Issue #1. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, artwork by Michael Avon Oeming
“What’s it like being a cop in a city full of gods?”
Powers is a strange little hybrid. It’s written by Eisner Award Winner (the Eisner being the comics world’s most coveted award) Brian Michael Bendis. Unlike all his other projects, this work is not drawn by Bendis, but by Michael Avon Oeming. And the art, rather than being photo-realistic, is done in style similar to the animation styles of Bruce Timm (Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series) and Alex Toth (the man responsible for the character designs of The Superfriends). Last, but not least, the series has something that all of the other Bendis crime comics lack: superheroes.
Powers focuses on Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, two homicide detectives working in an unnamed city who are anything but average. They take care of special cases — the “powers” cases. This city has something that many others don’t: superheroes, villains, and the like. And it’s up to Walker and Pilgrim to solve the powers-related murders.
The first issue starts slowly, following Walker as he is called in to deal with a hostage negotiation (even though it’s not his department) initiated by a madman with a jetpack who has pushed a woman to her death. After the woman’s body vanishes from the hospital, Walker finds himself stuck with her foul-mouthed daughter. We soon meet Pilgrim, fresh from a week-long stint in a SWAT team, who has just been transferred to the Homicide unit as Walker’s new partner. Soon enough, they get a call, and at the crime scene lies the body of another victim, one that completely shocks Pilgrim — a woman in a red cape and boots.
Despite the deliberate beginning, Bendis amps up to weave all events together seamlessly, providing a nice flow that ultimately turns the book into a fast, solid read. Bendis is often praised for his sharp dialogue, and his skill is apparent inPowers. Indeed, while the book is quite dialogue heavy, it’s all very natural. You get the feeling that this is real cop-talk, that Bendis did his homework, and the result is quick and smooth. The characters are intriguing, and the first issue lays the groundwork for a fascinating backstory dealing with Walker that will undoubtedly be developed in future issues. Interestingly, the superheroes in Powers are handled like guest-star cameos. This is not a superhero story, but a crime comic that happens to occasionally feature them. In fact, the majority of hero-related material is only casually mentioned in passing.
Michael Avon Oeming’s artwork is well suited to this project. Although it possesses a definite Bruce Timm vibe, it holds its own due to its angularity, its hard edge, which makes it perfect crime story material. There’s also a fine usage of blacks in the rendering — the artwork would look as good in black and white as in color. The coloring, which gives better modeling to the characters, adds a muted palette to the art. The only bright colors appear in the few superhero outfits glimpsed in the story. To add a noir-ish atmosphere, some panel layouts repeat themselves quite often; the intro pages of Deena Pilgrim and her first meeting with Walker have panels that are repeated with only small cosmetic changes. Some might think this the work of a lazy artist, but I feel it’s more to lend scenes a similar pacing to that of television or film. On that note, Oeming’s layouts are crisp and clean while still maintaining the story’s innate grittiness. Also, I must address Bendis’s own graphic design; his covers are vivid, and his intro pages and text placements compliment Oeming’s artwork well.
I recommend Powers as a great read for longtime Bendis fans as well as those looking for something new in crime comics. It serves as a good introduction while also catering to mainstream demands with its frequent superhero guest-roles. It’ll also be interesting to Bruce Timm fans who might want to see a different take on his artistic style. Seek it out.
Powers, published by Image Comics, is available at comic retailers.