Digging through my comics to find titles that I feel would be interesting enough to cover, I came across a few that I had no idea how I got my hands on. A lot of the comics covered to date in this series, whether it was the Justice League on their own tropical island:
or one of my favorite NBA players battling a legendary radioactive monster:
(Godzilla vs. Barkley – http://culturecrossfire.com/etc/comics/random-comic-recall-godzilla-vs-barkley/#.U4FfCvldXeI)
were things that just seemed downright awesome to me as a kid and I distinctly remember picking them up.
This one? The beat up condition and fact it appears to have been a giveaway item likely from before I was able to read, I am guessing it got handed down to me.
Spider-Man, Storm and Luke Cage, Power Man, team up to battle Smokescreen, the pro-smoking supervillain.
This title was a free public service book sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the 1982 publication indicates that its giveaway well before my birth means my cousin probably gave it to me before he started embracing Smokescreen and became a chain-smoker.
Look at that cover though. Smokescreen surely looks like a trustworthy guy. His Pittsburgh Steelers inspired outfit and fabulous poses, those runners are surely disapproving Spider-Man. Or is it all a smokesc—
Sorry… had to hit myself for that one.
Being a book that was probably given away to people unfamiliar with the characters, the inside cover gives quick origins of all the heroes, which I feel is actually a nice touch.
The comic opens with a “special city-wide teen track team” that is training for athletics, for community, all this boring stuff. Peter Parker is covering the story from a human interest angle but Luke Cage, POWER MAN, is coaching the team in his crime fighting gear.
Unfortunately, the Bret who Power Man yells at isn’t the lady boy leading the pack, Bret is a few characters behind who is WINDED.
Bret dismisses Power Man’s concern saying he just stayed out late last night and didn’t eat today. Power Man gets shut down by Bret’s sassy and confident girlfriend, who tells Power Man that Bret can outrun any other kid. And Bret lets us all know what he needs.
Bret surely needs that cigarette for when he completes pre-marital sexing Carol and her Vivian Banks hair.
I hope Carol returns so I can learn new words for her on Urban Dictionary!
Some dork, who I then connect as Peter Parker, tells us how “edgy” Bret is. Now, I know Peter is supposed to keep an eye on things being Spider-Man and all but seeing by this point in his life, he is no longer a teenager but a professional with the Daily Bugle, I feel like I should be concerned that he is as vested as he is in the character and actions of high school students.
Power Man, bothered by Bret and his problems, ensures that Peter Parker will not let this story get out.
How can Peter Parker feed his family or keep his journalistic integrity if he doesn’t provide the hard-hitting news like HIGH SCHOOL TRACK STAR SMOKES CIGARETTE?
Later that day, some goofy white kid in an ugly yellow shirt named Danny asks Bret and Carol if they are going downtown and invites himself before they can answer.
This is followed up by an exchange I find simply incredible:
I want to know what kind of homework Amy is doing where she is convinced resting is going to keep her in shape. You know she is going to guilt eat the whole time.
Then, to top it off, she throws in that jab about avoiding smoke-filled rooms, probably because she is a narc, and Bret has NO IDEA what her deal is.
I hope for your sake Bret you do other sports besides track because you are clearly destined for Minimum Wageville.
All this time, while most superheroes are out fighting crime, Power Man decides he needs to spy on teenagers.
Now I feel like Power Man is a character I can relate to.
And inside the Social Club is some creepy old dude who wants to bring all the kids in. I start wondering if this is really about diddling teenagers but luckily the creep whips out some cigs before the diddling starts.
I am trying to figure out what would blow my mind more: If he starts calling the cigarettes fags and we go back to the sexual assault route, or if he just reveals himself as Bob Newhart.
I don’t even pay attention to the next set of words because despite how powerful Power Man surely is, I have no idea how he is being a successful Peeping Tom considering he is essentially levitating outside a window without that being one of his powers.
Spider-Man emerges and says what we are all thinking.
Says the guy who knows all about their personal lives… Hypocrite…
Power Man recollects about how talented Bret was. He was destined to be an Olympian. But then he started smoking, forcing Power Man to follow him for months and stand on the roof of the car of his cigarette dealer.
Spider-Man interrupts the story as his Spidey Sense goes off due to goons making sure no one was there. Unfortunately, no battle because this story is so strictly educational. I am learning all about dressing in gaudy costumes and following teenagers.
Power Man is very concerned for the children but Spider-Man lets him know he is much too recognizable to keep following these teenagers around. He knows someone that can continue watching the teenagers unnoticed.
If they reboot Spider-Man movies again, I swear a Spider-Man that knows people who can discreetly track teenagers would make more money than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield combined.
Has anyone ever seen how Woody Allen looks in webbed blue and red?
Our next panel introduces us to exactly who Spider-Man wants to send after the kids.
STORM of the X-MEN.
Do you remember how Marvel used to dress Storm in the 1980s?
Yeah, no way high school boys notice her.
Don’t know if this is canon or not but supposedly Storm and Power Man have never met to this point. Power Man warns Storm these high school boys look PRETTY TOUGH.
So she knocks him into a conveniently placed tree.
I really start to hope they are referring to the bad guys as boys. Spider-Man starts pushing surveillance. He talks about the operation, so I am a little more hopeful this book doesn’t end with a kid showing the courtroom on a doll where our friendly neighborhood wall crawler touched him.
We jump into high school science class, where we get a few panels of a teacher letting us know how lungs and oxygen work, specifically talking about athletes and the effects of smoking… WHAT A COINCIDENCE!
As Bret starts disturbing the class with his smoker anxiety, we get a clear look at the teacher’s presentation on smoking, so read and learn!
By the end of that list, I start wondering how many sexually active women they thought were reading a Marvel Comic from the American Cancer Society.
Bret starts blaming his issues on staying out too late again and we find out tobacco has also caused Bret’s grades to slip.
As all this goes on, Power Man has now gotten permission to rifle through student’s permanent records in the principal’s office. So that’s cool…
Carol, with the haircut that only Mom jeans can do justice, had been a Straight A student. Now that she has tasted the sweet, sweet taste of ciggies, she is making “Cs, Ds and even missing classes,” as she clearly needs that fix.
His helper, who I am guessing is a meddling secretary (no sexism) and not a secretary trying to lose her job, tells us it is the same story for Bret! At this rate, this future Olympian may have to be pulled from the track team!
Shortly —at the park— Bret is getting peer pressured to be good at sports.
Bret starts talking about how he is a hero and that for some reason his high school has a Dean, when Amy suddenly appears to talk trash again.
Looking back at the opening panel, she is even in a bad mood there.
I wonder if they did a follow up on Performance Enhancing Drugs because Amy may be having some pretty serious Roid Rage.
Bret tells his teammates it is them who have changed, not him. He heads toward the building where he hangs out with old men, whom we still don’t know how he hooked up with, that let him smoke.
The creepy old guys let Bret know he is more mature than others and lead him into a dark basement.
Storm, who had been discreetly watching, sneaks in the building, where she uncovers these guys got Bret into cigarettes due to being part of a gambling ring. Everyone betting on a high school track meet has their money on Bret and there is no way he can win now.
An ominous voice lets the goon trio know they are being watched when smoke not only blindsides Storm but disables her mutant powers.
From the smoke, a shadowy figure states he is almost ready to reveal himself… a MAN CALLED SMOKESCREEN
This short comic is broken into two chapters. Chapter one ends with Smokescreen standing tall. We get an intermission to our story with a one page series of anti-smoking math problems and science projects. If there is one things kids will respond to better than telling them what life choices to make, it is forced learning.
If Cigarettes cost 75 cents per pack, how many packs would equal an $18 digital watch?!?!
Please figure this out for Jamie. It is the only way he can stop smoking.
Much respect to the kid who figures out how to get their heart those extra beats.
Chapter Two starts with a reveal of Smokescreen. Besides, you know, the cover.
The best thing about Smokescreen is even his dialogue boxes are smokey.
Smokescreen decides Bret has to know to throw the race and not take any chances his superior ability can overcome smoking.
We learn much like the Garden of Eden, woman was the downfall of man and Carol got Bret hooked on cigarettes just like she got him hooked on dat ass.
This led to him not training and hanging out with shady adults, who can surely talk his cocky self into losing on purpose.
As the goons go to convince him, Bret says he was just leaving when he was clearly still playing pool.
The baddies ask Bret for a favor and the high school athlete admits he would do anything for friends like them.
One panel later they politely ask him to throw the race when he freaks out and lets them know that gambling is illegal. How many more panels until we find out that babies come from teenagers dancing with each other?
Bret blows up more as in the next panel he finally identifies these guys as gangsters and things escalate quicker as they inform Bret they are abducting his girlfriend.
Spider-Man and Power Man, who have been waiting outside for days for this very moment, burst in the room and make jokes about crashing through the wall. Probably to cover up that they have been constantly watching minors.
Power Man breaks one thug’s gun, Spider-Man webs them up, and the next panel has Spider-Man and Power Man at the track with Bret and Carol.
Where is Storm you ask? Well, our two male heroes tell us they knew something was wrong when she was unresponsive.
Yet they still never address what happened to Storm. Like Smokescreen could have Storm doing all kinds of weird stuff and these two are just yukking it up on the clay with a couple of teenagers.
Other heroes – DO NOT TEAM UP WITH THESE TWO. THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. THEY ONLY CARE ABOUT HANGING OUT WITH TEENAGERS.
Carol and Bret talk about how silly they were and suddenly realize the error of their ways, conveniently with a few days to clear Bret’s system and train before the big race.
The duo give Bret some training tips, telling him not to overdo it before, oh yeah, I guess we better check on Storm…
The only good thing that can come out of this is if her being held captive by Smokescreen explains why she also rocked a Mohawk in the 1980s…
A montage panel shows Bret training and Power Man actually returns to tell him not to over train.
STAY AWAY FROM THE BOY AND SAVE STORM!
We see a few panels of Bret’s race starting before we finally return to where Storm was knocked unconscious quite a while back now…
The location is revealed as an ILLEGAL SPORTS CASINO where Storm is inexplicably locked in a room with barrels.
With all the smoking going on, no one noticed Storm using lightning to open the door and creepily stare around the corner.
Bret is struggling but in front of the pack. Power Man cheers on Bret, who loses because smokers can’t win. Bret makes a joke about going up “in smoke” but Power Man still praises him for doing his best as they walk up to Spider-Man, who is just hanging out and watching the race in costume.
Spider-Man, you know that is a lie.
Storm educates Power Man and Spidey on the existence of Smokescreen but it isn’t until Bret points out the bad stuff he is doing that the guys suddenly realize there isn’t, and I quote, “a moment to lose,” and spring into action.
So, to recap:
Storm, a colleague who came to do you a favor goes missing, do nothing, and watch a high school track meet.
A villain who loves smoke and gambling on sports emerges, TIME CANNOT BE WASTED.
The heroes wrap things up in a page of powers and puns where Spider-Man reveals he can hang with Smokescreen because he keeps an Oxygen Filter under his mask, just like Smokescreen!
The heroes leave and the cops promise to get the money back to the rightful owners, which confuses me. Is it illegal because every bet was placed with stolen money? This is all clearly more interesting than stupid Bret’s stupid race.
The comic starts to draw to a close and the heroes are still hanging around Bret. Bret’s teammates talk about him letting them down, however, afterwards Bret convinces everyone he knows he was in the wrong and educates them on the dangers of smoking.
All is forgiven, everyone is happy, and more importantly Luke Cage: Power Man is ALWAYS watching.
Don’t think this article is over though… Remember the math and science in the middle? Now we get to test some decision making in… Brian’s Decision.
The back page is a six panel comic where we learn Brian is the new kid in school, so all the kids want to greet him and get to know him… with cigarettes!
Brian explains he doesn’t smoke. The kids from school explain once won’t hurt him, it will just make him part of the gang.
Brian does an assessment of the situation.
Then we get a big opportunity.
Can I handle it?