By Jason Young
160 pages/$25/Oldtimes Blue Ribbon Digest
Growing up in the 1970s, comic book readers didn’t have a lot in the way of extensions of their favorite characters. There was the occasional novel and ABC’s Super Friends, but really, little else. As a result, getting new stories or new versions of stories on an album featuring your favorite heroes seemed like manna from Heaven.
Power Records or Peter Pan Records filled that gap, beginning in the early 1970s and petering out in the early 1980s. They may be best remembered for the wonderful art produced for the album covers by Continuity Studios, the outfit run by Neal Adams and (briefly) Dick Giordano. They featured familiar vocal talent and the stories weren’t half bad. They were successful enough that their thirty or so releases were repackaged time and again, eventually eschewing vinyl for cassette tapes to retain the audience.
Jason Young grew up during the era and adores the ephemera surrounding pop culture, so much that he’s research, written, and self-published Power Trip, about the records, and The Wonderful World of Wax Wrappers.
He begins with the company’s history, which surprisingly goes back to 1928 and a plastics company that added Peter Pan Records to their output. By the 1950s, the company began licensing characters suc as Popeye and Betty Boop. By the 1960s, they moved on to super-heroes, producing a fondly recalled Songs and Stories About the Justice League of America.
With the rise of renewed interest in super-heroes, they launched the Power imprint and began licensing Marvel’s key players. Most of the adventures were taken from the comics themselves with some music and sound effects, with a vocal cast led by Peter Fernandez (best known for his work on the name coming to America throughout the 1960s, notably Speed Racer. Soon after DC’s heroes arrived in brand new stories along with the Star Trek, Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of the Apes, Space: 1999 and other media franchises.
Young provides a page for each release, reprinting the album cover and other material (scans of the original art, source material, back cover, etc.) and a paragraph about the release. I wish he put a lot more effort into the text because information is missing such as which Marvel comic the story was adapted from or who did the voices or even who wrote the scripty (records seem scant but he knows some of this). He mistakenly credits Neal for much of the art when it’s clearly inked by Giordano and in one case mistakenly credits Jim Aparo. He doesn’t connect E. Nelson Bridwell, who scripted a few DC stories, as being from the company. He’s clearly passionate about the records but doesn’t use proper context or comics terminology.
For Star Trek, the fans always took these to task for making Sulu African-American, not Asian; and Uhura went from African to blonde Caucasian. He claims it had to do with likeness rights not being available, which was not a contractual issue back in the day nor can I find corroboration elsewhere for the claim. He also fails to connect Alan Dean Foster, who wrote many of the stories, with his writing the novelization of the animated Series episodes at the same time. Cary Bates and Adams actually wrote one, which is an oddity in itself.
The book is diffuse in organization and inconsistent in writing style and tone. This certainly could have used a matrix showing each story and the many places it was reprinted, the ultimate checklist. It would also have been nice to see more of the interior story pages that made these fun collectibles. The book, while passionate, would have benefitted from more text, a proofreader, and an editor. The 5″x8″ format also doesn’t let the material breathe. Only diehard fans of the material will find this worth the high cover price.