Wednesday, February 26, 2014


POWER PACK #51/#52 – The Numinus

Stunt casting is a tricky business, because you’re ostensibly hiring a performer strictly on the basis of the amount of recognition they’re generate as themselves – you know, it’s Nicole Richie and she’s shooting at Chuck! It’s Britney Spears an she’s trying to hump How I Met Your Mother’s friend! It’s Prince as an awkward purple paperweight, or whatever it was Bob Dylan was doing on Dharma and Greg that one time! Actors are theoretically cast to bring life to a character and to reinforce the suspension of disbelief which the story needs to survive, but stunt casting deliberately suspends that disbelief for the sake of the novelty.

So say you have a book about a quintet of precocious grade schoolers who have a talking spaceship and were given super-powers by a race of magical horse people, you might think your suspension of disbelief is already a notably fragile glass unicorn and you’re going to want to avoid waltzing smack into it and knocking it to the floor. Especially if your book has historically been criticized for its depictions of deadly violence directed at young children and is ramping up to a climax involving the genocide of an entire race in the course of an intergalactic blood feud, you might find yourself thinking “This is not the time to bring in Whoopi Goldberg”.

I mean, I know they're space horsies, and you know they're space horsies, we all know that they're space horsies,
but it's kind of jarring that their ancient enemy would ever relate to them in that context ...
Well, at least they brought her in BIG. Hitting the landmark fiftieth issue of Power Pack, the crusading children (the four siblings of the Power family, Alex, Jack, Julie and Katie, and their friend and youngest son of Reed and Sue Richards, Franklin Richards) find themselves witnesses to the attempted planetary genocide committed by Maraud, matriarch of the reptilian race of “Snarks”, against her people’s hereditary enemies the Kymellians (those are the magical horse-people), while simultaneously attempting to save from death their “smartship” Friday (who is literally saved by LOVE, I swan), and rescue their parents from well-intentioned alien brainwashing while a quartet of Kymellian heroes use them as target practice just for the ever-lovin’ heck of it and a supernatural deity is trying to possess one of ‘em.

(The horse-people superheroes, by the way, are called Force 4 and are comprised of the imaginatively titled Teamleader, the ethereal Ghostmare, and the powerful Thunderhoof and his pal Firemane. These last two guys are great because they come off as bro-hams, one a gentle giant and the other a brash frat jerk. If only I could think of some word to describe horse people who are bros, like bro ponies of some sort, if only there were some word…)

So anyway, there is a lot going on, and by no means did a four-thousand foot tall Whoopi Goldberg make any of it seem any clearer.

Whoopi (or her likeness, anyway, I don’t think she was helping to write this nonsense) is represented by “Numinus”, a towering cosmic being whose name references the concept of the “numinous”, the presence of the divine, and not – as I originally thought when I first read the book, and which I’m really ashamed to admit out loud, but brace yourselves, because here we go – a portmanteau of “Negro” and “Luminous”. LOOK, I DIDN'T THINK IT WAS COOL EITHER. “They’re not—“ I asked myself, incredulously, “They’re not calling her ‘Negro Luminous’, are they?” That is seriously what I thought. I’m sorry. America has a lot of healing to do.

Numinus turns out to be a cosmic entity who controls individual moments of saving grace, and it’s implied in her Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition Update entry that she is “more powerful than Galactus”, which I guess is true in the sense that “Hey I found a nickel” beats out “Hey, my planet is being melted”.  We find out, through the course of her exposition, that she’s the benevolent universal presence responsible for things like stepping in dog poop but when you look down you see a twenty dollar bill on the ground, or Lt.Col. Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov sparing the world a nuclear apocalypse because he decided the missile alert he received was totally bogus (that’s eighties-talk), or that plastic bag scene in American Beauty. Somebody had to be responsible for that.

Breaking the basic literary rule that you can use magic to get your characters into trouble but not to get them out of trouble, Numinus ends up pointing out that all of the galactic carnage and countless deaths was actually for the best because one of the horse-people superheroes becomes a godlike being and they all find a new planet to live on in the end. So. Score.

Wait, explain how the pink pearl eraser part relates again ... 
Undoubtedly the best part of this story is that there’s a character in the book named “Aelfyre Whitemane” (you know, of the Connecticut Whitemanes. In fact, I went to school with an Amanda Whitemane, I wonder if there’s any relation) whom every casually refers to as “Whitey” so you not only get characters running around yelling “You leave Whitey out of this!” and “We thought you guys were so great – like Whitey!” and (I love this one) “They called Whitey a sorcerer, but he really was just a throwback to the olden days!”, you get Whoopi/Numinus saying the line “Whitey showed me that love and respect are everyone’s birthright”. Terrific. Well, we do our best.

In the second part of her appearance in Power Pack, Numinus is colored purple which helps a little in making her look less like a giant Whoopi Goldberg balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade but on the other hand it basically just makes her look like a purple Whoopi, which sounds either like something you do with a wet finger to an unwilling participant or something you have to pay extra for during a trip to Thailand. Or both.

Uh, this seems to be getting a little intimate...

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