Title: Spider-Man and Power Pack
Writers: Jim Salicrup and Louise Simonson
Pencillers: Jim Mooney and Mary Wilshire
Layouts: June Brigman
Inker: Mike Esposito
Finisher: Bob Wiacek
Letterers: L.P. Gregory and Joe Rosen
Colorists: Ken Feduniewicz and Glynis Wein
Editors: Jim Shooter and Jim Salicrup
Editor-In-Chief: Jim Shooter
Original Idea: Nancy Allen
Hi, I’m Jude Deluca and this is Nostalgic Bookshelf. You know, we like to have a good laugh on this site, but you know what’s not funny? This opening joke, because it’s totally not appropriate at all.
If I hadn’t found this comic at the store, I don’t know if I would’ve had the idea to do this recap. As Wing knows, I’ve been struggling to finish a recap of Richard Peck’s ”Are You In The House Alone?” for Point Horror. Not because of the content, I just haven’t had the energy to complete the draft.
This was made with help from the National Committee For Prevention Of Child Abuse back in 1984. It’s a rather small comic with only two stories, featuring Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Power Pack. I’m guessing most of you know Spider-Man, but for those who haven’t heard of Power Pack a brief explanation.
Created by Louise Simonson and June Brigman, the Power Pack were a group of super kids. The Powers siblings (Alex, Katie, Julie, and Jack) got caught in the middle of an alien war and gained powers from a dying extraterrestrial. As a result of becoming superheroes they struggled to keep their abilities a secret from their parents (and when their parents DID find out it wasn’t pretty) while fighting supervillains and saving the world.
The stories aren’t connected except through their themes exploring different ways in which children can be sexually abused. It handles the topic of sexual abuse with far more nuance and grace than any superhero comic I can recall handling the subject in the past couple of decades. I used to write about sex abuse in comics for Endangered Bodies before they switched entirely to social media.
On that note, Brad Meltzer, Eric Wallace, Tom King, Scott Lobdell, Eddie Berganza, Marv Wolfman, and a few other people who know who they are in the comic industry, if you’re reading this…
Well there’s a lot of things I wanna say to you. None of them are particularly GOOD things mind you, but still.
As for why I’ve decided to recap these stories, well, you’ve probably all guessed. I’ll be giving clarification in the Final Thoughts.
The Amazing Spider-Man in “Secrets”
The amazing, spectacular, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’s swinging back to his Chelsea apartment to start developing his latest batch of photos. In his dual identity as mild mannered photographer Peter Parker of the Daily Bugle, he uses his role as Spider-Man to snag primo crime photos to splash the front page.
While developing the film in his bathroom/dark room, Peter hears arguing from the apartment next door. He makes out the voice of Tony Lewis, the young son of the Lewis Family, and he sounds terrified!
In the other apartment, Tony’s begging his babysitter Judy to leave him alone. Judy warns him what they’ve done must remain a secret. If Tony tells anyone, she threatens to hurt him or get him in trouble.
Peter immediately puts his mask on and crawls over to the window into the Lewis’ apartment. As Spider-Man, Peter loudly makes his presence known while knocking on the glass. This scares Judy away into the next room with another veiled threat, but Tony’s ecstatic to see Spider-Man. He thinks the web-slinger’s the coolest and lets Peter inside.
Tony explains who Judy is and how his parents are at a party across town. Peter knows Judy’s obviously done something to distress Tony and assures the young boy he can reveal what’s bothering him. Tony’s frightened Judy’ll hurt him, but Peter figures keeping it a secret’s hurting him plenty already.
Eventually, Tony says he liked when Judy came over to babysit. They’d play all kinds of games and she’d let Tony stay up to watch late shows on TV. But early tonight, Judy tickled him when Tony asked to watch “Star Wars.” She told Tony he could watch his movie…
If he took his clothes off.
Tony didn’t understand why Judy asked such a weird thing, but it made him uncomfortable. Judy wouldn’t take no for an answer. She wouldn’t let Tony leave the room insisting they could stay up REALLY late. She talked about “Playing grown ups.” Tony begged her to stop when she began to… to touch him. That’s when Spider-Man showed up.
Tony’s worried he did something to cause this and thinks Judy’s behavior’s his fault. Peter immediately tells Tony NEVER think like that. What Judy did was wrong, and Tony did the right thing by telling someone. In fact, it reminds Peter of something that happened to another boy. A boy who lived with his aunt and uncle…
Although Peter doesn’t refer to “The boy” by name, the following panels show he’s talking about himself.
Back when he lived with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Peter didn’t have any friends. He wanted to make his aunt and uncle proud, so he studied a lot to earn good grades. Unfortunately, that made him a target for bullies.
One day at the library, an older boy named Steven Westcott asked to sit next to Peter. Steven, who went by the nickname “Skip,” recognized Peter from all the hours he spent studying in the library. The two quickly became friends, and Skip gave Peter the nickname “Einstein.” They studied together, hung out together. May and Ben’re thrilled Peter made a friend.
One day, while Peter’s hanging out at Skips’ mom’s house, Skip showed him something. Something to take Peter’s mind off science and equations for a while.
Peter’s shocked when Skip took a bunch of nudie magazines from his closet. Skip proposed they mimic those pictures; they can “Experiment” by touching each other like the people in the magazines. Peter’s horrified and said no, but so frightened he couldn’t leave.
Yes, Spider-Man’s a sexual abuse survivor.
After that, Skip stopped hanging around Peter. May and Ben noticed, and they also noticed how uncomfortable Peter seemed. They asked what happened, and while it hurt to tell them, Peter revealed what Skip did.
Peter caps off his story explaining “That boy” did the right thing telling his aunt and uncle. When there’s something you can’t handle by yourself, you should tell an adult. And Peter confides in Tony that young boy was him.
Peter asks if Tony feels strong enough to tell his parents what happened, and Tony thinks he can. He’s got the address of the party his mom and dad are spending the evening at, so Peter swings them over with his web-shooters.
Mr. and Mrs. Lewis are shocked when Spider-Man appears with Tony at one of the windows of this 18th floor apartment party. Mr. Lewis demands to know why Spider-Man’s got Tony, and Spidey brings them into another room so Tony can tell them in private.
Tony confesses to his parents what Judy did, and they immediately believe him. Mrs. Lewis comforts her son, telling him she’s proud he was able to confide in them something so difficult and Mr. Lewis thanks him.
Peter leaves the Lewis Family to figure out what they’re going to do next. He thinks how he never told anyone about what happened to him all those years ago. Peter was ashamed, afraid he’d done something to instigate it. He finally believes what happened wasn’t his fault.
It was not his fault.
The Power Pack in “Runaway”
The Power Pack are on their way to school, and one of the great advantages of having powers is it makes getting to class a breeze!
Unfortunately, Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie have no idea what one of their friends is currently going through this school morning.
Young Jane’s in her room trying to block out the sound of her parents arguing. They argue a lot, but this time’s different. They’re arguing about HER. Jane finally told her mom what her dad’s been doing all this time. Jane’s in tears because Mom believes Dad, and she doesn’t blame her. Sure, sometimes Jane tells lies, but not this time.
Jane thinks she has to get school because if she’s late her parents will… you know what, fuck it. She asks what else they can do to her at this point before dumping out her school books. Emptying her piggy bank and packing some clothes, Jane cries as she continues to hear the arguing. She wishes she’d never said anything and leaves her parents a note before leaving. Running away’s something she should’ve done a long time ago.
I hate what Dad’s been doing to me. I feel like I’m bad, like it’s my fault! I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen, so I have to leave.
I love you.
Later the Powers kids are back home from school. Mrs. Powers asks Julie why Jane didn’t come by to work on their school project like Julie mentioned. Julie notes Jane wasn’t in school today when the phone rings. Fittingly, it’s Jane’s mom asking if Mrs. Powers knows where Jane is.
Once Julie learns her friend’s run away, she tells her mom she has an idea where Jane could be. As it turns out, Julie doesn’t actually know but figures she and her siblings can use their powers to find Jane. Katie, as Energizer, takes a few seconds to absorb energy from the nearby trash can in case she needs it to help Jane.
Luckily, this turns out to have been a smart move on Katie’s behalf. The Power Pack spends hours searching the city for Jane, and they finally locate her cornered by a wild dog in an alleyway. Katie hurls one of her patented Power Balls to scare the dog away, but the group lands out of sight to switch back to their regular clothes.
Jane’s happy to see Julie, but loses her enthusiasm when Alex asks why she ran away. Remembering what happened earlier, Jane doesn’t want to tell because she doesn’t want to cause more trouble. Julie swears, as Jane’s friends, she and her siblings won’t tell.
After some hesitation, Jane confesses for years her father’s been molesting her. He makes her take her clothes off so he can touch her. He told Jane it’s “Their secret.” Julie’s horrified. Her mom always warned them if someone tried to do something like that you have to say “No.” Jane asks how she could say no to her own dad. He said it’s okay because he “Loves her.”
Jack asks if Jane told anyone, and she quickly recaps the arguing that occurred between her parents. Jane believes it’s all her fault. Julie immediately tells Jane it’s NOT her fault; it’s all on her shit dad and no grown up should ever treat a kid like that.
Jack follows by asking if there’s anyone else Jane could tell, like her relatives or her grandparents. If you tell someone and they don’t believe you, you have to tell someone else. Jane’s other relatives live too far away to do anything, so Jack proposes telling a teacher or a neighbor. Someone. Anyone until she finds a person who’ll believe her. Julie begs Jane not to run away, and Alex suggests Jane can tell THEIR mom.
But they also promise Jane if Mrs. Powers doesn’t believe them, they’ll help her find someone that will.
Jane’s brought to the Powers apartment and Mrs. Powers’ super relieved Jane’s okay. Jane manages to tell Mrs. Powers about her dad’s sexual abuse, and Mrs. Powers immediately believes her. She acknowledges it took a lot of strength for Jane to confide in her and promises to help.
Just then, Mr. Powers arrives home so his wife takes him aside to tell him what’s going on. Jane’s worried he’s going to hate her too like her dad, and think she’s bad because she told this secret. Alex quickly tries to assure Jane no one hates her, and no adult should make a kid keep a secret like that.
Mrs. Powers calls Jane’s mom to tell her she’s okay. Mr. Powers knows a number they can dial to help families like Jane’s deal with this sort of problem. Jane’s worried this’ll make things worse, and Mr. Powers can’t promise any miracles. Yet the only way for things to get better’s to start by asking for help.
Julie swears her family’s on Jane’s side and they’ll do what they can to help.
I’m a sexual abuse survivor.
It happened in middle school and high school. By four different people between those two incidents. I didn’t talk about it for years not because I didn’t know what to say. I finally began to talk about it after my suicide attempt in 2013, and now I want people to know what happened to me. I’m tired of feeling like these things didn’t happen. They did and they piss me off and I want everyone to know I’m pissed off.
In sixth or seventh grade when I attended Mt. Saint Michael, I was assaulted by three boys on the school bus home. They weren’t much older than me, and they grabbed me by the head and forced my face into their crotch regions. I was terrified and sobbing and everyone else on the bus was laughing at me as it happened. The driver didn’t stop either. I still remember the looks on their faces when I broke free and was huddled on the floor, crying and pathetic.
In 12th grade a few weeks before I graduated Salesian High School, during art class this one boy touched my ass twice. Only he didn’t grab me; it was like he was trying to stick his finger into me. I still get tense when I think about it. And I feel awful whenever I try to explain what happened because it sounds so dumb. When he tried it a third time I smacked his face and he spent the rest of that class time trying to make me, ME, apologize.
Yes these were both all boys Catholic schools.
In both cases there were no serious punishments. The middle school principal got pissed off saying they could’ve broken my neck on the bus. I barely recall if she punished them at all. The Salesian boy was an asshole and wasn’t punished, but everyone kept applauding me for smacking him. My fucking math teacher even asked to shake my hand when he found out. But no one asked WHY I smacked him. The worst part’s I Googled his name and found out he’s now a goddamn Olympic gold medalist fencer and actually does shit for his community.
Look I’m not gonna deny I was a weird, strange kid. I was bullied a lot through 6th-12th grade and I still wonder how much I brought on myself by making myself a target. Yet I think about what these seven years stomped out of me and the problems I’m still dealing with. I’ve spent years trying to figure out what my sexual orientation’s supposed to be. Now I’m wondering what my gender is, too.
The idea of sexual relations or engaging in any form of intimacy beyond hugging makes my skin crawl and it’s extremely difficult to imagine myself like that for more than five seconds. Was it because of what happened to me? I don’t know.
I realize a lot of the behavioral issues I had probably stemmed from that first assault. Of course in middle school I only spoke to a guidance counselor on a completely unrelated topic when they thought, because of some offensive doodles I made on a math test. They probably figured I was gonna shoot the place up.
My parents were of no help and while I know they’re only human a part of me’s probably going to hate them forever for leaving me to rot in those schools. They told me they didn’t understand what happened to me. But when my brother got bullied in 6th grade they got to transfer schools. The end of my first day at Salesian I called my mom sobbing over how much I hated the place; she told me to suck it up. My brother went to art school and found an environment more open to someone like them.
I had no real friends, of course. Not in real life or online. I didn’t start to make friends until I was finally free of Salesian.
I used to have this bizarre idea transferring schools would’ve wrecked my college applications or something, and my parents never really did anything to get me the help they knew they couldn’t give me. It’s a wonder I can function as is, which isn’t saying much.
Anyway, comics were pretty much the only thing that kept me going through school. It’s lucky a comic shop was a block away from Salesian. Comics have been an important part of my life for years. They gave me solace and I met the friends I have now through them. I want to be a professional comic writer someday, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.
I tried to write about sex abuse in comics because a lot of the stories out there are pretty horrible. Rape and abuse get sensationalized to make characters darker and edgier or as a joke. Here are a few incidents that come to mind:
- In Brad Meltzer’s “Identity Crisis,” DC villain Doctor Light’s gradual shift into a joke villain’s explained by the Justice League brainwashing him to make him less of a threat. Why? Because he broke into their HQ and violently raped Sue Dibny, the wife of Elongated Man. This is found out AFTER Sue’s horribly murdered in the present day DCU (while pregnant).
- In Eric Wallace’s horrible run on “Titans,” he created Cinder. She’s a suicidal rape victim with magma powers who hunted and killed sex offenders. In her debut she’s shown having sex with a child rapist and sets him on fire. With her vagina. No, I’m not kidding. She’s essentially a living personification of every bad rape story out there.
- “Avengers” #200 featured Carol Danvers getting brainwashed, raped, giving birth to her rapist and then sent off to live with him. All the Avengers thought this was great; the readers wanted to burn Marvel to the ground. Chris Claremont’s “Avengers Annual” #10 gave Carol the chance to tear into the Avengers for how badly they failed her.
- John Byrne’s tenure on “West Coast Avengers” saw Scarlet Witch suffer a nervous breakdown after losing her kids and husband. She becomes a villain again and molests her ex-boyfriend Wonder Man in front of Wasp, Agatha Harkness, and U.S. Agent. Wanda’s never punished for it and even dated Wonder Man a few years later!
- When Grant Morrison revamped “New X-Men,” he had Cyclops and Jean Grey experience marital troubles. In that time, Emma Frost acted as Scott’s counselor and essentially took advantage of him, having a mental affair for the sake of pissing Jean off apparently. It’s gross because Emma’s considered one of Marvel’s most sexually liberated characters. She’s never punished and Jean even told Scott he could be with her after she died.
- Batman and Superman have both been raped. Batman was drugged by Talia al Ghul and Superman was brainwashed into believing he was the husband of an alien empath named Lyla.
- Scott Lobdell’s first issue of “Red Hood and the Outlaws” saw Roy Harper, one of my favorite DC characters, almost coming THIS close to raping Starfire. Roy’s told Starfire has the memory capacity of a goldfish and considers taking advantage of this knowledge to sleep with her. She offers first before Roy tries anything. Two issues later Starfire’s memory problems get removed from her backstory. This was supposed to be a JOKE. Never mind that Lobdell has a reputation for sexual harassment. It still creeps me out how many people love the “Joyfire” relationship despite its foundations from that first issue.
- Garth Ennis’s “Hitman” had Bueno Excellente whose superpower’s “Perversion.” It’s blatantly implied he drugged and raped Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Lobo. Again, all a joke.
- Marv Wolfman had Deathstroke engage in a sexual relationship with Terra, a teenager old enough to be his daughter. But this was supposed to make TERRA seem evil by making her into a huge slut. Terra dies and Deathstroke becomes a somewhat ally of the Teen Titans for years. DC later tried to retcon the sex out of his relationship to Terra, probably so they wouldn’t have to admit one of their most popular characters’ a child molester.
- DC’s Dick Grayson has been raped twice by two different women. Shapeshifter Mirage impersonated Starfire and slept with Dick. Once he found out, Mirage laughed about possibly destroying his relationship and Starfire blames him for not realizing Mirage was an impostor. Later, he’s taken advantage of and raped by Tarantula. Devin Grayson, the writer for the Tarantula situation, eventually apologized for this but still gets hate for it. Marv Wolfman never gets shit for the Mirage ordeal, and KEPT HER AS A MEMBER OF THE TITANS. NONE of Dick’s friends express any problem with working with a woman who violated him. Remember, Wolfman’s behind Deathstroke as well the super creepy Terry Long. Long was Wonder Girl’s college professor and married her, and he’s apparently Wolfman’s self-insert.
- Brian Azzarello’s “Critically acclaimed” Wonder Woman run had all the Amazons except Wonder Woman turned into serial rapists. They spent centuries propagating by raping and killing sailors so they could have children. Thank God Greg Rucka undid this in his latest “Wonder Woman” run.
- Mark Gruenwald’s “Squadron Supreme” series’ LOADED with this shit, from characters getting raped by impostors to women being brainwashed into loving men. When the Squadron learns Golden Archer brainwashed Lady Lark into loving him, they BARELY punish him and do nothing to help Lark.
- Alan Moore’s “America’s Best Comics,” his attempt to bring some light back to comics, featured stories about a rapist Nazi superwoman and a Justice League parody made up of child molesters assaulting their sidekicks.
Seriously guys I can go on like this forever. I’ve reached a point where I genuinely don’t think modern comics can do stories about rape and sexual abuse in a meaningful way because of all the bullshit above. I mean, there’re a couple decent ones like “Batman: Night Cries” and “Batman: The Ultimate Evil.” But it distresses me how many harmful stories have been done on the topic and how it’s ruined so many characters.
More than that, they’re harmful to real-life survivors like me. They can make us self conscious and doubtful. It’s like our trauma’s a goddamn joke. These stories can make us feel like we did something to deserve it, or like we suffer for the benefit of someone else. We’re dehumanized.
It’s why I hate so many of the people who work in the comic industry. Assholes like Tom King who claim they want to do meaningful stories about abuse and PTSD but piss in our faces and claim we don’t “Get” the stories. And there’re the creeps like Lobdell and Eddie Berganza and Eric Esquivel. Or the ones who got convicted like Justiniano and Gerard Jones.
This comic’s a rare of example of a proper way to talk about sex abuse with superheroes. Yes it’s a bit dated and preachy, but it’s certainly more honest and hopeful than most recent ones. There’s lots to analyze.
I wanna mention right off how this comic’s able to portray Spider-Man as a survivor without making it into a joke. It happened to him, which shows it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t make him less of a person or a hero, and by telling his story it gave Tony the strength to not feel so ashamed. I’m not sure if I want newer writers to reference this because I fear they’re not capable of doing it properly.
Firstly, a person can be molested by someone close. It’s not always a random stranger or a depraved supervillain. Tony trusted Jane and Peter trusted Skip. They abused that trust, like Jane’s father did for years.
Second, sometimes the person might not be much older than you and that’s something I can attest to. Skip’s probably only a couple of years older than Peter when he assaulted him.
Third, gender doesn’t matter nor does sexual orientation. Skip showed Peter girlie magazines and still suggested they touch each other. Whether or not Skip’s gay, straight, or something else doesn’t matter. Rape’s not about attraction or gender. It’s about power.
Fourth, what does it say on the racial implications of how Tony, a young Black boy’s preyed upon by Judy, an older white woman?
Now I wanna discuss the way the stories handled Tony and Jane dealing with their abuse. In Tony’s case, the comic showed what adults SHOULD do. Tony’s parents are protective and comforting, showing they believe him and want to help him. Parents, when your child says someone’s touched them, THIS’S what you do.
In Jane’s case, the story’s a bit more realistic. Arguments like the one between Jane’s parents CAN happen, but it shows if it does Jane had to reach other people. We don’t know how Jane’s situation improves. But there’s hope. She had friends who’re willing to help her, and it’s important for a person to have that support. It’s scary, but you have to keep trying because the alternative’s worse.
Look, I’m not gonna pretend I’m an expert on sexual abuse. Not to mention I’m speaking as a white (possibly) cisgendered male, so there’s some white privilege effecting my analysis. Part of me still wonders if I hadn’t brought it on myself. And I often feel like my abuse wasn’t as “Real” as the kind that happens to a lot of other people. But I know this isn’t a part of me I should listen to.
I can only share what I know. What I know is, it wasn’t my fault what happened to me even though I’m always going to be mad about it.
It’s not YOUR fault if it happened to you, but I don’t know if you’re always gonna be mad about it. My experience wasn’t your experience so I can’t tell you how to feel about it.
I’m not alone, and you’re not alone either. It sucks and it’s awful and I’m sorry these things happen, and I’m sorry we still need stories like this. But they’re here. When done like this they CAN help people. THAT’S WHY THEY’RE FUCKING IMPORTANT.
AND IT’S WHY OUR ABUSE DOESN’T DESERVE TO BE EXPLOITED FOR GARBAGE STORIES.