I can’t do audio formats. When friends went mad for Welcome to Nightvale, The Thrilling Adventure Hour, and podcasts, I hoped for print editions of these recordings so I could join the fun. Thankfully, the forces behind Welcome to Nightvale have come through for me, publishing scripts I can read while listening to episodes. But otherwise, so be it. If my work commute were longer than ten minutes I might partake more easily since driving would scaffold my concentration. I can read for hours, shotgun Netflix series, but audio . . . sorry. I start to drift off like a kindergartener at story hour. Even music puts me out unless I’m simultaneously working or otherwise engaged.
Welcome to Nightvale isn’t my first experience with pairing text and audio. In graduate school, I often watched Shakespearean performances with copies of the plays open before me. This sharpened my focus and highlighted differences between page and stage, revealing how and why directors interpreted the Bard. The seedbed of this listening technique, however, is Power Records – the action “comes alive” as you read!
During the 1970s, Power Records, a subsidiary of Peter Pan Records, produced a vast catalog of seven- and twelve-inch records packaged with special comics. This line included adaptations and original materials based on licensed franchises — Space:1999, Star Trek, The Lone Ranger, Planet of the Apes, Looney Tunes – and traditional legends, Robin Hood for example. Of course, Power also added selections from Marvel and DC, all as mood enhancing as eight-ball cocaine hits. Everything from mainstream heroes, to Conan, to Marvel horror was fair game. Day and night, I’d commandeer my mother’s massive console stereo (not just a sound system but actual furniture), move aside the Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddie Arnold, and Charlie Rich records, and park myself to read along while a host of uncredited narrators and voice actors injected emotion and movement into stories I’d experienced previously when they were first released.
Hyper-nostalgic fans have uploaded Power Records releases on to YouTube, complete with PowerPoint slide presentations of the accompanying comics. A simple search initiates a process that eats away several hours if not days of valuable time. Which are my favorites from that period, I think someone may have asked?
Dracula: Terror in the Snow!
In 1971, the Comics Code Authority, which had been dictating comics content since 1954, loosened its guidelines, opening the door for vampires, werewolves, mummies, and other monsters to appear in mainstream, color, regular-format stories. Marvel Comics took full advantage and initiated their Marvel horror titles: The Monster of Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, The Son of Satan, and the flagship book, The Tomb of Dracula. Power Records cashed in on this successful trend, slightly altering stories and titles, cleaning them up for family audiences. The story from Tomb of Dracula #19, “Snowbound in Hell!” became the tamer, Dracula: Terror in the Snow! Dracula and his enemy, Rachel Van Helsing, are lost in the Transylvanian Alps. A brutal snowstorm’s underway, and to survive the pair must ally, albeit tenuously. The unsung actor voicing Dracula is more camp than menacing, but with a story from Marv Wolfman you can’t go wrong.
The Monster of Frankenstein
To my knowledge, The Monster of Frankenstein is the only Power release adapted from the first issue of any comic. This is your standard origin story of the Monster, pepped up with outstanding art by Mike Ploog. I realize now that the actor portraying the Monster also voiced the Hulk and other brutish characters. Other cast members are recognizable across recordings too. Today, Fred Tatasciore’s bellows and growls define the emerald giant for many animated features and series, and Mark Hamill’s Joker always steals the show. These contemporary actors have received the accolades they’re due. Power Records did no such favor for its anonymous actors.
The Curse of the Werewolf
Yes, busted. I love Marvel’s Bronze Age horror! My mother dreaded trips to Woolworth’s, because without fail I’d come running up the aisle, waving another Power Record, almost always Marvel horror. Here Werewolf by Night becomes The Curse of the Werewolf. To my dismay, Power never went with Son of Satan. I understand why, however. Editors can clean up excesses from other horror titles, but what to do with a character who’s literally the son of the Devil? I would have been that kid jumping up and down spasmodically if he’d found a Son of Satan recording among the stacks. My mother would have been the parent grinning sheepishly at other adults who might think we were hanging with Anton Szandor LaVey down at that funky temple with the interesting man-goat statue out front. I resent this omission and related judgmental attitudes, but I get it.
Plastic Man: The Invasion of the Plastic Men and Metamorpho the Element Man: Fumo the Fire Giant
Recently when I discovered that Jeff Lemire was making Plastic Man and Metamorpho teammates in his superhero team, the Terrifics, I happily threw my money across the counter. Ramona Fradon’s Metamorpho shines among my earliest superhero-related memories, and I’m waiting patiently for DC to release a collected edition of Plastic Man (Vol. 2) from the Silver and Bronze Ages. DC shapeshifters for the win!
This seven-inch record features two original stories. On Side A, Plastic Man deals with an invasion of fake Plastic Men. Side B gives us Metamorpho battling Fumo, the Fire Giant. “BOW DOWN BEFORE FUMO!!!!” Alas, there’s no accompanying comic, and the writers go overboard with having their characters physical actions. I can’t blame them, however. The central characters are shapeshifters, a power not readily adaptable to short, non-visual formats. Still, the tales are fun, and there are theme songs, really bad ones sung by wannabe Turtles or Herman’s Hermits groups, mercifully uncredited. The brave among you can find full versions online. As a warning I’ll leave you with just a taste:
He’s a real good guy in a bright red suit,
And he always wears goggles and a belt that’s a beaut!
He was a crook, but he reformed,
And then he reformed, and reformed, and reformed again!
Plastic Man! Plastic Man!
The one, the original elastic man,
Always in great shape for the shape he’s in . . .
This is the story of the Element Man!
Starts out in old Egypt land!
Rex Mason was his real name!
A soldier of fortune he didn’t care about fame!
Until fate took a hand in the game, what a change, so strange!
Trapped in a pyramid he saw a light.
It came from a glowing meteorite!
Shooting cosmic rays from within the sun,
Through his body and brain, and when it was done,
There! Yeah! There! Yeah! There stood the Element Man! . . .