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Powers by Bendis and Oeming

This is probably the best of the knee-high stack of relatively recent comics accumulating next to my bed.

The premise of Powers is cops investigating super hero crimes ... super heroes commiting crimes, super-types being the the victims of crimes or being the catalysts of, or otherwise involved in, crimes.

The first story arc for instance is called Who Killed Retro Girl? (not that she'll be the only super hero to die!) and here-in we meet Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, the two main characters. Walker has an interesting past and is stand-offish. Pilgrim is wise-cracking but vulnerable. Their relationship will strengthen as the series progresses.

In subsequent volumes we meet kids who "role play" their favorite heroes, super hero sexual groupies, plenty of dysfunctional heroes and hero groups, government and corporate conspiracies; crimes tawdry and horrific, but all culminating in life changing events.

I recently read the first trade of Gotham Central which is premised on a similar question to Powers, namely what do cops do in a world full of super heroes? And while Gotham Central is a good book, there are things you can do in a creator-owned title that you simply can't do in an established general-audience universe. You can make choices of language (yes, plenty of shits and fucks in Powers), choices of incident (can you imagine a DC universe title having as an inciting incident the release of a video showing Robin performing fellatio on Batman?), choices of plot (most of the Powers stories start with a bang and end with a big bang ... sometimes very big bangs of a sort that would mean permanent changes not only one character but the entire world.)

The plotting is smart and inventive and the dialogue flows crisply (Bendis has studied screenwriters and playwrights such as Woody Allen and David Mamet for dialogue lessons). The art is stylised to the point of being "cartoony" which you'd think plays against the serious treatment of the subject matter (well, relatively serious - there's plenty of room for satire of the Robocop or Starship Troopers (the film) variety) ... but maybe there's something to Scott McLeod's thesis (espoused in his book Understanding Comics) that the more abstracted a piece of art, the more universal and accessible it becomes.

I do have one complaint, concerning the art: Oeming uses a lot of double-page spreads and unfortunately it's often quite difficult to tell from the layout (especially in the trade collections) if the panels flow across both pages or down one and then across to the other. (There's more than a few typos that slip through the cracks as well... a sign of shoddy editing but a minor distraction.)

The first three collections in the series - Who Killed Retrogirl?, Role Play and Little Deaths - intrigued and entertained me enough to keep reading, as did the fifth - Anarchy. The fourth - Supergroup - had an emotional intensity that blew me away... though not as much as the sixth volume, Sellouts. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next collection - Forever.

POWERS by Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Mike Oeming (artist)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 26, 2004 4:56 AM.

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