World Comic Book Review

A Deep Six’d Publication

23rd November 2022

Happy 20th birthday, The Power Company (and a nostalgic look at the long-lost DCMBs)

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Art: Tom Grummett

DC Comics, 2002

Back in 2002, long before the days of social media platforms, American publisher DC Comics operated a message board antecedent to its main website. Several creators frequented the DCMBs, as these message boards were known, mostly to help generate sales but also to interact with the comic reading community. This included American superhero comics writer Kurt Busiek. Mr Busiek’s title Astro City had received critical acclaim and many awards in the late 1990s, and he had started to build a substantial personal following. A new collaboration, called The Power Company, featured entirely new characters save for the legendary fighter Manhunter and a long-forgotten villain, Bork. Here is the promotional introduction taken from the DC Comics website from 24 January 2002:

Kurt Busiek on, THE POWER COMPANY

It’s a real thrill to see this project becoming a reality — not only has it been a dream book of mine since I first came up with the concept in 1983, but we’ve been working on it for quite a while now, since seven one-shots all by the same writer takes a good bit of extra schedule time, so I’ve been living with these guys for quite a while.

And to reiterate the concept — it’s a professional superhero team organized along the principles of a law firm. They have partners, associates, billable hours, pro bono work, support staff and more, and a big part of the book will come from the fact that the members aren’t all there for the same reason. One might be out to do good and save lives, while another wants to make as much money as possible, and a third wants glory and fame, and a fourth just wants a good steady job … the contrast and clash that comes from the heroes’ different motivations will make for some pretty lively character drama.

The book is set in the heart of the DCU — right from the start. Some of the characters are pre-existing heroes, and some of the new heroes have backgrounds that tie them in to DC history. We’ve got a mixture of both new and established villains right from the start, and will be using DCU concepts and settings as varied as S.T.A.R. Labs, LexCorp, Dinosaur Island and more. I’ve had a blast cruising around the DCU finding cool stuff to use, whether it’s stuff familiar to any DC reader or obscure stuff that’ll be virtually new to most of the audience.

Enjoy!
KB

Mr Busiek otherwise took to the DCMBs to promote the title.

Your reviewer remembers this well. The Power Company were a team of super-powered characters who were motivated by money, and not by altruism, and further, was run along the lines of a law firm with equity partners and non-equity associates. This made the team quite unique amongst DC Comics’ characters and ensembles. As Mr Busiek noted on the DCMBs, Marvel Comics had the Heroes for Hire (Power Man and Iron Fist) for decades, but DC Comics never seriously ventured down the path of borderline mercenary superheroes. The team’s character composition was very vaguely suggestive of Marvel Comics’ Thunderbolts, which Mr Busiek had created a few years before The Power Company. It was, overall, an interesting and unique variation to the superhero genre. Mr Busiek interacted with his fans on the DCMBs, promoting the title as best he could.

Mr Busiek was not alone in that. Mark Millar used The Authority message board on the DCMBs to garner an ardent following of fans of the title after he took over the writing chores, some of which he acknowledged by name in the afterword to the first collected edition of his run on that title. Mike Carey, writer of Vertigo Comics’ Lucifer, also interacted with readers and developed a strong and loyal fanbase some of which (including this critic) remain advocates of the title long after it ceased publication. Other creators would intermittently pop up from time to time.

The DCMBs themselves were vibrant. This was in the days when online interactions consisted less of screaming at strangers who shared different political views, and more when there were communities with common interests. People (ordinarily using pseudonyms with a comics-theme – “Year of the Bastard”, “The Time Trust”, “Supergirl’s Dad”, “Mr Mxy”, and many others) from all over the world, who might never have before discussed comics in depth, found their tribe. Administered by Rob Kamphausen (who ruled in a relatively relaxed fashion, barring only discussion of Marvel Comics’ publications), the DCMBs generated critical discussion, nostalgic yearnings for long-forgotten titles, scarily precise knowledge of DC Comics’ continuity, and enduring friendships. (Four of the critics writing on this website “met” each other on the DCMBs.) Some of the groups went off and formed their own more substantial communities, notably the regular posters of the Preacher message board, who created a website called The Grassy Knoll, a faux bar based upon a scene in the Preacher comic book. When the DCMBs were eventually shut down, DC Comics poorly chose to disperse a large cohort of advocates for its titles.

As to The Power Company, it had its own message board on the DCMBs, and Mr Busiek’s online presence was the drawcard.

Mr Busiek directly discussed with his audience how he backfilled the team’s characters into DC Comics’ continuity, going so far as to have the team leader, Skyrocket, interact with Hal Jordan. Jordan was in 2002 a villain named Parallax, and a new character named Kyle Rayner had taken over as Green Lantern. Similarly, the team’s muscle, Bork, interacted with the then-long dead Barry Allen, the original Silver Age Flash (and the evergreen Batman) in a comic from 1968. This was all done through an introductory mini-series (see the image below).

This drive towards assimilation of the title into DC Comics’ continuity reached an unexpected zenith. Mr Busiek recruited a long time DCMB poster who used the pseudonym “Mikishawm”. Mikishawm, whoever he is, was famous on the DCMBs for his completely encyclopaedic knowledge of DC Comics’ continuity. He would post on The Power Company message board very long lists of references to other comics or pop culture which he, at Mr Busiek’s behest, had integrated into The Power Company‘s story lines. Here is an example (with thanks to Mr Mxy, who pointed these out on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine) relating to issue #9:

Thanks to a certain kind-hearted benefactor, I got a copy of PCo # 9 last Monday, considerably earlier than I’d expected. Here, then, are my annotations on

THE POWER COMPANY # 9:

Page Two: Josiah’s shooting was depicted in PCo # 8.

Page Seven: The Cadre members facing the Power Company are, from left to right, Shatterfist II, Fastball, Nightfall, Black Mass, Crowbar and (above them) Starshrike. In the recent past, the group has been engaging in raids at companies such as Ryder Technologies (PCo # 1), Dayton Industries (PCo # 8) and now Stagg Industries.

Page Eight: There have been, in a sense, four different versions of Doctor Polaris locked within a single body: Pol-1, otherwise known as Doctor Neal Emerson, a charismatic lecturer-entertainer who extolled the health benefits of magnetism; Pol-2, a bandana-wearing, magnet-gun-wielding thief and the first split-personality that emerged when Emerson bathed himself in excessive electro-magnetic energy (GREEN LANTERN [second series] # 21); Pol-3, a purple-costumed magnetic villain with a helmet that included tuning-fork horns and who had more ambitious aspirations of acquiring great power (GL [second series] # 46-47); and Pol-4, a veritable force of nature who wore a blue and purple costume with a Magneto-esque variation on Pol-3’s helmet (THE RAY[first series] # 4).

Pol-3 faced Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan multiple times, initially trying to expand his power base by stealing GL’s ring and power battery (GL [second series] # 46-47). It was a goal he ultimately achieved — briefly — and used in an attempt to seize the very nucleus of the universe (GL [second series] # 133-135).

An encounter with a spherical entity at the North Pole temporarily expanded Emerson’s mind, enabling him to project Doctor Polaris as a separate entity (GL [second series] # 65). Polaris subsequently returned to the Pole, using technology to directly tap Earth’s magnetic field and become “a living magnetic battery” (# 135). With each visit to the Pole, Polaris’ powers grew, culminating with the emergence of Pol-4, who spawned tornados (THE RAY [first series] # 4; XERO # 6) and earthquakes (GL PLUS # 1) and could surround himself in a magnetic force field (THE RAY [second series] # 4).

Through it all, Neal Emerson’s personality (and, to a lesser degree, that of Pol-2, as in DC SUPER-STARS # 10 and WORLD’S FINEST # 260) continued to resurface at intervals. After Emerson sought the Ray’s aid in eradicating his evil personality (THE RAY [first series] # 4-6), Pol-4 concluded that his alter-ego was a genuine threat and accepted the demonic Neron’s offer to erase him from existence (UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED # 2). Unfortunately, Pol-3 moved in to fill the void and, more than once, their internal clashes were enough to render Polaris outwardly catatonic (GREEN LANTERN PLUS # 1; AQUAMAN [fifth series] # 41).

Polaris has fought a plethora of heroes in recent years, among them the current incarnations of Green Lantern (GL [third series] # 59) and the Flash (THE FLASH [current] # 114-117, 135), Will “Starman” Payton, Power Girl (STARMAN [first series] # 17-18), Hawkman (HAWKMAN [third series] # 28), Steel (STEEL # 29), Aquaman and family (AQUAMAN [fifth series] # 40-41), Hamilton Drew (STARMAN [second series] # 80) and even his own nephew, Grant “Damage” Emerson (DAMAGE # 9).

Polaris was Joker-ized during a recent escape from the Slab (JOKER: LAST LAUGH # 1) and, in Antarctica, managed to link himself with the Earth’s magnetic field. He literally became the South Pole and “with each step he takes, the planet’s axis follows.” Though captured by the Justice League (JLA # 59), Polaris couldn’t be moved from the area without unleashing catastrophic destruction across the globe. Instead, the Slab was relocated around Polaris, with Black Mass designated as his cellmate in order to cancel out his excessive magnetism (JOKER: LAST LAUGH # 6).

Most recently, Doctor Polaris was glimpsed in the re-ordered reality of the Ultra-Humanite (JSA # 34-35). In the real world, someone matching Polaris’ general description was buying technology from the Network in Keystone City (THE FLASH [current] # 183). And we now know that Polaris was behind the Cadre’s techno-raids that were seen or mentioned in PCo # 1 and 8.

Page Eight: The entity in Polaris’ force bubble is a Controller, a pink-skinned member of a long-lived race of aliens who were prominent in a number of Earth-One’s Legion of Super-Heroes adventures (ADVENTURE COMICS # 357, 367; ALL-NEW COLLECTORS’ EDITION # C-55; LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES [third series] # 7-8, 19-20; WANDERERS # 1-6, 8, 10-13). In the current DCU, the Controllers have never met the Legion.

The beings destined to be known as the Controllers had originated on the planet Oa and were part of the Guardians of the Universe, even helping construct the android Manhunters. The faction reached a crossroads when the Guardians created the Green Lantern Corps. The weaponsmiths believed that evil must be destroyed, not contained” as the Guardians maintained. As a consequence, half the planet’s population left to form the Controllers (CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS # 7).

Although the Controllers would later profess ignorance of Earth’s very existence (DARKSTARS # 4), they had, in fact, visited the world on at least two occasions in the distant past. During prehistoric times, a Controller was assigned to create an “ultimate anti-war weapon” for Earth but died when his spacecraft crashed on the planet (JUSTICE LEAGUE: A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE # 3). Thousands of years later, the Controllers were said to have “wandered the universe, seeding many worlds. Among those was the planet Earth.” Those Controller-offshoots became known as gods in Mesopotamia but many of their number, corrupted by power, were eventually banished to the other-dimensional underworld of Kurnugi (GREEN LANTERN ANNUAL # 9).

The Controllers eventually recognized the benefits of having a law-enforcement agency at their disposal and formed the Network for the Establishment and Maintenance of Order. Their agents were the Darkstars, clad in crimson-armor that was powered by the Controllers’ own energy (DARKSTARS # 3, 0). “Controllers prefer OTHERS act for us,” claimed one of the immortals (DARKSTARS # 23).

In the end, the Darkstars became such a bureaucracy that its administrators were no longer working in the Controllers’ interests. Declaring that “our need to reduce chaos in the universe is still largely unmet,” the immortals retired NEMO (DARKSTARS # 38) and began collecting individuals such as Earth’s Martyn Van Wyck, whom they transformed into the flaming Effigy (GREEN LANTERN [current] # 110-111, 113-114). Their plans to create an entire organization of such beings — all brainwashed to serve the Controllers — was well underway before Kyle Rayner learned of the plan and convinced the immortals to abandon it (GL # 123-124).

Page Nine: Striker Z’s digital video camera, created by Charlie Lau, was introduced in PCo # 8.

Page Sixteen: S.T.A.R. Labs made its debut in the Len Wein-scripted SUPERMAN # 246 (1971) but Len would wait until 1987’s BLUE BEETLE # 12 to identify the founder of Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories — Garrison Slate. THE POWER COMPANY # 1’s text page revealed that, in his days as an attorney, Josiah Power helped Slate in incorporating S.T.A.R. More recently (PCo # 5), Josiah has been negotiating a contract with the company.

Page Sixteen: Simon and Beowulf Stagg(ACTION COMICS # 417) were part of a wealthy family that held a number of prominent ancestors, some infamous, like slave-trader Black Absalom Stagg (WORLD’S FINEST # 218) and some progressive, such as women’s rights activist, Sabrina Stagg (METAMORPHO # 12). Early on, Simon demonstrated his family’s persistence, refusing to settle for anything less than being the best “in sports, scholarship � popularity � everything.” That ruthlessness earned Stagg the enmity of many in his life, from college classmate Ulysses Bronson (ACTION COMICS # 413) to Maxwell Tremaine, from whom he stole and married the beautiful Mara (THE BRAVE & THE BOLD # 58). Tragically, Mara would die young, leaving behind her grieving husband and daughter, Sapphire.

Despite early failures like the robotic Adam (WORLD’S FINEST # 218), Simon soon built a worldwide empire, stimulated by his own scientific discoveries and diversification into other areas like transportation (METAMORPHO # 16) and fuel (ACTION COMICS # 415).

Stagg also had an awkward relationship with Sapphire’s boyfriend, racing driver Rex Mason. Simon repeated tried to get rid of his would-be son-in-law on archaeological expeditions but Rex kept coming back with amazing discoveries like Java, the perfectly preserved caveman that Stagg revived and educated. On an expedition to retrieve the Orb of Ra, Mason was transformed into the element man known as Metamorpho and everything changed (THE BRAVE & THE BOLD # 57).

Though aghast at the thought of his daughter marrying such a freak, Simon was equally thrilled at the prospect of having such a being in his employ. The relationship between Stagg and Metamorpho shifted constantly over the years, ranging from grudging affection to outright hostility. Simon was most recently seen alongside Sapphire and his grandson Joey in JLA # 52.

Page Twenty: Helen Angelico had begun to make a name for herself “as a specialist in metahuman medicine” and was on the lecture circuit when she met promising college student Sarah Charles (SUPERBOY [third series] # 80). There was a long-standing rift between the two after Sarah accepted a job with S.T.A.R. and Sarah assumed it was jealousy. In fact, as Helen explained in # 81, “I’ve got a standing invitation to join S.T.A.R. anytime I want. They’ve been after me for years. My problem is with the company’s approach to science. And I always thought you could do better than S.T.A.R., Sarah. You’re too good for them.”

Project Cadmus director Mickey Cannon called her in when Superboy lost his powers, noting that Doc Angel was an “old friend of mine” (SUPERBOY [third series] # 75) and she “temporarily” accepted the post of genetics head (# 76). The implication was that Helen and Cannon had a previous romantic relationship and she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to work with him again. Cadmus went deep underground at the end of # 88 and it’s likely that Helen, disgusted with the Luthor Administration’s newfound demands of Cadmus, decided to bail out prior to that (making her last appearance in # 87).

Page Twenty-One: Solomon Driver first appeared in MISTER MIRACLE [first series] # 15 as a Metropolis police lieutenant assigned to leave murder witness Shilo Norman in the protective custody of escape artist Scott Free. Driver’s relationship with Mister Miracle was cordial though he didn’t take the hero’s crime-fighting involvement entirely seriously (“It’s not like giving a show”) and believed that “escape artists could give us police a lot of trouble.” Now based in San Francisco, Lt. Driver first met Skyrocket in PCo # 5.

**

And he did this sort of thing for every issue. Whoever Mikishawm was, if he did not create the pop culture Easter egg, he certainly elevated it to a high art form at an early stage.

The Power Company did not survive much more than 18 months of publication. In a conversation with this critic on 5 August 2022 on Twitter, Mr Busiek said, “I think I mishandled the book, overall, but I think that part [arranging the team along the lines of a law firm’s typical organisational structure] worked pretty well. It as kind of a formalized version of what went on in the Englehart Avengers, in which the major characters with their own books pretty much set the team direction and the minor characters handled the soap opera. It was also derived from law firms, obviously, I just should have done less conventional stories that accentuated how the team is different“.

The characters have reappeared in DC Comics’ titles only very infrequently according to Wikipedia.

Happy 20th birthday, The Power Company. And a fond hello to all of the former posters at the DCMBs, from TyphoidDave.