Thursday, May 31, 2007

It was much, much later that I found out that Power Lords were actually toys to be launched in the wake of the He-Man fever. To stir up interest in these toys, Revell collaborated with DC Comics to create a comic mini-series featuring the characters.

I have no idea whether this shrewd marketing move worked. I only know that the first issue of this Power Lords series was the one with the most attractive cover of the lot when I, an impressionable 9-year-old, first went into a bookshop in Trivandrum to buy a 'foreign' comic. I'd read other DC comics at the time - Justice League and so on, not knowing that they were DC Comics. I knew the difference between the desi Phantom/Mandrake/Tinkle comics and the glossy Superman/Batman type 'foreign' comics, and I knew that if I cribbed long enough, my father would eventually cave in and get me some of the good stuff. And so, here I was.

Power Lords #1 turned out to be the first DC comic I bought by myself. I don't remember most of the other comics that were in that bin - There was a Conan comic there, I remember, but that's it. I must have read this story of Adam Power hundreds of times. It was the acme of storytelling for me - for quite a while after that, whenever I daydreamed of becoming a comic book writer I would plot of storylines that looked suspiciously like the Power Lords plotline. And when I realized that the protagonist actually dies at the end of this issue, I was shocked. It took me quite a while to realize that this was a series - that the story doesn't end here, unlike all the Phantom comics I had. There were multiple trips to book shops after that, and on every trip I would root through the small bunch of 'foreign' comics, hoping to find further parts of the story. Hopes receded as the years passed. I shifted to Pune, where more DC and Marvel comics were available in the stores (but no Power Lords). I'd lost hope by this point.

Surat has a fascinating chor-bazaar called Shaniwari, so called because it happens on Saturdays. My uncle used to look around this place every once in a while, trying to find old electronic items he could salvage parts from, curiosities like brass lamps, and every once in a while, cheapo T-shirts to wear around the home. He took me there, too, several times, when I was in college.
The first or second time I went there, an enterprising raddiwala was displaying his wares - old Ellery Queen hardbacks, mouldering old paperbacks of Wilbur Smith and Salman Rushdie, and a bunch of magazines. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, and I set to, sorting out the books in hopes of finding some rare items. A colourful corner peeked out from the pile of magazines, and I idly pulled it out, hoping for a Batman comic. It was - you guessed it - the second of the Power Lords set. For a moment I just stood there, unable to believe my luck. With as casual a voice as I could manage, I asked the old vendor for the price. Ten bucks! I added the comic (in almost perfect condition I might add) to my set of James Clavells and Salman Rushdies. I read the comic while sitting on my uncle's bike, on the way home, and again and again over the next couple of days. This issue, it seemed to me, went downhill from the excellent first one. Not only was the art worse, there was this annoying cartoony character who turned out to be powerful for some wierd reason (****Ahem***Jar Jar Binks****). But never mind - it was a book I'd expected never to find, and the cachet of serendipity it bought with it was enough to make me treasure it.

Years pass. College years end, and the painful daily grind known as 'working on a job' begins. I still hunt down and read DC Comics whenever I get the chance, but shopkeepers all around Pune now realize the value of these books and raise the price to an unsustainable level. I curse them silently, waiting for the day when everyone stops buying these books and the prices come down again. happens just around the time I start working, and I search on it for the Power Lords. They don't have it - why would they stock a flop comic from 1982? I use all the free gift certificates I can wangle out of Amazon and order anything I can get for free - Harry Potter, Ray Bradbury, a few anthologies, children's books. I also learn of how powerful searching on the net has become, and find that here and there, comic book shops do stock old comics, and yet, Power Lords #3 is among them. But $5 for a comic, and 'shipping only to the US and Canada' deter me.

Until two things happen together. A friend of mine happens to be in the US for a few months, and I go there for a week. The friend asks me whether I want him to buy something for me. Up comes Google on my machine, and out comes the address of a comic shop in his area. Eventually, it turns out that the shop doesn't have Power Lords #3, but my friend then generously pays the $1 for the comic at an online place and the $9 for the shipping, and I get the book in a neat cardboard package, the day before I'm due to return back to India. The third book is the absolute worst in the series, and I toss it onto my shelf after barely one or two readings. Or perhaps I've gotten older and have read more Batman comics. But I still have all three books, the first nearly in tatter by now, and they've survived several house changes, bedroom renovations, spring cleanings, and marriage.

Nearly all of our generation has some such stories of chasing after some hard-to-find media, more for the rarity than the quality. Beatzo alone has enough stories for half of his generation, I reckon.

Our parents and grandparents get all mushy when they hear a tune from Aradhana, or Shree 420 or a riff by the Beach Boys. Perhaps they have a soft spot in their hearts for Kishore Kumar or Cary Grant or Geeta Dutt. There's soon going to be a generation of old guys who grow all misty-eyed when Glo Friends are mentioned, who know who Avinash Waghwan was (even if they don't like him), who get all defensive when someone disses the Spiderman movies, and who refuse to accept that these new-fangled rappers are any better than Vanilla Ice. Well, there's already such a generation, but we aren't old guys yet (I hope). And my grandkids can expect to hear a lot about my personal saga of the Power Lords while they unsuccessfully try to read their newfangled 3-D moving comics in peace.

PS. I haven't bought any comics in nearly a year now. Don't intend to, for quite a while now, ever since Gotham Comics stopped publishing in India. The 'net and ...ahem... you know... has opened my eyes to the world beyond DC and Marvel, the stuff that has never been available at any raddiwala round these parts.

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