Powers 1: Who Killed Retro Girl – Brian Michael Bendis

This work embraces superheroes, film noir, the thriller and old-school Hill Street Blues police procedural. Rather than a mishmash of ill-fitting ideas this all flows together to tell a compelling story in a coherent world. We follow Detective Christian Walker who works for a unit dealing with crimes involving those with superpowers. He has to deal with a new partner, a troubled past and death of the city’s most beloved superhero. Rather than a list of trite clichés Walker’s life is a subtle blend of all of the angst, guilt, regret and bullshit that fills out own lives. He is a very genuine and realistic character and we are sincerely engaged by his life and the world he inhabits.

The dialogue is superb. It is how real people talk and not a rapid fire series of one-liners that come from a sit-com generator. There are more speech bubbles than I have ever seen with intricate back and forth conversations that can leave your head spinning. Initially this can be confusing and more words can mean less art but this is what the story needs and it is executed so well it quickly becomes natural. The innovations keep coming in terms of layout, dual narratives on a page, multiple lettering styles and more creative polish than you can shake a stick at.

The art is very much its own. It has a web-comic feel to it and kind of reminded me of the cartoon series ‘The Tick’ or maybe ‘Johnny Bravo.’ It is not the first style you think of when picturing a gritty, noir world but it works much better than you would think. The stylistic depictions enable much more pronounced characterisation than a more realistic approach would. The art feels very fresh and cinematic with lots of standout frames from dramatic or distinctive angles. This isn’t a gratuitous showing off but a masterful use of visual storytelling. The most standout achievement is the colouration and how wonderfully it is applied. There is a great use of monochrome. Not black and white but black and another colour. Whole scenes are rendered in sickly greens, violent reds or even purples. This connects with the reader on such an emotional level that it does half the work of the storytelling.

This work is an absolute hit on every level. It shows you what you can achieve if you are prepared to go against the grain and not compromise what you believe in. I can’t wait to see if they can sustain this quality and so it has to be a Double Thumbs Up.

215/150

Tomorrow: Powers 2: Roleplay – Brian Michael Bendis

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