‘Powers’ is the superhero show you wish HBO would create

A dark vibe and damaged characters make this “new” comic book cable-ready.

Mar 1, 2020, 11:48 am*

Internet Culture

The latest issue of the comic book Powers starts off with a bang—literally. Having cornered caped villain/mugger The Red Wave, homicide detective Deena Pilgrim pops a cap in his ass as he tries to fly away. This, you see, is just another day in the life of Chicago PD.

The long-running series—created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming—began as a run-of-the-mill police procedural, with one key exception: most of the perps have super powers. Deena and fellow detective Christian Walker were initially tasked with finding an iconic heroine’s murderer in the first Powers’ arc, “Who Killed Retro Girl?”

Fifteen years later, this incarnation of Powers explores how the job of policing supers has broken the two protagonists. Deena, seemingly in command around her peers, is a total basketcase when she’s off the clock. Most cops might grab a beer and watch TV at the end of a shift, but Deena just stands at a window in her pitch-black living room, periodically pulling back the curtains to peer at a car parked outside.

Icon Comics

Despite her questionable state of mind, Deena at least shows up for work. Her one-time partner Christian, on the other hand, is noticeably absent. This means it’s up to Deena to investigate a grisly mass murder aboard a presidential hopeful’s yacht. In Powers’ opening pages, it’s mentioned that an astounding number of people have recently been empowered. We see this firsthand when the aforementioned bazillionaire Roland Gabriel is suddenly able to freeze stuff in mid-air. Unfortunately, his new power isn’t enough to save him from an untimely end.

Icon Comics

While this issue of Powers is technically issue No. 79, it’s a great entry point for those new to the series. If anything, not knowing everyone’s backstory makes characters like Deena seem more compelling. Even if you don’t know the source of her trauma, she’s more fully realized today versus her circa 2000 self (the defining characteristic back then was belly-baring shirts). Though this is probably heresy, I must admit I like this new story better than “Retro Girl.” That tale was more basic cable, and this one’s more HBO. It goes beyond the T&A and excessive swearing—there’s an ever-present air of malevolence. Think “The Red Wedding” and True Detective, after everything went sideways.

Another reason this iteration of Powers is more enjoyable to read than the initial run: Its creative team is at the top of their game. Bendis is still a verbose writer (this issue is 34 pages vs. most comic’s 23 pages), but he’s learned you can sometimes achieve more with less. In the “Retro Girl” arc, there were panels filled with so many word balloons, there was hardly any room for the art. This time out, Oeming’s visual storytelling shines as he’s not trying to squeeze all the action in around the dialogue.

Icon Comics

If you’re concerned about diving into Powers this late in its run, don’t be. Unlike Marvel or DC titles where there’s more than 75 years of backstory, this book is incredibly accessible. Should you need to satisfy your curiosity after reading this month’s installment, every single Powers issue is available online. And, soon, the same can be said for a new Powers TV show (though sadly not on HBO Go).

Powers No. 1

  • Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
  • Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
  • Colorist: Nick Filardi
  • Publisher: Icon Comics
  • $3.99

Screengrab via Icon Comics 

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*First Published: Jan 25, 2015, 4:50 pm