By Chip Grimshaw
One of the things that popped up a lot in the 80s and 90s were public service announcement comics.
We had things ranging from Captain America vs Asthma to Superman vs. World Hunger, with the occasional Death and John Constantine vs. STDs. These were mostly one-shots, and seemed to be thrown together to prove that the publisher did care about things, or at least cared enough to let the interns toss a quick story together. They had little to no bearing on continuity.
But once in a while, you got the hard hitting ones -- these were less After School Special and more Lifetime Movie. Probably the best known ones are Tony Stark vs The Bottle or Roy Harper vs The Needle. But the first one that really hit me was Power Pack vs Crack.
Power Pack was one of those comics that I didn't like to admit reading, but loved to nonetheless. It wasn't hip or edgy, but I completely identified with the kids. After all, who hasn't made up an entire team of adolescent superheroes, given them a name (like For Mutants Only, for instance) and run around at recess acting out adventures? Every kid wants super powers, and this tight knit set of siblings was the perfect outlet for my fantasies. And it didn't hurt that their family matched my own to some extent (at least in the eyes of 10-year-old me).
Now, I was a precocious and sheltered white boy from the suburbs. I went to a parochial grade school in which there were maybe a grand total of 20 or 25 students of color in all. The biggest crisis I had growing up was when I got an "F" on a handwriting test. The Power kids, on the other hand, lived in New York. They had to deal with alien invasions, mutant massacres, and the occasional runaway Macy's Thanksgiving Balloon. But in issues #30-32, Alex ended up having to deal with one of his friends overdosing on crack, prompting him to start his own personal war on drugs.
I'm not sure why I found this to be so compelling. It wasn't an analogy for me in any way. Reading as Alex cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war on drug dealers was foreign to me. There was nothing in particular that I, intellectually, could latch on to and say "yeah, I understand what you're going through, go get 'em." But I read this, and I felt his rage, his anger, his disappointment. And though it took longer than your standard issue for the good guys to eventually win, when it did happen, I felt a sense of relief that even in a small corner of a fictional world, there weren't going to be as many crack houses as there were two issues ago.
So who knows? Maybe when it comes down to it, the point isn't to be hip or edgy. Rather, if a good story can hook you like this one did for me, you can get caught up in your own safer types of addictions. I doubt that Marvel or DC are going to make a PSA comic any time soon telling you to avoid your local comic shop and the dealers in there, that's for sure.
Chip Grimshaw may or may not remember all the details of the super hero comics he used to write in 7th grade. It's probably best not to ask.