Powers 12: 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time – Brian Michael Bendis

Can you keep a dream team going forever? Should you even try? There is a lot to be said for quitting while you are ahead. Today we see what things would be like if we one of our heroes had a new partner. What if we were taken back to the very beginning and had to form a new dynamic duo. Naturally we rebel as we are so used to our perfect pair. Will it be forever?

This volume gives a sense of closure. The on-going story is wrapped up, characters from the past return and people move on to pastures new. We also get an answer to a question that we have had for some time. But would it have been more dramatic if we didn’t know? To be honest this isn’t the best Powers volume. It is tidy and a little twee but not what Powers does best. Powers is all about pulling the rug out from under you, about plugging your brain into the mains and flicking the switch. There are a few strong surprises and it is by no means a flawed story – although the bad guys are so nondescript they might as well not be there.

Nothing leapt out at me about the art. It could be that I have now been spoilt by Oeming’s fantastic talent or that, like the story, it wasn’t the epic innovation that previous volumes have been. This would be a good point to stop Powers but not as good as stopping it after the previous volume and leaving us all wondering. It will be interesting to see what direction volume 13 takes and which characters are chosen to continue. It is a Thumbs Up but not as convincingly as some of the earlier volumes.

226/139

Tomorrow: Powers 13: Z – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 11: Secret Identity– Brian Michael Bendis

Colourful is the best way to describe this issue. Oeming it seems has got a new paintbox and has gone mad trying out new techniques and themes. It does feel a bit gratuitous in the beginning but I’m not an artist so who is to say I am right. It quickly settles down and there are some really nice shades and tones displayed throughout this work.

Christian and Deena have their own secrets now and Bendis does a very good job of separating them and making them feel alone. I wasn’t too keen on this volume’s monster-of-the-week and it felt like there was a bit of shoehorning to try and integrate it into the back-story. It was interesting to see powers from a different source and how they fit into a Powers world with drainers and cops and so on.

This wasn’t the heart stopping rollercoaster that some previous volumes have been but it was a necessary step in both the personal and overarching plot development. Still a consistent Thumbs Up!

225/140

Tomorrow: Powers 12: 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 10: Cosmic – Brian Michael Bendis

I think I have discovered what, in my mind, makes a good comic book. It is being surprised. In many books, movies, stories you can work out what is going to happen. In most cases you are right. What I like is when the writer pulls the rug completely out from under me. That is what Bendis does well. Like the best tricksters he has not done it in a while. Maybe I am so comfortable in the Powers universe that I have been lulled into a false sense of security. The previous two volumes have all been intimate, personal stories of characterisation. That is what you are expecting here. You get that but you get so much more. Deena and Christian get some real stark choices about their futures and you can’t wait to see what’s next.

It is not all rosy however and there is a technique that didn’t sit well with me. Many authors have a lot of powerful points to make about the society we live in. They deliver truths that most of us chose to ignore. The skilled authors such as Swift and Orwell blend this invisibly into the story. Bendis has done this expertly in the past but now chooses a different take. Every few pages (once an issue maybe) the Powers story will stop and we will have a few pages of a stand-up comedian or comedienne delivering a straight to reader tirade about how rubbish an aspect of the modern world is. This really disrupted the flow for me. I pretty much agreed with everything they, and by extension Bendis, said but the delivery was too jarring for me to appreciate. I have the same reaction to other authors such as Alan Moore using this technique so it’s probably me. But he is being innovative and I have loved all his new ideas to date so I can’t criticise. I would prefer he failed to hook me than dumbed things down and didn’t challenge me.

The art is of course superb and Oeming gets a chance to let rip with hallucinations, dream sequences, alien worlds, other dimensions and explosions. There is nothing here including my earlier objection that does not deserve a Thumbs Up!

224/141

Tomorrow: Powers 11: Secret Identity– Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 9: Psychotic – Brian Michael Bendis

The story continues with another great volume. This episode focuses on a Power empowered by an item of jewellery. What are the consequences when you can just sell your powers on, loan them out or put them away in a drawer? An interesting tale with the usual twists and turns of a Powers classic. Deena gets a chance to shine as we see her home life and also a flashback to her days in uniform. She has been in a fair amount of peril lately and it really shows how much we care about these characters. With a high body count you know that anyone could easily bite the dust and we have seen some great characters lost in tragic ways. I really miss Detective Kutter. There never was a more loveable asshole than him.

The art is still first class. The Deena flashbacks are done in a very theatrical black and white and work perfectly. There is the mother of all full page speech bubble extravaganzas that really stood out. I keep wondering how they manage to keep pulling out tricks I have never seen before. Have I led such a sheltered life or are Bendis and Oeming using some kind of witchcraft? Another solid Thumbs Up!

223/142

Tomorrow: Powers 10: Cosmic – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 8: Legends – Brian Michael Bendis

So where do you go after world shattering stories? What is next after an epic tale that spans the history of mankind? You go very small – an intimate and personal story. You go back to your roots – in this case Pilgrim and Walker – and make us remember why we care so much about them. Berserk Powers threatening to annihilate the world are all very well but they can’t compare to a single character you care about being placed in mortal danger.

This is a fantastic story which, like most of the previous ones, takes you on a journey with so many twists and clever turns you have no idea how you arrived at such an incredible conclusion. Characters you don’t think will die do and others come back from the dead. There are some shocking page turns and some truly palpable suspense. We have been through so much with our two heroes that they have become like family. Bendis wickedly exploits this attachment to put our emotions through the cheese grater and make us afraid to read on. This is literally true on one occasion as you just don’t want to see what his twisted mind has come up with. This is definitely a grim and gritty issue that pulls no punches.

The art is still superb. You can see a bit more use of CGI with blurred backgrounds coming into play. Everything is subtle and not gratuitous and most of the time you won’t see how hard the artist is slyly working his craft to compliment the emotional thrust of the writing. You can see Oeming has a broad range of influences from classical artists to pop culture and you know you (and Powers) are in safe hands. Thumbs are Up!

222/143

Tomorrow: Powers 9: Psychotic – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 7: Forever – Brian Michael Bendis

You know this is going to be an epic story by the thickness of the book. And it is indeed an epic tale in every sense of the word. This is an origin story, one of the most powerful sagas in the superhero canon. This origin story goes back a long way, right back to the dawn of time in fact. If you were to buy an issue that was comprised entirely of cartoon apes making grunting noises and nothing else you would either want your money back or you would want your money back. It probably wouldn’t occur to you that Bendis has just created one of the most iconic openings ever. OK, so he didn’t create it. He lovingly stole, borrowed, homaged it from 2001.

Supers are kind of a new phenomenon. A 20th Century vibe brought on by atomic power, spaceships, DNA and all those new things. But what if they weren’t? What if they had been with us from the beginning, or even before the beginning? This is the premise of Forever. We follow the development of Powers through the ages. This is also the origin of a particular character. You don’t know who it is until it finally clicks and once again Bendis smiles smugly as his master plan takes shape.

This is an amazing tale and a great vehicle for Bendis as he takes on 2001, Conan, Crouching Tiger and the Untouchables as his story leaps through history. It can be a little confusing as you try and work out where you are, as characters you know are dead are running around and sometimes getting naked. But you want to make it through this on your own. You want the satisfaction of putting the pieces together yourself and having your mind explode when you make the connections. The beauty is it all fits together so perfectly. Tiny, throwaway references you forgot about twenty or thirty issues ago suddenly turn out to be vital clues to what you are discovering and you stare in disbelief at the literary skill being flourished before you. Not since Sandman have we seen such a tangled web woven.

The art is superb and with so many time periods and recurring characters it really gets a chance to shine. There are some unusual panel shapes and some bold epic vistas that really grab your attention. What colour is the dawn of time? Well now you know. I loved the pastel sand tones of the Conan era and that iconic silhouette, the subtlety of the ancient temples, and the subdued Chicago gloom.

This is truly the best of all the Powers stories. Until the next one. It has to have the Double Thumbs Up!

221/144

Tomorrow: Powers 8: Legends – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 6: The Sellouts – Brian Michael Bendis

WOW! I don’t know if I can get away with a one word review but nothing really describes this volume better than wow! Complete with exclamation mark. Ummm, wow! My mind is still reeling from this tour-de-force. I think Bendis has started channelling Robert Kirkman as that is the biggest rug-pull I have felt in ages.

It all starts with a sex-tape and it feels very much like Garth Ennis’ The Boys. It’s got that greasy, dirty feel. But there is the whole whodunit and you have no idea whodunit. We are all so postmodern that it’s normally easy to sniff out how these things work out. There is even a butler if you want the easy collar. But you don’t know who or more importantly why.

Everything appears so normal. I remember thinking that Powers had found its groove. It had stopped innovating and struggling against trite convention and settled into something predictable. Then BOOM! Literally boom. You have to flick back a couple of pages to make sure you didn’t miss something. The art goes haywire, the plot explodes and you plunge sickeningly downwards in a spiral towards a terrifying conclusion. You literally flip from murder mystery to literary Armageddon. To be fair this theme (and I don’t want to give it away) has been explored before by many great writers but its appearance is so shocking and unexpected and so well executed that you think maybe Bendis has claimed the top spot from the others before him.

The art is great. It starts off comfortable and familiar and then goes all epic. Literally within a page turn your eyes pop out on stalks and shit hits the fan. There are some very atmospheric and creepy panels as lone characters explore the darkness. There is a brilliant flashback story where the art changes to mimic the 50’s comic book styles but with liberal use of the f-word. There are some nice little mocked up web pages and TV broadcasts and the boom is fantastic.

Apparently this isn’t the best storyline as we already had it in volume 4. Maybe it is time for a recount. This packs a huge punch and the last line, the line that foreshadows the next volume makes your mind flipout! It might just be hysteria but I am going to give this Double Thumbs Up!

220/145

Tomorrow: Powers 7: Forever – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 5: Anarchy – Brian Michael Bendis

How do you follow the greatest storyline you ever wrote? By doing another great story of course. This has all the elements of the last volume, action, humanity and thought provoking themes but in a different balance. Once again Powers asks us a hard question about the concept of Superheroes; namely is their morality the same as ours? Is an unelected, unaccountable, unstoppable force the best thing to police our society? Where do the cops, the courts, the laws fit in with people that combine all those duties and dispense instant and often fatal punishments. Are they in fact the ultimate expression of natural justice, or something more sinister? And of course who watches the watchers?

Last volume we saw the departure of one of the main characters. Like the X-Files when Mulder left, things just aren’t the same. It is interesting to shake things up a bit and see how our familiar faces function with a hole in their midst and what it must be like to be the new face filling that hole. But we all hate change so we hurt that we aren’t whole which is testament to Bendis’ writing that we are so emotionally engaged with the cast.

Absolutely a Thumbs Up, maybe a bit more!

219/146

Tomorrow: Powers 6: The Sellouts – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 4: Supergroup – Brian Michael Bendis

On the back of this volume it says: “widely considered the best storyline…” Well if that isn’t setting yourself up for a fall I don’t know what is. Does it mean the next 10 volumes won’t be worth buying if you don’t like this one? It is however an absolutely cracking story.

The great thing about Powers is seeing what aspect of the Super-mythos or real life will get the Bendis treatment next. This one is quite a popular subject – government sponsored heroes. Naturally all governments sponsoring supers are evil, corrupt, naïve, self-serving or similarly detestable. This storyline has been tackled by such masterpieces as Authority, Supreme Power and so on. Bendis does not disappoint and it is all wrapped up in that neat little trademark whodunit format.

All the checks for a great Powers story are here. There is another revelation about Walker, an unexpected death, great art, fantastic colours, an emotional rollercoaster and more genre innovations than you could shake a fist full of sticks at. We also get to see action take centre stage for the first time in what is basically a detective story. In many works action is either padding for a lack of writing or grandstanding by the artist. Here it isn’t gratuitous, is wonderfully coloured and the shock ending takes your breath away. Special mention should go to the lettering. You don’t see many innovations in this area but this book innovates more than any other. Well done.

This is probably the best and certainly most gripping tale yet and you are left wondering how they could possibly follow it up. The characters are left in a right pickle and how can anything be the same again. Will the next volumes come close or should I quit on a high? But all is not perfect. Why does such a mainstream book have so many typos in it? If I can spot them then surely all the writers, artists, inkers, letterers, editors and minions that see this book before me could have too. I am always pleased to see an ethnically diverse cast of characters but please try and get their speech right. I am fine if they all talk like stereotypes. I am fine if they all talk like me but don’t make them switch constantly mid-speech bubble. Disappointing. But not enough to spoil what has been a Double Thumbs Up!

218/147

Tomorrow: Powers 5: Anarchy – Brian Michael Bendis

Powers 3: Little Deaths – Brian Michael Bendis

This volume embodies the high standards and bold thinking that Powers strives for. The art once again puts its genius to the fore with bold colours, strong layout choices and graphic depictions to shock and awe. Any work that is courageous enough to have 14 consecutive pages of art without a single word on the page demands your respect. It is these bold statements that make Powers a leader in the genre. As well as standard graphic novel storytelling the writer uses other mimicked formats such as the magazine article, humorous advertisement, tabloid interview and even a plain court transcript with no visuals whatsoever. It is very reminiscent of Alan Moore’s work and care must be taken not to come across as trying too hard. The dialogue is still top notch and it is nice to see Deena and Walker and their relationship plus their respective pasts given the screen time they deserve.

This work contains three stories, the first is called Groupies. Superheroes are now such an ingrained part of our culture it is easy to apply real-world themes to them and see what happens. Groupies concerns a particular type of woman who seeks out Superheroes just as we have those who seek out rock stars or footballers. It is a great ‘what if’ premise and superbly executed with much attention paid to the media and celebrity culture in which we live now. This is writing of the highest quality as it encourages us to look at our own lives and the world around us rather than just escape from it.

The next is Ride Along, a term describing a writer accompanying a professional (usually the police) in order to better understand what they do. In this case a comic book writer accompanies Walker and gets into a dangerous situation. There is some witty banter and a lengthy diatribe about the prevalence of superhero comics. The unusual thing is that the writer in question is named as Warren Ellis. Is Bendis name-dropping? Is Ellis hijacking this work in order to soapbox or is it just a cynical marketing ploy. It is over before you can form a definite opinion but hopefully this isn’t the start of a worrying trend.

The third is The Shark, a neat little whodunit that is the Powers bread and butter. It is a textbook piece of plotting and twist that doesn’t have the additional sparkle of other Powers storylines. It also switches from graphic novel to mocked-up court transcript half way through and so loses the amazing artwork that is integral to Powers success.

As a bonus there is an activity/ colouring book which parodies the safety publications given to the schoolchildren of yesteryear. Another example of Powers trying new things and fearlessly taking new directions.

Overall this is an excellent work and I am proud to give it another Thumbs Up!

217/148

Tomorrow: Powers 4: Supergroup – Brian Michael Bendis