Monday, July 16, 2007

POWERS Image Comics, 2000

High Concept Week continues, proving that time is fluid and speed is my master! Let's do this BENDIS STYLE!

Powers is the Eisner-award winning series that made writer Brian Michael Bendis the comic book demigod that he is today. Nobody even says his full name now, it's just... Bendis. Like Cher. Or maybe Bendis! Like Charo!

Created by Bendis! and artist Michael Avon Oeming, Powers was originally published by Image Comics from 2000 to 2004, then moved to Marvel where it is today. To be honest I lost interest in the series after a few story arcs, but the first storyline, Who Killed Retro Girl?, is pure high concept comic book chocolatey goodness wrapped in gold foil with the words KICK ASS stamped on it.

Here’s the pitch: Detective Christian Walker and his new partner Deena Pilgrim are homicide cops with a tough job: they’ve got to find out who killed Retro Girl, a big-time super hero. In a city full of heroes, villains and freaks, aka “powers,” there’s no shortage of suspects…

The genre-mashing of Powers -- the mix of buddy-cop / murder mystery /superhero-- is what makes Powers high concept. The execution by Bendis and Oeming is what makes Powers work. Oeming's clean cartoony artwork and his Eisner Deco designs compliment Bendis' retro tough guy police story. The colors are pretty, too.

Powers is all about the dialogue and quirks of the characters and the unexpected but totally logical way they react to plot developments. This is what Bendis is famous for, the snappy banter stuff. One of the reasons I think Bendis is so successful is because his dialogue is really fun to read and he writes great sitcom-type scenes. I mean that in a positive way; Bendis knows his shit:

The core relationship in Powers is between Walker and his new partner, Deena Pilgrim, a chatty female detective with a tendency to kick in the crotch first and ask questions later. Walker is one of those wounded lone wolf types, and he's more than a little irritated by his new partner. Pilgrim and Walker have a nice dynamic that doesn't feel phony, with just the right hint of romantic tension.

I think Powers is Bendis at his best. (Well, his Spider-Man stuff is probably his best as well.) He and Oeming have created a unique, wry tone for their story and it works 99% of the time. For me, Powers works on just about every level - it's funny and chilling and stuffed full of interesting characters. His Detective Walker is great - a stoic, put-upon lug with a secret past.

As is always the case, high concept can be marred by lousy execution, but Bendis and Oeming nail it with the first Powers storyline. For me, the series can end right there - "Who Killed Retro Girl?" is the archetypal Powers story, it's the Powers movie.

Go check it out - you can pick up a nice trade paperback collection on Amazon. Whatever you might think of Bendis current work - even if you're still pissed that he killed Hawkeye - you owe it to yourself to check Powers out. It achieves something that modern comics sometimes fail to do - it entertains.


monica said...

i [heart] deena.
she gets all the best lines.

Tom said...

I totally agree. Powers is one of the few on my "must own all tpbs" list. (Hellboy, Transmet, 100 Bullets, and...that's it)

Also, I fully expect to see 100 Bullets as your next featured High Concept entry. Man that book is good. I mean, damn.

AndreZero said...

I loved Powers but was a little put out by some of the really graphic gore. There are a few scenes that really cross the line of good taste, and not in a way that really adds anything to the books. I still love them and have been buying them so it's not a show-stopper by any means!

And I kinda agree with Tom about 100 bullets. It started out totally airwolf, but I think it became a bit too... um, whats less than airwolf? Streethawk? The stories about the brief cases were really good but the plot with the Trust just makes my head spin.

Matt Chaput said...

I loved the first collection so much (it's available for free online; the series is being published one page at a time online so you can check it out), I up and ordered every trade available.

For the first bunch of books, this was pure bliss... police procedural goodness, Timm/Dini-like art, and a universe of superheroes (it's like Astro City except they say fuck a lot).

It really does lose the mission at a certain point and go off the rails (mixed metaphor?). Too much mythology and not enough detecting, after a while. And the nudity, profanity, and gore pretty much define "gratuitous," if you're not into that.

Also you can eventually start to see how Bendis got from here to Civil War... he doesn't really seem to like superheroes very much. Most of them seem to be in the "underwear pervert" mold.

But wait, I'm complaining too much. The whole series is worth it so far. It just descends from "totally freaking great" to "definitely worth buying" over its run.

Chris Arndt said...

How the heck do you string the words "Bendis" "Spider-Man" and "best" into an actual sentence and expect it to be accurate?

acespot said...

Until you mentioned it, I had never realized that Icon was an imprint of Marvel. Do they publish anything else under that imprint?

BTW, I still hate you for Laser Force.

acespot said...

Bendis writes the best Avengers book to feature Spider-Man as a member.

So there!

Anonymous said...

"Bendis... like Beckham?"


LurkerWithout said...

"Until you mentioned it, I had never realized that Icon was an imprint of Marvel. Do they publish anything else under that imprint?"

Just Criminal as far as I can recall...

Ginger Yellow said...

100 Bullets was a bit like Lost for me. The small scale story arcs were fun but after I realised the overarching storyline wasn't actually going anywhere I completely lost interest.

Arkonbey said...

I agree with Ginger Yellow on 100 bullets; comparing it to Lost is the perfect analogy.

I also agree with the comments on the gore of Powers eventually becoming a turn-off. For me it was the 'caping' scene with the kid hanging in the shower. If Bendis & Co. had taken a lesson from Hitchcock and just shown the figures feet and the characters' reactions to what the audience couldn't see, it would have been more powerful and less of a turn-off.

That and the 'he's been reincarnated as a super hero since he was a Australopithecus was just plain silly.

Kurt Onstad said...

Straczynski's "Dream Police" and "Book of Lost Souls" were also Icon books.

malekith said...

Moore's Top 10 did this concept so much better, and also had a genuine appreciation and love for the superhero & sci-fi genre. Meanwhile, Powers' snarky, jaded "I don't like superheroes" vibe is wearisome and off-putting and its gratuitous profanity, nudity, etc. come off as just desperate cries for attention & controversy. Plus, Zander Cannon & Gene Ha's richly detailed artwork on Top 10 was miles ahead of Oeming's work on Powers.
You should have profiled Top 10 instead for the "High Concept Week" feature, since it's the superior take on this concept, imo.

Rob said...

Actually I do like the Lost and 100 Bullets comparison.

Only I see it as people jumped off Lost (and 100 Bullets) when they realized every question they had was not going to be answered right away and it was up to them to try to put pieces together on their own. Instead of wanting to try to figure something out on their own, they'd rather be told what is going on, and told NOW damnit.

Julian said...

Although I can't disagree with any of the points David raised, the protagonists' names being 'Christian Walker' and 'Deena Pilgrim' sound like characters from a FOX TV movie starring Chuck Norris or maybe Jake Busey. (not Gary, I meant his son)

alan said...

Kabuki is Icon as well.

Nick said...

Bendis writes the best Avengers book to feature Spider-Man as a member.

So there!

Nope, that would be Jeff Parker and Marvel Adventures: Avengers

FoldedSoup said...

But is there monkey sex?!?

'cause that's my litmus test.

(I'm going to work that into a song lyric somehow.)

Arkonbey said...

in response to Rob's comment:
"Instead of wanting to try to figure something out on their own, they'd rather be told what is going on, and told NOW damnit."

Not true, at least for me. It's not about instant gratification, it's about the story having a direction and a resolution. 'Lost' and '100 Bullets' began with great premises that promised satisfying climaxes. However, after a while, it seemed as though there would be no climaxes, that there was no overarching story and they were being written as they went along.

Andy said...

"Moore's Top 10 did this concept so much better, and also had a genuine appreciation and love for the superhero & sci-fi genre."

I have to agree. Despite its billing, Powers isn't really a "police procedural in a superhero world" so much as "what if all those skanky, misbehaving celebrities had superpowers, too?" In order to really effectively parody something, you need a knowledge and love of the genre and that's not Bendis.

Rob said...


Considering 100 Bullets had always been planned as a 100 issue series (given that sales held up of course) its pretty clear there is a resolution coming and there has always been a plan for a resolution. Whether or not that resolution is coming fast enough for your taste is a decision you have to make.

And honestly, while I believe that taste is subjective, I'm having a hard time figuring out those that say 100 Bullets had "no direction." Every story has fit into a bigger picture, every story has either given us answers to questions or brought up better questions to think about in the grand scheme of things.

I can understand the pacing being too slow for some readers, I can understand it being subject material that people don't have interest in, I can understand that it doesn't really have any likeable characters to hold readers. But directionless and not leading to a resolution seem to be pretty baseless.

Arkonbey said...


Good point.

I suppose it is a matter of taste; if the story engages you, the pacing of the story can never be too slow.

100 Bullets hooked me, but lost me, though not because of the pacing.

Ginger Yellow said...

Yeah, I can't agree about the pacing comment. I mean, people made the same criticism of Firefly, and I adored that show because the characters, the world and the writing engaged me. Neither 100 Bullets nor Lost did beyond a dozen or so issues/episodes.

SUBZERO said...

I have been reading POWERS in hte trades so far altough I haven´t bought the last two that came out.

What really turned me off is not the fact that Bendis doesn´t seem to like superheroes very much ( just remember who killed off Hawkeye in the most stupid way ever ) since that is something he shares with a lot of other writers writing superhero comics. You could almost say that´s a new trend in comics called " Hate your audience. " I mean we all went through this with Garth Ennis.

No what really p!$$e$ me off if that Mr. Bendis can´t be bothered to put those little numbers on the pages. In every trade so far there have been at least a dozen double page spreads and I don´t want to belittle Mr. Oeming´s art but his layouts don´t really help in that departement.

There are a lot of old pros not working in the business anymore because they are considered too " old school " but at least they knew how to guide the reader through a double page spread. So POWERS should either have no double page spreads at all, beef up the layout or put those freaking numbers on the pages.

Really. I have 8 trades and to this day I have no idea if I have read all the pages in the correct order.

Sorry for ma little rant ( one of the reasons I started my own blog at ) aside from that I´m still reading the series. It´s not that bad.

James-in-England said...

I have no ordered this book solely on your recommendation- woe betide you if I don't like it!!! WOE!!!

Oh and I know you're a paper and ink man but given it's high concept week and all have you seen this? -

A darn fine webcomic about a doctor... who is ALSO a ninja. Pretty mind-blowing stuff, eh?

Keep up the good work, dude!

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