one clan over at least a dozen, some of whom are eventually shown as quite noble.
- Same Character but Different: Julie in her original series is a level headed intelligent girl who likes reading and the voice of reason. Modern versions have her as a ditz and wannabe actress.
- Sapient Ship: The group had a sentient "smartship" called Friday.
- Sapient Cetaceans: In a particularly Anvilicious Green Aesop story, the Powers run into a whole pod of these.
- Scooby-Doo Hoax: Tried by Mysterio to buyout the Power family's apartment. It's implied he has a greater reason behind this, but this thread was just abandoned.
- She's All Grown Up: In the Avengers crossover mini-series with the future story, future Katie has traded her cuteness for smoking Hot Amazon.
- Gone through and out the other side when a much older Katie is encountered in the Days of Future Past future, where she's a plump little white-haired lady (and the last survivor of the Pack, with all four powers).
- Shout-Out: The Snarks are so named by Whitey (or Julie in the reboot) after the Lewis Carroll poem "The Hunting of the Snark" because their actual racial name, "Z'nrx", is unpronounceable by human mouths.
- In issue 49 Jack suggests going over to Willy Batson's house.
- Sibling Team
- Sixth Ranger: Franklin, and later Kofi.
- Super Family Team
- Technology Marches On: The reboot gives the kids cell phones which would stop a number of plots from the original series cold.
- Temporal Paradox: Happens in the new all-ages series, specifically in Avengers & Power Pack Assemble #4. The Pack are thrown 10 years into the future by Kang the Conqueror who goes on to defeat The Avengers and other heroes and conquer the world. The Pack meanwhile encounter none other than their future selves 10 years older.
- Touched by Vorlons: An alien gives the kids their special powers in the first issue.
- Translator Microbes: The kid's costumes are capable of translating at least the language spoken by the Kymellians and Snarks. These are apparently not Universal Translators, being incapable of translating Japanese in both continuities.
- Trial Balloon Question: Seeking assurance from her mother, Julie (who has super-speed and flight at the time) is told she would still be loved "even if you grew wings and flew". This avoids suspicion because she asks it while the two view a news report on super powered children.
- Vague Age: While the group has official ages, the plots would often ignore them as needed. Jack, Katie and eventually Franklin could act anywhere from just above toddler to near puberty while Julie and Alex could be anywhere south of 18. Once the original series was over and Comic Book Time got even weirder from their lack of an ongoing this came into full effect.
- Very Special Episode: The Pack starred in one special anti-child-abuse comic book.
- As well as another with Cloak and Dagger centering on runaways.
- Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The original series leaves open the question if smartships are truly alive and, being made to serve till death, should really be mourned.
- In the reboot, in a reference to her problem with the Inverse Law of Sharpness and Accuracy, Katie hates robots. This means not only is it acceptable for her to destroy them, she jumps at the chance to.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Whitemane's entire race gets this when the Power Pack discovers what was done to their parents, in addition to discovering certain... glaring moral deficiencies in their society.
- Among other things, this includes Kofi's uncle essentially tricking the Power Pack—who are a bunch of primary-school children—into fighting against fully-trained adults in a gladiatorial arena without any form of defined limits or even actual consent.
- Not to mention they have grown so used to artificial environments as a consequence of destroying their world that natural environments are actually repellent to most of them. Whitemane, it seems, was not a typical example of his race.
- Wolverine Publicity: Both exemplified and inverted. Wolverine was a regular guest, even notoriously showing up on a cover of Uncanny X-Men looking as if he were about to skewer Katie like an olive in a martini. But everyone guest-starred in their book during its original run, and the new miniseries are almost all team-ups.
- Write Who You Know: The Kids' parents are based off of Marvel creators Louise & Walter Simonson.
- X Called. They Want Their Y Back.: Taskmaster's reaction to the Power Pack's costumes. More specifically, "1991 called, they want their big metal boots ba-AAAAAAAAAAACK!"
- Your Favorite: When Franklin and Friday head into space to rescue the Powers, the Fantastic Four search for him. Some Avengers and Jarvis are staying at the Baxter Building; Jarvis, hoping they will find Franklin (and who at that point knew and loved Franklin as well as any of his family), buys as many of of Franklin's favorite foods as he can remember to welcome him home.