Brother Power explains his personal philosophy. Artist: Joe Simon.

BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK

Medium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1968
Creator: Joe Simon
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Sometimes a comic book, like a TV show or a Broadway play, will have a very short run. Sometimes that's because it came along at the wrong time, sometimes because it failed to connect with its intended …

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… audience, and sometimes because it's just plain not worth publishing in the first place. And sometimes it's for other reasons. With Brother Power, the Geek, of which DC Comics put out exactly two issues (October and December, 1968), it was "other".

Not that there weren't perfectly conventional reasons for the brevity of its run. First, tho the protagonist was a superhero of sorts, he came along when, in the wake of the 1966 Batman fad, that genre wasn't selling as many comic books as it had in the recent past. Second, he was a decidedly non-mainstream hero, based on a premise too silly for most vocal readers. In fact, those who expressed themselves publicly on the subject generally thought he was downright dumb. Worse yet, his was one of those comics like the early Teen Titans, where middle-aged writers would try to put hip, cool, with-it (but painfully discordant) dialog into the mouths of highly implausible young characters.

Brother Power started out as a dummy left in an abandoned tailor shop inhabited by a bunch of shiftless hippies. He didn't seem like the sort a tailor would find very useful — more like a life-size rag doll, without the rigid form that can be used in fitting clothing to a human-like body. Following a biker attack, one of the hippies put his wet and blood-speckled clothing on the dummy so it wouldn't shrink as it dried. But during the night, lightning struck, and brought the dummy to life. His first act was to repel a follow-up attack by the bikers. Afterward, the hippies taught it (or rather, at this point, "him") their hippie-like ways. They named him Brother Power (for his unpracticed skill in routing the attackers), but did acknowledge that he came off as something of a "geek".

This may not sound like a formula for success, but guided by the talent of cartoonist Joe Simon (Captain America, Young Romance), who wrote and drew both issues, it may actually have had a shot at continuing. At least, the second sold better than the first, and there was no reason to suppose that trend wouldn't continue. Maybe the people buying it weren't the sort who write reviews (much like the millions who enjoy The Family Circus even while critics despise it), but they were starting, at least, to buy.

But at the time, this wasn't known outside of DC's offices. When Brother Power disappeared so abruptly, the fans who expressed themselves in print naturally assumed the general public agreed with them that it had been a mistake to publish it in the first place. In fact, it became a legendary mistake. It went down in the fans' history alongside Marvel's Night Nurse, also widely (if unjustly) regarded as the most embarrassing thing its publisher ever produced.

In a 1998 interview, however, artist Carmine Infantino (The Flash, Adam Strange), who had been DC's editorial director at the time, told a different story. That's when the fact that sales, while not high, were improving, became public knowledge — as well as the fact that Brother Power's fate had been sealed the moment Mort Weisinger, editor of DC's Superman line, got a look at him. Weisinger very strongly objected to anything depicting hippies as less than thoroughly loathesome, and said so to publisher Jack Liebowitz. Despite the fact that the first issue described Brother Power's relatively human companions as "a rag-tag bunch", "the unkempt brood", living "useless lives" — and at one point clearly depicted one of them eating out of a garbage can — it was very definitely an Establishment view of hippiedom — Weisinger caused the series to be shut down as quickly as could be. The second issue ended in a cliffhanger, and that was that. A third was in production but never finished.

But during the time Brother Power was still widely regarded as DC's most egregious failure, it attained a sort of minor cult status. In 1989, Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Miracleman) wrote him into a Swamp Thing story, and in 1993 he starred in a oneshot written by Rachel Pollack (Doom Patrol) and drawn by Mike Allred (Madman), and published under DC's Vertigo imprint (Hellblazer). He also turned up in a 1999 "Elseworlds" story (DC's answer to Marvel's "What If", which explored alternate versions of their characters and storylines).

Whether or not he was a mistake, and whether or not he lives down to his critical reputation, the two original issues of Brother Power, the Geek will always be a prime example of '60s kitsch, from the man behind Prez, Bee-Man and other classically eccentric comic books.

— DDM

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Text ©2005-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.