Comic Effect #44 (2006)/Brother Power the Geek #1 (1968)

My friend Jim Kingman has just released the latest issue of his wonderful fanzine Comic Effect. The latest issue has my favorite comic-related piece I’ve ever written. a look at the infamous comic Brother Power the Geek. I can’t resist running an excerpt from the piece. But please visit Jim’s site and order the zine from him. You will love it, I promise!
Here’s the excerpt:

Okay, listen up because what I’m about to say will go completely against the conventional wisdom. It’s as if I were calling white black or were getting day and night inverted. But it’s true: Brother Power the Geek, commonly thought of as one of the worst comic books in history, a veritable Plan Nine from Outer Space in comic book form, is actually a really good comic. No, not just good, it’s a great comic book. It’s an astonishing look inside the mind and thoughts of its creator, Joe Simon. Brother Power is a completely unique vision of the world, a fully realized view of the world that is, in its own way, as brilliantly distorted and skewed as that of much more acclaimed creators and creations. In fact, if we step outside of the conventional wisdom of the comics world, Brother Power is a less compromised and more intellectually consistent view of the world than many other comics of its era that have received much more critical acclaim.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s important to emphasize one more point: the stories in these two issues don’t make a tremendous amount of logical sense. The events that happen to the characters, the way the characters behave, and their world views seem to come from a completely different world from the one we inhabit. However, this lack of external logic, this feeling of extreme dreamlike unreality, in fact helps to emphasize the greatness and uniqueness of the vision behind this comic. Just as the comics of R. Crumb live in their own bizarre unreality, so Joe Simon’s Brother Power lives in its own equally unique and idiosyncratic reality.

Joe Simon is the creative force behind Brother Power. Simon is most well known, of course, for his long partnership with the great Jack Kirby, a partnership that lasted some twenty years. In that time, the team created Captain America, romance comics, and the Fly, and produced some dynamic and long-remembered work for a plethora of publishers. After their partnership dissolved, Kirby went on to become the most influential and beloved figure in comics history. Simon, on the other hand, passed into obscurity. He edited the long-running MAD rip-off Sick, but that magazine is long-forgotten today. He also did some advertising work and worked as a successful businessman. But his stake in comic books ebbed while his former partner’s reputation exploded.

In 1968, Simon returned to comics. ’68 was a very big year for comics. Marvel’s long-time distribution deal, which had limited the number of comics they could release, expired. The parent company of DC had a stake in that distributor, and thus DC was compelled to help fill the gap in the number of titles available on the newsstand. This helped bring on a second dawn to the Silver Age, an era where such titles as Beware the Creeper, Bat Lash, and Anthro appeared, The staid Green Lantern strip was reincarnated as the radical Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and exciting covers by Neal Adams gave many comics an exciting new look, at least on the outside. Most of the new titles had relatively short-runs, but that doesn’t change the fact that DC was trying to bring new blood and excitement to their formerly quiet and predictable line. It didn’t help that DC’s sales were slipping as Marvel’s were growing.

Into that frame, Joe Simon was recruited back to DC. He opted to create a new title to celebrate and satirize the then burgeoning hippie movement. The Summer of Love, after all, had just happened a year earlier, and youthful rebellion was in the air. In the eyes of many critics of the title, this is where the tragic disconnect happened. Simon had as much insight into the hippie movement as you or I have into being a professional football player: he read about it, learned a bit about it, but he had no idea what it really meant to be a hippie.

That’s what many people say. But they miss the point. Brother Power is not about the hippie movement. It’s about Simon’s bizarre perceptions of the hippie movement. In other words, the key thing is not the setting of the comic. The greatness of the comic is in the way the setting is used and the comic is created. And it’s there that Brother Power is something very special.

To read more, please order the zine. There’s lots more cool stuff in there, too!


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