Public service announcements are usually pretty boring. That is, unless licensed characters are involved. That’s why when someone mentions, “Now I know,” anyone who grew up in the 80’s will likely exclaim, “And knowing is half the battle!” There were so many great PSAs that came from old childhood icons. Like that crazy mega-crossover where Alf, the Muppet Babies, Michaelangelo and the Looney Tunes told a kid to stop smoking marijuana. Or that episode of C.O.P.S. where Berserko got into drugs, leading to a cops/crooks team-up against a common foe. Best of all, the time the Ninja Turtles inspired a kid to yell, “I’m not a chicken! You’re a turkey!”
Which leads us to this comic. I remember getting this for free in health class back in middle school, but my memories were foggy. Spider-Man I obviously recognized. Storm I knew the best because of the new X-Men cartoon on Fox. At the time I didn’t know who the hell this Power Man guy was, nor did I really care. But that was then and this is now. It’s been about fifteen years since then and I believe it’s time I look back at this little piece of insanity.
“What the…? Did we just wander into a Dokken video?”
The story begins as Hero for Hire Luke Cage is coaching a track team for some big city-wide competition. Peter Parker shows up to take some photos as a special interest story for the Daily Bugle. Problems begin from the first panel as should-be star Bret Jackson stinks up the joint with his smoking-induced running. This says a lot, considering he still came in second. Why isn’t Cage yelling at the dozens of kids who can’t even keep up with Bret? Who knows what kind of crazy shit they’re into? This is probably just a case of a black guy trying to help a brother out.
Bret shows his inability to stretch the truth by telling Cage straight-up, “Hey, man, I got winded! I stayed out late last night and didn’t stop to eat anything today!” Then saying to his girlfriend, “C’mon Carol – I need a cigarette!” I’m sure he’ll go far.
It seems Bret’s friends have been getting him to hang around some shady gentlemen who have been giving out free cigarettes. I notice something odd about one of Bret’s buddies…
Blond hair? Check. Name’s Danny? Check. Awful yellow clothing? Double check.
Of course! Luke Cage is really getting involved in order to stop Iron Fist’s smoking habit!
Or was he dead at this point? Eh, who cares.
“Okay, Spider-Man! I’ll be really quiet! Just like you are being! Ass!”
Luke tells Spider-Man his story and how Bret went from Olympic hopeful to scratchy-throat jackass. Just then, two guys with guns show up on the roof, leading the two future Avengers to run away like sissies.
Wow. Just… just wow. Let’s just take a look at how many things are wrong with this scene.
1) Nice eyes, Luke. Who knew he did such a good Marty Feldman impression?
2) “You’re too well-known to keep an eye on them, Power Man!” Spidey, that was just mean.
3) If you ask me, the real solution is not sneaking around while wearing an outfit that screams, “Hey, guess what decade I’m from, guys!” Street clothes would do just nice.
4) Storm? Storm?! That’s your answer to this? Of all the heroes you could have chosen for covert crap, you figure it’s best to use an out-of-town female mutant with no pants who can’t fly without bringing in a tornado? The same woman who wouldn’t shut the fuck up on the 90’s cartoon?
“I SHALL USE THE POWER OF THE MONSOON TO REMAIN UNSEEN AS I FOLLOW AROUND THIS TROUBLED BOY AND HIS ALLIES! FOR I AM STORM! I AM THE ONE WHO COMMANDS NATURE! WEATHER, I SHALL USE YOUR POWERS TO AID ME!”
Spider-Man, you have to remember this: you’re Spider-Man. You’re in New York City. With all the guys you can pick from, why do you have to take a trip to Westchester? Hell, one of your best friends is a ninja! He’d be perfect for this kind of thing and he’s probably two blocks away! Go!
5) “Hi there, I’m Spider-Man. I don’t have any lines in this panel. Enjoy the show, folks!”
6) Yes, Luke. Those boys sure do look tough. For instance…
7) Storm, there are many, many better ways to respond to Luke’s warning than shattering his spine.
“Storm, the Juggernaut is about to bust through this wall any second now! Where are the others?”
“I apologize, Professor, but they’re all dead. Cyclops warned me about how strong the Juggernaut is, so I reduced the entire team to ash. FOR I AM STORM! GODDESS OF THE WINDS! LIGHTNING! THUNDER! I COMMAND YOU!”
8) Notice Spider-Man’s stance in the last panel is only like that so he can sneak himself in frame.
Enough of that. The next few pages are pretty uneventful. A class on how smoke screws up the respiratory system is interrupted by Bret dozing off and complaining openly about how he was up all night. Meanwhile, Luke Cage is hanging out with Bret’s fine principal, checking out Carol and Bret’s permanent records. It’s so pathetic to see any superhero resorting to this, that I can only imagine one possible set-up:
“Hey, you talkin’ to Luke Cage, Hero for Hire! What you want, sucka?”
“Luke, this is Tony Stark. I’m supposed to get in some adventure about the ills of smoking. I don’t want to do it and I hear you need work.”
”How much we talkin’?”
“Remember how I quit drinking a couple years ago?”
“That’s right. Jive turkey went cold turkey!”
“Exactly. All my unopened malt liquor is yours. That and $50.”
“What a politically correct role-model. Thanks and I’ll talk to you again in 20 years when the bald guy starts writing us.”
“Sure thing, Tony. I’ll– sorry, what?”
“Look, Reed Richards and I are so smart that we can predict the future. It’s complicated.”
Back to Bret, he acts like a dick to his friends and walks off to the shady smoker dudes. Storm follows.
They really, really want us to know who these guys are for some reason.
Storm sneaks around and hears stuff about gambling. Just then, our big villain makes his first appearance by announcing Storm’s presence, filling the room with smoke and then smacking her in the back of the head.
And so, we have the most humiliating defeat in superhero history. Suck it, Claremont.
Then it’s time for intermission. In the next page of the comic, we see a couple boring word problems to make this seem more educational. It’s worth noting that in 1999, this entire comic was redone and released with better art, but the exact same plot and dialogue. This page was omitted and it’s no secret why.
I can hold my suspension of disbelief to accept repulsor blasts, spider sense, alien symbiotes and even Zombie Ben Grimm. But 75 cent packs of cigarettes? Children paying $1.50 to get into the movies? Maybe if this was Bizarro World, but that kid seems to be pretty flesh-toned and round-faced.
Back to the story. Smokescreen finally lets us know his plan. By making the home-star runner Bret get lazy and smoky, he’ll make a fortune in betting against him. This is a stupid and awful plan, but to Smokescreen’s credit, not only is it actually working, but he’s defeated a top ranking member of the X-Men.
So… of course Smokescreen’s next step is to fuck up his plan with his own stupidity. He insists that his henchmen tell Bret to throw the race, since he can’t take any chances. Like a charm, Bret realizes these guys used him and decides to do the right thing. Great going, Smokey the Bandit. How you didn’t get membership in the Masters of Evil, I’ll never know.
Spidey and Luke save Bret and Carol, leading to Bret learning his lesson about how bad smoking is. Now that he’s back on the up and up, he tries to get back in shape for the big race in two days. Despite all the exercise, Bret still comes in second. This is probably not because of the smoking, but because it’s described as a relay race and Bret both started and finished it. So don’t blame nicotine. Blame the athletic foreign exchange student who caught the mumps the day before.
At some point during this, Storm got out of Smokescreen’s clutches by… well… getting up and walking away. She then goes to find Spidey and Luke at the track meet after Bret’s loss.
Since there are only a couple pages left, the three run off to smash up Smokescreen’s lair. Smokescreen’s choice of action is to conjure a bunch of smoke and run away, only to be easily caught by Spider-Man. The police show up and arrest the bad guys, while one officer says, “Boy, this is some round-up! Looks like all bets are off—We’ll take it from here and make sure the money gets back to the rightful owners!”
Considering Bret yelled about how illegal gambling is a few pages earlier, this downright confuses the crap out of me.
Our story ends with Bret trying to make amends for being an asshole to his friends. It helps reading the final two panels if you imagine every line of dialogue as being completely sarcastic.
Especially since the winning team apparently has a 65-year-old woman as a member.
There are a couple more pages tacked on, such as one where Luke Cage tries to carry a gigantic rock with the facts about smoking etched on the side. Another shows a kid named Brian, who is new at his school. The other kids offer him cigarettes and he doesn’t know how to react. Should he be healthy and say no, or should he say yes and acquire new friends? They ask you to make the decision for him.
Sorry, I was just watching Mystery Science Theater.