A THING THAT LIVES AND FIGHTS FOR ITS SOUL!
HERE IS THE REAL-LIFE SCENE OF THE DANGERS IN HIPPIE-LAND!
The ages of man have been marked by miracles. Man himself is a miracle... as is life.... This story is about man and nature. But mostly it is about the soul of a man.
A group of dirty hippies are sitting around, singing, smelling flowers, pawing through a garbage can, and drinking, when a biker gang beats them up. Being pacifists, they flee, and decide to find new digs in a safer area. They haul their battered selves to the abandoned tailor shop where they've been squatting, a place which did a "brisk business before the unkempt brood moved into the neighborhood." Some of them put their bloody hippie clothes to dry on an old tailor's dummy that hangs near a radiator. Then someone spills machine oil. That night, lightning strikes the place, and some strange synergy of electricity, machine oil, rain, a radiator, and blood brings the trendily-clad mannequin to life. Before long the super-strong Frankenhippie will be involved in street-gang rumbles, American politics, a freak show influenced by the art of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, a weird group obsessed with Manfred von Richthofen, a crazily-costumed industrialist named "Lord Sliderule," human rights activism, and the U.S. space program, all before the cliffhanger end of his second issue, after which DC Comics cancelled the title and hoped the Geek would just go away forever.
The comic-book company began the project in hope. The first issue even opens with credits for some of the other players: Percy Chandwick Jr. as Hound Dawg (the leader of the Mongrels biker gang), Nick Cranston as Paul and Paul Cymbalist as Nick (the central hippies), "and introducing Cindy as herself" (uh...). Clearly, these characters would join the ranks of Alfred Pennyworth, Lois Lane, and the Legion of Super Pets in the DC pantheon of supporting players. Alas, the stars were not aligned for the Brother Power and his associates.
To really understand the existence of Brother Power the Geek, you'd have to understand 1968. But as that's not entirely possible, I will try to convey some sense of the comic-book industry in the year Brother Power saw the release of his two and only issues.
Readers then could subscribe to their favourite comics, if they had that kind of dedication, but no comic shops existed, and fandom was not as large, organized, or excessive as it would later become. The first comic-con was still two years in the future. Cheaply-produced comics were found, inconsistently, at news-stands and on rotating racks at pharmacies and marketerias. Kids shared and traded. Issues fought for readers' dimes and pennies with lurid covers and bizarre premises. Comics also lured readers with the same techniques used by television and movies: they exploited the headlines. Hippies and other counterculture types turned up; old-time heroes found themselves at far out happenings. The Teen Titans assembled sidekicks, put ridiculous attempts at "now" dialogue in their mouths, and set them against the likes of the Mad Mod. Some of these appeals to a changing society showed merit. Marvel, for example, began introducing non-white characters. Jack Kirby would soon move to DC Comics and unleash his trippy and continuity-shaping Fourth World mythos, with its culturally prescient New Gods and hip Forever People. But not all efforts would prove equally impressive.
And so, Brother Power The Geek.
Comic-book-legend Joe Simon (mostly) wrote and drew the two issues. He'd wanted to call the character "Brother Power the Freak," but higher-ups at DC worried about the then-current association of "freak" with the recreational-drug-taking crowd (Shaw). Whether or not Simon partook of anything while he worked-- a few martinis, maybe-- I do not know. The strange view of "hippie-land" likely owes more to his distance from it. Simon started his career in the 1930s, and may have not come much closer to hippies than the evening news. In any case, the story careens wildly from one absurd scenario to the next, shuffles characters on and off-stage, and seemingly includes anything that crossed Simon's mind. We're talking about a comic where a living dress-dummy finds himself in a battle between greasers and a cosplaying gang who have built their own World War One biplane before reuniting with his hippie friends after he becomes foreman at a factory which then gets taken over by a millionaire dressed for the Renaissance Faire, but then Ronald Reagan... Some "real life" dangers! You know that game where someone writes a line of a story, and then the next person writes a line, and so forth? The two issues read like the result of an LSD-laced version of that.
Simon and his co-artists do better with the artwork, a blend of superhero craziness and horror comic flourishes that might have worked with another character. The comic features several visual allusions and background detail reminiscent of Mad Magazine (and Sick, an imitator originally edited by Simon). We also get some unbilled cameos-- including, yes, California's then-governor Reagan.
Although supporting characters include hippies, the book spares no opportunity to criticize their counterculture lifestyle. The hippies are dirty, lazy, and lead "useless lives." When Brother Power convinces them to work on an assembly line they take to this "new bag," and Cindy notes that they'll miss Paul "at the unemployment bureau." The closest the story comes to sympathizing with non-establishment politics are Brother Power's laments that he lacks full rights because he's an artificial being. The second issue's cover even suggests the crucifixion of our hero. Overall, however, the comic does very little with this element. Despite his Monterey Pop garments, the living dummy wins favour by duking it out with villains, superhero style-- though only, he assures his pacifist friends, when absolutely necessary-- and becoming a responsible citizen.
Negative depiction of hippies notwithstanding, comic-book historian Don Markstein claims Brother Power was abruptly cancelled in part because DC editor Mort Weisinger, who hated hippies, thought the comic presented them in too positive a light.
Brother Power the Geek went on to become an industry joke, rather like Marvel's Night Nurse. But while Night Nurse eventually found steady work in the Marvel Universe, Brother Power's appearance since '68 have been sparse and usually brief. The Geek has turned up here and there, including guest appearances in Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol, a cameo in Kingdom Come, and a team-up with Batman in the January, 2010 issue of The Brave and the Bold. You can't entirely keep a good geek down, but I suspect Brother Power's glory may always reside with, to quote The Catalog of Cool, the "mind-mangling" original two issues, with an appeal that "lies beyond camp."
Other than the two issues, which I recently acquired on the cheap, research includes:
"Back Issues." The Catalog of Cool, 98-101. Gene Sculatti, ed. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
Don Markstein. "Brother Power." Don Markstein's Toonopedia. 2005.
Scott Shaw. "Brother Power, The Geek." Scott Shaw!'s Oddball Comics. September 28, 2003.
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