March 18, 2010

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Powers Volume 2

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
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If you don't have powers, dressing up as a Cape is a crime. But that doesn't stop a set of college kids who want to take a few risks in the name of a thrill. Their game turns deadly, however, leaving things up to Detectives Walker and Pilgrim to catch the killer before anyone else perishes in this LARP gone bad.

With Pilgrim on the sidelines due to disarming a suspect, can Walker get to the bottom of the case, when the prime suspect is a man only a TV documentary has any information on?

I didn't think this volume of Powers was as good as the first story, mostly because the mystery is nowhere near as compelling because the way in which Walker solves the crime is more luck than through investigation. After the careful crafting of the first trade, this was a big letdown for me.

It doesn't help that the case itself is a lot weaker because we didn't get a bigger picture related to the crime. In the first trade, the killer has an agenda that reaches out beyond the killing itself and makes the reader think about the nature of heroes. This killing is just college kids being stupid with Walker having personal reasons for being enraged at what they are doing. Any longer range focus--and I think there could have been one--isn't highlighted like it was before.

I think one of the issues is that the plot took away one of Bendis's strengths halfway through--witty banter. Walker is the straight man, and without Pilgrim to throw quips, it felt off to me. The first half of the book has the same quality as the first trade, with Pilgrim providing the sarcasm while Walker lends the gravitas. Without her, I don't think Powers works as well. The dialog of Walker and those he interrogates is fine, but you can tell it's missing the partner to balance it out. This is series with a detective pair, not a solo artist.

Overall, I strongly disliked the way that Pilgrim was handled. She's written out and then just as abruptly written back in to our narrative. After being an equal player with Walker, it felt like this time she was pushed off to the side. If you want to tell a Walker solo story, that's fine, but don't make his partner look second rate in the process. Her mistake in this issue feels forced, just as much as her return does by the end of the volume. I can't see a person who wanted this job so badly making such a mistake.

Despite being disappointed by the way the story played out, there were some things I really liked. Walker making Pilgrim interview the male dormitory "because of her brains" was a nice touch, and Walker works the case in true hardboiled detective style. His distaste for people walking around in capes without powers is palpable, showing that his depowering is not something he's gotten over. I also thought the fight scene at the end was extremely well done, with Walker taking on a bad guy with powers regardless of the risk to him.

I also like the fact that this is exactly the type of case a detective might have to deal with in a world with superpowers. We don't see it, but I bet Marvel has its share of Spider-Man imitators who die from trying to cling to walls, leaving the police to clean up the mess while Peter Parker goes oblivious and fights Galactus or something. Similarly, the Capes don't care about college kids dying. It would have made for a nice "big concept" to examine, but as I mentioned above, Bendis doesn't seem t want to explore that this time.

All of the things I liked about Oeming's art in the first trade is present here. He uses a variety of page layouts, sometimes even telling two different stories at the same time. There's a wide range of camera angles, keeping the reader's eye off balance just enough to match the shifting nature of the story. He does a great job with the action scenes, particularly the final one. Oeming also makes good use of shadow, thick lines, and facial closeups to add tension to the action. Though I did not care for the story as much this time, I really did like the art. Oeming is perfect for a noir world like this, and I always enjoying seeing his work.

All in all, it's not a bad story, just not as good as I think Bendis and Oeming can be together based on the first story and my memory of the other trades I read a few years ago. If I am remembering correctly, I liked volume three quite a bit, so I'm looking forward to re-reading it soon. You can probably safely skip this trade of Powers if you're not a completist like me.